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Review: The Con Artist - SPOILERS AHOY

The Con Artist by Fred Van Lente My rating: 3 of 5 stars A mystery sent at a Comic Con, sign me up. The best-selling po...

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Review: The Con Artist - SPOILERS AHOY

The Con Artist The Con Artist by Fred Van Lente
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


A mystery sent at a Comic Con, sign me up.

The best-selling point of this novel are the inside jokes about culture – the LOTR references, Star Wars, Cosplay. There are even some interesting points about how it is a Comic Con but most people seem to think that comics are no longer being published. A convention to celebrate something and that thing gets pushed to the margins.

Mike Mason is a comic artist who makes his living by going to cons. He is currently unemployed by a publisher. At the most recent con, he finds himself a quasi-suspect in the murder of his sort of romantic rival who also was a harasser. Mason then sets out to solve the mystery and save the job of a friend, who as a woman artist is in danger of being replaced on the Batman like book.

And along the way, you have rants about everything that is wrong in the comic industry.

Which is fine. The mystery is workable, there are some funny jokes. But, but,

But but.

First the romantic lead is totally added on and feels so false. Second, we have the stereotypical noir of good girl= blonde, bad girl = dark hair, which pisses me off because I have dark hair.

But the main problem for me, and one that isn’t at first obvious, is that despite being a partial critique/send up of comic cons, it still hues to some of the problems of fandom and its treatment of women.

In this book, there are four women of note– the ex-wife Mason still has a thing for and who isn’t an angel; the Pedi-cab driver who is a nice, caring blonde, Mason’s biggest fan who has a pretty good cosplay, and Mason’s artist friend who helped get her start.

The cosplayer is eventually revealed to have mental issues, so female fans are at risk of being crazy; the artist needs to have her job saved and only Mason can do it. See, she’s about to give birth, and her husband has some shit going out his job. Which, quite frankly, jerked me out of the book because the description of her husband’s adjunct life makes very little sense, and I say this as an adjunct. For one, most adjuncts teach in at least colleges/universities. But I digression. The ex-wife is revealed to be a baddie and gets murdered. So that leaves with the romantic interest of a Pedi-cab driver, who really isn’t into the whole con thing and just makes money. She is on the margins, and she is the only woman without problems or in need of saving.

So, women don’t belong in fandom is being showcased whether that was Van Lente’s intention or not. And to be fair, I don’t think it was. He doesn’t describe women by their tits.

Perhaps I am too sensitive to it because I feel like I am always on the fringes of fandom. I tend to prefer the books over the media. I tend to play more attention to plot. I have a decidedly feminist bent to how I look at sci-fi and fantasy.

But still, especially with the treatment of the woman fan, this book just re-enforces the idea of women and fandom not mixing.

Nice artwork, however.


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Saturday, September 15, 2018

Review: A History of the World in 21 Women: A Personal Selection

A History of the World in 21 Women: A Personal Selection A History of the World in 21 Women: A Personal Selection by Jenni Murray
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Librarything

We love lists. We make shopping lists, reading lists, to read lists, movie lists, and on and on. Any book or article that publishes a list is going to get called on that list. So, let’s get that bit out of the way.

Murray’s list of 21 women starts in Ancient Egypt and goes to Cathy Freeman. There is a total of eight women of color, three from the US, and two from France and Russia. Every continent is represented, except South America, which is a bit annoying. Bonus points for having Australia represented by an Aboriginal woman. There is a nice mixture of women in the arts, politics, and sciences. It’s true that a reader does wonder why some lesser known women aren’t mentioned, why, in some cases, the standard women are trotted out. And couldn’t a woman from South America make the list? But all the women either were or are highly influential, usually in more than one field.

But quite frankly, it was so wonderful to see Toni Morrison here, and she isn’t the only artist.

Jenni Murray, host of BBC’s Women Hour, details 21 women using an amazing personal voice as well as with a good critical eye. At times her personal admiration really does shine though. Honesty, Merkel, c’mon, let Murray talk to you, basically so she can ask you if you really did read Playboy to understand Trump.

Murray also does not whitewash the flaws in the women. In fact, at times, she notes her own conflicts with some of the actions the women take – for instance Queen Isabella’s prosecutions of Jews. She handles Bhutto’s political history deftly. The tone of the writing is totally engaging, and the book is quite easy to dip in and out of. It is as if you are listening to Murray present on the radio.


The portraits of each woman are incredibly lovely.


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Friday, September 7, 2018

Review: That Old Witch!

That Old Witch! That Old Witch! by M.Z. Andrews
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I was going to use this as my cozy bingo read, but I can't finish it. I cannot take 400 plus pages of this.



You would think it would be good. It almost sounds a witchy version of Golden Girls meets Murder, She Wrote. But nope.



