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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 ...

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Caves and Horses - Review

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.

                I have never seen the Lascaux Cave paintings, at least not the real ones.  I did see the traveling reconstruction exhibit, which was very cool.  But truth be told, I have never really thought about cave paintings very much, outside of abstract desire to see them.

(from the traveling show. Photo taken by C.Ethier)

                David and Lefrere, however, seem to have spent a significant about of time thinking about cave paintings.  This is a good thing. 

(Cave to scale.  Photo taken by C. Ethier)

                In this short book, it is possible to read this in an hour or so, David and Lefrere make a pretty good case for the cave paintings’ creation – both the how and the why.

                The theory about the why is one of those moments that at first seems so out there but makes such prefect sense when they lay out the details and take the reader along with them on the journey of discovery. 

                I am not entirely sure if I fully believe all the why part of the theory.  While the authors make a very good case, there are too many variables that can be called into account.  The process of how the art made it on to the wall – the “technology”/technique – of the animals on the walls of the cave.

(Reproduction.  Photo C. Ethier)

                The book is very readable because the structure is done in steps.  The reader goes on the journey of discovery with the authors.

Story of Troy Part 3

The next day, the sun came up and saw Achilles’ face.  Helios decided to make way for some clouds.  The Trojans assembled on the plain.  The Greeks lined up.  The battle started.  Achilles mowed his way through people, not really caring whose side they were on.

                Then he saw Hector.

                Hector saw him.

                Achilles charged like a bull, without horns because he didn’t have any.

                Hector ran.  In fact, he fled.  It wasn’t very heroic, but Hector wasn’t dumb.  Would you want to fight a guy who was unbeatable?  Whose skin turned away swords?  I didn’t think so.  And Hector had a wife and child to think about.  He knew what would happen if Troy fell.  Plus, no one had told him about the ankle.  Only certain people knew.

                The Trojans inside the walls of the city were even more frightened.  They slammed the doors shut and refused to open them for Hector because he hadn’t paid them that month.  They had hungry mouths at home too.

                Hector ran around the walls once.  Achilles couldn’t catch him.

                Hector passed Achilles and circled the city a second time.

                Achilles started to pant.  It was hot on the plain.

                Hector passed him a third time.

                Achilles wised up.  He was more brawn than brains after all.  He stopped running.  He leaned on his sword.  He waited.

                Hector ran right in to him.

                It wasn’t a good day for Hector.  Or for his corpse.  When Hector breathed his last, Achilles tied the corpse up to his chariot and pulled it back to the Greek lines.

                Most people considered this a bit over kill.  It was war after all.  Yet, consider.  The heroes had this thing about bodies.  It was kind of trophy hunting.  After all there had been a tug of war over Patroclus’s corpse.  It was a manly thing, fighting over manly remains.  It sounds manly today as opposed to the reality of mourning your dead lover.

                Well, the Trojans were horrified.  That was not cricket.  Tug of war was one thing, dragging a corpse totally another. 

                Andromache fainted. 

                Priam got together all the gold in the city and went to ransom his son’s body.  Why he didn’t use the gold to try to undermine the Greeks to begin?  That would have been the sensible thing to do.  Which is probably why he did not give control of the bank account to Hecuba.

                Priam was lucky because the god Hermes didn’t have anything better to do; he disguised himself as a young boy and accompanied the king, guiding the wagon filled with gold.

                Hermes was tired of all the other gods hogging his glory.  If Hector had bothered to pray to him, Hermes would have lent him his winged sandals and Troy’s greatest hero would still be alive.  But no, nope, nada nothing.  Not even the dregs of wine.  Just cause you floated on wing sandals and without an annoying bow and arrow of love.  People ignored you.  Zeus had sex coming out the wahzoo.  But a messenger boy?  Nada.

                Achilles had propped Hector’s corpse up before a fire and was regaling it with tales of what he and Partoculus had done as young lads.  In great detail.  The only thing missing was the slide pictures with all those vacation photographs that make you want to kill the person who went on vacation.  You know those photos, the same scene from like six different angles.  You might have taken them, but if you are nice person you don’t show them to anyone.

                Luckily for Hector’s corpse, the slide sorter, let alone the camera had not been invented yet. 

                But it was a near thing.  It seemed to the nearest watcher, in this case Odysseus, that Hector’s corpse wore a very pained expression.

                Luckily for Priam, he had pack many gold rings and bracelets in the treasure trove.  Achilles loved a gold bracelet, he especially liked putting them around his ankles.  A good anklet put his heel in a flattering light.   It gave him a warm feeling.  Long story short, Priam got his son back, or at least his corpse, and Achilles got bling. 

                Then there were a whole bunch of funeral games because the Greek invented the wake – at least for famous people or those who knew famous people.  Little people didn’t matter.  Greek fire fodder.

                Shortly after the funeral games and rites were over, the war started back up again because Helen was still there.  Achilles killed many people including Amazons, which distressed him because he didn’t realize they were women.  He thought all women were weavers.  He just thought the Amazons were men with really buff chests. 

                There were nasty rumors about what Achilles did with the corpse, but those were just rumors.  Achilles never really knew that much about women.  He should have left the anklets alone though.

