This review of Hillerman’s The Dark Wind is by Eva McCollaum, leader of the JOY Writers

Though I cannot assert I have read all of Hillerman’s work, I have read a good deal of it, and this is my favorite. First, the way he uses landscape to enhance the story is masterful from the opening. His knowledge of the way several different peoples interact in that vast domain teaches lessons of culture and mystery to anyone willing to read them.

Hillerman is respectful of all and precious with none. Three perfect examples of this come from three different characters. When Jim Chee interviews the mother of a Navajo suspected in a robbery, she asserts he would not have stolen anything because he has $600. Chee understands her; another investigator might not. When the Hopi leader Lomatewa decides not to report a murder, Chee understands as well, and so do we, that he feels the lives of all those of his tribe are under threat if he does so. When the merchant West does a magic trick for Chee, he reveals how an “adopted” European can both love and betray people he loves.

In all of Hillerman’s mysteries that I have read, the crime is always solved, but the ending is never in a court of law. THE DARK WIND perfectly accomplishes this type of ending in a way that is both satisfying and surprising. Read it

This review is by Joyce McCollaum, charter member of JOY Writers.

Jennifer Egan, in her prize-winning book A Visit From the Goon Squad explores the lives of characters unfamiliar to the wider population.  We know about the Punk Rock music genre and associate it with  a distinct “culture,” but Egan acquaints us with characters who are part of that scene by following them through twisted and torturous paths from self destruction to survival or death.  Music is the glue that holds the variety of personalities together with both tenuous and lasting ties.  Punk is bold and addictive.  It grabs them and doesn’t let go.
From the first chapter, it was difficult for me to connect with these characters.  Since the music was the connective tissue that tied them to one another, I wondered why it seemed a requisite that they release all inhibitions. The overuse of illicit drugs and alcohol was the norm.  Unrestrained sexual behavior was commonplace, although not portrayed as particularly meaningful to either gender.  It was just something they did.  Reading about this lifestyle in vivid detail did not help engage me in their story.  It was clear they were destroying themselves.  Early on, I began to wonder if anyone would make it to maturity, let alone old age.
Part of the disconnect between myself and the author could be the fact that I am a  senior citizen.  A quote from NEWSWEEK magazine in a preface to the book says Egan’s “aim is not so much to explode traditional storytelling as to explore how it responds to the pressures and opportunities of the digital age.”  Ah, there it is.  The digital age.  Perhaps this book is meant for younger readers.  I resist that explanation.  It reminds me of a story by a former pastor of mine.  He said when his parents denied permission for him to do something they did not agree with, he told his mother, “You don’t understand.  It’s different than when you were young.”  She replied, “Bobby, you and your friends haven’t invented any new sins that we didn’t know about.”
Even though this book won the Pulitzer Prize, I would not endorse it to others.  If I missed things that experts found appealing, so be it.  Right now, I’m happy to have missed that digital age these characters inhabited.

This is a review written by a member, Jennifer Currier, of the JOY Writers, on her blog Read, Play, Write.  It is offered here with the permission of the reviewer.

50 Shades of Grey: the literary libido killer.

July 12, 2012 by Queen Jenevere

I admit I did it. I fell prey to the craze and wandered into the bookstore to pick up a copy of 50 Shades of Grey. I waited as long as I could before making the purchase because I did not want to financially support the enterprise, but alas, I was in need of an immediate beach read, so I caved.

I wanted to see what all the hype was about. Even though I hadn’t watched TV or picked up a newspaper (even an electronic one) in an embarrassingly long amount of time, I’d become privy to the fad. Everyone was talking about it; half of my friends, or their mothers—were reading it; facebook was blowing up with status updates about it, so I had to see what the big deal was.

For those of you who have been living in an isolated van somewhere in the Alaskan wilderness, the basic gist of the book is: girl meets boy (technically, a virgin college senior meets a really hot rich man); rich man says “I’m no good for you,” which only draws in the young woman “like a moth to a flame,” right into his kinky playroom of S&M devices; and the girl falls in love with him and struggles to determine whether or not she should sign a contract stating he is her master and she must follow his rules for at least three months (subject to contract renewal).

The summaries I’d been given before I bought it were along the lines of, “There’s this creepy, controlling man who makes the main character put kegal balls in her vajajay and fetch him water, or else he punishes her,” and I wondered what else must be going on to make this a #1 New York Times bestseller.

So, I bought it, expecting an “I can’t put it down” quality, and instead I found myself wanting to put my fist in my mouth and bite down like a rabid dog at the thought of continuing. It wasn’t that I found the book bad in the, “seriously disturbed sexual practices” way, but rather in the “how did this author get published?” kind of way. I know a lot of people enjoyed reading it and I mean them no disrespect, but I just couldn’t go through the experience without letting my voice be heard.

Therefore I have compiled a list, a la David Letterman:

Jenny’s Top 10 Reasons Fifty Shades of Grey is a Literary Turn-off.

