Friday, July 18, 2014

Book review: The Mummy or Ramses the Damned by Anne Rice

Hello all! I know, I know. I've been a less than part-time blogger for a while, but I promise it's for a good reason. I've been doing more reading than writing to strengthen my story-building skills based on inspiration I get from other fabulous works of fiction. Speaking of inspiration gathering, earlier this week, I received word that a non-fiction story I wrote called "A Rose Without a Thorn" will be published in a future Chicken Soup for the Soul book called Touched by an Angel. That will be coming out in October this year! Yay.

I just finished reading The Mummy or Ramses the Damned by Anne Rice, and I can't tell you enough how much I enjoyed it.

Synopsis from Amazon: He was Ramses the Damned in ancient Egypt, but awoke in opulent Edwardian London as Dr. Ramsey, expert in Egyptology. He mixes with the aristocrats and samples their voluptuous lifestyle, but it is for his beloved, Cleopatra, that he longs, and will do anything to be with....

If you enjoy some romance and the whole mummy-Egypt-adventure type story, I can't see why you wouldn't enjoy this book. I've always been fascinated by the great pyramids, ancient Egyptians, their art and legends, and discoveries of archaeologists. That's where I'd probably go if I ever got acquainted with time travel. I have to know who built these colossal structures in such primitive times and how!

I read some of the negative reviews on Amazon, and someone was bitching that Rice didn't do good research, bla bla bla. Oh, come on! There's a reason it's called FICTION, people. A writer can twist a story however she wants. In my opinion, she had it close enough for me. OK, so here goes my list of likes and dislikes, and I will warn you: SPOILER ALERT!

LIKES:

  • As I said before, the whole ancient Egypt theme won me from the start. What made it even more enjoyable for me was that Rice managed to meld ancient Egypt into a modern era and illustrate how this might be completely catastrophic. 
  • I love the mix of character, some lovable, some hate-worthy, and others whose personalities and actions simply add to the suspense, such as the law enforcement team following the hot trail of Ramses and Julie Stratford's wayward cousin Henry.
  • I love Anne Rice's writing style. It always gives me great visuals, and her prose isn't long and drawn out. In other words, no TMI, just necessary details and descriptions. 
  • Well-written dialogue. I can't you how many times the dialogue kills a story for me. It's not easy to write believable dialogue. 
  • I'll mention romance in both parts since I have a love/hate relationship with it. I like that it wasn't the main topic of the tale and that it was a weird story with sci-fi elements, as in, an eternal elixir. 
  • Loved that certain twisted characters got what they deserved. 

DISLIKES:
  • I'm not one for romance, so this was my least favorite part. But at least the heated passion between Ramses and Julie was as non-traditional as one can get! How often does a woman get wooed by an ancient Egyptian king?
  • This was written in the 80s, and she promised a sequel but never wrote one to this day. Not cool. It didn't end huge cliffhanger, but there were still many moving parts of the story left unfinished. For example, Cleopatra. And did Julie ever get into trouble after the museum reps and police entered her home while she was in Egypt and discovered the mummy there wasn't Ramses? Did she even go home? What became of the elixir? The sequel had massive potential. Wonder why she didn't go for it. 
  • It was annoying to me that Julie didn't cry for her father's death as much as she seemed to cry over Ramses and his shenanigans. I can't stand when a female character sobs and sobs for everything. 
  • And even when she was in Egypt, the place of his death and burial, she didn't even hint that she was thinking of him nor did she attempt to go visit his grave or death site. It would have made her character seem stronger to me if she had shown her grief for her father plus her love for Ramses, whom he discovered and inadvertently raised from hibernation. 
I rate this book 4 stars. Now, off to enjoy a rainy day.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Book review: The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida

A good friend loaned me this book titled The Reason I Jump to read because it is about a topic of high importance to me. Autism. The book was written by Naoki Higashida, a 13-year-old boy with autism. The book was translated by K.A. Yoshida and novelist David Mitchell. It is a series of Q & A sections with Higashida answering some basic questions most of us wonder about people with autism from why they act out to what makes them uncomfortable about crowds. 

Based on the other reviews I read, I noticed that people seem to be on the fence about the authenticity of the book. Yes, it originated from Higashida and was in Japanese to start. The translators discovered it, were inspired by it and decided that translating it would be a wonderful idea. They indeed added some of their wit into the writing; that was very obvious. This is what ticked off some people, apparently, accusing Mitchell of molding the boy's true answers to his writing style. 

