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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 ...

Friday, December 29, 2017

Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet Review

In fairness, I should note that I have been neutral on the issue of Black Panther.  I never read much Avengers.  I was more interested when Storm married him, though I did not like the retcon, and I understand his importance and the importance of his marriage.  I hope that the Black Panther movie earns the most of any Marvel movie ever, and am perfectly content with it earning more than Wonder Woman.

                I mean, have you looked at that cast?

                The reason I pointed out the above is that I cannot evaluate how the first three collected volumes of Coates run compare to other Panther story lines or the larger Marvel Mythos of the character.

                Coates’ first arc seems to occur at a time of change in Wakanda, the Panther’s home and his kingdom.  His sister is not alive and not dead, his marriage is annulled, and T’Challa is feeling a bit resentful and angry.  The kingdom itself is feeling the same, and some members of the Dora Milaje eventually take matters into their own hands.  This was expected for Coates hinted at it during a talk shortly after signing with Marvel.

                Some of the conflict that Wakanda faces are about the question of rule, whether a monarchy can actually, truly serve the people in the way the people want to be served.  If Coates doesn’t give the question the full space and examination that it deserves, then it is more the fault of format and cooperate control than anything.  (Think of the scene in the last Jedi where the stolen ship reveals that its true owner sold arms to both the First Order and Resistance.  Del Toro’s character has a point, but there is no time to really look at it).

                In truth, though, it isn’t T’Challa’s journey that is the most fascinating, but his sister’s, Shuri’s, who is in something of a coma.  In her state, she goes on a true spiritual journey, and learns to be, among other things, a griot.  It is with Shuri that Coates really, truly explores the idea of history, rule, and duty.  In many ways, the first three volumes are more about women than about T’Challa himself.

                Which is cool.

                Part of what Coates also looks at is Wakanda’s place in the larger world, which is somewhat interesting.  Guests stars are kept to a minimum, basically being the Crew – including Storm, who, to be frank, is dealt with way too easily in a fight, but her words are Storm.

                It is an interesting story because here words are just as important, if not more so, than actions.  It is reader’s comic arc.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Review: Terminal Alliance

Terminal Alliance Terminal Alliance by Jim C. Hines
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am the type of person who wonders where the bath rooms are on the Enterprise and the Death Star. Sure, the Falcon has neat hiding holes, but how are the toilet systems? Does the head have a seat beat? And how did Luke go to the bathroom on his way to Cloud City or wherever? Does the transporter take care of bodily functions?

In part this is curiosity, in part this is because I would be the one losing her lunch in the bathroom, so I really want to know.

Hines’ latest book is about those on such famous ships who rarely get mention and never get thought about – the janitors. In other words, Finn before he got sent to a planet where he didn’t like killing people unless they were people he knew.

(Sorry, I like Finn. In many ways, his reactions later in the movie are the most realistic, but that beginning sequence does Finn’s character a disservice. He is cheering killing people he knows).

Mops is a human in charge of a cleaning crew on the Pufferfish (the ships in this novel are named after the deadliest animals in human history). The human race has go through a collapse, not so much destroying everyone, but turning everyone feral (like zombies but not dead). The Krakau have developed a cure for this temperament, and humans who are cured work as mercs. The species has a reputation for stupidity, toughness, and blood thirstiness. Unfortunately for Pufferfish, on a recent assignment, the majority of the human crew has gone feral. The only ones who haven’t are Mops and her crew: Kumar, Monroe, and Mozart. There is also Puffy, who is more of hinderance, and Grom who is like centipede. Mops is determined to find out what happen and to cure her crewmates, leading to the adventure story that is the book.

Being a Hines book, there is much laughter. Part of it comes from the use of names, cured humans take names of famous people. So, Monroe, for instance, is named for Marylin. There are also the various reactions to human things, such as a dig at erotica. For the reader, there is the added bonus of reading being forefront in the story.

Truthfully, at the start the book is a bit slow and one of the big reveals, isn’t really a surprise for the careful reader (and Hines doesn’t treat it as such, to be fair). Yet, this book is also one of those books that illustrates the strengths of sci-fi, in particular humorous sci-fi.

The treatment of humans in the novel by other alien species is basically any ism that is in society today or in the past. Some of the comments, for instance, you have seen in the descriptions of Africans by Europeans or white slave owners. Hines is also getting the reader to think about how knowledge is transmitted or not transmitted; in fact, he tackles several big questions in this book. By doing so, quite frankly, he cements his place as America’s Terry Pratchett, who also dealt with big questions in funny ways.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Star Wars Thoughts

Fair warning, I write this without having seen The Last Jedi.  I fully intend to see it, and this isn’t a comment on the film.

This is more a comment on those people who are upset about the movie in general and Rey in particular.

                For the record, I didn’t like Force Awakens.  I thought it was simply New Hope but with a new name.  That’s it.  I get the idea of storytelling circle and what not, but still for me Force Awakens was lazy ass story telling filled with what for me are Star Wars plot problems and holes.

                Look, I love Star Wars.  I even saw the Clone Wars animated movie opening weekend.  Okay.  New Hope is the first movie I ever remembering seeing.  I was Princess Leia for I don’t know how many Halloweens.

                But there have always been, well, problems.

                Take for instance Luke.  Luke, like Rey, is a Mary/Marty Sue.  I’m sorry but he.  If you have a problem with Rey being a Mary Sue, you have to have a problem with Luke.  I will acknowledge that Luke is a slightly less annoying Mary Sue, but he is still a Marty Sue (or Mary.  Whatever, he is in the Sue family).

                Luke is a farm boy and talented planet bound pilot.  He has never left the planet, hell, he hasn’t gone very far from the farm.  Yet, this farm boy who has never flown an x-wing before not only survives the Battle of Yasin but deals the killing blow to the Death Star. 

                But, I can hear someone say, Star Wars Tech can be different from ours.  Maybe Luke’s whatever was an earlier version of an X-Wing.  Maybe, who knows.  But even if that was true, it doesn’t explain the dog fighting ability.  It doesn’t.  And, quite frankly, regardless of flying skill would have been given command that quickly?  Even considering his destruction of the Death Star?  If you were one of the Commanders before Yavin, would you have taken Luke as one of your battle group?  Realistically, no, at least not as a pilot, maybe as a gunner.

                And then there is the death of Obi-Wan.  Like Luke, the audience feels more about Obi-Wan’s death than the destruction of everyone on Leia’s home planet.  This is because of the story; we have spent more time with Obi-Wan after all.  That’s not the problem – it’s Leia (who was tortured) comforting him.  She is used to make him center, and that is somewhat disturbing. 

                While Luke does go though training, it is not nearly as long as the training that Jedi normally seem to receive, and he doesn’t really have a trial, does he?  He is also revealed to be the child of the bad guy, yet one wonders how Vader knows.  If it is the Force, then why doesn’t Vader, who spent far more time in Leia’s company, not know about her?  If it is simply because of the whole last name deal, why didn’t Vader do something in New Hope?  After all, he orders the deaths of Owen and Beru.  You except me to believe Vader didn’t have that place searched.  And if they really wanted to hide Luke, why not lie about his last name?  And furthermore, whose to say where the name Skywalker comes from, maybe it was a common last name given to slaves.

                So yeah, the last name thing doesn’t work for me (Also I am convinced Padme kept her own last name, so fuck off).

                So, the last name answer doesn’t fly. 

