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Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (Book Review)

Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1)Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: fantasy, magic, ya, love-the-cover, steampunk, lgbt-inclusion, multiple-povs, this-is-the-stuff-right-here, witches-and-wizards

When everyone knows you’re a monster, you needn’t waste time doing every monstrous thing.

Finally got that fantasy fix I was wanting.

I had posted my negative review of Mistborn and was reading through other reviews. One fellow negative reviewer referred readers to Six of Crows instead, and I’m so glad she did.

This is another of those YA books that doesn’t really read YA, to me. The language isn’t simplistic, nor is the plot. The only thing really “teen” is that sexual content is circumspect, and I’m fine with that. Few things are more awkward for me the reader than a detailed sex scene that has obviously been laboured over that leaves me cold or unmoved or even cringing. I’d rather a writer allude to what’s going on and leave the rest to my imagination, which is probably our biggest erogenous zone anyway.

So, back to the book. Six badass outcasts of society come together for the one big job that will buy them all freedom:

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

Lots to love here, along with the little bit of love that is fallen into. I love these characters, kids who don’t read like kids, forced to grow up too fast. I love the world of the Grisha, which reads like a fantasy Scandinavia with modern elements, magic and witchhunting, and a steampunk vibe. The dialogue is fresh, the pace is galloping, and the plotting is tight, no loose ends here even if it is a cliff-hanger at the end. (Sequel coming right up!)

What I might have liked most of all, though, is the actual, physical book. The physical object, all black and goth with the black-edged pages, how arty and stylish and sexy is that? The pages of the sequel are red. These books make me happy just looking at them.

Six of Crows

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Riptide (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

“And after you lost your job, it just cascaded, the domino effect,” the writer prompted. Interviewing Jane, Woman in the Street, of all people! “Woman Living in the Street,” more like.

Jane nods, raises the cup of coffee in salute and thanks, and thinks. “Yeah, homelessness. One thing after another. No jobs back home, spent everything to move here for one. Lost that job. Spent my savings to live. Evicted.” Sip of coffee. “Job-hunting is my job now. It’s tougher when you’re older.”

She eyes the journalist thoughtfully. “But not dominoes. More like getting sucked under by a riptide.”

riptide ista-weyr dot wikidot, CC Attribution ShareAlike 3 point 0
Photo: ista-weyr.wikidot.com, CC Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0

Each week at the Ranch (Carrot Ranch Literary Community, that is) Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s challenge: “In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a riptide. How can it be used to pull a story? It could be a stretch of turbulent water or a pull of another kind. Go where the prompt leads even if you find it unexpected.”

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Girls Standing on Lawns by Maira Kalman (Reading Challenge Book Review)

Girls Standing on LawnsGirls Standing on Lawns by Maira Kalman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is very simple and short for packing such an interesting punch. It was #29 in this year’s reading challenge, a book with pictures.

Bookshelves: art, pictures, artsy-fartsy, nostalgia, americana, non-fiction, social-commentary

This deceptively simple little book is a small collection of anonymous photos donated to MOMA of…girls standing on lawns, with poetic blurbs from Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) and paintings of the photos by Maira Kalman. And that’s all it is. You can read the whole thing in ten minutes, and that’s meandering.

But wait. Such intrigue. I turn the page, then turn it back, look more closely, study it. Who are these girls, these women? What would someone think of the pictures in my mother’s endless boxes of pictures that have me standing on one lawn or another? I would be as anonymous as any of the women in this book. It’s an interesting way to see yourself, with no context whatsoever, without knowing that was me before my initiation into the clique-ish Job’s Daughters and not a prom, without knowing how much money my mother spent on that beauty parlor hairdo, without hearing the screaming argument as I furiously dragged a brush through it, ruining it because I hated it so. Or without knowing how badly my stomach was knotted as I posed before that first day of school in a new town full of strangers. Without knowing how desperate I’d been to be invited to that birthday party I was on my way to, without knowing how many hours I’d babysat to earn the money for that dress I was posing in, without knowing that lawn was lovingly watered and trimmed by my grandfather and felt like velvet to bare feet, without knowing who loved me enough to want to preserve me at that moment and said, “Stand over there. Let me get a picture.”

girlsstandingonlawns2
What’s the story, Morning Glory?

A moment in time, sliding over the surface only. But what was the moment, exactly? Who was behind the camera? It’s hard for me to remember, after all these years, and you don’t know at all. I’m just a girl, standing on a lawn. I could be any girl. That could be anybody’s lawn, anybody’s camera. The lack of context is what gives these photos their depth, their potential to be any story you want them to be.

girls

It can be difficult to see these sorts of snapshots as art, or this book as a literary pursuit at all. I think people tend to view photography as the red-headed stepchild of the arts, not taking it quite seriously, especially once cameras became readily available to the common person with no sense of the artistic whatsoever. I fear this has only increased as cameras have proliferated to the point where one can be found in almost anyone’s hand at any given time. Selfies are almost offensively ubiquitous — or are they? Are they another art form, a reflection of the fluidity of art and of our culture? Artist Dylan Neuwirth would say so, judging from his “Just Be Your Selfie” exhibit, recently seen at Tacoma Art Museum and in Seattle’s Occidental Park.

Pictures of girls standing on lawns are going to be few and far between before very much more time passes, and that’s a shame.

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The Spy: A Novel of Mata Hari by Paulo Coelho (Book Review)

The Spy: A Novel of Mata HariThe Spy: A Novel of Mata Hari by Paulo Coelho

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I almost never buy books anymore. Print books have gotten so expensive, and I have limited space to keep them. My gripes about electronic books are the same ones everybody else has. Typos and formatting errors drive me crazy. The worst is that it seems I pay good money only to rent the book after a fashion. It chaps my hide that I can’t loan an ebook to anyone I want to, any time I want to, or give it away. If I paid for the book, it should be mine, to do with exactly as I please.

So, the fact that I bought this book is significant. Well, kinda. It caught my eye in an airport shop, where I was looking for a book of crossword puzzles – not sudoku, or word searches, but crosswords – and they had none. Mata Hari brought up an image for me, the mysterious woman traveling alone, perhaps at the last minute, grabbing a book both as time filler and shield against unwanted conversation. Perhaps that woman is taking off for Morocco with nothing more than her passport and sunglasses and a lipstick, so much more attractive than the prepared and somewhat paranoid traveler who already has in her bag a fully loaded and charged Kindle and a printed book just in case, not to mention a change of underwear. For a two-hour flight with no checked bags, mind you. Perhaps some corner of my mind was pretending I was Mata Hari, just for a little while. Books give us more than the stories inside them.

And that was fun, but the book itself was disappointing.

There is so much that is not here that I expect from a good fictionalized biography. Please note that nothing that follows is a spoiler, because none of it is in the book. What about being an abused wife whose children were allegedly poisoned? What about her former husband forcing her to relinquish her daughter by refusing to pay the ordered support? What about exotic dancing and prostitution because the more respectable things she tried didn’t pan out? What about impending war? What about falling in love with the Russian pilot fighting for France, and accepting the proposal that she spy? What about being hauled off a ship at Falmouth, arrested and interrogated? What about attempting to liaise with and seduce Crown Prince Wilhelm to get military intelligence? What about the German trickery, the French trap? What about…what about…what about…? These major events are barely alluded to or missing entirely. What the hell?

Look, I appreciate a male writer imbuing a woman with inner strength and resourcefulness and the freedom of spirit required to perform artful strip-tease and to be a frank and open courtesan. No argument there. But I suspect the image of Mata Hari as pure libertarian is as inaccurate as it is poetic. Let’s not gloss over how things were for women at that time, how the femme fatale was victimized by patriarchy generally and men specifically, how little choice she probably had. Let’s not gloss over the political considerations, and the heart of a mother who has lost her children to men’s abusive hands, who tried other ways to make a living before resorting to sex (which she reportedly despised after losing her virginity to a pedophile rapist and her subsequent marital experience) to get more for herself than just an apron and an overlord. From what I’ve read, there is no argument that Mata Hari was a spy for France; the debate was whether she was also spying for Germany, a double-agent as accused and convicted and executed. There is so much missing. Why do we hear from only Mata Hari the dancer and courtesan, and nothing from Mata Hari the daughter, Mata Hari the wife, Mata Hari the mother, Mata Hari the lover, Mata Hari the actual spy, doing Mata Hari spy stuff?

mata-hari.com-1917-2
Public Domain.

The photo above purports to be of Mata Hari’s execution by firing squad on October 15, 1917 (although it may also be a reconstruction for a movie). Coelho’s writing is lovely, I’ll give him that, and what story there is, is told well, but it’s like the photo – only her death. What about the rest? I learned more about Mata Hari from biography.com than I did from this book.

Bookshelves: fictionalized-biography, world-war-i, popular fiction, women, spy-vs-spy, disappointment, reading-in-airports

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Casting Call (Jane Doe Six Sentence Stories)

“…and no matter how I look at my life, I can’t see it ever being any different than it is every single stupid day,” Becca finishes.

The therapist is silent, the same trick she always pulls, but Becca wills herself not to rush in to fill the silence, make her say something, for once.

“Sounds like you’re in a rut, like maybe it’s time to start some new things, things that can become new rituals for security and fulfillment,” the therapist finally suggests.

“The people I have in my life are not going to help me with that,” Becca says.

“Is it time to add a new character to the cast, maybe?”

“For that, I’d need a whole new cast, hell — a whole new stage!”

extremis
Photo: extremis

Every week, Ivy at Uncharted hosts the Six Sentence Stories flash fiction linkup and blog hop. This vignette from The Life and Times of Jane Doe is in response to this week’s cue, “cast.” Follow the link for fun Sixes from other writers, or better yet — join us!

Busy (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

The sun is warm on her face in the cooler air, light penetrating her closed eyelids, turning them incandescent orange. The smells of autumn: decaying leaves, rich earth. Her books make a surprisingly comfortable pillow, lying on the grass on the small quad. Bit of heaven.

A shadow falls across her. She cracks one eye open.

“Brittany,” she says flatly.

“Jane, that calculus is killing me. I need help.”

Jane closes her eye again and points behind her, somewhere. “Math lab’s that way.”

“You’re not doing anything.”

The eye again, a bullet. “Looks may deceive. I am very busy.”

Hans
Photo: Hans

Every week at the Ranch (Carrot Ranch Literary Community, that is), Charli Mills hosts a flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a busy character.

Nose Out of Joint (Jane Doe Six Sentence Stories)

 

“I just don’t understand why you don’t want to go in on this deal with me,” Alec says.

“I don’t do anything on a joint basis anymore, sorry,” Torrey says shortly. “Somebody always gets left holding the bag, so stop pestering me.”

“Just because you had to split joint property with your ex doesn’t mean everybody’s out to screw you, you know.”

“I did not say that!” Torrey shouts.

Alec wisely says nothing, but can’t resist cocking an eyebrow at her.

Felix Broennimann
Photo: Felix Broennimann

Every week, Ivy at Uncharted hosts the Six Sentence Stories flash fiction linkup and blog hop. This vignette from The Life and Times of Jane Doe is in response to this week’s cue: “joint.” Go to the link for fun sixes from other writers. Join us! It’s fun!

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