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Review: Patriot or Traitor: The Life and Death of Sir Walter Ralegh

Patriot or Traitor: The Life and Death of Sir Walter Ralegh by Anna Beer My rating: 4 of 5 stars Disclaimer: I won an ARC ...

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Review: Patriot or Traitor: The Life and Death of Sir Walter Ralegh

Patriot or Traitor: The Life and Death of Sir Walter Ralegh Patriot or Traitor: The Life and Death of Sir Walter Ralegh by Anna Beer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I won an ARC of this title via Netgalley.

When you actually sit down and think about, what exactly did Sir Walter Ralegh actually do to deserve almost being a household name in today’s world? You are more likely to have heard of him than Robert Cecil. He is one of the famous prisoners of the Tower of London, isn’t he? Thankfully, Anna Beer’s new book partially answers that question. In fact, she answers it as much as is humanly possible.

The book is less an examination of whether Ralegh was a traitor but how much he truly relied on self-promotion and proclamation. It is about treading the minefields that were political life in both Elizabeth and early Jacobean English court history.

While it is helpful to have a working knowledge of English history during the closing years of Elizabeth’s reign and the beginning of James, Beer’s writing is very engaging, and the pace is lively. The chapters each deal an aspect of Ralegh – solider, husband, and on – and what is undoubtedly more engrossing than a simpler linear biography.

What really sells the book are the subtle, at times funny, asides, such her musing about a codpiece, and her ability to not see her subject through rose-colored glasses. There are examinations of Ralegh’s various relationships – in particular with his wife and with his rivals. While one can’t say a better knowing of Ralegh as a man is a result of this book, one does get a better idea of how when he lived affected him. It doesn’t make Ralegh into your drinking mate, but it deepens your understanding.


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Saturday, October 20, 2018

Review: The Darkest Thread

The Darkest Thread The Darkest Thread by Jen Blood
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book starts out very strong. Jamie Flint, her dog Phantom, her son Bear, and his dog Casper, all come across as fully realized. The opening sequence of mother, son, and dogs doing a training tracking run in Maine was wonderfully written. The use of mother and son having varying degrees of the sight and the ability to see ghosts isn’t overdone. It’s just right.

But then once Jamie, Bear, dogs, and their employee/friend/Bear’s romantic interest Ren (accompanied by her dog) go to Vermont to help the FBI with a search for two missing girls, the book, slowly goes downhill.

At first, it isn’t quite that obvious. There are several positive aspects, even though despite being a first in a series, there is quite a bit of history that seems to have been dealt with another series. Unlike several other books with strong female leads, Darkest Thread has Jamie surrounded by strong women – an FBI agent as well as the head of the Vermont K-9 rescue both work with Jamie, and even the potential romantic rival, a news reporter who while pushy and antagonist comes across as strong willed.

It is promising enough for a reader to overlook the fact that it is the Maine team that just happens to make a major discovery, even after the Vermont team has been working. There is an attempt to explain this that a reader can somewhat buy – the father, Dean, of the missing girls has reason to distrust the FBI. Dean’s brother, an FBI agent, went to jail for killing two of the men’s sisters. The FBI agents working the missing girls’ case are all connected to this disgraced agent, who maybe innocent. Furthermore, Dean is a bit of a doomsday/off the gird guy who distrusts the FBI and blames the government for everything. Talking these plot points into an account, even with the unlikeness of the FBI team all having a connection with the murderer, a reader can allow herself to buy the no one checked the property because Dean wouldn’t let them attempt to justify why Jamie and crew find the body of one daughter and not the Vermont team.

But that’s when the book goes pear shaped.

In a slightly confusing sequence Dean goes bonkers, shoots Bear, takes him hostage to ensure that Jamie finds his other missing girl, Ren refuses to leave Bear, so Dean tells everyone that he will kill one teen in x number of hours.

The FBI lets this happen, pretty much.

And then the plot point that totally shatters any left-over suspension of disbelief. Jamie tells someone that she called Ren’s father to tell him about his daughter being taken and he’s upset but is going to stay back in Maine.

I’m sorry, but what the fucking hell.

Before Ren is taken hostage, Blood tells the reader at least three times that Ren’s mother and siblings were violently murdered in Nigeria, and Ren herself was separated from her father for over a year. It’s why Ren and her father went to the United States. So why is dad like, whatevers?
And even without that backstory, what parent would stay away?

And then Jamie finds some tunnels and gets caught in a cave in. All the dogs howl, but no one is smart enough to connect the howling with the earthquake that caused the cave in. Her knee gets hurt, but don’t worry despite it being two times its normal size, she is still able to keep up with everyone else.

What’s worse, the two of the other strong women become weak. It’s like the female FBI agent has a brain transplant or something (mostly because she is supposed to be a red herring), and the news reporter gets killed because she didn’t listen to the big strong man.

No men die though.

Blood also seems to be trying to use the ghosts to up the horror, and in some ways, they are the most interesting part of the story.

The downhill slide is a shame because if it had been workshopped or edited more, it would have been a far better book. There are plausible reasons why Ren’s father might not show up – he’s in the field, he’s on a plane, he’s out of country – instead of the half ass on that we are given. The ending could have been smoothed out and tightened. The ghosts could have been allowed more room, the mood could have been better. As it is now, it goes from a book that had promise at the beginning to a book that kills any desire to read anything else by the author. Two stars because of the strong beginning.

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Friday, October 12, 2018

Review: A Dreadful Fairy Book

A Dreadful Fairy Book A Dreadful Fairy Book by Jon Etter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: Digital ARC via Netgalley. It did not have many of the illustrations, but if the frontispiece is anything to go by, the illustrations should be good.

