Book Review: “White Ivy” by Susie Yang

White Ivy by Susie Yang

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


SPOILERS AHEAD

“White Ivy” by Susie Yang should have been amazing. And it almost was.

It’s billed as a story about a troubled Chinese-born teen who struggles to fit into the WASPy Boston suburbs. She acts out, steals, and finally gets caught attending an illicit party at the home of the boy she has crush on. Her parents send off to China for the summer to stay with relatives. She returns to find her family has moved to a new city where she should be able to make a new start. But all Ivy ever wants is to return to Boston to start again at the moment when she was wrenched away from her middle school crush.

Lo and behold, that happens. She grows up and moved to Boston. Serendipitously, she reconnects with the crush, a now-successful entrepreneur named Gideon from an old money family. She also reconnects with a childhood friend named Roux. Also an immigrant, Roux has achieved enormous wealth through less legitimate means.

Ivy gets engaged to Gideon but cheats on him with Roux. Neither relationship is any good; Gideon is detached and unreachable, Roux is possessive and violent.

This story deals with a lot of themes that make for good books. Old money versus new money. Family of birth versus family of your choosing. Immigrants versus establishment Americans. And, of course, it touches on the fascinating stories of Chinese people who lived through the Maoist revolution and eventually escaped to America.

You know what this book absolutely did not need in it’s final chapters? A murder and a revelation that someone has been gay all along.

Look, I can tolerate a lot in the name of literature. I didn’t mind that Ivy was selfish and unlikable. Her complete lack of self-awareness was useful for moving the story along. She was an empty vessel. Her life was a quest for fulfillment but she didn’t know what would fill her up.

When she reached a crisis point where she needed to choose between Gideon and Roux, she should have had a reckoning about her own failings. Instead she pushed Roux off a cliff and killed him.

What? No. Murder is not a good way to tie up loose ends. It’s lazy writing and it took me out of any belief I had in the story. All I could think was that Yang created Roux for the express purpose of pushing him off a cliff later. Maybe that’s why he felt underdeveloped; he was never expected to survive the entire book.

If that wasn’t enough, Ivy gets to her wedding day only to realize that Gideon has been gay the whole time. She is his beard but she never knew. Rather than deal with that deep lie, she just…marries him.

Why? Why did Gideon need to be gay? Was that supposed to be a twist? It fell flat. I could easily accept Gideon as simply remote. I could believe Ivy was so attached to her middle-school dream of a life that she would marry a man who was more symbol than spouse. Making him gay and secretly in love with his best friend was just…pointless.

I’m not sure what the process was for the final quarter of this novel but if an editorial team was looking at it and hollering “Yes! This will keep readers guessing!” they misjudged. This reader wasn’t wowed by the final bombshells. I was just annoyed by them.




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Advocacy Still Matters

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Hi! Good morning! How are ya?

It’s been 23.5 hours since the Biden/Harris administration took over. Slightly less since Schumer and the Democrats took control of the Senate.

That seems like the right amount of time to wait before emailing my Senators.

I’m stoked about the opportunity for sweeping reforms this year. Well, at least until I remember that Mitch McConnell still exists. That Horcrux of a Senator and his caucus are in a position to use parliamentary rules to prevent anything good from happening.

This morning, I used ResistBot to send my Senators a quick note encouraging them support filibuster reform. Here is the text. Feel free to use any part of it if you want to do the same.

I am asking you to reform the filibuster rules. It’s long past time that the majority got to be in charge of the legislative process instead of being hampered by minority obstruction.

The 117th Congress is a singular opportunity to undo the harm done by Trump; we cannot assume there will be continued Democratic Party control in Congress after 2022. This is the time to act decisively and pass laws that expand voting rights, election security, health care access, reproductive justice, fair wages, and other progressive priorities.

That will not be possible if Mitch McConnell and his caucus retain the right to deny cloture to any bill they don’t like.

