Sweep- Volume 2
Review by Jarad Johnson
In this second three volume novel, we see the main character, Morgan Rowlands, a witch who has just discovered her abilities, progress in her training while at the same time trying to come to grip with a shocking betrayal. I enjoyed the first volume but didn’t find enough to say about it to formulate a review. This second installment had more depth and plot development, so there is more to say. For the most part, it is an enjoyable read; however, there were times when I felt the cliché of the love triangle, and the main characters’ whining was sometimes overplayed, but that it made it a little more realistic, since the novel centers around teenagers. However, the ending was the most problematic for me; one of the main antagonists is suddenly and miraculously gone, and it seemed a little rushed and hurried. Overall, though, it was a good read, and the plot kept me going.
Strange the Dreamer
Review by Jarad Johnson
This beautifully written book is easily my favorite of the year. It is epic in scope, and all-encompassing. This modern-day fairy tale recounts the journey of Lazlo Strange, an orphan who was raised by monks, and then became a junior librarian. His quest centers around a mythological city, one that has been his obsession since he was a child. But the entire story begins with a girl with blue skin falling from the sky. And if that doesn’t entice you, nothing will.
Today, it would seem that our society is obsessed with sex. It’s everywhere; television shows, commercials, and as a form of advertisement. Most importantly, we now see examples displaying unnecessary sex; for example, a Hardee’s commercial does not need to sell their burgers by marketing what is essentially soft-core porn, and it’s definitely true that these displays are more pornographic than they are actual sex, because displaying and exploring human sexuality through film, books and other media is fine and sometimes necessary, but we seem to have a culture that is obsessed with performing sex and sexiness, as we have a culture that is obsessed with performing gender. Modern culture is not obsessed with sex in itself, but a certain idea of what sex is and how it is performed. These are some of the issues that Levy wishes to tackle and attempts to explain. I will say that while I agree with Levy in most of her assertions, and she appears to correctly identify where our, “pornified,” culture has evolved from, she makes some insinuations and assertions that I don’t agree with, which is fine of course, as the book was not written just for me; however, these things, in my view, showcased an ignorance and a misunderstanding about certain topics.
In the first book of this series, we got to see the main character embark on an epic Tolkien-esce quest to destroy a powerful and evil king. Now, we get to see him fail in his endeavors, which is mostly what this second book entails. Much of the book’s plot is set up by a mess of Merlin’s own making. However, through his endeavors here, the author lays the ground-work for Merlin’s evolution into the famous mythological figure that we know today. Unlike the first book, the author shares more of Merlin the person, which includes his self-doubt and arrogance, both of which cost him dearly. At times, these humanizing qualities feel overdone, and leave the reader with an impression of the main character as whiny and bratty, at times, though it is worth noting that he is described as being only thirteen.
Merlin has been a prominent figure in mythology for centuries, with many versions of the character since medieval times, and as such he has become a common name, a prominent figure in the Arthurian mythos. However, while much has been written about his adult life, very rarely do his authors discuss his teenage years. This is what Baron wishes to explore in his series.
Novel by Robert Harris
Review by Jarad Johnson
Once again, Robert Harris brings the courtrooms of Ancient Rome to life with his vivid imagery and meticulous writing style. This is the first in the series, and it is narrated by Cicero’s slave, clerk, and confidante Tiro. Through his writing, the reader sees that Cicero, even from the start of his career, was a master at the game of politics, as well as a brilliant orator. He could change sides from one day to the next, but with the right turn of a phrase, somehow manage to keep the favor, even the adoration, of the populous. That alone takes talent. Moreover, through Tiro’s narration, the reader gets to see the beginnings of his first career, from his initial election, to his first criminal case in the courtroom, to his war on the aristocracy. All of it is fascinating, and anyone who loves ancient history or politics will greatly enjoy this book.
Roots, Rockers and Radicals: How Skiffle Changed the World
by Billy Bragg
Faber & Faber
Review by Roy Peak
Before I read this book, my knowledge of Britain’s skiffle scene was from reading little anecdotes in the histories of various English rock groups. Anecdotes such as “John Lennon met Paul McCartney when they both played in skiffle groups in Liverpool,” or “Pete Townshend played in several skiffle bands before joining the Who.” But what exactly was a skiffle group and why were they so influential to Britain’s music scene in the late 1950s?
