Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Bibliovile: Of Course There's a High Council

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The Internet is Not the Answer, by Andrew Keen
              The Internet is Not the Answer begins its preface with the statement, “Some may say the internet is the answer” and ends its preface by saying, “So no, the internet is not the answer.” I am dead serious about this.
              I am also dead serious that it never got any more surprising.
              I could have stopped with just that preface and written the whole book for him. But I didn’t. I read a lot, agreed with most of it, but hated all of it.
              There was nothing surprising or noteworthy in the book. The internet (which is not the answer) was promised as a democratization of wealth and information but has only concentrated wealth and ruined our idea of objective fact. Yeah, totally, man. Oh wait, that’s it, that’s your entire book.
That's the about-the-author photo I reference in the podcast

              Oh.
              Well, um, great. Sorry that you’re editor made you spread out a single blog post into a huge book and all, but frankly, I wish I hadn’t read any of it.
              It wasn’t bad, just severely predictable and up its own ass. You’re not blowing my mind, my dude. In fact, I’m not even sure the internet was worth it all in the first place.
              Now we’ve got increasing specificity of everything from news media to music. I don’t think there will ever be another Beatles, for instance, because the internet has made it impossible to achieve actual popular culture success without someone working to take you down from the inside. Our shared cultural values are now shared with people exactly like us, instead of across the country as a whole. I get to find any support for any idiotic belief I might have, and the stupidest person in the world to represent anything I despise. It’s like the internet was made for strawmen.
              I’m not going to get political here, because I get pretty political on the podcast, but suffice it to say—Whoops done looks like we appeased human nature a bit too far and don’t like what we got out of it.
              So no, the internet is NOT the answer.
              To what question, you ask? Oh, I don’t know, that’s not what the book was about.

Burned, by PC and Kristin Cast
              Remember the phrase “Write what you know”? It’s advice that’s often given to new writers, or sometimes more experienced writers who find themselves facing writer’s block. It’s good advice, really. If you’re at a loss of words, try writing about something that you’re familiar with or knowledgeable about to help get you started.

              The authors of Burned did not follow that advice. Burned is the seventh book in the House of Night series, written by mother-daughter duo P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast, of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and these two seem to have a penchant for writing about things they are completely unfamiliar with.
 
This book's cover is so generic. "Fine!",
says Magazine
              One of the most obvious subjects about which the Cast duo are oblivious is human language, both dialogue and dialect. The way the characters speak in this book is unbelievably frustrating. It seems like the authors assigned each character an archetype that they should fill: Aphrodite is the rich, spoiled, mean girl; Stevie Rae is the down-home country girl, Seorus is an ancient Scottish warrior. And each of these characters has a very particular accent and speech pattern that is just infuriating to read.

              For example, Aphrodite’s prayers to the goddess Nyx sound something like this, ‘I’m not real sure how this Prophetess stuff works, so it won’t surprise you to hear that I don’t know how to use the gift you’ve given me to help Stark -- but he does need my help. I mean, the guy’s being sliced up in one world and flailing around trying to use poetry and an old guy’s confusing words to help Z in another. Just between us, sometimes I think Stark’s more muscle and admittedly good hair than brains.” I mean, honestly, where is the substance in any of that? Why was any of that necessary. It’s just fluff masquerading as biting wit.

              Another thing that the duo unsurprisingly doesn’t know much about is people of color. Out of all of the many characters in this book, only one is specifically described as black. Her name is Kramisha, and she’s actually my favorite character in the book, despite the authors’ best efforts. At times, it seems like the authors just googled “stereotypes of black female teenagers” and wrote those into Kramisha’s character, because it’s fairly evident that neither of them have actually met a black person. It feels like they decided they needed a character of color and then thought, “Um... braids! She likes rap music! Let’s make up our own version of how black people talk!”

              Amazingly, though, there is one moment of cultural sensitivity related to Kramisha and the concept of race. Kramisha knows that Stevie Rae is keeping a secret about a boy, and she asks if the boy is black, and if Stevie Rae is keeping the relationship a secret because she is ashamed to be dating a black man. The boy is not black, and that is not why Stevie Rae is keeping things a secret (the boy is actually half-raven, but that’s a whole other thing). But the two characters have a decent conversation about how wrong that would be, and Stevie Rae assures Kramisha that she would not do such a thing. It’s one brief good moment in this otherwise fairly bleak book.

