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2015’s 5 Star Reads!

January 1, 2016 2 comments

Since 2011, I’ve been dedicating a separate post from my annual reading stats post to the 5 star reads of the year.  I not only thoroughly enjoy assembling the 5 star reads posts, but I also go back to them for reference periodically.  It’s just useful and fun simultaneously!  Plus it has the added bonus of giving an extra signal boost to the five star reads of the year.  You may view the 5 star reads for 2011, 2012, 2013 , and 2014 by clicking on the years.

With no further ado, presenting Opinions of a Wolf’s 5 Star Reads for 2015!

cover_dreamsnake

Dreamsnake
By: Vonda N. McIntyre
Publication Date: 1978
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Genre: Scifi, Post-apocalyptic
Themes: Healing, Prejudices, Adoption, Hubris
Summary:
In a far-future, post-apocalyptic Earth, all medical aid is brought by healers.  The healers use a trio of snakes to bring this healing.  One newly-minted healer first visits the desert people, but mistakes lead to the loss of her dreamsnake, the only snake that can bring pain relief to the dying.  She enters a journey to attempt to find a new dreamsnake.
Current Thoughts:
My full review of this book has yet to come, so I’ll keep my current thoughts short.  A 1970s work of scifi by a woman that intrigued me due to many reviews mentioning the positive depiction of snakes.  It wowed me. I read it via my Audible subscription, and I really am going to have to get a vintage paper copy for my female scifi collection.
Full review still to come.

Book Review: The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You by Dorothy Bryant

The Kin of Ata Are Waiting For You
By:
Dorothy Bryant
Publication Date: 1971
Publisher: Evan Press
Genre: Scifi
Themes: Redemption, Self-Actualization, Healing, Mindfulness, Community
Summary:
Running from his demons, a man crashes his car and wakes up being assisted by a deceptively primitive people–the kin of Ata. He discovers that he’s been mysteriously brought to an island inhabited only by these people.  As time passes, he comes to learn there is much more to them than first appears.
Current Thoughts:
This is a book I know I will revisit. The parable for self-actualization and the journey of mindfulness is something that rang so strongly with me.  When I think about it, I remember it as a beautiful, touching book.
Full review

cover_twentiesgirl

Twenties Girl
By:
Sophie Kinsella
Publication Date: 2009
Publisher: Bantam Press
Genre: Chick Lit
Themes: Living Fully, Living Authentically
Summary:
Lara Lington has always had an overactive imagination, but suddenly that imagination seems to be in overdrive. Normal professional twenty-something young women don’t get visited by ghosts. Or do they?

When the spirit of Lara’s great-aunt Sadie–a feisty, demanding girl with firm ideas about fashion, love, and the right way to dance–mysteriously appears, she has one last request: Lara must find a missing necklace that had been in Sadie’s possession for more than seventy-five years, and Sadie cannot rest without it. Lara, on the other hand, has a number of ongoing distractions. Her best friend and business partner has run off to Goa, her start-up company is floundering, and she’s just been dumped by the “perfect” man.  Sadie isn’t having any of it. And soon the question winds up being, who is really helping who?
Current Thoughts:
A book that really shows how great chick lit can be.  What starts out light and ridiculous eventually hands over some real thought-provoking lessons about a life lived versus a life lived well.  It was just the light, humorous take on life and death I needed when I picked it up. Also, I actually laughed out loud while reading it.  A real complement.
Full review still to come.

Book Review: Wolf Hunt: The Burning Ages by Sebastian P. Breit (series, #1)

Wolf standing in front of Nazi flag.Summary:
It’s the future, and the world is in another semi-cold war between NATO and BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China).  A NATO group of British, American, and German naval ships is being sent to Brazil on a mission, but part-way there they are all zapped back in time to 1940.  With the chance to change history for the better, what will they decide to do?

Review:
I first want to point out that Breit is German and wrote this in English himself; it is not a translation.  I have to say that I wonder why he made that choice as the plot certainly seems to have more of a European than an American appeal, but I am impressed at his effort to write in his second language.

