Sunday, January 29, 2017

Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers' Schemes (2006)

By: Sharon Lamb, Ed.D. and Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed.D.

Genre: Nonfiction, Women & Gender Studies, Social Commentary

I was excited to read this book when I borrowed it from a friend a few months ago. As someone who majored in Media Studies in college and minored in Women & Gender Studies, I'm well aware of the insidious ways the media can affect our children, particularly our daughters. As someone who wants to have children one day, I'm always on the lookout for materials that will aid me in raising well-balanced, intelligent people who are aware of the media's attempts to spoon feed them toxic materialism and stereotypes. That is the goal of this book. However, while it provides many good examples of ways to talk to our daughters (which can also be used for our sons and non-binary children) about what they are seeing in the media as well as great book and movie suggestions, the attacks on certain kinds of films, music artists and books are flawed and poorly researched, making this a hard book to recommend when there are far better books like this available.

Lamb and Brown organize the book into six chapters, five of which are related specifically to our daughters - what they wear, what they watch, what they listen to, what they read, and what they do - and the sixth devoted to Sample Conversations With Our Daughters. I will go over each chapter individually.

I had little to no problems with the section on clothing for girls, as for the most part, I agree with the authors. Lamb and Brown lament the limited clothing choices available to young girls and women. The clothes are either too revealing or have cringe-worthy sayings on them like "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful, hate me because your boyfriend thinks I am" and "If It Weren't for Boys, I Would Never Go To School." This book was written in 2006, but that trend is still big today with such shirts as "Boys Are Better Than Books."

 Lamb and Brown also point out that clothing for little girls state they are "Princesses," "Angels," "Pretty," or "Have Attitude," while boys get positive clothing stating they're "Champs." I witnessed this in the kids' department while shopping for my nephew not too long ago - there were pajamas in the boys' department that stated the child was "Smart and Brave" but I could not find anything equivalent to that in the girls' department.  

I fully agree with Lamb and Brown that it is a problem in marketing that we stereotype girls into brainless bimbos that worship at the altar of makeup, the color pink and boys. From an early age this is being sold to our girls, telling them this is the type of girl to be, and it wriggles its way into the minds of even the most avid resisters.

Next came the chapter on movies and television, which did raise an issue with me. The examples they use in this section are television shows and movies I grew up watching, and while I don't want to tell the authors that their interpretations of the messages in these shows is wrong, I will say I do not agree with them on many examples and feel they didn't do adequate enough research.
The authors state that girls have very little strong female figures to relate to on television and that can be true, especially in the early years where it seems that the boys get all the adventures. They acknowledge Dora the Explorer as an adventurous, strong female character, but claim she is in the minority. As I have seen many children's shows give the exciting storylines to male characters and the majority of children's shows have male leads, this seems accurate to me. I do think we're doing a little better these days with shows like Doc McStuffins and Word Girl, but I don't have much experience with children's television circa 2006.
 However, when it comes to the shows watched by teens and preteens,  I feel the authors either blew off popular shows with great characters that were on during the time they were researching this book or gloss over them. The authors went out of their way to rip apart shows like Lizzie McGuire, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Kim Possible for pushing the girly girl stereotype and love of shopping/clothes/makeup/boys and seemingly forget the fact that some girls do actually like that stuff and it is okay as long as the characters are well-rounded - which Lizzie, Sabrina and Kim all were. There is no mention of shows like So Weird or The Jersey that involved girls with more varied interests such as the paranormal (So Weird) and sports (The Jersey) or of Ren, the brainy older sister in Even Stevens. Gilmore Girls is barely mentioned and there is no praise for the amazing mother/daughter relationship, the fact that Rory's best friend is a girl of color, or that Rory makes intelligence, dry wit and being a bookworm cool. Veronica Mars is also glossed over when she's a badass who is full center between girly-girl and tomboy, her best friends are a guy of color and a female computer whiz and bookworm, she solves mysteries, makes intelligence sexy, rocks the sarcastic humor, and doesn't take crap from anyone. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel are completely ignored in favor of Charmed despite their badass lady characters. Buffy, Willow, Cordelia, Fred, Tara and Anya all have something to teach our girls and the boys on these shows are just as well rounded and worthy of discussion. I felt like Brown and Lamb wasted more page space ranting about shows that weren't very problematic and ignored some great shows that were available at the time.

