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Review: If You Give the Puffin a Muffin

If You Give the Puffin a Muffin by Timothy Young My rating: 4 of 5 stars Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley Dear Angry Little...

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Review: If You Give the Puffin a Muffin

If You Give the Puffin a Muffin If You Give the Puffin a Muffin by Timothy Young
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

Dear Angry Little Puffin,

How dare Mr. Young try to feed you a muffin simply because it rhymes with puffin! What is wrong with that man? You raised very good points with the other animals. Well, not the pig, but definitely the cheetah.

I noticed that you broke the fourth wall. Have you thought about, maybe, working with Deadpool? Yes, I know he is far more violent than you are, but I think you two would get along quite well.

Yes, I know that you are for children, and he is for an older crowd, but if he were to have a pet, it would be you.

Seriously, though, ALP, it was awesome how you taught your readers about children’s literature and wall breaking. You also worked in some neat thing about being creative. It’s just a shame you had to be offered a muffin instead of a fish.

Still, it was a very good sequel. Well worth a muffin.

Long live Puffins!!

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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Review: The Piranhas: The Boy Bosses of Naples

The Piranhas: The Boy Bosses of Naples The Piranhas: The Boy Bosses of Naples by Roberto Saviano
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

There is a tendency to romanticize the mob. Whether it is the fault of The Godfather movies or something more else, many people feel a certain affection for the mob. Perhaps it is a sense of loyalty or of family. Who knows? It is mostly a love for violence and mayhem, for instance in Scarface.

But that’s all Hollywood.

There are certain things that buck the trend – say The Wire, which is about drug dealers but also about the culture that allows them to exist and how policing is not the solution. There’s Saviano’s Gomorrah, a book which earned him a target on his back, but that also demolishes any romance for the mob and forces people to confront the truth (this is also true of the movie and tv series that the book produced).

Saviano’s latest mob book, The Piranhas, is one of those novels supposedly based in true events. I’m not sure; I don’t know enough about Italy and the mob to say so.

However, if the fourth season of The Wire is the best because it looks at how a failing school system sets up its students for failure, then Saviano’s book does the same thing for Italy. The story follows a group of boys, led by Nicolas, who want to become Camorra bosses. In part, this is a result of the steady diet of media they consume, and in part, it is because of what they see every day, who controls everything, and how everything in their world works. They can become like some of the fathers, but the boys do not seem to view those men as real men, but as simply weak.

And that something these boys cannot be seen as, for they want to be in the ones in the private room.

What the book then chronicles aren’t the corrupting of the innocent, but how a presence of crime combined with social media and status lead a group of boys to become, not so much men, but young people with guns. The boys can’t be corrupted because that happen long ago, and nothing different is really shown to them. If it isn’t the Camorra controlling something it’s the better neighborhoods or towns controlling something, acting like the Camorra without the official illegality. Even the teachers are in on it, for that is simply life. Those that do not join, simply do not anything really.

It is a bleak novel, a harsh novel, and one without a true hero. The reader cannot root for, isn’t suppose to root for, any of the young boys who despite their bravo are still boys. Still, at times, think the Camorra is simply as it is in the movies (which do make for the truly funny passages of the novel), yet who do have a degree of flare and intelligence needed to pull things off.

Yet, we need novels like this, in the bleakness, because we need to confront what is wrong in society and why we glorify criminals who don’t really have that many redeeming features and whose actions murder innocence and hope. At least we need to, if we want to break the cycle. It is violent but it does not celebrate violence the way that many movies do. No, it is far more personal than that.

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Saturday, June 16, 2018

Review: Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

We like, want, our heroes to be uncompleted, to always be heroic and constant while in the spotlight, and to leave that spotlight before they change politics or ideals. We want to remember Lincoln as the great emancipator not as the man who at one point wanted all freed slaves to return to Africa, a place they had never seen. That ruins the image of martyr Lincoln. We have the same feeling of many of our heroes, including Frederick Douglass.

Who despite what some people think is, in fact, dead. Perhaps the memory of Douglass is doing great things in a symbolical sense, but the actual man is long dust.

For most people, Douglass is the man who escaped slavery and publicly spoke out against it. Some people even confuse him with Henry “Box” Brown. Many students read Douglass either his Autobiography, or perhaps more commonly, the selection detailing his learning to read. The drawback to the commonly used selection is that it is many times the student’s only reading of Douglass, who sometimes some students think is a woman who is having sex with her mistress.

People today have heard of Douglass, but they don’t know of Frederick Douglass.

David W. Blight corrects that in his massive, though it does not read that way, new biography of Douglass.

Perhaps the hardest part of any Douglass biography is the reconstruction of his early life. This isn’t because of a lack of memoirs, but a surfeit of them, including subtle but important differences. Did he ask to be taught or did Sophia Auld teach him because of her own idea? A combination of both perhaps? Blight’s reconstructing of Douglass’s early life makes it clear when there is a question about what happened, where Douglass himself differs or where scholars raise questions. He does not choose sides; he deals with facts and context. A refreshing thing.

It is also something that he uses when dealing with Douglass’s relationship to his first wife Anna Murray, a free black woman who played a central role in Douglass’s escaping slavery. Murray was illiterate, not stupid, but illiterate as common for many people than. She and Douglass married soon after his escape, and they stayed married until her death. She birthed his children, she gave him a home to return to. Sadly, we do not know what she thought about her husband, about his relationship with the white women who would stay at her house, or about his feelings towards her for she is left out of his writing – much of interior family life seems to be. Blight, it seems, is slightly frustrated by this mystery of Anna Murray, and in the beginning, it almost seems like he is being, not condescending or dismissive, but almost shrugging off, not an accurate description but close. As the biography progress, however, you become grateful and happy that Blight does not presume to know what Anna Murray would think. He does suggest authors that try to channel her, but Blight keeps her presence as a real woman, almost shaking his head at Douglass’s silence. It helps that he keeps Douglass’s second wife, Helen Pitts, off page for much of the time as well.

Blight’s depiction of Douglass is within the context of his time and dealing with those who see contradictions and problems in who Douglass was – such as his expansionist tendencies, his view on Native Americans. Blight presents an imperfect human, as all humans are, but presents him with understanding and a feeling of fascination that are easily transmitted to the reader.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Review: Bitten

Bitten Bitten by Kelley Armstrong
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I "discovered" this series returning from Kentucky. My friend and I stopped at a bookstore and three volumes of this series were on the sale table. Those books were 3, 4, and 5 so I didn't read this, the first book, until later.

Bitten was Armstrong's first published book and in some ways, it shows. The writing and pacing could be smoother. There are some bit too repetitious details, and when two characters die, the emotional impact is lacking because while the heroine, Elena, is close to them, the reader has been told this and not shown. It's like "who was that".  And one of the sex scenes is a bit creepy. Secondary characters are not as developed as they will be in later books (this is true about Clay who changes slightly).

But, it is a cut above most Urban Fantasy, and the creepy sex scene is one of the reasons why.

Bitten is about Elena Michaels, the Otherworld's only female werewolf (supposedly. At least the only one anyone knows about). In Armstrong's books, you can become a werewolf by birth, but only if your father was one and if you are male; or you can become a werewolf by getting bitten by one - something that kills most people. This means that the wolves in packs are all males who have sex with women and then take the boy children away.  It's Amazons but Amazon doggie men.

