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

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

Sunday, April 22, 2018

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

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

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.

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

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

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

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Saturday, April 14, 2018

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

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

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

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

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

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

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

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

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

The book is both engaging and engrossing.

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Sunday, April 8, 2018

Review: Dread Nation

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

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

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

It’s not.

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

It is and isn’t.

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

And yet, it is so much more.

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

This isn’t your normal zombie book.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How cool is that?

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

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

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Sunday, April 1, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Review: A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo

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

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

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

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

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

The artwork is beautiful.

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

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

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

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Sunday, March 18, 2018

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

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

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, March 12, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, March 9, 2018

Review: Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, March 8, 2018

Review: The Ghost, The Owl

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

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

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

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

The artwork is stunning. The story beautiful.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Review: Lydie

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

Disclaimer: Arc via Netgalley.

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

Or is the young girl?

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

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

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

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Saturday, March 3, 2018

Review: This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America

This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jerkins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Feb 2018 My Book Box Non-fiction pick.

Disclaimer: I am a white woman. Additionally, I teach students who come from the same places in New Jersey that Jerkins cites in this book. I am trying not to center myself in the narrative, but the first paragraph of the review is in part a gut reaction, so please bear with me.

I am conflicted about this book. The thing that Jerkins does and does is generalize. These sweeping generalizations are off putting. I’m not even talking about the whole voting for Trump thing. A high percentage of white woman voted for Trump, and these are the women she speaks about there (the grammar backs this up, so if someone is complaining about that, that's misguided to put it nicely). No, I’m talking about like in her discussion of the French film Girlhood. I remember the discussion and reaction to that movie. While Jerkins' take on the film is overall interesting, she makes it sound like Black women all across the global are exactly alike. Look, I’m not a black woman, so maybe, for all I know, this is true. But I would imagine that recent immigrants to France who come from Africa also have a whole set of issues that are not related to being slaves in America – connected to the slave trade and colonialism, yes - and are different than an African-American woman from whereever USA. She does the same when she talks about white girls at her school, and how they never had to deal with being assaulted, harassed or molested sexually because their whiteness protected them. In fact, the one time she does mention harassment towards a woman who at the very least presents as white, she is almost dismissive of it. I’m not disregarding or ignorant to misogynoir that exists, and it is far easier to be female and white. However, I teach students (white, black, Asian, and Native American, some of whom present white, so I doubt another sweeping generalization Jerkins makes), and I know that the number of all-female students who have been sexually molested or harassed (or raped) by their lower and secondary school’s peers (as I have been) is great. In fact, it is a rarity to have a class where a female student hasn’t been (and the classes have far more ladies than gentlemen). I found the dismissal and generalization hard, perhaps cruel.

But that’s the point isn’t it? The world has been belittling or simply out right ignoring the pain of black women and girls for hundreds of years. This is what Jerkins is talking about. She’s showing the reader here a bit of it, whether Jenkins intended to do so or not.

What’s the term? Checking my privilege? Humbling?

It’s why I am conflicted about this book. Feminism should be intersectional. To be so, we need to listen to everyone, talk, and listen without judgement or hackle raising. We need to listen and need to have voices like Jerkins’. In many ways, I think Twitter and Facebook have made the knee jerk reaction easier and far more dangerous. True conversation means listening to unpleasant and hard truths (whether an individual’s truth or the truth – is there even THE Truth?). Whatever I think about what Jerkins is saying, I have no doubt that she is speaking her truth and should be listened to because her experience is just as valuable and important as mine, as yours, as Clinton’s, as even Ivanka’s (yeah, I know, me too).

This doesn’t mean that I am blind to the book’s faults. Jerkins does go off on some strange digressions. She wanders at points, and her progression in some of the essays could be far, far tighter. I’m also reading Gabrielle Union’s We’re Going to Need More Wine, and Union does consistently what I wish Jerkins had done more – introspection. For instance, when Jerkins is relating about her watching of porn, there are so many other themes that could have been touched on – to porn actors connection to abuse, to a society that is designed to make one group of women take joy in the degradation of another (I have no doubt that there are nonblack women who watch/watched the same material that Jerkins did, just different races). I found myself thinking how Union, Gay, or Robinson might have done better. In some of the essays, this lack of connection or whatever, makes the essay weaker and digressions more annoying.

Yet, at least half the essays are stand outs. Her “How to Be Docile” and “How to Survive” should be in every composition and woman’s studies class. Period. They are that good furthermore. Furthermore, her “The Stranger at the Carnival” is just, quite frankly, a masterpiece. Two sections of Malcolm X’s Autobiography tend to appear in composition readers – his learning to read in prison and his first conk. Usually the conk selection is paired with Gates’ essay about his mother’s kitchen and the importance of the kitchen in the family. But after reading Jerkins’, her essay should be paired with it because not only is hers a more recent presentation of the issue, but because she is a woman and raises other points. Quite frankly, it is even better than Phoebe Robinson’s You Can’t Touch My Hair.

Conflicted about this book I might be, but I am glad I read it. You should read it too. You need to read it.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Review: Spells, Swords, and Storms: Short Stories

Spells, Swords, and Storms: Short Stories Spells, Swords, and Storms: Short Stories by Nicole J. Sainsbury
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: The author sent me a copy of the book in exchange for a fair and honest review. We are GR friends too, before the publication of the book and I hadn't realized that she had published until the review offer.

