Nightlife, NYC-Set Urban Fantasy

nightlife-webThis was my second read-through of this novel, done so for the purpose of refreshing my memory on the series in order to start reading the newer books in the series that I never got to. Because now there are 9, and I have only read 4 (and a half) of them, I have a ways to go.
I read this first in high school and fell indelibly in love with the characters and the story, so I restarted this book with a very high opinion of it. Upon reexamination, I find that there are places where the prose gets a bit… unwieldy? What I mean is that sometimes Thurman’s sentence structures don’t flow quite right, and get too long, or seem to be missing a connecting word that might make them easier to understand. Especially in the first third of the book, there were multiple times where I had to stop and reread a sentence at least once or twice in order to actually determine what was meant, or the tone. This didn’t really diminish the overall strength of the novel, though.

Cal Leandros is only half human, and the other half is the ugliest of ugly monsters. His mom is an alcoholic fortune-telling gypsy who’d do anything for money (hence: Cal), but his older brother is the only real saving grace of the group. Niko—blond, strong, and wickedly intelligent—is Cal’s savior, mentor, best friend, and companion, and the only reason this story doesn’t go belly-up.
Cal and Niko are on the run from what they’ve dubbed Grendels, the nasty monsters responsible for Cal’s non-human genetics. They’ve taken up residence in New York City, where non-human life is equally as common as anything else but goes unnoticed.

When shit hits the fan yet again, the two make plans to leave town and run, but leaving just isn’t in the cards. They meet a very, very old creature by the name of Robin Goodfellow, a nasty troll named Abbagor, and then shit <i>really</i> hits the fan, and Cal is possessed by a <i>real</i> monster, whose tag-team plans involve the Unmaking of the world.

Despite reading a bit like a “first novel” at times, the story is captivating and moving, although admittedly a bit slow-moving at the start, and Thurman does a good job of making the reader care about each of these characters and their fates. Furthermore, the entire duration of Cal’s possession is written phenomenally well, because the perspective swap is flawless, and as the struggle for ownership of Cal’s body begins to increase, the change in narrative/emotive display/etc. is so subtle and gradual that, unless you’re good, it’s very easy to miss.

The hiccups in sentence structure don’t detract significantly enough from the story to mark it down from a 4-5 star rating, personally. <i>Nightlife</i> is definitely worth reading if you’re a fan of urban fantasy lit, the interplay of brotherly relationships, and intense amounts of sass.

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Stephen King’s Carrie, an Exercise in Anger Management

8jejgfqA few months ago, I decided that, despite never having had any interest in Stephen King’s material, he was an author whose work I should at least be marginally familiar with. Because I had no idea where to start (after all, the man is prolific), I turned to Facebook and asked my friends for “essential” reads, or his “best” work. I was overwhelmingly suggested his Dark Tower series, but I wasn’t about to invest that much time or energy. Carrie it was.

When I told my mom that I was going to read it, she immediately expressed complete disinterest in not just the book or the movie(s), but the very story itself. My mom is an adventurous woman in a lot of respects, but there are certain kinds of media that she just has no interest in because of what it is. This book is one of those things. My mom and I have very different taste in media, though (and I already bought a copy of it), so I wasn’t going to give up before I started.

I will say that within five pages, I understood why she refused this story. I will say that by sixty pages in, I was already mad. And I am. It is a story of child abuse compounded by the emotional abuse of shitty peers, and it has made this girl spiteful, even hateful, and I cannot condemn her for it, because I understand it. Nonetheless, it makes my heart ache, and it makes a part of me absolutely fume.

This is, obviously, the point.

The story itself is cut through with journalistic exposition, some of it in the form of news stories, some in the form of ‘witness’ interviews, and some in scientific journalese. The idea is to circle this situation from a present, developing view, and a said-and-done looking-back from significantly outside the situation.

I read the bulk of this book on the plane returning to Boston from my brief vacation home, across the aisle from a preacher reading his Bible, which I found… amusingly ironic? Coincidental, really, but nonetheless. The truth is that I already knew the gist of the book’s climax because there’ve been two movies and knowing was inescapable, but even so I was just numb to it. I was numb to the entire rest of the book.

Frankly, I didn’t enjoy Carrie. I don’t know if I ever could have enjoyed Carrie. Even at my most vindictive when I was younger and the brutality of my own social trauma was fresher in my mind, I couldn’t have enjoyed any part of this. I’m still not convinced that the novel is designed to be “enjoyed” at all, but I’m left hoping nobody does. It is worth reading, I think, because it is innovative in its approach, and King’s prose here is interesting and fluid. It is worth reading because it thrusts upon you the result of a life of seemingly small abuses, even if it is in a science-fictiony kind of way. Even so, I have no idea how to quantify a rating for the title in the terms of stars. Three seems insufficient, but four or five imply something I’m not convinced I want to imply.

