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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 Ed...

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.