1917, by Boris Dralnyuk**

1917I received my DRC for this collection courtesy of Net Galley and Pushkin Press. I thank them for the opportunity to read and review; this compilation of poetry and prose will be for sale on December 1, 2016. What a crying shame it’s so negative.

There are a few of us left out here—dinosaurs, to be sure—that regard the initial two or three years of the Russian Revolution as an inspirational time, a time when the working class and the Russian peasantry cast off their shackles, ran the brutal, entitled royal family and their minions out of power and eventually to a richly deserved death, and took control of their lives and their nation. When I saw this collection, I believed that this perspective would be represented here somewhere.

Instead, we read poetry about the Tsar’s wine. Oh, no! They destroyed all that expensive wine! Give me a break. Millions of peasants freed from bondage, and all we hear about is the wine casks, and some sorrowful reflections that lament the defeat of the Mensheviks—the party that tried to halt the progress of the revolution and create a bourgeois democratic state. All those sorrowful White Russians weeping into their vodka.

Do I have a bias? Of course I do, but unlike our editor here, I admit mine. The introduction to this thing, which is overlong and somewhat duplicitous, tells us that rather than relate the various political positions that were held during this cataclysmic time, we should instead look at feelings, at experiences. But everyone’s feelings during this tremendous upheaval, a time when the news footage at the time of the revolution shows throngs of joyful Russian workers screaming with enthusiasm, is apparently either sorrowful—aw geez, the poor royals—or conflicted. Not one person is glad it happened.

Poetry and prose are, at their root, political, and in rewriting history, Dralyuk demonstrates this. This collection is revisionist dross.

One other comment I’d make is that when editors decide to republish historic writing, they are often deluded as to how much of their own prose readers are looking for. For every piece, for every author, there is way too much introductory narrative. I really just want to read the work itself, not so much Dralyuk’s discussion of them. Had I enjoyed most of the poetry and prose, I would have upgraded this review to three stars and stated that it is hard to find the original work amidst the rambling discussion. Generally, the poem is short, the introduction is long; lather, rinse, repeat. The same is true of the prose.

So to those lonely Marxists out there hoping for literature, for poetry that’s in English and available readily in the US, I have to say, put that plastic away, because this isn’t that.

Coming Around the Corner: October Reads to Be Reviewed Soon

I pride myself on timely reviews, but once in awhile life gets in the way. Over the past month, every household thing that could break has done so…almost, anyway. I don’t want to invite further calamity by suggesting it’s all happened already. And so, though nobody is dead or dying, I am behind. Here are the titles you can look forward to seeing reviewed soon, soon, soon:

fireloveratruestory      thebirthdayboys       theeducationofdixiedu  eventhewicked    fidelity missionjimmystewart thevanishingyear.png   doubtinthesecond  beingadog

murderindragon.png     thegirlfromv.png    americangothic

thegraveyardapar.png   silence.png    usgrantthecivilwary

The Goldfish Bowl, by Laurence Gough***

thegoldfishbowlIt’s seldom that I find myself so ambivalent about a galley; I read this free thanks to Net Galley and Endeavor Press in exchange for an honest review.  The writing skill is probably closer to a five; the respect level for women, people of color, and anyone that isn’t oriented straight as a bullet’s path is closer to a one. So those that are constantly inveighing about how tired they are of trying to be PC, here. This is for you. For those of us that have moved along, I am not so sure. This book was released digitally in January, 2016 and is now for sale.

I spent a good portion of this book confused, because it is billed as a new release, yet it really reads like a novel from the 1980s might.  A little digging revealed that it was initially published in 1988, and this explains a good deal. Mainstream attitudes have come a long way since then, and so some re-released novels stand the test of time, whereas others should perhaps be consigned, as Trotsky put it, to “the dustbin of history”.

The story is set in Vancouver, British Columbia, and this is part of what made me want to read this mystery. I don’t see a lot of fiction set there, and I know the area, so I thought this would be fun. And setting is done well.

Then we have our sniper:

“The sniper sat in the orange plastic chair, hunched over a Lyman ‘All American’ turret press. His hands were large and strong. The thick blunt fingers, nails carefully painted with a glossy red polish, moved with precision and grace as he assembled the shiny brass cartridges, primers, powder and fat 500-grain copper-jacketed slugs.”

Our sniper, who must surely be a baddy if twisted enough to put on women’s clothing and makeup, is referred to as clown-faced and is always designated as “he”. In the 1980s that boat would float with most of book-buying North America. Now, not so much.

