Like everyone in New York media, editor Liz Buckley runs on cupcakes, caffeine and cocktails. But at thirty-one, she’s plateaued at Paddy Cakes, a glossy baby magazine that flogs thousand-dollar strollers to entitled, hypercompetitive spawn-havers.
Liz has spent years working a gazillion hours a week picking up the slack for coworkers with kids, and she’s tired of it. So one day when her stress-related nausea is mistaken for morning sickness by her bosses—boom! Liz is promoted to the mommy track. She decides to run with it and plans to use her paid time off to figure out her life: work, love and otherwise. It’ll be her “meternity” leave.
By day, Liz rocks a foam-rubber belly under fab maternity outfits. By night, she dumps the bump for karaoke nights and boozy dinners out. But how long can she keep up her charade…and hide it from the guy who might just be The One?
As her “due date” approaches, Liz is exhausted—and exhilarated—by the ruse, the guilt and the feelings brought on by a totally fictional belly-tenant…about happiness, success, family and the nature of love.
This book is more controversial than it probably should be. It’s a silly chick lit book in the vein of Shopaholic (if you haven’t read that series, the main character is addicted to shopping and does a lot of terrible things in a funny way). But it is a book that involves parenting, pregnancy, and women in the workplace, which are hot button issues for a lot of people. So I can see how it wound up being controversial. I do think most people are taking it too seriously though.
For the first solid half of the book I was fairly certain a lot of people were misunderstanding satire for seriousness. While some of Liz’s complaints about her particular workplace are valid (she has all the worked shoved off on her, repeatedly staying until midnight, while the other team members who are parents leave early; the expectation and pressure on women in their 30s to naturally want to have a baby, etc…) the way she reacts to these particular situations is childlike and pretty terrible. That said, a lot of chick lit has a tradition of the main character reacting in an over-the-top way no one in real life would ever do. It’s where the humor come from. From “what if” followed by utter ridiculousness. That said, halfway through the book I became less certain it’s satire and wondering more and more whether the author really looks at the world in this black-and-white way. If the author does actually think this way, it’s a sign of immaturity but one I’m able to laugh at. Not all readers might feel that way.
That said, I do think the author tried to provide a nod to women who feel differently. One of Liz’s good friends is having difficulty getting pregnant, and she supportively goes with her to a fertility doctor. There’s a character who is a working mother who calls Liz out by pointing out how very little time she actually gets to see her daughter and that she works just as hard as Liz then goes home and works more. (It’s true that this character is probably the only parent in the company who does, but the fact remains that she exists and calls Liz out). There is another character who is a parent who bemoans the pressure on women to return to the perfect body immediately after pregnancy, and Liz sympathizes with her. I do think by the end of the book Liz learns to have more empathy for women who’ve made different life choices from herself and sees it’s not all sunshine and roses onthe other side of the fence.
With regards to the writing, I didn’t like either of the love interests, and I did actually like (flawed) Liz enough that I was rooting for her to not end up with either of them. I will also say that I predicted the ending far far in advance but I’m also not sure how else the book could have ended and still lived up to the chick lit happy ever after mandate.
Overall, if you want a retake on Shopaholic featuring fake pregnancy rather than addiction to shopping, albeit one that doesn’t quite live up to Shopaholic, you’ll enjoy this book. You just need to be able to not take the subject matter too seriously.
3 out of 5 stars
Malorie thought the hardest thing she was going to have to face was dealing with her pregnancy and impending single motherhood. She thought the warnings about seeing something that makes you go crazy and become violent was just the news blowing things out of proportion, or at least just hysteria. Her sister believed in it, but not herself.
But that was all years ago, and now Malorie is alone in a house with her two children. Children who have never been outside without blindfolds on. She only leaves the house blindfolded, tapping the ground with a stick to find the well. But now it is time for her to be brave and to take a boat on the river, just she and her two children, blindfolded, in the hopes of finding salvation.
