Book Review: Feast Days by Ian MacKenzie

Book Review: Feast Days by Ian MacKenzie

Feast Days by Ian MacKenzie is a novel about a young upwardly mobile couple transferred to Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The Plot

He is an investment banker and she is trapped in a foreign country without much marketable skills or a visa that would allow her to work. The descriptions of Brazil are accurate. The division between the rich in their walled complexes and the poor in their shantytowns is very clear. Among the rich Brazilians, there is also a status competition. Emma, the American woman, works for friends teaching English. Having a tutor is a status symbol, even if one doesn’t really need one.

There is crime on the streets. There is corruption in business and government. There are protests and protests that turn into riots. Children of the rich are joining in the fight if not for the movement for the thrill. Haitian immigrants legal and illegal are protected by the parish priests and become the new outcasts giving the poor someone to target. A great deal is given to the division of the people and to the chaos of society outside walled complexes.

Writing Quirks

The most interesting thing I found and what kept me digging into the story is the narrator. The cover flap will tell the reader her name is Emma. You will only find her name once in the text. Her husband does not refer to her by name nor do her Brazilain friends. Perhaps she is just another American woman with no value except as a status symbol tutor or wife.

Equally interesting is her husband. He is never referred to by name. When they were dating Emma refers to him as “the man who would become my husband.” She addresses and refers to him as “my husband” throughout the rest of the book. No one addresses him by name.

Perhaps he too is just another Yankee in a foreign country. There for a while then replaced with another equally forgettable person. This makes the book far more interesting to me than I originally expected. It added depth to the story that made it much more than just a story.

About the Author

MacKenzie’s first novel was City of Strangers, and his fiction has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, The Greensboro Review, and elsewhere. He was born and raised in Massachusetts, graduated from Harvard College, and has lived in New York City, Ethiopia, and Brazil.

I do not review much contemporary fiction because it seems to be written for instant entertainment without much depth or lasting memory. Feast Days is something different.

This review of Feast Days was originally published on the Evil Cyclist.

About the Reviewer

Evil Cyclist is a vegetarian with an M.A. in International Relations, a and former Marine. Since then, he has left the corporate world to become a bicycle mechanic and wheel builder. He lives a car-free life in the suburbs of Dallas, TX and spends his spare time buried in books. Find him on Goodreads and Twitter.

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Book Review: The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One by Amanda Lovelace

Book Review: The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One by Amanda Lovelace

9781449489427_frontcover

Title: The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One
Author:
 Amanda Lovelace
Genre: Poetry
Version: ARC – eBook
Page Count: 208
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Synopsis: GoodReads
Notable Notables: Free verse poetry, Feminism
Recommended Readers: Women especially, but men should read this, too, honestly
Rating: ★★★★★

Thank you, NetGalley, for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

My second foray into contemporary free verse poetry went much better than my last, if my high rating is any indication. The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One is my first read from Amanda Lovelace, covering topics ranging from historic female oppression to the 2017 Women’s March.

And I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

At first I didn’t know what to expect and my hopes weren’t super high, but both Lovelace’s dedication and trigger warning at the very beginning made me sit up straighter. This is a woman who both knows and respects her audience, and the more I read, the more I realized that, yeah, I am getting feminist poetry from a female perspective. How novel! (You may think I’m being facetious, but I’ve had a lot of Male Feminism™ thrown in my face lately that has not been great, so this was a breath of fresh air in a room full of Axe body spray.)

Unlike my last poetry book, this one had structure. Glorious, beautiful structure. Not just with the poems themselves (and many of them were structured in interesting and unique ways) but the book as a whole. Lovelace splits her poetry into four parts: the trial, the burning, the firestorm, and the ashes, and within each of these parts, her poems build in ferocity, passion, and content. You really feel like each part is taking you somewhere, building you towards something.

With symbolism largely revolving around witch burnings, imagery of fire and ashes and the rage they come from abound, but I never got bored with it. It never devolves into the raging feminist stereotype for me. So much of it is about women taking back our power, expressing our anger, getting back at our oppressors, but the endgame is one of action, dedicated to leaving the world better than when we found it. There’s a lot of healing taking place here:

here’s
the tricky thing
about fire:

it stays soft
even while it
destroys

everything
in its
path,

but
it’s up
to you

to
make sure
that

it doesn’t
burn the
good

with
the rot.

– we can’t lose our empathy.

