Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Born a Crime: Stories From a South African ChildhoodBorn a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What an incredible piece of writing this book is. Noah has filled Born a Crime with stories which are almost surreal (to a white first-worlder). As if that wasn’t enough, he lards his writing with insightful observations on racism, poverty, classism, sexism, and human nature. As if it wasn’t enough of a miracle that he exists, he rises above the circumstances of his poverty-stricken childhood to become an intelligent, well-known, and (hopefully) wealthy television personality. He stomped that cycle into the ground.

Noah gives credit where credit is due, however. He didn’t achieve all this by his own will. His mother, Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah, is a powerhouse of a woman who refuses to let anything stop her from achieving what she wants. She molds Trevor into a decent human being out of willpower and…well, beatings. Noah explains and excuses it, and has a wonderful relationship with his mother, but child abuse is a thing in this story. As is spousal abuse, gun violence, sexism, and the consistent abuse of power by the police. Apartheid is so much more horrifying than I could have guessed, and it left a legacy that influenced every person in the country. Noah keeps the book upbeat even while relating stories of being arrested, hustling pirated CDs, and navigating the discriminatory culture he was being raised in. Until the end of the book. The third segment gets progressively darker, chronicling his time in jail and his stepfather’s abuse of Noah’s mother, until it will be a wonder if you are not in tears. There’s a happy ending, but trust me when I say you’ve got to walk across some hot coals to get to it. In my humble opinion, it was worth it. I’m glad I read this book.

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Seducing Abby Rhodes by JD Mason

Seducing Abby RhodesSeducing Abby Rhodes by J.D. Mason
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Here’s a hot read for those sultry summer nights. Abby Rhodes is a contractor who makes a living flipping fixer-uppers across the United States. Her most recent purchase in Blink, Texas; owned by business tycoon Jordan Gatewood comes with unexpected inclusions – ghosts. And romance. But Jordan has secrets. And an ex-girlfriend who will do anything to get rid of that prefix.

It’s pretty fast paced. I found myself flipping addictively through it, despite knowing exactly how it was going to end. I was not wrong. But you know, there are times when you just want an easy read that’s going to give you the ending you want, but still have some mystery in the details. Plus
bizarre quirks: Mason has the characters alternate between describing someone as a “fucker” and a “fucka” but almost religiously uses “gotdamn.” It got under my skin really fast. Furthermore following an f-bomb with a curse modified for palatability seemed incongruous.

There is some racism in this novel. Gatewood ends his relationship with Robin Sinclair to pursue Abby, and Sinclair does not respond well, to put it mildly. Occasionally Jordan just lets her vent, and the vitriol she spews at Abby is misogynoir in all its hateful glory. The only good point is that it’s obvious what Sinclair is doing is wrong, and the reader empathises with Abby. There’s also depictions of murder and suicide, discussions of drug and arms dealings, misuse of the justice system, and adultery. On the upside, the story isn’t about Abby saving Jordan. He’s saved himself by the time they meet. I’m delighted to read a story where the male love interest isn’t a tool who is reformed into a decent human being by the woman’s physical affection. That being said…

My copy is an advance, uncorrected proof which I won in a draw. It includes acknowledgements by the author, who comments that one of the characters, “has been emotionally abusive to me for years, but I stay because he’s my heart and soul.” I really hope that when they publish, that comment is gone. The sentiment gives me the willies. It completely justifies staying in abusive relationships because of love, an attitude which fortunately isn’t reflected in the rest of the novel. And the last thing society needs is more books muddling romance with toxic relationships.

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Medea by Euripides

MedeaMedea by Euripides
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Medea is an argument between high school students where almost everyone winds up dead in the aftermath. Hero Jason of the Argonauts and Golden Fleece fame, after marrying the woman who gave him that glory, abandons her and their children to marry a princess. Medea, understandably, is not pleased. Jason can’t quite wrap his mind around why she isn’t thrilled that he’s moving up in the world and really resents her refusal to see that he is dumping her for the good of their family. Beyond the shock value, I can’t see why this play has been so popular for so long. It’s violent, sexist, and depressing. The writing is mediocre. The ending is grasping. After having a plot set securely on the ground, Euripides has a flying, golden chariot rescue Medea, which maybe was a normal literary tool for the ancient Greeks, but seemed very desperate to me. Euripides wanted her to have her final, horrifying confrontation with Jason but couldn’t think of a way to do it that didn’t result in her death. This way they can trade verbal jabs, but Jason can’t throw spears at her. No one in this cast is likeable. No one wins. To even call Medea’s actions a Pyrrhic victory suggests too strongly that her battle of egos with Jason had a winner of any type. It did not. Content yourself with the Cliff’s notes for this bloody play, and spend your precious moments on something else.