Elena became a werewolf because her boyfriend, in wolf form, nipped her and drew blood (She did not know he was a werewolf at the time). Elena, therefore and with good reason, blames her boyfriend, Clay, for her change in life. What makes it worse is the question of whether it was intentional or not. At the start of the book, Elena has left the pack, mostly because of her anger and conflicted feelings, and lives in Toronto. She has a human job and boyfriend. She gets along well with his family. The late night walks need some excuses, but so far so good. She gets called back when dead bodies get left on pack land. Needless to say, this causes issues.

The creepy sex scene occurs when Clay loosely binds her arms. He points out that if Elena says no, he will stop. The way Clay is drawn by Armstrong as well as the sitution make it quite clear that this is true. Elena doesn't say no, but the whole binding her arms without permission is a bit well . . creepy. Clay is also a bit pushy. He borders on stalkish. He never followed her to Toronto, but he does invade her space. He's charming but a bit much. You can understand the attraction, but like Elena, you are conflicted.

Or you should be.

Many reviews of this book and the second in series, say that Elena was too tough on Clay, that she needs to get over it. But, I think that is the point. What would you do if the man you loved and thought you were going to marry, changed your life by making you something other than you were? You have to give up everything - the job you wanted, the life you wanted. You become stronger and special, but also bloodthirsty. And if the bite was intentional? Too often in Urban Romance the romantic lead does something suspect to the heroine - think Jean Claude who forces Anita Blake to date him by threatening to kill her boyfriend. How is that charming? It's not.  The stalkerish tendacy of vampire boyfriends who also "want to suck your blood".  To be fair, it isn't just UF (stares at Fifty Shades of Grey).  It seems that Armstrong is trying to explore a complicted issue. To be fair, I think she doesn't pull off entirely, but at least she is trying to explore those issues of consent and stalking that other Urban Fantasy takes as a trophe of romance.

Elena is a fresh breath not just because of her confliced feelings (which are beautifully illustrated and totally human) but because she is realstic about her looks. She is wanted by other werewolves not because she is stunning (she's not) but because she is the only female wolf and to male werewolves she smells like heat. She is insecure and messy. She tries her best, but is far from perfect. And when characters call her upon her behavior, she, like most of us, gets defensive but then thinks about it.

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Wednesday, June 6, 2018


Almost every culture has its Cinderella.  The basic story is the same – girl loses mother, gains a stepmother and stepsisters who hate her, and finally wins the prince.  In some versions, the father is still alive and his lack of involvement beggars the question on so many levels, but the father isn’t the point.  “Cinderella” is part wish fulfillment – who wouldn’t want to go from a life of drudgery to being waited on -  and part respect your dead because that is what good girls do.  After all, it is usually Cinderella’s faithfulness to her dead mother in actually or spirit that leads to her gaining the gifts.  Even if the gift figure is something like a cow, fish, or lioness, there is usually a connection between the helper and the dead mother.  In many versions, Cinderella is the one who is always mourning; the ashes in her English name tell us this.  There are other variants.  There use to be a male version, but that didn’t seem to take.  There are the Donkeyskin/Catskin versions where the Cinderella figure first escapes her father who wants to marry her.  She travels to a neighboring kingdom where she lives and sometimes works in a disguise until the ball and the prince.  In these versions, it isn’t always a shoe, but the idea is still there.

Additionally, there thousands of update and modern retellings.  There is the older Disney version with its 1950s sensibility, there is the Brandy version with its diverse cast.  

  1.  “Cinderelephant” by Jane Yolen.  This short story appears in Wolf at the Door edited by Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow.  It is not about an elephant, though that would have been awesome.  Instead, it is about a fat girl who likes birds and a prince who likes birds.
  2.   “Cinderella” by Roald Dahl.  This poem appears in Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes.  While the “Red Riding Hood” sequence is pretty stellar, Dahl’s “Cinderella” is a tale about why you might not want to marry a prince who can’t remember what you look like.  There is pretty of blood, booze, and jam.
  3.    The Coachman Rat by Henry David Wilson.  Wilson’s book isn’t about Cinderella herself, but about one of those rats that got changed into coachmen and what happened after.  It is a dark tale, but the question of what if, and what then that it answers are quite interesting.
  4. Beauty by Sheri S. Tepper.  Tepper’s novel isn’t a straight Cinderella story either.  In fact, it is merging of Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Cinderella in time travel story.  Tepper looks at the roles that women are forced to play in the tales.
  5. The Princess novels by Jim C Hines.  The first book in this four-book series is the Stepsister Scheme and borrows the fairy tale theme of the step-sisters trying to take revenge on Cinderella.  However, Hines’ Cinderella is part of a Charlie’s Angels group of princesses who kick ass.  Incidentally, she also wields a glass sword and is a mother.  Hines’ book stands out for its inclusion of women getting butt, drawing on fairy tales, and the whole bit of mothers actually doing heroic shit that doesn’t include babies.
  6. The Cinderella Curse by J L Penn.  IN this novella Cindy has a problem – she turns into a pumpkin.  She also isn’t your normal Cinderella.  She is a bit too clothes focused, yet it is one few Cinderella variations where Cinderella has female friends.  It’s a fun read.
  7.   A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  While this classic novel has a Cinderella, it does not end in marriage but of a young orphan finding a home.  Yet Sara Crewe is a Cinderella, exceeding because despite the drudgery she is still a true princess in behavior.
  8.  Ash by Malinda Lo.  The lesbian Cinderella story you didn’t know you wanted or needed until you read it, and you realize that it makes life more wonderful.
  9. Masquerade by Susanne Alleyn.  This short story is a very unique take on Cinderella.  It is also about revenge.
  10.  Indexing by Seann McGuire – While Cinderella isn’t a central character in McGuire’s Indexing series, the kindle serial is an interesting play on the Arne-Thompson Index and the people who struggle to protect the world from it.
  11. White Lotus by Libbie Hawker – Hawker’s story is an adaption of an Egyptian version of Cinderella.
  12. And just in case you have been living under a rock – Cinder by Marissa Meyer.  It is the first book in the Lunar Chronicles and presents a Cinderella who is anything but a house cleaner.
  13.  Confessions of Queen Cinderella by Anton Hur.  A Cinderella that is set in the time of Elizabeth I and is somewhat like a fairy tale Mary Queen of Scots.
  14. Ella by Caroline Lee – This is part of Lee’s Everland Ever After series which are Western romances, each based on a fairy tale.  While the characters make guest appearances, you don’t need to read the books in order.  While there are pretty of lustful thoughts, there is no sex, and insta love seems to be the theme.  That said, in this version of Cinderella, Lee does take an interesting spin – the slipper is totally changed, for instance.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Review: C*cky Author

C*cky Author C*cky Author by Fettucine Holliday
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In case you do not know, there is this thing called #cockgate because the author of a book series with titles likeCocky Rockstar: Gabriel Cocker copyrighted the word cocky because her readers where getting confused (supposedly. I have my doubts about this). Anywhoo, she copyrighted the word cocky (so apparently I'm going to get served for using it) and started sending out emails to authors telling them to stop using cocky in the title or else face a lawsuit.