I mean, I knew I was in trouble when I started - take for instance



". . . a sudden, fierce gust of wind whipped at the newly budded tree branches and sent a spray of gavel dust up into the air, exfoliating the front of the three-story Victorian and the back end of the old jalopy parked in the dirt driveway" (1)



or



"The pale, wrinkled skin on her outstretched arms sagged from just below her elbows to her armpits, her short elastic sleeves doing little to carry the burden of the excess baggage" (1)



or



"Arched white trellises covered in pink and purple clematis and lavender-shaded wisteria anchor themselves centrally" (2)



or



"With her nose still point to the clouds, Kat opened her eyes and ever so slowly dropped her chin." (3)



(I'm not sure how the nose stays pointed at the sky the, to be honest).



or



"She had only a few minutes to get out of the garden before the magic fertilizer with the rain coming down." (3).



There also are the following questions - if the majority of people in the town are okay with witches, then how is saying you went to witch school a conversation killer? How can never being married means you have no family or friends? If the funeral director let you leave the funeral with a woman's ashes, you should not be surprised when you discover that she named you in her will. If you had to leave town for years, why did you run a diner there? I mean, how could you do that? If you leave in the town for, say, 40 years, and then left for a few years, say 5, shouldn't you know at least the old stories?

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Saturday, August 25, 2018

Review: An American Marriage SPOILERS

An American Marriage An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a review of the audio edition and deals with an issue that may only apply to the audio edition.

There are times when I think an audio book is, in fact, superior, to the written form. For instance, Lincoln at the Bardo. If I had read that, having brought it thinking it was a novel, I pretty sure I would have been frustrated at the format. But the audio book, with all those voice actors – that worked for me. My reaction to this book is heavily influenced by the structure of the audio performances. Both Mr. Crisden and Ms. Davis gave stellar performances, and it wouldn’t surprise if they get nominated for awards. The book itself, in terms of writing, is powerful. The subject matter timely – how the justice systems harms more than those who are unjustly accused, in large part, because of the color of their skin. Roy, one of the men who tells part of the story, is married to Celestial. Not quite newlyweds, but the first brush is still on the fruit, when he gets falsely accused of rape, found guilty, sentenced, and finally released after five years when the injustice of the system was brought to light. What happens to the marriage in that five-year span and once Roy gets out is the subject matter of the book. In addition, to the examination of “justice” on a family, Jones also looks at how gender roles play into that effect.

Jones deserves much credit because it is a bit hard to like Roy. You can feel sorry for him, you can admit the injustice and cruelty of what happened to him. Yet, even before his injustice, he doesn’t quite see Celestial as hers, and not his. But the reader shouldn’t lose sight of his stepping out on his marriage with Celestial. No, I’m not talking about what happens when he leaves jail, but before. Roy never directly says he physically cheated, but he mentions that 99% of the time he didn’t got beyond flirting (so 1% of the time he did, is the inference), and he brought lingerie for another woman. Maybe Celestial didn’t care if it was just sex, maybe she did. The listener doesn’t know.

And that’s the problem with the audio version.

The story is told via three viewpoints – Roy, Andre (Celestial’s oldest friend and, later, her partner), and Celestial. Part of the story is told though letters that Roy and Celestial send each other, most notably when Roy is in jail. When those letters are read, the listener hears Celestial via Roy’ voice or his view of her voice. IN other words, Crisden’s voice (or his voice trying to do a woman’s) instead of Eisa Davis’.

Which means, this story of a marriage, is largely told by Roy and Andre – Celestial has the smallest voice in the whole audio book.

Now, this might be intentional. Look at the symbolism of her name, for instance. Roy is the one that things happen to, the one who loses the most, so it is understandable that it is his story. But like all of us, Roy is not a 100% reliable narrator. Look, I am only talking how we all unreliable narrators whether or not we knowingly are.

The thing is, if this is a story about a marriage, then we need Celestial’s voice. IN her own voice. Being read Celestial’s letters in the voice of Roy makes her too removed from the reader. The inflection and emphasis on certain things change. Now, this could be Jones’ intention. It really could be. And if it is, it works really well. But in an audio book it is immensely annoying because the listener gets use to fake Celestial voice as opposed to real Celestial voice. This is incredibly jarring. So, jarring.

And fake Celestial’s voice is so whiny.

And then Roy, understandably so, frames things in a way that rubs you the wrong way (talking credit, in part, for Celestial’s store).

But the loss of a marriage, whether or not that marriage would have worked, is such a palpable feeling as well as the sense of relief that characters like Andre feel because it didn’t happen to them. The pressures that are brought on Celestial because she is a black woman married to a black man who has been unjustly locked up are also dealt with.

It is a really a beautifully written and thought-provoking book.

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Friday, August 17, 2018

Very random Star Wars Rambling


What puzzles me most about the various Star Wars stories that occur after Jedi is the naming of Leia and Han’s children.  To be more precise, it is the naming of Ben or Anakin.  Why the hell would either of those be in either parent’s top ten list.

