Review: ‘The Wife Drought’ by Annabel Crabb

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‘I need a wife.’

It’s a common joke among women juggling work and family. But it’s not actually a joke. Having a spouse who takes care of things at home is a Godsend on the domestic front. It’s a potent economic asset on the work front. And it’s an advantage enjoyed – even in our modern society – by vastly more men than women.

Working women are in an advanced, sustained, and chronically under-reported state of wife drought, and there is no sign of rain.

But why is the work-and-family debate always about women? Why don’t men get the same flexibility that women do? In our fixation on the barriers that face women on the way into the workplace, do we forget about the barriers that – for men – still block the exits?

The Wife Drought is about women, men, family and work. Written in Annabel Crabb’s inimitable style, it’s full of candid and funny stories from the author’s work in and around politics and the media, historical nuggets about the role of ‘The Wife’ in Australia, and intriguing research about the attitudes that pulse beneath the surface of egalitarian Australia.

Crabb’s call is for a ceasefire in the gender wars. Rather than a shout of rage, The Wife Drought is the thoughtful, engaging catalyst for a conversation that’s long overdue.

I’ve had a bit of a crush on journalist Annabel Crabb for years, something that was crystalised when I saw her speak at an event last year. She’s an incredibly engaging and intelligent speaker, both funny and charming. At the time, the audiobook of The Wife Drought wasn’t yet available, and I never quite got around to buying the paperback. I was therefore very excited at the end of last month to discover that the audiobook had finally been released and that Annabel herself was the narrator.

The Wife Drought is both demoralising and insightful, often at the same time. It defines a “wife” as a part time or stay at home partner who does the bulk of the domestic duties — cleaning, school drop offs, dealing with tradies — so as to free the other partner up to pursue earning a crust. A “wife” can be a man by this definition, but the truth is that it is almost always a woman. And it’s a huge economic benefit to have one.

Annabel is a journalist, and you can see her thoroughness in this book: she draws on a number of studies that talk about pay gap trends, division of housework, divorce rates in relationships where women become suddenly successful, women in politics, social expectations on both the husband and the wife*, and much more. Interspersed throughout are often lighthearted and always illustrative anecdotes. A lot of the conclusions she draws seemed obvious to me once she’d pointed them out, but as I haven’t read a lot of feminist literature they were a bit of a revelation.

(* Note that this book is about the male and female partner dynamic. While Annabel acknowledges the wonderfully diverse society that we live in, The Wife Drought tackles the most common relationship structure. I am a single parent — no wife for me! — and I still found it fascinating.)

As one example, the book considers the idea that women are better at raising kids in light of the concept of specialisation and the human tendency to seek the most efficient or economical solution. Given that women usually stay at home with the baby in the first few months, they are the ones who get the early child-rearing experience. It’s not that they are genetically predisposed towards changing nappies; they just get more practice. As for why they stay home, Annabel points to the typical difference in pay between a man and a woman as the primary explanation. (She doesn’t touch at all on the push for women to breastfeed and how difficult that can be if a woman returns to work, which I thought was a curious omission.)

Another point that Annabel makes is that the expectation that fathers will go back to work after their children are born and, if anything, work even harder to support them is actually just as detrimental to dads and their relationship with their kids as it is to their wife’s career. The judgement (and condescending praise) heaped on men who do traditionally feminine childcare duties is a barrier to men who also want to “have it all”.

The overarching argument of the book is that women have seen a huge change in the way we get to live our lives. We are not banned from working while married anymore (yes, it used to be a thing). We are permitted — and often encouraged — to work and have children. But men haven’t seen a concurrent revolution in what society expects of them.

There isn’t an earth-shattering revelation for how to achieve this, of course. It’s a slow process, where men have to not only be given access to the same leave conditions but not be punished in the workplace for exercising the rights that they do have. The change is coming, enabled in part by the digital revolution and an increased ability to work from home. But it is slow.

