Saturday, November 4, 2017

Greasers and Socs

There are two kinds of people in this world: Greasers and Socs. Which one are you?

The terms come from S.E. Hinton's novel The Outsiders. It's a classic of young adult fiction and if you haven't read it, shame on you! There's a movie, too, which I have fondness for in spite of the fact that Tom Cruise is in it.

It's a story of two gangs: The Greasers and the Socs.

Socs take their name from "socials." They are children of privilege with letterman jackets, nice cars, and an overinflated sense of self importance. They are definitely the bad guys. Hinton's sympathies (and the readers') are solidly with the Greasers.

Greasers have it rough. They don't have "good" parents or even any parents at all. Their lives are impacted by need, violence, neglect, and substance abuse. They meet with societal censure for their clothing and homes. They are from the wrong side of the tracks.

It might be a very simple world view, but I think all of us are either Greasers or Socs. Once we are adults, it's more about your life attitude than your socio-economic-status, but the designations hold. Let's talk for just a few minutes and I'll tell if you are one of us or one of them.

Socs have money. They have always had money. They don't know what it's like not to have money, and they don't have sympathy for money problems. If you grew up poor, it's less likely that you will ever be a soc. Because they don't know what it's like not to have something you need, Socs don't appreciate what they have. The worst of them don't even know what it's like not to have something you merely want. Having all the things they want doesn't make them generous. In fact, it makes them hoard what they have, trying to collect more and more and not caring that they have more than they need while others struggle to meet their basic needs. As adults, they drive BMWs too fast and cut off other drivers. They shove in line. They think the rules don't apply to them. They worry about me and mine first at all times.

I'm a Greaser. Compared to some of my childhood friends, I grew up privileged. But I still know what it's like to have to wait for things I need and not be able to get things I want. I've seen ebb and flow in income and know that sometimes you have to look at the long game. You have to sacrifice in one area to do what is needed in another. Because I couldn't and can't have whatever I want when I want it, I have learned to prioritize needs and wants and to appreciate the things I have. I try to help others. Us Greasers are in this together. We support one another.

“That's why people don't ever think to blame the Socs and are always ready to jump on us. We look hoody and they look decent. It could be just the other way around - half of the hoods I know are pretty decent guys underneath all that grease, and from what I've heard, a lot of Socs are just cold-blooded mean - but people usually go by looks.”
― S.E. HintonThe Outsiders 

For this reason, parents, I argue against raising Socs. Even if you have the income to do it, you don't do your children any favors by raising them with a sense of entitlement and self-importance. It's a dangerous road, slick with oils and without enough guardrails. It's easy to veer off the path into questionable morality and then into outright illegal and immoral acts. Socs can go a long time without getting caught, the cost to the soul notwithstanding, but when the consequences catch up to them, it's spectacular. There are washed out mug shots and corpses littering the ground.

We all want our children to do well, but there's a difference between handing your children everything and giving them the life skills they need. Greaser children have empathy. They know that it's important to work hard and do well for themselves, but they also know that their needs might not be the most important needs in the room at any given moment. They understand that resources are limited and that they should go to those in deepest need first. They try to solve problems themselves, and are patient about waiting for help when it is needed.

I'd rather teach a room full of Greasers than a room full of Socs. Soc children will constantly call for my attention over things it is entirely possible to solve for oneself. They want the validation of my attention, even when they are snatching it from another child who needs it more. Greaser children will try to help each other first. Only after they've exhausted their options will they ask for help. When they get help, they remember to say thank you for it.

In fact, I prefer Greasers to the point that I have to watch my bias in my interactions with others, keep myself from assuming you're a Soc on the inside based on the appearance of your outside. I have a basic mistrust of people who are too pretty, especially pretty in a polished, practiced way. It makes me wonder about your priorities. If your surface is too smooth, I doubt you have depth.

“It seemed funny that the sunset she saw from her patio and the one I saw from the back steps was the same one. Maybe the two worlds we lived in weren’t so different. We saw the same sunset.”
― S.E. HintonThe Outsiders

One of the themes in the novel was the idea that we all watch the same sunset. It's another version of the old saw about all living under the same sky.  It's a nice idea. But I wonder about its truth. Maybe I'm just getting cynical as I get old, but I truly wonder if the Socs of this world really do see the same sunset I do. If we view it and interpret it so differently, is it really still the same sunset?

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Post by Samantha Bryant, another bookish fangirl. You can learn more about her and her work at http://samanthabryant.com

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Why I Love Fan Conventions

Me with Angela Pritchett at the Southern Voices Book Launch Party. Picture by Leona Wisoker of The Scribbling Lion.
So, I went to Con-Gregate for the second time this summer, a small sci-fi/fantasy convention in High Point, North Carolina, where I was a guest author. I knew I was going to have fun, and my expectations were exceeded. There's nothing like spending time with people who love the same things you are passionate about. And--hey, bonus! I sold some books, too.

I was thinking about what makes time at a con so great. After all, there's a lot about a con experience that is hard on me. There's seldom enough quiet recharge time for an introvert like me. Or at least you have to choose whether you'll take the time for personal recharge or the opportunity to connect with like-minded folk (never an easy choice).

It costs money and I'm a schoolteacher in North Carolina, so I don't really have any of that. (As a guest author, usually my con fees are waived, but I will still need to get myself there, pay for a place to sleep and buy food and drinks).

If I'm to attend, then I have to rely on others (my husband and sister, usually) to take over the things I would normally have been doing--giving my kids rides, walking the dog, feeding people, etc. When you're a "giver" sort of person, it can be hard to be the one receiving help. I have to fight the guilt over being a little selfish and taking this time for me and my writing career.

But, still, even with all the cons of cons (ha! I amuse me) I *love* going to cons.

I was sitting in a session given by AJ Hartley, a Special Writer Guest of the con, called "What Can Genre Authors Learn from Shakespeare?" when I realized what it is. It's the level of discourse.

