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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 ...

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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