                Paris used the anklet to aim his bow and then boom, Achilles got hit the heel.  He kneeled over dead as the proverbial door nail, though that proverb hadn’t been invented yet.

Anywoo, Paris didn’t have long to celebrate because the Greeks got another archer who had conveniently been left behind by Jason of the Argonauts (the Greeks were always leaving people behind   - women who did good things for them, funny smelling warriors, rowers – when they weren’t “accidently” eating their child).  He shot his poison arrow at Paris who didn’t die right away because it was a poison arrow.  It’s like Shakespeare where everyone has the time to say, “Oops I’m dead”. 

                Helen couldn’t do a thing for him.  She was just good looking.  It was a lot of work to keep those looks up.  So, Paris sent for the nymph he had abandoned when he went after Helen.  Said nymph gave him that look and went back to work.

                Rumors were that she burnt herself on Paris’ funeral pyre.  This is not true.  It was only a story put out by Zeus who believed no man should be condemned for getting some.  In fact, the nymph meet a nice jam maker and became a follower of Hera.

                Did the Trojans do the sensible thing and give Helen back?

                Do politicians ever drain the swamp?

                Helen kept marrying young Trojan royals who kept getting killed in battle shortly afterwards.  Andromache began to get a little concerned because sooner rather than later, Helen would have to marry Hector’s son, who was still a babe in arms. 

                But now the Greeks were getting bored.  Whacking people dead was only fun for so long.  They also had kingdoms to rule, and you can’t really rent them out.

                But what really happened was that Achilles’ son showed up and everyone realized that they had spent far too long in Turkey.  Plus, who knew if Helen still had all her teeth or was still in good, clean working order.

                Odysseus hit upon the idea of a horse.

                And it worked because the Trojans were stupid.  And Helen was tired of hanging out with stupid people.  Don’t believe me, why didn’t Hector know about about Achilles when everyone else did?  Who doesn’t hand over Helen on a platter?

                The Greeks took the city.  Killed many people, but Helen wasn’t one of them.  Melanaus showed up at her bed chamber, ready to kill her.

                She dropped her robe.

                Divine beauty ages really well.  It’s like what Sophia Loren said – you couldn’t handle her naked.

                Menelaus dropped his sword but his other sword went up.

                Agamemnon got Cassandra but he didn’t get to keep her very long because wifey was waiting at home with an axe.  Odysseus took the scenic root home, slept with a few women while his wife kept weaving at home, before showing up in a disguise and killing people, including maids.  He was only allowed to sleep with people.  Then he discovered that his son had ideas about how to run the kingdom and that his wife was old.  So, he left to go back to the scenic route.

                Unlike the other great absentee father, Zeus, Odysseus was killed by the son of one his by the blows.

                And the Trojans, well, let’s not ruin a nice story with too much ugly death.  

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Fictional Fatherhood

(Photo source Librarything)

It is said that Frankenstein is about the horror and despair of giving birth.  Mary Shelley wrote it after a dream she had, a dream that occurred after an evening of ghosts in Geneva.  It also occurred after miscarriage and a death of a child.  Upon reading Mary Shelley’s diaries, one cannot help but think of how she viewed pregnancy with a tinge of fear and perhaps despair, not only because of her own experiences but also because of her own birth.  Yet, for all of its focus on the fear of birth, it is absentee fatherhood or even husband hood that seems the focus.

Mary Shelley by Richard Rothwell.  (Source Wikicommons)

                Mary Shelley (hence MS) ran off with Percy Shelley (hence PS) while he was still married to his first wife, Harriet.    Let’s be clear, he abandoned his wife and two children to run off with Mary.  At one point, he seemed to float the idea of some type of threesome (perhaps foursome) with him as center, but Harriet never bit.  Despite the work of some authors and critics, like Mark Twain, Harriet Shelley never had the good press that MS and PS did.  In all fairness to PS, one should note that the marriage with Mary seems in large part to have been an attempt to gain custody of his children by Harriet, after she committed suicide.  PS was not a faithful husband to his second wife any more than he was to his first.  It is possible (and I think it highly likely) that PS had an affair Claire Claremont, MS’s step-sister.

Percy Shelley.  (Source Shelleyblogspot)

                Frankenstein is about a man who creates life without the aid of a woman and flees in horror, who does not take responsibility for what he has created or done.   Considering the men in MS’s circle this portrayal is hardly surprising.  There was love them and leave them Bryon whose relationships included ones with his half-sister and Claire Clairmont, There was Shelley himself, who never seemed to suffer the same way Mary did when she lost a child.

Byron.  (Source Pinterest)

                Reading MS’ journals one is stuck not so much by the sheer number of pages that have been removed, but by the sheer number of times that PS and Claire go off somewhere while MS is suffering though a pregnancy related illness.  How many time Claire burst into the Shelley’s chambers.  At the very least, it must have been a strange relationship, a fleeing couple taking a third wheel with them, the third wheel that had been used as cover for their relationship.  Then MS to be left behind while PS and Claire went rambling.

Claire Clairmont  (Source wikiversity)

                Did Mary feel something of the abandonment that Harriet must have felt?  MS did resent Claire, she confirmed as much in her lifetime, is this part of the reason why?

