Book Review: Pale Demon by Kim Harrison

{DISCLAIMER: I was given a free digital copy of this book at the time it was published, for review.
All opinions and views are my own.}

 

Pale Demon by Kim Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I remember the first book I picked up in this series, thinking, “This is labeled urban fantasy? Do I even like urban fantasy? I don’t think I do….” But a synopsis or a quote from a reviewer, something caught my eye and I read it anyway. I was intrigued. I laughed so hard (Jenks the pixie and his derogatory Tink comments, oh boy!) and I was unnerved and completely hooked. It was like nothing I’d ever read before.

PALE DEMON by Kim Harrison is yet another amazing reading experience in a long line of amazing reads. This book in the series throws Trent, Ivy, Jenks, and Rachel—as well as a few other characters they pick up along the way— into a car on a road trip. Why? Rachel doesn’t know, Trent won’t tell her—and let the tension commence! Trying to get Trent to California in one piece, something Rachel promised Quen she’d do, is going to be harder then she thought. The wild-Elven-magic wielding assassins, the witch coven on her tail and Jenks going missing are just the start of this mysterious road trip. Throw in a soul-devouring demon that seems impossible to defeat, some breath-taking fight scenes, and the roller coaster that is Rachel’s relationship with Al (or Trent for that matter!) and you’ll be alternating between highs and feeling wrung out. And the end? It leaves you flipping pages in disbelief! “It can’t end there, can it?”

I love the twisty-turniness of Kim Harrison’s books that keep you guessing until the end. The character Rachel Morgan has grown exponentially and is so real, you feel like you must have met her at some point in your life. Every time Rachel is in a corner, I read all the more eagerly, knowing she’s going to pull something out of absolutely nowhere to send us flying in disbelief at her ingenious escape. This is usually followed by the author mercilessly slamming us with a plot twist! You literally cannot guess what is going to happen next. The author knows her world better then we the readers do and her world is expansive in a way that keeps the author from painting herself into a corner. Not in a way that is uncomfortable for us as the readers, if that makes sense; we feel safe, like walking through the uncertainty that is Wonderland, but having Alice holding our hand the entire time.

I love, love, love Kim Harrison’s Rachel Ward series and I highly recommend it to anyone who is remotely interested in urban fantasy with a complex female character or who likes magic, mayhem, witches and bounty hunters! Oh alright, there’s also vampires, pixies, werewolves and elves!  Something for everyone!

 

How “The Little Engine That Could” Perpetuates Gender Stereotypes

{This post, originally written on my Blogger supported blog in 2009, attracted the attention of NPR. Yeah, I don’t know how that happened either, but there it is! Here is the link to the article where I am mentioned. The link back to this blog in the article is now broken, but my name is still there. Someone from NPR apparently tried to reach me via FB in the days before the recording, to see if I wanted to be interviewed, and trusty dusty Facebook stashed their message in my “Other” folder. So I missed it. Sigh. What can you do? —L}

So I’m reading the Little Engine that Could to my boys, and I notice something very suddenly: the Little Engine is female. And the two engines that refused to help the clown and toys were both male. Hmmmm…..
I start paying closer attention to what I’m actually reading and notice a few things:

1. The male trains are described as new and shiny and the other as big and tough. The Little Engine is “a small engine. A very small engine, but maybe she can help us.” Only maybe? C’mon. She’s a woman, of course she can help you! And could they get more stereotypical? Me man, me big and strong. You woman, you small and weak. Sexist pig author.

2. The clown and other toys tell her the children will have nothing if she doesn’t pull the train over the mountain. Well of course! The stupid male trains wouldn’t lift a finger to get the kids fed and make sure they had age-appropriate toys, noooo, it’s assumed the woman will take care of that!

3. Added bonus: they guilt her into it. How many women are susceptible to guilt trips, especially where children are involved? Raise your hands. How many have guilted yourselves into things because of your children?! Go on, raise your hands. It’s all about the honesty here!

4. The Little Engine immediately doubts herself and lists the reasons why she can’t do the job: she’s never pulled a train before (like that matters!), she only works at the train yard (this is a metaphor for stay at home moms!!) so she’s not sure she can help (the SAHM trying to break back into the work force no less!). Why does she have such low self-esteem I ask you?

5. Both the male trains had no problem telling the clown “no.” The Little Engine hems and haws and tries to list reasons why she can’t do it, but agrees anyway, even though she’s obviously overwhelmed at the thought….sound familiar? Women can’t say No. Everyone knows that. Alternatively, when a woman says No, she doesn’t really mean it. Put on your persuasive hat! I’m s

ure you can convince her to change her mind! Go!

6. She has to work very hard to get the kiddies their crap, I mean, their “toys and good food to eat,” pulling that damn train all night. You know those mean male trains aren’t workin’ all night! Does your husband give you the ol’ “but I have to get up and go to work tomorrow and you don’t” routine at 2am with a puking kid? Typical.

7. Finally, after pulling all night, she makes it over the fricken mountain in time to see the sunrise and for some reason is very pleased with herself. What message is this meant to convey? “That’s right girls, take on way more than you should, work hard, twenty-four-seven as a matter of fact, and you can get it all done; there really is such a thing as Supermom! Just look at that Little Engine go! You can too!”

I think I might throw this book out…wouldn’t want my boys (or my daughter) getting any crazy ideas…

Movie Review: Lucy

Movie Review: Lucy

I just finished watching the movie Lucy, starring Scarlett Johansen and Morgan Freeman. On the face of it, I was immediately drawn in by the two main stars, both of whom I love watching, as well as the particular science behind this film: the study of brain use. This film relies on the idea that we use only 10% of our brains.