So here’s what I think:

  • I think that King’s method of storytelling is at once fluid and disruptive. I think that it is well-structured and intriguing, and I appreciated the way that he wove thoughts into the structure by interrupting sentences with parenthetical phrases all in lower-case.
  • I simultaneously think that the semi random, and increasingly common over time, inclusion of journalistic material, interviews, etc. is really disruptive and can make it moderately difficult to keep track of what’s actively going on. Furthermore, the perpetual flipping of perspective can make it difficult to keep track of characters if one comes in unprepared.
  • The book reads like King was expecting a movie deal out of it. He obviously got it, but what I mean is that, especially with the inclusion of all the exterior material—the article pieces, excerpts from books written by others, the Q/A’s from court proceedings, etc—placed as it is, and the perspective swapping, and the fact that the entire book remains relatively “surface” (that is to say, not at any point overly analytical or introspective in a way that would be impossible to capture on a screen), it reads like it’s prepped for transition into a screenplay. This isn’t necessarily a negative, but I’m not willing to call it a positive, either.

As it stands, I’m uncomfortable about this book and I can’t take up any really firm positions about it. I respect it, but I don’t know that I “like” it. Nevertheless, I will maintain that it was worth my time and effort, and I would recommend reading it.

Slaughterhouse-Five, A Gloriously Mundane Work of Art

umjxy8rThis is a book that I read because I determined it was my duty to have done so. Having now completed it, I am glad to have consumed it, although I’ll be perfectly honest with you: I still don’t know how to feel about it.

Vonnegut’s prose here is at once smooth and inelegant, cut up by so many “So it goes”es that one almost wants to scream after awhile. This is, of course, half of the point of the novel, in some fashion or another. It took completing the novel and digesting the final lines for me to come to fully appreciate the nature of this novel, and I am not embarrassed in the least about this. I don’t know what I was expecting, but what I got was not in the range of potentiality.

The brilliance of Slaughterhouse-Five is in its absolute mundanity purely because of its subject matter. It is the carpet-bombing of Dresden and the rendered insane man named Billy Pilgrim’s life in and around it. The beauty of its frustrations are in that its great details are in the bits that seem not to really matter, given the context.

Vonnegut shaves away at the focus of a scene until we are left with a very small detail, or conversation, or comment, and that in itself has equal chance of embodying a piece of the overarching trauma or being completely otherwise irrelevant. Vonnegut is a master of covering too-large topics by focusing down: you do not discuss the bombing; you instead illustrate the poor abused horses you rode back in on. You do not let on until the very end of the book that all of Billy Pilgrim’s hallucinations about time and space travel and the aliens who abducted him were taken directly out of novels written by somebody else—and this you only mention quietly in passing, as if it were unimportant. Because, of course, it is.

Perhaps my favorite moment of Slaughterhouse-Five is the closing of the novel, which is so utterly anti-climactic that it is, in itself, the most perfect ending that I think I have ever read: The schoolteacher is executed. The soldiers are held in a stable. The doors are open because the war is over. Billy Pilgrim wanders out into a completely silent street with trees leafing out, not a vehicle in sight, save for an abandoned wagon drawn by two horses. And a bird said to Billy Pilgrim, “Poo-tee-weet?”

My excitement about this is difficult to quantify, but it is as I’ve said before: it is the pinnacle of the universe’s indifference to humanity’s struggles and conflict on both grand and individual scales. It is the universe throwing up its middle finger and saying “I really don’t give a shit” about the end of a war, the cataclysmic events which have just happened to these people. It is the most beautiful, infuriating, perfect illustration of the way that life around us continues to carry on despite our own inability to do so.

Frankly, I am impressed by this novel. I still cannot determine whether I liked it or not, per se, but I definitely appreciate it. I appreciate the work that it does, the impact that it has had. I appreciate its layout and its very unapologetic plot and point. Mostly, I appreciate that it manages to do all of these things in such a truly mundane manner, which is all at once infuriating, hilarious, and moving. I appreciate that it covers trauma in this way because it speaks to my experience with trauma. If that means liking it, well, then I suppose I rather liked it a great deal.

[Un]Assigned Reading Material

For most high school students across the United States, 1984 by George Orwell is assigned reading at some point in some English class or another. However, in smaller sized schools in more rural areas of the nation, English curricula tends to fall a little behind the rest of the country. As a possessor of a literature degree, it upsets me significantly to have been subjected to such a sad excuse for an English curriculum, losing out on the discussions of the greats like The Great Gatsby or The Scarlet Letter (which I read by myself over Christmas break one year because I wanted to, actually). We read weird, unchallenging books like Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick and its sequel, every friggin’ S.E. Hinton book ever written—okay, so not really, but at the time it definitely felt like it—and, in a stunning case of delayed development, we read Lord of the Flies as seniors in high school.

That said, following the conclusion of my literature degree, I have decided that I cannot carry on being securely pretentious about my lit degree without having read a particular set of books considered Great American Classics. Or… maybe just books that are considered Required Reading to be an Informed Adult. Or… whatever. I don’t know. But I’m taking it upon myself to read books like 1984 and Sylvia Plath’s The Bell JarOne Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken KeseyAn Unbearable Lightness of Being, etc. Although some would argue that I’m only reading this stuff to insist that I’m pretentious, and they wouldn’t be 100% wrong, I am genuinely interested in the literature and feel like it will benefit my experience of humanity.

1984 Signet ClassicAs an adult in 2015 reading 1984 there are things about the novel that strike me a bit differently than they might have struck me as a teenager in 2010 (for example). The book opens and is, for lack of a better word, eerie, as well as bleak. The book belies imagery of a flat, gray wasteland functioning as the remnants of London, wherein the government, the Party, has taken over all aspects of life.

