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Original Essays | September 30, 2014

Brian Doyle: IMG The Rude Burl of Our Masks



One day when I was 12 years old and setting off on my newspaper route after school my mom said will you stop at the doctor's and pick up something... Continue »
  1. $13.27 Sale Trade Paper add to wish list

    Children and Other Wild Animals

    Brian Doyle 9780870717543

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Customer Comments

emmejo has commented on (325) products.

The Bone Doll's Twin by Lynn Flewelling
The Bone Doll's Twin

emmejo, August 7, 2014

Skala was traditionally ruled by queens, but when Erius took over the throne, that changed. When his first child was a son, it seemed certain that the days of warrior queens were over, as every possible female heir, no matter how distant a cousin, mysteriously died. When the king's sister-in-law is about to give birth, her husband calls on three powerful wizards and witches to help prevent his child's death as well. Twins are born, but only one can survive and the newborn daughter is disguised as her dead twin brother. Tobin grows up lonely in a remote castle with a paranoid father, insane mother and the violent, angry ghost of his twin. But the king's nephew can't be hidden forever, and the same magically gifted people who made Tobin's new identity now have to figure out how to introduce him to the world.

I first heard of this book as one of the very few fantasy series that approaches having a transgender main character. Certainly, we see elements that show Tobin's struggle with gendered expectations as a small child, followed by a later stubborn refusal to seem feminine, but we only really get a glimpse of fluctuating gender at the end of the book. I suspect the next book will get more into gender issues, since Tobin is only just starting puberty here and a kid is pretty much a kid, regardless of which gender they are assigned.

I also felt a little irritated at some of the author's choices of things that show Tobin is a girl at heart, even if she is physically male. A fondness for dolls, fainting at the sight of blood after a first hunting trip and no interest in flirting with girls are all presented as signs that Tobin is female, which are pretty sexist, hetronormative things to choose.

On the other hand, we have some gay side characters who I felt were handled quite well, and I liked the open acceptance bisexuality and that sexuality fluctuates with Tharin's discussion of the fact that his lover (who I won't name here so as to avoid spoilering someone) "grew out" of his relationship and ended up falling in love with a woman. It's too bad these flexible definitions weren't used for Tobin's character.
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Dragon's Keep by Janet Carey
Dragon's Keep

emmejo, June 6, 2014

Rosalind was born with a horrible secret; a dragon's claw where her ring finger should be. No one but herself and her mother know, and despite all their attempts are finding a cure, Rose comes of age with no improvement. Now she is expected to find a suitor fit for a princess, but can't bear the idea of revealing her claw. These troubles will soon seem mild, though, when a dragon whose mate was killed attacks the castle looking for revenge and claims Rose as fair payment.

I was looking for a light read and read this one in a day. I found the tone a little odd. The writing feels like it is targeted at the lowest end of YA, more tween, yet the older characters, heavy mythology and historical allusions are more than I would expect for this target demographic. This disconnect was a bit of a distraction. It would probably make a perfect book for an older teen who wants some detail to their tales, but reads below grade level.

Rosalind is bland, a fairly unappealing stand-in for the reader and she does nothing particularly surprising or engaging. I loved the character of Kye, her love interest, despite the fact he gets few pages. Few historical books for teens acknowledge the trade between Europe and the Middle East, so giving Rose a Middle Eastern love interest was a bold move and one I liked. It also gave the author a chance to work in some culture clash and add internal and interpersonal conflict the book sorely lacked other places.
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Night Shadows: Queer Horror by Greg Herren
Night Shadows: Queer Horror

emmejo, May 22, 2014

I loved this collection of creepy tales. Oe of my only two quibbles were that it focused nearly entirely on Gay and Lesbian characters. Since it was advertised as "queer" I was hoping for some diversity in gender as well as sexual orientation. We has some side characters who were trans, but little else. The other is that the stories tended to be clumped, with multiple tales with similar elements placed together. I think this does the authors a disservice, forcing closer comparisons than if they were intermingled with different stories. It also gives the reader a chance to burn-out on these elements ("Another haunted house?") which they might not otherwise.

Rape and sexual assault happen throughout the book, so readers who find those triggering or too upsetting may want to proceed with caution.

My favorites were:

"Saint Louis 1990" by Jewwll Gomez, which had great characters who bounced off each other very well considering the small number of pages for events to happen in.

"Blackout" by Jeffrey Ricker is one of the few haunted house tales I've read that was actually suspenseful and made my spine crawl.

"The Zealous Advocate" by Carsen Taite is a great example of non-supernatural horror and the POV made it particularly effective.

"The Price" by J.M. Redman was effectively horrifying, with characters you can't decide whether to root for or against.

"Ordinary Mayhem" by Victoria A. Brownworth is the last tale, and IMO the most creepy. It was the first horror story I've read in a long time that succeeded in churning my stomach and made me consider setting the book down because of the intensity of the too-realistic atrocities.
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Merlin Codex #02: The Iron Grail
Merlin Codex #02: The Iron Grail

emmejo, February 28, 2014

Merlin returns with Urtha to his kingdom, where it seems everything has gone wrong. Ghost of the dead and shadows of the unborn have taken over his home, driving out the living. Merlin goes to work trying to discover why these ghosts, who were peaceful, unseen neighbors, have suddenly turned on their ancestors and descendants. It will take him, and those who have been caught up in his travels: Jason, Urtha and Niiv and others, into some of the strangest, most dangerous places across many worlds.

Like many center books in a trilogy, the plot here is weak, trying to bridge the conclusion of the first and the set-up for the dramatic series conclusion. Luckily, Holdstock's strong, engaging writing and increasingly complex character relationships keep the reader going when the plot flounders.

We see a lot more magic and supernatural events here, sometimes a little too much. At some points my attention began to disengage when we were treated to endless, minimally-helpful magic tricks and explanations of them.
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Celtika: The Merlin Codex, Book One by Robert Holdstock
Celtika: The Merlin Codex, Book One

emmejo, February 11, 2014

Merlin wanders the Earth on an eternal journey, straying from this path rarely. One of his strayings was to help Jason seek the mythical Golden Fleece. He became close friends with Jason and was drawn into his life, staying by his side and trying to help him even when his wife murdered his sons in front of him. 700 years later, Merlin raises his friend and his famous ship from a watery grave and brings Jason shocking news: his sons are alive. His wife used her magic to send them into the future, and now they walk the earth 700 years after their birth. The two old friends gather a hasty crew and set out on another quest, but this is an entirely different world than the one Jason knew and the men and women they have crewing their ship all have their own reasons for wanting to travel south.

I admit, I've been burned by a lot of "Celtic" fantasy and was a bit wary of this one. So many end up either being this hippy, peace and love and earth-magic sort or the wildly opposite, a white male supremacist gorefest. Rarely do we see the effect of the greeks and Romans or the fact that many people travelled and lived in places other than their homelands, but because this is basically a travel-tale, it means we get an excellent selection of different peoples, cultures, magic systems and beliefs.

The male characters are well-constructed and complex, with conflicting motivations and emotions. Sadly, the couple women are terribly written in very broad tropes. Ullanna was better, but still very much the stereotype of an exotic warrior woman. Niive was just painfully bad, to the point where I was skimming sections that featured her heavily.

The writing is slightly more formal than we see in most modern fantasy, but it is fast-paced and clear, sticking with simple structure that makes for a quick, easy read while reminding us that it is set in a time when written records were a big deal.
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