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text 2017-11-04 11:28
DNF after 13%
Shadow Worlds: A Space Fantasy Adventure... Shadow Worlds: A Space Fantasy Adventure (Shadow Corps Book 2) - Justin Sloan

Way too much teenage stuff.

 

Very immature magic teenager up to save the universe, has enough time to have a crush on the boy on the resistance force with her, be jealous because he is with some other girl, is totally immersed in how much more attractive the other warrior woman is when she is drawn into a special force unit to save the universe.

 

So bad.

 

I read an article in the Guardian about a book Tom Hanks wrote. It was a quite critical article with some reflection on why many male authors, directors, writers, journalists cannot portray women with any depth.

Unfortunately there is some truth in that.

Anyone who is in a dire situation, life and death all around, survival is the goal, and she is only concerned with "does he like me" and "she is way prettier than me"?

 

I am out of that.

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review 2017-10-22 22:59
The Dark Interest
The Dark Interest (The Dark Choir) (Volume 4) - J.P Sloan

I've been procrastinating on this review for months, to the point that I've even been avoiding BookLikes and Goodreads. No matter how it looks, I don't enjoy writing negative reviews, particularly of series that I previously enjoyed. I really wanted to like The Dark Interest. I've relished the rest of the series: I like the magic system that Sloan sets up, the affectionate familiarity with the city of Baltimore, and I even enjoy disliking jerkish antiheroic protagonist, Dorian. The series has routinely gone in directions I didn't experience, often leading to the tarnishing and darkening of Dorian's character. I've found it fun because it's so unexpected.

Sure, there were some rough elements, some moments that made me wince, particularly in the first book. But this book took it to a whole new level, and in ways that can't simply be dismissed as a jerkish protagonist's warped perspective. Fair warning: because some of my issues with the book are major aspects of the plot, there may be spoilers from here on out.

In recent years, Baltimore has been central in a nationwide struggle over race, police brutality, and equal justice. In 2015, following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody (and Tyrone West in 2013), the city erupted into mass protests that led to a declaration of emergency, enforced curfew, deployment of the National Guard, dozens of fires, and hundreds of arrests. For years afterwards, national news was riddled with stories of mass demonstration, civil unrest, and arrests of protesters. Despite it all, all six police officers associated with the tragedy were acquitted or had charges dropped against them. More recently, Baltimore police have been arrested for racketeering and caught on the bodycams they thought were turned off planting evidence to incriminate suspects. Long story short, like many cities in the US, a conversation on equal justice is an inescapable part of the reality of the city. 

In The Dark Interest, Sloan brings up that conversation, but in the most tonedeaf way imaginable. A riot erupts when the story starts, and Dorian being Dorian, his major concern is whether his restaurant will be destroyed or whether the riots will generate "a vibrant dinner rush." . Much of the subsequent plot involves the Baltimore riots, without ever quite saying as much. More specifically, he appropriates them as a plot point and attributes the anger to supernatural forces:

"Even though all of this was very real, this uprising wasn't a natural process. Long in coming though it may have been, this violence was engineered. Angry, ancient forces were pushing this city over a tipping point it might not pull back from."
"That's what this Summer of Blood is all about. Don't you see it? They're cranking up the heat."

I'm generally uncomfortable with this sort of twisting and belittling of history, but when the wounds are still so raw and the struggle is still ongoing? There are tragedies it is utterly unacceptable to appropriate, conflicts that it is repugnant to twist and debase and minimize and devalue. America's current conversation about race and justice is one of them.

The problems with this book don't stop there. Much of the story involves the "Jokomo Gang," a Black gang from New Orleans "displaced by Hurricane Katrina" . The members are described as "into drugs and guns" . Their brand of magic is described by Dorian as follows:

"It's not African voudou. It's Louisiana flavor, which blends lots of horrible shit from the Catholic Church, Santeria, and basically anything else the Dark Choir decided to toss into that gumbo pot."

The practitioners are termed

"Reckless dabblers. They stir up primal beings that rage unrestrained and unstewarded into our world."

