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review 2017-05-29 21:15
Upside Down
Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling - John Hornor Jacobs,Maurice Broaddus,Rati Mehrotra,Nisi Shawl,Valya Dudycz Lupescu,Elsa Sjunneson-Henry,Michelle Muenzler,Michael R. Underwood,Jaym Gates,Monica Valentinelli

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

3.5/4 stars; I liked quite a few of these short stories, none of them made me roll my eyes, and to be fair, the essays at the end of the book were also quite interesting.

My favourites:

* “Single, Singularity”: While it doesn’t really invert the trope it’s based on, I’m a sucker for AI stories, and this one was both thrilling, and chilling in its ending.

* “Seeking Truth”: The ‘blind psychic’ trope, subverted in that here, the blind person is extremely skilled at reading other people, no need for special powers for that.

* “Can You Tell Me How to Get to Paprika Place?”: A mix of Sesame Stree-like TV shows and jaded ex-super soldiers trying to go home. Very nostalgic, perhaps a wee bit long, but a good read nonetheless.

* “Chosen”: A comic twist on ‘the Chosen’, with jabs at tropes like the gun-toting weapons maniac, the Buffy-like teenager fighting demons, and pedantic occultist scholar. This one was really fun.

* “The White Dragon”: A different take on the ‘yellow peril’, in a 1920s San Francisco (also, I liked revisiting that city in such a light, now that I’ve finally been able to actually travel there).

* “Her Curse, How Gently It Comes Undone”: The Witch and the Damsel In Distress, poised against each other, each with their wiles and strengths, and with the story playing on the trope of men rescuing the Damsel... only they’re not the right people to do the job.

* “Burning Bright”: I really liked the main character here, just the right mix of slightly hinged and yet fairly grounded at the same time.

* “Santa CIS (Episode 1: No Saint)”: This story plays well on both the Santa Claus/Christmas and ‘old soldier goes back to war’ tropes.

* “The First Blood of Poppy Dupree”: At first I thought this would be about werewolves, and it turned out it was something else, which I liked.

* “Until There is Only Hunger”: A strong story, with a definite end-of-the-world feeling, dwindling hope mixed with growing despair, and characters trying to find whatever comfort they can, although this rings more and more hollow. Bonus point for characters not being typical cis/hetero/white.

* “Drafty as a Chain Mail Bikini”: I suspected where this one was going, but I liked it, and it made me laugh.

* “The Tangled Web”: Love at first sight and romance woes... but not among humans, which lent a different dimension to this story.

The essays: definitely read those. They deal with the Hero’s Journey, its limitations, the Heroine’s Journey, its limitations as well, and push further, when it comes to trans and gay/lesbian heroes, which is really needed. Because let’s be honest: it’s already difficult to find a good story where a woman is not reduced to accomplishment = family/motherhood/taking care of others, but it’s even worse when you’re non-binary.

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review 2016-08-25 17:24
Salman Rushdie, The Moor's Last Sigh
The Moor's Last Sigh - Salman Rushdie

Somehow, sometime, I became allergic to the term "family saga" and avoided books labeled as such. I don't know why. The term brings to mind farmhouses and domesticity, kids and family secrets, struggles that are often first world problems I couldn't care less about. But, like stories about Manhattanites and the French Revolution, it's simply a strange prejudice I've come to embrace because SO MANY BOOKS. A girl has to find a way to not feel the need to read All the Things, right? Especially a slow reader like this girl. Yet inevitably such black-balling will make me miss out on some great stuff.

 

The Moor's Last Sigh is explicitly described in its synopsis as a family saga, and boy does it earn the saga aspect. Instead of summarizing the plot myself (a daunting task), here's an excerpt from the back of the book itself:

 

Booker Prize-winning author Salman Rushdie combines a ferociously witty family saga with a surreally imagined and sometimes blasphemous chronicle of modern India and flavors the mixture with peppery soliloquies on art, ethnicity, religious fanaticism, and the terrifying power of love. Moraes "Moor" Zogoiby, the last surviving scion of a dynasty of Cochinese spice merchants and crime lords, is also a compulsive storyteller and an exile. As he travels a route that takes him from India to Spain, he leaves behind a tale of mad passions and volcanic family hatreds, of titanic matriarchs and their mesmerized offspring, of premature deaths and curses that strike beyond the grave.