Needless to say, she is an indie and is targetting other indies.

This book is, hopefully, not buy her because it is a parody of the whole thing. And friggin funny. Honesty, the author's bio cracked me up. Fettucine Holliday (without the cheese sauce) mocks all those really bad romance books as well as *cocky and it is quite fun how many times she/he/it/they works in the words including the c-o-c-k.

Look, I don't read much romance. In fact, usually I aim for bad romance because the misspellings make me feel superior. But I know plently of other readers who do and plently writers who write. Both groups have my respect, even if the genre is not one my favorites. This copyrighting of a word that is commonly used in romance is dumb and insulting. I picked this up because it seemed a way to help those authors being targeted by the bad one. And it does, procceds will go to a defense fund if needed, and the book is a hoot. I mean, it's 2.99 and you can read it in like 20 minutes or less, but man, 2.99 is cheap when you keep laughing as much as you do.

Just don't be drinking something when reading. It will go out your nose. Just saying.

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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Review: Grandghost: A Haunted House Mystery

Grandghost: A Haunted House Mystery Grandghost: A Haunted House Mystery by Nancy Springer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.

Beverly is not Mrs. Fletcher. This is not Cabot Cove. The dead body isn’t freshly dead.

Needless to say, Beverly is not having a good day. She isn’t sure about her income and then there is a skeleton in her backyard.

Springer’s mystery isn’t so much a mystery as opposed to a novel about family, community, and belief. It is about how first impressions can be both wrong and right, as well as defining what family is.

It should be noted that the mystery does deal with child abuse.

The story also deals with how society views older women, in particular those who are not traditional, and how much of the time they are written off as crazy cranks.

It is refreshing book too because the central characters are all women who are not discussing boyfriends or husbands. They are not in competition with each other, and, at the very least, they respect each other. This more than makes up for the somewhat obvious mystery of the skeleton as well as the low key creepy factor.

The use of art in the book is well done. Not only in the terms of it being Beverly’s chosen profession but also in the lives of her daughters. Her daughters are one of the best things about the book, concerned but not bitchy. What Springer gives us is a family, a true family with squabbles, but those of all families.

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Sunday, May 13, 2018

Review: Cold Bayou: A Historical Mystery Set in New Orleans

Cold Bayou: A Historical Mystery Set in New Orleans Cold Bayou: A Historical Mystery Set in New Orleans by Barbara Hambly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: Arc via Severn Publishers and Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

In part, a book’s popularity determines whether or not it will be adapted to film or television. I get this. But sometimes, I look at all the shows that make into production and wonder why. Then I wonder why, no one has made a mystery series out of the Benjamin January novels. The first one was published in 1997. The series has staying power. So seriously, Hollywood, wake up!

This installment finds Ben, Rose, his mother and sister traveling to a plantation outside of New Orleans to attend the wedding of a rich Veryl St-Chinian to a far less rich and less pure Miss Ellie Trask. Needless to say, the rich man’s family is rather put out about this low case Irish wench weaseling her way into the old rich boy’s heart.

It’s a plot that has been use in one way or another since well, whenever. But Ben isn’t in Martin Chuzzlewit. Before the dead body is discovered, the January family’s freedom is at risk, so Ben finds himself fighting to prove his innocence of murder as well as to keep his family free.

Hambly’s series works because she captures a New Orleans after the purchase but before the Civil War, when American were slowly, perhaps, changing the way the society of New Orleans as well as the laws work. Ben and his family view this though the gaze of freed slaves (his mother, he, and his sister were freed. His second sister is mistress to one of Viellard family, who are related to the St-Chinian family). Everything about Ben’s life is affected by his skin color and status, he is trained as a doctor but cannot work as one, so instead is a musician. One sister is a voodoo priestess who does not speak to their mother, who secured the family’s freedom by drawing the interest of a rich white man. The strain between mother and oldest daughter is tied to sex and behavior among whites. Ben’s wife, Rose, is a mixed race woman who runs a school for mixed race girls. His sister’s relationship with her protector is conducted with the knowledge that they cannot marry and that their daughter will always be viewed as secondary, if that.

Hambly tackles the issue of shade of skin color as well – not only within the January family- but also with those that they know. Power and status are important to not only the whites who inhabit the story but to the blacks and at great cost, for freed slaves have more to lose than respect.
The mystery and its outcome are well done. Hambly, as usual, makes her female characters shine even though the series is centered on a male title character.

It’s just a shame that a series that combines race issues, history, and a homage to Christie doesn’t get enough respect to be made into a film.

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Sunday, May 6, 2018

Review: Suspect Citizens: What 20 Million Traffic Stops Tell Us about Policing and Race

Suspect Citizens: What 20 Million Traffic Stops Tell Us about Policing and Race Suspect Citizens: What 20 Million Traffic Stops Tell Us about Policing and Race by Frank R Baumgartner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Cambridge University Press and Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Recently, during a commute, I overheard a conversation between two men. They were debating stop and frisk policies as well as road checkpoints/spot checks. The first man, Adam let’s call him, said that he didn’t understand why people would be upset about a pat down or a road stop. After all, if you didn’t do anything wrong, you have nothing to fear. His companion, let’s call him Bert, responded with how many times he had been pulled over because he had been a young black male in a car that police believed should be out of his price range. Bert joined the army right after high school, he said, and could afford to drive such vehicles. His fellow soldiers who were white did not get stopped. Adam volleyed back with well, he had been profiled when he had been pulled over, and then was forced to admit that he had been speeding.

Then I got off the train. I’ll leave you to figure out which person was black and which white.

Reading books like Suspect Citizens for people before having the above conversation with anyone.

It should be noted that the work of Baumgarther, Epp, and Shoub focuses on one state, North Carolina, but considering what the presentation and analysis of the data prove that getting pulled over when “driving while black” is really a thing. Not that everyone in the United States didn’t know this, but let’s be honest, odds are you know at least one person who says that it isn’t true. The authors note that part of the reason for this book is so that people who are not black can approach dialogue about police and race with compassion and knowledge.

I find books like this difficult to rate. It is a study. There is a great deal of data being presented to the reader. At times, such use of numbers can be dull, but the writers don’t present information dully. Furthermore, connections are made to wide problems (like low voter turn our). The book isn’t entirely negatively. It also takes the time to go into great detail about the history of the law that triggered the correction of the data as including the full law in an appendix. Attention is given to the history of pulling a car over and the difference between reasons for a driver being pulled over.

There is something information about the pulling over of Hispanic and Native Americans, but the focus is on African Americans.

The book closes with some personal stories of those that have been pulled over. The stories include various outcomes but are very powerful.

Highly recommended.

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Saturday, May 5, 2018

Review: Imagining Shakespeare's Wife: The Afterlife of Anne Hathaway

Imagining Shakespeare's Wife: The Afterlife of Anne Hathaway Imagining Shakespeare's Wife: The Afterlife of Anne Hathaway by Katherine West Scheil
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Release Date: May (UK), June 30th (USA)
Disclaimer: ARC via Cambridge University Press and Netgalley. Read in exchange for a fair review.

I have some deal breakers when it comes to the books I read. I am not fond, sometimes even hate, books where the eldest sibling is by default the bad one. I am fond of wives being blamed for their husbands porking anything that moves. I judge Shakespeare biographies by how the writer treats Anne Hathaway.