I was drawn to this book for two reasons. First, the mere thought of a mother and two young children boating down a river blindfolded had me intrigued. Second, it’s set in Michigan, which is where my husband is from, and honestly I can’t recall the last time I saw a book set in Michigan. These two elements came together to tell me this book is probably unique. So when I saw the kindle version on sale on Amazon, I snatched it up. What I found was a chilling tale that could easily fit within the Lovecraft mythos.
The order the story is told in helps build the suspense and keeps it from being a same old apocalypse and survivors’ tale. The book opens with Malorie and her two children living alone in the house. It opens post-apocalyptic. Through flashbacks we learn various things such as who used to live in the house with Malorie, why there are certain parts of the house she doesn’t like to go to, and why neither she nor the children leave the house without blindfolds on. From here, the reader is then taken forward into Malorie’s action onto the river, going down it trying to find a safe haven of other survivors that she knows used to be there years ago. It’s a nice combination of flashback and plot progression forward that keeps the suspense interesting.
It is no spoiler to say that what caused the apocalypse is something that causes people to go stark raving mad when they see it. This is included in the official book blurb. What was interesting to me was how Malerman kept this from being purely straight-forward. Some characters believe in the mysterious creatures right away, others don’t. Some think that merely believing it will cause you to go crazy makes you go crazy. Some think that some are affected and others aren’t. Some wonder if animals are affected too, and no one knows where the creatures came from or, if you don’t believe in the creatures, how the phenomenon started. The lack of clear-cut answers reflects reality. In general, with large-scale catastrophes, it’s hard to know exactly what happened or what is going on. This lack of knowing made the situation read as real, even if the exact situation is an absurd sounding one at first.
I was also struck by how well Malerman wrote a female version of experiencing the apocalypse. Malorie is both focused on surviving for herself and her baby but also distracted from the apocalypse because she is having normal hormonal reactions to pregnancy. Similarly, while some characters embrace her as a symbol of hope, others see her as a burden. Malorie was a refreshing change from the young, virile, kick-ass heroine often seen in post-apocalyptic books. She is strong, yes, but not in a kick-ass way. She is strong in a she’s doing her best to be a good mom and still survive type way. And that’s a nice thing to see in post-apocalyptic horror fiction.
The book naturally ends up pondering “madness” a lot. The creatures drive any who see them into near-caricature depictions of madness. Sometimes the person becomes violent against others. Sometimes the person turns on themselves, killing themselves or self-injuring to the extent that they die. There are a lot of questions about what the human mind can handle. There is a lot of argument in the book for agency against all odds.
It’s better to face madness with a plan than to sit still and let it take you in pieces. (loc 4034)
On the one hand, I appreciate the argument for agency and fighting for your sanity and humanity. On the other hand, I’m not sure how I feel about a metaphor where madness happens to people who just aren’t careful enough or don’t have enough of a plan. While it’s valid that a mental illness must be fought every day and some have more natural resiliency than others, there’s a tone of blame to the theme that strikes me the wrong way.
At one point, it is postulated that perhaps the only ones immune to being driven mad by the creatures are those who are already mentally ill because they are already mad. There is no science behind this thought. There is simply a character who appears to have paranoid schizophrenia who firmly believes the creatures are not actually dangerous because he has seen them and is fine. Yet he is a character who ends up instigating an incredibly violent scene. While it is true that there are violent extremes of mental illness, there are also those that are not. The book fails to bring out the subtleties and varieties of mental illness. Imagine the power that could have been from a character who had, for instance, OCD and was able to see the creatures and interact with them without harming anyone and able to understand that others cannot see them safely. Imagine if it was simply that seeing the world differently already, being abnormal, protected one from being driven truly mad by the creatures. What an interesting direction that could have taken the story.
Thus, in general, while I appreciate the more unique and interesting things the book did, such as focusing on a pregnant woman and then a young mother as the main character and telling the plot in a non-linear way, ultimately the book did not push the boundaries or the ideas far enough to truly enrapture me. Recommended to horror, Lovecraft, and post-apocalyptic fans looking for a read with a young mother as the focus.
