Identifying with characters in stories

As a young girl and woman (and even now) it was difficult to find female characters that I could identify with. I am white, nerdy, Asperger (although I did not know this at that time) and Norwegian. As time passed more female characters entered the scene, but their roles were often romantic seconds. Not until the last few years have great female characters become more common. Finding characters that you can identify with if you belong to any female minority must be extremely difficult. Perhaps especially in a society as misogynistic as the US.

Along comes Marley Dias who is 11 years old. This amazing girl manages to launch a book-collection campaign focusing on books with black girls as main characters. I would never have dared, or even come up with, such a thing when I was 11. How can I do anything but look up to such a wonderful person?

Marley Dias, 11, Launches Social Action Campaign to Collect #1000BlackGirlBooks

Marley Dias Book Drive 1,000 Black Girl Books
11 year-old Marley Dias at Lingelbach Elementary School in Germantown, collecting books as part of her #1000BlackGirlBooks social action project. (JANICE DIAS/FOR PHILLYVOICE)

In the past year, Philadelphia native Marley Dias has successfully written a proposal for (and received) a Disney Friends for Change grant, served food to orphans in Ghana and recently launched a book club.

Dias is 11 years old.

“I’m hoping to show that other girls can do this as well,” Dias told PhillyVoice. “I used the resources I was given, and I want people to pass that down and use the things they’re given to create more social action projects — and do it just for fun, and not make it feel like a chore.”

Dias’ latest social action project is the #1000BlackGirlBooks book drive. Frustrated with many of the books she’s assigned in school, she confessed to her mother during dinner one night that she was unhappy with how monochromatic so many stories felt.

“I told her I was sick of reading about white boys and dogs,” Dias said, pointing specifically to “Where the Red Fern Grows” and the “Shiloh” series. “‘What are you going to do about it?’ [my mom] asked. And I told her I was going to start a book drive, and a specific book drive, where black girls are the main characters in the book and not background characters or minor characters.” ………….

The rest of the article may be read on Good Black News

Sofras, Lynette; Cocktails and Lies (2016)

Cover by Nika Dixon
Cover by Nika Dixon

Until I was asked to review Cocktail and Lies by Lynette Sofras, I had not heard the term “cozy mysteries“. I needed to look it so I would read the story in the proper frame of mind.

Cocktails and Lies is a mystery and romance story. Our main character is Hannah James. She lives in London in a house squeezed in behind an apartment building. Hannah works as an insurance loss adjuster. We first meet her when she is picking up her mail:

“Are you stealing our junk mail?”

Voice accusing, mocking even, with a hint of an accent; masculine, unfamiliar and unexpected – so much so that it made me lose my precarious balance and topple sideways, cracking my knee on the cold, marble floor and putting me at an even greater disadvantage. I bit back my sarcastic retort, realising I must appear pretty suspicious, crouching in front of the mailboxes in a building in which I didn’t even live.

This clumsy meeting introduces another important character, Jansen (Jan) Behrendt. Jan owns an auction house in London and is an expert on fine arts and collectibles. He is also one of Hannah’s love interests and a suspect when Hannah’s house is burgled.

Detective Sergeant Callum Connors is the CID detective in charge of investigating the burglary. DS Connors’ other role is as Hannah’s second love interest, a typical romance story move. I suppose authors use love-triangles because they are supposed to create tension. That must be a non-aspergers thing.

There are two mysteries in the story. Well, one mystery and one kind of mystery.

The mystery is, obviously, who the burglar is, and her/his motive. Hannah inherited her house from Grandmother Elouise. The house is two cottages knocked into one. The burglars seemed to be looking for something specific. They had searched all rooms, yet taken only Elouise’s art deco stuff and some antique crystal and china. Other valuables were left behind.

From her work as loss adjuster, Hannah knows this type of non-violent crime has low priority with the police. Although DS Connors investigates the crime, it soon becomes clear that he has little to go on. Most of his attention is due to his interest in Hannah and suspicions of Jan. So, Hannah decides to investigate the crime herself and tries to discover what there is about her grandmother’s house that might interest a burglar.