                Additionally, there are other questions that the both the original and the prequels raise.  Why, for instance, does Leia remember her real mother when Padme dies in childbirth?  Why does Padme die in childbirth?  If she is simply a vessel for the Force, doesn’t that make the Force rapey?   Why are Lando and Han generals in Jedi?  I mean, okay, maybe Han because of what he did in New Hope and Empire; but Lando?  Don’t get me wrong, I love Lando.  But what exactly has Lando done that makes him a general? Shouldn’t Leia be a general at that point? Why does Padme fall in love with Anakin?  (Back to rapey Force).    If you were the First Order, wouldn’t you just blow up desert planets considering the history?  Why the focus on Death Stars?  If the Force needs balance, wasn’t there balance after Revenge of the Sith?  Doesn’t Luke make it unbalanced?  Why does Leia change her clothes and get her hair done at the Ewok village?  Why does Finn have a problem with killing until he has to shot stormtroopers, you know, the people he trained with?  What exactly is the Resistance, well, resisting?  What exactly does a giant space worm eat when people in space ships don’t land in its stomach?  Isn’t the use of droids enslavement?  If you were a hungry girl on a desert planet, wouldn’t you sell BB8?  Why do people keep losing the Falcon?  Is there even a culture in this universe?  Would you really elect a teen or pre-teen Queen?   And how does Obi-Wan age that much?  And Owen and Beru for that matter?

                And so on.          

  The world building really isn’t the best.  You get more of a sense of culture from Star Trek.   
                Such criticism is fair, Star Wars is a movie.

                But it is also unfair.

                Star Wars is after all a fairy tale, and one can’t really ask such questions of fairy tales (would you actually talk to a wolf and isn’t Snow White stupid?)  Star Wars is a modern fairy tale, it is a morality tale.  The plot isn’t a point.  You want to complain about plot stupidity – do it for all the movies or none.  Mary Sues – both or neither. 

                Unless you are a misogynistic asshole.   

                Then just go away and play with your toys in the dark room.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Review: Camille Claudel

Camille Claudel Camille Claudel by Anne Delbée
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In “The Lady of Shallot” Tennyson tells us that a woman must chose between art and love. She cannot have both – love will destroy the art. In some respects, he is correct, or at least was correct, considering that a woman would have duties that needed to be done. And yet, in other respects he was wrong. It isn’t love that destroys a woman’s art but lust – and usually not her.

This year (2017), Hollywood has been rocked by various scandals, the widest spread apparently that of Harvey Weinstein. What many have pointed out, including in places like the New York Times, is the art that we have missed and the art that has been changed. The Times dealt on the career of Annabella Sciorra after her rape by Weinstein. Salma Hayek wrote a powerful piece about how the filming of Frida was compromised and changed by Weinstein, in particular how full-frontal nudity was done because otherwise Weinstein threatened to kill the filming – tell me how that isn’t rape?

Yet, it seems such things have been occurring for so long. I’m not just talking about the treatment of Garland, Monroe, and the old studio stable system, but further back than that. Delbee address the question head on in her autobiographical novel about Camille Claudel.

Claudel had the misfortune to be a woman and an artist at time when women as artist weren’t quite valued in the way they should have been – in other words as artists first. She eventually becomes the student, inspiration, and lover of Rodin – though student might not be a fully accurate term. Yet what Delbee captures and dwells upon his Claudel’s outsider position as outsider. She is not a conventional or modest woman, she is an artist and not a model, she is a woman student and not male one. She is Rodin’s model, inspiration, mistress, and student. She both is and is not. It is hardly surprising that she rages.

It is something that Rodin does not have to face, as he does not have to face the question of whether his art is really his art as opposed to his master’s.

Delbee’s narrative is not exactly linear for the chapters alternate with letters from an alyssum, where Claudel spends part of her life. It is a quasi-channeling of Gilman’s Yellow Wallpaper, and one wonders what Gilman would’ve thought of both Claudel and today’s #MeToo movement.

There is magic and strength in Delbee’s writing and she carries you ago. Claudel is not a passive victim, and if she is a victim, it is of society and the demons in her own mind.

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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Review: Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree

Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree by Tariq Ali
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I write this review after the close defeat of a potential US Senator, who believed among other things, that a Muslim should not serve in the US Senate because he wouldn’t swear on the Bible (said douche bag also believes that women should stay in the home and that sex with 14-year-old girls when you’re in your 30s is okay). This defeat occurred shortly after a sitting US president retweet the unverified “news” tweets of a British hate group. The tweets showed video supposedly showing Muslims behaving badly. A governmental group out of the Netherlands tweeted the president back and said, nope misbehaving dude was not immigrant and not Muslim, and was in jail. When quested about his use of fake news, the spokeswoman for the president who chants fake news 99% of time, said the reality of the videos wasn’t important, for the president felt they added to the conversation. When it was revealed that the last two “Muslim” terrorists had been radicalized after their arrival to the US, one could hear crickets chirping. Additionally, there are places in the US where a book that simply depicts a character who is Muslim is banned because it is promoting a religion other than Christianity. I have even taught students who refused to read part of the Korean in a World Lit Class, and before you ask, we had read parts of the Old and New Testament first (granted, I could understand the formal service member’s refusal. Didn’t agree with it, but could understand. The other students not so much).

Apparently, there are people in America who would feel right at home in the Reconquista, except for that Catholic bit because according to some of those Americans Catholics worship the Pope.

Ali’s novel is about a family in Granada right after the conquest by Ferdinand and Isabella. The family is stuck, unsure of whether or not their culture will survive because of the pressure to convert. In short, Ali is telling of the death of a culture, of a lost, one that the reader feels most keenly at the start of the book with the description of book burning.

Is Ali’s book flawless? No, and, in fact, it is in many ways one of those quiet books where everything is building but the bulk of the actual action is “small” family drama and issues -who will the daughters marry, what is the mystery of the old hermit, and whether a great aunt is truly mad. It is the focus on the quiet, on the family of quasi-believers who are not fully devout that Ali shows how hatred, extremism – on both sides – starts. For the actions of the Christians lead to hard choices of the Muslims, but it is those violent actions that also harden the Christians, against those values they should espouse. Ali’s book is warning, intentional or not, about hatred of a culture or religion and how it destroys all.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Review: The Ramayana: A Shortened Modern Prose Version of the Indian Epic

The Ramayana: A Shortened Modern Prose Version of the Indian Epic The Ramayana: A Shortened Modern Prose Version of the Indian Epic by R.K. Narayan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those really entertaining but makes you want to smack someone. But at least the gods in this version agree with me.

It is nice to know that the Bible isn’t the only work that screws women over.

The amount of time that men in this epic, who keep telling you they are powerful dudes, blame women for everything is just maddening. Even Sita who couldn’t be raped because Ravena can’t force her has to prove her virtue.


Yeah, yeah, I know it was before feminism. I get it. But I am a modern lady; I can still get upset by it.

But outside of the whole women are to blame for everything, it’s actually really good and engrossing. It’s even fun.

And if you are wondering about the women blaming,  here are some examples:

"Finally the King burst out, " . . . Those cherry-red lips I thought sustained me, but they have only been a source of the deadliest poison to finish me off . . ." (52). True she is a evil woman, but no one forced you to do what you did.

"The picture she [Soorpanka] conjured up was convincing . . . Soorpanaka's words had lit an all-consuming flame within him [Ravana]" (81)

"When he heard of his son's death, Ravana shed bitter tears and swore, 'This is the time to kill that woman Sita, the cause of all this misery'" (149). You did kidnap her.

As for Sita's virtue test. I know that critics, both Western and Eastern have problems with it. Even the epic seems to realize this for it says, "Rama explained that he had to adopt this trial in order to demonstrate Sita's putiry beyond a shadow of a doubt to the whole world" (163).

Look, like all great epics, the work is a product of its time. I understand that. But I am not going to respond any differently simply because of that. I have similar problems with the Bible, Homer, and so on. I cannot turn off my feminisim completely. I'm sorry, I can't. It doesn't stop me from enjoying the story. And to be frank, do you really think modern women were the first to ask these questions or notice these problems?


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Sunday, December 10, 2017

Review: Trojan Tales: Voices from Afar

Trojan Tales: Voices from Afar Trojan Tales: Voices from Afar by Edward J. Nield
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have no doubt that Nield knows the cycle of Troy, and I think he would be a wonderful person to talk about the cycle with. However, if there was ever a book that is just oky, it is this one. It is not a bad book, and it is a story that syncs with the cycle. Yet there are some flaws that are near fatal.

