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Review: Grandghost: A Haunted House Mystery

Grandghost: A Haunted House Mystery by Nancy Springer My rating: 3 of 5 stars 3.5 Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley. Bever...

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Review: Grandghost: A Haunted House Mystery

Grandghost: A Haunted House Mystery Grandghost: A Haunted House Mystery by Nancy Springer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.

Beverly is not Mrs. Fletcher. This is not Cabot Cove. The dead body isn’t freshly dead.

Needless to say, Beverly is not having a good day. She isn’t sure about her income and then there is a skeleton in her backyard.

Springer’s mystery isn’t so much a mystery as opposed to a novel about family, community, and belief. It is about how first impressions can be both wrong and right, as well as defining what family is.

It should be noted that the mystery does deal with child abuse.

The story also deals with how society views older women, in particular those who are not traditional, and how much of the time they are written off as crazy cranks.

It is refreshing book too because the central characters are all women who are not discussing boyfriends or husbands. They are not in competition with each other, and, at the very least, they respect each other. This more than makes up for the somewhat obvious mystery of the skeleton as well as the low key creepy factor.

The use of art in the book is well done. Not only in the terms of it being Beverly’s chosen profession but also in the lives of her daughters. Her daughters are one of the best things about the book, concerned but not bitchy. What Springer gives us is a family, a true family with squabbles, but those of all families.

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Sunday, May 13, 2018

Review: Cold Bayou: A Historical Mystery Set in New Orleans

Cold Bayou: A Historical Mystery Set in New Orleans Cold Bayou: A Historical Mystery Set in New Orleans by Barbara Hambly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: Arc via Severn Publishers and Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

In part, a book’s popularity determines whether or not it will be adapted to film or television. I get this. But sometimes, I look at all the shows that make into production and wonder why. Then I wonder why, no one has made a mystery series out of the Benjamin January novels. The first one was published in 1997. The series has staying power. So seriously, Hollywood, wake up!

This installment finds Ben, Rose, his mother and sister traveling to a plantation outside of New Orleans to attend the wedding of a rich Veryl St-Chinian to a far less rich and less pure Miss Ellie Trask. Needless to say, the rich man’s family is rather put out about this low case Irish wench weaseling her way into the old rich boy’s heart.

It’s a plot that has been use in one way or another since well, whenever. But Ben isn’t in Martin Chuzzlewit. Before the dead body is discovered, the January family’s freedom is at risk, so Ben finds himself fighting to prove his innocence of murder as well as to keep his family free.

Hambly’s series works because she captures a New Orleans after the purchase but before the Civil War, when American were slowly, perhaps, changing the way the society of New Orleans as well as the laws work. Ben and his family view this though the gaze of freed slaves (his mother, he, and his sister were freed. His second sister is mistress to one of Viellard family, who are related to the St-Chinian family). Everything about Ben’s life is affected by his skin color and status, he is trained as a doctor but cannot work as one, so instead is a musician. One sister is a voodoo priestess who does not speak to their mother, who secured the family’s freedom by drawing the interest of a rich white man. The strain between mother and oldest daughter is tied to sex and behavior among whites. Ben’s wife, Rose, is a mixed race woman who runs a school for mixed race girls. His sister’s relationship with her protector is conducted with the knowledge that they cannot marry and that their daughter will always be viewed as secondary, if that.

Hambly tackles the issue of shade of skin color as well – not only within the January family- but also with those that they know. Power and status are important to not only the whites who inhabit the story but to the blacks and at great cost, for freed slaves have more to lose than respect.
The mystery and its outcome are well done. Hambly, as usual, makes her female characters shine even though the series is centered on a male title character.

It’s just a shame that a series that combines race issues, history, and a homage to Christie doesn’t get enough respect to be made into a film.

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Sunday, May 6, 2018

Review: Suspect Citizens: What 20 Million Traffic Stops Tell Us about Policing and Race

Suspect Citizens: What 20 Million Traffic Stops Tell Us about Policing and Race Suspect Citizens: What 20 Million Traffic Stops Tell Us about Policing and Race by Frank R Baumgartner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Cambridge University Press and Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Recently, during a commute, I overheard a conversation between two men. They were debating stop and frisk policies as well as road checkpoints/spot checks. The first man, Adam let’s call him, said that he didn’t understand why people would be upset about a pat down or a road stop. After all, if you didn’t do anything wrong, you have nothing to fear. His companion, let’s call him Bert, responded with how many times he had been pulled over because he had been a young black male in a car that police believed should be out of his price range. Bert joined the army right after high school, he said, and could afford to drive such vehicles. His fellow soldiers who were white did not get stopped. Adam volleyed back with well, he had been profiled when he had been pulled over, and then was forced to admit that he had been speeding.