In my ordinary day to day life, I teach middle school. Some of my colleagues and students are brilliant shining minds that dazzle and challenge me, but a lot of them aren't. Not all of them are there because they want to be or because they love what we've come together to do. In fact, how few of them want to be there is a little depressing when you consider that I got into teaching, in part, to share my passion for learning and books.

But, as I sat in that session, I realized with a kind of rush that I was in a room of 30 some odd people (and some of us are really odd people) who love both speculative fiction AND Shakespeare. People with passionate opinions about things like whether the ghosts are really there in Macbeth and Hamlet or are just in the minds of the haunted.



Over the course of my weekend, I was part of conversations about moral boundaries in superhero stories, what white straight people writing more diverse characters need to consider, what constitutes cultural appropriation, why representation matters, what tropes serve stories well and which ones are offensive, advantages and disadvantages of different paths to publishing, why gender and race are more than check-box categories, and the difference between true (nonfiction) and heart-true.

My TBR list which is already longer than the time I will probably be on this earth grew by leaps and bounds, as did my list of shows to watch, music to explore, clothing to buy, places to go, and stories to write. It reminds me of the best moments of college.

It's worth the introvert coma that follows just to talk this deeply for a few days. It really is. Do any of you have any favorite fan conventions in your necks of the woods? If not, how do you get your geek on?
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Post by Samantha Bryant, another bookish fangirl. You can learn more about her and her work at http://samanthabryant.com

Friday, September 1, 2017

Back to Hogwarts: The Hogwarts Tag


I was not a fan of school, but you better believe that if I got my Hogwarts letter I'd march right back to the education system for seven years of magical learning.

To celebrate the 1st of September, the official day that Hogwarts students take the Hogwarts Express back to school, I'll be doing the Hogwarts Tag. I'm not sure who the original creator is, but I saw it done by Dawlyn and Krista at Little Blind Book Finds. Be sure to check out their post and see the different answers they each have.

Am I Pure-blood, Half-blood, or Muggle Born?


I saw it explained somewhere once that a Pure-blood is a person who has read all of the books and seen all of the movies. Going by this statement, I'd surely be a Pure-blood Wizard (though not like the Malfoys! Much nicer.). ;)

Which wand chose me?


My wand, according to Pottermore, would be made of Elm with a Unicorn hair core, 10 3/4" with hard flexibility.

Did I take an owl, cat, rat, or toad with me?


An owl I can borrow from school if I need to, but I couldn't get through months of work like this without a cat by my side. 

Where did the Sorting Hat put me?


I would have been surprised to go anywhere else! Ravenclaw is home for me.

What house did I want to be in?


I don't suppose Hufflepuff would've been too bad and I do get it as a secondary house sometimes on quizzes. To be fair, though, my hybrid house is Slytherin, so I may well have found myself in green at Hogwarts.

What lessons are my favorite and least favorite?

Favorite: Charms. 


Least Favorite: History of Magic. I wouldn't mind reading Hogwarts, A History on my own time, but Professor Binns sounds downright dreadful. 



The form my Patronus takes.


How perfect that my Patronus is a cat. I wonder if I'd ever learn how to make three at once like McGonagall?

What does a Boggart look like to me?


Since I don't think a Boggart could accurately portray my fear of heights, I'll say Umbridge. This emotionally abusive, manipulative witch is something I couldn't deal with.

Do I partake in any magical sports or school activities?


According to the Harry Potter Wikia page, there was a knitting club at Hogwarts. It sounds like something I would've joined as, while I love Quidditch, I don't think I'd actually be a good flyer. In this club, I bet we'd learn how to make the images on our more involved projects move like wizarding photographs. Neat!

Where would I find myself hanging in my spare time?


While the library would probably get a lot of attention, I think I'd also sit under a tree next to the Black Lake as well. I do want to see this enormous squid!

What would I most likely get detention for?


Staying too late in the library, whether due to schoolwork or personal interest.

What career do I want after leaving Hogwarts?


I took a quiz and got Professor. The librarian at Hogwarts could be considered a professor, right? *lol* I'm not sold on the idea of teaching, but as Hagrid and a few others have shown us, it can be fun. I'd probably be the person in the gif, dancing around with the books after all the students have gone. :D



I tag anyone that would like to do this tag! A new year at Hogwarts has begun and we have until May, when inevitably some sort of trouble will occur. Maybe we can get through our exams this year. ^^;







All pictures, quotes, and videos belong to their respective owners. I use them here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Blood Moon by John David Bethel

Review by E.J. Hammon
 
Based on the actual kidnapping and torture of Marc Schiller in Miami, Florida, Blood Moon is a fictionalized retelling of his story. The action begins shortly after several body parts are found in a fountain by a dog walker. We are then propelled directly into the brutal abduction and attempted murder of Miami resident, Recidio Suarez. Having built his wholesale food company into a multi-million dollar enterprise, he attracts the notice of local thugs. Their leader, Blaine Nesbit, turns Suarez’s business partner against him and a plan is set in motion to kidnap him. Blaine and Dario intend to steal all of his money in the guise of what will seem like legitimate business transactions. Despite attempts to hide their identities, Recidio immediately recognizes Blaine from past interactions and his business partner, Dario Pedrajo. Suarez is held in a warehouse and forced to sleep in a cardboard box over a thirty day period. During that time, his kidnappers make him sign legal documents and write out checks to them, so that he is left with nothing. They regularly beat him and chop off three fingers from his left hand in an attempt to keep him under control. Their plan goes awry when, after pushing him off a ledge, Recidio survives. His attorney makes it well known that Recidio will get his money back and put them in prison. Eventually, Recidio’s demure and soft-spoken wife, Carolina, reaches out to a local cartel to put her husband’s kidnappers in their place. The ending of the book is bloody and much more fiction that reality.
 