The Republican Party is not good at policy-making or policy-implementation. I, like millions of other Americans, want them out of the power. I don’t want them exerting control through obstruction. If they want to work on passing bills, fine. But if they don’t, they need to get out of the way.

Everything I Want To Say To The MAGA Morons Cheering The Capitol Siege

Washington, D.C. (January 6, 2021) The Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli tours the U.S. Capitol to survey damage from violent protests earlier in the day.

I’m still seeing people cheering for the assault on the Capitol last week and I’m really fucking angry. This kind of attitude is dangerous and if they had any capacity for shame left, they should be feeling it right now. 

If I had the opportunity to face off with this ammosexual morons rooting for a massacre, this is what I would say:

Let me tell you a few things that you should consider before you start clamoring for more armed assaults on the Capitol, m’kay?

Let’s set aside the national security issues raised by taking the entire legislative branch hostage. I hope you’ve read enough dystopian fiction to realize that machine-gunning Congress is the doomsday scenario. Nothing good happens after that. You won’t get King Trump ruling benevolently. You’ll probably get China taking over the Western Hemisphere instead. Chew on that when you have a moment. 

For now, let me give you some additional food for thought.

On an ordinary day, thousands of people pass through the Capitol complex. That includes everyone from the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate – the second and third people in line for the presidency – to groups of middler schoolers on 8th grade class trips to DC. It’s not a hotbed of leftist machinations. It’s an office building and historic landmark. 

Speaking of those class trips to DC, kiss that good-bye. You think your kids will be safe if DC is a perennial target of unfettered domestic terrorists? Think again. Terrorists would be happy to kill some school kids to make their point. That’s what terrorism is about. Your reckless disregard for their lives is appalling.

The measures needed to secure important sites in DC will also make them inaccessible to the public. I hope you enjoyed the Smithsonian last time you saw it because you may not get a chance to come back.

Tourists aren’t the only ones who will miss out on normal DC stuff. The area around the Capitol is largely residential. It’s a hub of small businesses, homes, schools, and daycares. You gonna cheer when someone blows up an elementary school to “own the libs”? Well? Are you? 

I’ll wait for the answer.

You’ll be waiting, too. For consumer goods. Union Station is mere blocks from the Capitol. It’s a central rail hub for the whole Eastern Seaboard. Further attacks on that section of DC will make it a security issue. I hope you like your Florida produce overripe because its journey will take more time if trains can’t run through DC. 

And finally, this is REALLY FUCKING PERSONAL TO ME. I lived eight blocks from the Capitol. My husband worked in the House of Representatives for a decade. I know dozens of people who have been on staff for Representatives and Senators. They are all smart, committed professionals who wanted nothing more than to do their part to make America better. You, apparently, don’t care if those people live or die.

How can you live with yourself? 

No. Really. How can you live with yourself? Because you fill me with disgust and I don’t want to live with you and you murderous dreams.

Trump, Terrorism, and Social Media

Photo by Tyler Merbler at Wikimedia Commons

It’s been five days since a mob took the United States Congress hostage in a violent act of insurrection. And Donald Trump is still president.

Elected Republicans have shown their fealty to the mob by refusing to condemn Trump. They would rather tolerate violence against their own selves than suffer a primary challenge, apparently.

How did we get to a place where so many people are so in thrall to one man?

I’ve been reading up on parasocial interactions and relationships to try and understand the hold he has over them. That’s the fancy psychological term for when a person feels like they’re in a relationship with a media figure. 

For example, I’m parasocially convinced that Chrissy Teigen and I are best friends because I love her tweets so much. That’s why I (and many others) felt real grief when she lost her pregnancy last year. We were taking on the emotions of someone who feels like a friend, despite the relationship being entirely one-sided. 

Parasocial relationships are why old ladies stand up in church to ask for prayers for soap opera characters. The consistent exposure to personalities and characters begins to seem like real interactions—the lines between reality and media blur. 

