Reminder: US Census

While I discuss politics within the context of book reviews on this blog, I don’t usually dedicate posts solely to political matters. Here, though, I’m going to make an exception.

The pandemic has not made the monumental effort of counting everyone in the US easier, to say the least. In April, the Washington Post reported that the Census Bureau under the Trump administration requested a four-month extension regarding delivery of count data to the president’s desk, as well as a lengthening of the data collection period from mid-August to the end of October. A little more than a week ago, however, reports emerged that the Census Bureau was backpedaling; now they plan to end the count on September 30th.

If you live in the United States and haven’t filled out the census yet, please do so! You can complete the census by phone, by mail, or online. It’s vital that everyone gets counted so that our congressional districts can be appropriately drawn and funds and resources can be sufficiently allocated.

If you or someone in your household has already completed the census form, you can still help. Use social media to share reminders to complete the census, and remind your friends personally. Also, the HEROES Act contains provisions for extending deadlines of census tabulation and reporting. It passed the US House almost three months ago, and yet the Senate is still dithering over it. Contact your senators and urge them to pass the HEROES Act to help ensure that every person is counted.

Review: Through Violet Eyes

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Synopsis

In a world where the dead can testify against the living, someone is getting away with murder. Because to every generation are born a select few souls with violet-colored eyes, and the ability to channel the dead. Both rare and precious—and rigidly controlled by a society that craves their services—these Violets perform a number of different duties. The most fortunate increase the world’s cultural heritage by channeling the still-creative spirits of famous dead artists and musicians. The least fortunate aid the police and the law courts, catching criminals by interviewing the deceased victims of violent crime.

But now the Violets themselves have become the target of a brutal serial murderer—a murderer who had learned how to mask his or her identity even from the victims. Can the FBI, aided by a Violet so scared of death that she is afraid to live, uncover the criminal in time? Or must more of her race be dispatched to the realm that has haunted them all since childhood?

Review

Ah, quarantine, you have brought me to some new stories, and Through Violet Eyes was one of them.

It wasn’t a good story. Fair warning: This book was dreadful and I’m hoping to spare you the misery of reading it, so this review is brimming with spoilers. If you actually want to read Through Violet Eyes yourself and be surprised, turn back now!

Through Violet Eyes portrays itself as a mystery tinged with a sci-fi/fantasy element: In this universe, there are people whose eyes are – you guessed it! – violet, and these folks can communicate with the souls of the deceased. This has potential to be interesting if combined with strong characters, a decently planned plot, and solid, creative execution of the premise. Woodworth just doesn’t deliver.

For one thing, there’s little that’s remarkable about the main characters beyond just straight-up weirdness or lameness. Although each undergo some level of character growth, those developments are so predictably induced and so shallowly conveyed that the reader reaps little satisfaction and enjoys scant emotional connection with the characters in question. Natalie Lindstrom is a young Violet who works for the government like just about every other Violet does for at least some portion of their life. At the moment, the suits are using her amazing powers to channel dead witnesses for jury trials. Her frequent contact with the deceased has caused Natalie to lead a restrained, overly cautious (read: paranoid) life in the interest of postponing death as long as possible.  Dan Atwater is an FBI agent who basically committed manslaughter on a person of color but is now back on duty. So logically, after such a massive blunder, Dan is assigned to guard an extremely valuable lead, Natalie, in a serial killer case in which the victims are all people who can talk to the dead.

The progression of Dan and Natalie’s romance is completely calculable. Although Natalie begins the book pining over her childhood sweetheart, Evan, whom she has not spoken to in eight years, she quickly falls in love with Dan in a matter of weeks. Dan, too, feels the love in that same time span. And when I say “weeks”, I mean less than a month – or at least, that’s what I’m assuming because Woodworth is really unclear about the passage of time. Let’s ignore the time span, though, because time is sometimes inconsequential. The real issue is that, from the beginning, everyone can guess that Dan and Natalie are going to end up together, and there’s little to the story of how that happens. It’s the kind of love story you’d expect from mediocre fanfiction. Their romance consists of fluffy carnival rides, climbing stairs, and flying. (Like, a lot of flying. Seriously, Dan’s superiors have no idea how to coordinate their agents to save some fucking taxpayer money and fuel.)  Dan learns to love again after his divorce, and Natalie learns to live a little and not be terrified of the carousel. It’s a win-win for both of them.