Spells, Swords, and Storms is a three-story collection, one story for each word in the title. The first story, “Spellbound” is a pretty story about a love spell. Sainsbury plays with the idea of what happens after the love spell works and love is gained. It’s a delicate balancing job to write a story like this, especially when a reader factors in the questions of will. It is to Sainsbury’s credit that she handles the balancing act just fine. The sense of guilt, love, and shame that Jenna feels are palatable.

“Aislinn’s Raven” is the second story, and draws on the knights surrounding King Arthur. In fact, this story has been on my TBR shelf. While it is a good story, it is the weakest of the three. The story centers around Gareth, filling in his backstory, in particular where he would learn such skill at arms if his mother kept him tied to her skirts (as the story goes). While the central protagonists are well drawn (Gareth and his teachers), their opposites are not, at least not in the same way. The theme of a class of culture and powers is interesting and the description of time and setting is well done. However, one villain’s behavior doesn’t fully make sense. Perhaps this is all to do with bullies being “piss and wind”, but something more is hinted at, making the ending a bit too open ended. The reader wants a sequel and a bit more answers.

The best story is the last, “Winter Flood” which isn’t so much a fantasy, as a study of growing up and grief. Rachel, a college student, suffers a break up with her long-term boyfriend, and meets someone who is strangely familiar. While not, technically, the fantasy that the other stories are, it contains, at its heart, a quiet and beautiful magic. In some ways, it reminded me of Jim C Hines’ Goldfish Dreams – a more quiet, real story that is fantastic in tone and deals with real life and serious real-life problems directly.

All three stories deal with the theme of friendship, loyalty, and love. All feature strong women, though strong in different ways. Each story also focuses on questions of love and loyalty. They are not overly sentimental and quite magical.

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Saturday, February 17, 2018

Review: Acts of Vanishing

Acts of Vanishing Acts of Vanishing by Fredrik T. Olsson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

This is more of a guy book.

This does not mean it is a bad book. It’s just more male oriented than female.

William Sandberg has a few problems, the least of which is the fact that he has lost his job. The most pressuring is that the lights have gone out in Stockholm and no one knows why. This also concerns his wife Christina Sandberg and his daughter, Sara. Yet, the book focuses greatly on William’s reactions to certain things, and there are a few places where Christina’s reactions would also be called for.

But no one is really talking to each other because of family drama. You know how it is. But Olsson makes the family drama believable so it does work.

The family must solve an international conspiracy and save Stockholm from a black out where nothing works. (Though I was wondering about back up generators, nothing is said about hospitals for instance).

The best parts of the book are the descriptions of a powerless Stockholm during nighttime. Quite honesty, the power that Olsson has in describing the various reactions and dangers when the lights go out. The family drama is less interesting. In part this is because Sara serves as little more than a plot point, a push as it were.

Yet, both William and Christina are real characters, and while William and his reactions take center stage (to be fair, it his series), Christina is not a maiden in distress. It would make a good movie and is a good thrilling read.

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Sunday, February 11, 2018

Review: Fifty Shames of Earl Grey

Fifty Shames of Earl Grey Fifty Shames of Earl Grey by Andrew Shaffer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Who doesn't love hot Earl Grey? It makes everything else seem inferior.

Excuse me for a moment.

There, I put the kettle on. What did you think I was doing?

I truly needed a laugh, and this book (which I brought because of Misfit's review and the author's comment on a dicussion) provided it. In order to enjoy it, you don't need to have read Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey, just have a passing knowledge of both as well as the urban fantasy romantic trend that gave birth to them. The book isn't mean spirited, so even if you like the above mentioned, you should still enjoy this book.

The story centers around Anna Steal (note the name) and her relationship with Earl Grey. Mr Grey works in a steel and glass erection the likes of which do not exist in Anna's home of Portland. Sadly, all is not tip toe though the tulips for these loves; there are a few cow patties in the field.

He is older than she is, and he does have 50 Shames (#15 is the worse).

The book sends up every cliche you have ever seen about a socially inept girl and the rich man who deicides she is the one. The book is sly and witty.

It also has my new favorite line "I gaze into his gazing eyes gazingly like a gazelle gazing into another gazelle's gazing gaze" (33).

Look at it this way, even after finding out that the author worked (or did some work) for Maxim magazine, I still liked it.

Thank you so much Fanny Merkin (cough) and Andrew Shaffer!

There is also a Christmas story for free on kindle!

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Review: Fifty Shades of Rapunzel 1 (Give this book a little love, hmm)

Fifty Shades of Rapunzel 1 Fifty Shades of Rapunzel 1 by Mia Abbey
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Yeah, yeah I thought so too. Okay, I have to admit that I didn't find this book at all sexy or, well naughty, but the author said it was suppose to be silly, and it is that.

I just kept thinking Rapnuzel would be cold; well I suppose the hair. (Personally, I find the term cock to be rather non-erotic).

Abbey's writing in terms of sentences and all those pesky rules is pretty good. She can write. I personally liked, though not enough to finish the book, the use and inversion of the Snow White tale. I thought that was very neat, so neat that I'm giving this two stars even though I didn't finish it.

Ms. Abbey, if you read this review, you should know two things. I usually give books I didn't finish one star (and I only review books if I read a large amount. I read half of this). Two, and more important, if you write non-erotic stories, let me know. I'll read them because I like your mixing of ideas. (Edited to add that I added your plus size story to my to-read list).

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Review: Fifty Shades of Grey

Fifty Shades of Grey Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

In honor of the last movie's release, I am reposting this review.  It was a day I will never get back, and it wasn't even raining.

If I had to use one word to describe this book, it would be UGH!

I would rather get on the Erin Express* (and if you live in Philly, this tells you so much).

This book makes me fear for the human race. It makes me fear for the state of publishing. It makes me feel and fear for the state of writing.

(I should note here that I read this book for work so it was more of an assignment).

How does book warrant a price tag of 16 dollars?

I get it is suppose to be erotica. I get it was fan fiction first. But if the book costs 16 bucks and runs 500 pages, it needs to be more – well – professional.

And how anyone woman thinks this is an S&M guide is beyond me.

While I do not think this book should be banned or pulled from any library, this book offends me on so many levels.

Here goes – and this is going to be a rant and totally unprofessional.

The writing, in terms of style and word usage, is just bad. Take for instance these sentences, “His bedroom is vast. The ceiling-height windows look out on lit-up Seattle high-rises. The walls are white, and the furnishings are pale blue.” (111) Or “I pause, fractionally too long” (77). Or “My blood is pumping though my body” (112) –um, you mean it normally doesn’t? Wouldn’t that be a problem? Or “I try to push him away rather feebly” (59). Or “he says phlegmatically” (66) – I’m not sure how that is attractive. At one point an elevator whisks her away at terminal velocity – so wouldn’t she be dead? The college she attends is variously –WSU, WSUV, WSUVA. There are people who have apparently have stone steps – sorry, there are people who have stone steps attached to their bodies. There is this, “He pops a fragment of ice in my navel in a pool of cool, cold wine” (193). It’s supposed to be erotica but it sounds stupid (cool, cold) and doesn’t make sense. Is her navel in a pool of wine? Also apparently it is a very big and deep navel a few sentences later. And what exactly is a sandle? This bring me to

How can this book be erotica when the writing is wince worthy and makes no sense? How can it be erotica with words like "inner goddess" (who talks way too much) and "oh my" and "holy Moses"?

I know there are people who are going to say that this next gripe is unfair, but I don’t think it is. Jacqueline Carey wrote two erotic series that were also political fantasy with adequate if not good world building (granted drawn on European history). James places her story in the real world (she even gives a year), and it doesn’t make sense in any way shape or form. It feels so fake. I’m sorry but if Kate wants to be a reporter, she would be journalism major, not an English major, or at least be a minor in one if not a double major. If she ran the student paper and the interview was important, she would not get Ana to cover it. I’m sorry but American professors are not tutors in the English sense of the word. No college holds a graduation ceremony in a gym, stadiums yes. Though this apparently magically becomes an auditorium a few paragraphs later. Ana has an IPod but not a computer of any type or an email address. If Ana is interviewing Grey because he is giving a speech at her graduation, how come she doesn’t know this at her graduation? If Ana had a job at the campus library (which means payment), why is she working in hardware store? Isn’t the library job connected more to her English major? What American uses the term in situ to describe parents who aren’t divorced or absent? Considering that Ana doesn’t know basic opera information, would she really know Carmen Miranda? Internships are not salaried jobs. Finally, despite what this book implies, Washington state does in fact have speed limits. I checked.

As a reader and a holder of an English degree, I am deeply disturbed by Ana’s attitude toward reading. One, she apparently has vastly misread Tess. Two, when asked her favorite books, she simply says British Literature. Three, Thomas Hardy is never, ever light reading. Though Ana wouldn’t know this because apparently Tess puts her to sleep. If Ana loves reading so much, why doesn’t she, you know, read?  This is the biggest sin of the book - I cannot believe that Ana even knows how to read much less loves reading.  She doesn't mention any book other than Tess or another author other than Hardy by name.  How is that reader?

For a book that is supposedly about, in part, a woman coming to terms with her desires, it is rather misogynistic. It even endorses rape culture.

In the course of the book, Ana, unattractive Ana, is desired by three men – Grey, Jose, and Paul. Ana has made it clear to both Paul and Jose that she is not interested. Paul, at the very least, harasses by touching her when it makes her uncomfortable. Jose sexually assaults her while Ana and her friends are out drinking, trying to force her to kiss him when she repeatedly tells him that she doesn’t want to. The assault is only stopped by the appearance of Grey. Jose and Ana are still friends after this. This might be an interseting comment about how women are suppose to feel, at least in terms of society, but that is not explored at all.  (The character of Jose and Ana’s relationship to him is problematic for other reasons. Jose, like all minority characters who make brief appearances, is a stereotype. Furthermore, while his actions towards Ana at the bar are wrong, Ana does use him. He services her car free of charge. Ana, of course, condemns Kate for how Kate treats Jose, which is the same way Ana does).

Grey’s stopping of Jose might make him out as the good guy. But it doesn’t. The following morning, when Ana wakes up Grey blames her. If she hadn’t been drinking, he wouldn’t have had to save her. She shouldn’t drink so much. And she really isn’t frightened by his tracking her phone. They’ve only met three times but the stalking is a turn on (WTF?). Grey does this blaming after he has slept besides the semi-dressed Ana. He took off her pants and put her to bed because she was sick after drinking so much.

Incidentally, Grey’s concern about Ana’s drinking (and she drinks like a fish) doesn’t stop him for using it against her. Every time he and Ana discuss the rules, or the potential rules for their relationship, he makes sure she is drinking. He manipulates her repeatedly. Part of this is the rules –which is a semi-legal contact (how Ana knows that is not really a legal contact without consulting a lawyer, I have no idea. Ana is stupid in every way. The rules themselves and the discussions about the rules are so repetitive and constant; any reader should want to throw up). The rules give Grey control of most, if not all, of Ana’s life. He gets her clothes, she must eat and exercise per his command, and birth control is her responsibility. He does include STD testing, but she just takes his word for it and doesn’t ask for the results herself. And he picks her doctor.  Her lady parts doctor.

Seriously, what woman would let any man do that?

You could argue that the book is about Ana finding her role as submissive or as a sexual woman (she was a virgin before Grey), but this is problematic because she is not allowed to discover on her own. She is forced to discover per his terms. The first spanking is by his choice, not hers. She cannot talk to Kate about it, the rules forbid this. How is this discovery? Why is food a no-go area for her, but clothes are not? And there is a reason why she fears she is like a prostitute or a mistress, she is one. She is a kept woman. He controls her computer, her car, her phone, and her living arrangements. Every time she says she needs time to think, he makes a show of giving to her, but then shows right back up – including at one point forcing his way into her apartment. He stalks her. He abuses her. He ignores her use of the word no at times. He lies when he says he doesn’t want to change her – he does. He changes her in more than just a sexual awakening, and the only person to really notice this change is Kate, Ana’s “dearest, dearest friend” and roommate (and whom Ana seems to sponge off of).

Despite claims of Kate being Ana’s dearest friend, Ana sure doesn’t act like it. While Ana starts an affair with Grey that is based solely on the physical, Kate and Elliot (Grey’s brother) start a relationship as well. Kate and Elliot are hot heavy, and multiple times Ana wishes that they weren’t, that Kate should control herself. This is rather strange coming from Ana who is fucked by Grey during a dinner with his parents and, unlike Kate who seems to know about Elliot’s business, knows nothing and shows no real interest in. Furthermore, when Grey slut shames Kate, Ana does not say anything in defense of her “friend”. And Kate is a good friend, not only apparently paying Ana’s way in terms of living costs and allowing her to borrow clothes and cars, but by being concerned and actually pegging Grey for what he is. However, Kate’s real reaction (the only sense of reality in the book) is shown to be wrong while Ana’s mother, who basically tells her daughter to go back to Grey’s hotel room, is shown to be correct. This is the mother who Ana chose not to live with, preferring to live with her step-father.

In fact, the majority of people in power in this book are men. The hardware store is owned by a man (his wife, however, is mentioned), Ana gets a job with a male boss, Grey’s go to people are all men, all the women in Grey’s offices seem to be sectaries or PAs (and a housekeeper), and Ana’s favorite professor is a man. Ana’s only female friend is Kate.

There is a one exception to this, and that is the non-seen but present character of Mrs. Robinson, the older woman who introduced Grey to the whole S&M thing. Robinson, a friend of Grey’s mother, did this when Grey was 15. Ana does not think to call this what it is – rape – until over 200 pages after she is told of it. Truthfully, she uses the word molestation. This only occurs after repeated bouts of jealously – not worry, but jealously. It’s OMG is he still seeing her, jealous. This whole thing is problematic because it implies that man can’t be sexually abused, that people are only into S&M if they are mess up mentally and abused at a young age, and shows a complete utter endorsement of rape is okay because Grey keeps calling it seduction. (What Jose did too is seduction).

I will grant that there is something attractive in having things taken care for you. But there is a fine line between being taken care and being abused. Ana, herself, refers to the Grey’s stalker and control issues. Grey’s control issues are not control issues. They are abuse issues because Ana exists solely for him, even in her mind. She worries about his reaction to everything. When she finally “leaves” him, it is implied that it is because she isn’t woman enough, not that he hurt her or is abusive. Compare that to Jane Eyre in one of Ana’s British books. Jane Eyre leaves Rochester because what he wants his wrong. It violates her being. She becomes her own being. This is not why Ana leaves Grey, though James seems to want you to think so. Jane Eyre would have left Grey long before.

James is no doubt laughing all the way to the bank. Good for her. But don’t tell me that this book is erotic or female empowerment. It’s just recycled rape culture.

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Saturday, February 10, 2018

Review: Milk!: A 10,000-Year Food Fracas

Milk!: A 10,000-Year Food Fracas Milk!: A 10,000-Year Food Fracas by Mark Kurlansky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

I have to have milk with breakfast unless I am getting breakfast at work. But at home, a glass milk, cold milk, and then coffee. I need that nice cool glass of milk.

But I didn’t know much about milk until I read this book.

Kurlansky’s book is a tour of milk in history, but also a tour of yogurt, cheese, and ice cream.

And it has recipes!

Kurlansky starts with ancient history, exploring when milking first developed as well as pointing out that being lactose intolerant is actually the biological norm and those of us who aren’t are freaks. He also notes the belief that where the milk came from was important – in short, there was a reason why Zeus couldn’t keep it in his tunic. There are interesting discussions about whether milk was a meat and why butter stinker is an insult.

I also learned that aurochsen is the correct plural for more than one auroch.