I found the book itself well-written and definitely not for the faint of heart. Bethel writes with intelligence and can paint a picture with words. I felt like I could see the interior of the warehouse and experience the crushing blows raining down on our protagonist during his kidnapping. The writing was so visual that it became very hard to read, not for how it was written, but for the subject matter. Though I frequently read a great many true crime books, imagining the torture of this man was highly uncomfortable. The drama after Recidio is sent to his death was fast-paced and enjoyable. Some of the decisions the characters made were questionable. I had a problem with Recidio’s wife, Carolina, becoming a mercenary to avenge her husband. I realize this book was a fictional account of an actual crime, but bringing a one-dimensional character to the forefront out of nowhere was hard to follow. If Carolina had been described earlier in the book a bit more, I would have found her later introduction more palatable. Also, when Recidio’s attorney confronted his tormenters, it felt forced. What victim wants to make their attackers aware of their intentions before being given the chance to strike out against them? Overall, the book was a fast read and kept me on my seat. Though the ending was satisfying, it could have been made more realistic and followed the actual story closer. That being said, I would read more of Bethel’s work, if only for the intense and colorful language he pens with ease.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Review: Ross Poldark


Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Poldark has made quite a splash in the latest televised version. It's a big hit with many of my friends, with old fashioned eye candy in the Colin Firth and "the shirt" sort of way, coupled with sweeping vistas and fast moving dramatic relationship driven plot lines. I'm a big believer in "read the book first" when it comes to adaptations of literature, so when one of my book clubs chose Ross Poldark, I was excited to find out what all the fuss was about.

I did enjoy the book, in a light, escapist popcorn sort of way. For me to be able to love it more deeply, it would have to be a deeper book.

In some ways, this read like an outline for a book. Obviously, I'm supposed to feel for Ross Poldark and be cheering for him. And I do, at a certain level. If I list for you the circumstances of his life, there's a lot to elicit interest and sympathy. War veteran returns home to find his father dead and his family home basically in ruins and has to rebuild his fortune while dealing with a broken heart.

Yet, even though the book centers around this man, he's strangely passive in his own life. Things happen around him, and he seems to make choices that earn him praise among the common folk (rare for someone of his more aristocratic birth), but I never feel as though he did anything particularly on purpose, or thought further ahead than the moment in front of him. He doesn't have an interior life or strong opinions. So, instead of the main character, he feels like a guy I hear vague rumors about.

I was put off by the romance with Demelza, even though I did like where it went once they were together. The fact that she comes into his life as a child and basically grows up in his care, then awkwardly seduces him because she doesn't want to go back to her father…well, so MUCH of that gave me the wiggins. I like Demelza a great deal as a character, but the yuck factor in how this romance came about takes the enjoyment out of it for me.

As a writer myself, I was confused by some of Graham's choices as to what to show and what to leave "off screen" to tell us about later. Several times, there was a big, dramatic moment with no conclusion, and the next chapter picked up with something mundane and threw in how that drama ended up as a sort of throwaway: "by the way, folks, she didn't die after all" or "oh yeah--he married her." Huh?

So, it was a nice, light read. And I will probably watch the TV adaptation now. I hear the Demelza is closer to Ross's age on screen and more his equal in a lot of ways. That modernization might help a great deal.

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Review by Samantha Bryant, another bookish fangirl. You can learn more about her and her work at http://samanthabryant.com

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Unpopular Opinions: Gilmore Girls is Not that Great

I'm sure you've all heard that Netflix did a new Gilmore Girls show. It's old news, but I don't have that much time for TV, so I'm just getting to it.

I didn't watch the old one when it was on, but thought I should now that people are talking about it again. It's one of those shows that I've heard a lot about. Lots of intelligent women I like and admire enjoy it and I always intended to watch it someday.

So, I've been giving it a go. I'm in Season 2 right now.

I don't quite hate it enough to walk away. I'll still watch more. But I definitely don't love it.

Dialogue: 
People who told me I'd like the show praised the dialogue.

And, yes, there are some cute bits. I tend to like Luke's rants better than Lorelei's. I snorted during a recently-watched episode when Luke went on about how unprepared he was to become the sudden parent figure for his nephew. "I have no patience for jam hands!"

But these bits feel like staged monologues to me, or maybe dialogues when Lorelei and Rory do one together. Kind of like bits by Abbott and Costello, but with less real emotion and more elbowing you to make sure you've noticed how clever they are.

In short, the dialogue is fun, in a plastic, surface-y, insincere way. But it doesn't move me.

Quirk overload:

So, this town is on quirk overload.

I enjoy some good quirky characters. As a younger woman, I was half in love with Chris in the Morning on Northern Exposure, another show set in an imaginary town full of odd people.

But there's too much quirk for me in Stars Hollow. When everyone is bizarre, the bizarre gets boring. You need a straight man for the comedian to play off of. But here, everyone is Groucho Marx and there's no Margaret Dumont.

When I lived in Nome, Alaska, I used to joke that instead of a town drunk, they had me: the town sober. Stars Hollow doesn't have one! Even the curmudgeons are just a different brand of quirky. Thank goodness for the outsider perspective of characters like Dean and Max who can at least see that this place is a few sandwiches short of a picnic.

Lorelei:

And Lorelei is here to out-quirk them all. She's the manic pixie dream girl sent to torture Luke and we're supposed to cheer for them to get together. I'm like, "Luke, Dude, back away from the manic pixie. Those things will eat you alive!"

Lorelei is beloved among the quirk-tastic denizens of this town above all others. I'm waiting to see why. So far, she seems just irresponsible and self-centered, only interested in other people to the degree that they are foils for herself. The way she treats Sookie, for example, grates on my nerves. Friendship, dear Lorelei is a two-way street, and you are a terrible friend.

Which leads me to my biggest complaint:

Suspension of Disbelief:

I don't believe this story. I have no trouble watching shows that are patently untrue and feature characters doing things that are physically impossible like flying or running at the speed of light or reading minds or any number of crazy things. But, I have to be able to lose myself in the story, accepting the world around me as real, believe that the characters can do the things they do. And I just don't do that on this show.

