Featured Post

Review: Patriot or Traitor: The Life and Death of Sir Walter Ralegh

Patriot or Traitor: The Life and Death of Sir Walter Ralegh by Anna Beer My rating: 4 of 5 stars Disclaimer: I won an ARC ...

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Review: Patriot or Traitor: The Life and Death of Sir Walter Ralegh

Patriot or Traitor: The Life and Death of Sir Walter Ralegh Patriot or Traitor: The Life and Death of Sir Walter Ralegh by Anna Beer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I won an ARC of this title via Netgalley.

When you actually sit down and think about, what exactly did Sir Walter Ralegh actually do to deserve almost being a household name in today’s world? You are more likely to have heard of him than Robert Cecil. He is one of the famous prisoners of the Tower of London, isn’t he? Thankfully, Anna Beer’s new book partially answers that question. In fact, she answers it as much as is humanly possible.

The book is less an examination of whether Ralegh was a traitor but how much he truly relied on self-promotion and proclamation. It is about treading the minefields that were political life in both Elizabeth and early Jacobean English court history.

While it is helpful to have a working knowledge of English history during the closing years of Elizabeth’s reign and the beginning of James, Beer’s writing is very engaging, and the pace is lively. The chapters each deal an aspect of Ralegh – solider, husband, and on – and what is undoubtedly more engrossing than a simpler linear biography.

What really sells the book are the subtle, at times funny, asides, such her musing about a codpiece, and her ability to not see her subject through rose-colored glasses. There are examinations of Ralegh’s various relationships – in particular with his wife and with his rivals. While one can’t say a better knowing of Ralegh as a man is a result of this book, one does get a better idea of how when he lived affected him. It doesn’t make Ralegh into your drinking mate, but it deepens your understanding.

View all my reviews

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Review: The Darkest Thread

The Darkest Thread The Darkest Thread by Jen Blood
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book starts out very strong. Jamie Flint, her dog Phantom, her son Bear, and his dog Casper, all come across as fully realized. The opening sequence of mother, son, and dogs doing a training tracking run in Maine was wonderfully written. The use of mother and son having varying degrees of the sight and the ability to see ghosts isn’t overdone. It’s just right.

But then once Jamie, Bear, dogs, and their employee/friend/Bear’s romantic interest Ren (accompanied by her dog) go to Vermont to help the FBI with a search for two missing girls, the book, slowly goes downhill.

At first, it isn’t quite that obvious. There are several positive aspects, even though despite being a first in a series, there is quite a bit of history that seems to have been dealt with another series. Unlike several other books with strong female leads, Darkest Thread has Jamie surrounded by strong women – an FBI agent as well as the head of the Vermont K-9 rescue both work with Jamie, and even the potential romantic rival, a news reporter who while pushy and antagonist comes across as strong willed.

It is promising enough for a reader to overlook the fact that it is the Maine team that just happens to make a major discovery, even after the Vermont team has been working. There is an attempt to explain this that a reader can somewhat buy – the father, Dean, of the missing girls has reason to distrust the FBI. Dean’s brother, an FBI agent, went to jail for killing two of the men’s sisters. The FBI agents working the missing girls’ case are all connected to this disgraced agent, who maybe innocent. Furthermore, Dean is a bit of a doomsday/off the gird guy who distrusts the FBI and blames the government for everything. Talking these plot points into an account, even with the unlikeness of the FBI team all having a connection with the murderer, a reader can allow herself to buy the no one checked the property because Dean wouldn’t let them attempt to justify why Jamie and crew find the body of one daughter and not the Vermont team.

But that’s when the book goes pear shaped.

In a slightly confusing sequence Dean goes bonkers, shoots Bear, takes him hostage to ensure that Jamie finds his other missing girl, Ren refuses to leave Bear, so Dean tells everyone that he will kill one teen in x number of hours.

The FBI lets this happen, pretty much.

And then the plot point that totally shatters any left-over suspension of disbelief. Jamie tells someone that she called Ren’s father to tell him about his daughter being taken and he’s upset but is going to stay back in Maine.

I’m sorry, but what the fucking hell.