Secondary characters are not bestowed with the attention they deserve either. Those who are important enough to warrant a number of dimensions greater than two are deprived. Too often, characters aren’t fleshed out. Most of the supporting characters are already dead or are on their way there. The rest are just there to help without being characters in their own right, often while serving as diversity tokens. Sid Preston, the obnoxious reporter who’s been stalking Dan and Natalie as he researches the case of the Violet killer and whose only contribution to the case is a license plate number, arguably receives as much or possibly even more attention than Serena. For playing such an important role in the story – saving Natalie’s life, assisting Dan with contacting Sondra, and ultimately killing Dan while possessed – she’s just there to help and be a friend to the deuteragonists. That’s all. Oh wait, and she’s black – a fact that Woodworth feels the need to point out every third sentence when she’s on the page. Don’t get me wrong: Serena’s blackness is not the issue, nor is acknowledgement of her blackness. The problem is that she is repeatedly described as “the black woman” or “the black man” (the latter in reference to her appearance in a disguise) at a frequency that borders on annoying while little else is established about her character. It’s one thing to illustrate a character; it’s entirely another to continuously reiterate their race while also saying nothing about their race. What else would readers need to know about her? Who she is as a person? How her blackness is a part of her identity? Her motives for doing things, for joining Simon’s group? Nah. What relevance do those things have to the white people in the story? Serena, a former CIA associate and now a member of a cryptic group known to some as a cult, has the capacity to be one of the most intriguing characters of the story, but Woodworth suppresses that potential by pigeonholing her into the dreaded “magical negro” trope.

Compounding Woodworth’s fumbling of Serena’s character with regards to race is Dan’s spotty past. Prior to the events of the story, Dan shot an unarmed person of color in a case of mistaken identity, believing he was the suspect that had killed a couple of other police officers that night. He and the remaining two officers were charged and subsequently acquitted of murder. Dan was then somehow reinstated as an officer of the law and released back into the wild with a badge and a firearm in tow. No anti-bias training, no anything – just a trial, an acquittal, and a divorce. Look, I understand that the issue of racially-charged police brutality wasn’t as prominent in the media back in 2004 (then again, I was seven, so maybe I just wasn’t paying attention), but the way Woodworth handles the matter seems… insensitive. The whole matter is resolved with a fuzzy, feel-good moment of forgiveness when Dan’s and Allen’s spirits collide and they each understand the other’s perspective of the fatal incident. I mean, yeah, on one hand, forgiveness and empathy are often good things. Yet, the way Woodworth settles this conflict sugarcoats the awfulness underlying the event: a (white) law enforcement officer is not held to higher ethical standards for his occupation, his remorse is used as a get-out-of-jail-free card, and the victim is a person of color who was basically assumed to be the bad guy because he “looked like the suspect”. Big yikes. Call me a nitpicker, but one heartfelt moment doesn’t really make up for all of that shit and the systemic racism seething just behind the curtain. At this point, it’s quite fair to say that Woodworth is ignorant on matters of race – and this is coming from a white girl.

Woodworth manages to pound out a mystery plotline – albeit a lackluster one – but overall, his writing style is rankling and often straight-up odd. No, I don’t mean “odd” in either the whimsically charming or the rivetingly bizarre senses, but rather in the “cringe” context. Let’s start with the sex. For one thing, there is a scene in which Dan, upon witnessing Natalie doing yoga in the morning, gets an erection. When she steps out of the room to take a shower, he actually fucking talks to his penis aloud. Guys, do you really do this? Is this a thing that I’m just not privy to? Because I’m trying to imagine talking to my nether regions and it’s just… weird. Also, I don’t know what planet Woodworth lives on, but here on Earth, pubic hair is rarely “downy.” Yet for all his explicit descriptions of breasts, pubic hair, and erections, Woodworth shies away from a detailed sex scene when our two heroes finally succumb to their attractions and begin their relationship with a night of lovemaking. Given how awkward Woodworth generally is on matters of sex, though, it’s probably best that he spared readers the details. Woodworth also has no idea how to write about gay characters. The only non-heterosexual is a dead fifty-something guy who’s described as “squirrelly-looking” and who inhabits Natalie’s body without her consent to attempt to rape Dan. This incident is used as a plot device to demonstrate how Violets can be inhabited against their will, particularly when sleeping, and to further Dan and Natalie’s blooming romance by letting Russell Travers spill the beans about Natalie’s sexual feelings for Dan. There are literally a million different ways that Woodworth could have accomplished this goal without painting the only homosexual character in the book as a perverted rapist. Additionally, Woodworth turns to disabilities for adjectives, which he uses pejoratively or flippantly. Natalie is described as repeating a mantra “like an autistic eulogist”. Dan, at one point, attempts to cry Natalie’s name in “a Down’s syndrome slur”. Is it really that difficult for Woodworth to   crack a thesaurus and pick some words that aren’t insulting? He totally could’ve gone with “a drunken slur” and just left out the “autistic eulogist” part. Those faux pas are totally avoidable, and yet Woodworth careens head-on into them with zero regrets.

The bottom line is that Through Violet Eyes simply is a bad book. A hackneyed plot, feeble characterization, and some seriously gauche handling of basic social issues bury anything positive about this story. Hopefully, this review has spared you all from wasting precious reading time on such an unworthy piece. Countless other books are calling your names!

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Cover image and synopsis are from BarnesandNoble.com.