The book doesn’t just focus on Europe and America. In fact, Asia (and not just India) gets much attention. Perhaps the Southern hemisphere doesn’t get as much attention, though Australia gets covered.

What is most interesting is how Kurlansky shows how certain debates keep recurring, for instance breast-feeding, which he links to the idea of men trying to control women’s bodies. This makes sense when you think about it, not only in terms of child rearing but also in terms of what a woman can do. The bit about the sexy milkmaid also makes sense too, come to think of it.

There are few weak points in the book. The one that sticks out the most are the cow illustrations. Now, look, the illustrations are far, far better than what I could do, but in general even though the drawings are of different breeds of cows, the illustrations are pretty interchangeable. Still, far better than what I could do.

The other weak part is the almost lack of science. But this seems to be because different studies contradict each other. Yet, one did want a little more scientific fact, if possible, about the contradicting claims. To be fair, Kurlansky is brutally honest about how a dairy farm works.

These flaws aside, the book is charming. You can learn all sorts of facts about ice cream, milk, and ice cream.

Did I say ice cream twice?

For instance, the inventor of the hand cranked ice cream maker (Nancy Johnson) and the where the soda fountain was invented, and the fact that Philadelphia is “a city that liked to brand its food”. The focus on ice cream is more on the idea and popularity, with more detail given to smaller businesses than bigger ones such Breyers.

I haven’t tried any of the recipes, though many of them do look quite good and yummy.

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Thursday, February 8, 2018

Review: Hope Diamond: The Legendary History of a Cursed Gem

Hope Diamond: The Legendary History of a Cursed Gem Hope Diamond: The Legendary History of a Cursed Gem by Richard Kurin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cursed or not cursed, that is the question. On one hand, cursed means more tourists coming to see, which means more money.

But cursed doesn't seem likely.

The Hope Diamond is one of the draws to Smithison Natural History museum. It forms part of a gem collection and is always surronded by people, most of whom just look at it because everyone else is. Or they think it is the biggest diamond in the world. (I like the mammal hall better myself, though there is something about the Hope. But don't forget the rocks that look like they have fur, they are so cool).

Hope Diamond

Kurin's book is as much a history of the Hope as you can get, and I hardly need to point out that he debunks the curse story (and he isn't the first). He does seem to take great glee, however, in relating stories from the modern era (ie when give to the museum) and the curse.

The tour starts with the proable sale of the diamond to a Frenchman who journeyed to India (blue diamonds weren't highly valued there at the time). Kurin not only relates about the valley where the Hope came from, he also relates how diamonds are formed. The book ends with the Hope in the recent Harry Winston Gallery. (Hey, you discover why Monroe mentioned Harry Winston).

Not the Hope Diamond

The attraction of the book is the shear amount of detail that Kurin gets and the fact that not once does he sound boring (or bored). It seems he finds the Hope amazing, and this is transmitted to and infects the reader. In addition to the history of the gem itself, the reader is treated to detailed and fasinating look at how diamonds were viewed in Europe and how the diamond engagement ring got its start in the US.

The idea of the curse seems to have started around the time Cartier's gained the gem, just before they sold it to the McLeans, whose tragic and inspiring story forms part of the book and adds to the curse. I found Harry Winston, the last private owner of the diamond, to be the most fasinating figure, not just because of how he transported diamonds but because of his marriage, and the fact that his photo makes me seem to be a person who you would like to have a drink with. One of the best parts of the book relates Winston's attempt (and eventual success) to give the Diamond to the Smithison. It took awhile and was complicted by the IRS (another reason to hate them). Winston, thankfully, wanted people to love and respect gems the same way he did. Kurin actually includes letters from the parties in this section of the book as well as in the section where the French wanted to borrow the diamond.

Kurin includes a list of infromation that he would like to find more about, like for instnace did the Cartiers know Collins The Moonstone and did that lead to the curse.

In debunking the curse, Kurin presents a far more interesting, gripping, and intelligent story. Even better than the curse because it's true.

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Saturday, February 3, 2018

Review: Wildflowers of Terezin

Wildflowers of Terezin Wildflowers of Terezin by Robert Elmer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Shame on me for almost not "buying" this book. I say "buying" because I got it as a Kindle freebie.

The book is being undersold and under priced. I can understand why. I, too, am somewhat leery about faith based publishers. Not because of the whole religion thing, but more because the first one I read while having a good idea, amounted to Bad People are those who don't go to church and Good People are those who go to church. Such a thing is not my thing. I, however, picked this up because it was set in Copenhagen during WW II and featured the Danish resistance. I love Copenhagen and have been to the Dainish Resistance museum (BTW - I Command thee to go).

This is a great book. A really great book. I was chewing my lip the last few chapters. The story centers around Steffan a pastor whose brother is a member of the resistance (and who may be an aethist) and Hanne, a Jewish nurse. It starts shortly before the Danes ferried the Jewish population over to Sweden. There is a love story between Hanne and Steffan, and it is real (I guess faith based means no sex scenes). There is talk about religion, in particular as Hanne and Steffan talk. In fact, Elmer seems to be making a plea that all religions seem to be the same. I suppose if I was Jewish, I might be upset that Hanne isn't orthodox.   She doesn't convert, however.

The focus is on Steffan and Hanne's experiences under the occupation as they risk their lives to get people out. The characters are real and complex. It isn't a preachy novel. It is well worth the read if you like stories featuring everyday people doing brave things.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Review: Owney: Mascot of the Railway Mail Service

Owney: Mascot of the Railway Mail Service Owney: Mascot of the Railway Mail Service by James Bruns
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is Owney:


This view from the back gives you a nice look at all his tags which he gained as he travelled around the US with the mailway. Each tag represents a different Post Office (he had 1,017). His home post office was in Albany.

Owney was a VIP - very important pooch. Not only did he travel the US, he made his way up to Montreal, whose post office tried to keep him; to Japan. He not only rode the rails but rode the boats.

This short biography is easily readable by children but is also nice for adults. It includes photographs.

You can see Owney in all his tagged, but dead (he was around starting in 1888) at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum in Washington, DC. (Yes, I know that Postal Museum sounds boring, but it is actually very nice and has much more than stamps. Nicely interactive for the kids, less crowded for adults).
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Saturday, January 27, 2018

Review: Murder Strikes Pink

Murder Strikes Pink Murder Strikes Pink by Josephine Pullein-Thompson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Like most girls, I first encountered the Pullein-Thompson sisters by reading one of their horse books. In my case, it was the bound volume of Black Beauty’s Family, which is criminally underrated and includes a better horse in WWI story than Warhorse. The BBF was so good that years later when as an adult, I received two other collections by sisters from friend who was saying, “I know they are kid books, but”, I interrupted with, “awesome”. I wasn’t aware that they had written adult novels until this book was offered free for kindle (Endeavour press is awesome).

Murder Strikes Pink is a mystery about the death of a wealthy and waspy show jumper owner who no one seems to like and everyone seems to be in some fear of. The cast of characters is pretty standard for any British mystery. It has a Midsomer Murders type of appeal.

There is so disquiet and gloss over. Honesty, one problem is a bit too easily solved. Yet, it has the small English village charm of a Christie. What Pullein-Thompson gets much credit for her is her use of characters – no one is perfect and everyone is really human.
It’s a fun read.

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Sunday, January 21, 2018

Review: Wolf Sanctuary: The Wolves of Speedwell Forge

Wolf Sanctuary: The Wolves of Speedwell Forge Wolf Sanctuary: The Wolves of Speedwell Forge by Chuck Rineer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

If you live in Pennsylvania, you might have heard of Wolf Sanctuary founded and run by the Darlingtons. The Santuacry is a rescue sight for wolves that also educates visitors, though it is wolves first and visitors second. In other words, you need to make a reserveration.

Rineer’s book is a photographer’s look at the various packs that reside on the property. It is not a history of the foundation or of the various packs and wolves (though a brief overview is given). What is celebrated in this volume is the beauty of wolves in wonderful, striking photographs. The book includes brief descriptions of the relationships between the wolves as well as some facts.

Truthfully, the book’s selling points are the pictures of wolves during wolf things. Like standing and sleeping the snow, playing, sleeping, being pups.

So beautiful.

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Saturday, January 20, 2018

Review: Regal Academy #1: A School for Fairy Tales

Regal Academy #1: A School for Fairy Tales Regal Academy #1: A School for Fairy Tales by Luana Vergari
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

I haven’t seen the series on Nickelodeon, so I am coming to this as a newbie.

The story is a high school for the children or grandchildren of famous fairy tale characters. We are introduced to Rose who has a thing for shoes and literally falls though the rabbit hole. She discovers her relationship to Cinderella and is introduced to new friends, including a young woman who likes creepy crawlies but can also turn into a frog. There is a male Snow White too.

In many ways, the story is a mash up of Harry Potter ideas and a show like Disney’s Descendants. The fairy tale kids learn how to use magic, including pumpkin magic, and there is even some dragon riding.

While the mean girl and crew trope is used here, the story is largely about friends working together to succeed. Additionally, while the female characters are stereotypical drawn (in some cases without enough room for a stomach), there is no emphasis on looks. While Rose’s parents don’t look old enough to be her parents, her grandmother at least has wrinkles.

The stories are engaging, and the female characters do not need saving. In fact, it’s fun to read stories where female leads are feminine, friends, and not simply guys with boobs.

There are some nice cute nods to other versions – including a wonderful mouse character, Rose’s intense desire for shoes, and Rapunzel’s hair.

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Review: Queer City: Gay London from the Romans to the Present Day

Queer City: Gay London from the Romans to the Present Day Queer City: Gay London from the Romans to the Present Day by Peter Ackroyd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

One of my closest friends is a gay man who is twenty plus years older than me. Most days, we take a walk though the local cemetery, The Woodlands (where Eakins and Stockton are buried among others). Early on in our ritual, we noticed a headstone for a couple, but the couple in this case were both men. Sadly, it was one of those couple headstones where one partner is still alive, and the other has died years ago. My friend said that it was likely that the husband had died of AIDS. When I asked him why, he pointed out the death date and the link to the AIDS epidemic. Seriously, after a conversation like that, you never look at tombstones the same way.

I found myself thinking about that as I read Peter Ackroyd’s Queer City.

Queer City is another entry into what I call Ackroyd’s London History series (London, The Thames, London Under), and, as the title indicts, follows the history of London’s Queer residents and culture. Queer here meaning homosexual and trans, which dates further back than you would think. Ackroyd’s Queer City is a bit close to a chronical history, in a way that the other London books are not, though much of the flow and hither and there is still present. You are either going to love this poetic style or hate it.

