Book Report: The Heart of a Woman

Published February 20, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

As I said before, this next book is really appropriate for Black History Month.  In looking at the (uniquely finite) list of choices for Challenge #13 “An Oprah Book Club selection,” I was admittedly a bit torn, as Middlesex sounded like something I’d like to read.  (How many books have intersex leads?)  But in the end I decided to go with this one.

Rather than make any futile attempt on my own to describe the contents of the book in summary, let me quote the summary from the book’s Goodreads page instead:

Maya Angelou has fascinated, moved, and inspired countless readers with the first three volumes of her autobiography, one of the most remarkable personal narratives of our age. Now, in her fourth volume, The Heart of a Woman, her turbulent life breaks wide open with joy as the singer-dancer enters the razzle-dazzle of fabulous New York City. There, at the Harlem Writers Guild, her love for writing blazes anew.

Her compassion and commitment lead her to respond to the fiery times by becoming the northern coordinator of Martin Luther King’s history-making quest. A tempestuous, earthy woman, she promises her heart to one man only to have it stolen, virtually on her wedding day, by a passionate African freedom fighter.

Filled with unforgettable vignettes of famous characters, from Billie Holiday to Malcolm X, The Heart of a Woman sings with Maya Angelou’s eloquent prose her fondest dreams, deepest disappointments, and her dramatically tender relationship with her rebellious teenage son. Vulnerable, humorous, tough, Maya speaks with an intimate awareness of the heart within all of us.

While that does sum up most of the content matter, it doesn’t really do justice to the book.  There’s so much more involved, and the summary doesn’t put nearly enough emphasis on her involvement with the Civil Rights Movement.  Also, it doesn’t mention that there are places where the narrative grips you so much that you have to keep reading, desperate to know what will happen next, even though the events all took place fifty+ years ago.

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MLM No “G” – I Need 40 Hour Days!

Published February 19, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

I would really like to improve the quality of what I write on here.  Whenever I look back on what I wrote in the first year or so, I shudder to think how much worse what I produce currently is.  (Ack, that was a tortured sentence…)

I need to return to myths and ancient cultures, I think.  That was what produced most of my best work, and it’s a subject I can easily wax…well, not exactly “eloquent” or even “deep” but certainly one in which I can be quite verbose.

Which returns me to the title of this post.  My life would be so much better if there were 40 or so hours in every day.  Then I’d have time to work, spend time to meet the demands of others (esp. my family), have some time to waste on entertainment products, and still have time to actually accomplish personal tasks like this.  It could even be possible that I’d be able to have a proper amount of sleep!  (I usually don’t turn in until around 12:00, and then rise at about 7:00…which now that I say it out loud is totally plenty of sleep and I have zero excuse for always being tired.)

I mean, for example, this A.M., I was unable to write, because it took me so much time to fix the mis-named .mp3s to make up my playlist that I didn’t have any time left over to write before I had to leave for lunch.   Admittedly, my own fault in about five different ways, but the net result is still that I didn’t write even one word.

But if days were 40 hours, then I’d still have tons of time to write today.

On the other hand, if that was the case, it’d be even more time before my new phone could arrive here, and it’s actually rather unsafe to drive around without a cell phone, so…

Well, maybe we can coax them to switch over to 40 hour days after I replace my phone…

Book Report: Ascension

Published February 15, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

All right, so this time I’ve tackled challenge #17, “A sci fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author.”

I decided to go with this one in February because the heroine is, well, if there was a movie, she’d be played by an African-American actress.  (This being sci-fi, if these humans have any connection with Earth, it was so far back in their society’s collective past that they’ve essentially forgotten about it.)  The author, as you might guess by her last name, is of Asian ancestry, so in that sense it’s actually not appropriate for Black History Month.  Also it lacks, you know, history.  But the book I’ll be borrowing from the library today actually does have history and is appropriate, so that’s something, yeah?