Before Ren is taken hostage, Blood tells the reader at least three times that Ren’s mother and siblings were violently murdered in Nigeria, and Ren herself was separated from her father for over a year. It’s why Ren and her father went to the United States. So why is dad like, whatevers?
And even without that backstory, what parent would stay away?

And then Jamie finds some tunnels and gets caught in a cave in. All the dogs howl, but no one is smart enough to connect the howling with the earthquake that caused the cave in. Her knee gets hurt, but don’t worry despite it being two times its normal size, she is still able to keep up with everyone else.

What’s worse, the two of the other strong women become weak. It’s like the female FBI agent has a brain transplant or something (mostly because she is supposed to be a red herring), and the news reporter gets killed because she didn’t listen to the big strong man.

No men die though.

Blood also seems to be trying to use the ghosts to up the horror, and in some ways, they are the most interesting part of the story.

The downhill slide is a shame because if it had been workshopped or edited more, it would have been a far better book. There are plausible reasons why Ren’s father might not show up – he’s in the field, he’s on a plane, he’s out of country – instead of the half ass on that we are given. The ending could have been smoothed out and tightened. The ghosts could have been allowed more room, the mood could have been better. As it is now, it goes from a book that had promise at the beginning to a book that kills any desire to read anything else by the author. Two stars because of the strong beginning.

View all my reviews

Friday, October 12, 2018

Review: A Dreadful Fairy Book

A Dreadful Fairy Book A Dreadful Fairy Book by Jon Etter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: Digital ARC via Netgalley. It did not have many of the illustrations, but if the frontispiece is anything to go by, the illustrations should be good.

Me, handing in the review to the Review God: Here you go.

Review God: Wait, wait. You can’t give it five stars and then simply say because of Saint Eeyore.

Me: Why not?

Review God shakes bookshelves.

Me: But it mentions Saint Eeyore. That should be enough to make anyone read it. But okay fine. Give it here, I’ll add something.

Review God takes back the review: What’s this say? Your handwriting is horrible.

Me: Saint Eeyore, Stinkletoe Radishbottom, Lee the Harper, and William Shudderpike are all mentioned. Plus, there is a really funny hobbit title. Read this book now.

Review God delivers that stare with the glasses.

Me: Okay, fine, give it. Look, I can’t add more, if you don’t give it here.

Review God: You dictate, I’ll write.

Me: But if you’re a god, why do you need a pencil.

Review God shakes the bookshelves again.

Me: Alright, just wondering. Hamm. Let’s see. A Dreadful Fairy Book is a fairy tale that will charm readers of all ages. In theory a children’s book, the novel is a love parody . . .

Review God: that’s not a thing.

Me: It is now. Funk and Wagnalls said I could. So there. The novel is love parody poem to the joys and wonders of reading. It will make any long-time reader weep tears of passion. The story, supposedly related by Quentin Q Quacksworth Esq, who is a bit miffed at having to tell it, is about the heroine we have all been waiting for – Shade. A young sprite who goes on an epic quest to find another copy of her first book love, after her book and library were savagely destroyed. Along the way, she encounters various people and other characters, including a Professor who may actually be a professor, a troll who likes tea, and the “nephew of the second most prosperous cheesemaker in Bilgewater”.
The story includes fantasy titles of famous real-world works, such as Lee the Harper’s to Murder an Insulting Finch. There are fights, lost parents, owl wings, and changelings. Long the way, the reader will have to duel with Quacksworth who has gotten it into his head that this story should not be told. This is because he does not understand the wonder that is Shade, a beautifully flawed, book loving, sprite of color. She also has really cool wings, though flying makes her tummy feel funny. She can curse! The book even passes the Bechdel test.
There are a couple wonderful send ups of Tolkien as well as knightly fighting. There is a squire who knows his weaponry. A kick ass mother. There are references to family members’ body parts.

Review God: That’s disgusting.

Me: No, it’s not. You haven’t read the book. Look, if you are a reader, this is a book about reading. About how reading can bind a family together. How reading makes outcasts feel less outcastery. YES, I KNOW. How dangerous a lack of reading can be. If you read, you will love this book. Is that what you want Review God?

