Chris' Fish Place

Thoughts on things, mostly books.

 

 

                             

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Out in July

Hudson Valley Reflections: Illustrated Travel and Field Guide - Michael Adamovic

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

 

                One of the things I want to do is drive though the Hudson River Valley.  I have travelled though part of it by train.  In fact, the Amtrak ride from NYC to Montreal is a stunning, beautiful trip.  I highly recommend everyone take that rail journey at least once.  I do, however, want to drive though part of those towns. 

 

                And now, after reading this book, I have a couple more places I want to stop.

                Adamovic looks at the Hudson valley though the lenses of seasons.  Along the way, he hits places of historical importance – such as Sleepy Hollow.  The focus is mostly on the glorious scenery.  Adamovic places the wildlife in context, in other words it is just seasonal behavior but also text that details the fauna and flora.  The end of the book contains a location map and directions, making the book a practical work of art.

 

                 The photos of the flowers and animals are quite beautiful, including those photos of insect eating plants.  The deer photo in particular was adorable.

Out in June

Natural Wonders of Assateague Island - Mark Hendricks
Disclaimer: Arc via Netgalley.

Assateague owes it fame to ponies, perhaps mostly to Misty and her family. There is, however, far more diverse wildlife on the island then simply horses. Marc Hendricks book on the island showcases this quite well. According to his text, Hendricks has made a study of Assateague for a great many years. And while there are beautiful photos of the ponies, there are a great many beautiful photos that details the Sika, birds, and water life of the island.

The books chapters are photographer’s journey – in regards to various animals. Hendricks is able to connect the reader to the capture of the photography. And yes, one of the journeys does detail a pony, a black stallion to be more exact.

The true selling point of the book is the photo, and these are quite lovely. If you love nature, the ponies, or have been to Assateague, this is an ideal book.
 
 

 

The reason I have been quiet lately

is that I had to put my dog Tuna (hence Fish Place) down last weekend.  She was 14.  I know she was a dog, but it hurts.  I had her since she was about 2 months old.

Question

Apparently, earlier this week some white teen in a high school you never heard of it did a stunt to ask a famous star to the prom.  On one hand, I admire both the guts of these young men (and it is usually young men) but on the other one hand, the stunts always leave a bad taste in my mouth.

                What the hell does Emma Stone owe this teen?  Nothing.  In fact, one could argue that he capitalizes on the popularity of her last movie to get himself ten minutes of fame.  He gets on the news, he gets written up as far away as Australia.  He admits, to be fair, that he did not simply to get noticed, maybe some free swag or something.

                But that doesn’t really disturb me, outside in a “I know it’s stupid” way.  It’s the reaction more than anything.   Reporters usually end the report with the hint that Stone should so yes.  But, why should he?  How is this anything more than putting public pressure on someone to do what you want?  Take away the fame of the object (and Stone is being treated as an object) would we really be looking at this the same way?  Would the reports think it cute?  Would people be saying that Stone should say yes?

                And why is it usually suburban high schools and young white males?  I know this isn’t all the class.  There was a couple that invented a footballer to their wedding.  But they just sent him an invitation, and it wasn’t news until he showed.  There was no pressure on him.  It’s the reaction, the expectation that not only does Emma Stone owe him answer, but if she was a nice person she would say yes.

                WTF?

                Is this some outgrowth of rape culture?  Am I being too sensitive?

Spies and More Spies

Sub Rosa: The O.S.S. and American Espionage - Stewart Alsop, Thomas Braden

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

 

                In my English 101 class, we just talked about spies and saboteurs in World War II.   It was in a conversation about an essay that dealt with the changing nature of history books in schools.  We were discussing people and ideas that history books leave out.  Female resistance members and the dropping of people into occupied countries came up.

 

                Perhaps we don’t like talking about such people in wars because there is a whiff, just a whiff, of something not quite right.  It is almost sneaky but in an understandable way.  It is the question of tough choices and we really know that real spies are not James Bond in any of his incarnations.   It is messy and tough, and not fair.

 

                Perhaps that is why.  Perhaps this is also why we romanticize the role because we know that it is a necessary one.

 

                This slim volume gives a brief history of the OSS (the forerunner to the CIA) built pretty much by Wild Bill Donovan as well as detailing some of the lesser known missions.  Both Alsop and Braden worked for the OSS, so the reader gets a sense of wanting the deserved acknowledgement.