Then Lamb and Brown decided to take on the horror genre and I began to lose respect for them. As a longtime fan of this genre, beginning at the age of twelve, I have heard a lot of arguments against it, especially from fellow feminists, and some do have good points while others are obviously ill-informed and poorly researched, based on a small sampling of what the horror genre has to offer. The argument in this book falls into the latter category.
First, the movies they chose to exemplify the horror genre were horrible. They claimed to be talking about Jeepers Creepers but ended up analyzing the plot of Jeepers Creepers II which has an entirely different style than its predecessor. The first film was more of a suspense/thriller/creature feature while the sequel follows more of a slasher formula. They compare Jeepers Creepers II to a little known slasher with a limited theatrical release from 2003 called Shredder which is apparently supposed to exemplify all things slasher.
I REALLY HATE when critics of horror films take the worst of the worst and use them to justify their critiques of the stereotypes in that genre. There is no mention of the classics such as Black Christmas (1974), Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Halloween (1978), Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) or Friday the 13th (1980), nor of more recent quality slashers such as Scream (which actually does their nitpicking for them). No they choose a slasher that no one has heard of except for its brief run on Netflix Instant Watch. The authors complain that there are never girls helping each other , which may be the case in Shredder, but not in Jeepers Creepers II when the cheerleaders try to help one another, nor in the previous slashers I mentioned above - if the girls end up in a bad situation together they look after one another. The authors complain about the nudity and sex - which are usually aspects of a lower grade horror film, but often make an appearance in slasher films none-the-less. While I am not a big fan of the sex and nudity myself, it doesn't ruin a movie for me - and in the classics it is usually tastefully done. Usually, the more in-your-face the nudity and sex scenes are, the worse the film is.
The only other horror films mentioned are The Exorcist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake which are also frowned upon for stupid reasons. They make Reagan's gender a major aspect of why her possession was so horrifying when it's really the perversion of innocence overall. Erin in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake is chastised for wearing a white tank top and for the motherly focus when she rescues a baby. (What was she supposed to do, leave it there?) She also goes head to head with Leatherface and wins! 
Why no mention of that or any of the other badass final girls? There is nothing regarding the empowering feeling a girl gets when a female bests the murderer / monster and comes out a hero - which is what I felt as a teenager and still feel now when I watch these films.
Lamb and Brown act like a female being the villain in a horror film is terrible and stating that all women are either good or evil. Why is it so wrong for a female to be the killer? We can be just as evil as males and there are female serial killers in existence.
Lamb and Brown bring up the virgin vs. slut dichotomy and claim that the slut always has to die. While this is sometimes the case, it isn't always as true horror fans can tell you. Also, the Final Girls are NOT all virgins. It is hinted in both Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th that Nancy and Alice have had sex prior to the beginning of the film. Jess in Black Christmas is struggling with the decision to abort her pregnancy. It's unknown whether Sally in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a virgin. Sydney loses her virginity onscreen in Scream breaking the "only virgins survive" rule. Only Laurie Strode of Halloween is a shy virgin. It's as if Lamb and Brown are paying lip service to a rule they've heard about but never done their own research on.
Next, Lamb and Brown take on the music of the time, and, as the artists and songs they used for examples were a big part of my teenage years, I found myself in disagreement with a lot of what they had to say.  Especially since, once again, I found their research flawed at best.
For instance, Lamb and Brown mention that Vanessa Carlton mastered the piano and ballet, but talked about Jessica Simpson as if she was only famous for her reality show, Newlyweds. I'm not a huge Jessica Simpson fan, but that show wouldn't have had the audience it did if Jessica Simpson wasn't already a star (2 hit albums were released prior to the reality series).
Lamb and Brown come across a little hypocritical in this chapter. They practically ignore the problematic songs by the Black Eyed Peas because that band also wrote that one decent song, Where is the Love? (which is a great song, but every other song they release is sexual and/or about drinking/partying), but judge a pop artist like Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera based on two songs out of their many albums. Britney is criticized from going from innocent in ...Baby OneMore Time to sexually compromised in Toxic, the entirety of the two albums between her debut ...Baby One More Time and In the Zone which contains Toxic is ignored - both of which contain songs like Stronger, What U See Is What U Get, Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman, Overprotected, and Cinderella which I loved as a teen. Later in the book they also rip on Britney for having a porn director direct her video for From the Bottom of My Broken Heart - probably her most chaste video ever produced. 
The authors do the same with Christina, comparing Genie in a Bottle to Dirrty (which they mistakenly call "Drrty Girl") claiming both are about sex (Genie definitely is - about the conflict between hormones and knowing when it's right to give it up to someone, but Dirrty is more of a dance club anthem with sexual inuendo.) Songs disregarded: I Turn to You (which was supposed to be a love song and Christina turned it into a song about her mother), Reflection (For Mulan), Can't Hold Us Down, Fighter, Beautiful, Soar, Make Over, The Voice Within, I'm Ok and Keep Singing My Song. All of which are empowering and amazing.
Songs that I loved in my youth were attacked for not being girl-friendly such as Perfect by Simple Plan - Lamb and Brown claim it's not "girl friendly" because it doesn't include girls. Well no, it was written by a guy about his relationship with his father - it's HIS story and HIS feelings. However, girls are included in the music video making it relatable for girls as well.
Sk8er Boi by Avril Lavigne is accused of being divisive among girls and upholding stereotypes - again this was a song based on Avril's life - the snooty girl who turns down the skater boy was the kind of girl who bullied Avril for being different. She was describing the kind of girl who, in her experience, was stuck up and superficial, turning her back on people who had real potential in favor of the superficial, preppy, popular crowd. It's about the what happens when you let your friends choose your partner and are afraid to go after who and what you want. 
Avril is also criticized later in the book for getting "girly" for her second album and writing songs about boys. (Her first album had a lot of songs about boys on it too, FYI.) They said the "girl power" of her second album, Under My Skin was limited to "the power to wait for the right time to have sex" and used Don't Tell Me as an example. That is not quite what the song is about - it is about standing up for yourself when your significant other or someone you're dating casually or even just a friend is trying to pressure or coerce you into having sex when you don't want to do so. Avril stands up for all the young women telling them it is okay to say "no" and to kick the ass of anyone who doesn't respect that decision. 
The authors also act like it is a bad thing that Avril teaches young girls through her lyrics that they have the choice about who they date and criticize her lyrics where she states that the guy she's no longer with never made her feel special - like it is a bad thing to want your boyfriend to treat you like you're special to him. I always interpreted that line to mean that he didn't treat her well or like his girlfriend - for example - take her out on dates, do nice things for her, call her, etc. not that he should have been worshipping at her feet or something. I also don't see anything wrong with young women being told that they don't have to put up with a guy not treating them right which has always been the message that I took out of Avril's early music. The authors seem mad that Avril uses "We all have choices ... we all have voices..." in the terms of romantic love but not in any other terms for young women. I'm sorry, but why does one young pop star have to be the perfect idol for all young girls? Then the authors praise Fefe Dobson who writes the same kind of songs. What?
I swear Lamb and Brown didn't even listen to some of the songs they commented on. They ragged on Good Charlotte for Riot Girl and said that Hold On was written specifically for a girl. No it wasn't - it is an anti-suicide song for their fans. Blink 182 is criticized on for "needing comfort" in IMiss You, (why is that a bad thing? I thought we, as feminists, were fighting for males to be able to break free from toxic masculinity and express their emotions!) Also they say "vocalist" when discussing Blink 182 when both Tom and Mark sing in I Miss You. In fact, they only ever say "The vocalist" when talking about the pop punk bands such as Simple Plan, Blink 182, Good Charlotte and Green Day - they never use their names, nor, it seems, bothered to find out anything about them. So we shouldn't discuss the fact that the Madden twins of Good Charlotte grew up on Welfare, were raised by a single mother when their dad walked out, were bullied relentlessly at school, worked part time jobs to help provide for their family, and taught themselves to play an instrument? Just because they're dudes that doesn't mean they cannot be relatable to young women. I felt they ripped harder into bands who wrote relatable, non-misogynistic , emotional / confession songs than into artists who wrote nothing but party songs about drinking and sex.
The authors also whine about how few bands are fronted by women and then say Amy Lee of Evanescence wrote Tourniquet about a lost love and asking God to save her. Seriously, did they even listen to the song? It's about a LITERAL suicide - she's committed the act, and, as a Christian, is committing a moral sin, so she is asking to be forgiven. It is true that there aren't many female lead bands, but the ones we do have are pretty amazing - Evanescence, Flyleaf, Paramore, Garbage, The Cranberries, Kittie, My Ruin, and many others have some great things to say and will empower your daughters. 