That isn’t to say the poems pull their punches. Many deal with topics such as sexual assault, insecurity, eating disorders, fear, powerlessness, violence, and the venom that comes with them. They call out the patriarchy, the laughable “Not All Men” saying, and the 2016 election. All the while, Lovelace pays tribute to women, both fictional and real, by name and by identity, regardless of race, religion, or gender. There are poems dedicated to Eliza Hamilton, Hillary Clinton, Diana Prince, Emma Sulkowicz, and many more that had me sitting there, stunned, when I realized who and what they were about.

So would I call this form of free verse real poetry? Well, poetry is about making you feel something. It’s about making you think and keeping you company. There were so many times I was nodding along, going, “Yeah. Yeah! YEAH!” in my head because the words and lessons in Lovelace’s work were so relevant to me. I have lived so much of this female experience, and I have seen other women go through the more terrible consequences that come with the crime of being born women.

I felt angry and heartbroken at times, but also hopeful and empowered AF. I felt called to action, both for societal change and for personal change, namely to always treat other women like family because they are. We’re all going through a lot of the same stuff and our differences can only enrich and teach us, not divide us. We are united in more ways than those who seek to oppress us want us to know.

they don’t want us
to be

mary sue’s,
but

they don’t want us
to be

unlikable,
either.

that begs
the question:

do they even want us
to exist

outside of their
late-night fantasies?

– i am neither your paper doll, nor your blow-up doll.

Is this real poetry? Damn right, it is.

This review was originally published here, on Where the Words Take Me.

About the Reviewer

Melody, is a 26-year-old, who lives in Georgia, USA. She reviews books she reads; some good, some bad, all appreciated. You can find her on Twitter @melodyrenah.

The Master and Margarita review

The Master and Margarita review

Books, with occasional music

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I was told that all good stories start off with a glass (or a bottle) of alcohol. Surprise, surprise, this is one of the best books I’ve ever read and it starts with apricot juice!

To start off, this is not my first Bulgakov book. When I first started college and joined the local library, I picked up Heart of a Dog and it terrified me to the core. Yes, it was brilliant story, but it was so unsettling that, I don’t know, it kind of scared me off of the other Bulgakov books? And I had Master and Margarita ever since I was 17. I originally picked it up because there was a cafe in my hometown that was called Master and Margarita, so it kind of, I guess inspired me, irrelevant, onto the review.

9780099593935-us.jpg  <– My copy

Okay, so I LOVED Bezdomny. He just entered my inner…

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5 Biggest Cliches in YA Romance

5 Biggest Cliches in YA Romance

Recently, I’ve spent some time working my way through the bestseller list of YA romance fiction – everything from John Green to hit debuts such as Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon, which was recently made into a movie.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the book. But for now I’m done with YA fiction and going back to my usual genre of world lit, classics and general gritty depressing stories that leave me in existential doubt for days afterwards.

As charming as it sometimes is to indulge in the idealistic world of manic pixie dream girls (MPDGs); deep conversations under the stars; and passionate, obsessive love affairs; it’s all starting to feel a bit fake. Here are the 5 biggest cliches that I think have been way overdone in YA these days.

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

She’s beautiful. She’s deep. She’s probably a metaphor. She’s ‘broken’ but ‘strong’ and wants to make cryptic remarks about the meaning of life on a rooftop at 3am. She’s ‘not like the other girls’ because she’s a special snowflake and apparently has the ability to understand life better than everyone else, despite being a teenager with no actual life experience.

Most likely she has a mental illness that’s probably being romanticised by the male love interest. Examples: basically anything written by John Green, pretty much ever.

Astronomy.

The MPDGs favourite activity? Astronomy of course. Because relating everything in your life to the workings of the universe automatically makes you deep, apparently. Sorry, no. It doesn’t make you deep. It makes you sound kind of egotistical and occasionally like a bad science textbook. Example: Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon.

The dead parent/sibling/relative trope.

Quite often it just seems like a lazy attempt to remove the adults from the story so the author doesn’t have to write them. In reality, family relationships are a pretty damn huge part of teenager’s lives. It’d be nice to see some more YA novels accurately reflect that.

Romanticising mental illness.

This one worries me. While I have read some books which have given the topic the gravity it deserves (Laurie Halse Anderson does this excellently) I’ve also read many more that treat it as ‘teenage angst’ or an interesting quirk to make the character seem broody, mysterious and ultimately more attractive.

Yeah, no. Just don’t. Being depressed isn’t sexy, it’s just extremely unpleasant and soul-destroying really.

Instalove!

Because why spend valuable pages on having the characters actually get to know each other when they could be discussing the stars and their undying love instead.

What tropes and cliches do you hate in YA fiction? 

This article was originally published here, and was edited and reformatted for publishing at black CATastrophy.