While the Thought Police are certainly a frightening vision in a world wherein dissent is the force which propels us–it’s no secret that conflict is the only thing which causes growth. Change is an inherently messy, chaotic, sometimes/often painful process, and it does not happen without a fight of some size or another–perhaps what is the most terrifying notion (for me) at the open of this novel is Newspeak.

Newspeak is the in-novel “progression”—or rather regression—of language from the broad expanse of everything down to a very finite set of words which would so limit one’s ability to think that “thought crime” would become an impossibility simply by nature. If the Party limits one’s vocabulary to words that they’ve deemed “safe” or, at the very least, inane, then nobody can think anything they have not already allowed.

The main source of conflict for the protagonist, Winston Smith, is that he is too smart to buy into the propaganda. He remembers a time when they were not allied with Eastasia against the enemy Eurasia, when suddenly overnight the alliances switched and the people were asked to accept that the truth was, and had always been, as it was this minute. Furthermore, he enters into a sexual relationship with another government worker, Julia, which is strictly forbidden, and ends up on this journey to learn the truth about Big Brother and the dissent group that has been secretly undermining the Party for years, the Brotherhood.

As the novel progresses along, readers are left floundering for a notable change, for this ripple in the surface of the water to turn into some kind of tsunami-strength wave which will cause mass chaos and change, but that frustration mounts when that change never comes. Not only does it not come, but it is tossed on its head and the very motions of dissent are motions ensuring the continuation of the norm.

Winston is tortured until he is so thoroughly broken that he not only accepts what they tell him as truth, but decries Julia, begs for his torture to happen to her, and has no inner voice of dissent. It is gone. The Party wins. In the end, that is the most infuriating part of all: The Party wins.

Moreover, the book leaves readers feeling ultimately stranded and dissatisfied, as well as vaguely fearful of a thing they cannot name. Perhaps that was just me; I’m not sure. Nonetheless, the concept of being perpetually watched and tracked is one that isn’t difficult to imagine:

Smart phones are equipped with GPS tracking—and you are tracked even if you turn off your GPS because that’s what cell signal does—and there are cameras of every nature everywhere. You are requested to sign into places, you willingly check into locations on social media. We take pictures of ourselves and our friends and our surroundings and we continue to adopt all of these conveniences that further and further invade our privacies because they are, after all, ultimately convenient. Our devices know all of our passwords, have readings of our fingerprints, our secrets and schedules and networks. And not only have we allowed it, but we have welcomed it. These are not the only things.

The point is that 1984 seems scary because it is scary. It’s what the world can become if we allow it to do so. There are a lot of factors that play into these processions of fate, and they are arguable and fightable, and we are not there yet. Nor, I think, are we necessarily actually heading to the bleak wasteland depicted in 1984, although we are, in some manners, already living it.

It’s been months now, since I finished reading 1984, and my memory has grown foggy*, but I can tell you now that it has stuck with me and had an effect upon my perception of politics and reality. If you have not read it, do so. If you are not sure you are understanding it, use a reading guide available online to help you pick up subtext and implications. They are vast, and they are uncomfortable.

 

*I had forgotten that I was writing a review of this novel. Upon its completion, I decided I wasn’t going to do so because everybody and their mother has read this book and everything that could possibly be said about it already had been said. But nonetheless, we are here, and the draft was open.

Vision in Silver (The Others, book 3): Anne Bishop

Vision in Silver is, as the title mentions, the third and most recent book in Anne Bishop’s series The Others. Books 1 and 2 are reviewed here and here respectively, for anybody who would like a refresher or needs to be brought up to speed.

When we began this journey, we joined Meg and her new arrival into the Lakeside Courtyard, where the terra indigene hire her as their new Human Liaison for their post office. Suddenly, everything begins to change, including the way that the Others view humans and the way that they all interact. But Meg’s Controllers from the compound where she’d been held, designated by a number, were searching for her, and getting altogether too close for comfort.

Thanks to the Courtyard’s unprecedented attachment to Meg, the threat is neutralized and the world begins to change. The Humans First and Last movement, often shortened to HFL, has come over from Cel-Romano and begun to take hold of Thaisia, and they are beginning to create havoc. Drugs called Gone Over Wolf and Feel Good are being manufactured from the blood of the Cassandra Sangue, girls like Meg who see prophesy when they cut their precious skin. These drugs are being used as weapons not only against the terra indigene–but also against each other.

Vision in Silver comes in with the wild expansion of the HFL across Thaisia, with nebulous threats of upcoming food shortages that make no sense under the conditions. There is a group of other Cassandra Sangue the terra indigene are trying to help, but most of them self destruct, except for a few. One draws instead of making cuts because the Controllers aren’t there to bind her fingers–and her drawings are eerily expressive–and she eventually calls herself Hope. Lieutenant Montgomery’s daughter suddenly arrives on a train by herself with a stuffed bear in tow, but no mother–and now there are people coming in search of the secrets she brought along. HFL attacks the terra indigene at the marketplace where the Human pack took the Crows for a field trip–and the Elders (those terra indigene much older than any others, those who inhabit the wild country and are unseen and unknown to the humans in Thaisia) have declared a breach of trust: the Lakeside Courtyard has a brief amount of time to determine what of humanity may stay, but the rest will be eliminated.