Me, handing in the review to the Review God: Here you go.

Review God: Wait, wait. You can’t give it five stars and then simply say because of Saint Eeyore.

Me: Why not?

Review God shakes bookshelves.

Me: But it mentions Saint Eeyore. That should be enough to make anyone read it. But okay fine. Give it here, I’ll add something.

Review God takes back the review: What’s this say? Your handwriting is horrible.

Me: Saint Eeyore, Stinkletoe Radishbottom, Lee the Harper, and William Shudderpike are all mentioned. Plus, there is a really funny hobbit title. Read this book now.

Review God delivers that stare with the glasses.

Me: Okay, fine, give it. Look, I can’t add more, if you don’t give it here.

Review God: You dictate, I’ll write.

Me: But if you’re a god, why do you need a pencil.

Review God shakes the bookshelves again.

Me: Alright, just wondering. Hamm. Let’s see. A Dreadful Fairy Book is a fairy tale that will charm readers of all ages. In theory a children’s book, the novel is a love parody . . .

Review God: that’s not a thing.

Me: It is now. Funk and Wagnalls said I could. So there. The novel is love parody poem to the joys and wonders of reading. It will make any long-time reader weep tears of passion. The story, supposedly related by Quentin Q Quacksworth Esq, who is a bit miffed at having to tell it, is about the heroine we have all been waiting for – Shade. A young sprite who goes on an epic quest to find another copy of her first book love, after her book and library were savagely destroyed. Along the way, she encounters various people and other characters, including a Professor who may actually be a professor, a troll who likes tea, and the “nephew of the second most prosperous cheesemaker in Bilgewater”.
The story includes fantasy titles of famous real-world works, such as Lee the Harper’s to Murder an Insulting Finch. There are fights, lost parents, owl wings, and changelings. Long the way, the reader will have to duel with Quacksworth who has gotten it into his head that this story should not be told. This is because he does not understand the wonder that is Shade, a beautifully flawed, book loving, sprite of color. She also has really cool wings, though flying makes her tummy feel funny. She can curse! The book even passes the Bechdel test.
There are a couple wonderful send ups of Tolkien as well as knightly fighting. There is a squire who knows his weaponry. A kick ass mother. There are references to family members’ body parts.

Review God: That’s disgusting.

Me: No, it’s not. You haven’t read the book. Look, if you are a reader, this is a book about reading. About how reading can bind a family together. How reading makes outcasts feel less outcastery. YES, I KNOW. How dangerous a lack of reading can be. If you read, you will love this book. Is that what you want Review God?

Review God: Yes.

Me: Okay, but we all know that everyone is really reading it for Saints Eeyore and Figgymigg. And the scene with the Three Billy Goats Gruff.

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Sunday, October 7, 2018

Review: Ringmaster

Ringmaster Ringmaster by Trudi Jaye
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It is also titled Ringmaster's Heir (Dark Carnival #1) in the US.



There are parts of this that are wonderful. Rilla, the title character, is a totally real and likable central character. She is easy to root for, and isn't a princess perfect. The idea of a Carnival and a group of families that are quasi cursed to help Marks is interesting. The magic in the series is well thought out and has rules that are followed. The plot at the beginning is pretty good. Rilla's father has died (has he been murdered?), she faces a challenge to her inheritance as Ringmaster, made more problematic because the Carnival has been dealing with sabotage. The whole sequence with Rilla and the Mark, Kara, as they help each other is wonderful.



The but to this otherwise good book is a few major buts.



The first is that the romance feels entirely forced and as something the writer threw in because she (I presume the Trudi Jaye is a she, apolgizes if he/it/them is the preferred pronoun) thought readers would want it. The hero, Jack, is the son of the man who is challenging Rilla for the Ringmaster role. The Nine, men and one women besides Rilla, who control various aspects of the Carnvial (such as food, games, rides) will vote on it. Jack's father was exiled for 33 years for interfering with a Mark. Part of the forced romance feel is that Jack is really unlikable. At first, it is understandable why he wants to support his father in the quest for Ringmaster title. His father was ill, the return to the Carnival seems to be good for his father - who wouldn't want to help Dad, especially when Jack wants to get back to his job. So, yeah, he's a jerk and maniuplative (he uses a private conversation and its infromation), but you can understand why. It's when his father suffers a relapse and decides that Jack should take his place as challenger that Jack looks even more jerk like (why would he agree, especially when he wasn't raised in the Carnival or fully understands it?). Then Jerk Jack says he is doing it for Rilla's own good because she is sad about her dad. This after they slept together (which felt so forced that you were literally, going really) and after he realizes that Rilla was basically running the Carnival for her father anyway.



WTF?



What is more, the NIne (even the only woman of the Nine, who is the Foodmaster) are okay with this. AND NOT ONE WOMAN THINKS TO CALL THEM OUT ON THE SEXISM. The closest you get is Missy who hints, hints, at it. By the end of the book,when Rilla has been told by one of the men on the Nine that they love her and that's why they wanted Jack or his dad as Ringmaster because they were worried about her grieving. you want Rilla to shout, "Screw you, you SeXist Bastards and enabling Woman" and walk away.



Instead she becomes co-Ringmaster with Jack who is still a fucking jerk.



This might of been fine if the sexism had at least been addressed or even mentioned, but it's not. THe only reason, at least in times of the world in the book, that the NIne might vote for Jack or his Dad instead of someone who knows the Carnival, is that Rilla has tits and a v-j.



It totally ruined the book. It really did.



And then the reveal is something a reader can figure out about 100 plus pages earlier. There is a third plot point that just feels thrown in.



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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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