                I suppose, you could say that it was though Ben Kenobi that Han and Leia met so that’s why.  But really doesn’t quite work.  And, yes, Anakin is named for Leia’s biological father, who stood by and watched her real father get blown to smithereens along with everyone else on Aldrin after over seeing her torture.  True, Vader did save his son, but that’s Luke’s business. 

                Why, for instance, wouldn’t Leia want to name her son after her father – Bail.  The man who raised her, who quite clearly in the movies and the books, loved her as a daughter?  Who was by any measure a good father?  We could argue that Padme’s genetics make Leia partly who she is, but those same genes are in Luke, who whines quite a bit.  Leia was raised to serve.  She makes tough decisions that, quite frankly, Han and Luke don’t really have.  (It’s also telling that when Luke is called upon to make a tough decision, to stay with Yoda, he choses to go save his friends.  It’s understandable.  But Leia plays for time and does not sell out the Rebellion.  That’s a hell of choice and cool head).  Leia is the leader you want, in many respects.  And who is responsible for that?

                Not Vader, that’s for sure.

                But the naming of the Ben and Anakin also strikes the mother from the record.  Before the editing and editing, in Jedi, Leia remembers her mother.  We’re never given a name, we were told she was sad, but not a name, at least not in that movie. 

                In the Star Wars universe, it seems that the bloodline, and only the bloodline, matters.  Take for instance, all the complicated theories that people are still floating about Rey’s parents.  Or the fact that we all seem okay with how quickly Luke forgets his aunt and uncle.  More exactly, it is the biological father that counts more than the mother.  Kylo must kill Han, not Leia, even though Leia is the force sensitive.  When Ben has the chance to kill Leia, he can’t.  He cannot bring himself to do this.  Perhaps Rian Johnson intends this not only as a comment on how far to the dark side Kylo is, but a comment on who was the better parent.  It is the only time we have seen a mother actual matter in terms of being a mother in the films.  Padme isn’t a mother, she’s a vessel who conveniently forgives her abuser before her death.

                Being a father apparently counts more in the Star Wars universe.  Because he saves his son, Anakin is able to appear as a happy force ghost.  Kylo goes bad, according to Han, because he's too much Vader.  Dude, you were his pops.

                WTF?  Okay, I am undoubtedly bringing a Christian view to it, but we don’t see the Emperor’s Force Ghost hanging with Yoda, do we?

                Hell, just disregard me.  I have no idea where I am going with this.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Review: The Wolves of La Louvière

The Wolves of La Louvière The Wolves of La Louvière by Flore Balthazar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

The author’s note for this graphic novel says that it is a fictional story based on true facts and that some people are real, some note, some names have been changed. The note is hardly needed for the story, for if you know anything about civilian life in the second World War, this story does have the ring of truth.

The story follows a teen aged girl, Marcelle, her family as well as a young teacher, Marguerite, who becomes a subversive in the fight against the Nazis. It is though the trials and tribulations of the family, whose father is missing and who suffer though air raids and shortages, as well as the more active resistance of Marguerite who disturbs a rebellion paper that the cost of being occupied comes home.

Additionally, the story challenges the role of women in Belgian just before the War and during the war. Marcelle and Yvette’s treatment in the family is quite different that of their brothers, in particular with regards to education. Marguerite, too, confronts not only Nazis but misogyny. So, the story presents not only the war, but the change that accelerated or came because of the war.

It is a very powerful story.


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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Review: Geeky Fab 5: It's Not Rocket Science

Geeky Fab 5: It's Not Rocket Science Geeky Fab 5: It's Not Rocket Science by Liz Lareau
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.

After finishing this book, I turned to my brother who teaches science and told him to get a copy. Do I need to say anything else?

Really?

Okay, this book is about five girls who become friends because they are all a bit geeky, smart, and most seem to want to go into STEM fields. I say most because Lucy is unsure, but it is made clear that being unsure is okay. They are not just science nerds. They have other interests as well (such as fashion and singing), and they know history. They go to a school named after Amelia Earhart after all.

The group is diverse, as anyone can see from the cover, and last names included Martinez and Kumar. One girl is even adopted. While parents are very much in the background, suggests are made about the parents – A.J.’s father, for instance, works in robotics. While none of the girls is physically disabled, family members are.

The plot of the story centers around fixing the school’s playground as well as dealing with stupid boys who believe girls can’t be coders. The playground plot is interesting because one of the girls, Lucy, blames herself for it being closed to students. Her friends refuse to buy into that train of thought and are supportive of her.

There is also a cat called Hubble. He talks like a cat. There is also a bit end that gives more information about the famous women mentioned in the book. Additionally, at a time where women who either act or like Star Wars are being targeted by “fanboys”, it is nice to read a book where the girls like Star Wars.

Highly recommended.

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