Monthly Archives: July 2016

Short Fiction Saturdays 1: Dominic prt. 1

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The quiet of the Faerie Court is interrupted by a human boy in search of a miracle to save his mother’s life.

via “Portraits of a Faerie Queen”-Dominic pt. 1 — Tay LaRoi

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Summer of my Fourteenth Year–Jim Meaders

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Summer of my Fourteenth Year–Jim Meaders

Plot: 2/5        Characters: 3/5        Writing: 2/5        World Building: 3/5        World Building: 3/5

“The Summer of my Fourteenth Year” is an odd little book with what seems like a simple premise until Meaders gives it the most unexpected and creative one-eighty. Meaders essentially takes Ralphie from “A Christmas Story” and has him narrate an episode of “The Twilight Zone.” As crazy as that sounds, it actually works. The end result is a zany blend of sci-fi and memoir that had me laughing and invested in every page, until the last fourth began to go nowhere and the ending flat out disappointed me.

It’s the summer of 1963 and all almost-fourteen-year-old James can think about is girls, his approaching birthday and mowing enough lawns to buy his first car in two years’ time, making him a typical kid having a typical summer. As he ventures out into his surrounding neighborhoods to mow grass, however, his summer begins to go from typical, to strange, to downright bizarre. Houses start disappearing, some neighbors end up being reptilian aliens ready to gobble James up and others disappear along with the houses. With all this sudden craziness, can James survive past his fourteenth birthday?

The memoir-like aspects are very well done. The images of summer days spent mowing lawns, hanging out with buddies, dodging bullies, and vegging in front of the TV are vivid, believable, and draw on what I think is a pretty universal experience in America, even if the story does take place in 1963. Meaders does a wonderful job bringing out the little details of the time period, giving the story a strong sense of nostalgia and drawing the reader into another place and time. This makes the strange and alien elements of the story stand out all the more and for the better. The two atmospheres are so polar opposites that it’s a lot of fun seeing how they interact.

Until the last twenty minutes of the book.

Another element Meaders does well is keeping it a mystery what’s real and what’s not. It was fun trying to figure out if James really was seeing the aliens and other strange happenings or if they were in his mind. It really gets exciting once his parents start seeing the weirdness too, confirming that there really is something strange happening in his neighborhood, but just as you think it’s all coming together, the narration gets sloppy and goes off on tangents and dream sequences that amount to nothing. Then, Meaders presents the ending, pulling the rug out from under you and letting you fall right on your face.

It seemed like Meaders got towards the climax of this book, got bored and said, “Well, that’s enough. Sorry, readers!” and hit “Publish.” If the rest of the book had been mediocre, I probably wouldn’t have cared, but it’s so good and so creative that I was genuinely angry at the end of the book. If Meaders had kept up the steam and actually saw the story through, it could have been a very good, creative book.

And if anyone wants to point out that the twist was right in the book description on Amazon, I’d like to point out that 1) I get these books through email. I don’t see the description until I get ready to write the review. 2) That doesn’t make it a good twist. If anything, it just makes it more disappointing.

Overall, I’d say read the first three-fourths of the book and then make up your own ending. The clash between “Twilight Zone”-like weirdness and American nostalgia is enjoyable and funny. The protagonist is even pretty fun and actually sounds like a fourteen-year-old, which is sort of impressive (even if his ‘fourteen-year-old-hormones’ argument does get old). I only wish his story had a better conclusion.

She Looks Like Me–Reflections on Diversity

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The picture to the left is me. My father is a fair-skinned black man and my mother is an EXTREMELY fair-skinned white woman, which is why I look the way I do. Due to my mixed heritage, I have a very complicated relationship with my unbelievably curly hair. When it grows, it doesn’t get long, it gets big.  And by big I mean huge. Like, routinely-loose-bobby-pins-in-it-I-am-not-kidding-that-actually-happens huge, which is why I wear it short.  It’s also why I get extremely excited when I meet other girls, primarily mixed and black girls, with hair like mine. I feel like it gives us an instant connection to build on and, if they wear their hair long, I can’t help but admire their patience. I’ve struck up long engaging conversation with total strangers just with complements about their hair, questions about products, and thoughts on styles.

I form a similar connection with fictional characters and other images in media. I can be walking through a book store, browsing the internet, or flip through TV channels and I will stop when I see a woman with crazy-curly hair and verbalize my excitement.

“Wow, I love her hair.”

“Cute curls.”

“Hey, she looks like me!”

It’s a very natural human response. Most of us feel a small internal spark when we realize we identify with others whether through interests, style of dress, hobbies, or for many minorities, something as simple as a shared skin tone.  It looks like more and more creators are recognizing this connection and implementing it by including more people of color in their works. Personally, I couldn’t be happier.

Others, it seems, see this as a problem. It feels like every other day there’s some enraged white gamer, movie-goer, or TV-viewer who complains about “token minorities” or “pandering” simply because a character doesn’t look like them. Heck, minor characters that die can’t even be a minority without sparking some sort of outrage. Remember Rue from “The Hunger Games?” Yeah, those angry tweets were fun to read.

It’s not like white characters are dwindling that much in America. Regardless of genre or medium, most stories today still feature white main characters that live in primarily white cultures. There are still thousands of well-written white characters for people to share that spark with—a spark white people in this country have so much of that they don’t even realize it’s there until someone else gets the chance to experience it. Then they write the character or story off and don’t give it a chance. This is often followed by some notion that the story is unbelievable because it doesn’t line up with their preconceived notions about the minority group in question, resulting in the loss of an opportunity to learn something new about their fellow human beings.

One of my favorite fictional characters is Korra from Avatar: The Legend of Korra. She’s confident, brave, self-assured, strong, and isn’t afraid to speak her mind when she sees that something isn’t right—all traits I aspire to have (I also aspire to have her muscles, but I digress). Alongside Korra’s strengths, I also love her flaws. Many talents come naturally to her, so she quickly gets frustrated when she’s not good at something right away.  Her desire to right wrongs sometimes leads her to act without thinking and she struggles to find her own identity in the face of other’s expectations and her own failures. These are all things I personally face from time to time, so it’s comforting and inspiring to see someone else overcome them, even if they are a fictional character with superpowers.

Like I mentioned before, I’m mixed and pass as white. In our world Korra would probably be considered Inuit, judging by the way her culture looks and operates in the show. We couldn’t look more different or come from more different cultures, but here’s the thing: our race doesn’t matter. Our joint experiences do. The differences between me and Korra only make me more interested in her. I love witnessing where she comes from, the culture that helped shape her, and the unique challenges it presents to her. Our differences provide me a chance to think a little differently and look at a new world with a sense of wonder. I also marvel at the fact that the creators of both The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra managed to integrate East Asian philosophes into kids’ shows flawlessly but again, I digress.

Instead of looking at characters of color as a challenge or a threat, what if we looked at them as chances to show empathy towards people of color, who probably are happy to see more people like them in popular media, and a chance to learn about ourselves and the people around us? Or to learn about the society that has shaped the way we see each other? If people stopped making such vain and self-centered complains and focused on the stories in front of them, I think a lot of people would see that there aren’t as many differences between people as they thought, as cliché as that sounds. I also think people would realize that the differences between us are worth studying and understanding so that we can coexist better in this country. Again, cliché, but true.

So, if you routinely get upset when a character doesn’t look like you, stop. Take a breath. Let a person who does look like that character enjoy a connection you’ve probably enjoyed hundreds of times before. Then, give that character a chance. Let them teach you and take those lessons with you. Stories are some of the best lessons we have in regards to the human condition. Don’t waste such an opportunity.

If such things don’t bother you, call out people who complain. Question them. Make them think and reflect because, while stories are excellent lessons, sometimes we need teachers to get them across. I see no reason why it shouldn’t me and you.

Featured on tabbyafae.com on July 28, 2016

Pilgrimage–Carl Purcell

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Plot: 4/5     Characters: 4/5     Writing: 2/5     Entertainment: 4/5     World Building: 5/5

Pilgrimage is a mature, thoughtful and surprisingly funny magical journey through the Australian Outback that brings something new to the Contemporary Fantasy genre.

Roland has been living in a rundown motel for the past six months, spending his time drinking away painful memories and getting into bar fights. Griffith is on his way to Salem to find a powerful sorcerer and happens to get held up in the very bar Roland is drinking in. With Roland’s help, Griffith thinks he can safely make it to Salem and help Roland in the process, but tolerating each other becomes the least of their worries once they start making magical enemies.