The first flaw is one that many historical novels suffer from - how much modern language to use. Overall all, Nield does a good job, but there are some jars - for instance the use of carriages. The second flaw is that Andromache functions more as someone that things happen to as opposed to someone who does things. This is not surprising considering the time period, but she is so blamless and loved that at times it gets a little annoying (and unexicting if you know the cycle). There is also a bit too much of dislike and rivarly with other women that is bit annoying.

There is also bit too many adjectives -and everyone seems to glide.

Yet, the novel does show a deep understanding and knowledge of the story.

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Banned Books in Texas

In case you missed it, The New York Times picked up a story out of Texas about what books are banned from the prison system (read it here).  The banned books include titles like Where’s Waldo and Charlie Brown.  Hitler’s Mein Kampf, however, is allowed.

                Now, prison systems routinely ban books, and this has been upheld in the court system.  The Texas system made the list of approved and banned books available to the Dallas Morning News (read it here).  According to the Dallas Morning News, the system bans books that can incite violence or riots, depict illegal acts in a graphic manner, can be used to plan a riot or escape, or give aids in how make weapons or commit crimes.  Additionally, pop up and some other books are banned because of the ability to hide things in the illustrations or covers.  The Dallas Morning News also points out that graphic sex scenes are determined by case.  I should also note the list of approved books (248, 241) is longer than the list of banned books (10, 073)

                The thing is that some of the decisions seem really confused.  For instance, Alice Walker’s Color Purple is banned but not the Kite Runner or the Handmaid’s Tale.  Both of those books contain rape.  The Handmaid’s Tale even contains an escape.  Grimms Comics is banned (I am presuming because of nudity), yet other comic books are allowed, and considering how suggestive comic art can be, one wonders. 

                This isn’t a Texas prison system problem, though it is interest that this story occurs shortly after a Texas school district pulled The Hate U Give from library shelves and is re-evaluating the book.  The Texas problem is the same that most book banners have, but at least in the prison system it makes some sense.  Take for instance the group PABBIS, which about ten years ago, was actively attempting to ban books in schools.  Pabbis (Parents Against Bad Books in Schools), to be fair, at the least linked to the passages they found objectionable, which is more than some people do.  Yet Pabbis also linked to a list of books that they demeaned appropriate.   This list includes Three Musketeers where the hero has an affair with a married woman, the works of Poe, and The Scarlet Letter.

                What makes one book with sex good and another bad? 

                In the Texas prison case, the Anita Blake books are allowed, and as most critics of Hamilton can point out, those books at the very least, contain problematic sex scenes (including what would make the legal definition of rape).  Yet, The Color Purple is considered too dangerous because it addresses incest.  Hamilton’s books, the earlier ones at least, I cannot speak to the later ones, never addressed the issue of rape and were filled with victim blaming.

                In terms of banning, the question will always be who determines if something is objectionable, what is the criteria.  And the answer to that question doesn’t really exist, at least not in a way that satisfies everyone.

                What is worse a school district banning or even just removing a book such as a Hate U Give limits the learning of compassion. And important aspect of life that Frank Bruni in the New York Times argues that Trump lacks (Read it here). Thomas’ book should be more widely read simply because of its frank look at race, class, and violence involving police.  It should be required reading to promote discussion about a major issue in America. 

                It’s why stories such as the Texas Prison System and The Hate U Give are reported, we should pay attention.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Mice Templar Vols 1-5

When I was in college, I started reading the Redwall novels by Brain Jacques.  I know that I was reading below my reading level, but to say that I had read Watership Down at a very impressionable age would be an understatement.  So, give me animals doing human things or close to, and I will at least try the story.  Therefore, later in college when I discovered William Horwood while on a trip to the Netherlands, I was like WTF, why isn’t he published here in the US.  Bastards.

                Mice Templar is like Redwall in that it focuses on mice.  That’s about it.  There is more blood, there is more violence, there is less feasting, there is more death.  It is Anime and not Disney.

  Mice Templar relates the story of Karic of Cricket’s Glen and his friends and family as they struggle to make sense of a dark world, where light is not.  Karic’s home is attacked and his family and friends taken or killed.  Those that are taken are to be sacrificed in the capital.  Karic is determined to save those he lives, and so answers in the affirmative when he determines upon a course that will change not only him, but his world.

                The world of the Mice Templar is based on various European myths and history.  There are connections to Joan of Arc, to various Norse sagas, and Arthurian legends.  But it is also connection to the Dark Ages, for the mice’s world seems to be on perpetual darkness, there is not day.  Even the inclusion of the Maeven, female mice warriors, has historical precedent.  (To be fair, the inclusion of female characters who are actually truly active takes a bit, yet it is played off quite nicely in the end).

                One of the main themes that the comic series explores is the question of story telling and destiny.  Our lives are stories, and most humans convey wisdom don history though stories.  Karic is willing to take on the quest, but does he lose himself in the process?  He becomes a symbol to more than just mice.  But is that symbol something to be feared or to be worshiped, and for how long?  We tend to blame the English for the death of Joan of Arc, but the French were also culpable. 

                Part of Karic’s struggle is to reconcile the Templars who are split almost along the lines of the time of two popes, though more on a secular level than anything.  The mouse who becomes Karic’s closest friend, Cassius, has been tramlined by this war, and both Karic and his childhood friend Leito almost reenact over the course of the series.

                But what hangs over the story, one of the themes is the idea of story and the power of story.  It forces the reader to confront how story telling plays a role not just in history but in setting us on the paths we chose as well as how we view questions of faith.


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Review: Alien: Out of the Shadows

Alien: Out of the Shadows Alien: Out of the Shadows by Tim Lebbon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this up for free during Audible's anniversary celebration.

While I enjoy some of the Alien movies, I am not a huge Alien fan, but this was a pretty fun read. It details what happened to Riley between movies. Drysdale does a damn good job of being close enough to Weaver. The action is exciting, the effects good. It really is movie worthy. The only thing that seemed a little force was an attempt at a romantic sub-plot. But that was about it.

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Thursday, November 23, 2017

Review: Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur Vol. 2: Cosmic Cooties (Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur Vol. 2: Cosmic Cooties (Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur Vol. 2: Cosmic Cooties (Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur by Amy Reeder
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I found this one a little less enchanting than volume one. Now, don't get me wrong, I think part of that is how I feel about Marvel, and has less to due with Moon Girl.

I think it is great that Marvel is showcasing characters like Moon Girl and Ms Marvel. Not only are they minority characters but they are non-trophe female characters. To me this was always the charm of Firestar (and to a lesser degree Scarlet Witch), and yet, I had to watch Marvel writers constantly screw over Firestar and finally paint her simply as the girlfriend and that pissed me off. (Seriously, her home life is too normal Mr Marvel Writer Fabien? She had a father figure die in her arms, and almost lost her real father the same way. Hey, and what about her mother? Shit poor writing, dude. You just like the male characters better. You never could write women and you screwed your female characters over). Marvel still wastes her. So I guess, I am a little jealous on her behalf.

So there is that. Which is why I was a little resentful of Ms Marvel here because that is the way the women in New Warriors should have been. Really, should have been.

But I love this series because of Lunella who has two loving parents and value her own intelligence, who doesn't care when a guy says he loves her because she is fourth grade. That is so important today. So important. So give Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur to all the women and girls in your life. Because this series is actually right.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Review: Squid Empire: The Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods

Squid Empire: The Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods Squid Empire: The Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods by Danna Staaf
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I won a copy via Librarything.
Unlike Staaf, it took me quite a while to warm up to squid, octopuses and the like. It wasn’t until I read “The Vampie Squid from Hell” by Richard Ellis that I took an interest. Staaf’s book isn’t about one specific squid, octopus, or whatnot; instead it is about the history of cephalopods as a whole, in particular the evolution.

