Emily’s Ride to Courage

A review by Joey Madia

Eighteen months ago I reviewed Sarah Maury Swan’s Young Adult (YA) novel Terror’s Identity, which tells the story of family who has to move from their home and assume secret identities because of the father’s work fighting terrorism. The story was told through the point of view of the teenage son and it was quite the action-packed thriller.

Emily’s Ride to Courage—although it shares similarities with Terror’s Identity, such as the upheaval of a family because of a parent’s commitment to fighting evil in the world—is a much different book in tone and pace.

Emily is not only the title character, but our narrator. Readying for her seventh grade year, with all of the self-doubt, excess energy, and shifting emotions of a girl her age, Emily is dealing with the news that her mother, a doctor, is going to Afghanistan to serve in the medical corps. Because Emily’s father travels a great deal for work, Emily and her 14-year-old dance-obsessed sister Jen will be spending the summer with their grandfather, a man well set in his ways. Continue reading

Grief for Heart

“Postmodern Vampirism”

Vampires have gotten increasingly complex.

Sure, there was that blip with the Twilight series, where everything went a little backwards with the complexity and ferocity of the un-dead blood-sucker, but overall they have certainly changed with the times. The metaphors that drive human fascination with this particular breed of monster have morphed and expanded as technology and human relations have grown into their present state in the first quarter of the twenty-first century.

In my previous reviews of this elegantly penned series, I have touched on much of this—the addiction metaphors, the lab-created blood sources and tropes of the dangers of scientific advancement, the origins in Western European fears of blood pollution by Eastern Europeans, the sexual metaphors springing from the suppression of the Victorian and Edwardian eras—and I don’t want to take up space repeating it.

What I want to touch on here—what really drives Grief for Heart—are the sexual politics and socio-political hierarchies that Ambroziak’s universe has expanded to in this series, for they are as unsettling a commentary on modern “humanity” as I have ever read in a vampire novel. Continue reading

Tizita

“Struggles in the Void”

Review by Joey Madia

Four months ago I was introduced to Fleur Robins, with whom I fell instantly in love. Not romantically, understand, but as a father who wants to protect a curious and brilliant, although socially and emotionally challenged, young woman from the darkness in the world, while wanting her to bathe immersively and unabashedly in the light of it as well.

Perhaps it is the recent event of my only daughter’s eighteenth birthday, and her starting her senior year of high school as I write this. Perhaps it is the dancing whirl of contradictions that are her chosen isolation and digital world-traveling, her emotional and social strengths and weaknesses, her brilliance and naïveté and her own journey into the darkness and re-entrance into the light that make me invest so heavily in Fleur’s adventures.

This is to take nothing away from Sharon Heath, who writes with a power and honesty that draws me in and makes me laugh out loud and flinch in pain—often within the span of a page, or a paragraph.

In the interest of space, I encourage you to read my review of the first book, and, better yet—read the book itself. Continue reading

Random Road

“Is Anything Ever Random?”

Review by Joey Madia

Arthur Conan Doyle. Agatha Christie. Edgar Allan Poe. Peter Straub. The Mystery genre is certainly daunting. With such a rich heritage built over so many decades, one has to applaud any new writer breaking into the genre. How do you honor the well-known (and often well-worn) tropes that make the genre what it is while also bringing something new?

Let’s face it—not bringing anything new to a pillar of a genre such as Mystery is like playing a song note for note as originally arranged and expecting your cover to be remembered.

With this skeptical opening in mind, I have to congratulate Tom Kies on not only honoring what makes a good mystery a good mystery—twists and turns, richly detailed locations, lots of likely suspects, an overall moral depravity and subtle condemnation of society, and of course a compelling detective—he manages to bring something new and attention-getting to the genre: the main character’s private life literally and figuratively competes with the mystery all the way through. Continue reading

The Tao of Cool

“Not Your Grandma’s Tao”

Review by Joey Madia

“You’re not cool, you’re chilly. And chilly ain’t never been cool.” [George Carlin, from one of his HBO specials]

You best get ready—this isn’t your (normal? regular?) traditional review. I am not even sure, after reading The Tao of Cool, that a review is even a COOL thing to do, nontraditional or not. Nothing about this book, which is [loosely] (as in, shares a common word in the title and the same number of chapter-poems) based on the Tao te Ching of Lao Tzu is presented in an expected way. For instance, the subtitle is on the back of the book, and reads: “Deconstructing the Tao Te Ching [:] from the Notebooks of Snafu Trismegistus [,] Bodhisattva of Universal Cool.”

Now, (normally) I would question such a statement. In one of my other lives as an academic editor, at least once a year I edit papers from a writer who promotes himself as a “thought leader.” That always makes me cringe. But, in this case, Bodhisattva of Universal Cool sort of elegantly, exactly sums it up. Continue reading