About the Author

Annmarie McQueen is a London-based writer, blogger, and idealistic millennial. She enjoys instagramming food, taking selfies with dogs, and spoken word. If you want to make her super happy, please check out her my new novel ‘This Really Happened’ here.

Black Catastrophy

BOOK REVIEW: The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin

BOOK REVIEW: The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin

the !n(tro)verted yogi

The Lathe of HeavenThe Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon page

This book’s lead character, George Orr, runs afoul of the law for borrowing the prescription cards of friends and acquaintances. But Orr isn’t a run-of-the-mill junky out to get prescription painkillers. Instead, he’s taking medications to keep from dreaming, because Orr’s dreams change reality—sometimes in subtle, and sometimes in drastic, ways. Of course, the world would be chaotic if the dreams only changed the present, but they also retroactively change the past to be consistent with the new present. Orr is the only one who remembers both the new and old timelines, but he’s not happy with these god-like powers–especially given the chaotic and unpredictable possibilities that arise from the subconscious mind. Not unexpectedly, Orr is reluctant to tell anyone this because they will think he’s mad.

Orr gets assigned to voluntary therapy…

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Book Review: Skin of the Wolf by Sam Cabot

Book Review: Skin of the Wolf by Sam Cabot

The old saying goes that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But who really has time to read 100,000 words before deciding to buy a book? No one, really. So readers will inevitably base their book-purchasing decisions, on the cover.

Skin of the Wolf by Sam Talbot Book Review 4.jpg

This is what happened when I saw Skin of the Wolf‘s red and black design with the wolf metal carvings. One look, and I knew it was a book I had to read, though I had no idea what it was about.

I was not disappointed. This is the second 5-star book I have read in a long time, which was a nice followup after Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu.

This book is the sequel to Blood of the Lamb, which I haven’t read, yet. Even so, Skin of the Wolf stands well on its own, and I had no issues following the story, or the references to the previous adventure.

Here’s why this was such an amazing read!

The Plot

The book is based in wintry New York City, and follows the adventures of two Noantris (vampires), two Shifters (werewolves), a priest, a few wealthy connoisseurs of the art world, and several Native Americans.

When the story starts, Tahkwheso, christened Edward, is reflecting on the Ohtahyohnee, a wolf mask he believes will help him fulfill his destiny. He also thinks about his twin brother, Gata, christened Michael, who he believes has neglected his true purpose to become a part of the White World.

On a cold evening, Livia Pietro, a vampire, goes to see the famed Ohtahyohnee mask at the Sotheby’s gallery. When she holds the mask, she laments that it cannot be real, as her vampire senses caught nothing extraordinary from the mask. She confesses her suspicions to her friend, Katherine, who also works at the gallery, though she does not say why she has her doubts.

Shortly after the showing, another young woman who works at the gallery, is killed. Though the wolf mask is left behind, the police believe it played a role in the murder. Later that night, while Michael is strolling through the park with his lover, Spencer George, the two are attacked by a wolf, Michael’s brother.

Spencer intervenes to save Michael, and is injured, but immediately recovers, forcing him to reveal to Michael that he is a vampire. He also witnesses Michael change into a wolf to protect him, forcing Michael to confess that he is a Shifter — knowledge that he claims usually ends in the death of the witness.

On the night of the attack, Spencer George had made plans to meet with Livia Pietro, and her friend, Father Thomas Kelly. On learning of the attack, and Michael’s capabilities, the three offer their help to Michael, to help him find his brother and put an end to the trouble he has started.

Meanwhile, detective Keewayhakeequayoo, christened Charlotte, is put on the case due to the Native American elements of the murder. At first suspecting Michael and his friends, her sharp instincts nonetheless puts her in Edward’s path.

Characters

Skin of the Wolf has very distinct characters, no matter how minor a role they play. I will only mention the main ones below.

Tahkwehso, (christened Edward)

As a child, Edward learned that both he and his twin brother, Michael, were werewolves — a secret they swore to take to the grave. Unfortunately, the secrecy surrounding the identity of Shifters made for a very lonely upbringing, as they knew no others.

Edward becomes obsessed with not just finding fellow Shifters, but also going against tradition, by attempting to Awaken the adults. To do this, he needs the famed Ohtahyohnee mask to bring about successful transformations.

Livia Pietro

Livia is an Italian art connoisseur and academic living in New York City. She is also the first vampire we are introduced to in Skin of the Wolf. Throughout the book, Livia displays fierce loyalty, quick thinking, a curious mind, and a willingness to get her hands dirty on behalf of her friends.

Katherine Cochran

Katherine is Livia’s friend, and a worker at the Sotheby’s, the art gallery showing the Ohtahyohnee wolf mask. Katherine also knows a lot more about the mask’s origins than she lets on, and carries a heavy secret that puts her in grave danger by the end of the story.

