Showing posts with label culture. Show all posts
Showing posts with label culture. Show all posts

Monday, October 24, 2016

Baba Yaga by An Leysen

Rating: WORTHY!

This is a familiar story since I read one similar to it not all that long ago. It's rooted in Slavic mythology and makes for a bit of a dire read for younger children given the threat of being eaten by a witch, though this isn't very different from quite a few of the better known and perhaps more beloved fairy tales, but it is worth keeping in mind when considering reading it to impressionable youngsters. On the up-side, it presents a tale of a self-possessed and brave girl who does what she has to, and wins out in the end.

It's a gorgeously illustrated book about this evil witch who flies around in a cauldron, eats little children, and lives in a cottage in the forest which sits on two chicken legs. The story was well written, and even when I was tempted to raise the issue of a man bereft of his wife being called a widow, which is the female form, rather than a widower, I realized that this is the very thing I rail against myself: why do men get to be called actors, that is, those who do the acting, but women are dismissed as actresses, which sounds more like something you sleep on? There are many genderist words like that, so I say, go for it! Widow it is!

The problem with this widow, though, is that he's been enchanted by Baba Yaga's sister who lures him into marrying her, and who holds him so entranced that he doesn't even see how abusive she is to his daughter who he loves and dotes on - or did. Olga's dad (mom isn't on the scene here, not in person, anyway!) falls in love under her spell, but his new wife doesn't want any step-children around. Why she didn't simply pick a guy who had no children goes unexplained, but the upshot of it is that she really doesn't like Olga's positive attitude and so sends her off to borrow a needle and thread from Baba Yaga, knowing that the child will be eaten, and she'll never have to be concerned with the little brat again.

What she doesn't know is that mom's love for Olga was so powerful that, like in the Harry Potter stories, it left behind a protection for her in the form of a nesting doll which mom bequeathed her daughter. This doll offers advice which might not seem valid at the time it's given, but which proves to be very useful when the right time comes. This doll is not about to let this child be eaten, and so with advice and guidance offered in this manner, Olga is able to survive and overcome the power of the evil stepmom.

Like I said, the story is a bit dire, but for feisty children of strong constitution, this tale will stir them to be confident and not fearful, and to be brave and resourceful. Hopefully! I liked it and I recommend it. Besides, the artwork is wonderful!

Monday, October 17, 2016

A Gefilte Fishy Tale by Allison and Wayne Marks

Rating: WORTHY!

This might sound weird (then anyone who knows me will know this is par for the course), but a couple of days ago the term 'gefilte fish' was going through my brain. I know not from whence it came. Not on that day, but a few years back, I saw a greeting card in a store that featured 'gefilte fish' as part of a nonsense good wishes recital and I blame that for originally fixating it in my brain where it's been lodged comfortably ever since.

I know at some point - and assuming I live long enough - that it's going to come out in a story. All this, anyway, to indicate why I thought it was a good idea to read this young children's book beautifully illustrated by Renée Andriani, and rhymed to perfection by the Marks brothers, er, husband wife team! Although frankly, it might have been written by the Marx Brothers.

Bubba Judy buys a jar of gefilte fish, and all is well until they get it home and find they cannot get it open. This also turns out to be jar for the course as they resort to an assortment of friends to help undo it, and all of them fail. What's to become of it? Well you'll have an interesting time finding out. In addition to the story, you get recipe for gefilte fish mini muffins, which frankly sounds disgusting to me, but maybe they're nice. There's also an original song by Wayne Marks, Margie Blumberg, and Gavin Whelehan, and a very welcome glossary for the Yiddish-challenged, which includes me most of the time, although fans of Mel Brooks movies might recognize some of these words. I recommend this one for a fun read for kids and an educational experience!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Broken Beauty by Lizzy Ford

Title: Broken Beauty
Author: Lizzy Ford
Publisher: Indie Inked
Rating: worthy

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration of any kind for this review. Since this is a new novel, this review is less detailed so as not to rob the writer of their story, but even so, it will probably still be more in-depth than you'll typically find elsewhere!

Broken Beauty was a bad choice for the title of this novel. There are at least two other books with precisely that title, at least seven novels titled "Beautifully Broken" and one called "The Beauty of Broken...", as well as one called "A Broken Kind of Beautiful...", and so on! Let this be a lesson to authors to research not only your subject, but also your title! I have to question why the "Beauty" part was even relevant. Would this be less of a horrifying story if the woman to whom it happened had been a "plain jane"? I don't think so. The other bad news is that this isn't a complete novel. It's "Broken Beauty Novellas #1", and so is short, but not en suite. Wikipedia defines a novella as at least 17,500 words:

Novel over 40,000 words
Novella 17,500 to 40,000
Novelette 7,500 to 17,500
Short story under 7,500

I don't have a word count to see where this technically falls on that scale, but I'm fine with taking the author's word for it! This time!

This series is in a way an emulation of Stephen King's The Green Mile which was published in six installments in 1996. For me personally, I'd rather get the whole thing at once, but who knows, maybe Ford is onto something here? I mean, who knows what ebooks are going to do in the long-run? I think it's far too early to call. Maybe going backwards to go forwards is where it will lead, and we'll see more novels published like this, ultimately emulating serials like Conan-Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories which were published in installments in The Strand magazine.

There's something weird going on with the text in this egalley. There are sections of the text where it changes randomly from black to grey. I have no idea what's causing that. That is to say, it's not like it's flashing or changing as I read it, it's just that some paragraphs are dark and some not, some screens have it, some don't, and it nearly always starts at the commencement of a paragraph, very rarely in the middle of one, but it doesn't appear to be tied to anything like an internal monologue, or to where maybe there should have been italics. Weird! It's a bit annoying, but this is a short novel, so it's not a big deal. My Kindle says I have a little over 90 minutes of reading in total.