                And it is those that the absentee father leaves who bear the cost.  While it is true that Victor’s friend and younger brother are murdered by the monster, his wife Elizabeth and maid/companion Justine are murdered simply because of the actions and inactions of both the monster and Victor.  Victor could have saved Justine if he only spoke up, but he doesn’t.  He could have stopped the tragedy if he had taken responsibility for his actions, had ever tried to right his mistake.  He possess an inability to shoulder any part of the blame or to act to stop the unfolding events.

                And that makes him a far different monster than the one he creates.

                And one wonders, one must wonder, if there is a bit of PS and Harriet in Victor and his monster.  PS marrying Harriet in part to “save and educate” her, in part to shove it in his father’s face.  Then losing interest in both wife and children, leaving them for a younger girl.  There is no one cause for suicide, but surely PS’s treatment of Harriet must have contributed something.

                Even as we condemn the monster for his actions, we feel pity for him.

                Perhaps the novel is also a bit of a dig at her father and is remarriage after the death of Mary Wollstonecraft.  Godwin remarried in 1801 (Wollstonecraft died in 1797) and prior to that he had left the young MS and her half-sister Fanny in the care of a friend.  Victor does nothing for his son and yet seeks to have another second family with Elizabeth much like Percy leaving Harriet, or William Godwin marrying a woman with two children.  Is the suicide of her half-sister, Fanny Imlay, also present in the story?  It is unclear.  But one could argue that Imlay was abandoned by her family in an emotional sense at the least.

Fanny Imlay  (Source Who fix)

                Reading this novel, it is hard not see it as anything but condemnation of a men who father children, who marry and then leave, abandoning the women and children but also leaving them with the hard work.  Then perhaps, returning and upset at the way things have turned out.  Even at the beginning of science fiction, even before the genre had a name, Shelley was showing us what it could be.  It puts the Sad and Rabid puppies to shame, doesn’t it?

Frankenstein by Bernie Wrightson (Source tumblr)

Villa Diodati supposed where MS thought of the novel
(Source wikiepedia)

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Elephant and Macaw Banner 1-3 - Review (Spoiler warning)

The Elephant and Macaw Banner series is written by Christopher Kastensmidt.  I picked up the first three volumes in the series when they were offered as Kindle freebies.  The first three volumes - The Fortuitous Meeting, A Parlous Battle and The Discommodius Wedding - detail the beginnings of a series of adventures of two men - Gerard Van Oost and the warrior Oludara.  By the second book, the adventures are joined by a woman, a native of Brazil, named Arany.  The setting is a Brazil during the time of the Portgeuse arrival/conquest, but it is an alternate reality, a historical fantasy, for the adventuring men must battle and face monsters and gods.

The first three installments (each averaging around 40 pages) are pretty good.  Is it the best fantasy I have ever read?  Well no, but the idea is interesting, there has been editing, and the characters are likable and believable.

Gerard has a problem; he wants to explore and make a forture; however, no company will have him because he is Dutch and Protestant.  Additionally, while his heart does seem to be in the right place, he isn't the sharpest sword in the armory.  Fortunately, he runs into Oludara, a warrior from Africa, who has been sold into slavery.  Oludara is a Yoruba, a ethnic group from the area of today's Nigeria and Benin.  Because Oludara has the intelligence to answer a question of stragedy, Gerard determines to free him (by buying him and then freeeing him) and to do earn the large amount of needed money, Gerard must see Sacy-Perey, a Brazilan prankster god/creature.  He's like Loki, but younger, darker, nicer, and missing a leg.

The second and third volumes find Gerard and Oludara interacting with the Tupinamba people and eventually becoming part of the tribe.  While the interact of Gerard with the native tribes might be a bit too modern for it to be truly historically accurate, the books do have a clear eye to detail about the culture as well as poking fun at what the Europeans think of the Tupinambas.   The series is quite fun in the terms of the use of legends and myths of Brazil.  

The only false note is in the first volume when Gerard buys Oludara.  Oludara does sound out Gerard, making sure of the man who buys him and that is not the false note.  Oludara was only one of many men brought on a slave ship to be sold to millers and sugar farmers.  When Gerard asks Oludara if any of the other slaves are family, the Yoruba answers no, and once Gerard says, basically, that's good because he couldn't afford to pull the others.  I can understand why Kastensmidt does this - he wants to answer the question that most readers are wondering - what about the rest.  It also shows Gerard in a good light (though Kastensmidt does not make me too modern as seen in the other installments).  Yet, Oludara's disregarding of the other men rings false - would this really be his reaction, especially considering his reactions in the other volumes?  It just felt like there should be more here.  It was too simply done.  It felt off, as if Oludara would have tried something more.  

But Oludara is the star, he is the central.  He isn't simply the wise black friend who the white guy seeks advice from.  He isn't the moral speaker.  In the first volume, it looks like it might be the case, but in 2 and 3, Oludara is central stage.  He is the one who gets the love interest while Gerard simply plays the best friend, the second fiddle.  

Which is kinda nice.

(Photo Source Goodreads)

One of those books you should read

When I brought this book, I was expecting something along the lines of Fatima Merissini. This book is not that.(Phot

(Photo Source Goodreads)

What this book is a chronicle of a family life in Parkisten after Partition, Zakaria’s family moved to Pakistan because of the anti-Muslim climate of India. Zakaria’s family history, in particular, that of her childless aunt whose husband takes a second wife. The personal conflict in the family is also shown in contrast to the unfolding political and societal drama, as Pakistan’s government tightens control over women.

