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Very random Star Wars Rambling

What puzzles me most about the various Star Wars stories that occur after Jedi is the naming of Leia and Han’s children.   To be more prec...

Friday, August 17, 2018

Very random Star Wars Rambling


What puzzles me most about the various Star Wars stories that occur after Jedi is the naming of Leia and Han’s children.  To be more precise, it is the naming of Ben or Anakin.  Why the hell would either of those be in either parent’s top ten list.

                I suppose, you could say that it was though Ben Kenobi that Han and Leia met so that’s why.  But really doesn’t quite work.  And, yes, Anakin is named for Leia’s biological father, who stood by and watched her real father get blown to smithereens along with everyone else on Aldrin after over seeing her torture.  True, Vader did save his son, but that’s Luke’s business. 

                Why, for instance, wouldn’t Leia want to name her son after her father – Bail.  The man who raised her, who quite clearly in the movies and the books, loved her as a daughter?  Who was by any measure a good father?  We could argue that Padme’s genetics make Leia partly who she is, but those same genes are in Luke, who whines quite a bit.  Leia was raised to serve.  She makes tough decisions that, quite frankly, Han and Luke don’t really have.  (It’s also telling that when Luke is called upon to make a tough decision, to stay with Yoda, he choses to go save his friends.  It’s understandable.  But Leia plays for time and does not sell out the Rebellion.  That’s a hell of choice and cool head).  Leia is the leader you want, in many respects.  And who is responsible for that?

                Not Vader, that’s for sure.

                But the naming of the Ben and Anakin also strikes the mother from the record.  Before the editing and editing, in Jedi, Leia remembers her mother.  We’re never given a name, we were told she was sad, but not a name, at least not in that movie. 

                In the Star Wars universe, it seems that the bloodline, and only the bloodline, matters.  Take for instance, all the complicated theories that people are still floating about Rey’s parents.  Or the fact that we all seem okay with how quickly Luke forgets his aunt and uncle.  More exactly, it is the biological father that counts more than the mother.  Kylo must kill Han, not Leia, even though Leia is the force sensitive.  When Ben has the chance to kill Leia, he can’t.  He cannot bring himself to do this.  Perhaps Rian Johnson intends this not only as a comment on how far to the dark side Kylo is, but a comment on who was the better parent.  It is the only time we have seen a mother actual matter in terms of being a mother in the films.  Padme isn’t a mother, she’s a vessel who conveniently forgives her abuser before her death.

                Being a father apparently counts more in the Star Wars universe.  Because he saves his son, Anakin is able to appear as a happy force ghost.  Kylo goes bad, according to Han, because he's too much Vader.  Dude, you were his pops.

                WTF?  Okay, I am undoubtedly bringing a Christian view to it, but we don’t see the Emperor’s Force Ghost hanging with Yoda, do we?

                Hell, just disregard me.  I have no idea where I am going with this.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Review: The Wolves of La Louvière

The Wolves of La Louvière The Wolves of La Louvière by Flore Balthazar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

The author’s note for this graphic novel says that it is a fictional story based on true facts and that some people are real, some note, some names have been changed. The note is hardly needed for the story, for if you know anything about civilian life in the second World War, this story does have the ring of truth.

The story follows a teen aged girl, Marcelle, her family as well as a young teacher, Marguerite, who becomes a subversive in the fight against the Nazis. It is though the trials and tribulations of the family, whose father is missing and who suffer though air raids and shortages, as well as the more active resistance of Marguerite who disturbs a rebellion paper that the cost of being occupied comes home.

Additionally, the story challenges the role of women in Belgian just before the War and during the war. Marcelle and Yvette’s treatment in the family is quite different that of their brothers, in particular with regards to education. Marguerite, too, confronts not only Nazis but misogyny. So, the story presents not only the war, but the change that accelerated or came because of the war.

It is a very powerful story.


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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Review: Geeky Fab 5: It's Not Rocket Science

Geeky Fab 5: It's Not Rocket Science Geeky Fab 5: It's Not Rocket Science by Liz Lareau
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.

After finishing this book, I turned to my brother who teaches science and told him to get a copy. Do I need to say anything else?

Really?

Okay, this book is about five girls who become friends because they are all a bit geeky, smart, and most seem to want to go into STEM fields. I say most because Lucy is unsure, but it is made clear that being unsure is okay. They are not just science nerds. They have other interests as well (such as fashion and singing), and they know history. They go to a school named after Amelia Earhart after all.

The group is diverse, as anyone can see from the cover, and last names included Martinez and Kumar. One girl is even adopted. While parents are very much in the background, suggests are made about the parents – A.J.’s father, for instance, works in robotics. While none of the girls is physically disabled, family members are.

The plot of the story centers around fixing the school’s playground as well as dealing with stupid boys who believe girls can’t be coders. The playground plot is interesting because one of the girls, Lucy, blames herself for it being closed to students. Her friends refuse to buy into that train of thought and are supportive of her.

There is also a cat called Hubble. He talks like a cat. There is also a bit end that gives more information about the famous women mentioned in the book. Additionally, at a time where women who either act or like Star Wars are being targeted by “fanboys”, it is nice to read a book where the girls like Star Wars.

Highly recommended.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Review: Hope Never Dies

Hope Never Dies Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Is this the best book in the world?

Well, no. I mean, we have Byatt's Possession. But if you are in the mood for something light and a little je ne sais crois, you should read this.

In part, Shaffer is book some fun at the romance genre. The bromance is treated in some ways the same way a romance would be treated. Shaffer also works in some real world critique and anaylsis of cities, which was surprising.

No, it is not a bash Trump book. Orange's name isn't mentioned.

But it is a book about friendship and service. There is some humor. Shaffer plays up Biden's "gaffes" a bit, (there is one section where Biden asks a very good question, just not the question Obama was thinking of). It's funny. It's not quite as funny as the Earl Grey books, but there isn't a wasted word, and the book does fly. The bar scene was good.

I'm also convinced that despite the disclaimer on the back cover, Obama and Biden are actually solving mysteries. They are also protecting us from robins taking over the world.

And a shout out to Joseph Fox Booksellers, especially the employee who when I asked, "do you have that one where Obama and Biden solve crimes," smiled so boardly and came back with a signed comy. If you are in Philly, Joseph Fox is the best.

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Sunday, August 5, 2018

Review: The Witness House: Nazis and Holocaust Survivors Sharing a Villa during the Nuremberg Trials

The Witness House: Nazis and Holocaust Survivors Sharing a Villa during the Nuremberg Trials The Witness House: Nazis and Holocaust Survivors Sharing a Villa during the Nuremberg Trials by Christiane Kohl
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At the risk of offending family members, Brits, and anyone else here goes.

A few years ago, my brother question why Germany was upset about bailing out certain EU countries (I believe the group is refered to as the PIGS, but since Italy has joined perhaps it is PIIGS). After all, he continued, look at the two wars that Germany had started. I wasn't there, but immeditnately my mother and a family friend pointed out that it was the aftermath of WW I that directly led to WW II, and did he (my brother) want to do that all over again. The discussion raises questions about collective guilt. After all, if Germany should pay, then shouldn't the British and Russians pay for Afghanstain, and the whole Western World pay China for the Opium War? And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Germany and collective guilt always seem to be a touchy topic. It is one of the reasons why I can understand the German's legal system's stance on Holocaust Denial, even though I agree with Lawrence Evans' "Freedom for Thought that We Hate". Additionally, to find the German people guilty as a collective disregards those Germans who stood aganist the Nazi party, such as the White Rose Group, which is even remembered in US Holocaust Museum. Such groups are hardly ever mentioned in US History programming or classes, at least general classes.

Yet how does a country, a country once split in two, deal with such guilt at more than 60 years removed. How do a people acknowledge, deal, and move, perhaps not forward, but on in life dealing with a past? Even today, in the United States, we are still dealing with the effects of slavery and lynching, and that didn't occur in reccent history (at least legally). Think of the debate over Gunter Grass when he released Peeling the Onion.

The Witness House seems to me to be a book that could've only been written by a German. The title house was used by Americans during the Nuremberg trials to house witnesses. This meant that, as the title shows, Nazis and Survivors not only shared a house but ate in the same room, even talked. Included as guests were Diels, former Gestapo head; Hoffman, Hitler's photographer; Resistance members,a woman imprisioned for having relations with a Jew; one of the judges who sentenced her, and, of course, survivors of the camps. The house included as staff, the owner and her son (the father was missing when the house was opened). The house was run, at one point, by a Countess who looked like Jean Harlow.

Today, it is hard of us to grasp how something seemly so insentative could have been seen as acceptable. We are far more aware, at least obiviously so, of mental impact.

There are several aspects of the book that make a worthwhile read. The first is the introduction which relates how Kohl was moved to research and then to write the book. It started simply, a conversation with her father and a family friend, who at one point ran the house. This conversation also shows the impact of the war on generations,

Another aspect that makes the book worth reading is the details about the son of the homeowner. He was 13 when the house was used for the Witnesses. Part of the story centers around his growing knowledge of what the Nazis actually did.

Kohl did an immense of amount of work, interviewing guests, staff, witnesses and lawyers. The look is emcompassing though a step removed because of the lack of material and the gulf of years. Yet, Kohl's prose is both sparse and rich, a paradox perhaps, but it is truth.

Kohl's book not only chronicles a little know aspect of the War's aftermath, but also touches on Germany and the War, widening knowledge not only for Germans, but for any reader who picks up this book.

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Sunday, July 29, 2018

Review: The Overstory

The Overstory The Overstory by Richard Powers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: W. W. Norton sent me a complimentary copy. Additionally, if Norton has a fan girl group, I’m a founding member. I have been a fan of this publisher since college where I used their excellent critical editions.

If you are going to read one book this year, it should be The Overstory by Richard Powers.

If you are going to read one book in your lifetime, it should be The Overstory by Richard Powers.

At first glance, the novel seems to be a series of stories about a group of people who have little in common. There are a few geniuses, an artist, an at odds college student, a vet, a coder among others. There are also the trees that branch throughout the story.

The characters do eventually connect with each, they are branched together like the roots of the trees they love.

That’s point really, the trees and our connection to them. One of the most beautiful chapters in the book concerns Patricia and her discovery about trees. And it’s true. All of what happens and all the science about trees in the book is true.

Because the central characters are so varied in backgrounds, Powers is able to illustrate, to showcase, why many myths and stories center around trees. Its not the just World Tree from mythology, but also in the Grimms’ version of Cinderella where a tree on the dead mother’s grave gives the girl her dresses and shoes. There is a reason why trees are central, and The Overstory reminds us of why, of why trees are so important to everything- not just forest life, but coding and math and psychology. You don’t always get the connection but words like branch and truth come from a group that is far older than we acknowledge.

The book is about trees and about humanity.

It deserves all the stars.

It will make you look at trees and people in different ways.

There are beautiful sentences like "But people - some fathers- are written over by trees" (119) and "For the first time, she realizes that being alone is a contradiction in terms. Even in a body's most private moments, something else joins in" (158). Or "The freedom to be equal to the terrors of the day" (421). Or "That's life; the dead keep the living alive" (423)

Seriously, read this book. Love this book. Gift this book.



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Saturday, July 21, 2018

Review: The White Darkness

The White Darkness The White Darkness by David Grann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

You might not recognize Henry Worsley’s name, but you mostly likely have heard the story. At the end of 2015-the beginning of 2016, he attempted to cross Antarctica alone, but sicken, was airlifted, and, sadly, died while doctors while trying to save his life. His quest, done in part as a fundraiser, was followed by the media and classrooms. He received support from the royal family. If you are like me, you were impressed by the drive and the attempt, but also wondering why.

David Grann’s White Darkness does a good job at answering a question whose best answer till now has been “because it’s there”.

Grann is perhaps the best teller of true stories working right now. This short book showcases his shorter work (the story appeared in The New Yorker), and proves that his short profiles can be just as riveting.

As Grann notes, Worsley was obsessed with Shackleton an artic explorer who is better know for his failures where people didn’t starve to death than anything else. Unlike Amundsen who made it or Scott who died the stiff upper lip way, Shackleton got his people home. Worsley’s obsession seems in part because of a family connection (his ancestor Frank worked with Shackleton). In fact, prior to his solo attempt, Worsley had done a three-person hike with Will Gow (a descendent of Shackleton) and Henry Adams (a grandson of Jameson Boyd). Worsley’s obsession too does seem to be a case of hero-worship, he makes on interesting pilgrimage to Shackleton’s grave.

Grann presents a quick overview of Worsley’s life, giving the reader a sense of who was lost, and not just a vague or abstract tragedy. While Grann never says, this is why, he does a great job of allowing the reader to get a sense of the drive and determination that fueled Worsley’s quest, but also to see the family that supported him.

The long essay is supplemented by photos, and the tone itself is one of remembrance, but more peaceful or comprehensive than an obituary.


