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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Bum Luck--My Introduction to the Lassiter Mysteries

Paul Levine has written twelve mysteries focusing on Jake Lassiter.  Bum Luck is the eleventh one.  The twelfth, Bum Deal, will be released next month.  Publicist Wiley Saichek asked me to review Bum Deal, but suggested that I should read Bum Luck beforehand and sent me a free copy. This was the reverse of bum luck.   In fact, I consider it very good luck indeed.

                          

The first thing I noticed was the snappy dialogue.  Up until now my favorite dialogue in mysteries was in the Spenser novels by Robert Parker.  Lassiter's is of a different order.  It's full of pointed criticism of his own profession.

Jake Lassiter is a former linebacker in professional American football who has become a lawyer.  His having been a football player is very relevant to the plot of Bum Luck because this book deals with the tragic impact of  repeated concussions on the lives of many former football players.  Wikipedia has an article on this issue that provides a good introduction to it.  Bum Luck is also centrally concerned with corruption in the justice system.  I've seen the Lassiter series described as light, but this particular novel goes to some very dark places.

I found the characterization of Lassiter complex yet sympathetic.   Although Lassiter had done things he regrets, he seemed to me like a wounded hero which is my favorite type of protagonist. 

I had never seen frequent concussion syndrome as a theme in a novel.  I appreciated the honesty with which Levine approached this subject which lent Bum Luck a kind of raw intensity.

I considered this book both original and well-written.  I very much look forward to the digital ARC of Bum Deal that I've obtained through the good graces of Wiley Saichek via Net Galley.

                         


Saturday, April 28, 2018

Ash and Quill (The Great Library #3) by Rachel Caine

I've had  a Net Galley copy of Ash and Quill, the third book in the YA Great Library series by Rachel Caine for some time, and now I've been approved by the publisher for the fourth book, Smoke and Iron.  I really apologize.  I should have gotten to it sooner.  I'm trying to read more Net Galleys this year.

This alternate history dystopian series is fascinating to me conceptually.  I've reviewed Ink and Bone and Paper and Fire on this blog at the locations I've hyperlinked.

                         


                                                          
The focus of Ash and Quill is the implementation of a pivotal forbidden technology in  Philadelphia which is a Burner city opposed to the Great Library.  The Burners of this alternate America are trying to evade control by the authoritarians in charge of the Great Library, but leaders of movements that oppose established institutions may also want to consolidate their own power.  We have seen this in our timeline over and over.  The comedian W.C. Fields famously stated a mordant preference for being in Philadelphia.   I assure you that there are no circumstances in which he'd rather be in this Philadelphia.
 
I've seen  Khalila, the Islamic hijabi character, mentioned approvingly in reviews.  Khalila is one of the small group of rebels who are the heroes of this series.  She is one of my favorites too, but I wondered why she is portrayed as standing for prayer at one point in Ash and Quill.   I've usually seen Muslim prayer in the prostration position with the forehead touching the ground.  As a result of a search for this review, I now know that there is a sequence of Islamic prayer postures that apparently usually begins with a calming and centering period of standing.  See this article on islamreligion.com .  So I learned a bit more about Islam due to having read this book.

I enjoyed savoring a few morsels of Burner history.  Benjamin Franklin was a Burner in the Great Library timeline.   For those who know Benjamin Franklin's history as an inventor in our universe,  there is a moment of supreme irony in this book that I appreciated.  The inclusion of Benjamin Franklin caused me to wonder about other historical figures in the context of the Great Library and Burners.  I'd like to see how they fared in Rachel Caine's universe.

Ash and Quill does end on a dramatic cliffhanger, but fortunately I have an ARC of the sequel ready to go on my e-reader.  So our heroes needn't be left dangling for long.  I hope to review Smoke and Iron relatively soon.

                                   


Monday, April 23, 2018

Banthology--Stories From Banned Countries

In honor of World Book Day, which is celebrated today in the U.S., I've decided to post my review of Banthology edited by Sarah Cleave. This is a collection of seven stories from the seven nations that were banned in the first version of the 2017 U.S. executive order on immigration.  All the stories have been translated into English from their original languages.   I received a digital copy from Edelweiss in return for this honest review.

                           




Sarah Cleave states in her introduction that one goal of the anthology is to show that people from these countries aren't all terrorists.  She also says that she hopes that the book will help to make the world "a more welcoming and gracious place".  It's fair to state that every story is at least implicitly a criticism of the 2017 executive order on immigration. In the U.S, disagreement with government positions is constitutionally protected speech.  If a reviewer were to take issue with my opinions about this book, that would also be constitutionally protected speech.

