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review 2020-05-16 14:28
Orphans of the Carnival
Orphans of the Carnival: A Novel - Carol Birch

by Carol Birch

 

This turned out to be a fascinating story, though it started out a little poetic and vague. It took a chapter or two to really get into what was going on, but once the background of the main character, Julia, started coming out, I definitely wanted to keep reading.

 

Julia was born 'different'. She has hair all over her face and body like fur, and the face itself appears ape-like. After her mother abandons her as a small child, she is taken care of in comfortable circumstances until the old woman who looks after her dies, then Julia sets out on her own and eventually joins a carnival freak show.

 

The variety of characters in the freak show provides some interesting personality quirks that come of growing up 'different'. Julia sometime bristles at the casual way in which the other 'freaks' refer to her anomaly, though her sensitivity goes largely unnoticed.

 

Julia is like many young women and wants the same things, like nice dresses, but she is aware of the effects of her appearance and is told she will never 'get a man'. She's also very talented and can sing and dance, which takes her beyond just being a freak into being a valued performer.

 

It wasn't until the end of the story that I learned that Julia was a real person, though the events of her life are fictionalized in the story. Wikipedia has an interesting entry about her. The story is well told and gives the reader some insight into what it must be like to grow up and live as someone who is visibly different and the treatment she gets as a result. Very poignant.

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review 2019-12-31 19:58
Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip, Vol. 1 - Tove Jansson
Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip, Vol. 1 - Tove Jansson

Embarking on my Moominread.
Some time back I read a book of short bios of kick-ass women, that included Jansson. And then, the moomins are so freaking cute. Plus Jansson lived in Finland which is present in my mind since getting hooked on the ice hockey. so, I decided to do some further exploration before I wrote the books off as not for me.
I like the eccentric family of bohemians and their madcap adventures, sort of. I love that there are all these different-looking creatures and that Moomin seems to accept them as relatives or just as people without question. And the moomins are hella cute.
But the story-lines are predictable, and the dialogue isn't especially funny, and the convention of making every noun Moominnoun wearies me. So while I can recognize the need for cuteness after horror, and for acceptance after exclusion, I'm still not a fan. I have two of the novels in the queue, so we'll see if those work better for me.
If not I suppose I will stick with the coloring book. Or go back to Calvin and Hobbes which I am appreciating more at the moment.

And with that I am caught up with reviewing my holiday reading. Now I'm behind on everyone else's reviews, which makes a nice change.

Library copy

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review 2019-10-05 22:40
Out of Salem - Hal Schrieve
Out of Salem - Hal Schrieve

I read this as part of Halloween Bingo, so the fact that this book could reasonably be applied to about half the squares is woth mentioning. This is the first book I've read which used the singular nongendered they/their as pronouns, which slowed me down a bit at the beginning. But it worked, and never felt gimmicky. Z. was a plausible fourteen year old zombie who's entire family died in an auto accident: only Z reanimated.

 

There's werewolves and high school bullying and good teachers and bad teachers and a growing movement in favor of shooting all the monsters. As a metaphor, it is terrifying. But it's also the story of school misfits becoming friends, and of teens solving a mystery, so there is significant fun as well as the terror.

 

I'm delighted it was recommended to me, and I can't wait to read Shrieve's subsequent books. As good as this debut was the next one should be astounding.

 

 

Library copy

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review 2019-09-20 00:05
The Black Opal - Victoria Holt
The Black Opal - Victoria Holt

The best I can figure is someone went through a random collection of scenes never used for other books because they weren't very good, shuffled them into a chronological order, and then typed it up with consistent names.

 

It's a mess, and none of the aspects rise above thoroughly mediocre: half-hearted Gothic, suspense, romance, travel, adventure, wish-fulfillment, etc. And a really surprising number of bastards or children who were legitimized by marriages between their mothers and people who were not their fathers.

 

Disappointingly, the Black Opal of the title is pure McGuffin, everyone ends up well off in a lovely home, the three possible love interests don't seem to interest the heroine much, and events are too random to even be coincidental. Of all the squares I considered using it for, it didn't really live up to any of them. I'm going with Gothic because it does have recognizable Gothic elements, even if they're not well-developed.

 

Nonetheless, it was an interesting read. It wasn't like the Victoria Holt books I read in the 70s, nor is it at all like contemporary romance or suspense. Although it lacked a real commitment to formula, it was very definitely written by someone who knew what would make an enjoyable read. Consider it a lesser work by a real pro. It certainly didn't put me off Holt: I have a couple more I'm considering.

 

 

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review 2019-04-12 21:13
The Last Orphan by N.W. Harris
The Last Orphans - N.W. Harris

Easy to read, highly addictive, and at times really disturbing. I read it as a horror novel but for others it will probably be an action packed young adult novel. 
The main character, Shane, loses his granny and has a huge fight with his father after the funeral. On his way to his granny's empty house, Shane notices some odd things - the weather is changing and the animals act strangely. A few hours later all the adults are dead and the kids have to find a way to survive in this new dangerous world. Shane and his schoolmates have to band together, make some really tough choices and later live with those. 
The main characters had depth. I liked how they had all those mixed feelings. It made everything more realistic. Also, they didn't always agree to each other, nevertheless these kids found ways to support each other and move on. And they weren't smug at all (look at the book cover), they were dirty, exhausted, numb, and lost. They had doubts but they didn't have the luxury to give up when over 60 kids depended on them.
This book was heartbreaking, gory, and as I wrote before very addictive. 
It is also free on amazon at the moment.

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