Books

Book review: Soulless (Parasol Protectorate #1)

What Should I Read Next put me on to the first novel in the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger, Soulless. If you add steampunk, quirky detective novels, Jane Austen, Mills & Boon, hunky paranormal creatures and adverbs together, Soulless is the entertaining result. It’s definitely something to read if you need to be cheered up, if you’re menstruating, or if you bloody well feel like it and don’t have to justify your literary choices to anyone.

Soulless follows the life of Alexia Tarabotti. Alexia suffers from a great many things: a shitty family, a large nose, a hot temper, a worthy adversary, and not having a soul (in that order). Her placid spinster existence is upturned when she kills a vampire at a party. Forces are conspiring, and Alexia and the vexing and super attractive Lord Conall Maccon seem to be at heart of it…

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: Soulless
Author: Gail Carriger
Publisher: Orbit Books (2009)
Rating: 3/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 3.91/5)
The best feature of the book: It doesn’t pretend to be anything more than a fun, spicy read.
The worst feature of the book: It swaps common sense for sexy scene setting.
Trigger warnings: None that I can think of.
You’ll like this if… This is one for fans of paranormal romance, romance, hot paranormal creatures, or some combination of the above.

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Books

Book review: Fever by Deon Meyer

I remember reading Meyer’s first book when I was in high school and being entirely unimpressed with it. Say what you want, sex scenes are always going to be awkward when they’re written in Afrikaans, and now, ten plus years later, I can still remember the line, “Dit gly binne.” This put me off Meyer and I hadn’t touched a book of his until Fever.

Enter my New Year’s resolution to read more, a random recommendation on a Facebook book group, and my love for the post-Apocalyptic genre, and here we are.

I’m glad I gave the author a shot because damn. People, and apparently, bizarrely, King himself, compare Fever to The Stand, but it knocks The Stand’s socks off and keeps going. Of course it has its flaws, but the narrative is so engaging, the premise so well fleshed out, I was more than ready to forgive Meyer his being an old white guy writing about a middle-aged white guy. Fever is one of those books that make you excited to read. It reminds you what good writing can do and what a cool experience good storytelling is.

Fever, the English translation of the original Koors, follows the lives of a father and son as they try to pick up the pieces of civilisation in their own unique ways after a virus wipes out ninety percent of the world’s population. Trials and tribulations – and a deeper conspiracy – abound as they set up a new town. Can Amanzi, the Place of Light, keep human darkness at bay?

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: Fever
Author: Deon Meyer
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (2017)
Rating: 4.5/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 4.26/5)
The best feature of the book: It’s just plain good. And it’s South African, which was refreshing.
The worst feature of the book: a) You’re either going to love or hate the plot twist at the end of the book. The novel has been billed as a standalone, but there are a lot of questions left unanswered in favour of that plot twist, so I’d be curious to see if Meyer returns to Amanzi at some point. b) Some of the pseudo-academic jargon is irritating. I don’t know if this is true of the original Afrikaans, but the language is not gender-inclusive, which is noticeable because the ones using it are supposed to be academics, and there’s this whole thing about gender-inclusive/gender-neutral language in academia.
Trigger warnings: Men being assholes to women, but nothing graphic.
You’ll like this if… Is post-Apocalyptic fiction your jam? Boy do I have good news for you!

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Books

Book review: Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch (Rivers of London #7)

Depression etc kept me from reading Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch as soon as I got it back in November of last year, but when I finally started it, I finished it in one afternoon, so I do feel I’ve redeemed my RoL fandom. Aaronovitch has delivered another fun installment of his Rivers of London series, full of the wit, irreverence, and adventure that has become his trademark. No dull, weary or wary slog, these books; they’re quite fresh-faced in tone for all that he’s on the seventh novel of the series, and that’s not including the comics, short stories, and novellas.

But I’d be lying if I said there weren’t signs of strain showing in the narrative, so while I really enjoyed the book – it’s a lot like catching up with old friends, these longer series – there are some issues that niggle. Overall the book’s climax and denouement felt unsatisfactory, rushed and a bit half-arsed, which is a pity because Lies Sleeping resolved some other loose ends (that came up in the previous books) in a tidy way.

Lies Sleeping picks up Peter’s story as he, the Folly and the Met pursue Faceless Man Martin Chorley and turncoat Lesley May. It’s a cat and mouse game, with Chorley seemingly two steps ahead of them the whole time. He has a plan to put London’s most restless spirit to rest for his own cause, and Peter et al try their best to intervene…

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: Lies Sleeping
Author: Ben Aaronovitch
Publisher: Gollancz (2018)
Rating: 3.5/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 4.32/5)
The best feature of the book: It’s a quick, easy read; funny, non-depressing even when depressing, full of interesting stuff about London. The characters all feel like family at this point.
The worst feature of the book: At one point Peter remarks that if you had no idea what he was talking about, you’d best go back and do some reading. Annoying. Old characters and settings are rarely described in Lies Sleeping. I think the practice in multi-book series is to briefly describe things like this for the benefit of new readers who don’t start the series with the first book, but it’s also useful for long-time readers who haven’t committed every single detail to longterm memory. The plot could have done with more finesse. The climax could have been more climactic.
Trigger warnings: Mentions of slavery and implied sexual assault.
You’ll like this if… This is one for fans and stans of urban fantasy,

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Books, Church, Faith, Spiritual abuse, Women's issues

Being fat is not a sin

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This morning I ran across this article on Instagram: Everything you know about obesity is wrong, by Michael Hobbes and his team. Hobbes makes a startling point: that the blame for fatness – and it is very much blame – is still laid at the feet of the wrong things, like willpower and self-control, rather than increasingly unhealthy food systems and proven research that for most people, weight loss diets just don’t work.

It’s a fascinating article, and I encourage you to read it in full. Hobbes writes about the  culture of fat shaming in our society and touches on how many larger people have internalised this fat shaming, leaving most of us feeling lonely and dejected.

I want to add something to this discussion from a religious – specifically a Christian – standpoint. It’s pretty much encapsulated in the title of this post: being fat is not a sin.

Now, I’m sure if you asked most people, they’d say that no, they don’t think being fat is a sin. But is that how they act? From my own experiences in and around churches and Christians, the answer to that is “no”. A resounding no, even. At best, being fat is disapproved of – quietly and behind your back (although never so much behind your back that you could remain blissfully unaware of it). At worst, it’s seen as a slippery slope, because if you can’t muster self-control over your eating habits, it must follow that for you, it’s open season on other sins.

This attitude was brought painfully home in a book my Bible Study group started a few weeks ago (we stopped when I told them the book made me uncomfortable). In Priscilla Shirer’s A Jewel in His Crown (Moody Publishing), she writes the following:

Weight is a big problem, and many women are plagued by it. However, the Lord is showing me, slowly but surely, that my weight worries are really not only a physical problem. At least part of the problem is spiritual. My struggle with weight has taught me two very important things about my relationship with the Lord.

First, a continued struggle with weight, if it is not the result of some medical condition, is a direct sign that we have not submitted ourselves completely to the Lord. A woman who struggles continually with weight due to lack of self-control eating will also struggle with other self-control issues, such as immorality and anger. It’s not about our weight. It is about not allowing the Lord to be the Lord of our body.

For this reason, our bodies can become a very negative reflection of the power of God to do magnificent things in the lives of His daughters. How can we minister to drug addicts and tell them to be rid of the disease of drugs when we cannot rid ourselves of our addiction to food? It is so important for us to allow God to gain control of us in this area, and we can only begin this process by praying. We must ask God to forgive us our arrogance in assuming that he can’t handle our weight.

In her next point, she talks about how weight is tied to low self-esteem, and how we can’t have faithful sisters believing the lie of low self-esteem. But again, the blame – and it’s very much blame, with an added dose of self-righteousness – is laid at the feet of these fat women, and not the culture body shaming them into low self-esteem in the first place!

In essence, Shirer’s brand of Christianity (and she’s far from alone; see, for example, how popular Saddleback Church’s “Daniel diet” is) has adopted the body shaming culture around it – a culture steeped in capitalism, exploitation, superficiality, fads and discrimination – and justifies it by falling back on an attitude of quasi-asceticism that applies only to body weight and not, for instance, fair and just use of money, to name the most obvious shortcoming of this particular hive-mind. To Shirer and her ilk, fatness is a symptom of a deeper malaise of sinfulness. What she doesn’t say, but which is nevertheless heavily implied, is that it’s because it’s such a visible sin that it’s a problem.

I fear, at the heart of her writing is the very simple belief that fat equals ugly, and that ugly is bad for the church’s image.


I have a bit of a history with the concept of “visible sin”.

A church I attended, notable for its yearly Daniel fast, had an obsession with what I term “visible sin”.

To this church’s way of thinking, visible sins were things like drinking, smoking, foul language and living together before marriage. The church policed people’s Facebook accounts and shamed them from the pulpit for their “visible sins”. But by all accounts, invisible sins – asking for disproportionate amounts of money for ego projects, for instance, or being deeply controlling, judgmental, and narcissistic, or even adultery, domestic violence, pedophilia and misogyny, were smoothed over. The facade was what mattered.

If you’re someone who equates fatness with sinfulness, then yes, fat people must make you uncomfortable. Fat people and other visible “flaws” (flaws in this way of thinking) inevitably end up taking the congregational or societal flack so that people don’t have to confront the darker, deeper, invisible sins people can’t see (read: judge) in passing. The truly troubling spheres of behaviour.

I think, in their heart of hearts, the people who think fatness = sinfulness and belabor the idea that what matters in weight loss is strength of will (and therefore, strength of character), do so because it makes them feel better about their own perceived strength of will. At the end of the day, no matter what else is going on in their lives, no matter how deeply they sin, at least they’re not fat, right?


“It feels like the worst kind of weakness,” says one of Hobbes’ interviewees. In Christian culture, that weakness – the idea that you’re just not trying hard enough, that you’re being greedy or selfish or entitled or lazy – is made out to be a moral failing.

Although fat shaming has been a constant throughout my time in church, before this article, I’d never thought to connect it to my present alienation from institutional religion.

Has my fatness become the metaphor for all the things “wrong” with me, in a Christian sense? Has my fatness been connected to my character, to my character’s disparagement?

Have I been found fat, and wanting?


I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that if being fat is a sin, then being fat and female is even more so.

Fat shaming has a uniquely misogynistic element to it that goes all the way to its roots.

Culturally, fat shaming is shaming someone for the “crime” of being fat. All things being equal, fatness is only a crime because our current society equates fatness with unattractiveness, and what’s attractive or not is primarily defined and determined by men. One could therefore argue that fat shaming is shaming someone for being visible in an unapproved-of-by-men way.

Now, add to this already ugly cocktail the institutionalised misogyny of your average church.

In terms of Christian culture, if fatness equals sin, then fat shaming is merely sin correction; and if the offending fatty is female, then fat shaming her attains a gendered prerogative to also subdue her. Being fat, female and Christian in a mainstream, conservative church must therefore equal being in rebellion.

It’s hard for me not to wonder how many people have seen me as being “rebellious” simply because I was there, and I was female, and I was fat, and I was not sorry enough by their standards for any of it.


“[T]here is no magical cure. There is no time machine. There is only the revolutionary act of being fat and happy in a world that tells you that’s impossible. We all have to do our best with the body that we have,” dietician Ginette Lenham told Hobbes. “And leave everyone else’s alone.”

If we want to go around calling ourselves Christian, then Lenham’s advice must strike a deeper chord with us. The church has fallen into the trap of buying into the pervasive “beauty culture” of which fat shaming – a layered shaming in the church, as we’ve seen – is an integral part. It’s endlessly ironic to me that the same churches who would warn their congregations against the dangers of worldliness probably don’t realise that their conscious and unconscious prejudice against “visible sinners”, like fat people, are rooted in the very worldliness they preach against.

Because let me tell you, it isn’t rooted in God.

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Books

Book review: The Ironic Christian’s Companion by Patrick Henry

 

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In the unlikely event of a gun being put to my head in order to discover my true and final opinion on Patrick Henry’s The Ironic Christian’s Companion, I still wouldn’t be able to offer an answer without some sort of qualifier. Did I like the book? I did; Henry is clever and I appreciated many of his insights; one or two of them made me sit back and go, “Huh” in an impressed way. Is it a good book? Sure, but I don’t think it will be to everyone’s tastes. Would I recommend this book? Maybe, depending on who was asking for the recommendation. Do I like Patrick Henry? Eh, I’m not sure; there’s more than a little self-importance there, tempered with (what I’m hoping is) genuine reform. You see? It’s complicated.

I picked up the book on sale; that and the title was the deciding factor for the purchase. I’m vain enough to think of myself as an “ironic” Christian (someone who is Christian but not as Christian as the obviously stupid people who are also Christian, in essence). The book is a series of ten essays, all loosely connected to the theme of being a Christian who has doubts and reservations about their religion, if not always their faith.

Henry’s writing is an interesting mix of memoir, theology and academia, with keen insights and the patience to let you discover them for yourself.

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: The Ironic Christian’s Companion: Finding the marks of God’s grace in the world
Author: Patrick Henry
Publisher: Riverhead Books (1999)
Rating: 4/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 3.41/5)
The best feature of the book: It’s eminently quotable.
The worst feature of the book: It errs on navel gazing at times.
Trigger warnings: Mentions of suicide (Henry’s father killed himself).
You’ll like this if… You, like me, are stupid enough to think your faith is “ironic”.

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