Etched in Bone by Anne Bishop

Read May 2017
Recommended for ?
 

Apparently, some times I’m a little subtle, and the trolls have difficulty following my train of thought. So I’ll be direct: I feel kind of dirty about reading this book. I mean, the whole series has been one long sugar high, but this is like the regret after eating a thousand calories beyond reasonable, or the vaguely ill feeling when my bloodstream has more sugar than red blood cells.

I confess: I started reading and didn’t stop until the last page. There’s something in Bishop’s writing that carries one along; granted, I was post-night shift, so my brain was a little sleep-deprived, fuzzy, and in need of distraction. And sure, I might have spaced out a little when the plot became ‘manly-man protect special woman,’ and ‘manly-mens protect other womans,’ but that’s just letting myself be carried along with the enjoyment of the moment, right? Chocolatey goodness melting in the mouth (not the hands). It’s only later one thinks, ‘wait, what did I just do?’

So I have to admit, Etched in Bone is probably enjoyable in distraction-eating kind of way. This might be the day for confessions, because I have another one–I suspect half the enjoyment of this series comes from revenge fantasies. In every book, the bad guys–who are truly selfish, greedy, without empathy and such horrible people that absolutely no one will find them sympathetic–will meet an ugly end. The last book gave us virtually world-wide destruction of racist governments and subsequent reassertion of the ‘natural’ world. In this one, however, even the revenge feels old, as Bishop recycles the tired plotting of Written in Red (book one) while attempting to regain the threat of world-wide destruction that drove books three and four.

However, Bishop couldn’t really be bothered to deal with more character creation, so she resurrected least three or four of the villainous personalities to provide some of the meat for this book. Ha-ha: that’s a pun for those in the know. Speaking of meat, in this book, Girly-Girl decides she has an Issue about eating meat, because she’s troubled by images about it. Me too, Girly; me too. But I’m not not-dating a top-level predator whose Manly-Man friends tease him about bringing spinach to a potluck. You should probably figure that shit out.

Damn, did I mention how gross this books make me feel? It’s like Sexism 101, all wrapped up in a sexy werewolf bow to make girly-girls kind of enjoy it.

Will you like it? Idk, I guess it depends on how altered your level of consciousness is at the moment, and how you want to feel when it’s all over. As a modern feminist, I felt more than a little dirty being wrapped in the Super-Chivalry of Bishop’s world (ooh, a woman wants to be a cop! Shocking! Let’s let her try after she’s vetted by all the Mens) where girls women write pen pals and have pizza parties and the men work out on bicycles and go around having meetings Deciding Things. As a modern person, I also felt kind of dirty with the sole black woman being A Force to Reckon With as well as the Mother-Figure for all the new community members. There’s no way about it: this series is seriously sexist, and only reinforces ethnic stereotypes in any attempts to be inclusive.

Then there’s the writing: the villain is completely ridiculous, a caricature of selfishness, sexism and manipulation, and is accompanied by equivalently ridiculous henchmen. As a further kick in the funny parts for those who are looking for Hawt Schmexy Times, the ending will almost certainly piss off those hoping for a particular romantic angle. Honestly, I thought the ending was the one consistent note through the series, but then, almost everything here was recycled, and Hawt times would have required some new material.

Overall, I read, finished and felt gross about doing both. Your mileage may vary.

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Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

Read April 2017
Recommended for fans of sci-fi and mysteries
★    ★    ★   ★   

 

Think And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, only with cloning chambers.

It’s been a bit since I’ve enjoyed a sci-fi mystery–quite possibly not since Leviathan Wakes. Lafferty has written a closed-room murder mystery with an accessible sci-fi twist, hopefully pleasing mystery and sci-fi fans alike, as long as they can survive the cloning and time shifts.

Cloning was invented hundreds of years ago, after people discovered they could ‘mind-map’ personality and memories at a given point in time and subsequently download the map into a grown body. Six clones guilty of various crimes have agreed to pilot and maintain a colony ship en route to a new planet, with the condition that they will be granted full pardon on arrival.

I’m familiar with Lafferty from her other series, The Shambling Guide to… and this makes definite improvements in plotting and characterization. The six crew members are all very different people, and delving into their histories is quite interesting, both in personal terms and in insight into the world-building. Like Hercule Poirot sending telegrams this way and that to gather information on suspects and their histories, we soon learn that the actions of the present are rooted in the past, but the past reminiscences aren’t allowed to overshadow the present. Will the dead bodies provide any clues? Why is the captain’s clone still alive but gravely injured? Who sabotaged the food synthesizing machine? There’s actually two additional vital characters in this story, a neat trick when I realized it at the end. Lafferty also managed some nice little twists.

Perhaps the weakest aspect for me was the narrative structure. It was third person ~generally~ omniscient, which means there would be occasional insights into each character’s thinking, although not with equal attention. However, transitions were frequently awkward, happening within the same chapter. It was also not true omniscient, as each character often avoids thinking of details that would give the reader more hints as to eventual solution/outcome. For instance, we know Maria has a secret stash, but not what all is in it. Paul and Hiro have secrets that deal with core identity. It seemed like a bit of a cheat done that way, as the information the reader gets isn’t actually particularly helpful and largely could have been gained through dialogue or observation. Maybe the attempt was to keep it feeling personal, and not merely descriptive.

Overall, it was a fast, enjoyable read. I actually finished it in a day, once I could give it some attention, but I hung on to it in order to give it a second, more thorough read. I have this tendency–in real life as well–to discount history, and initially cruised through character backstories before realizing how important they were. Seeds of the past fruit in the present, and all that. It holds up well, although some occasional inconsistencies become apparent. Definitely recommend to fans of Leviathan Wakes.

 

 

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A Rare Book of Cunning Device by Ben Aaronovitch, read by Kobna Holdbrook Smith

Listened  May 2017
Recommended for fans of UF police detectives
★    ★    ★   ★    ★  

aka “Ben’s Ode to Librarians and Their Charges,” free at Audible.

A wonderful introduction to both Peter Grant and the wonders of Kobna Holdbrook-Smith’s voice acting. It’s a quick story, quite possibly short on world-building background for those new to the series, but does have a nice little bit about Peter’s family. In it, Peter is asked by librarian Elizabeth Winn-Stanley (aka “Hatbox” Stanley) to investigate a poltergeist in the King’s Collection at the British Library. The Folly’s own librarian, Professor Harold Postmartin (aka “Harold the Pirate”) becomes involved as well. I do so enjoy Kobna’s ponderous, resonant rendition that also captures his mischievous humor.

Fun facts:

The British Library gets two copies of all books published in England and Ireland.

Number of Scooby-Doo references: One

Favorite line:

“I like to learn from the mistakes of fictional characters.”

 
 
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The More than Complete Hitchhiker’s Guide by Douglas Adams

Listened May 2017
Recommended for fans of the absurd
★    ★    ★   ★    ★  

 

The edition of the Guide that replaced all others in my library, it contains an introduction by Douglas Adams that adds interesting details for fans of the series in his characteristic voice. Originally a radio series, it was produced by the BBC. “I think that the BBC’s attitude toward the show while it was in production was very similar to that which Macbeth had toward murdering people–initial doubts, followed by cautious enthusiasm and then greater and greater alarm at the sheer scale of the undertaking and still no end in sight.”

Adams continues that while the show was fun, “it didn’t exactly buy you lunch,” so he turned it into a book “in which some of the characters behaved in entirely different ways and others behaved in exactly the same ways but for entirely different reasons, which amounts to the same thing but saves rewriting the dialogue.” Supposedly, this edition is “complete and unabridged,” although, since Adams kept changing things, I’m not sure how ‘complete’ it is. It does have a bonus short story, “Young Zaphod Plays it Safe.

This edition contains The Hitchhiker’s Guide,The Restaurant at the End of the Universe and Life, the Universe and Everything and looks suspiciously like the Good News Bible I was given as a child, with paper-thin, gold-leafed pages, albeit with a bonus cloth bookmark and leather binding. Honestly, it’s probably fitting, as it was my go-to mockery of the world for at least a decade, and remains a strong influence.

It’s responsible for my search for the perfect drink:

[The Guide] says that the best drink in existence is the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. It says that the effect of a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster is like having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick.

It’s probably responsible for crystalizing my view of the human race:

One of the things Ford Prefect had always found hardest to understand about humans was their habit of continually stating and repeating the very very obvious, as in It’s a nice day, or You’re very tall, or Oh dear you seem to have fallen down a thirty-foot well, are you alright? At first Ford had formed a theory to account for this strange behaviour. If human beings don’t keep exercising their lips, he thought, their mouths probably seize up. After a few months’ consideration and observation he abandoned this theory in favour of a new one. If they don’t keep on exercising their lips, he thought, their brains start working. After a while he abandoned this one as well as being obstructively cynical.

It’s definitely responsible for my love of word-play:

The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.

“You’d better be prepared for the jump into hyperspace. It’s unpleasantly like being drunk.”
“What’s so unpleasant about being drunk?”
“Ask a glass of water.”


And it’s clearly responsible for a personal running joke of 35 years, which I use to gauge the sci-fi and humor literacy of the people around me:

Forty-two,” said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.

 

*And may I just add that as of May 6, 2017, the average star rating for the book is 4.20?
I rest my case.

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The Furthest Station by Ben Aaronovitch

Read April 2017
Recommended for fans of UF police detectives
★    ★    ★   ★    ★  

 

A delightful side adventure in the Peter Grant universe. I found myself chuckling, highlighting as a went, enjoying Grant’s wry observations of the city and it’s denizens.

All the elements that make the series so remarkable, lovable and familiar are here: the humor, the sudden realization that Peter has gotten himself in over his head, references to destroyed landmarks, strange and remarkable Rivers, Molly’s sinister looming and her cooking experiments, Toby’s reluctance to obey, Peter’s inevitable distractions into research, notes on police procedure and interview techniques, commentary on casual racism, and further observations on Nightingale’s remarkable dress code and his failure to modernize.

“Normally these days we shunt files back and forth as email attachments, but the Folly prefers to do things the old-fashioned way. Just in case someone leaks our emails, and also because only one of us currently lives in the 21st century.”

Written as a novella, it’s a little more streamlined than the average Peter Grant book. Kumar, with his willingness to work with ‘weird bullocks’, has contacted Peter for assistance. There have been ghost sightings on the Metropolitan Line of the Tube train and passengers have been strangely unable to remember any details.

“Okay,” said Jaget after a pause. “That’s the second most freakiest thing you’ve ever shown me.”
I snapped off the werelight. “That was really odd,” I said.
“Yeah, even by your standards of odd that was odd,” said Jaget. “What next?”

As usual, the clever social commentary, self-depreciation and genuine curiosity had me chuckling, underlying a bit or two every few pages. I adore the way Aaronovitch is able to make me chuckle without resorting to absurdity, although there is that too. Although I kind of wish he’d stop referencing all the fabulous ‘ethnic’ places to eat, because I was hungrier than usual eating this one, especially when he snacked on crab with ginger and spring onions. But that provides a nice contrast to some more emotional moments, particularly one where Peter recognizes “it isn’t about your personal convictions. It’s about what the person standing on the edge needs.”

The story is remarkably well balanced with a minimum of digressions, so it may be even more palatable than the novels for some. Weaknesses were minor, with the most glaring being a quick wrap-up. I rather think Aaronovitch would just keep writing, but someone has to cut him off. At any rate, it’s not that bothersome. I just flipped back to the beginning and re-read it. Absolutely delicious although I’m not sure how it compares with the Chinese crab-ginger dish. Can’t wait to hear it read by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith.

 

Many, many thanks to Subterranean Press and NetGalley for giving me an advance peek!

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One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde

Read April 2017
Recommended for fans of clever book references, ambiguous mysteries
★    ★    ★   ★   

I have a confession: I read this half hoping to hate this, so I could make some space on the physical library shelves. Alas, there is no way I could consign it to “the narrative doldrums of the suburbs.” The reading references are too clever, the mystery too intriguing and the character-building too well-done. Don’t tell Friday, but I think I might have to toss ‘Something Rotten‘ instead.

I haven’t read Thursday Next in about ten years, so I wasn’t sure how confused I’d be. I remember a lingering sense of enjoying some of the series, but with other parts leaving a strange, vaguely unpleasant aftertaste. Happily, the mechanisms of BookWorld came back to me quickly, and Thursday (the written one) was kind enough to give background, in the guise of orienting a new stand-in Thursday, Carmine O’Kipper (you may now groan).

The meta-literary elements included in the story are surprisingly insightful, and frequently amusing as well. There’s a moment early on when Thursday explains book detail to Carmine:

“Every novel as only as much description as is necessary. In years past, each book was carefully crafted to an infinitely fine degree, but that was in the days of limited reader sophistication. Today… Most books are finished by the readers themselves.” “The Feedback Loop?” “Precisely. As soon as the readers get going, the feedback loop will start back washing some of their interpretations into the book itself… readers often add detail by their own interpretations.”

It’s that kind of insight that adds fun layer to the stories. In this book, BookWorld is rebuilt early on, restructuring the Book Universe along the lines of the Geographic model. It means Thursday will need to travel by physical means to get from one genre to the next instead of the more ambiguous ‘reading in’ technique. What this means for the reader is a fun little tour through BookWorld as Thursday (the written one) investigates a book accident. After crossing through Thriller, she heads into Conspiracy, where she runs into Sprocket, a robot about to be stoned by residents as a spy. 

The written Thursday is very aware of her inadequacies compared to the legendary Thursday Next, but feels she brings emotional depth to Thursday’s story. Others might characterize her as “the dopey one who likes to hug a lot.” As she investigates the crashed book, she discovers that the real Thursday hasn’t been seen in a suspicious number of days. The real Thursday is needed to broker peace talks between Racy Novel and Feminism/Dogma genres who are about to be in a cross-genre war.

The mystery here is fairly–narratively, at least–straightforward. The humor often has me smiling, particularly Agent Square from Flatland as he coaches Thursday (the written one), Sprockett’s expressive eyebrow, a devastating minefield, the ongoing joke of keeping track who is speaking when there aren’t any conversational markers, and the threat of a ‘Bobby Ewing’ ending. Despite all that, parts are definitely brainy and expositionary, and so it is surprisingly easy to fall asleep to for a four-star book. That said, it’s definitely worth keeping.

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Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft. But slowly. Oh-so-slowly.

Read April 2017
Recommended for fans of The Orphan’s Tales
★    ★    1/2 

This was one of the most lovely books I almost didn’t finish. To certain library books I must ask certain questions: are they worth overdue fines? Perhaps more importantly, are they worth negative karma when late? To both of these questions, Senlin Ascends is an empathetic ‘no.’ And yet, on the strength of dear Milda’s love for the tale and encouragement, I find myself disregarding my earlier decision to return it.

“You have no idea what the Tower will turn you into!” Tarrou laughed and swatted the air trying to dispel Senlin’s sudden piety.”

Though the writing is truly gorgeous, the plotting is purposefully meandering. Headmaster Senlin is on a journey with his newly-wed wife to see the famous Tower of Babel. Within minutes of arrival, he loses her in the marketplace, and the rest of the story is a journey upward through the levels of Babel as he searches for the lovely, vivacious Marya. What follows is his experiences through the first four levels of the tower.

I suspect if you mix The Pilgrim’s Progress with Arabian Nights, using the language of Valente’s In the Night Garden, you’ll probably have a good idea what you are getting into. Senlin is forced to reconsider ideas about Tower of Babel, his priorities, his identity, his relationship with Marya, even his conceptions about how the world operates and how he should relate to other people. It is as much a story of the internal self as one of external events.

Senlin loved nothing more in the world than a warm hearth to set his feet upon and a good book to pour his whole mind into. While an evening storm rattled the shutters and a glass of port wine warmed in his hand, Senlin would read into the wee hours of the night. He especially delighted in the old tales, the epiccs in which heroes set out on some impossible and noble errand, confronting the dangers in their path with fatalistic bravery. Men often died along the way, killed in brutal and unnatural ways… Their deaths were boastful and lyrical and always, always more romantic than real. Death was not an end. It was an ellipsis” (page 23).

