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Saturday, February 27, 2016

Review: Kensei by Jeremy Zimmerman

by Jeremy Zimmerman
DefCon One Publishing
Kensei is Jeremy Zimmerman's first novel. It's a young adult superhero novel with relatively few missteps. Readers fond of Gwenda Bond's Lois Lane series, will find a similar delight in these pages.

Jamie Hattori (aka Kensei, her superhero name) has just begun her journey as a superhero. She knows martial arts, wields a katana, and can speak to the spirits that haunt and protect buildings, cars, and objects like light bulbs.

On the one hand, her father supports this venture. Her mother, though, does not. It becomes the center of the family's discord--a center full of its own secrets.

Meanwhile, a mystery person has a rumor-mongering blog that not only stirs up strife at school but is also cursed. Victims receive strange apples. The blog gets Jamie into trouble when an athlete is ridiculed online--a slander attributed to Jamie. Jamie is determined to track down and stop whoever is at the bottom of this.

Her sleuthing leads creating new friends, unlikely allies ("frenemies") and even a new love interest, who may or may not be involved in this website.

On first encountering Zimmerman's work, one recognizes his smooth writing style--one that invites many readers in. It doesn't surprise me that so many readers have given the novel five star ratings on Amazon. It is a popular style that takes verbal shortcuts that welcomes with familiarity. A more literary reader might complain about, say, "She snorted with amusement." But it does capture a common response in few words. Not everything need be shown.

Zimmerman's plotting is deftly handled. Readers are sucked in with proper pacing--involving but without the paradoxical snoozing nonstop, break-neck pace. The characters are interesting, realistic teenagers without the need to be annoyingly "teen" (a trap for some YA characters). The speculative aspects, while fascinating, aren't fully explored. The major finale has a less credible moment, but it doesn't mar the overall charm of the novel, likely to draw a number of readers who stumble across this little gem.

A second title in the series, Kensei, The Love of Danger, has also recently appeared. If enough readers speak out about their love of his work, Zimmerman should build a loyal legion of followers, eager to read more.

Note: Some characters are gay, which may deter some readers while interesting others.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Review: Full House by Maeve Binchy

Full House
by Maeve Binchy
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
General Fiction (Adult)

I'd seen and heard about Maeve Binchy books, so the Vintage Shorts series offered a chance to check her out.

Some of her covers suggest tender women's fiction, yet sometimes reviewers and extol-ers of her virtue would compare her to literary giants. On Wikipedia, it mentioned her awards alongside William Trevor and Margaret Atwood.  It states:
"Her novels, which were translated into 37 languages, sold more than 40 million copies worldwide.... Ireland's best-loved and most recognisable writer.... In 2010, she received a lifetime achievement award from the Irish Book Awards. In 2012, she received an Irish Book Award in the 'Irish Popular Fiction Book' category."
So a popular and literary writer?

Why is the distinction important? It will affect how it should be reviewed, and who might be interested in its tale. If it's literary, I will hold its language and characters to a stricter test. If popular, I will focus on how well she achieves her overall effects. Literary and popular readers are two different breeds. They get their kicks from very different aspects.

The novel opens promisingly enough: A couple has their grown children not only living with them but living off them. The father is temporarily out of work, so the entire family is dependent on the mother's income. So she offers that the rest of the family chip in, work and help support the household. Their adult children balk. Some do not have steady work while those who do, refuse to donate their a portion of their wages to support the family.

Eventually, the mother packs their clothing. Her gesture is not well received.

Here's a sample:

"But first there was a party.... 
"Liam and Dee had to make a speech, of course. Everyone else had toasted them and said what a wonderful couple they were and how they had done everything right all their life.
"This was so far from being true, but at a party, in the middle of a celebration, people did not want to hear of the hard times, the mistakes made and the wrong turnings taken.
"They spoke simply of the life they had lived and the joy of their three children."

John Banville said, "Maeve wanted everyone to be a success." Roy Greenslade in The Guardian wrote that her work had a "total absence of malice."

The outcome feels more like wish fulfillment than reality-based. Obstacles are met and mounted. The characters are shuffled around the stage to enact this fulfillment.

Wish fulfillment is not a bad thing. Sometimes (or most times for most readers of popular fiction) that's what readers seek: comfort, a cup of coffee or hot cocoa, a cozy blanket inside while snow falls, a heart-warming show on Hallmark or Lifetime, or a good book that reaffirms, "Maybe humanity isn't so bad, after all."

Monday, February 15, 2016

W. S. Merwin on listening to poems

"Any work of art makes one very simple demand on anyone who genuinely wants to get in touch with it. And that is to stop. You've got to stop what you're doing, what you're thinking, and what you're expecting, and just be there for the poem for however long it takes."
-- W. S. Merwin