The title page and cover both list this as written by 'Lizzy Ford writing as Chloe Adams'. I do not get this 'writing as' crap. This was written by Lizzy Ford as far as I'm concerned. There's a limit to how far I'm willing to allow the fiction to extend beyond the boundaries of chapter one (going towards the front cover), and the last chapter (going towards the back)! I think it's an insult to readers for a writer to change their name in order to sell other books or write in other genres. I don't want to be a party to that, but that's not going to influence my review of the story itself.

This novel is about the aftermath of the rape of Mia Abbot-Renou, the young-adult daughter of a Southern US politician - the self-same politician who has claimed that pregnancy cannot result from rape because the woman's body shuts it down. A similar asinine and clueless claim was actually made in real life by Republican congressman Todd Akin, so kudos to Ford for slipping that in. Akin asserted "...If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down..." - implying that anyone who gets pregnant from rape really wasn't raped since they consented, even if they think they didn't! The pregnancy proves it! What an asshole. If he'd said that in front of me, he'd likely end up with a name-change to Tod Akin-Balls...!

The story begins with Mia being picked up by the cops and taken to a hospital where the relevant examinations are carried out. Mia is scared and only feels safe if she can see one of the two cops, Keisha and Dom, who initially responded to the crime report. Just in passing, do you know there apparently isn't a police 10-xx code for rape - or for assault or GBH?! Go figure. OTOH, they have at least four codes for motor vehicle issues - just in case you're not crystally clear on where our priorities lie as a society in the USA. But then car dealerships are always better lit than are residential neighborhoods, so why am I even surprised by this?! In a really disturbing WTF moment, neither Mia's mother, who is in rehab, nor her father, who is at a fundraiser, can be bothered to visit their daughter in the hospital - and her father is bothered about spinning this event?!

We learn from internal monologue that Mia was a virgin, and from her examination that she was injured rather badly physically (as well as mentally), as a result of this assault, and she's really confused, her mind wandering, flashes of the attack mingling with non-sequitur memories (triggered by the resemblance - in small ways - of one of the cops to her grandfather). Why the virginity issue is raised I do not know. Does Ford want me to believe that the rape was worse solely because the victim was a virgin as opposed to her being a hooker or a "housewife", for example? Bullshit! Rape is rape. It doesn't get any worse.

The opening sequence was in some ways annoying because it was so discontinuous, so if Ford was trying to make me uncomfortable, she succeeded, but I'm not sure she succeeded in making me discomfited about the right things or in the right way! However, it is, in general, well written and it drew me in, so despite some nit-picking issues, one of which I'm about to launch into, that was a good start.

Once Mia has had all her medical attention, it's the next day before the two cops get to sit down with her and she eventually identifies one Robert Connor and his friend as her two rapists. There's a suggestion of the possible use of Flunitrazepam or a similar substance employed in her drink to help perpetrate this rape, but before their investigation can get very far, the family lawyer (who is also Mia's uncle) and a PR guy show up trying to spin this "event" (they really don't seem to want to call it a rape, much less identify the son of one of their leading financial contributors as the rapist). They also plan to whisk her out of the hospital and put her under the care of another family friend who is a therapist. This is horrible, but it's a disturbingly fascinating story.

I had my biggest issue with this "whisking-out" of Mia. We're told she has to be sneaked out of the hospital via a side-door because the press is flocking to the front entrance. Why? Not why is she sneaked out, why is the press there? This happened just the night before, so unless the police have deliberately and purposefully broadcast the gut-churning details of this rape, including the victim's name, and also the crime-scene and hospital photographs of her battered body, how in hell did anyone find out about it? I was jerked bodily out of suspension of disbelief by that because I cannot find it even remotely plausible that this information would get out so fast, much less be deliberately released by the police or the hospital. There would be serious lawsuits flying in formation if information like this was released.

I suspect that Ford did this to further put Mia on the hot-spot, but I could not see that happening realistically. What happened was horrific enough without piling on events which stretch credibility beyond breaking point. But given that clunker, the story improves from there on out. It does lead to Mia being isolated from the police while her father's people try to spin this, which in turn leads to Mia having to read "her" prepared statement to the press where she's passing on not her own words but those of her father's lawyer.

Mia becomes completely isolated from real life as she's forced repeatedly to retreat to her bedroom closet to escape panic attacks and flashbacks as everyone tries to manage, contain, and control this "unfortunate event". Even her therapist is a distant relative. Her best friend comes over to support her and pretty much moves in. Somehow Mia is prosecuted for her unknowing use of a stolen ID, and via a plea-bargain she conveniently gets to do 100 hours of community service in a women's shelter helpfully run by the sister of the cop who, I'm guessing, is going to be the trope love interest, as disgusting as that seems at this point. It's at the shelter that Mia learns that she's pregnant (her father had denied her the morning-after pill because, you know, rape victims cannot possibly become pregnant...).

So it looks like I'm going to rate this warty, doesn't it? Actually I'm not. I had some real issues with it, but those parts which were not issue-ridden were actually engrossing, and did keep my interest. Like I said, I would prefer it if this were just one complete novel instead of installments, but that's the author's choice. Maybe I'll wait to read the rest when it all comes between one pair of covers, though? I rate this one worthy because people need to read about this, and they need to be made so uncomfortable by stories like these that something is done about this unconscionable crime and the even more horrific frequency of it.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

a Pride and Prejudice movie is reviewed on the Movie page

Title: Pride and Prejudice
Author: Jane Austen
Pages: 238
Publisher: Penguin UK
Rating: Worthy!
Perspective: third person past

Note: Spoil like you've never seen a refrigerator! (like you don't know what's in this novel anyway! Darcy and Elizabeth get married! There! I gave it all away!)

