Wednesday, October 17, 2018

For Want of a Penny - a YA survival tale set in Victorian England

For Want of a Penny is the first part of a two book Victorian saga –The Nightingale Chronicles is set in 1840s Colchester and the east end of London. A family tragedy means Sarah is forced to go into service at Grey Friars House as an under nursery-maid. Meanwhile her younger brother Alfie, to avoid being taken into the workhouse, runs away to London to seek his fortune. 
Although the situation wasn’t of her making Sarah thrives, but just as she is becoming established in the household her past returns to shatter her happy life and she is dismissed without references. 
Alfie arrives in London but is tricked and sold to work as a slave on a coal barge. However, eventually he prospers and begins to make himself a better life.

My thoughts:

I didn’t realize that Fenella Miller had so many mainstream romance novels. The first book of hers that ended up in my hands “For Want of a Penny”, an early Victorian, working class coming of age story. Personally, I enjoy reading about the Oliver Twist crowd. Following a freak accident that claims the life of their younger half-brother – and incurs the wrath of their aloof stepfather – Sarah and Alfie, two working class teenagers, are left to fend for themselves. Their sickly mother is in no position to defend them as she embraces what psychologists call “learned helplessness” and chooses the path of least resistance – in her case, following her alcoholic husband to another city to “start a new life”. With help from a local minister, Sarah is able to secure a sought after position as a nursemaid in a wealthy household. It takes her a while to establish herself in a predominantly female team, where an ally can turn into a rival. Alfie discovers that his street smarts are not sufficient. After being tricked into slavery and spending several months in horrible conditions, he breaks free and finds himself on the streets. His freedom is short-lived. Almost immediately, he finds himself a member of a boy gang, where his literacy gives him special status. Remember, this was a time before social media. People grieved and lamented in private. They did not air their sorrow to the world. The characters process their emotional suffering in silence, sustained by their will to survive. Despite all the disturbing social issues addressed in the novel, “For Want of a Penny” does not have a dark and heavy vibe. I’d recommend it for young adults interested in learning more about how their peers lived 170 years ago.

Friday, October 5, 2018

A Date for Hannah - a coy stab at body positivity

Hello commies and YA junkies!

Today's honorable defendant is Callie Henry (aka Kate Regnery), a prolific bestselling author of romance. I do not normally read any kind of romance, sweet or spicy, but on occasion it's helpful to pick up something outside of your comfort zone. It's one of those "know thy enemy" things. I have very mixed feelings about the whole body positive movement, so A Date for Hannah caught my eye. As someone who has struggled with body image and body dysmorphic disorder, I must say that the title character is a little too coy and sweet. She's one giant vanilla marshmallow. Not enough pepper. 

High-schooler, Hannah, has always been self-conscious about her weight, so when hottie swimmer, Liam, pays her extra attention at her sister's wedding, she has a hard time trusting his interest. Throughout the evening, Liam's charm wins her over, until they're falling hard for each other. But the next day, Hannah learns something that may ruin it all.

My thoughts
It is what it is. An unrealistic sugar-vanilla heart-warmer. I realize this author is trying to churn out a book a week and has to resort to assembling stock expressions without getting into psychological nuances. It is not meant to be stimulating or mind-opening. It's supposed to give every chubby girl (as long as she has a cute face and a docile personality) hope that a hot guy will fall for "what is on the inside". I do not know how much time the author spent conversing with overweight women struggling with body image and sexual confidence, but I recommend that a little educational expedition to make her writing more raw and realistic - if that is indeed her goal. Maybe I shouldn't assume that she wants to present a realistic picture of a larger woman's sexuality. She is in the business of producing feel-good non-offensive fiction for teens that will not ruffle any feathers or raise too many questions. 

Monday, October 1, 2018

"Childhood's Day" by John Rosenman - resurrecting your younger self

Hello commies and sci-fi lovers!

I have read and reviewed several short sci-fi reads by John B. Rosenman. I find his short stories thought-provoking and satisfying, like Twilight Zone episodes. I'd like to share with you Childhood's Day, one of Rosenman's most disturbing and stimulating stories. He takes the popular topic of human cloning and presents it with an original twist. 

Suppose you could have yourself reborn at the age of seven so your younger replica could you help you cope with crippling guilt for the death of your father -- would you do it? And would it be fair to the boy you once were, especially since he will live only one day?

My thoughts:
"Childhood's Day" left me craving more. I am not saying that this piece is incomplete as it is. But I would love to see it developed into a full length novel. There are so many "teasers" and "what ifs" built into this sci-fi piece. It raises so many philosophical, psychological and bio-ethical questions, that the author could easily grow them into a 60-90K manuscript. The issue of human cloning has been a classic staple in the genre of science fiction. In Rosenman's short story "Childhood's Day" it is used as a therapy tool. Imagine resurrecting your younger self for a day to help you deal with repressed trauma. It is a popular question: "What would you tell your younger self?" But what would your younger self tell you? More importantly, would you be ready to hear the truth? Would it help you heal your wounds or open new ones? 

Saturday, September 29, 2018

When I'm With You - insecure overweight artists and gay best friends

Hello, commies!
If you are into indie flicks focusing on social justice and self pity, check out When I'm With You. I have very mixed feelings about this movie. I cannot dismiss it completely as a leftist pity party, but there's plenty of liberal propaganda in it too. Check it out. It's on Amazon prime. 

As she struggles to connect with her estranged homophobic brother and admit her true feelings for her gay best friend, artist Lea Costa sets out to unite them all as the family she never had.

