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tigergray

tigertales

Tiger Gray writes serious and seriously twisted LGBT speculative fiction. Often Tiger's stories include complex treatments of intersectionality and incorporate the experience of being Othered. The extremes of human behavior and questions about morality often play in to Tiger's tales. Tiger also co-owns Hard Limits Press, a company focused on multicultural novels not for the nervous. If you're yearning for a novel with a cast of minority characters in primary roles, check out the offerings on the company webpage. Pronouns (a work in progress): they/ze/he

the Trail of Ted Bundy: Digging Up the Untold Stories

The Trail of Ted Bundy: Digging Up the Untold Stories - Kevin M Sullivan

This is a reasonably interesting companion to Kevin's book, The Bundy Murders: a Comprehensive History. I love that book. It is far and away my favorite book about Bundy out there, with The Stranger Beside Me a a very close second. I mean, I have read the Bundy Murders at least ten times and as weird as this sounds, it has become something of a comfort read.

 

That said this volume is very short and while it does contain things that will be of interest to Bundy aficionados, in my opinion Kevin spends too much time quoting from the main book to give these snippets context. I imagine this would be helpful if you haven't read the first book or haven't read it in awhile, but I read it again like a month ago and didn't really need the help.

 

I also wish there was more in there about some of the lesser discussed victims, like Brenda Ball. I know virtually nothing about her. No one seems to ever try to delve in to her life. We hear the most about Georgann Hawkins, Denise Naslund, Janice Ott, Caryn Campbell, occasionally Susan Rancourt, Kathy Parks, and Donna Manson. Ultimately I care about these women and girls and I'd like to know more about them, not just about their destroyer. I remember reading somewhere that Margaret Bowman, one of the Chi Omega victims, loved the Secret Garden and was something of a seamstress; she'd been working on a green dress before she was murdered. I want these details.

 

That said, I understand in some cases details are simply not available. I don't think we'll ever know much about Denise Oliverson (kidnapped and murdered while on a bike ride) and we don't even know the identity of the hitchhiker he murdered, only to dump her body in the river. But as much attention as we give Bundy himself, we should pay all the attention we can to the people he killed.

 

In short if you love true crime and Bundy is your favorite case the way he is mine, you need to add this to your collection. Otherwise, if you know only a little about Bundy this book won't make much sense to you. Start with the Bundy Murders or the Stranger Beside Me. Second tier, The Only Living Witness (though I think both authors are supremely unlikable and they make several out of line digs at Ann Rule for no reason I can discern).

I'm Not Guilty

I'm Not Guilty: The Development of the Violent Mind: The Case of Ted Bundy - Al Carlisle

The majority of this book is made up of a fictionalized interview with Ted Bundy. I find such speculation inappropriate at best, skirting unethical at worst, considering the author is a psychologist. If he's such an expert on the man, it would behoove him to present the information in a straightforward fashion instead of indulging in this sort of wankery

Helter Skelter

— feeling amazing
Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders - Curt Gentry, Vincent Bugliosi

What can I say? Vincent Bugliosi isn't just an amazing attorney but an amazing author as well. I've already read And the Sea Will Tell and loved it. It was so detailed, so thorough, and yet written in a voice that kept it from being stultifying or dry. Because of that experience I found myself awfully excited to get in to this one and I was not disappointed.

I am an encyclopedia of serial murder and yet this book showed me how little I actually knew about Manson, his Family, and the murders they carried out. I knew of course that a group of his murdered the Tate group and the LaBiancas, but the murder of Gary Hinman, Shorty Shea, and potentially others had eluded me before this. Linda Kasabian's involvement and her testimony shocked me. What a brave girl she was. The idea behind the Helter Skelter motive struck many as crazy as first, but the way Vincent put it together made it so clear.

I also enjoyed the description of the trials; so many antics, personalities, wild claims. Reading about defense attorney Irving Kanarek's unique way of dealing with the proceedings (essentially being as obstructionist as possible, earning him several sanctions) alone would be entertaining enough for me to recommend this book.

Ultimately the horror visited upon the victims was so much worse than I thought, and it made me hate how Manson has become almost an anti-establishment symbol to some. He was nothing of the kind. He was a serial murderer, an abuser, a virulent racist and misogynist that should be remembered for being what he is, a jumped up little psychopath who has only a kind of animal cunning at his disposal. He was not a visionary, nor did he have some strange ability to hypnotize most people. When challenged, he would shake in his shoes. He chose people he knew he could easily mold, getting them involved in drugs early on. Many of his followers were very young girls (Leslie Van Houten was only 19 at the time of trial, if I recall).

And that is what struck me throughout: the huge thread of misogyny tying it all together. Many of those girls came to Charlie because they wanted more than what their middle class upbringings had taught them to accept. Those upbringings were often talked about in glowing terms but really, it's clear they were oppressive. The nicest thing Pat Krenwinkel's father could say about her was that she was "obedient." The true tragedy on the part of these followers (other than the murders, obviously) is that they merely traded one misogynistic experience for another. At trial, Manson told Vincent that Sadie/Susan, one of his most devoted followers and killers, was "a stupid bitch" and "after she had the kid and lost her figure I didn't care about her anymore." Vincent summed it up nicely, saying that while the girls would murder and even die for him, he cared for them not at all.

Heads In Beds

Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality - Jacob Tomsky

It's funny and gives good insight in to how a customer might best navigate the hotel system. I was sort of embarrassed to realize all the times I should have tipped but didn't! Of course it's not Important Literature(tm) but I am giving it a high rating because it did exactly what it was supposed to, entertain me and make me laugh.

Killer Show

Killer Show: The Station Nightclub Fire, America's Deadliest Rock Concert - John Barylick

The Station Nightclub fire is one of the most horrifying tragedies to take place in the United States. A fire started by sheer incompetence at best, that in under ninety seconds consumed the building and with it, over ninety lives.

 

But what is amazing about this book is how it details the fact that the fire wasn't just a regrettable, heart wrenching mistake but the result of corruption, laziness, and greed. The building eventually known simply as The Station went through several transformations, with each successive owner cutting a new corner. The owners at the time of the fire, the Derderian brothers, were notorious for paying their workers under the table, making those workers get through their shifts in the blistering cold with no heater because it was too expensive to run, and various other crimes brought on by extreme cheapness.

 

But the Derderian brothers can't shoulder the blame alone. Their neighbor, a man who had the misfortune of living in a house next to a nightclub, constantly complained about noise. When the Derderians visited to try to work something out, the neighbor sold them sound proofing foam that the company claimed was fire resistant. None of this was true. They put it up over the old cheap foam the first owner had affixed to the walls, ignoring suggestions from others that they buy actual fire resistant foam. So not only are the Derderians cheap, their neighbor is in essence a con man profiting off the sale of dangerous foam (funny note: one of the brothers was a news anchor who at one point referred to this type of foam as "solid gasoline" in a safety special).

 

Then you have the fire inspector, who kept upping the capacity of the building until a whopping four hundred and four people were allowed inside a space where each human had less than five feet of room to stand. When The Station was a restaurant, the capacity was under two hundred.

 

And then there are the pyrotechnics. The club approved them, the band Great White shot them off, and both parties knew or should have known that they were illegal without an inspection. But because the type of pyro used was cheap, and because the Derderians wanted to rile up the crowd, they were used. Once the super heated metal shavings hit the foam, the place went up with such swift, ravenous flames that mere seconds could mean the difference between life and death.

 

Another note I thought was interesting was Jack Russel (leader of Great White) claiming he kept going back in to the blaze to rescue people, but kept getting "pulled out." This reminded me of people claiming to have survived 9/11 when they did nothing of the sort. I wonder what the psychological components of these false claims are. Something I should read about next, perhaps.

 

This is an illuminating, infuriating book and is a great look at the corruption of a small town. I recommend it. It is also written by one of the lawyers involved after the fact and includes interesting legal wranglings set out in plain language.

SPOILER ALERT!
Cold a Long Time: An Alpine Mystery - John Leake

Cold A Long Time is a fascinating look at extreme malfeasance in the Austrian town of Tyrol. Before development by Herr Klier, the glacier and surrounding areas were home to little more than bands of herders, and people struggled to get by. When Herr Klier decided to develop the area, he took on the aura of a beloved king, even a demi-god. Those wh =o had showed initial reluctance to his plans came around once tourism money started flowing in. Almost everyone in Tyrol is indebted to the ski resort and the industry that sprung up to support it. The waitress the author talks with about halfway through the book, for example, has worked in the bar for most of her life.

 

 

Given such a history it becomes easy to see why, when tourist Duncan McPhearson disappears on the slope, it takes his parents over twenty years to find the truth. Despite a truly convoluted series of lies from virtually everyone in Tyrol, the author is brought on board and eventually unraels the mystery: after renting an inadequate snowboarding set up (sold to him by a man that should know better) Duncan caught his board in the edge of a crevasse. Doing so inflicted some type of injury to his knee (either a fracture or damage to the ligaments). Unable to walk, he sat there waiting to be rescued, only to be violently pulled in to a grooming tiller and mangled to death. Instead of anyone involved calling the authorites, they pushed Duncan and all of his gear in to a crevasse and covered it with snow. If he hadn't melted out of the ice soner than expected, his parents would never have known what happened.

 

I can forgive the tiller driver, who likely went in to an immediate state of incoherence and shock (an expert on ice and snow accidents later told the author that this reaction is very common; the grooming tiller inflicts truly horrific injuries). I can even understand why people might have tried to cover it up, though obviously I don't condone letting a family endure the torture of not knowing. But the true evil in this case is Dr. Walter Rabl, the medical examiner in this case. Throughthe entire ordeal he presented himself as a friend to the McPhearson's, convincing them that the paltry evidence he did eventually send them (a few low quality photos) was sent under duress, as if he were heroically resisting the pressure to cover up what had truly hapened. But the author quickly disocvers that he's lying and in fact has been deceiving the grieving parents for years.

 

Described as a charismatic man who offers people to his office delicious little cappicinios, Dr. Rabl to me is an instantly suspicious character. Many times when I read true crime books I am shocked by how trusting people are. This is not a criticism of them. Most often the victims are honest people, and have the reasonable assumption that most others are also honest. Lynda, the mother, kept repeating "how can people lie?" To her, a no nonsense crusader for justice, she couldn't conceive that the man she considered her friend would treat her so shabbily. He had listened to her pour out her heart. He shed tears (later it was realized he stole them from a corcodile) over the fate of her child, assumedly out of empathy. But I see something sinister in his little cups of coffee: a power play. So curelly does he invoke the societal contract that even the author gets played, manipulated and then ushered out the door, to the point that he only realizes it after the meeting is already over. Once again I will say, be skeptical, especially if the people you meet in the midst of high stress situations are nice and charismatic. Of course, plenty of people ARE completely genuine, but keep your wits about you until you can see their actions. How you feel about them doesn't matter. Their words don't matter. Only their consistent actions.

 

Now does it end there for Dr. Rabl. Over the years other visitors to Tyrol have died under suspicious circumstances. A young man named Raven was found stabbed to death and half naked on a matress, out in the elements. The estemmed doctor, this lionized figure, this doctor of medicine who is suppopsed to be a champion of truth and healing, said that Raven must have striped off his clothes, dragged the matress down the hill in below freezing temperatures, and then died there in some misguided suicide attempt. Or what about the woman who was stabbed to death in a shop> My, what stab wounds? Because according to Dr. Rabl, there weren't any. He has handled several other murder cases in this same way. If you go to Tyrol, watch yourself, because if something happens to you, you will receive no justice from Dr. Rabl. Your life is clearly worth less than the tourism dollars the town would lose to bad publicity. Sadly I doubt Dr. Rabl has ever had to pay a day in his life for all the heartache and suffering he's caused. Why should he, when the entire town and evaen the Austrian government is in on the conspiracy? This resort is their entire lives, their livelihood. A few missing tourists or a few missing women mean nothing in comparison.


And yet, the author does such a good job fleshing out the panrents as characters that even without the horrific machinations they have to endure, the reader would likely feel sympathy. Both Lynda and Bob have suffered more tragedies in their lives than anyone should have to, Lynda losing her first fiance to a freak accident, and Bob losing a child to suicide. Duncan is clearly a child to be proud of, a gentle man, a talented athlete, and yet he was taken from them too. Only in the end, after spending their retirement savings on investigating the truth, are they able to bring his body home. Within their story and marriage is a good lesson for all of us

SPOILER ALERT!

Chains of Prophecy by Jason Crawford

Chains of Prophecy - Jason P. Crawford

I am giving this four stars for the strength of the writing, the excellent pacing, and the engaging story. It’s obvious the author put a lot of work in to this story and even though it uses concepts readers have certainly seen many times before, it remains interesting and engaging. I don’t think authors need to reinvent the wheel. They just need to show me a new take on the old form. I think this novel does exactly that.

However, this book is constructed around the notion that the Abrahamic god and his angels are indisputably real. That in and of itself is not in my opinion a bad thing, but in the U.S. where this book is set, religion has become inherently political. The author also adds to this feeling by referencing the 9/11 attacks, another inherently political time in American history.
Because of this I wish more had been done to show nuance. For example, if the main character had some quality normally in opposition to right wing Christianity, like being gay or a person of color, or being a woman, which I thought would have been an especially good choice considering that the warriors of god before him were all women. I would have also preferred if atheism were portrayed in a different light, perhaps more sympathetically. I didn’t like [how Sam’s mother lashed out at him for not believing in god in the first part of the book. (hide spoiler)]

I’m in an odd spot because I am a believer (though I am a polytheist and not a Christian) but I find religion in novels to be a dicey thing to portray well, probably because of how contentious religion is in my culture. Because I do have faith, though, I suspect I reacted better to this book than an atheist might, so if you are in fact an atheist be prepared for the heavy inspirational messages.

That said, I do enjoy some of the things the author did to portray apocryphal Christianity. The angels are cool characters (though I was hoping for the crazy portrayals like the ring of eyes etc), the fight scenes are great and epic, it’s implied that Muslims have a religion just as valid in-world as Christians and Jews. Elemental spirits and demons factor in to the mythology in unique ways. Both Sam and the antagonist think they’re doing god’s work, a nuance I appreciated. Satan and Lucifer being separate angels with different functions was also a great idea. The author does a great job of explaining why heaven is limited in how much its denizens can intervene in human lives.

Ultimately I read this book in day without stopping, and when an author can do that it means they’ve produced a good book. Fast paced, action packed, with nary a spot that made me slow down and say, what the hell was that? Worth reading. I think if I had a Christian teenager in my life, I’d have them read this.

SPOILER ALERT!

Famine by Monica Pierce

Famine: Book One of The Apocalyptics - Monica Enderle Pierce

This was another one of those books that caused my opinion and mood to fluctuate greatly as I read. Once again this affirms my growing belief that a reader should in most cases finish a work before rating it, unless of course it's outright offensive to the reader's sensibilities. I say that because the old bit of wisdom about grabbing a reader in the first thirty pages never really seems to work for me. I have to get to the end before I know what I'm going to think.

Monica has, in my opinion, a set of themes and images that cleave fairly close to my own style as a writer so I must say that I am fairly biased from the beginning. I can also tell this book is a labor of love, and it tests the genre limits without concern. This is a GOOD thing, and once again I'm primed to give this book a high rating.

I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of telegrams as a way of showing how the main antagonist was being diverted from the protagonists. My book also covers years of stuff, and I've learned that it's very difficult to do. I can tell here Monica also struggled, but she does a mostly admirable job of explaining why they have the time to train in secret without simply being destroyed by a far more adept enemy. The only major criticism I have in terms of pacing/passage of time is that the middle (iirc around 30%) drags a bit. I'm still not sold on the Thomas character, either, who shows up during these pages. I think it added a pleasant undertone, another little subplot that the reader probably needs in order to stay engaged, but I think it could have been drawn in with bolder lines.

The main character is awesome. Bartholomew is ancient and in service to a divine struggle, a divine struggle that manages to be new and interesting even though it evokes the Four Horseman, and I could really buy in to the idea that he'd been all over the world. His speech is peppered with words from languages other than English, and it feels natural for him to talk in that fashion. He's also a bit at loose ends about how to raise a girl, Matilde, who also has a big role to play in the aforementioned divine struggle.

At this point the only other criticism I have is that I wish the beginning had more sensory details, but again I think that's a very subjective and difficult to do thing. It's too easy to have your characters stand there going, I saw X, then I smelled Y and so on. The details do come later, but I had trouble envisioning the environment at first.

I'll be up front about this: there's a certain grooming aspect to Matilde and Bartholomew's relationship. Personally, this doesn't bother me. The characters in fiction are in service to powers and forces that don't exist in reality, and thusly their behavior is often altered and it becomes difficult to hold it to real world ethical standards. That, and I enjoy grey morality in my tales when employed in certain ways. It won't bother me if they become lovers, even though he has in essence raised her. The characters seem to realize that normally this arrangement would be questionable, but given their circumstances it's merely expedient.

The battle scenes are very good. I love to both read and write action so it's always nice to come across well done fights. The end is wonderful. I LOVED the end. This is another reason that I try to get to the end of books, even if I get bored here and there or if the pacing is a bit odd to my eye.

Well done, Monica.

The Kick-Ass Writer by Chuck Wendig

The Kick-Ass Writer: 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, and Earn Your Audience - Chuck Wendig

I've read a number of Wendig's books on writing so this is a rehash of old material for me, or so I find. Nonetheless it also contained many helpful tidbits that I as a writer really needed to hear at this stage in the game. I think that the book best serves writers, in fact, because Wendig doesn't give nuts and bolts examples of how to accomplish a particular thing (like how to make characters interesting, for example. he just says you ought to strive towards making your characters interesting). Instead, it's a good reminder for authors about what and what not to do. It's also easily absorbed thanks to the twenty five things format.

Annoyances: Sometimes the shtick wears a little thin. Wendig is known for his over the top style and crazy analogies. A lot of times this is fun. Sometimes though it felt like he was trying too hard. Also started to get irritated by the constant references to "hobos" as if hobos aren't real people.

SPOILER ALERT!

Bound to Accept by Nenia Campbell

Bound to Accept - Nenia Campbell

First, characters.

I LOVE KELLY. I just get her, okay? I am pretty child-like even though I'm in my thirties. I too love My Little Pony and food and the XX. She's a writer! She has a cat! Yay Kelly! She is an adorable mix of awkward and clinical whenever anything sexy is happening. A lot of times during this book I wanted to hug her and tell her things would be okay. The only thing about her is sometimes she seems simple and other times she seems fanciful. Of course both things can be parts of a single person, but it doesn't always feel like these sides of her gel well. The other thing I don't get is why she doesn't seem to like herself much. Maybe because her friends are all awful? Because they are. Judge-y, rude, gossip mongering assholes is what they are. Assholes who don't tip! (just the tip. heh.)

Tristan. He is kind of a mess. Though I should admit, straight stuff isn't my cup of tea. At least, not usually. Some of the alpha male fantasy is a bit lost on me because of that, I think, at least in a heterosexual context. I end up wondering why Kelly thinks he's so great. She has more personality than he does, like, in spades. He just exists to wear leather pants and have a great ass and say silly domly things.

So as to the story: some of the reviews of this book put forth the idea that Tristan moves too fast with Kelly. I found that for me, this is both true and untrue. I find it just fine that he showed her a porno to introduce her to the scene. I think porn in and of itself can be a wonderful thing, if it's made in a consenting manner, and at least one reputable company produces quite a bit in the BDSM vein. He sits with her and talks her through it, answering all her questions. Point for Tristan.

I also don't think BDSM is really like, what you do once you're bored with vanilla sex. There's no reason they can't go right to BDSM even though Kelly is a virgin. If that's what they both like then that's what they should do. She expresses interest to him, he takes her through what he might like to do with her, they have a safe word, all good stuff.

In other ways, I think he was too quick. He turns on the Master switch very fast, and like right after his previous girlfriend leaves him. In fact I don't really get much personality from him other than Designated Dom. He plays Super Smash Brothers with Kelly and they like Japanese food and such, but his character doesn't get much chance to shine. Plus, I think he's a fucking creep for like half the book. I HATE being flirted with the way he flirts with Kelly. It's invasive and inelegant and gross. Plus at a certain point she rather abruptly cuts off an online conversation and he apparently thinks the right thing to do is force his way in to her home and demand she talk to him. Now even this, as inappropriate as it is, I would have accepted if I had the impression that some past trauma was in play here. Like I have a weird thing about people not responding to me, too. But there's not enough meat (heh meat) to Tristan's character for me to assign this totally fucked outburst to something deeper. He also collars her WAY too soon. Of course collars don't mean the exact same thing to everyone in the scene, but to a vast swath it is like something approximating a wedding ring.

His Domly dom ways are sometimes unintentionally hilarious instead of sexy. e.g. "my dick feels like rubber." "it's like fucking a featherbed." I'd get in to a scene and then he'd hit me with one of those and I'd be crying laughing instead.

I thought the rape scene and the aftermath was really quite excellent. Tristan didn't fuck up here. He tells her what's going to be included, he gives her a week to think about it, he asks her several times if it's what she wants. The only thing is I wish there had been even more to it, maybe even just a mention that he would have a knife. Otherwise it was a very good edge play type scene. It is his job to stretch her boundaries--NOT break them--and he does that while still reminding her she can safe word out. Her reaction is so understandable...I found it heartbreaking actually. It happens to a lot of people who find out they're in to BDSM (especially edge play), and it can be hell to go through. It can make a sub in Kelly's position really wonder about who the hell they are after all, and that's exactly what happens.

The only thing is I don't understand why she thinks the right thing to do is go to the BDSM club alone. I think because I don't understand why she is so insecure in the first place, I don't understand why she acts out in this way in particular.

Knowing how fast Nenia writes, though, this is an overall excellent piece. There's atmosphere, there's life. It really feels like Kelly has an existence that breathes on its own.

SPOILER ALERT!
The Bubble Gum Thief (Dagny Gray) - Jeff      Miller

Where to start.

This is one of the books I should have loved. It had all the right elements. FBI investigators, mental illness, history, murder. And yet somehow all of these ingredients never came together in to a finished dish.

1. Anorexia portrayal

Dagny, the main character and an FBI agent, has anorexia. Good. I'd like to see more novels that tackle these types of issues.

However I have several problems with how anorexia is portrayed in TBGT.
1a). she's awfully physically adept for a woman struggling with a moderate to severe eating disorder. She regularly runs, jumps, and otherwise exerts herself. The worse consequence she gets in return is falling down and spraining her leg.

1b). She has none of the less 'sexy' symptoms like hair all over her body, and dealing with such doesn't get mentioned until at least 60% through. Even then it's mentioned as something that happened in the past.

1c). I think it also stretches suspension of disbelief that she got in to the FBI in the first place. Of course she could have hidden her disorder and aced the psych tests by knowing how to fool them, but in college she was actually committed due to the severity of her illness. There is NO way that is not known to the FBI. Their background checks are obsessively thorough.

1d). Her coworkers and supervisors seem to think they can fix her anorexia by simply forcing her to eat. You can't handle an eating disorder that way. Yes, not eating and being severely underweight are symptoms, but the true issue is a mental and emotional one. If you don't handle the underlying reasons for the disease, forcing sandwiches down her throat is going to do far more harm than good. It angered me that the FBI is portrayed as handling such a serious issue in such a superficial way. I find the lack of psych resources and understanding of psych issues difficult to buy in to.

1e). Michael, the love interest, starts to heal her with his love almost immediately. He cooks her dinner at one point and she eats it without protest because his love is magical. Now I am a sucker for that kind of thing in a way, but you have to draw it out more, imo, to make it effective. They've been together for two months. I don't understand why she trusts and loves him so much that he can influence a deeply entrenched issue of hers in this way.

2. Lack of action

Dagny does absolutely nothing of note for the first 30%. She goes to art shows, she goes to class, she goes to the doctor, and she goes for runs. That's...really it. Of course in some ways this is a police procedural and they're going to go at a slower pace than a thriller or a mystery, but it takes too long for Dagny and the antagonist to meet up and interact.

Also what the heck [is with the bad guy kidnapping her and forcing her to eat?

3. Transphobia

If your only portrayal of a black trans woman (Regina) is a person in prison, well, that's questionable. Not to mention, said trans woman isn't really a trans woman. No, see she had the sex change so she could transfer to the women's prison, which is nicer.

I don't even know what to say. I mean, really? Thanks for perpetuating about a thousand different stereotypes about trans people, all crammed in to one character.

NOW, I think you can do ANYTHING you want as an author. BUT, it might behoove you to portray these things a tad differently if you don't want to come across as a callous ass. Like, you can totally have the character who had a trans surgery for mercenary reasons, but that better not be your ONLY trans portrayal. At the very least Dagny could have reacted to this news by thinking about how Regina is NOT representative of the vast VAST majority of trans people. But no.

The portrayal of rape is pretty tacky too.

4. Lack of care

As in I don't. About any of the people in this book. When Michael [gets murdered. I don't care. And I am a crier. I am pretty easy to manipulate emotionally. (I am STILL pissed about CSI and that was years ago) But he and Dagny haven't been together long enough for me to give a crap. Plus, Dagny doesn't even go to his funeral. I do not sympathize. It just makes her look like a jerk. The author seems to care more about history lesson info dumps than making Dagny a person I want to spend my time on.

5. Straw sexists

I hate this. It comes up in Anita Blake too. In order to portray sexism the author feels that the main character needs to be beset on all sides by woman hating caricatures. Sexism is often more subtle than that, and more hurtful. It's easy to dismiss some asshole who is in your face telling you that you don't amount to anything because you're a woman. It's a lot harder when someone you like and respect comes out of left field with a bunch of misogyny. Also street harassment definitely happens, a lot, but she literally gets cat called or otherwise denigrated three times in a single day. It's too much. Fabee (a coworker) is inexplicably hostile, calling Dagny a bitch at the slightest provocation.

Also there's the message that you can't have a good male lover and a career. Everyone told Candice (the ex) to stick with Michael and her publicist actually feels bad for helping Candice get fame. Candice
has botox and is a sad lady.

It also goes so far as to do a disservice to men, who are portrayed in this book as A) kindly quirky professor B) rich tycoon with a far too young for him trophy wife C) a rapist/murderer D) and he of the healing penis. Who also gets murdered. In short, the men in this book are all
striving, impotent, balding idiots except Michael, who is bland and perfect and then dead.

6. Dagny is an incompetent investigator

She tampers with crime scenes. At one point she goes in to a dead guy's house and sees a pornographic picture on his computer. She closes it out in order to give the guy some privacy. NO. A thousand times no. She has NO IDEA what the context of that image is. The whole case could hinge on it. What if that's his mistress? What if he's involved in a sex trafficking ring and that is his latest victim? Come ON. She also dumps fingerprint powder all over a book, without going through the chain of custody regarding evidence, without checking herself in and out of the crime scene, anything.

but the biggest problem of all is that Dagny's emotions are just...not there. I never feel her pain. She doesn't react to things when she should. She's even remarkably unemotional, relatively speaking, about [getting kidnapped.

I am giving this two stars because the writing is pretty good. Otherwise, not for me. Obviously.

SPOILER ALERT!
The Dogs of Babel - Carolyn Parkhurst

This book is beautiful. Its imagery is rich and captivating. Lexy, the main character's wife, makes masks for a living and this whole book is one long masquerade.

It also contains one of the most poignant and realistic treatments of mental illness I've ever read. I identified with Lexy very strongly and have been in her position many times. As she spirals further and further in to her inner nightmare she acts out impulsively, in rage, in sorrow, never truly comprehending her own actions. She is mercurial, childish, and desperately trying to carve something resembling a normal life from the featureless clay that is her own existence.

Lexy makes masks, fantasy creatures, celestial bodies, larger than life animals not, perhaps, in order to act in service to some trite literary device (don't you see, we all wear masks or some such nonsense) but in order to gain control over the chaos. If she can look at the world as an endless carnival, then it loses its teeth and she can feel as if she's imposed some order, taken away the fear, shed light in the dark corners. When we're children and we're afraid of the bad guy in a movie, our parents often tell us, don't worry it's just a mask.

Paul, the husband Lexy leaves behind after falling to her death, is a sympathetic character. His struggle with grief is authentic, including his increasingly bizarre fixation on getting the family dog, Lorelei, to talk. What I like the most about his narration is that it shows what it is like for the relatively sane partner to live with someone who is seriously mentally ill, and going without treatment for that mental illness. His exhaustion and his anger are communicated well, and yet I always understood why he and Lexy were together.

The other aspect that I enjoyed is that Lexy is, in the beginning, presented as the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl archetype, but the rest of the book is all about the dark side of that archetype. Instead of their lives playing out like a movie where the quirky girl helps the stick in the mud to lighten up, it turns out that such spontaneity and changeableness often comes with a price, that it grows from something dark that invades every part of a person's being and life. Rather than Lexy just existing to whirl through Paul's life, fixing his problems, Lexy is her own person with her own problems.