No, you fool, not the actress.

Shakespeare’s wife.

A few years, Germaine Greer published Shakespeare’s Wife, a biography/study of Anne Hathaway. In large part, Greer’s book seemed to be a rebuttal to Stephen Greenblatt’s harsh attack on Hathaway in his Will in the World. Katherine West Scheil’s book, Imagining Shakespeare’s Wife, also takes Greenblatt to task, but Scheil’s purpose to look at how the image or reputation of Shakespeare’s wife reflects on the period in which a work is published.

While Scheil does seem partial to Anne, the beginning of the book, dealing with the known facts of Hathaway’s life is fair. Scheil remembers that there is no way we can do for sure what exactly happened between the Shakespeares. She presents the facts, she presents the debates, but she keeps her view out and lets the reader reach a decision, if the reader wants to. The rest of the book deals largely with how people at various times have viewed Anne Hathaway. As Scheil notes, many times writers have made their Anne Hathaway as opposed to writing about the real Hathaway.
Photo of Anne Hathaway's Cottage - Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

This starts, in part, Scheil notes with the romance of the Anne Hathaway Cottage – which, to be frank, you can understand the romance part because it is absolutely beautiful. Scheil notes that the one time owner and tour guide of the house, Mary Baker, had connections to the Hathaways and was, in part, making sure of her family’s connection to the Bard of Avon. My guess is that Mary Baker was getting a bit pissed off about all the people standing on Anne Hathaway’s grave to get a better look at her husbands. Taking about wiping their feet on the woman.

ON the other hand, Scheil notes that the anti-Anne venom was set by Malone whose biography of Shakespeare was one of the earliest. She even ties Malone’s view of Anne to his proving the Ireland forgeries as fakes. We then tour other early biographies and fictional accounts, all of which even the non-fiction, seem to be proto-fanfiction if not outright fanfiction.

The analysis is best when looking at recent authors, though she doesn’t fully account Peter Ackroyd’s unwillingness to admit to certain sexual misconduct on the part of his heroes – she acknowledges Ackroyd’s seeming blindness of a sexual relationship between the Shakespeares before marriage as willful disregard of the time of their daughter’s birth, but Ackroyd also contorts himself in regards to Dickens extra-marital life as well. Scheil doesn’t pull punches, and if you, like me, were luke- warm to Greenblatt, Scheil aims and hits torpedoes at him.

Hence I love her.

It is a bit of surprise that Greer’s book doesn’t get more coverage. The response, in many cases unfair and overly harsh, is noted, but Scheil gives little speculation why – is it due to sexism or how someone suggest that Hathaway might have been worthy (or over worthy) of our Shakespeare? Additionally, she doesn’t ponders some of the more reaching claims of Greer, which also fall into the realm of this book. Greer’s book is a must read, but surely some of her conclusions were also influenced by feminist views. It seems strange not to discuss this year.

The most horrifying aspect of the back is the discussion of the modern historical romance novels and movies (such as Shakespeare in Love). This is not because of Scheil’s writing, but of some of the response of readers and movie viewers as well as the writers who have a tendency to either write Anne of as Shrew who deserves to have her husband cheat on her (common) to an Anne who embodies the traditional good wife that young female reader should aim to be (less common). There is some hope, though. Scheil covers more recent works that are fairer to Anne in terms of fiction. Her book about Hathaway will also add to your must read shelf, if you are a Shakespeare fan.

Considering the mutability of Shakespeare the man, it is hardly surprising that Anne Hathaway has become a channel on which writers sail their version of Shakespeare – family man, unhappy husband, child of nature. It is too Scheil’s credit that while she presents and discusses these myriad Annes, she always keeps the reader aware of the true Anne, the one who we cannot know, who is impossible to know, but who deserves to be acknowledged simply because she is human.
Highly recommended.

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Sunday, April 29, 2018

OMG - Was Michelle Wolf too Mean?

Truth be told, I really hadn’t heard of Michelle Wolf until my twitter feed exploded.  Apparently, Michelle Wolf was mean to Sarah Huckabee Sanders at the White House Correspondents Dinner.  But isn’t that a roast, so she must have said something really bad.

                So, I watch the monologue.  The whole thing.  Honesty, I didn’t really find it all that funny, but then I think comedy has never been the same since Blackadder stopped being filmed.

                I’m sorry, did I miss something?  This is what Wolf said about Huckabee Sanders:

"I'm a little starstruck," Wolf began. "I love you as Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid's Tale."
                                    . . . . . .
"I actually really like Sarah. I think she’s very resourceful," Wolf said, setting up her next jab. "She burns facts and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye. Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies."
"I'm never really sure what to call Sarah Huckabee Sanders," Wolf continued. "Is it Sarah Sanders? Is it Sarah Huckabee Sanders? Is it Cousin Huckabee? Is it Auntie Huckabee Sanders? Like, what's Uncle Tom but for white women who disappoint other white women?"  (qtd in Jensen)

Aunt Lydia via EW
The only way that the above an attack on Huckabee Sanders’ looks is if you see a comparison to Ann Dowd’s looks as an insult.  If you do, doesn’t that say quite a bit about you more than Michelle Wolf?  Incidentally, the comparison is to the character of Aunt Lydia, who Aunt Lydia is and what she does as opposed to what she looks like.  To understand the reference, it helps if you have read the book or, at the very least, watched the HULU series.
If it is the smoky eyeshadow bit, that isn’t it attacking Huckabee Sanders’ looks, it is attacking her lying and the lying of the Trump administration.
            Now, it’s true, pretty much all politicians lie - intentionally, by omission, whatever.  I will even concede that sometimes a lie is called for – you don’t want to spill important details.  But, let’s be real.  This president and his cult lie on a regular basis, even about things they don’t need to lie about.  We can debate the semantics – is it intentional or not, but Wolf just called a spade a spade.  She called liar a liar.  She didn’t mention weight, looks, or anything.  Just eyeshadow.  She didn’t say the eyeshadow was ugly.  What’s the problem?  Hell, if you want to get upset about what Wolf said, how about what she said about Ivanka – how she is pretty, but smelly diaper bag? Is it because of the word pretty and how it allows people to see beyond looks to something else?
            At best, the horrified responses indicate an inability to look at criticism or roasting of a woman as anything other than a comment upon that woman’s looks.  Isn’t that sexism?  The horrified responses suggest that a comparison to Aunt Lydia rests solely on looks and that Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia is ugly – isn’t that insulting to Ann Dowd?  And, folks, Aunt Lydia on the show is many things – ugly in terms of looks isn’t one of them.  Why was it okay for other people to go after Chris Christie’s looks (fat jokes) or for Wolf to compare Pence to Anderson Cooper (poor Cooper) but the eye shadow line was a bit too far?
            It is also interesting because we have a president who has insulted, repeatedly, the previous president and his wife (and his children),a president who has called women he hates ugly, a president who has contributed to hate speech, a president who retweets racist tweets, a president who called a sitting member of Congress a stripper, a president who was represented at the dinner by his Press Secretary who treats the press with disrespect and who lies on an almost daily basis, whether or not she truly wants to lie is beside the point.  He couldn’t attend because he had to go the Nuremberg Rally in another Washington.
            The attacks on Michelle Wolf simply look like at they are – sexism and re-enforcement of male superiority.  Men are allowed to be critical and mock, but women, nope can’t have that the responses to Wolf are saying.  Heaven forbid, a woman actually is critical and not nice.
            In which case, and quoting Mona Eltahawy, those people coming for Michelle Wolf, you can “fuck off kitten”.