Which you think would make it a rather dull science book, but it is not.

In part, this is because of all the cool and interesting facts that Staaf shares. For instance, did you know that a sperm whale eats 700-800 squid every day and that isn’t that unusual because apparently everything eats squid, including squid. And then there is the squid’s brain and that is really strange. Not to mention the whole thing about gas. So, all that is pretty awesome.

Then there are all the Clue references. Quite honestly, I mean that should have to be all I need to say.

But if that is not enough for you, there is this. Staaf’s love for her subject comes through with every single word. She’s not trying to talk down to the reader, to be smart, to be funny, to be cool. She is simply, lovingly, wonderfully writing about a family of animals she loves. This is a love poem. She will make you love cephalopods and give you reasons why you should - like the whole thing about shells.

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Thursday, November 9, 2017

Review: Invisible Victims: Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women

Invisible Victims: Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women Invisible Victims: Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women by Katherine McCarthy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First the bad - there are several typos, the footnotes are, big and large, simply a website link. While this makes sense for an ebook, I still want correct citation format, sorry. Lastly, you could say that a few of the sections about serial killers are de facto ads for other books in the series. They are and they are not in my view. McCarthy does a good job of showing how those cases are related to the scope of the story, so considering the series, I'm neutral on these inclusions. Finally, and this was most annoying, it was unclear at points whether a work mentioned was an essay or a book. I spent several minutes searching for a book title when it was really an essay I should have been looking for. That was rather annoying.


Those faults aside, this a pretty good overview and not at all senesation as the cover might lead some to think. McCarthy cites when she needs to and deals with the overarching issues quite well. The book is an overview, so the sections dealing with the history that lead to the society problems that allow for the murder of Indigenous women are perhaps too short, but McCarthy points you in the direction to learn more (and some of those facts, wow). McCarthy deals sympathically with the victims and points out how race and the question of "good" or "bad" girls plays into the how the media views the victim. Unlike some other work on the death of Indigenous women, McCarthy moves beyond the Highway of Tears and Residental schools and brings in classes that were not first thought of, making the book an overview.

If the editing errors had been fixed, this would have been four stars.

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Saturday, November 4, 2017

Review: Executive Assistant Iris Vol. 2 #0

Executive Assistant Iris Vol. 2 #0 Executive Assistant Iris Vol. 2 #0 by David Wohl
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Okay, I am sorry but the cover. Kick ass women in comics are wonderful but the whole sexy look thing is a bit over the topic, especially with the cover. Look below her belt.  I mean, it could be an accident, but really?  C'mon.  Look below.

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Review: White Lotus

White Lotus White Lotus by Libbie Hawker
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Rhodopis is an Egyptian version of Cinderella, or at the very least, it involves a foot fitting into a shoe if not evil step sisters. Libbie Hawker’s White Lotus is the first in a trilogy about Rhodopis.

The book isn’t bad. This volume details Doricha (who will become Rhodopis) beginnings from the daughter of a starting Thracian family trapped in Egypt to joining the household of the Pharaoh. IN short, it is about a young girl sold into slavery as a high-end prostitute.

While Hawker does a good job of immersing the reader in the society and time of ancient Egypt and the clash of Egyptian and Greek saviors, as it were. Yet, the central character of Doricha is rather dull. I mean really dull. She is a great dancer, smart, and wonderful. And constantly having bad things done to her by people she trusts.

The one character that really shines is Archidike, who is at first takes Doricha under her wing, but becomes her enemy due to a misunderstanding that, quite frankly, isn’t quite explained very well to the reader. She then becomes a one-dimension villain. But before that, she carries the book because she has the spark. Archidike sings. She almost steals the story from Doricha. When she is forced back, the book suffers, and we no longer truly care about the ending or Doricha’s success.

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Saturday, October 28, 2017

Review: Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this because I am teaching The Fire Next Time.

It's one of those books that I find hard to review. I think everyone in America should read it, and if I had a magic wand or the power of the Force, I would make everyone read it. But writing that sounds flippant despite it being true.

What Kendi (with the aid of his wife he thanks quite a bit) does is trace the development of Racist ideas in America. He does this in part by challenging the standard definations of some words and terms. This is done early on in the book, so you know extactly what Kendi means when he uses words like antiracist, racist, and assilmation later. It's true that some people (gives certain Orange being and family the stink eye) will say that the book doesn't deal with racism towards white people - but really? Honesty, if you read the book, that question is answered. (Though in fairness, Kendi limits, or seems to do, the defination of racism as towards black. Racism towards Native Americans and Asians is mentioned but only in how racism towards or by such groups is connected to racism towards Blacks. But this limiting matches what Kendi sets out in the introduction).

Kendi traces racism though various major public figures in America, even pre-Independence. Jefferson of course is here, but so are Angela Davis, DuBois, Mater, and Garrison. In some ways, the weakest section is Davis, almost like this section could be a whole book in and of itsself, mostly because at that point it almost feels like Kendi is hitting a check list. Yet the first four sections are engrossing and stacked with facts. So, is the last section despite it's checklist feel. In the interest of fairness, I am from Philly, and Kendi's brief, very brief, mention of the Mumia case is enough to get anyone in Philly a bit annoyed for a wide variety of reasons. (I am of the he is guilty but the system/time was extremely racist group. Honesty, there are better anti-death cases out there. Does Mumia get the attention because he is well read and a good speaker? Is that class or the extradorinary Negro racism that Kendi talks about). It was puzzling because Kendi calls Mumia is a political prison, but Kendi doesn't mention Move and the bombing of that group (done by the police, and which ended in the destruction of a neighborhood), an event that surely seems far more political and raicst.

But this book gives the reader so much information and so much to think about. It really should be required reading for everyone in America. Quite frankly, if you are teaching about Civil Rights, Slavery, or African-American culture/literature, you should read this book before teaching the subject matter.

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Thursday, October 26, 2017

Review: A Married Woman: A Novel

A Married Woman: A Novel A Married Woman: A Novel by Manju Kapur
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s famous “Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History” has a point. History tends to ignore or undervalue those who are nameless and do the chores. In other words, let’s took about Socrates but give Xantippe a bad rep because, you know, for nagging about where the grocery money was coming from. Grocery money is so not important. In some ways, this is also true about books. We prefer to read novels with people doing things, discovering things, whacking things, screwing things.

Okay, maybe screwing people and not things, but you take my point.

Kapur’s novel, A Married Woman, is a well-behaved woman novel, a story about stories we don’t usually considering important or even worth reading about. There’s a reason for this. Conflict sells for a variety of reasons, yet we are missing something with conflict all the time.

Kapur’s novel about a married woman does have conflict, though it is a largely internal struggle. Ashta is making her way through life – a desire to be who she is, or to at the very least discover who she is – as well as to follow the traditional roles that are laid out for her. What happens are conflicts between duty and art, the survival of a marriage and the discovery of a new passion. These conflicts are played out with a backdrop of Muslim/Hindu conflict.

The book is quiet. In fact, it is hard at times to feel as if something more major must happen. It isn’t so much that nothing happens, but that what happens is very much real. Strangely, the weakest part of the book is the section that is Ashta’s voice. There is something off about those diary entries.

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Review: Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe

Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe by Kapka Kassabova
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am so thankful that My Book Box had this book for a selection. This is quite honesty of the best books I have read all year. I want to read Kassabova’s poetry. I am so happy that I read this. And without My Book Box, I very much doubt that I would have read this.

Border is part travel memoir, part personal memoir, and part social history. It chronicles the area between Bulgaria and Turkey, looking at myth, legend, and survival as the towns and people move from Cold War to democracy. Each chapter is preceded by a small brief discussion of a word and its meaning.

The book is wonderful because of the use of language. Kassabova describes a woman who was criticized for her accent “She never spoke a word of Bulgarian again. For a time, she fell between languages” (146).

