Saturday, November 29, 2014

83. "The Red Bishop" by Greg Boose

Boose, Greg. The Red Bishop. Full Fathom Five, 2014.
305 pages
Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

**I was given this book in exchange for an honest review**

Lake Price’s entire life changed when her brother, Kimball, disappeared. Since his disappearance Lake’s main goal was to get into dangerous situations that would help her forget about the pain his absence left behind. One evening, shortly before Thanksgiving, Lake and her friends decide to spend the night in a haunted house and they get way more than they bargained for. They discover a coven of evil witches and from that point on, Lake’s life spirals into a crazy adventure of witch hunting. Halstead, a man who spends his life tracking the witches, believes that Lake is the Red Bishop, an individual genetically programmed to hunt witches.

The Red Bishop is not written for adults. It is not written for young adults. It’s audience is mature children and pre-teens and the writing reflects this as the language is simplistic and the story very linear. The characters are very much teenagers and their dialogue is peppered with “dude!” and “like” and “bro”. That being said, the characters are pretty lovable, though they could stand for some better development. It appears that this will be the first book in a series so hopefully we can learn more about the characters in the coming novels.

My only quibble with this book really is the character development. Lake’s initial reaction to first being attacked by the witches is blasé. She doesn’t react with disbelief or with shock; she is angry and intensely determined to figure out the connection between the witches her brother. Halstead has the potential to be an immensely interesting character but lacks the required back story readers need to bond with him. The best developed characters are Lake and John and, as I said earlier, I hope in the next books of the series, we can get to know the rest of them more deeply too.

The best part of The Red Bishop is the creep factor. These witches are seriously creepy. Seriously. Creepy. I’ve read plenty of scary stories so I’ve been exposed to lots of different creepy bad guys, but the witches in this book are some of the creepiest bad guys I’ve ever met. Even though this was written for mature children and pre-teens, as an adult I was thoroughly frightened by the scenes with the witches. The hair on my arms stood on end and I had to turn on every light in my home. Yeah.

This is a really fun read as long as you don’t expect it to be written for a mature audience. Weaknesses aside, this book is still written better than the last book of the Divergent series. (Did I really just write that? Bad d’Arty….)

3 darts out of 5

This book is FOR people: who don’t mind reading simplistic writing, who are looking for a good scare, and who want a quick, fun read.

This book is NOT FOR people: who want in-depth character development.  

Saturday, November 22, 2014

82. "Pink Sari Revolution" by Amana Fontanella-Khan

Fontanella-Khan, Amana. Pink Sari Revolution: A Tale of Women and Power in India. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2014.

248 pages.

Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

Sampat Pal is a force to be reckoned with. Fontanella-Khan credits her with single handedly starting a revolutionary women’s rights organization in India’s most corrupt and crime ridden areas of Uttar-Pradesh. Pink Sari Revolution follows the story of Sheelu, a young woman accused of stealing from a corrupt legislator. Sheelu is arrested and the legislator threatens her family with murder and every number of unsavory crimes. Woven into this story are anecdotes about Sampat Pal and how she came to found the Pink Gang.

The Pink Gang works to free Sheelu and bring justice to the legislator. They use sticks to threaten police officers being bribed to cover up the crimes committed against Sheelu and her family. They use connections with local newspapers and other media to spread the story and they function with force by numbers.

Pink Sari Revolution is an in-depth study on women’s identities in India and truly offers a clear depiction of the current conditions of Uttar Pradesh. Fontanella-Khan has done admirable research by living in India, learning Hindi and spending plenty of time with the individuals who lived out this story.

The one critique I have of how Fontanella-Khan portrayed the Pink Gang was the way in which the violent crimes committed by the Pink Gang aren’t explored more critically. I understand that the oppression these women faced is like nothing I can ever fully grasp not having experienced it myself and, in some instances, violence is absolutely justified. What I saw happening a lot though, was the gang imitating the same violent and manipulative methods of making change that their oppressors have used. I wanted a better discussion about this but….writing is hard. Exploring a topic like this is difficult. For the most part, Fontanella-Khan pulled it off effectively.

This book is FOR people who: are interested in gender issues in India, who enjoy reading nonfiction, and who want to know more about corruption in India in general.

This book is NOT FOR people who: want a highly theoretical look at the Pink Gang’s methods.

3 darts out of 5

Thursday, November 13, 2014

81. "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" by Alexander McCall Smith

McCall Smith, Alexander. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. New York: Anchor Books, 1998.

235 pages.

Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

In Botswana, Precious Ramotswe uses an inheritance to open her own detective agency. In a world run by men, Precious must be brave and assertive to solve the puzzles her clients bring her. Less a murder mystery and more a caricature, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency surprised me. The past year I’ve been devouring cheap murder mysteries. I was expecting this to be the same, formulaic murder mystery. It did not meet these expectations. It exceeded them.

I should preface this with some background information about my reading experience. I am well-read in African literature. I’ve read the major writers—Ousman Sembene, Frantz Fanon, Chinua Achebe, Mariama Ba, and Calixthe Beyala. I’ve taken many, many classes on Francophone and Anglophone literature of North and West Africa. I can spot a well-written piece of African literature and pick it out from the pseudo-African literature (books written more from a colonist’s perspective than an African’s perspective, etc., etc.).

That being said, a lot of debate exists about this book in particular. The debate stems from the author of the novel, a white man, whose protagonist is a black African woman. Critics claim that the tone is patronizing, pointing out how “simple minded” the characters are. Critics lauded the slow pace of the narrative as another nail in the coffin for this book.

I myself, found the book delightful. I’ve thought a lot about the criticism about McCall Smith being a white man narrating a black woman’s story and to be perfectly honest, as a feminist I was quick to jump on the bandwagon and fume about what a foul trick he was trying to play. I had to take a step back though, and think about this as a writer and a reader too. If I knew nothing about this author and I read the book with no idea who had written it, I would have found it to be a compelling and authentic story.

Those who find the characters to be simple-minded and the plot slow might not be reading the text and digesting it. If one slows down a bit and digests the story as it unfolds, one discovers an enormous amount of wit and humor in the characters and their interactions with one another. The story moves slowly, but so does life in Botswana. It unfolds more as a collection of vignettes than as one seamless novel but this enables the reader to digest and interpret and contemplate the story instead of speeding through it. One can read a chapter and put the book down for a while. Think about the plot, the characters the connections between this chapter and the last.  It’s not meant to be read quickly. It’s meant to be absorbed one page at a time. The only way to enjoy this book is to read it slowly. It’s not a Tom Clancy novel. There’s a time and place for fast-paced, plot-driven novels, and this is not it.

SO, let’s go back to expectations. I was expecting a beach read, or as a friend and fellow blogger puts it, popcorn lit. My experience with the narrative styles of African writers allowed me to recognize that my expectations were way off the mark. This isn’t popcorn lit; this is African lit and it’s delightful.

4 darts out of 5

This book is FOR: people who like a slow, character-driven story.

This book is NOT FOR: people expecting an action-packed, fast-pasted mystery thriller.