Then I got off the train. I’ll leave you to figure out which person was black and which white.

Reading books like Suspect Citizens for people before having the above conversation with anyone.

It should be noted that the work of Baumgarther, Epp, and Shoub focuses on one state, North Carolina, but considering what the presentation and analysis of the data prove that getting pulled over when “driving while black” is really a thing. Not that everyone in the United States didn’t know this, but let’s be honest, odds are you know at least one person who says that it isn’t true. The authors note that part of the reason for this book is so that people who are not black can approach dialogue about police and race with compassion and knowledge.

I find books like this difficult to rate. It is a study. There is a great deal of data being presented to the reader. At times, such use of numbers can be dull, but the writers don’t present information dully. Furthermore, connections are made to wide problems (like low voter turn our). The book isn’t entirely negatively. It also takes the time to go into great detail about the history of the law that triggered the correction of the data as including the full law in an appendix. Attention is given to the history of pulling a car over and the difference between reasons for a driver being pulled over.

There is something information about the pulling over of Hispanic and Native Americans, but the focus is on African Americans.

The book closes with some personal stories of those that have been pulled over. The stories include various outcomes but are very powerful.

Highly recommended.

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Saturday, May 5, 2018

Review: Imagining Shakespeare's Wife: The Afterlife of Anne Hathaway

Imagining Shakespeare's Wife: The Afterlife of Anne Hathaway Imagining Shakespeare's Wife: The Afterlife of Anne Hathaway by Katherine West Scheil
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Release Date: May (UK), June 30th (USA)
Disclaimer: ARC via Cambridge University Press and Netgalley. Read in exchange for a fair review.

I have some deal breakers when it comes to the books I read. I am not fond, sometimes even hate, books where the eldest sibling is by default the bad one. I am fond of wives being blamed for their husbands porking anything that moves. I judge Shakespeare biographies by how the writer treats Anne Hathaway.

No, you fool, not the actress.

Shakespeare’s wife.

A few years, Germaine Greer published Shakespeare’s Wife, a biography/study of Anne Hathaway. In large part, Greer’s book seemed to be a rebuttal to Stephen Greenblatt’s harsh attack on Hathaway in his Will in the World. Katherine West Scheil’s book, Imagining Shakespeare’s Wife, also takes Greenblatt to task, but Scheil’s purpose to look at how the image or reputation of Shakespeare’s wife reflects on the period in which a work is published.

While Scheil does seem partial to Anne, the beginning of the book, dealing with the known facts of Hathaway’s life is fair. Scheil remembers that there is no way we can do for sure what exactly happened between the Shakespeares. She presents the facts, she presents the debates, but she keeps her view out and lets the reader reach a decision, if the reader wants to. The rest of the book deals largely with how people at various times have viewed Anne Hathaway. As Scheil notes, many times writers have made their Anne Hathaway as opposed to writing about the real Hathaway.
Photo of Anne Hathaway's Cottage - Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

This starts, in part, Scheil notes with the romance of the Anne Hathaway Cottage – which, to be frank, you can understand the romance part because it is absolutely beautiful. Scheil notes that the one time owner and tour guide of the house, Mary Baker, had connections to the Hathaways and was, in part, making sure of her family’s connection to the Bard of Avon. My guess is that Mary Baker was getting a bit pissed off about all the people standing on Anne Hathaway’s grave to get a better look at her husbands. Taking about wiping their feet on the woman.

ON the other hand, Scheil notes that the anti-Anne venom was set by Malone whose biography of Shakespeare was one of the earliest. She even ties Malone’s view of Anne to his proving the Ireland forgeries as fakes. We then tour other early biographies and fictional accounts, all of which even the non-fiction, seem to be proto-fanfiction if not outright fanfiction.

The analysis is best when looking at recent authors, though she doesn’t fully account Peter Ackroyd’s unwillingness to admit to certain sexual misconduct on the part of his heroes – she acknowledges Ackroyd’s seeming blindness of a sexual relationship between the Shakespeares before marriage as willful disregard of the time of their daughter’s birth, but Ackroyd also contorts himself in regards to Dickens extra-marital life as well. Scheil doesn’t pull punches, and if you, like me, were luke- warm to Greenblatt, Scheil aims and hits torpedoes at him.

Hence I love her.

It is a bit of surprise that Greer’s book doesn’t get more coverage. The response, in many cases unfair and overly harsh, is noted, but Scheil gives little speculation why – is it due to sexism or how someone suggest that Hathaway might have been worthy (or over worthy) of our Shakespeare? Additionally, she doesn’t ponders some of the more reaching claims of Greer, which also fall into the realm of this book. Greer’s book is a must read, but surely some of her conclusions were also influenced by feminist views. It seems strange not to discuss this year.