How could I not read this in the bicentenary of its publication? I'm reading this in an anthology of Austen's novels. See, I told you I had one, and you didn't believe me! Mine isn't quite the same as the one referenced above, but near enough. The cover picture is from mine.

Note that Gutenberg has a free ebook of this novel. It's also noteworthy that Marvel comics produced a graphic novel of this novel (which I've also read! Yes, I'm way ahead of you!)

Having gone into some detail over Pride and Prejudice in the movie section elsewhere on this blog, there's going to be little to say about the story or the plot since it starts out very much like the best movie of the book, the 1995 one featuring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle in the main roles, so this must needs be a compare and contrast review. The story centers on the Bennett Family, Mr & Mrs, and their five daughters, from oldest to youngest: Jane, Elizabeth (Lizzie), Mary, Catherine (Kitty), and Lydia, and their interactions with the main male suitors Bingley (for Jane), Darcy (for Lizzie), and last but least Wickham (for anyone he can get but finally, for Lydia).

This book is something of a delight. It’s very different from modern novels (understandably, since it's over 200 years old!), and different again from American novels since it’s British. The Brits like to use single quotation marks to signify the spoken word their novels, and the grammar and word use varies considerably from that which is to be found in modern novels, even those which are written as historical (or perhaps more accurately, hysterical) romances. It’s not often you find words like 'celerity' in modern works, nor 'self-gratulation', nor 'whither', nor 'repine', nor 'eclat'!

Austen often has a (perhaps unintentional) turn of humor that I find delightful, as in chapter 17 where she has Jane and Elizabeth secretly discussing Wickham's revelations regarding Darcy, from which they're disturbed by Bingley's arrival with an invitation to the ball which he had promised Lydia he should hold:

The two young ladies were summoned from the shrubbery, where this conversation passed, by the arrival of the very persons of whom they had been speaking;
Summoned from the shrubbery indeed! Shades of Monty Python!

Even someone of Austen's propriety and stature isn't immune from grammatical error, or perhaps more accurately, error in clarity of communication as I discovered, also in 17, where we read:

Jane pictured to herself a happy evening in the society of her two friends, and the attentions of her brother;
When first I read that, I found myself wondering how Jane could have a brother when Austen has already made it quite clear that she had only four sisters and no other siblings. Having looked at this more closely, I can only conclude that the brother in this case is Bingley, the brother not of Jane, but of her two friends mentioned in the prior clause, so the sentence is somewhat more confusing on that point than it ought to have been!

Austen also seems inconsistent in how she uses the indefinite article before an aspirate. She writes 'a husband', but 'an hope'. This may be less interesting to others than it is to me, because to me it’s yet another reason to take interest in more antiquated writing styles, especially when found in the form of fiction. This antiquity of style is one of the charms of such novels. I almost end up feeling as though I'm a better person, and certainly I feel that I'm better equipped as a writer for having an acquaintanceship with such work.

I find myself wondering what rules she's applying as she writes, or if indeed she's applying any rules other than her own innate feel for English as she has it through nothing more than growing up a native to it in that era. Perhaps whatever rules she employs were so imbued within her having grown as she did, that it never crossed her mind that any rules were actually being employed at all, so innate is her grasp of the language. But how remarkable it is that we can have now this window into life 200 years ago, even as narrow and focused as it necessarily is! Perhaps you might want to research Austen's life and times. There's a Jane Austen wiki which may be a good place to start - or to which you can contribute if you wish!

One of the interesting phrases I found was 'he left the country.' when Austen means, of course, not that he left England, but that he left the countryside for the city. And on that topic, we find Jane in denial about Bingley after he has left, and Elizabeth rather angry at his behavior, but not so angry as she becomes when Collins proposes to her and will not take no for an answer. The 1995 movie has Collins storming off and proposing to Charlotte, which doesn't represent the novel at all. The 2005 movie does a better job on this score. And Bingley's sisters (of which there appears only one in the 2005 movie) do not steadily imply that Bingley, now back in London, is seriously interested in Darcy's sister in the movies whereas they do in the novel.

One item of interest occurred to me reading the novel, and that is exactly what Lizzie's dad might have meant in issuing his 'ultimatum' upon learning of Lizzie's refusal to marry Collins:

...Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.
Does he mean he will never speak to her if she does, or does he merely mean that if she marries and moves away, he will be unable to see her? I think we're supposed to take it as it's traditionally been understood, but perhaps Austen was playing with a little double-entendre here?

Whilst on this topic, I have to say here that the novel suggests a far greater friendship between Jane and Bingley's two sisters, notwithstanding the superior attitude of the latter, than either the 1995 movie or the 2005 movie would have you believe. The novel also indicates that Elizabeth's first two dances with Collins were much more embarrassing than they were depicted as being in the 1995 movie ('mortification' is the term Austen uses, followed by 'ecstasy' as the dances are over and Elizabeth is released!). The 2005 movie shows no problem there at all.

This novel was not originally intended to have the title 'Pride and Prejudice', it was to have been titled 'First Impressions', but as wikipedia points out, two other works with that title had been published quite recently as Austen was revising her work, so she changed it to what is in my opinion a far better title. It’s hard to see this novel under it’s original name! Austen perhaps took her title from words in a contemporary work by Fanny Burney, which Austen is known to have liked.