Review God: Yes.

Me: Okay, but we all know that everyone is really reading it for Saints Eeyore and Figgymigg. And the scene with the Three Billy Goats Gruff.

View all my reviews

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Review: Ringmaster

Ringmaster Ringmaster by Trudi Jaye
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It is also titled Ringmaster's Heir (Dark Carnival #1) in the US.

There are parts of this that are wonderful. Rilla, the title character, is a totally real and likable central character. She is easy to root for, and isn't a princess perfect. The idea of a Carnival and a group of families that are quasi cursed to help Marks is interesting. The magic in the series is well thought out and has rules that are followed. The plot at the beginning is pretty good. Rilla's father has died (has he been murdered?), she faces a challenge to her inheritance as Ringmaster, made more problematic because the Carnival has been dealing with sabotage. The whole sequence with Rilla and the Mark, Kara, as they help each other is wonderful.

The but to this otherwise good book is a few major buts.

The first is that the romance feels entirely forced and as something the writer threw in because she (I presume the Trudi Jaye is a she, apolgizes if he/it/them is the preferred pronoun) thought readers would want it. The hero, Jack, is the son of the man who is challenging Rilla for the Ringmaster role. The Nine, men and one women besides Rilla, who control various aspects of the Carnvial (such as food, games, rides) will vote on it. Jack's father was exiled for 33 years for interfering with a Mark. Part of the forced romance feel is that Jack is really unlikable. At first, it is understandable why he wants to support his father in the quest for Ringmaster title. His father was ill, the return to the Carnival seems to be good for his father - who wouldn't want to help Dad, especially when Jack wants to get back to his job. So, yeah, he's a jerk and maniuplative (he uses a private conversation and its infromation), but you can understand why. It's when his father suffers a relapse and decides that Jack should take his place as challenger that Jack looks even more jerk like (why would he agree, especially when he wasn't raised in the Carnival or fully understands it?). Then Jerk Jack says he is doing it for Rilla's own good because she is sad about her dad. This after they slept together (which felt so forced that you were literally, going really) and after he realizes that Rilla was basically running the Carnival for her father anyway.


What is more, the NIne (even the only woman of the Nine, who is the Foodmaster) are okay with this. AND NOT ONE WOMAN THINKS TO CALL THEM OUT ON THE SEXISM. The closest you get is Missy who hints, hints, at it. By the end of the book,when Rilla has been told by one of the men on the Nine that they love her and that's why they wanted Jack or his dad as Ringmaster because they were worried about her grieving. you want Rilla to shout, "Screw you, you SeXist Bastards and enabling Woman" and walk away.

Instead she becomes co-Ringmaster with Jack who is still a fucking jerk.

This might of been fine if the sexism had at least been addressed or even mentioned, but it's not. THe only reason, at least in times of the world in the book, that the NIne might vote for Jack or his Dad instead of someone who knows the Carnival, is that Rilla has tits and a v-j.

It totally ruined the book. It really did.

And then the reveal is something a reader can figure out about 100 plus pages earlier. There is a third plot point that just feels thrown in.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Review: The Con Artist - SPOILERS AHOY

The Con Artist The Con Artist by Fred Van Lente
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A mystery sent at a Comic Con, sign me up.

The best-selling point of this novel are the inside jokes about culture – the LOTR references, Star Wars, Cosplay. There are even some interesting points about how it is a Comic Con but most people seem to think that comics are no longer being published. A convention to celebrate something and that thing gets pushed to the margins.

Mike Mason is a comic artist who makes his living by going to cons. He is currently unemployed by a publisher. At the most recent con, he finds himself a quasi-suspect in the murder of his sort of romantic rival who also was a harasser. Mason then sets out to solve the mystery and save the job of a friend, who as a woman artist is in danger of being replaced on the Batman like book.

And along the way, you have rants about everything that is wrong in the comic industry.

Which is fine. The mystery is workable, there are some funny jokes. But, but,

But but.

First the romantic lead is totally added on and feels so false. Second, we have the stereotypical noir of good girl= blonde, bad girl = dark hair, which pisses me off because I have dark hair.