 

                Considering the time in which the authors lived, they deserve absolute kudos for noting woman agents and pointing out that the women agents did not hesitate to throw themselves out of perfectly good airplanes.  It almost makes up for the use of only male missions in the second section of the book.

 

                The authors also note the use of non-white agents as well.

 

                Yet the authors do deserve praise for not trying to sugar coat not only the risks but also the need to sometimes act in a less than chivalrous way, this is particularly true of the last class.

 

                At times, the stories seem to be a bit blogged down with words (and sometimes with too similar names), yet Alsop and Braden do a good job at bringing a little known but very important role in the Second World War to light.

Open Road Edition Review via Netgalley

The Oldest Enigma of Humanity: The Key to the Mystery of the Paleolithic Cave Paintings - David Bertrand, Jean-Jacques Lefrère

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.

 

                I have never seen the Lascaux Cave paintings, at least not the real ones.  I did see the traveling reconstruction exhibit, which was very cool.  But truth be told, I have never really thought about cave paintings very much, outside of abstract desire to see them.

                David and Lefrere, however, seem to have spent a significant about of time thinking about cave paintings.  This is a good thing. 

                In this short book, it is possible to read this in an hour or so, David and Lefrere make a pretty good case for the cave paintings’ creation – both the how and the why.

                The theory about the why is one of those moments that at first seems so out there but makes such prefect sense when they lay out the details and take the reader along with them on the journey of discovery. 

                I am not entirely sure if I fully believe all the why part of the theory.  While the authors make a very good case, there are too many variables that can be called into account.  The process of how the art made it on to the wall – the “technology”/technique – of the animals on the walls of the cave.

                The book is very readable because the structure is done in steps.  The reader goes on the journey of discovery with the authors.

SPOILER ALERT!

Fathers and Fear

Frankenstein - Mary Shelley, Maurice Hindle

It is said that Frankenstein is about the horror and despair of giving birth.  Mary Shelley wrote it after a dream she had, a dream that occurred after an evening of ghosts in Geneva.  It also occurred after miscarriage and a death of a child.  Upon reading Mary Shelley’s diaries, one cannot help but think of how she viewed pregnancy with a tinge of fear and perhaps despair, not only because of her own experiences but also because of her own birth.  Yet, for all of its focus on the fear of birth, it is absentee fatherhood or even husband hood that seems the focus.

 

                Mary Shelley (hence MS) ran off with Percy Shelley (hence PS) while he was still married to his first wife, Harriet.    Let’s be clear, he abandoned his wife and two children to run off with Mary.  At one point, he seemed to float the idea of some type of threesome (perhaps foursome) with him as center, but Harriet never bit.  Despite the work of some authors and critics, like Mark Twain, Harriet Shelley never had the good press that MS and PS did.  In all fairness to PS, one should note that the marriage with Mary seems in large part to have been an attempt to gain custody of his children by Harriet, after she committed suicide.  PS was not a faithful husband to his second wife any more than he was to his first.  It is possible (and I think it highly likely) that PS had an affair Claire Claremont, MS’s step-sister.

 

                Frankenstein is about a man who creates life without the aid of a woman and flees in horror, who does not take responsibility for what he has created or done.   Considering the men in MS’s circle this portrayal is hardly surprising.  There was love them and leave them Bryon whose relationships included ones with his half-sister and Claire Claremont, there was Shelley himself, who never seemed to suffer the same way Mary did when she lost a child.

 

                Reading MS’ journals one is stuck not so much by the sheer number of pages that have been removed, but by the sheer number of times that PS and Claire go off somewhere while MS is suffering though a pregnancy related illness.  How many time Claire burst into the Shelley’s chambers.  At the very least, it must have been a strange relationship, a fleeing couple taking a third wheel with them, the third wheel that had been used as cover for their relationship.  Then MS to be left behind while PS and Claire went rambling.

 

                Did Mary feel something of the abandonment that Harriet must have felt?  MS did resent Claire, she confirmed as much in her lifetime, is this part of the reason why?

 

                And it is those that the absentee father leaves who bear the cost.  While it is true that Victor’s friend and younger brother are murdered by the monster, his wife Elizabeth and maid/companion Justine are murdered simply because of the actions and inactions of both the monster and Victor.  Victor could have saved Justine if he only spoke up, but he doesn’t.  He could have stopped the tragedy if he had taken responsibility for his actions, had ever tried to right his mistake.  He possess an inability to shoulder any part of the blame or to act to stop the unfolding events.