The other investigation is on behalf of her best friend, Rachel. Rachel suspects her husband is cheating on her and asks Hannah if she might look into it. The reason Hannah is able to help is because Rachel has discovered that Max is a few online dating sites.

Sofras seems to know people well. She has managed to portray how utterly self-absorbed we are most of the time, showing spurts of worrying about others. Except for Ted, all of her characters are like this. Completely normal. I kept on going “hang on” because I would have moments of “oh dear” introspection. Well, done.

When it comes to the romance bit, I am lost. I find three-somes unnecessary and my ASD is extremely romance-challenged. I have no idea how realistic it was. I never do. Cocktail and Lies has very mild sexual and violence content. I would guess its intended audience is upwards from young adult.

Recommended.


Available at Amazon UK and Amazon US


I was given an Arc copy by the author

Farrugia, Nathan; Exile (Helix II) (2016)

Helix - Episode 2
Photo by Andrew Maccoll, Cover design by Pat Naoum

Nathan. You cretin.  If telepathic strangling had been possible, I might have given it a try all the way from Norway. Cliff-hangers like this should be forbidden.

History repeats itself over and over and over again. Using The Fifth Column as his title for the Sophia series, and inserting Sixth Column as rebels to the usurper group, shows us how we continue to live in repetition. The tool used by any power, be it national or institutional, to get the public to go along with it is two-fold: propaganda (mild brainwashing) and force. In the Fifth Column trilogy, Denton and McLoughlin used both to get a strong hold on US military, US government and US public. Propaganda uses less blood and is often (usually) difficult to see through.

I am 51 years old and have been through all sorts of propaganda periods. Usually, I like to think of myself as a feminist. In Exile, Nathan showed me how far I have left to go.

Damien, Jay and Nasira have gone to Las Vegas to get hold of Aviary (from The Fifth Column). Since Jay has lost his genetic advantages, and is still healing from the killing shots from Helix I, he is get-away driver. Nasira and Damien want to rescue Aviary and have to get through a group of Marines guarding her room. Nasira begins the fight and Damien joins in.

“That would be my cue, Damien thought.

He launched for the marine behind him, grasped the barrel of her gun and twisted it up, tangling her trigger finger. The scope broke her nose, blood spattering the door of the room.”

I was completely surprised when the marine was a woman. So much for my feminism. But that is the power of propaganda. Farrugia just dump women and men into situations without regard for gender and lets them do their thing. And that is incredibly cool and hopeful.

There are three main groups in Exile. The first is the above. Their self-imposed job is to find Aviary and get her to help them again. The above shows one of the complications that arise.

Our second group is Olesya and Ark(adiy) and their masters. Val was taken by Intron Genetics Incorporated operators towards the end of Helix I. She was the third operative taken that week. They are not the only three who have been kidnapped. The loss of Ark’s sister hit both of them hard, and they desperately want her back. But Illarion does not agree with their assessment of Intron’s involvement. So he sends them to Poland due to an apparent shift of Fifth Column operatives to Eastern Europe and the loss of several hunters in the area. Something major seems to be going down.

The third group is Sophia, Czarina and Ieva. Sophia rescued and deprogrammed both of them. At this point she was teaching them to deprogram others. That is Sophia’s main mission (much as it is Olesya’s), to catch and deprogram Fifth Column operatives. However, catching people who fight for their lives is not a simple matter. At least Sophia has access to the location of every live Fifth Column operative.

Finally, there is the matter of Denton and Loughlin’s goal of making impossible-to-catch operatives. These two are extremely driven people who will do absolutely anything to accomplish their goals and retain their positions. That includes operators like Priya, who Sophia stumbles across on one of her jobs to save people from the clutches of the Fifth Column.

Well written as usual. Fun and believable fighting. Plenty of intrigue. Farrugia does techno-thrillers well. Definitely recommended.


