Mini Reviews, Vol. 14

The Black Dove cover The Black Dove by Steve Hockensmith

Holmes On the Range Mystery #3 – I know, look at me reading all the series!

Big Red and Old Red Amlingmeyer end up “deducifying” in Gold Rush San Francisco, looking to solve the mystery of Dr. Chan’s death. Hockensmith does a good job of keeping these mysteries fresh; changing up the settings while staying true to the Old West. I listened to this on audio; the dialog shines with William Dufris.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea cover Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Think of every ocean/undersea adventure ever. Toothy whales? Check. Giant squids? Check. Antarctic sailing? Check. Atlantis? Check. Island of savages? Well, check. Generally, I really enjoyed this book. Published in 1870 (1872 in English), Verne revels in science. The submarine, the underwater breathing apparatuses, the natural classifications of so much aquatic life—all of it gets good press. Honestly, the only bits I glazed over during were discussions of where the Nautilus was and where it was going. Seaman, I ain’t.

alt text Lizzie: The Letters of Elizabeth Chester Fisk 1864-1893, edited by Rex C. Myers

I bought this last summer at The Old Sage Bookshop in Prescott.

I’ve read a few memoirs and collections of letters by 19th century pioneer women. Usually, they are from the prairie or southwest. In this case, Lizzie Fisk lived in Helena, Montana. Instead of a farmer or a rancher, her husband was a newspaper man. Many of her letters are about the Herald, her husband’s, newspaper and the politics of the city and the state. Fisk was an abolitionist and a suffragette, but she was also terribly judgemental and, as a woman of her time, selectively racist. In all, her letters filled out my notion of the American frontier, but honestly, Fisk isn’t someone I would have liked to spend time with. (And I doubt she would have thought much of me either…)

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20 15 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books

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Deal Me In, Week 31 ~ “The Touch of Love”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“The Touch of Love” by Day Al-Mohamed

Card picked: K
Found at: Daily Science Fiction

The Story
There is a content warning at the top of this story and, yeah, it’s appropriate. Soft science fiction asks questions. If you can make companion robots, could you (or should you) make robots that are tolerant of abusive relationships? But what about machine learning, that “deep” knowledge gained by experience? What would a companion robot in an abusive relationship learn about love? All that in a flash fiction piece!

Review ~ Thieves, Rascals and Sore Losers

Cover via Goodreads

Thieves, Rascals and Sore Losers: The Unsettling History of the Dirty Deals that Helped Settle Nebraska by Marilyn Coffey

On they came, from Belgium and New Hampshire, from Ireland, Germany and Scandinavia, from the Chicago fire, from the territories: Utah, Wyoming, Kansas, the Dakotas.

All the way they brawled, about Indians, about border lines, about slavery, about who was the bigger imbecile.

And then they fought County Seat Wars in most of the 3,000 new counties.

A thousand of those remaining ended up in south central Nebraska, scrapping about Harlan County and which still-imagined town should hold the seat of government. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
After River City Empire and A Dirty, Wicked Town, both about Omaha, I thought I’d read more about history in the rest of Nebraska.

What Worked
Marilyn Coffey starts out at home. Herself a native of Harlan County, Nebraska, she has first-hand knowledge of the lasting hurt-feelings that have occurred over the location of  the county seat—events that happened over a hundred years ago. Getting the county seat of government could make or break a town. It was a hotly contested responsibility. In frontier Nebraska, that was only half the story. Maybe not even half. These “petty” political battles were fought against the backdrop of “Indian wars,” the Civil War, and the harsh environment. Coffey does a great job giving scope to Harlan County’s story.

What Didn’t Work
There are a lot of names and a lot of back and forth details. It gets a little muddled, no matter how many times Coffey points out a personage that will be important later. Also, occasionally, the light tone of the narrative is out of place. Something like the Sand Creek massacre is more than a “dirty deal.” And many of the absurdities of frontier politics don’t need any gilding.

Overall
There’s lots of great information in this book. Even in Omaha (Douglas County), there is some tension between us and our county brother to the south (Sarpy County to the south). Thieves, Rascals and Sore Losers is a look at this type of smaller intra-state conflicts against a national stage.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle, Omega Cottonwood Press, 2015
Acquired: Amazon, 12/1/2017
Genre: history

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Mini Reviews, Vol. 13

After a readathon, a mini review post is usually appropriate.

The Science of Illusions cover The Science of Illusions by Jacques Ninio (trans. Franklin Philip

I bought this book last year at The Open Book when visiting my sister in Santa Clarita. I was intrigued because Science! Illusions! What could be more up my alley? Alas, this book is very broad and not very deep. The categories on the back list it as “psychology, history of science, philosophy” and, so, it’s lighter on the hard science than I had hoped. Granted, this book was published in 1998. Our understanding of neuro-biology has increased immensely.

Challenges: #20BooksOfSumer, Nonfiction Reading Challenge

Q's Legacy cover Q’s Legacy by Helene Hanff

A reread that I started back in June. The thing that has always made Helene Hanff inspiring to me is, not her faith, but her unflagging stick-to-itiveness to keep doing something related to writing and reading until something worked out. Her path to fame was circuitous, unexpected, and a little lucky. I sometimes need to remember: life goes that way.

Jane cover Jane by Aline Brosh McKenna & Ramón Pérez (Illustrator)

I read this more because I’m a fan of Ramón Pérez’s art (I’ve been a fan since his stint as an illustrator at Paladium Games) than a fan of Jane Eyre. That’s probably a good thing. While this is an adaptation, it takes some modern liberties with the story. It’s a good story, but it doesn’t quite have Brontë spirit. But the art is gorgeous!

Deal Me In, Week 27 ~ “Secret Keeper”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Secret Keeper” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

Card picked: 3
Found at: Nightmare Magazine

The Story

A girl is supposed to be beautiful. A girl is supposed to have rosy red cheeks and a laugh that makes men wilt to think of her bright future. A beautiful girl will have a beautiful life. An ugly girl slips unseen through secret doors.

The ghost girl was born with a birth defect that, after many skin grafts, has left her face pale and featureless. She has managed through grade school and middle school by avoiding attention, by becoming a shadow, a ghost. Now in high school, she lives beneath the theater stage and dreams of singing. Alas, due to her  appearance, the best she can do is mentor Chrissie, the new girl with the beautiful voice. Their singing lessons are held in a remote girl’s bathroom, the stalls keeping ghost girl from being seen. When Chrissie is given a supporting role in the spring musical instead of the lead, ghost girl’s vengeance is visited upon the less talented, but prettier Aimee and Chrissie has to fill in. All goes well, for a while, until the toll of ghost girl’s mentorship—being completely focused and keeping ghost girl’s secret—becomes too high for Chrissie. And Chrissie also has secrets that the ghost girl is keeping for her.

“Secret Keeper” is an adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera, gender-bent and set in high school, and it works very well. By senior year, the ghost girl is a thing of legend. No one quite remembers the truth about her and every prank and misfortune is blamed on her. By being unnoticed and otherwise forgotten, the ghost girl has access to information and secrets that she uses judiciously to manipulate Chrissie and frame Aimee. But the ending does add a tiny bit of ambiguity to the situation. No one can really hear the ghost girl except Chrissie.

Deal Me In, Week 24 ~ “Bog Girl”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Bog Girl” by Karen Russell

Card picked: 4
Found at: The New Yorker

I don’t remember if I recognized Karen Russell when I added this story to my deck. Her novel Swamplandia! has been on the periphery of my TBR-eventually list. In this case, Swamplandia! will probably be bumped up the queue. One of the best reasons to read short stories is to get a taste for a writer you’re not familiar with.

The young turf-cutter fell hard for his first girlfriend while operating heavy machinery in the peatlands.

The girl that Cillian, the turf-cutter, falls for is a bog girl, a preserved corpse thousands of years old.

