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)

Book Review: Nora Bonesteel’s Christmas Past

I don’t want to get spanked, so again I have to inform you I received an advanced copy with the quid pro quo of writing an honest review.

It’s logical to make the assumption that something written by Sharyn McCrumb would be a mystery. As someone who was a huge fan of her Elizabeth McPhearson series, but not so much her more serious work, I was willing to give it a shot simply because when a writer has been so entertaining in the past, you give them the benefit of the doubt.

So I won’t try to deny that it was very disappointing to find there was no mystery to be solved in this novella. I was about halfway through when I realized that, and though I enjoyed the story once I reset my expectations, I am forced to admit the assumption does color my experience with this tome.

My favorite feature about Ms. McCrumb’s writing is the humor, particularly that inherent in the Appalachian region (and make sure you pronounce that right!). I don’t know if these are old sayings or she comes up with them herself, but stuff like “I swear that part of the county is only on the map two days a week” just make my day. Another example is when Nora is daydreaming, but since only kids do that, she calls it “woolgathering.” Another one that made me giggle was “Colder than a penguin’s butt.”

So the novella consists of two stories, and never the twain shall meet. The title refers to Nora being asked by her non-native neighbors to do a sorta exorcism–on a pink metal Christmas tree–in their new home, while the other has the Sheriff and his top deputy heading out on a cold and soon-to-be-snowy night to arrest a hit-and-run driver, having to do so NOW for political reasons. As always Sheriff Arrowwood is sunshine personified and LeDonne his usual dour self; this passage encapsulates the characters perfectly: His cheery attitude did nothing to ease LaDonne’s vigilance; as he was fond of saying, “Crocodiles smile.” There’s also a very humorous description of how to get cows to do what you want them to, even when they don’t want to, and LaDonne definitely does not like being thought of as an angel. Unfortunately, I figured out where this was going about halfway through.

As for the other story–I hesitate to call either plots–the newly-neighbors couple of Shirley and Bill are too cool to believe in ghosts and such, but figure it can’t hurt to have someone of Miss Bonesteel’s rep come in and give advice as to why the Christmas tree is behaving so ornery. As Shirley pondered, “Nothing and nobody in these mountains took well to following rules. She was willing to believe that around here scientific logic might get outvoted.” In addition to seeing ghosts, Nora is also precognitive, which any oracle from ancient literature can tell you is a curse; bad enough that people refuse to believe, but then they like to blame the messenger when it comes true, calling her a witch or worse. We see that when we get a flashback to World War Two, which has a direct bearing on what’s going on now.

So again, no mystery to solve here. Perhaps if you go in knowing that, without expectation, you’ll enjoy it more, as I’m sure I would have. Possibly it would serve as a good introduction for those who’ve never read this fine author.

 

This did not play a part in the review or the rating, but feel like I have to mention it. As far as the ebook proof I was given to read, this is the second book that has trouble with ff, fl, and fi, and the way it seemed to be resolved was to ignore it completely, which turns sheriff into sheri; I have no doubt he would love that. . . except “th” is also missing. Slows down the reading while you figure out what was meant.

;o)