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Review: If You Give the Puffin a Muffin

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

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Review: If You Give the Puffin a Muffin

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

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

Dear Angry Little Puffin,

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

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

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

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

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

Long live Puffins!!

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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Review: The Piranhas: The Boy Bosses of Naples

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

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

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

But that’s all Hollywood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, June 16, 2018

Review: Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom

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

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Review: Bitten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or you should be.

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

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

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Wednesday, June 6, 2018


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

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

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