My barrier and sticking point was the idea that Senlin’s journey centered on looking for his wife, Marya. Literally by page eight she has disappeared, so the rest of the story is about her from other perspectives. As a feminist, I find this type of structure deeply disturbing. Given that the story is from Senlin’s third-person perspective, one may argue that’s completely appropriate, so what’s the big deal? The big deal is her placeholder status–replace her with ‘ring,’ or ‘Grail,’ or ‘silver cow-shaped creamer’ and the agency would be the same. She acts in Senlin’s memories of their interactions, she appears as a hallucination, Senlin thinks about her in relation to him, we learn of her actions from third parties, but beyond that there are only the barest paragraphs–in flashback, strangely, of Senlin’s memories–of Marya being anything other than an Object. She is a mirage, a holding place for the character’s own thoughts and emotions. A telling quote, I think, from page 1:

“Thomas Senlin and Marya, his new bride, peered at the human menagerie through the open window of their sunny sleeper car. Her china white hand lay weightlessly atop his long fingers.”

Though that, perhaps, is part of the underlying motif of the story: the absence of women and the fickleness of love/relationships. Early on Senlin is told, “women get sucked up the Tower like embers up a flue,” and we begin to get the picture that the destruction will be along gender lines. Outside the Tower, Senlin meets Adam, a young man who is missing his sister. On level three, we encounter another significant male character who will ‘one day’ return to his wife.

Of course, the search for the Other inspires in Senlin reflections on his own character, and his relationship with Marya. The challenge for me is that Senlin is someone I have trouble liking. It could be because Senlin hits too close to teen-Carol., and I don’t mean in the hormonal sense, I mean the sense one has when one is young, overly book-smart, and color-blind to shades of grey. He is the headmaster in his small fishing village and he considers himself a leader of the community, although I strongly suspect the feeling is not mutual. He has harped on the wonders of Babel to his students and fellow citizens, which is no doubt supposed to play into the irony as he discovers the reality of Babel has little in common with his conceptions or his much-thumbed Guide to the Wonders of Babel.

In fact, I found myself wondering about the parallels with my most favorite and sometimes wildly inaccurate guidebook, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Arthur too finds himself at a loss, forced to confront wonders and misconceptions. However, Hitchhiker’s does it with absurdity and humor, while Senlin does it with gorgeous prose and Victorian sexism. If you’d like beautiful language and imagery without a plot, give The Night Circus a try.

I absolutely enjoyed the writing, but Woman as Object coupled with the perspective of a man who is difficult to connect to means it was a struggle to read. It did pick up a great deal as Senlin reached level four (page 200/350) and started to embrace more duplicitous planing for the future, but it was too little, too late. The fact that most of the character actions were telegraphed in advance means there wasn’t that much surprise. I wouldn’t rule out Bancroft in the future, but I’d likely enter into it with suspicion, and that’s no way to read a book.

 

*Many thanks to Milda for her encouragement in getting me to completion!

 

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Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

Read April 2017
Recommended for Americans
★    ★    ★   ★    ★  

It is no surprise that “Evicted” was the University Wisconsin-Madison’s Go Big Red book read for 2016, a book chosen by the chancellor and worked into campus-wide discussions and events. Set in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, it examines the lives of a number of people who deal with eviction and the property owners. To those outside the state, it might be less obvious how state politics have played into the background of many of the people in Evicted but suffice to say, the once-independent State of Wisconsin has fallen on conservative and judgemental times.

At any rate, for non-fiction book littered with references, it is extremely readable. Done in a more ethnographic style, it reminds me of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. Read these two back-to-back and I will guarantee you will go to bed thankful. Like Enrich, Desmond tried to ‘walk the talk’ by living in the trailer park he writes about by renting and living close to the subjects of the book, and by tailing the landlords as much as possible.

The last chapter of the book before the footnotes is an ‘About the Project’ section that details his own history, his goals and his structure in writing the book. I actually think it should be the first chapter, as it lends explanation and context to his sources and the style of writing. For those who might be scared off by the voluminous footnotes, I recommend peeking at them-many are actually commentary or elaborations on some of the personal details. Definitely not one I would have wanted to read on Kindle.

Unlike Nickel and Dimed, much of Desmond’s material will be controversial, perhaps only serving to reinforce stereotypes about poor people. In some ways, perhaps, this might be one of those books that says just about as much about the reviewer as the subject. Being entirely honest with ourselves is hard, right?, and it’s easy to judge many of the people in the book.

Issue one, the simple one: people without resources have high stakes and no cushion when they indulge or make mistakes–as we all do. For instance, I have a fat pile of COBRA paperwork waiting for me to read through it, and recently I spent $50 on chocolates for gifts for my personal references. If I didn’t deal with the COBRA paperwork, I’d probably be fine (unless I got in a traumatic car wreck), because I have prescriptions stocked, generally good health, financial resources and a job that will cover me in a month. If a person in Evicted forgets to attend a caseworker appointment or forgets to file a change-of-address, they’re screwed, because they will get no food stamps that month and have no saved resources to cushion them (how can you save money when you only have $40 extra dollars a month) Desmond does a decent job of making the costs of human indulgences clear, showing that the disabled, dishonorably discharged vet has exactly $40 dollars a month after rent, or that eating a lobster tail dinner means a month of ramen noodles.

Issue two, the complex one: One of the most BRILLIANT and amazing things I’ve read this year was an interview with Bruce Perry, psychologist about the long-lasting effects of childhood trauma. Read it: here The essay talks quite a bit about what kind of constant physiological stress that does to the human brain, and how it changes learning and relationships. Physiological stress can result in more (or even less) reactive brain than one that has only smaller, more intermittent amounts of stress (leading to the million-dollar question of how to we teach resilience?) A body that is always on alert because of safety issues, or a body that is always hungry is not one that will be in an environment of optimal function.

You see where I’m going with this? A majority of people in this story sprung from poverty. They were born into it, had their brains wired by it, their coping skills and expectations structured by it. They were set up to ‘fail’ by traditional society. Patricia’s kids, the ones who are sharing a mattress on the floor in the living room? Probably not going to be doctors and own the latest McMansion. Not because they aren’t capable of it, but their ongoing circumstances are going to continue to set them up to fail (changing schools every time they move, missing school due to issues with housing/resources, stress caused by having to find new housing every six months, the violence in the places they live, the lack of trustworthy relationships built where they live–because how can you build them when you keep moving?), and thus the cycle continues. Desmond actually demonstrates impaired coping from ongoing stress when he shows how Arleen initially tries to deal with Crystal’s generous but irrational moods and how Arleen eventually responds from a place of stress, anger and pride that makes the housing situation even worse. I’d even argue that Arleen was never set up to succeed in the first place from her childhood.

Issue three, the other complex one: addiction, that ongoing, ever-present itch. People will argue that heroin is a ‘worse’ addiction. I don’t know; you live long enough, you see addictions come in waves, like fads. Meth was the rage in Wisconsin about ten years back. Heroin is the hot drug these days. Scott is the poster child for addiction in this book, a former nurse who got caught using and spiraled down. You know how many sanctions are applied quarterly to nurses who use some kind of substance? I’d say over a hundred, at least. WI Department of Regulation publishes a list of nurse sanctions and addiction-related issues are by far the most common (alcohol and drugs). This is a horribly complex issue, and though Scott manages to rally after eviction, he falls again. Now he’s straight (at the moment), thanks to a supportive recovering-addicts residential housing program that also employs him.

You want to know about the homeless I meet? Frequently addicts of some sort. There are housing programs and shelters, but you have to be sober to get in, or stay sober for long-term housing, and many addicts aren’t willing to leave their addiction. There aren’t good answers for this one. The trailer park Desmond lives in shows a little what a group of addicts living together must be like, how one of the residents goes door to door looking for a fix and knows he’ll find it.

Issue four, the last complex one: mental illness. Way back in Reagan era (haha, I know you kids don’t remember that), there was a huge movement to ‘de-institutionalize’ people with severe mental illness. There are reasons for and against, but the upshot is that each community has to deal with how to care for a population that may not be able to adequately care for itself. An excellent article gives some of the facts and figures that my own experience has demonstrated. I’d say about half of the people I’ve had to take care of with schizophrenia have stopped taking their medication, which is part of what lands them in the hospital. It’s a well-known and vicious cycle (for people who are able to get access to medication): meds make people feel better and in control, so they decide to stop the meds because they are feeling so great. OR, the medications make people feel shittier, so they stop taking them. Either way, the result is uncontrolled mental illness. Desmond has a poster-child for this one too, Crystal, who despite a consistent SSDI check and support from her faith community, frequently ends up evicted due to fighting with other tenants.

What is less easy to see is how many of the people in the book are political pawns. Newly imposed trailer park management and local police response to ‘nuisance’ properties show how political stances have real and unintended consequences contributing to eviction. The City of Madison was dealing with this in the past several years as well, finally forcing one of the local ‘slumlords’ into cleaning up his properties that resulted in many being placed on the market. He–like landlords in the book–argued he was providing housing for people too poor to rent elsewhere, unable to get housing due to criminal history or prior evictions latest story. All of that said, somehow the slumlords have squeezed hundreds of thousands of dollars out of their properties (I think the Madison one has a portfolio of over SIX million dollars, much like the trailer park owner in Evicted) while letting the tenants live in conditions you’d be furious to see at the local shelter.

Desmond has a few suggestions. First, is more research, because good policies should be informed by reality. His studies were one of the few looking at eviction and poverty. More documentation should be done on it’s effects in the neighborhood and on longer lasting effects. He mentions people who are evicted end up having higher levels of material hardships for up to two years after eviction. His immediate suggestion is better court advocates and legal aid (which is being cut) for those facing eviction so that they can help prevent evictions and further needless homelessness.

His ethical suggestion is that we recognize housing as a basic human right, not a mechanism of exploitation. As I mentioned in my own Madison example, while the slumlords may claim they are providing at least some kind of housing, they aren’t doing it as a public service. His solution is expanding housing vouchers for all low-income families, not just a small number–are eligible for a voucher that can be used for anywhere that is “decent, modest and fairly priced.”

I’m not sure Desmond is recognizing the things he experienced with Sherrena the landlord commenting on how taking voucher families was a pain because the buildings had to be up to code. This is the part where I also think he is ignoring the roles that addiction and mental illness play in housing as well. Still, he’s offering something as a solution, and in an area that has the potential to negatively impact both individuals and communities, it’s worth trying a solution or three or twenty til we can get it right. Overall, an excellent book that provides much information for consideration and discussion. Highly recommended.

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Hexed by Andrews, Galenorn, James and Stein

Read April 2017
Recommended for The Fans
★    ★    1/2

I don’t normally say this, but… People! Aim higher! Not the authors, although that goes for them too. No, I’m talking readers. Ilona Andrews, as always, has an interesting blog post about the ‘Cheap, Fast, and Good’ phenomenon in publishing. You should read it, as I think she offers some excellent insight, particularly the comment, “Research has shown that if a person wants a particular movie or book, they would rather settle for a mediocre book on their preferred topic than buy a better quality book in a different genre.” (April 12, 2017). The jacket copy on Hexed claims that all four authors are ‘bestselling,’ two of them from the NYT Bestseller list. Which leads me back to my point, that readers need to demand better, not more, because if this is bestselling, these short-form writers really need to read more Peter S. Beagle or Roger Zelazny.

The first story ‘Magic Dreams’ is set in Andrews’ Kate Daniels universe, about Dali, a brilliant Indonesian woman who is called upon when her crush is exposed to deadly magic. It’s a solid story, although I feel like Dali’s personality doesn’t come through well; she mostly seems like a young, awkward girl with a giant crush on a powerful man. This is in contrast with the confident woman of the Daniels’ series, who volunteers for death matches and pretends she’s a professional race-car driver. Still, it has fun mythology and gives a little more insight into another corner of Atlanta. Three stars.

The second story, ‘Ice Shards‘ by Yasmine Galenorn is utterly incomprehensible, over-wrought, over-written drivel of the sort a clever fifteen-year-old who reads too much Juliet Marillier might write. Twenty pages was enough to make me swear off reading for the evening, poisoned by the language sinking into my brain. In an effort to purge it, I’ll share: “I stared at Grandmother Coyote’s portal. We were standing in the middle of a snow-shrouded wood, in the Belles-Faire district of Seattle, a few miles from home. But we were about to travel through the veil, to the Otherworld, the land of Camille’s birth. From there we would journey to the Northlands, the world I’d left behind so long ago, when I’d been branded a murderer, stripped of my strongest powers, and cast out of the order of Undutar, the Goddess of the Mist and Snow.” That’s on page three, in case you were wondering. No, you don’t get more explanation that makes sense.

How about our heroine? “Most people thought I was a pushover, an easy mark, since I was so short and petite. Some assumed I was mild and delicate; others thought I was a cozy maid. But I’d seen too much to ever be mild or cozy or an easy mark. I hid my memories well, but they were always there to fuel the need to fight.” Gack. What is a ‘cozy maid?’ Why are we bringing memories into it? And believe me, in twenty pages, there wasn’t any fighting, just a tear or two, a meeting in a bar and etc., etc., yawners. One star.

The third story, ‘Double Hexed,‘ by Allyson James, is a fun urban fantasy and will probably appeal to fans of Kate Daniels. Another no-nonsense heroine with a straight-forward writing style. Interesting magical-being building, although I could pass on the tantric magic. Interesting integration of Southwest Native mythology with conceptions of withcraft, vampires and black magic. Three stars.

The final story, ‘Blood Debt,‘ by Jeanne C. Stein feels a little knock-off-ish and unfinished, but with potentially interesting bones. A woman who was recently made a vampire is called to account for killing a murderous witch by powers from the other world. Straight-forward prose. Choppy with partial sentences. (See what I did there?). Two stars.

Overall, definitely don’t buy. Worth picking up only if you want to see a novella by one of the authors you enjoy.

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Consumed by Jason Brant. Or, Snack-Time Lite.

Read April 2017
Recommended for fans of The Walking Dead
★    ★    ★ 

I used the lure of this book to drag my bootie to the gym and the reclining bike after the non-stop excitement of book one, Devoured. It certainly worked in terms of heart rate elevation and distraction. However, in terms of brain-stimulation, I was a little disappointed it focused more on the human threat from fascists militia-types. It’s pretty freaking obvious that people are the real threat (just listen to the news!), so for me, this wasn’t as interesting as I had hoped.

As our troupe of merry misfits seeks to provide for themselves, they debate whether or not they should head to a safe camp. I felt some of the dialogue and action was overdone from the more personal balance of the first book. You like that banter from book one? We have mohr! You want militants? We have even mohr! You want blood-sucking monsters? We’ve got mohr, mohr, mohr! It worked out, I suppose, especially when balanced by a peaceful interlude, but still, I am generally annoyed by the amped-up phenomenon. Yeah, I know I’m reading a monster book. Shuddup.

Speaking of, we have monsters, which is absolutely fine and scary, but then we also have srsly Too Stupid To Live Moments. The heroes are self-referential enough to acknowledge the “don’t go into the basement by yourself” phenomenon, but then split up to search an armed encampment. They refuse help from someone more prepared then they are, which will clearly lead to them ending up in a disastrous situation. Later, they take someone new to them, high, stupid and literally unaware of the apocalypse into a monster lair.  Of course that provides the match strike for the metaphorical firestorm. Of course. Because why write it as if our heroes had any sense and normal bad luck provides the trigger? Then there’s the personality overhaul of the doctor, who goes from dedicated, disbelieving, cringing helper to Massive Spoiler. I’m all in favor of spontaneous personality overhauls–I wish a certain President would undergo one–but I kind of like to have reasons, you know? I know–monster book. Shuddup.

On a personal note, I think I dislocated my eye when –mild spoiler– a certain character ended up pregnant after a huge deal was made about Lance’s infertility in book one.  Serious eyerolling. I don’t even know why we went there, because the reasons for striking back at the monsters were always in the making, and foreshadowed frequently. So why? Why must you torture me with these Lifetime drama moments in a monster book??

It did have a fast-n-furious pace, with a steady and predictable variety of conflicts. In short, it was basically a good, solid Walking Dead episode where we discover people are the real assholes (of course).

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