The main character in Piers Anthony’s Refugee is named Hope Hubris, something that doesn’t take as long to get used to as one might think. Hope is a rThe main character in Piers Anthony’s Refugee is named Hope Hubris, something that doesn’t take as long to get used to as one might think. Hope is a refugee from one of Jupiter’s moons, forced to flee with his family toward Jupiter when an impulsive act of violence against a wealthy white boy leaves his Hispanic parents no reasonable alternative. With his parents and two sisters, he boards a space bubble, a crude transport designed for utility, not comfort or speed, and his family is mistreated before it even blasts off: the space bubble is overbooked, overloaded, and under-provisioned.
The passengers learn almost immediately how vulnerable their craft is when it is boarded by space pirates who do horrible violence to the refugees. The bubble is easy pickings, as it has no real defenses, and its occupants have nowhere to turn for help. The entire novel, except for one lengthy sequence on the surface of another moon, is a series of encounters with pirate ships, each taking its share of whatever the harried refugees have to offer. It’s not pretty, and it gets progressively uglier with each episode.
I’ve read about ten Anthony novels, which is a tiny dent in his bibliography—I count thirty-nine published books just in the 1980s—and his works have always had a strange, dark tint about sex and violence. Mostly sex. Most of it is hinted at in punny titles and the freedom that made-up worlds in fantasy and science fiction afford, but this novel is many shades darker, with such cynicism about sex that I’m not sure I’ll be able to finish this six-novel series. While it does not glorify violent sexual encounters, the cynical telling is nearly too much to endure, which I suspect is the point: these refugees have to confront some of the worst evil in others and the survivalist instincts in themselves just for the tiniest hope of a better life for their children, and of course not all of them will make it.
Still, the telling seems to cross a line from horrifying to fascinating. I believe quite firmly that some time before they enter their teens, children need a close-up look at a dead dog at the side of a road. They have to hold their literally morbid curiosity up against their realization of death’s finality, and come away with some kind of vague sense of the value of life. It’s a terrible thing to ponder, this need to look right at death in order to understand life, and Anthony seems to feel this way also about rape vs. sex, sex vs. love, and even bodies vs. people. Is it an artistic statement, or chilling titillation? Or is Anthony making the case that, like children unable to look away from the dead dog, we are unable to confront our darkest truths without feeling the same thrill?
I could make a legitimate case for any of these possibilities, but I’m not sure I want to. It’s practically pornographic, the way Anthony engages our emotions in dealing with this stuff, and I just don’t have the heart for it anymore. I’ve already decided I will at least begin book two, Mercenary, but I’ve hit my threshold for cynicism. A dip below this line, and I think I’m done.
Refugee is an interesting story with a mostly compelling narrative arc and characters I really care about, but a person can handle only so much revulsion while rooting for characters to rise above this revulsion. For me, it’s this much....more
I love dragons, ancient prophecies, and motley crews of talented adventurers, but they promulgate a sense of sameness in a genre whose very title – faI love dragons, ancient prophecies, and motley crews of talented adventurers, but they promulgate a sense of sameness in a genre whose very title – fantasy – defies sameness. So a novel like Jaclyn Moriarty’s A Corner of White, with its imaginative story and nary a sorcerer, is a nice reminder that speculative fiction can be so much more.
This is not to say that the novel is lacking tropes familiar to fans of the form. It’s got spells, creatures who don’t exist in real life, and a this-world-that-world construct to place it determinedly in the realm of the fantastic. Still, it’s the author’s remarkably creative story that impresses most, and the way otherworldly elements serve the development of two main characters as they exist in a brilliant, deliberate unfolding of events whose anticipation without drawn-out suspense is as savory as its eventual quasi-resolution.
Madeleine never thought she’d find herself in a small apartment in Cambridge where her mother takes sewing jobs to keep them fed and sheltered, not when they are both used to a jet-set life in the finest hotels in the world’s glamorous cities. She is regularly reminded of how far her life has tumbled, her mother set on being a contestant on a game show as her best prospect for a better life. She has a few friends with whom she is homeschooled, but she has so little in common with them that she keeps them at arm’s length, hoping instead for some kind of return to the privileged life she once knew.