Four stars


Review: ‘Untamed’ by A. G. Howard

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A post-Ensnared collection of three stories—available in both print and e-versions.

Alyssa Gardner went down the rabbit hole and took control of her destiny. She survived the battle for Wonderland and the battle for her heart. In this collection of three novellas, join Alyssa and her family as they look back at their memories of Wonderland.

In Six Impossible Things, Alyssa recalls the most precious moments of her life after Ensnared, and the role magic plays in preserving the happiness of those she loves. Alyssa’s mother reminisces about her own time in Wonderland and rescuing the man who would become her husband in The Boy in the Web. And Morpheus delves into Jeb’s memories of the events of Splintered in The Moth in the Mirror, available in print for the first time.

This collection expands upon Ensnared‘s epilogue, and includes some deleted scenes to provide a “director’s cut” glimpse into the past and futures of our favorite Splintered characters.

This book is set after the end of the Splintered trilogy, and contains three stories that reveal more about the world — about events that come after the end of Ensnared. As a result, it’s super-spoiler-y, and really won’t make sense if you don’t read the trilogy first. You can find my review of the first book in the series here, if you want to see whether it’s something you might be interested in.

Please note that the rest of my review does contain mild spoilers for the end of the trilogy; it’s more aimed at people who are familiar with the books and are deciding whether to pick up this compilation. Read on at your own peril.

The first story, The Boy in the Web, contains backstory about Alyssa’s parents and was sweet enough, though I really wanted more to happen.

The second, The Moth in the Mirrror, is a bit of a non-entity in that it’s some of Jeb’s story from the trilogy told through Morpheus’s eyes — and, yeah, I didn’t really like Jeb that much, so I could have lived without it.

The third one, Six Impossible Things, is the story that I was really keen to read: the transition from Alyssa’s life with Jeb to her life with Morpheus. I liked it best of the three stories, although all the reminiscing by the characters towards the front end of the story dragged a little.

A. G. Howard can write. Her prose is glorious. But this book felt a little bit like fanfiction, a “what comes after the happily ever after” story. I could live without it in the same way that I wasn’t a fan of the end of the Harry Potter series — I didn’t need to know what Harry named his kids, or what Alyssa and Jeb did. The original trilogy had action and tension, and there was almost none of the former and not as much of the latter as I would have liked.  What there was was a lot of “look how perfect their lives are”.

Also — bigger spoiler here — the way that Alyssa is made a virgin again after having three kids during her mortal life made me twitch. The way she seemed to forget how childbirth worked after having three kids made me roll my eyes. Morpheus loved her when she was frail and old, so why was it necessary that she have her “innocence” restored along with her youth? It erased her family and her womanhood in a very literal sense. Blah.

Untamed was nice enough. It was an easy read. But it didn’t wow me the way the original books did. While I’d still highly recommend the original trilogy, you can give this one a miss.

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Three stars

 


Review: ‘A Corner of White’ by Jaclyn Moriarty

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The first in a rousing, funny, genre-busting trilogy from bestseller Jaclyn Moriarty!

This is a tale of missing persons. Madeleine and her mother have run away from their former life, under mysterious circumstances, and settled in a rainy corner of Cambridge (in our world).

Elliot, on the other hand, is in search of his father, who disappeared on the night his uncle was found dead. The talk in the town of Bonfire (in the Kingdom of Cello) is that Elliot’s dad may have killed his brother and run away with the Physics teacher. But Elliot refuses to believe it. And he is determined to find both his dad and the truth.

As Madeleine and Elliot move closer to unraveling their mysteries, they begin to exchange messages across worlds — through an accidental gap that hasn’t appeared in centuries. But even greater mysteries are unfolding on both sides of the gap: dangerous weather phenomena called “color storms;” a strange fascination with Isaac Newton; the myth of the “Butterfly Child,” whose appearance could end the droughts of Cello; and some unexpected kisses…

At the end of last year, fabulous teen blogger Emily Mead did a huge post with a mini-review of the 100+ books that she read in 2016. I added a bunch of books to my TBR pile as a result (curse you, Emily), and the first of these was A Corner of White.