When I read the intro, written by Mitchell, I got a taste of his originality and writing style, so yes, I did sense it throughout the entire book's translations. But as an autism mom who knows what these kiddos are capable of beneath their protective cover, I do believe Higashida was capable of giving these complex responses. Could my child have done this? I doubt it simply because communication is his biggest challenge, even when given writing materials and technology. He has a very hard time expressing his inner thoughts and opinions. But Higashida is strong in that regard, and perhaps his weakness is something else. He used a device called an alphabet grid to point out letters and spell out his responses. Autistic people are all as unique as their fingerprints, and I do believe their is fraud out there, but I also fully believe they have this potential. I've met many of them throughout my experiences, and they are fascinating people.  

The intro alone brought tears to my eyes because Mitchell was good about capturing what it's like to be an autism parent. How heartbreaking it is not to know what is going on in you child's mind and how disappointing it is when we read article after article and book after book, feeling unfulfilled aside from the basic knowledge we hear repeatedly. We know the stats. We know the basic dos and don'ts, the definition of it, that there are others in our shoes, the lack of research, etc. But what about real answers? We got some from Temple Grandin, a well-known adult with autism who is very verbal about her experiences. But she is just one of so many. The world needs more of these first-hand accounts, and I believe they exist worldwide. 

In this book, Higashida provides them. While he cannot speak for all autistic people, he did a great job of helping to understand what may be going through their minds in situations like not responding to questions (He advised to call their name because it is more attention-grabbing to their wandering minds). He spoke about why he is a picky eater (It could be the texture or smell of the food that is disturbing). Some of this we already assume, but it's pleasing to hear it from an autistic child himself.

All in all, I liked the book and finished reading it in just a few hours. I smiled. I teared up. And I was thankful for the read.  Five stars for this one. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Why I love 'The Martian Chronicles' by Ray Bradbury + bonus banter

I want to tell you why I love this book so much. It's The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, one of my favorite books and authors of all time. Bradbury, IMO, is a master storyteller. He can go at one topic from so many different angles it's insane, which is precisely what he did in this collection of martian short stories. I mean, how many different ways can one portray Mars and aliens, right. You'd be surprised.

This writing tactic is brilliant! Imagine having writer's block and moping around willing to write, just no bright ideas to scribble about. What if you picked ONE topic that interests you like ice cream, perhaps. Then you sat down and wrote 10 stories about that one topic. How long do you think that would take you to come up with umpteen story ideas about ice cream? And do you like the topic enough to spit out that many different perspectives on it? Bradbury obviously was over the moon about Mars ... pun intended ... so he did a fantastic job of portraying that passion in this book or shorts and short shorts.

Here, I'll take a stab at it.

As an obsessive ice cream eater (Dreyer's Slow-Churned Chocolate, to be exact), let me see how many ice cream-themed tales I can scoop up in one sitting:


The Ice Cream Crush  

     Adrina was a disgruntled 7th grader with everything on her mind but the geometry Mr. Linton was splattering all over the board at the moment. She had no interest in learning calculations of stupid shapes. What did that have to do with real life anyway. She couldn't care less. No. All she wanted was to lose herself in two scoops of Marvelous Mint Chocolate Deluxe ice cream from Do Me a Flavor creamery just across the street from the school. She had exactly $2.77 to her name, which meant she could have her favorite treat with 2 cents to spare. This ice cream craving was no joke. During the next three class periods, Adrina hurriedly did all her homework for her classes so that she wouldn't need to waste time stopping at her locker after school. As soon as the final bell rang, she sprinted for the exit. She almost forgot to look both ways before crossing the busy street, but a huge truck's exhaust fumes stifled her out of her ice cream frenzy enough to remind her that she wouldn't get to taste it ever again if she ended up a splatter in the middle of the road.
     Finally! She walked through the door and was hypnotized by the sweet smells of the variety of ice cream flavors just inches away from her. She ordered her favorite, paid, and waited for the server to decorate her two chocolate scoops with sprinkles of pecans and toffee. Was there anything better in the world, she imagined as she drooled for her edible treasure. She'd soon find out. As she waited, she didn't want to seem too eager, so she gazed around the eatery looking at photos of ice cream art on the walls and at other customers' colorful cones.
     "Here you go, Miss Adrina! Your favorite treat is ready," said Walter, the owner. But Adrina's attention was on the doorway. A boy had walked in. With his golden brown hair, grey T-shirt and jeans along with an elegant stride, he might as well have been a double scoop of Marvelous Mint Chocolate Deluxe ice cream because he had Adrina in a trance at first glance. Walter had to call on her twice before Adrina snapped out of her fairy tale moment. She was already picturing her first kiss. Her face warmed of embarrassment when Walter called her out and gave her some mighty serious advice in a whisper.
     "Adrina, I've known you since you were 3 years old. You're like a daughter to me. So please listen to me when I tell you this. Stay clear of Zeus Henry. He and his clan are nothing but trouble, and your life would never be same if it got tangled up with his kind. I'd sure hate to see that, so please listen to your old friend. Look, but do not touch, understand? Promise me." Adrina had never seen Walter so serious before. It scared her a little. "Yes, Mr. Kensington. I hear you, and I promise." She smiled and took her ice cream bowl that had already started melting. A table toward the back of the eatery is where she chose to sit with her back to Zeus. She tried her very best not to turn around.
     Her best wasn't good enough, because the minute they made eye contact after her neck slowly swiveled in his direction, she knew she would have to break her promise to Mr. Kensington. What could be so bad about someone so ... dreamy. Adrina vowed to find out.