In many ways, Zakaria’s story is like Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, and considering that Atwood’s novel doe draw on real events and rules that have been applied to women, this should not come as that much of a surprise. After all haven’t you seen the photo of a bunch of old white guys deciding that maternity care is not essential for health? Haven’t you read about the anti-abortion bill that was signed by a white man surrounded by white men? Haven’t you heard of the Saudi Girls council with just men? The Russian loosening of spousal abuse laws? How about the women leaving Saudi Arabia because of the constraining laws? The various Texas bills and laws concerning abortion? The lawmaker who referred to women as a host for the baby? The fact that in many countries young girls can legally be married to older men? 

So yeah, The Handmaid’s Tale is real, and this book really proves it. 

Unlike Atwood’s fact based dystopia, Zakaria memoir showcases the erosion of rights and standing as a woman actually becomes a leader of the country. The trials and tribulations that the women endure might not be common to all at least on the face, but at the root? At the root, it is. 

But the memoir isn’t just concerned with Pakistani politics, but also with the effect of international politics on the ordinary Pakistani citizen. (I for one wish I had read this prior to reading A Golden Age). It is non-linear, so it will put some people off, but if you give yourself over to the voice, it is like you are having a cup of tea with the author.

Spooky Ghost Stories

 Ashley's book is a collection of various haunted places in the US.  In terms of her other books, this one deals with places that were not covered there.  There is a nice selection of places and buildings.

Foster book is short, but moves outside of the United States.  There are some typos, but the story telling is pretty good.

While Fisher's book is short on storytelling, it is a good factual resource for the buildings.

Hair is a Personal thing you Idiots!

(Photo Source Goodreads)

In the sake of fairness, I should note that like Robinson, I think Lisa Bonet is the da bomb. I always loved Denise best, mostly because she was the oldest girl who was regularly on the Cosby Show. However, I do think it is interesting that Robinson slights as proof as Bonet's awesome ablitiy her husbands (Lennie Kratvitz and Jason Moma). Not that I blame her, and not that I am innocent of doing it. Perhaps that itself is proof about why feminism is so needed today.

The best essays in this collection are the ones about hair, hence the title. As a white person, I never knew people asked African Americans if they could touch the woman's hair - it never occured to me that any such request was anything other than rude. But when I started teaching, I did learn about the rude behavior.

Robinson's essays on hair are also about why women style thier hair (and some of these points are true for any woman). It balances nicely Chris Rock's movie about hair. I wish this had been out about two years ago when a student of mine wrote her research paper about the issue. I would love to know what the student thought of this book.

The most compelling essay outside of the hair is about Robinson's experience on television or attempting to audtion for roles. 

The pop culture tone of the book can wear a little thin. There are almost too many jokes.  Still, everyone should read this book.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Free on Kindle - US (3/14/2017)

House of Rejoicing by Libbie Hawker

This is a good book.  Hawker takes the Amara Period.

Sea Monsters a History by Charles River Editors

Buckingham Palace by Charles River Editors

In the US at least.  Do not know for how long.

(Photo Sources Goodreads)

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Harry Potter and Muggles

While I was not the targeted audience for Harry Potter when it was first released, I did eventually read the books, and one of my fondest memories is sitting outside the local coffee shop with two friends discussing horauxes.  Yet, I always felt some disquiet or something off when reading Harry Potter.  Part of it had to do with Hermione, but that wasn’t the real reason. 

(Bing Images)

  I could never really but my finger on it.  And then I realized that while Harry Potter starts as an outsider, the true outsiders of the book are the readers.

                In fact, this is true for many books.  Yet with Potter it means something different.  Harry, Ron, and Hermione work in part because they start as outsiders, as the un-cools, though as the series progresses that status shifts, as it must be considering what happens in each book.  Ron does, however, function as the least of the trilogy and thereby a latch key to the group.  But in the realm of the book, the readers are muggles, and muggles are really not that important, to anyone.

                Yes, anyone.

                Even those wizards that come from muggle families seem to have a lack of interest.  Reading the back stories of some characters such as McGonagall or Remus, one learns that those wizards who are part muggle are far more common.  Yet, Hermione seems to be the one character who exhibits any influenced by muggle society and this in her desire to free the house elves.   The view of most of the wizarding world is that muggles are to be tolerated and sometimes they come up with something good – such as a train – but otherwise just pat them on the head and keep them out of the business.  Perhaps the most disturbing story of muggles in the Harry Potter universe has to do with the development of the train to Hogwarts, built by muggles who had their memories wiped – perhaps unpaid muggles who also would have lost wages, at the very least tax money would have been used.  It is hardly surprising, considering this, that Voldemort had so many recruiters.

                Even Dumbledore is less than stellar here for look at his treatment of Petunia.  Actually, I really am starting to feel sorry for her.  It is awful to be the other sibling of a much beloved person.  And Petunia lacked magic, she wasn’t special in anyway.  Lily may have been sweet, but that doesn’t remove the treatment of parents, of almost indifference that Dumbledore shows – because surely Petunia can’t have been the only non-magical sibling ever.  Dumbledore’s letter, while an attempt to be kind, no doubt rubbed salt in the wound.  Then years later, imagine being made responsible for your nephew, who someone tried to kill.  This doesn’t justify her treatment of Potter, but she is at least worth feeling sorry for.