This is actually quite a difficult book to review. It’s a parallel world story  (partly set in our world and partly in a fantastical other world — think Alice in Wonderland or, well, a bunch of other books). But it’s even more of a parallel world story than usual, in that the main characters, Madeline and Elliot, live very similar lives. Both live away from their fathers and are missing them. Both come to see what they believe are problematic elements of their fathers in their own personalities. Both of them are dissatisfied with their situation and want to leave it for one reason or another. Both are charming and loved by those around them.

But in some other ways, this book is quite baffling. I spent maybe the first third of it being dissatisfied and somewhat unengaged by Madeline’s real-world antics and her life, which was so quirky that it seemed, well, unrealistic. By comparison, Elliot’s life — in the magical kingdom of Cello — actually seemed more normal. Certainly he had more things going on than strange “homeschooling” classes and slightly deranged (albeit generally well-meaning) friends. His world and story were kept me guessing, whereas Madeline’s, well, didn’t.

If you’d asked me at 100 pages how I thought I’d be rating A Corner of White, it would have been three-star at best, despite the lovely prose and the unique world of Cello. Which made me sad, because I wanted to love it. Luckily for me, it turns out that once Moriarty got the bit in her teeth and got going, the story picked up and I raced through the rest of it. I didn’t see the plot twists coming, and I loved the way that Moriarty wove them all together at the end. I loved how Madeline’s introspective rambling about science and history drove Elliot nuts, but also taught him something valuable about his own world.

The way that the book ended, while not exactly cliff-hanger-y, definitely left me wanting more. Happily books two and three have already been released! Yay! (Now, hurry up, Mr Postman!)

Overall, this was a four-star read for me, based  on simple maths: three for the start, five for the end. I feel like Madeline would approve of that approach.

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Four stars


Review: ‘Atlanta Burns’ by Chuck Wendig

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You don’t mess with Atlanta Burns.

Everyone knows that. And that’s kinda how she likes it — until the day Atlanta is drawn into a battle against two groups of bullies and saves a pair of new, unexpected friends. But actions have consequences, and when another teen turns up dead — by an apparent suicide — Atlanta knows foul play is involved. And worse: she knows it’s her fault.

You go poking rattlesnakes, maybe you get bit.

Afraid of stirring up the snakes further by investigating, Atlanta turns her focus to the killing of a neighborhood dog. All paths lead to a rural dogfighting ring, and once more Atlanta finds herself face-to-face with bullies of the worst sort. Atlanta cannot abide letting bad men do awful things to those who don’t deserve it. So she sets out to unleash her own brand of teenage justice.

Will Atlanta triumph? Or is fighting back just asking for a face full of bad news?

Atlanta Burns is a kind of YA contemporary that is dark — so dark that the world in which the titular character exists is almost a caricature of itself. I’ve seen the book described as noir, which is something I usually associate with detectives in oversized coats, but that works here in the sense that Atlanta’s world is bleak. Almost everyone is corrupt, incompetent, or outright evil. The handful of characters that aren’t evil are damaged as a result of being the victims of those who are. These include Atlanta (mostly) and the two boys she befriends at school, Shane and Chris.

It’s a tough read. One I enjoyed, but at the same time — oof.

Firstly, if you are triggered by any of the following, this isn’t the book for you: rape, child abuse, torture, suicide, animal harm, homophobia and violent racism. 

Also, if swearing and drug use bother you, again, maybe don’t go here.

(I told you it was dark.)

Atlanta is the survivor of childhood sexual abuse — a situation she extricated herself from by buying herself a secondhand gun and shooting the perpetrator. She was then sent away to therapy for either six months or a year (my copy of the book says both — oops). The story opens up two weeks after she comes home to a mother that seems to be terrified of her and former best friends who don’t even want to make eye contact.

