I am super-excited to get to offer up my first giveaway of 2014 here at Opinions of a Wolf. Lots of the indie authors whose books I accepted for review in 2014 also were interested in me hosting a giveaway at the time of my review, so there will be plenty more coming up in the future too.
What You’ll Win: One ebook copy of The Reflections of Queen Snow White by David C. Meredith.
How to Enter: Leave a comment on this post stating your favorite part of the original Snow White fairy tale. Your comment must also contain your EMAIL ADDRESS so you can receive your ebook.
Who Can Enter: INTERNATIONAL
Contest Ends: February 13th. Two weeks from today!
Disclaimer: The winners will have their ebooks sent to them by the author. The blogger is not responsible for sending the books.
Snow White lived decades of her happy-ever-after, but when Charming dies she is sent reeling into a depression. Not even their daughter, Raven’s, upcoming marriage can snap Snow White out of it. When wandering the halls of the castle, desperately seeking to be alone, she re-enters her old step-mother’s quarters. Now covered in dust, she discovers her stepmother’s magic mirror, which she never knew about before. The discovery will have far-reaching consequences.
This is my first read of the 12 indie books I accepted for review here in 2014 (see the whole list). I surprised myself a bit, reaching first for the fantasy, but I was in the perfect mood for a slightly pensive retelling of a fairy tale. The book takes an interesting angle for retelling the story, jumping ahead to Snow White’s elderly years, but it unfortunately doesn’t reimagine Snow White herself quite enough.
The narrative choice of having an elderly Snow White discover her stepmother’s magic mirror that then forces her into introspection on herself and her life is a great idea that works well. We already all know the end of the fairy tale, so flipping it on its head to start at the end addresses that fact head-on. Now the question isn’t, will this fairy tale end the way all the other retellings do. Instead, it looks on a psychological level at the impact of Snow White’s early years on her later ones. It also is an interesting way to address end of life issues. Snow White is elderly and stuck in a bit of a rut. She’s uncertain how to go on without her husband of so many years. These are relevant issues that don’t get addressed often enough in literature, and re-using the Snow White fairy tale to look at them works wonderfully. It thus is a familiar story and setting with a different focus, which is a great tact to take for a fairy tale retelling.
Snow White herself, however, hasn’t been tweaked enough to make for an interesting heroine. I admit, I was hoping for someone who either had found or would find her own strength. The Snow White we see in Disney and other retellings really is a bit of a shrinking violet. This Snow White stays that way. Over and over she is the helpless girl who must be rescued by others. She doesn’t flee the castle, someone else tells her, practically forces her to. She is then saved first by the dwarves and then by Charming. Later in her life, after leaving the official fairy tale, we find that she is a simpering clueless virgin on her wedding night who must be guided by Charming. Then even later she is heinously assaulted by some ladies of her court, and she again must be saved by someone else. Even in the end of her life, she doesn’t pick herself up and continue on. A magic mirror knocks some sense into her. Because fairy tales often remove so much agency from the “good” women in them (only evil women are allowed agency), I prefer to see retellings give the women more agency. Snow White could still have the character flaw of being a bit timid and eventually learn how to save herself. It’s not an all-or-nothing scenario. The way Snow White and her story is presented here reads a bit too traditionally medieval. I want a retelling to take me new places with the character, not extend the same ones.
This issue alone would have led me to give the book 4 stars, but, unfortunately, the book is riddled with spelling and grammar errors. I only marked the most egregious ones, and I still had 12 on my list. Issues such as saying someone laid down in the floor, instead of on the floor (loc 2302), putting the apostrophe in the wrong place (“princes’ tongue” instead of “prince’s tongue” (loc 1315) ), and just flat-out using the wrong word (“followed suite” instead of “followed suit” (loc 1084) ) sorely damaged my enjoyment of the novel. I don’t expect perfection from authors or editors, we are all human, but more than a few errors is something that truly negatively impacts the reading of the novel.
Overall, this retelling of Snow White takes the interesting angle of focusing on the end of her life. This allows the author to explore issues relevant to the elderly, such as losing long-term loved ones and coming to terms with the path your life has taken. Although this plot gives the fairy tale a new focus and extended plot, Snow White herself has not been updated at all. She is still the simpering violet who must be saved by all around her. Some readers may be bothered by the number of errors in the spelling and grammar in the book. Recommended to fans of traditional fairy tales with only a slight twist who won’t be bothered by a lack of editing for spelling and grammar.