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Friday, July 20, 2018

Review: Nirliit

Nirliit Nirliit by Juliana Léveillé-Trudel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In Montreal, near McGill University there is a wonderful store called Paragraphe. Every time I am in Montreal, I make sure I stop by and I usually drop around 70 bucks. I’m careful. I make sure I pick up either autographed books or books that are not easily available in the US. This book was one of the ones I picked up this year.

Nirliit was originally written in French (the author lives in Montreal), and it should be noted that the translator is Anita Anand. She deserves praise as way for the book is lyrical. For instance, in describing the town that the she is going to, the unnamed speaker says, “Purvinituq is a plain girl with magnificent eyes that you only discover if you are paying attention.” (16). And in describing the Inuit language, the phrase “rugged poetry” is used”.

The author’s bio at the back of the book tells the reader that Léveillé-Trudel not only works in the performing arts but also taught in the Nunavil region; therefore, it is hard not to see this novel as drawing from life experience and, considering it is two monologues, as something that could be easily adapted to a show along the lines of Anna Deverne Smith.

The speaker is addressing a friend who is missing, who is gone in the first monologue and an unnamed listener in the second. There is an intervening few years between the two monologues, but the settings and characters are the same.

On one hand, the story hits all the issues that people associate with native/first nations/indigenous communities – drinking, violence, spousal abuse. There is a bleakness to the story. You will cry when reading this.

And yet.

And yet, the story is more than that. It is more than the bleakness.

Part of the book examines solutions, mostly those proposed by the government, and the impact that those so-called solutions have those they effect. There is also the examination of the impact of white people and other societies on Native culture and life, as well as how whites view them, why there is such resentment. It is an examination of what happens long after the culture clash and outrages committed one culture by another.

Because the story is told from an outsider’s point of view, of a woman trapped, to a degree, between the culture she is and the culture she serves. Our narrator is charmed and repealed and confused. Caught between two worlds and even two political philosophies, and I’m not talking about her views on caribou meat. But the book is also about common humanity because while the source of the problems is different, there is also an under lying humanity between peoples that should be noted and embraced.

I cannot do this book justice in any review. I just can’t. The speaker of the book says, “Beauty in the form of a punch to the gut: only the tundra has this, an immense shattering landscape, so lonely with almost no one to appreciate it”. In many ways, those words are an accurate description of this book. This lovely, heart-breaking book.


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Friday, July 6, 2018

Review: The Goblin Companion: A Field Guide to Goblins

The Goblin Companion: A Field Guide to Goblins The Goblin Companion: A Field Guide to Goblins by Brian Froud
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Listen! Do you hear that? It's coming from above. It sounds like something squawking, "Damm you gravity!"

Quick! Duck! Hit the decks!

The Amom Pherriginus didn't hit you, did it? Good. It's a type of bird that doesn't have feathers, so it glues feathers on. Sometimes, though, its wings get stuck together. You know how it is with Crazy Glue.

It's really heavy. See that hole?

Froud and Jones' guide to goblins is a very handy resource. You learn a great many thing about goblins. A list, by no means complete or even accurate:

1. Tallow Goblins do mean things to thier grannies.

2. Never, ever try to steal a Tallow Goblins purse.

3. Loch Ness does exist.

4. Ladies, watch out for detachable members (yes, those types of members! There was even a picture. You would think it would hurt.)

5. Never hear the story of Luerk.

6. Knitting can be fatal.

7. Twark's are good kissers, though why you would want to kiss one is beyond me.

8. You can tame worms.

9. Beware of Agnes.

10. The Sacred Bone of Whence

11. Goblins have a law aganist sex:
(a) They don't follow it

(b) They smell during the act. I mean really smell.


As well as many other useful facts that I forgot because I was laughing too hard.

The only drawback to the book, if drawback it be, is that you find yourself humming David Bowie music inbetween laugh riots. (Make sure you go the WC before reading. Consider yourself warned!)

You remind of the babe.
What babe?
The babe with the power.
What power?
The power of voodoo.
Who do?
You do.
Do what?
Remind me of the babe.


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Sunday, July 1, 2018

Review: Trail of Lightning

Trail of Lightning Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One cannot emphasize how important this book is in terms of representation in dystopian/urban fantasy literature. It is one the few UF novels set in America I’ve read where all the characters are poc. L. A. Banks’ work is the only other work that springs readily to mind. It is the only one I’ve read where the characters are all Native American/Indigenous/First Peoples.

I am quite well aware that my perspective is limited, that there are books I am either forgetting or don’t know about. Please feel free to leave suggestions in the comments. Also note, I am taking about characters, not authors. This book also had a big PR push as well.

What is more, Roanhorse’s characters are Diné in all the authentic ways. Language and terms are used in ways that a native speaker would use them. Don’t worry, meaning is revealed but it is down in a way that feels natural as opposed to an info dump. There are references to water deliveries as well as the classism(?) that exists between city and non-city dwellers (urban vs. rez). What is more important is that race is not used as a shortcut for a tragic past or romantic trauma (i.e. Anita Blake who really only brings up being half Hispanic when explaining why a boyfriend’s mother didn’t like her, and then that’s it). There is dealing with racism and stereotypes.

This also means that this book carries quite a bit on its metaphorical shoulders, fairly or unfairly.

Thankfully, it carries the unfair load quite well.

It’s true and fair to say that Maggie, the heroine, suffers from the problems that exist in all too many UF and dystopian novels of late. She has a tragic past, she doesn’t trust people (but mostly men), she is shut off, she isn’t “girly”, and she is special in terms of power. She also doesn’t think that she is good looking (though to be fair, not every man in the book lusts after her, so this doesn’t annoy me at all in this book). She also is the only woman of name for over 150 pages of the book. She is the only woman of power until the last quarter of book, and the other women or girls are either victims, non-fighters, or get hurt. There is a slight shift in this at the end that I loved (and the book does technically pass the Bechdel test), but overall, outside of race, Maggie is very much like every other UF heroine you can think of.

This doesn’t mean that she is a bad character or unbelievable. Roanhorse is not the only author who makes such a standard character work either (think Armstrong’s Elena or Vaughn’s Kitty) and like those other UF/dystopia series that stand out, Roanhorse expands on the standard.

It is also possible that we are to see the woman victims as symbolical of the cold hard fact that Native American women are most at risk for rape, sexual assault, and murder (domestic violence is 10 times higher, 1 in 3 Native American women are raped, Native American women are murder at least 10 times the national average in some places. Check out Indianlaw.org among other websites). I think this symbolical view is especially true with the opening sequence of the book, considering the lack of response from society and government to that fact.

The book works for a few seemingly simple reasons. The first is that the world building is absolutely wonderfully down. Not only does Roanhorse create a believable world, references are made to today’s events (such as Trump’s wall). Roanhorse’s writing carries you there. The use of Native American belief and folklore is well done. The book is not overcrowded with an overpopulation of magical creatures and various vampires and weres (honesty, I really want a book about a were slug. I swear that is the only were we haven’t seen yet). There are no vampire politics (thank god). The use of clan powers is wonderful and brilliant. What I particularly enjoyed was Maggie’s relationship to her own powers. The descriptions are vivid and the characters, in particular Maggie and Kai, totally believable.

More importantly, as other reviewers have pointed out, this is one of the few fantasy novels where a tragic heroine actually heals. In part, this is because of Kai, a medicine man (and something a bit more that isn’t that big of a reveal. I have theories about book 2 as well), but also because Maggie herself wants to heal. That’s why you root for her. She doesn’t want to be the biggest bad ass. She wants to be the best Maggie, or at least a whole Maggie or better Maggie that she can be (Maggie’s views and relationship to her clan powers is also a factor here. Nicely done too). Very few authors in UF have their heroines actually heal or learn. There might be lip service to the idea in some UF fiction, but you never really see it. Again, Armstrong’s Elena and Vaughn’s Kitty are two characters who break this trend, and we see them healing. I enjoy and love both Women of the Otherworld and the Kitty Books, but Roanhorse does the emotional and mentally healing much better. She truly does. We know that Maggie has healed not simply by how she opens herself up to Kai, but also though little descriptive touches. It is these touches that make it more realistic.

Kai also gets a mention for not being the abusive douche bag that we are suppose to find romantic. He is as just a real character as Maggie, with his own wants, needs, fears, and problems. The relationship that develops between the two does not feel forced and rings true. He also is a balance for the view of “girly” that Maggie has. To often in books, the central heroine is seen as better than the other women because she does not like hair and make-up. Maggie doesn’t like a certain hairstyle it is true, but her objection has to do with the practicality of the style. Kai and a few other characters not only balance Maggie’s dismissal of looks and presentation but challenge her view. Additionally, even though Maggie is the heroine, she needs the other characters to succeed. This isn’t super woman saves everyone type of heroine.

It’s true it is not a perfect book. But it is a damn fine debut. Can’t wait for the second installment.

Highly recommended.




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Thursday, June 28, 2018

Review: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Ann Jacobs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As I start to write this review, the literary internet is blowing up somewhat because the Association for Library Service to Children has changed the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. The change is only to the name of the award (the ALA or ALSC is not banning the books) largely because of the comments about Native Americans in the books, including people saying things like “a good Indian is a dead Indian”. While some people are upset at the eradicating on Wilder’s legacy (not sure how a name change is eradicating, though a civil discussion online included a person pointing out that some people can see the name removal as a disrespect to a legacy), there are equally enough people (myself included) who are fine with it. Wilder’s books are a product of her time (and her daughter to some degree). And if I was a poc, I would be very uncomfortable with an award for children’s literature named after an author who does have racism in her books, especially when there is a focused effort to make children’s books more diverse.

What all this did was contribute to how I think about the literary canon.

The canon should be, at the very least, ever growing. Now, don’t get me wrong. There is a host of reasons why we don’t have very many good English Renaissance Woman poets, and those reasons have nothing to do with the size of woman’s brains or talent. That said, the canon is still largely male and white. For instance, and more to the point of this review, while we should read Frederick Douglass, why shouldn’t we also read Harriet Jacobs?

Jaocbs’ book is truth but with the names changed. In the book, she is Linda, her children have different, and one presumes that the names of the slave owners are different too. This makes sense for why Jacobs court abduction and harm by would using her own name, or harm those who aided her in her escape.

Jacobs’ work chronicles Linda’s birth into slavery, and injustice as her family was kidnapped back into slavery after being returned their freedom. The bulk of the book is focuses on Linda’s struggles to gain her freedom. This starts as a result of attempts to avoid being raped by her legal owner’s father. Her legal owner is a five-year-old girl at the start of the book. Whereas Douglass could not write about a woman’s experience under slave, Jacobs’ can. Not only does she explore the greater obstacles that an enslaved woman had to overcome, but she also illustrates why it is the male slave narrative that tend to greater play. It is difficult, extremely difficult, to escape and leave your children behind as well as cover land while pregnant or nursing.

The interesting thing is that the story shows us a case of a master relationship with his slave that isn’t a physical attack of rape. Now, Linda’s master does want to rape her. He has the power, she really cannot say no. But it is important to note that he does not physically attack her. He keeps “offering” her nice things and then threatening her with punishment. The attacks are mental and not physical, undoubtedly to make the slave owner justify himself. It’s an important aspect to know about. As is Linda’s solution to the problem is to take as much control of her own destiny as she can in her very limited opportunities. It also raises the question of freedom and sexual freedom.

Jacobs is also more aware of the contrast between the public face of slaver owners and the private face of slave owners. She notes the hidden lives of Congressman as well as the hypocrisy of a preacher getting a black enslave woman pregnant and the society not caring but watch out if it is a white woman who is not his wife he gets pregnant.

This is a book that should be read and included more often in composition courses.


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Monday, June 25, 2018

Handmaid's Tale Season 1-Season 2.10


The Handmaid’s Tale is the reason I started a Hulu subscription.  The novel had long been a favorite, and a book that I had taught more than once.  It’s fair to say that I enjoy watching the series, though enjoy is a strange word to use. 

                Perhaps the weakest area is the question of race that the tv series at times seems to gloss over.  More than one critical review has pointed out that many of the Handmaid’s stories seem to be taken from slaver narratives.  In the first season, Moira seems to be little more at times than June’s black best friend in the most magical black woman cliché way possible while still being a real character.  This changes in the second season, thankfully.  In the second season, the viewers are introduced to Luke’s first wife, Annie, a black woman, who when confronting June about the affair with Luke strangely doesn’t mention race.  Now, it’s true that in some areas – say like in the Colonies with the Unwoman who were in an interracial relationship, it would have been strange to stop for a racist react scene.  But the confrontation with June and Luke’s first wife feels off because race is not mentioned at all, and considering the racial issues the lie between white women and black women, in other words white women selling and selling out black women, the lack of race in the Annie/June confrontation feels wrong.  How others view June's relationship with Luke and Hannah isn't entirely disregarded, for we do have a scene where June is questioned about whether she is truly Hannah’s mother, and that is a reference to white woman with the darker skin daughter.

                The point about slave narrative is complex.  This is because there is much truth to the charge.  Yet, it is also hard to see how the handmaids could be made believable without the use of stories that have historical precedent.  Additionally, it would be also fair to say that African women were not the only enslaved women and that there were women in other cultures who might have committed the same actions (and enslaved women were not the only women to lose their children.  There are Indian schools were Native American children were taken from their parents).  Yet, watching it in a religious America, with mostly white handmaids acting out the stories is a bit discomfiting in terms of racial politics to put it mildly.  Would Janine's scene where she tried to commit suicide with her baby been different and raised other questions if Janine had been played by a women of color?  Yes, and those conversations are ones that we need to have.  America  and her people do not like confronting the ugly history of slavery, reconstruction, and lynching.  We do not.  And this might be a reason for how that scene feels while watching it.  It might have been too racially charged with a poc in the role Janine.  But I find it impossible to say that it being so would be a bad thing.  

                Yet, I wonder if that the feeling of disquiet, of racial issues being there but not in your face is the point.  In the second season, episode ten, there is a scene where Offred/June is briefly reunited with her daughter.  This is done as a favor to June by her commander, Fred Waterford.  Hannah has been placed with another couple and is brought to the reunion by a Martha, who is a black woman, and a driver.  The scene is poignant because June and her daughter are saying good bye.  It is impossible to watch such a scene and, as an American versed in the nation’s history, not think of similar cases, actually real cases, where slave mothers said farewell, if they were lucky, to their children.  This is highlighted and brought to the fore by the inclusion of the black Martha.  I wonder if the inversion of roles isn’t an attempt to show the privilege of white skin, the, limited, protection that skin color has brought white women in modern society (and Western society) for many years.  This would also tie into Annie and the lack of mention of June’s whiteness.  We are getting the story via June’s memory, is race something that she would allow herself to think about?  Would she be woke enough to notice?   In the book, the point is not being woke or aware of what is going on, of sleeping while your freedom is taken from you.  Perhaps June's memory of the confrontation is a reference to this.

                The same episode also hints at something possiblely occurring later.  A black commander notes that his wife is pregnant.  In Atwood’s novel, the low birth rate is seen primarily among whites.  Is the inclusion of this commander a hint that the series will be addressing race more openly?


                The strongest area is actually more firmly on display in the second season of the show.  That is the way the women are stopped from forming alliances.  This is most drastically highlighted in the episode were Serena Joy and June have formed a strange alliance while Fred Waterford recovers from wounds gained when a Handmaid set off a grenade during an opening of Rachel and Leah center.  When Fred returns to the house, at first everything is fine.  But then he goes to June’s room and discovers a flower and a music box that Serena Joy gave June as a thank you for helping.  It is after this discovery that Fred punishes Serena Joy, by beating her, in front of June.  It isn’t that Serena Joy took over his work, though that might be part of it, it is that the women did it together.  The women are working together, and that is not something Fred can have.  In fact, over the course of much of the first and second seasons, part of what Fred has done is put Serena Joy and June/Offred at odds, making a jealous woman more jealous, and giving June things he does not give his wife.  It’s true he gets quite a bit for having June for himself, but part of it is geared toward division.  This also extends to the Martha, Rita, as well, and the love/hate relationships that seem to exist between the commanders’ wives might also come back to this as well as professional jealously.

                The show illustrates this division at all levels.  We see it when Aunt Lydia is told that Janine cannot attend a dinner because of her missing eye.  Aunt Lydia is given this order by Serena Joy, and Aunt Lydia is not happy.  She too has already divided the Handmaid’s to a degree, with favorites and such, and in the second season we see this in greater detail when June is the only Handmaid to avoid punishment.  Aunt Lydia may have to obey but once June is pregnant, she gets to control Serena Joy to a degree as well. The whole Gilead rests on the idea of keeping the women at each’s throats so they don’t have each other’s backs.  The show captures this amazingly well.  It also shows how and why women succumb to it.  Serena Joy breaks it for a bit, just a bit, but she can’t break totally away.  And she really wants that child.

 It is not surprising that two episodes after her beating that Serena Joy aids her husband in the rape of June.  What is surprising is how many people have objected to the rape.  Since day one of the series, June has been raped.  What is violent and disturbing about the rape in episode ten is the extent to which Serena Joy takes part.  Before, she did not view June as a woman but as a womb she had to tolerate to get what she wanted.  When she works with June and thanks her, Serena Joy sees her handmaid as human.  Yet after her beating, after her rejection of an escape to Hawaii, she has recommitted to the power structure.  She is even more complicit.

June’s reaction is not much different.  She cannot keep her alliance with Serena Joy if the wife does not seem to want it.  June goes back to the handmaids as her only allies, and the handmaids are relatively powerless.  June also reaches out to both Rita and Aunt Lydia as de facto godmothers for her soon to be born child.  What is important is why they agree – it is to protect the child.  Not for June, but for the child.  June is unimportant.  June is as unimportant as Luke’s first wife was to her [June’s] worldview.

In many ways, what the tv series show is what happens when we stop seeing other women as women as the other.  Not even female, but simply a thing, a rival, a non-human.  It is something that we do today, that June did before, and something we should be very warily of.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Review: The War on Neighborhoods: Policing, Prison, and Punishment in a Divided City

The War on Neighborhoods: Policing, Prison, and Punishment in a Divided City The War on Neighborhoods: Policing, Prison, and Punishment in a Divided City by Ryan Lugalia-Hollon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the common fallacies you see when the topic of police shootings of unarmed African-Americans is someone saying, “well, no one ever talks about black on black shootings”. There are more than a few things wrong with such a statement. Let’s mention two. The first is that no one talks about white on white crime or, to be more exact, as many critics have pointed out, no one talks about crime rates among whites that way. The second is that such a statement doesn’t really negate the question of institutionalism racism.

I have read this book after reading Stamped from the Beginning and the Color of Law, two books that deal with racism and how laws were used to legally allow for racism. Lugalia-Hollon and Cooper look at the current effects of such policies. In other words, they tie everything together – the racism of the justice system, the effect of racist housing policies, the rise of the suburbs, and the defunding of the schools as well as community safe havens.

War on Neighborhoods focuses on one city, Chicago, and one section of that city, Austin; yet the authors do not hesitate to make larger connections to governmental policies as well as to mention how other cities in the US face similar problems.

The thesis of the book is that the problems that certain areas have (i.e. the inner city, poorer areas) are a result of policies designed to stop crime as well as politicians who not so much don’t care but don’t try anything new. It isn’t simply ending a drug epidemic, it is ending a cycle that is built on racism and classism. It is about empowering communities as opposed to governments.

The book is divided into chapters, many of which take an aspect of the problem and dissect it. I saw most because there is a conclusion and an introduction. Of particular interest is how inner-city areas, like Austin in Chicago, can be a source of revenue for outlaying towns by “providing” inmates for the prisons in those towns. One must wonder if racism in pre-dominantly white town a product of the prison is also. The authors show us that what effects one small area can have a huge ripple effect.

If you are interested in the saving of cities, in the war on drugs, and violence in neighborhoods, then you need to read this book before we have a conversation. It should be required reading for anyone getting involved in community outreach or politics.



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Friday, June 22, 2018

Review: They Fought Alone: The True Story of the Starr Brothers, British Secret Agents in Nazi-Occupied France

They Fought Alone: The True Story of the Starr Brothers, British Secret Agents in Nazi-Occupied France They Fought Alone: The True Story of the Starr Brothers, British Secret Agents in Nazi-Occupied France by Charles Glass
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

If you know anything about SOE then you have heard about the Starr brothers, maybe not in depth and maybe just by their code names, but you have heard them. John Starr was at Avenue Foch at the same as Noor Khan and was one of the men who planned an escape attempt with her.

Charles Glass presents the story of the brothers’ actions in SOE during the second World War. George Starr avoided capture and lead a rather effective group of resistance operatives in occupied France. His brother, John Starr, was not as lucky.

In many ways, using the two brothers, Glass shows the divergent paths an SOE operative could take. Capture in most case, meant torture and death. But freedom could mean death as well, but also to strike against the Nazis, then possibly, possibly honors after the war.

Not that those who joined SOE did so for honors; it was a top-secret organization after all.

The book’s one problem is the same problem that is in any book about SOE, what is the truth and what actually happened. It’s hard, and then you have to factor in the times, the situation and all that.

To be fair, Glass does his best. He does note when something is rumor and when something is fact. If there are two divergent stories, he gives both with context and pros and cons. This is especially important when dealing with John Starr’s story as his is less clear cut than his brothers. Did he help the enemy or not, if he did is he at fault are questions that Glass must attend to, and he does, quite well. While he is sympathetic to his subjects, he is not blind or totally in awe. It is a balanced recounting.

The Starrs are the focus of the book, but Glass does give time to various members of the Circuit and other prisoners.

This book is nice addition to the works about the members of SOE.

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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

Cinderella


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

3.5

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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