Atlanta suffers PTSD and panic attacks, but her particular coping mechanism whenever she’s bullied, or sees anyone else being bullied, is to confront the bully with extreme prejudice, cans of mace and her trusty shotgun — generally without thinking anything through in advance. She’s quite fragile beneath the bluster, and afterwards she suffers, but in a crisis she is as hard as nails. Maybe this reaction is a result of the same personality trait that made her buy the gun in the first place, or maybe it’s a result of therapy gone awry. It’s unclear.

Of course, given the world Atlanta lives in, there’s no shortage of opportunities for her to leap in and make things worse. Which, given her fire and lack of planning, she generally does.

In many ways, Atlanta Burns was a satisfying read. As a reader, nothing frustrates me more than when I see a character that is sufficiently evil get away with their evilness. And I’ve learned I’m kinda sorta bloodthirsty (as a reader, honest!), in that I love to see the bad guy get comeuppance at the hands of the good guy. Atlanta’s lack of impulse control and readiness to resort to violence meant I saw all sorts of bad guys get hurt. It was very satisfying!

Where it got a little unrealistic was when the bad guys didn’t seem to strike back as hard as I thought they would or should given their other behaviour. Atlanta does quite a few things to goad people without actually killing them, and their reactions don’t seem to match up to their apparent level of evilness.

The other thing that bothered me was that I kept trying to apply my understanding of the real world to the situation, and Atlanta’s world clearly wasn’t like mine. In the world of this story, the police can’t be trusted and the only adult in her life is her useless, timid mother. The teachers are largely non-entities. I realise that Atlanta going all vigilante defender of the weak does require a corrupt setting (in the same way that Batman needs his Gotham City) but at times I did raise an eyebrow at her thinking she had no other alternative but violence.

At least, I sincerely hope that there aren’t really places like the town where Atlanta lives in the world. 😦

Atlanta Burns is a hard read, but I loved Atlanta as a character. I’m sure I’ll go back for the next book, but I couldn’t read the sequel back-to-back. I need something a bit lighter to cleanse my psyche first!

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Four stars


Review: ‘Autumn Bones’ by Jacqueline Carey

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Fathered by an incubus, raised by a mortal mother, and liaison to the Pemkowet Police Department, Daisy Johanssen pulled the community together after a summer tragedy befell the resort town she calls home. Things are back to normal—as normal as it gets for a town famous for its supernatural tourism, and presided over by the reclusive Norse goddess Hel.

Not only has Daisy now gained respect as Hel’s enforcer, she’s dating Sinclair Palmer, a nice, seemingly normal human guy. Not too shabby for the daughter of a demon. Unfortunately, Sinclair has a secret. And it’s a big one.

He’s descended from Obeah sorcerers and they want him back. If he doesn’t return to Jamaica to take up his rightful role in the family, they’ll unleash spirit magic that could have dire consequences for the town. It’s Daisy’s job to stop it, and she’s going to need a lot of help. But time is running out, the dead are growing restless, and one mistake could cost Daisy everything…

Anyone with a very long memory will recall that I was looking forward to Autumn Bones releasing in 2014. More than two years later, I finally read the thing — though I don’t know why I didn’t read it sooner. I’m easily distracted by shiny things, I guess!

Autumn Bones is the second in the Agent of Hel series by brilliant fantasy writer Jacqueline Carey. I read the first, Dark Currents, back in 2012 and loved it (but that was before I was regularly reviewing books so I can’t link you a review, sadly). Of course, before starting Autumn Bones I couldn’t remember much about the series except for the fact it had a main character named Daisy who was half demon.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that you can read Autumn Bones as a standalone book if you get the opportunity; you’ll be able to follow the story just fine. Daisy’s voice is such that she has a way of reminding you about things in a chatty way that makes you feel like she’s catching you up on her story over a cup of coffee and a slice of pie. It’s one of my favourite things about the book, honestly. (Also, she and her friends compare themselves the Buffy and the Scooby Gang, so you know they’re speaking my language!)