Pilgrimage is a rare book. I’ve only ever read one other similar to it (see my review of Rairty from the Hollow). It’s not very often you see contemporary fantasy clearly written for adults tackle themes such as guilt, innocence and the loss there of, and conviction. If they do, such themes are set on the back burner to give grit and action the spot light. Not that there’s anything wrong with that formula, it’s was just interesting see someone present such themes front-and-center in a fantasy novel. Such heavy emphasis on the themes of a story is usually reserved for realistic fiction.

In addition, the characters are brilliantly complex and complement each other perfectly. One’s strengths pick up where the other’s weaknesses leave off and they both have very fleshed out, three-dimensional strengths and weaknesses. It would have easy to make Griffith always right and make his non-violent philosophy triumph in the end, but it doesn’t. Neither does Roland’s approach of punching his way out of every situation. The two have to learn to balance their approaches and see that there is a time and place for both, making their personal conflicts very believable, despite the fantastic circumstances, and mature.

Despite its somber tone, “Pilgrimage” still had me laughing quite a bit. Some of the dialogue between Roland and Griffith can be funny, but most of the humor came from Lord Pentdragon, the first antagonist we see. It’s hilarious to watch how seriously this man takes himself and how seriously other people take him when, in reality, he’s a bit of a joke. His scenes were some of my favorite simply because of how over-the-top and ridiculous he was.

The only fault I could see with “Pilgrimage” was the writing. It wasn’t bad, per se, it was just weak. Since “Pilgrimage” had such a great story, great characters, and well-developed themes, I felt like it deserved better writing. There were also a handful of typos. While they didn’t make passages impossible to read, they were certainly distracting.

Over all, if you’re looking for a good fantasy adventure, but you’ve grown weary of teenagers and Chosen Ones, “Pilgrimage” is a good read, regardless of its writing. I just hope Purcell finds the time to go back and clean up those typos.

“Let There be Linda”–Rich Leder (ON SALE TODAY)

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“Let There be Linda”–Rich Leder (ON SALE TODAY)

Plot: 5/5     Characters: 5/5     Writing: 4/5     Entertainment: 5/5

     Where does one even start with “Let There be Linda?” It stands alone as one of the most bizarre, dark, and surprisingly human comedies to ever grace the Amazon store. The jokes are grim, but too wacky not to laugh at, the characters are all insane, but easy enough to understand (in most cases) and memorable, and the story itself has so many twists and turns that it’s impossible to guess what’s coming next.

Brothers Mike and Dan Miller can’t stand each other, but are forced to come together when their mother passes away suddenly. As if getting along through the funeral isn’t hard enough, Dan runs a talent agency and signs a girl who can raise the dead, leading all Hell to break loose. Now the brothers must work together to survive a loan-shark little person and his giant body guard, a psycho comedian-cop, a real estate zombie, and an angry reanimated poodle. Oh, yeah, and they have to get $75,000 from a coked up dentist.

I can’t imagine “Linda” was an easy book to write, but Leder made it look easy. He manages to balance the dark aspects of the story and its humor perfectly. Not only that, but all of the characters are fleshed out and stay faithful to their development, no matter how bizarre. Together, these elements worked to suspend my disbelief higher than I thought possible for such a strange book. A woman who can raise the dead and whose eyes change color every day? Sure. Vengeful reanimated poodle with a thirst for blood? I don’t see why not. A grown woman with a Dr. Seuss reading club? I’d expect nothing less at this point.

In addition to the expertly crafted narrative, Leder manages to touch on the very real phenomenon of grief. There aren’t many quiet moments where the brothers can reflect on the loss of their mother, but when they occur, it feels genuine. Especially with Mike since he was closest to her. Despite all the zany plot twists and insane characters, the feelings of lose and the uncertainty of what to do next felt very real.  The emotions that the characters go through especially struck a cord with me since I lost two grandparents and an aunt last year. “Let There be Linda” was probably the last book on Earth I expected to shed tears for, but I did, and I applaud Leder for capturing such a personal and complex emotion in such an unlikely book.

If you like fast-paced stories, crazy antics, unforgettably strange characters, and dark humor, “Let There be Linda” should definitely be on your reading list. It goes on sale today, so I encourage you to swing by Rich Leder’s Amazon page and read the free sample before you buy. I highly doubt that you’ll regret it.