The backstory, as I understand it so far is:

Lorelei was a poor little rich girl who didn't want her debutante life. She got pregnant at sixteen, ran away from home, and settled in this tiny town not too far from where her parents lived. She convinced a woman who owned an inn to employ her and give her a place to live with her infant and, over the next sixteen years, worked her way up until she is now running the inn. The child she raised alone while doing all of this is a Mary Sue of a girl with no serious bad habits or scars from her poorly supervised childhood.

I don't buy it.

I don't buy that Lorelei had the gumption to build a life for herself whens she'd been raised a pampered rich girl.

And even if I could buy that, I don't buy that this sixteen year old child had the patience to raise a baby with such care and love, even while working full time to keep them in food and shelter, that they are now so close it's of interest to Freud.

I don't buy that the kid came through unscathed: kindhearted, generous, bookish, ambitious, and of chaste habits.

I've been a single mother. It was only for two years, thank G-d. I was thirty-two. I had the support and help of my parents. I was lucky. And it was still freaking hard! I was exhausted all the time.

Lorelei, as portrayed so far, isn't woman enough to have done all she is supposed to have done.

And if she were, why would she give up so quickly on funding her daughter's education without mommy and daddy's checkbook? Surely Stars Hollow could have funded her with a giant quirky festival that raised the tuition dollars if her independence was that important to her.

Conclusions: 
Gilmore Girls is glib. I value sincerity and deep emotions (in life and in fiction). This show has a pretty surface, but it admires itself too much. While there are some things about it that are refreshing and interesting, after watching 1.5 seasons, I'm afraid I still don't get it.

So what do you think, people of the Internet? Want to help me understand what's so great about this show? Tell me I'm wrong? Agree with me? Please comment below. I'd love to know what you think, too.

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Post by Samantha Bryant, another bookish fangirl. You can learn more about her and her work at http://samanthabryant.com

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Review: Brass Giant by Brooke Johnson



Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I have such mixed feelings about this book. There was a lot I enjoyed. The setting, the steampunk gears-and-machines geekery, the main character's gumption (sometimes--she completely lacked gumption in some parts), the fairy tale strange path to your dreams feel. I even liked the Dickensian "orphan is more than she seems" fun. I was definitely pulled into the story and wanted to see Petra make her engineering dreams come true and find true love and change the world. I was cheering for our heroes, so that's a win.

But there was also a lot that disappointed. An unnecessary plot thread involving a rejected suitor turned potential rapist. It seems like we could have come up with a more natural sort of peril rather than giving a character who was presented as innocuous such a vicious turn.

The amount of the book spent on mooning over chocolate hair and copper eyes. I have limited stomach for swooning romance and at times the romance overwhelmed the elements that interested me more.

Interesting small characters that completely disappeared never to be thought of even for a moment when they weren't actively participating in the scene (Solomon? Matron? Mr. Stricket?) Other small characters that seemed to have gone to the Snidely Whiplash school of villainy.

Emmerich, our stalwart hero, was one-note in the way he protected Petra by seeming to betray her. Twice in such a short piece is at least once too often.

In the end, I can say I enjoyed it, but I wanted it to be more than it ended up being, to push a little deeper, reach a little higher. There was unreached potential in this book.

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Review by Samantha Bryant, another bookish fangirl. You can learn more about her and her work at http://samanthabryant.com

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

✈️ liquids in carry-on bags are limited to 3oz per TSA regulations, but nobody ever said anything about the amount of books one could bring… 😅 💌 I've gotten some amazing bookmail in the past few weeks from @PenguinTeen and @theauthorscurse 😻😻 I'll feature some photos on these books individually in the coming weeks. for now I'm in #vacationmode and I'm bringing @maggie_stiefvater's ALL THE CROOKED SAINTS along for the journey. ✈️QOTD: what's on your list of must-haves when traveling? My wireless headphones are a personal must because I love to zone out and listen to podcasts!


My Cheese Problem


I have a metaphorical cholesterol problem. I just can't get enough cheese!

No, I don't mean cheddar or muenster or gouda (though all of those are also good-ah).

I mean so bad they're good, groan-fests: cheesy movies.

Call them what you will. B movies. Cult Classics. Guilty pleasures. Misunderstood genius. Mistakes. Train wrecks. Disasters. Silly. Fun.

The "it factor" that defines them for me seems to be that in popular, general terms, these movies are not regarded as good. They wouldn't win Oscars for anything, not
even set design or soundtrack. They're melodramatic and overwrought. The plots are weak and require serious suspension of disbelief. Characters are drawn in broad strokes, not with subtlety or nuance. They don't grow or change. The journey is just surviving the adventure.

But they have heart.

I'm not as fond of the ones that are doing it on purpose, stuff like Sharknado or Snakes on a Plane. A truly cheesy movie has to be sincere, so it can't know that it's a cheesy movie. It has to believe in itself or the magic doesn't work. Sure, the costumes may be bad, the acting even worse, but there's something about the very lack of professionalism and controlled artistry that is a siren call for me. There's no distance. They *mean* it.

Especially in the summertime, when I'm in recovery from nine months of relentless, demanding classroom work and I want my escape, I turn to cheesy movies. Candy for my brain. Wonderful, possibly hallucinogenic candy.

I blame my father.

We used to watch the worst movies together after cartoons on Saturdays, so besides the attraction of the high drama and unbridled imagination or the allure of no-holds-barred who-cares-if-you're-offended transgressiveness, there's also a nostalgic comfort like Chef Boyardee and Ovaltine. Maybe it's not good for me, but it's cozy.

So, whenever I'm not busy this summer (and I'm awfully busy, considering it's summer: teaching, going to conventions, meeting deadlines, etc.), you can find me trolling the bowels of Netflix looking for the best cheese. (Or at the Carolina, where sometimes they play it for me on the big screen!).


Any other cheesy movie fans out there? 