Social media creates even more intimacy because it breaks the fourth wall, so to speak. A tweet or a Facebook post feels like a direct appeal. You think the poster is talking to you specifically. If the person responds to comments, it builds the sense that the whole interaction is a real conversation and you are part of it.

I think Trump has fostered this type of relationship with his base. They have a parasocial attachment to him as a person. They feel that he is their friend, the leader of their social group. And like my sadness when Chrissy Teigen was sad, they feel what he feels. Trump uses the direct appeal of social media to convey his feelings and draw his supporters into them. The more they respond, the more he responds to their response. It’s a feedback loop of co-dependent rage. 

In a way, the Trump base’s anger is not really their anger; it’s HIS anger. They want to protect their friend from the forces he fears and hates. They are trying to avenge wrongs against Donald Trump, the individual, because he directly told them, via social media, to do so. Maybe he didn’t specify tactics, but he gave them the mission in direct and unambiguous terms. 

That is why the swift and total withdrawal of his social media access is important.

By cutting off his direct access to his base, the base loses that false intimacy they feel toward him. They lose the dopamine charge they get when he “talks” to them. Their exposure to him drops dramatically. He can no longer continue the conversation they have been having all these years.

Perversely, this is like quitting a lousy relationship cold turkey. In the break-up of an actual relationship, the first weeks are a detox period where you miss the person and question all your choices. But over time, habits of being with that person weaken and their influences over you weakens at the same time.

In an ideal world, this will be true for the people in parasocial thrall to Trump. After a few weeks of withdrawal, they may find their attachment to him has diminished. If that happens, they might be less likely to do his bidding. Unless a compelling surrogate appears to fill the hole left by Trump, the fervor may start to fade, at least among most of his base.

I expect that there will be significant unrest in the next few months. Most of it will be similar to the kind of events we saw last summer at the height of the BLM tensions. Those are the events that I think will sputter out without Trump’s direct reach to his supporters.

I also believe there will be radical cells intent on insurrection. I think we will see domestic terrorism continue for the remainder of Joe Biden’s presidency, if not longer. When the Trump team said they were releasing the Kraken, they weren’t lying. They just didn’t mention that the Kraken was a group of angry white paramilitary groups willing to kill for their cause.

What can any of us do now? I don’t know. I’m sorry I don’t have answers or even ideas right now.

Stay safe. Wear a mask. Take care of yourself.

Aftermath

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“The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” -Ida B. Wells

Thoughts after yesterday’s assault on the Capitol:

  • The entire Supreme Court needs extra security. I wouldn’t put it past some of the MAGA caliphate to try and assassinate Justices to prevent from swearing in Biden and Harris.
  • Pelosi and Schumer need to announce a full investigation into the failed response by Capitol Police.
  • The Oversight Committee needs to hold hearings on why the Pentagon and White House balked at sending National Guard.
  • The FBI needs to track down as many of the participants as they can. They need to hold press conferences regularly to publicize arrests and charges.
  • Adam Schiff needs to call a hearing to find out where the intelligence failure was and why the FBI didn’t anticipate this or, if they did anticipate this, why they didn’t act on it.
  • Merrick Garland needs to be prepared to put all the puzzle pieces together and prosecute conspiracies to commit insurrection. If the White House, the Pentagon, and the intelligence community knew a violent action was likely but did not act on it, they are complicit. Moreover, Trump is complicit for telling the mob to march on the Capitol yesterday.
  • Every journalist needs to explain to the whole world that this wasn’t a protest. Breaking into a building that holds the top three individuals in the line of presidential succession isn’t a First Amendment issue. It’s a national security threat.
  • Anyone suggesting that Democrats attempt to work across the aisle needs to be flicked on the nose like a naughty kitten. We do not negotiate with terrorists or their enablers. Period.

Book Review: “If I Had Your Face” by Frances Cha

If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


“If I Had Your Face” by Frances Cha is captivating. Simply captivating.

