Flavors of oppression and the covers of The Handmaid’s Tale

Anyone who has ever gone to the bookstore with me knows that I love covers. So when Tash and I decided to dive into The Handmaid’s Tale last month, one of the first things I did was pull the cover images. The covers a book goes through says a lot, both about the story the publisher thinks its telling, and the audience it thinks it’s selling to.

First published by the Canadian McClelland and Stewart in 1985, the original cover is cubist bold, colorful, and utterly grotesque. The main character, Offred’s relationship with the Commander takes center stage, and it’s damn uncomfortable to look at. One year later, the iconic U.S. first edition from Houghton Mifflin came out, and the world hasn’t been the same since.

Fast-forwarding to today: While the 1985 handmaids-by-the-wall cover is still, by far, the most common and recognizeable, the 2006 release from McClelland & Stewart went in an airy direction, the 2009 went full on body parts (a common enough tactic in YA, and part of a long-standing tradition of representing women through body parts: the arm, the hand, the legs, the neck and chin. The most recent re-release from 2010 Vintage Classics, though, the last in the images above, bucked the trend by going full conceptual.

Some books pivoted away from both the literal depiction of what happened in any given scene to a more symbolic representation.

Continue reading

Love, ghosts, and traitors in WWI London

The Book I Ended Up Reading. Cuz Cover.

Ghost Talkers

Yep. It’s historic fantasy, a genre I don’t often read, but after a couple weeks of agony and watching the publication date of this new release creep up on me (and past), I broke down and went for it.

Man, am I glad I did.

The Plot:

London. World War I. Ginger Stuyvesant is an American heiress and a powerful medium serving in the British Spirit Corps, a secret, spiritualist force in the military tasked with hearing the field reports of dead soldiers and passing along military intelligence. Continue reading

[Book Review] Urban fantasy, race politics, and werewolves

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Let’s talk urban fantasy.

“Too often in UF we get lip service to the idea of discrimination (or racism or sexism). If you look at the popular series, however, there is no in-depth analysis of it. Anita Blake, Elena, and Kitty are all non-human and are segregated out of the human society because of what they are, yet in their books we mostly see them functioning in a society where they are not the minority. Anita has (or had) one strict human friend, Elena had one human boyfriend, who she dumped, and Kitty has her family, but the werewolves and vampires get more play. The characters who are supposedly outsiders are actually part of the in-group of the novel. In those novels, in terms of characters, strict humans are the minority, and very rarely do central characters behave as if they have been effected by an -ism; they might have to hide, but outright discrimination doesn’t really seem to occur or should it, like in Kitty Takes a Holiday, it lacks depth.” (Chris from Goodreads)

I couldn’t have laid it out better myself, so I didn’t try. Chris was the Goodreads review angel who said Benighted by Kit Whitfield was different in its representation of “otherness.” I was convinced me to give the book a chance – and man, am I glad I did.

Since I finished it, it has skyrocketed to my short list of top reads, and is one of the few books I’ve reread. But before I get more into that, the plot:

In Benighted, being wholly human is a recessive gene. When the full moon rises, ninety-nine percent of the human population humans transform into lunes (werewolves), mindless, ferocious animals, wrecking havoc if left to their own devices. Those few born unable to change are the minority – often viewed with disgust and hostility for their disability.

Lola Galley is a veteran of the Department for the Ongoing Regulation of Lycanthropic Activities, an organization staffed by non-lunes that monitors the city during the full moon and is tasked with keeping order and capturing the lunes who break the law to roam free on full-moon nights. When Lola’s friend is attacked by a lune, and then murdered before the attacker can be brought to justice, Lola finds herself on the trail of a deadly conspiracy. Continue reading

The Cover Made Me Read It: The Dream Protocol: Descent by Adara Quick

The soft, vintage tones. The flowy dress. The dramatic clockwork moth. The lovely font on the cover. I had to read this.

The premise: Diedre is a teen in a futuristic underground city where the caste system is all, sleep and dreams are manufactured by the elites, and anyone who turns 35 is eliminated from the system. In a dystopian world frantically obsessed with youth, Diedre’s best friend, Flynn, was born with a genetic condition that ages him prematurely. If anyone finds out, he’s as good as dead.

Impressions: I was looking for some Lana Del Rey summertime sadness with this – a touch of hipster, a bit of romantic subplot, a dash of dystopia.

Instead, and despite the incredibly clever world concept, the novel reads like a kind of morality tale, in which teen characters speak out against the system in eloquent, full sentences and rhetorical questions. Continue reading

The Cover Made Me Read It: Dogwood Sprocket by Bokerah Brumley

It’s been a while since I’ve read steampunk. The historical aspect of the genre usually keeps me away. But when I saw Dogwood Sprocket’s pretty cover, I couldn’t say no.

The Story I Ended Up Reading. Cuz Cover.

Just look at the shiny silvery stuff. Just look at that top hat.

The Plot:

It’s the year 2287, and Grace York makes a living hand-crafting clever mechanical collectibles in an age of fast flying cars and soaring skyscrapers. Her life is interrupted when she is sucked through a mysterious portal created by Hugh Hawthorne, a clever inventor from a different time and a different, parallel universe. As Grace tries to adjust to the new, mechanical, steam-powered world, she finds herself falling for Hugh, a man who might be lying about whether he can get Grace home again.

Impressions:

Some stories make me angry. Some make me want to call all my friends to rave in delight. And some – the hardest to talk about – land somewhere in the lukewarm middle. This is that kind of story. Dogwood Sprocket is like curling up with a mug of tea on a comfy. It’s pleasant, cozy and sweet. It doesn’t thrill, but neither does it disappoint. It’s nice.

It’s a neat mix of time travel and romance. The first sparkle of romantic connection is instantaneous when the characters meet, but Grace and Hugh slowly and tentatively build their rapport over the full course of the story.

Luckily for Grace, her futurist career as a toy-maker and artisan is probably the only job whose skills transferred perfectly and immediately to a steampunk world. Grace’s independence is a lovely foil for Hugh’s cautious courtship as they navigate tricky issues like Victorian Era dress codes, a formal outing, how to get Grace home again…and what to do once she gets there.

Oh, and there’s a cute cat.

All and all, the short story is a nicely-crafted ode to the steampunk genre.

Canary verdict:

(A pleasant read.)

I received a free copy of the story for review.

More steampunk? Check out the following: