ljlee: (reading)
the poppet and the lune coverThe Poppet and the Lune (2011) by Madeleine Claire Franklin is a novel in the style of a fairy tale, with fantastic elements like witches, werewolves, spells, and a girl created from dead body parts.

Full disclosure, I got this book in audio form as a complementary review copy. About a year ago the narrator Elizabeth Basalto's sister was handing out audiobook review credits on the [community profile] books community, and I finally listened to the book last month because I had such a massive audiobook backlog to go through. This is my promised review.

Overall impression: the story was pleasant enough and the narration was okay. There are a lot of fantastic elements, as mentioned above, and there were genuinely clever and moving moments. However, I don't think the story followed through on what should have been its emotional core, and there were some Unfortunate Implications as a result. I will go into more detail on the story below, and there will be spoilers.

As for the narration,[personal profile] jeweledeyes who gave me the audiobook credit said this was her sister's first audiobook narration and it showed. Ms. Basalto's voice is nice and the delivery earnest, but I noticed some technical flaws and tics that I don't see with more experienced narrators. The performance, to my relief, was more solid than in the trailer video for the audiobook; however, it had the same airy quality that could be grating after a while. The repetitive intonation she used when she said "the patchwork girl," a very common phrase in the book because it refers to the heroine, was something of an annoyance. Still, I thought the voice and story were a good match, and wish Ms. Basalto well in her narration career.

In which I demonstrate why you shouldn't give me complementary copies )

In the end The Poppet and the Lune, despite clever uses of fairy tale elements and entertaining plot developments, undermined its own power by hollowing out what it held out to be its own emotional core. It is many things, fun, colorful, romantic, action-packed, and is also, ultimately, forgettable.
ljlee: (reading)
Book cover with Klan hood photoshopped over Little Tree's FaceTo left: A more honest cover, brought to you by terrible photoshopping.

I remember leafing through a copy of The Education of Little Tree at a friend's home many years ago. The book had been published in Korea under the title 내 영혼이 따뜻했던 날들 (The Days when My Soul Was Warm), and was a bestseller here as it was in the U.S. I read through a bit where the protagonist's grandfather taught him that predators hunt the old, weak and sick leaving the strong ones to breed. So evidently natural selection was a part of Cherokees spirituality? How nice. I put the book back and didn't give it much thought.

I was reminded of this brief exposure when I read The Real Education of Little Tree, about the life and career of author Asa "Ace" Carter. Carter worked as a speechwriter for George Wallace, who would go on to become the infamous segregationist governor of Alabama. A staunch segregationist himself, Carter formed a white citizens council (these were widely seen as respectable segregationist alternatives to the Klan) and his signature appears on the articles of incorporation of the Original Ku Klux Klan of the Confederacy, though he denied Klan membership. Even fellow segregationists considered him too radical and sinister in his open calls for violence, however. Wallace never hired him directly but instead paid him through intermediaries, and the white citizens council eventually drove him out. Yes, Carter was too virulently racist for George Wallace.

It only gets better from there )

Asa Carter's views are not irrelevant or incidental to Little Tree. Rather, his violent racism is central to the entire work. Carter might have been a con man and a bastard, but he was one smart con man and bastard: He knew what was required to hold up the system of white supremacy, and he knew its logic. He knew that mainstream white society would not seek out or listen to the actual Cherokees who would realize in an instant that the book was bunk.

Above all, like any successful author (or con man) Carter knew what his audience wanted to hear, and that a book that condescends to and erases American Indians to score cheap emotional points was exactly right for the public's palate. He got that right, so much so that people still defend and celebrate this book decades after the hoax was revealed. Is it any wonder, when the book reflects so much of what America is?
ljlee: (sisko facepalm)
audiobook coverPeople Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo--and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up is an account of the 2000 murder of 21-year-old British national Lucie Blackman, who had been working as a hostess in the Roppongi area of Tokyo when she disappeared. I got this one on audiobook, on a two-for-one sale I believe, and figured a true-crime book would be a respite from my mega-depressing listen at the time, Douglas A. Blackmon's Slavery by Another Name. Not by much, as it turned out.
Discussions of rape and murder follow *points at title* )

Despite the disturbing subject matter, People Who Eat Darkness is a well-written and enjoyable book. Parry brings his subjects out in wonderful detail without sensationalizing or stereotyping. He depicts Lucie Blackman as a full human being who had a life outside of the way it ended, with family and friends who are also complex people in their own right. The author also does a good job with the social nuances including the complexities of the hostess' trade and the proceedings of Japanese law enforcement.

The book was also refreshingly free of victim-blaming and moralizing--it was easy to see why Lucie Blackman's family gave Parry the kind of access that made much of the book possible. I admire the exhaustive research, balanced morality, and skilled writing that went into Darkness, and I am glad to have read it. It certainly gave me a lot to think about.
ljlee: (Default)
The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher has been a vice of mine for years. The quality of the books can be uneven, but overall it had a cast of memorable characters set against a vivid backdrop of modern urban fantasy. It was also the basis for one of the most kickass roleplaying games of all time. Overall, I thought it was a solid supernatural mystery whose scope grew increasingly epic as the series went on.

But now that I've read Book 12 of the series, Changes (which has the distinction of being the first purchase on my Kindle app), I don't want to continue with the series anymore. Partly it may be series fatigue, but some of the details of crafting and development bothered me or just left me cold. I have no desire to buy Book 13, Ghost Stories, and probably won't pick the series up again unless I hear something really good about it. The following are the reasons the series lost me.

In which I complain about the writing, don't care about the life of a child, and rant about race and colonialism. The review is spoiler-free, unless you click into the separately marked spoilers. )

In the end the biggest changes, going into the book, were not in the series but in me. I've changed as a writer and reader, and my political views now seem inextricable from the literary. TDF is a good series, I just think I've grown away from it. I wish the books and the characters all success, and look forward to finding other books to love.

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L.J. Lee

June 2016

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