genre: historical

Ball Gown | c. 1865

Bare shoulders were typical of 1860s evening gowns, as in this sumptuously adorned example. Full skirts created the illusion of a narrow waist. Cage crinolines had replaced layers of petticoats as the way to maintain a skirt’s fullness, and many women (as well as men) enjoyed the flirtatious, ankle-revealing swing of a crinoline.

And this is why studying the history of psi is important. People have been reporting these phenomena for millennia and studying them for centuries. Human experiences that continue to be repeated throughout history and across cultures, are not due to ignorance or lack of critical thinking, and demand a serious explanation.
—  Dean Radin
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Book review: Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Lies We Tell Ourselves is a powerful, important story that I can’t recommend enough. Set in 1959, during the desegregation of American schools, it follows Sarah Dunbar, one of the first black students to attend a previously all-white school, through the trials she endures at the hands of her fellow classmates, her conflict between wanting to do her part for the movement and wanting to feel safe, and her budding romantic feelings for Linda Hairston, the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents of integration.

Through the eyes of both Sarah and Linda, Talley explores the impact of societal racism, sexism, and homophobia on the individual.  Talley’s depiction of the segregationists as otherwise intelligent, well-educated men and women blind to their own ignorance - thinking that their hatred is clever and nuanced and at times even loving - is brilliantly executed and terrifyingly true to real life.  The arguments Talley’s characters use to justify their racism might seem absurd to a modern reader, but all are still in use today to defend discriminatory beliefs and actions.

Sarah was a wonderful character - passionate, strong-willed, and caring.  Linda’s perspective was much more uncomfortable to read and reminded me of a quote I keep seeing on the internet in regards to current events in America: "One of the most sinister things about normalised racism is you don’t have to have bad intentions to be racist, you just have to remain ignorant.” Through Linda, Talley explores how easily ignorance can misinterpreted as knowledge and cruelty can be mistaken for kindness when discrimination is so normalised that, to the privileged, any opinion that differs from what they’ve been taught their entire lives seems absurd.  Talley acknowledges that even with the best of intentions, years of misinformation and indoctrination cannot be undone instantly. Talley doesn’t attempt to ‘fix’ Linda in a few short months; Linda’s views are the result of an entire childhood of indoctrination, and although she eventually manages to break free of her father’s propaganda and begin to think for herself, she still harbours some ignorant and harmful ideas about race as the novel draws to a close.

Unfortunately, while Linda’s prejudice is realistic and thoughtfully written, it does weaken the love story between Sarah and Linda.  I loved that Talley chose to leave the reader with an ending that suggests both girls will continue to educate themselves and form their own beliefs, but as the issue of Linda’s racism was never fully resolved, I found their relationship by the end of the novel problematic.  That said, Sarah and Linda’s gradually developing feelings for each other were beautifully written, and both girls’ examination of their own internalized homophobia nicely paralleled their discussions of racial discrimination.

Lies We Tell Ourselves is a wonderfully crafted, much needed examination of social discrimination which not only sheds light on a turbulent period of modern history, but also gives focus to issues which continue to be relevant today.

Many thanks to Harlequin UK for providing a copy of Lies We Tell Ourselves in exchange for an honest review. Lies We Tell Ourselves will be released on September 30th in the US and October 3rd in the UK.

Publisher: Harlequin UK/MIRA Ink
Rating: 5 stars | ★★★★★
Review cross-posted to Goodreads

Preorder on Amazon: US | UK

Princess Khutulun

According to Marco Polo, Khutulun was described as being a superb warrior; her wrestling prowess – in a culture that prized wrestling so much that it was one of their most popular sports and pastimes – was known throughout the empire, and no man could beat her.

She’d ride into the battle at her father’s side and scan the enemy. Then, before anyone could react, she would “make a dash at the host of the enemy, and seize some man thereout, as deftly as a hawk pounces on a bird, and carry him to her father; and this she did many a time.” This would freak the other side so much – just at the sheer scope of her speed, how she’d magically insert herself into their midst and grab some poor soldier by the throat and carry him off, that they’d panic.

As a result, lots of men wanted to marry Khutulun, but she would have none of them. Finally, she said that she’d offer a wager. Any man who wanted to marry her had to first defeat her in wrestling, and if they lost they would give up 100 horses to her. Her father deemed this appropriate; after all, any worthy man could surely do this.

No one could, and Khutulun amassed over 10,000 horses!