 

                And that makes him a far different monster than the one he creates.

 

                And one wonders, one must wonder, if there is a bit of PS and Harriet in Victor and his monster.  PS marrying Harriet in part to “save and educate” her, in part to shove it in his father’s face.  Then losing interest in both wife and children, leaving them for a younger girl.  There is no one cause for suicide, but surely PS’s treatment of Harriet must have contributed something.

 

                Even as we condemn the monster for his actions, we feel pity for him.

 

                Perhaps the novel is also a bit of a dig at her father and is remarriage after the death of Mary Wollstonecraft.  Godwin remarried in 1801 (Wollstonecraft died in 1797) and prior to that he had left the young MS and her half-sister Fanny in the care of a friend.  Victor does nothing for his son and yet seeks to have another second family with Elizabeth much like Percy leaving Harriet, or William Godwin marrying a woman with two children.  Is the suicide of her half-sister, Fanny Imlay, also present in the story?  It is unclear.  But one could argue that Imlay was abandoned by her family in an emotional sense at the least.

 

It is said that Frankenstein is about the horror and despair of giving birth.  Mary Shelley wrote it after a dream she had, a dream that occurred after an evening of ghosts in Geneva.  It also occurred after miscarriage and a death of a child.  Upon reading Mary Shelley’s diaries, one cannot help but think of how she viewed pregnancy with a tinge of fear and perhaps despair, not only because of her own experiences but also because of her own birth.  Yet, for all of its focus on the fear of birth, it is absentee fatherhood or even husband hood that seems the focus.

 

                Mary Shelley (hence MS) ran off with Percy Shelley (hence PS) while he was still married to his first wife, Harriet.    Let’s be clear, he abandoned his wife and two children to run off with Mary.  At one point, he seemed to float the idea of some type of threesome (perhaps foursome) with him as center, but Harriet never bit.  Despite the work of some authors and critics, like Mark Twain, Harriet Shelley never had the good press that MS and PS did.  In all fairness to PS, one should note that the marriage with Mary seems in large part to have been an attempt to gain custody of his children by Harriet, after she committed suicide.  PS was not a faithful husband to his second wife any more than he was to his first.  It is possible (and I think it highly likely) that PS had an affair Claire Claremont, MS’s step-sister.

 

                Frankenstein is about a man who creates life without the aid of a woman and flees in horror, who does not take responsibility for what he has created or done.   Considering the men in MS’s circle this portrayal is hardly surprising.  There was love them and leave them Bryon whose relationships included ones with his half-sister and Claire Claremont, there was Shelley himself, who never seemed to suffer the same way Mary did when she lost a child.

 

                Reading MS’ journals one is stuck not so much by the sheer number of pages that have been removed, but by the sheer number of times that PS and Claire go off somewhere while MS is suffering though a pregnancy related illness.  How many time Claire burst into the Shelley’s chambers.  At the very least, it must have been a strange relationship, a fleeing couple taking a third wheel with them, the third wheel that had been used as cover for their relationship.  Then MS to be left behind while PS and Claire went rambling.

 

                Did Mary feel something of the abandonment that Harriet must have felt?  MS did resent Claire, she confirmed as much in her lifetime, is this part of the reason why?

 

                And it is those that the absentee father leaves who bear the cost.  While it is true that Victor’s friend and younger brother are murdered by the monster, his wife Elizabeth and maid/companion Justine are murdered simply because of the actions and inactions of both the monster and Victor.  Victor could have saved Justine if he only spoke up, but he doesn’t.  He could have stopped the tragedy if he had taken responsibility for his actions, had ever tried to right his mistake.  He possess an inability to shoulder any part of the blame or to act to stop the unfolding events.

 

                And that makes him a far different monster than the one he creates.

 

                And one wonders, one must wonder, if there is a bit of PS and Harriet in Victor and his monster.  PS marrying Harriet in part to “save and educate” her, in part to shove it in his father’s face.  Then losing interest in both wife and children, leaving them for a younger girl.  There is no one cause for suicide, but surely PS’s treatment of Harriet must have contributed something.

 

                Even as we condemn the monster for his actions, we feel pity for him.