My thoughts:
For an indie, this flick is not bad. I could not figure out if it was supposed to be all shaky-cam blurry. There are way too many out of focus shots. I'm not sure if all of them were done that way on purpose. Or was it because the DP could not figure out the settings on the camera? Overall decent natural acting interrupted by the pulsating in and out of focus picture. In terms of the actual plot development and themes, there is not much subtlety. An overweight, self-conscious artist in love with her gay best friend. Very clear-cut ultra left propaganda. Skinny heterosexual men are portrayed as homophobic savages. What else is new? If you can turn off the inner Republican and just watch, there are a few things about this movie you can enjoy - if you can get past the shaky cam.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Bagonoun's Wonderful Songbird - a Beauty & the Beast tale in South Pacific

Greetings, commies!
I've been on my Beauty & the Beast binge. Except, sometimes I like to see the roles reversed. What if the female protagonist was ugly? John Rosenman's Bagonoun's Wonderful Songbird came in as a perfect treat.

An old man and a young girl are unlikely lovers, but what happens when a magical bird starts to sing? Bagonoun's Wonderful Songbird is an improbable love story that takes place on the island Nauru in the South Pacific. Sometimes miracles come true.

My thoughts:
I enjoy Rosenman's novellas and short stories because they read like Twilight Zone episodes. You get philosophy and ethics infused into each piece. Most of Rosenman's works take place in space or on another planet. "Bagonoun's Wonderful Songbird" takes place on an island in South Pacific in some ambiguous past. The idea of a much older man and a younger woman has been explored in his previous work "More Stately Mansions". The twist here is that the girl is deemed ugly by the villagers, too ugly to marry. I know it is very posh now to bash "Western beauty standards". Guess what? Non-Western cultures can be even more brutal when it comes to beauty standards. At least in modern America or Europe you cannot be denied employment or medical care if you do not adhere to the beauty standards. What plays in the girl's favor is that Bagonoun, pushing seventy, is past the point of evaluating women based on their looks. He has a "been there, done it" attitude. In his youth he was married to a beautiful girl and fathered six children with her. Now, in the twilight of his life, he starts looking beyond outward beauty. He is one of the few villagers who bother to get to know Emet, the unmarriageable outcast. However, Bagonoun still has not lost his competitive streak. He  still enters his songbird into competitions. He has not denounced all worldly vanities. He still craves recognition. As he spends time with Emet, telling her myths from the island, their friendship morphs into love - the kind that transcends appearances and transform their very bodies. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

Status Rises - a sequel to Vincent Robert Annunziato's cyber thriller

Commies and game addicts!

Last year I reviewed a marvelous YA cyber thriller by Vincent Robert Annunziato Status, a novel of an addictive game fueled by social egos. Today I am posting a review for Status Rises, a sinister sequel. 

The game too dangerous to stop playing returns in this intense sequel to the original "Status The Game." 

Since Status shut down last year, life has just about returned to normal for the town of Madison. Bob Brookes and his former students have struggled to move on, but Status has other ideas. Odd things pop up around town. Old symbols, people who look out of place and a new version of the game threaten the fragile peace of Madison. Amongst it all somewhere, somehow, someone has gone to great lengths to draw Bob and his alliance back into the game. 

Rumors surface about Timmy, the high schooler who took his life at the end of last year’s finale. Some say he is still alive and he concocted an elaborate hoax to fool everyone about his death. Others say there are prophecies that once fulfilled will allow him to rise from the dead and enact his revenge on those that defeated him. Either way Bob and his crew have to be wary. 

Will the team reunite and take on this new menace? Or will they ignore it all in hopes it will go away? Of course, there's only one way to find out.

Stay Strong! Stay Loyal!

Click now and get in the game!

My thoughts
Like cancer, it returns. The addictive game that had ravaged the town of Madison the year before, having turned students and faculty into zombies. It seems that with the main perpetrators either dead or institutionalized, things should be returning to normal? Not so fast. Too early to let the guard down. You can shut down the game, but you cannot shut down the human weaknesses and vices that fuel the game - insecurity, vanity, hunger for power and revenge. Timmy's bereaved mother reinvents herself as an avenger, determined to make the survivors of Status pay for her son's death. Once again the line between human beings and their embellished virtual analogs blurs. 

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Gaspar Noe's "Love" - a compilation of sexual cliches

I could not resist reviewing this cinematic abortion that I stumbled across. Gaspar Noe's Love is an example of sloppy, lazy, unimaginative writing and cinematography. The cover image of three tongues connected by strings of saliva pretty much sets the mood and the viewers' expectations.

My thoughts
Drugs, repetitive sex, threesomes, suicidal tendencies, older married boyfriends, broken condoms. All been done. The director must be really naive to think that viewers are shocked by full frontal shots. Sorry to break it to him, but most of us know what various body parts look like. The sex scenes are not sexy - they are silly. There is very little left to the imagination. The writing is equally unimaginative. Declarations of love mixed with threats and profanities. The character development is below minimal. The movie is supposed to be set in Paris, yet you wouldn't know if you weren't told. The most unrealistic part was the size Murphy's apartment. Does the director know how much Parisian flats cost and how much an American film student can afford? We are told that Murphy is a film student, yet he looks and acts like a club bouncer. Gotta love that wife-beater he wears for half of the movie. So you basically take a guy who looks like he belongs on the streets of the Bronx, call him a "film maker" and stick him in Paris. And that suddenly makes the whole flick more sophisticated? If you are intrigued by a pathetic attempt to make an "edgy" movie, and if you have 2+ hours of your time to waste, by all means, give "Love" a try.