Elliot has returned home to the small village of Bonfire, where he is something of a local hero. His prowess on the fields of play makes him popular with his schoolmates, while his initiative in fixing others’ problems endears him to teachers, law enforcement, and other citizens. Yet even while the villagers admire him, they whisper pityingly behind his back, for he has recently suffered tragedy and loss in seemingly tawdry circumstances he refuses to acknowledge.
Madeleine and Elliot navigate the unfairnesses of teenhood with its attendant, universal joys and sorrows, while dealing with additional sorrows unique to each. Readers might predict some of the plot’s hinted-at certainties, but they will not predict how they arrive at those certainties, and this is where half the novel’s beauty lies.
The other half is in its lovely narrative prose. It is by turns clever:
Where are they now? she thought. Her iPod, her iPhone, her iPad, the I-ness of her life? Her mind stretched around in its memories, searching for her things: She saw her phone on the hotel bedside table in Paris; her iPad in her Louis Vuitton urban satchel; her iPod slipping from her pocket in the restaurant, the night before she ran away.
We sparkled and glittered and flew through the world, but it was only an illusion of flight. We were trapped in the orbit of a man who was no longer truly there.
If the story doesn’t break your heart, the writing will.
I turned the pages slowly, savoring every chapter, and although this is the first book in a trilogy, I’m in no hurry to get to the rest of it. In fact, I’m going to read this again before I begin book two. ...more
Tim Kurkjian is my favorite person in baseball. There is nobody else in the wide landscape of sports commentary more knowledgeable, passionate, mystifTim Kurkjian is my favorite person in baseball. There is nobody else in the wide landscape of sports commentary more knowledgeable, passionate, mystified, articulate, or amused by the game, and he is regularly cited as the person at ESPN most beloved by his colleagues. To hear him speak of the game, in either tree or forest view, is to be reminded of the boyish reverence many of us had as youngsters and to temper our sentimentality with the reality of millionaires playing a game in a park.
It’s far too easy to become cynical about professional sports, and baseball in particular, but Kurkjian refuses to go there, even while confronting the disheartening truths any honest fan faces. What I love most about him is the seriousness with which he talks about the game in its own context, while keeping the game in the larger context of real life. In I’m Fascinated by Sacrifice Flies, he begins with a treatise on why baseball is the best game, then follows it with chapters about how difficult it is, how tough the players are, the poetic and musical sounds of the game at the major league level, and other particular interests he has in the game’s deepest crevices.
Much of the book is delivered in quick hits of curious anecdotes: a quick item about a peculiar game’s finish, followed by something funny Buck Showalter once said, followed by a little-known fact about Fenway Park. Some of those quick hits are great:
The Phillies in the 1960s had shortstop Bobby Wine and second baseman Cookie Rojas, a period known as the Days of Wine and Rojas.
Infielder Craig Counsell played parts of sixteen years in the major leagues despite looking like a librarian.
To not look at the data is foolish, but to look at the data as having all the answers is even more foolish. It is a collision of new-school statistics and statisticians against old-school managers, coaches, and instructors. Neither side is right, neither is wrong; there is so much to be gained from listening to both sides.
However, it pains me to say this because there are few things I enjoy in my media consumption more than listening to Kurkjian talk about baseball, but while each little story is fascinating, as grouped together in this collection, they are not very good reading. They lack the rhythm and flow of good baseball writing, which at its best mimics the rising and receding action of a good baseball game. Sloppy editing exacerbates the problem.
There are exceptions. The chapters on superstition and baseball’s idiotic “unwritten rules” are much better structured, with nice progressions of thought and more reflective commentary. Especially strong is his “Obits” chapter, in which he pays tribute to the late Tony Gwynn, Don Zimmer, Earl Weaver, and Mike Flanagan, and I enjoyed an entire chapter about the inside look at the official scoring of baseball, an aspect of the game seldom covered in baseball books.
Tim Kurkjian is famous for being able to recite such painstakingly specific lists at his top ten shortstops in history, or his ten best Yankees of all time. I can relate to his geekiness, for I’ve spent quite a bit of time composing and revising my own lists. Alas, although this is a decent read with a plus fastball and a crippling curve, it has trouble establishing a rhythm and it gets too distracted by the runner at first. It won’t be cracking my list of top ten baseball books. ...more
After four years of undergraduate study (preceded by four years of undergraduate goofing off), I finally graduated with my English degree in 1995. I’dAfter four years of undergraduate study (preceded by four years of undergraduate goofing off), I finally graduated with my English degree in 1995. I’d avoided English as a major for a long time, because even though it had always been my best subject, I’d worried that formal study would damage my lifelong love of reading. It didn’t do that, but for those last two years, it definitely turned reading into a life-sucking, non-paying job, so I spent the first couple of post-graduation months happily avoiding books.
When it was finally time to throw myself back into the pages, the first two novels I attacked were Caleb Carr’s The Alienist and Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate, both of them worthy of the honor. I enjoyed them both a great deal, but the wistful, sensual magic of the Esquivel novel was like a gentle, warm reminder of why I loved reading and why I’d finally settled on English as my major. It will always have a special place in my heart because of when it came along in my life and how it welcomed me into the resumption of my bookworm ways.
That was twenty-one years ago, and I hadn’t read another Esquivel novel since, until I was presented with the opportunity to read her latest, Pierced by the Sun, a month before its release. I knew it was time to reacquaint myself.
Lupita is a police officer in a city in Mexico. When a local official is murdered while she directs traffic nearby, she becomes wrapped up in the investigation. The turmoil weakens her enough to let in the demons she’s tenuously kept at bay for some time. She has been the victim of abuse, at the hands of more than one man, and she has in turn abused others around her. She relapses into self-destructive behavior while continuing to seek peace in the menial mundanities of her everyday life while piecing together the circumstances surrounding the murder.
Titles of chapters all begin with “Lupita Loved,” as in “Lupita Loved to Iron,” “Lupita Loved Booze,” and “Lupita Loved to Dance,” and the titles are quick images of this conflicted woman tortured by her past, wrestling with her present, and still finding love and beauty in bringing life up from the soil, or gazing at the stars as they tell their stories from the heavens. Esquivel has something to say about modern Mexico, and while it’s a bleak picture, it’s made up of millions of beautiful things, some of which point to some kind of hope for something better.
Esquivel’s prose is mostly spare, much as it is in Like Water for Chocolate. Sentences are short and simple, but they find elegance in the details they highlight, and in the way they follow each other, a musical style that’s pleasing and somehow exotic, as when she sees a murder suspect in the dance hall on Friday night:
Lupita had three options: go after the man and arrest him, go back to Captain Martinez and tell him about it so he could handle the arrest, or go find some cocaine and enjoy the rest of the night. She chose the last one.
Pierced by the Sun is a short novel that takes its time, both qualities I appreciate in a good story, but the writer stops one chapter short of a satisfying read. Lupita is given a chance to forgive herself, and the narrative voice expands, rather abruptly, into a larger statement about Mexico, but then it leaves us there when one last image of Lupita, perhaps ironing shirts, or maybe making breakfast for a lover, would have brought the arc back to earth. If the novel is meant only to be a treatise on Mexico’s straying from its wonderful history, I suppose it’s fine as it is, but then it’s a waste of a good story. If it’s also meant to give us this character and this story in this time and this place, it owes us a better conclusion, and this is the novel’s only real shortcoming....more
I have a feeling I picked the wrong novel for my introduction to Dave Eggers.
The Circle is five hundred fairly quick pages of good pacing and good (noI have a feeling I picked the wrong novel for my introduction to Dave Eggers.
The Circle is five hundred fairly quick pages of good pacing and good (not great) narrative about Mae Holland, a woman just out of college who accepts a job at the Circle, a Google-like tech firm. The Circle began as either a search engine or a social media platform, but has since grown to include all manner of services enabled by its accumulation of information about its users. Geolocation, messaging, commerce, archiving, life streaming, entertainment, and quantified living services (among countless others) combine to attract users to its functionality while driving the company’s mission of knowing everything that can be known.
Mae cannot believe how fortunate she is to work at such a bleeding-edge company, on a campus providing everything she could possibly need, personally or professionally. She has onsite healthcare, free samples of consumer products not yet available to the public, nightly entertainment, free meals, and even on-campus housing for nights when it’s just more convenient to stay at work than to drive home. Her college roomie is among the firm’s elite, affording Mae a status the other newbies can’t claim, and although the adjustment to this new work environment is tougher than she predicted, she is determined to do what she’s asked in order to move up from her customer experience position. Throw in a couple of potential love interests and an increasingly visible online presence, and her increased alienation from her family seems a small sacrifice.