 

                Perhaps the novel is also a bit of a dig at her father and is remarriage after the death of Mary Wollstonecraft.  Godwin remarried in 1801 (Wollstonecraft died in 1797) and prior to that he had left the young MS and her half-sister Fanny in the care of a friend.  Victor does nothing for his son and yet seeks to have another second family with Elizabeth much like Percy leaving Harriet, or William Godwin marrying a woman with two children.  Is the suicide of her half-sister, Fanny Imlay, also present in the story?  It is unclear.  But one could argue that Imlay was abandoned by her family in an emotional sense at the least.

 

                Reading this novel, it is hard not see it as anything but condemnation of a men who father children, who marry and then leave, abandoning the women and children but also leaving them with the hard work.  Then perhaps, returning and upset at the way things have turned out.  Even at the beginning of science fiction, even before the genre had a name, Shelley was showing us what it could be.  It puts the Sad and Rabid puppies to shame, doesn’t it?

 

                Reading this novel, it is hard not see it as anything but condemnation of a men who father children, who marry and then leave, abandoning the women and children but also leaving them with the hard work.  Then perhaps, returning and upset at the way things have turned out.  Even at the beginning of science fiction, even before the genre had a name, Shelley was showing us what it could be.  It puts the Sad and Rabid puppies to shame, doesn’t it?

SPOILER ALERT!

Review of Elephant Macaw Banner 1-3

The Fortuitous Meeting (The Elephant and Macaw Banner - Novelette Series Book 1) - Christopher Kastensmidt A Parlous Battle - Christopher Kastensmidt

The Elephant and Macaw Banner series is written by Christopher Kastensmidt.  I picked up the first three volumes in the series when they were offered as Kindle freebies.  The first three volumes - The Fortuitous Meeting, A Parlous Battle and The Discommodius Wedding - detail the beginnings of a series of adventures of two men - Gerard Van Oost and the warrior Oludara.  By the second book, the adventures are joined by a woman, a native of Brazil, named Arany.  The setting is a Brazil during the time of the Portgeuse arrival/conquest, but it is an alternate reality, a historical fantasy, for the adventuring men must battle and face monsters and gods.

The first three installments (each averaging around 40 pages) are pretty good.  Is it the best fantasy I have ever read?  Well no, but the idea is interesting, there has been editing, and the characters are likable and believable.

Gerard has a problem; he wants to explore and make a forture; however, no company will have him because he is Dutch and Protestant.  Additionally, while his heart does seem to be in the right place, he isn't the sharpest sword in the armory.  Fortunately, he runs into Oludara, a warrior from Africa, who has been sold into slavery.  Oludara is a Yoruba, a ethnic group from the area of today's Nigeria and Benin.  Because Oludara has the intelligence to answer a question of stragedy, Gerard determines to free him (by buying him and then freeeing him) and to do earn the large amount of needed money, Gerard must see Sacy-Perey, a Brazilan prankster god/creature.  He's like Loki, but younger, darker, nicer, and missing a leg.

The second and third volumes find Gerard and Oludara interacting with the Tupinamba people and eventually becoming part of the tribe.  While the interact of Gerard with the native tribes might be a bit too modern for it to be truly historically accurate, the books do have a clear eye to detail about the culture as well as poking fun at what the Europeans think of the Tupinambas.   The series is quite fun in the terms of the use of legends and myths of Brazil.  

The only false note is in the first volume when Gerard buys Oludara.  Oludara does sound out Gerard, making sure of the man who buys him and that is not the false note.  Oludara was only one of many men brought on a slave ship to be sold to millers and sugar farmers.  When Gerard asks Oludara if any of the other slaves are family, the Yoruba answers no, and once Gerard says, basically, that's good because he couldn't afford to pull the others.  I can understand why Kastensmidt does this - he wants to answer the question that most readers are wondering - what about the rest.  It also shows Gerard in a good light (though Kastensmidt does not make me too modern as seen in the other installments).  Yet, Oludara's disregarding of the other men rings false - would this really be his reaction, especially considering his reactions in the other volumes?  It just felt like there should be more here.  It was too simply done.  It felt off, as if Oludara would have tried something more.  

But Oludara is the star, he is the central.  He isn't simply the wise black friend who the white guy seeks advice from.  He isn't the moral speaker.  In the first volume, it looks like it might be the case, but in 2 and 3, Oludara is central stage.  He is the one who gets the love interest while Gerard simply plays the best friend, the second fiddle.  

Which is kinda nice.

The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan - Rafia Zakaria

When I brought this book, I was expecting something along the lines of Fatima Merissini. This book is not that.

