Book Reviews: LA, Paris, West Virginia, and Fantasyland

Why LA? Pourquoi Paris?
A woman who has lived and worked in both Los Angeles and Paris talks about their differences, but more importantly their similarities, in a work full of visual comparisons.
After a long intro chapter, the book moves into diverse sections, the first of which is monuments. There are drawings, so it moves much faster. It took a while to get into this, but after the slow start I grew to love it. Really enjoyed all the comparisons between the cities, like the Arch de Triumph with the Paramount Pictures front gate. My surprising favorite was the Palais Garnier, which is the building featured in the intro of the Miraculous TV show, and reminds me of Royce Hall at UCLA, even though I know that one’s based on a church in Milan.
Two of my local faves—In-N-Out Burger and Baskin-Robbins—made it into this book! Okay, BR31 isn’t local anymore—it’s mentioned it’s the largest ice cream chain in the world—but it started in El Lay, and that’s what counts. That angle of Olvera Street is unusual, never looked at it that way.
I suppose it should be expected, considering the author’s background, that there’s a lot of fashion stuff in here, but it’s still the most boring part.
Two mistakes in the Olympics section: St. Louis was the first American city to host, and nobody calls the Coliseum the Olympic stadium.
In a thoroughly modern move, instead of street directions this book gives you GPS coordinates.
The drawings are watercolor, childish but lively. Despite the abstract nature, the subjects are surprisingly recognizable. The Colorado Street Bridge is so well drawn. Another beauty that’s done so lovingly is the Huntington. The Norton Simon is painted in such a lovely Impressionistic style that it could be hanging there.
You have to be in the mood for it, but I thoroughly enjoyed the artwork, surprising myself. I think the best word I can use to describe this is playful.
3.5/5

The Unquiet Grave
My love for Sharyn McCrumb—or at least her early works—battles with my dislike for historical fiction, or in this case a necessarily fictionalized version of a true legend, the story of the Greenbrier Ghost.
There’s very little here about the actual murder trial. Of course it would be pretty dry if it was just an account of the case, but this story blossoms into over 350 pages of background on the family of the murder victim as well as one of the defense attorneys, with him telling the story many years later as he’s sitting in a psychiatric facility, encouraged by his doctor to talk about what it was like being the first black lawyer in West Virginia. The two distinct storylines made it hard for me to remember one while reading the other; the book goes to exactly the halfway mark before the two threads tie together.
At one point I thought, “So many hints about how bad Zona’s husband is; wish she’d get on with it.” So yes, I’m a jinx.
This is the kind of brilliance she can bring: “The time between their first setting eyes on one another and their wedding day was both too long and too short, depending on how you looked at it.” But the dazzling nuggets of prose are too few amongst long dull descriptions. Yes, I fully admit I’m looking at this through the kaleidoscope that was her early humorous work, but even when compared to her Appalachian series this was still a more difficult read than it needed to be.
3/5

The Spellsinger Adventures Volume One
This collection consists of the first three books in Alan Dean Foster’s long-running series that features a human from our Earth falling into a fantasy world of giant talking animals. In this place he’s a musician/magician, but his spells hardly ever turn out as he’d intended; just about the only song he got right was Sloop John B, and that didn’t end well for him either. His diverse comrades—that word used to appease the dragon—include a wise old turtle, a Cockney-accented dirty-minded otter, a dapper rabbit, an angry bat, and two gorgeous but deadly human ladies. This is more than anything a comedy road adventure, with the group fighting evil and sometimes each other on their way to a face-off with the most dangerous foe any world has even seen.
The writing doesn’t take itself too seriously, and the reader shouldn’t either; just read and enjoy and don’t try too hard to make sense of it. . .
4/5

Moribund
A supposedly ordinary teen, who previously had an encounter with magical forces that left her injured, has to find her hidden power in order to defeat a bad guy from the dark side, with either the help or hindrance of a dark princess she’s falling in love with. (Wow, I can’t believe I managed to encapsulate that, because it’s a lot more complicated.)
What drew me to this book was the violin-playing lady on the cover, but in the end the instrument had very little to do with anything. Right into it there’s a lot of exposition, but it’s well done. It’s strange: I found myself enjoying this without really knowing why. There’s so much introspection going on, all talk and no action, which would usually have bored me, but the two main characters are incredibly fascinating.
There are some genuinely hilarious lines in here. My fave: What was their weakness? Kryptonite? The color yellow? A fluffy kitten? Gah!
Can I still call it over-the-top Emo when the author mentions it. . . again and again? Hell, there’s even a Kylo Ren reference.
So this is one of those stories that’s more about the writing than the plot, but in the end I found it worthwhile.
3.5/5

;o)

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