Flash Review: Willow the Wildcat

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Synopsis

Willow the wildcat kitten and her brother Corrie live in a cozy den in the forest with their mom. But disaster strikes when a nosy sheepdog collapses their den. Can the kittens stop fighting long enough to learn how to work together and find a warm, safe new home?

Written in lively rhyme, this charming tale of two siblings learning to appreciate each other and work as a team features dynamic watercolor illustrations of forest wildlife and two adorable wildcat kittens, which are endangered in Europe.

Review

Read: November 2019

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Reviewing a children’s book can be truly refreshing. The task staring you down is unimposing – I mean really, it only takes a few minutes to read a picture book – and it’s relaxing to partake in a story accompanied by such delightful illustrations.

What I appreciate most about Willow the Wildcat is that it introduces children to a subspecies of animal that most adults haven’t even heard of: Felis silvestris silvestris, the Scottish wildcat. Instead of inundating their young audience with excessive information, Rickards and Harris-Jones adhere more to the route of entertaining the readers with a story and include a brief external snippet about the Scottish wildcat and the threats it faces. Given the intended audience’s age range, this strategy would be more likely to hold the readers’ attention than the information strategy. The story is short, of course, but it has distinct exposition, rising action, climax, and conclusion. The authors neatly wrap up their tale with a happy, heart-melting ending.  And can I just say: The illustrations are adorable!

Thank you to Edelweiss+ for the free digital ARC!

Image and synopsis are taken from BarnesandNoble.com.

Book Review: Fluffy’s Revolution

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Synopsis

The fate of the world rests on the haunches of one small cat.

It’s 2135. Fluffy is a super-intelligent GAB (Genetically Altered Brain) cat. Like many dogs, cats, mice, and the occasional pig, her brain is the product of genetic tinkering by humans that started more than a century ago. With their powers of telekinesis, the animals can manipulate physical objects without being able to grasp them. They can speak to each other telepathically without audible voices. Now, people have begun to fear them and to systematically capture and exterminate them. Fluffy leaves the safety of her home to look for her lost brother and joins a band of animal revolutionaries. After a series of brushes with death, Fluffy and her friends find a secret university for GAB animals. There, they work with enlightened humans to save Earth from certain destruction.

Review

Read: October 2019

Rating: 1.5 stars out of 5

Spoiler warning!

Anyone who knows me can tell you that I’m a sucker for animals – especially cats. I’ve read Erin Hunter’s Warriors for the last ten years; I’ve fostered numerous cats over the last fifteen; my current shirt has a screen-printed image of a cat on it (perfect for Halloween!).

I began reading Ted Myers’s Fluffy’s Revolution fully anticipating a completely corny yet genuinely entertaining story. The reality is disappointing: Fluffy’s Revolution only fulfills half of those expectations.

Myers’s tale is one about a world where some animals, called genetically altered brain animals, have rapidly evolved to have superhuman abilities and humanoid intelligence. Because people are people, an anti-GAB campaign has arisen: animals both normal and mutant are being targeted and killed. That premise definitely has some potential. Unfortunately, Myers neuters it by cramming everything into just one hundred forty pages. With so much to explore and so few pages, the storyline is simultaneously hectic and underdeveloped. Rising action leading to important events is severely diminished, resulting in the impression that stuff just… happens in this book.

There’s scant buildup to the action points and climaxes of the story, and the various conflicts are solved with far too much ease. For example, a jaundiced classmate at Animals U (a university for GABs) traps Fluffy somewhere so she can show off by taking point on a world-saving endeavor, thus endangering the entire planet with her petty jealousy. Fluffy defeats this obstacle in like three pages – and a good deal of that text focuses on everybody else going “Where’s Fluffy?” and Pandora doing her best impression of a shrug emoji. All in all, fewer than five pages are expended on the entire arc involving Pandora. The raids on numerous places are trite and hurried. And the solution to the potentially planet-demolishing meteor hurtling toward Earth?

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Likewise, Myers fails to adequately explore his characters. Almost everyone in this story suffers from second-dimensionality. Fluffy herself is just too perfect – and does way too well on the streets after not leaving her condo for five years (basically all of her life). All the “good guys” seem to be there simply to help Fluffy out, rather than being characters in their own right. Professor Riordan, her owner, is a drunken middle-aged mess of a bloke whose wife passed away around the same time he adopted Fluffy. The guy manages to pull through for his beloved cat and get his ducks sort of in a row, but Myers doesn’t spend a great deal of time discussing Riordan’s grief for his deceased wife or his recovery from alcoholism. Indira, an assistant for the professor who spotted a gargantuan meteor careening towards Earth, seems to function only as a plot device and a love interest for Riordan. As for the first three humans that Fluffy meets in the resistance, two of them have backgrounds that are barely touched upon, and the other has a tale that, while interesting, is sloppily presented in a rushed manner. By the time these three die, the reader doesn’t really know enough about these folks to be truly upset. Even the villain, Epps, lacks a compelling motive for his atrocious behavior – which in turn makes for a feeble redemption arc. And no, I don’t want a Trump descendant to be a villain – not because I love Donald Trump (he’s fucking terrible), but because he’s already the antagonist of today’s world so I want to read about someone else.

