Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What Are You Reading Between the Covers? - #21

It's time for another book review installment, brought to you this week by the former Baby Tatsu. I've been laid up with a leg injury and have been plowing through my stash of library books like a crack fiend, and bring you four selections today.

Karen Russell wrote this phenomenal book, Swamplandia! The book follows a family of alligator wrestlers who live and work in their theme park. The theme park is in danger of going bankrupt after Ava, Kiwi's, and Osceola's mother dies of cancer. Their parents' unconventional lifestyle has left them with an interesting education in all things alligator-related, but not much about the world around them or how to interact with other people.

The story chronicles the journeys of the Bigtrees as they learn to cope with the passing of their mother/wife and how to survive in a world without her. Their father, Chief Bigtree, has problems coping with his own grief and the bills that are piling up; he heads to the mainland to find work, leaving behind his children to fend for themselves. Ava Bigtree is the youngest sister. She looks up to Osceola, who becomes fascinated with séances and the afterlife after her mother's passing. Osceola falls in love with a ghost she communicates with and elopes, but Ava discovers she's missing and follows her into the treacherous swamp to The Underworld with a creepy guide, The Bird Man. Kiwi, their older brother, moves to the mainland and goes to work for a competing theme park putting his family out of business. It is poignant, beautifully written, and a real treat to read. This is Karen Russell's first novel and I look forward to reading many more.

My second pick is a dud. Beware of For Edgar by Sheldon Rusch. It pains me to have to give a book bad review because I love reading, but I have to do it. This murder mystery held such promise; there's a serial killer on the loose that's a fan of Edgar Allan Poe. All of his victims end up creatively killed like characters in Poe's short stories. Sounds great, right? Until you are introduced to the killer for the first time in the book; about twenty pages after you meet him, you are positive he is the whodunit because we meet no one else in town with the knowledge to commit the crimes. Okay, so I let that one slide. I could handle solving the murders in the first third of the book because I wanted to read about them, but I couldn't overlook the male author's treatment of sex in the novel. I found it totally unrealistic. All the female characters were portrayed as sexual objects and none of the male characters were. Even worse, the females' fantasies/sexual thoughts seemed to be the author's and not their own. This unfortunately held true for every female in the book; I don't mind a little sex in a story, but I feel if your main character is the opposite sex of the author, I shouldn't be able to tell that from their writing. There is a slightly redeeming and very brief plot twist at the end, but overall, this book left a bad taste in my mouth. I don't recommend it.

My third pick is much, much better. Have you ever wanted to teach your frisky feline how to do tricks? Well, now you can with Cat Training in 10 Minutes by Miriam Fields-Babineau. Miriam is a renowned animal trainer. I was a skeptic when I purchased this one, but now I'm a believer. I have three felines -- one cranky, old girl who doesn't want to do any tricks and two energetic felines who have been greatly entertained by this book so far. The instructions are easy to understand and the training is effective. You really can teach your cat to do tricks in ten minutes. I recommend this book for any cat lover. Your cat can learn to come, stay, jump, shake paws, twirl, and stand up in no time! And there's more. Who wouldn't love a cat that could play dead and roll over or go for a walk on a leash? You have to get this book.

I end on a high note, with my fourth pick, Steampunk, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer. This book is a great introduction to the variety of steampunk literature available. The introduction is one of the better I have read on explaining the origins of steampunk and the collection of authors includes greats such as Michael Moorcock, Michael Chabon, James Blaylock, and Joe R. Landsdale. I particularly like the blurbs at the beginning of each story detailing where this tale fits into the steampunk genre. There are two essays included at the end of the collection, as well; one deals with steampunk in comics and the other deals with a quick pop culture lesson in steampunk. The stories were varied in the collection. There is something for everyone, from your favorite steampunk golem to Queen Victoria's newt double and beyond. My favorites include a steampunk western with the evil vampire H.G. Wells and a more traditional Hebrew golem story. Enjoy!

As always, happy writing and happy reading to all!

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