But the main problem for me, and one that isn’t at first obvious, is that despite being a partial critique/send up of comic cons, it still hues to some of the problems of fandom and its treatment of women.

In this book, there are four women of note– the ex-wife Mason still has a thing for and who isn’t an angel; the Pedi-cab driver who is a nice, caring blonde, Mason’s biggest fan who has a pretty good cosplay, and Mason’s artist friend who helped get her start.

The cosplayer is eventually revealed to have mental issues, so female fans are at risk of being crazy; the artist needs to have her job saved and only Mason can do it. See, she’s about to give birth, and her husband has some shit going out his job. Which, quite frankly, jerked me out of the book because the description of her husband’s adjunct life makes very little sense, and I say this as an adjunct. For one, most adjuncts teach in at least colleges/universities. But I digression. The ex-wife is revealed to be a baddie and gets murdered. So that leaves with the romantic interest of a Pedi-cab driver, who really isn’t into the whole con thing and just makes money. She is on the margins, and she is the only woman without problems or in need of saving.

So, women don’t belong in fandom is being showcased whether that was Van Lente’s intention or not. And to be fair, I don’t think it was. He doesn’t describe women by their tits.

Perhaps I am too sensitive to it because I feel like I am always on the fringes of fandom. I tend to prefer the books over the media. I tend to play more attention to plot. I have a decidedly feminist bent to how I look at sci-fi and fantasy.

But still, especially with the treatment of the woman fan, this book just re-enforces the idea of women and fandom not mixing.

Nice artwork, however.

View all my reviews

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Review: A History of the World in 21 Women: A Personal Selection

A History of the World in 21 Women: A Personal Selection A History of the World in 21 Women: A Personal Selection by Jenni Murray
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Librarything

We love lists. We make shopping lists, reading lists, to read lists, movie lists, and on and on. Any book or article that publishes a list is going to get called on that list. So, let’s get that bit out of the way.

Murray’s list of 21 women starts in Ancient Egypt and goes to Cathy Freeman. There is a total of eight women of color, three from the US, and two from France and Russia. Every continent is represented, except South America, which is a bit annoying. Bonus points for having Australia represented by an Aboriginal woman. There is a nice mixture of women in the arts, politics, and sciences. It’s true that a reader does wonder why some lesser known women aren’t mentioned, why, in some cases, the standard women are trotted out. And couldn’t a woman from South America make the list? But all the women either were or are highly influential, usually in more than one field.

But quite frankly, it was so wonderful to see Toni Morrison here, and she isn’t the only artist.

Jenni Murray, host of BBC’s Women Hour, details 21 women using an amazing personal voice as well as with a good critical eye. At times her personal admiration really does shine though. Honesty, Merkel, c’mon, let Murray talk to you, basically so she can ask you if you really did read Playboy to understand Trump.

Murray also does not whitewash the flaws in the women. In fact, at times, she notes her own conflicts with some of the actions the women take – for instance Queen Isabella’s prosecutions of Jews. She handles Bhutto’s political history deftly. The tone of the writing is totally engaging, and the book is quite easy to dip in and out of. It is as if you are listening to Murray present on the radio.

The portraits of each woman are incredibly lovely.

View all my reviews

Friday, September 7, 2018

Review: That Old Witch!

That Old Witch! That Old Witch! by M.Z. Andrews
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I was going to use this as my cozy bingo read, but I can't finish it. I cannot take 400 plus pages of this.

You would think it would be good. It almost sounds a witchy version of Golden Girls meets Murder, She Wrote. But nope.

I mean, I knew I was in trouble when I started - take for instance

". . . a sudden, fierce gust of wind whipped at the newly budded tree branches and sent a spray of gavel dust up into the air, exfoliating the front of the three-story Victorian and the back end of the old jalopy parked in the dirt driveway" (1)


"The pale, wrinkled skin on her outstretched arms sagged from just below her elbows to her armpits, her short elastic sleeves doing little to carry the burden of the excess baggage" (1)


"Arched white trellises covered in pink and purple clematis and lavender-shaded wisteria anchor themselves centrally" (2)


"With her nose still point to the clouds, Kat opened her eyes and ever so slowly dropped her chin." (3)

(I'm not sure how the nose stays pointed at the sky the, to be honest).