There stories that she tells, like the story of the white legged maiden, or Kassabova’s own retracing of a crossover route, used to move, illegally, from East to West. There are bits about gardens, about refugees, about how past funnels into present.

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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Review: Island of the Blue Foxes: Disaster and Triumph on the World's Greatest Scientific Expedition

Island of the Blue Foxes: Disaster and Triumph on the World's Greatest Scientific Expedition Island of the Blue Foxes: Disaster and Triumph on the World's Greatest Scientific Expedition by Stephen R. Bown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

For some reason, I like reading books about white men going into cold places and dying. Except Norwegians, for some reason my brain believes Norwegians should always make it out alive. I’m not sure why, but it does. I blame National Geographic Museum in Washington DC for all this because I saw an exhibit there about Scott and Amundsen.

This book is about a Russian trek, led by a Dane Vitus Bering (yes, that Bering). Truthfully, when we read about those treks, at least in the Eastern part of American, we tend to focus solely on the British during crazy things. It was refreshing, therefore to read about Russians doing crazy things. It should be noted that I am not an expert on this topic.

Brown does a very good in keeping the reader engaged. First, he sets up the scene, allowing the read to understand the circumstances that the large group of men were dealing with. Unlike the British, the Kamchatka Expedition had to deal with official who had little desire to help the leaders, making food and supplies difficult. The failure of the expedition, it seems, was also that due to politics.

Brown doesn’t hesitate to illustrate the flaws of some of the members of the expedition, but he also shows the good points. In particular, is Stellar who is at once infuriating, yet he is vital to the survival of those who make it.

Perhaps that is the greatest strength of this history – unlike many such book it doesn’t play favorites but presents humanity struggling in a dangerous situation of its own making.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Review: The Infernal Library: On Dictators, Their Books, and Other Catastrophes of Literacy

The Infernal Library: On Dictators, Their Books, and Other Catastrophes of Literacy The Infernal Library: On Dictators, Their Books, and Other Catastrophes of Literacy by Daniel Kalder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

I have to admit, I almost didn’t request this title from Netgalley. It wasn’t that the topic, a study of works by dictators, didn’t sound interesting. It did, but there also seemed a possibility for dryness, and I really wasn’t in the mood. But I requested it anyway.

I am very happy I did. Mr. Kalder, I am sorry for thinking it would be dry.

Honesty, you know you are in good hands when the book starts, “This is a book about dictator literature – that is to say, it is a book about the canon of works written or attributed to dictators. As such, it is a book about some of the worst books ever written, and so was excruciatingly painful to research.”

Kalder took one for the team, and quite frankly, we should repay him by reading this book.

The book isn’t so much literary criticism; though Kalder does not shy away from calling a bad book a bad book. For instance, on The Green Book, “it is not merely boring, or banal, or repetitive, or nonsensical, although it is certainly all those things. It is quite simply, stupid . . . “.

And he is fair, for Kalder notes of Mussolini’s bodice ripper (which isn’t really one apparently) that it is readable.

His survey of literature starts with the Russian revolution and includes present day dictators. Kalder is also as funny as, well, Monty Python.

What Kalder does is look at not only what the writings reveal about the dictators, but also why people didn’t take the books seriously as warnings of things to come. He points out that some people should have known better. He also connects it to the thinking and control process, showing how the works did reflect the personality of each man (and they are all men). He also addresses the weird beliefs that make their way into the books – Hussain had strange ideas about bears.

The book is an entertaining journey into some really strange minds that produced some really bad literature. Luckily for the reader, Kalder read it for us.

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Sunday, October 8, 2017

Review: Middlemarch/Personal Canon

Middlemarch Middlemarch by George Eliot
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Eliot is one of those writers who I always forget how good she is. It’s not that I ever forget she is good, it is just that forget the high standard she has for most her work. The exception in this forgetting is Adam Bede, and this is no doubt because it was the first Eliot I read (thanks to Alistair Cooke).

I first read Middlemarch in either college or grad school. I recently re-read because of a line in the New York Times Book Review.

To call Middlemarch feminist would be wrong, though in many ways she is a proto-feminist. At the heart of the novel is the character of Dorothea and the idea of marriage. If Doretha was Catholic, she quite easily could have become a nun. But she isn’t, so the avenues opened to her are a bit slim. She wants to do good works, and to improve people’s lives. At beginning of the novel is she able to do this with a help of a suitor, a suitor she doesn’t know is a suitor, and later in the novel, she has the possibility to do it another way. This of course soon changes.

The theme of the novel, in part, seems to be the idea of marriage, for marriage does concern much of the part. At first, it is merely Doreatha’s marriage to Casaubon, who is older and who she hopes will teach almost like a father. Then it is the marriage between Lydgate, a doctor who wants to do good, and Rosamond, whose brother Fred forms part of a third marriage with Mary Garth.

The question of marriage is more a question what a good marriage is. Doreatha’s first marriage, really isn’t a good one. But it is not entirely her husband’s fault and in fact, very few of her friends (in fact only her sister and James Chettam) try to talk her out of it or express doubts about the marriage.

In many ways, the true right people in the novel are Mary Garth and Celia Brooke, Doretha’s younger sister. Mary is the dependable and intelligent daughter of the Gareths. She is prudent. The most imprudent thing she does is love Fred, who at the start of the book has a good heart but is a bit too much flash and imprudence. Celica is Doreatha’s younger sister, less religious, more sensual, but also more observant. She watches before she speaks. She may not be as good or holy as Doretha but she is not a bad woman. Mary too watches. This makes those two women better able to handle the society that constrains them.

Doretha is not able to handle society in the same way. Her marriage options are frowned upon whether she marries for the right or wrong reason. And unlike Lydgate, who marries an illusion, a pretty thing that he does not see as human or understand fully as human. He does not watch enough. Neither does Doretha at first.

Eliot’s suggestion that she is trying to write or example a modern life of St. Theresa is interesting because Dortha, like Lydgate, doesn’t quite come what she could have been.

Of course, that is, in part, the purpose of Eliot’s book, showing us the bonds – both prison like and fond – that society puts on us.

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Sunday, October 1, 2017

Review: Cleopatra: I Am Fire and Air

Cleopatra: I Am Fire and Air Cleopatra: I Am Fire and Air by Harold Bloom
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

Anthony and Cleopatra is my favorite Shakespeare play. It didn’t really attain this title until I was in graduate school. There is something not only wonderful about the character of Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s play but also because it is a love story with a political theme. Everyone remembers Cleopatra but very few remember that political component.

Like all of us, Harold Bloom has fallen for Cleopatra. Hard. After reading his slim volume on Hamlet, I thought Bloom wanted to have an affair Gertrude, but now I think there is something of a threesome going on between Bloom, Gertrude, and Cleopatra. One can’t really fault him for that.
Bloom is at his best and most piercing when he links Shakespeare’s Cleopatra to the idea of ebb and flow of the Nile river. This is a brilliant observation. It actually does much to explain aspects of Cleopatra’s character and then also ties both Cleopatra and ebb/flow into Anthony’s character. It is quite interesting.

There are also problems with it. In many ways, it is difficult for a female reader to forget that early on in his book, Bloom writes that Cleopatra “cunning beyond male thought”. Now I am looking at an early electronic galley, so hopefully that word male will be removed. As it stands, it is jarring. It almost forces the female to reader out of the book. A strange feeling considering the subject is a woman.

It’s true to note that Shakespeare’s audience would have been male, so Bloom is undoubtedly correct on a basic level. Yet, the narrow focuses weaken his point, especially the level point in connecting Cleopatra to the water.

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Review: The Tiger’s Daughter SPOILERS!!!!

The Tiger’s Daughter The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free copy from Tor as part of a Librarything giveaway/first read program. Also, spoilers.