The mystery such as it is, isn't really the point of the story in that you could never call this a detective novel or anything of the sort. Still, when Paul figures out the "incongruities" of Lexy's death, it makes sense and it's satisfying to know how it all plays out in the end. For example I loved when [Paul called the psychic hotline and finally got Lady Arabelle, the woman who last spoke to Lexy and the woman he's been trying to reach night after night. (hide spoiler)]

The only part I feel ambivalent about is [when Paul goes to meet up with the Cerberus society (hide spoiler)] I thought it was almost too weird for the story as told up to that point. However, looking back on some of the opening images in this novel, I think ultimately it does fit in contrast to some of the nigh divine things from when he and Lexy first meet and go on their week long date. [I'm still happy the author didn't kill the dog

The Diva Ate Her by Ann Onymus

The Diva Ate Her - Anne Onymus

Well, I am not really sure how to rate this. The formatting is totally batshit, the writing passable at best, and the book itself is some horrific CreateSpace binding travesty, but come on....I didn't buy this thing because I thought it would be the pinnacle of literature. 

I bought it for the shit talking. 

That shit talking confirms exactly what I've always suspected about the person/auuthor portrayed herein (named Miriam in the book), that she is a vile emotional vampire who basically exists to be the poster child for personality disorders and roundly abuse everyone around her. Of course her assistant comes across as an asshole too, a wet blanket who just grits her teeth and smiles her way through TEN YEARS of blatant mistreatment because...I'm not sure why. Melody (the assistant) is a functional adult with marketable skills, in no way dependent on the job the author gives her or on the author herself. In fact the author 'character' never reciprocates any attention or care paid her, so I have no clue what Melody gets out of this whole arrangement. It's not like Miriam is abusing Melody in the traditional sense. Miriam isn't controlling Melody's money (beyond paying her in an employment situation), she isn't exploiting any disabilities Melody has, she isn't in a romantic relationship with Melody...other than being an unpredictable asshole (and making everyone walk on eggshells) the more traditional markers of abuse aren't present. So why does Melody stay? Miriam has more understandable motivations than Melody. Miriam at least most certainly has a personality disorder and is just preying on others for emotional food in accordance with that. Melody on the other hand just seems to thrive on the drama in some way. Enablers make me mad. They're doing no one any favors, let alone themselves. 

It could very well be that Miriam started out normal and lured Melody in (not uncommon), but the story doesn't unfold that way. It seems that Miriam has always been an unreasonable, unpredictable mess which leaves me confused as to how Miriam got her claws in Melody in the first place. Maybe if the story were laid out in a more slow burn sort of fashion I would have more sympathy for Melody. 

Also I have a huge pet peeve about people who are doing well for themselves (i.e. not people with no other choice) acting like saints because they shop at discount stores. Melody constantly scoring off of Miriam because --gasp!--Miriam bought a 700$ jacket and Melody only spends two dollars on hers is annoying in the extreme. You aren't a beautiful down to earth angelic soul because you're just so above material things. I bet that 700$ jacket looks a lot better than your bargain bin sweater, Melody.

Tales of the Bodhisattva: the Khurann by Justin Dockins

Tales of the Bodhisattva: The Khurran - Justin Garrett Dockins

Rating: did not finish

 

I think I have to admit that, for now at least, this is a dnf book.

The world building and the stylistic language are well done. I can tell this work is a labor of love, and that is to be commended. The story itself is about, in essence, a race of pacifist anthropomorphic sloth creatures. In particular, the narrative follows Kai, a young Khurran about to undertake his first vision quest. The only quibble I have with the execution is that this work is done in quite dreamy prose, which more than fits the subject, but also has the side effect of making it sound almost like a children's book at times.

I was cruising along enjoying myself, until the text informed me that the schism in the Khurran's society was along color lines. That is, all the 'black' Khurran left, disagreeing with the goddess Jesh. "A handful of those in the first group of Khurran were very different. As you know, all Khurran that live here on the mountain have hair ranging from brown to red. In the beginning, when there were very few of us, some Khurran had black hair. Most of the dark-haired ones left out tribe long ago, and there are none among us today." 

That made me sad just to type out. Don't get it twisted, though, because I'm not at all saying that an author can't use skin (or in this case fur) color as a divider. But I am saying that an author shouldn't use it without thinking about the resonances therein, and I feel that there is a lack of thoughtfulness demonstrated here. The author surely realizes the real world echoes he's playing with, because the text then tells me, "the color of their hair, of course, was of no significance." No. No way. If there's no significance, then leave out the societal divide along color lines, and make it purely a ideological split. 

I felt like this hand waving was almost insulting, as if I were meant to smirk and ignore the race issue for the rest of the book. Just acknowledging it with a nigh flippant comment isn't enough. And then, "It is said that the reason of their break from the tribe is that these individuals were violent and desired power over others." 

So, the black Khurran are godless (they don't agree with the Khurran goddess), violent, and power mad. I hope I don't have to explain why this is unfortunate even though the Khurran are made up creatures. We bring our biases in to our writing no matter if we're writing about the real world or an alien society in a different place and time

The Selection by Kiera Cass

 

Maybe more like a 2.5, though I have a lot of good will towards it. It was a light, quick read that held my interest. 