The easy answer is that skiffle was a type of music played by young folks in England during the 1950s, influenced mainly by American jazz, blues, and folk as well as English folk songs. The longer answer is all that, PLUS add to it the fact that as much as skiffle had in common with—and sounded similar to—rockabilly and early rock ‘n’ roll, it had developed mostly on its own, independent from the pop music of the day. This was rebellious music of a D.I.Y. ethic often utilizing handmade instruments such as washboards and the one-string tea chest bass.
But what I really found intriguing was that this music started out as a lark. A local trad jazz band decided to add some variety to their shows by playing a few Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie songs on guitar between their regular jazz sets. Something to break up the regular jazz routine. One of these musicians, Lonnie Donegan, played with a great sense of abandon, ratcheting up the tempo and the volume on the songs to the audience’s delight. Eventually more people were showing up for the mid-show entertainment than the regular night’s jazz.
As the guitar was not strictly a popular instrument in England at the time, the critics were dismissive, but the kids were immediately won over. Once a few record labels got wind of the burgeoning popularity of this new sound and released a few albums, sales of guitars skyrocketed overnight as practically every teen in England started a band, if only to play at coffee houses or school cafeterias. Skiffle contests were a huge thing the country over, with groups of young Brits vying to win the local heat and advance to the next level, hoping to win the big prize: a chance to make their own record. I do believe that this helps to explain how the British Invasion happened to be so big, so explosive. The kids were already primed and ready, and the amount of kids in bands around the country, all fighting for attention, were a huge pool of talent just waiting to be tapped, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of fans waiting for the next big thing to happen. Throngs of school girls would scream their lungs out as their favorite bands hit the stage, in a prelude to Beatlemania years later. I always saw the screaming fans during the Beatles’ shows as coming out of nowhere, but now it all makes sense. This had been building up for years, the Fab Four were simply the latest and biggest band at the time to command that sort of attention, and the kids went wild as soon as they had the chance.
Being a gifted songwriter serves Bragg well here, as he’s economical, yet full of imaginative detail, his research is impeccable, and he has a strong sense of how to tell a story. A great, fun, fast, informative read.
Roy Peak has played electric bass in more bands than he cares to remember for more years than he can remember. He wrote the theme song for the Utica, New York radio show "Hey You Kids, Get Off My Lawn" on WPNR-FM. His solo debut album, All Is Well, has been called "Loud, cacophonous, and beautiful by a truly unique artist." His short fiction has been published in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature and he writes music reviews for the King Tut Vintage Album Museum of Jacksonville.
Confessions of the Lioness
Review by Jarad Johnson
Confessions of the Lioness is a haunting, lyrical narrative told through the perspective of two journals, Mariamar Mpepe, a local woman who lives in the village, and Archangel Bullseye, a hunter who travelled there to kill the lions plaguing the village. Through these two diaries, the author juxtaposes the African Landscape against the pettiness and cruelty of the village where the novel takes place; however, one of the things I don’t like about lyrical poetry is that it’s meant to give an overall emotion or feeling, but rarely are there concrete images. At times, that’s what Couto’s writing felt like, especially toward the end, which took away from the rest of his excellent prose. Overall, though, it’s an enjoyable novel for the message that it presents and its unique take on anthropomorphizing lions.
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane
Review by Jarad Johnson
This delightful novel tells two stories; one of a woman accused of witchcraft in 1692 during the Salem Witch Trials, the other of a graduate student in 1991. The Salem Witch Trials have long been the subject of fascination both to scholars and enthusiasts alike, but the author, who is a descendant of Elizabeth Howe and Elizabeth Proctor, two women accused of witch-craft during the Salem hysteria approached the event not through the eye of history, instead choosing to take the villagers at their word, and elaborate on the uncommon question: what if witches and witch-craft really were present in Salem?
Review By Jarad Johnson
“Monkey on my back,” is a common term for heroin addiction, but in this riveting magical-realism novel, Beukes takes it quite literally. Here, set in an alternate of the South African city of Johannesburg, people who have committed a crime, and those who bear a significant amount of guilt are, “animalled,” or magically attached to an animal familiar. While the animal brings with it some magic in the form of psychic powers and perhaps marginal comfort, the animal is their version of the scarlet, “A.” In short, the animal is a sort of marker for their wrong-doing. The protagonist of the novel is Zinzi December, an animalled girl with a sloth who lives in a slum nicknamed, “Zoo City,” for its large population of animalled people. When she is first introduced, Zinzi is attempting to pay back her drug dealer by charging people for her ability to locate lost objects. However, she quickly gets caught up in harrowing missing persons case that leads her to reevaluate everyone and everything she trusts.