The other is the fact Daisy has a tail. Which is apparently very sensitive; she likes it when it’s scratched.

On that note, Autumn Bones is adult urban fantasy, but — despite Carey’s other books being quite, erm, intense — goes pretty light on the sex scenes. They do happen, but they are either glossed over or are described but in a very general way. We’re not talking erotica here. (Honestly, I was a tiny bit disappointed … but that says more about me than it does about the book.)

I’m not a usual fan of the love triangle story device. In this instance the book has something closer to a … love square? But Daisy is an old-fashioned and relatively wholesome girl, despite her ancestry, so it’s mostly that she notices other guys — we’re not talking orgies* or affairs or anything. It’s more that there’s the man she’s had a crush on since she was in school, who likes her but can’t hook up with her for family reasons. There’s the hot biker ghoul that she is attracted to but generally keeps it professional with. And there’s her actual boyfriend, who is fun, albeit related to some rather unsavoury types.

(*Except that one time, in the opening chapter of the book. But she’s there to break the orgy up, not take part. And she’s mortified by the experience; there’s a lot of “ew” from her, which made me giggle.)

You might be wondering about the clash between Daisy being the daughter of a demon and the fact she’s named Daisy and says “ew” at orgies. It’s because her mother didn’t set out to summon a demon; it was an accident, and once she got pregnant she set out to raise her daughter to be a good person. As well as the tail, Daisy wrestles with strong emotions — strong enough that things tend to get creepy around her if she gets mad enough — but she has been taught that to give in to the demon side of herself would fracture the wall between earth and hell, which is a lot of incentive to stay on (or at least adjacent to) the path of righteousness.

As a reader, part of me really wants to see Daisy embrace her inner demon, though. I’m imagining it’d be like Elsa in Frozen, except with fire. I’ll bring the marshmallows!

Ahem. Anyway. The story in Autumn Bones is a little meandering, and is sometimes slow-paced, especially towards the start. There weren’t any earth-shattering plot twists, but I enjoyed the story and was entertained nevertheless. I’ve already ordered the sequel, which I gather is the last book in the series. (Noooo!)

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Four-and-a-half stars


In case you missed it, last Thursday I was over at Aussie Owned and Read, talking about starting a story right.

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Three of my 2016 Australian Women Writer reads that you should definitely check out

Like I did in 2015, I set myself the goal of reading and reviewing fifteen books by Australian women writers. I’m currently at fourteen and on my last read now — hopefully I’ll be able to get it finished in the next couple of days, despite various holiday commitments. I’ll review it and then post a wrap-up post when I’m done.

Still, I’m confident in being able to recommend three reads from these fifteen books already. I was originally going to make this a top five for 2016, but that got too hard. I’ve already listed my top five YA reads over at Aussie Owned and Read; three of those were by Australian women writers — Gemina, The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl, and Every Word (as well as Every Move in the same series) — and I didn’t want to be repetitive. Consider all three of them already heartily endorsed.

I’ve also excluded the Aussie Owned and Read girls’ books because I am friends with them (though you should check out Fame, Pretend and Shattered).

So, with that in mind — and noting that I’m basically recommending nine books here, not three 🙂 — here are three you should definitely check out.

‘Heart of Brass’ by Felicity Banks

Regular readers of my blog will know that I only reviewed this one last month. It’s by a Canberra writer who I only just discovered, and is a steampunk set in gold rush Victoria. In the space of a couple-hundred words, we get to see the main character, Emmeline, go from proper society lady who conforms to (most) social expectations while chaffing at the restrictions they impose to convict and criminal rebelling against an unfair system.  The last 100 pages of the paperback are a Choose Your Own Adventure. Seriously!

