Review: Here, There be Dragons (James Owen)

This book is imperfect (I have critiques) but it is definitely on my list of “books I’ll recommend to someone.”  If that sounds like a contradiction – well, you can enjoy something that is imperfect despite it’s imperfections.

Here, There be Dragons is, at it’s core, a fun adventure novel.  I thought it was a little predictable, but it is a fun twist on the “fairy tale” genre.  It fits into the trend of re-examining the classic tales and/or referencing them without expecting them to be some kind of “TRUTH.”

I listened to this book, and the reader of the audiobook (James Langton) did a great job with the accents and character voices without making them take over the story. Especially in books where the author didn’t plan out audio (and so made sure to say “Said John.” type things) it helps for the narrator to have voices.

The biggest critique I have in this book is some (I suspect unintended) sexism.  There is one female character of note.  Oh, I think one of the 3-fates might be the most memorable but she had one scene versus the woman who was in the book the entire time.  I don’t think (or at least I’m going to assume it) James Owen meant to be sexist, I just think he assumed his primary audience would be young boys and they would want male protagonists.  There isn’t really a romance plot-line, which is more common in male-marketed fantasy (female-marketed fantasy is critiqued if they don’t have a romance plot…)

I DO like the way James Owen tackled myths and their interactions.  I like how he pointed out the “3 women controlling fate” has different names in different myths – and there similarities and differences and how they can be handled.

It is worth getting the end and seeing the twist he included.  I can’t say I “saw it coming” but I had been suspicious of something from pretty early in the book and when the twist happened I was able to think “Ha! I knew that thing I’d noticed couldn’t be an an accident!  THAT’S what he was doing with it.  Nice.”

It is absolutely worth the read, but it isn’t a book I would say “your kid needs to read this to grow up” (like I did with Alanna).  I don’t know that I would even say “it will make you think” – I don’t know that it would make an adult think (I kind of home not).  BUT, it was a fun romping adventure that made me want to find out how they’d reach the end.  It is one of the better “twisted fairy tale” stories I think I’ve seen lately and for that alone, I’d give it about a 3/5 stars.  Good, not brilliant.

SCOTUS: Searching Cars

There are two cases this year dealing with cars and the fourth amendment in front of the Supreme Court.  My little SCOTUS nerdy heart is a little excited.  Both of them will be argued today.

Byrd v. United States

So I can see the argument in this case (here is a professional write up if you want a longer version) where a woman (Reed) let her significant other (Byrd) drive her rental car.  Not only was he NOT on the rental, she wasn’t even in the car with him.  He got pulled over and the cops searched the car without a warrant (and without probable cause) arguing that because he wasn’t on the agreement – they don’t need a warrant.  They convicted him for the heroin in the trunk.

I can’t wait to (a) hear what the professional attorneys argue and then (b) how the court falls on this case.  I am also really glad I don’t have to rule on it!  There could be some interesting fall-out on “possession and control” being required (or not) for warrants.

So on the one hand Byrd wasn’t on the rental agreement – much like if I let my sister (or friend or whoever) borrow my car they aren’t on my registration.  Does that mean if I let my friend borrow my pickup truck (as every pickup truck constantly lends out their trucks!) and they hide a stash of heroin under the driver’s seat or in a cooler (can’t be seen) could the cops pull them over for a routine stop and then search (and impound) MY TRUCK because I let a friend borrow it?  And what about if someone steals my car – do they have fourth amendment rights because they “possess and control” my car at this moment?

On the other hand, rental companies make you sign an agreement saying ALL drivers must be “registered” and anyone not registered is…. illegally (?) driving the vehicle.  Technically, Reed (Bryd’s SO & mother of his children) signed an agreement saying other drivers are only permitted with “prior written consent” (and paying a daily fee). The government contends this prior contract dismisses Byrd’s fourth amendment rights.

And it gets complicated because there ARE rules about “even if someone is doing something illegal it doesn’t waive rights” (hence cops can’t JUST search your car when you ran that red light – they still have to have probable cause).  And can Byrd be held responsible for Reed breaking the contract between herself and car rental company? (there are rules about people who don’t know they are being used in crimes too).

I am looking forward to hearing the court rule on this one – HOW they phrase their ruling can shift this in a lot of directions.  They COULD strike the provisions (and extra fees) on car rental contracts.  They COULD argue that the contract creates a binding clause and means Byrd “stole” the car (I doubt they would – I might have been told “yeah, I totally paid for you too” and then… ugh!).  They COULD rule that  warrant/probable cause is still required when a contract has been broken OR when someone isn’t registered on a vehicle (so my husband could get my car searched ’cause he isn’t on the registration!)

Collins v. Virginia

This case also has to do with the fourth amendment and vehicles – with the addition of “private property.”  I’m not going to say I understand the previous rulings as well as I should to explain when/why vehicles can be searched with exemptions.  I do understand there are already rulings on exemptions to the warrant requirements (it’s called the “automobile exemption.” (professional write up here)

So in this case the cops were searching for a motorcyclist.  They narrowed down their search area using social media & a cop saw a motorcycle under a tarp-like cover next to a house. He went up and looked under the tarp-thing and found out the motorcycle was stolen. Should the cop have needed a warrant to lift the tarp?

Again, I want to hear how the justices rule on this – it isn’t black & white. On the most basic brush there is “cop came on private property” and “cop lifted the tarp” (not readily visible)  but there is also “is the land I own safe from warrantless search” and “my car parked on my driveway” (yes, even though in this case it’s “stolen car”).

Previous rulings have protected cars parked in/around the home lot (and searching on the land around a home).  But is does open quite the can of worms about when/how cops might be allowed to search vehicles.

So will the court expand the officers’ ability to search vehicles?  Will they uphold that private property is (for lack of a better word in my vocabulary here) sacred from this type of search and demand warrants?  I am curious to see how the court falls out on this issue and what they say about it.

Review: Star Wars Last Jedi

I don’t know if I can avoid spoilers.  I am going to try.  But if you (like me) did everything you could (including avoiding interviews) so you could go into this movie with as little knowledge as possible – well, I might let slip something you didn’t want see.  Fair?  Good.

I would give it a 3/5.  Overall it was ok, I enjoyed it, but… BUT

My biggest critique is the length.  So they introduced a new character (Rose) who I like a LOT, but I feel like they added an entire segment to the movie which…. was really only there for us to get to know Rose.  And…. it made the movie feel long.  I honestly kind of wish they hadn’t had it.  It had some fun moments, but it made for weird pacing because it was trying to weave  3 sets of characters and (all) movies struggle anywhere above 2 groups of heroes.

The Rey & Luke segments were very well done – Mark Hamill is amazing.  Luke’s arc during this movie might be one of my favorite parts.  I like how the character struggles with his past – and they all but steal one of my life phrases!  Avoiding obvious spoilers – teacher me was quite happy.

There were some call-backs to Empire and even Jedi which were… decent.  Nothing too in-your-face and I enjoyed it.

enjoyed the movie.  I am still processing whether it felt like a Star Wars movie.  There was a lot more humor (as my husband said, it felt like they were trying to mimic some of Guardian‘s humor Correction: he told me that what he said is that it’s like they let Lucas try to make a Joss Whedon movie  – I stand by my memory that he compared it to Marvel).  I enjoyed most of it – and the porgs were NOT annoying.  I was expecting to hate them but they were in the movie just enough to be amusing – not annoying.

I will be honest, I don’t know that I will be as excited about “young han solo” as I might have been 10 years ago.  I think Star Wars in running into “long running game syndrom” – when RP’ers have been running the same game a long time eventually they get to the point where their characters are ridiculously powered and not much feels like a threat anymore.  Star Wars is reaching that for me – there were some scenes where it just felt like they wanted to “top” what they’d done before (Fast & Furious has gone there too…)

I think I am moving more towards “I’d like to see a different universe on screen” in fantasy, superhero, & sci-fi.  Star Wars is great, Marvel is fun – but what are the stories we aren’t getting to see because the directors and writers are getting stuck in these boxes?

Review: Bad Characters

Oh the irony that I got called out for “always liking the books I read” and then I read something awful.  Thanks universe. Thanks a lot. (Thanks OBAMA)

Without naming names, this book was pretty awful.  It’s the first of a trilogy and as much as I hate leaving a plot unfinished, I don’t think I want to drag myself through another 2 books with these characters.  They were terrible.

So the book is urban fantasy – low fantasy so most of the people aren’t “magical” and what magic there is tends to be brushed off and/or explainable.  And the concept of the story is engaging.  It’s the characters I have a problem with.

The main character is a sixteen year old girl with apparently no friends and not caring about it.  This is my primary beef with this book: what sixteen year old is happy when they have no friends?  Hell, any age could be (should be?) unhappy when they almost entirely isolated.  And yeah, she’s got her mom and the random women who live with her mom….

Ok, it helps to know her mom is a psychic – of course a real one.  The women who live with her are also psychic (real ones).  These women are basically the only relationships “Jane” (her name in the book is so terrible another character nicknames her Jane…) has. This caused me serious frustration in the book – there is this character who has lived in this tiny speck of a town her whole life, but apparently is friendless. I know I’m ranting.  The frustration this caused (in me) is that the character felt like she didn’t “exist” before this story.

The other primary characters, her love interest and his two friends were pretty similar.  Well, actually they had more backstory.  One of them was abused, one was a seventeen year old rich kid whose parents are loving but apparently don’t care about him (the one time the character met his parents they were decent people – but it’s like they don’t care if their son is literally just running around the world after a mythical legend….)

It was weird.  It was awful. I dragged myself through the first book and gratefully sent it back to the library.

Memories: Three years

Ok, so I missed the anniversary (by quite a bit actually) – but I’ve hit 3 years blogging!  Wow.  I was doing some admin clean-up and considering if I want to try a different skin (I feel like the “look” of my blog is… off/wrong/meh). I looked at my post history and found it had already been so much.

As much as the Ex-Best Friend was read though, my totals for the month it was published (in 2015) was only 15 views higher than my total views last month.  Probably because of the frequency I was able to post last month – and yes I know I’ve faltered this month already – it’s been busy!  I’m getting back on the horse.

I am already doing some planning for 2018 – some ideas I have to freshen up the ‘ole bloggeru and get myself into the right headspace.

Review: Critiques & criticisms

I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about my form of critique.  I had a friend who mentioned that I’m only blogging about books I enjoyed.  Their actual comment was something along the lines of, “You like everything you read.”

That isn’t true.  I’m reading something right now I’m not enjoying very much. And there is a chance I won’t review it. And not every review I’ve put on this blog has been glowing praise. Lately (the last six months or so) it has been. Some of that has been that I’ve been enjoying most of what I read and when I consider which books I want to share – well, I tend to only share the ones I’ve been enjoying.

I considered doing a more harshly critical take on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 when I watched it last week (for the second time). I could. I think the movie is significantly weaker than #1, and it’s ripe for some good riffing and critique.  Buuuuut…. is it worth the effort over something fun like Akata Witch& Akata Warrior getting bragged on?

I even said it in my recent review of Akata Witch & Warrior, I saw the plot points coming because I’ve seen so many young adult novels that follow the same pattern.  Sometimes I don’t know if I should riff on something because I know why the person did it.  It’s like a cook who chooses to salt their water when making pasta. Do I mock them for this time-honored tradition that apparently adds nothing to the making? I know why they do it. Hell, I do it as often as I don’t.

I recently saw a YouTube video on how art & video games are following a similar timeline of modern “art” and then post-modern “commentary art” with the growing trend of post-post-modern in art and how we can expect to see this in gaming. They keep saying how there is nothing new in the world. Well, literature has been saying the same thing for like a hundred years and yet… new books keep getting published!

So what makes a GREAT piece of art – or literature?  Does it have to be making something entirely new? Or can it re-examine something we’ve always assumed is true (vampires hate sunlight because it kills them OR they are actually shiny diamond-people)?  When it follows a trope (love triangle) where everyone knows the outcome is that necessarily wrong?  I would argue maybe.

