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Gender

Gender is a thought-provoking pair of novellas that artfully convey profound ideas using a mix of free verse, form, and rhyme. In the first story, Martin/Martina, we follow Martina, who was born female, but when she comes of age she learns that her father plans to marry her off so he can join a monastery. Martina refuses to be married off and wants to live with her father so they begin to dress and act like a boy in order to stay in the monastery with their father. Martina enjoyed living in the monastery and remained there even after their father’s passing. An affair ensues and a child is born, but out of shame the family abandons the child and Martina raises the child as their own. Readers follow her path to becoming a Saint in an emotionally-resonant and intellectually-stimulating story that I enjoyed heartily.

The second story, Aftermath, is a post-apocalyptic tale that tells the story of three distinct groups that are working together in the aftermath. The language, I felt, is more colorful and works to create a vivid view of a stark future. The lines within a stanza rhyme nicely and evoke strong emotion and lend this otherwise bleak story a rhapsodic feel that is engrossing.

Author Anne Harding Woodworth writes beautiful and poetic stories. The intense and emotional journey that Martin/Martina embarks on takes readers through many different phases and perspectives in life. The author is able to tell a compelling story and capture the emotional weight of being a man, a woman, a mother, and a father all in one short story. The author switches perspectives throughout the story, switching between narration and Martina’s perspective. This allows the reader to hear Martina’s thoughts and understand their motives and connect with them on a deeper level.

Woodworth’s writing is simple in Martin/Martina, but this helps to keep the reader focused on the story, the characters, and the weighty emotions that affect them. The writing in Aftermath has a grand eloquence with a focus on imaginative descriptions. I enjoyed the setup of the book because it was similar to reading short stories that rhyme. It was sometimes hard for me to tell the timeframe of events in the stories. Martin/Martina jumps through time, which I felt was a little disorienting, but this doesn’t take away from the impact of the story.

Gender is a heartwarming pair of stories with a unique voice and a keen perspective on gender that is earnest and meaningful. These are stories that will stay with you long after you’ve put the book down.

Pages: 116 | ISBN: 1639882979

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Boys’ Secrets and Men’s Loves: A Memoir 

Boys’ Secrets and Men’s Loves: A Memoir by David A.J. Richards is a personal life account revolving around the secret self and individual awareness of both straight and gay men. In this memoir, Richards takes a thoughtful approach to discover the psychology behind the patriarchy and traumas that shape men. He explains why they have become hidden and how they can be brought to light.

Richards combats the oppressiveness of traditional patriarchy and how it silences young men from questioning and straying from the mainstream status quo. He challenges how and why men act the way they do and points to societal pressure and the dismissal of the vulnerability of men. In discovering his sense of self, Richards expresses disdain and disgust for the length of how things have been and offers insight into how things can change. Addressed are various components of trauma revolving around the body, mind, sexuality, political opinions, and experiences of love and empathy. This book sheds light on guilt, shame, voice, injustice, abuse, democracy, resistance, and the complex American idea of masculinity. 

I thought that the arguments were well thought out and portrayed. It was eye-opening and fascinating to see the plights that men encounter daily and throughout their lifetimes, particularly in their formative years of young adulthood. The commentary was easy to read, and I enjoyed how this was from a first-person point of view. The thoughts of one man over a variety of hot-button topics and issues that are not often addressed were crafted insightfully and tenderly to bring about real change. 

Boys’ Secrets and Men’s Loves: A Memoir is recommended for anyone looking to expand their mindset on the ideas of traditional masculinity. This compelling personal story gives readers a unique look at these topics from the view of personal experience and the view of an educator of law.

Pages: 414 | ASIN : B07SXKHBHW

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Provocative Themes

Thomas Duffy Author Interview

Thomas Duffy Author Interview

The Separation follows Finn as he struggles to live in a world that separates the sexes and removes children from parents. Did you know where you were going when you started writing or did you let things happen organically?

This novel is actually part of a trilogy. I am currently working on the sequel, “United.” I had this great idea and created three stories based on the characters and storyline. Of course, some of the plot was initially simply outlined and then fleshed out significantly during the actual writing process. I am proud of this book. I think it touches on topics that are universal and of great interest to society today.

This book has a unique resolution to a real overpopulation problem. What were some themes you wanted to capture in this story?

I wanted to address issues that are of great urgency in society today. Without bringing any of my own politics into this interview, I think the novel touches on provocative themes and pressing problems in society today. I won’t reveal all of them because I don’t want to give away the book. I feel this, above all my other work, is a must read. But, overpopulation is a real issue and I think this book addresses the topic head on.

Because the sexes are separated in the story, this makes for some great ‘worlds colliding’ type moments. What was your inspiration behind Finn and Angela’s relationship in the novel?