4 out of 5 stars
When Leslie married Alex, she knew they both agreed on wanting children. What she didn’t realize, though, was how fiercely Alex, the last son in a long line of wealthy and powerful New Yorkers, would want only their own biological children. He’s willing to try anything to get them biological children, and she feels she can’t deny him one last-ditch effort with a doctor in Slovenia that a couple from their infertility support group swears worked for them. And the woman has the baby bump to prove it. So they fly off to Slovenia, and from the first instant in the doctor’s office, Leslie feels that something just isn’t right….
I’m a real sucker for evil pregnancy/children stories. Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen are two of my favorite movies. So when I heard about this new take on a classic trope, I knew I had to try it out. The book ends up being much less about pregnancy and more about the perils of genetic modification, providing an interesting twist on the evil pregnancy trope that carries out through the childhood of the babies that were conceived.
Essentially, the parents’ genetics were so messed up by the treatments performed by the doctor that they start turning into something different from human. Something a bit more animalistic. The children, of course, also have some of this animalistic genetics, but most of the differences don’t show up until puberty. This allows the children to be innocents for most of the book while their parents have gone off the rails from their very first treatment. My favorite part of this book is how it offers a smart critique of pushing our bodies to do something they don’t want to do. Where is that line? How far should we push things with science and at what point will using science make us something different from human? And is that something different going to necessarily be better? Leslie clearly feels that her children were ultimately worth everything she, her husband, and their bodies went through, but the book itself leaves the answer to that question up to the reader.
Beyond this concept, though, the actual execution of the characterizations and the plot get a bit messy. The writing can sometimes wander off onto tangents or become repetitive. Some aspects of the plot are explored too much whereas others are glossed over too quickly. The book starts out tightly written and fast-paced but toward the end of the book the plot gets disjointed and goes a bit off the rails. Part of the issue is a bit of a lack of continuity regarding just how messed up Leslie and Alex actually are by the treatments. Are they still at all human or are they completely untrustworthy? Is there any possibility of redemption for them? At first both seem equally far gone but then Leslie seems to pull back from the edge a bit, thanks to a MacGuffin. It’s hard to be frightened of the situation if the frightening aspect of the parents comes and goes at will.
Similarly, in spite of the book wanting us to root for Alice and Adam (the twins Leslie and Alex have), it’s hard to really feel for them when they come across as extraordinarily two-dimensional, particularly Alice. Children characters can be written in a well-rounded way, and when it’s well-done, it’s incredible. Here, though, Alice and Adam seem to mostly be fulfilling the role of children and not of fully fleshed characters.
Most of these issues are more prevalent in the second half of the book, so it’s no surprise the ending is a bit odd and feels like it leaves the reader hanging. I was surprised to find out there’s a sequel, as I thought this was a standalone book. On the one hand I’m glad there’s another one, because the story isn’t finished. On the other, I’m not a fan of such total cliffhanger endings.
Overall, the first half of the book offers up a thrilling and horrifying critique of just how far people should be willing to go to get pregnant. The second half, however, is not as tightly plotted and drops the well-rounded characterization found in the first half of the book. Recommended to pregnancy and/or genetic modification horror enthusiasts who may be interested in a different twist but won’t be disappointed by a cliffhanger ending.
3 out of 5 stars
The gunslinger’s katet have a lot more on their plate than just continuing along the path of the beam. Susannah is pregnant and has developed another personality, Mia, to deal with the pregnancy as it is most likely demonic. The Rose is in danger in then when of 1977 New York City. The man who owns the empty lot it grows in is under pressure from the mob to sell it to an unseen man. So the last thing the katet needs is to run into a town desperately in need of the help of gunslingers.
The Calla, a town made up of rice growers and ranchers who mostly give birth to twins, has been facing a plague once every generation. Creatures referred to as Wolves come and take one child out of every set of twins between the ages of about 4 and puberty. The child is later returned mentally retarded. Their local robot messenger, Andy, has warned them that the Wolves are coming in about a month, and their holy man believes gunslingers are on their way.