The romances are also worth mentioning for how… weird they all are. Even the one between two humans – Riordan and Indira – is kinda odd. While an age gap within legal constraints isn’t always a bad thing – think Tom Branson and Sybil Crawley – it’s worth noting that Riordan is probably two decades older than Indira. Also, their relationship is expressed in the story in eloquent sentences such as “She kisses him, and they start making out.” Fun fact: This occurs in a scene where the two of them are executing a mission to extract from the bad guy’s lair an important astronomer who knows about the apocalyptic meteor. Another human pairing is introduced in one sentence (“Rudy has more than a little compassion for Janet; everyone knows there was chemistry going on between them, although it was never spoken of”) and then is never touched on again. The animal romances are leagues more bizarre. Again, I will hark back to Erin Hunter’s Warriors to emphasize that animal romances in fantasy series can be handled with grace – or at least absence of cringe. Myers does neither of those things. For instance, a cat named Tigger flirts with Fluffy like this: “Wow, you’re a looker! Do you have reproductive organs?” I’m assuming that the bit about gonads is a reference to spaying/neutering, but it still seems like an invasive question to ask anybody within five seconds of meeting them. Finally, in the weirdest, most cringe-inducing example, Fluffy’s friend Sally goes into heat for the first time in the middle of a school dance; several toms surround the poor thing, who doesn’t even know what’s happening; and school authorities step in and explain that the animals at the university have a sort of marriage and practice monogamy. Fluffy’s brother, Jack, professes his eternal love to Sally, who reciprocates; they then sneak off to fuck, thus consummating their partnership. Yyyyyup. That’s how it happened. Like, congratulations on practicing marital fidelity, but seriously, what the FUCK???

Overall, this story is a complete train wreck of craziness. I did manage to get a couple of laughs out of it and to finish it, but those positives don’t outweigh the stultifying writing style; grammatical inconsistencies; the hustled, muddled plot; and overall random weirdness. At least it’s short.

Synopsis and cover image from BarnesandNoble.com.

GIF from http://thatsridicarus.soup.io/tag/patrick.

Thank you to Edelweiss+ for the free digital ARC!

Book Review: The Seventh Sun

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Thrust into leadership upon the death of his emperor father, young Prince Ahkin feels completely unready for his new position. Though his royal blood controls the power of the sun, he’s now responsible for the lives of all the Chicome people. And despite all Ahkin’s efforts, the sun is fading—and the end of the world may be at hand.

For Mayana, the only daughter of the Chicome family whose blood controls the power of water, the old emperor’s death may mean that she is next. Prince Ahkin must be married before he can ascend the throne, and Mayana is one of six noble daughters presented to him as a possible wife. Those who are not chosen will be sacrificed to the gods.

Only one girl can become Ahkin’s bride. Mayana and Ahkin feel an immediate connection, but the gods themselves may be against them. Both recognize that the ancient rites of blood that keep the gods appeased may be harming the Chicome more than they help. As a bloodred comet and the fading sun bring a growing sense of dread, only two young people may hope to change their world.

Rich in imagination and romance, and based on the legends and history of the Aztec and Maya people, The Seventh Sun brings to vivid life a world on the edge of apocalyptic disaster.

Review

Rating: 2.25 stars out of 5
Read: October 2019

It’s so satisfying to see a fantasy novel with a non-European setting. The representation isn’t the only thing to cheer about, though: There is a bevy of fantasy books written about medieval white people, so a novel focusing on people of color often speaks to some creativity on the part of the author. Lani Forbes’s The Seventh Sun centers on the fictitious Chicome people, whose culture is based on those of indigenous Mesoamericans. While I can’t speak to the Forbes’s historical or cultural accuracy, I can say that I appreciate the change of pace.

For the most part, though, this book is lackluster. The characters are mediocre at best and obnoxiously dull at worst. Mayana struggles with her moral objections to ritual sacrifices, which the religious leaders of the Chicome empire have essentially enshrined as dogma. This powerful internal conflict could have propelled a very interesting narrative had it been paired with a well-constructed character. I don’t despise Mayana – I even connect to her on some level – but she is just kinda bland. Prince Ahkin, the fantastically handsome and high-status love interest, is even emptier. For all of Forbes’s insistence that Ahkin is an intelligent man governed by logic, his behavior doesn’t match her claim. Not only is he apparently prone to tantrum-like outbursts and impetuous behavior, but he also overlooks critical information an alarming number of times, all while sporting the naivety of a child. He literally decides to kill himself immediately after hearing from a captured enemy solider that the sacrifice of his life is what will bring the sun back. He doesn’t bother to even consider this for a day or think about who might have ulterior motives; he just asks the high priest for his opinion and promptly marches off to the pit entrance to Xibalba, the underworld, to stab himself in the gut. The guy is repeatedly played like a fiddle – which is fair to say even if you factor out reasonable trust in the perpetrators. It’s no wonder Ahkin can’t swim: he’s got a head full of rocks. The supporting characters are way more interesting than the main characters. I would much rather hear how Yoli or Zorrah became who they are, or how Yemania has struggled with her father’s mistreatment, or Teniza’s story – a far more intriguing love story than the rushed romance in this book.

