Book Reviews: Non-Fiction and Fiction
The Mermaid’s Tale by Amanda Adams. No offense to Waterhouse, Burne-Jones, and Rackham whose lush illustrations populate The Mermaid’s Tale, but if Thomas Kincade decided to write an overripe post-feminist memoir, this would be it. Sickly sweet and a bit too introspective, like a blogger on a margarita binge, Adams muses about her childhood preoccupation with mermaids and the current meaning it has for her on womanhood. Or perhaps this is just a book long justification for why little girls start gravitating towards the fantasy of being sea princesses*. However, mythological deconstruction sit side by side with Adams’ reminisces. In those fairy tales when a mermaid’s husband becomes suspicious and jealous and discovers her fishy side instead of a secret lover, the mermaid is forced to leave. The mermaid’s tail, Adams posits, is the symbol for feminine mystery and independence. Likewise, the lure of a siren’s song represents feminine confidence, the theft of a selkie maiden’s seal coat a metaphor for a man trapping a woman into the subservience of marriage, the temperamental Inuit sea goddess Sedna a mirror to a woman’s fickle moods. But modern society has obliterated the connection between mermaids and mystery–today, mermaids have been Disneyfied, sexualized, and commercialized. There are a few interesting nuggets in The Mermaid’s Tale, but I’d mostly categorize this as the sentimental pap that you might get at a museum gift shop.
*Not me. I liked reading fairy tales, but that was it. Otherwise, I was that weird kid who thought it was perfectly acceptable to decapitate Barbie.
Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale. Ah, a grammar book in the guise of reckless rule breaking. No, I’m not being sarcastic (much), but grammarians mostly have their work cut out for them trying to present a fairly cut and dry subject with flair. The most useful thing about this particular book was that it not only presented the rules and examples of when rule-breaking actually works–but also instances when supposed rule breaking for art turns into linguistic atrocities. There are points, however, when I felt the author was a bit too cutesy with a turn of phrase–but that just may be me and my preferences for certain writing styles. Some examples of “good writing” also seem a bit questionable to me (James Joyce?!!), but again, I may be a bit picky. Otherwise, it’s mostly a good guide for writing. And if it doesn’t make your writing great, well, at least it’ll keep you from making tragic mistakes.
Visions of Heat by Nalini Singh. Can I say Yay! again? Singh manages to avoid the pitfalls that often sink second novels (well, this is technically not Singh’s second novel overall, but it is the second in a series) with characters that aren’t retreads of the previous book. Faith NightStar is an F-Psy, a psychic with foresight, who is conditioned to live in seclusion to forecast business trends while her fellow Psy use that information to rake in the dough. It’s only when she starts getting disturbing visions (that result in the murder of her half-sister) that she begins to suspect that she’s cracking up. I like how Faith manages to figure things out for herself without much propping up by the hero. In fact, there are times when he actually provokes her into standing up for herself. Singh also manages to develop the overarching storyline into something intriguing. All of the Psy are connected via something called a PsyNet–sort of like a mental internet with Matrix-like qualities–and by the end of this book, there are definitely hints of rebellion brewing on the PsyNet against the conditioning of Silence, i.e. the eradication of all emotion. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how the author will develop this further in the series.
Demon’s Delight by MaryJanice Davidson, Emma Holly, Vickie Taylor, and Catherine Spangler. Overall, this is an okay anthology–if you have particular preferences, not all of the stories will appeal to you. MaryJanice Davidson’s “Witch Way”: A witch and a witch hunter try to figure out how to break the curse that forces them to kill each other in every generation. Davidson’s writing style is an acquired taste–it’s spastic with a dash of weird humor and a lot of “this doesn’t make a lick of sense at all.” But if you’re feeling in the mood for things that don’t make sense, Davidson would fit the bill. Emma Holly’s “The Demon’s Angel”: A scientist falls in love with her experimental subject and “runs” (okay, they actually fly) away with him. I like Holly’s writing style, even if it verges on purple prose, but her technobabble will make any sci-fi geek cross their eyes in exasperation (it’s either that or scream, “I can’t believe you make science sound like woo-woo stuff!”). Vickie Taylor’s “Angel and the Hellraiser”: The angel of death attempts to redeem a stuntman who is hell-bent on danger. Catherine Spangler’s “Street Corners and Halos”: An angel attempts to redeem a vampire prostitute. I did not like Taylor’s or Spangler’s stories very much–mostly because of the plots. Whenever there’s an angel in a story, somebody gets redeemed. Ho hum. Very boring. And very overdone.