 

The "titanic matriarchs" were my favorite part of the story: Moor's mother, Aurora, her mother, Belle, and her mother, Epifania are all forces to be reckoned with. In addition to these often outsize examples, there are musings on motherhood itself in the context of India, its prominence in popular culture and national pride. There are many musings in this book on everything you might think of: family, class, race, religion, art, storytelling, history, and more. This sounds like it could be boring, but Rushdie avoids that handily via the entertaining voice of Moor, the narrator, and the sheer power and acrobatics of his prose.

 

When I first began reading the book, I was reminded of Lawrence Sterne's Tristram Shandy, an early novel where the narrator begins with his forebears...and never even reaches his birth. Both books are also suffused with comedy, though Shandy is more of a farce. Moor begins narrating his story in the present, in exile, and shifts to his great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, and his own early life, occasionally returning to the present to remind us of his circumstances before we get there near the end of the story. There are moments when Moor doubts what he's been told of his family, but he never closes the book on an interpretation. Through Moor's telling of his family story and origins, a story of India also emerges. As an American, most of it was new to me.

 

All the characters in the book are fascinating and distinct, and the storytelling and language engages as well. And that's without the magical realism that makes the story feel even more epic and a bit whimsical. It's another element of the narrative that brings to attention the act of storytelling. Though you can feel the magical realism throughout, when it's revealed that Moor ages physically twice as fast as a normal person, it kicks into high gear. It leads to all sorts of complications for Moor, some uncomfortable to read, but most of all, along with a withered hand, makes him desperate for love. It doesn't take long for that desperation to lead to his (almost) ruin.

 

The Moor's Last Sigh is an amazing journey and my first Rushdie. I'll happily read more.

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review 2016-06-14 16:06
A love letter to the literary giants of science fiction
Arkwright - Allen Steele

I had high hopes for Arkwright by Allen Steele because the premise sounded so promising. A sci-fi book about a sci-fi author (touted as being a contemporary of Isaac Asimov) that bankrolled a gargantuan scientific project that could only be cooked up by a sci-fi enthusiast? Yes, please! The basic outline of this book is that through multiple generations of one family, the Arkwright clan, an interstellar space craft would be created and launched into the vast reaches of space in the hopes of colonizing a distant planet for future human inhabitation. Each section of the book focused on a different descendant of the original creator, Nathan Arkwright. The major problem for me was that I didn't especially like any of these characters. It isn't a necessity to like the characters you read about of course but it helps if you feel invested in them because otherwise their actions make no difference to you one way or the other...which is what happened to me. Halfway through, I almost gave this book up as a lost cause but I decided to soldier through in the hopes that the ending would knock my socks off. It did and it didn't. You can probably guess what the last chapter of a book about interstellar travel will contain but if you're looking for a huge crescendo then you're going to be disappointed. When I was contemplating giving this one up I looked up other reviews and someone mentioned how it would have been better if the ending had been expanded further. I agree. By focusing on the management of the company, the fiscal pitfalls, the construction of the ship, and the foibles of each of the family members Steele missed an opportunity to really knock it out of the park. If you're a huge sci-fi nerd (as I am) then you most likely won't fall in love with this book but if you're new to the genre or a fan of the generation ship trope then maybe this one will be a win for you. 4/10 for a great concept that didn't really deliver.

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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url 2016-06-04 23:33
In Defence of Cliches - Writer Unboxed

Photo by Flickr user Tom Newby

 

 

Fifteen minutes of perusing the worldwide internet will give you a melting pot of advice about clichés, all of which boils down to one simple statement: Clichés are bad...

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2015-10-05 01:35
Some "kinky fuckery" here, mixed with some crappy writing and an irresponsible omission.
A Marriage of Inconvenience (The Attic Series) (Volume 1) - Elise Hepner

So a friend of mine on facebook (who shall remain nameless, mostly because I haven't told her yet that she owes me $2.95 for the cost of this book) shared a truly excellent book ad the other day.  There was a beautiful shot of a man's arm in a french-cuffed white shirt, a heroine named Izobel, and a quote that was straight out of "Alpha/Dom speeches 101".  It had me.  And when my friend said she'd had a look at the sample and it was promising, that was all it took for me.  CLICK. 

 

And two hours later?  I'm done the book, I'm annoyed, borderline offended, and thinking that was $2.95 and two hours of my life I'll never get back. 

 

This should have been good.  Elise Hepner has taken two of my favourite tropes (marriage of convenience and best friends boinking) and mashed them up with a measure of kink thrown in for good measure.  Pretty standard for a contemporary romance these days, and I was looking forward to reading what this author's take on these standards would be.             