The plotlines – both romantic and not – are too foreseeable for my liking. While I enjoy the satisfaction of finding that my inferences are correct, it’s no fun if there’s no challenge to it. I smelled Coatl and Metzi’s game miles away. Maybe I just watch too much Dateline, but when a politically powerful, perfectly healthy man drops dead for no apparent reason, chances are there’s perfidy; who better to execute the crime than the palace healer? And Coatl’s potential motives are quickly elucidated when his sister Yemania arrives in the capital to be a bride/sacrifice and Princess Metzi requests to sit next to Coatl. Once Metzi is introduced, her shady, manipulative behavior promptly singles her out as a suspect. The whole scheme is so transparent that the “big reveal” lacks the wonderful coalescent effect in which the reader sees all of the details that they’ve overlooked crystallizing in one epiphanic moment. Instead, the moment of truth comes as absolutely no shock to anybody who’s been paying attention. Even the battles are unexciting. Honestly, I found the four-way catfight more interesting than the actual skirmish with death-worshippers that Ahkin takes part in.

Neither is Ahkin and Mayana’s romance in any way surprising. It seems crazy that Ahkin and Mayana have fallen madly and irrevocably in love in the course of like six seconds. It’s easy enough to figure out that Ahkin and Mayana end up together, which would be fine – except that the progression of their romance is just as trite and stupid as its beginning. A few tests and couple of illicit makeout sessions later and the deal is sealed: Ahkin and gorgeous, sweet Mayana are meant to be. The bummer is that Forbes could have explored one of a few other romances instead, one of which she herself actually mentions in the book. Instead of focusing on Mayana and Prince Hissyfit the Dumbfuck, Forbes could have written a new version of Stockton’s “The Lady, or the Tiger?” by delving into Teniza’s tragic love story. In my opinion, another more interesting romance would have been Ahkin (if he wasn’t such a mega clotpole) and Yemania, who is the plainest and shyest of the princesses but truly a diamond in the rough. Sadly, she opted for the cliche.

The long and short of it is that a lush jungle setting can’t compensate for a dull plot and equally dreary characters. If you’re a fan of The Bachelor, you’ll probably love this book, since that’s essentially what it is. Otherwise, stay away.

Synopsis and image are from BarnesandNoble.com.

Thank you to Edelweiss+ for the free digital ARC!

Book Review: The Blue Road

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Synopsis

In this stunning graphic novel, Lacuna is a girl without a family, a past, or a proper home. She lives alone in a swamp made of ink, but with the help of Polaris, a will-o’-the-wisp, she embarks for the fabled Northern Kingdom, where she might find people like her. The only way to get there, though, is to travel the strange and dangerous Blue Road that stretches to the horizon like a mark upon a page. Along the way, Lacuna must overcome trials such as the twisted briars of the Thicket of Tickets and the intractable guard at the Rainbow Border. At the end of her treacherous journey, she reaches a city where memory and vision can be turned against you, in a world of dazzling beauty, divisive magic, and unlikely deliverance. Finally, Lacuna learns that leaving, arriving, returning — they’re all just different words for the same thing: starting all over again.

Review

Thank you to Edelweiss+ for the free digital ARC!

Read: September 2019

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

This book definitely feels like it’s written for a younger demographic. Think elementary and middle school kids. But that doesn’t preclude adults from appreciating it – particularly if they’re like me and follow politics.

Art style can really screw up a graphic novel. Hiromu Arakawa’s Fullmetal Alchemist is one of my all-time favorite series – not just for the plot, but also for the gorgeous yet realistic (for manga, anyway) line art. On the other hand, while I comprehended the purpose of Octavia Butler’s Kindred, my enjoyment of the graphic novel (adapted by Damian Duffy and John Jennings) was seriously hampered by the art style. De la Noche Milne’s art does not follow the refined, crystalline style you might see in a museum or the starkly inked fashions typical of manga. Her illustrations have a smudgy, myopic quality that meshes with the fable genre of the book. Fables tend to be vague things: their details are minimal. Their audiences are given just enough information to follow the story, with elaborations forgone in the interest of creating concise stories that can be traded easily and often without muddling the central idea. In choosing a style that does not rely on details, de la Noche Milne bolsters the “fable” theme of the tale without making the background seem barren.