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The Day the Sky Fell: The Yellow Hoods, Book #5 by Adam Dreece

The Day the Sky Fell (The Yellow Hoods, #5)The Day the Sky Fell by Adam Dreece
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is it. The last of the series. Do Tee and her brave friends triumph against the Lady in Red, the Piemans, the Fare, and all the other foes arrayed against them? Can a group of teenagers best experts in intrigue?
Of course I’m not going to tell you. Read the book and find out. The Day the Sky Fell had the fastest plot of the whole pentalogy, I really couldn’t put it down. I still wanted a flowchart for all the character relationships, but at least there weren’t any new ones added. Again, some violence and bloodshed, but little else. Dreece has even revealed one of the characters is gay, in the sort of offhand scene that makes me dream of one day having a society where homosexuality isn’t a big deal. It just is. I’m happy to see that Dreece agrees with me, and put his beliefs where his mouth is. Or rather, where his writing utensil is.
Despite Dreece closing The Yellow Hoods with this book, not all the loose ends are tied up. A few of the antagonists could certainly stage a comeback some years down the road, and Dreece mentions possibly starting a second series around a more mature Tee and her friends. I wouldn’t say no to that. It’s been a good run.

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Beauties of the Beast: The Yellow Hoods Book #4 by Adam Dreece

Beauties of the Beast (The Yellow Hoods, #4)Beauties of the Beast by Adam Dreece
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Maybe you thought there weren’t going to be new characters in the penultimate book. Maybe you thought you could stop updating your cast flow chart. Finally laminate it and put it up on the wall to use as a reference. Well put that frame back in the box. Dreece put in more people. Never fear, the delightful Tee, Elly, and Richy are still with us. As are many of the old favourites from previous installments. Plus all the backstabbing, plotting, and double-dealing we’ve come to expect from Dreece’s writing. But wait, there’s more! Airship battles! More explosions! Rocket packs! Here I thought shock sticks and mechanical horses were enough excitement. Dreece disagreed, and we all benefit. Something he didn’t add more of was bloodshed. The level of violence has been pretty consistent since it was upped in the second book, and there isn’t much else to warn for. This is a really decent series, and I’m looking forwards to seeing how everything gets tied together in The Day the Sky Fell. Stay tuned!

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All the King’s-Men: The Yellow Hoods Book #3 by Adam Dreece

All the King's-Men (The Yellow Hoods, #3)All the King’s-Men by Adam Dreece
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Just when you thought you knew all the characters. Dreece keeps stuffing them in, with more betrayals and flashbacks than you could shake a shock-stick at. If your memory is anything like mine, it isn’t the gripping plot alone that keeps you from putting these books down. It’s the fear that when you pick it up the next day you won’t remember who is on what side anymore. Tee, Elly, Richy, and Nikolas Klaus haven’t left us, nor have the Cochon brothers from Along Came a Wolf, but the leaders of the Tub and the Fare join the Pieman family in seeing just how many people can fit into a 340 page steampunk romp. (Answer: about 30). I wonder if Dreece reads much Russian literature? Tolstoy would be proud.

It seems that Dreece uses All the King’s-Men to start tying the history of Eorth with its present political climate, as he brings the series to its climax. Tee and the Yellow Hoods are joined on their flight through the wilderness by new friends and questionable leaders as they flee the agents of the Fare and other rogue factions bent on toppling the government and taking over the world. Again, some bloodshed, gunshots, and deaths. Suggestions of child abuse and mentions of kidnapping, but written from the perspective of the (safe) survivor which takes out much of the sting. An even mix of female and male characters. With an even mix of strong and weak traits. Take a spy novel, add teenagers, set it in the medieval era and then hose everything down with a good spray of steampunk and you’d have yourself The Yellow Hoods series. It’s good stuff.