I really liked this in a lot of ways. Even the names (sorry friends!). Then again I love the Deathstalker series and that legit has a character in it named Jenny Psycho, so. 

YA is not my thing for the most part but the biggest saving grace when it comes to this book in my eyes is its main character, America. Unlike many YA heroines, America has a good head on her shoulders, is kind to her family, true to herself, gentle with those she has power over, and so far she's not too stupid to live! That's like a bingo or something. I didn't even know that was possible in a YA book. (no offense) 

Now, the downside. There's simply not enough book in this book. By that I mean almost NOTHING is described. This is my main beef. This girl is going through The Bachelor on steroids and yet the most I ever get is "the shiny white car" or that her new dress is "red" or that the garden at the palace has "thousands of flowers in it." At one point I was imagining this glorious scene with all the girls dressed up like exotic birds in a gilded roost, and how the moonlight would touch the gardens just so, and then I realized I did all of that work for myself. None of that is actually in the novel. Maybe that's part of why YA of this type is so popular, considering it makes the reader really work for their supper, but man this is too extreme. The author has a job and it's to show me things, make me feel something for their world and their descriptions. Cass fails on this point. 

For example, Queen Amberly is mentioned and featured several times, all with me not having the slightest clue what she looks like. And I suppose I'm meant to assume that America and Maxon are both white since they have red and blond hair respectively, but would it kill the author to actually tell me the racial makeup of the characters? Especially since the history of this world involves China invading? Hell, I'd settle for some eye color and hair textures! Or am I meant to assume EVERYONE is white, like in so many novels? In which case...yuck. 

My other issue that makes it feel like there's not enough book in this book is that there isn't much in the way of conflict. Not that I think there has to be a huge sense of impending doom around every corner--sometimes gentler novels are nice too--but the conflict with the rebels is poorly thought out and crudely drawn. There's a hint of a mystery, but a lot of the world building is so batshit insane that it doesn't really come to any kind of fruition.

Oh, the world building. Well, it's nuts. See, there's a numbered (One to Eight) caste system and it's oppressive to the point where a nine year old boy can be publicly lashed for stealing food. And America has it hard, you see, because she's a Five and therefore has it really tough because...her family have to be artists for a living. Because that's what their caste does. And somehow this puts them above Sixes, who work as maids and the like, because...I don't know why. And being a Two means you might have a job like being a model, which also doesn't feel like it makes much sense. Well it COULD make sense if the author bothered to tell me why this brave new world highly values leisure activities above menial ones, but there's never any explanation for how all of this fits together. 

Oh okay so, anyway, America has it hard right? Except her family has a house, with a fridge in it, and the means to support several children, and a television. They have a (admittedly small) treehouse in the backyard. They have a freaking YARD to put the TREEHOUSE in! This is not poverty. (I am looking at you Katniss Everdeen, miss I am horrifically impoverished yet own a goat and have access to hunting/foraging, also my district has a fancy bakeshop woe is me!) On the other hand I kind of appreciate that she didn't come from the lowest caste, since then the rags to riches aspect might have felt more forced. Still, if you have a world with its priorities this out of order, you have to show me why.

Also, no one in this god forsaken world has heard of birth control. Now if this were an oppressive fundamentalist religious regime or a third world country without access to health care, sure. But this girl takes the bus at one point. Modern conveniences exist and are available to the MC, is what I am saying. So why no condoms? There's a brief mention that only the upper classes get access to birth control, which seems, frankly, backwards. In most of human history in situations like this I'd think the poor would be forcibly sterilized by the people in power, while those people in power popped out as many children as possible. In American's world it's not so, for no adequately explained reason. Not to mention even in ancient times in many cultures in the real world people figured out to wrap their love-tackle in whatever animal intestine happened to be lying around before going in for the kill. Why don't the folks in this novel have even that basic level of pregnancy prevention?

It's also against the law to have sex before marriage. Figure that one out because I sure can't. Also they ask America if she's a virgin before she goes to the palace. I wonder how they would check on that? Brrr. Doesn't bear thinking about. 

We have the usual love triangle but at least everyone in it is acting like a reasonable human so far. Let's hope it lasts. Good for America for being honest about her feelings with both men. 

Some of the usual stereotypes are present, like the Queen Bee who wants to win at any cost. If it were a reality show she'd be the one mean mugging the camera and saying "I'M NOT HERE TO MAKE FRIENDS." Blah. But there is a particularly amazing moment towards the end where some of the girls suggest that hey, maybe they'd all get further in life if they stopped being such catty jerks to one another. I think for a YA novel that's shocking. I think I read it over a couple of times to make sure it was really happening. So thank you for that, dear author, at least you wrote a book where I didn't have to wallow through chapters and chapters of bullying and women throwing each other under the bus at the slightest provocation. 

And I'll read the next one.