              Finally, it seems like the authors have only the most cursory understanding of the setting, which is disappointing because according to the book jacket, they are from Tulsa. It could have honestly helped this book if the authors had communicated their knowledge of and sense of community in Tulsa throughout the book. Instead, it just seems like they looked up Tulsa on Google Maps and figured out what cross street the Gap is located and threw that into the book for no reason.

              Overall, this book was disappointing. Not only was it poorly written, but it was poorly written in a way that made it seems as though the writers didn’t know what they were writing about, and that they didn’t even care.



Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Bibliovile: Trixa For Kids

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Jamaica Me Dead, by Bob Morris
              A successful and good book needs interesting characters, a lived-in setting, and a worthwhile plot. Jamaica Me Dead succeeds on all of these fronts. However, none of them successfully connect together.

              Setting: Jamaica Me Dead takes place, naturally, in Jamaica. It bounces between tourist main streets in places like Montego Bay and Kingston, rural backwaters and jungle paths, and an island resort called Libido. Libido is a fantasy, bawdy, sexual resort, full of people looking to get laid with everyone else all the time. The rest of Jamaica is, well, imagine if TV’s JAG went to Jamaica, and that’s about how it’s portrayed. Every ‘tings airee!
              Plot: Except for a twist that I called on the VERY FIRST PAGE the real plot begins, the plot of JMD does a pretty good job of keeping us moving at a good clip without ever overwhelming us. The twists and turns outside of the big one were enjoyable. It’s got political murder, fraud, blackmail, explosions… it’s pretty good! Just seriously, man, that main twist. A friend of our main character is killed in a car bomb explosion that leaves a major crater and vaporizes the cars. Oh, here’s his wallet, to prove he’s dead and all. Uh, buddy, if his wallet is intact than he is, you idiot. Two hundred and fifty pages later, yup, ohmygosh!
              Characters: The main character was the weakest part of this book. I can’t remember his name and I’m not looking it up. The supporting characters were fine-to-good, however. A girlfriend with a job and a plan outside of the relationship, a seedy, reclusive resort owner sexpot dude, his two children, one an upright politician in a dirty game, the other a struggling rebel fashion artist who chafes at having to rely on her rich father. A couple seedy federal agents, a weird mystical sidekick (?), and a Jamaican driver. Nothing to sneeze at; all seemed developed and connected with each other as well as with our main character, an oasis of character attributes in the Bibliovile desert.
              All three of these segments are good and well, except each piece is undone by the other two. A book with this plot and setting, but a main character who isn’t tied down and straightedge would make a FANTASTIC erotic book, and I don’t even like erotic books. Imagine, trying to solve this murder while constantly embonered and distracted back at home base. Man, the twist perp ending could be one of his favorite bone chums!
              A book with this character and this setting would work great in a comedic novel, a man out of water at an island nookie paradise, struggling to keep sane as vagina is constantly thrown at him and he has to keep it away. By the way, there were several mentions of sex or people having sex in this book, but no engaging in it during our peeks into the character’s lives. What a waste.
              A book with this character and this plot would also work, a man way over his head in political violence, trying to keep beneath it all and just get through. But, like, that could be in Arizona for goodness sakes. Then we could avoid the *waggles hand with the palm to ground* amount of racism that comes from putting patois into writing.
              All in all, I never threw this book, never got mad at this book, never wrote in caps, or shouted, or anything. It was well constructed, well written, and utterly meh. Change one of the three main parts and you’ve got a book I’m recommending. Keep it as it is, and I’m going to forget I read this in two weeks.

The Grimrose Path, by Rob Thurman
              The first page of The Grimrose Path inspires no confidence at all, as it is entirely comprised of five sentence-long words and played out cliches, including, “Life is a trick, and the tricks are lessons in disguise, and I’m a teacher.” Apparently our narrator, and the author who writes her thoughts, are both incapable of picking one metaphor and sticking to it -- they have keep adding in additional metaphors until we’ve lost track of the thread completely. And that, funnily enough, is a pretty apt metaphor for The Grimrose Path.

