Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (Book Review)

Oryx and Crake (MaddAddam, #1)Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I usually love Margaret Atwood, and I usually love dystopian/speculative fiction, but I could not get into this one. I tried. Sorry, Maggie. I still love you but this effort was dull, dull, dull. I put it down one evening and never felt compelled to pick it back up.

It might be time to reread The Robber Bride, though.

Bookshelves: dnf, speculative-fiction, my-dystopia-utopia

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#Twitterflash (And a Note About Trolling)

I haven’t published much flash fiction this month, because one of the two forums (fori?) where I participate in flash fiction linkups, Carrot Ranch Literary Community, has been holding a Flash Fiction Rodeo, eight contests throughout October. I’ve entered most of the contests, but judging is to be blind, so I can’t publish the entries until after judging is complete. So I’ve been writing, just not publishing.

Except for this entry, and at least one more that I’m working on–we’ll see how inspired I get before the deadline. This contest has a fun and different structure for flash fiction: Write a story in 99 words, consisting of 11 sentences of 9 words each, tweeted over Twitter. It’s #Twitterflash! It’s hard to judge blindly when it has to be tweeted, so I can go ahead and publish this one. Finally!

The note about trolling is a confession that I now must make. In the event you decide to follow me on Twitter (@99_Monkees), be aware that I troll our dumpster fire of a presidency. (#ImpeachTrump) Normally I do not like Internet trolls, just there to stir up trouble and throw negative crap everywhere. But with Emperor Hirocheeto, I find it therapeutic. It could be argued that I’m crazy for even following President Looney Tunes* on social media in the first place, but I’m one of those drivers that likes to lag behind you a bit, because I can keep an eye on your idiot ass from back here. Stay informed. Keep your friends close but your enemies closer. I confess to occasionally finding old boyfriends on the Internet to see how miserable they are these days, which might qualify as Internet stalking if I did it more often than I do. What can I say; I’m a Scorpio. In any event, I don’t say anything truly terrible; mostly I tell him he sounds like he’s 7 (which he does) or remind him it’s his bedtime now, or bug him again about what in the hell he intends to do about our fellow Americans who lost everything to Hurricane Maria and who have been living without power and clean water and basic infrastructure for more than a month now. (#PuertoRico) I may have also called him a baboon. I find all of it cathartic. I love living in a country where I have the right to free speech, the freedom to go on social media and say “fuck you” to the President of the United States; so very very much less do I love that I am inspired to do just that on almost a daily basis lately. I have feet, knee and hip problems that make it hard to march, so I use what I have. I troll. And I vote.  (#resist)

Mostly, though, I tweet relatively harmlessly from this blog, so that’s another way to follow 99 Monkeys if you want to.

On to my first entry in the Carrot Ranch #Twitterflash contest:

#TheEnd  #funwithhashtags

*Please note that you will never see me use the words “president” and “trump” adjacently, because I do not want to give the impression that I consider those two words to comprise a valid title. #NotMyPresident

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero (Book Review)

Meddling KidsMeddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: punk, spoof, homage, as-seen-on-tv, fanfic, mystery, horror, dark humor, lgbtq-inclusion, supernatural, paranormal, haunted house, love-the-cover

First–don’t get me wrong. I didn’t hate this book. I mostly enjoyed it. It’s just that I was expecting to love it as much as I loved The Supernatural Enhancements, which I absolutely adored, and I didn’t listen to the part of me that knew TSE was going to be one amazingly tough act to follow, and that cynical part of me was right, and now the non-listening part of me is annoyed at the cynical part of me, which is being all snarky and I-told-you-so-ish. But that doesn’t make Meddling Kids a bad book at all. It’s rather good. I would probably rate it higher if TSE hadn’t been so freakishly stupendous even though I know that’s not fair, like the younger sibling being held to the standards set by the superstar older sibling, suffering through school with constant comments like, “But your sister was so good in math,” “But your sister was a cheerleader,” “But your sister’s prom date had his own Camaro,” “But your sister never got suspended for smoking in the bathroom,” until it finally starts smoking weed and intentionally hiding its own superstarness out of spite.

This is a fun plot, the cast of Scooby Doo resurrected as Andy (fka Velma, lesbian and Hispanic and wanted in two states), Kerri (fka Daphne, with her brilliantly alive orange hair, which is almost another character in the book), Nate (fka Shaggy, a horror aficionado in and out of mental institutions) and Peter (fka Fred, dead, present as a ghost only Nate can see and hear, and responsible for at least two of Nate’s psychotropic medications). Scooby is here too, as Tim,* grandson of the original mystery-solving dog Sean,*** a Weimaraner instead of a Great Dane. The kids return to the scene of their last mystery, the one that left them all fucked up in the head, for closure and healing, and learn that no, it is not always a human villain in a costume.

It’s been noted that this book is an amalgam of homages, most notably to Scooby Doo and to H.P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon and the mythos of Cthulhu, but there are nods to Stephen King’s It (my least favorite of King’s books and no, I will not be seeing the movie, I have feared and loathed clowns since I was little), Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, some of the flavor of David Wong’s John Dies at the End, and no doubt others I missed.

Other reviewers have noted Cantero’s penchant for endless synonyms for “said” that grow annoying. I’ll grant him the fun of playing with the English language, which is not his mother tongue and which he still use more correctly than a lot of American college grads running around today, but I was growing weary of people who always half-phrased, umpired, intervened, polled, moaned, urgently suggested, appended, challenged, admitted, pop-quizzed, second-guessed, and so on, pretty much anything but simply saying something. Heads up, Edgar: You do not need fancy synonyms for “said” with dialogue as excellent as yours.

His descriptive powers are as evocative and socks-off-blowing as ever. After a window’s light is blocked: The colors in the room went oh and became very sad. A motel slept in silence, all the guests probably busy counting stolen money or chopping up corpses in the bathtub. A dog that tail-nods. She squiggled her feet into her sneakers. Fun portmanteaus. I recently read an article Cantero wrote wherein he explained that in his head, if English writing can have a crash-landing, then it should also be able to have a kaboom-landing, and I don’t disagree.

There are a few sharp pokes at American society: “Never cry about a gun. Sadly it’s one of the easiest things to replace in this county.” Ouch. We deserve that.

Perhaps my favorite part: The meddling kids get to escape in a mine cart in pure cartoon style. The cart flew out of the adit mouth, far over the debris slope at the end, hurling the passengers out to free-fall ouching and whoaing and F-word-yelling all the way into the Zoinx River. Yes!

Perhaps my least favorite part: Velma/Andy did not say “jinkies.” Not even once. Sad face.

And just as big as everything else – the cover. This cover! Every time I pulled the book out on the metro or in the break room, I flashed it around a little: Look what I’m reading. Feast your eyes, and know your reading material cannot possibly be cooler than mine. Don’t you wish you were reading this gloriously groovy bit of literary amazingness too? Yes, you do, you know you do. I might never have discovered Edgar Cantero if I hadn’t fallen in love with the cover of The Supernatural Enhancements. (His Catalan covers don’t do as much for me, which is just as well since I can’t read Catalan.)

Anyway, despite the rather lackluster and previously explained three stars, I do recommend the book. I really recommend The Supernatural Enhancements, which I reviewed here.

*I don’t really care for this trend of giving people names to dogs, especially when they’re all the same. Much like every kid I meet these days is named Jayden or Brylee, it seems every dog I meet these days is named Sophie or Lilly.**

**My dog does happen to be named Lilly, but I didn’t pick it; her AKC name is Leina’s Lilly Moose and it was written in stone by the time I got her at a year old. Besides, I call her FatDog. Perhaps I should start calling her Moose. She would probably like it. She likes everything.

***Now I realize that the dog named Tim is a nod to the Famous Five that I missed, as in their dog Timmy. But my * mini-rant about people names for dogs stands, because although Sean is one of my favorite names in the world, being the name of one of my kids, I still generally think people names for dogs sound silly. Unless Sean for the dog is another homage I missed, which is entirely possible.

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Death in Paradise by Robert B. Parker (Book Review)

Death In Paradise (Jesse Stone, #3)Death In Paradise by Robert B. Parker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Much better than the previous installment. Crime-solving was more front and center. Jenn was much less angst-inducing, which was a relief. Jesse Stone still gets more women’s panties thrown at him than Elvis ever did, so all is right with the world.

Bookshelves: detective, manly-men-kicking-ass, mystery

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Yard Work (Jane Doe Six Sentence Stories)

Rico drums his hands on the steering wheel, impatient for the bus ahead of him to move again. Places to be, folks.

The bus farts and jolts ahead, and Rico’s eye is caught — that woman he’s had his eye on in his sociology class, Jane he thinks her name is, walking away up the crumbling sidewalk.

He presses on the gas slowly now, curious to see which way she’ll head. She doesn’t go far, just two houses up from the stop, a dead-looking house, slumping behind its overgrown yard. His eyebrows arch upward as she skips the front door and heads around the side, looking around perfunctorily without even seeing him, then nudges open a sagging gate and disappears into a wild tangle behind the house’s blank-windowed stare.

Photo: Arcaion

Every week, Ivy at Uncharted hosts the Six Sentence Stories flash fiction linkup and blog hop. This week’s cue was “yard.” Fun sixes from other writers are at the link. Enjoy!

Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton (Book Review)

Y is for Yesterday (Kinsey Millhone, #25)Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

SEXUAL ASSAULT TRIGGER WARNING: Repeated descriptions of sexual assault, with accompanying “she had it coming” mentality

Grafton crafted a dark story here, then threw away the opportunity to make it count.

My neck hairs first stood up when I read, “I couldn’t think why she’d try extorting money for a sex tape in which she starred front and center.” Um, what? You mean, in which she was being gang-banged and sodomized while passed out. Which is acknowledged a few pages earlier, opining that those making the tape would be facing rape and sexual assault charges. So, is the throw-away attitude toward this girl throughout the book casual victim-blaming on the part of the writer, or is it intentionally written to display the “Well, she shouldn’t have been drunk and naked and wasted with a bunch of guys, and I don’t care if she was only fourteen, she’s a dirty dirty sloot” attitude that everybody, including Kinsey, seemed to share? When a young man is released after serving a sentence for murder, and you feel bad for him because now he’s being blackmailed over a sexual assault he took part in and you don’t want to see him “go through” any more…say what? But of course. Don’t forget that he is rich and white and from a “good family.” Kinsey is so principled that she returns the entire retainer after she’s fired, without deducting for services already performed, but she’s not principled enough to turn down this dog turd of a case in the first place? Or take the tape straight to the D.A.?

Out-of-character characters. “I picked up the scent of the cigar he’d smoked, but the effect wasn’t unpleasant,” writes Kinsey, except that the Kinsey I’ve been reading about for 30 years hates smoking. Henry has always loved and babied his yard, but he’s suddenly torn it up and is letting a homeless couple pee in it? Kinsey’s being stalked by a serial killer, so she carefully cleans her beloved H&K, locks it in the trunk at the foot of her bed, and drifts peacefully off to sleep?

Anachronisms. In 1979, teenage kids use the word “homophobe” and have computer video editing equipment in their bedrooms. Most glaring was not being allowed past airport security without being a ticketed passenger–except this was in 1989, twelve years before 9/11, back when you could go to the airport and get a drink and sit and watch the planes take off and land, which I used to do. One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about these novels is being stuck in the 80’s, Kinsey hauling her portable typewriter around and always being miles away from a pay phone when she needs one. In this installment, present-day intruded several times.

These books have never been perfect and I’ve loved them anyway, but this one set my teeth on edge. I only read to the end because I wanted to see if I was right about whodunit, which I was, and I’ve already forgotten it. I never thought I could give a Kinsey Millhone book only two stars, but Kinsey as a rape apologist, who’da thunk it.

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Spirit of New Orleans (Six Sentence Stories)

“I’d like to take a few days to make the trip, book a sleeper on the Spirit of ‘76.”

“You’re going to travel on President Nixon’s Air Force One?”

“Sorry, I meant the Spirit of St. Louis.”

“Lindy’s been gone a long time now, and I’m pretty sure his plane is in the Smithsonian, and anyway I thought you don’t like to fly.”

“Oh sheesh, I mean the Spirit of New Orleans, like the train in the song, you know, I’ll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.”

“I’ll book you on the City of New Orleans, if you’ll please stop singing.”

City of New Orleans
Photo: Robert Kaufman, from the FEMA Photo Library, Public Domain.

This flash is in response the Six Sentence Stories cue of the week: spirit. I know it’s weird, but it’s where the prompt led. All I did was follow. Follow the link for fun sixes from other writers.


Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman (Reading Challenge Book Review)

Norse MythologyNorse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was going to say it’s impossible for Neil Gaiman to write anything I wouldn’t like, but then I remembered Neverwhere, which I couldn’t get into, and I blame that mostly on the rats, which did not become a horror to me until I moved to Seattle in the midst of a seven-year stretch of chronic and heinous insomnia, and my rented-online-sight-unseen apartment turned out to be infested with the hideous creatures, and the job I moved here to take turned out to be the absolute worst employment experience of my life, leading to an almost complete psych breakdown and years of therapy. It became an association thing: I fucking hate rats. I also blame the character named Jessica. I’ve just always disliked that name. No real reason. No idea. But rats + Jessica = couldn’t read the book.

But any other Gaiman book, I’m totally down for.*

Norse Mythology is an absolute delight to read of an evening, wrapped up cozy in a warm blanket, with warm lamplight and a warm cuppa, perhaps rain on the window. The language is not childish but creates that “once upon a time” atmosphere that recalls being read to as a child. This book might be superb on audio.