I wanted to love this book. When I first started reading the novel, it was exactly what I needed. A novel where the chosen one or ones is/are female, I so need that, especially with all the movies and shows about men doing great things. The book drew me in right away, and the first night I did not want to put it down. The second day, I still enjoyed it, but I was a little confused by a few things – one of which was the setting and character names. The setting seemed to be a fantastical China. There was a wall that the mother of one of the characters destroyed. There seems to be one society that is de facto Chinese, and another that is de facto Mongol. There are steppes on the map for crying out aloud. The strange thing was that some of the names seemed to be Japanese. But I am not an expert on Japanese or Chinese culture. To be honest, the only reason I noticed that Japanese influence was because I had read Johnson, Dalkey, and the Tale of Heike. I do know, however, that any combination of Chinese and Japanese cultures (or any Asian culture with another for that matter) is problematic for several reasons, including what happened during WW II.

Then I read Laurelinvanyr’s review where she goes into detail about the problems with the names used in the novel as well as other cultural issues. I strongly suggest any potential reader of the book reads that review. It’s true that a counter to many of the points that Laurelinvanyr makes would be the simple “it is a fantasy setting that has been inspired by various cultures” excuse that is used for more than fantasy novels. It is also true that this is not the only book that has inaccuracies. Hell, you even get them in a book that is set in say America but written by a Brit. At the very least, there is not enough world building to account for the combination. Laurelinvanyr’s more knowledgeable review goes into far more detail about this problem (and there are other reviews that mention the same issues but in less detail. There is hardly only one review that raises the questions of bad research, cultural approbation and fetishism). Additionally, it is possible/very likely that the use of language and cultural comments by some characters was there to show racism between the Empire and Qorin. The problem is that racism is never really direct dealt with, at least on the part of the Qorin and not really very well in the Empire.

In addition to the question about the world building, there are other problems with the book, that are glaring from a structural and storytelling point of view only.

It is impossible to discuss these without spoilers, so this is your last spoiler warning.

The first problem is the conceit – the idea that whole book is one very long letter that one heroine writes to the other. This works in the beginning but makes no sense later on because why would you write such a detailed letter to someone who was there and experiencing most of what are you writing about with you? You wouldn’t. Not in such a detailed way. (There also is a section where it seems to take a character two years to make a bow, seriously). If this was an actual exchange of letters this would be different, but it isn’t.

The second problem is that because you know the letter is being written after the events described, you know the two central characters are going to be okay. This lack of tension might be replaced with the tension regarding whether they are going to get their happy ever after. Normally, it would be, but the question of whether love can overcome the forced separation is dealt with so quickly that there isn’t any. Not really.

To be honest, the second half of the book feels like little more than a set-up for the second volume. Part of the draw of the first part of the book is the idea that both heroines are somehow divine. This is important for two reasons. The first is that it explains the powers that each girl has (though one power is more developed). The second is it explains why despite the young age of both heroines (both are under eighteen for the whole book), they act so much older, for there is a long tradition in epics, regardless of culture, for such divine or semi-divine heroes to be older than their years. This semi-divine status seems forgotten when one of the characters becomes vampire like (something that most say they are frightened of but no one acts like it). It is to seek a cure for this problem that one woman journeys to what seems to be an Underworld. Sounds interesting, no? Happens entirely off page and is most likely a hook for the second novel in the series. But why would you read that when you know she succeeds? It was a total cheat of an ending.

And finally, there were two smaller things that disquieted me. The first is the relationship between an older woman and a young woman. It is unclear whether they are another lesbian couple, it is strongly suggested that they are. I don’t care that they are couple because of their gender. I have a problem with an adult, in this an aunt, sleeping with niece. I just do. Not only does violate the incest taboo that many culture, fantasy and otherwise, have, but quite frankly, there is something off putting by someone who is family member who helped raise you, taking you as a lover. I hate this when it is a man and woman relationship, and I still hate it when it is a woman/woman one. Sorry. Additionally, there is an incident of spousal abuse. One character is possessed/dealing with vampire traits when she attacks her girlfriend. That’s fine. It’s an interesting idea as is the struggle to contain the vampire cravings. Handled well it would have been a good thing to explore. But nope, everyone, even the woman who was almost killed, seems to get over it in a few pages.

Promising start. Disappointing ending.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Review: A Tangled Web: Mata Hari: Dancer, Courtesan, Spy

A Tangled Web: Mata Hari: Dancer, Courtesan, Spy A Tangled Web: Mata Hari: Dancer, Courtesan, Spy by Mary W. Craig
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

Perhaps the first thing one learns about Mara Hari is that she was dancer and a slut. Then, perhaps one learns she was a slut because she danced naked and slept with a great many men. Then one hears that she was spy and was shot for it. But the important thing that one is told is that she was very, very sexy. In fact, she seems to be the spy that gets remembered not so much because of the doubt of her guilt, but because she was a sexpot.

She also wasn’t a very good spy. She got caught after all

Mary W. Craig’s new book tries to present a more nuanced picture of Mata Hari, or at least as much as one can giving the problem of sources.

Margrethe Zell was born in the Netherlands, where she lived until her marriage took her to the Dutch East Indies. Her early life, Craig points out, was nice until her father suffered a major loss in business. What then followed as an unclear life plan and, what today, we would consider at the very least statutory rape – an affair with an instructor. Craig’s details about Hari’s early life - her struggles after the family bankruptcy and her time spent with relatives are related in a matter of a fact way. There is pity in Craig’s writing, but Craig isn’t turning the biography into a more sinned against than sinning story. Hari isn’t portrayed as a victim, but as a woman who took control of her life.

Or if she is, she is doing it by taking a brutally honest about Mata Hari.

Nowhere is this more obviously in the discussion of Zell’s marriage with MacLeod. It is a marriage that produced two children, possibly infected Zell with an STD, and was abusive. While not excusing MacLeod’s behavior, Craig also places the man in context, in particular with his treatment of Hari after separation and divorce, noting that MacLeod’s actions had more to do with protecting his daughter than anything else.

Hari was no saint, and in addition to her sexual activities (less shocking today than when Hari lived), Craig does closely examine and places Hari’s dancing in the times. The discussion of whether Hari was lying or promoting a fantasy with her “Eastern” dancing. How much of her dancing was imply an illusion that everyone brought into, like the body stocking she wore? Craig can’t give a definite answer but she does truly address the issue, even reading books about Hari that were published during the height of her popularity.

Craig, in part, is hampered by the self-serving purpose of some her sources (and she is clear about this) as well as a lack of sources. Yet, despite these drawbacks, Craig does paint an interesting, more revealing portrait of a woman who is usually known simply for sex.

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Sunday, September 24, 2017

Review: Wolves in the Dark

Wolves in the Dark Wolves in the Dark by Gunnar Staalesen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ebook not Audio.

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

Varg Veum is a literary character that I first meet though television. MHZ had the Varg Veum movies on, and I watched them. So, I started reading the series in a haphazard fashion, or in other words, totally out of order.

This installment finds Veum coming out of a drinking addiction fueled by depression after a death. In part, some of his sobering comes from meeting a woman (who has a daughter) and part of it comes from being accused of child pedophilia.

The novel opens with the arrival of the police to arrest Veum and search his apartment, and the book stays to the break neck speed. In a cell, Veum is forced to remember as much as his drunk years as he can because someone, he doesn’t know who, is setting him up.

Not many people believe him. Strangely enough his new girlfriend is one of those who does.

I guess he is lucky that way, for those that have known him the longest, by and large, view him as guilty.

On one hand, the story is a non-stop thriller. It starts with a bust and keeps going. The pace never seems to slow, not surprising when Veum isn’t given the time to catch his breath. The characters are well written, possibly not the girlfriend who seems a bit too trusting, yet she is not stupid. Even though at times it seems like too much coincidental. The ending too, is on level, a typical white male ending. It is difficult to image an immigrant or even a woman, even in Norway, having the same reaction as Varg Veum to the final outcome.