The title is all the more appropriate since the novel primarily addresses the clash between Darcy's over-developed sense of pride, and Elizabeth's hasty prejudice against him based on her first impression of his character, and of Wickham's despicable lies about him. Her prejudice shows strongly at the dance which Bingley holds at Netherfield, where Elizabeth is depicted as saying, in response to her friend Charlotte's suggestion that dancing with Darcy (now there's a movie title!) isn’t so bad: "Heaven forbid! That would be the greatest misfortune of all! To find a man agreeable whom one is determined to hate! Do not wish me such an evil."

Contrast that, then, with what she says whilst she's actually dancing with Darcy in response to a comment he made about her suggestions as to how conversation ought to be conducted during a dance:

'Both,' replied Elizabeth archly; 'for I have always seen a great similarity in the turn of our minds. We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room, and be handed down to posterity with all the eclat of a proverb.'

So now, it appears, she considers that the two of them have a lot in common, although Darcy seems to disagree. They spar over the pianoforte whilst the others play cards. Cards back then consisted of games such as Quadrille, which according to wikipedia is is a Spanish trick-taking game directly ancestral to Boston and chief progenitor of Solo whist, perfected in early 18th century France as a four-handed version of the Spanish game Ombre.

Another game was Cassino, which wikipedia describes as an Italian fishing card game which is the only one to have penetrated the English-speaking world.

Do you wonder at this point if I wonder if they're going to be 'violently' in love? That term is much abused, we find, and Austen herself is evidently quite aware of it. Consider this from Chapter 25:

But that expression of 'violently in love' is so hackneyed, so doubtful, so indefinite, that it gives me very little idea. It is as often applied to feelings which arise from a half-hour's acquaintance, as to a real, strong attachment. Pray, how violent was Mr. Bingley's love?

On Elizabeth's visit to Hunsford to spend time with her friend Charlotte, now married to Collins (ch 28) we come across yet another of Austen's charming phrases:

Here, leading the way through every walk and cross walk, and scarcely allowing them an interval to utter the praises he asked for, every view was pointed out with a minuteness which left beauty entirely behind.

After their sparring over the piano, which is even more charming in the novel than in either movie (and which is better done in the 2005 movie than it is in the 1995 version), Elizabeth finds that visits by Darcy to Charlotte's home, where Elizabeth is staying, are much more frequent, but he says very little. This portion of the relationship is entirely passed over in the movies, which makes it harder to see from what quarter Darcy's deep passion arose.

The very heated exchange between then after Darcy proposes in the worst proposal ever, is not exactly spelled out, in terms of who said exactly what in the novel, so some of what appears in the movies is quite simply made up. But whilst the novel lacks something in this regard at this important point, it handles sufficiently well, particularly Elizabeth's personal ruminations immediately afterwards and the next morning when Darcy hands her a letter (he's stalking her out in the country where he knows she walks).

Darcy's letter hugely long and it's related in the novel with no paragraphing, running to 4½ full pages! Neither movie gives any indication of this., On the contrary: the letter they show is very short in comparison. Lizzie agonizes over Darcy's words about Wickham for two hours as she walks up and down in the outdoors, but she eventually arrives at the conclusion that Darcy must be right! Then she turns her attention to what he said about Jane. Why she does this in the reverse of the order in which the letter conveys this information must remain a mystery, I suppose, but we're forced to wonder if Austen was more fixated upon Lizzie's relationship with Wickham than she was on hers with Jane.

Lizzie is soon back home, but within a month or so she's off again in what's by far the best part of the novel (of course I'm insanely biased when I say this!) on her trip with the Gardiners to Derbyshire, a county in which I was born and raised. This is the location of Mrs Gardiner's home village of Lambton, which is conveniently close to Darcy's Pemberley. There is at least two Lambtons in England but neither is in Derbyshire. One of them is famous for being the home of the Lambton Worm, an ancient legend from which Bram Stoker took his inspiration for his The Lair of the White Worm. Wikipedia informs us that the home of Fitzwilliam Darcy was modeled on Chatsworth House, a beautiful place not far from my home town. It was this very house which was used (for exteriors only) in the 2005 movie.

Austen also has Lizzie refer to other places with which I'm very familiar: Dovedale to which I've also been several times, the Peak District, and finally, my own home town, Matlock (yes, just like the TV show, but we had it first!) which is part of the Peak District.

Moving right along now.... Lizzie and the Gardiners (sounds like a band name, doesn't it? "Here's the latest release from Lizzie and the Gardiners, Wickham if you've got 'em"!) are strolling around Darcy's home! This seems strange to me, but I guess it was perfectly normal back then for strangers to be shown around the homes of the ridiculously well-off. It's during this tour that Lizzie completely reforms her opinion of Darcy, and then, of course, she runs into him as she's going outdoors.

I think of the two movies, the better one for this portion is the 2005 version, even though it strays way beyond the bounds of canon. In it, a scene was added where Lizzie is looking at some truly amazing sculptures, one of which is a bust of Darcy. Yes, Virginia, men had busts back then, and proud of them they were, too! A non-canonical scene was also added where Lizzie is attracted by some beautiful piano-playing and finds herself watching Georgiana, without knowing who she is. Darcy suddenly walks into he scene and hugs her. He sees Lizzie, who runs, evidently thinking this is Darcy's girlfriend!

Eventually, the two of them talk outside, during a walk with the Gardiners, but Mrs Gardiner carefully engineers it so that she and her husband are way ahead of the younger couple. The ensuing conversation, awkward as it may be, gives Lizzie leave to further reform her opinion of this man. Her flabber, such as it is, has never been so gasted as when Darcy informs her that he should like for her to meet his younger sister, Georgiana, who is anxious to meet Lizzie.

Unfortunately. it's immediately after this is that Lizzie receives news from Jane that Lydia has absconded with Wickham! Darcy learns of this from Lizzie - much more humorously portrayed in the 2005 than in the 1995. he embarks upon his adventure to discover where Wickham is hiding in London. There is much more going on here than is ever portrayed in either movie, and once Wickham and Lydia are married off and out of the way, considerably more going on with Bingley and Darcy than is portrayed in either movie, although the essence of what happens is carried through there.