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Review by Samantha Bryant, another bookish fangirl. You can learn more about her and her work at http://samanthabryant.com

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Review: Steeplejack by A.J. Hartley



Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This is a brave and wonderful book, tackling race and class in the context of political intrigue and a murder mystery through the eyes of a 17-year-old steeplejack. If you like historical fiction coupled with suspense and thriller elements, this story is for you.

The world building for Bar-Selehm (a fantasy version of South Africa) is deep and fascinating, and deftly interwoven into the story so naturally and organically that you don't notice it as you read, but find yourself immersed. This post colonial historical fantasy never becomes pedantic or lingers too long in exposition, but still really paints a fascinating world.

The three main kinds of people we encounter are the white colonial Feldish people, Lani immigrants descended from indentured servants (like the main character), and indigenous black Mahweni people, both city-dwelling and unassimilated. We see a variety of characters of all three groups and get a good cross section of the city.

Anglet or Ang, the main character, is pretty amazing. Not only is she physically adept enough to make her living as a steeplejack, which involves climbing to dizzying heights and repairing masonry, she's also smart, independent but still connected to others, and insightful. She's physically strong, and making it as a young woman in what is essentially a job for boys (not even men, because most don't live that long).

I quickly found myself on her side and cheering for her, which is a good thing, since the novel is entirely in her perspective. If I have one complaint about her, it's that she's a little too perfect, stopping just this side of being more properly named Mary Sue. But there were enough times that she needed to rely on others, that I was able to forgive the slightly implausible range of her skill set.

For most of the book, the pacing is beautiful, giving us hints of what to come at the right time, but not giving things away too soon or manipulating too broadly with red herrings.

Unfortunately, the ending felt rushed, to the point that several lingering plot points were resolved by looking into a single carriage at the end of the climactic scene and finding that not only were situations we worried about resolved, but the people involved were all in the carriage. My suspension of disbelief was also stretched thin by the number of things one of Ang's friends was able to resolve for her so quickly, the one time that the difficulties a person of his race might have in being heard by the right people was ignored. I was glad he succeeded, but part of me doubted he could have.

If not for these few flaws, which are small in the scheme of things, and didn't really interfere much with my enjoyment as I read, I would be able to call this a perfect book. The language is beautiful and I marked several passages for their poetic nature or spot-on insights into larger philosophies. Bravo!


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Review by Samantha Bryant, another bookish fangirl. You can learn more about her and her work at http://samanthabryant.com

Monday, July 10, 2017

Review: Tokoyo Tarareba Girls Vol. 1 by Akiko Higashimura



Published: 14 February 2017

Publisher: Kodansha

Category: Manga (Josei)/Slice of Life/Romance

"I spent all my time wondering 'what if,' then one day I woke up and I was 33." She's not that bad-looking, but before she knew it, Rinko was thirty-something and single. She wants to be married by the time the Tokyo Olympics roll around in six years, but...that might be easier said than done! The new series by Akiko Higashimura erupts with sharp opinions on girls and tons of laughs!!

Rating: 4 Stars

I'll admit, the first thing that caught my eye about this manga was the tag line:

"I spent all my time wondering 'what if,' then one day I woke up and I was 33."

I'm approaching my 32nd birthday this November and that line really resonated with me. Sometimes you don't realize how much time is passing while you're getting by in your day to day life, talking about all these plans for someday or maybe. Rinko, the main character of Tokyo Tarareba Girls, has just that shock one day after a manicure from her best friend, realizing it's been ten years since the first one and what's changed while so much has remained the same.

The art style has a nice touch for a modern story. I didn't realize when I bought the first volume that this is the same manga-ka that wrote/drew Princess Jellyfish, another series that's on my TBR. I'm not very familiar with it, but I noticed that Higashimura-san included at least one nod to her other series (a web series that Rinko wrote the script for it called Jellyfish Princess, for example). I love it when authors include Easter eggs like that for their fans. Further to the art style, there are moments of overreaction from the characters, such as when Rinko was given a ring as a birthday gift on a first date, and I liked that while the emotion was evident, it was too over the top, as some manga can be.

On to the story: I LOVE Rinko's friends that are there for her no matter one. One is Kaori, the friend that is a nail stylist, and the other is Koyuki, the daughter of parents who own the pub the girls consider the best in Japan. Whenever one of them is in need, they have a girls night at the pub and hash out their problems, dissecting the problem and talking it over alongside a good beer.

Another fun character is Rinko's co-worker Mami, a younger woman who dresses in outrageous styles and funky jewelry. I think the first time we saw her, her outfit consisted of a monster print top and an eyeball ring. While she's bit more freewheeling than Rinko, they really do mesh well together in the small office they share (it's just the two of them in Rinko's office/writing studio). There's some conflict, of course, but nothing that ruins their working relationship.

Key is an aggravating character because he acts as a counterpoint and a real-life version of what, I think, Rinko is feeling deep down. He constantly criticizes the girls when they're drinking at the pub and Rinko when they meet through work. I'm not sure what he will be in the future. Will he turn into a romantic interest? Will he lead Rinko, Koyuki, or Kaori toward a new path? The cliffhanger of an ending certainly complicates things and makes me wonder who is sincere and who is being played. What's going on with this guy? I'm going to have to read more to find out!

The comedic moments were well spread out. There were some moments when suffering a disappointment, her mind's eye had lightning striking her office building and demolishing everything; also, Rinko's food talked to her (she'd been drinking) and afterwards these food-shaped characters become her conscious. Those foods, apparently, are the favorite snacks of the author AND make up the name tarareba: codfish ("tara") milt and liver ("reba") which means "what-if" when put together. It makes sense because in the Japanese translation, at the end of their sentences they say their individual characters, positing the question to Rinko: what if?

These were funny moments among a steady contemporary story that was a quick read that left me wanting to read more about Rinko, her what-ifs, and what the future will be like before the next Tokyo Olympics.



All pictures, quotes, and videos belong to their respective owners. I use them here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.



Friday, July 7, 2017

Review: Classic Reads: We Have Always Lived in the Castle






First Published: 1962

I've been a bit of a re-reading kick. 