In part, that might be part of the problem with this book – Veum never seems quite aware of the societal pressures, norms, what have you, that contribute or allow the trafficking and abuse of children (and women) to occur. On one hand, there are times when a reader wants to smack Veum for his cluelessness on the matter. Doesn’t he realize, the reader might wonder under her breath, in particular when he is confronting woman. Then one wonders if this genius on the part of Staalesen. What better way to show a problem? There is no preaching, no holier than though. And this provokes more thought.

This book will most likely get less attention then Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. A shame considering that it is better written and far more powerful for its subtlety.

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Monday, September 18, 2017

Review: Violette Szabo: The Life That I Have

Violette Szabo: The Life That I Have Violette Szabo: The Life That I Have by Susan Ottaway
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

Earlier this month, Kate Elliot re-tweeted a thread about little known heroes, women heroes to be exact. And this is true. In America, the story goes women in the Second World War built the planes and nursed. We are usually not taught about the women who dropped into Occupied France, and if it is mentioned, they are British.

And we usually don’t tell. Recently, a student read a selection of Julia Child. He didn’t hate it, but found it a bit boring. It was about food after all, but tell that same student about Child’s wartime work, and he gets more interested.

Violette Szabo wasn’t an American, and she did have a movie made about her. Yet, today, she is not well known by history books. At least the ones used in schools. After the death of her husband, Szabo joined SOE and went into Occupied France twice. Her actions during both missions were heroic.

Susan Ottaway’s biography of Szabo is in many ways, a counter point to Crave Her Name with Pride. Ottaway was able to interview not only Szabo’s brothers but also her daughter Tania. What is presented here is a pretty good and seemingly fair biography. While detailing the heroics of Szabo, Ottaway weighs the validity of stories, looking at not only the narrator but also the possibility of such action.

At times, it does feel that Szabo is just out of reach, but considering the scant sources, this is hardly surprising. What is interesting is looking at what Szabo and her daughter think about Szabo’s work and the “morality” of a mother doing such duty. Ottaway also details life after the war and how the family was treated by the makers of the film.

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

Amulet 1-6

I picked up the first six volumes in this series for free.  Apparently, it was when volume seven was about to be released and Scholastic offer the first six via Kindle for free.

                The series chronicles the adventures of Emily, her brother Navin, and their mother as they try to adjust to an unexcepted trip to a magical land.  Emily is a Stonekeeper, an Amulet wearer (hence the title of the series).  She received this amulet from her grandfather upon her arrival.

                In short, this is a series where the chosen one is a girl.

                And that is cool because that doesn’t happen too much.  Don’t worry though, unlike some series where the sidekick gets sidelined, Navin too is allowed to come into his own, and his skill set is different than his sister’s.

                Kibuishi makes it quite clear that the siblings love each, though they do tease each.  The back story for the family is pretty much comic standard, one that we have seen pretty of times.  The artwork is cool, and the comic touches on themes such as redemption and protection.  At first it seems that the bad guys are going to be the elves, but the true evil becomes more complicated than that.  Kibuishi also illustrates where hate and fear can lead people.  It’s a tale with morals that doesn’t hit the reader over the head with them.

                Additionally, there is a creature that resembles Cherbourg (you know that mountain demon from Fantasia’s Night on Bald Mountain).

                I did have some problems with the story.  The first is one that I think only adult readers will have.  Both Emily and Navin at times seem both too adult and too childish.  It doesn’t quite work and at times, it throws you out of the story.  This occurs when Navin says to two children that they are too young to be helpful.  But I am pretty sure this is just an adult perspective.  The other issues are despite Emily being the chosen one, for much of the series the other major players are all male.  This changes in books 5 and 6 where we finally get more female characters who are active and not simply damsels in distress (like Emily’s mother).  This could have occurred before – Emily is being accompanied by men, trained by men (or male animals) so it is a little disappointing.  But if 6 is any indication this is going to change in the rest of the series.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Review: Star Wars: Lando

Star Wars: Lando Star Wars: Lando by Charles Soule
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love Star Wars, I do, even though in the films the world building lacks the depth of Star Trek. My favorite character was always Leia, but Lando was a close second. I always wanted them to get together. I mean, do you think Lando would turn out like Han did?  Lando ran a city, and he seemed to be doing a pretty good job until Han showed up.

Anyway, this is Lando's adventures after losing the Falcon and before he gets Cloud City. In fact, it seems to be the push for Lando to get Cloud City and to take care of the people there (like Leia, he lost his home. They would have had beautiful babies).

It's a fun read, if not particularly deep in some areas. Nice use of women. I also quite frankly like the reversal of the black man who scarfices himself so the white hero can learn something trophe. That was cool.

Fun fact of the day: Billy Dee Williams was good friends with James Baldwin.

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Monday, September 4, 2017

Review: The Many Selves of Katherine North

The Many Selves of Katherine North The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The two-star rating is somewhat misleading and perhaps unfair. The basic premise of the book is good and interesting. The basic premise is simple – Katherine’s job is that her consciousness inhabits constructs of animals. She does this for study. So, for instance, she wants to study foxes, she inhabits the body of a fox. Her real body is during this time connected to a basically life support. Over the course of the novel, secrets about the company she works for are revealed and you get the general idea.

Geen excels at imaging a person’s reaction to have as many limbs as, say, a squid. When she writes as Katherine adjusting to a different form, the book is really good. The problem is that when Katherine, Kit, leaves those animals you don’t give damn about her because she isn’t a fully realized character.

Now this could be in part because Geen wants to dwell on the question of real life versus the life of unreal – i.e. inhabiting a body that is really a construct as opposed to your own body. While sometimes the book does this, it really isn’t done well and Kit really does seem to lack any ability for interception. This might be because this science fiction book is really a young adult book. There are good ideas here but nothing really gets examined and it almost feels like there is another story here. The bits about Katherine’s past are interesting, a tad, but they come so late that you just don’t care. The romance just feels there.

Yet, I must admit my problem started much earlier and it isn’t just to this book. It was just a bit really. Kit is describing the machines that keep her body alive while she is animal surfing, and notes that there is a cup for when women get their period. She then tells the reader that she hasn’t had a period for years.

She’s 19.

Now, later in the book it is revealed that the process of animal surfing does harm the teens (who are best at it), but it is never clear if Kit’s lack of a period is because of this or some other issue. In fact, it is implied that it isn’t a result of animal surfing. She never seems curious about it. This is strange considering she apparently wrote some really good biology papers so it seems she has some scientific knowledge. Wouldn’t she wonder? I mean maybe she has an IUD, but then why mention the period at all. But Kat is already extra special because no one has animal surfed as long as she has. She’s the bestest. The lack of bleeding seems connected to this.

And she had her period at one point because she hasn’t had one in a while, in years, which implies she had one. Wouldn’t she wonder?

Now, look, I don’t except the female characters to tell readers every time they have to pull out a pad or what’s it. I just presume that’s happening, so when a character tells me information about a period, I pay attention.

And this isn’t the only book where I have seen this.

In much genre fiction, regardless of target age range, there is a tendency for a female character to be the sole female character who can do anything right. She is the unique female character. Written badly, she is simply a man with boobs who looks down on every other female character. If you have read the Anita Blake books that’s an example. At times, the character doesn’t have to be written badly for this to make an appearance. Kitty the werewolf in some of the books in the series is the unique and extra special woman. I’ve noticed that sometimes the extra special woman will not have a period.


Why is this even thought about? Here, it might be an excuse for why Kit can keep working, yet conversations with others in the book indicate that it isn’t simply a biological but also mental reason why people stop animal surfing.

The only answer I am left with is the lack of the period makes the female character more acceptable. To whom? I’m not sure. Perhaps it is wish fulfillment too. But I don’t think so. There is something strange and discomfiting about this. Perhaps it is because there are still societies were women are exiled because they are considered unclear during that time of the month. Perhaps it is because something natural is being seen as icky – strange in a book where biological animal function is discussed. But I think it comes down to specialness and pureness. A girl isn’t a girl unless she is unbloodied. Now, you can have the girl without the nasty woman bits.

