So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed: Does It Stand Up to Public Scrutiny?

so you've been publicly shamedAs you guys may well know, I’m not a fan of call out culture. So, when I heard about the concept of this book, I was happy to perhaps get a more concrete understanding of how it works, why we do it and maybe even how to stop it. Unfortunately, while an interesting read, this wasn’t everything I hoped it would be.

To start with, the opening was a lot like the Ted Talks I’ve seen by the author- discussing Justine Sacco at length and describing how he got into the subject. Not terrible, but not great either. I was quite enjoying some of the stories Ronson collated, so couldn’t complain too much, even as the book branched off into areas I wouldn’t have expected (from gay porn to Nazis).

Then, about a third of the way through, as it started to explore more psychological angles, I started to get more into it- the mention of the Zimbardo Stanford Prison Experiment in particular had my curiosity peaked. However… this ultimately ended up being the book’s biggest weak spot. Because, there was a sensationalised moment in Ronson’s account, where he seemed to be reaching towards “I’ve debunked the whole thing”, when of course he knew, and any barely-brainy reader would know, he had not. This was based on the fact that he got a quote from the worst of the prison guards, who claimed to have been “only acting” and that he thought he was doing something good. Now, of course, aside from it being a well known fact that people lie, as one psychologist responded it doesn’t actually matter to the people you’re torturing if you were acting- the result is the same (hence, this doesn’t prove that the guards were somehow not doing anything bad after all). Ronson then came to the well-trodden conclusion that people often do the worst things when they think they’re in the right (no shit, sherlock). I began to realise that this was not such a serious work of non-fiction after all (it did not help that Ronson tried to amp up the drama by referring to the fact that Zimbardo wasn’t replying to his emails- as if this somehow lent credence to the idea that he was *onto something*- when it was clear Zimbardo was merely too busy to reply to silly enquiries).

I then noticed other ideas that were not explored so well- particularly as it delved into the criminal side of shame. It dawned on me that it was bizarre to have a book exploring faux pas and tasteless jokes on one hand… and plagiarism, fraud, attempted murder and manslaughter on the other! It seems to me that the author didn’t see the value in shame as a motivator for remorse (I’d even go so far as to say these are two very different concepts: one is internal and the other social).

Still, there were some useful ideas in this. Certainly, some of the people doing the shaming thought they were still in the right- even after the public they baited turned on them. His exploration of crowds, though not ground-breaking, was good to include, especially as he mentioned the concept of feedback loops (people getting a positive response, so they keep doing it). It brings me back to an idea I’ve had for a while: we shouldn’t reward the people who do the shaming. I also did appreciate him going into the idea that people don’t actually want apologies- they want destruction- so it is best not to engage.

The ultimate conclusion wasn’t all that inspiring: all of this was leading up to the big reveal that “mortify” comes from the word “mort”, ergo to shame someone is to kill them (a concept I learnt in primary school). So, okay, we shouldn’t shame people… but I hardly needed to read a three-hundred-page book to learn that. The randomness of the stories did not help this book seem as cohesive as it needed too. Personally, I found this a little too inexpert for my taste, too journalistic and a little naïve.

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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So, have you read this? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

Night of the Dragon Left Me Starry-Eyed

*Received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review- but the light enthusiasm is all me 😉 *

night of the dragonHappily, I’m returning to the world of Iwagoto today, to talk about the finale in the Shadow of the Fox series. With a strong opening and the promise of plenty of emotional turns to come, I settled down for a night or two of wild reading 😉. Granted, I will admit there was a bit more telling at the start in order to recap the events of the last book, but it didn’t take long for the action to get going.

As with the previous instalments, the characterisation is a massive bright spot in the story. Yumeko is as likeable as ever; Tatsumi is broodingly conflicted. I liked the touch of having Tatsumi have a slightly different tone from the last book, though it was (understandably) a little more distant at times. Both of the main characters undergo serious character development- which I particularly liked in Yumeko’s case. The reveals about her history cut deeper than a samurai sword. Most of all, however, I liked Kagawa’s execution of the slow burn romance, with its ups and downs, giving the narrative hints of darkness and delight.

Once again, the adventure aspect was strong too. Not only was the writing sharp, the action was non-stop and on point. Even better, there was a tricksy ending that I wasn’t quite expecting! Kagawa doesn’t go for the straightforward happily ever after and yet still manages to deliver something sweet- which makes for a very satisfying conclusion to the saga!