Immigration has been a major subject of debate for as long as I can remember. In particular, the firestorm has grown hotter since 2015, when a witless, bigoted motherfucking Oompa Loompa Donald Trump entered the presidential race. Trump and his immigration adviser Stephen Miller have been wreaking havoc upon immigrant families, whether they’ve been long established here in America or come to our border seeking protection and better lives. So many people write off crossing the border legally as “easy”. “Just come to the border like you’re supposed to,” these folks will argue. But even the slightest bit of research unveils a hellscape for people seeking entry into the U.S. – and a continuing looming threat over the heads of those who do gain legal entry.

Compton has clearly kept all of this in mind as he crafted his various allegories for the struggles facing immigrants. Despite their symbolic nature, Lacuna’s trials aren’t difficult to connect to real-world obstacles. The thicket of tickets through which Lacuna must travel represents the bureaucratic nightmare of obtaining the proper documentation to enter the country. The mirrors allude to the constant worry that surrounds temporary statuses and the plight of Dreamers: the so-called “mirror people” must constantly look over their shoulders in order to partake in the world. Perhaps the most poignant allegory is that of the faceless people, who sometimes would escape the regime of the northern kingdom and then bear children who were not faceless themselves but to whom their parents were faceless. This could apply to a number of scenarios, chief among them the tragic tales of forced family separations by the Trump administration and the suffering of the unaccompanied minor.

Don’t think, however, that simply because these ordeals are encapsulated in allegory means that the story is devoid of some harsh elements: In one scene, the border guard quite literally slices a bird in half because it flew across the border. The slaughtering of the bird is depicted on-page, and its corpse is shown lying broken on the blue road. In refusing to shy away from this draconian act, Compton and de la Noche strengthen the narrative of the brutal tribulations endured by the immigrant.

It’s also worth noting that the main character is a woman of color. Opting to portray the main character as a white person might have been the obvious choice to some because -let’s be honest – this story is aimed at folks with anti-immigrant stances, particularly white people, and children who might lack exposure to other cultures and races. Perhaps it would be easier for these particular audiences to identify with a white person, but that kind of pandering would do the real-world component of the story no justice. One aim of The Blue Road is to evoke the audience’s sympathy for Lacuna, even if she does not look like they do. Her skin is brown, she is a young woman, and she’s an immigrant, but Compton and de la Noche impress upon the audience that none of that renders her any less human or less capable than someone who is white, male, and a “natural-born” citizen.

Overall, The Blue Road is a powerful story about a strong young woman who fights against the odds to make a life for herself and ultimately succeeds. The Blue Road is more than just some graphic novel though: It’s life for numerous people. Immigrants might not literally have to drink ink or keep their eyes glued to mirrors at every waking hour, but they are forced to grapple with even worse realities. We can do something about that, though, Compton argues. This book is perhaps his way of encouraging us to take that first step to speak up for immigrants: to both look beyond our border to understand others, and to look within the border to correct the wrongs that persist here.

Synopsis and cover image are from BarnesandNoble.com.

 

 

 

Book Review: The Kaerling

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Synopsis

When Otta and Erl are banished from their village for angering the gods, they embark on a peculiar quest.

Commanded by a wandering god, Otta is obliged to follow the strange, elusive “unicorn’s trail.” Her twin brother, Erl, has lost his memory and is struggling to discover who he is and where he is.

As they travel further from the shelter of the Homestead, the siblings discover unpleasant traits in their personalities. They must learn to adapt and change before they are driven apart.

Who is the wandering god? Just what is the “unicorn’s trail” and where will it lead? What are the kaerlings? And who are the brown-robed travellers that trespass in Otta’s dreams?

Review

Read: Summer 2019

Rating: 1.5 stars out of 5

A few months ago, I received an email from Freya Pickard asking me to review the first book of her Kaerling series. I’m ashamed that I didn’t complete this review much sooner, but ya know how life happens and ya get really busy. Anyway, I’m flattered that Ms. Pickard reached out to me to request a review.

In my reviews, I strive to adhere to the policy of honesty, and the honest truth is that I am unimpressed – and often befuddled – by Silver Fire. The story itself could be interesting, but it’s weighted down by a variety of issues. For one thing, the writing is choppy. Not only are the sentences often stilted-sounding; Pickard also has a tendency to throw in details where they aren’t really pertinent. In fact, those randomly placed details don’t shape the setting enough to prevent the reader from feeling like they’re just… watching a flipbook. There isn’t much buildup to plot events, either. Stuff simply happens very suddenly. My biggest beef, however, is with Erl’s amnesia. I get that amnesia is not always a blanket blackout, but I don’t get why Erl remembers one thing but forgets something else even though the thing he forgets is related to the thing he remembers. The best example: His concept of human decency is intact enough for him to sympathize with an ethnic minority and defend their right to live in their native land, but not enough for him to remember that attempting to rape anyone – especially the girl who insists that she is his twin sister – is a mega no-no. His priorities when he apologizes to her later are completely out of whack too. “This incest thing seems important to you so I’ll stop” doesn’t strike me as the first thing someone who has committed sexual assault against their sibling should say to said sibling; what they should say is more along the lines of “oh my god, I’m sorry I tried to rape you and I understand this not-being-raped thing is important to every human being so I’ll stop”. This whole incest/sexual assault ordeal adds nothing to the plot of the story; instead, it serves as just a giant what-the-fuck dead-end subplot. 