Throughout Vision in Silver, the same kinds of philosophical questions posed in Murder of Crows appear: Are you more sympathetic toward the humans or the terra indigene? What does it mean to support one over the other? But more than that, and this is the key point seen in this novel particularly: Who do we trust when we sabotage our own people? Where do you turn when the people who are supposed to be on your side have chosen some other side that is both against the supposed danger-force (terra indigene, in this case) but also against any human who isn’t against the Earth natives? To the forces that distrust you and your kind, consider you “clever meat”, disposable, threatening? What if that’s your only option?

What if, at the end of the day, the most dangerous force in your life is actually your neighbor, and not nature?

Simon Wolfgard is working very hard to preserve some of humanity because Meg’s presence in the Courtyard has changed everything: it allowed interaction with the Lakeside human police force, it precipitated the creation of a human pack inside the Courtyard where before there had been none. By the end of the novel, the question on humanity has turned into something a little different. How much ‘human’ will the terra indigene be able to absorb while still maintaining their core selves? And, furthermore, if they allow themselves to absorb more of humanity, will they change the kind of terra indigene that they are now?

Vision in Silver moved very slowly until about 75% of the way through, and then all of a sudden everything happened all at once. Up until I reached that point, I was a little disappointed in it, even though I could tell it was leading up to something particularly virulent (and I was right); I just wanted more. I’m moved to say that I was a little bit less impressed by this book than by the previous two, but I enjoyed it thoroughly anyway. I’m very excited to see where book 4 takes us, and I eagerly await the culmination of Simon’s and Meg’s tiptoeing around letting each other know they care more than just casually. That isn’t a spoiler; it’s been obviously coming since they met. It doesn’t fall into a will-they-won’t-they pitfall, though, if only because it’s subtle and there are much bigger things going on in the world than their relationship. For both Meg and Simon, life is complicated and difficult and there isn’t enough time.

I really want to know what the Elders are going to do now, and I really can’t wait for this son of a bitch Nicholas Scratch to get his comeuppance. Seriously, though.

So that’s what I’ve got. I gave it a solid 4 stars on Goodreads just because of the disappointment mentioned above, but I’d have given it 4.5 if it were an option. Because it probably wasn’t worth a full star. C’est la vie.

Until next time!

–Emily

Changeless (The Parasol Protectorate #2): Gail Carriger

Alexia Tarabotti is back! Now married to Conall Maccon, Alpha of the Woolsey pack, and promoted to Muh Jah on the Shadow Council for the Queen of England, life is busier than ever. All of the military regiments overseas have returned to England–and there’s at least one setting up camp on her front lawn–and there’s a rather peculiar force turning all members of the supernatural set human, at least in a particular area. When that space begins to move northward toward Scotland, following her husband, Alexia decides to follow him via dirigible. Forced into travelling with escorts, Alexia is joined by her French maid Angelique, her husband’s claviger Tunstell (who is entirely in love with her friend Ivy Hisselpenny), her antagonistic half-sister Felicity–who is particularly angsty as the youngest sister is in the throes of planning her marriage, and–not to be outdone–her close friend Ivy Hisselpenny, who is newly engaged to one Captain Featherstonehaugh (but kind of irrevocably in love with Tunstell).

Before she leaves, however, she meets one particularly interesting French woman by the name of Madame Lefoux, who daylights as a hatmaker, but is a brilliant inventor behind closed doors, and was commissioned by Conall to make her one helluva parasol… that does everything but function as a parasol.

What’s most interesting about Madame Lefoux is that she dresses in men’s clothing, tailored to fit and accentuate her female body. She wears pants and waistcoats and cravats and the whole bit. It’s glorious, if a bit scandalous. There are also some indications that she may be bisexual, as there is an interesting sexual/romantic tension between her and Alexia, and this all makes a very interesting commentary on sexuality and power in [modified] Victorian society.

On the dirigible, it becomes apparent that somebody is trying rather hard to rid England of Alexia, first by poisoning her food (which unfortunately affects Tunstell instead) and then by pushing her off the edge of the deck and apparently wrestling with Madame Lefoux. Alexia saves herself on the side of the beast, however, and makes it back to safety no worse for wear.

Once in Scotland, the group meets up with her husband and travels to Kingair Castle, where they are met with a surly, unattractive woman who is introduced as Conall’s great-great-granddaughter. Alexia doesn’t take too kindly to the sudden realization that her husband had been married once before and never told her. Frankly, I can’t blame her.

While in Kingair, at least as many issues arise as are solved. The source of the humanizing agent turns out to be a mummy brought back from Egypt. The individual ransacking Alexia’s room and trying to kill her is her French maid, who had at some point in her past–surprise!–been romantically involved with Madame Lefoux.

But the real kicker to this book is the ending. And I’m telling you, I got so mad I fumed. I almost threw my book, and I don’t throw books.
Alexia is pregnant. Surprise of the ages, since, theoretically, supernaturals are incapable of producing offspring. But despite the fact that Alexia couldn’t possibly have slept with anyone else and certainly wouldn’t lie about it, her bloody husband flips out and starts swearing at her in front of everybody until she and Madame Lefoux leave for London.