 

What I got was a disjointed, choppy, cheat of a story, with two-dimensional characters and flat dialogue.  The entire premise of the book was based on a need for the marriage in the first place, and 3/4 of the way through the book the premise is erased - just like that - and never mentioned again.  Not only that, but an icky, almost offensive connection between BDSM and the hero witnessing his mother's murder that had me thinking someone needed to take Bash to a psychologist, and quick.

 

Izzy and Bash have been friends forever (except for that time between middle school and high school that they weren't, and really who cares, but the author thought we should so she stuck in a weird flashback to start her story) and apparently Izzy is in love with Bash.  Don't know why really, even with all the telling the author does.  I never got the connection between them, never saw the foundation for what was to come. 

 

Somehow we are able to determine that Izzy's mom has cancer, is quite ill, and is in hospital having chemo.  Also somehow, through the garbled conversations and inner-voice meanderings of these two, we are told that Bash and Izzy have decided somehow to get married to make her happy before she dies. They share a couple of heated kisses at the hospital and somehow there is a wedding ceremony.

 

The wedding night doesn't happen, as Bash takes off from the romantic, rose-petal-strewn hotel suite and goes to some Dom/Sub club called The Attic where Izzy catches up with him in a "scene".  Then the book got weird.  For me, anyway.

 

There are flashbacks to Bash's mom's death - at the hands of a boyfriend who beat her for his own pleasure - which has somehow molded Bash's sexual proclivities.  This was where things got creepy for me.  I don't mind a little bit of BDSM in my books;  I've read that stupid 50 Shades, and virtually every contemporary you pick up nowadays has a hero who likes a bit of rough play.  What I DON'T like is when the hero is described as having a "not-so-secret love of BDSM", but his behaviour as portrayed by the author is closer to that of a sadist.  He considers himself a monster, and tells Izzy so. 

 

It just got worse for me after that.  Their first sexual encounter is rough, and Bash spanks the shit out of her.  For a first-timer, I found it a teeensy bit hard to believe that all it took for her was a bottle of champagne and a couple of hours surfing bondage porn on the internet to discover that she was really a sub and wanted to be bruised during sex.

 

And when he takes her to the club where they ARE the scene?  That was where the author lost me.  He puts her head in a STOCK for crissakes, flogs her, puts on nipple clamps and yanks on the chains, has some big-time anal involving a dildo (after never even having TALKED about that type of sex), drips hot wax all over her and jerks off onto her back. That's pretty serious for only her second time having that type of sex.  And also?  No mention of a safe word.  At any time.

 

Now, I'm not much of a serious student of BDSM but I've learned a couple of things since "the book that shall remain nameless" came out:

 

1)            BDSM seems to be all about the sub's pleasure.  The dom gets pleasure from giving pleasure to the sub, the sub relinquishes all control to the dom. Of course, that's pretty simplistic as I believe there is a lot of stuff about control, blurring the line between pain and pleasure, anticipation and most of all TRUST involved in that type of thing.  None of that was done here.  Bash seemed to have a need to cause pain (for some unclear, creepy, psychologically-fucked-up reason) and Izzy seemed to think that she would endure whatever she needed to because she loved him (and OH! she discovers that she likes it.)

 

2)            YOU NEED TO HAVE A SAFE WORD.  If I've got my head and wrists in a fucking stock, you've put clamps on my nipples and decide to splash melted wax on me, you better fucking believe there should be a word for me to scream at you to let you know I've had enough.  I would have thought this was basic, and I'm surprised that an author of erotica would overlook this.  It's irresponsible, IMHO.

 

There were other problems I had with the book as well - in addition to the bait-and-switch with her mother's illness (aw shucks! They switched the biopsies! I'm really fine and not dying and probably didn't need all the chemo I just had!)  Bash is referred to as a workoholic by Izzy. Um, doing what? Don't think he went in to work during the entire span of the book. He drives an expensive car, and dresses well, but doesn't every contemp romance dude? And what does she do? Details, that's what was missing.  Substance, depth,  character, emotions.  Wasn't feeling it.

 

As a matter of fact, I wasn't feeling anything by the end other than somewhat annoyed.  And wondering if I actually did practice BDSM, how PO'd I would be at the portrayal of my "likes" in the bedroom being linked in a novel to a boy watching his mother being beaten to death by a sadist because it pleased him.  I also wondered if Jenny Trout has read this - and what she would have to say if she did.

 

Can't recommend this one.  I didn't buy the romance, I didn't buy the characters, and I sure a s*** didn't buy the dom/sub aspect (although what I will say is that those scenes contained the best writing in the novel). And where was the frigging SAFE WORD????

 

1 1/2 stars, rounded up.

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