Work Cited
Jensen, Erin.  “White House Correspondents Dinner: Michelle Wolf obliterates Sarah Huckabee   
            Sanders”.  USATODAy.com.  USA Today.  29 April 2018.  Web.  29 April 2018.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Review: A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership by James Comey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I didn’t intend to this buy this book, but all of a sudden, I wanted to read it. Maybe because I felt sorry for Comey. I know, he gets fired but a book deal, and I feel sorry for him. But while I wasn’t happy with his announcements about Clinton’s emails during the election cycle, I also felt he was caught between two options, neither of which was good. While the announcements undoubtedly had an effect, he wasn’t the cause of the loss, especially when looking at the sexist treatment of her in the news. I didn’t vote for Trump, and I am a registered independent. And, yes, I voted for Clinton and walked in my local Women’s March (as did Comey’s wife and daughters).

In terms of writing, Comey’s book isn’t bad. It isn’t great, but the tone is easy and he doesn’t make you want to run screaming for the hills or throw it up against a wall. He uses “a lot” a bit too much for my taste. There are some flashes of humor. He is fair towards Clinton, admitting that of the people he chronicles in the book, she is the one he never met, and she has/had good reason to avoid meeting him.

But you don’t want to hear about that do you?

There isn’t much about Comey’s private life here, though it is quite clear he deeply loves and admires his wife, he also loves his children (and in fact, he and his wife lost a child). He details some of his time before working for the Bush and Obama administration. The focus is on his service, in varying functions, for three presidents.

What is clear is that of the three presidents Comey served, Trump is by far the worse and in Comey’s (and my) view unfit for office. Bush, he respects but sees as flawed in some areas. Comey really admires Obama, though he does offer one critique, and holds Obama up as the ideal leader because of his ability to listen, truly listen, his principles, and his courtesy.

Trump doesn’t have anyone of that, and Bush’s humor was a bit crueller than Obama’s. Much has been made about Comey’s remarks about Trump, but it should be noted that the Bush administration, not necessarily Bush himself but those under him, don’t look to good.

It’s true that Comey does comment on Trump’s tie and hands, and this does cheapen Comey somewhat, though you can understand the desire to sling back. It should be noted that Comey does debunk the Trump ice cream charge. The hand aside, Comey’s case against Trump is pretty damning.

But for me the best part of the book, the most important, and the part that should get far more attention is Comey’s discussion of his time at the FBI during the protests in Fergusson and the killings of young African American men. Part of this discussion includes the story of a conversation he had with Obama which focus on perspective and how that influences the meaning of language. The book is worth the cost simply for this chapter where two difference people from two different backgrounds actually talk and listen to each other – becoming wiser in the process. We need more leaders like that, especially when it comes to dealing with race. This conversation is not something we are going to get with the current president, especially since of this writing Orange Man has yet to twitter the name James Shaw Jr, a young man who believes that he is not a hero simply because he was trying to save himself when he also saved others. Considering that Mr. Shaw is black and the killer was white, we pretty much have Trump’s view on race right there, don’t we?

What is interesting, and a comment on gender in politics in particular and society in gender, is he comments on the behavior of Lynch and Yates during the Clinton email issue during the campaign. He knows that the women are honorable and doesn’t think they were doing anything wrong or shady. He respects both women. Yet, he notes that he didn’t/doesn’t understand some of the choices and wording that they used during the camping/Clinton email. He also makes the same observation about Obama. Perhaps his confusion is because Yates, Lynch, and Obama knew how the press would play the story simply because of Clinton being female.

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Review: Tales from the Haunted South: Dark Tourism and Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era

Tales from the Haunted South: Dark Tourism and Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era Tales from the Haunted South: Dark Tourism and Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era by Tiya Miles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I should admit that I think I feel about ghosts the same way that Dr Miles does. I love a good ghost story, and in particular, I love ghost folklore. But I try to be aware of what the stories also say about society - both the source society and the current society. I love the work of L.B. Taylor Jr., in part, because he does deal equally with history and folklore. That's where his interest lay, and while a Southern, he doesn't whitewash.

Miles taps into the question of ghost folklore and tourism in the South, in particular, the use of ghost stories about slave to sell tours. She not only digs at the history (or non-history) behind such stories, but looks at how the various places address slavery. IT is a rather enlighting and anger inducing book, but it does make you think and provides you with a reading list.

Miles' passion and prose is so clear and engaging that I want to read everything she has written and will write after reading this good book.

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Sunday, April 22, 2018

Review: The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India's New Gilded Age

The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India's New Gilded Age The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India's New Gilded Age by James Crabtree
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.

Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers is only mentioned briefly in James Crabtree’s excellent look at the super rich of India, The Billionaire Raj. I found this fact interesting because I request the book via Netgalley precisely because I have read and taught Boo’s book. Granted, Crabtree’s book is a study of the extreme upper class so slums really don’t enter into the book. Yet, and Crabtree knows this, it is impossible to read this book, in particularly the parts about buildings with private pools and indoor football pitches, without thinking of those slums were people lack clean water, secure housing, and light.

I’m talking about the Residence Antilia owned by Makesh Ambani. A rather unique house. The fascination with it does also include the fact that it does give one a great a view of the slums. Talk about looking down.

This is not to say that Crabtree’s book is not a must read because it is. Instead of focusing on the soap opera or crime story details of the rich, Crabtree looks at the society. Not only does Crabtree look at the rise of the monied class, but he also examines the work of politics and graft, thus making a necessary read with Boo’s book.
Additionally, it is quite easy to see connections to America’s current political environment. Some of what Crabtree describes is quite easily seen outside of India. It’s just that India juxtaposes the two more starkly. Such images of extreme wealth and the desire to expand and keep it, despite the situations of those around the wealth. It is also about the families that control the wealth and the politics that allows them to flee, or to travel, out of the country to exile. Crabtree also details why the situation continues. His book gives more depth to the reading of Boo.

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Saturday, April 14, 2018

Review: City of Devils: A Shanghai Noir - Out in June

City of Devils: A Shanghai Noir City of Devils: A Shanghai Noir by Paul French
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom opens in 1935 at a club in the city of Shanghai. Jones is going to met a gangster, and, of course, the shit hits the fan. It is a Hollywood version of what Shanghai was like during the interwar years. Yet, there is some truth to it. The city did have Badlands, and there were clubs that not only hired but catered to expatriates from America and Europe. In his book City of Devils, Paul French presents the truth and while it does involve show girls there is a great more drugs, murder, and the looming threat of war.

French details Shanghai, in particular Joe Farren and Jack Riley, two men who were sometimes engaged in legal business and sometimes in not so legal business. Joe Farren started as a Fred Astaire or Vernon Castle type. Escaping Vienna and touring Asia with his wife and the dance troupe they eventually started. Farren is the dapper man, the married man with his wife Nellie. He does resemble, at least in French’s description.

