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Review: 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...

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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