I Scream, You Scream

     Pizza delivery boys Albert and Raymond decided they'd had enough of minimum wage and those unhealthy circles of bread, cholesterol, and extra cheese. It was time for something new. Something more rewarding than delivering pizzas to people who had more than they did. The mischievous duo began keeping notes about certain frequent flyer customers, especially the wealthy ones. Albert kept a notebook with addresses of their intended hits, listing family members, pets, security systems, and easy access. He even drove by the homes on his own time just to see their comings and goings to choose the best time to strike. Raymond was more the people watcher, making mental notes of behaviors. He targeted those who seemed weakest and kindest, those who would be the most unsuspecting. They avoided confrontation at all costs, but this collection of information made it easier to formulate a plan A, no people interference, and B, being caught or seen. After 6 successful break-ins sans complications, the two couldn't be happier with their new career move and loads of loot.
     "I know who should be next, Al," Raymond said while scoffing at the playlist of children's songs and videos on the new tablet he'd taken from a little boy's bedroom during the last robbery. "I never want kids if it means I'd have to listen to this annoying shit all day. Geez."
     "So who do you suggest we target next, Ray? Oh, wait. Lemme guess. The bikini pool party chicks on Lattimer Avenue? I'd like to rob them of a little more than their material possessions," said Albert with a wicked grin.
     "No, you rapist. I was thinking of ice cream lady on Silver Ribbon Lane, north side of town. The one who always orders pineapple and extra anchovies ... bleh!"
     "Oh! You mean that one who always answers the door while eating a bowl of strawberry ice cream! Dude, she is weird, but pretty hot for an old lady, though. Last time I delivered there, she had on some skin tight yoga pants and her tits were like blam in that tank top! Man, that must be some damned good ice cream ... can't even put it down to answer the door, ha ha."
     "Aha, and I also noticed a shelf in her living room with lots of crystal and shiny shit. Those gaudy rings on her fingers scream MONEY," said Raymond.
     "And a few hours parked outside her house told me she lives alone and is always gone between 6 to 10 p.m. on Saturday nights. A'right, then. I guess we know what we're doing next Saturday evening!"
     The two high-fived, laughed, and prepared their strategy.
     Saturday came, and at the stroke of 6 o'clock they made their way to Helga Harmon's house a few minutes early to watch her leave. According to their notes: no pets, lives alone, no security alarm system detected, corner house, close to main roadway, no neighbor on the other side nor across the street, and no visitors ever seen. They staked out the place until well after dark before making their move. At 8 o'clock, they easily picked the lock to her front door, no alarm went off, and they let themselves into her home. Raymond carried an unloaded gun just in case he ever needed to scare anyone off. He put it away when the coast looked clear and went straight for the crystal with his duffle bag. Albert decided it would be hilarious to steal the woman's ice cream, so he headed toward the kitchen first.
     Albert opened the freezer and found a large, plastic container with the pink creamy ice cream filled to the brim. It was unmarked, no brand name noted. "Ray! I think this broad makes her own frickin' ice cream. Check this shit out, damn! I think I might have me some. I'm sure she wouldn't mind," said Albert.
     What he didn't know was that the ice cream was indeed homemade and that eating it would be the last thing he'd ever do.

OK, so it seems like 2 is all I can spit out in this one sitting! Tell me what you think. And have you ever attempted such a writing challenge? I must say, this was fun. And I'm pretty sure I'll be finishing these stories and more in the ice cream tale series.

Thanks for reading!