Uh, right, but about this book.  This was a debut novel, according to Goodreads (and why would it lie?), and it’s a very impressive one.  The heroine/narrator, Alana Quick, is a “sky surgeon,” an engineer who works on starships, but thanks to the combination of an extreme economic downswing and the presence of the magic-like technology of the “othersiders,” people who literally came through a rift from another dimension, there aren’t many repair jobs to be had.  And Alana has more financial needs than most, because she — and her aunt, who’s her partner at their repair shop — has a particularly horrible degenerative disease called Mel’s Disorder which leaves Alana in pretty much constant pain, and if she doesn’t constantly take her preventative medication, the disorder will take over, destroying her muscular control to the extent that within a few short years her perfectly functioning mind would be trapped in a shell of useless, agonized flesh.  Alana’s sister Nova, however, is a “spirit guide,” a possessor of psychic abilities, whose powers and job take so long to become fully clear to the reader that I feel like if I go into any detail, I’ll be spoiling things.  The important thing is that Nova makes a lot of money, and at the start of the novel, Alana rather resents her, especially in that Nova actually owns the building that houses Alana’s repair shop/home, and has the gall to charge her own sister rent.  (Not that Nova is threatening to evict them, of course.  Instead, she’s threatening to forgive them their back rent, which would carry a heavy toll in pride and guilt.)  Then the Tangled Axon lands at Alana’s shop, looking for Nova.  Nova’s on vacation, and doesn’t want to be disturbed, but the Tangled Axon crew is determined to find her, and the ship calls out to Alana in a way that she’s never encountered before, so she decides to stow away on the ship, hoping they’ll hire her on as the ship’s engineer if she helps them talk to her sister.  They’re not looking for Nova for themselves, but for a powerful othersider named Birke, because they want Birke to do something for them, and they hope Nova will be the leverage they need to make her do it.  Alana agrees to help, but they’ve no sooner gotten Nova aboard the Tangled Axon than an act of unspeakable horror is committed, and the Tangled Axon crew is framed for it.  They’re left racing against both enforcers and the clock, trying to get to Birke before it’s too late.

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MLM No “F” – Worrying

Published February 12, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

You ever think “yeah, this is it; I’m going to be sacked any day now” or something like that?

That’s what’s been going through my mind lately.

I think I’m just being kept around until my exhibit opens, so that I can be the one to go down when the board hates it and/or it causes a publicity nightmare.  (It’s already two weeks late in opening.  Not really anything I could have done about it — display cases needed to be bought, and that’s not something I’m authorized to do — but I could and likely will still be assigned the blame.)

Were I being told the truth about that, it wouldn’t bother me so much.

Only I’m totally not.  Every time I bring the subject up to my co-workers, they assure me that I’m being paranoid and that’d never happen.

I don’t know why they think I’d believe that.  I’m totally untrained to hold this job, and I suck at it.

Why wouldn’t they send me packing?

I mean, I don’t even know why they didn’t do it ages ago.


 

Book Report: Let’s Talk About Love

Published February 8, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

I can’t believe it took me over a week to read this book.  (Especially when you consider that it took me half that time to read a book published in 1818, compared to this book published 200 years later.)  This was my selection for Challenge #10 “A romance novel by or about a person of color.”  And I think the big take-away here is that I really don’t like the romance genre.  Last year’s challenge to read an LGBTQ+ romance worked out great for me, because the book wasn’t actually about the romance:  it was about who’s trying to use magic to force Lucien Vaudrey to kill himself, why, can Stephen Day stop them in time, and when are the two of them finally going to start having the hot sex the back of the book promised?  (*cough*)  But this one…is really mostly just about interpersonal relationships, and that wasn’t enough to hold my interest for very long at a stretch.

So, there are two reasons I picked this particular book to read.  One, the lead is a biromantic asexual, which is totally awesome.  Two, that cover:  that is a fantastic cover, though it turns out to be a misleading one.  Misleading for two reasons, one big and one small.  The small reason is that our lead, Alice, has long hair that she keeps in braids, so the hair is all wrong in that picture.  (Like I said, very small reason.)  The big reason is that it’s tonally misleading:  that cover image promises a heroine who never lets anything bring her down, and always greets her life with an “I’m on top of everything” smile on her face.  That is not what Alice is like for the majority of this book.  She spends most of the book in a deep emotional funk for one reason or another.  If I’d known that was coming, I might have picked another book.  (Then again, I might not have:  it’s rare enough to come across an asexual lead in a book at all, let alone in a romance.)