There were stories with strong satiric elements.  I would characterize them as overtly critical of  the 2017 immigration executive order.  One of them was my favorite story in the anthology because it was a more complex tale with multiple themes.  Satire of the executive order was only one of its purposes.

That story is "Return Ticket" by Najwa Binshatwan of Libya.   I loved it because it's a magical realist story that also contained satire of rigid Islamic fundamentalism.   It is written in the form of a letter by the female protagonist addressed to her grandchild who hasn't yet been born.   The story deals with satiric depictions of the places where she traveled, her relationship with her husband and her attempt to return to the fictional utopian village of Schrödinger.  It was presumably given this name because of the village's uncertain location like the physicist Erwin Schrödinger's theoretical cat which might be either alive or dead.  It's a clever story with a well-developed viewpoint character who I found sympathetic.

I liked other stories for particular features that caused them to stand out for me.  "Bird of Paradise" by Rania Mamoun of Sudan was stylistically beautiful, and "Jujube" by Ubah Cristina Ali Farah of Somalia contained an intriguing medicine woman character who would have been my preferred protagonist.   Unfortunately, the viewpoint character was one of her daughters.

There were other contributions to Banthology that I disliked either because I despised all the characters, or because I felt those stories didn't make a strong enough statement.

I was attracted to the anthology by its central concept which I felt was well-intended.   The stories that I liked made Banthology worthwhile particularly Binshatwan's excellent "Return Ticket".

                         


                           

 


                               

                                

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Binti:The Night Masquerade--The Xenophiles vs The Xenophobes

Xenophiles are those who are comfortable with people who aren't like them.  Xenophobes hate and fear people who are different.  They are only comfortable with people who are similar to them.  The xenophobes don't understand xenophiles.  In fact, for them xenophiles are among those who they hate and fear.

I have always identified science fiction as a xenophile genre.  Of course science fiction isn't all xenophilic. There's xenophobic science fiction and it's immensely popular.  Yet being a xenophile is a possible approach to science fiction.  There's a whole tradition of science fiction that's created by and for xenophiles--most notably Star Trek.
                                


As I read the third Binti book by Nnedi Okorafor, it occurred to me that I like Binti because she's a xenophile, and that her series of novellas is really about the conflict between xenophiles and xenophobes.  I expect that Okorafor is likely to be a xenophile herself or she couldn't write sympathetically about Binti.

 In Binti's world a xenophile is called a harmonizer.   They have a gift for building bridges between disparate groups, and finding common ground.  In our world the harmonizer is called a diplomat.  Xenophobes have tremendous contempt for diplomats.  They don't believe that any rapprochement with those who are different is possible.  They are resolved to either avoid those who are different or kill them.   When a harmonizer or diplomat is negotiating on behalf of a xenophobe and/or attempting to reach an agreement with a xenophobe, they are in the most challenging situation they will ever face.  Binti ends up in this situation in Binti: The Night Masquerade.

Since the events of this third book are so climactic, I somehow doubt there will ever be a fourth one.   If there ever is another Binti book, it will probably focus on another way of being a harmonizer which is mentioned in relation to Binti's fellow harmonizer, Mwinyi.  Perhaps there will be a Mwinyi trilogy.  I would look forward to that.

                         


                                

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Old Fashioned With A Twist: Sequel To Stone Cold Sober

Last month I reviewed Stone Cold Sober by Rebecca Marks hereOld Fashioned With A Twist picks up much closer to pregnant protagonist Dana Cohen's delivery date.  Her condition makes her very sympathetic to the plight of her ex-husband who asks her to find his kidnapped new baby.

 I received this most recent novel in the Dana Cohen mystery series as a gift from publicist Wiley Saichek in return for this honest review.

                              

 So the fate of  two infants takes center stage in this book -- the one who has been kidnapped and the one who is about to be born. This means the suspense is doubled.  Readers will worry about whether the kidnapped child will be restored alive and healthy to his parents, but another grave matter of concern is whether Dana's investigation will endanger her and the baby she carries.

As you might imagine, the father of Dana's baby is less than happy with these circumstances.  Yet Dana and Alex are still going forward with their plan to marry before the baby is born.  Dana must juggle the demands of her pregnancy, her wedding and the kidnapping investigation simultaneously. I think that this represents the superwoman syndrome.  Dana wants to be a wife, mother and use her professional skills.  This is a common expectation for 21st century women.   Some woman readers  may feel that Dana's experiences reflect their lives to a certain extent.  Others may think that Dana asks too much of herself.

