Hello my lovely readers! I hope your weeks have treated you well. Mine has been incredibly busy (I feel like I’m always saying that in these posts……) My brother and his family were in town taking their daughter to participate in a research study at Boston Children’s Hospital, so I got to hang out with them for an evening. My niece and nephew have both grown so much! My nephew (who is four) was very intrigued by my cat, and since his family has dogs, I got to explain to him the differences in interacting with a kitty versus a doggy. He eventually got the idea that cats scare easily and he had to approach her quietly. Then she let him pet her, which was adorable, because she hasn’t ever seen a miniature person since I adopted her (I don’t know about previously).
My brother also brought along a box of presents for me from my daddy, which included the most adorable father/daughter cookbook. (Plus tons of kitchen gear. I’m a bit obsessed with cooking). It also had presents for my kitty. She completely flipped out over them. I have yet to let her try the toy that blows catnip laced bubbles. I think that particular toy might call for some video, lol.
I also had two job interviews this week plus a doctor’s appointment (routine), which kept me running around the city like a chicken with my head cut off. It also meant a got a lot of kindle time though. At my doctor’s appointment, I finally got an updated blood pressure reading. Back in January, my blood pressure was extremely unhealthy, so much so that they wanted to put me on blood pressure medication. Heart disease runs in my family, and these stats freaked me out. So I made a lot of changes in my lifestyle–both eating and exercise level–in the hopes of fixing my blood pressure without meds. Well at the doctor’s this week my bp was 110 over 80, which is really excellent and healthy!! Yay!!
My weekend is mostly going to be consumed with prep for the party I’m throwing that I’m super-excited about. Also seeing Cowboys and Aliens, which, um, is kind of part of the party. Don’t worry though, I’ll definitely squeeze some reading and writing time in. Happy weekends!
Newly-divorced Em jumps at the chance to move to Kauai, Hawaii to assist her aging uncle in running his tiki bar. She hires a young, punk-style waitress who seems to be running from bad choices, and she gets to know the aging hula dance group that performs for free (it’s not like anyone would willingly pay them). Em is managing to increase business for the tiki bar and is starting to feel refreshed from her new life when the tiki bar’s neighbor shows up dead in their barbeque pit–with a machete slash through his skull. The gorgeous fire knife spinning detective Roland sees Em, the waitress, and her Uncle Louie as the prime suspects, so clearly Em and the hula group must work together to find the real culprit.
This was my first foray into the fairly newish cozy mystery genre. A cozy mystery is one involving something violent, but the violence is never particularly shown in a gruesome way, and the characters handle the situation in a humorous fashion. It’s kind of like a modern version of Agatha Christie. They also are really well-known for having puns in the titles. (Another one that springs to mind is The Long Quiche Goodbye, which features a murder in a….wait for it….cheese shop).
So what about this particular cozy? Well, the pun in the title is cute but doesn’t really have anything to do with the story. I can’t quite figure out what, exactly, is supposedly being tied on or tied up or what have you. No one is killed by ties. Basically, the title is a bit witty, but confusing.
The humor is excellent. I found myself laughing out loud multiple times while reading. In fact, this is the strong point of the book. Think of the wittiest, snarkiest person you know, then imagine that everyone around you has that same sense of humor. It’s delightfully funny and relaxing.
The characterization ranges from really well-done to painfully one-dimensional or lacking in vividness. For instance, all of the Hula Maidens are richly drawn elderly women who still have a lot of spunk and life left in them. Yet the main character, Em, is so dull that I kept mixing her up with the waitress. Similarly, some characters are so over-the-top as to be a bit offensive. For instance, a new addition to the island are Fernando and his boyfriend Wally who are both quite possibly the most flamboyant characters I’ve ever seen in a novel. Now, given the extremes of the Hula Maidens, that’s fine, but Wally is never given another element to his character. Whereas it is later revealed that a lot of Fernando’s flamboyance is an act for his career, Wally is such a gay stereotype he even repeatedly faints and is never given any other realm of possibility besides fabulous gay boyfriend. This is odd because the situation certainly arose to make him more compelling and well-rounded without diverting from the main storyline. Although I appreciate the inclusion of gay characters in the book that the other characters simply accept, I do wish Landis had been a bit more careful with her characterization of them.