‘Faking It’ by Gabrielle Tozer

Faking It is the sequel to The Intern, which I reviewed last year; however, it stands alone. It’s very light, fun and easy to read, with a fair number of cringe-worthy moments. But, for me, the shining treasure in this book is the dialogue, especially Josie’s. Her intermittent verbal filter meant that she often came out with lines that had me giggling, and at other times were raw in their honesty. The other thing I really enjoyed was catching a glimpse of Josie’s mother recovering from her shattered relationship and starting to date again. Even though Josie was quietly horrified, I was all, “You go, Josie’s mum!”

‘Their Fractured Light’ by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

This is the third and final book in the Starbound series; I also read the second book this year, but I enjoyed the third one more. However, unlike with Faking It, you really need to read the entire series to fully appreciate the conclusion to the meta-plot that flows through all three books. You won’t regret it, though. (By the way, I know that Meagan Spooner isn’t Australian, but Amie is — in the same way that I included Gemina as an AWW read despite the fact that Jay Kristoff is a dude. It totally counts!)

Now, since I’m planning on doing the AWW challenge again in 2017, this is your chance to recommend me some awesome books by Aussie women from your own reading lists. Please leave a comment! 🙂

 


Review: ‘Steelheart’ by Brandon Sanderson

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Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics. But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his will.

Nobody fights the Epics … nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.

And David wants in. He wants Steelheart — the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David’s father. For years, like the Reckoners, David’s been studying, and planning — and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.

He’s seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.

If Emmie Mears is my favourite new urban fantasy discovery for 2016, then Brandon Sanderson has to be my favourite general fantasy discovery. I listened to Steelheart on audiobook, and it gripped me to the point where I was sneakily listening to it while waiting for my son at school pick-up yesterday.

(It was the penultimate chapter! Don’t judge me!)

Things to love about Steelheart

David, the main character, is a nerd. But — because he’s spent most of his life in a post-apocalyptic, super villain (aka Epic) world — his nerdiness runs to gun manufacture and use, and to research and trivia about Epics. He manages to be focused on revenge without being broody and obnoxious (phew). And he has the most hamhandedly delightful inability to use metaphors that I’ve ever encountered in a character.

The rest of the Reckoners team is interesting and dynamic. There’s Prof, the gruff leader with a secret; Tia, the scientist and researcher; Abraham, the spiritualist and crack shot with a gun; and Cody, the ex-cop and comic relief. And, of course, Megan, the ice princess who David starts crushing on pretty much immediately.

The plot is full of planning, scheming and a bunch of action sequences that leave you gripped. Guns! Explosions! More guns! (I got a little tired of Sanderson’s gun obsession, truth be told.) A car chase, but with motorbikes and helicopters! BOOM! POW!

The villains are suitably evil, with non-traditional superpowers. Steelheart himself is a bit like Superman, if he swapped out the ice breath for the ability to transform any non-living material around him into, well, steel. A lot of the book is spent (between gunfights) trying to figure out what Steelheart’s kryptonite is. The revelation is one of the final plot twists. Which brings me to…

The plot twists. Sanderson is a master at these things. I thought this time that I was onto him. I saw a lot of the foreshadowing, but … I drew completely the wrong conclusions! Aaah! (Next time, Sanderson! Next time!)

Things I loved a little less about Steelheart

Some of the descriptions (such as of the guns, or of simple things like the fact Abraham had a soft French accent) got a tiny bit repetitive after a while. I think this might just be Sanderson’s style, because I’ve noticed the same thing in his other books.

I found David’s obsession with Megan, the prettiest girl in the room, a little … I don’t know, shallow? Her attitude towards him was almost always somewhere between chilly and frosty, with only occasional glimpses of warmth. By the end of the book that all made sense, but I never really understood why David kept persisting in trying to impress her. I had to keep reminding myself that he was 18 and not very experienced with girls … or other humans in general.

I think, in the end, I expected more from the book’s leading lady — someone like Vin or Sarene. Megan’s portrayal felt a little more “fan service-y”, where the fans are presumed to be teenage boys.

The counter to this is that her story arc takes a very interesting turn. I’m keen to see where it goes next.

Four-and-a-half stars