The fourth chapter took on what books our girls are reading.  While the authors offer some great suggestions for books for young girls and teens, I found them to be off base on some things. They really lay into the American Girl book series which I found to be wonderful as a kid. The authors claim that the word "pretty" was thrown about too much in the first Felicity book, and maybe it was - but as a child I took away the history lessons and the adventures from these books. The authors also got their facts wrong, stating that Kit was one of the original five American Girls and Addy came later when it is actually the other way around. I got into the American Girl products when I was about 6 or 7 and at that time there were Felicity, Kirsten, Addy, Samantha and Molly. Then Josephina was added, followed by Kit and then Kaya . The collection has since expanded more, including girls up through the 1970s and adding at least two more girls of color. The books are criticized for being too commercialized because the dolls that go with them are expensive (but very good quality dolls with bodies that resemble those of girls 7 to 12 years old) and they have too many accessories to blow money on. This may be true, but the savvy parent can limit such large purchases or teach their daughters to earn money to make said purchases, and many accessories such as clothes can be found at craft fairs much cheaper than through the catalog. However, I disagree that the dolls or accessories are really pushed in the books. The stories are great all on their own - the books didn't make me want to purchase the clothes or accessories - the catalogs did. I read the books for the storylines and history and they piqued my interest in social studies and history as I got older. I bought the Felicity and Samantha dolls because I enjoyed their stories the most. I also do not think the authors of this book read more than the "Meet _____" book of the American Girls they did discuss - Felicity and Addy, mostly - and missed out on some of the best books in each girl's series. In the original line up each girl had a six book series. Book 1 was always "Meet ____", followed by the school story, the Christmas or Holiday story, the Birthday story, "_____ Saves the Day" and "Changes for ______" and each book would hold a new lesson or adventure for these girls. Felicity frees a horse from an abusive owner. Addy and her mother escape slavery and flee North to Philadelphia. Samantha befriends the servant girl next door who has no one, and later in the series, rescues this girl and her sisters. All of this is overlooked or glossed over in favor of the authors' complaints that Felicity is part of the cliché that girls like horses and that Addy had to save her mother from drowning because her mother was portrayed as too dumb to swim. (No, her mother was a slave and NEVER LEARNED to swim as she was too busy working the fields!) The authors whined about how very few of the mothers are present and said that Molly's mother was dead (she was not - she is probably the most involved mother in the series that I read). These books contained a lot of great stories and lessons, and I feel the authors missed those in their narrow minded nit picking. 
Besides their poorly researched issues with the American Girl stories, the only other issue I had with their take on the books girls read is their description of the Nancy Drew Mystery series as "mov[ing] from intrepid detective to hot-teen-in-trouble books with covers that resembled Baywatch ads" and stating "we knew desire for sales would win out over content." Did you actually read these stories though? The authors are not clear as to which version of the Nancy Drew mysteries of recent years they are referring to, so I'm going to assume it is the continuation of the series numerically in paperback format. On these covers Nancy is blonde rather than a red head, but that change occurred in the sixties or seventies when the original series ended. Nancy is also usually dressed as an average teen in jeans and sweaters or blouses much more practical for sleuthing in than the dresses and heels she frequently wore in the original stories. I found I enjoyed the mysteries in the paperback Nancy Drew stories just as much as the original 64 books in the series (and not all of those were gold either). Still it would be helpful to know just which series the authors are referring to as we have The Nancy Drew Files, Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew, The Nancy Drew Diaries, Nancy Drew: Girl Detective and The Nancy Drew Notebooks in addition to the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories and just plain Nancy Drew. 
The authors make one thing clear and that is their dislike for the graphic novel version which is drawn with the "manga look" and gives Nancy an unrealistic body with large breasts (I do believe she always had those, she just didn't wear tight fitting clothing). They also describe George as  "pumped up" and "OC-like" - whatever that means. I took the liberty of looking up the graphic novel on Amazon and viewed the "Look Inside" option. Nancy is conservatively dressed though her breasts are a little perky and her tops are a little tight, George is still the tomboy she always was, wearing her jeans and t-shirts, only she may be rocking a little eyeliner and lipstick, and Bess has gone from plump and cute to pin-up girl body, wearing sexy clothes (miniskirts, halter tops) and has become a flirt. They've also added a mean-girl nemesis for Nancy that I've never heard of before (long time Nancy fan, here) which is something I would have thought these authors would have latched onto as they had an entire section on "Mean Girls v. Nice Girls" and how that dichotomy is problematic. Maybe they didn't read the book?
Other than their less-than-well-researched-or-thought-out comments on two of my favorite childhood book series, I did agree with much of what they had to say regarding other teen novels and I loved their recommendations for future reading. 
I also agreed with much of what they had to say against teen magazines and how they push material items at girls while claiming they just want girls to be able to find themselves and be true to their own unique personalities. I liked how the authors explained that this is problematic when they are really teaching girls to embrace aspects of the consumer market. My one issue with their take on magazines is how they rip on certain activities or jobs that girls may like just because they are traditionally feminine. They discuss how one teen magazine suggested a list of summer jobs for girls and labeled them as "traditional Mom" jobs such as gardening, baking, organizing and taking care of children, pets and elderly people. Yes, I get the argument that traditionally male jobs such as mowing people's lawns or helping out at a summer camp should be suggested for girls as well, but let's not forget that some girls actually enjoy the "traditionally feminine" jobs suggested and we shouldn't shame them for it. What if a girl likes to bake or make lemonade or cook? I get the implication is that girls belong doing cooking, cleaning and nurturing, but we shouldn't disregard suggestions like this just because they are traditional as there are many girls who enjoy kitchen oriented activities or organizing or being with kids, animals and elderly folks. I think we just need to add more diverse activity and job suggestions so no one feels unrepresented. I do agree with their assessments that the activities suggested for girls by these magazines are pretty lame - such as, watch TV, go to the movies, read a suggested novel (usually garbage), write down lyrics to your favorite songs, watch the clouds, practice karaoke, show off your fave swimsuit at the pool and have a summer fling. (I left out giving your room a mini make over, because I found that fun and soothing in my youth - I still do.) I really liked the ideas for activities pitched by the authors and think they should be incorporated into more parenting and more teen magazines. 
Chapter five examined what girls like to play or do in their free time. This chapter focused a lot on sports and the fact that many girls seem to feel alienated from them, which is sometimes true. The authors argue that girls don't have a lot of female sports role models to follow, especially those with the bodies of true athletes, and that is also true as the media spends a lot more time following men's athletics, but the authors also seemed to forget that the Williams sisters exist  and that many young women look up to them. The authors also argue that many women abandon sports for drama, singing and art as we "have been taught to be deeper, more emotionally rich and complicated people, and that drama, self-involvement, and angst-ridden self-reflection are the essence of teenage girlhood." (p. 236) The authors go on to say, "But when girls give up sports for these more emotionally charged and dramatic hobbies, they miss the rewards of a deeper connection to their bodies. One could argue that dancers have that bodily connection, but the high incidence of anorexia and bulimia amongst dancers goes against that argument."  (p. 236) Or the girl could just not be athletically inclined and instead prefer the arts? I was one of those girls - I'm a terrible athlete, but I love the theater. Also, the swipe at dancers is not okay - I was into dance and knew several dancers growing up and, as an adult, have two acquaintances (one male, one female) who teach dance on a regular basis. Anorexia and Bulimia have nothing to do with being in touch with one's body - they are a mental illness based on control of food and weight. There are also plenty of ways of getting in touch with one's body that do not involve sports - such as singing a full range of notes, hiking, taking a walk, meditation, yoga, perfecting a difficult dance number or blocking sequence, etc. I feel like, a lot of times, despite saying that parents need to be open minded to their daughter's take on things and what activities their daughters want to pursue, it is really like they are saying that girls should be into certain activities over others - which is just as bad as what we learn from the media. 
Lamb and Brown go on to attack the suggestion that girls decorate their bedrooms. They dedicate a two page section of the book to ranting about how all the decor marketed for girls rooms being stereotypically girly - pink, purple, floral, paisley - filled with princesses and fairies or pop stars and furniture designed by their favorite teen idol. I understand the comparison to the decor directed at boys is the cause of some of this anger - the boys get decor related to science, nature and sports with color schemes of green, red, yellow and blue - which again indicates that boys are smart and active while girls are passive and silly. This kind of thing does deserve a rant. However, it should not be frowned upon if a girl wants to take initiative to make her room her own to match her growing personality. In my adolescence my room went through two makeovers of my own design. I didn't use a marketing device such as a catalog to guide my choices - I watched a lot of Trading Spaces and HGTV and picked my own color schemes, arranged the furniture how I wanted, etc. It got my creative juices flowing and I don't think that should be discouraged in any child. If your son wants to decorate, there should be no shame in that either. 
Chapter six is the best chapter as it provides a strategy for talking to our children about toxic media influence as well as sample conversations. For the most part these are well thought out, although in some cases it appears that the authors are once again out-of-touch, such as when they equate being "goth" to smoking pot and equated piercings and dying one's hair a wild color with self-harming behaviors such as cutting and eating disorders. Otherwise, it is a great tool for discussing problematic media messages and imagery with your child, and it's one of the few things about this book that I would recommend looking into.
Overall:  While I like what these authors have to say as far as talking to our daughters (although I think it can be used to educate children of all genders) and the suggestions they have on how to do so, I don't like the examples of media they chose and feel this book was poorly researched. I recommend that anyone interested, go to your local library and make copies of the following: the list of Movies That Feature Strong Girls and Fewer Stereotypes (p. 116), the list of Books and Series that Have Strong Girls and Few Stereotypes (p. 208 - 209), and Rebel, Resist, Refuse: Sample Conversations With Our Daughters (p. 263 - 294). Forget all the rest.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Bag of Bones (1998)