The mystery itself isn’t too mysterious. Landis’s one attempt at misleading the reader into believing someone else is the murderer is so obvious as to be painful. I actually cringed on her behalf when reading the passage. The characters and humor are allowed to be obvious, but the mystery shouldn’t be.
I can give a pass to both of those issues considering that this is a cozy, and from what I’ve heard from friends who are fans, these sort of things are common in them. The one big problem though is that this book sorely, direly needed better editing. There were mistakes everywhere, which is baffling considering it comes from a publishing house (who supposedly are better because of the “professional” way they handle things….but that’s an issue for a different post). There were multiple sentences with verbs in the wrong location or written twice. Spelling errors and typos were present throughout. This really distracted me from my enjoyment of the story, because the flow would be interrupted while I double-checked that I read the sentence correctly. There is simply no excuse for such shoddy editing, although it is obviously the fault of the publishing house and editor, not the author.
These things said, though, looking at the book overall, it is still an enjoyable read. Ignoring the editing issues, it is an enjoyable cozy, but not an amazing one. The setting and rambunctious characters of the Hula Maidens hold much promise for future entries in the series. Hopefully it will go uphill from here. I recommend it to people who already know they are fans of cozies, but those who are uncertain should probably give it a pass.
3 out of 5 stars
Mary Ann Kirkby recounts her unique childhood in her memoir. She was born into a Hutterite family. The Hutterites are a religious sect similar to the Amish only they believe that living communally is a mandate for Christians. Mary Ann recounts her childhood both in the religious sect (her particular group was located in western Canada), as well as the journey and culture shock she went through when her parents left the Hutterites when she was nine years old.
I actually read this memoir because of the situation in which I first ran into Hutterites and have been fascinated with them ever since. For a couple of years, my father and brother lived in Montana. I went to visit them and was shopping in Victoria’s Secret at the mall and rounded the corner to discover traditionally-garbed Hutterite women buying thongs. I had no idea what a Hutterite was, but instantly hunted down my brother elsewhere in the mall to find out who these people were. All that the “English” seemed to know about them was that they lived in a commune, dressed kind of like the Amish but different, traveled all together to town in a few big vans, and the Hutterite women were always buying thongs at Victoria’s Secret. Hutterites are rather quiet about their lifestyle though, so when I stumbled across this on a new releases list, I knew I needed to read it to find out more about the community.
This is a completely fascinating memoir that I devoured in one day. Mary Ann is able to see both the faults and the beauty of various experiences in her childhood with the clear eye of an adult. Yet simultaneously she harbors no ill-well toward either the Hutterites or her parents or any of those who made her transition from a Hutterite girl to an “English” woman more difficult. Kirkby writes with a sympathetic ear to all those she encountered in her life, which is a refreshing change in the memoir genre.
Additionally Kirkby’s writing offers an immersion into the fascinating world of communal living with a religious belief system to hold it all in place. Kirkby recounts a childhood where no homes were kept locked, everyone was always welcome in everyone else’s home, and most meals of the day were eaten communally with your age-mates. In fact, one of the biggest changes for Kirkby when her family left the Hutterites was suddenly needing to interact with her siblings on a regular basis instead of her same-age female friends. She also had trouble understanding the English need for privacy in the home or the relative silence with which meals were eaten.
Another point of interest is that Kirkby’s father was from a Russian family that was persecuted in Europe and had to run to Canada to escape the Nazis. His father sought refuge and a sense of safety in the community of the Hutterites. Conversely, her father who grew up in this safety found himself craving more freedom than the strict rules and constructs of the commune would allow for. The book thus not only recounts a unique girlhood and insight into the Hutterite way of life, but also addresses the age-old question of freedom versus security.
Anyone interested in the Hutterite communities or unique childhoods will absolutely enjoy this memoir. It is well-written, intriguing, and contains not a trace of bitterness. I highly recommend it.
5 out of 5 stars
Hello my lovely readers! Sorry this week was a bit short on reviews. I actually finished a second book, but didn’t have time to write up the review. It’ll be up Monday! Sales of Ecstatic Evil are up into the double digits. Woo! I can’t tell you how exciting it is to know that people are reading my story. Of course, now I need to return my focus to the new book that will be out in October….