Partly, this is because I'm in a classics book club at my library, and about half the time the book club selection is something I've already read. I was, after all, a high school English teacher for a decade or so, and have been a reader all my life, so I've read a fair amount of classic literature. Up till now, I've not really been a re-reader. There are so many books out there I haven't yet read yet that it's hard to decide to go back for something instead of taking something out of my endless TBR pile. 

But re-reading is a different kind of experience, especially if many years have passed between reads and you are now a different person in a different phase of life than you were when you first read it. Some books don't hold up, and you wonder what your younger self was thinking. Some books are improved because you are in a place your life that connects with that story better now. Some books are deepened by revisiting them. 

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson is one of those books for me. 

Shirley Jackson was a writer I read at a very impressionable time of life, middle school to early high school. Like many students, I encountered her short story The Lottery, which is probably the most well known thing that Jackson ever wrote. That story raised the hairs on the back of my neck and shocked me. So, I sought out everything else of hers I could find and read it. I realize now that Shirley Jackson is probably responsible for a lot of my own aesthetic as an author: that attraction to the strange, gothic, frightening, and psychological story, full of murky motivations. 

When I decided to re-read it, I didn't remember a lot of detail about the book, though it was surrounded with a fondness and a sureness that it would be good. I think I mostly remembered the atmosphere, and that there was a creepy child. I adore creepy children in literature. 

I got the audiobook this time from Audible. Bernadette Dunne, the narrator, has a very young sounding voice that is still dark, which was perfect for narrating as Mary Kat, the sociopathic girl at the heart of this story. It was one of those cases where the narration truly enhanced the book. 

What I hadn't remembered was the suspense. The slow reveal of what had happened, and how Shirley Jackson was able to surprise me at so many turns by going a different direction than I expected and still thrilling me. Because I didn't remember the plot well, I wasn't sure how the story would end. 

The genius is in how Jackson can play on your sympathies. The main character is an unreliable narrator and a frightening person, and yet she has my sympathy. I'm on her side. Hopefully that doesn't mean I'm a secret sociopath. 

Having revisited this book, I am renewed as a Shirley Jackson fan and will be rereading all her works, this time with a writer's eye to figure out the keys to her magic so I can steal them for myself. 

If you haven't read this or other Shirley Jackson, you should definitely check her out. She's one of those quietly influential writers that many others have imitated, consciously or unconsciously. She took the old fashioned gothic sensibility and intermixed it with psychological horror and domesticity to create a suspenseful and fascinating blend. An under-appreciated genius. 

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Review by Samantha Bryant, another bookish fangirl. You can learn more about her and her work at http://samanthabryant.com

Monday, July 3, 2017

Review: Reenu-You by Michele Tracy Berger



Published: 2 May 2017 

Publisher: Book Smugglers Publishing

Category: Post-Apocalyptic, Women's Fiction, African American

"New York City, August 1998. On a muggy summer day, five women wake up to discover purple scab-like lesions on their faces—a rash that pulses, oozes, and spreads in spiral patterns. City clinic doctors dismiss the women’s fears as common dermatitis, a regular skin rash. But as more women show up with the symptoms, one clear correlation emerges: an all-natural, first-of-its-kind hair relaxer called Reenu-You.

As the outbreak spreads, and cases of new rashes pop up in black and latino communities throughout New York, panic and anger also grows. When the malady begins to kill, medical providers and the corporation behind the so-called hair tonic face charges of conspiracy and coercion from outraged minority communities and leaders across the country.

At the heart of the epidemic are these five original women; each from different walks of life. As the world crumbles around them, they will discover more about each other, about themselves, and draw strength to face the future together."


Rating: 4 Stars


Hair is a complicated topic, especially if your hair isn't naturally long and straight and pliable. You know: white.

That's why the women in this story relax their hair, with the newest wonder-product on the market: Reenu-You. The product is touted as all natural, so pure you could even eat it. Of course, it's not all it's made out to be.

Pulling from a wide range of tropes of science fiction, Berger has written a compelling story full of conspiracy and danger.

Five women who all used the product and had horrifying side effects are drawn together in ways they themselves don't fully understand. The story was political commentary, a cautionary tale, an exploration of women's friendship, and an apocalyptic infection story, among other things.

Berger uses the playground of this speculative tale to explore and consider issues of race, gender, age, class, urbanity, and so much more, yet it doesn't feel preachy or pedantic. You just find yourself thinking and considering while you're quickly turning the pages to find out what will happen next.

The novella read very quickly, pulling me along with my curiosity to understand what was going on with this product and its effects on the group of women the story follows. I was left feeling a little lost at the end, when the mystery is not fully resolved. I did wish for at least a little more resolution, even while part of me felt that an open ending might be the right one for the story. There's definitely room for the story to go further.

This novella is part of Book Smugglers' Novella Initiative, which will include several other novellas running the gamut of speculative fiction. After reading this one, I'm excited to try out some of the others. 
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Review by Samantha Bryant, another bookish fangirl. You can learn more about her and her work at http://samanthabryant.com

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Ten Reasons I'm looking forward to Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo written by Jennifer Rummel

 

I'm happy to be talking about this book because I'm really excited to read it. I never thought I'd be into superheroes until I watched the Avengers. But they never have enough Black Widow and other female heroines in it. So I'm more than just a little excited for books with female superheroes and here are just a few reasons why:

1. That cover!
2. It's Wonder Woman and she rocks
3. Strong female character kicking butt
4. Actually make that 2 of them
5. Helen of Troy descendant
6. Sisterhood
7. Feminism
8. Action and danger
9. Saving the world
10. The start of a new series with lady superheroes

August seems SO far away right now...