The Circle is Brave New World and Animal Farm for the 21st Century, with a dash of Candide thrown in, as Mae plays the wide-eyed apprentice learning to embrace the Circle’s “Secrets are Lies” doctrine. While Eggers spins his cautionary tale, he seems to be worried that the stuff of a good novel might distract from his almost allegorical message. His main character is well conceived but poorly developed, so that she comes across as admirable, pitiful, and insufferable according to the needs of the plot, rather than as the driving force behind the plot. Because the power of the Circle is greater than the personality of the character, we care about Mae but find her difficult to like, and while that may be intentional, it makes for an unsatisfying read.
Mae’s shortcomings as a main character might still have worked with a more intricate or suspenseful plot, but Eggers plays it right down the line as might any writer of minimal skill and a casual familiarity with current technology news. The result is overly simplified, with only a nod in the direction of some of the issues’ nuances. Yes, the era of Big Data has some conflicts between utility and privacy, and yes, younger generations seem eager to give their privacy up, but it’s just not as easy as that. Today’s young adults don’t devalue privacy; they merely have a different concept of it, but nowhere does Eggers attempt to see privacy through the eyes of Mae’s generation. Instead, Mae gives up her privacy as this concept is understood by the generation before her, and while that works for the novelist’s intended message for his intended audience, it does little to help us understand either the issue’s many colors or Mae’s real motivations.
In the Circle's parlance, I give it a "Meh."...more
I reviewed this book for RMA, an executive search firm I write for. My review in its entirety (check it out) is here. The gist of my feeling boils dowI reviewed this book for RMA, an executive search firm I write for. My review in its entirety (check it out) is here. The gist of my feeling boils down to this:
Researchers Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones identify the needs of the new workforce, scratching beneath the surface to examine where many firms are merely paying lip service to employee engagement, and highlighting the forces working against authentic engagement. The six qualities of an authentic organization conveniently spell the acronym DREAMS: Difference (celebrates and encourages diversity in all its forms), Radical honesty (strives for what we normally call transparency), Extra value (nurtures personal and professional growth), Authenticity (stands for something), and Meaning (provides meaningful day-to-day work).
Although the authors make a strong case, the strength of their book is in breaking down their concept into easily understood target realms. They are unlikely to convince the opposition to adopt their line of thinking, which means anyone reading the book is probably already sold on the concept. Those who need more convincing will find this offering interesting but impractical. However, leaders who agree with their (well-reasoned) assumptions will find Why Should Anyone Work Here? to be an inspiring guidebook toward redefining the workplace for the new world in which it exists.
As a teen, Rebecca Anderson was known in her small town of Grand Lake, Ohio as a rebel, never in enough trouble to be put away, but in enough to be suAs a teen, Rebecca Anderson was known in her small town of Grand Lake, Ohio as a rebel, never in enough trouble to be put away, but in enough to be suspicious just for hanging around. She’s back with a culinary degree, after a failed marriage to a celebrity chef, to run a gourmet popcorn shop in a tourist-friendly part of town, but she finds that earning the respect and trust of those who knew her when—and everyone knew her when—is difficult, if not impossible.
So when her mentor, the owner of a chocolate shop, is found murdered, it’s not long before people are whispering about her possible involvement. The suspicion is preposterous, but Becca’s fierce independent streak and minimal respect for rules keeps putting her in bad places at bad times. The person who killed her dear friend—and it isn’t her—is still out there, and she’s determined to find out who it is, to protect herself and her reputation.
Author Kristi Abbot has all kinds of fun telling us Becca’s first story. Her playful dialogue and narration had me laughing aloud several times, adding an extra layer of enjoyment to an enjoyable genre:
”As for your latest lifesaving activities, I’m pretty sure you’re protected under the Good Samaritan law.” He looked up at me sharply. “Your actions weren’t willful or wanton, were they?”
“I wasn’t aware I could be wanton pulling someone out of a vehicle.” I hadn’t been wanton in a very long time. I wasn’t even sure I remembered what wanton felt like.
“I’ll take that as a no, then.” He marked something down on his legal pad while muttering, “Not wanton.”
The mystery itself is just north of average, but the character is likeable, and she is developed well enough to make her involvement in solving the mystery more believable than most in this genre. The strength of the writing boosts it an extra half star and makes me eager for a follow-up. ...more