Friday, February 12, 2021

Book Review: I Hope This Helps

book cover for I Hope This HelpsTommy Siegel is a musician in the band Jukebox the Ghost (Me either). After messing around with several doodles, he was challenged to produce a new comic every day for 500 days. He posted them on social media, garnered a following, caught the attention of famous people, and landed a book deal. This book is the result.

It was a gift from my son, and I found it to be laugh out loud funny, certainly guffaw worthy.

As the title suggests, this is very much a satire of life here and now. There are contrasts ("Football vs. Football", "Star Wars vs. Star Trek", "Scrambled Eggs vs Cereal"), helpful guides ("Fall Fetish Checklist", "Stages of Coffee Addiction", "A Guide to Paper-free Hand Dryers", "What Your Sandals Say About You"), as well as political humor ("How Your Grandparents Act vs. How Your Grandparents Vote").

Interespersed among the comics, Siegel shares his experiences and opinions about the 500-day comic challenge and dealing with social media, Facebook in particular. It's fairly astute, as Siegel's experiences and conclusions have been corroborated by digital media analysts. Completed in mid-March of 2020, the worst of it came to fruition while the manuscript was being readied for production in October.

If you like humor that holds a mirror up to society and pokes fun, then it's for you. If you're easily offended, particularly if you're in denial about your coffee addiction or social media is your daily meth, then this book isn't for you.

3.5 stars


Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Book Review: A Dead Djinn in Cairo

boo cover for A Dead Djinn in CairoEgypt, 1912. In an alternate Cairo infused with the otherworldly, the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities investigate disturbances between the mortal and the (possibly) divine. What starts off as an odd suicide case for Special Investigator Fatma el-Sha'arawi leads her through the city's underbelly as she encounters rampaging ghouls, saucy assassins, clockwork angels, and plot that could unravel time itself.

Forty years prior to the start of this novella, someone let magic into the world, altering it forever. Colonial powers have gotten the boot thanks to an alliance with the creatures who entered through that portal, and now Egypt is enjoying a boost in prosperity. But on the flip side, there are dark forces at work who recognize that this is a world ripe for the picking.

I thought that a woman working as an investigator in early twentieth century Egypt seemed especially progressive given the country's treatment of women in more recent times, but it turns out Egypt was ahead of the curve relative to its neighbors at the time. The erosion of women's rights didn't begin until the 1970s. So this story makes more sense in 1912 than say 1992. But since Clark has a doctorate in history, he knew what he was doing all along.

Even so, there are subtle hints that Fatma is pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable for women at the time. Her haircut and penchant for wearing outfits more appropriate for British men lends her an "exotic" appearance that does not go unnoticed. Clark doesn't explore this avenue further, but rather focuses on her self-confidence, intelligence, and courage in the face of mortal danger.

I love the world building. It's both familiar and strange. Elements of steampunk mix with shades of Middle Eastern lore. Clark's prose is thoroughly descriptive without going purple or cluttering the narrative. He's created a rich world with the potential for many stories.

My only complaint would be that the story was too short and a tad bit rushed. Clark could've easily expanded this story into a novel.

4 stars