What I can say for Silver Fire is that I wasn’t bored while reading it. Whether that was because of the fast-paced plot, sheer curiosity, or the potential of the story itself, I really couldn’t tell you. Maybe it was all of the above. In any case, I’ll probably try reading the next installment of The Kaerling, just for kicks. 

Image and synopsis are from BarnesandNoble.com.

Book Review: The Storm Crow

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Synopsis

In the tropical kingdom of Rhodaire, magical, elemental Crows are part of every aspect of life…until the Illucian empire invades, destroying everything.

That terrible night has thrown Princess Anthia into a deep depression. Her sister Caliza is busy running the kingdom after their mother’s death, but all Thia can do is think of all she has lost.

But when Caliza is forced to agree to a marriage between Thia and the crown prince of Illucia, Thia is finally spurred into action. And after stumbling upon a hidden Crow egg in the rubble of a rookery, she and her sister devise a dangerous plan to hatch the egg in secret and get back what was taken from them.

Review

Read: July 2019

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

It’s difficult not to have high hopes for a book with such a breathtaking cover and such a propitious premise. When my expectations are so lofty, the disappointment when a book fails to meet them is all the more disheartening. 

That’s not to say there’s nothing to like about Kalyn Josephson’s debut novel. For her story, she has clearly crafted a colorful setting with rich backgrounds. At the end of her novel, Josephson even provides two brief appendices: one summarizing the culture, politics, and economics of each country; the other covering information on the magical crows of Rhodaire. I’m an incurable sucker for this kind of stuff because it indicates that the author really exerted a considerable amount of effort creating their setting and that they bothered to think outside the box. So those of you who enjoy lore-laden worlds might appreciate this. 

Josephson also writes a diverse cast of characters in terms of race and sexuality. Anthia, the protagonist, is heterosexual and brown-skinned. Her sister, Queen Caliza, shares her skin tone but is bisexual (or pansexual, perhaps?) and is wed to the black prince of Trendell, Kuren. Thia’s best friend, Sakiva, is hella pale and hella lesbian, and her romance with Auma, a young Asiatic woman who happens to be a Jin rebel spy posing as a servant in Sordell’s palace, is a prominent subplot. It’s even implied that Thia’s mother is also LGBTQ, and the same-sex partners of a few other characters are referenced. Through Thia, Josephson tackles another aspect of diversity: mental health. If the idea is reminding depression sufferers that they are not alone, two facets of solidarity need to be addressed. Representation is easy enough to pick out, particularly with Josephson’s wise use of first-person narration. A significant portion of the story focuses on Thia’s healing process as she grapples with debilitating depression, a psychological wound stemming from the attack on Negnoch. Although Thia faces some stumbling blocks as the story progresses, she eventually finds the strength to get back on her feet. Knowing that other people wrestle with mental health is a step, but it’s also vital that people feel that they can connect with and rely upon others. Just as important as Thia’s struggle is Kiva’s support. Stalwartly loyal and empathetic, Kiva is the kind of friend that everyone should have. Instead of withdrawing from Thia when she needs her most, Kiva stays by her side, a reminder that friends will not abandon you because of a mental health struggle.

The shortfalls of The Storm Crow truly diminish what could have been a mighty story. In stark contrast to the in-depth world-building, the plot itself sports a detail deficit. For instance, Thia concocts an acid to dissolve an iron lock on a door guarding a room full of crow eggs. There’s no real description of Thia learning how to do this beyond “I decided to help Caylus make this random acid and put on some leather gloves”. Hell, neither the acid nor the ingredients are even given names. Although this might seem like a petty complaint, the use of this acid is rather important to the plot, and it strikes me as lazy to not put more effort into the setup of the plot device. The detail void sucks away the story’s life even as the plot moves forward unhindered by description. The result is a pace that is simultaneously sluggish and rushed. 

Character arcs too suffer when details are scant. Fewer details often mean fewer opportunities to explore characters thoroughly without resorting to infodumps. For some characters, Josephson executes arcs quite well. Ericen and Razel both have strong storylines: Razel’s background, discussed in several conversations, elucidates her motives for her cruelty; Ericen’s actions throughout the book illustrate a conflicted character with a desire to do the right thing. Other characters’ stories are not so skillfully carried out. Caylus in particular stands out as an example of this. The concept of him is adorable, but despite his devastating backstory, he’s still rather flat. Interactions involving him divulge something new about him much less often than they reveal nothing about him. Auma’s arc is hurried and thus has a shallow sort of feel to it; however, I grant more leniency in this case as Auma is meant to be mysterious and Josephson would be unlikely to show much of her hand in the first book of a series for such a character. 