Exile: Helix II is available on Amazon US


My review of Helix: Episode I


An ARC of Exile (Helix II) was given to me by the author


Intron:

Introns are present in the initial RNA transcript, known as pre-mRNA. They need to be removed in order for the mRNA to be able to direct the production of proteins. Pre-mRNA, therefore, undergoes a process, known as splicing, to create mature mRNA. (6, 8)

It is vital for the introns to be removed precisely, as any left-over intron nucleotides, or deletion of exon nucleotides, may result in a faulty protein being produced. This is because the amino acids that make up proteins are joined together based on codons, which consist of three nucleotides. An imprecise intron removal thus may result in a frameshift, which means that the genetic code would be read incorrectly. (3)

This can be explained by using the following phrase as a metaphor for an exon: “BOB THE BIG TAN CAT”. If the intron before this exon was imprecisely removed, so that the “B” was no longer present, then the sequence would become unreadable: “OBT HEB IGT ANC AT…”

Black, Levy; Red Right Hand (2016)

Black, Levy; Red Right Hand; New York, Tor Books, 2016

Some authors write horror too well for my own good. In the case of Mr. Black, this happened before the end of chapter 6. I could not go on. Not since beginning to read Apartment 16 by Adam Nevill have I been this frightened. The time before that was when I was 15 and tried to read Dracula. So, no very often.

It wasn’t the demon dogs who did it for me. They were just gross and gross can be fun, or at least interesting. But good old Elder God, Nyarlathotep, did me in.

Too bad, really, as Mr. Black’s writing was excellent. But, alas, so is my imagination.


The Red Right Hand was given to me to review by Tor Books

Joiner, Ann Levingston: Vision Quest (2010)

Vision Quest, Ann Levingston Joiner

The Vision Quest is the first short-story exploring the lives of Daniel “Two Horses” Thorne-Redstone and his friend. We are only introduced to Two Horses in The Vision Quest.

After Daniel had been on his own vision quest, his name became Two Horses and he was now considered a Penateka warrior. While visiting his grandmother, Two Horses shared his experiences of his vision quest. Two Horses’ vision quest is fraught with danger and mystery.

I cannot speak to the story’s authenticity with regards to the Penateka vision quests. The information I found pointed towards it being fairly OK. Nor am I certain of the story’s intended audience.

With those provisos, I found The Vision Quest a warm story about a young man’s coming-of-age ritual and his understanding of that ritual.

Recommended.

 

Farrugia, Nathan M.: Helix: Episode 1 (2016)

Hi, I’m Nathan and I make up stories. There’s a word for that. Delusional. And sexy.

Helix: Episode 1 is part of the world of The Fifth Column. What I like most, aside from how well the text flows, is its realism. No mental leaps are required of me to believe in the likelihood of the methods used to acquire soldier material, how these people are tested, what training they receive and their use. The military and population application of all of the genetic manipulation described, especially unquestioning loyalty, is frightening.

Some of the brainwashing techniques described in the Sophia serial is brainwashing we all go through. Propaganda is poured at us from every available medium from the time we are born. Our ethics and moral values are all part of this propaganda. Soldiers who are sent to kill, especially the ones who end up in some form of black ops, must endure even more. What military and intelligence leaders want are people who obey and find a way to achieve whatever their leaders command them to do as efficiently as possible. Unlike religious cults, though, the military cannot have unquestioning loyalty in such men and women. At least not in officers.

The Fifth Column is not an officially sanctioned group. They aren’t interested in their doings getting out to the public. So their brainwashing needs to be more thorough.

One of their tools for finding relevant children is the Human Genome Project. Based on certain genetic markers, children from around the world get tested by Project GATE. Olesya, our main character, is one such child. Except she does not seem to have the desired genetic marker. However, she does make it into the program.

“For a while, he was silent. It was the longest she’d seen him not talk. Above the, fireworks crackled, then trickled down the velvet sky. Olesya tried to imagine what this scholarship on the other side of the world would be like without her big brother.

The snow squeaked under Zakhar’s jacket. He rubbed his face with a gloved hand and she realized he’d been crying. The fireworks had faded now, golden glitter in the night.”

Project GATE aims to make the perfect killers. By combining extensive testing, combat and assassin training, brainwashing techniques and an engineered virus, Project GATE gets unquestioning, loyal and adjustable soldiers.