And that frightens me to be honest. It seems to be saying, you can’t be a woman. Not really because it is unclear. Not nice. Just icky. Perhaps I’m just an old grouch. Perhaps I’ve had it with things after hearing about an all-female Lord of the Flies movie, created by two men.

But this rejection just seems so wrong. Look, I’m not saying she has do a Greer and taste her menstrual blood, hell, I don’t even think the period should really rate a mention unless it has a truly important role – pregnancy, starvation. What upsets me is the fact that women writers feel it necessary to point out that the female heroines are even more special because they don’t have a period.

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Friday, August 25, 2017

IDW Star Trek (2009) Comic Books

Recently, I read my way through the Collected On-going Star Trek, its follow up series, and two special limited runs.  I think it was a reaction to the Orange One’s comments about Charlottesville.

                The comics take place in the Kelvin Timeline.  For those of you who are slightly clueless, this is the timeline of the three most recent Star Trek movies (the ones with Pine, Quinto, Saldana, Pegg, Urban, Cho, and Yelchin).  What I loosely call Star Trek Moviedom vs Star Trek Tvdom.  Yes, I know there were Star Trek movies with the originals, but they were television series first.  I actually like the Kelvin timeline for a few reasons, besides the fact that Pine, Urban, Cho, and Saldana star in it.  (And Quinto, but I hadn’t really seen anything he had been in before this.  I didn’t like Heroes).  The fact that the supporting characters are given expanded roles makes me so happy for in the original series my two favorite characters were Uhura and Sulu (did anyone else ship them?).  I’m perfectly fine with and actually like the Spock/Uhura relationship.  While I understand the whole idea and belief system behind the gay couple of Spock/Kirk or Spock/McCoy or McCoy/Kirk aka the gay threesome and reading stories where it occurs does not bug me, lately I’ve wondered if the homosexual takes on it isn’t simply an outgrowth of the idea that men cannot have close relationships with other men (who are not related by blood) unless there is a homosexual undercurrent.  This reasoning seems to be a bit sexist too me.  Sulu being married to a man and having a daughter didn’t annoy me, though I think I understand why Takei was a bit put off by it.  By having Sulu gay in an alternate universe, it appears to be one is gay because of nurture as opposed to nature, which would dismiss the genetic truth.  Also, why not simply create a fresh homosexual character?  But okay.  The only thing about the new version of Trek I didn’t enjoy was in the first two movies where we had women stripping down to bra and panties because J J wanted to see Uhura and Carol naked.
Source Pinterst
  Funny how that stopped when Pegg and Lin took over.  Additionally, I wasn’t too thrilled about the problems of the Spock/Uhura relationship in the second and third movies.   Why both plot arcs make sense considering what happened to Vulcan, the third movie felt it happening somewhat late, and quite frankly, please don’t make that the only reason why she is there.  To be fair, Pegg and Lin didn’t do this as much, and the inverse of McCoy/Spock discussing Spock’s relationship (twice) instead of Uhura doing with her girlfriends was nice.

                But I do like the Kelvin timeline.

                Star Trek Vols 1-13 is the first series, starting roughly around the time of the first movie and leading up to the third.  The first volume occurs right after the first movie.  Countdown to Darkness take place before the second, Manifest Destiny after the second, and Boldly Go occurs after the third.

                Mike Thompson is a good Star Trek writer, and there is much to love about his exploration of both the series and characters.  In Vols 1-13, there are some drawbacks.  At times, as in most comics, the artwork can be a bit uneven.  At some points, one has the feeling that the story arcs would have been better if given one or two additional issues, and sometimes the alternate takes on the original series plots doesn’t match the original in terms of storytelling.

                However, these flaws are outweighed by the good.  One of Johnson’s strengths is his use of minor/background characters from the film.  We see Darwin (the black women at the helm at some points), we get Keenser’s story, we get a story from Cupcake (you know the red shirt with the beard) about redshirts.
Source Piniterst

 There is a recurring head of security who is a kick ass woman, perhaps a nod to the tragic mistake of TNG killing of Yar.  The background characters are far more racially mixed than those of the series or even the movies. It’s pretty.  There also isn’t much underwear showing or Kirk having sex with aliens.  Women characters are active and not damsels in distress.  Damsels in distress save themselves in this series. (Uhura saves Spock twice!).

                For me, the test of any Star Trek story is the amount of time that the supporting crew is given, largely because they were my favorite characters.  Johnson does give Sulu, Uhura, Scotty, and Chekov more time in the spotlight (Chekhov gets the least).  We are even given their “origins” or their Academy stories – and McCoy’s as well.  At first glance, it looks like Uhura’s story is simply going to be that of her relationship to Spock, but Johnson uses this to go into Uhura’s past, and even refers to this past Boldly Go #9.  It’s cool.  Both Chekhov’s and Sulu are given pasts that show them at the Academy – Chekhov in the desire to fit in, and Sulu as a principled and ambitious character he is.  They also get larger roles in general story lines, with both Sulu and Uhura getting the command chair, and in Sulu’s case leading an away mission.  Sulu’s husband and daughter are also referred to in the Boldly Go series more than once. 

                What I really love is how wonderful Uhura is shown here.  While in some of the stories, she plays a supporting role for Spock, in more she comes into her own.  Johnson also shows repeatedly why linguistics and language are important.  The one flaw is that she is still the only primary female character.  It’s true that in a few issues Carol Marcus appears, but she and Uhura have no interaction, and after a few issues, Marcus disappears.  Galia, Uhura’s roommate from the first movie, pops up again, and the panels that show the friendship she has with Uhura are immensely well done.  Additionally, there is a reference to slut shaming/victim blaming that Galia handles extremely well.  Galia, and her brother Kai, who was working on the Enterprise, get their own storyline.  I wish that they had kept Galia because too often it feels that Uhura is the only woman in a man’s world.

                And this idea does seem to find its way into the Manifest Destiny miniseries where the crew does battle with Klingons – including one of the greatest speeches about Klingons I have ever read.
                Thompson’s favorite playground seems to be alternate realities.  There is a Mirror, Mirror arc that shows the reader the Mirror verse of Kelvin, but also a couple alternate timelines – one where Old Spock arrives in an almost Mirror, Mirror world, one with a sex shift crew (i.e. Captain Jane Kirk), and finally, one involving Q.  The Q storyline is actually damn good, and while Picard makes an appearance, a cameo of sorts, the major guests stars are the characters from the best Trek to ever appear on the tube – DS9.  Honestly, the volume of this arc – the Q Gambit – is a stand out.  It’s worth reading if nothing else.  There is also a special story to celebrate the anniversary.  This story features all the doctors from TV Star Treks in one story.  There is even the best doc ever – Dr. Pulaski.

                The last collection 13 contains an Old Spock story as well as cross over with the original Trek.  In the crossover Thompson plays with not only the different situations that the characters are in, but also why they look different.  It was a nice nod to the differences, not only in a fitter McCoy say, but also differences in design.
             Boldly Go is the follow up to the On-Going.  I found it to be a bit weaker, though this seems to be a result of the temporary diversion of the Enterprise crew while they await the completion of the new Enterprise.  Kirk’s temporary command includes a first officer who is a woman, a strong and capable woman whose decision eventually leads to Sulu taking over the first officer slot.  The characters are good, and Jaylah returns with a bunch of cadets, including a few women who talk to each other.  The stand out issues for me are 9 and 10.  9 features Spock and Uhura on New Vulcan.  It looks at their relationship but the primary story is a mystery only Uhura can solve because of her humanity and her language skills.  Issue 10 concerns Scotty, the cadets, Keenser, and Kevin.  It is really funny.

                What the writers, artists, and the rest of the crew have managed to do is to capture the power of Star Trek that Gene Rodenberry had – the togetherness, the crew coming together, the better world idea that feels so reassuring after recent events.  Rodenberry’s vision of what we could be was so powerful that it stands the test of time.