The Storm Crow isn’t a bad book. It’s no masterpiece either. It certainly isn’t good enough for me to want to read it again, nor is it disappointing enough for me to not read the next installment of the series. I mean, come on, there’s an embattled prince whose fate I need to follow and a gazillion crow eggs that need to be rescued. There’s no way I can’t at least try the next book.

Image and synopsis are from BarnesandNoble.com.

I’m Back!

Helllllloooooo!

Wow, it’s been three months since I last posted a review. Things have been super busy for me: two summer classes, vacation, a root canal, job hunting, and flute rehearsals are just some of the events that have kept me so occupied. Also, one of the reviews I’m working on is on a particularly weighty topic, and I want to make certain that tackle that task from the right angle. And finally, I will admit that a close friend of mine encouraged me to read The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, and I decided I needed to read something not necessarily to review it, but just to enjoy myself. Unfortunately (but also fortunately), TWoK is 1,258 pages long, so you can imagine what an undertaking that is.

I have a review ready to be posted today. Here are other reviews to keep an eye out for in the next couple of weeks:

  • Silver Fire (The Kaerling, Book One) by Freya Pickard. Ms. Pickard actually contacted me awhile back and asked me to review her work, which was quite flattering. I’m ashamed that it’s taken me this long to complete that review, but I promise, I’ve been working on it. Expect my review next week.
  • Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson.
  • The Women’s War by Jenna Glass.

Thank you all for reading – whether you’re perusing my reviews or a book from your local library.

-Jamie

Flash Review: Two Dark Reigns

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Read: April 2019

Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

*Spoiler alert!*

This series gets better with each book.

This installment of Three Dark Crowns really highlights the amazing character arcs Blake writes. Arsinoe is as strong-willed as ever, much to the annoyance of her mainland host (boyfriend Billy’s mother), and once again that obstinate determination propels Arsinoe’s storyline. This time she’s headed back to Fennbirn, with a series of mysterious dreams as her sole lead. Mirabella and Billy love her too much to just let her do that on her own, though, so they’re coming whether she likes it or not. Meanwhile, Katharine is finally regaining some of her own personality, but the dead queens still lurk beneath her skin and stir up trouble. When the mist that enshrouds the island turns on the people of Fennbirn, Pietyr can only deduce that the dead queens are to blame. Fearing for the safeties of both Kat and the island, Pietyr steps well outside of his comfort zone to find a solution. All this occurs against the backdrop of an incipient yet powerful insurgency gaining steam throughout the island – an insurgency centered around Jules Milone, the Legion Queen, who is still trying to come to terms with her dual gifts and the yoke of leadership that’s being foisted upon her.

A number of times throughout this book I found myself beginning to like a character that I was once mostly indifferent to or previously hated. Mirabella started out as just “okay” in Three Dark Crowns because I viewed her as a sap and a source of drama. By this point, however, she has more than proven herself to be a strong young woman and probably one of the nicest and most loyal people in the series. Her friend Bree Westwood has evolved from superficially boy-crazy rich girl to burgeoning politician who definitely knows how to drive a bargain. And while Pietyr started out as an unctuous asshole, he’s shown that he truly loves Kat and wants what’s best for her, and that like his aunt Natalia, he possesses a great deal of political finesse. Multiple times he endangers himself for Kat’s well-being, even though that eventually costs him his life. By the end of Two Dark Reigns, even Madrigal had grown on me. As she tries to make amends with those she has wronged, Madrigal demonstrates that she’s not just a shallow, vain woman, that she actually has a heart. It’s quite fitting that Pietyr turns to Madrigal for aid in exorcising the dead queens from Katharine, because like Pietyr, Madrigal pays for her love with her own blood. In the end, she really steps up to her chance to shine as a mother, even if she’s not a maternal person.

Although the book is slow at times, most events are interesting enough to compensate for any dragging of the pace. Even though much of Two Dark Reigns centers on Jules’s rebellion, the action isn’t so much physical combat as it is traveling, discovery, and emotional development; the biggest enemy in this book – the mist – isn’t something that can simply be chopped, punched, or poisoned away. Like Game of Thrones, the conflicts that arise in the Three Dark Crowns series are often better solved via political or intellectual means as opposed to brute force – something I absolutely love. The twist at the end of the book is completely shocking, and I was not prepared to hear that Mirabella has to die to save Fennbirn from the mist. I’m really hoping that clever Arsinoe finds a way to save both Mirabella and Jules, but how often do we readers actually have wishes like that granted?

I’ll be preordering Five Dark Fates for sure. September can’t come soon enough!