There is a level of almost catty gossip and sly humor to Ackroyd’s non-fiction books. Even a massive tome that is London doesn’t feel anyway near that long because of his tone. It engages the reader, moving the book far past a simple history book. So, we have observations like, “They were a tribe of Ganymedes and he was their Zeus”.

Yet, the book covers so much. Ackroyd starts during the Pre-Roman/Roman era, detailing even how gladiators weren’t perhaps quite the men we think they were (apparently, they really like perfume). He then moves to the advent of Christianity and the Anglo -Saxons. He does discuss not only homosexual men but women as well, noting that society’s view of women was also reflected in how society (not law, but society) viewed homosexual relationships.

Being Ackroyd, he is particularly interesting when discussing literature. There is a detailed look at Chaucer’s homosexual pilgrims as well as the view of the erotic theatre of Elizabeth’s time (“the codpieces were padded so the cods looked plumper”).

But he also doesn’t hesitate to describe punishment dealt out to those who did not fit the norm. We learn not only of whippings and beatings, but also of women slicing off a penis of an accused homosexual. We hear of what happened to two women, one of whom had married the other while disguised as a man. We learn more about those women who Waters wrote so well about in Tipping the Velvet. As well as certain Mrs. Bradshaw, who will get approving looks from Disc fans. We learn about the view of homosexuality and the arrival of AIDS in Britain. This last section of the book is perhaps the quickest and almost glossed over. I found myself wondering if this time period was too personal for Ackroyd to comfortably write about, at least in times of his story (Ackroyd’s long term partner Brian Kuhn died of AIDS in the 1990s).

It is this last section of the book that is at once the most hopeful and most touching. In the same chapter where he discusses the AIDS epidemic, he looks at the legislation of gay marriage as well as the phrase “check our privilege”, and this too made me think about the differences between then and now. How some younger members of queer culture (or transgender culture) are somewhat dismissive of those that came before. A trans person was dismissive of older homosexual because of lack of awareness of what that generation had endured. He was not aware of men and women being unable and even forbidden to attend the sick and death beds of loved ones. The word Stonewall to this young person meant little more than a Civil War Reference. The student lacked awareness and inability to see beyond or outside his own pain/frame of reference. It is also possible that this young man (his preferred description) had been condensed to by older homosexual/trans population. One can sense a missed discussion between groups. It is case like this that Ackroyd seems to be thinking about when he talks about checking privilege. He doesn’t claim immunity, but he is pushing towards an ability to talk, to discuss, to learn, to be better. Ackroyd is making a cause of understanding each other, in a way that the city he writes so passionately about seems to understand its residents.

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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Review: The Haunted History of Huntingdonshire

The Haunted History of Huntingdonshire The Haunted History of Huntingdonshire by Mark Egerton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

In fairness, I should not that this book committed one of my pet peeves – the use of whilst. Seriously, people need to stop with that.

That aside, this is a pretty good little book about the haunted areas of Huntingdonshire. Egerton covers a wide variety of places and different types of haunts. He also does the research and leg work into the stories, spending as much time the library or with local historians as camping out for the ghosts.

The style is light and enjoyable. You never feel like you are being given a history lecture or trying to be convert to “ghosts are real and you better believe”. There is a certain joy and wonder to Egerton’s style that transmits quite easily to the reader. He also gives you enough information for a reader to find the places.

Nicely done.

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Monday, January 8, 2018

Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff - 3 stars

Honesty, this really doesn't shed any new light on the shit storm that the White House.  For much of the book, you are really going like "no shit".  Wolff's writing is good, but at times you do wish he gone deeper - he's no David Simon, for instance.  But he does address the role of the media to a degree.

Highlights of the book's claims include

- no one liked the nightly dinners with Trump, they were torture.  Wolff doesn't say why, but I'm sure it was because everyone wanted two scoops of ice cream.

 - Trump is a spoiled actor (I would've added without the good looks).

-Kushner's family is not happy with him.

"Media is personal. It is a series of blood scores. The media in its often collective mind decides who is going to rise and who is going to fall, who lives and who dies. If you stay around long enough in the media eye, your fate, like that of a banana republic despot, is often an unkind one—a law Hillary Clinton was not able to circumvent."
-The Trumps do not share a bedroom, the first couple to have seperate bedrooms since the Kennedys.
- He eats Micky D's because he is fearful of getting poisoned
-Orange thinks all women in the DOJ hate him (called Yates a cunt might have something to do with this.  Being an accused rapist might be another reason).
-The Battle Flags in the Oval Office was Orange's idea
-we have confirmation that  Trump doesn't read and apparently did  buy text books or do homework in college.  Professor is a slur to Trump.
 - Another quote "Trump’s extemporaneous moments were always existential, but more so for his aides than for him. He spoke obliviously and happily, believing himself to be a perfect pitch raconteur and public performer, while everyone with him held their breath. If a wackadoo moment occurred on the occasions—the frequent occasions—when his remarks careened in no clear direction, his staff had to go into intense method-acting response. It took absolute discipline not to acknowledge what everyone could see."
- a description of Orange man - "An overweight seventy-year-old man with various physical phobias (for instance, he lied about his height to keep from having a body mass index that would label him as obese), he personally found health care and medical treatments of all kinds a distasteful subject"
- There's this gem "Women, according to Trump, were simply more loyal and trustworthy than men. Men might be more forceful and competent, but they were also more likely to have their own agendas. Women, by their nature, or Trump’s version of their nature, were more likely to focus their purpose on a man. A man like Trump."
-How Trump remembers the guy from China - "(This required some tutoring for Trump, who referred to the Chinese leader as “Mr. X-i”; the president was told to think of him as a woman and call him “she.”)"
-Kebbler the elf (Sessions" description: "A small man with a Mr. Magoo stature and an old-fashioned Southern accent, Sessions was bitterly mocked by the president"

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Review: The Belles

The Belles The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 rounded up.