(Evans Sisters by Wishing On A Star.  Wattpad)

                The reader is a muggle and in most cases, at some point, in the re-reading of Potter, the reader will wonder what would be their life in the world.  Undoubtedly most of these musings have an owl appear in them, but as the reader ages, perhaps this changes.  While we still want to be Harry, Ron or, especially, Hermione, but a sneakily suspicions dawns that we might be a young and not mean Petunia.  It is hard not to take the slights to muggles in the book just in passing.  The outsider status is still there.  The wizards look less cool and more like holier than thou idiots – honesty, if the wizards are secret what could be the reason for that – hmm – they lost a war against muggles, perhaps.  Give a person a frying pan, hit wizard, break wand, war won.  Right?  Of course, there are larger questions – like what would a wizard do during a war, considering house elves would wizards side with the Confederacy?  What about the Holocaust?  What does it say about wizard morality if they didn’t get involved in the Holocaust?  These are heavy questions and not many, if any, readers are going to ask them

                But the reader is still a muggle, is still an outsider.

                And that is brilliant.

                Whether intentionally or not, Rowling highlights the importance of representation in books.  It’s truly the Potter books are largely white with most of the major actors being male.  This is something that she breaks in her Causal Vacancy (her best work, btw), and something that for all its wrongness Cursed Child also did.  And Vacancy too is about being an outsider in the real world, of being too different, of being the other, of being the outsider because of the family, of color, of size, of class.  Harry Potter puts the reader in the position of other – any reader, really. 

                Because of this, it is a hint, only a hint, the barest hint, of what it would be like to constantly read (or see for that matter) stories where what the reader is always secondary, if present at all.  So even if Harry Potter isn’t perfect in terms of representation, it still contributes to the conversation in a vital way.  That is true magic of Rowling’s work.

(Two Great Witches - Source BBC America)

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Story of Troy Part 2

Part one is here.

Anyhow, somehow in a long-convoluted way that isn’t very important and happens again and again in stories, Paris discovers who he is and is accepted back into the royal family of Troy, despite Cassandra suggesting that they kill him.  Who wants to listen to a girl after all?  Especially a blonde one with big boobs?  Then because after all, who makes a better ambassador than an uneducated shepherd, Paris was sent by Priam to Sparta.

                The second, the Nano-second, that Helen and Paris set eyes on each other it was “WOOHOO!  EIGHT PACK!  Hot MAMA!  Whoa Baby!  I need me some of that honey.”

                Which means, of course, that Menelaus didn’t notice anything.

                Menelaus was so clueless that he actually went on a “business trip” for a few days.  When he got back, he was missing a couple things.

                They were, in no particular order:
1.       Helen
2.       Most of his treasury

Helen had left him something – his daughter Hermione, who kept pointing in the direction her mother and Paris had gone.  Like any younger sibling, Menelaus went running to his bigger, stronger, meaner older brother to deal with those bullies the Trojans.  Agamemnon said, “What up bro?” and Menelaus told him.

                So, the Greeks started to get a posse together and discovered they were missing two people.  The first was Odysseus so the oldest king Nestor (he had fake teeth made from peacock teeth) went to go get him.  Odysseus was so mad, said Penelope from her loom, that he was trying to plow rocks.  Nestor, who was not related to the Long-Eared Donkey who shows up in Christmas Specials, took Odysseus’s son Telemachus and put him in front of Odysseus’s plow.  Odysseus stopped plowing thereby proving that he wasn’t mad.

                Penelope slapped Nestor upside the head for being a smart ass.

                The other person the Greeks were missing was Achilles, the greatest Greek warrior, even though he hadn’t done any real fighting yet and hadn’t been old enough to marry Helen at the time.  He was to take the place of his dad who was too old.  Now, Achilles’ mother Thetis was foretold to give birth to a son who would be greater than his father, so Zeus didn’t want to sleep with her.  Makes one wonder why more women didn’t try this method of birth control.   Thetis ended up marrying a human king. In fact, this was the wedding that Discord crashed.  Greek stories have a funny sense of time.  I think they all knew Dr. Who or the Master.  Anyway, Thetis loved her son and dipped him in the River Styx when he was a baby.  Most of him, just not the bit of the heel she was holding, and she had been schooled not to double dip.  This christening as it were, made all of him except that bit of heel invincible.

                So of course, he never put concrete around that bit of heel.  He even wore sandals.  Sandals, I ask you.  Men.

                Now Achilles might be a beefcake with a little brain, but despite her flaws, his mother had part of one.  She knew that it was foretold that her son would win great fame but die in Troy, and like any mother she didn’t want this to happen.  Therefore, like any mother, she dressed him up like a girl and hide him at a court of someone else because no one ever thinks to look there.  Mel Brooks’ History of the World hadn’t been invented yet, after all.  The disguise couldn’t have been that good because he got one of the court ladies knocked up.  Anyway Odysseus, the crafty bugger, showed up and threw a bunch of goods on the ground.  These included fabric and a sword.  Achilles picked up the sword, Odysseus said got you.  Achilles shrugged and wondered why his beard wasn’t a giveaway.

