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Friday, February 24, 2017

The Color Purple



The Color Purple by Alice Walker

There is a reason this book is a classic.

Few books have the power to change the way you view the world. This book does that. It takes you on a journey to a time and place that might seem foreign but is, once you pause a moment to consider, all too familiar. From the racism and sexism to the bonds of women and the struggles of victims overcoming, this book weaves a spell that leaves you aching for more.

A true "Southern" novel by its poetic nature and setting, Purple is a masterpiece of emotional battles won and lost through the passage of time for our complex narrator. There is no sugar coating the brutality and no whitewashing the horrors... but there is also no shrinking away from the universal truths found in these pages. At once beautifully tragic and stunningly empowering, this books will stay with you and beg to be reread for years to come.

I cannot recommend it highly enough






Friday, February 17, 2017

Trigger Warning

The following is a review for the short story collection Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman



Have you read Neil Gaiman? If so and you enjoyed him... then by all means pick up this book and relish it. If you are not a fan of his longer works like American Gods, then leave this on the shelf.

And if you are one of the few out there who has never read Neil Gaiman, may I say that you should prepare yourself to be highly entertained.

Don't let the tittle fool you. Yes, there are dark things (secrets, monsters, shadows) lurking in the pages of this book... but they are more interesting than scandalous, more intriguing than horrible, and more enjoyable than you might otherwise think.

And a few of them are poems.

Like many short story collections, the theme here is rather loose. I would challenge you to ignore the story by story explanation of how and why each entry was created until after you had read them and restrain yourself from playing the game of "where is the dark thing?" while reading each piece. Your enjoyment will go much further if you simply relax and enjoy the ride through poetry, fantasy, horror, and genre stories that all beautifully well crafted.

I personally found the retelling of a familiar fairy tale and the return to already known fandom universes to be the more enjoyable parts... but my favorite story is one of the longer ones that could have very easily been lengthened into a high fantasy story all its own but works so much better as a short sharp addition in this format.

Do not read these short stories looking for happy ever afters, profound epiphanies, or endings with bows. Read these for the adventure and the challenge. Read them for the mystery and the fun.

But please, read them.

I highly recommend this short story collection.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Friday, April 4, 2014

Room

Room
By Emma Donoghue




A book club favorite, I have read and reread Room half a dozen times since it came out.

It holds up remarkable well.

The first time I read it, I saw it as a story of a little boy being raised in confinement. I found the shtick of the perspective being a five year old boy well done for the most part and I was fully invested in the plot.

True, there were things that were hard to believe and there were points when I felt I should be more emotionally invested than I was (the climax for example, because of the first person telling of the little boy, I never saw *him* in any real danger... it is a brave author who can kill off the narrator half way through a book), but that was ok because there were aspects that really worked: the treatment of the mother character, the frustration of the situation, the ending, etc.

The second, or third, time I read it, I began to see the symbolism. I began to think about more global points of our own sense of self and the rooms that we build for ourselves in our everyday lives... the walls that are real, the walls that are emotional... the walls others build versus the ones we create for ourselves. How safe are we in our rooms?

Later, I began to think about the idea of "room" being a societal point. We are who we are based in large part by our surroundings. To be that fish-out-of-water is a frightening experience. Whether we are a boy leaving the relative safety of his "room" or an immigrant leaving their home country, or a college girl leaving home for the first time... we all go through culture shocks and how we react to the inherent difficulties is very telling.

It wasn't until a more recent reading when I was told that this book was inspired by real life events.

/shudder

Let me say, that it is a quick an relatively easy read. The only difficulty comes at the emotional level, not the reading level. The characters are not all that fleshed out or profound, but that is more because the narrator is a five year old.. and through his eyes we do get glimpses of character development that isn't at all obvious to him. The story is interesting and won't soon leave your mind.

I feel compelled to say: trigger warning for violence against women and children in peril.

Well worth the read.


Friday, March 28, 2014

The 100



The 100



I want to like this show.

Why is this show making it so hard to like it?

Sigh. Ok, here goes.

What we know from the get go: space, adventure, teen, The CW.



What we can posit: sci-fi, teen angst, plot contrivances, pretty people, the need for suspension of disbelief.

Then we watch the 5 minute preview on Hulu.

And we get excited. Very excited. The first five minutes gives us exposition (handled well –quick, succinct gives we what we need to know and moves on). It gives us a heroine who is strong, feisty, and likeable. It gives us some cool space shots of space stations and other such things. In other words, there is a good budget on this, that bodes well. It gives us a peek at some of the coming drama, but it seems tempered by the story. So far so good.

Then we watch the whole first episode.

But wait… first let’s make a check list:

Teen angst means unrequited love, someone being dramatic for no other reason than being dramatic, the line “you just don’t understand!” and a pretty girl getting mostly naked.