But let’s talk about the story for a bit.  We start out as Alice is being dumped by her roommate/girlfriend, Margot, who just can’t stand the fact that Alice only has sex with her to make Margot happy, and clearly isn’t getting anything out of it.  Margot doesn’t understand — and doesn’t even want to — what it’s like being asexual, and does (of course) suggest that Alice should see a doctor about it.  That scene actually made me think of a movie trailer I saw recently (I think it was called Love, Simon, or something like that), for a movie about a high school boy who’s contemplating coming out (I guess?):  the trailer overall was mostly very generic and nothing I hadn’t seen before, but there was one really good bit where the boy wonders why only gay people have to “come out,” and then there’s a fantasy sequence of kids coming out to their parents as straight.  But the thing is, that wasn’t right:  it’s not just homosexuals who have to come out, it’s everyone who isn’t cis heterosexual, including asexuals.  (Though it’s less necessary for asexuals, particularly aromantic ones.  Most people aren’t going to know the difference between aro-ace and just-plain-out-of-luck-in-love, not when it’s in someone they don’t know super-closely.  I’ve known my (sort of) boss at work for longer than I’ve understood my own sexuality, but she had no idea about it until she and my other hetero co-worker were discussing the plans for the other hetero co-worker’s upcoming wedding, and asked me what I’d like my wedding to be like.  I mean, she was a little awkward in phrasing it (I am over 40 and unmarried, after all), but she was still really surprised when I explained that a wedding was an impossibility for me because I was aromantic and asexual.  (And yes, btw, I do only have two heterosexual co-workers.  Admittedly, I only have four total co-workers, but still.))

Um, sorry, got side-tracked there.  Anyway, so Alice spends a few chapters moping about Margot so heartlessly leaving her, and then, just as Romeo forgets his Rosaline after he meets Juliet, Alice practically forgets Margot ever existed after she lays eyes on her non-decoy love interest, Takumi.  (It’s not a perfect comparison.  Among other reasons, because this is not a tragedy and no one kills themselves, but also because Margot is still brought up a few times after Takumi is introduced.)  Takumi is described as having a divinely perfect appearance, but without much in the way of details (so I tried to imagine a twenty-something Gackt, because that sounds pretty damned divine to me) and as soon as she sees him, Alice starts acting like the stereotypical love-struck teenager.  Which, of course, she is.  She’s aware that she’s acting like a cliche, and doesn’t like it, but doesn’t manage to stop acting that way.  Maybe that’s how it really is when you fall for someone?  Having never experienced it, I couldn’t say.

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IWSG – Genre

Published February 7, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

(Pre-writing to make sure I don’t forget!)

My writing life has been a bit slow of late, so I don’t have any fresh…well, anything, really…to talk about, so I’ll just stick to the optional question for the month:

February 7 question – What do you love about the genre you write in most often?

It’s sort of an awkward question for me right now, because lately (like, for the last year and a half) what I’ve been writing has been fanfiction.  And I’m not sure if that counts as a genre.  (I’m fairly sure it doesn’t, regardless of NaNo categories.)  So what genre have I been writing in?  I guess it’s either the catch-all “fiction”, romance or…is there such a genre as “recent historical fiction”?  Or rather, “recent alternate history” fiction?  Because the movie I’ve been writing fanfic of is set in 1984, but it’s not the real 1984, as it’s a bit more dystopian (without going full-on Orwell), and I have a tendency to play up the dystopian angle, though not enough to make it a work of dystopian fiction.

I suppose, for the sake of argument, I’ll pretend that “recent alternate history” is a genre.

I have to admit that I have a lot of fun with that, playing around with the early ’80s, not only in revisiting the decade (though the movie’s 1984 is also a lot less colorful than the 1980s I remember (admittedly, I was only 9 in 1984)) but also playing around with all sorts of things we all know came after.  For example, in one I wrote a while back, the reporter who’s one of the central characters of the movie managed to write a story that broke the fictional president’s reign of terror.  (Okay, okay, “reign of terror” is an exaggeration, but…for cryin’ out loud, there’s a scene in the movie where there are three police-types standing on the streets of New York with freakin’ assault rifles, and everyone ignores them, because that’s their “normal.”)  Because that happened about 1986 or so, I figured that made a safe bet that 1988’s election would go differently, and I could make a passing reference to “President Dukakis” in a scene that took place around 1990 or 1991.  (Admittedly, there’s no real reason to assume Dukakis would still have gotten the Democratic nomination in such a different 1988 primary race, but I figured “why not?”  Considering it was just a single passing reference, I didn’t see any reason to research the other contenders for the nomination to decide if someone else would have been more likely in the atmosphere left behind by a president whose corruption caused his own self-destruction.)