Needless to say - but I've begun so I'll finish! - Bingley comes back and proposes to Jane - although nowhere near as velocitously as the movies indicate, even the lengthier 1995 version, and eventually, Darcy and Lizzie have their walk, wherein they go into rather tedious detail about their roller-coaster history together, I have to say. Eventually they're both married off and exquisitely happy. Austen doesn't marry either of the other sisters, but takes pains to relate that, removed from the influence of Lydia, and living with the Darcy's, Kitty improves immeasurably and left with her mother, even Mary starts to come out of her shell.

Yes, there was far more detail than ever I was interested in hearing at the end of this novel, so while I still recommend reading this or another of Austen's works for their authentic period detail, and for Austen's occasional humorous and charming turn of phrases, I have to say that I'm not overwhelmed by her overall talent as a writer. There is too much detail of the tedious variety and it's gone into in places where less would have sufficed. There is almost no observation of the surroundings, and conversation can sometimes become obscure since Austen is not fond of indicating who is speaking at a given time, so that perhaps a whole page will pass of purest conversation, by the end of which one is no longer certain as to who said what.

I realize that this is how they wrote back then, but that renders my observation no less valid. I seriously doubt that, had Austen not written this, but a writer of modern historical romance wrote it exactly as the first edition bore it, it would not have anywhere near the acclaim it now has, and before it was published you may rest assured that some editor somewhere would have it with abandon if it came across their desk! It's worth keeping that in mind when we bestow praise upon it, but go ahead and read it and make up your own mind, because your opinion of it is all that matters in the last analysis. Overall I'm quite prepared to declare it worthy!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Sister Mischief by Laura Goode

Title: Sister Mischief
Author: Laura Goode
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Rating: WORTHY!

Since I went outside my usual genre for You Against Me, I figured I might as well go for broke. This is another one that's not typically on my reading list, about a hip-hop girls group in a high school. I'm always ready to learn something new if it's interesting or useful, so we'll see how this debut novel goes!

I'm having some sort of existential crisis or something but I definitely do not recommend going directly from TimeRiders to Sister Mischief as I did today. You'll break your neck with the whiplash.

This title is supposed to be young-adult fiction, but now I'm wondering what young-adult means in this context because if this were a movie it would be very likely be rated NC-17! Here's another reason not to read prologs - you might get more than you bargained for! Laura Goode is definitely not going to have a good effect on me!

Wikipedia says that young-adult fiction can also be called juvenile fiction, but then what does juvenile mean?! I am starting to wonder if I needed to change anything at all in Seasoning in order to re-publish it as Seasoning YA!. Wikipedia also says that "55% of young-adult fiction is purchased by readers over 18 years of age", so Laura Goode wil be right at home there with this novel.

It took a few pages to properly get into this. I got the impression that Goode was trying a bit too hard to sound hip and cool, but once I got into the rhythm, it felt a lot better. The story is entertaining and interesting so far even though all it is, ostensibly, is just another disaffected highschool story about love, rebellion, bullying, and acceptance. But that's an old theme, so the trick is in the telling of it, and I'm enjoying that so far.

I'm not sure about the cell phone texts which the characters send to each other. They're amusing and informative, but they're shown as numbered footnotes on each page. It’s an interesting technique, but I’d have preferred them to be an integral part of the narration. It’s less distracting from the story that way to me. I found it a bit like watching a foreign language movie with subtitles. Film is a visual medium and whilst dialog is important, if I wanted to read it instead of watch it, I’d get the novel!

When I'm watching a movie I don't want to be constantly be forced to take my eyes off the imagery to read what they're saying, especially when the subtitles don’t actually convey accurately what’s really being said. I’d rather watch it dubbed, which isn't perfect, but is a lot less dispruptive to me. Maybe Goode has something in mind with her approach here. We'll see.

It was interesting to note that in the first couple of pages there were two 'samples', given that a theme of the story is hip-hop and lifting samples to make new music. Goode lifts a quote from Rita Mae Brown to start off the novel, and in it Brown lifts the term 'polymorphous and perverse', which I first heard in the Woody Allen movie, Annie Hall, but which comes from Freud (afaik).

Then Goode herself puts the phrase 'white man's overbite' into the narrator's mouth to signify how white people are perceived as dancing. This may well come from Billy Crystal's character in When Harry Met Sally, which means it comes from Nora Ephron.

That description seems rather racist to me, but isn’t it the case these days, for example, that non-white comedians can get away with racist jokes about whites, which whites get called on when they do the same in reverse?

I know whites have a lot to be sorry for in the way they've abused (and continue to abuse, let’s face it) non-whites, but the way to address that pendulum is not to let it swing all the way to the other end of the arc; it's to stop it dead in the middle and never let it move again.

Anyway, I read the prologue! Yeah! But this goes to my beef about prologues: in this case, I don’t get why it’s a prologue and not chapter one. I don’t know if this was Goode's idea, or if she put this in just to fit some perceived norm (which would betray her theme in this story!), or if her editor/publisher made her do it. It’s hard to tell when so many people have had their fingers in the pie in producing a novel, but to me, it’s not a prologue; it’s chapter one!

In this case I'm glad I read it because it's really chapter one, and it adds a bit to Esme's character. Unfortunately, the main thing it conveyed to me is that she's a rather mean person. That's not a good trait to perceive (rightly or wrongly!) in a narrator. I happened acciendetally across the website which returns trivia about any name you type in, so I tried Esme and got this page!