by: Stephen King

Genre: Horror, Drama, Supernatural

Four years after the sudden death of his beloved wife, Jo, suspense novelist Michael Noonan returns to their summer home on Dark Score Lake. Upon arriving in the small Maine town, Mike finds he may not be alone in the lakeside retreat known as Sara Laughs. He hears phantom crying in the night, receives messages on his refrigerator, and has ghostly encounters in his dreams. After a chance encounter with young, twenty-one-year-old Mattie Devore and her three-year-old daughter, Kyra, Mike finds himself dragged into the middle of a custody battle, both by Mattie's ill-intentioned father-in-law and the spirits of Sara Laughs. What secrets does Dark Score Lake hold and why do the spirits want him to help Mattie?

I enjoyed this novel. While it has horror aspects in relation to the hauntings and the evil within some human beings, the story focuses more on the character development and relationships. For the first two thirds of the novel, the main focus is Mike's battle with writer's block, his grief over the loss of his wife, and the custody battle between Mattie and Max Devore. The more involved Mike becomes, the more he begins to fall for Mattie and seems to step easily into the father figure role when spending time with Kyra. The ghostly happenings serve as a connection between them, and it isn't until tragedy strikes that the horror really begins.

The characters are well-rounded and fleshed out, they have histories and unique characteristics. The good guys are relatable and likeable, while the villains are truly twisted and evil. Mike serves as a great narrator, he's relatable, intelligent and witty, with a softer side he's not afraid to show. He decides to help Mattie when the rest of the town has turned against her. He's so good with Kyra, and despite the age gap, the reader ends up wanting him and Mattie to end up together.  Mattie Devore seems like a fun and loving mother, who is doing everything she can to raise a toddler on her own. She doesn't trust easily and does not like to accept charity from anyone. She is clearly being persecuted by Max for no good reason and it's hard not to love her or her adorable daughter Kyra. These three are the center focus of the story, and while the rest of the characters were well-written, these three are the ones that stand out.

A key theme in this novel is the enduring bonds of love; bonds that last long after death. This theme keeps Jo alive, despite her death in chapter 1, and enables her to protect Mike as he comes closer to revealing the dark secrets of TR-90. However, hate and rage can also create bonds that endure through death and generations, and this powerfully negative energy is exactly what Jo is determined to protect Mike from.  

At first the only negative energy Mike has to deal with is in human form as Max Devore harasses and even assaults him when he gets in the way of Max getting custody of Kyra. The scene where Max and Rogette, two seemingly unlikely assailants have Mike trapped out in the lake, attempting to drown him, is one that had me clinging to my book, unable to put it down until I knew he was safe. This scene is the turning point for the novel, and the suspense continues until the final act. As the human behavior becomes more violent, the paranormal activity inside Sara Laughs intensifies, and as the novel reaches its climax, the reader follows  Mike as he puts together the connection between the haunting of Sara Laughs and the happenings in the lives of Mattie and Kyra Devore.

I really did enjoy this novel and loved the combination of ghost story and the fairly accurate portrayal of a custody battle. I felt for the characters and fell in love with them, especially Mattie, Mike, Jo and Kyra. However, it did lag a little in the middle of the novel before picking up speed again, so that may deter a few readers. Curious to see how it ended, however, I plugged through and ended up with a fairly satisfying ending. My only other complaint is that we don't find out what happened to Romeo Bissonette and George Kennedy after they both incur wounds in a shoot out. As their wounds didn't appear fatal, the reader can assume they made it out okay, but it still would be nice to know for sure.

Overall, despite a couple minor draw backs, this is a decent, entertaining read, delving more into human relationships than the horror aspects of the haunting of Sara Laughs. If you're looking for a lot of scares, this novel may not be for you. However, if you enjoy lots of suspense and character development, and don't mind that the ghostly activity takes a backseat to human interaction, you may enjoy this book as much as I did. This book is as much about the evil that lies in the hearts of humanity as it is about the dangers of the paranormal world.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

This Love is Not For Sale (2013)

By: Ella Dominguez

Genre: Romance, Erotica

After a death in her family, Lilliana Norris inherits property worth millions. It is a home that was an anchor for her as a child, a home to many cherished memories shared with her mother and aunt. She moves into the house, knowing she’ll never be able to afford the taxes. Enter Tucker McGrath, a handsome, shady real estate mogul, who will stop at nothing to get his hands on her property. The two eventually become a couple, but does Tucker really love her, or is he just in it to get her land?
This book caused me so much rage! I nearly threw my kindle across the room several times while reading this garbage. It was just so frustrating! Now, I normally try to keep my reviews fairly professional, but I just can’t with this one. WARNING! You are now heading on a long venture through SNARK-infested waters! If that’s not your bag, you might want to turn back while you still can.

