Saturday, December 8, 2012

Review: Tough Girl by Libby Heily

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   Danger lurks everywhere in eleven year old Reggie's world—from the bully next door to the unwanted attentions of a creep at school. Raised by her mentally ill mother, Reggie is left to fend for herself in a rough neighborhood. She escapes in daydreams, battling aliens with her alter ego, Tough Girl.

When Reggie's mother disappears, her fantasy life spirals out of control and starts to invade reality. She is hunted by a creature of her own design, and even Tough Girl is not strong enough to stop him.

Will Reggie survive long enough for her mother to return, or will her dream world take over?

And here's what I thought:    I had been contacted by the author, since I had read and reviewed a book of her stories, Fourth Degree Freedom, a while back.

This is an interesting story, although I had mixed reactions to it.   The author does a wonderful job of portraying Reggie and her world (which is somewhat heartbreaking).   However, as depressing as her surroundings might be, Reggie is pretty resilient.  She has an alter-ego, Tough Girl, and she spends time dreaming up elaborate plots for her.    The author gives us Tough Girl's voice, in conversations with Reggie, and in situations that are all her own (like in Chapter 4), and even as as know that Tough Girl isn't real, her situations are Reggie's way of dealing with what's going on for her in the real world.   I found I had to adjust to the two viewpoints, however, at least when I first started reading.

In addition to Reggie, there are other interesting characters here.  For example, there is Mrs. Ruiz, one of Reggie's neighbors, who is gaining weight for beauty pageants (and yes, you read that correctly).  There's also Tara, the bully who loves to torment Reggie.   And not everyone is awful --- DeShawn, one of the boys Reggie makes friends with at school, is kind to her.  All of the different people that Reggie interact with, and react to, just give us a richer portrayal of who she is.

Reggie's a compelling character, and the pacing of the story is quick, so it's easy to keep reading, even when the storyline gets a bit dark or scary.   I thought the author did a great job of making Reggie seem really realistic --- she's a real-feeling little girl who tries to be tough, and who sometimes succeeds, and who sometimes doesn't.   I found that I was pulled into her story, and wanted to find out what was going to happen to her (even when I was worried for her ..... and that happens a lot with this story).  I didn't always feel like I quite understood what was happening, however, and I think that's why the book didn't completely resonate with me.   And this exposes a bit of a flaw in using a rating system like mine ---- I didn't think the book was great, but rather, that I felt that while it was interesting, it wasn't a story that I felt like I wanted to talk to everyone I know about.   This isn't anything to do with the author, or her writing --- it's just my reaction to the story.  Reading is a personal thing, and I always feel that what resonates with one person might not resonate with another, and also, that upon a re-read, a book can strike you completely differently.   I gave this a 3 out of 5 ---- it's not that it could be better, but I felt like I had a so-so reaction to it.

If this book sounds interesting, but you'd like to read more reviews, I'd encourage you to check out what some other readers on GoodReads had to say.   In particular, Danielle Villano has a great review,

I did want to mention that although the main character, Reggie, is eleven, that I wouldn't recommend this book to a young reader, due to the mature themes and content here. 

First sentences:  Reggie tightened her grip on the can of bug spray as she slid her feet slowly across the surface of the playground. The enamel canister felt cool and light against her skin. She enjoyed the sensation of the liquid sloshing around inside, the rhythm driving her forward. There wasn’t
much poison left, just enough to rid herself of an incredibly annoying pest. Her feet moved in a gliding motion, careful not to disturb any rocks or kick up dust. Her invisibility cap hid her from the crowd surrounding the basketball court, but they might notice if she disturbed the world around her.
The cap made her completely invisible, as long as no one looked at her.   Reggie inched closer to the court, her eyes only breaking from her target to scan for debris below. She’d heard rumors that the playground was once covered in grass, but it had been killed by trampling feet and neglect long ago. Pebbles and litter were all that was left for the children of  The Apartments to play upon.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Review: Errantry by Elizabeth Hand

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):
No one is innocent, no one unexamined in award-winner Elizabeth Hand's new collection. From the summer isles to the mysterious people next door all the way to the odd guy one cubicle over, Hand teases apart the dark strangenesses of everyday life to show us the impossibilities, broken dreams, and improbable dreams that surely can never come true.

“Ten evocative novellas and stories whisper of hidden mysteries carved on the bruised consciousness of victims and victimizers. Memories and love are as dangerous as the supernatural, and Hand often denies readers neat conclusions, preferring disturbing ambiguity. The Hugo-nominated “The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon” marries science fiction and magical realism as three men recreate a legendary aircraft’s doomed flight for a dying woman. A grieving widow in “Near Zennor” unearths a secret of spectral kidnapping in an ancient countryside. “Hungerford Bridge,” a lesser piece, shares a secret that can only be enjoyed twice in one’s life. Celtic myth and human frailty entangle in the darkly romantic “The Far Shore.” The vicious nature of romantic love is dissected with expressionistic abandon in the dreamlike “Summerteeth.” Hand’s outsiders haunt themselves, the forces of darkness answering to the calls of their battered souls. Yet strange hope clings to these surreal elegies, insisting on the power of human emotion even in the shadow of despair. Elegant nightmares, sensuously told.”
—Publishers Weekly

And here's what I thought:  I was familiar with this author's other book of stories, Saffron and Brimstone, and  have read and re-read some of those stories numerous times.  I also really liked her book, Illyria, and have copies of Waking the Moon and Generation Loss on my bookshelves, waiting to be read at some point.

I didn't love all of the stories in this book, and oddly enough, liked the stories in the second half of it more than in the first half.  The thing I like about Elizabeth Hand's storytelling is that, especially with her short stories, you're never really sure what you're going to get.   A story can start out pretty ominously, and then turn out to be more thoughtful than scary.   A different story can start out in an innocent-seeming way, only to take a really dark turn halfway through.  It definitely keeps you on your toes, as a reader.  

If you're new to Elizabeth Hand's writing, starting with short stories isn't a bad idea; that way, you can try a few shorter things to see how you like them.   Out of this particular book of stories, I recommend The Return of the Fire Witch and Winter's Wife.

Some of the writing I liked:   From The Return of the Fire Witch --   Paytum disdained magic to enhance her own charms, though she had for many decades employed the Nostrum of Prodigious Regeneration to retain the dew of youth.  She remained a remarked beauty.  Like her neighbor,she was flame-haired, though Paytim's braid was brazen tigerlily to Saloona's pale marigold, and Paytim's eyes were green.  Her skin was the bluish-white of weak milk and bore numerous scars where she had been burned while conjuring, repairing the bouche a feu or carelessly removing a pot from the oven.  The scars were a mark of pride rather than shame; also a warning against overconfidence, in particular when dealing with souffles, or basilisks.
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