The leader, Lasalle, is called a "wannabe crime lord" "a hoodlum" "an outright criminal" , and the "lead thug" . Lasalle is portrayed as a slow-witted, surly, angry, immature Black man who Dorian actually castigates a "acting like a child." Just in case you're in any doubt about the dog whistles going on here, Dorian later casually accuses the gang of "Get[ting] their free ride in Baltimore." 

When the gang confronts Dorian, questioning him about his recent actions, the "good cop" protagonist appears to "save" Dorian by harassing and belittling them without apparent cause, going so far as to refer to them as "boys": "You boys raising a ruckus out here?" If you don't understand why referring to African-American men as "boys" is toothclenchingly offensive, I'm happy to point you to some references. But in the book, this is portrayed as a heroic rescue against a gang of "your basic street thug[s]" . At another point, Dorian ends up in a police station and assumes that everyone else behind bars-- all African-American-- are "probably wondering what a man like me was up to in a police station." (emphasis mine).

Things began less than optimally when Dorian stops a kid--poor and African-American, naturally-- from committing a theft, and they have a conversation in the author's attempt at dialect. It went downhill from there. I was mystified when Dorian jumped to the conclusion that the kid from the intro was running with the Jokomos-- the only thing I can imagine is he assumes all Black kids are muggers and gang members and all of "them" stick together. There is absolutely no other reason to think that. And of course, naturally, a Black kid is the mugger. Of course, there were other things that pissed me off about the book. Dorian has always been a jerk, and his level of jerkhood in this book is over the top. He decides he deserves to run the city because he can trust no one else. He has no principles other than self-preservation. He decides that he "had to betray Choi" to save himself. Why not just take consequences for his own actions rather than destroying someone else's life? At the very least, he shouldn't pretend he was forced into that choice-- he could have chosen to accept responsibility.

(spoiler show)


I wanted to like this book. I really did. And actually, even though it infuriated me, I found it interesting to explore the perspective of a character so imbued with white privilege that his only thought during a mass protest against police brutality is whether he'll get a dinner rush. But what I have real trouble with is the unexamined nature of much of the prejudice; the thoughtless, caustic nature of the white privilege that imbues it. 

Maybe if you understand what this book is going in, you can get past all this, but I couldn't. That doesn't mean I won't give the next book a try; I'm constantly fascinated by how far down Dorian can be dragged, and the ending is a zinger.

Okay, that's all from me. At least now you know why I've been procrastinating and avoiding Goodreads for these last few months.

~~I received this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, Curiosity Quills Press, in exchange for my (depressingly) honest review. Quotes were taken from an advanced reader copy and while they may not reflect the final phrasing, I believe they speak to the spirit of the novel as a whole.~~ 

Cross-posted on Goodreads.

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text 2017-10-12 23:47
Sourdough
Sourdough: A Novel - Robin Sloan

I don't know what happened. I enjoyed the first 100 pages I read, but I now have zero interest in reading any more. I might give it another try at another time. The story just didn't grab me the way Mr Penumbra's did.

 

I did like the little nod to Mr. Penumbra's, but it made me question the timeline in the novel (I'm pretty sure from Lois's age and the DS mention it has to occur in 2017... but I could be wrong).

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review 2017-10-04 23:46
Sourdough: A Novel - Robin Sloan

This was a really good read. Yes, it was somewhat cheesy, but cheese goes good with bread. Ha!

A story of a woman, Lois, whose life makes a big change when she moves from Michigan to San Francisco to work at a tech company coding programs for robots. The new company sounds like a Google workplace with free food and beds which keep the employees there way after hours.

Lois has no friends other than those few at work and spends most of her time at the company. She finds a menu for a new restaurant, a whole in the wall, and starts ordering from them. It ends up that she orders from them so much that the brother who own it call her "Number one Eater".

Then the brothers Visa expires and they give Lois a going away present. Their starter for the Sourdough bread that they made.

This makes a big change in Lois' life and all for the better. A little sappy towards the end - yes, this is the cheesy part - but a very enjoyable read.