What else can we expect? Well, I am going to predict a stereotypical villain doing something villainy, adults looking stupid, and hints to a bigger story arc, and probably the death of a somewhat central character fairly soon to show us how edgy and stuff the show is.

--- an hour later ---

That check list is now a mass of checks and stars and underlines.

Here’s the central plot: The humans destroyed their planet almost a hundred years ago and the survivors have been living in the Ark space station. All crimes are given the same weight (wha…?) and prisoners are judged on their 18th birthday. For some reason, the powers that be decide to jeteson 100 teen prisoners down to Earth with no supplies but equipped with wristbands that let the Ark monitor their vitals in order to determine if the air is safe down there. During the landing, the communications between the teens and the Ark are destroyed.

Here’s the thing. Some of the acting is good. Some of the storylines are decent. But there is a fair bit of WTF and that makes it very hard to concentrate on anything else.

The good: The show has potential. Especially up there on the Ark, a few things happened that made me wonder what the background was. I could see the introduced villain turning out to not be the villain (hopeful eyes) because he really isn’t all that evil. At least not yet. What a switch that would be! 



More good: despite hitting everything on my checklist the teens down there are interesting. The show on the ground is more Lord of the Flies meets Lost, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The bad: We do not understand the motivations of some main characters who are doing colossally stupid things. Over and over and over again. Who needs food, lets just hang out and play with the trees. Who need water, lets take off our clothes and have knife fights! Also? That check list thing is pretty annoying. We shouldn’t be able to predict the entire first episode. Also? All the teens look like they are 16 and 17. (It was established that they aren’t 18.) So. In a space station that regulates the breeding of the population and is all scrappy and hardly making do, there were a hundred 16 and 17 year old criminals? That’s… mighty specific and really really tough to swallow. 

 

Fingers crossed the show finds itself and makes it work. We need better sci-fi on TV.

---

Post Script. I watched the second episode. Let me just say, the good is slipping and the bad is getting worse. I got a head ache from all the eye rolling. So far? No problems have been fixed… but a whole lot of more crazy you have to just ignore it if you want to stay sane stuff has happened.



Le sigh

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Glass Castle



The Glass Castle
By Jeannette Walls



I am not normally a big fan of memoirs, but I am very glad I made the exception for this one.

Written with a powerful clarity and possessing remarkable prose, this is a story that reads like a fairy tale for the modern time.

Nomadic and possibly mentally affected mother, an alcoholic father, extreme poverty, and the struggles that are born from each make up the background.

Jeannette tells her story with humor and humility. We are never preached to, and her story is not part of a self positioned pedestal. Instead, we have her story of triumph and escape from a highly dysfunctional situation that is both inspiring and heartbreaking.

What really makes this book fascinating is her tone. She loves her parents despite their obvious and detrimental flaws, and that love shines through. It is easy for a child who doesn’t know any better to idolize her father and not see his sins as sins, but even as she ages Jeannette manages to show both the good and the not so good in her parents with descriptions that are honest and haunting, and which never place her obvious love for them in doubt.

The pace is clear, the characters are well developed, the stories from her youth as fully fleshed out and act as perfect threads that weave the story of the Walls family in vivid and tragic relief.

I highly recommend this book.

Friday, February 21, 2014

When Gravity Fails



When Gravity Fails
George Alec Effinger





I read this book because it was recommended to me by someone who said “Hey, this book is really cool. It treats the idea of gender and transgender in a really cool way.”

If you don’t know, I am very active in the local LGBT community and so this piqued my interest.

And yes, the book does indeed treat gender in a way vastly different than is typically done in society and fiction: it makes it totally moot.

In this futuristic world, one can change one’s gender easily (for a price to be sure) and there is very very little stigma attached. Of course, this world also features personality cartridges that one clips in and out of one’s head. The idea of interchangeable personality traits, whole personalities, and also gender is so commonplace that it is just background noise to the “free lance PI investigates a series of murders and gets in over his head” story line.

That story, by the way, is engaging and full of nuance. It is classic hard boiled but it has a dash of color and flair not found in classic noir stories. The main character, Marid, is both totally believable and easy to root for. The twists are good twists, the fem fatal is done extremely well, and the mystery unravels as a good and steady pace.

Set in an Arabic ghetto, some readers might have trouble with the names and local language, but I found the fact that this wasn’t a New York based detective story a nice change of pace. I loved the way that Effinger handled world building… both with broad strokes and with little details that helped one get more than a sense of things, you really felt that this was a real place full of complex and dynamic real people. The quirks and futuristic flourishes didn’t feel forced or there for shock or shtick value.

I won’t go too far into the plot because I would love for each and every one of you who read this blog to go out and read this book. Suffice it to say, I highly recommend it… and not just because of its treatment of gender politics, but for the story it tells and the phenomenal way in which it tells it.


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