The most horrifying aspect of the back is the discussion of the modern historical romance novels and movies (such as Shakespeare in Love). This is not because of Scheil’s writing, but of some of the response of readers and movie viewers as well as the writers who have a tendency to either write Anne of as Shrew who deserves to have her husband cheat on her (common) to an Anne who embodies the traditional good wife that young female reader should aim to be (less common). There is some hope, though. Scheil covers more recent works that are fairer to Anne in terms of fiction. Her book about Hathaway will also add to your must read shelf, if you are a Shakespeare fan.

Considering the mutability of Shakespeare the man, it is hardly surprising that Anne Hathaway has become a channel on which writers sail their version of Shakespeare – family man, unhappy husband, child of nature. It is too Scheil’s credit that while she presents and discusses these myriad Annes, she always keeps the reader aware of the true Anne, the one who we cannot know, who is impossible to know, but who deserves to be acknowledged simply because she is human.
Highly recommended.

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Sunday, April 29, 2018

OMG - Was Michelle Wolf too Mean?

Truth be told, I really hadn’t heard of Michelle Wolf until my twitter feed exploded.  Apparently, Michelle Wolf was mean to Sarah Huckabee Sanders at the White House Correspondents Dinner.  But isn’t that a roast, so she must have said something really bad.

                So, I watch the monologue.  The whole thing.  Honesty, I didn’t really find it all that funny, but then I think comedy has never been the same since Blackadder stopped being filmed.

                I’m sorry, did I miss something?  This is what Wolf said about Huckabee Sanders:

"I'm a little starstruck," Wolf began. "I love you as Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid's Tale."
                                    . . . . . .
"I actually really like Sarah. I think she’s very resourceful," Wolf said, setting up her next jab. "She burns facts and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye. Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies."
"I'm never really sure what to call Sarah Huckabee Sanders," Wolf continued. "Is it Sarah Sanders? Is it Sarah Huckabee Sanders? Is it Cousin Huckabee? Is it Auntie Huckabee Sanders? Like, what's Uncle Tom but for white women who disappoint other white women?"  (qtd in Jensen)

Aunt Lydia via EW
The only way that the above an attack on Huckabee Sanders’ looks is if you see a comparison to Ann Dowd’s looks as an insult.  If you do, doesn’t that say quite a bit about you more than Michelle Wolf?  Incidentally, the comparison is to the character of Aunt Lydia, who Aunt Lydia is and what she does as opposed to what she looks like.  To understand the reference, it helps if you have read the book or, at the very least, watched the HULU series.
If it is the smoky eyeshadow bit, that isn’t it attacking Huckabee Sanders’ looks, it is attacking her lying and the lying of the Trump administration.
            Now, it’s true, pretty much all politicians lie - intentionally, by omission, whatever.  I will even concede that sometimes a lie is called for – you don’t want to spill important details.  But, let’s be real.  This president and his cult lie on a regular basis, even about things they don’t need to lie about.  We can debate the semantics – is it intentional or not, but Wolf just called a spade a spade.  She called liar a liar.  She didn’t mention weight, looks, or anything.  Just eyeshadow.  She didn’t say the eyeshadow was ugly.  What’s the problem?  Hell, if you want to get upset about what Wolf said, how about what she said about Ivanka – how she is pretty, but smelly diaper bag? Is it because of the word pretty and how it allows people to see beyond looks to something else?
            At best, the horrified responses indicate an inability to look at criticism or roasting of a woman as anything other than a comment upon that woman’s looks.  Isn’t that sexism?  The horrified responses suggest that a comparison to Aunt Lydia rests solely on looks and that Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia is ugly – isn’t that insulting to Ann Dowd?  And, folks, Aunt Lydia on the show is many things – ugly in terms of looks isn’t one of them.  Why was it okay for other people to go after Chris Christie’s looks (fat jokes) or for Wolf to compare Pence to Anderson Cooper (poor Cooper) but the eye shadow line was a bit too far?
            It is also interesting because we have a president who has insulted, repeatedly, the previous president and his wife (and his children),a president who has called women he hates ugly, a president who has contributed to hate speech, a president who retweets racist tweets, a president who called a sitting member of Congress a stripper, a president who was represented at the dinner by his Press Secretary who treats the press with disrespect and who lies on an almost daily basis, whether or not she truly wants to lie is beside the point.  He couldn’t attend because he had to go the Nuremberg Rally in another Washington.
            The attacks on Michelle Wolf simply look like at they are – sexism and re-enforcement of male superiority.  Men are allowed to be critical and mock, but women, nope can’t have that the responses to Wolf are saying.  Heaven forbid, a woman actually is critical and not nice.
            In which case, and quoting Mona Eltahawy, those people coming for Michelle Wolf, you can “fuck off kitten”.