The stories are wonderful, and this collection includes a nice tour of Yggdrasil and the basics of Norse belief (those interested may want to check out the spiritual path of the Asatru). Gaiman sources his tales straight from the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda, all with the unique flavor and rhythm that are Gaiman’s own. All of your favorite gods are here…Odin, Thor, Loki, Frigg, Tyr, Frey and Freya, Heimdall, Baldur…and some you may not have heard of.

My personal favorite was Thor in drag.

*Unless he chooses to name a character Tracy, every Tracy I’ve been intimately involved with having turned out to be a manipulative, backstabbing C U Next Tuesday. It’s a puzzle. I once worked and became sort-of friends with a woman in the screen-name environment of the Internet, and was dismayed when I learned her real name was Tracy. “Don’t be silly,” I told myself, “it’s just a name. Just because her name is Tracy doesn’t mean she’s going to suddenly turn into a skank.” Lesson learned, that I could not have been more wrong, as I pulled not one but two of her knives out of my back. I’m aware that there are probably a great many women named Tracy who are upstanding and moral people. Maybe it’s an alchemical thing, that happens when I become involved with the woman named Tracy. So if you are a Tracy, let’s just not meet, or at least don’t let me know, so all of these Tracy’s can continue being good people. Please, Neil, don’t ever name a character Tracy. Because I know you’re reading this.

This was #17 in my 2017 Reading Challenge, a book published in 2017.

Bookshelves: myth-and-legend, deities-behaving-badly, retelling-a-classic, literary-fiction, once-upon-a-time, religion-sort-of, reading-challenge, short-stories, humor

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Fluid (Jane Doe Six Sentence Stories)

Becca stumbles at the entrance to her building, dropping her keys and shopping bag in her clumsy anxiety to get in out of the interminable Seattle rain, captivated by movement out of the corner of her eye.

Down the street, in the downpour that shimmers in the streetlights. A woman. Dancing in the street, alone, not caring if anyone is watching.

Poetry in motion.

The woman pirouettes around the corner and out of sight, leaving Becca to wonder yet again how other people learn how to get through life as a fluid.

Free-Photos street dance
Photo: Free-Photos

Every week, Ivy at Uncharted hosts the Six Sentence Stories flash fiction linkup and blog hop. This week’s six is a vignette from The Life and Times of Jane Doe; this week’s cue was “fluid.” Fun sixes from other writers are at the link. Join us!

Exodus by Leon Uris (Book Review)

 Exodus Exodus by Leon Uris

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is the fictionalized story of the creation of the present-day nation of Israel as symbolized by the Exodus, a ship refit by the Mossad Aliyah Bet, carrying Jewish refugees from post-WWII internment camps on Cyprus to run the British blockade and settle in Palestine.

Bookshelves: well-i-tried, disappointment, world-war-ii, in-the-news, historical fiction, jewish-history, middle-east

So much potential, but I’ve been reading for a week and I’m not even halfway through. The story is interesting enough, but there is a lack of balance in writing about a many-faceted period in world history. The characters are without nuance, written in black-vs-white terms. Zionist activists and Jewish people are good; Arabs, Turks, the British, and Americans (sympathizers excepted) are bad. I understand and do not disagree with the basics of Zionism and the negation of the Diaspora, and the basis for the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that’s enough to know it’s a helluva lot more complicated than Uris would have us believe. Even now, President Twitler creates some controversy by proposing to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, flying in the face of virtually every other country on the planet, most likely as another way of flipping the bird to the United Nations.* This book is 100% pro-Israeli, as far as I read, and I dislike that one-sidedness.

I could even deal with that. Just finish this book, then go read one sympathetic to the Palestinian viewpoint, but there are other things. The different characters’ backstories are visited as flashbacks that read more like infodumps, dry as unbuttered toast. Slog, slog, slog. There are a couple of romances in the offing, between the Brokenhearted Steadfast Warrior Heroes and the Beautiful and Plucky Women Who Melt Their Hearts, who come off formulaic and trite. And somebody really needed to curb Uris’s enthusiasm for the ! key.

The story is based in truth, which you can read about here and here, with a lot of poetic license that I truly have no issue with. The real Exodus sailed from Marseilles, not Cyprus, carrying far more people. I am given to understand that somebody saves the day at the end of the fictional voyage; the real life voyage did not end happily.

I was hoping for an epic I could fall in love with and gush over, but I’m more annoyed than anything, and I try to discontinue things that annoy me. I usually only give one star to a book I can’t finish, but I’m throwing in an extra for the scope, the fact that the book is dated (1958) and that’s not its fault, and that it inspired me to research the true story and learn something new.

*I hate, loathe, and despise #45 and will get my digs in where I can.

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