Their relationship is based on the fact that men and women are going to be different and have viewpoints on the separation (and on life in general) that are not necessarily identical. However, men and women do need each other in many respects. They complete each other in their own complex way. I wanted their relationship to reflect that.

What is the next story that you are working on and when will it be available?

I am working on part two of this trilogy—-“United”–which will be out early in 2019!

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook | Website

The Separation by [Duffy, Thomas]In the distant future, there is a separation of the sexes at birth for the good of society. Financial needs, above all else, have led to such drastic measures. The Separation is the story of the life of a male named Finn. The book traces his life at birth and continues past his “education” as well as beyond the time when he ultimately learns of the opposite sex. What will result from the revelation of a female society? Finn may wish he never found out. This is a story of the consequences of needs, desires and answers to questions that sometimes should not be asked.

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The Separation

The Separation by [Duffy, Thomas]

It’s the 22nd century and the world is overpopulated and under-educated. To combat this, the government has decided that male and female students will be segregated for their first 22 years of life. They will have no knowledge of the opposite sex or of their parents.  Finn is a brilliant and questioning student, but his intelligence leads him to test boundaries and break rules. When he enters the real world he meets Angela, and they have a son, Leonardo, who awaits the same fate of separation. But Finn cannot let go of his son that easily, and he begins to tread on very dangerous ground…

The Separation by Thomas Duffy is a dystopian speculative fiction novel. Duffy has written a story with a fascinating premise, and some hefty themes are handled deftly by the author. Topics of religion, sex, gender and class are woven through the narrative, and many of the questions posed are philosophical ones such as ‘what is really important?’ and ‘what constitutes a ‘good’ life?’ There are interesting reflections on the complexity of human desire, governmental control, finding meaning in the world, and whether career or love is more important–all of which feel quite relevant in today’s world.

Finn makes for a very likeable hero, behaving in ways which are extremely relatable and understandable considering his circumstances. Duffy has written an empathetic protagonist, which isn’t always the case with dystopian fiction, and I was really rooting for him throughout. Some of the other characters, including Angela, remain quite one dimensional which limited me in really believing in, or caring about, her relationship with Finn. I would have liked some more well rounded female protagonists, but perhaps this was a technique used by the author to represent how detached the sexes are.

The book is written mainly in the third-person limited narrative with the focus on Finn, but we get insight into Angela’s thoughts and feelings too which helped me to feel slightly less detached from her. The writing is full of dialogue and at times it is weighed down with exposition—unfortunately, this made a lot of the dialogue feel quite heavy handed and not particularly natural. I particularly struggled with the conversations between Finn and Angela which were lacking in real emotion. Again, this could have been a mechanism used by Duffy to portray their stunted development when it comes to relationships/the opposite sex and communication. Despite this, the narrative moves at a fairly steady pace. I enjoyed watching Finn’s misdemeanours unfold, and there was plenty of action and intrigue to keep me turning pages.

Overall, this is a fascinating addition to sci-fi/dystopian fiction which might leave you in a slight existential crisis! It throws up profound questions about what is truly important in life, and if this sounds a little too intense, there are also lots of unexpected twists, turns and excitement to keep you on your toes.

Pages: 306 | ASIN: B078YRNM8M

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A Victim of Circumstances

Arti Chugpai Author Interview

Arti Chugpai Author Interview

Phoenix tells the story of Sonam and her trials and tribulations as she builds her life as a woman in India. What was your inspiration for this heart-felt novel?

I have been inspired by experience and observation. My family background has been similar, and I have closely observed the lives of urban well-educated women in India. Despite a progressive education and multifaceted skills, they are expected to conform to obsolete family norms and not allowed to make life choices. This is especially true for the year 1983, when the protagonist Sonam wants to extricate herself from an abusive marriage. Indian society then was full of paradoxes: on one hand was the evolution of a knowledge society and unprecedented technological advancement and on the other deeply entrenched dogmatic beliefs in gender stereotypes. Instead of sympathising with a woman who was a victim of circumstances, her family and friends blamed her for her misfortunes and ostracised her.

I felt that this novel confronted gender stereotypes in a bold way. What themes did you want to capture while writing this book?

I have always felt strongly about the unequal playing field provided to women, even in the educated elite class, and the perception that they are appendages to male family members, whether father, brother or husband. Why should women be accorded respect only if they have empathetic men to battle for them? This discrimination is especially difficult to combat since one is pushing against one’s parents and closest family members whom one loves and respects. Through this novel, I wanted to highlight the need to cherish and support daughters as individuals regardless of the presence and status of their life partners.

I felt that Sonam was a multilayered character that was judged by her failings rather than her success. What were the driving ideals behind the characters development throughout the story?