Father Thomas Kelly

A Jesuit priest, Father Kelly’s faith was shaken in Blood of the Lamb, after he discovered the existence of vampires, and his Church’s involvement in Noantri history. He nonetheless decides to carry on with his work in the Church, a decision that pleases his friend, Livia.

Throughout the book, Father Kelly finds himself pushing the limits of his faith; and not least of his challenges, is his obvious attraction to Livia.

Grata, (christened Michael)

Like his brother, Michael is a werewolf. Also like Edward, Michael has dedicated his life to finding other Shifters. Michael, however, uses science to do this, a method that is frowned upon by Edward and his friend, Abornazine, born Peter van Vliet.

A proud and independent man, Michael must learn to accept the help of his friends, or risk losing his brother, and bringing shame and death to the Native American community.

Spencer George

An art connoisseur with expensive tastes, Spencer George shows as much fierce loyalty as Livia does. His loyalty to Michael, however, is influenced by his love for his partner. This love compels him to throw himself in harm’s way to help Michael, regardless of the consequences. This saves Michael’s life twice in the novel, and both times, from the clutches of Edward.

Abornazine, (born Peter van Vliet)

Peter is a wealthy White man who simultaneously rejected his privileged upbringing, and fell in love with the ways of Native Americans. Under the tutelage of an old and ailing Native American, he learned to perform the Awakening Ceremony, and joins forces with Edward to steal the mask, so they can use it to find and awaken other Shifters.

Keewayhakeequayoo (christened Charlotte)

Charlotte is a well-respected police officer in New York City. As the Indian at the precinct, she often finds herself placed on cases involving Native Americans, for political reasons. Her assignment to the murder case at Sotheby’s is no different.

While she adamantly refuses to fall into Indian stereotypes, she nonetheless accepts that her success as a police officer often comes from following instincts and that gut-feeling, logic cannot always explain. These are the sharp instincts that send her sniffing in the direction of Michael and his friends… and his brother.

Matt Framingham

Born to British parents, Matt has spent the greater part of his life trying to assimilate into American culture; even going as far as to consciously rid himself of an English accent.

Despite being a police officer, he is heavily invested in conspiracy theories, and is the first to theorise that a werewolf committed the Sotheby’s murder, and that Michael and his friends are not human.

Ironically, when proof of this occurs right before his eyes, he fails to notice, and replaces his own theories with more logical explanations.

Themes

Race is a constant theme that comes up throughout the book. While this focuses overwhelmingly on the differences between Whites and Native Americans, there are several mentions of Blacks and Asians, as well. In fact, no one’s ethnic background goes unmentioned in this book.

Another prominent theme is the call of home. Throughout the novel, the Indians living in New York City often think back to life on the rez, and question whether or not they have lost their true self to the White World. Michael often faces this accusation from Edward, who sees science as a White man’s work. Additionally, Charlotte’s Indian name literally means, Returns to Her Homeland, a destiny she fulfills by the end of the book.

Family life plays an important role in Skin of the Wolf, as well. This is mostly illustrated in the relationship between Edward and Michael, who struggle to get along. The animosity is mostly pushed by Edward, who resents his brother for not taking his rightful place as leader of the pack.

Finally, friendship is a powerful theme that brings Michael, Livia, Father Kelly, and Spencer together on a journey that not just puts their lives in danger, but also threatens to expose the secrets of their abilities.

Writing Style

One of the most interesting things about the writing of this book is that Sam Cabot is not one person, but two: a man and a woman. Sam Cabot is the pseudonym shared by S. J. Rozan and Carlos Dews. But you could never tell that by reading the book, as there is one distinct voice.

Another interesting tactic in the book is chapter lengths. There were some chapters that were only two pages or so. This was done to separate the varying perspectives in the book. Once I got over the length (or lack thereof) of the chapters, it made perfect sense.

The writing is clear and concise, a wonderful balance of functional male writing, with female attention to detail. I also thoroughly enjoyed their treatment of the same-sex relationship between Michael and Spencer.

Final Thoughts

The book does lean heavily on a lot of stereotypes. Of course, the vampires were mostly based in Italy, and an Italian vampire in New York, was totally expected.

Additionally, wolves are always associated with Native American culture, and I think every book I have ever read with a werewolf, has one named Michael. The last one I read like that was Anne Rice’s Wolf Chronicles.

Even so, the stereotypes fit perfectly into the story, in such a way that another route would not have made sense (minus this fixation authors have on naming werewolves, Michael!).