Riley is more of a gangster type. American, blunt, and physical as opposed to dapper. But not stupid, not stupid at all. His washing up at Shanghai isn’t so much to do with his performance ability. The two men are sometimes partners, sometimes rivals, sometimes enemies.

In the story of the rise and fall of the two men, French also describes the imploding of Shanghai as an international colony forced upon the Chinese as well as the coming Second World War. It isn’t just crime that causes the problems but also the Japanese and the shifting of power.

At points, French introduces newspaper columns and Chinese views on what is occurring – either the view of the white men or the invading Japanese. It is those bits that are the most moving and wonderful because they move the book beyond a simple history of the underworld.

French writes with passion and vigor. His prose is quite engrossing, and he does the best he can with limited sources. What is most interesting (and hardy lest surprising) is that the women were harder to trace than the men. It is to French’s credit that he shows the women as more than just molls or enablers. In fact, a few of them are movers and shakers.

The book is both engaging and engrossing.

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Sunday, April 8, 2018

Review: Dread Nation

Dread Nation Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First off, before anything else, if you called yourself a feminist and don’t see this cover and go ‘gimme’ you are not a true feminist. Woman, that cover. Whoever designed it – props. Major props and hopefully a large raise.

I first noticed this title last year because of the cover. It popped up on my GR feed. I don’t normally read much in the way of zombie titles –for a variety of reasons – but this looked awesome, though for some reason I thought the main character was going to West Point or something. Needless to say, much anticipated, so a great worry of please don’t be a letdown.

It’s not.

At first blush, Ireland’s book looks like a mash up of Huck Finn with Michonne from the Walking Dead (though the main character Jane uses sickles).

It is and isn’t.

It’s so much more. It’s true that Ireland seems to be drawing quite a bit on Finn, and Jane harkens to him, but Ireland also seems to be drawing on Kate Chopin.

And yet, it is so much more.

Jane is a young woman who is going to a school for girls. This school trains girls to kill shamblers aka zombie. All the girls at the school are black because the government has mandated that all blacks and Native Americans (I’m being polite, Ireland uses the correct term for the 1880s, coming from a white man) be sent to schools to learn how to kill the undead (slavery is supposedly illegal but Jim Crow and Reconstruction exist). In one swoop, Ireland combines residential schools and their abuses with Jim Crow and the use of Army recruitment centers in minority and lower income areas. She also works in medical experiments on minorities.

This isn’t your normal zombie book.

And that’s important because in North America most people disregard the connection between zombies and forced labor, a form of slavery that continues after the slave’s death. That’s the horror. Not the brain eating. It’s true that Cherie Priest set her steampunk zombie series in an alternate Civil War, but her zombies are more connected to drug use. Ireland’s use of zombies during the Civil War and Reconstruction is far more powerful and visceral. The sense of uncomfortable and not right is far stronger than, say, in the Walking Dead. In part this is due to how people use the zombie plague, but also because of the symbolism connected with zombies.

Jane is wonderfully drawn character though she is also the book’s major flaw. There are too many cases and situations where she is the only capable woman or girl. Or the smartest. This is a flaw that is all too common to a great many novels staring kick ass heroines. Unlike some people, Ireland does try to argument. Just when you think Jane is going to be a bit too princess perfect, Ireland seems to realize as well and someone else does something that earns Jane’s admiration. Jane does grow over the course of the novel, and she also is not the girl that everyone lusts after. So, she is almost too perfect, but that almost is important.

That, and Jane is a black woman in a time and place that sees as the lowest of the low. She must constantly downplay her intelligence (the use of reading in this book is absolutely beautiful) and constantly deals with insults. She has a sense of humor, but she is also, rightly, angry and struggling in an unfair, racist system. She grows over the course of the book, and her voice is a real one. Her voice, despite its use of 1800 terms, is also a very real, modern one when dealing with issues like slavery and killing.

There are more than a few scenes with connections to police shooting of unarmed African-Americans.

This book should be taught along with The Hate U Give.

And not because it is the first alternate history book I’ve read that gives us an alternate history Ida B. Wells.

Jane is surrounded by believable characters. I love Kate. I’ve always loved Michelle Sagara West and Kelly Armstrong because they showed women being strong in radically different but equally important ways. I have to add Justine Ireland. Kate is a wonderful character and her story arc is just as powerful as Jane’s. Ireland deserves a reward simply for what Kate says towards the end of the book about relationships. There does seem to be a hint of a standard YA love triangle, but romantic love is not the focus of the book. Jane’s potential beaux include an ex, Red Jack, who makes his way the only way he can, and Gideon who she is attracted to because of his smarts as well as his chest.

How cool is that?

The most powerful part of the story, however, are the parts of letters that head each chapter. For part of the book, the letter is one (or more) from Jane to her mother who lives at Rose Hill. In the last section of the book, the letter is one (or more) from Jane’s mother to Jane. The letters are powerful because of what they must say and what they can’t say, simply because both women know that the letters may be read by a third party. It is though Jane, who is bi-racial and her mother’s back story that Ireland deftly subverts the use of the mulatto, in particular the tragic mulatto, in literature.

In a world that never was, Ireland shows us the world that is and makes the reader confront it.

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Sunday, April 1, 2018

Review: Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At one point in their book, Half the Sky, Kristof and WuDunn write, “There will be less [sex:] trafficking and less rape if more woman stop turning the other cheek and begin slapping back”.

WuDunn and Kristof, a married couple, detail much of what are “woman’s” issues in the developing world. Their book focuses on sexual trafficking, micro finance, maternal health, as well as religion and education. The argument that they put forward is that developing countries need to emancipate women (and women need to free themselves) so that the country can develop. Kristof and WuDunn give a call to arms, not because of guilt, but because it is simply the right thing to do.

The thesis of the book is aptly illustrated though several stories of women who have succeeded, for the most part, despite the circumstances that they lived in. The first section of the book deals with sex trafficking and prostitution. Though the use of personal stories as well as statistics, they make a compelling case to illegalize prostitution. They examine and compare places were prostitution is semi legal to where prostitution was outlawed. (Sweden, for example, won’t charge the prostitutes but the johns). The primary focus of this section is the use of sexual slavery and child trafficking. Kristof tells a particularly chilling story of a border guard in India who will stop the import of pirated DVDS, but not of young girls that are sold into brothels. The guard sees such foreign women as less than Indian women. Kristof and WuDunn examine the cultural beliefs that led themselves to a tacit endorsement of such trafficking.

The human trafficking section gives way to a section about the use of rape as punishment, control, and a terror device. Included in this section is the story of Usha Narayane, a woman who lived in an Indian slum. She and her family were Dalits (Untouchables), and the slum was under control of a man, Yadav, a gangster who was able to terrorize the slum (though rape and sexual violence) because the police were paid off and looked the other way. Yadav attacked Narayane’s neighbor and Narayane went to the police to report it. Yadav and his men threaten Narayane at her family’s house. The thing is that Narayane’s was a well educated woman, as was her family; they were well liked in the slum. Narayane fought back and this inspired the others in the slum to fight back as well. They attacked Yadav who eventually turned himself into the police for his own protection. During what amounts to a pre-trial hearing, the women from the slum showed up and stabbed Yadav to death. Each woman stabbed him once. The importance of this story isn’t the revenge killing; in fact, there is a slight uncomfortable feeling in the retelling, but the fact that women can rise up and can effect change.