The first thing that angers me about this story is the characters. I liked Lilliana quite a bit at first, despite her initial condescending words to Tucker (before I realized just what HE was like). She’s independent, intelligent, and feisty. At first she’s really able to stand her ground against Tucker; telling him off when he oversteps her boundaries, giving him deserved verbal beat downs when he talks down to her, and refusing to take his crap. She has some great lines:

“It so happens that I admire all of your teeth, but it’s your ass I want off my property.” (p. 17)

“How dare you presume to know my needs. You have no idea what makes me tick. I’m no little girl, Mr. McGrath. I’m a lady and a grown woman with desires you’ll never comprehend. It’s very obvious to me that from your attitude, I doubt you know what any woman needs.” (p. 19)

“You can’t begin to fathom the amount of fucks I do not give about what you want. You know the way out.” (p. 20)

“If by fuck you mean slap you upside your fat, egotistical head, then yes, I do want to ‘fuck you.’” (p. 35)

“This isn’t a drive-through service, chucklenuts.” (p. 56) [Also, stealing the insult, “chucklenuts.” Best thing in the book. That, and “dick nugget.”]

“Unbelievable. Seriously, I don’t think you know the first thing about being gentlemanly. I’m not sure what kind of women you’re used to dealing with, but you don’t get to take what you want with me. You’re haughtiness goes beyond anything I’ve ever experienced…Just turn this stupid, over-priced car around and drive me home!” (p.78) [Grammatical errors from the text.]

 “You don’t own me, Tucker McGrath, and I haven’t signed anything yet stating that you can do whatever the hell you want to me. You wanted me on my knees and that’s where I am at. If you want something else, then you can ask nicely…Do you know how to do that or would you like me to demonstrate?” (p. 157)

“Fine, I guess we won’t remain amicable then. What the hell is your problem anyway, Tucker? Why did you come back here? Just to chew my ass? And just to clarify: it’s you and not me.” (p. 161)

“You said you could find someone else to provide your needs. So what are you waiting for?” (p. 162)

Yet despite these moments of awesome, she wants to, and often does, give in to him at the slightest touch. Why? Because he’s hot. 

Also, his dominating personality and objectifying behavior make her “feel like a woman.” That is literally her response when he orders her to cook for him and when collars her and forces her to suck him off. 

The more Tucker mistreats her, the more she gives him what he wants and rarely asks for anything in return. She has the rare moments of clarity listed above, but as the book progresses, she falls more and more underneath his twisted spell. I guess being hot makes up for being an asshole. 

Now, let’s discuss Tucker. From the beginning he comes off as a sexist, egotistical piece of shit, and that doesn’t change at all as the book progresses. Good things about Tucker: he’s a hard worker, he’s against cheating, he provides for his parents, and he’s not a homophobe. Also, he’s good-looking, rich, and into BDSM (well, using it to abuse his power, anyway) which seems to rev Lilliana’s engine. The bad things about Tucker? Oh, how I loathe him, let me count the ways!

1.       He immediately objectifies Lilliana, taking mental notes about her beautiful ass.

2.       After receiving some of Lilliana’s trademark sass, he decides she’s in need of “a good bit of discipline.” He doesn’t even knowing her name at this point.

3.       He acts as though Lilliana has no right to the property that she rightfully inherited.
Ex: “…Fuck. I hope she’s not planning on taking up permanent residency in that house. I need to talk to her right away. Get me her number. No. Fuck that. I’ll get changed and pay her a visit myself. I prefer to do business face-to-face anyway.” (p. 12)
Because how dare she own something he wants?! The nerve of her!

4.       If you don’t give Tucker his way, you’re automatically an insolent child that needs a spanking.
Ex: “Tucker…was quickly becoming irritated with Lilliana’s insolence. Twice in one day he’d had a vision of a woman bent over his knee with red ass cheeks.” (p. 16)

5.       He gets aroused by a woman’s uneasy or fearful expressions.
Ex: “Tucker hadn’t felt the uneasiness of a beautiful woman in a very long time and he found it enthralling that she could at least recognize his animalistic intentions and power, despite her willfulness and disobedience.” (p. 16); “…her eyes as wide as the moon. Tucker didn’t know whether to laugh out loud or jizz in his pants from Lilliana’s reaction.” (p. 110)

Because great sex and healthy relationships are all based on the woman being slightly frightened of the man. A guy who could jizz in his pants over the fear in your eyes is NOT someone you want to be with.

6.       Whenever Lilliana stands up to him, the reader gets a lovely description of how he wants to “fuck her mouth” to shut her up.
Ex: “Tucker suddenly wondered what it would feel like to have those full lips wrapped around his shaft and that sharp tongue licking his big balls, He bet her smart-ass mouth would look absolutely divine glistening with his warm cum.” (p. 18); “He wanted nothing else but to fill her mouth with his cock and to fuck the mockery right out of it and make her surrender completely to him.” (p. 90)

She’s basically a cum-receptacle – an object to satisfy his sexual needs. He needs those “big balls” of his kicked in.

7.       She refuses to discuss selling her land with him and tells him to get his ass off of her property. His response? “…A good hard fuck is exactly what you need, little girl.” (p. 19) Yes, because a woman who doesn’t want to give you something she owns obviously just needs to be fucked until she comes to her senses and hands it over.

8.       He grabs her keys from her hand and blocks her from getting into her car to get away from him. Red Flag Alert! Preventing someone from leaving is considered an abusive behavior. Get the hell away from him, Lilliana!
Lilliana: -Accompanies him to his office-
9.       He offers this lovely gem, “Don’t test me, Lilliana, and don’t mistake my tolerance for weakness. That mouth of yours is going to get you in trouble every time. I won’t ever disrespect you and I expect the same courtesy in return.” (p. 38) He then proceeds to disrespect the hell out of her for the rest of the book. Also, I don’t believe telling someone they need a “good hard fuck” is very respectful there, Tucker.

10.   He insists she accompany him to dinner, she tells him maybe and then doesn’t show. He becomes angry that she “stood him up” (she never agreed to meet you, that’s not standing you up, dickhead!) and barges into her house demanding that she make it up to him by cooking him something sweet for dessert.
Me: What the hell?! GET THE FUCK OUT, you entitled piece of shit! She owes you nothing! Tell him, Lilliana!
Lilliana: “Look, I’m not sure what you think is going to happen here, but you really need to leave.”
Me: Yes!!
Tucker: “And I will, after you’ve prepared something sweet for me. I hope you can cook, Ms. Norris. I’m in the mood for something sweet.”
Me: How about a nice Cyanide-laced Kool-Aid? Maybe some arsenic? Would that work for you?
Lilliana: -Wavers and gives in-
Lilliana: I’m sorry, what can I do? He’s not going anywhere!
Me: Call the cops and have him arrested for trespassing?
Lilliana: Nah! I’m gonna make him some apple crisp!
11.   When she begins to cut the apples for the apple crisp, he tells her she’s doing it wrong, and rubs his erection into her ass while he demonstrates the “proper way” to cut up an apple.
Me: Let me show you how a knife feels in your family jewels! Back the fuck up off me, creep!
Lilliana: Ooh, that’s a big dick rubbing against my ass! Oh, how I’ve missed the feel of a man’s touch!
Me: A man’s touch IS nice, but you can wait for a deserving man. Until then…. 