When I was in college in 2000-2003, brain study was being more heavily investigated and relied on as a tool, in relation to learning: how do we learn, what parts of the brain are stimulated while learning different subjects, brains that are diagnosed as different (ADHD, dyslexia, etc.) how do their brains function? What lights up for them? I was fascinated particularly by the idea that for some people, one area of the brain lights up while doing a specific task, but if the brain is irregular in any way, the brain tends to compensate, and you’ll see different areas light up to accomplish the same task. Additionally, children that have higher levels of skill and/or interest in math, or music, or science or art (to name just a few), could those areas be used to better help them to learn other subjects? (These are Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences.)

I’m also fascinated by the study of cosmology (not to be confused with cosmetology, the study of beautifying the face, hair and skin), which is a branch of metaphysics that deals with the nature of the universe or alternately, a theory or doctrine describing the natural order of the universe. I’m also interested in origin stories of cultures as well archeology and mythology.

Photo Credit: ageeksblog.com

Photo Credit: ageeksblog.com

This has all converged with Morgan Freeman, Scarlett Johansen and Luc Besson to produce the movie Lucy.

The movie is fascinating and I love all the science in it, I really do. It’s my kind of science, as it were. However, there were some plot holes. Which make me nuts. Not enough to not enjoy the movie, but enough to disrupt my suspension of disbelief and distract me for a moment before getting sucked back in.

***MILD SPOILER ALERT***

The basic premise is that Lucy-with-no-last-name is hoodwinked into delivering a case for her boyfriend to a mysterious man while they are in China. Turns out, the man is a powerful, nasty crime/drug lord who forces Lucy to be a drug mule, carrying a bag of a new drug he’s had stitched into her body that he hopes to get out onto the streets. Only, the drug bag leaks and spills the dangerous drug directly into Lucy’s system. This drug is supposedly powerful enough, at least in the dose she receives, to jumpstart her brain into using more than the 10% it usually does. She escapes. A chase begins, her brain gaining higher percentages of use along the way. Morgan Freeman is a doctor studying the capacity of the brain, whom Lucy turns to for assistance.

The director/writer, Luc Besson, goes to a lot of trouble to show us the science behind this through Morgan Freeman’s character’s lecture in a Paris university. Lucy herself tells us she is beyond emotion. And yet…she kills some people and not others. The people she chooses not to kill impacts her later on, when they come for her again. This happens several times. If she does not have emotional ties anymore, and she has the capacity to kill with her freaking *brain*, and she’s so super-smart, why would you leave behind the greatest threat to your existence when you had a chance to kill him? That is a weakness in the storytelling. Or more accurately, a weakness in the world-building, because there is now an inconsistency that is noticeable by the audience: you told me the rules, but she is not playing by them. Of course, if she had shot a few of the characters early on when she had the chance, the movie would have ended right there. Sure the movie is exciting and fast-paced. It’s even very intelligent in a lot of places. But it has a few waggling loose ends that are mildly bothersome.

This movie definitely made me think. I enjoy a movie that does not assume I, the viewer, is stupid. It was fast-paced, which I also always enjoy. The car chase scene was one of the best I’ve ever seen, bar none. I especially liked the repeated viewing from other drivers as they had accidents or swerved to get out of her way. That was awesome and a technique that is not used often enough, in my opinion.

Photo Credit: ageeksblog.com

Photo Credit: ageeksblog.com

The cast was excellent and international, which is great, however, you know what I’m going to say: Not enough women, by far. The only female characters we encounter are Lucy, of course, who is running the show, her mother, whom we only hear as a voice on the phone, her roommate, who is a typical 20-something partier that we see for about 3 minutes (and all they talk about is her boyfriend!!) and the very first woman, also called “Lucy,” we see a few flashes of her. However, all the bad guys, her main nemesis, the other drug mules, the police force later assisting her, all the scientists, the doctor she goes to at one point, even her *taxi driver,* are all male. I mean, this cast is overwhelmingly male. There isn’t even a token female in the large numbers of extras playing cops and bad guys. Really, Mr. Besson? Honestly. It would have been cool to have had a female cop helping her out, but instead they have an Egyptian actor (who was great, really, I liked him) that she kisses at one point. Of course. Because even with great science concepts here and expanding brain capacity, she still feels the need to kiss the man who’s helping her. And he tells her he doesn’t think she needs his help, but ends up helplessly following her around anyway. Why? Because of that kiss. Because that’s all the more complicated men are: sexual urge. Sigh.

Not to mention the scene where one of her captures gropes her, then beats her; typical weak female fare.  In another, after she has been affected by the drug, she entices with her body in order to escape. Even though her brain is crazy big.  That’s all she can come up with.  What the hell?

Still, the science part of it saves the day. As does Scarlett Johansen’s nuanced performance and character growth over time. It contrasted so nicely with all the chaos and with the stereotypical, one-track mind men she had on her tail. It elevated the storyline.

Overall: intense, entertaining, makes you think, fast-paced. Oh, and Morgan Freeman. If you like any of those things, by all means, check it out!

I give it 4 out of 5 stars, just for the angles I liked. But it really could have been spectacular.

Interested in the science? Here are a few links for further reading:

Busting a brain myth: We really do use 100 percent of our brains: Science debunks Scarlett Johansson’s supposed superpower in ‘Lucy’

Do We Use Only 10% of Our Brains? (this article also mentions the movie ‘Lucy’)

Cool tools for understanding your child’s mind…if used advisedly.

 

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