We’re having a disgusting heat wave in Boston this week. The temperature has been regularly hitting 98 degrees (which is unfortunately not as fun as the boy band of the same name. Yes I’m a child of the 90s). I’ve been told by people not originally from the northeast that 98 degrees here feels insanely worse than 98 anywhere else in the US because we have horrible humidity to go with it. I wouldn’t know, having never lived elsewhere in the States, but I believe them. I’ve mostly been hiding in my living room with my window ac unit watching this show from Australia on Netflix. (Um, it’s about three teenaged mermaids……It’s kind of awesome).
I’ve been thinking a lot this week about why doing what’s best for yourself can be so damn hard at times. For instance. Not only is fried food bad for people in general, but for me, it has a tendency to make me sick. (I have IBS, which I discussed at length during Invisible Illness Awareness Week). Anyway. I know this. I know that fried food tastes amazing but is bad for me and will make me sick. Yet this week I still tried deep fried mac and cheese. It tasted amazing, yes. I also puked it right back up an hour later after having a stomachache for that whole hour. All I could think for the whole hour was WHY did I do this to myself? What is it about instant gratification that makes you ignore things like “this will make you sick stop it.” I’m 25. You’d think I’d have this whole self-control thing….well, under control by now. But periodically I don’t, and I don’t know why that is. I suppose it’s just part of being a person. We all do stupid things sometimes. I just…..wish we wouldn’t? Lol.
This weekend I’m hoping to see Captain America, get in some gym time, and maybe sell back some books to my local indie bookstore. There’s also going to be a lot of time spent writing smack in front of my ac (if the cat will give me that primo spot back). Happy weekends all!
Book Review: Heinrich Himmler: The Sinister Life of the Head of the S.S. and Gestapo by Roger Manvell and Heinrich Fraenkel
Manvell and Fraenkel conducted years of meticulous research both with primary documents and those who actually knew Himmler to bring about a biography of the man infamous for being in charge of the S.S., Gestapo, and concentration camps that made the terror of Hitler’s reign possible. They seek to provide a well-rounded look at Himmler’s entire life for those with some familiarity with the events of World War II.
This was a fascinating and difficult book to read, not because of the writing style or the atrocities recounted, but because the authors succeeded in putting a human face on Heinrich Himmler. In the intro to the book, the authors state:
The Nazi leaders cannot be voided from human society simply because it is pleasanter or more convenient to regard them now as outside the pale of humanity. (location 31)
In other words, the easy thing to do is pretend the Nazi leaders or anyone who commits atrocities is something other than human. That they are monsters. When in fact, they really are still people like you and me, and that should frighten us far more than any monster story. What leads people to do horrible things to other people? What makes them bury their conscience and humanity and commit acts of evil? This biography thus does not say “here is a monster,” but instead says, “Here is this young boy who became a man who committed himself to a cause and proceeded to order acts of evil upon others. What forces came together to mold him into someone who would do these things?”
One of the more fascinating things brought to light in this book is that Himmler was never actually fit into the ideal of a top-notch Aryan male he himself advocated. In fact throughout his life he was sickly, pale, and scholarly. He tried in school to fit in with the athletic boys but never succeeded in anything for any length of time except fencing. Instead of accepting who he was, he continually pushed his sickly body past its limits throughout his life, trying to force it to fit into his ideals of what it should be. He actually enlisted his own personal healer, a masseuse trained by a talented Chinese doctor, throughout the war. This masseuse, Kersten, was working as a spy for the Allies and was instrumental in convincing Himmler to release various people from concentration camps throughout the war. His sickly body then not only opened him up to the Allies for a convenient spy, but also was key in how he related to the world. He projected his own insecurities about the ideal body onto everyone else.
Himmler’s anxiety to destroy the Jews and Slavs and place himself at the head of a Nordic Europe brash with health was a compensation for the weakly body, the sloping shoulders, the poor sight and the knock-knees to which he was tied. (location 2189)
This physical weakness and obsession does not mean he was a weak man, however. He was profoundly intelligent and detail-oriented. He easily became obsessed with ideas he came up with and would search for proof of them excluding any and all evidence to the contrary. Those of us who went to liberal, private colleges where we were taught to adjust our worldview for new, challenging ideas may be surprised to learn that Himmler read obsessively. The fact though is that Himmler sought out in his reading sources that would simply support his previously established, prejudicial worldview.