After one of their tests, Olesya, together with other team-members, is broken out of Project GATE by the Sixth Column and de-programmed. The Chimera Vector took us through that process and it was not fun for either the programee or the de-programmer.  Getting de-programmed is only the beginning of Olesya’s life with a mind of her own. Now the Sixth Column wants her to be their soldier. She, and the others from her old team, fight to free other Fifth Column members and to find their own people who seem to be disappearing. Theirs is a race against time and a superior power.

It turns out the Sixth Column is not only fighting against the Fifth Column but also against an organization whose members wear white armbands. All of these conspiracies give us much action, well-written action. With his background, Farrugia has the tools for being able to make the fighting realistic. Realism by itself, would not work well for some of the car-chases, so we get a bit of Bondism as well.  We reacquaint ourselves briefly with Sophia and it is interesting to see what that tells us about the Sixth Column.

Helix was fun, had great flow and interesting people who kept me entertained. Definitely recommended.


Reviews:


My reviews of other Fifth Column stories


Helix, Episode 1 is available at Amazon

“Ass” – US English intensifier

Back in the olden-not-so-golden-days I used to know a bit of Latin. I would translate swear-words into Latin and use them on people who were particularly annoying. At home, our mouths would be washed with soap if we were caught swearing or one of us told on the other. All four of us were awful tattletales, especially if revenge was the goal. Some of these usages of “ass” were new to me.

| JUNE 1, 2016

IN WHICH WE GET TO THE BOTTOM OF SOME CRAZY-ASS LANGUAGE

This is one crazy-ass ass. | via Flickr

Let’s face it, there is no depth to which linguists will not sink in their hunt for the oddities of language. And that includes getting to the bottom of some of the weirdly versatile uses of strong, coarse, foul, no good, very bad language.Now you may think that strong language is useful only when practicing to be a longshoreman in the comfort of your own home (or so I assume), but no. As it turns out not only is strong language a powerful invective that you may not wish to use in front of a policeman, in casual speech it’s often used in innovative and productive ways that have changed colloquial American English grammar—rather unexpectedly.

We saw, for instance, how abso-bloody-lutely fan-freaking-tastic it could be to add a swear word infix to a humble polysyllabic like “Minne-fucking-sota,” in a process called “expletive infixation.” But while expletive infixation may be used for emphasis in casual speech, its usage is still fairly marked. It hasn’t made as insidious an infiltration into mainstream language as one other surprisingly popular curse word:ass. If you’re unconvinced about the grammatical versatility of “ass,” worry not, the linguists are on it!

Just to emphasize, yes, there are actual serious-ass, um, analyses about the word “ass.” (Well, perhaps not that serious). The Annals of Improbable Research recently popularized one such study—a short paper in Snippets Journal by linguist Daniel Siddiqi on the subject of “ass” as a modern intensifier, which gained some mainstream attention. I say “modern,” but in fact fancy-ass examples of the phenomenon have been noted as far back as the 1920s. Even before Siddiqi, there’s been abundant scholarship on the subject, including Diana Elgersma’s elegantly titled 1998 paper “Serious-ass morphology: The anal emphatic in English.”

So what is the so-called “ass” intensifier?

Once, we were all happy enough using rather dull words like “very” and “really” as intensifiers, as in “a very big car” or “a really crazy idea.” They’ve often become so (another intensifier) overused and diluted in effect that many complain bitterly about their use at all. In casual speech, using “-ass” as an intensifier suffix attached to an adjective, we might express the same ideas as the more colorful “a big-ass car” and “a crazy-ass idea.” Obviously, we’re not talking about actual posteriors being big or crazy, so the curse word has developed into a kind of functional linguistic morpheme, carrying a more effective and emphatic weight. Although this is still a marked form that you mostly find in colloquial contexts, it’s getting increasingly common for the “-ass” intensifier to make appearances in mainstream media, as the linguistic register of record becomes ever more casual, perhaps in an effort to become more approachable.

You would never think that the word “ass” could give us so much in the way of grammatical delights…….

The rest of the article may be read at JSTOR

Remember to use your public libraries when you can

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