While her parents despair of what will happen to Sonam after she leaves her husband and judge her by her failure in relationship, she demonstrates exceptional skills and shines in her workplace as an achiever. Her personality growth from 1983 to 2017 despite all odds illustrates the triumph of the spirit over ostracism, bigotry, negativity and injustice. She is rejuvenated from the ashes, just like the mythical bird, phoenix.

What is the next book that you are writing and when will it be available?

My next book, tentatively titled ‘A Journey Within’ has a very different story though it also deals with women’s issues. The lives of 16 Indian women of varying age groups intersect when they go on an all-women’s trip to Spain and Portugal. As events unfold during and after the trip, each of them reaches a realization that changes her life forever.

Author Links: Amazon | Website | GoodReads | Facebook

Phoenix by [Chugpai, Arti]

Caught in an abusive marriage, Sonam Aggarwal finds no family support when she struggles to break free. However, with unwavering grit, she makes a place for herself in the world and rises like a phoenix from the ashes of her dead marriage to discover true companionship and professional success. 

The evolution of a knowledge society in India that places a premium on human knowledge and skills regardless of gender finally bequeaths her a coveted place in the sun. The novel focuses on the core strength of a woman that asserts her value despite external trappings and women characters who go through their individual struggle with the inevitable challenges that threaten their existence. 

Phoenix, a novel, traces the life of Sonam and her upper class family in South Delhi from 1983 to 2017. It highlights the curious paradoxes in Indian society: its global leadership in digitalization contrasted with antiquated prejudices and gender stereotypes.

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Phoenix

Phoenix, written by Arti Chugpai, tells the story of Sonam Aggarwal and her trials and tribulations as she builds her life as a woman in India. Sonam is a complex character with beautiful soul, intelligence and integrity. Her presence demands authority, and as the Director of Publishing for a branch in India, she has certainly earned respect and accolades. However, there is a part of her that is broken by a moment in her life that she explicitly calls “The Betrayal”. Her family and friends judge her by her relationship failings rather than her career successes, leaving Sonam feeling lost and alone. Will Sonam be able to rise above the stereotypes and convictions of her family and friends to find true happiness?

Phoenix is a novel based on love, life and conforming to gender stereotypes. It’s the year 1998, and there’s a budding romance growing between a middle-aged business tycoon by the name of Kunal Vats and the main leading lady, Sonam Aggarwals. Set in India, Phoenix explores Sonan Aggarwal’s life through her ever-changing family, relationships, career aspirations and friendships.

The story then flits between two different eras of Sonam Aggarwal’s life, one part telling her life as it is in 2017 and the other turning back the clock to the year 1998. It’s here we learn about her life and the changing family dynamics and reoccurring expectations that seem to haunt Sonam, no matter how old her or her family members are.

It was refreshing to read a novel based on someone who is aged between their 40’s-60’s. Most modern love stories center around young adults in their twenties and Phoenix was a gentle reminder that age is no barrier when it comes to pursuing love and happiness. I enjoyed the sense of realism as the characters experienced a love that did not always result in happy endings. Instead, Phoenix dove deep into a raw and personal kind of love, where abuse, betrayal and forgiveness are all prominent players in the relationship game.

Phoenix also explores the events of Sonam’s life so thoroughly that at times you feel as though you are almost reading a biography of a real person. The novel also went into depth to showcase some of India’s culture, including foods, family life and working conditions. Arti Chugpai’s style of writing is confident and expressive, using strong descriptive words and phrases to demonstrate their points within the plot line. Fitting, considering the main character Sonam is a publisher herself.

Phoenix also brings to light the society changes and gender differences in India, and how things change over a period of time. It shows the difference in expectations between men and women, especially when it comes to love and relationships. Women are considered to be successful if they maintain a healthy, happy family, with their career aspirations and achievements often shadowed by the relationship, falls they have had in their life.

I would recommend this for anyone looking for a novel about budding romance, rising above the gender stereotypes and Indian culture.

Pages: 232 | ISBN: 1543701043

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The Misadventures of Ka-Ron the Knight

The Misadventures of Ka-Ron the Knight: The "Nown" World Chronicles: Book One.

The Misadventures of Ka-Ron the Knight, written by Donald Allen Kirch, tells the tale of Ka-Ron- the bravest of all knights, a strong and charming man who has adoring women wherever he travels. He is famous, feared, handsome, heroic and destined for great things within his kingdom. However, a lustful night with a childhood friend changes his life when her mother seeks revenge and justice. Destined to live out his days now as a woman, Ka-Ron will now learn about life and love as a female.

Prepare to be launched into a weird and wonderful world of knights, Wiccan power, passion and magic when you read the story of The Misadventures of Ka-Ron the Knight.