Tucker: -kisses down her spine, pulls down her shorts, gropes her ass and bites her ass cheeks-
Lilliana: -squeals-
Me: I would have purposely farted in his face.

12.   When Lilliana questions his sincerity in wanting to be with her, he gets upset and says, “Please don’t question my intentions and motivations, Ms. Norris.” Yet on the very next page there’s an entire paragraph about how he was going to get her “on her knees” and get “that fucking land.” Don’t get pissed at her for being suspicious, asswhipe. She has every right to be.

13.   Tucker: “…Why won’t you let me plant my lips on you? I’ve been denied twice now, Lilly. Twice. I want that mouth and I’m not a man that takes no for an answer without a fight.” (p. 56)
Me: Well doesn’t that sound rapey! She owes you nothing!
Lilliana: “Alright, you can have a kiss, but only a kiss. Deal?”

14.   These words: “I will get you on your knees, Lilliana Norris. I promise you, that.” (p. 57) This is said after the kiss.
Me: Get the fuck out, pervert!
Lilliana: Ooh! –continues making out with him-

15.   When Lilliana is approached at a restaurant and warned about Tucker, causing her to rage at him and storm off, instead of realizing his own actions caused this, he freaks out and goes off to find the person responsible. After all, her being angry is the fault of the person who approached her, not Tucker’s for being a shifty, conniving bastard.

16.   When they get into an argument while driving, Tucker starts driving dangerously fast before pulling the car over to the side of the road, getting out and throwing a temper tantrum.
Me: I’m getting the fuck out of here. I’ll walk back, I don’t care. I’m not spending another minute in this car with that entitled baby.
Lilliana: -scrambles outside and babbles an apology- “Tucker…I’m sorry. I know I can be… difficult. I get my temper from my father, or so my mother said. I wouldn’t really know. Anyway…” (p. 79)
Me: NO!!
Tucker: -forces a kiss on her, refusing to let her go despite her struggling-
Tucker rapidly forced his mouth onto hers, holding her firmly by her waist with one hand and the back of her neck with the other. His unyielding grasp on her didn’t allow her to resist, even though she tried. She placed her palms on his chest and tried to push him away but he forbade it. He was going to show her that, yes, he could take what he wanted and right now, what he wanted more than anything was to shut her the hell up. ….When Lilliana realized her efforts were futile, her body sagged in his arms. She accepted Tucker’s tongue in her mouth and it felt just as good as it did the first time they kissed. (p. 80)
The moral of this story? If a woman doesn’t want you to kiss her, force it on her anyway because she doesn’t realize how much she’ll actually enjoy it. 

 SERIOUSLY?! This is a sexually aggressive act, an assault. It is violating and scary, not something you just realize feels good after you stop struggling. Yeah, rapists believe that’s what will happen if their victims stop fighting them too.

17.   When they are alone in the woods, horseback riding (two people on one horse), Lilliana again says something that sets Tucker off (not like that is hard to do!). So, he decides to choke her, because that’s a healthy way to tell someone you’re upset with them.
With his other hand, he reached over her arm and chest effectively pinning it down and wrapped his long fingers around her throat, forcing her head back onto his chest so he could see her face. “Don’t mock me, Lilly,” he snarled into her ear, caressing her neck gently with his fingertips. “Tucker,” she whimpered, clearly alarmed by his forceful gesture. Her hands came up and tried to loosen his grip, but the precarious and vulnerable position Tucker had her in left her helpless. “I’m all for fun and games when it’s appropriate, but do not mock me. And you sure as hell better never tease me if you don’t plan on following through with your actions. Am. I. Clear?” Lilliana hesitated and Tucker grasped her breast tighter, making her mewl. (p. 89)
Because abuse is always sexy! Mmm mmm! Give me some of that good ol’ country domestic violence! Seriously, it was at this point in the book I began to hate myself for pushing forward.
Lilliana: “You don’t ever have to explain your actions to me, Tucker.” 

Me: WHAT THE FUCK?! He doesn’t have to explain why he just choked you?! FUCK YOU, LILLIANA! And fuck you, Ella Dominguez for making this seem okay! It’s NOT okay! THAT IS ABUSE!!

Lilliana: I want to be his pet!

18.   How Tucker greets her for their first official date: Tucker ghosted his fingertips over the curve of her waist as he moved his hand upwards, skimming her nipple. (p. 106) Classy, right? I guess a kiss hello is so passé!

19.   He makes this claim: “I’m all for a strong, smart, independent woman outside  the bedroom, in fact, I encourage it.” (p. 112) No you don’t! You’re always cutting them down and reducing them to what they can do for you sexually! It’s not encouraging when you tell an independent woman she needs to be spanked and fucked all because she won’t give you what you want. Basically they can be independent as long as you don’t want anything from them.

20.   The prospect of giving this man oral seems terrifying (and not just because he disgusts me). Every time Lilliana does give him a blow job, he forces himself so far into her throat that it causes her to gag, refusing to allow her to move away when it becomes too much for her, then shaming her for her lack of deep-throating skills. What, did you expect this Kansas girl to have the abilities of a porn star?! And remember ladies, if you can’t deep-throat your man, you’re not satisfying him. Some winning lines from Tucker: “No worries, pet. That sort of skill comes with practice and I intend to give you plenty of it until you get it right.” (p. 121); “You’re quite talented at the skin-flute, as well, though there are a few things we need to touch up on,” (p. 189)

Seriously, I can’t be the only person who would tell their partner to get bent after they criticized my sexual performance! 

21.   When, in one of her rare moments of clarity, Lilliana gets sick of being pushed around, he tells her, “I once told you I will not be topped, and I meant it. I’m not playing games with you. Either you provide me with what I need and submit to me, or I’ll find someone who will.” (p. 157)
Lilliana: “Then find someone else.” (p. 158) 

22.   He was not going to be topped by Lilliana or any other woman – no way in hell. Who the fuck did she think she was dealing with…? (p. 160) Yeah, the misogyny isn’t just dripping from this statement at all….