              This book centers on Trixa, who is a trickster, and owns a bar named Trixsta. Say that five times fast. Trixa used to be a shifter, but then she temporarily lost her powers, so now she’s living out the next five years as a regular human. Temporarily human along with her is her business partner and friend, Leo, who is actually the Norse god Loki currently living in the body of a Native American man who can turn into a raven at will. Trixa’s two best friends are an ex-demon named Griffin and an ex-angel named Zeke, who are in love.
              At the beginning of the book, Trixa is confronted by longtime rival Eligos, a high-level demon who enlists Trixa’s help in figuring out what has been killing all of the demons lately. We have to wonder why Trixa cares, because she and her friends kill demons for fun. But apparently she does care, because she gets involved in the mystery, the solving of which involves tricking Lucifer himself, playing checkers with a Titan named Cronus, stealing artifacts from a Los Angeles museum, pulling a gun on a septuagenarian medium, and throwing an intoxicated Thor out of a moving vehicle. This book is .... a lot.
             That’s one of the reasons why the above metaphor works so well. Not only can Rob Thurman not make up her mind about what figures of speech she wants to use in her exposition, she also can’t make up her mind about what plot elements she wants to include in her book, so she winds up using all of them. Neither the exposition nor the plot benefit from this method. The book is just exhausting to read. There’s so much happening at all times that it’s hard to know what to care about and pay attention to, and what to just ignore.
              For example, in the middle of the book, we spend several chapters finding a missing Griffin, defeating his captors, sitting in the hospital while he heals, and sorting through the argument he’s having with Zeke. Several chapters later, we realize that all of that was ancillary to the plot, and doesn’t have any bearing on Trixa’s plan to stop the demon killer. It’s essentially just a time waster until Rob Thurman decided she was ready to move on with the real plot, the rising action of which lasts for approximately four pages.
              You got that right: four pages. That’s the entire length of time it takes for Trixa to lure Cronus to the desert, wage a battle of united angels and demons against him, stab him with a metaphysical water sword, kill him, and work out her interpersonal situation with Eligos. This was particularly frustrating, not because I wanted more of the rising action (at that point, I was practically begging for the book to be over), but because we had wasted at least twenty times that page length on the absolute drivel of Trixa’s thought process.
              The exposition of this book tries to be witty, snappy, quick, and clever, and it fails miserably, in a manner that is so over-the-top that I almost melted my husband’s insides with my rage stares. The sentences vacillate between discussions of the events that are currently happening to Trixa lamenting her recent weight gain to ruminations about her past as a trickster to complaints about the tourists in Las Vegas. It’s indecipherable. It’s hard to give a good picture of the craziness of the writing without including full paragraphs, but here are a few sentences (that occur IN A ROW in this book) to give you somewhat of an idea: “Except for geese. Geese feared and respected no one. No ankle, human or otherwise, was safe. It could be even Titans like Cronus bowed to their pure, feathered evil. It was worth thinking about. And I did as I thought about other equally ridiculous things. I liked ridiculous things. I avoided the pond and jogged to the mesquite flats for a real run. Once there had been homeless people there, but the police had run them off some time ago and I often found the flats empty except for jackrabbits and ground squirrels. It was quiet company, although at least once during every run a chipmunk tried to commit suicide by diving under my feet. They weren’t bright, but they were pretty to look at ... Much like Leo’s dates.”

              THAT IS BONKERS. If I wanted to listen to the incessant ramblings of a high-maintenance person who didn’t realize that no one cared, I would go to the bars in a college town. This is supposed to be a fantasy action book; please leave out the commentary on chipmunks and geese. She just jumps from one thought to the next without any semblance of a train of thought, and we’re expected not only to follow, but to be interested in it. That is just beyond me.
My favorite example, and the one I’ll leave you with to close out my review, is this, “I was justice. Eli was only Hannibal Lector crossed with a T. rex -- a sociopathic carnivore. I killed the wicked, if necessary. He would kill anyone and anything. But he was gone before I could tell him so. Not that I would’ve bothered and not that he would’ve cared. No, I wouldn’t have bothered and he wouldn’t have cared, but I would’ve cared... a little.