Skinjob by Bruce McCabe

July 22, 2014 Bruce McCabe, Thriller 1

Skinjob by Bruce McCabeTitle: Skinjob (Goodreads)
Author: Bruce McCabe
Published: Bantam Press, 2014
Pages: 384
Genre: Thriller
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

BuyAmazon, Book Depository, (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Bruce McCabe joins a growing list of authors finding success from self-publishing his novel. I know I take a very cynical view on self-published books; I tend to treat a publishing house as the filter to sift through the slush piles and pulling out the best it has to offer. That isn’t to say there isn’t anything good coming from the self-publishing world but in my experience the pimping of books and desperation makes it hard to find the ones I’d like to read. My policy is to ignore the world of self-publishing, this probably isn’t the best way to go about it but it works for me.

Every now and then a self-published novel gets picked up by a publishing house; I’m thinking Hugh Howey, Andy Weir, and dare I say it, E.L. James. Bruce McCabe is the next self-published author to enjoy similar success, his debut novel Skinjob has been published by a Random House imprint Bantam Press. In the not-so-distant future sexdolls (or if you prefer, sexbots) will become a reality, allowing and even encouraging people to act out their dark and disturbing sexual fantasies; this is the world of Skinjob.

I want to diverse from the story line of Skinjob for a moment to look at the theme McCabe is trying to explore. The sex industry is often depicted as a dark and shady place and the invention of sexdolls is obviously going to be a difficult concept; the politics and ethical challenges are explored within the novel. What I find problematic about the use of sexdolls is this idea that using a doll to live out a dark, disturbing or violent fantasy isn’t going to be healthy. I would be concerned with the psychological damage they could cause of themselves and others around them, to assume the use of a sexdoll isn’t hurting others would be a naïve approach to the issue. There is also a very ethical issue to consider; making sexdolls in all shapes and sizes seems indicates the very real possibility of childlike sex dolls.

I enjoy how Bruce McCabe takes a crack at the thriller genre, using the tropes you expect from a novel like this to explore these ideas. While looking at the growing sex industry I was most impressed with how McCabe allowed the thriller genre to work with him in this exploration. I was interested in the approach he took by allowing militant religious and feminist groups blow up dollhouses (an obvious nod to Joss Whedon) full of sexdolls. This approach meant we have a violent act where real people are not the target. This allows the reader to explore all sides of the issue without forcing them to show unwanted sympathy. The reader can then look at issue of sexual politics within the book and society. The only thing that will get in the way of exploring the issue will come down to the readers and their preconceived notions.

Skinjob is a very issue heavy novel, if you want a straight thriller then this book is not for you. In fact I was less interested in the plot and characters than I was the issues being explored. All the characters felt very two dimensional and unmemorable, even the plot could have used a lot more work but I think this works in the books favour. In the end I was left not really remembering much of the plot and people with the novel but I was still thinking about the themes.

Sexual politics is a complicated and difficult subject; Bruce McCabe’s Skinjob did a great job exploring the topic. While it doesn’t cover everything, it will leave the reader pondering the issues; I’m very glad I picked up this book and hope it has as much of an impact on other readers as it did for me. This is a debut novel and I can’t help but feel excited at what McCabe does next; I hope he continues to explore hard-hitting themes in unique and interesting ways.

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The Fictional Woman by Tara Moss

July 19, 2014 Non-Fiction, Tara Moss 2

The Fictional Woman by Tara MossTitle: The Fictional Woman (Goodreads)
Author: Tara Moss
Published: Harper Collins, 2014
Pages: 352
Genre: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

Book Depository, (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Tara Moss is probably best known as a person you hate; she seems to succeed in everything she puts her mind to. Starting her career early at 14 as a model, she always dreamed about being a writer. People don’t encourage others to be writers but they do tell girls that they should be a model. Eventually she did and it took her around the world and taught her so much; the experiences may not have been all good but it helped shape her life. Eventually she did start writing and her Makedde Vanderwall become a huge success and she created this character as a way to explore her interests in forensic science, psychology and other topics. Now with nine fiction novels under her belt Moss is giving us her first non-fiction book, The Fictional Woman.

The title comes from the idea that people tend to dismiss and stereotype others. Tara Moss is no stranger to this; she even took a polygraph test to prove she wrote her books. While this book starts off as a memoir it is important to know that this is a social critique on the world and feminism. The book begins as a memoir to provide context, an understanding of Tara Moss’ struggles and her life helps to see where The Fictional Woman is coming from. Historical context is also an important part of understanding feminism as well, especially when it comes to gender equality and pop culture. There have been plenty of Spiderman (too many), Zorro and James Bond movies but there has never been a Wonder Woman movie. In literature, the female archetype stems from fairy tales and medieval fiction, heroines tend to face off another woman, often older and depicted as witches. Cinderella type stories require a man in order to live happily ever after and even chick-lit often portrays a gender inequality.