I want to write a novel where the heroine doesn’t have to choose between “powerful yet brooding and hurt” and then “fun, nerdy, bestest friend” guys.  I want her to choose between powers – change the fate of nations depending on her marriage. One is selfish and she will always be treated as his rival for power but the other is stupid (like literally) and being married to him will be a battle with his advisors- because he can be swayed by a convincing turnip. So she has to choose – will she battle with one man for the power, or with all the people around the man.  Doesn’t that sound like a fun twist on the love triangle?  She doesn’t love them in the traditional sense.  Maybe she finds them both attractive in their own ways, but either way her first love is her people- and for those people she must marry a strong king to protect them.

Anyway, got distracted there.  My point is that just because it’s a trope doesn’t make it 100% “evil” or even “lesser.”  Tropes serve a purpose of the human experience.

So when I write a critique (not a criticism, which is different), I try to think about who the intended audience is.  I re-read Matilda a few years ago and was shocked at how much I read as an adult that was…. well disturbing to put it mildly, that never even seemed odd when I was a child.  So much of that book was written to an audience who needed to hear that sometimes adults don’t care, and sometimes adults are cruel, and adults lie, and adults can be wonderful in the most unexpected times and places.  To almost-thirty-year-old me…. those self-same messages made me cringe. But I also see how eight-year-old-me needed them.  Needed to hear that it was ok to distrust my teachers because they were mean.  It was ok to fear adults that “society” told me I should trust.  Damn those are good things for kids to hear!  Not so good for adults.

So when I write a critique, I am going to try going forward to focus on who I think the intended audience is, who the audience should be (whether it’s everyone or just “young adults”), and who the audience perhaps shouldn’t be (snotty people who can’t get over their own superiority of course).  I have some, but not always deliberately.

And a lot of the time this blog doesn’t see the books I didn’t like because I didn’t finish the series.  I only read the first or second book and I don’t review partial series (generally).  I make two exceptions: When I feel like I need to warn people off from something “popular” (which if I was blogging when Twilight came out I would have!) or when there is something I want to explore (like “this character development really make me think about how I develop this type of character”).  I will never rip apart another author’s work just to sound smart – I will always have a better motive.  That’s my goal in writing a criticism.


Review: Akata Witch/Warrior (Nnedi Okorafor)

This is Nnedi Okorafor’s young adult books.  I can’t wait to start reading Binti next (I found it on Google Play sale and already have it downloaded… now I just need time).

Akata Witch & Akata Warrior both follow Sunny as she learns her albino curse isn’t a curse but a sign that she is a witch.  In the best of ways.  Americans hear the word “juju” and think New Orleans and voodoo, but Nigerian juju is neither good nor bad itself- it is just the word for magic.

The book starts with a bang and follows some relatively traditional paths as far as plot points.  Both books I knew when I was coming up to the climax not because of rising action (and with ebooks not by how much paper each hand is holding…) but because we’d hit some pretty clear plot-arcs.  That would be my harshest criticism – its plot is awesome but patterned.  Especially the second book. To be honest, when we hit that mid-point of “oh, something is going to go very, very wrong here…” yeah I thought that.

BUT, this a young adult novel so I think that pacing isn’t inappropriate.  I have read hundreds of books – of course I might notice the patterns.  It also doesn’t mean the patterns are bad – they get used for very good reasons – THEY WORK.

Ok, so let’s get into this:

Characters: Sunny, Orlu, Chichi & Sasha are friends & Leopard People – people with magic in Nigeria.  Sunny was born in America, lived here for 9 years, and then her family moved back to Nigeria (where her parents were from).  It creates a character who can think about “this would be weird in America – here’s why” without feeling like exposition or condescension.

World Building: This is one of those things I really liked.  I don’t like a lot of urban fantasy because sometimes it’s hard to see the inter-mixing of the magical & non-magical.  There is either a strict divide (ie Harry Potter) or an underworld.  And although technically Sunny’s magical world could be argued as the latter, it is intermixed in a way I haven’t seen and I like better than the standard.  Especially because “the wilderness” is something I have read of in myth (I even have a story idea where I use it).

Overall: 4/5 it is young adult and though I think anyone who has read Harry Potter will probably enjoy it, there are some elements that closed-minded people might not be able to handle. Like imperfections providing strength.