3 out of 5 stars
Source: kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review
Book Review: Something Spectacular: The True Story of One Rockette’s Battle with Bulimia by Greta Gleissner (Audiobook narrated by Dina Pearlman)
Greta Gleissner finally achieved her lifelong dream of making a living just from her professional dancing. She landed the prestigious job of being a Rockette in the New York City show. She hoped that this newfound stability and prestige would cure her of her bulimia. What was there to binge and purge about when she was living her dream? But her eating disorder she’d had since a young age won’t just disappear because of her newfound success. Soon, her bulimia is putting her job–and her life–at risk.
I was immediately intrigued by the elements of this eating disorder memoir that make it different from the, sadly, so many others that exist. Greta’s eating disorder peaks in her 20s, not her teens. She was a Rockette, and she’s a lesbian. An eating disorder memoir about someone in their 20s in the dance industry who is also queer was very appealing to me. What I found was a memoir that gives insight to having an eating disorder, the impact of homophobia, and an inside look at the professional dance world told in a non-linear, honest, and engaging manner.
Greta tells her memoir in the framework of a play. There are scenes, acts, overtures, etc… This lets her address the story in a non-linear way that still makes sense. The overture, for instance, shows a dramatic moment when her eating disorder was at full tilt and destroying her life. Then she backs up to the few months before she became a Rockette. The time of auditioning then being a Rockette is interspersed with flashbacks to help us better understand her life. Finally, she enters an inpatient clinic, where we get flashbacks in the context of her therapy. It’s a creative storytelling technique that brings a freshness to her memoir.
Honesty without cruelty to herself or others is a key part of her narrative voice. Greta is straightforward, sometimes grotesquely so, about her bulimia and what it does to her. The eating disorder is not glamorized. Greta takes us down into the nitty-gritty of the illness. In fact, it’s the first bulimia memoir I’ve read that was so vivid and straightforward in its depictions of what the illness is and what it does. In some ways, it made me see bulimia as a bit of a mix between an addiction and body image issues. Greta was able to show both how something that was helping you cope can spiral out of control, as well as how poor self-esteem and body image led her to purging her food.
Greta also is unafraid to tell us about what goes on inside her own mind, and where she sees herself as having mistreated people in the past. I never doubted her honesty. Similarly, although Greta’s parents definitely did some things wrong in how they raised her, Greta strives to both acknowledge the wounds and accept her parents as flawed and wounded in their own ways. You can hear her recovery in how she talks about both them and her childhood. She has clearly done the work to heal past wounds.
The memoir honestly made me grateful the dancing I did as a child never went the professional route. It’s disturbing how pervasive body policing and addictions in general are in the dance world, at least as depicted by Greta. Similarly, it eloquently demonstrates how parents’ issues get passed down to the children, and sometimes even exacerbated. Greta’s mother was a non-professional dancer who was constantly dieting. Greta also loved dancing but her mother’s body image issues got passed down to her as well. Food was never just food in her household.
One shortcoming of the memoir is that Greta never fully addresses her internalized homophobia or how she ultimately overcomes it and marries her wife. The book stops rather abruptly when Greta is leaving the halfway house she lived in right after her time in the inpatient clinic. There is an epilogue where she briefly touches on the time after the halfway house, mentions relapse, and states that she ultimately overcame her internalized homophobia and met her now wife. However, for the duration of her time in the clinic and the halfway house, she herself admits she wasn’t yet ready to address her sexuality or deal with her internalized homophobia. It was clear to me reading the book that at least part of her self-hatred that led to her bulimia was due to her issues with her sexuality. Leaving out how she dealt with that and healed felt like leaving out a huge chunk of the story I was very interested in. Perhaps it’s just too painful of a topic for her to discuss, but it did feel as if the memoir gave glimpses and teasers of it, discussing how she would only make out with women when very drunk for instance, but then the issue is never fully addressed in the memoir.
Similarly, leaving out the time after the halfway house was disappointing. I wanted to see her finish overcoming and succeeding. I wanted to hear the honesty of her relapses that she admits she had and how she overcome that. I wanted to hear about her dating and meeting her wife and embracing her sexuality. Hearing about the growth and strength past the initial part in the clinic and halfway house is just as interesting and engaging as and more inspiring than her darker times. I wish she had told that part of the story too.
The audiobook narrator, Dina Pearlman, was a great choice for the memoir. Her voice reads as gritty feminine, which is perfect for the story. She also handles some of the asides and internal diatribes present in mental illness memoirs with great finesse.