Esme is the narrator of Sister Mischief, and we discover pretty quickly that she's gay, but she had doubts about her sexuality (who doesn't! lol!) and wanted to test herself by losing her virginity to some guy who had wanted her for a long time.

She was not impressed, and this evidently confirms something to her, even though their coitus was interruptus by two cops. I'm by no means convinced that having abortive and uncomfortable sex in the back of a cramped vehicle is the best test (as indeed one of her friends points out!), but it’s apparently enough to convince Esme, and she's so decided that she comes out to both her friends at school, and her dad (her Jewish mother is long gone) right after the episode in the car.

Yes, these are very mature themes.

So next we find Esme and her homies in school. There are four of them: Esme is MC Ferocious, Tess, who is religiously protestant, but not insanely so is The ConTessa; Marcy who is Catholic in origin if not in practice is SheStorm, and Rowie who is Indian of no specified religion, who is MC Rohini (which happens to be her actual name). I mention the religious stuff because religion is raised a lot in the first few pages.

Rowie is a bit reminiscent of Sal in TimeRiders, curiously enough, but she's a much more developed character than Sal ever was, and this is in just the first few pages. Marcy is very tall, evidently skilled at basketball, and the most butch hetero Esme has ever seen! Tess is a bit shy and retiring, which is odd because she's the lead singer in their amateur band. Esme doesn’t tend to blab much herself so you have to impute things from her narration.

The villain of the piece so far, is Mary Ashley Baumgarten (or MashBaum as they refer to her - yes, the author has an eye for a Goode turn of phrase), who is determinedly anti-gay. I hope this isn’t going to be one of those black and white good v. bad stories, but Mashbaum is highly religious, so to find this bigotry isn’t surprising. The fundamentally religious can be depressingly intolerant. Maybe that's one of Goode's themes.

People of color (as Goode refers to them) are very rare at Esme's Minnesotan high school in Hollyhill (or Holy Hell as they view it), so her hip-hop wannabe band is 75% white. They're very much into their music, and discuss it in terms which seemed to me to be a bit mature for their age group and disposition, but these girls are all very smart, so perhaps it’s not outside of their character to relate to each other in this way. They work hard at school and get good grades because they want out of Hollyhill badly, and wisely see college or university as their ticket, even though they rebel against a lot of what’s required of them in school. And therein lies a story!

They discover, after another in an evidently ongoing series of minor fights with MashBaum that their school is instituting a set of anti-hip-hop rules, accusing that culture of being disprespectful, lewd, violent, etc. All four in the band immediately rebel against these regulations and declare that they will start a 4H club: Hip-Hop for Homos and Heteros, which they plan to try and get accepted as a school club. They figure if the school can establish religion by allowing a religious school club, then they ought to be able to have their hip-hop group.

So our four heroes get called into the principal's office to discuss their refusal to sign the pledge of dis-allegiance, and they negotiate with the principal to have use of the 'school shack' for their group. Provided that they do this on the down low, and that it works out without any problems, they'll get to have an official school group. The shack is technically not on school grounds, so the principal really isn’t giving them much, but they see this as an acceptable victory since they're still getting away with not signing the pledge - at least for now.

Later, MashBaum has the nerve to stop by Esme's house to try and sell her poinsettias, the profits going to some right-to-life group (it’s a new school year, so this is taking place in the fall). Esme gives her lip and shuts the door on her, and she and Marcy head out to overnight at Rowie's to work on their music.

Marcy is driving, and she detours so they can steal a sign from MashBaum's yard. The sign is promoting her dad's candidacy for some public office or other. The sign says 'Herb for Hollyhill' and this amuses them (herb, weed, grass, and so on). At Rowie's, they rapidly get derailed from their music making plans as Marcy produces an old joint she dug out of her older brother's car, and the three of them (Tess having left) repair to a tree house in Rowie's yard to toke a bit and listen to some tracks and stare at the Moon.

I found myself recalling that scene in the movie succubus or something, like Bo in Lost Girl, and is sacrificing her relationship with her daughter because she doesn’t want Esme to be contaminated and turned by her presence! But no.

Esme replaces her mother with her mother's books, reading them and paying particular attention to anything she underlined or noted in the margins in case it reveals any intel on why she split. She's currently reading The Diary of a Young Girl and discovering that Anne Frank was evidently gay. Either that or really, really curious! It's interesting to note that Frank was approximately the same age as Esme when she died of Typhus in a German prison camp only a month or so before the camp was liberated by the allied army.. I hope this doesn't portend Esme's future! But then Esme is an only child, whereas Frank's older sister died with her.

Back to the story. Esme's relationship with her father, is very healthy and open. She can pretty much tell him anything, and she reflects on this at one point, feeling that it's a bad thing in some ways because if she has no secrets, then it’s like she really has nothing to call her own. I'm not sure I agree with that philosophy, but from Esme's PoV it seems to make sense.

I find myself wondering if we’re learning a lot about Laura Goode here as we learn things about Esme, but since I know squat about Goode, I have no way of knowing that; however, if I keep getting drawn into the story as I am, and wondering what disaster is lying in wait for these people (or if any even is), I'm starting to think I'll need to rectify my lack on intel on that score!

So what Goode telegraphs at the sleepover, where she indicates that Rowie and Esme will be sharing a bed, comes to pass in the treehouse after Marcy leaves. The two of them decide to kiss to see what it's like since Rowie hasn't really kissed anyone, and from that point on it's all desi-re esme! Their relationship blossoms, but they tell no one of it.

Their next activity is to perform at open mike night in a bar and so they head out there in Marcy's truck. For people who are supposedly as rebellious and loosely hanging as these girls, they have a seating order in the truck, with Marcy driving, Esme riding shotgun, and Tess and Rowie in the back. I don't know what's up with that, if anything, but at one point later, Esme ends up in the back with Ro, and Tess rides shotgun.