What this book is a chronicle of a family life in Parkisten after Partition, Zakaria’s family moved to Pakistan because of the anti-Muslim climate of India. Zakaria’s family history, in particular, that of her childless aunt whose husband takes a second wife. The personal conflict in the family is also shown in contrast to the unfolding political and societal drama, as Pakistan’s government tightens control over women.

In many ways, Zakaria’s story is like Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, and considering that Atwood’s novel doe draw on real events and rules that have been applied to women, this should not come as that much of a surprise. After all haven’t you seen the photo of a bunch of old white guys deciding that maternity care is not essential for health? Haven’t you read about the anti-abortion bill that was signed by a white man surrounded by white men? Haven’t you heard of the Saudi Girls council with just men? The Russian loosening of spousal abuse laws? How about the women leaving Saudi Arabia because of the constraining laws? The various Texas bills and laws concerning abortion? The lawmaker who referred to women as a host for the baby? The fact that in many countries young girls can legally be married to older men?

So yeah, The Handmaid’s Tale is real, and this book really proves it.

Unlike Atwood’s fact based dystopia, Zakaria memoir showcases the erosion of rights and standing as a woman actually becomes a leader of the country. The trials and tribulations that the women endure might not be common to all at least on the face, but at the root? At the root, it is.

But the memoir isn’t just concerned with Pakistani politics, but also with the effect of international politics on the ordinary Pakistani citizen. (I for one wish I had read this prior to reading A Golden Age). It is non-linear, so it will put some people off, but if you give yourself over to the voice, it is like you are having a cup of tea with the author.

The Constant Gardener - John le Carré

Yeah, this isn't the best le Carre. The beginning of the book was quite engrossing, and then it is like it takes a right turn. The husband's investiagtion is just annoying on some levels. 3 stars because of the beginning.

Amityville Horrible - Kelley Armstrong, Maurizio Manzieri

I have to say that Jamie is my favorite character in the series. Mostly, because she is the everywoman who just happens to be able to talk to ghosts. She is not stupid, though she think she is, but she is the most normal of the women in the series. She also is a modern woman who is in a relationship with a man who gets that her career is important to her. And they are older, not those young things. True, the plot is a little predictable, but Armstrong does make use and have fun with the reality genre. This is a nice edition to the series.

A lyric

The Ink Readers of Doi Saket: A Tor.Com Original - Thomas Olde Heuvelt

This a rather beautiful little fable. It is meandering, it is a wish, it is a butterfly. There is beauty here.

Ghosts of Florida: The Haunted Locations of Jacksonville, Jacksonville Beach, Atlantic Beach and St. Augustine - Jeffrey Fisher

Very general descriptions of places, but an interesting read.

Sometimes Freebies aren't bad - Ghostly stories

Ghost Stories: The Most Terrifying REAL ghost stories from around the world - NO - Ellen Foster

Not a bad little book. There are some typos and errors. Overall, however, the book is a nice little read and nicely varied.

Spooky

America's Secret Hauntings (Most Haunted Places Series) - Sarah Ashley

While I am slightly annoyed that my home state was not in this book, Ashley's book is quite a good collection of haunted places, including histories of the places. Nicely done, with illustrations. Ashley's tone is good and engaging. Not a dull read.

You Can't Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain - Phoebe Robinson, Jessica Williams

In the sake of fairness, I should note that like Robinson, I think Lisa Bonet is the da bomb. I always loved Denise best, mostly because she was the oldest girl who was regularly on the Cosby Show. However, I do think it is interesting that Robinson slights as proof as Bonet's awesome ablitiy her husbands (Lennie Kratvitz and Jason Moma). Not that I blame her, and not that I am innocent of doing it. Perhaps that itself is proof about why feminism is so needed today.

The best essays in this collection are the ones about hair, hence the title. As a white person, I never knew people asked African Americans if they could touch the woman's hair - it never occured to me that any such request was anything other than rude. But when I started teaching, I did learn about the rude behavior.

Robinson's essays on hair are also about why women style thier hair (and some of these points are true for any woman). It balances nicely Chris Rock's movie about hair. I wish this had been out about two years ago when a student of mine wrote her research paper about the issue. I would love to know what the student thought of this book.

The most compelling essay outside of the hair is about Robinson's experience on television or attempting to audtion for roles.

The pop culture tone of the book can wear a little thin. There are almost too many jokes.