There is one victim after another, and the beginning is paced at breakneck speed, relaxing readers only to suddenly shock us repeatedly, so there’s a sort of emotional whiplash. There are two detectives in charge of the sniper shootings, and one is a woman. That’s unusual in the department, where women are routinely referred to in demeaning ways and where hard core porn kept in a file cabinet is just a thing the boys in blue do. None of this appears to be there to make a point about what women put up with, however; it seems to be injected for realism and urban grit. And though none of the cops is particularly brilliant, Parker, the female cop, is particularly incompetent, emptying an entire gun at close range without hitting the target even once.

Okay.

Bright spots come with particular scenes. The climax is brilliant, and I love the detail of the guard horse in front of the evidence room. The author is clearly talented, but every time I found myself engaging with the text and not thinking about anything that had offended me, something else would come to the forefront, popping up like a turd in the punch bowl. Those that visit psychiatrists are all ‘fruitcakes’, and at one point, “a huge black” stands in the doorway. At this point my temper flared and I tapped into my tablet, “Huge Black WHAT, motherfucker?”

Yes, I know. Amazon won’t print that quote. It’s worth editing to have it in my blog, because that’s exactly how I feel about it.

There are good moments with figurative language, but then once in awhile a glaring fact that nobody checked pops up. Do people in Vancouver genuinely believe that the West Coast goes from British Columbia, to Washington, to California? Didn’t think so. Someone needs to apologize to Oregon, which is larger than some European nations.  The denouement, social justice issues aside, was a mighty long reach.

If you are already a tried and true fan of Laurence Gough—and he is an established writer with over a dozen published novels—then you will probably enjoy this one too.

As for me, I’ll pass.

 

I Will Send Rain, by Rae Meadows****

iwillsendrainAnnie Bell could have chosen to marry a well-to-do member of the gentry in her home town, a man with fine china and a full time kitchen servant. Young and buoyant, she chooses love instead, and moves to Oklahoma with Samuel Bell to start a brand new life on the free land that’s been provided. What could go wrong when two young people are strong and dedicated to one another? Oh, it’s an old, old story in so many ways, but Meadows makes it brand new. Thanks to Net Galley and Henry Holt Publishers, I read it free and in advance in exchange for this honest review. It will be available to the public August 9, 2016.

When we join the Bells they are no longer newlyweds; a lot of water has gone under the bridge. They have Birdie, a teenager determined to find a way out of Mulehead, and their younger child Fred, a child beset with heavy health issues. He’s sturdier, however, than the baby that didn’t make it. So Annie and Samuel have had success, some fine fertile years on their farm when the wheat was tall and the rain came when it was needed, but they’ve also endured some heartache. Regardless, every Sunday they gather at the only house of worship in town and send up their thanks and prayers for the blessings of nature, and perhaps to ward off its curses as well.

But then, things deteriorate in a horrifying way. Without the sturdy prairie grasses to hold down the topsoil, it is depleted and finally just blown away in the horrible wind storms that come in terrifying intensity, a veritable hurricane of dust instead of water. There is no insulation that withstands the fierce and immeasurable storms, ones that turn day dark as night and fill every crevice in every home, barn, and public building with a layer of grit. Dust isn’t just on the bed, it’s in it. Dust is everywhere, including inside the lungs of little children. And so it is that Fred is stricken with dust pneumonia, an ailment akin to Black Lung disease but without even a paycheck to show for it.

In the midst of it all, Samuel has a message from God: the rain will come, and Samuel must build a boat. And so as the wheat dies beneath the remorseless sun, as the water is rationed and the cattle grow thin, Samuel goes to the barn and commences planning and building the ark that will save his family from the flood.

Everyone in town is laughing at him, but that doesn’t matter to Samuel; he has heard from God.

Meadows is a clever wordsmith, and her capacity to spin setting and develop character are impressive. Young Birdie is in so many ways her mother all over again, and yet Annie is unable to breach the abyss that separates her from her teenage daughter. Annie has learned a lot and she’s learned it the hard way, through experience; Birdie wants nothing to do with any of it, or with Annie. At times I longed to grab that girl by the shoulders and send her into the kitchen for a chat with her mother, but if I could have done so, she wouldn’t have listened anyway. Hopefully this gives the reader a glimpse of how real these characters became to me.

Most of the way through this compelling novel I was sure it would merit five stars, yet the ending left me dissatisfied. Even if I could explain this without spoiling it for you, I’m not sure what the writer should have done instead, but the denouement felt contrived to me even though in many ways it seemed like a reasonable ending. Perhaps you will feel differently.

You may have read other historical fiction set in the Dust Bowl, but you haven’t read anything like this. Check it out and see what you think. I’d hate for you to miss it.