                But now there were other problems.  The Greeks assembled quickly, but discovered that there wasn’t any wind.  And no one could fart enough to get the ships to go across the sea.  A soothsayer said that a noble princess must be sacrificed to insure the wind and everyone looked toward Agamemnon.

                “What?” He demanded, and then conceded that okay, fine, he would sacrifice one of his daughters, after all he had two.  So, Aggie sent a letter to his wife, telling her that he had arranged a marriage with his eldest daughter Iphengia to Achilles.  Clemmie, short for Clymmentstra, screamed yes and jumped up and down in joy.  Her daughter was marrying the most eligible bachelor in Greece, and she hadn’t even had to go on that television show or take a naked selfie.  She got together a great wedding party.  Penghu, on the other, took down her posters of the great poet Homer and put up ones of Achilles.  She liked the dresses, at least.

                IT didn’t take long for the ladies to arrive and then Iphengia was quickly seized and sacrifices to the gods.  (Or Artemis saved her at the last moment.  Whichever you prefer).  Aggie said, “Just kidding sweetums.”  Clemmie left swearing, “I’ll get you and your little dog too.”
                Aggie really should have listened.

                Anyhow, the Greeks sailed to Troy.  I’m really not sure what they ate on the way.  But they got there.

                The Trojans were not happy to see them.  But the men in Troy were manly men and didn’t listen to the women who suggested that they bake Helen in a cake and send it to the Greeks. 

                There was lots of fighting, which meant there was lots of dying of little people that no one really cares about because they only ones who get good press are the heroes.  Who cares about the guy with the squint who didn’t dodged the arrow?  He only has six children.

                All that fighting made the gods a bit bored.  Which meant they got picky and touchy and don’t piss me offy.  See, Apollo had a temple, you would think from the way he kept acting about it that it was his only temple, but it wasn’t.  The Greeks lay waste to the temple – this means they ate all the food, drank all the booze, killed all the men who couldn’t escape, and took the women as slaves.  One of these slaves was a woman whose father was a priest of Apollo, and unlike some men I could mention, this dad was a good dad.  He wanted to save his daughter.

                This is best explained by the fact that he was not a priest of Zeus.
                This priest got together as much wealth as he could find and sent it to Agamemnon as a ransom for his daughter.  But the great leader Aggie declared that really didn’t any more tripods and horses.  He was a high king, thank you very much.  What he didn’t have, he went on, was a lovely young woman with pillow like breasts and the inability to speak.  Well, that was he didn’t have her until he took the priest’s daughter.  He really didn’t want to make a return, thank you. 

                The priest snorted.  There was a reason he was a priest and not a warrior.  Gods were nasty when they were pissed off.  The priest prayed to Apollo who visited plague upon the Greeks.  After all, he didn’t like the Greeks, so really, he just needed an excuse, and this priest was a good priest.  The Greeks started dying like flies.  Actually, not like flies – flies are beggar all hard to kill.

                Now, it’s important to note that no one famous was killed by the plague of arrows, but the kings were getting snarky.  No one likes it when your chef gets shot in the chest and dies in the stew.  It becomes messy.  Aggie was not happy at all.  First, he had to sacrifice his daughter, and now the kings wanted him to give back his soft pillow.  And why was Achilles sticking out his tongue?  Stupid beefcake warrior.  What was the use of being high king, Aggie thought, if all you got to keep was tripods?   And now Menelaus was whining.  Aggie sighed and gave his pillow back to the pillow’s father.

                Then Achilles stuck out his tongue once too many times at the high king.  Right, Aggie declared, “that cuts it.  Since you don’t like women anyway, give me your womanly pillow!”

                Achilles was not too thrilled about this.  It was true that he preferred to share a bedroll with his man Patroclus, but that didn’t mean he didn’t have a use for women.  He had to have a son somehow, and the gods weren’t listening to his request to get Patulous pregnant.  In fact, his mother just looked at him strangely.  

                No one bothered to ask the women what they wanted.  That wasn’t important.  They were little more than pillows.  Just remember never to give them a dagger and all would be well, if you were a man.

                Achilles decide to go on strike and sulk.  After all, it always worked with his mother, it should work with King Aggie too.

                It didn’t really.

                At first the Greeks didn’t care much.  Achilles might be able to cleave a piece of wood in two, but you always had to explain everything to him.  Where did the sun go?  Why is it dark?  What is that red stuff?  It was like fighting two battles.

                The Trojans on the other hand were absolutely thrilled.  No Achilles! They each rushed to be the first into battle.

                It wasn’t a good day to be a Greek.

                It wasn’t a good few days to be a Greek.  The Greeks started to care.  It wasn’t, some of them realized, that Achilles was such a great fighter, but more that his reputation allowed the others breathing space.  Mumbling began to start behind Aggie’s back. 

                Again.  At this point, Aggie was more than willing to chuck being leader.  It seems to be nothing but headache after headache.  Ruling was overrated.  His wife, however, had never been much of a pillow.