I don’t know much about South Korea or Korean culture so this story was an education for me. The women in this book are all trying to navigate a world where there is no set path for success. They’re limited by the old-world family status rules that still loom over society. Being poor, being an orphan, being the child of servants is a nearly insurmountable obstacle for them. Education, beauty, and talent don’t exempt them from social rules meant to maintain the privilege of the elite classes.

The four women in the story connect as childhood friends, roommates, and neighbors. They all have different careers – a hairstylist, a sex worker, an office worker, an artist. Their pasts range from tragic to sordid and their futures are unknowable. They must work unimaginably hard to get by. But all of them find moments of joy and friendship with one another.

I loved all these characters and felt deeply invested in their success. The world they live in isn’t fair. The ending of the book didn’t feel like the end of their stories and I can almost imagine them out there, still living outside the pages.



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Book Review: The “Caraval” trilogy by Stephanie Garber

The “Caraval” trilogy by Stephanie Garber began as a delight. The first book was like if Jay Gatsby staged “The Westing Game” with the cast of Cirque du Soleil. It was all color and wonder and spectacle. In it, a young woman named Scartlett joins a magical scavenger hunt to find her sister. No one is who they seem to be and no one can be trusted. She has to rely on wit and instinct to navigate the illusions and win the game.

The second story, “Legendary,” brings the sisters back together and takes on the viewpoint of Tella, the one who was missing in the first book. She goes on her own magical journey in this one, where she discovers secrets about her past as well as the identity of the mysterious founder of the game. It was a bit more contrived than the first but still enjoyable

Then in the third book, “Finale,” both girls muck about trying to figure out who to fall in love with and marry. I made it about 75 pages in before I decided I could’t spend any more time reading about teenagers in love.

I can wholeheartedly recommend the first book in this series but the follow-ups aren’t as much fun. #bookreview #bookstagram #bookish #bookworm

Book Review: “The Social Graces” by Renée Rosen

Many thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy of “The Social Graces” by Renée Rosen. I was given this book in exchange for my honest review.

I love historical fiction that really delves into the time period. This book was a good look into the world of the super-rich of the Gilded Age. The Astors and Vanderbilts existed in a realm where there were no limits on what they could do, only what they allowed themselves to do.

Alva Vanderbilt and Caroline Astor are a study in contrasts: a rule-follower and a rule-breaker trying to find common ground. They circled around each other for decades, each trying to be the most powerful woman in New York Society. What’s fascinating is how little they ever interacted. They were never friends or even co-conspirators. They were women who existed parallel to each other, though they could never escape the other’s influence.

Rosen doe san excellent job conveying the tedium of the social merry-go-round of the era. There were times when I, like the characters, was exhausted by the idea of another ball, another mansion, another unfulfilling marriage. Didn’t they ever want more? Or less? As it turns out they did. How they finally found peace is the best part of the story.

All in all, this is an enjoyable read.

#bookreview #bookworm #bookish #bookstagram 📚



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Book Review: “The Postscript Murders” by Elly Griffiths

The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Many thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a free ARC in exchange for an honest review!



I adore the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths so I was delighted to learn that she is writing a series surrounding Harbinder Kaur. I enjoyed “The Stranger Diaries,” and particularly liked DS Kaur’s Indian-British family. Revisiting her world was a treat for me as a reader.

Like “The Stranger Diaries,” this was a book about murder based on books about murder. Writers and fans of crime fiction die at an alarming rate in this book. Kaur is there for the professional investigation but there is also a quirky band of misfits who live the not-so-secret dream every fan of crime fiction has: to solve the crime themselves. Natalka, Benedict, and Edwin are a delightful trio and I hope they come back in future books.

This story was a fun peek behind the curtain of the publishing industry. When an author dies, editors, publicists, and other authors are all suspects. I enjoyed all the explanations of what it takes to make a book a bestseller.