And yes, I looked it up, there is a "Lois Club". I didn't find any Debbie clubs, however. Ha!

Thanks to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.

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review 2017-09-30 03:04
A book as tasty as the name suggests
Sourdough: A Novel - Robin Sloan

Two years ago, I read Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, loved it, and spent 5 months trying to figure out how to talk about it. Last year, I listened to the audiobook, loved it, and spent 6 months trying to figure out how to write about it. I failed both times -- and I'm not sure that I figured out how to talk about this book, but at least I got something posted. Short version: if you see a book by Robin Sloan somewhere, read it.
---

There's a version of this where all I do is talk about how this is similar to/different from Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore -- but I don't want to do that. Let me just say up front that if you liked Mr. Penumbra's, you'll dig this. If you didn't like it, you will dig this -- and you probably were having a bad day or weren't paying attention when you read Mr. Penumbra's (or you were created by the Tyrell Corporation). So let me sum up: you will dig this book.

 

This is the story of Lois Clary, a computer programmer working on ways to help robots redefine the concept of work for the future. It sounds like a dreadful place to work -- intellectually rewarding, maybe; challenging, yes; but between the hours, the pay and the culture? No thanks. The work is demanding enough that they don't have time to eat/prepare food, many using Slurry, "a liquid meal replacement," for several meals each week.

Slurry was a nutritive gel manufactured by an eponymous company even newer than [the company Lois works for]. Dispensed in waxy green Tetra Packs, it had the consistency of a thick milkshake. It was nutritionally complete and rich with probiotics. It was fully dystopian.


Into her overworked and nutritive gel-sustained existence comes a menu for a small cafe that delivers. Their specialty is a spicy soup and a spicy sandwich. The sandwich is made on sourdough bread, and you get an extra slab with the spicy soup. This sourdough is a special thing (you may have guessed that based on the title). This becomes her new favorite food, and what she eats when she's not consuming the gel.

 

She develops a semi-relationship with the brothers behind the soup/sandwich, and when they have to leave the country, they give her a part of their sourdoughs starter and a lesson on bread preparation (Lois doesn't cook, and doesn't come from a family that did). The starter has specific instructions that reminded me of what's given when someone buys a mogwai -- and just as important. Before she knows it, Lois is baking for herself, to give to others, and even to sell. She's building a brick oven and really branching out socially (and keeping up with her work, too) -- in this, Lois starts to enjoy life and work. I'm pretty sure this is the first time since school (if not ever) that this is true for her.

 

As she gets more involved with bread making, Lois makes friends, she travels a bit, meets new people -- discovering three strange little subcultures along the. She also carries out an email correspondence with one of the brothers as he pursues his dream. That's all I'm going to say about the plot -- there is more to it than I said, but not much.

There's something like magical realism at work throughout this, but I wouldn't call it that. Mostly because, it's weird science, not magic. But it's probably not real science, just science the way we'd like it to work. Not so much so that this is Fantasy or Science Fiction, just... I don't know what to call it. Whimsical science?

 

It's the way that Sloan tells the story that makes it worth it -- there's a spark to his writing that makes you want to read it. Lois' world is our world, only better (and maybe a little worse), filled with interesting people doing interesting things. There's a humanity in the narration, in the action that I can't get enough of (ditto for his other work). There's a humor throughout, but it's not a funny book. But man, it'll make you happy just to read it. I loved being in this world -- it almost didn't matter what happened to Lois and her starter (not that I didn't enjoy it), just reading Robin Sloan's prose is good enough for me. I've got a list of 10 quotations I wanted to use here that I couldn't come up with a way to force into this post, and I think I could've easily let the size of that list double.

 

A book that will make you think, that may inspire, that will make you smile -- that will make you want carbs (no joke -- it required Herculean effort on my part each time I read a chapter or two not to call my son to tell him to bring home a fresh loaf from the bakery he works at), Sourdough is a gem.

2017 Library Love Challenge

Source: irresponsiblereader.com/2017/09/29/sourdough-by-robin-sloan
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