Unable to turn down their duty as gunslingers or give up on their quest for the Dark Tower, can the gunslingers pull it all off or is it just more than any katet, even one as strong as theirs, can handle?
Toward the beginning of the book, Roland says something like, “Being a gunslinger means weeks of planning, preparation, and hard work for 5 minutes of battle.” That’s really a good description of this book. It’s a lot of exposition, albeit very interesting exposition, followed by a rather anticlimactic battle that is really the exposition for the next leg of the katet’s journey. This could have gone really badly, but thankfully there’s a lot of information King needs to tell us, and most of it is interesting and relevant to the gunslingers’ world, so it works.
King is good at creating a culture. The Calla and its people possess a very distinctive speech pattern and colloquialisms that are simultaneously easy enough for the reader to learn and to follow. He hints that he just took the Maine accent and exaggerated it. Maybe that’s why a New England gal like myself found it so easy to follow. In any case, the town of twins, ranchers, and rice is rich with local legends, folklore, and traditions. It is enjoyable to read about, and the town also manages to provide information about the katet’s greater quest for the Dark Tower.
It is well-known that King’s Dark Tower series brings in elements and characters from his other works, as he sees all of his stories happening in the same world and being connected. To that end, the holy man of the Calla is the priest from Salem’s Lot, and a part of Wolves of the Calla is him relating his backstory to the katet. Something that irritated me about all of the tales told in the “Telling of Tales” section of Wolves of the Calla is that it would switch from the character speaking to an italicized third person narrative. I don’t know if all of the italicized portions were previously written for other books or if King felt that he needed to be an omnipotent narrator in order to properly tell everything that had happened, but I found it disjointing and jarring. It was only my unanswered questions about the Wolves and the Dark Tower that kept me reading through that section.
I enjoyed the growth in the relationship between Roland and Jake. Roland is gradually growing into a father figure/adviser, while Jake is gradually becoming a man and an equal with the other gunslingers. King handles this transition well, and it is believable. Meanwhile, Eddie and Susannah’s relationship doesn’t change per se, but Eddie does realize that he will always love Susannah more than she loves him. It is evident that both of them are uncomfortable with her multiple personalities. This is an issue that clearly has not yet been resolved.
I do have three gripes with King. The first is that he persists in calling Susannah’s multiple personalities schizophrenia, which is just wrong. Schizophrenics hear voices, at worst, they do not have multiple personalities. What Susannah has is Dissociative Identity Disorder, and it is just inexcusable that he would get this wrong.
Second, although previously in the series the reader isn’t allowed to know or see something Roland knows, the reader always gets to know what the other gunslingers know. Here, information is pointedly held back from the reader. I can only assume this was an attempt to maintain suspense about the Wolves, which I found to be a cop-out. Either come up with an idea creative enough that we’ll be surprised anyway or have the characters be surprised as well as us. Also, I already had the wolves figured out long before they are revealed anyway. The suspense came in wondering how the final battle would play out, not in wondering who the Wolves were.
Third, I don’t like the fact that Susannah’s main storyline is a pregnancy. I don’t like that one of her key roles so far as a gunslinger was to fuck the shit out of a demon so that Jake could be pulled through (The Wastelands). I also really don’t like that something as simple as her being pregnant causes her to abandon her husband and her katet in the form of another personality, Mia. It almost seems that King uses the multiple personalities just so that he can have a sweet woman around when he needs one but then can instantaneously turn her back into all of the negative images of women out there. I need to see where Susannah’s storyline winds up before I can offer a final analysis of the character and its implications, but at the moment, it reads as a very negative view of women.
The overarching storyline of the quest for the Dark Tower, however, is still going strong in this book. We learn a bunch of new, important information about the Tower, the beams, and the worlds, and new questions pop up. With each book it becomes more evident that saving the Tower is important to the well-being of all worlds. I am pleased to report that this was a marked improvement over the previous book, although not quite up to the intensity of The Waste Lands or pure readability of The Gunslinger. It still manages to suck you in and gets the story back on the path of the beam.
3 out of 5 stars