In Stone Cold Sober Alex exceeded Dana's expectations by studying Judaism with the goal of conversion.   In Old Fashioned With A Twist, Alex expects to complete this process before the wedding.  Religion is evidently a higher priority for Alex than for Dana.  This may lead to conflict in their relationship in future Dana Cohen novels. 

Yet the plot line of the current book provides more than enough drama without any additional sources of strife.   The intensity of some scenes toward the end of Old Fashioned With A Twist makes the resolution of the case quite moving.  Mystery fans should be satisfied.

                                


  


Sunday, April 1, 2018

Children of Blood and Bone

 The last book that I reviewed on this blog was Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor, a YA fantasy based in West African folklore that ended up disappointing me.  See my review here.

When I read that Tomi Adeyemi, the author of Children of Blood and Bone , had studied West African folklore, religion and culture in Brazil, I was intrigued.  I am particularly interested in Afro-Brazilian spirituality.  Then when I discovered that her magically gifted characters were divided into ten clans that were devoted to Yoruban spirits, I was completely sold on this novel.  I expected this to be the fantasy novel that I've been wanting to read for years. I have learned that high expectations are rarely met, but that never stops me from hoping that they'll be fulfilled. (So far the novel dealing with Yoruban spirits that has been closest to what I'm looking for is the 2016 alternate history Everfair by Nisi Shawl which I reviewed  here.)

                         

I think that this first book in a projected series was always destined to fall short for me because it starts off with the premise that the gods are believed to have disappeared.   I crave a protagonist who lives with at least one Yoruban spirit or egun (ancestor) as a constant presence.   Zelie, the protagonist of Children of Blood and Bone belongs to the clan devoted to Oya.   I would have been delighted to see a novel permeated with visions, dreams and consultations with Oya.   Unfortunately, that wasn't the case.  Oya wasn't completely absent from Children of Blood and Bone, but she wasn't really a major focus of the book.  Since Oya has special significance for me, Adeyemi gets lots of points for including her in the narrative even though she played a relatively small role.

The main theme of this novel is persecution.  Adeyemi has an important message to deliver to readers.  It's even urgent in the current social climate as she emphasizes in her Author's Note, but she isn't the only current writer to focus on this theme.  If she could have fused her deep concern with crimes against minorities by authority figures with an equally deep Yoruban spirituality, she would have had a masterpiece.  She may one day write it.   This is only her first novel.   So I continue to have high hopes for Adeyemi's future work.

                         

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Akata Warrior: A Predictable Fantasy Plot With Some Fascinating Glimpses

I have to issue a disclaimer.  I didn't read the book that preceded this one, Akata Witch.  I read some reviews that said that it was like Harry Potter.  Since I couldn't get past the first page of the first Harry Potter novel, this wasn't an inducement to read it. I've been reading fantasy since the 1960's.  I'm a very jaded reader who is always looking for the unusual.   It seems to me that the premise of the Harry Potter series is formulaic, and I really can't abide formula.   I nevertheless made an attempt to read Akata Witch because I have loved several of Nnedi Okorafor's books for adults.  Let's just say, I didn't get very far.

So why did I decide to read the sequel?  It sounded like it had possibilities, that it might be more complex than Akata Witch.

                   


Since I have always believed that books should stand on their own, I was pleased that there was background to bring me up to speed on what I'd missed by not reading Akata Witch.  I was introduced to Sunny, an American born girl of Nigerian descent whose family returned to Nigeria.

 Sunny is also an albino.  I researched the persecution of albinos in Africa, and was horrified by what I discovered.  See a newspaper article about the situation for albinos in Malawi in 2016. I also found a recent post on the Albino Foundation blog dealing with discrimination against albinos in Nigeria here.   Akata Warrior caused me to become more aware of this issue.

My favorite scene in this novel involved a cowrie shell divination that blew my socks off.   I would love to read more about Bola, the diviner.  She was totally awesome.   At that point in my reading of Akata Warrior, I posted on a Goodreads group that I thought it was the best book I'd read by Nnedi Okorafor.

 Unfortunately, after the divination, the narrative became predictable.   I am so bored by formula fantasy villains with no motivation except being evil.  I've been bored by them for decades. That's why I tend to avoid any book that has even a whiff of standardized fantasy about it.   So I was disappointed by Akata Warrior, but I don't regret reading it.  I loved the glimpses of Nigerian culture that Okorafor provided, and I'm very much looking forward to  Binti: The Night Masquerade.