Anyway, the story really starts to take off, beginning with the concert. Their hip-hop open mike is a huge success and they go home really pumped. Es and Ro spend the night together, again. They're now doing this several times/week and it’s inevitable that Es's dad is seriously wondering what she's doing, so she 'fesses about her and Ro.

They have their first meeting of the 4H, at which MashBaum gatecrashes and tries to steal Es's notebook, getting bitchslapped by Es for her trouble, which makes Ro really hot for her even as she herself is wrestling with her fear of fallout if their relationship becomes public knowledge, and her parents disapprove.

Halloween comes around and the four try to recruit Mrs DiCostanza, head of the English department, to be their faculty advisor for the group; then all hell breaks loose - almost literally - as some school jocks pull a prank, coating the floor and stair rails in soap and Crisco (now there's a good cuss word! I once thought of rewriting part of the Prince sing Let's Go Crazy substituting Let's go Crisco! and touting it to Procter & Gamble as a commercial jingle! See below)), and setting off the fire alarm at fifteen minute intervals, as well as loosing four goats in the school, some of them covered in fake blood!

The school is evacuated, and when they hear Mrs. DiCostanza on her phone suggesting to the principal that he get on top of this and close the school for the day before the media learns what's happening, Marcy immediately tweets the local TV news to tell them of it. She knows someone at the local TV station, and soon enough a reporter and camera operator come out there and interview the girls, who use this as a golden op to plug their 4H problem with the school!

Definitely some high humor here and a lot of fun, but this made me wonder if something is going to come crashing down in counterbalance. While on that topic, a word might be in order about Esme's notebook - not a computer but literally a notebook in which she writes thoughts, ideas for songs, and caustic observations. These scribblings are footnoted just like the texts (the texts/scribbles reach number 41 on page 141). The notes appear under the header 'SiN' for 'scribbled in notebook', which is amusing to me since it makes Esme a prolific sinner! They're irreverantly funny, too, at times, like when she scribbled in a chemistry class something to the effect that she has no valence electrons and her nucleus is showing.

I think I'm jealous of Esme in that she has such a confident and feisty streak and such good and close frinds. I was always lacking confidence and very shy in high school, and the school culture itself didn’t help. It was a royal pain to me; I wasn't happy there, but as the camer guy advises Esme when he hands her his card for any follow-ups to the halloween high school horror story, there is life after school (and I survived it!). Hopefully Esme & Co. will survive it too. It would have been nice to have had some of the warm school experiences which Esme enjoys; although I think I could do without the Hollyhill holocaust of soap, goats, and Crisco!

Cue the artist formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince!

Dearly beloved, We are gathered here today to get through this thing called high school!

Electric words high school.
It don't mean smoking weed and that's a mighty long blunt
But I'm here to tell you that there's something else: Halloween!
A day of never-ending craziness where you can always get someone's goat

So when you call up that TV station in Holly Hill
You know the one: Dr Film at 11
Instead of asking principal how much of your mind is left
Give him a piece!

'Cause in this life, things are much harder than being dead in a hole
You're on your own, and if the elevator tries to bring you down
Go crazy - soap the school floor!

If you don't like the school you're studying in
Take a look around: at least you've got friends

You see when I called the TV news
with a hot scandal, they picked up the phone
and came right over!
Sister Mischief is all I heard.

Are we gonna let the elevator bring us down?
Oh, no let's go!
Let's go Crisco! Let's get goats!
Let's look for the soap on the bannisters
'til they close the school, let's go!
I like the way Goode approaches religion in this novel. She's healthily skeptical about it and discussions of it pop up periodically because there are four different religious perspectives in Es's group: Catholic, Protestant, Judaic, and Hindu (presumably! Ro doesn’t say a lot about her faith, assuming she follows one).

Tess is overtly religious, although liberally so, and they get into a brief spat in the truck on their way to Ro's house over Marcy's tarring all believers with the same brush. Es is not at all together on her position. Despite the Judaic world being patriarchal, your Jewishness (if I can put it that way) runs matrilinearly: if your mom is a Jew, then so too are you. Es feels confused because although she's technically a Jew, she's never had any training or education whatsoever on how to be one or what it means to be one because her mother left her at such an early age.

At Ro's house, Es is met by Ro's mom and given a birthday cake. She's very moved by the realization that Ro's mom is the best mom Es has ever known! It becomes apparent that there is still tension between Es and Ro. Es wants to go public with their relationship, but Ro is too scared of the consequences to be OK with that. She fears not only the public exposure, but also how her parents will react suce they evidently expect her to mary a nice respectable Bengali boy.

Tess sits at Ro's piano and plays a hymn: How Can I Keep From Singing?, which I'm actually listening to as I write this. Of course, Tess isn't performing the one I'm listening to; it was recorded by Enya aka Eithne Ní Bhraonáin (is that a cool name or what?!). Enya's words are subtlely different from Tess's.

The first time this song was mentioned in the novel, I thought they were referring to the Enya song on her Shepherd Moons album because I wasn't aware of its origin, but Goode reproduces the words for a couple of verses and refers to it as a hymn. None of the girls evidently knows about this (perhaps Goode doesn’t know it either) since Enya's recording of this song isn't mentioned.

Es decides that she should have a belated bat-mitzvah - the coming of age ceremony for a Jewish girl (for the boys it's a bar-mitzvah) which they normally have when they're 12 years old (or 13 for a boy - the develop more slowly don't you know!). So Esme's is belated by five years, but she decides it’s going to be a hip-hopaffair and the crew is all onboard with that idea. They're also talking about a holding a concert for their band, since they're expecting to be featured on the news that evening, after their interview at school earlier, so I was guessing at this point that the two events would be coincident, but they were not. The bat-mitzvah is never held. The concert is!

I have to say that I think Laura Goode, from her pic in the back of the book, is much more my idea of Esme Rockett than is the girl on the front cover of the book (Goode's short hair notwithstanding). I just don't see that girl as Esme no matter how hard I try. This is another problem with the disconnect between author's intent and publisher's interference. Maybe it's just me; maybe Goode is good with that cover, but for me, it doesn't represent. Actually, neither does the title for that matter, but at least the title is the author's! And not that it would be easy to convey the breadth and depth of this novel with one cover image or a two-word title.

So this book is in three parts: Before Rowie, During Rowie, and After Rowie. Yes, they break up over Rowie's inability to handle this relationship and her uncertainty about who she is. The break-up is moving, and it precipitates almost out of nowhere, although the portents have been long in the air, as we've seen. Esme goes through hell, and Goode does an amazing job of portaying it without over-doing it. I hope she's not speaking from experience because no one should ever have to go through that, but it sure sounds like she knows what she's talking about from her writing.

So the 4H meetings go ahead without Rowie, who starts 'dating' an Indian boy at the school and Es feels it very deeply. Mrs DiConstanza stops by one of the 4H meetings and it comes under assault from some jerks wearing Boy George masks who toss a roman candle into the hut. After they flee and it's ascertained that no one is injured, the meeting goes on and is one of the most interesting parts of the book.

Esme writes a long, rambling, and frankly boring letter to her mom, but we don't learn if she actually mails it at this point. The letter is interesting to me only because it shows that Es now feels guilty about how she treated the boy from the prologue - the one in the back seat of that car. She makes her peace with him after he comes out in support of her and what they're doing. That's a nice touch.

After the school principal blows them off when they meet with him to complain about the assault on their 4H meeting, the Sister Mischief crew plans a rebellion. In order to carry it off, Es needs to meet with Ro, to whom she hasn’t spoken, almost literally, since they broke up. Ro comes back on board and the four of them bust up the principal's all school assembly on student behavior (lol!) with a well planned hip-hop performance.

The problem with these performances is the same one I had when I started wirting this nvoel abotu aband, years ago. it was never finished, but reading Goode's lyrics, I feel how empty they are without having the opportunity to hear the music and see the performance. Sister Mischief isn't about poetry (although that's part of it) it's aboutwho these girls are, and without their act on stage and without the music, we're missing over 60% of who they are and what they represent.

Obviously, in a book like this, there's no choice, since it's the written word (or typed, whatever! Leave me alone already will ya!), but I sure hope someone gets with her and they put the words to music and have some appropriate (or more likely, inappropriate, given Sister Mischief!) quartet perform them and put it up on You Tube.

Anyway, the fallout from Sister Mischief's disruption of the school assembly is that they're suspended for a week, but the harsh and immovable principal inexplicably caves and grants them everything they asked for! That seemed out of character for him.

After that, the novel completely fizzles. Es gets a lame-ass letter from her lame-ass mom indicating that she might be coming back to the USA - not because she was moved by Es's letter (which evidently Es did send), or because she feels bad, or because she wants to try to be the mom she failed to be, but because her visa is expiring! After eight years! Way to make Es feel like a second hand bastard.

Somehow this magically makes Es feel okay about her mom. That didn’t ring true to me after all the pain she's endured and still carries, and all the confusion with which she'd been swaddled by this huge betrayal and abandoment.

I frankly expected something a little a bit better than what she gives after Goode's mastery of the story-telling which precedes the ending. I don't know, but it just seems like she gave up, or didn’t know quite how to end it (a position I can both empathize and sympathize with!). We don't even learn what becomes of MashBaum! After all the issues with her, and the talk of her father being elected, that just fizzles into nothing, too.

No, I didn’t expect a reconciliation between Es and Ro, not after what Goode had given us, so it wasn't that, but it would have been nice to have something. As it is, Es is just left there sitting on a frozen lake with nothing in her future but vaguery. Is that the negative take-home message?

We never see if or how Ro's problem with accepting (or even finding out) who she is, is resolved, regardless of what’s in store (or not) for her and Esme. It might have been nice to have offered perhaps faint promise for those two - like they're both accepted at the same college, or failing that, that Es happens across someone else who offers a bit of promise. Or gets it on with Tess lol!

Even if you want to leave her out on her own like that, without Ro and with no forseeable prospect for a partner, I still want to have an idea of what happens to her! It’s not like she can’t make it on her own, but I'm left with a bad feeling for her, a worry about what will become of her, and we're allowed no real idea of what she's going to do next with her life. Maybe that was Goode's intention, but that's not what it seemed like she intended to me; it’s like she just put Es on hold, as though her week-long suspension from school bled into the rest of her life!

We learn nothing of the future of this band, which seems to me to be the biggest problem with the ending, since the very name of the novel is the name of the band: Sister Mischief. It served only to emphasize to me the question of why that title, especially given this ending?

With all the crew apparently bound for different colleges, it looks like all this power-talk about the band, and what it was, and what it was going to be, and how important it was to the girls, just shrunk away like an old balloon, and that seemed to me to be at odds with the story's bass line and with the positives from earlier where, for example, Es is told by more than one person (Tess's older sister, her own father, the camera guy from the interview) that things will get better.

We’re left without no real feeling that they did, only the hopeful and blind assumption that they will. It's funny, but in a way, it made me feel a bit like Es did after Ro's abrupt departure from their relationship! Laura Goode dumped me!

But enough whining. I still think this is a great novel and worth your time to read it.