Overall, this is a unique entry in the eating disorder memoir canon. It gives the nitty gritty details of bulimia from the perspective of a lesbian suffering from homophobia within the framework of the dance world. Those who might be triggered should be aware that specific height and weight numbers are given, as well as details on binge foods and purging episodes. It also, unfortunately, doesn’t fully address how the author healed from the wounds of homophobia. However, her voice as a queer person is definitely present in the memoir. Recommended to those with an interest in bulimia in adults, in the dance world, or among GLBTQ people.
4 out of 5 stars
In an alternate late 20th century, the Allies are still at a cold war with the Soviets. The Allies’ best scientist, Martino, is working on a secret project called K-88 when there is an explosion. The first rescuers to him are Soviet. The norm is for Allied prisoners to ultimately be returned across the line. But the Soviets claim that Martino’s skull and arm were badly damaged and return him with a metal, robotic head and arm. Is this man really Martino, or is he a Soviet plant?
I was excited to read this book because the idea of a transhumanist/cyborg American made that way by the Soviets has a James Bond like appeal. Unfortunately, it feels a bit more dated than I was anticipating, as well as compared to other older scifi, and doesn’t fully address some questions it raises.
Immediately, there are a couple of plot holes that aren’t addressed until close to the end of the book, which made it a bit frustrating to read. First, why did the Allies put their best scientist in a lab on the border with the Soviets? The answer to this, given at the end of the book, is pretty flimsy, and only works if you are willing to believe the Allies are very stupid. Second, it makes sense that they can’t verify Martino’s identity with his fingerprints, because the Soviets could have taken off his remaining arm and put it on someone else. However, why can’t they verify who he is with DNA? Presumably, he has some living relatives somewhere they could compare to. DNA was discovered in the 1860s (source) so to never even address why they don’t use it is a bit bizarre. The book mentions toward the end that Martino’s parents and uncle are dead, but you can conduct kinship tests using dead bodies. It still baffles me that the government in the book didn’t simply dig up Martino’s father and run a DNA test. Even if DNA testing wasn’t widely known of when the book was published, one would hope a scifi writer could see its future implications, imagine the applicability, and address the scenario. The fact that DNA wasn’t addressed at all, and Martino’s place near the Soviet border wasn’t satisfactorily addressed really removed a lot of the intensity and interest one should feel from the situation.
Another way Budrys showed a lack of imagination for the future is in the strict gender roles and lack of women in the military or the sciences in the future he has envisioned. Women are only seen in the book in strict 1950s gender roles. As wives and mothers and not once in the military or in the sciences. People in the sciences are referred to as the “men” not even leaving room for the idea of a woman in science. I know this is a symptom of the times, but I also know that more progressive and forward-thinking scifi was written in the same decade. It was a bit jarring to me to read a scifi that excluded women so much, when I’m so used to women being present, at least nominally, in scifi.
All of that said, the writing of individual scenes was quite lovely. Budrys evokes setting and tensity well. I particularly enjoyed the scene of Maybe-Martino running through the streets of New York City, which reminded me of an old noir film. Budrys also shows a good understanding of what it is like for people who are incredibly highly intelligent. He writes Martino at a young age as both brilliant in science but also dumb in interpersonal relations. The fact that he got this and demonstrated it in the 1950s is to be commended. There is also some solid commentary on the American education system and a desire for it to encourage more independent thought.
Look–these guys aren’t morons. They’re pretty damned bright, or they wouldn’t be here. But the only way they’ve ever been taught to learn something is to memorize it. If you throw a lot of new stuff at them in a hurry, they’ll still memorize it–but they haven’t got time to think. (loc 9163)
Overall, this is an interesting concept that wasn’t fully fleshed out nor the possible weaknesses fully addressed. It is definitely a scifi of its time, with its hyper-focus on the Soviets and the Cold War that could almost feel kitschy today. A short read with an interesting premise, albeit a lack of female scientists, soldiers, or government workers. Recommended to scifi fans who enjoy some old-fashioned red scare in their reads and don’t need the science to be perfect.
3 out of 5 stars
In an alternate 2010, the world is slowly falling into disarray, partially due to terrorism, but mostly due to a new deadly illness. SLP makes the sufferer an insomniac, unable to sleep for years, until they fall into a state of insanity known as the suffering. The sleepless, as those with the illness are known, change the structure of society. Movie theaters are now open 24/7, there’s an increase in sales of odd and illicit things, as the sleepless get bored. Most importantly, the sleepless have moved much of their energy into online MMORPGs. Some spending countless hours gold farming there, making a good buck with all their hours of alertness.