Like Hitler, he [Himmler] used books only to confirm and develop his particular prejudices. Reading was for him a narrowing, not a widening experience. (location 2547)
Thus we cannot depend on reading alone to prevent close-mindedness.
As the Nazi regime continued on, Himmler grew more and more committed to his obsessions. Those who knew him well described the frenzy and meticulousness with which he worked over every detail toward his final goal of the “Aryan race” being in control of Europe.
Himmler’s need to rid himself of the Jews became an obsession. The ghosts of those still living haunted him more than the ghosts of those now dead; there were Jews everywhere around him, in the north, in the west, in the south, in the areas where his power to reach them was at its weakest. (location 2074)
The information on Himmler at this time period certainly sound like a man suffering from intense paranoia. Think of John Nash in A Beautiful Mind and how he firmly believed government agents were all around him persecuting him. The difference is that this physically weak, close-minded, paranoid man was given immense power over the lives of millions instead of simply being a professor. It is easy after reading this book to see how Himmler could easily have been that crazy neighbor worried that the people across the street were watching him all the time instead of the engineer behind genocide. All it took was placing near total power and trust in his hands to turn him into the organizer of a genocide.
There will always exist human beings who, once they are given a similar power over others and have similar convictions of superiority, may be tempted to act as he [Himmler] did. (location 592)
The lesson the authors send home repeatedly then is that Himmler was just a man overcompensating for a physically weak body who grasped onto the idea that he was actually superior to others simply because of his ancestors with a tendency toward paranoia who was given a dangerous amount of power. It is easy to imagine how the entire situation could have worked out differently if some sort of intervention had happened earlier in his life. If he was taught that everyone was valuable for different reasons that have nothing to do with their physical abilities or ancestry. If he had initially read books that weren’t racist and xenophobic. If he was never swept into the Nazi Party mania in the 1930s. If he had been maintained as an office worker in the Nazi party instead of being given so much power. It’s a lot of if’s, I know, but it’s important to think about all the ways to prevent something like this from ever happening again. Although the authors’ primary point is “be careful who you allow to have power,” I would also add “intervene when they are young to prevent the development of a xenophobic, paranoid personality to start with.” With both precautions in place, perhaps we humans as a group can avoid such atrocities in the future.
Readers should note that this book is written by Europeans and not “translated” into American English. Additionally, periodically the authors sway from the strict chronological method of a biography to follow one thought or event through to its conclusion then back-track. This was a bit distracting, but absolutely did not prevent me from learning much about Himmler, WWII, and the Holocaust that I did not previously know.
Overall, I highly recommend this to those with an interest in WWII in particular, but also to anyone interested in the prevention of future genocides. It offers great insight into how these atrocities came to be.
4 out of 5 stars
Book Buzz: Orchids and Memories: 3 Stories of Hawaii by Robert Soares, Illustrated and Edited by Erin Soares
Hello my lovely readers! Since I’m increasingly becoming good friends with writers and other creative types, I want to be able to let you all know when they release new work. However, I don’t feel like I could fairly review it, since I’m their friend. Hence the new feature–buzzes! I’ll just let you know that the piece is out, what it’s about, and where you can get it. The rest is up to you.
First up, my friend Erin, who you may remember illustrated my book cover, has edited and assembled a collection of three nonfiction short stories written by her grandfather chronicling his life as a Filipino growing up in Hawaii then coming to the mainland. The collection calls to light many issues that I know are important to many of you, such as being non-white in America, the problem of higher education for non-traditional students, and environmentalism versus economy. However, the collection also has universal appeal, as an older person reflects on his life and the successes and mistakes and possible mistakes he’s made. I think it has wide appeal, and is of course beautifully illustrated by Erin. It’s available for $2.99 via the Kindle store, and I do hope those of you who find the description appealing will check it out.
Hello my lovely readers! I hope your weeks went well and that you are enjoying this summer weather. You all now know that a significant portion of my time nowadays is being taken up with my newly budding writing career, and of course I’m loving it! It’s so nice to be out of school and doing what I enjoy.