Still, as much as I love doing stuff like that, I guess that’s all secondary to the romance…which is more than a little weird, considering that I’m aromantic and don’t actually like romance as a genre.  It’s just that Curt and Arthur are so perfect together and I can’t help wanting to write about them somehow finding a happy ending together, despite their coming from such different worlds!  (Of course, the romance is the weakest angle of my already weak writing, what with having zero experience (not to mention being female), but…well, I’ve come to understand a few of the things I do a lot that are most absurd, and I plan not to do them anymore, and hopefully I can even excise them from some of my unposted works that are still waiting for editing, so that’s something, anyway.)

Prior to getting addicted to Velvet Goldmine fanfic, I used to write mostly various types of fantasy.  For that, it’s easy to say what I loved:  getting to utterly ignore reality, and create a new set of rules for my little fictional world to follow.  Admittedly, I frequently depended on pre-existing rule sets (like the set of novel-length works set in the Heroic Age of Greece, starring the offspring of three of the most important and famous of the Greeks who fought at Troy) but I still had more ability to tweak reality to suit me, and as long as I was consistent in that tweaking throughout the work, it was okay, you know?

Getting to create a whole new world, even if it’s only a tiny bit different from reality, is definitely my favorite part of writing all around.  I lack the descriptive ability to make others fully grasp what I’ve imagined for my fictional worlds, but my writing is pretty much just for me, anyway.  (I’ve only twice tried to actually publish anything, both times quite abortively.  I’m going to do a half-hearted self-epub of this past November’s NaNo once I’ve polished it up, but for very different reasons than one normally publishes anything.)

Sorry about yesterday

Published February 6, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

I’m sorry I totally dropped the ball and didn’t do a “Missing Letter Monday.”  (I really need to start getting those up in advance again…)  I’ll just pick up again next week.  I’d like to briefly explain what happened, but in the interest of laziness, I shall copy-and-paste the explanation I just posted on my other blog:

It starts out, of course, that it is that time of month, and a particularly bad one.  So, I’m a bit more hormonal than usual.  And when I was at the bookstore yesterday, I happened to find a new volume of one of my favorite manga, which I decided to read in the bath…and on the last two pages of the volume, it looked like my favorite character got shot in the face.  (Such violence is not super-common in that manga, but not as uncommon as I’d like.  However, the victim has never been such a long-standing character before; normally, if a good guy is killed, it’s someone who’s only just been set up in that arc.)  For the first time ever, I went to the publisher’s website and followed their links to buy a single chapter of the next volume (they publish them online now within days of their release in Japan, but at $2 a chapter for digital only, that more than a little sucks) because no way was I going to wait goodness only knows how long to find out if the author was just screwing with us and he was fine, or if it was a horrible, horrible, evil thing and he’d been killed.  It turned out to be a little of both:  he wasn’t killed, but over the process of that chapter his closest friend (my second favorite character) was brutally slaughtered, giving up his own life to protect him.  After I finished sobbing like a little child, I called my brother and went over to his place for pizza and light, funny stuff to distract me.  On getting back, I wasn’t in the right state of mind to try and communicate like a human being, so I forwent my Monday features on both blogs.

was going to follow that explanation up with more a more detailed reaction to Persuasion, or to get going on my next review (though I still haven’t finished the book) only I don’t really have enough time before I have to leave to get lunch before the movie (tryin’ to make the most of my weekend, here!) so I’ll just post this as-is and do another post for those things.  (Or just edit the Persuasion post when I have a chance.)

Book Report: Persuasion

Published January 31, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

In perfect time, I’ve finished reading my selection for Challenge #1, “A book published posthumously.”  I had some other books I was contemplating, until I was reminded that two of Jane Austen’s novels were only published posthumously.  Then I realized it had to be one of them.  (I will admit that I selected Persuasion over Northanger Abbey because a look at the table of contents showed that Persuasion had seven fewer chapters.  And since I really wanted to be able to start on February-appropriate reading come the first, that was a good thing.)

This cover image is not representative of what I read, though:  one of the first things I bought for my first Kindle when I got it was a collected works of Jane Austen.  (Also a collected works of Shakespeare, and a massive collection of ancient plays and epics.  (Because who wouldn’t want seven or eight excruciatingly stilted 19th century translations of the Odyssey, most of them using Roman names?))  None of the collected works covers on Goodreads matched the one I had, and after actually looking at the cover, I decided I was better off not showing it anyway.  (Seriously, it shows a woman in a bright red dress with a scandalously low neckline.  She looks like someone who would be a bar wench in a particularly salacious adaptation of The Three Musketeers, not someone at all appropriate to English drawing room dramas.)  It would have been appropriate to use the cover of the 1909 version whose illustrations were included in an exceptionally low-res manner, but Goodreads didn’t have that, either.  (Not exactly surprising…)

Aaaaanyway, before I get to the review, two things.  First, a basic idea of the plot:  our protagonist is one Miss Anne Elliot, still unmarried at 27.  She and her older sister Elizabeth (who couldn’t be less like Elizabeth Bennet if she tried!) are both unwed because of failed arrangements in the past; in Elizabeth’s case, nothing was ever firm, and he just withdrew from her society, whereas Anne was actually engaged to Frederick Wentworth, and was persuaded to break the engagement, as he (a mere naval Lieutenant) was beneath her station.  Because, you see, her father, Sir Walter Elliot, is a baronet and excessively proud of his title…even if he no longer has any money to go with it.  To compound their unmarried state, their younger sister, Mary, not only has a husband, but two little brats — I mean, boys — to take care of.  When the Elliot family finances sink to the point that the best way to keep them from going bankrupt is for them to move from their family manor to Bath and take in a lodger in the manor house in the meantime, Anne doesn’t go to Bath right away with her father and sister (having bad associations with the place), but instead stays with her sister and then with her great friend, Lady Russell, who had been a close friend of her late mother.  The lodger in the manor house is one Admiral Croft and his wife, who happens to be the sister of Anne’s former fiance, who is now Captain Wentworth, having made not only his career but also his fortune in the Napoleonic wars.  I’m sure you can guess where it goes from there, but the path it takes from point A to point B was not at all what I was expecting.

But before I can talk about that, there’s the other thing that needs to come before the review.  And that is a brief explanation of my history with Jane Austen.  Because it’s rather odd.  You see, I count Pride and Prejudice as one of my favorite novels of all times, but I’ve only read it a couple of times, and this is the first time I’ve read any other Austen.  (Though I’ve purposely avoided reading Sense and Sensibility because I love the movie so much, and I’m afraid that if I read the book then I won’t like the movie anymore.)

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Book(?) Report: Sparkler, Year One

Published January 26, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

So, to start with, a little background.  Sparkler is a monthly electronic magazine, modeled after the massive Japanese manga monthlys (the most famous in the West being Shonen Jump) and aimed primarily at a female readership, though I think male readers would enjoy it, too.  I became aware of the magazine when I stumbled across their Kickstarter to support Year Five.  (I shudder to think how much of my money Kickstarter has redistributed at this point…)  I ended up backing it at a tier that not only gave me a subscription to Year Five, but also gave me all the back issues.

All twelve covers!

That was actually a mistake, I think; I should have gone with “read as ebooks” rather than “read as a magazine.”  Trying to remember all the ongoing plots is sort of frustrating, and I think I was probably losing a lot of details in my head in the meantime….

Anyway, so my overall review is “yeah, this is a very cool idea, and I think when I’ve read the other four years, I’ll definitely feel like it was worth my money…though I think I may download as many of the free-to-members ebooks as I can to catch up rather than just counting on the back issues.”  But I thought I’d give you some individual reviews of the titles that I’ve read enough of to have a good grip on.  (Like, see the really cool cover on Issue 12, there, with the gorgeous art?  I couldn’t possibly review that one, ’cause I’ve only read the one chapter.)

I’ll start with the one that finished first.

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