                One day, the Greeks were badly routed.  They fled screaming from the Trojans who were raining fire and brimstone on them.  Maybe not the brimstone, more like flaming arrows and whatnot.  Maybe Greek Fire.  Did the ancient Greeks have Greek fire?    Well, if they did the Trojans were using it.  And flaming poo.  Flaming poo always grosses people out.  The only thing new about the dog poo in brown bags was the brown bags.

                Achilles saw the fleeing Greeks and smiled.  Not so much in pleasure, but that self-righteous, I told you so type of smile.  You know that teacher caught the student cheating type of a smile.   He began to make bets in his mind.  If an arrow gets that solider there, I will do pushups.  He was about to share this idea with his buddy, pal, mate or just platonic friend Patroclus.   When the man in question, jumped up from his couch in angry and began storming about the tent.

                At this rate, Achilles thought, he should just get himself a wife.  Women made less noise.

                “You’re just going to sit there eating grapes and olives?” Patroclus demanded. 

                Achilles nodded.  He couldn’t very well eat popcorn as it was still in North America at this time.  Undoubtedly some Europeans would claim that it hadn’t been invented yet, but that is very Eurocentric. 

                Patroclus snorted in disgust.  “You should have stayed with the women,” he mumbled before leaving the tent.  Achilles signed.  He had learned that sometimes it was just best to let Patroclus rage a bit before beating it out of him in a wrestling match.

                He really should have followed him.

                Patroclus stole Achilles armor and went down to rally the Greeks.  Everyone thought it was Achilles because it never occurred to anyone that Patroclus would pretend to be the other man. He never did anything without Achilles.  He always stood in Achilles’ shadow and let the stupid strong man do the hard work while offering critiques about sword swings.

                Those who can, do; those who can’t, offer constructive criticism. 

                This was something that Hector, prince of the Trojans, remembered all too well.  Now, Hector wasn’t the strongest, he wasn’t the child of a nymph, and he fathered children who aged very slowly for some reason.  But at heart, he was a good man because he was strangely, the only Trojan, or even Greek for that matter who was faithful to his wife.

                That’s an important to thing to remember because it explains quite a bit about what happens to Hector.

                Hector was watching the battle and he noticed something a bit strange about Achilles (who we know was really Patroclus).  Achilles would bash someone over the head, and then stop looking to see what his soldiers did.  This in and of itself was not too unusual, Achilles was a battle leader after all. But then, Achilles would shout out to some nameless solider, let’s say Spiro and point out that he was wielding his sword like a woman making bread, whatever that meant.  It’s okay Hector didn’t know either.

                Hector did know that the man in Achilles’ armor was not, in fact, Achilles.

                And the armor was really shiny.  Incredibly shining.  There was this nice embossed breastplate with two horses on it (but of course, nothing covering the heel.  And why did Achilles need armor after all?).  Hector decide that he wanted the armor, and since it wasn’t Achilles, he figured his chances were pretty good.

                His chances were better than good.

                It was wham, bam, and thank you for the head man.

                The second that Particular’s head fell from his body, the action, on the battle field paused, mostly because Ares, the god of war, had let out a shout of victory – he had thought it was Achilles, you think gods would have known better.

                Perhaps he and Achilles were related.

                What did happen next would not occur again until Ophelia was buried thousands of years down the line. 

                Tug of war with a corpse as a rope.

                Hector didn’t want the corpse, what would he do with it after all, but the armor was another issue. 

                Hector got the armor, the Greeks got the body.

                Achilles was not pleased by Patulous’ death.  He threw the tantrum of all tantrums.  You know the type that a child throws in the story when a parent will not buy a toy. 

                But worse.  Achilles was somewhat divine after all.

                Eventually to stop his temper tantrum, Aggie sent back the girl, his mother got him new armor, and he was given a birthday cake even though his birthday wasn’t for months.

                But did that make everything better?  Nope.  Achilles wanted his best buddy back, his bedroll mate, his course friend of no relation.  Who cares that they had attacked the Trojans for no good reason?  Who cares that it was a war?  Achilles wanted Hector chopped into little teeny pieces.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Graphic Novel Retelling, not Disney

(Photo Source Goodreads)

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.

                “The Little Mermaid” is, perhaps, one of Anderson’s most well-known tales, though most people I would wager, do not know the source material and cling to the Disney version.  The duo of Metaphrog does not do Disney.

                Which is a good thing.

                Anderson’s tale left me conflicted when I re-read it as an adult, leaves me conflicted whenever I read it know.  It isn’t the stepping on knives bit; it’s how the prince treats the mermaid.  She sleeps at the foot of his bed, he pets her, she is his dog – faithful to the end.  But in fairness to the prince, it isn’t that the mermaid wants him; she really wants a soul.  He is a way to gain a story.  The whole relationship is strange, yet the mermaid succeeds to a degree because she has more of the “Christian virtues” that the prince should have.

                In some ways, this excellent adaption of the story shies away from those issues.  The Little Mermaid here is in love with the prince (and perhaps legs).  The adaption’s ending is faithful to the choice that Anderson’s character makes. Yet, the image is subtly different for the choice occurs before the wedding.  Despite the use of legs, including slit dresses, Metaphrog seem to have tamped down the sexual elements of the story as well as the idea of a soul -the term immortal is used instead, which means the original mermaid might not have had a problem with that. 