Now. Believe me. I understand that it looks bad. And Conall is emotional (at best). But this was simply uncalled for. He married a preternatural, which had never been done before, so I don’t know why he couldn’t believe that the union would be capable of producing something no one ever had before: a baby.

Before I muck this up be including stuff from book 3, which I’ve already finished, I’m going to stop and leave you. This was supposed to have posted well over a month ago, and I’m dreadfully sorry that I never caught it. Because that means this isn’t everything it could have been and I suck. Sad face.

But, such as it is, it could be worse. So I’ll leave you here and return to you as swiftly as possible.

Adeu, my dears. Until next time.

Lysistrata: Aristophanes

Although the play itself is interesting and has literary merit–it’s an ancient Greek drama, for Christ’s sake–I have to admit that I wasn’t the biggest fan of the “modern translation”. If I’m going to read Greek drama, I want the language. I want all of the experience, and I don’t want to see Spartans portrayed as Duck Dynasty caricatures. But it’s impossible to deny: the satire is strong in this one.

Lysistrata has had enough of the interminable war and come to the conclusion that the only way to end it is to take control of the treasury and, furthermore, to deny all sexual gratification until a truce has been called. And she means so much business that she gets the Spartan women involved, too.

Women were, at this time, considered intrinsically sexual beings, insatiable in their desires and therefore requiring male control. For an audience in that time period–mainly male, with the few females consisting of bourgeoisie whose sole job was to be bourgeoisie–the idea of women controlling the treasury and commanding control of the society to end the war would be highly ridiculous and hilarious.

Maxi’s Place: Volume One by “Literary Stud”

I won this book via Goodreads Giveaway.

Although I would like to tell you that the author doesn’t genuinely go by “Literary Stud“, I would unfortunately be lying.

The book is 124 pages long–which hardly even counts as a novella, if you ask me–and is split into three “Episodes”–her words, not mine: Rumors Ring True, It’s Complicated, and The Lies We Tell. (And yes. You read correctly. HER. Literary “Stud” is a woman.) But as far as I can tell, there was seriously no point in splitting the book into three ‘sections’ when the plot can very obviously speak for itself, and it certainly isn’t long enough to demand headings. 

Furthermore, I would like to heartily shame the “team of editors” on her acknowledgments page. Although I’m absolutely positive I don’t want to know what this looked like before they got their hands on it, I certainly can’t praise them for letting it leave their hands in the state that it’s in.

I couldn’t even finish reading the book because of how absolutely dreadful it was. I made it halfway through “Episode 2” before I finally just gave up and abandoned ship–something I have never done before. To be blunt, I wish that there was a negative stars rating option so that I could fully encompass to you all just how bad this book really is. As it stands, I am forced by the Goodreads system to give it 1 star, even though I swear to you it doesn’t deserve it.

In short: this is literally the worst book I have ever forced myself to read in my life, and my gratitude that it’s only 124 pages is tangible. I mourn the life of the tree that was sacrificed for this piece of garbage.

From the start of the “novel”, the sentences are absurdly short and stilted; the paragraphs have no flow to speak of, and the dialogue is at least as stilted–if not more so. The prose is so genuinely staccato that it’s straight up hard to read. When sentences don’t flow together, it leaves you reading like a second grader who hasn’t quite graduated from picture books yet. The other significant issue with the dialogue–besides its lack of realistic vernacular, etc, is that nobody is provided with an accent. It might be hard to describe in-text an accent that you live around because it can be hard to hear, but even Texans know how southerners talk and should be able to produce a drawl on paper. Dialects include more than just phonological (sounds) variation, but also word choice and phrase structure, and I’m not seeing any of that presented here. This robs the characters of a huge part of their identity, and really short changes what the story potentially could be. (This review might have been less scathing if the characters actually had any, you know, character to them.)

There are also some inaccuracies that a person might not catch if they weren’t well-versed in musical instruments. Like, for example, you don’t “flex the tone holes” of a tenor saxophone. I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean, and I played the saxophone in high school. (It wasn’t my main instrument, but I did play it.) Frankly, I don’t think you even have to be versed in musical instruments to take exception to that statement.

In the same scene as the saxophone issue, the character in question is listed as wearing an “A-shirt” with a “labrys” against her stomach. Does anybody else know what an A-shirt is? I had to google that shit, and you know what I found? It’s a wife beater, you guys. It’s a wife beater. Which I realize is really politically incorrect and gives the wrong ‘vibe’ for an outfit or whatever, but at least we know what it is. A “white ribbed tank top” would be equally as descriptive and still a better option than an “A-shirt”. How about a labrys? I googled that shit, too, and it’s a symmetric doubleheaded axe originally from Crete in Greece. So whatever the hell “Stud” meant–which was probably something related to the neck strap of the saxophone, if I had to guess–I really don’t think this was it, unless his saxophone player was wearing a fucking axe around her neck.

But let’s talk plot for a bit, shall we? At least until I get derailed again. Ava is our main character, and apparently a lesbian. Which is fine; I don’t care. And she’s apparently crushing on the aforementioned saxophone player Bailey, who apparently has a reputation for being a heart breaker. Or something. And Bailey develops the hots for Ava as well–because what else?–and despite the protestations and meddling of her coworker(s) and boss, they get together and start dating.