I’ve read a couple of magical realism novels this year and I was once again thrown into a off-kilter world where Bog Girl retains her slightly blue skin, coppery hair, and enigmatic smile  despite being exposed to the air. Also, Cillian is allowed to take her home. His mother isn’t pleased.  She’s afraid that Cillian will screw up his young life over the love of a girl, though instead of getting her pregnant, what if he decides to do something rash like going to the bog with her to stay?

Everyone else is pretty chill with Cillian’s silent girlfriend. She becomes rather popular at his high school. The in-crowd girls like her because she’s thin and will wear anything they give her. In fact, one of the things that Cillian like most about her is that she will silently, and smilingly, agree with his future plans.

Of course, everything changes one night when Bog Girl wakes up…

The writing is beautiful. While this story is sometimes uncomfortable, it doesn’t reach the level of unease that a Joyce Carol Oates story might.

Review ~ The Hermit

Cover via Goodreads

The Hermit by Monica Friedman

The Sonoran Desert is full of life, but that doesn’t mean it won’t kill you.

Kaija Mathews doesn’t want to talk to anyone, ever, so she’s hiding in a cave in the desert all alone. Or, she would be all alone if fifteen years of deep meditation beside a magic spring hadn’t cursed her with the ability to converse with animals. The other creatures always respected her privacy, until the massacres began. Suddenly, she can’t get rid of the local fauna and their stories of an insatiable monster that kills without ceasing, leaving an unearthly stench in its wake. Only a holy woman, they say, can defeat it. Kaija’s no saint, but if she’s ever to enjoy her solitude again, she’ll have to play along.

Worse, she’ll need to face the challenges of the world she abandoned, obstacles like her nightmare of an ex-husband, and a drifter half her age who feels like a sweet dream. To do battle with a bulletproof monster straight out of North American mythology, Kaija must learn what it means to stare down fear, when to fight, and most of all, how to answer hatred with love. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
K. J. Kabza recommended this book. Dang it, he’s a good writer and he has good taste…

What Worked
First off, content warning: there are spiders in this book. Yes, there are also coyotes, packrats, javelina, and even a creosote bush with personality, but there are also spiders. Many, many spiders. Friedman works many Native American myths and lores into this story and one of them is Spider Grandmother. Despite my problems with spiders, I got through it. In fact, there are a few times when Brown (a brown recluse) adds some deeply funny dark humor to the proceedings.

The pace of this story is rather slow, and that’s okay. It fits. Even in the cities, the desert isn’t a fast place. The stories, Kaija’s, Little Brother’s, the monster’s, all unspool gradually. And stories are very important to this narrative. Kaija, a librarian before she was a hermit, gains knowledge when she learns to listen to stories again. Kaija’s character arch is also long. She resists change for most of the book, believing that she’s living her best life rather than just hiding. Oh, and kudos for the pairing of a middle-aged woman with a younger man. I do love Peter S. Beagle, but his older-men/younger-women plots are getting old.

I love books with a strong sense of setting and, while being transported to somewhere else is often nice, I also enjoy reading about the places I am more familiar with. This book is set in Arizona, in the Sonoran Desert. I’m not a camper or a hiker, but we’ve driven through the desert many times and I find that I do love its beauty and its harshness in my own city-girl kind of way.

What Didn’t Work
There was a level of wrap-up at the end of the book that felt weird to me. The resolution involves magical elements overlapping with dead-serious real elements. I kept expecting the mythological to sort of fade out of the story or not be seen by the “real.” End of the day, the monster, Eagirl, killed people. While her mystery is solved, there are still…dead people. And that gets sort of ignored by the police who are involved at the end. Would I be happier if I was given some “all a dream” type explanation? No, probably not. I don’t know a way around it.

Overall
I enjoyed this book. Often, my continued reading (or even watching, in the case of TV and movies) comes down to the answers to two questions: Is this setting somewhere I want to be? Are these characters people I want to spend time with? When the answer is yes to both, I’m a happy (city-girl) camper.

Random trivia: I didn’t realize until after I finished The Hermit, but Monica Friedman and I have stories in the same issue of Bards and Sages Quarterly!

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle, Brother Wolf Press, 2016
Acquired: Amazon, 12/16/16
Genre: fantasy, fairy tale, magical realism

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