Of course, being me, I’m not just reading and writing in my spare time. I’m still consistently going to the gym. My new trainer and I (my old one no longer works at that gym) are starting to understand each other and tailor a routine to fit my needs. It’s interesting to see the differences between her and my old one, and I like that she’s focused on my cardiovascular health and core strength. We did my measurements this week, and I’m proud to report that since the beginning of June I’ve lost another 2 inches around my waist. Yay! See, I don’t just yak about Americans and our health, I am trying my best to improve my own as well.
Last weekend I visited the historic Mount Auburn cemetery for the first time. Can I just say, it is freaking huge and very inspirational for horror stories. It basically is a nice, hilly hike right smack in the middle of urban development. I absolutely loved it. There’s no way I saw anywhere near everything there is to see there. I mean, we’re talking there were randomly hidden ponds and bridges and monuments and……I could go on and on about it. It’s a truly amazing free gem right in the middle of the city.
Tonight I’ll be going to a bonfire at a friend’s house. I’m excited for that! I love fire. The rest of my weekend will consist of going to see some improv, working out, and a meeting of progressives in my neighborhood. I hope you all have lovely weekends! Any good plans?
Hi guys! So the lovely Amy (of Amy Reads) let me know of a new organization of bloggers who love to read nonfiction–Bloggers’ Alliance of Nonfiction Devotees. The group has a tumblr, and basically the various members will post links to their reviews of nonfiction books as well as participate in themed discussions once a month. You all know that I definitely partake in nonfiction periodically, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be involved!
This month’s topic is our favorite type of nonfiction. I’d be hard-pressed to choose just one, so I’m going to cheat a bit and talk about, well, three of them.
First, the type of nonfiction that I continued to read even when working full-time and attending grad school at night was memoirs. Memoirs hold a special allure for me. Nothing connects me to people from different walks of life than mine quite like reading their first-hand account of their own life. I especially love memoirs by people who suffer from mental illnesses or have survived abusive situations. Memoirs simply never fail to touch me, even if I disagree with the author on a lot of points. It is truly astounding how different and yet the same we all are.
Second, I love books on health for the layman, particularly books on vegetarianism and veganism. I have a whole pile of tbr books just waiting for me about the health crisis in the US, such as Diet for a New America and Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health. Knowledge is power, and we Americans certainly need to take charge of our health.
Finally, I was a history major in undergrad, and history books still appeal to me. Currently I am reading a biography on Heinrich Himmler (the head of the Gestapo). I particularly love history books on Native Americans, westward expansion, the American Revolution, Australia, China, Japan, and WWII.
So that’s the types of nonfiction I love! What about you, my lovely readers?
In the near-future humanity is increasingly facing over-population and all its consequences. In reaction to this, most world governments have established population laws and eugenics boards. In this overly crowded, information overloaded, perpetually on the brink of war society exist Donald and Norman, healthy bachelors who must live as roommates due to the housing crisis. Donald is a dilettante, an information specialist on reserve to be activated as a spy when needed for the US government. Norman is a Muslim African-American working his way up the corporate ladder of the most important technology firm in the world–GT. GT houses the world’s most brilliant computer named Shalmaneser. The intertwining lives of these two oddly well-suited roommates gradually unfold amid digressions into the lives of those they come into contact with and information from the modern-day philosophies and advertizing.
What is most memorable and striking about this book is not so much the story, although that is fairly unique, but the way in which it is told. Brunner does not simply tell the main storyline, he also immerses the reader into the world the characters live within. To that end, the main storyline (continuity) is interspersed with chapters focusing in on minor characters (tracking with close-ups, essentially short stories), plunging the reader into the middle of the advertizing of the time (the happening world), and works of importance to the world (context). The result is that, although it takes a bit of work to get into the book, in the end the world these characters exist in is much more vivid and clear in the reader’s mind, thus allowing her to more fully understand the characters.
Sometimes this method of writing is a bit difficult to read, of course. For instance, one chapter takes place at a party, and Brunner simply streams all of the conversation together as you would hear it if you were at the party yourself. You catch snippets of bits of different conversations taking place, but never an entire one all at once. It’s the most immersive party scene I’ve ever read, but also took me an inordinate amount of time to get through.
It was also refreshing to have one of the main characters in a futuristic scifi book be a minority. This in and of itself made Stand on Zanzibar a unique, interesting read, and I believe Brunner did a good job portraying both Norman’s struggles with still prevalent racism and presenting him as a well-rounded character.