There is a more famous story told in the section on rape, that of Mukhtar Mai, the young woman who was ordered gang raped as punishment for an “alleged” crime of her brother. She ended up pressing charges, facing death threats, and persecution from the government. What is important about these stories is that Kristof and WuDunn never take them out of context. They are careful to keep the stories within a culture, while comparing it to Western way. In other words, they do not paint Mukhtar Mai as the definition of a Western feminist. The reader is told her whole story, including her becoming a man’s second wife.

The rape section also includes a good description of Rapex, an insert able vagina detintia, and its inspiration.

At one point in the first half of the novel, the authors seem to wonder if they are portraying men in too negative a light.

They’re not. This book is pro-women, but it is not anti-male.

Even if one were to disregard that one of the authors is a man, plenty of the stories about woman’s success also illustrate the support of men. Mukhtar Mai was supported by her father and brothers, Narayane and her fellow women also had the support of their male relatives, a young girl continues school after a rape that was suppose to end in her marriage because her father supports her. It is true there are some stories were the husband’s look bad (and strangely, these stories appear most in the section about women and business), but 95% of the stories show men in a positive light. Not as protectors or rescuers, but as supporters.

Additionally, Kristof and WuDunn keep the focus on what local people are doing. They focus mostly on the grassroots level. While they illustrate and call for Western nations to help in terms of donations, they do not present “the great white man coming to save the poor colored natives” approach that can sometimes appear. While they present Westerns (primary Americans and Brits) who have helped women in developing countries, Kristof and WuDunn keep the focus on what local women are doing. We are given, in brief, the story of a hospital founded in Africa to repair fistulas, but we are given, in far more depth, the story of a woman who went to be treated there and ended up becoming a doctor who now works there. Furthermore, they argue for cultural understanding as well as aid. In other words, they caution against going to X and demanding that it become Westernized.
The book is not designed to be a Hollywood happy ending book; the difficulties of aid are presented quite well. It does not bash one political party or the other, but instead calls upon the right and the left to work together. It is a call to arms at a governmental level as well as a grassroots one. Arguing, quite eloquently that in order to fight poverty and even terrorism, women should be emancipated.

Read this book now – just to find out how big the problem is. Some of the information is absolutely frightening.

(Incidentally, there is a section on Islam and the 70 virgins. The authors point out that some scholars think the word that some people means virgins might mean white grapes instead.)

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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Review: A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo

A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Marlon Bundo is not a godfather, or at least he doesn’t seem to be. It is important to know this. This picture book is a response to the Pence family book about their bunny rabbit and a plea for tolerance.

And as my students would say, “it is as funny as shit”.

Yeah, I’m not sure how shit is funny either. I mean, okay, I suppose if you have been constipated and then you go No 2, it might as good as shit. But what sort of weird tickling shit exists that makes you laugh?

This book by Jill Twiss (John Oliver) is about a bunny who falls in love with another bunny, another buck (I am sorry but a male bunny is a buck and not boy, just saying). and then Donald Trump aka Stinkbug tells them they can’t marry. Thankfully, Marlon Bundo has a bunch of friends, one of whom, the dog, understands democracy. The cool thing is that Marlon’s friends are all different in different ways – including a decorative turtle and a hedgehog (honesty, you have me at hedgehog) who likes to read the endings first to make sure the book isn’t too traumatic (Dude, put down Old Yeller!).

The artwork is beautiful.

Now, I’m sure that some people are going to get upset about this spoof of the Pence family book, but you know what – I don’t care. I don’t care at all. Pence has shown that he does not care about me because I have a vagina, and he wants some of my friend to change who they are. So, you know what, Mike Pence can take his homophobic, sexist self and jump in a lake.

Don’t worry, Marlon Bundo, you have a home for life.

A half star off because I am a comma purist so really 4.5, but the illustrations are so beautiful.

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Sunday, March 18, 2018

Review: Women's London: A Tour Guide to Great Lives

Women's London: A Tour Guide to Great Lives Women's London: A Tour Guide to Great Lives by Rachel Kolsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

As I am not going to London anytime soon, sadly, I cannot speak to the ease of the works detailed in this book.

Kolsky’s book is a good guide for the important places of woman’s history in London. She gets a massive amount of points for including the author of London A-Z, the street good. For that beginning you know you are in good hands.

The book is roughly divided by City area. Kolsky focuses not just on suffragettes and writers, but on scientists, politicians, warriors. Not all the women included are white (Mary Seacole, for instance, is dealt with). There are detailed sections about Bluestockings and Christie, and other women. There is a slew of lesser known women included and brief bios. There is also a discussion about plaques. I really enjoyed the inclusion of lesser known women.

This book is, at the very least, a really good resource. It is very beautifully designed and packaged. The photography is wonderful.

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Review: Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route

Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route by Saidiya V. Hartman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are things that I can take for granted. I may not be able to recite my family tree by rote, and there is the question that my paternal grandmother may have been Jewish, but I know that my family hails from England, France, Canada, Lithuania, and Italy. It is something that I have taken for granted. Saidiya Hartman’s book is about, in part, having a lack of that, a lack of sense, and a lack of belonging.

It’s too glib to say that we all feel that sense of loneness. In part this is true, but many of us at least have a sense. Many of us can even break down to country and region, perhaps even a city.
Hartman has a continent. That’s it.

But to call this a book about a quest for self or identity is wrong. Hartman’s journey to Ghana, to uncover the story of the common slave – a slave who is not from a family of kings. The idea of a return to Africa is a return to homeland, but as Hartman points out -it isn’t quite that simple. Hartman feels out of place because the history of the slave trade depends upon the lenses – African-American versus African. IF Hartman isn’t American, then she isn’t African either. She is stateless. Her past is a commodity in both ways – as her ancestors were slaves and as their descendent returning.

So, in part, the book is about the different use of language and the different history. About the effects of slavery that we do not fully think about. The question of otherness.

There is much packed into this slim volume and it is the type of book that you mull over for days.

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Monday, March 12, 2018

Review: Divorced, Beheaded, Survived: A Feminist Reinterpretation of the Wives of Henry VIII

Divorced, Beheaded, Survived: A Feminist Reinterpretation of the Wives of Henry VIII Divorced, Beheaded, Survived: A Feminist Reinterpretation of the Wives of Henry VIII by Karen Lindsey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.

The lives of Henry VIII's queens summed up in seven short words. You think someone would've made a better rhyme. I mean it works, but well it lacks. True, "Sing a Song of Sixpence" might be the ladies, but it gets one upped with the debate about "Mary, Mary Quite Contary".

There have been volumnes written about the wives, some, though while lacking "a feminist reinterpretation" in the sub-title , are still one. The wives at this point seem to have be more fame than their infamous husband whose infamy comes from his treatment of them, and the fact that he is played by a hottie in the Showtime series. So why read this one about Bluebeard Henry VII and his wives?