If this book has a weakness, it’s that Kaur tells us about the solutions to the mysteries after she has figured them out. I would have preferred that Griffiths show us the crime-solving with more detail instead of just giving us a look into Kaur’s thought process. But perhaps that was the whole point: where crime fiction makes everything exciting, it all really happens inside an author’s head.

All in all, this is a mystery that’s a touch beyond cozy but not too grim or gory. It’s fun and smart with characters you’ll miss when it’s over.



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Everything I Have Ever Wanted To Say To An Anti-Vaxxer (With F-Bombs)

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You can’t make me get a vaccine!

You’re right. I can’t. But you need to know that you are a potential transmitter of vaccine-preventable illnesses and behave accordingly.

Keep your fucking germs to yourself. Avoid babies, immune-compromised people, the elderly, and me because I’m an asshole who will tell you exactly what I think. You won’t enjoy that.

Stop trying to make me feel guilty about not getting vaccines!

I can’t make you feel any kinda way. In my experience, guilty feelings mean you know you did something wrong. They don’t show up if you’re in the right.

If you accused me of killing puppies, I wouldn’t feel any guilt because I know I never killed a puppy. If you accused me of shoplifting a Wet’n’Wild eyeliner sometime in the 1980s, I would feel guilty as hell. Because I totally did that.

If you feel guilty about not getting vaccinated, maybe it’s because you know you’re perpetuating a public health problem. How does that make your feel, Typhoid Mary?

I don’t want to put chemicals in my child’s body!

Oh, just fucking stop. The FDA is the agency that approves vaccines. It also approves the ingredients in your kid’s breakfast cereal that they put in their body every damn day. If you trust Lucky Charms or Cheerios, trust vaccines as well.

You know what’s not approved by any agency? Dietary supplements. All those vitamins you bought from your friend working for a pyramid scheme are way less regulated than vaccines or breakfast cereal. Hell, even dog food gets more review than dietary supplements but you suck those down without a second thought.

Be smarter.

Its not my responsibility to protect other people’s health!

Yes, it fucking is. You already do it every day. You cook food to a safe temperature so you don’t give everyone intestinal worms from an undercooked pork roast. You wash your hands after your poop so you don’t wipe bacteria from feces all over creation. You sneeze into your elbow so you don’t give your co-workers your cold.

We all look out for each other but most of us are good people who don’t resent doing it.

Vaccines cause autism/sterility/microchips/other nonsense!

OMFG, are you really that dense? Tell me if you are so I can avoid you forever.

These RNA covid vaccines will change our DNA!

You have been watching way too many X-Files reruns. Seriously, that doesn’t make any sense. Why would drug makers change our DNA on purpose? And if they wanted to do that, why do it with a vaccine that has to go through a rigorous approval? Why not do it with those stupid fucking dietary supplements that don’t go through any review process?

Vaccines to change DNA is like something Dr. Doofenschmirtz would come up with and he always gets stopped by a fucking platypus.

The mRNA vaccines don’t change DNA. End of fucking story.

This is my personal choice!

Yep. It’s a choice. Choices have consequences. The consequences of vaccine refusal are susceptibility to deadly diseases and the overt scorn of your fellow humans.

Live with your choice.

Even with a covid vaccine, people can still transmit the virus!

That might be true. We don’t know yet. But scientists are working their asses off to figure that out. Scientists love figuring that shit out. It’s why they became scientists.

The vaccine might not send enough antibodies to the inside of your nose so if you snort some covid, it will hang out there for a while and multiply. You might be able to sneeze it at people during that time. Once it gets further into your body, the antibodies will get it so you won’t get sick from it.

The good news is that a vaccinated person can walk through a cloud of airborne covid and not end up on a ventilator. Unlike an unvaccinated person. Those folks are totally unprotected.

But don’t worry. Once the rest of us get vaccinated, the ICU will have a lot more free beds for your dumb anti-vax ass.