For the record, Chapter 2 starts with the sentence “Fish problems were not Daniel’s forte.” As in issues between lesbians. I shit you not. If the goal was to make me dislike Daniel as swiftly as possible, I would finish this out with a “job well done!”, but I honestly can’t find a single reason to like any of the characters mentioned thus far. Ava lacks any description whatsoever and is highly inconsistent in terms of behavioral patterns. Bailey keeps referring to herself as a nigga and throws around “muthafucka” like it’s rice at a wedding. Even if Bailey is supposed to be “ethnic” or, how shall I say, “really black”, Stud is not doing a good job at depicting whatever it is she means her to be. Daniel is a snide prick who likes to cause drama and Cole (short for Colette), the boss–who is apparently also a chick–is a noncommittal, promiscuous lesbian who keeps calling Bailey “son”.  I really, seriously can’t figure out what “Stud” is trying to accomplish with any of these characters.

Oh, in terms of calling Bailey “son.” It’s possible–even somewhat likely–that Bailey has chosen to identify with masculine pronouns. And that’s fine. Great, even. This is probably the only positive thing I will say for ‘Literary Stud’ is that she makes my inner feminist happy in not limiting her characters to societally-dictated pronouns dependent upon genitalia. However. That’s as far as the praise goes, because it really deserves some kind of explanation of Bailey’s character before you start dropping opposing-gender pronouns on a character. Calling Bailey “son” entirely out of the blue without any kind of commentary on who Bailey is–and previously calling her “her” and “she”–it just seems out of place and disjointed. Or an error.

Even knowing that “Stud” is a lesbian who also chooses masculine pronouns–which I’m probably rudely violating in using feminine pronouns in this post, but they’re staying because I’m not invested enough to go back through and find them all and change them.

By the end of Chapter 3, Ava and Bailey have reconciled their misunderstanding (which is actually just the hesitation brought about by hearing rumors regarding a reputation which has apparently been largely earned) and make out in a porn shop. The reaction of the sales associate is entirely unrealistic–“Hey you two! I love the show but you’re going to have to take it somewhere else” says an unnamed voice, which is completely stupid because seriously, if you work in a sex shop, you’ve seen enough shit that watching lesbians awkwardly paw each other by a wall of strap ons isn’t a turn on anymore (although why it ever would have been is beyond me). I have friends who have worked in porn shops and they’ve all said the same thing of themselves and their coworkers. It’s just not… feasible? likely? accurate? plausible? I don’t even know what word you want me to use. The subsequent conversation isn’t exactly realistic either, ending with: “Why don’t we pay for these items and go get a quick bite to eat?” Who even says that? Nobody calls the stuff they’re buying “items” and nobody goes for a “quick bite to eat” right after they’ve made out and bought a strap on. I mean, unless they’re referring to eating some vagina, but they literally walk across the street to a twenty-four hour restaurant specializing in breakfast food.
Dude. What? Across from the porn shop? NO. Just no. Other cultures don’t handle sex the same way that America does, but even in Texas the porn shops are tucked away out of sight of potential “family-centered” establishments.

Also, just for the record, here are a few helpful little grammar lessons brought to you courtesy of Literary Stud.

Helpful little grammar lesson #1: You do not need a comma between an adjective and its modifying adverb. “A black plastic bag” is allowed precisely 0 commas because “black” is modifying “plastic”, which is modifying “bag”; therefore you do not place a comma between them. Glad we could have this talk.

Helpful little grammar lesson #2: when you’re dealing with dialogue, a quote plus its tag is one whole sentence. Let me illustrate:

“Let’s walk to the car,” she said.

Notice how the end of the quotation has a comma? That’s because ‘she said’ is part of your sentence and belongs inside the period with whatever it is that’s inside quotation marks. The only time you get to have

“Let’s walk to the car.”

is if the proceeding phrase is an independent clause or sentence, such as ‘She turned around and strutted away without looking to see if I was following.” or “She grinned and waggled her eyebrows.”

ALSO. You don’t use any punctuation at all at the end of your quotation in cases such as

“Let’s walk to the car” was the last thing I heard before a sharp pain caused my vision to go black and I lost consciousness.

*None of these sentences are examples from the book.

Helpful little grammar lesson #3: ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS END CHAPTERS WITH PUNCTUATION UNLESS:

1. You are quoting a poem or song distinctly lacking punctuation

  • Don’t ever give somebody else the last word in your work, whether its creative or academic. You’re basically removing authority from yourself by handing it over to somebody else and you don’t want to do that–especially not in your creative writing.

2. |

Actually that’s it. That’s the only reason you should ever neglect to punctuate the end of your chapter, which I just explained you shouldn’t ever do, which leaves you with the aforementioned rule listed in all caps, sans “unless.” Always end sentences, paragraphs, and chapters with punctuation.

Helpful little grammar lesson #4: It’s always, always better to underuse commas than to overuse them.

Someone apparently should have shared these with “Literary Stud” before letting her destroy some beautiful trees with her bad grammar and even worse content.