Park, an old-fashioned cop, is determined to save the structure of society, one bust at a time. He’s committed to his work, in spite of his wife being sleepless and being increasingly unable to care for their infant daughter. So when his boss asks him to go undercover to look for people illegally selling the one drug that can ease the pain of the sleepless–dreamer–he agrees.
Jasper is an elderly ex-military private investigator without much of an eye for sticking to the rule of the law who is asked by a client to hunt down and return to her a thumb drive that was stolen. He slowly discovers that that thumb drive ended up in the middle of much more than some art thieves and finds himself sucked into the world of illicit dreamer.
My partner and I both enjoy a good noir story, so when we saw this summary on Audible, we thought it would make an entertaining listen for our 12 hour holiday road trip. The story was so bad, we could only take it for about an hour at a time and eventually just turned it off so I could read out loud to him from a different book. I eventually soldiered on, though, because I honestly just had to finish it so I could review it. In what should be a fast-paced noir, there is instead an overwrought amount of description of unimportant things that slow what could have been an interesting plot down to a crawl.
Noir as a genre is a thriller that generally features a hard-boiled detective (sometimes a hard-boiled criminal). It’s fast-paced and usually short featuring a lot of grit and mean streets. One thing Huston does that puts an interesting twist on the noir is he incorporates both a cop who is being forced to turn detective and a criminal-style private investigator. He features both sorts of main character. This intrigued me from the beginning. However, the writing includes far too much description of unimportant things for a crime thriller. For instance, there is an at least 5 minutes long description of a computer keyboard. I could literally space out for a few minutes and come back to the audiobook that was playing the entire time and miss literally nothing. It would still be describing the same chair. This really slows the plot down.
On top of the overly descriptive writing, the narration is overwrought, like a stage actor trying too hard. The best explanation I can make for the narration is, if you have ever seen Futurama, the narration switches back and forth between being Calculon and being Hedonbot. Now, I admit, the audiobook narrators played these parts perfectly. In fact, I had to check to see if they’re the same voice actors as Calculon and Hedonbot (they’re not). I really think the audiobook narrators are what saved the story enough to keep me reading. I kept laughing at the visual of Calculon and Hedonbot doing this overwrought noir. But that is clearly not what makes for a good noir. The tone and writing style were all wrong for the plot.
In addition to the writing style, there’s the plot. In this world that Huston has imagined, gamers have become all-important. When people go sleepless, they become intense gamers. If they don’t do this then they become zombie-like criminals. I don’t think this is a realistic imagining of what would actually happen if a huge portion of the population became permanent insomniacs. Not everyone is a gamer or a criminal. There’s a lot more options in the world than that. Additionally, in this alternate 2010, the art world now revolves around MMORPGs as well. The art work that is now sold is thumb drives of the characters that people make in the games. There is a long speech in the book about how making a character in an MMORPG is art. Yes, somepeople might think that. But it is incredibly doubtful that the entire world would suddenly overnight start viewing character building in an MMORPG as an art form. I won’t explain how, because it’s a spoiler, but the gamers also come into play in the seedy underworld of illegal drugs. At the expense of a plot that follows the logic of the world the author has created, gamers are made to be inexplicably all-important.
I also must point out that the science in this book is really shaky. SLP was originally a genetic disease that suddenly becomes communicable. That’s not how diseases work. Communicable and genetic diseases are different, they don’t suddenly morph into one or the other. Additionally, in the real world, there’s no way an illness would be given a scientific name that is an abbreviation for the common name (SLP for sleepless). Think about swine flu. The common name is swine flu, the scientific name is H1N1. Similarly, the drug to treat SLP’s official name is DR33M3R, which is just the street name, dreamer, in leetspeak. This isn’t fiction based in true science.
One thing I did appreciate in the book is that the semi-criminal private investigator, Jasper, is gay. He’s extremely macho, ex-military, and he bangs his also macho helicopter pilot. I like the stereotype-breaking characterization of Jasper. It’s nice to see a gay man given such a strong role in a thriller.
Overall, this alternate 2010 noir gets too caught up in overly long descriptions of mundane things and an overwrought narrative style to keep the plot moving at a thriller pace. The plot features an unrealistic level of importance for MMORPGs and the gamers who play, as well as unsound “science.” One of the hardboiled main characters is a stereotype-breaking gay man, however, which is nice to see. Recommended to those who enjoy an overly descriptive, overacting narration style with gamers featured unrealistically at center stage who don’t mind some shaky science in the plot.
2 out of 5 stars