10. It’s dedicated to Niall, “the master of my universe.”

If that doesn’t already make you want to roll your eyes (NO! NO! Don’t roll your eyes!), then proceed.

9.    E L James writes in cliché.

She may as well have written a screenplay in which a repairman/police officer/delivery man comes to the door on a hot day only to find a glistening blonde in her underwear, fanning herself and feeling lonely. She’ll moan, “I’m so hot. Is there anything you can do?” and he’ll say, “I’m sure I can fix the problem—I am good with my hands,” and she’ll think, I bet that’s not all you’re good with, etc. etc.

 8.    She’s repetitive (and redundant!) She’s repetitive (and redundant!)

Twice in two pages, she gets “interrupted from her reverie,” and then again later in the book. Twice Anastasia refers to something as the “understatement of the year,” which is technically impossible unless the latter replaced the former.

Also, does Ana have a problem biting her lip? Or rolling her eyes? Or taming her hair into a ponytail, for which she’s always in need of a missing hair tie? How many times must she figure out, as if by revelation,  “Christian wants me and I want him? Oh my. I affect him? Wow.” I want to beat her over the head with one of the overpriced gifts she refuses to accept. Then there’s Christian: he smells like body wash; he runs his hand through his hair; he’s going to bite her lip if she doesn’t stop; he says “Good girl” with annoying frequency. The list goes on.

7.    Two chapters begin with Anastasia inside of a dream.

Please see #2 and #3.

6.    James’ sense of time.

Grey and Ana place an order at a restaurant, and two lines of dialogue later, the waitress is delivering food. Has the author ever been to a restaurant before? Has she ever spoken before? Does she understand that there is no magical port where waitresses go to make food and drink appear in less than ten seconds?

5.    Anastasia is never hungry.

This is not a complaint about James’ writing style as much as it is a complaint in Ana’s credibility as a human being. How can she NEVER have an appetite? She’s had twenty-three orgasms in one night, but all of a sudden she’s too nervous to eat? Puh-lease.

4.    The ridiculous factor.

Grey gives Ana a laptop, and she constantly refers to it as the “mean machine.” “Let me fire up the mean machine.” “Let me check the mean machine to see if Christian emailed me at my very own email address.” SPEAKING OF: what college senior has never had her own email address? Even if she’d grown up in the Amish boondocks of Pennsylvania, she would have at least had an email account from the university.

3.    The inner goddess.

The inner goddess is an imaginary internal character referenced throughout the novel, usually in the midst of a sex scene or serious conversation, with excessive personification. “My inner goddess is doing the merengue with some salsa moves.” “My inner goddess has stopped dancing and is staring, too, open-mouthed and drooling slightly.” “My inner goddess glares at me, tapping her small foot impatiently.” “My inner goddess is spinning like a world-class ballerina, pirouette after pirouette.” Ana’s subconscious works the same way, but is more of a prude.

2.    The cheese factor.

[In the midst of giving a BJ]: “He’s my very own Christian Grey-flavored popsicle.”

“’Are you hungry, Anastasia?’”
Not for food.”

[Grey tells Ana he’s going to make love to her “as a means to an end”]:
“I flush…oh my…wishes do come true.”

“He looks at me appraisingly. ‘Well, you get an A in oral skills. Come, let’s go to bed. I owe you another orgasm.’
Orgasm! Another one!”

[Upon reading a letter from him]: “Make our agreement a year? I have the power! Jeez, I’m going to have to think about that. Take him literally, that’s what my mother says. He doesn’t want to lose me. He’s said that twice! He wants to make this work, too. Oh Christian, so do I!”

[For once, Anastasia actually eats something, and does so quickly.]
“’Eager as ever, Miss Steele?’ he smiles down at my empty plate.
I look at him from beneath my lashes.
‘Yes,’ I whisper.”

Etc. etc.


1.     Attribution insanity!

Someone must have scarred James into thinking she must NEVER allow a character to say something because it’s always a: murmur, mutter, whisper, beg, gasp, breathe, chide, whimper, stutter, groan, yell, stammer, order, bark, groan, OR no attribution at all. HEAVEN FORBID one of her characters “said” something.

Therefore, I have come up with the 50 Shades of Attribution Challenge!

I challenge you, if you read this book, to underline every time someone whispers something. I won’t even open it up to murmurs, breathes, utters, etc.—just “whisper.” And think about it, really think about it: how often in life are you whispering? And would you ever whisper the sentence: “Is that all you want me for—my body?” (Whisper it to yourself right now and see.) No one does that! Yet the whole book is riddled with whispers.

NOT TO MENTION: At one point James writes that a waitress whispers!

“Is there anything else I can get you?” she whispered.

Have you ever had a waitress whisper to you? (considering she’s not sitting on your lap gyrating, and is actually a waitress). No. NO. Because people don’t walk around whispering unless they’ve lost their voice, or are in church, or are trying not to wake people in a communal sleeping arrangement.

While on the beach, a wave drowned my chair, my towel, and my copy of 50 Shades of Grey. My inner goddess was last seen leaping up and down, fist pumping into the sea.

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