The Last One, by Alexandra Oliva****

thelastoneThose that occasionally hole up on their days off and binge on reality TV shows will love this book; those that don’t will love it too.  This reviewer has never watched a single episode of “Survivor” or any other reality-survival show, and yet once I began reading this novel, it elbowed aside all the other books I was reading till I was done. Thanks go to Net Galley and Random House Ballantine for the DRC, which I received in exchange for this honest review.

In an interesting twist, readers are told up front that part way through this competition, most of the other contestants, along with the cameraman, producer, and a number of other support staff that would ordinarily be in charge of extricating her or announcing her victory, will die. Our protagonist, whom the show’s producers call “Zoo” because she has a job involving animals in real life, won’t know that the show is over, because the people in charge of telling her will be gone.  And so the suspenseful aspect of this story for readers is at what point does the competition actually end, and once we are sure it’s over, when will Zoo figure it out? What will she find when she finally makes it home, assuming she does?

 

The production team tries to get everyone out, but they’re on Solo Challenges and widespread. There were contingency emergency plans in place, but not for this. It’s a spiral like that child’s toy; a pen on paper, guided by plastic. A pattern, then something slips and—madness. Incompetency and panic collide. Good intentions give way to self-preservation.

 

Oliva is a champ when it comes to examining media and its effect on the thinking of ordinary people living in the real world, and in this case, even in a virtual one. And as the competition begins, we see how real people are being warped and cast as characters for a viewing audience; a sympathetic  contestant’s ungentle words during a stressful moment are edited out; an introverted, serious individual is billed as arrogant, and so his small acts of kindness will be cut from the final film.

It’s an unreal sort of reality programming, stories retold to make them more saleable to the viewing audience. Oliva nails the way that mainstream media manipulates our thinking; it’s one reason I watch so little television, but it’s not a book that will ruin your favorite shows for you.

Those looking for an absorbing beach read or a thriller to curl up with at the family cabin could do a lot worse.  This guilty pleasure becomes available to the public July 12, 2016.

The Fat Artist and Other Stories, by Benjamin Hale*****

Happy release day! Today this title and another winner, Everyone Brave is Forgiven,  hit the shelves. I don’t reblog all titles upon release; only the ones I really like. Don’t let the cover scare you away, because once I had gotten into the title story, I understood why this was exactly the right cover art. Happy reading!

Seattle Book Mama

thefatartistI like short stories. My Goodreads library tells me I have munched my way through 89 collections and anthologies; yet I can tell you that there is nothing even remotely similar to what Hale offers here. Thanks go to Simon and Schuster and Net Galley for permitting me to view the DRC for the purpose of an honest review. You should get a copy May 17, 2016 when it is released, so that when it is immediately banned by various school boards you will know what they’re screaming about.

The ribbon that binds these brilliant, bizarre tales is that each of them features a social outlier as a protagonist. We start with the airline flight from hell in “Don’t Worry Baby”; you have doubtless flown at least once on a flight with a small child whose mother you long to smack upside the head for her dreadful parenting skills, but…

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Note of Thanks; I’ll Be Back Soon!

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????This week marks this blog’s second anniversary! I note with satisfaction that although my number of followers has climbed slowly, it has climbed rather than fallen. Thank you for making the journey with me.

The blog still hasn’t made money, and this week, as I took some seriously cute photos and vid clips of our new beagle puppy, I realized that if I threw the clips up on YouTube or converted my blog from books to beagles, I could probably find a much quicker income. And just as quickly I decided not to do that. There are already so many entertaining puppy blogs and videos, and if I did that, I could not also make the time and energy to do this. Nevertheless, here’s one picture to show you what I’ve been up to:

Ox day 1

For another few days things will be slow here at Seattle Book Mama. I am teaching our new family member not to eat the cables, walk on tables, nor attempt to access the kitchen counter. He has lived the first months of his life in a kennel, and so when I brought him home Tuesday, it was the first time he had come to live in a house. And for a breed reputed to have a low IQ compared to others, I have to say he’s coming along nicely.

So there will be new posts soon. I have finished reading Love for Lydia; Chancers; Friendly Fire; and Grant and Sherman, by Charles Bracelin Flood. In other words, a romance; a memoir that also deals with addiction and the criminal justice system in the US; biography blended with history of Vietnam War; and another memoir that deals with the American Civil War. And when I curl up at night, the books that have my attention are historical fiction (French Revolution); literary fiction; and mystery. All told, it’s a good cross sampling of much of what I’ve been doing, and so you can expect more of it soon.

Thank you again for your support these two years, and you can expect this note to be replaced with a new blog entry within the next week.

Donna Davis

Seattle Book Mama

Miller’s Valley, by Anna Quindlen*****

Happy release day! This title shines among the 2016 releases I have read so far, and it’s been a great year for fiction. If you haven’t ordered a copy, I urge you to do so.

