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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 ...

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Review: An American Marriage SPOILERS

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

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

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

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

And that’s the problem with the audio version.

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

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

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

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

And fake Celestial’s voice is so whiny.

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

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

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

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Friday, August 17, 2018

Very random Star Wars Rambling

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

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

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

                Not Vader, that’s for sure.

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Review: The Wolves of La Louvière

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

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

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

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

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

It is a very powerful story.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

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

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

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.

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


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

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

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

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

Highly recommended.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Review: Hope Never Dies

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

Is this the best book in the world?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, August 5, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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