"She had only a few minutes to get out of the garden before the magic fertilizer with the rain coming down." (3).

There also are the following questions - if the majority of people in the town are okay with witches, then how is saying you went to witch school a conversation killer? How can never being married means you have no family or friends? If the funeral director let you leave the funeral with a woman's ashes, you should not be surprised when you discover that she named you in her will. If you had to leave town for years, why did you run a diner there? I mean, how could you do that? If you leave in the town for, say, 40 years, and then left for a few years, say 5, shouldn't you know at least the old stories?

View all my reviews

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Review: An American Marriage SPOILERS

An American Marriage An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a review of the audio edition and deals with an issue that may only apply to the audio edition.

There are times when I think an audio book is, in fact, superior, to the written form. For instance, Lincoln at the Bardo. If I had read that, having brought it thinking it was a novel, I pretty sure I would have been frustrated at the format. But the audio book, with all those voice actors – that worked for me. My reaction to this book is heavily influenced by the structure of the audio performances. Both Mr. Crisden and Ms. Davis gave stellar performances, and it wouldn’t surprise if they get nominated for awards. The book itself, in terms of writing, is powerful. The subject matter timely – how the justice systems harms more than those who are unjustly accused, in large part, because of the color of their skin. Roy, one of the men who tells part of the story, is married to Celestial. Not quite newlyweds, but the first brush is still on the fruit, when he gets falsely accused of rape, found guilty, sentenced, and finally released after five years when the injustice of the system was brought to light. What happens to the marriage in that five-year span and once Roy gets out is the subject matter of the book. In addition, to the examination of “justice” on a family, Jones also looks at how gender roles play into that effect.

Jones deserves much credit because it is a bit hard to like Roy. You can feel sorry for him, you can admit the injustice and cruelty of what happened to him. Yet, even before his injustice, he doesn’t quite see Celestial as hers, and not his. But the reader shouldn’t lose sight of his stepping out on his marriage with Celestial. No, I’m not talking about what happens when he leaves jail, but before. Roy never directly says he physically cheated, but he mentions that 99% of the time he didn’t got beyond flirting (so 1% of the time he did, is the inference), and he brought lingerie for another woman. Maybe Celestial didn’t care if it was just sex, maybe she did. The listener doesn’t know.

And that’s the problem with the audio version.

The story is told via three viewpoints – Roy, Andre (Celestial’s oldest friend and, later, her partner), and Celestial. Part of the story is told though letters that Roy and Celestial send each other, most notably when Roy is in jail. When those letters are read, the listener hears Celestial via Roy’ voice or his view of her voice. IN other words, Crisden’s voice (or his voice trying to do a woman’s) instead of Eisa Davis’.

Which means, this story of a marriage, is largely told by Roy and Andre – Celestial has the smallest voice in the whole audio book.

Now, this might be intentional. Look at the symbolism of her name, for instance. Roy is the one that things happen to, the one who loses the most, so it is understandable that it is his story. But like all of us, Roy is not a 100% reliable narrator. Look, I am only talking how we all unreliable narrators whether or not we knowingly are.

The thing is, if this is a story about a marriage, then we need Celestial’s voice. IN her own voice. Being read Celestial’s letters in the voice of Roy makes her too removed from the reader. The inflection and emphasis on certain things change. Now, this could be Jones’ intention. It really could be. And if it is, it works really well. But in an audio book it is immensely annoying because the listener gets use to fake Celestial voice as opposed to real Celestial voice. This is incredibly jarring. So, jarring.

And fake Celestial’s voice is so whiny.

And then Roy, understandably so, frames things in a way that rubs you the wrong way (talking credit, in part, for Celestial’s store).

But the loss of a marriage, whether or not that marriage would have worked, is such a palpable feeling as well as the sense of relief that characters like Andre feel because it didn’t happen to them. The pressures that are brought on Celestial because she is a black woman married to a black man who has been unjustly locked up are also dealt with.

It is a really a beautifully written and thought-provoking book.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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?


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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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!!

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews