They Say Love Is Blind by Pepper Pace

Book cover for They Say Love Is Blind by Pepper Pace. Four images are tiled in varying shapes. One is of a folded red and white cane. One is the face of a black woman with her eyes closed. One is of a white man with a short dark beard with his eyes shut, and the other picture is also a white man's face, with eyes open.I’ve spoken at length here about disability issues and I’ve reviewed a number of romances that featured disabled characters. What I haven’t done much of, though, is read or review romances with disabled characters who aren’t white. Disability-themed books are kind of hard to search for, since they rarely announce disability in a blurb or in the cover image, and finding them among the pool of POC romances has proved a challenge. This book by a black woman pairing a blind white man with a fat black woman is as close as I’ve come so far.

“You have such a pretty face, If only you would lose some weight.” Tory has heard that all of her life. In her solitary life she eats alone and daydreams about having a handsome boyfriend who could accept all of her.

Daily she finds herself running to catch her bus and knowing that she is the laughing stock of the other commuters. And then one day she literally finds herself ‘falling’ into the lap of one of the commuters; an exotically handsome white man. Tory finds that she is unable to stop thinking about him and daydreaming about the life he must live. But Mr. Gorgeous must be either married or gay because she sees him dismissing the attention of gorgeous women left and right.

Never in a million years would she ever guess that hers was the only attention he was interested in…

I don’t generally copy and past book blurbs, but this one pretty much nails exactly what bothered me about this book so much that I put it down. The book opens with a number of stereotypes about fat women. Tory oversleeps and is late for the bus (lazy, lacks discipline), then is breathing heavy and sweating tons as she hurries for her bus (leads a sedentary life/is out of shape), before she finally falls onto the hero’s lap when the bus starts moving (fat people are clumsy.) All day at work she daydreams about what she’ll eat for dinner and an impulsive decision to go out for dinner at a Portuguese restaurant is how she runs into the handsome man from the bus who’s the book’s hero. To be clear, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being any or all of these things as a fat woman, but they’re stereotypes, and a character made up of every well-worn cliche of fat people is not showing me a nuanced individual character.

In addition to the lazy stereotypes of fat people, the book establishes Tory as good enough to be a heroine by repeatedly contrasting shy, self-effacing Tory with bold, sexually aggressive women who hit on Lee. When Tory’s not wondering if they ever eat, she’s calling them a “hoochie mama.” Setting a woman up as “one of the good ones” by tearing down the other women in the book as too sexy to be worthy of respect does not appeal to me in the slightest.

The hero is also constructed in strange and problematic ways. Before Tory realizes he is blind, her delight as his flirting with her is framed as “Wow! A white man likes me, a humble ol’ fat black woman!” His attraction to her seemed tied up with both fetishism and pity, almost, and it made me uncomfortable. It was like I was supposed to feel Tory was honored to have gotten his attention. Additionally, his blindness seemed poorly depicted. He doesn’t use a dog or a cane to move around (at first. He uses a cane in front of her eventually.), and Tory looked at his eyes while talking to him and didn’t realize he was blind. But, just as I was thinking he wasn’t fully blind and had some vision, he’s holding onto her to walk and feeling her face to see what she looks like (blindness cliche!) It felt poorly researched and inconsistent.

Also, this come-on is creepy:

“I noticed you because you run for the bus every day.”

“What?” She looked at him in confusion.

He sighed. “You run for the bus every day and when you get on you sound like you’ve just made love…and have been thoroughly satisfied.” Tory’s heart jumped in her chest, her cheeks flamed. He continued. “The first time I heard that…I could barely stand up to get off the bus. I look forward to that sound every day, Tory. And then, one day you fell into my lap and…well, I wasn’t lying when I said that it was truly my pleasure.”

Final Assessment: All of these plotting and characterization problems mix with bone dry prose that tells rather than shows. Not the book for me. DNF

Links: Monday, August 18th

The equipment a British soldier would have carried at Waterloo laid out on a blanket.

1815 private soldier, Battle of Waterloo

Military kit through the ages: from the Battle of Hastings to Helmand

  • On the Presumed Heterosexual Cisgender Audience and Writing LGBT Romance – Author E.E. Ottoman wrote a lengthy post about cisgender, heterosexual readers and writers and how they can’t be who dictates the tone of LGBT romance.

    For instance a lot of m/m romance publishers assume their readers and authors will mostly be cisgender heterosexual women with some gay cisgender men thrown in and the language they use reflects this. A lot of presses that started out as het romance publisher and have since branched into GLBT romance also use language that presumes cisgender heterosexuality. As does some presses that started out as m/m romance presses and became GLBT romance presses. Review blogs that started out or focus on m/m romance also often uses language rooted in this assumption. As does a lot of general romance, m/m romance or LGBT romance blogs.

    Language is important. Inclusive language is something I look for when trying to tell if a publisher, blog or community will be welcoming and safe for me as a queer author and queer person. It doesn’t really matter how many rainbows you plaster onto your website, if you participate in homophobia awareness events, or post lots of pictures of gay men kissing. If the language used is homophobic, transphobic or reads like this is a cishet only clubhouse it’s going to give me pause. Or it may make me back off and not want to be part of that space all together.

  • Romantic serials – Ros Clarke talks about serials and why she thinks they don’t combine well with genre romance.

    What happens when you stop writing romances and start writing serials is that the promise implicit in the ending is broken. I can’t leave the couple at the end of the book (even if it appears to be a happy ending) secure within those pages, because I know that more is coming. Whatever the ending is, it’s only going to be provisional. For me, that means it is unsatisfying. The book doesn’t give me the same reading experience as a romance novel, even if in every other respect it looks like it fits the definition of a romance novel.

    The other thing that happens when you stop writing romances and start writing serials, I think, is that the books inevitably take on a soap opera kind of character. Because there is no final resolution in most of the books, there’s always a forward drive. One storyline may appear to be resolved but another one will be left hanging. Or we’ll know that whatever resolution there appears to be, something will happen to threaten it in the future. So there’s never the same satisfaction in the resolutions, or the same fear in the black moments. Plots cycle round, dragging readers with them in a tumble dryer of emotional manipulation.

  • ABD Company – A post about ABDs that makes me feel much better about dropping out of grad school. I wasn’t built for academia at all.

    BD stands for “all but dissertation,” a description of a student who has finished coursework and passed comprehensive exams, but has yet to complete and defend the doctoral thesis. Today, the Ph.D. Completion Project estimates that the ten-year completion rate (that is, someone’s status a decade after they begin) is 55–64 percent in STEM, 56 percent in the social sciences, and 49 percent in the humanities. Not all Ph.D. dropouts advance to the dissertation stage before they leave—but since the project’s charts start leveling out around Year 8 (the dissertation begins in Year 3 or 4), it’s safe to assume a hell of a lot do.

    Aside from the obvious professional consequences (it’s hard enough get a job with a doctorate!), there are also psychological ramifications to leaving grad school without finishing.

  • Confessions of a Frustrated Pinterest Science Girl Mom – Pinterest’s culture of competitive motherhood steeped in traditional values rubs me the wrong way. This post hits on the sort of thing that makes me use the site as a picture library but not as a social media site.

    “Loooove this room for a boy :)”

    There is actually nothing about this image that says “boy” over “girl” to me. Sally has loved outer space since her trips to the planetarium with us when she was a baby (no really: her eyes were always wide open, staring, taking it all in). Outer space isn’t gendered, believe it or not!

    “Geek chic, science boys room decor mood board.”

    Really? Since when are tinker toys, dinosaurs, the periodic table, and a map of the world “boy” things rather than “girls” things? Sally loves manipulatives, has a whole shelf of dinosaur models, knows what the periodic table is, and loves finding places on our globe. And she’s a girl.

  • The Power Of The Peer Group In Preventing Campus Rape – This post about diverting boys from perpetrating sexual assault is pretty good, but the last paragraph is a doozy. “Only one in ten men are rapists you say? Oh, well, that’s not so bad.”

    There are only a few dozen high schools around the country that offer the MVP program. It’s been used in high schools around Sioux City, Iowa, for over a decade now. Surveys of participating students suggest their attitudes about sexual assault, and intervening in dangerous situations, shift after they go through the program, but researchers have yet to evaluate how effective it is in reducing incidents of sexual violence.

    John Foubert, the psychologist in Oklahoma, says it’s important to remember that 90 percent of men have never committed a rape. The key is opening their eyes to what’s going on with the other 10 percent, so they can see it and intervene.

  • “The Assumption Is That I’m a Prop”: On Being a Woman of Color in the Indie Music Scene – Musicians talk about the casual sexism and racism they experience as women of color in an indie scene dominate by white people.

    For Brooklyn based singer, songwriter, and rock visionary Tamar-kali’s experience as a WOC musician in the indie scene struck a chord with my experiences as a fan. “[The] overall understanding [of] the aesthetic that comes to mind when one hears ‘indie rock’ is a dominating force in the industry,” she explains. “Therefore, voices or bodies that do not fit that mold are interpreted as novel or less authentic. This paradigm leaves so much to be desired and so many stones unturned. It’s either the usual suspects or the occasional token.” On-stage or off, tokenism alongside gender-based discrimination, especially within the space of the concert venue, can be problematic. “It is a function of living in American society,” Tamar-kali explains. “Sexism in general is the primary nuisance as a female musician. Gender pretty much trumps all on the everyday working level. That is the issue most prevalent in my experience. No matter how many shows I do, I [am] almost never… approached by front of house sound staff when a question concerning my set up needs to be asked. Even after introducing myself formally. The assumption is that I am a prop, barely even a front person and certainly not the captain of the ship.”

Links: Friday, August 15th

Two white men,, one dressed in a suit like the Tenth Doctor and one dressed in jeans, tshirt and leather jacket like the Ninth Doctor, pose in front of a TARDIS while holding sonic screwdrivers.“Doctor Who” Engagement Photos

  • Real marketing, fake slavery, and my last nerve – When Sunita breaks out the F-bombs, shit just got real. Her post hits on a number of the reasons why I avoid straight-woman authored m/m, which got me lit up for supposedly silencing women writers. m/m fans and authors haven’t yet made their peace with criticism, I don’t think.

    I don’t give a flying fuck what people’s kinks are, what people read, or what people write. As long as everyone involved is a consenting adult, it’s not my business. But give me and everyone else who doesn’t think faux slavery is a fun time a chance to avoid it. And don’t insult my intelligence by telling me the books aren’t romantic views of slavery. Not when I’ve read them, not when I’ve read pages of promo that show how the authors marketed them.

    I know that there are presses out there that don’t pull this kind of bullshit behavior, and I know there are also professional, sensible m/m authors and writers out there. But I’m seriously tired of the insinuation that if I criticize repellent, tone-deaf attempts to make money, I’m somehow contributing to the suppression of artistic freedom.

  • Ten YA novels featuring disabled women of color as protagonists: – Does what it says on the tin.

    Ten YA novels featuring disabled women of color as protagonists:

    A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman
    Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
    Dangerous by Shannon Hale
    The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi
    The Shattering by Karen Healey
    Pinned by Sharon G. Flake
    Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves
    Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis
    The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
    When Reason Breaks by Cindy L. Rodriguez

    So far, we’ve only reviewed Dangerous at Disability in Kidlit; we’re unfortunately unable to vouch for the others. Hopefully this list will still prove useful to some, though—and if you’ve read any of these, please pitch in with your thoughts!

  • Amsterdam to give ‘Black Pete’ Santa sidekick a makeover – Amsterdam seems to be making some progress on the inappropriate “Black Pete” tradition and this must be what Americans in redface who defend offensive Indian mascots look like to people outside the US. (TW for a photo of blackface that’s nightmare fuel.)

    Amsterdam’s mayor and the organizers of a large children’s winter festival have unveiled plans to overhaul the image of “Black Pete” – the sidekick to the Dutch Santa Claus – after protests that the character exhibited racist elements.

    Mayor Eberhard van der Laan said on Thursday that Pete’s appearance will be changed over several years from his current blackface to make him look like he has been merely covered with soot from going down chimneys to deliver presents.

    Black Pete has become the subject of protests in the Netherlands. Opponents say he is a caricature of an African
    slave carried over from colonial times – he is usually portrayed by white people wearing blackface makeup, bold red lipstick and frizzy Afro wigs.

    But a large majority of the Netherlands’ mostly white population says that Pete is a positive figure and denies any racial insult.

  • Lee Child on Amazon – I try not to link to the Scraper Guy, but this comment thread with Lee Child vs. a bunch of self-publishing sycophants is hilarious.

    Lee Child
    Tom, relax. And don’t call me a liar.

    Tom Simon
    Why not? You have called every single person on this site a liar, beginning with PG himself.

    And I told you, Sir, not to be familiar with me. Did you ever learn any manners at all, or do you employ a flunkey to have them for you?

    Lee Child
    Tom, I haven’t called anyone a liar. That would be you, about me. And don’t call me sir, especially with a capital letter. I have two doctorates, but no knighthood.

  • The Afterlife of Cheap Clothes – An excerpt from Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion looks at what happens to the clothes Americans donate to charities. Spoiler alert: very little of it is resold locally.

    Most Americans are thoroughly convinced there is another person in their direct vicinity who truly needs and wants our unwanted clothes. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Charities long ago passed the point of being able to sell all of our wearable unwanted clothes. According to John Paben, co-owner of used-clothing processer Mid- West Textile, “They never could.”

    There are thousands of secondhand textile processors in the United States today, mostly small family businesses, many of them several generations old. I visited Trans- Americas Trading Co., a third- generation textile recycler in Clifton, N.J., which employs 85 people and processes close to 17 million pounds of used clothing a year. Inside Trans-Americas, there is a wall of cubed-up clothing five bales tall and more than 20 bales long. “This is liter­ally several hundred thousand pounds of textile waste, and we bring in two trailer loads of this much every day,” Trans-Americas president Eric Stubin told me. The volume they process has gone up over the years alongside our consumption of clothing.

  • The Murder of Black Youth Is a Reproductive Justice Issue – True reproductive freedom needs to involve more than just access to abortion or contraception. The movement needs to concern itself with supporting parenthood beyond pregnancy.

    Often such events are covered as a story about race, police violence, white supremacy or laws that protect murderers from prosecution. But the killing of Michael Brown, like the killing of many young black people before him, is rarely framed as a feminist issue or as an issue of pressing importance to those who advocate for choice, self-determination and dignity as they relate to family life. With this most recent killing, I am wondering what it would take for more people in feminist and reproductive rights circles to begin to think of parents such as Lesley McSpadden, Sybrina Fulton and Angela Leisure (a mother whose ordeal I’m especially reminded of in the wake of this latest tragedy) as women they advocate for just as passionately and vigorously as they advocate for a young woman’s right to contraception or an overwhelmed mother of three’s right to an abortion.

    This broader perspective has long been that of the reproductive justice movement, whose participants support “the right to have children, not have children, and to parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments.”

  • Ferguson Links: 08/14/14 – Natalie Luhrs put together a sizeable list of links about Ferguson, MO that you might want to check out.

Love in the Margins Turns One!

A birthday cake with the "doge" dog on it and the words "WOW SUCH BIRTHDAY"One year ago we launched Love in the Margins with a review of The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan and all sorts of grand ideas about reviewing a wider variety of romance. We’re hobbyists, first and foremost, so every book we read was something we wanted to read. We’re working through our TBR shelves, grabbing shiny things from NetGalley and accepting the occasional free book offered by an author. Since we’ve marketed ourselves as a blog trying to read outside the mainstream, though, let’s look at what we’ve done over the past year and see if we’re doing what we said we would.

We’ve had our ups and downs, but we seem to have settled into a somewhat regular posting schedule of two or three reviews and three links roundups each week with the occasional opinion piece. We posted 133 reviews over the past year, with contemporary-set books leading the pack at 70 and historical coming in second at 32. The bulk of our romance and erotica reading, 93 books, featured m/f pairings, with f/f and m/m fairly evenly splitting what was left at 14 and 13 books, respectively. Two books had bisexual characters, one had a transgender character and one had a genderqueer character.

Figuring out what the numbers were on racial and ethnic representation is a little tricky because of how we tag reviews. While we have tags for Black Romance, Multicultural Romance, Interracial Romance and African-American Romance, for example, we’ll use one or more of them on any given book. So you don’t really get a sense of what proportion they were of our reviews overall. We can look at the tags for the individual characters’ ethnicities/races, since those are used more uniformly, but that’s not perfect either. Most of our reviews featured white heroes and heroines, 76 and 65 respectively, but some of the white heroes and heroines were in books with a partner of a different race or ethnicity. Additionally, m/m and f/f skew the numbers a bit, since an f/f with two white heroines is only going to get tagged once as WW. With that in mind, here’s how the tags break down:

6 Asian Man
7 Asian Woman
21 Black Man
33 Black Woman
5 Desi Man
6 Desi Woman
3 Latino Man
4 Latina Woman
5 Multi-ethnic Man
5 Multi-ethnic Woman
2 NDN Man
0 NDN Woman
76 White Man
65 White Woman

Our review grades fit a pretty typical curve. Our only A+ review was The Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan, which is fitting, since our very first post was a Milan review. We also only had two F reviews, Phantom Waltz by Catherine Anderson and The Necromancer Chronicles by Amanda Downum. Our favorite grade to give out was a B, which we gave to 22 books. Next was B+ at 14, then A-, B- and C+ at 13. On average, we liked what we read, maybe because we weren’t afraid to bail if the book wasn’t working, as we stamped 12 books with DNF.

So what should our goals be for the next year? What do you think? If you ran the zoo, what changes would you make? What could we do better?

Here’s what I’d like to do:

  • Go through the site and tweak the theme to improve readability and usability. Replacing the patterned background with something solid should improve readability and switching to previews, rather than full text, on the front page and in searches should make browsing faster.
  • Review more books that fit into the B and T of LGBT and more queer romance by queer authors.
  • Find some books with disabled POC characters. Every romance featuring disability that I’ve reviewed had white characters and I need to do better.
  • Add another reviewer. I’d love to add a reviewer who’s trans or genderqueer, especially for books featuring characters who identify as such and the book’s author is cis, and I’d love another reviewer who’s a POC. Being 3/4 white women and 4/4 ciswomen seems like something we should diversify a bit.
  • Edit the tags so that reviews use one set and links use another.
  • Get caught up mirroring reviews on Booklikes

Finally, thank you all for visiting here, whether you comment or lurk. This is something we do for fun as a hobby, but diversifying and critiquing romance is also something we deeply care about. Seeing other people care about it along with us is tremendously satisfying. So, thank you guys, and I hope we continue to be a place you want to visit.

Links: Wednesday, August 13th

Summoning cattle by playing “Royals” on trombone

  • If you’re a straight cisgender woman writing m/m romance, sorry, you are not striking a blow for equality – This post by Sunny Moraine showed up on our dash as a trackback and I had to share it. It’s excellent advice.

    Here’s something you have to do if you’re in a position of privilege and you’re writing about people who aren’t: ask yourself if it’s your story to tell. Ask yourself every single time. You may not arrive at an easy answer. You may not arrive at an answer at all. But storytelling is very fucking political, and you owe it to you, your story, your characters, and everyone who might ever read it to ask the question.

    You may want to tell the story. No one can stop you from telling the story. But at least be honest with yourself about what you’re doing and why. And I cannot escape the feeling – not least while so many publishers of “LGBT” romance almost entirely ignore the L, the T, and frequently shove the B into the whole “menage” category – that the reasons why a lot of m/m romance exists are not tasteful.

  • Girls Ruin Everything: Stephenie Meyer, Lois Duncan, and Childhood Nostalgia – I’ll admit that this totally changed by view of Meyer. We do talk about her a lot less respectfully than we do of male authors of pulpy books wildly popular with young men, and that’s something to think about.

    Meyer wrote a young adult series that sold over 120 million copies in print worldwide and stayed on a variety of bestseller lists for hundreds of weeks. When it hit theaters, the series grossed more than $3.3 billion worldwide, and New Moon set the record for the biggest midnight release and opening day ever. Eclipse, New Moon, Breaking Dawn: Part 2, Breaking Dawn: Part 1, and Twilight hold the respective box office earning positions for young adult book adaptations at 6, 7, 9, 12, and 15, respectively. It turned the leads – Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner – into stars.

    There’s no denying the power these books had in changing the entire landscape of YA nor the landscape of YA books appearing on the big screen.

    But does she get credit for doing that? Does she earn accolades? Has she been respected for her massive contributions to YA? Not even close. Meyer gets ridiculed, mocked, and denigrated. She’s a laughing stock to many in the book world, especially for those who don’t understand young adult fiction. The idea of her expanding her career after the Twilight series is dismissed.

  • Diversity Programming at Book Events and Conferences – Malinda Lo has excellent advice for anyone looking to diversify the programming on offer at their event.

    Since my first young adult novel, Ash, was published in 2009, I’ve been asked to speak about diversity many times. This is due to my work with Diversity in YA, but also because my books have been about queer3 girls and/or girls of color. Over the past year, the discourse on diversity in YA and children’s literature has grown significantly, which means I’ve received even more invitations to speak on diversity than in the past.

    There are many ways to incorporate diversity in your programming, whether it’s at a library or a convention or a book festival. Some ways are better than others, and I’ve seen many approaches. The following are my thoughts on how to incorporate diversity in your conference/event/festival programming.

  • A Review Of Like No Other by Una LaMarche – The Toast reviewed a YA romance with a Hasidic heroine and a black hero that I thought some of you might find interesting.

    I don’t usually write book reviews, but Una LaMarche’s Like No Other was such a fun read that I was happy to examine it more closely. Like No Other is a great YA contemporary romance. Devorah and Jaxon meet when they get stuck in a hospital elevator together. As they start talking, they discover that they not only share interests but also live on the same street in Brooklyn. But – oh no! – Devorah is a Hasidic Jew and her strict upbringing means she shouldn’t even be talking to boys alone, much less dating the cute Black one from the elevator. So, naturally, drama ensues.

    The story is well-paced and Devorah and Jaxon’s relationship has all the fuzzy emotions of first love. Even though Devorah’s religion makes their dates and meetings forbidden, the tone of the romance is sweet and fun, rather than edgy or scandalous.

  • Women in sports television should not be a marketing gimmick – I share this author’s lack of enthusiasm for this show. What do you want to bet all the women are straight, white, blonde and femme as well?

    “CBS would not reveal the show’s format, but sources say it will be something akin to The View meets Pardon the Interruption.”

    According to CBS Sports, the CBS Sports Network produces more than 2,200 hours of original programming a year. The network could have chosen to add more women to its existing programming, including them in the conversation and sitting them alongside their male colleagues. Instead, the network is creating its own little corner for the women to play in and calling it groundbreaking.

    None of this is to say that I’m not totally supportive of increased roles for women in sports. But forgive me for not being thrilled to see a network using women as gimmicks in a transparent marketing ploy.

  • Things To Stop Being Distracted By When A Black Person Gets Murdered By Police – There have been so many powerful and important pieces written about Mike Brown and Ferguson that it was hard to choose which I wanted to link to here. This one from Black Girl Dangerous needed to be shared.

    A Black person is murdered by cops, security guards or self-appointed vigilantes every 28 hours in the U.S. The killing of an unarmed Black teenager named Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO, which has resulted in protests in that town and harsh police push-back and brutality against even more of its citizens, and which, via social media, has gotten the attention of people around the world, probably isn’t even the latest occurrence, at just three days old.

    Talking to people on Twitter about Mike Brown and what’s happening in Ferguson right now, I’ve noticed (again) how easily folks get distracted when Black people are murdered by the police. It seems as though every detail is more interesting, more important, more significant—including looting of a Walmart in Ferguson, which a local Fox news station focused its entire coverage on—than the actual life that was taken by police.

    So, to get folks back on track to focus on what matters most here—the killing of yet another unarmed Black teenager—I’ve compiled this list of 6 Things To Stop Being Distracted By When A Black Person Gets Murdered By the Police.

  • #IfTheyGunnedMeDown challenges the media and how it portrays people of color – This post from Poynter acknowledging the criticism of photojournalism in the hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown should make newsroom editors think real hard about why they choose the photos they do and how that choice affects public perceptions.

    The inclination of news organizations to use photos to illustrate stories, instead of to tell stories, is catching up with them. Telling the story of a young man’s life in a single photograph is unfortunately common; the same organizations would be far less likely to publish a story with such one-dimensional reporting.

    #IfTheyGunnedMeDown asks the logical question of media that oversimplifies, even issues of life and death. As long as photos and other visuals are viewed as decorations instead of important — and often more powerful — means of storytelling, newsrooms will fail to ask rigorous questions of them, like:

    • Having seen this photo, what do we know and what do we realize we don’t know?
    • Does this photo, standing alone, tell a true story of this person’s life?
    • What further (visual) reporting needs to be done before we can publish this photograph?
    • Are we capable of putting this photo in the proper context, either with a caption, or additional photographs?

My Beautiful Enemy by Sherry Thomas

a Eurasian woman is seen from the back in a white undergarment with corseting, against a patterned blue wall.My Beautiful Enemy is a book possibly better without it’s prequel. The Hidden Blade was so exceptional that My Beautiful Enemy is left with shoes it can’t fill. Yet My Beautiful Enemy is an excellent story on it’s own merits. Catherine Blade is the heroine of her own life. She’s capable, almost fearless, intelligent and moral. (But I’m not sure she’s still Ying-Ying.) Leighton, who is completely present in The Hidden Blade, becomes even more interesting in My Beautiful Enemy. I promised I would call Sherry Thomas out if the following spoiler happened. (It’s only a spoiler if you haven’t read The Hidden Blade, so click away if you have.)

View Spoiler »

Leighton has grown into a man who understands hard choices. He’s been an expatriate. He’s been a spy. He’s returned home to find the peace that has eluded him through his life. He’s too careful with his words and too giving of his heart. Toward the end Leighton is overly saint-like, but that matches up with his prequel character. It is in Leighton’s nature to destroy himself for another. Catherine gives nothing. She is distrustful and focused. Since we last saw Catherine life has delivered endless trauma. Is it enough to turn her into the woman we meet? Yes and no.

My Beautiful Enemy alternates between past and present. As young lovers, Leighton and Ying-Ying match up well to their prequel selves. Ying-Ying is daring, impetuous, overly confident of herself in all areas. Leighton is willing to believe in anything that offers him hope and love. Aspects of Ying-Ying are too feral, explained away as caution built up running from her nemesis. In the present, there is little of Ying-Ying left. Catherine is a tool of her master. The sly humor, the whimsical fancies, all are gone. Leighton seems drawn to her primarily because of shared history. He has an unkept promise to fulfill. Where Leighton and Ying-Ying are an excellent match, Leighton is a little too good for Catherine.

View Spoiler »

Keeping My Beautiful Enemy from winning my heart is a plot based in communication failures wrapped around a reliance on continual coincidence. In the format of the story, intertwining fate is a necessity. This is a stylistic choice as much as the representation of Chi a physical form. (My Beautiful Enemy is an obvious homage to wuxia, even without the author’s note confirming it.) Still, readers may want to scream “Just TALK to each other, omgwtfbbq”. Ultimately, Sherry Thomas has written an excellent romance with memorable leads. My Beautiful Enemy reads like a film.

Final Assessment: Alpha heroine rediscovers lost love while hunting legendary treasure. A-

Series: Follows The Hidden Blade.

Links: Monday, August 11th

An animated gif of a crying man with the text "THANK YOU SO MUH-HUH-HUCH"

13. The author who thanks people for follows on Twitter

14 Authors You (Unfortunately) Encounter On Social Media

  • Why I Wish Romance Had a Readercon – Although I’ve maybe read a dozen SFF books ever, Readercon was all of a 30 min drive away and people like Jessica and Natlie Luhrs were going, so I went this year and really enjoyed it. I’d echo everything Jessica says in this post. A romance Readercon would be amazing.

    I don’t see this kind of discussion when I look at the schedules for romance conferences. I had even planned to go to RT this year, but I hated the idea of ignoring 90% of what I was paying $500 for. Having been to a number of academic popular culture conferences, Readercon is not academic, although a few of the panelists hold teaching positions. The level of discussion is just reflective and thoughtful, but no special knowledge of a body of critical works or academic degree is necessary to engage in it. Just a knowledge and interest and curiosity about what you love to read.

    Don’t we have similar topics worthy of discussion in the romance genre? And don’t we have authors and readers who could be just as interesting when discussing them? I know we do, because I read their blogs.

  • I’m So Sick of “Historically Accurate Rape”. – Ceilidh talks about how “historical accuracy” is a shitty defense for stories’ use of rape as a plot device.

    What we get … is rape as a plot device, the go-to shock tactic to show just how very bad the big baddie is, the easiest way for a storyteller to put someone, more often than not a woman, at risk. Having to preface a recommendation for a show or book I enjoyed with “But it is a bit rapey” has become a more common occurrence than I’m entirely comfortable with. I’ve had many similar conversations with friends upon beginning to read Outlander as well as frequent talks with Game of Thrones fans. Both series have been forced into either/or discussions lately, with critics discussing the feminist merits of both and how one is clearly more liberating for women than the other. One thing with rape is more feminist than another thing with rape. I despair.

    Both shows also use the same justification for violent content and sexual assault, particularly against women – it’s historically accurate.

  • Accessing the Future – This quick post about an upcoming SFF anthology featuring explorations of disability says some interesting things about disability being socially constructed.

    he most important answer to why speculative fiction? for me, I realised, is all about societies and construction of new worlds. The social model of disability implies the possibility (however theoretical) of other worlds, and invites us to imagine them on a small or a large level. If we say: imagine yourself (or someone else) on an individual level without your impairment, you can imagine that in the world you know. You can imagine walking or hearing or not freaking out in airports (why yes, it has been one of those days) and you may find it easier or harder, but you don’t need to change genre to imagine that. But to imagine a society that no longer disables you… you’re going to need to go further than that, perhaps into the future, or an alternate version of the past, or to another world entirely.

  • Crossing the Line: Riptide Publishing Promotes Slavery – Twitter was agog today at a super squicky marketing campaign linked to a slavery-themed noncon series put out by Riptide. It’s since been removed, but Jeanne’s post is still an important reminder to tread mindfully with problematic works.

    Enjoying fictional books about romanticized slavery is one thing, creating promotional material that glorifies slavery is fucked up! I don’t have an issue with slave fantasies or erotica fiction featuring slaves, but there is not escaping how problematic they are. I’m a fan of the genre, but I am the first to admit the ability to view the experience of slavery as titillating and desirable comes from a place of privilege. I feel, that with that privilege comes a responsibility to respect the reality of slavery and not contribute to misinformation about it.

    There’s a big difference between writing a self-contained fantasy story and using a hyper realistic website, with subtle undertones of racism, to glorify slavery.

  • We Have a Rape Gif Problem and Gawker Media Won’t Do Anything About It – I don’t really like Jezebel, but this trolling campaign still sounds totally disgusting.

    For months, an individual or individuals has been using anonymous, untraceable burner accounts to post gifs of violent pornography in the discussion section of stories on Jezebel. The images arrive in a barrage, and the only way to get rid of them from the website is if a staffer individually dismisses the comments and manually bans the commenter. But because IP addresses aren’t recorded on burner accounts, literally nothing is stopping this individual or individuals from immediately signing up for another, and posting another wave of violent images (and then bragging about it on 4chan in conversations staffers here have followed, which we’re not linking to here because fuck that garbage). This weekend, the user or users have escalated to gory images of bloody injuries emblazoned with the Jezebel logo. It’s like playing whack-a-mole with a sociopathic Hydra.

  • Bullying Disabled People Is Never Ok – But It’s Even Worse When You’ve Got 8.7Million Fans Watching – I was disappointed that George Takei posted that stupid “miracle” meme. It’s extra sad that he’s being a prick about being called on it. Spoiler alert: most people who need to use a wheelchair can control their legs to some extent. Spinal cord injury is not the only disability that calls for a wheelchair, FFS.

    On Saturday Takei posted on both Facebook and Twitter an image of a wheelchair-using woman standing up to reach something from the top shelf in a store. The picture is captioned “there has been a miracle in the alcohol isle” [sic].

    I know Takei didn’t create the meme, I’d seen it before this weekend. But he has 1.3million Twitter followers and nearly 7.4million Facebook fans. He introduced a sum total of 8.7million people to this image.

    Lots of disabled people were offended by this post and the harassment it encourages and told him so. This prompted a follow up post from Takei saying:

    Fans get “offended” from time to time by my posts. There hardly is a day where something I put up doesn’t engender controversy. Concerned fans, worried the sky may fall, ask me to “take it down.”
    So I’m also going to ask them also to take it down – a notch, please.

When I Was A Mall Model by Monica Gallagher

A girl points excitedly at a mannequin in a shop as her mother looks at it warilyI loved When I Was A Mall Model. I’m not even going to pretend otherwise. Back in the way back days of the American 1970′s every middle school girl thought she was going to be a model. (Well, except me. I was absolutely certain I wasn’t, which made me one of two girls in the grade to hold that opinion.) The richer girls would brag of taking classes at Barbizon. The less fortunate would practice their walks during recess. Seventeen magazine told us all models thought they were ugly, none ever realized they were special and all of them lived on junk food. What 12 to 14 year old girl couldn’t identify with that? A girl smiles on a platform in an evening dress and santa hat surrounded by gifts for shoppers to consider buying

Monica Gallagher went a step further and actually worked as a model. This short comic is a beautiful slice of her coming of age story. Young Monica pays her dues as a mall model while aspiring to the rarified world of Hair Shows and Runway Work. She knows all she has to do is want it and it will come true. For a time, it seems like she’s right. When I Was A Mall Model was a great read. It took me back to a stage of naiveté and self assurance that will be familiar to many women. If we dream it, we can be it. Eventually every girl has to wake up and decide what kind of woman she’ll become. In Monica Gallagher’s case that was tougher than she expected. Sparsely drawn but memorable beyond it’s page count, When I Was A Mall Model is perfection in a small package.

Final Assessment: Quick but satisfying read. A

Source: Purchased Copy

Links: Friday, August 8th

White woman Este Haim makes what looks like a disgusted face at the giant slug that was photoshopped into the photo where her bass guitar would be.Slug Solos

  • Why I’m Not Reviewing Self-Published Books – A post about how a few self-publishers who won’t respect boundaries ruin it for everyone. Author K.M. Jackson linked this on Twitter then pointed out that this backlash especially affects authors of diverse books that publishers are reluctant to buy. Authors then turn to self-publishing, where they have to deal with this stigma.

    The article starts with a problematic statement from the get-go: “What’s the difference between a self-published author and traditionally published author making their way in the writing world? Online—nothing.” Actually, there’s a big difference: gatekeepers. Even beyond editors and the content of the books themselves, which we’ll set aside for now, most self-published authors are not supported by a team with the professional knowledge to help them properly market their book. What does that lead to? Bloggers being spammed on Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads or added to mailing lists without their knowledge. Mailboxes full of e-mails from authors who don’t take the time to read review policies or even a few blog posts to see if their book would be a good fit with the content of a site. Of course, not every self-published author can be lumped into those categories, but bloggers certainly see trends.

  • I Take the Low Road About High Culture: A Rebuttal – Olivia Waite responds to an Open Letters Monthly piece that made me want to slap the condescending prick who wrote it.

    Our author cannot grasp the idea that people can participate simultaneously in so-called high and low culture, even as he gives himself free license to do so. This is allowed, presumably, because he does so while knowing that High Culture is superior. When in fact, most people I know alternate between so-called high and so-called low culture, fitting the medium to the mood. Thrillers in the summer, art films in the fall; cartoons when we’re sick, opera when we’re feeling fancy. As an author of commercial romance who also does her own Latin translations for fun, I have a vested interest in high-versus-low culture debates. I could no more choose between low and high than I could choose between my right and left hands.

  • “I Do Not Know What My Gender Is”: On Messy Transitions – A non-binary person who was assigned female at birth talks about how he defines his gender and the twisty, confusing path he’s taken so far to get here.

    As a gender-different person growing up in the arms of Livejournal comment threads, I learned pretty quick that when talking to cisgender people – parents, friends, therapists – you sometimes have to bend the truth to be taken seriously. I vividly remember sitting on the lumpy sofa in my therapist’s dark office as a senior in high school, telling her brokenly that I had felt trapped in the wrong body for as long as I could remember. Constricted by the DSM and the WPATH Standards of Care, most healthcare providers (especially in my conservative hometown) look for a particular checklist of experiences and feelings before diagnosing a person with gender dysphoria. I knew, before walking into that office for the first time, that I didn’t meet the majority of the criteria for the diagnosis but I also knew – yes, at the age of eighteen – that transitioning to male would make me happier. I could not and cannot explain how: my gender identity has always been an amorphous and unstable mystery. As of this writing I feel closest to what I would call masculine agender (that is, I don’t identify with any gender, but I feel more masculine than feminine.) A few weeks ago I was adamantly identifying as a man with a transgender medical history, and several months before that I embraced my genderqueerness.

  • Black Life, Annotated – Christina Sharpe (@hystericalblkns) reviews Alice Goffman’s ethnography “On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City” and it’s a must read for anyone interested in sociology or popular non-fiction.

    So, the black communities of 4th and 6th Street continue to be laboratories in which Goffman and other student and faculty researchers at the University of Pennsylvania do field work. With its frisson of “authenticity,” On the Run may have a long and varied life ahead ( mini-series? feature film?) shaping misperception and abetting black narrative and material subjection. I already know that this book will be chosen for First Year common reading programs and that all over the US, historically white colleges and universities with small black undergraduate and faculty populations will read and then reproduce as truth On the Run’s ethics and methods; which is to say its relations and practices of power. In the neoliberal “engaged” university, On the Run is sure to be a primer for how to do immersive “urban” ethnography. And so continues, into the next generation, within and outside of the university, what Sylvia Wynter has called our black narratively condemned status.

  • Twitter Won’t Stop Harassment on Its Platform, So Its Users Are Stepping In – Twitter’s inaction on the platform’s harassment problem has spawned a number of third-party solutions.

    The company’s typical response to complaints about abusive and harassing behavior on Twitter is to advise users to fend for themselves. The network tells abused individuals to shut up (“abusive users often lose interest once they realize that you will not respond”), unfollow, block, and—in extreme cases—get off Twitter, pick up the phone, and call the police. Twitter opts to ban abusive users from its network only when they issue “direct, specific threats of violence against others.” That’s a criminal standard stricter than the code you’d encounter at any workplace, school campus, or neighborhood bar.

    What this approach fails to recognize is that online harassment is a social problem (one that disproportionately affects the same folks who are marginalized offline, like minority groups, LGBT people, and women), and making the Internet a safe and equitable place to communicate requires a social solution. So now, some Twitter users are stepping up to provide ad-hoc fixes where Twitter itself has declined to dabble. On Monday, Jacob Hoffman-Andrews, senior staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, unveiled Block Together, an app that is “intended to help cope with harassers and abusers on Twitter” that allows users to “share their list of blocked users with friends” and, if they like, “auto-block new users who at-reply them.”

  • First Night in Kyiv – This is an infuriating object lesson in why there aren’t more women in journalism.

    He’d invited me to stay at his apartment, where the male journalist slightly older than me had also recently stayed. Now, I don’t know for certain, but given that the journalist who had stayed with the Very Respected Journalist before me went on to write two articles the following week, I imagine his visit to Kyiv went as I intended mine would – the Very Respected Journalist was inviting me to stay as a fellow journalist, a co-worker in the field of writing, and I’d go to sleep and get on with my work.

    I was halfway through talking about the political situation in Britain when the Very Respected Journalist called me “baby” (really, people can say that without irony?) and shoved his beer-and-whisky-churned-together tongue down my throat. After unironically ‘baby’-ing me a few more times, the Very Respected Journalist pushed me towards his bedroom. And suddenly the authority and presumed ‘expertness’ ever-present in his writing contorted itself, with the grotesqueness of a Francis Bacon painting, to a wholly new context. I kept telling him to stop, that I didn’t want him to keep kissing me, that I didn’t want him to push me, that he should stop telling me to ‘be a good girl’, but – unfortunately – my voice obviously commands less authority, less expertise, than his own.

Three Weeks With Lady X by Eloisa James

Cover divided vertically between black with text and light colored panel with a blonde woman's exposed back, a vaguely regency white dress opened down her spineThree Weeks With Lady X was not only a DNF read for me, but a Kill It With Fire experience. Yes, James and I have been in the process of a very difficult breakup, and yes, I wish I had read this USA article before trying just one more time but as you are my witness I have learned. Oh, how I have learned. James is so busy trying to be clever that she’s forgotten to deliver a plausible story. Even worse, she’s not checking her homophobia at the door. While I’ve certainly complained about that in the past I begin to think I gave James too much credit. Let’s look at this example early in chapter two, after our prize of a lead has been disparaging women in general and his selected wife in particular.

“You never go into society, so you wouldn’t know, but Laetitia’s just spent the season dancing with a crowd of wand-thin mollies with no need to shave. We’re too big, and we’d both have a beard within the day if we allowed it.” “Those men were all at school with us,” Thorn said, shrugging. “You’re taking marriage too seriously. It’s a transaction like any other. I’m giving her a country house; that will make up for my brute proportions.” – Eloisa James, Three Weeks With Lady X

Wand-thin mollies. You know, those skinny gay boys instead of us manly muscle men. (Pauses, thinks about the local Gold’s Gym clientele, sighs and continues.) They were at school with Thorn and his buddy but they lack the testosterone to shave routinely, because they aren’t… manly. (Considers bear culture, thinks about asking some otters on Scruff about this, moves on.) We’ve got a pair of Gastons for the lead. What about Lady X? Is she a prize? Spoiler alert: No.

True, her reputation was tarnished by the fact that she refused to stay home practicing her needlework. But as she was the daughter of a marquess, technically a Dibbleshire would be lucky to dance with her. Not that she cared about such things. – Eloisa James, Three Weeks With Lady X

Oh, she’s one of those. Right. India, the Lady X in question, is positively besieged by proposals from men she holds in mild contempt. Despite having once been relatively poor and her parents of the hippie persuasion, India is a hot property on the marriage market. She’s not only good looking, she earns a living as an Organizer. Because if there was one thing the cream of society wanted, it was a slightly scandalous impoverished peer telling them how to sort their cupboards. If only they’d had HGTV.

Catching sight of herself in a mirror, she peered closer to see whether wrinkles indeed radiated out from her eyes. She couldn’t see any. In fact, at twenty-six, she looked fairly the same as she had at sixteen: too much hair, too much lower lip, too much bosom. – Eloisa James, Three Weeks With Lady X

Poor India. If only her parents hadn’t been neglectful, so consumed by their love for each other that they often forgot to feed her. (While this is a DNF I bet India forgives every hungry night she ever had by book’s end.) India has had to make do with extended family, improbably lucrative skills and stunning, ageless beauty. No wonder she’s so fatigued with humanity. But back to Thorn. He’s decided, because his father and step-mother have a successful and loving marriage, that he’s going to pick the stupidest woman he can find to wash the common beginnings of his blood pure in her lineage. Because of course a man raised by a caring and wealthy step-mother would hate women. I mean, duh. There’s no way a kid from an unloved background who landed in clover would ever realize the importance of treating people as humans first and status symbols second. Let’s get real here! Look at Thorn bringing the sexy in this quote.

Frankly, he didn’t waste much time thinking about trusting women. And he found it rare that he respected them. His life revolved around his work, and most gentlewomen didn’t seem to do anything except their part in bed, though he generally did most of the work there too. That was the nature of it. He wasn’t a man to give a woman her way between the sheets. – Eloisa James, Three Weeks With Lady X

Who’s a future rapist? Thorn is. He’s already explaining how his intended wife’s consent and intelligence are irrelevant. The powerful domination of his genes will allow her womb to stamp out little Thorn copies for his enjoyment. (He even says it but I’m tired of quoting.)  Thorn is so unconcerned about her contribution that he’s chosen a woman unable to read. Here I paused again. One of my great reviewing regrets was my failure to call James out fully on The Duke Is Mine. I was so happy just to see a Down’s Syndrome Duke that I gave her a pass on the contempt he was shown. When James killed him off as an impediment to a HEA I swept it under the “Too Many Spoilers” rug. I was wrong. (I regretted it almost instantly, but I have a no take backs policy on my reviews.)

At the close of chapter two we have India (about whom I care not at all) set to meet Thorn (whom I actively despise). I’ve got no idea how India made her money. The wealthy are famous for not paying bills unless badgered. Actually requiring payment could get India kicked out of society pretty quickly. (I live among the very wealthy. Everything should be a favor, darling. Be a dear, won’t you. Couldn’t you just? The very wealthy do not happily offer up payment. It’s a point of pride to them to avoid it as long as possible.) I’ve got no idea how Thorn came to loathe women and I don’t much care. He’s got a homophobic friend.  He thinks a woman’s consent is irrelevant if you’re paying her with a ring and a house and your half-ducal wang.

Flipping ahead to the author’s note I learned at some point Thorn will acquire a daughter named Rose. (Because Bret Michaels?) I’ve got it. I’ve learned. Eloisa James and I need to see other people. We shouldn’t even be on the same dating site. I miss her being one of my auto-buy authors, but I couldn’t read a single page more.

Final Assessment: Improbable heroine meets bastard douchebag and I DNF‘d it before it began.

Source: Library Copy