On a separate note, I don’t think I came across a single female character in this story who wasn’t gay. Even when there was discussion of Cole’s family. I mean, obviously Cole’s mom had to have had sex with a dude (or been inseminated, whatever), but nothing is said of the mom, only of Aunt Maxi, who was also a lesbian and equally as noncommittal as Cole apparently is. And apparently “the only father Cole had ever known.” And every employee at this club/restaurant/bar is female with the exception of Daniel. And, as far as I can tell, they’re all gay. Every single one of them. I mean, whatever, but so far the only non-gay character who’s been named is Daniel–and it isn’t even for sure that Daniel is straight, just that he doesn’t deal with lesbian–excuse me, “fish”–problems. That is not a statement of heterosexuality. 

This doesn’t work. It just doesn’t.

There’s a statement in part two that reads “Now if only her sexy ass wasn’t such a womanizer, she would be a half decent Stud.” And I don’t know what the fuck this is supposed to mean. It comes with no explanation, no further comment, nothing. That’s it. And “Stud” is capitalized. Again: why? I don’t know, and I’m not going to waste energy thinking about it. The proceeding page reveals a less-professional relationship having existed between Cole and her head chef, Tasha, during which she calls Tasha’s girlfriend her “stubby.” I am fairly well-versed in lesbian terminology and I have never heard any of these terms–at least not used in these contexts.

Sometimes, you’re really better off using words that your readership is going to recognize and be comfortable with. Even when the big word sounds more impressive, or makes you look more “authoritative” on a subject, if your readership isn’t going to know what it means, you’re just going to look either pompous/pretentious or out of touch with reality. Thus far, I really can’t decide where Literary Stud falls, but I’m definitely leaning toward the former option.

Without nitpicking-picking every page of this… frankly pathetic piece of “literature”–and it pains me to call it such (literature, not pathetic; I don’t give two shits about calling it what it is, just what it isn’t)–I really just have to say that this book reads like the writer’s wet dream. And that’s all. It’s not well thought out, nor is it well executed.

I don’t know what I was thinking when I entered the giveaway. Probably just that I wanted a book and few enough people had entered it already that I figured my chances were good and then I’d have a free book and an easy review for my blog. If I could have had those things without having to read 124 pages of trash, that would have been great.

Bottom line: Never trust a book from anybody who hasn’t yet graduated from his “fanfiction.net”-esque username. My advice? Grow up, attach your name to your writing, and maybe take a few creative writing classes at your local university.

Hyperbole and a Half: Allie Brosh

There are a lot of things that are difficult to write about, and one of those at the top of the list is depression. It’s poorly understood, for one thing, and usually impossible to justify for another, but those are only two things. Furthermore, it’s difficult to write about depression in a manner that isn’t either pitiful or clinical–neither of which are approaches that welcome people to a discussion. Brosh has used her *ahem* limited drawing skills to augment her discussion in this comic-cum-novel titled Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened.

While it may seem counter-intuitive to use comics, an inherently light-hearted form, to talk about something inherently, well, depressing, like depression, it’s actually a semi-common tactic that increases the impact of the discussion, rather than undermine it. Let me put it this way: by undercutting the seriousness of the situation, the seriousness is actually intensified.

 

Brosh takes the time to tell some stories about her life, both in terms of her childhood and her present, and they mix together in random ratios until it’s sort of confusing to which time period she’s actively referring

 

Using such characters as Simple Dog and Helper Dog (the two pets she and her significant other adopted, to frequently disastrous (of varying degrees) results), younger versions of her self, and other people in her life, and through a series of allegories, Allie discusses quite a lot of unfortunate situations and mayhem, just as the title promises. I think, though, that the main reason I like this book as much as I do is because, through few words and the use of MS Paint illustrations (oi), Allie has captured what it is to be depressed. Obviously, depression is a multi-faceted thing and is not the same for everyone. Certainly my journey has not been hers–I, for one, never found a dried up corn kernel to be hysterical–but the template is really what’s relatable. Depression has a tendency to manifest in one of two ways:

 

  • You are either interminably, irrevocably sad for no reason whatsoever, OR
  • you are entirely apathetic and lack motivation to do or feel anything. At all.

These two frames do have the ability to blend together sometimes, and this is when depression is perhaps most difficult to deal with. Because there you’re perpetually sad, but you don’t care.

 

Having been dealing with clinical depression almost my entire life–as in I don’t remember a time in my life when it wasn’t looming over me in some capacity or another–I can say that Allie has hit the nail square on its head. Depression is a beast, and it’s a vicious cycle of apathy, sorrow, and anger, and if you finally manage to escape the undertow and break the surface, you know that you’re only treading water until the next wave takes you back under. And while on a real beach, people who make it back to shore would seriously just hightail it from the beach, we’re stuck there. Our ride left us the second we were out of sight, and we don’t remember the way up and out, leaving us stranded in this limbo space where we can function like normal people, but with the constant view of the water in our peripherals while we wait for it to crash back over us and drag us away.

 

Anyway.

 

Hyperbole and a Half includes stories about a birthday cake for Brosh’s grandma when she was little (Grandma didn’t get cake), the reaction of Simple and Helper Dog upon moving from Montana to Oregon, a lie about hot sauce, and a “time capsule” letter written by her 7-year-old self more concerned about her favorite dogs than whether her parents were still alive. It’s often a shit-show, but it’s amusing, and it’s real. Real life doesn’t make sense like fiction does, and depression is like Perfection, forcing you to attempt to put your pieces into the correct frames in a very anxious manner to save yourself from the board violently expelling all of your hard work and virtually laughing in your face while you dejectedly pick up the pieces and attempt to start over. Yay. I know.

