Eliza Clark’s debut novel Boy Parts is disturbing, but also heartbreaking in a really uncomfortable, visceral way. This read is truly a sucker-punch of mixed emotions.
The story follows Irina, a cut-throat erotic photographer who is obsessed with making unconventionally attractive men model for her. Though the men’s initial agreement to be the subject of Irina’s photos is consensual, what they eventually partake in is hardly in accordance with a typical photo shoot.
My favorite stories are the ones with protagonists who are almost completely horrible, but at the last second reveal something that reels me back in. That is absolutely Boy Parts, with an obscured critique of our male-dominated world at the heart of Clark’s novel. While Irina is mostly an awful human, I can’t help but understand her frustration with being perpetually held under the patriarchal thumb.
As the plot unfolds, we discover much more about what makes Irina’s psyche, and art, so twisted. We are ultimately plunged into what makes her tick through her relationships with her border-line obsessive best friend, Flo, and a homely young man who works at the local Tesco grocery store.
The entire novel begs the question: What if Irina were a man? Much of her attitude towards the male body is a very crude and concentrated imitation of how women’s bodies are often considered by men. The fact that the main character in Boy Parts is a woman behaving as the worst kind of man is cutting and intentional. Clark picks apart the vulgarities we often expect from men, but are horrified by when we experience them from women.
I highly recommend for fans of Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Eileen.
As part of my Pride Month reading this year, I tried to pick up books that would help me learn about the diverse experiences of LGBTQ+ people beyond the margins of white, cisgender America. Amrou Al-Kadhi [they/them] expertly does just so in their memoir, Unicorn: The Memoir of a Muslim Drag Queen. This lavish and raw autobiography renders a refreshing peek into the life of a queer Iraqi-British Muslim drag queen- an intersectional identity that demands the careful and nuanced representation Al-Kadhi offers in their memoir.
In their beautifully written story, Al-Kadhi, or Glamrou as they are known on stage, is a stunning example of the self-expression and self-exploration drag allows. Raised in a socially-conservative, religious household, Al-Kadhi was instilled early on with a torturously rigid sense of shame and self worth. Their journey outlines the beauty and freedom they experienced as a child, as well as the connection they felt to their mother and the world she created for them. “My mother’s middle east was one I felt safe in,” they lovingly recall.
As they grew through their adolescence, though, they became painfully aware of the Middle East and Islam’s perspective on homosexuality and gender-noncomformity. It would take years of cultural healing and rediscovery for Al-Kadhi to feel connected to their family, heritage, and religion. While simultaneously mending the pain of the past and celebrating a mergence of femininity and faith, it was ultimately through drag that they finally felt at home in both their queerness and their culture.
Unicorn is one of the best memoirs I have ever read. Beyond Al-Kadhi’s personal narrative of self-acceptance and perseverance, the story is heavy with complex understanding of how culture and faith belong to a people, not an individual. Al-Kadhi’s revelations of gender, sexuality, and belonging are inspiring and beautifully rendered.
I would sincerely recommend this to anyone hoping to immerse themselves in a piece of nonfiction, at the heart of which is a story of the human search for acceptance and home.
Luc O’Donnell is a mess. The son of a semi-famous rock star, he’s been involved in various messy scandals including problems with too much drinking and questionable partners. When yet another scandalous photo of him in a compromising position appears in the tabloids, Luc’s employer, with it’s many respectable clients, insist that he clean up his act. Pronto.
Enter Oliver Blackwood, the friend of a friend who is in need of a date for an important family event. Oliver is a respected barrister from a prestigious family with a strong moral compass. It doesn’t hurt that he’s devastatingly good looking either. He and Luc have met briefly in the past and took an instant dislike to each other. However, desperate times.
And so, somewhat reluctantly and with many reservations, Luc and Oliver agree to fake date for a few weeks in Alexis Hall’s Boyfriend Material. At first they simply tolerate – barely – each other and view each other with a lot of suspicion. Luc is not used to a partner that looks out for him and is reliable and thoughtful and Oliver is surprised by Luc’s creativity and intelligence (which had never been on display before). Before long they become friends and then something more. But each thinks the other believes their relationship is fake and that it’ll end soon. Can they overcome the obstacles thrown in their path and see the truth?
This is a typical fake boyfriend trope that is common in romances. Boyfriend Material succeeds because of the likable characters, the devastatingly dry British wit and the funny situations they get themselves into. Hall pokes fun at the British upper class and makes several sly references to the film Notting Hill. And while this is an entertaining read, it has surprising depth too, about family and trust and acceptance. A lovely and charming book.
The Half Sister by Sandie Jones is a whirlwind ride of a suspense novel, full of unexpected twists, turns all within one family, where each member is hiding their own damaging secrets. This is another strong offering in the domestic suspense / psychological thriller genre that is currently quite popular. The Half Sister is Sandie Jones’ third novel, following both The First Mistake and The Other Woman, which was a Reese Witherspoon Sunshine Book Club Pick in late 2018.
Joining their mother for the routine Sunday dinner after the death of their father, Kate and Lauren begrudgingly go through the emotions of a seemingly normal family whose cracks have become more and more apparent. The sister’s relationship was never very solid and the death of their father, and their opposing memories of him creates a deeper divide with each family dinner.
On a typical Sunday, the group receives an expected visitor named Jess who promptly announces that she is the daughter of their father, which makes her Kate and Lauren’s half sister. Each sister has their own reaction to Jess, which spans the spectrum from complete denial that their father would have had a secret daughter (Kate) to intrigue that the stranger may be telling the truth (Lauren). Jess does have scientific proof in the form of a DNA test that, on the surface, proves her claims.
As the weeks wear on, Jess has an uncanny ability to cause more and more friction between the sisters and their mother, who also harbors doubts about their father and a possible secret life. As Kate delves into spotty memories of the past, she realizes that there are a handful of unexplained behaviors from her father that make her doubt her memories of him as the “perfect” father.
Lauren, who believes Jess, is on a quest to discover the truth which leads her to a decades old mystery that has never been solved. The trail leads right back to the family and a past that has been strictly off limits. When the truth begins to rise to the surface, the twists and turns come in quick succession. I really enjoyed The Half Sister, especially the second half of the book when the tension, theories, and accusations come to the shocking conclusion.
guest post by Sarah
Re-released books can be tricky – it’s easy to mistake them for new novels from your favorite author. But when that author’s earliest books were published in another country, re-releases are a great way to catch the origins for your favorite characters.
One such author is Zoe Sharp, whose first three titles in her popular series about Charolotte “Charlie” Fox – no-nonsense, motorcycle-riding, close-protection specialist – were only released in the UK. One could enjoy Charlie’s missions and personal trials without reading the books before First Drop – which is actually the fourth book in the series – hit the United States in 2004, but fans wanted more.
Killer Instinct introduces Charlie shortly after the British army threw her out for reasons that have estranged her from her family. She’s making something of a living teaching self-defense to women, but one of her classes has to move out of its meeting space when the new owner of the building refurbishes it as a nightclub. Charlie reluctantly agrees to visit the club for a karaoke contest and is forced to use her skills to defend her friend against the jealous reigning champion.
This nets her a new job with the nightclub’s testosterone-heavy, borderline hostile security team – and a bigger problem when the woman she fought is murdered. Charlie figures she’ll be the number one suspect, until it becomes clear that a homicidal serial rapist is stalking are women. And that the killer is somehow connected to the strange goings-on at the club…
Charlie is a terrific protagonist and Ms Sharp is a talented author. Between the two of them they make Killer Instinct a must-read – or even a re-read – for those who enjoy mysteries with strong women, elusive bad guys and just a touch of emotional angst.
Being a pretty big fan of anything sci-fi or fantasy, I can’t believe it has taken me this long to watch the long-running BBC series Doctor Who. Now that I have, I can’t stop watching! The main character of the show is simply called The Doctor. He’s an alien (though he looks human), and he is the last of the species called the Time Lords. Along with various companions, The Doctor travels through time and space in a contraption called the TARDIS (which is disguised as an old-fashioned blue Police Call Box) looking for trouble and solving a myriad of intergalactical crises. The show has been on since the 1960s and to date there have been 11 different actors who have portrayed The Doctor, whose new look is explained by The Doctor’s ability regenerate if he is near death.
One of my favorite things about this series is the humor. I especially enjoy the fact that The Doctor is always so chipper when presented with a new challenge or catastrophe. He and his companions are constantly encountering crazy-looking aliens and monsters and fighting them off using wisdom and wit. One of my favorite episodes so far had The Doctor and his companion Rose traveling back to 1879 and encountering Queen Victoria, who was being hunted by a werewolf. It’s honestly just a really fun series to watch.
I know what you’re thinking. “But hey, this show has been on since the 1960s! Where am I supposed to start?!” That’s the beauty of Doctor Who, you can really pick it up anywhere and still enjoy it. I chose to start with the 2005 relaunch of the series, The Complete First Series, starring Christopher Eccleston as The 9th Doctor. But one could also argue that the best place to start is The Complete Second Series, which stars David Tennant as the 10th Doctor, because Tennant completely encompasses the fun spirit of the series. He is so fun to watch thanks to his acting talent and his always expressive face, and I’d say he is easily my favorite Doctor (so far, that is, since I’m still on the second series). If you’re a fan of humor, sci-fi, or British TV, I’d strongly recommend checking out this series!
If you could only see one color, which one would you choose? Blue, so you could see the sky? Green, so you could see the fields? Purple, so you could see the bloom of a delicate orchid? Red, so you could see a person blush at the sound of your voice? Well, that is the world you would be born into if you lived in Jasper Fforde’s latest novel, Shades of Grey, only with one big difference: you wouldn’t get to choose what color you can see. Nope, that would all depend on your parents.
In Shades of Grey, Fforde creates a rather bright & colorful dystopian society where spoons are sold on a black market, doctors use color swatches for healing, and genetics determine one’s color vision which in turn determines a citizen’s place in society. Citizens are expected to marry within their colors, be obedient to the colors higher in the Spectrum and never ever go out after dark. Eddie Russett can see, and thus is, Red, and has always been satisfied with his lower place in the Spectrum. However, soon he finds himself in love with Jane Grey, a rebellious Grey at the lowest point in the Spectrum, who causes him to question everything he sees and doesn’t see. This novel is completely different from Fforde’s quirky meta-literary universes in his Thursday Next and Nursery Crime series, but it still contains his same nonsensical and snarky humor while addressing bigger issues of individualism, government/corporate power, and spoon shortages.
On a tangent: I experienced Shades of Grey in the audiobook format (although I may reread it in the text format–I wonder if there was any visual wordplay that I missed) and I tend to listen to listen to audiobooks while I wash the dishes, so I created a very, very complex formula to determine how much I enjoy listening to a particular book:
[(# of times I wash dishes) + 2(# of times I wash dishes despite it being my husband’s turn) – (# of times I listen to a Shakira playlist instead of audiobook)] / (# of weeks I listen to an audiobook) = x
if x < 1 then I probably never finished the book.
if x = 1 then the book was solidly good.
if x >1 then I enjoyed the book so much that I changed my dish-washing habits just to listen to it more often.
The audiobook for Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde was about a 2.25, thus I REALLY ENJOYED this book!
It’s Clean and Tidy Week at the Davenport Library Info Cafe blog! Over the next five days Lynn will tell us about some great books that will inspire you to organize, straighten and scrub and otherwise make you into a finer human being. She starts us off with a bang with a book that not only is useful, it’s funny!
Andrew Martin’s eccentricity, English wit and male point-of- view and his eye for the odd historical detail make laundry, ironing and “washing up” funny and (somewhat) inspiring in How to Get Things Really Flat. Martin casts himself as the bumbling amateur when he interviews experts on topics such as vacuuming and dishwashers.
The targeted audience are English “blokes” who should be doing housework, but women will find it informative and funny. His footnotes are tongue-in-cheek factoids that are useful for American readers. For example, he lets us know that a pram is “short for peramulator, bigger and generally more heavy-duty than a stroller, since the baby lies flat. Any man pushing one is halfway to wearing a dress, or so he thinks.”
He is interested in the sociological aspect of housekeeping , with sections on “How Much Do Women Know About Housework?” (the primary subject being his long-suffering wife).
If you’ve overdosed on straight-forward, “how-to” books, try this unique addition to the homemaking ouevre. In this work, previously unanalysed tasks are viewed through a slightly sqewed anthropolical lens combined with a Bill Bryson sensibility.