Because Lindsey does present, in some cases, an unique look or highlights something that may be glossed over in other works. It isn't an earth shattering book, but it is far better than Joanna Denny's Anne Boleyn: A New Life of England's Tragic Queen. While it is true that like most biographers of the Tudors, Lindsey concludes what the women thought with little proof (there are letters, but that's it), and while she does spend the most time on Katherine of Aragorn and Anne Bolyen, and while she doesn't full protray Jane Seymour, who remains the aptly titled vessel, there is something here.

Lindsey does make some thought stirring, if not thought provoking, ideas in the often trod ground of the first two wives of Bluebeard, Mr Fox Henry VIII.

For instance, it is hard to argue with Lindsey's claim that today we would find Henry's pursuit of Anne Bolyen to be sexual harassament. She points out, makes it very clear that such terms would not be used at all in the time, but she makes a good case that Anne might have been making the best of a situtation that she could not escape. Additionally, Lindsey gives reasons why Katherine of Aragorn and Anne Bolyen should be admired, liked, and pited. She doesn't paint them as sister queens, but she doesn't take sides, making one look good at the expense of the other. She takes them as they are.

But the main reason why you should read this book are the chapters on Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard. Now, I've always liked Anne of Cleves, who strikes me as the combination of Bluebeard's wife and her sister Anne. Not only does Lindsey make a case that the epitaph "Flanders mare" or "drayhorse mare" should not be used to describe the woman, but she argues that Anne of Cleves took a more active role in her annulment from Henry VIII than most people give her credit for. I'm not sure if I fully buy into the agrument, though the point about sex education seems likely. Could Anne of Cleves have really been that thick? Wouldn't someone mention something before her wedding night? However, Lindsey's theory is really stirring and makes Anne into a true winner, in some ways like the often esteemed Katherine Parr.

The chapter on Katherine Howard lacks this totalling redesign or recasting of character. Yet, Lindsey does make this young Katherine into her own woman. Lindsey has a point - most writers do tend to see Katherine Howard as whore or victim (or a innocent whoring victim ala the Tudors). The idea of Katherine Howard as sexually free woman does, one most admit, become overshadowed by Howard the idiot, but Lindsey does make her human.

Overall, while the book didn't really add knowledge, it did make me think differently about we know about the Tudors.

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Friday, March 9, 2018

Review: Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women

Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women by Elizabeth Wurtzel
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

So okay, I need to tell you right now and upfront, I couldn't finish this and am giving it a one star rating based on one section of the book that lasts a page.

When I first started reading this book, I found Wurtzel's narrative voice to be a little confusing. She was all over the place, but then you get use to it. I have to say, that Wurtzel's look at the how Amy Fisher thing was very good. Not that I spend any time thinking about Amy Fisher, but Wurzel does really bring a good new light to it. Her reading of Sexton and Plath is pretty good.

So, you say, what's the problem and aren't you being awfully judgemental considering that you liked what you read before you got to the infamous place?

No, I'm not. So Wurtzel takes a look at Hillary Clinton, and considering that this book was written when Clinton was still the President, she can't take in Clinton's post White House Career. Every so, I think Wurztel's theory about why people didn't like Mrs Sec of State was interesting, and was wondering how Wurztel would change it if she could.

And then Wurtzel pulled out the Tudors. She mentioned Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots of examples of women in power because they had the power. Then she mentioned how neither one got beheaded.

Now this is NOT a small mistake. An accidently slip of date, it really isn't. And to be frank, I never really would think of Mary Queen of Scots as some type of pre-feminist movement role model. Okay, she had a more violent in-fighting to deal with than Elizabeth, but she did some awfully stupid things -think her marriages and her fleeing to Elizabeth. Why not mention Catherine de Medici? Then it occured to me that perhaps Wurtzel meant Mary Tudor (aka Bloody Mary). But even that doesn't work considering how Mary viewed herself in marriage and she wasn't a success.

And that's when the how book feel apart. I think I could get by a difference in a opinion of the characters of the two Marys, but to say that Mary Queen of Scots kept her head is a HUGE mistake. And this book was published long enough ago that the error could have been fixed. Take for instance the small error in The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown, an error that the author acknowledges and corrected. Yes, I guess it is easier to do that with ebooks, but how many years ago was Wurtzel's book written?

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Thursday, March 8, 2018

Review: The Ghost, The Owl

The Ghost, The Owl The Ghost, The Owl by Franco
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

The owl has long had a connection to the dead, in many cultures and myths. It is hardly surprising that it makes an appearance here.

The owl is in the forest and discovers the ghost of a young girl, and this new arrival puzzles the animals of the forest. The only one willing to help the young ghost girl is the owl. Instead of being a simple tale of a spirit finding its place in the afterlife, the tale becomes one of light versus dark, and how things are interconnected even when they do not seem to be.

The artwork is stunning. The story beautiful.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Review: We're Going to Need More Wine: Stories

We're Going to Need More Wine: Stories We're Going to Need More Wine: Stories by Gabrielle Union
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really wish that Lena Dunham's name would stop being dropped when talking about feminist books. I haven't read Dunham's book because everytime she opens her mouth, she shows me that she isn't a feminist. Why she is consider the standard I have no friggin idea.  (Okay, yeah I know she's white but still there are other less problematic white women chose from, so why that one?)

If you want a book that is really by a feminist and someone with a brain, this is the book for you. I can't say that I have seen every movie or tv show in Union's body of work, but she is one of those actors who I always seriously consider seeing a film simply because she is in it. Quite frankly, Deliver Us From Eva is the only version of Taming of the Shrew that ties with Moonlight's. But more importantly, Union has long had my respect simply for her vocal support and work in women's issues. She has been speaking about rape, for example, long before the #MeToo movement took Hollywood.

This book is reall a collection of essays about her life. Union is honest; she doesn't always come off well in these stories - for instance there is the bit about the imatation crab and, more importantly, when she writes about her use of the word "faggot".

What Union does is use her personal experience, in many cases, to make larger comments about society or about Hollywood. Her story about parties with Prince is really about how important networking is, why Hollywood is so inclusive and why Prince's networking was so important. She mourns Prince but also makes larger points. Her essay about raising her stepchildren deals with raising young, tall black men in a majority rich, white neighborhood. Her passage about the family's home in Chicago is really wonderful.

At times the stories are funny - like her story about the teen who wanted to beat her up - at times they are horrible and sad - she details her rape and a death of a friend. They are always interesting highlighting differences in places, cultures, how people view drugs, and why everyone seems to care about a woman's utereus (and why they shouldn't).

Honesty, how can you not want to read a book that includes an oath with Judy Blume in it?

I would especially reccomend this book if you enjoyed Carrie Fisher's books. Union and Fisher have much in common.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Review: Lydie

Lydie Lydie by Jordi Lafebre
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: Arc via Netgalley.

Lydie is a ghost story, or is it? What it really is, is a story about a neighborhood. It is the neighborhood that pulls together in the face of a tragedy. Told by a statue, perhaps, it chronicles the life of Camille, a simple soul whose daughter is stillborn.

Or is the young girl?

That is the question – how real is Lydie and if she is real, how did she become real?

That too is the charm of the story. It is a wonderful little graphic novel about the power of a community that may not have much money and may not like each other but come together to help one of theirs. In the process, perhaps, they became better for it. The story is sentimental, but not sweet. It hearkens to Chocolat in part, that same type of feeling.

Lafebre’s illustrations are beautiful and remind me of the Triplets of Belleville.

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