The summary of the book makes the plot sound fast-paced, but in fact it is actually distressingly slow-moving.  It takes about 1/3 of the book for the all-important time-traveling event to happen.  I spent the whole first part of the book just waiting and wondering when it was going to happen, because once the basic politics of the world and character traits were set up, it’s just a waiting game.  The naval mumbo-jumbo filling up the rest of the space just wasn’t necessary.  This issue carries on throughout the book with half of the sailors spending a solid amount of their time stranded on an island, for instance.  Since this is marketed as a fast-paced historical thriller, perhaps somewhat like the style of The Da Vinci Code it quite simply needs to move along faster.  Intense naval specifics and codes are not necessary.  Fast-moving plot is.

Breit also needs to invest in a British and American editor each, as the British and American characters say and do things that are just flat-out wrong in British and American English respectively.  One that really slapped me across the face is that one of the characters is from Boston, but everyone refers to him as a “Bostoner.”  People from Boston are called “Bostonians.”  I have never once in my life heard anyone say “Bostoner,” and I live in Boston.  Another example is at one point one of the Americans reads another American’s birthdate from off an id and says it the European way “11 September 2001,” instead of the American way “September 11th, 2001.”  This is one of those instances where the author needs to have his facts straight in order for the story to be believable.  Nothing makes me not believe a character is American quite like having him get a bunch of American English wrong.

Additionally, as a woman and an author, the way the female characters are handled is distressing to me.  Just one example is that a bunch of the stranded female sailors are attacked on the island by some of the locals in an attempt at rape.  These women who had the exact same training as their male counter-parts are apparently completely incapable of saving themselves, but instead have to be rescued by their male comrades.  But it gets worse.  Later when the captain of the ship is relating the event to another man, he asks if the women were alright.  The captain responds by saying that the doctor said they were fine.  The doctor.  Apparently nobody bothered to ask these women if they were raped (HINT: I’m pretty sure women can tell if they’ve been raped or not).  Plus no one seems to care that these women are clearly not going to be emotionally ok after almost getting raped, and not once do any of the female characters who were attacked say anything about it with their own voices. This is just completely inexcusable.  It’s a removal of women’s voices from ourselves, and it’s insulting to a female reader.

There’s the issue of European bias expressed through the American characters.  For instance, one American character expresses shame at how Americans only speak one language.  First of all, the rate of bilingualism in the US is actually rising, so following the arc of the future, there should be more bilingual Americans, not less.  Second, I’ve never once heard an American express woe in an all-encompassing way like that by saying something like “It’s so sad Americans aren’t bilingual.”  People say, “I wish I was fluent in another language,” or “I wish I was fluent in Japanese,” but they just don’t put it that way.  That whole paragraph sounded like a European using an American character as a puppet to say what Europeans think of Americans.  Yeesh.

I also have problems with the German characters though.  A bunch of them express the desire to stop the Holocaust not to save lives but to save the German people from harboring the shame and guilt for generations to come.  Um, what?  That’s your concern oh time-traveling Germans?  Having been to Germany myself on a student exchange and visited Dachau, etc… I can say that I have a hard time imagining any of the kids my age at the time (15ish in the early 2000’s) focusing in on that as opposed to stopping a bad thing from happening because it’s evil and wrong.  I can only imagine that generations even further along would be even more focused in on stopping a genocide as opposed to saving some broad idea of German honor.  It’d be like having a time-traveling modern American decide to stop the Trail of Tears to save us from shame as opposed to doing it to save innocent Cherokees.  The whole thought just makes my brain hurt.

To sum up, Breit shows ability as a writer that needs to be worked on and honed.  I’d recommend either getting a good editor who can handle both British and American English or switching to writing in German.  He also needs to work on tightening up his plot.  Normally I’d say, nice first effort keep trying, but due to the opinions and biases and presentation of women present in this first attempt, I’m afraid I can’t say that.  It’s readable, but why would you want to read it anyway?

2 out of 5 stars

Source: Ebook from author in exchange for my honest review

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Book Review: Hungry For You by A. M. Harte

August 8, 2011 4 comments

Brain in a bowl.Summary:
A collection of zombie-themed short stories and poetry with the twist that they all have to do with romantic relationships in some way, shape, or form.