Ultimately, while it took me a little longer to get into this book, I can’t fault this series for sheer entertainment, gorgeous characters and transporting me to a fantastic fantasy land. It was a very welcome distraction and I’m tempted to reread the entire thing! 😉

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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So, have you read this series? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

Facepalming at the Hand on the Wall

hand on the wall

Ahh this book is such wasted potential! As the finale in the Truly Devious series, I had high hopes, but this fell short for me. Let’s investigate what went well and what went wrong.

orangutan mystery

To be fair, this book does offer a satisfying solution to the three-book mystery and there were times when I wanted to high five the author. The Biblical reference of the title was a stroke of genius and I loved how it tied into the plot. And I enjoyed seeing Stevie and the gang again. I was also happy with how the romance turned out, even if it was unnecessarily drawn out and their arguments seemed a little circular.

So, what went wrong?

Well, for starters, there was a whole lot more politics in this book. It was barely noticeable in Truly Devious, started to get on my nerves in Vanishing Stair, yet it was so much worse here. The politics was ratcheted up to such insane levels that it distracted from the main plot- such that I was sure it had to have some baring on the main mystery… but nope- it was just an opportunity to bash Republicans. Plus, it didn’t help that Johnson went for extra woke points and threw the grammar rulebook out the window, using the third person pronoun incorrectly to create a nice muddling effect. Look, I’m never going to be a fan of inserting modern politics in books and I’m a massive fan of correct grammar, so I get it if you want to take my views with a pinch of salt- however it’s my view as a reader that unrelated subplots shouldn’t confuse the audience or take away that much of the limelight from the central story. Granted, not every detail of a narrative has to tie in to the overarching plot, but if you make a big enough deal out of something, then there had better be a damn good reason for it.

Funnily enough, I think an example of a subplot working well with a story was Stevie’s anxiety. Because, again, the tension was executed superbly. It’s just a shame the answers weren’t as exciting as I was hoping. I wasn’t tremendously wowed when I found out who the culprit was- in either case. It was nice to have answers and all, yet I felt the questions posed in previous instalments had been more interesting. The puzzle assembled itself into an acceptable picture, however the little pieces on their own didn’t thrill me: the cause of death for one particular victim was especially lame, the motive in both cases uninspiring and everything a little too neat. I hoped that the mention of a Christie novel would give us something spectacular… but the end result was far less interesting. I did like how the two timelines tied together- it’s just a shame there wasn’t more to it.

Ultimately, I was kind of disappointed by this. Disappointed that it went off track for no reason, disappointed by the incessant bickering of the characters and disappointed by the uninspiring ending. More energy could have been given to the motive and actual story than the unnecessary tangents. Don’t get me wrong: it wasn’t a bad finale, but it could have been better.

Rating: 2½/5 bananas

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So, have you read this series? What did you think of it? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

The Hard Truths of Wild Swans

wild swansThere are few memoirs as lauded as Jung Chang’s Wild Swans- and for good reason. Honest, eye-opening and bold, it tells the stories of three generations of Chinese women, through tyranny and oppression. I admired so many aspects of this book and learnt a great deal from it.

From the start, Chang reveals the culture of fear and insane propaganda, that captured a nation. While it does give a glimpse into the culture and circumstances before communism, I personally took a lot from how the narrative exposes the true horror of communism. What is incredible and unusual about this book is how we get to see both sides of the Cultural Revolution. We get an inside look at the Red Guards and the indoctrination behind their actions- and ultimately see those that fall victim to it.

The constant horror is such that I grew numb to it- but I will try to articulate it as clearly as possible. Books like this make it so we cannot fail to understand the reality of communism. My experience of reading Solzhenitsyn, for instance, already made it clear that starvation is always a by-product of these regimes. This, despite noble goals: “He did not tell anyone until years later when he was ruminating over how differently things had turned out from the dreams of his youth, the main one of which had been putting an end to hunger”. And, like with the Soviet Union (and despite being an entirely different culture), there are the same monstrous results:

“it was widely known that baby killing did go on at the time”

Naturally, communism destroys the most productive people- regardless of class. The people it purports to help are often its first victims. I’ve often contended that communists do not understand the poor- and here there is evidence of that again and again. Sometimes in the mimicry of poverty:

“I put patches on my trousers to look “proletarian””

Other times in the sheer contempt with which the ruling communist class reacts to peasants:

“Peasants have dirty hands and cowshit-sodden feet, but they are much cleaner than intellectuals”

Mostly though, it is in the failure to understand the basic humanity of working-class people and the similarities that exist across social classes- preferring to emphasise difference. There is a ridiculous idea in the Communist Manifesto that working-class people don’t have families- an idea that allows people to view caring about your family under communism to be a “bourgeois habit”. Thus, throughout Wild Swans, family ties are tested to their limit. This is obviously utter hogwash- I shouldn’t have to point this out but here goes: poor people have families too. Now, obviously there are advantages from a communist perspective to disavow the importance of family- because how can you be entirely loyal to a totalitarian regime if you have other (more human) connections? Yet clearly this is also a greater issue of false empathy, a failure to understand the human condition and an inability to see that people of all backgrounds are capable of achieving greatness. But, of course, that is not the goal of communism.

“We want illiterate working people, not educated spiritual aristocrats”

Thus, the greatest irony of all is that the education offered to working class people under communism is “designed to stupefy rather than enlighten”. And thus, arises the idea (which is gaining traction in modern culture) that one must “combat privilege” and atone for one’s education:

“This process appealed to the guilt feelings of the educated; they had been living better than the peasants, and self-criticism tapped into this”

The idea being that education is the enemy. Communism designs a system that keeps poor people down- as much as everyone else. It smashes, but it does not create:

“It was only in persecuting people and in destruction that Mme Mao and the other luminaries of the Cultural Revolution had a chance to “shine”. In construction they had no place.”

Fundamentally, I hold with the Peterson view that a person’s intent is seen in the outcome of their actions. And the outcome of communism is always catastrophe.

Yet it is not just the brutality of the book that I found so significant. There were so many little oddities that made my head spin:

“Think of the starving children in the capitalist world!”

“A famous restaurant called “The Fragrance of Sweet Wind” had its plaque broken to bits. It was renamed “Whiff of Gunpowder””

“In those days, beauty was so despised that my family was sent to this lovely house as a punishment.”

The entire book is packed with such anecdotes: laws that meant people got only twelve days of marriage leave a year, exams made void at random and any number of small, dehumanising humiliations. Worst of all, children were encouraged to betray their parents, such that:

“I can see the thrill some children must have felt at demonstrating their power over adults”

All the natural order is backwards. Reading it is as reading a sci fi about an absurd, alternate reality. And here’s the thing- I have read that book: it’s called 1984. Once again, I am astounded to find how attuned Orwell was- Jung Chang herself “marvelling constantly at how aptly Orwell’s description fitted Mao’s China”. I found this most notable in her description of her father’s interrogation- it reminding me of how they broke Winston’s mind, using the trick of telling someone that they’ve already been betrayed. It is all designed to break the human spirit.

And unfortunately, it is effective in the short term. All these absurdities and evils have a human cost. We can only hope that there will be others to reveal the hard truths of these regimes- as Chang has done.

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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So, have you read this book? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

Dark Age Makes for a *Shiny* Sequel!

dark ageBy Jove- I thought Iron Gold was a great continuation of the Red Rising Saga– but I didn’t know quite how *awesome* these sequels were going to get (though having read the previous series, I had some idea 😉 ). Action-packed from the start and full of the intense politicking we’ve come to expect, the plot doesn’t let up for even a split second. Rollercoaster ride doesn’t come close to describing it. Because bloodyhell, there were fresh horrors and twists galore! Intensely addictive, the multiple povs upped the stakes and made me feel like no one was safe!!

What I especially liked about the characterisation was how it didn’t just grave rob the previous series- there was actual, logical growth here. And even better, the new characters were just as intriguing as the old (I am an especial fan of Lysander!)

I’ve also been very impressed by the ideas behind this trilogy. *Slight spoiler for Red Rising*- this explores the world after victory, dealing with the destructiveness of man alongside how hard it is to maintain power and implement justice. For me personally (being a massive nerd) I’d say the best way to describe this is it’s the direction the new Star Wars sequel trilogy should’ve gone (which, you’ll just have to trust me on, because it’s so hard to talk about without spoiling the entire plot!). It’s just so gorydamn good.