The Fictional Woman explores this imbalance in pop-culture and society and looks at where these archetypes come from. It is impressive to see the amount of research and information Tara Moss puts into this book; it really was eye opening. I highly recommend people read this book but I need to warn everyone it may contain triggers. I’m surprised to see that the imbalance is so prominent in today’s society and I am trying to make more of an effort to read a balance of authors. The problem I found is I tend to pick up books without taking notice on of the author, sure it sometimes easy to know their gender but I don’t research authors before starting a book. I try to make more of an effort and it is an area I need to work on.

I’m really impressed with Tara Moss, she seems to succeed in everything she does; sure I’m a little jealous that she is so talented but I still feel motivated. For those interested, I recently wrote a piece about an author event with Tara Moss on Boomerang Books if you are interested, I talk in a lot more detail about The Fictional Woman. I have never spent so much time thinking about feminism, I plan to do a lot more of it, even read some more books on the topic. I might even incorporate it into my critical reviews; it is an important topic that needs to be addressed.

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Ten bookshops to visit while in America

July 17, 2014 Literature 15

I’m going away on holidays to America and my main concern was making sure that I research which bookshops to visit while over there. I am away for a few weeks and while I don’t really plan to weigh down my bags with too many books, I still like looking at books. I have been looking around for which stores to visit and I thought I might list them here and possibly open it up to some suggestions. I’m going to be visiting San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Boston, Toronto and Las Vegas, so please recommend some stores and I will try to visit them.

1

The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles

This is a scary thought, I would hate to think that there is only one bookstore left on earth and it was all the way in LA. The Paris Review once wrote that this store was “an almost 20,000-square-foot cathedral of books”.

2

Skylight Books, Los Angeles

This is often voted as one of the greatest bookshops in America (along with Powell’s but I’m not going to Portland). It could almost be considered a literary landmark, but when I think of LA I think Raymond Chandler and that landmark would be Musso and Frank Grill (which I plan to visit as well).

3

City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco

This was one of my biggest highlights when I was in San Francisco last time, and I plan to go back. Last I was there a picked up a portable collection of Romantic poetry which I adore; still think Keats is my favourite. This is not only an iconic bookshop, it is a literary landmark.

4

Green Apple Books, San Francisco

This is a well-known bookshop that has been around for a very long time. I missed it last time I was in San Francisco; I don’t want to miss it again.

5

WORD, Brooklyn

Located in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn, this is one store where their reputation precedes them. This may simply be because the Bookrageous podcast links every book to this store but I’m still very interested in checking it out.

6

McNally Jackson, Manhattan

I have heard good things about this store; mainly that it has ‘everything’. I plan to challenge this view and see if it has books on my wishlist that are normally very hard to find. If I wrote a book, I could even get it printed here.

7

Strand Books, New York

This one was recommended to me by a friend on Twitter. Eighteen miles of books, this is something I have to see. The store opened in 1927 so there is a bit of history there as well.

8

Library Hotel, New York

Not a book store but since I’m in New York, I’m going to stay in bookish class and felt the need to rub it in. Library Hotel not only offers you a great place to stay but you won’t be short of books to read.

9

Commonwealth Books, Boston

This used bookshop comes with leather chairs and a fireplace, what more do you want from a store? I would like to go, grab an old classic and spend the day reading. I’m not sure if it is a good strategy for selling books but it is one way to attract booklovers.

10

Brattle Book Shop, Boston

When I was researching book shops to visit while in America I came across this one in Boston; it looks awesome. One of America’s oldest and largest used book stores, it has to go to the streets.

There you have it, ten bookshops (sort of) that I plan to visit when I’m over in America. I know I will find more along the way and I could have mentioned a few others but I need to save room for museums and eating. Feel free to mention some more in the comments and I might see if I can make it there as well.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Great TV Shows

July 15, 2014 Top Ten Tuesday 17

toptentuesdayIt’s Tuesday again which means time for another round of Top Ten Tuesday; I like joining in on this meme because I have a set topic to work with. Top Ten Tuesday is a book blogger meme that is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish and this week the theme is: other types of stories; so either favourite Movies or TV Shows! I’ve decided to pick some TV shows that I think tell great stories with well developed characters.

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  • The Wire
  • Suits
  • Veronica Mars
  • Mad Men
  • The Sopranos
  • Orphan Black
  • Firefly
  • Spartacus
  • Orange is the New Black
  • Rake (The Australian show)

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It’s Monday! What are you Reading?

July 14, 2014 What are you Reading 12

It’s Monday, What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted over at Book Journey. I thought I’d join in with this meme as a way to be more consistent with my posting schedule, the idea is to post regularly. As I treat this blog as a book journal I thought it might be nice to have this kind of information documented.

In Cold BloodIn Cold Blood by Truman Capote

The laconic, atmospheric, and intensively researched narrative of the lives of the Clutter family of Holcomb, Kansas, and of the two men, Richard Eugene Hickock and Perry Edward Smith, who brutally killed them on the night of November 15, 1959, is the seminal work of the “new journalism.” Perry Smith is one of the great dark characters of American literature, full of contradictory emotions. “I thought he was a very nice gentleman,” he says of Herb Clutter. “Soft-spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat.” Told in chapters that alternate between the Clutter household and the approach of Smith and Hickock in their black Chevrolet, then between the investigation of the case and the killers’ flight, Capote’s account is so detailed that the reader comes to feel almost as if he were a participant in the events. New York Times: “A remarkable, tensely exciting, moving, superbly written ‘true account.’” New York Review of Books: “Harrowing… the best documentary account of an American crime ever written… The book chills the blood and exercises the intelligence.”

The Paying GuestsThe Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

It is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned, the out-of-work and the hungry are demanding change. And in South London, in a genteel Camberwell villa, a large silent house now bereft of brothers, husband and even servants, life is about to be transformed, as impoverished widow Mrs Wray and her spinster daughter, Frances, are obliged to take in lodgers.

For with the arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, a modern young couple of the ‘clerk class’, the routines of the house will be shaken up in unexpected ways. And as passions mount and frustration gathers, no one can foresee just how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be.

This is vintage Sarah Waters: beautifully described with excruciating tension, real tenderness, believable characters, and surprises. It is above all a wonderful, compelling story.

levels of lifeLevels of Life by Julian Barnes

Part history, part fiction, part memoir,  Levels of Life  is a powerfully personal and unforgettable book, and an immediate classic on the subject of grief.

Levels of Life opens in the nineteenth century with balloonists, photographers, and Sarah Bernhardt, whose adventures lead seamlessly into an entirely personal account of the author’s own great loss. 

 “You put together two things that have not been put together before. And the world is changed…” Julian Barnes’s new book is about ballooning, photography, love and grief; about putting two things, and two people, together, and about tearing them apart. One of the judges who awarded him the 2011 Man Booker Prize described Barnes as “an unparalleled magus of the heart.” This book confirms that opinion.

Check out my reading stats from last week thanks to Literally.

What Are You Reading?

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How Do You Sort Your Bookshelf?

July 12, 2014 Literature 24

sort bookshelfI was thinking about my bookshelves lately, I have a few of them and I never seem to have enough room for all the books on them. Should I cull books I am never going to read? I don’t feel comfortable with culling but sometimes it needs to be done. Does anyone else have a problem with culling? Or does any one know of a way to get over this fear.

However what I want to talk about is not culling. I was wondering how people organise their bookshelves? Do you separate non-fiction and fiction, sort by author, titles, genre or colour? How organised are you? Do you regularly resort your bookshelves. I’m terrible; there is no consistent order for any of my books. I do have a bookshelf in my bedroom that has mostly my TBR books but it is not in order either.

I’ve often thought about sorting my bookshelf but I prefer it this way. I like the sense of adventure I have when I go looking for books, going from one bookshelf to the next trying to find a book. In all honesty, I just like looking at my books; I tend to look at all the titles while in bed and wondering which books I should read and what I would think of them. I just like browsing the shelves and seeing what I have, sometimes I forget I have a book and it is a thrill to find it. So I want to know what people do, is there a benefit to organising a bookshelf?

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Provenance by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo

July 10, 2014 Aly Sujo, Laney Salisbury, Non-Fiction 4

Provenance by Laney Salisbury and Aly SujoTitle: Provenance (Goodreads)
Author: Aly Sujo, Laney Salisbury
Published: Penguin, 2009
Pages: 301
Genre: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Audiobook

BuyAmazon, Book Depository, Kindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

For those that don’t know, a provenance is a document (or documents) that chronologies the ownership of a historical object. In the art world, the provenance serves almost like a certificate of authenticity as well as a historical document of the ownership, custodies or locations the piece has been displayed. The problem was, there was a time in art history where authenticating a provenance was all you needed to prove the art was genuine. This lead to all kinds of problems, in the world of computers and photocopiers it became very easier to make a document look authenticate than it was to forge a painting. This book explores this very problem; Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art tells the story of what was described as ‘the biggest art fraud in the 20th century’.

Provenance has one of the most extraordinary narratives I’ve ever read in a non-fiction book; it reads like an art thriller, full of suspense and mystery. It wasn’t what I expected from a true crime book on art history, I was hooked in this world and on the edge of my seat to find out what will happen next. The authors of this book, Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo are both investigative reporters and spent the time to research and tell us the story of John Drewe, a villainous con man that set out to defraud the art world. Recruiting a struggling artist, John Myatt, to paint the forges, it is estimated that over 200 forgeries were made and only about 60 of them recovered. This means there is about 140 paintings still out there been accredited to artists like Giacometti, Dubuffet and so on.

If I may, I want to quickly touch on the problematic approach to authenticating a provenance rather than a painting. As I said before the use of computers and photocopiers made it easy to fake these documents, but John Drewe went further by sneaking forged documents of auctions, gallery displays and so on into the archives of museums and the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London. What was scary about the elaborate efforts Drewe went to to make this provenance real is the fact a test on the painting might have been so much quicker. If they took the effort to test the paint they would have found that Myatt used a combination of emulsion paint, K-Y Jelly and then vanish to make the paintings look like oil paintings.

All my knowledge on art forgery came from people like Neal Caffrey (White Collar) so I’m not nearly knowledgeable on the topic, as I’d like to be. Art history and art crimes can be fascinating topics and what I loved about Provenance is how it showed how crime seeps in and becomes part of the history. When John Myatt served his time he decided not to point out any paintings that he had done, and that raises an interesting question. Is it better to point out the 140 or so fakes still out there and have the owners lose all that money or not? If a fake is just going to be burnt is it better to own up to the forgery or let it remain a piece of art? The financial and artistic costs would be devastating but what about the moral code that Myatt wished to live by?

This is what made for a fascinating read, I learned a small part of art history, art crimes and it also raised some philosophical questions. I know I might have said a little too much but this is history, can you give spoilers on historic events? It is a great piece of narrative non-fiction and a great way to learn more about art crimes.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Authors I’ve Never Read

July 8, 2014 Top Ten Tuesday 24

toptentuesdayIt’s Tuesday again which means time for another round of Top Ten Tuesday; I like joining in on this meme because I have a set topic to work with. Top Ten Tuesday is a book blogger meme that is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish and this week the theme is: Top Ten Blogging Confessions. I have already done a post of the classics I haven’t read recently so I’m going to confess to authors I’ve never read.

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  • Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
  • Alexandre Dumas
  • Anton Chekhov
  • Charlotte Brontë
  • Homer

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  • J.K. Rowling
  • J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Joyce Carol Oates
  • Mark Twain
  • Mikhail Lermontov

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It’s Monday! What are you Reading?

July 7, 2014 What are you Reading 18

It’s Monday, What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted over at Book Journey. I thought I’d join in with this meme as a way to be more consistent with my posting schedule, the idea is to post regularly. As I treat this blog as a book journal I thought it might be nice to have this kind of information documented.

wickedWicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire

When Dorothy triumphed over the Wicked Witch of the West in L. Frank Baum’s classic tale, we heard only her side of the story. But what about her arch-nemesis, the mysterious witch? Where did she come from? How did she become so wicked? And what is the true nature of evil?

Gregory Maguire creates a fantasy world so rich and vivid that we will never look at Oz the same way again. Wicked is about a land where animals talk and strive to be treated like first-class citizens, Munchkinlanders seek the comfort of middle-class stability and the Tin Man becomes a victim of domestic violence. And then there is the little green-skinned girl named Elphaba, who will grow up to be the infamous Wicked Witch of the West, a smart, prickly and misunderstood creature who challenges all our preconceived notions about the nature of good and evil.

The ways of the worldThe Ways of the World by Robert Goddard

1919. The eyes of the world are on Paris, where statesmen, diplomats and politicians have gathered to discuss the fate of half the world’s nations in the aftermath of the cataclysm that was the Great War. A horde of journalists, spies and opportunists have also gathered in the city and the last thing the British diplomatic community needs at such a time is the mysterious death of a senior member of their delegation. So, when Sir Henry Maxted falls from the roof of his mistress’s apartment building in unexplained circumstances, their first instinct is to suppress all suspicious aspects of the event.

But Sir Henry’s son, ex Royal Flying Corps ace James ‘Max’ Maxted, has other ideas. He resolves to find out how and why his father died – even if this means disturbing the impression of harmonious calm which the negotiating teams have worked so hard to maintain. In a city where countries are jostling for position at the crossroads of history and the stakes could hardly be higher, it is difficult to tell who is a friend and who a foe. And Max will soon discover just how much he needs friends, as his search for the truth sucks him into the dark heart of a seemingly impenetrable mystery.

landlineLandline by Rainbow Rowell 

Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems besides the point now.

Maybe that was always besides the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect to him to pack up the kids and go home without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts . . .

Is that what she’s supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?

Check out my reading stats from last week thanks to Literally.

What Are You Reading?

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