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Review: Kingyo Used Books Vol. 1 by Seimu Yoshizaki


Amazon  -  Barnes & Noble  -  Goodreads

Published: 20 April 2010 (English translation)

Publisher: Viz Media LLC

Category: Sequential Art/Fiction/Books About Books

"Every bookstore has a thousand stories to tell. Every bookstore has a thousand stories to tell. An art student finds inspiration. An archer hits a bull's-eye. A homemaker rediscovers romance. A teenager discovers his true self in the pages of a manga magazine. All this and more at Kingyo Used Books, a place that helps people find their dreams."

Rating: 4 Stars

This series hearkens back to my love of books that are set and/or centered around bookshops or libraries, etc. There's just something about them, those collections of books whether for fun, knowledge, or a mix of the two, that brings me happiness. I've had the four English volumes for Kingyo Used Books sitting on my shelves for ages now, since back in high school I started cultivating something of a manga collection. Starting today, and with Volume 1 of this series, I'm going to read my way through my back catalog and review them all, something I never did before because at the time I didn't know what Goodreads was.

Kingyo Used Books is separated into chapters, so I'll present my reviews of those stories first and an overview at the end.

The Components of Memory: the first story in this volume features Tazawa, a career man who wants to sell his collection of manga to the bookstore. It's implied that he wants to do this because he views manga as something read once and then only by children. Now that he's grown up, he doesn't have time for them anymore and the volumes have taken up too much room for too long. This reflections upon something that once made him happy made me sad because how often do we treasure things so wholeheartedly as children and young adults only to lose them as we get older and the pressures of society and real life tell us that they're irrelevant now? The societal nature of Japan has something to play in this story, I'm sure, as the pressure to do well and in business is much different than what we face in America, so bearing that in mind and with my American perspective, I understood it, but I also felt profoundly sad.

Tazawa, while boxing up his manga, finds an invitation among junk mail to an elementary school class reunion. Deciding to attend, he reunites with old friends and the topic of manga comes up when one of the old friends returns a volume he'd lent her long ago. The discussion over favorite series, over how these series impacted their real lives (one of the men was in the baseball club, even, and loved a series called  Akutare Kyojin [a weekly serialized baseball manga from 1976]), brings back the fond memories had of reading volume after volume. These "components of memory" inspire him to share Kingyo Used Books with his old friends and they adjourn to the store. The shopkeeper, Natsuki-san, doesn't seem surprised to see him and tells him that customers are always welcome, even noting that he has with him the current week's serialized manga, a little thing that notes his return to the illustrated world.

The joy that these people get from finding their old favorites on the shelves and being introduced to new favorites reminds me somewhat of what I love about manga. It's always going to be there, even if you take a few years detour before coming back. Maybe it is like that for a lot of what we loved. Those things will always be there for us, waiting.

Hokusai Manga: Misaki, the main character of this story, is a student at Hamagasaki Art School. She has the passion to be an artist, but due to self doubt, her skill has been lacking of late. It doesn't help that her friend, Murano, is the darling of the school. His work wins prizes and it always gets compliments. Hoping to help her, Murano lends Misaki a manga by and about Katsushika Hokusai, but it hits a little too close to home for Misaki.

Misaki is involved in an accident on her way home one day and is "rescued" by Natsuki-san, the shopkeeper of Kingyo Used Books, who takes her back to the store to patch her up. While sitting down to recover, Misaki is surrounded by the vast manga inventory and gets to thinking about all of the people who strove toward their passion, despite not being what Misaki thought of as perfect art, the category she put Murano in at school. This time to think, to meditate almost, gives Misaki the courage to not only return to school and her art, but to buy the manga Murano had lent her and complete a project based on imitating an established artist.

It is while on the way home, walking along the beach the borders the school, that Misaki encounters Murano and we learn what is, I think, the lesson of this story. Murano is found burning all of his award winning work and he explains that it's because he doesn't have the art like Misaki does, that doing this forever isn't worthwhile if you don't have the heart for it, which he admits he doesn't. He enjoys art, but only so much as it is temporary, which he shares when he and Misaki pick up sticks and draw a wave in the sand, only for it to be washed out moments after completion.

Being able to find and hold onto your passion must be incredibly difficult, especially when in a field where you're being compared to others all the time, but Misaki finding the courage to continue despite not being considered on the level of Murano, and Murano living his life enjoying temporary art depsite the opinion of others, is an incredible feat.

Far Away: This story, ostensibly about an archer having trouble letting go of the pressure to do well and just doing, was more of an introductory chapter that brought out Shiba, the reclusive worker of Kingyo Used Books that is a die hard manga fan, and Seitaro Kaburagi (aka the Boss), Natsuki's grandfather and the owner of the store. When Sawaguchi, the archer, stumbles upon Shiba and the Boss on the beach, they get to talking about how sad he appears, why they try to force him to read a gag manga, and then an offer of a practice space at Boss's store.

While he follows them back and ultimately doesn't take Boss up on the offer, we're able to see through Sawaguchi's eyes how important the Boss is to Kingyo. Having recently been released to the hospital following, presumably, a lengthy illness, he wants nothing more than to enjoy manga and help others, including Sawaguchi himself. Other customers appear at the store, pleased to welcome the Boss back, and while Shiba reveals that you can find almost any manga at Kingyo, Sawaguchi makes the observation that the real heart of the place is the Boss. Not only is he a repository of knowledge, but he's a kind soul that welcomes in any person he meets and gets the what they need, whether advice or a book.

The Boy Detective Arrives: This was the first story in this collection that really struck me as sad. The titular boy detective refers to Ichiro, a cousin of Natsuki, who calls himself Billy after the main character of a treasured childhood manga. Like the main character of the manga, Ichiro grew up in the US despite being born in Japan, and found himself at odds with the culture. After being gifted the first volume of the Billy Puck manga, however, he found a purpose for his life and went on to become a detective, just like the boy in the manga.