23.   Even his compliments are objectifying: “He lost a good thing with you. Dumb fucker. I can’t help but feel a little sorry for him because you’re quite a catch, Lilliana Norris, and I’m one lucky SOB to have gotten you on your knees.” (p. 176) 

24.   When he won’t introduce her to his brother and she becomes upset, he tells her to stop being so dramatic.

25.   He walked into her house and watched her as she slept on the couch. His voice was quiet and soothing, but all too real. Lilliana pried her eyes open to see Tucker kneeling next to her, only inches away from her face. (p. 210) CREEPY!
Me: This is so creepy! Get the fuck out! You don’t just walk into someone’s house and watch them sleep! 

Lilliana: Hey sexy! Let’s have sex!

26.   He tells her he’ll never punish her in anger, so what the hell was that choking thing about then? That sure didn’t seem like a playful punishment to me.

27.   He fights her about using condoms, acting like it’s only HER duty to prevent pregnancy by being on the pill. She counters with, “condoms prevent more than pregnancy,” which they do – but you’ve been ingesting his semen for weeks now – you ARE aware that STIs can be transmitted orally as well, correct? In fact, swallowing is a “major safe-sex no-no” as Sasha from Urban Legend put it so eloquently. Despite this issue, it still pisses me off that Tucker manages to manipulate her into having condomless sex not too long after this argument.
Tucker: Waah! You don’t trust me! Waah! Condoms kill my mojo!! (No kidding, he says this on page 223) –gets Lilliana so sexually revved up she goes in for the sex without a condom- Ha! I win! No more condoms!! 


28.   When he defends Lilliana to her asshat ex-husband, he never once says anything about what a great person she is, how strong, independent, intelligent and witty he claims to find her (in his head, never to her directly). Instead he just defends her oral and sexual skills (although, of course he’ll tell her they're lacking). When the two men get into a fight, Lilliana gets between them, and her ex ends up punching her in the face. What does Tucker do? He gets mad at her for trying to protect him! “So instead he hurt you. I don’t need that kind of guilt. Fuck, look what he did to your eye!” (p. 327); “If you weren’t such a mess, I’d paddle your ass for that little stunt,” (p. 238); Before leaving, he placed another delicate kiss on her swollen eyelid, and reprimanded her yet again for her overzealousness in trying to protect him. (p. 241)
He seems to worry more about how this incident reflects on him and makes him feel, rather than the pain Lilliana might actually be in.

29.   “I’m sure as hell not shopping for feminine hygiene products. Buying tampons is a hard limit for me.” (p. 275) Sounds like someone isn’t as comfortable in his masculinity as he likes to appear. I think he needs a lesson from Priestly in Ten Inch Hero.

30.   His apology gift to Lilliana after one of their fights is … drum roll please …. A collar and leash so he can parade her around like a dog! This is not an apology, this is just another way to objectify her.

31.   “Lilliana wants whatever I tell her to want.” (p. 313) Not abusive or controlling in the slightest.

32.   He doesn’t allow her to have a girls’ night without him intruding.
Lilliana: It’s cute. He’s so charming and witty with them! 

Me: He’s controlling you, Lilliana. You can’t even spend time with your friends without him supervising you. That’s another abuse red flag. But then again, choking is very abusive and you seem cool with that, so….

RAGE!! This relationship was definitely a bit of a roller coaster in that I would get my hopes up every time Lilliana stood up to him or left him, and then they would be crushed by her stupidity. She allows herself to be controlled by her arousal – which doesn’t seem to dwindle no matter how badly Tucker treats her. She claims to be in love, and during one of their break ups, uses up two weeks of vacation time mourning the loss of their relationship. SERIOUSLY?! I’ve broken up with guys after being in a relationship with them for a year or more and continued to function normally. I went back to work a week after losing my grandfather. She breaks up with a man she’s been dating for a month and needs ALL of her vacation time to mourn the relationship?! REALLY?!

Also, these authors who write BDSM erotica really need to actually research the topic and not just plug in their own creepy fantasies. The only thing Dominguez gets right is this, “Being submissive doesn’t mean you’re weak. It takes a strong person to allow another to take control.” (p. 306) However, there is no mention of the fact that in real S&M play, the submissive is actually the one with the power to stop everything with the utterance of a safe word – something I don’t remember Tucker allowing Lilliana to have. (Although in her case, a safety action or gesture may work better, since he was always cramming his penis down her throat.)

Another thing this book gets wrong is that a relationship like this is heavily based on trust. Dominguez has Lilliana allowing Tucker to restrain her, spank her, and treat her like his slave when she has expressed many times that, although she finds him attractive, she doesn’t trust him. You need to be able to trust your partner not to hurt you, and I don’t think Lilliana was really able to do that, causing her to fear Tucker when he is in one of his punishing moods, and causing his arousal by being afraid. This does not promote a safe relationship, and safety is always a priority in this kind of play.

Please don’t try to defend Tucker’s actions as part of BDSM. They are not. They are abusive, chauvinistic and self-serving. Yes, forced kisses and choking can be part of the play, but only if both parties agree to it. It should never be done in anger, which both actions were within the context of the story. Collars and leashes are also a part of the play, but, again, Lilliana wasn’t asked if she wanted to take part in that kind of play, it was just introduced as a required act. Boundaries were never discussed at all, and every time Lilliana tried to set one, Tucker would find a way to manipulate his way around it. In this kind of relationship, boundaries are extremely important and absolutely need to be discussed to ensure the well-being of both parties. Doms need to be sure they don’t cross the line with their subs, and subs need to know where doms may draw the line. Tucker uses his being a dom as an excuse to be a jerk to women who don’t know anything about the lifestyle.

“Erotic novels” like this make me angry because they make abuse seem like part of BDSM play. It is not, and any Google search of BDSM guidelines will tell you as much. It would be a rather quick research job, if the authors of crap like this really bothered to look into it. I found such informative links as “BDSM Safety and Common Sense”, an article that really would have benefitted the Tucker character: “So You Want to Be a Dom,” - which basically tells would-be doms to act nothing like he does, and a fabulous introductory video on BDSM101 by Laci Green for A Naked Notion.

I found all of this in about ten minutes of searching Google, so how come these “erotica” writers can’t get it right? Promoting unsafe ventures into something like this is irresponsible at best.  Please, folks, if this book or 50 Shades of Grey has gotten you curious, read up on how to practice safe play. DO NOT USE THESE BOOKS AS GUIDES!

But how can I expect decent research to have been done on the topic when it appears the text wasn’t even proof-read before going to publication?  This story was in dire need of editing, from the missing words, dangling modifiers, and gaping grammatical errors to the most ridiculous descriptions and sentences I’ve ever read. There were multiple occasions where the wrong form of “your” and “lay” were used. Pronouns were mixed up within the same sentence (Ex: Tucker attempted to strike up a conversation with him. By her body language, it was obvious to Tucker that she was interested. [p. 10]).  Also, horses in this universe appear to swap genders. When Tucker and Lilliana are leaving on their trail ride, the horse is a stallion which Tucker calls “girl,” and when they come back it’s a mare. So, either Dominguez decided to change the horse’s gender halfway through the scene and never went back to fix it, or she doesn’t realize that stallions are males while mares are females.