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

We are constantly told that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that is because there is some truth to the statement. Tastes are different after all. But the only time that phrase is trotted out on a regular basis is when talking to someone who is not the standard of beauty (or even okay looks) in society. A bit too heavy, a bit too skinny (less common I know), a nose that is a bit wrong.

Society and people can be cruel to those who don’t met or even care to met beauty standards, ever changing beauty standards too. While currently, body shape might be a consistent, hair styles, dress styles, make-up, and such always seem to be changing.

And the people judged most harshly for not meeting such standards due tend to be women. This isn’t to say that men (and boys) don’t feel the pressure to. But can you name me a movie where an overweight, unattractive woman got the hot stud? Or how about that version of Beauty and the Beast where the beast female?

Still waiting.

In part, this is because girls and women are bombarded with images from the start. As much as you love Disney movies, you have to acknowledge the princess mostly look like and barely have room for a stomach. Want a lower percentage, look at how many are not white. Do the same for pretty much any tv show, movie, or even singer.

Hell, the dancers on any dance show have been called fat by some jackass because they actually have hips.

We have ads that depict young girls dressing as adults. Not playing dress up but actually dress like they have double ds. We have clothes for young girls that say things like future trophy wife.

Clayton attacks society and culture’s obsession with beauty head on in this book.

The Belles takes place in a world where everyone is born grey. Th expectations to this seem to be the Belles, women (seemingly always women) have power. They are basically plastic surgeons who use magic (surgery is still painful, just done by magic). Every three years, a group of Belles is introduced to the court and then sent to severe the royal family and various houses. Camellia, as well as most of her five sisters, aspires to be the Royal favorite, to severe the royal family.

Hence the story starts.

At first, the novel seems to be standard YA. Cameilla is the most powerful of the current crop of Belles, she is a bit rebellious, and her closest rival is her closest friend. Of course, their friendship suffers in the competition to be the Royal Favorite. At the beginning, the only Belle that truly stands out besides Camellia who is telling the story, is her fellow Belle Edel who seems to have the most spirit.

But then Clayton does something that is absolutely brilliant. Usually in many YA and even in adult books, the heroine who tells the story is practically perfect. Clayton doesn’t do this. It’s true that Camellia is clueless in some places about her behavior, but the reader is aware of this. Clayton does this so well, so in part of the story is the mystery and part of it is rooting Camellia on to be a better person. Such change fits the character because there are flashes of it in the very beginning of the story.

This is also true about the world building which in the beginning seems a little confusing, but this is in part because of the Belles’ sheltered existence. Many times, both Camellia and the reader experience something for the first time. While the world is run by the idea of beauty, it is also a relatively open world – gay marriage, for instance, does seem to be allowed. At times, too, Camellia is aware of the different classes and different issues outside of her privilege position.

Slowly, she awakens to what her position really is. At first, one wonders if the Belles are really priestesses, but very quickly the parallels to slavery are shown, and Clayton does not really pull any punches with this connection. She may not be as direct as Whitehead’s Underground Railroad, but the point and setting are far different. Yet, Clayton does seem to draw in much in reference to actual historic slavery.

Another thing that send out in this book is the use of color. Everyone is born grey, and the skin color of a person can change. And before I go any farther in this paragraph, I need to point out a few things. One, I am a white woman who is overweight. Two, I never paid that much attention to people on the covers books until I became friends with Fountain Pen Diva on Goodreads. It would be fair to say that she woke me from my privilege and got me to notice how few people of color are on covers (she didn’t have to get me to notice how few people of color are in books as well, at least as the central figure). It was because her that I noticed this book. Clayton’s characters run the gamut of skin color, yet it is a legitimately varied existence. It isn’t like the all-white New York that seems to exist in so many forms of media. Camellia isn’t the only Belle (or central character) with dark skin, and all skin color, except grey, is shown to be equally admired and desirable by society. Clayton’s book is one of the few where I have seen this, Max Gladstone’s Craft books are another (maybe I am reading the wrong books). In many ways, this detail made me think of Coates’ comments about race.

Looks and race all in one book? And done well, too. Seriously, Clayton needs to win some awards by the end of the year. I give bonus points to Disney and Freeform for publishing this. And it passes the Bechdel test. This isn’t to say there isn’t a love triangle, but the ladies have more important things to worry about, like that mysterious crying.

Is The Belles a perfect book? No. I had some questions – for instance if the ruling line is matrilineal, then wouldn’t the Queen have lovers in addition to or even instead of the king – and the beginning of the book is a little slow, but with some very good, brave narrative choices. Still, despite the flaws, the book is quietly brilliant and stays with reader.

And I find myself waiting for a second book in a YA series.

And a new author to read.

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