Beyond the plot, there were so many intertextual and historically complex references, which all threaded together to make a beautiful tapestry. The writing was as quotable as ever. I had to stand back and admire it.

This was by far one of the most entertaining books I’ve read in a while- I’m going to need the next one fastlike!

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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So, have you read any of the Red Rising books? Do you plan to? And are you enjoying this continuation as much as I am? Let me know in the comments!

Queen of Nothing Was Close to Everything You Could Want in a Finale

*Spoiler free*

queen of nothingAt least, in my opinion. I’ve seen a lot of people who felt pretty different to me. But, while I can understand (and even agree with) some of the complaints, for me those were only minor quibbles and didn’t ruin my enjoyment of this finale. My biggest disappointment here is that I don’t have more to say about it.

Especially cos it was so fast paced it was hard to take notes! Now, I will admit that at times, I felt like there wasn’t enough room for the plot to develop as much as it could have. This was particularly noticeable for me with a spoiler *significant death* that I won’t talk about in depth. I’ve heard it said that too much in this book happened off screen- and this is a good example of that- cos for a little bit I thought it was gonna be a fake-out death. But nope, it didn’t take long (cos nothing in this book took long) to realise that was definitely the direction the story was taking. Which was good (I often hate fake deaths) it’s just a bit of a symptom of this book that the events kinda whizzed by.

Another little issue I had with the pacing was that there could have been a bit more time spent enjoying these characters together- after all, this is the last we’ll be seeing of them. I would have enjoyed a bit more banter in the romance department- as it had in previous instalments- though I did enjoy the sweeter touch it had here. And I personally didn’t think a certain someone deserved a sort-of-redemption arc- it felt somewhat unearned (again, being vague to avoid spoilers). I rarely say this, however, I feel this could’ve benefited from being a tad longer.

All that said, I inhaled this book. The upside of that breakneck pace was that I couldn’t stop reading it. There were so many twists and turns in this tale- and as much tricksy fae drama as you could ask for! Plus, I really liked how the cliffhanger from the previous book was resolved.

Nit-picking aside, I have to echo what a lot of reviewers have said before me: this was a very satisfying conclusion to the series. We got a fair queen and a fair ending for the fair folk! And really, you can’t ask for more than that.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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So, have you read this series? Do you plan to? What do you think of it? Let me know in the comments!

Taking a Turn into the Beguiling Night Country

*Received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review- but the gushing you’re about to see is all me*

night countryMany of you probably know how much I loved the Hazel Wood (and if you didn’t, here’s your daily reminder 😉) which is why I was nervously excited to read its sequel. Fortunately, while the first worked well as a standalone, there was much to appreciate about this second instalment.

Re-entering Alice’s world, the subtle opening worked its magic on me. Slowly it built up the mystery, hiding more stories within stories, and expanding into new territory. More than ever, Albert demonstrated that this isn’t just inspired by fairy tales, giving us that gothic touch that I admired so much in the original.

Best of all, the characters were still raw and real. The new characters were welcome additions, but I had felt there was room for growth for the two main leads- and that’s what we got here. I especially liked where the story took Ellery Finch. And I felt Alice, with some of her sharp edges blunted, felt more relatable to me here. In many ways, she was just a girl, out of place, trying to find her way, giving this a stronger coming of age element.

As with her debut, Albert’s writing talent shined through. There were so many stunning sentences and beautifully balanced images. Images that blew me away at times. And many, many ingenious references.

Now, despite masterful craft employed here, I have to admit that large parts of this weren’t as compelling as the first. Much of the structure felt meandering and formless. Personally, I felt it could have benefited from a tighter plot. I found I fell out the story somewhere in the middle…

…though luckily I was captured again by the end. Because when this book had me, it had me. Keeping me up well into the dark hours of the night, I found I was hooked by the mind-blowing and meta finale. All the threads that had spun out in the narrative drew together in a satisfying conclusion. Without delving into spoilers, I can safely say it delivered something special. Sure, it wasn’t perfect- but for all its flaws I was still left one satisfied monkey:

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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So, if you’re already a fan of the Hazel Wood, I think this is worth your time. And if you haven’t read the first one yet- then what are you waiting for?! Go ahead and read it!

Also I have to include this, cos *PRETTY*, just look at this UK edition:

night country uk

How gorgeous? Which edition do you prefer? Cos I can’t choose between them! And have you read this? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!