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Breadcrumb Trail: The Yellow Hoods Book #2 by Adam Dreece

Breadcrumb Trail (The Yellow Hoods, #2)Breadcrumb Trail by Adam Dreece
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is where things start to really pick up. Tee, Elly, and Richy are joined by a steadily increasing number of characters as Dreece weaves several parallel plot lines; chapters on missing children in the previously peaceful town of Mineau tag team with secret societies plotting to steal steam engine plans in a universe where inventing has been outlawed. If you had a tough time putting down Along Came a Wolf, clear your calendar when you start Breadcrumb Trail. You can put it down if you really have to, but there aren’t exactly breathers built into the plot. It’ll be a struggle. This was also the book with the strongest fairy tale influences, thanks to the plot line with the disturbing “Ginger Lady.” The fairy tale influences in the first book seemed to revolve around names and titles rather than having those old stories come to life, or be rewritten in a novel way. Compared to the first book, this one has more violence. Actual bloodshed, gun shots, deaths. No racism or sexism. Child abuse and kidnapping are present in this installment, however. Only hinted at, but they are there. Having finished the series, I can say they are mentioned again later in the series, but only in passing in two other books. Dreece writes a good story without resorting to sensationalism, and his non-stop plots make for a quick read.

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Along Came a Wolf: The Yellow Hoods, Book #1 by Adam Dreece

Along Came a Wolf (The Yellow Hoods, #1)Along Came a Wolf by Adam Dreece
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

With Along Came a Wolf Dreece launches a steampunk-fairy tale young adult fantasy series with ample excitement, danger, and plot twists to keep you engaged until the last page of book five. We follow the spunky Tee, Elly, and Richy as a visit from a mysterious messenger to Tee’s grandfather plunges the four of them into a world of intrigue and danger. The action barely pauses until the last page. The characters are pretty well fleshed out and a good balance of gumption and terror. There isn’t a single thing for me to offer a content warning about. Very little violence, no sexism, no racism, nothing. Only the editing could have been better. There are some sentences that could have been more polished, and a few times where Dreece used the same word in two adjacent lines, which is kind of a pet peeve of mine. However, I will say that I started book two Breadcrumb Trail immediately upon finishing Along Came a Wolf and the editing has much improved, so if it bothers you push through it and the rest of this page-turner of a series will be your reward.

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Doubting Yourself to the Bone by Thomas Trofimuk

Doubting Yourself to the BoneDoubting Yourself to the Bone by Thomas Trofimuk
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Moira James dies in a car crash while taking a time-out from her marriage, her husband Ronin moves himself and his two daughters to a tiny town in British Columbia to try to reassemble their lives. The stunning mountain scenery makes an incredible backdrop to the grief Trofimuk explores in his incredible, heart-opening story. It has been one of my favourite books since I snagged it on a whim in the library one day. I liked the title. I love the writing. Every page has poetry on it. There’s weight to the grief, to the range of emotions. Depth to the confusion. There are also monks. Scotch. Wine. Music. This book always makes me want to put on some classical and pour myself a drink; I could see it being a problem for a recovering alcoholic. There is also a lot of emphasis on womens’ bodies that rubs me the wrong way. Of the five adult women in the story, four are depicted on the basis of their sexual attractiveness to Ronin. But I can’t tell you what Ronin looks like. This gets under my skin. As I mentioned at the beginning the novel is built around an automobile accident death, but there are also discussions of bombings and suicide. Some not-great language surrounding abortions. While Ronin doesn’t outright condemn abortions, the words he chooses when discussing them are pretty judgmental and someone who actually supported a woman having the right to choose what happened to her own body would most likely use different language. Again, not outright anti-choice, but not as good as it could have been. No book is perfect. For the delight I have gotten – and continue to get – from this wonderful work I am content to overlook a few flaws.

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Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles

Oedipus at ColonusOedipus at Colonus by Sophocles
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Commit to Antigone. That’s what you will need to do if you read Oedipus at Colonus. It’s a cliffhanger. It’s also not as good as Oedipus Rex; I see even in ancient Greece sequels failed to live up to their precursors. OaC is longer than OR, but less violent. Sophocles has developed Oedipus’ character in the twenty year gap between the setting of the first play and the setting of the second play. He and his daughter Antigone have wandered and begged across Greece, arriving eventually at Athens, hoping Theseus will give them shelter. Meanwhile we discover Thebes is beset with governmental discord; Oedipus’ sons are battling for the throne and his brother-in-law intends to forcefully return him home. But Oedipus has been doing some thinking. His realizations about the nature of sin are comforting to read. Watching him stand up for himself was cathartic, after the craptacular hand he was dealt in OR. He’s still a proud and willful character, but he’s stopped self-flagellating. He really needs some advice on supporting the bereaved. Take this gem, spoken graveside to his heartbroken children immediately before his death: “You shall never have more [love]/From any man than you have had from me./ And now you must spend the rest of life without me.” If your goal was to completely crush someone’s heart right before dying, you could hardly have hoped to do better. Oh Oedipus. You tried. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to find the cliff’s notes for Antigone and end this cycle.

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