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and could hardly put it down. Each new chapter was a new perspective, and a new adventure. I recommend it to all lovers of vampire and werewolf books, and can’t wait to read Blood of the Lamb.

About the Reviewer

Alexis Chateau is an activist, writer, and explorer. Follow her stories of trial and triumph at www.alexischateau.com.

 

 

5 Tough Life Lessons from The Eye-Dancers by Michael Fedison

5 Tough Life Lessons from The Eye-Dancers by Michael Fedison

As many of you know, Michael Fedison is our flagship independent author, and has been since long before we launched black CATastrophy. Naturally, we’re proud of the work we’ve done with him, and how much we’ve contributed to spreading the awareness of his brand and his books.

So since a review from us would likely be overwhelmingly biased in his favor, we decided to take a different approach from the 1 – 5 star setup. We’re sharing five of the toughest lessons you’ll come across in his debut novel, The Eye-Dancers.

Let’s see how well we can pull this off without giving too much away!

1. Dogs are Loyal… But to Whom?

Duss The Eye Dancers.jpeg

In The Eye-Dancers, there are two main canine characters. The first one we’re introduced to is Dusty, Joe Marma’s golden retriever. When he is transported to a parallel universe by the mysterious young girl with the swirling blue eyes, we are introduced to the second dog to win his heart, Duss.

Joe, usually the unpredictable firecracker of the book, has a surprising soft spot for animals, and rescues Duss from a group of bullies the only one way he knows how — fighting. Thereafter, Duss faithfully follows him around and plays an instrumental role in keeping the boys together, and saving their lives.

But, while the old saying goes that dog is man’s best friend, when the mystery is solved and the problems resolved, Duss chooses a new master, leaving Joe out in the cold. Joe is forced to accept that the dog he loved and rescued, now belongs to someone else.

2. Marriage is Hard Work

In the start of The Eye-Dancers, Mitchell struggles to understand and come to grips with his parents’ failing marriage. Not only does the idea of a divorce fill him with dread, but all the many loud and angry fights leading up to it, is a source of constant embarrassment.

Later on in the book, after the boys are transported to Monica’s world, they meet another couple struggling to overcome the loss of their child. Their grief at first unites the couple in common cause to commit an atrocious act, but later pits one against the other, when the wife’s conscience awakens, and they no longer see eye-to-eye.

3. Self-Acceptance is the First Step to Self-Improvement

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The Eye-Dancers is peppered with the common feelings of self-deprecation teenagers often berate themselves with.

  • Ryan struggles with his desire to please, and his unwillingness to ruffle feathers.
  • Joe battles with his Napoleon Complex, and the desire to mash everyone’s face in.
  • Marc is forced to accept that his know-it-all attitude is what has cost him friends all his life.
  • And Mitchell must overcome his tendency to invent tall-tales, meant to impress and wow others.

While the road to self-improvement is long and treacherous, each character must first come to terms with their vices, before they are in any place to move forward. Their ability to do so inevitably decides the fate of not just each other, but the young damsel in distress they must rescue.

4. Respect is Earned, not Given

The need to be loved and impressive and admired throughout the book is closely tied with a desire to be respected. Ryan and Marc especially, must learn that respect is earned, not given.

In order to gain respect from his peers, and respect for his theories, Marc must first learn humility and accept that science — or at least, what he knows of it — cannot explain everything.

Ryan also only learns to respect himself, and gains the respect of Joe, after he finally finds the strength to stand up to his friend. Despite Joe’s initial anger with him for preventing the fight, and the bite of embarrassment from walking away, he nonetheless respects that for the first time, Ryan isn’t just content with being the yes-man.

5. Sometimes Villainy is Born from Desperation, not Evil

The Eye Dancers Blue Meme.jpg

When the ghost girl with the swirling blue eyes transports the four boys to her world, they are faced with the task of finding and rescuing her. Something local law enforcement, and neighbors have been unable to do. They, however, can communicate with her.

When Monica is eventually found, the boys are faced with something they had not prepared for. Her kidnappers were not evil, but desperate, depressed, and delusional. They come to not only forgive the kidnappers, but also to sympathize with their cause.

Nevertheless, Monica’s rightful place is with her parents, and the boys’ place is back in their own world. And so, they must bring the little girl home, in order to find home, themselves.

Despite being intended for younger audiences, The Eye-Dancers tackles bigger issues that outlive and outlast the middle school era. It does so in a way that — while compelling children (and adults!) to ask the bigger questions — is still written without the unnecessary complexity that often follows.

Have you read The Eye-Dancers?

About the Reviewer

Alexis Chateau is an activist, writer, and explorer. Follow her stories of trial and triumph at www.alexischateau.com.