 

When it comes down to it, I enjoyed the hell out of this book. I laughed a lot, even when I thought I maybe shouldn’t have. I highly recommend this book whether you suffer from depression or have a family member or close friend who does–and you should know that, with depression statistics what they are, you almost definitely know someone relatively close to you who suffers from some form of depression.

 

Also: The dedication page says “For Scott. What now, fucker?” and I think that’s awesome.

 

By the way, you guys know this meme:

 

It happens to have its origin in this book, or at least her blog in case you’re interested in origins. haha

Murder of Crows: Anne Bishop (The Others, Book 2)

Murder of Crows is the sequel to Written in Red–reviewed here. Published in March of this year, this book is only available digitally or in hardcover–for a whopping $26.95, I should mention. I downloaded a digital copy to tide me over until a paperback copy is available.

The start of this novel is not immediate after the end of the previous, although the temporal distance between them is essentially negligible. Things in the human spaces are tense, and “gone over wolf”–the drug unveiled in Written in Red–is making its way around Thaisia.

Humans are baiting the Crows by putting “shinies” (i.e. anything that might attract a crow’s attention) into trash cans on collection day and then poisoning food with GOW: attempted mass murder proceeds. Why Crows? Because they see everything and communicate with their crow counterparts–to put it simply, they know too much.

Although I am thoroughly enjoying Murder of Crows, I do have to admit that it doesn’t start out–by which I mean the first 20-some chapters–at quite the same level of intensity. The main drama takes place outside of Lakeside–and in a different region, though growing ever-closer–and the body of what’s taking place in Lakeside Courtyard is relationship drama between Meg and Simon. And we all saw that coming. The shoulders over which we’re peeking are frequently new to us, the names being dropped are not familiar ones–and while this can feel random to the unseasoned, perhaps unprepared reader, it provides one with a set of puzzle pieces illuminating different areas on a multi-faceted situation–because this thing is bigger than a puzzle, and more complicated than a sphere; it has edges that can’t be seen around and thus require new shoulders to illuminate those planes. I hope you’re following.

All the cassandra sangue are prophesying the same thing, regardless of the questions asked, and even the euphoria can’t mask the resulting terror/horror. Intuits–a breed of humans with terra indigene-like instincts–are sensing storms that have nothing to do with the weather. “Humans First and Last” is unfortunately gaining traction. Humans in Cel-Romano are building “flying machines.” The terra indigene have evicted an entire hamlet for their crimes against the Crows. In essence: Shit’s about to go down.

As the novel progresses, it becomes clear that Bishop is placing the reader in a very precarious moral, or ethical, debate: whose side are you on? Are you more sympathetic of the humans and their effort to gain more control over the world in which they’re trying to live? Or are you more sympathetic to the Others, whose concern for the world outweighs their interest in the production of goods/services and the use for humans? While reading these novels, I am, of course, provided with the perspectives from both sides, and so I can sympathize with both humans and terra indigene. But am I supposed to sympathize with humans more because I am one, although am obviously living without the existence of a being higher up on my food chain? And if I am, what does it say if/that I’m not on the side of the humans? What does it say about me that I can ethically/morally/psychologically rationalize the motions of the terra indigene and their feelings? I don’t know at this point, but it’s an interesting question, and it’s one that won’t really leave me alone. I think that’s kind of the point.

This isn’t the only issue readers face: in dealing with the cassandra sangue, Namid’s wondrous and terrible creation, was it ethical to allow for benevolent ownership? Was it ethical for these girls to be ‘owned’ and essentially have their lives run as if they were prison inmates? Considering the self-destruction they caused if left to their own devices, was it ethical to let them exist on their own, without guardianship? Could we rationalize putting these girls into concentration camps to prevent them from potentially killing themselves?

While the issue is hardly literally relevant to society, it may be metaphorically ethical when thinking about other things or situations. Currently none come to mind, but I will own the blame for being largely ignorant of current affairs around the globe. In some respects, however, it does somewhat mirror the complicated issue that the United States had with the mental institution framework back in the 70s, with note to the abuse within the system. With a little thought–and perhaps some extrapolation–I’m sure the ethical question can be overlaid like a projection transparency* upon certain situations.

Murder of Crows was significantly shorter than Written in Red, coming in at 35 chapters and 354 pages–please don’t ask me to drop the chapter and page count of the first novel, but it at least felt like at least half again that long, if not twice. Consequently, I had it read in a very, very short amount of time–I bought it yesterday afternoon and finished it about an hour ago–and I have to admit that I’m kind of disappointed in its length. The ending is good, is concise, but definitely leading into another.

Until next time,

–Emily

*Did I just date myself by referencing that technology? I’m not even that old! The technology that we had in my school growing up was pretty old because we were a small school with few students (I graduated with a mere 21 other kids) and so we didn’t get all that much funding. Granted; I started school before 2000, so it’s not like other places had SmartBoards and we didn’t. But still.