There were a few descriptions in this book that left me scratching my head as well. Dominguez tends to throw in odd descriptors outside of the rest of the story’s vocabulary. For instance, she describes Lilliana’s lips as being the color of amaranth, which is a shade of purple. That’s not normal, is she asphyxiating? Does someone need to perform the Heimlich Maneuver? Tucker’s skin is a shade of praline, which is a kind of dough, so I’m guessing it’s a tan color. I really have no idea.

There are also some ridiculous comparisons made. One of my favorites has to be, “…a beautiful woman with an ass like an onion that could bring tears to his eyes.” (p. 51) Sounds delectable. I know I’ve always wanted my ass compared to an onion. The other is this winning line, “Damn if Tucker’s smile was like icing on the cake, the cherry on the pie, the lube on the dildo.” (p. 112)

I love how we went from innocent food to BAM! Dildos! I definitely wasn’t expecting that.

The author’s creativity also left something to be desired. Clearly, this was written to cash in on the 50 Shades of Grey craze, so it is already a rip-off of a rip-off (the latter originated as Twilight fan fiction). On top of that we have a red headed character named Ariel, and, as if the reader wouldn’t catch the reference, we are beaten over the head that it’s a cliché from that Disney movie.
Yeah, I got the joke, but it’s not funny, sorry. Lastly, there’s a scene that almost directly rips off the kitchen scene in 9 ½ Weeks. You know the one.
Except, instead of just having fun and feeding her different foods, she has to guess what it is or be denied orgasm. This may be out-kinking a classic kinky film, but it hit so close to the original scene for me that I couldn’t get into it. Tucker and Lilliana are no John and Elizabeth, and their relationship is far more unhealthy.

Overall: This is a 50 Shades knock off in need of proof-reading/editing due to awkward sentence structure, strange similes, missing words and obvious grammatical errors. The author, like that of 50 Shades, seems to know nothing about healthy BDSM practices and seems to have dominance/submission confused with abuse. Tucker has very few redeeming qualities and, though he sometimes admits to himself that Lilliana has other great qualities aside from being attractive and good in bed, he rarely, if ever, allows her to know he feels that way. She has moments of being a strong, intelligent character, but these get fewer and farther between as the story wears on. There are times when it seems like the worse he treats her, the more she falls for him, and that is something I hated to read. He acts like her sexual skills aren’t good enough, demeans her, gets physically violent with her out of anger, and convinces her it’s all a part of domination/submission. It is NOT. It’s more like an abuser/victim relationship under the guise of BDSM, and promotion of that idea is repulsive and irresponsible.


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously

By: Julie Powell

Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir, Cooking

Julie Powell is a twenty-nine year old secretary in New York. She is married to her high school sweetheart, working at a job she hates, and being urged by her doctors to get pregnant as soon as possible. But Julie isn’t sure she’s ready for parenthood, in fact, she’s not sure what she wants at all; only knowing that she is not happy where she is. Then, one day, while visiting her parents in Texas, she discovers her mother’s copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and embarks on a yearlong blog project where she will cook every single recipe in the book. With the help of her husband, friends and “bleaders” she works her way through the novel one or two recipes at a time.

I wanted to like this book, I really did. I’ve seen previews for the movie and swore to myself that I would read the book first. Well, now I have, and I hope the film adaptation has more to offer than the book does.

My biggest issue with the book is the writing style. Powell doesn’t seem to understand writing in a chronological order. I often found myself confused as she had jumped from talking about one thing to some anecdote from her past that somehow relates to it – and sometimes there was no spacing in between these to indicate that the subject is changing. For instance, in the chapter where she is discussing lobsters, she is in the middle of talking about the lobster recipes and then the chapter turns into her holiday vacation with her family. It eventually wraps back around to her cooking the lobsters in her apartment, but it takes a while. Also, I found many of her anecdotes unnecessary.

I found it strange how she would gloss over the more important details that happen dealing with her blog, in favor of telling the readers about her friends and family. She barely gives any details about being interviewed for newspapers, magazines and television news, but tells us all about the sexual antics of her friends. I don’t care about your friends’ sex lives¸ or that one friend is leaving her husband for a man she met on the internet¸ I want to know about how your blog became so successful. I want to read about how you gained recognition – what it was like to be interviewed, to have not just the attention of a few devoted readers, but also the attention of news media. You gained what many bloggers dream about, lady! We want to hear about your success!

Powell also passes over in-depth discussion of the recipes in favor of talking about her life overall. I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to reading about the cooking aspect, but it does play a major role in the blog and got her name out there, so it seems like it would be important. Usually when the food is discussed, it is done so through Julie’s anxieties and frustrations with recipes. She will tell us the name of a recipe, but often not what it actually is. So, you’re making Oeufs a la Bourguignonne? Great! What is that?

Julie, herself, gets on my nerves a lot. She got off to a bad start with me when she condescendingly referred to the homeless woman in the subway as a “loon” and rushed away from her. The woman did seem to have a mental illness, yes, a lot of homeless people suffer from one form or another, but she is more than just some “loon” on the street, she’s a person too, Julie. She is constantly putting down the Republican Party, and even though I don’t support the conservative belief system, that got irritating too. Her jibes had no basis and there were many of them littered throughout the book. I don’t understand what the Republican Party has to do with cooking blogs. I get it that she works for a government agency with republicans, but they aren’t important to the progress of this memoir, are they?

I didn’t feel like I could relate well to Julie at all. The most we have in common is our love for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I think I may be a bigger fan than she is. She drinks a lot, smokes regularly, and envies the sex lives of her friends. There are times where she puts down her husband, Eric, even though he’s been nothing but supportive and even gave her the idea to start the blog in the first place. She encourages her friend to get involved with a married man, which is terrible advice. She also allows cooking to take over her life to the point where she doesn’t clean up properly and discovers maggots growing under her dish strainer. How can someone let that happen?
Lastly, she complains all the time about her crappy job, crappy apartment, and the lack of support from her family and friends – even though many followed her blog and would take part in the dinners she cooked. 
They were supportive, but they also worried about her because she became so obsessed.

The only parts of the book that I really liked were the parts based on Julia Child. We learn about her relationship with her husband and how she got into cooking. Her parts are styled in italics and often short, but she seemed like a much more interesting woman – strong, witty, and intelligent, she captures Paul’s love and follows him to Paris where she discovers her true passion in the art of cooking. I can see why she inspires Julie, I just wish Julie were a bit more inspiring.

Overall, this was an okay read at best. I wasn’t a fan of Julie or her writing style, and I felt there could have been more on the blog, Julie’s success/interviews, the actual recipes, and Julia Child, herself.