Seattle Book Mama

MillersValeyMiller’s Valley is an intimate, poignant story so personal that it is hard to remember that it’s fiction rather than a memoir. Thanks to Net Galley and Random House for the DRC. Though I usually read several DRC’s at a time, this was the one I saved for the end of the day, for that time when the phone stops ringing, the dogs quit barking, the family doesn’t need my attention, and there’s nobody at the front door. During those deep, silent hours I immersed myself into the life of Mimi Miller, hypnotized as if my best friend were perched on the bed spilling out her secrets.

If you love good literary fiction, you have to read this book!

The Millers are a family of working farmers. Day by day, inch by inch, water is claiming their land. Shifty business is going on between a developer, who wants to build…

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My Life on the Road, by Gloria Steinem*****

I’ve been thinking a lot about Steinem since the recent unfortunate episode on a TV talk show. I was heartsick. What woman gets past 80 without a single regrettable senior moment? But most of us will be fortunate enough to have a spouse, partner, adult child, or other companion who will take us aside and suggest we rethink what we’re doing or saying. “Mom, I’m getting a little worried. Can we check your meds? What do you think?”

But Steinem doesn’t have that sort of support system. The women that were closest to her for a long, long time are already dead.

So I republish this blog post asking you to think, not about the single magic moment, for which she later apologized, but instead, for all the amazing accomplishments and selfless deeds she has done on behalf of women, and for her willingness in a time when most of white America kept to itself, to learn at the feet of women of color.

Because this is her legacy; her real one.

Seattle Book Mama

mylifeontheroadFeminist heroes are everywhere, but if I had to name half a dozen women that were at the core of the feminist movement that followed closely on the heels of the Civil Rights movement and the movement to end the US war in Vietnam, Steinem’s name would be among them. In fact, hers might be the first name out of my mouth. It was she who coined the salutation “Ms”, and who founded Ms. Magazine. When I saw she had written a memoir, I knew I had to have it, and when Net Galley and Random House gave me the DRC, I was delighted. But this is one of the few books that if I’d had to, I’d have been willing to pay full jacket price in order to read. Heroes are thin on the ground these days, and we treasure those that still walk among us.

My reading records…

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Dang Near Dead, by Nancy G. West**

Note to the reader:  A small drought sometimes occurs between publication times; the spring galleys are out now, and I am happily reading them. The review below was written during the brief time (less than 4 months during 2013) during which I was reading and reviewing DRCs, but had not yet begun my blog. Below is an unfavorable review for a badly written book, but here’s the stand-up thing about the publisher: because my review was so specific in areas I saw needing remediation, Henery Publishers auto-approved me to read their galleys after I wrote it. You’ve got to admit, that’s great.  In a few days, I will have current reviews ready for you to read, but in the meantime…

dangneardeadDear god. What was I thinking?

I had a case of the blues, and I noted my reading material was all on the dark side: Nixon, Goebbels, the Battle of Antietam…maybe I needed something to lighten things up a bit, something fun, something a little bit fluffy. I spotted this title on Net Galley, and I knew it was a risk that it would be too cutesy-pie for my taste. But upon reflection, I had enjoyed cozy mysteries by Sophie Littlefield (A Bad Day for Sorry) and Sarah Shankman (Digging Up Momma; The King is Dead), and I noted that West had won a Lefty award for humorous writing. Why not give it a try?

Why not indeed.

How can one writer manage to stuff every stereotype–many of them sexist–into one really dumb book? I don’t say these things lightly. I write here and there myself, and I try to remember that writers have feelings too. But honestly…references to needing time (on a trip to a Texas ranch) “to primp before the barbecue” and another character noting that since the clown keeps his makeup in the cooler to keep it from separating, that maybe they should keep theirs in there too…really?  Maybe it was intended to be humorous, but it fell wide of the mark. Actually, the clown was the only redeeming character in the book.

The protagonist, Aggie, has a thing for the sheriff; has this been done to death already or has it not? When spotted in a compromising situation, she distracts him by kissing him, then pushing him away. Does yes mean no, or does no mean yes?

Every overused plot device will at some point be used successfully by someone else. The previously mentioned Littlefield has done the leading-the-sheriff-on routine and done it well at times. But to use a device that is essentially old and tired, a writer needs to be so exemplary–and now I am thinking of James Lee Burke–that we completely forget that the schtick has been used before, because we are so deeply engaged by the characters and the situation in which they find themselves.

I have never thrown an e-reader. It is a good way to break an expensive device. I didn’t do it this time either…but I came close.

Recommended exclusively for the brain dead, just in time for Halloween.