The major themes of the book, beyond the incredibly meta presentation style, are the very real threat of the loss of privacy and the dehumanization of dependence upon artificial intelligence.
The dehumanizing affect of overpopulation is evident in the language employed by the characters early on in the book.
Not cities in the old sense of grouped buildings occupied by families, but swarming antheaps collapsing into ruin beneath the sledgehammer blows of riot, armed robbery and pure directionless vandalism. (page 52)
These are no longer human cities. They are crawling ant-piles. The vision of piles of swarming ants is simply not a pleasant one. This concept of humanity as a pest is carried even further in a poem from one of the context chapters entitled “Citizen Bacillus,” which begins:
Take stock, citizen bacillus,
Now that there are so many billions of you,
Bleeding through your opened veins,
Into your bathtub, or into the Pacific
Of that by which they may remember you. (page 115)
Not only is this poem taking into account the increasingly suicidal tendencies of the human population in this future society (something that is seen in the animal kingdom when a population becomes overcrowded), but it also is blatantly calling humans a bacteria (bacillus).
The book repeatedly addresses through vignettes, samples of books of the time period, and the lives of the main characters that overpopulation leaves people without enough room to think and figure themselves out in.
True, you’re not a slave. You’re worse off than that by a long, long way. You’re a predatory beast shut up in a cage of which the bars aren’t fixed, solid objects you can gnaw at or in despair batter against with your head until you get punch-drunk and stop worrying. No, those bars are the competing members of your own species, at least as cunning as you on average, forever shifting around so you can’t pin them down, liable to get in your way without the least warning, disorienting your personal environment until you want to grab a gun or an axe and turn mucker. (page 77-8)
In the book “turning mucker” is when a person inexplicably loses their mind and attacks strangers near them. This happens increasingly throughout the book. Thus Brunner’s main point that humans are our own worst enemy is repeated throughout the book.
Added on top of this is the fact that artificial intelligence is outpacing humans. The characters literally cannot keep up with the information overload. They have nightmares about it. They simultaneously depend on the computers and dread them. When one goes awry, they hardly know how to continue on, but simply flounder around. Chad Mulligan (one of my new favorite literary characters) sums it up eloquently:
What in God’s name is it worth to be human, if we have to be saved from ourselves by a machine? (page 645)
Thus, Stand on Zanzibar through postulating an overpopulated future that is overly dependent on technology demonstrates the very real dangers humans pose to ourselves if we outpace either our own minds or our environment’s ability to house us. It is a brilliant read for the meta-literature aspect alone, but the content is also challenging and thought-provoking. I highly recommend it to scifi fans.
4 out of 5 stars
Hello my lovely readers! So, the super-secret project that I’ve been working on is to finally get my own writing out where people can read it! I’ve been writing since…..well, since I could put pencil to paper. I am completely passionate about story-telling, and this is where I truly feel my talent lies. Since I finished grad school in January, I’ve been cracking down and getting serious about my writing.
Well, I can finally announce that I have published the first entry in a new series to the Amazon Kindle store! I started with my idea to reclaim the old format of serial books. Every entry in the series is 99 cents and short enough to read in one sitting, such as on your commute, a plane ride, a bath, etc…. The storyline is complete in and of itself, but it will be continued in another entry in a few months. Join Tova Gallagher in her paranormal world with the few moments you have to spare in your busy day! It is ideal for the busy, modern, paranormal romance lover.
The first entry is entitled Ecstatic Evil.
Tova Gallagher isn’t just your average tough as nails, intelligent Bostonian. She also just so happens to be half-demon, and halvesies have an important role to play in the supe world. Whether they choose to go with the instincts of their demon or human half is supposed to predict the outcome of the endtimes, and now Tova has a deadline to choose sides. But all of that is hard to care about when she’s just met a sexy stranger on the edge of the Charles River.
Please do check it out! I write because I have stories to tell and want to entertain. At only 99 cents, it’s worth the shot, right?
Also, I started with the novella series so I could practice with the ebook publishing software before my first serious novel, which I plan to release in October for Halloween. I am very excited about it and can’t wait to let you guys know more details! In the meantime, be sure to keep an eye on my new Publications page on this blog. <3
Check Out Ecstatic Evil