Work Cited
Jensen, Erin.  “White House Correspondents Dinner: Michelle Wolf obliterates Sarah Huckabee   
            Sanders”.  USATODAy.com.  USA Today.  29 April 2018.  Web.  29 April 2018.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Review: A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership by James Comey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I didn’t intend to this buy this book, but all of a sudden, I wanted to read it. Maybe because I felt sorry for Comey. I know, he gets fired but a book deal, and I feel sorry for him. But while I wasn’t happy with his announcements about Clinton’s emails during the election cycle, I also felt he was caught between two options, neither of which was good. While the announcements undoubtedly had an effect, he wasn’t the cause of the loss, especially when looking at the sexist treatment of her in the news. I didn’t vote for Trump, and I am a registered independent. And, yes, I voted for Clinton and walked in my local Women’s March (as did Comey’s wife and daughters).

In terms of writing, Comey’s book isn’t bad. It isn’t great, but the tone is easy and he doesn’t make you want to run screaming for the hills or throw it up against a wall. He uses “a lot” a bit too much for my taste. There are some flashes of humor. He is fair towards Clinton, admitting that of the people he chronicles in the book, she is the one he never met, and she has/had good reason to avoid meeting him.

But you don’t want to hear about that do you?

There isn’t much about Comey’s private life here, though it is quite clear he deeply loves and admires his wife, he also loves his children (and in fact, he and his wife lost a child). He details some of his time before working for the Bush and Obama administration. The focus is on his service, in varying functions, for three presidents.

What is clear is that of the three presidents Comey served, Trump is by far the worse and in Comey’s (and my) view unfit for office. Bush, he respects but sees as flawed in some areas. Comey really admires Obama, though he does offer one critique, and holds Obama up as the ideal leader because of his ability to listen, truly listen, his principles, and his courtesy.

Trump doesn’t have anyone of that, and Bush’s humor was a bit crueller than Obama’s. Much has been made about Comey’s remarks about Trump, but it should be noted that the Bush administration, not necessarily Bush himself but those under him, don’t look to good.

It’s true that Comey does comment on Trump’s tie and hands, and this does cheapen Comey somewhat, though you can understand the desire to sling back. It should be noted that Comey does debunk the Trump ice cream charge. The hand aside, Comey’s case against Trump is pretty damning.

But for me the best part of the book, the most important, and the part that should get far more attention is Comey’s discussion of his time at the FBI during the protests in Fergusson and the killings of young African American men. Part of this discussion includes the story of a conversation he had with Obama which focus on perspective and how that influences the meaning of language. The book is worth the cost simply for this chapter where two difference people from two different backgrounds actually talk and listen to each other – becoming wiser in the process. We need more leaders like that, especially when it comes to dealing with race. This conversation is not something we are going to get with the current president, especially since of this writing Orange Man has yet to twitter the name James Shaw Jr, a young man who believes that he is not a hero simply because he was trying to save himself when he also saved others. Considering that Mr. Shaw is black and the killer was white, we pretty much have Trump’s view on race right there, don’t we?

What is interesting, and a comment on gender in politics in particular and society in gender, is he comments on the behavior of Lynch and Yates during the Clinton email issue during the campaign. He knows that the women are honorable and doesn’t think they were doing anything wrong or shady. He respects both women. Yet, he notes that he didn’t/doesn’t understand some of the choices and wording that they used during the camping/Clinton email. He also makes the same observation about Obama. Perhaps his confusion is because Yates, Lynch, and Obama knew how the press would play the story simply because of Clinton being female.

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Review: Tales from the Haunted South: Dark Tourism and Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era

Tales from the Haunted South: Dark Tourism and Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era Tales from the Haunted South: Dark Tourism and Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era by Tiya Miles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I should admit that I think I feel about ghosts the same way that Dr Miles does. I love a good ghost story, and in particular, I love ghost folklore. But I try to be aware of what the stories also say about society - both the source society and the current society. I love the work of L.B. Taylor Jr., in part, because he does deal equally with history and folklore. That's where his interest lay, and while a Southern, he doesn't whitewash.

Miles taps into the question of ghost folklore and tourism in the South, in particular, the use of ghost stories about slave to sell tours. She not only digs at the history (or non-history) behind such stories, but looks at how the various places address slavery. IT is a rather enlighting and anger inducing book, but it does make you think and provides you with a reading list.

Miles' passion and prose is so clear and engaging that I want to read everything she has written and will write after reading this good book.

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