The Misadventures of Ka-Ron the Knight has a taste of all genres, from fantasy to romance and action to comedy. The various themes keep the plot line exciting and enthralling, as you delve into a world of knights and magic. The book is easy to read but once you have concluded the book you realize the actual plot line was quite complex. As each character (who range from dwarfs to dragons, to elves and Xows, covens of vampires and more) enters the story, it adds a layer and element of truth and understanding to the complexity of the situation.

I enjoyed the banter between Echoheart the horse and Ka-Ron, as they ventured together throughout the kingdom, but my favorite duo was Jatel and Ka-Ron as the explored their new found “friendship”. At times their story could be a little confronting, however, the desires and encounters the duo felt were also comedic at times. Their dysfunctional but co-operative relationship develops over the story, portraying the epitome of character progression. One line sums up the new experiences when Ka-Ron realizes that “On the battlefield of desire, women were the better warriors”. It explores some interesting ideas about gender roles and how each gender is seen in the eyes of others in society. At times you really felt for Ka-Ron as he became a puppet to witchcraft, overcome with desire and seduction- and this time as a woman.

Donald Allen Kirch was able to weave the story together in a fun and engaging way. At no point was I bored with the story line, as there was always a lingering sense of adventure and excitement on every page. As a fair warning, there are sexual scenes throughout the novel which could sometimes be a little intense (graphical and sometimes non-consensual) and felt a little unnecessary at times. However, the story line moves forward from these scenes and instills a sense of adventure as they continue their quest. What I enjoyed most about The Misadventures of Ka-Ron is that the story was unpredictable- the characters made decisions you would least expect. With magic thrown into the mix, be prepared for a thickened plot line that is precarious, to say the least.

I would would recommend this to anyone looking for an easy to read knights and magic style story with a dash of humor, romance and adventure.

Pages: 572 | ASIN: B071JQJ2LP

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Blooded

Blooded (Lisen of Solsta, #3)4 Stars

In the final installment of the Lisen of Solsta trilogy, Blooded by D. Hart St. Martin takes us on a gruesome journey as we learn how Lisen as Empir of Garla will affect the future of the Garlan people. After ascending to the throne, Lisen must make major decisions while facing her own physical and mental battles alone, especially when she’s captured by rebel Thristans for a period of time. On the verge of a devastating war, Lisen and the holders of Garla face the bloodthirsty Thristans in a battle that reveals the truth of the hermit’s prophecy and whether peace can ever truly arise between the two nations.

In Blooded, the concluding piece of the Lisen of Solsta series, Lisen becomes Empir Ariannas—without Korin at her side, though, she struggles with this new sense of authority. As a result, Nalin becomes a vital figure who assists Lisen with developing the knowledge and skills needed to rule over Garla, and he becomes even more important when Lisen is captured by rebel Thristans. Blooded also follows Korin’s return to his homeland, Thristas, and he experiences his own dilemmas, as he realizes his connection to Lisen is much deeper than he originally thought—in this world, where gender norms are shattered, men or women can carry a child, and Korin is carrying his and Lisen’s baby (unknown to Lisen).

Hart St. Martin’s impressive fantasy world construction throughout the entire Lisen of Solsta series kept me so absorbed in the story that I couldn’t put this last book down—I had to know how the series ended because I felt genuinely invested in these carefully-constructed characters. For example, along with everyone else in Garla and Thrista, Lisen resembles a human, but she has a flat chest, a furry belly, and a marsupial-like pouch. In Blooded, we learn more about the “unpouching” or birthing process in this world by witnessing two important “outcomings” or births. St. Martin makes these moments suspenseful and full of emotion by showing two birthing events from different perspectives.

While Korin is raising his and Lisen’s child in Thristas, Lisen faces her own mental struggles when she realizes that the Thristans are planning to go to war with Garla. This climactic moment in the plot, where Lisen and her Council devise a plan for war, showcases the dynamic development of both Nalin’s and Lisen’s characters throughout the series.

During Lisen’s abduction by the rebels, Nalin becomes a strong-minded, confident leader, commanding Lisen’s Council to make major decisions in Lisen’s absence. On the other hand, Lisen sets aside her typical sarcastic, sassy attitude and at times she reveals her emotional turmoil a bit more, as she feels overwhelmed by death piling up around her and the possibility of war. Bala, a significant character from Tainted, becomes instrumental to the plot of Blooded once she’s granted a spot on Lisen’s private Council—when the Garlans go to war, Bala shows her true colors as an assertive leader for her troops.

It’s rare to find a series of books that keeps your interest until the very end, and the end of Blooded and the Lisen of Solsta series left me feeling a great sense of closure. With characters that felt so real within a uniquely constructed fantasy world, this series captures the best aspects of the fantasy genre while also pushing the genre’s boundaries through constructing a gender non-conforming world.

Pages: 420 | ASIN: B00R8K8XXQ

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