Friday, January 11, 2008

3. Blood is the New Black by Valerie Stivers

Blood is the New Black pictureI must enter this review by letting everyone know that the author is a friend of mine. She's closer to my sister, but we've hung out enough that my objectivity may be in question!

Blood is the new Black (great title, btw) is another iteration of the vampire mythos, this time taking place in the corporate hallways of a major fashion magazine. The hero of the book is a practical but very fashion-conscious young woman who gets an opportunity to intern at an elite fashion magazine in Manhattan before her final year of med school. Though style is clearly in her genes, she has chosen a more pragmatic path after her mother, an up and coming designer herself, abandoned the family for the life of haute couture and sophisticated partying. She is reluctant to take the internship, but finally does.

Of course, things are immediately weird at the magazine. It's a difficult tension because we all know that her bosses are going to be vampires. The suspense and enjoyment comes from the manner in which this vampire myth manifests itself (which is quite well done) and from figuring out who and who isn't a vampire (not so well done). It's an enjoyable and quick read. One sympathizes with the main character and you can really feel the stress of being in such a job even if the nasty bitches that ran the place weren't vampires. The plot moves forward well, though the internal thinking style I found a bit chatty, but I think this probably accurately reflects the constant noise and confusion that goes around in women's heads. One problem I had were the constant references to specific types and brands of clothes that people are wearing. These were very specific. It made it so I couldn't really figure out what anybody looked like. Can't blame the book, though, as this is probably appropriate for the intended audience. I imagine this must be what it's like when my sister reads a Mack Bolan novel.

The manifestation of the vampire myth in the modern, fashion world is fantastic. It cleverly integrates all the vampire clichés, updates some of them and wittily critiques high fashion. This is a bit of a spoiler, but it goes so far to explain how the vampires were responsible for changing our appreciation of the feminine form from the robust, curvy figure of the 19th century to the emaciated, dried out look of today (which fits much more the vampire aesthetic, obviously). There is a lot of this and it is quite enjoyable.

All in all, Blood is the New Black is a good read, which I think will be particularly enjoyed by vampire fans and young, stylish women.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

2. A Wrinkle in the Skin by John Christopher

A Wrinkle in the Skin pictureI confused John Christopher with Christopher Priest when I picked this up. No harm done since both are great writers of around the same age and touching upon very similar genres. John Christopher is best known for his children's sci-fi books, like The Tripods trilogy which we read and loved in elementary school. I see that he has a very long career as an adult sci-fi writer before that, as well as just being very prolific under a bunch of other pseudonyms as well.

A Wrinkle in the skin (reviewed earlier at Mt. Benson) is actually at the tale end of his adult writings. It explores (and perhaps concludes) similar areas as No Blade of Grass. It's about a widower who lives on the island of Guernsey (a British Crown Dependency in the channel, closer to Normandy) growing tomatoes. There is talk of terrible earthquakes around the globe and within 5 pages the narrator is in one. But this is a mega, mega earthquake. I don't want to give away how big it is, but I was quite surprised at certain points. The story is about him making his way back to Sussex to find his daughter who was at school there. Along the way he struggles with the dangers of the new, ruined world. The chief danger, as usual, is other humans.

I found this book to be a page-turner. I was anxious to find out what would happen next and there is a strong feeling of threat throughout. His descriptions of the devastation are vivid and captivating. Also, the hero is cool. He's removed and semi-competent. There is none of the writers' crutches of frustratingly stupid behaviour. I was so enjoying the post-apocalyptic scenario that I didn't realize that I was also becoming caught up in the emotional journey of the hero and his relationships with the other survivors around him. I ended up finding the book very satisfying overall.

An excellent addition to the post-war British PA genre. Note the scanned cover of the edition I found.

1. White Man's Justice, Black Man's Grief by Donald Goines

white man's justice, black man's grief pictureDonald Goines was a black author who wrote novels about black life in America in the 70s. While his books are clearly fiction, he experienced and saw most of what he wrote about. And those things are rough. I don't know how they were published at the time, but they are currently released by Holloway Press, an LA publishing house that specializes in black literature. You can often find them for pretty cheap in used bookstores. Goines is a great writer. His plots can be a bit obviously structured and his style employs techniques frowned upon by "literary" types (he often tells rather than shows), but shit happens in his books and he makes it seem real and immediate. And he pulls no punches. It borders on the sensationalistic, but never goes over because you believe it when you are reading it. I warn you though, there is some seriously harsh shit in his books.

Knowing this, I was particularly hesitant to pick up White Man's Justice, Black Man's Grief because it all takes place in prison. My fears were well-founded as there are some extremely disturbing scenes of male rape (shit that I hadn't even conceived of, which is bad). But the story is primarily concerned with the hero, who gets thrown in the county jail for possession of a concealed weapon, and two friends he makes, a white guy and a younger black guy. They join together because of a shared ethos of honour and together they handle the challenges of power and materials that go on in the county jail. The general theme of the book is that if you are black, you are screwed in the U.S. justice system. I doubt things have changed all that much since this was written in the early '70s.

A quick and enjoyable read, though if you're squeamish, I'd recommend picking up one of Goines books where the rape and violence takes place on the streets of the ghetto, rather than in the prison cell (though why this is less disturbing, I'm not really sure).