Ichiro, now calling himself Billy after his idol, returns to Japan to meet not only his penpal (Shiba, Natsuki's coworker) but also the author of the Billy Puck manga. It's a true tragedy for him to discover, after speaking to Natsuki, that the man actually passed away long ago. It reminded me that someday, the authors of my favorite works will pass and how sad it will be to learn that there will never be new works to enjoy. Shiba knows the power of manga, though, and dresses as one of the famous villains from the manga in a LARPing attempt to cheer Ichiro/Billy up. There are other customers in the store that, inspired by the passionate demonstration of love for the Billy Puck manga, that immediately want to purchase and read the series.

What I take from this is that, even after the creators of our favorite books are gone, as long as we cherish their works and pass them along to new readers, they won't ever really be gone from this world.

A Country Without Manga: This vignette was my least favorite of the bunch because it didn't feel as powerful as the others; it didn't convey a message as strongly as any of the previous stories. In this one, we are introduced to a bit more of Natsuki's family (her father) and we come to understand that Shiba has feelings for her, though whether they can outweigh those of his love for manga has yet to be determined.

Through the interaction between Shiba and Natsuki's father, we learn the differences between father and son (this man is the Boss's son and does not like manga, with one exception). Will this familial difference come up in a future volume? Will it lead to a future story? It was unclear at the end and left A Country Without Manga feeling like a mere stepping stone, unlike the other vignettes that felt like they had purpose.

Fujiomi-kun: a story about a harried mother, this one resonated with me because as a mum to a six year old, I understood the feeling of trying to take care of a family and not always being able to attend to myself. The mother in this story is so busy trying to figure out her growing girl and, in the midst of planning a festival at her daughter's school, is called home to pick up some stored things. Among them is a manga that reminds her of some simpler times, joy before the busyness of adult life occurred, and it's this manga that actually enables her to finally make friends with another mother at the school festival. While she lends the book and it then gets lost in the shuffle of the festival, the experience of reconnecting and remembering proved that the happiness we have in childhood can be had again and is there for us in hard times, if we can only remember them.

The Sedori Business: A character that's flitted through our periphery before, Ayu is a sedori, a person who buys books cheaply from one used bookstore and resells them to other used bookstores for higher prices. The beginning of her story shows her coming up against a sexist bookseller, who she stands up to, even if she doubts her pride in some of the following panels. Her courage, however, does come back when a friend who owns a lending library reveals that they intend to retire due to a heart condition. Facing the loss of a childhood retreat, Ayu supports her friend despite that, especially when the woman gives her the books, telling her to sell them.

This shocks Ayu and makes her hesitant, particularly when the older woman enters the hospital following an accident. Rushing to the lending library to save the book from a leaking roof, Ayu and another sedori discover they were safely packed away, waiting for her to pick them up. Thinking about how many people loved the manga and how much Ayu loves them, however, her friend and fellow sedori Okadome encourages her to find someone that can carry on the legacy that her old friend began. A collection of manga that brings joy to so many, remaining for more generations to enjoy rather than being sold off for mere profit.

The messages of nostalgia, pride, and the importance of passing something along were strong in this story. I appreciated Ayu being brought back after a brief introduction earlier in the collection as a passing character and finding out more about her. I'd have liked to see her take over the lending library, but the fact that she was able to save the legacy of the place is enough for now, I think.

Extras: There are a few extras at the end of Volume One, one of which is Billy and Grandpa's Travel Log, a brief adventure of these two characters that was cute, but not particularly substantial. Following that were a few pages of in-depth information on the manga mentioned within Volume One. That, while not particularly exciting, would be very useful to anyone that wants to investigate some of the older titles and possibly procure them for their own collection.

Summary

The art was a good match for the realistic story telling. It never felt like it was straying into a different genre.

The stories, for the most part, has a clear message and I liked that. I thought that there wasn't enough of a connection to the main bookstore Kingyo, though. While the first stories took place in them and helped introduce us to some of the characters that work there, and there were appearances in further stories, I had hoped that we'd see more in-depth tales of Natsuki, her grandfather, and her co-worker. Maybe in later volumes this will happen? For now, though, I did like the customers that passed through and wonder what sort of people we'll encounter next time around.



All pictures, quotes, and videos belong to their respective owners. I use them here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.

Interview with Amy Davis Roth


1. Can you share a little about what you do? 

I am a multimedia artist who runs a handmade ceramic jewelry business called Surly-Ramics ( https://www.etsy.com/shop/surly ) I am also a painter, illustrator and photographer. I am co-host of the podcast Makers' Hustle that talks about the business of being a maker. ( http://makershustlepodcast.com ) I just published the illustrated book called The Feel Good Bar and Grill - A Book About Robots You can Color.

2. What made you choose this career?

 I grew up in a family of women artists and was raised from a young age to be creative. I started out as a painter and graphic designer and at one point opened and ran my own art gallery. That business failed so I went on to try to find other ways to make money making art and that is when I started making jewelry. It has just been in the past few years that I returned to illustration and painting. I find those talents a bit harder to make money off of particularly because women are taken a bit less seriously as artists, We can be crafters, that is considered socially acceptable and respectable, one of the reasons my jewelry business does well, but breaking into 2D imagery for profit can be daunting as our work is often looked at like a hobby or not legitimate work.

3. How long have you been doing it? 

I have run my Jewelry business for ten years, I do illustrations and then make molds to create my jewelry but as I mentioned I was a painter before that so I have been creating art for about 20 years now.

4. Do you do your own illustrations or do you have help with them? 

I do all my own illustrations. I don't have any help with that.

5. If people wanted to purchase your work where can they do so? 

I'm everywhere on social media as @SurlyAmy and my website Surlyramics.com is a portal to everything I do, plus you can check out, https://www.redbubble.com/people/surlyamyhttps://www.etsy.com/shop/surly and my recent book is available on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2qWZnK2 I also have a patreon where I create art every week and sent out monthly stickers and other fun stuff to my patrons: https://www.patreon.com/SurlyAmy

6. Do you have anything new in the works?

 Yes! I am currently working on a short story about birds who live in a post apocalyptic future and make art out of the objects left behind by the humans. You can follow the progress of that book and get all the illustrations as free downloads by pledging to my patreon.