Review:
This is a solid collection of short stories and poetry that can be enjoyed one at a time or inhaled in one sitting.  I went for the one sitting option.

In some stories Harte sticks to zombie tropes but in not all.  The ones where she varies or surprises the reader in some way are definitely the stronger ones.  She has an ability to imagine multiple different possible zombie apocalypses that are all, if not equally believable, still believable.  Her dialogue is a definite strength, reading as incredibly realistic in the midst of fantastical happenings.

Where she excels though, and where I would encourage her to focus future horror writings, is when she uses the zombies and zombie apocalypse as a metaphor or an instigator for something in a relationship from women’s perspective.  My three favorite stories from the collection–“Dead Man’s Rose,” “Seven Birds,” and “Alive”–all feature this element.  In “Dead Man’s Rose,” the zombie is a metaphor for an abusive lover who refuses to grant the woman her freedom.  In “Seven Birds” the surprise of the zombie apocalypse coincides nicely with an unexpected break-up (I particularly enjoyed that female character’s reaction to both).  In “Alive” the female character must deal both with the zombie apocalypse and the emotional fall-out after a one-night stand with a co-worker.  These are all three things modern women face in relationships and getting to see them take place in a world infested with zombies (one of my favorite kinds) was such a welcome change!  Too often, especially in zombie movies, we see the apocalypse from a man’s perspective and not from a woman’s.  I found myself saying to Harte in my head, “Ignore the male perspective and switch to just writing from the female perspective, because you do it so well!”  For instance, it’s not every day in a female zombie fiction fan’s life that you come across a resonant passage like this:

When I am lonely for boys what I miss is their bodies. The smell of their skin, its saltiness. The rough whisper of stubble against my cheek. The strong firm hands, the way they rest on the curve of my back.  (location 1206)

Never have I come across a passage in zombie fiction that so struck at the heart of what it is to be a modern straight woman, and to have that followed up by oh no zombies was just awesome.

There are a few shortcomings though.  A couple of the stories simply felt too short, and a couple of them–“A Prayer to Garlic” and “Arkady, Kain, & Zombies”–just didn’t make much sense to me.  I think the former would have benefited from being a bit longer with more explanation, whereas the latter actually felt too long and had a couple of plot holes that I couldn’t wrap my mind around.  This collection is periodically more British than at other times.  One short story revolves around tea to an extent that I’m afraid a Boston gal like myself just couldn’t quite relate to.  I know that those more British stories will definitely appeal to the type who love Doctor Who for instance, though.  I also really wish it included a table of contents.  That would be super-helpful in revisiting those stories readers would like to revisit.

Overall this book is definitely worth the add to any zombie fan’s collection, but particularly to female zombie fans.  It’s different and fun simultaneously.

4 out of 5 stars

Source:  Smashwords copy from the author in exchange for my honest review

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Movie Review: Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Three people weilding weapons surrounded by zombies.Summary:
Shaun is a 20-something loser with a dead-end job and a girlfriend who he only ever takes out to the local pub.  She dumps him on the eve of a zombie outbreak.  Shaun drags his job-less roommate through the streets, battling zombies in an attempt to save his mother and restore his relationship with Liz.

Review:
I couldn’t watch this movie and not compare it to Zombieland, which I watched last summer.  I honestly think that anyone wanting to compare US culture to UK culture should just watch these two films.  Shaun of the Dead takes an everyman who wants desperately to save people, but his only weapon is a cricket bat (btw, those things look like such a pussy weapon).  Shaun stumbles about the city with his line of relatives, friends, and frenemies, and they all make witty asides to each other while maintaining some sense of propriety when battling the zombies.  It’s wonderfully funny to watch, but not a point of view I, as an American, would imagine at all for a zombie apocalypse.  My pov lines up much more with Zombieland where the characters swipe trucks and double-tap the zombies with guns.  However, that’s what made Shaun of the Dead such a delightful watch, because it was a character study on top of the fun zombie scenes.  There were some jokes that fell flat for me, and I wasn’t too keen on the ending, but I know some people will enjoy the ending for precisely the reasons I disliked it.  However, Shaun of the Dead was still a delightful watch, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys humorous apocalypse or zombie tales.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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