Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones by Micah Dean Hicks. 4/5
On the surface, this is a surreal story in which the living can be haunted and possessed by the dead, create walking, talking, cogent pigs that will slaughter and package up their own kind in a meat factory, there are people who can remove their own hearts to stay safe from the ghosts, but lose their memories as well, and aliens, and all sorts of other supernatural things. Below that surface, though, this is a book about innate talent and what it can give to and take away from those who have it. It’s also about race, and how white society, no matter what class, is always on the lookout for the Other, in order to oppose and oppress it. It’s also about class and social status and whether you eat this week or fix the car you need for your job. It’s about creating underclasses to do the worst work, and what happens when the underclass becomes too successful. It’s about domestic abuse and taking or abandoning responsibilities. It’s a bit rough around the edges, but it’s a book that can be read in a great many ways, and would be excellent as a class read for high school.
City of Flickering Light by Juliette Fay. 1/5
This isn’t terrible, it’s just boring and predictable and uses a lot of cliches. The characters are cardboard. In the mid-1920s, three white folks–responsible, clever Irene, dim, cuddly MIllie, and handsome, gay Henry–go to Hollywood to become stars. Along the way, of course, there is sexism and a rape and gay-bashing and the perils of heroin addiction, but then everyone is spotted as the talents they are and get jobs they like! Irene becomes a writer, Millie becomes an actress and then a mother, and Henry learns about gay Hollywood and has a romance with a director. The director is murdered, but Henry gets over it, marries a white woman in a relationship with a black man, and gets to find new lovers. Everyone lives near each other and have a happily ever after. The author calls women’s breasts “orbs,” and uses about a thousand other tired descriptors and phrases I could do with never reading again. The author also tries to cite a lot of 1920s events and realities of Hollywood, but they remain on the surface, window-dressing. The reader’s guide at the back is terrible and earnest and is apparently geared towards five-year-olds.
Miraculum by Steph Post. 1/5
Less a miraculum than a slightly over-stuffed novel in which not much happens. Ruby, tattooed by a stereotypical and offensive “vodoo” woman and covered in symbols that protect her from supernatural evil, works as the snake charmer in a carnival owned by her father, who is incompetent are barely shows up in the book, and another stereotype, the noble savage, an African man whose knowledge of everything is unsurpassed. Ruby has a friend, January, who dances in the “cootch show,” and an on-again off-again boyfriend who is pretty useless and doesn’t play much of a role. When Daniel, an ancient immortal evil, joins the carnival to entertain himself by causing evil chaos, Ruby is the only one immune to his powers of suggestion. When he causes multiple deaths and the carnival burns down, taking Ruby’s father and January with it, Ruby decides her destiny is to fight Daniel. Accompanied by the useless boyfriend, Ruby and Daniel have a stare-down that is the most boring climax of any book I have ever read. Daniel is defeated. Ruby lives. The boyfriend remains useless.
The author hints at things she never develops, or drops altogether. In the first few chapters, there are references to Ruby seeing things others don’t. This apparently turns out to be that she can tell when people are untrustworthy. Not so much seeing in a supernatural way. We read about Ruby’s long-dead mother, but she ends up not being terribly important. We read about arcane books, one of which turns out to be kind of useful but not very interesting. the trappings of the carnival are present, but there are no interesting characters and none of those who survive develop at all. I’d have liked it better if Ruby and January had teamed up to stop the immortal evil. Or if she had become apprenticed to the owner of the arcane books and they had worked together. But nope, Ruby is special and capable only because of a mixed-race woman who gave her magic tattoos (and who is killed off in a gruesome fashion by the immortal evil). Ultimately, this is a story in which white folks triumph, the black folks mostly get killed, and women are reduced to being skin.
Oksana, Behave! by Maria Kuznetsova. 1/5
Oksana doesn’t need to be have so much as she needs to be able to have feelings, admit that other people also have feelings, and stop being quite so sociopathic. Told in first-person, this novel follows Oksana from Kiev to the United States, where she grows up, is disaffected, lacks interest in anything, is unwilling to try very hard to do anything, uses people like tissue, is totally self-centered, and is instantly recognizable as a person I wouldn’t go anywhere near. I don’t care that she smokes and does various drugs and drinks and has a lot of casual sex, cheats on committed partners. Maybe those are the things where she’s supposed to “behave”? The things I did want her to do were stop being such a quitter and stop being such an asshole. But maybe she can’t. Maybe she is, actually, a sociopath. That would make sense for most of the things she does. SO maybe the title should be less, Oksana, Behave! and more Everybody, Avoid Oksana! That said, the book is well-written and I liked a lot of the other characters and how they were developed.