                Those issues aside there is much to love in this.  The artwork – blues and greens – is wonderful.  The paneling of the story is  great.  There are people of color, though the two central characters are white.  The Sea Witch is not an Ursula type and comes across as a helper.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Out in May

(Photo source Goodreads)

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

                It is impossible for me to dislike any book that has a badger/hedgehog crossbred as a character.  I just can’t.  I want Crust.  I want my own Crust now.

                Crimson Volania Mulch resembles in appearance Frankenstein’s Bride.  Her purple hair stands up straight, and she has a put together/rag doll appearance.  But appearance is where that resembles ends, for Crimson is her own rag and bone girl, if she is rag and bone at all, for her past is somewhat mysterious.

                But that is not least of the mysteries.  She finds herself in Assumption Cemetery, a place inhabited by ghosts, a fish monster by the name of Simon, a werewolf by the name of Wisteria Smials, a vampire by the name of Quinton, and the human Parameter Jones, who is a magician.

                And someone keeps leaving her cool presents, like Crust who is a badger/hedgehog with two heads.

                This is a cute first volume, and there is much to like.  There is the friendship that develops between Crimson and Wisteria, which expands to add Parameter (who is a poc, though Simon is green).  The friendship is the best part of the series, for the girls do develop a good friendship without a rivalry, at least so far, for the interest of a boy.  The cover, therefore, with Crimson between two boys is slightly misleading.

                In fact, Crimson’s reaction to Quinton, who is mockery of some other famous vampires, is so wonderful that it does a body good.

                The art is great.  It is somewhat like a darker colored I Hate FairyLand crossed with Funko Pop!

(Photo source Goodreads)

Disclaimer: ARC of the Kindle edition via Netgalley.

                When I mention Holocaust Denial someone always asks how can a denier be so stupid, what could motivate someone to deny something so documented.  I usually counter with, well, you have people who believed slavery really wasn’t that bad; it’s a little like that.  It’s true that such a comment is most likely a facile respond, but it is a hard answer.  The reasons seem to run from a desire to shock to a refusal or need to defend the honor of one’s country to straight forward and outright anti-Semitism (not that you couldn’t say the first two points aren’t).

                One could also argue that the denial was not something that started long after the war was over.  In this book, Tom Bower chronicles the Swiss attempt to keep Nazi gold, stolen from Jewish citizens of various countries.  In some case, the gold was in fact deposited by rightful owners who were killed and whose heirs could not inherit because proper documents were not to be had.

                It is a maddeningly story, even if Bower’s prose is a little dull.  It does call into question how neutral the Swiss were, or how neutrality should be defined.  What is chronicled is one part sleight of hand, one part finical and bureaucratic genius, and one part a lack of gall (on behalf of some of those trying to get access to the gold).

                In some ways, the cynicism exhibited by the Swiss government and banking establishment seems to suggest a refusal not only of compassion but of realities of the Second World War.   A start of denial that might have a grounding in greed or covetous of a monetary gain.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Out May 2

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.  Open Road is doing the kindle edition of this previously released work.

                Ginny has a problem.  It’s a huge problem.  She doesn’t know a great many things.  She lives with her father in a town in Wales, and she is one of the few people of color in the village.  She has never met her Haitian mother from who she inherits artistic skill, talent, and interest.

                In many ways, while not perfect, Ginny’s life is good.  But then, as is always the case in such books, something happens and things change.  In this case, change is brought the visit of a woman, who sparks a desire or allows Ginny to give voice to questions.

                While race is not a huge factor in the novel, it does make an appearance, or several.  And yet this is not a novel about race.  It’s true that Ginny does deal with racism in both a family setting and a societal setting.  It is also true that she is not the only person of color to do so, yet the focus of the book is the mystery that Ginny must solve – the mystery of her past.

                That mystery concerns her much loved father, and that mystery is one that is not dependent on race.

                It sounds strange, perhaps.  But think about, how many mass market teen and pre-teen books with a poc as hero/heroine have a race as a central theme and/or driving plot point?  This book doesn’t ignore race; Ginny is called slurs, she wonders about her sense of self as a poc being raised only by a white father in a white community, and she wonders about art and race.  Yet removal those conversations or change them to reflect a different minority group, and the story is about any teenager and the search for identity.  It’s refreshing really.

                It’s true at some points one feels that Ginny’s mother as passionate outsider is a bit of an over played trope (poc is passionate, white family is passionless), yet Pullman does not go down that tired old road.

                In terms of the mystery that Ginny solves, too say too much about it would give away major spoilers.  Much of the mystery plot does work, and there are one or two places where disbelief does need to be suspended a little.

                And yes, this book does pass the Bechdel test.  Ginny’s best friend is Rhiannon and why they do at times talk about boys, they talk about more.  The two girls have a great and real friendship.  It is one of the charms of the book.  Ginny is not the only good woman/girl in a world of men.  She has female friends and they act female as opposed to men with boobs.

                There are wonderful touches in the book – in particular with Ginny’s interest in art and how it manifests in a variety of ways.   There are some wonderful passages about the scenery and places, in particular Ginny’s kingdom – a passage that details a very real connection to places. 

                Highly recommended.