Chris' Fish Place

Thoughts on things, mostly books.




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Happy Festival of Lights.

And I don't have a lawyer who is a Jew so does that make anti-Jew?  Asking for a friend.

Banned Books in Texas

In case you missed it, The New York Times picked up a story out of Texas about what books are banned from the prison system (read it here).  The banned books include titles like Where’s Waldo and Charlie Brown.  Hitler’s Mein Kampf, however, is allowed.


                Now, prison systems routinely ban books, and this has been upheld in the court system.  The Texas system made the list of approved and banned books available to the Dallas Morning News (read it here).  According to the Dallas Morning News, the system bans books that can incite violence or riots, depict illegal acts in a graphic manner, can be used to plan a riot or escape, or give aids in how make weapons or commit crimes.  Additionally, pop up and some other books are banned because of the ability to hide things in the illustrations or covers.  The Dallas Morning News also points out that graphic sex scenes are determined by case.  I should also note the list of approved books (248, 241) is longer than the list of banned books (10, 073)


                The thing is that some of the decisions seem really confused.  For instance, Alice Walker’s Color Purple is banned but not the Kite Runner or the Handmaid’s Tale.  Both of those books contain rape.  The Handmaid’s Tale even contains an escape.  Grimms Comics is banned (I am presuming because of nudity), yet other comic books are allowed, and considering how suggestive comic art can be, one wonders. 


                This isn’t a Texas prison system problem, though it is interest that this story occurs shortly after a Texas school district pulled The Hate U Give from library shelves and is re-evaluating the book.  The Texas problem is the same that most book banners have, but at least in the prison system it makes some sense.  Take for instance the group PABBIS, which about ten years ago, was actively attempting to ban books in schools.  Pabbis (Parents Against Bad Books in Schools), to be fair, at the least linked to the passages they found objectionable, which is more than some people do.  Yet Pabbis also linked to a list of books that they demeaned appropriate.   This list includes Three Musketeers where the hero has an affair with a married woman, the works of Poe, and The Scarlet Letter.


                What makes one book with sex good and another bad? 


                In the Texas prison case, the Anita Blake books are allowed, and as most critics of Hamilton can point out, those books at the very least, contain problematic sex scenes (including what would make the legal definition of rape).  Yet, The Color Purple is considered too dangerous because it addresses incest.  Hamilton’s books, the earlier ones at least, I cannot speak to the later ones, never addressed the issue of rape and were filled with victim blaming.


                In terms of banning, the question will always be who determines if something is objectionable, what is the criteria.  And the answer to that question doesn’t really exist, at least not in a way that satisfies everyone.


                What is worse a school district banning or even just removing a book such as a Hate U Give limits the learning of compassion. And important aspect of life that Frank Bruni in the New York Times argues that Trump lacks (Read it here). Thomas’ book should be more widely read simply because of its frank look at race, class, and violence involving police.  It should be required reading to promote discussion about a major issue in America. 


                It’s why stories such as the Texas Prison System and The Hate U Give are reported, we should pay attention.

Mice Templar Series - Series Review

The Mice Templar, Vol. 1:  The Prophecy - Bryan J.L. Glass, Michael Avon Oeming The Mice Templar, Vol 2.1: Destiny Part One - Bryan J.L. Glass, Michael Avon Oeming, Víctor Santos Mice Templar Volume 5 - Bryan J.L. Glass

When I was in college, I started reading the Redwall novels by Brain Jacques.  I know that I was reading below my reading level, but to say that I had read Watership Down at a very impressionable age would be an understatement.  So, give me animals doing human things or close to, and I will at least try the story.  Therefore, later in college when I discovered William Horwood while on a trip to the Netherlands, I was like WTF, why isn’t he published here in the US.  Bastards.


                Mice Templar is like Redwall in that it focuses on mice.  That’s about it.  There is more blood, there is more violence, there is less feasting, there is more death.  It is Anime and not Disney.


  Mice Templar relates the story of Karic of Cricket’s Glen and his friends and family as they struggle to make sense of a dark world, where light is not.  Karic’s home is attacked and his family and friends taken or killed.  Those that are taken are to be sacrificed in the capital.  Karic is determined to save those he lives, and so answers in the affirmative when he determines upon a course that will change not only him, but his world.


                The world of the Mice Templar is based on various European myths and history.  There are connections to Joan of Arc, to various Norse sagas, and Arthurian legends.  But it is also connection to the Dark Ages, for the mice’s world seems to be on perpetual darkness, there is not day.  Even the inclusion of the Maeven, female mice warriors, has historical precedent.  (To be fair, the inclusion of female characters who are actually truly active takes a bit, yet it is played off quite nicely in the end).


                One of the main themes that the comic series explores is the question of story telling and destiny.  Our lives are stories, and most humans convey wisdom don history though stories.  Kari is willing to take on the quest, but does he lose himself in the process?  He becomes a symbol to more than just mice.  But is that symbol something to be feared or to be worshiped, and for how long?  We tend to blame the English for the death of Joan of Arc, but the French were also culpable. 


                Part of Karic’s struggle is to reconcile the Templars who are split almost along the lines of the time of two popes, though more on a secular level than anything.  The mouse who becomes Karic’s closest friend, Cassius, has been tramlined by this war, and both Karic and his childhood friend Leito almost reenact over the course of the series.


                But what hangs over the story, one of the themes is the idea of story and the power of story.  It forces the reader to confront how story telling plays a role not just in history but in setting us on the paths we chose as well as how we view questions of faith.



Accomplished In Murder: 1 (The Accomplished Mysteries) - Dara England

It's not bad.  The central character is interesting if the only woman with a brain.  But the mystery is easy to solve.

This was fun

Cocaine Blues - Kerry Greenwood

I picked this up years back when I first got a kindle.  It was a freebie.


Phryne Fisher is a woman whose family has gone fro literal rags to riches.  She returns to the place of her birth Melbourne, in part because she wants to and to help parents who are somewhat concerned about her daughter.


Oh and its the 1920s.


Look, I am not sure how on point the history is in this book, but it is great fun.  (And there was an apache fighting line that made my eyebrow go up).


Even today, Phryne would be an unusal woman - she is open and accepting of others, she cares, she does what it is right, knows what she wants and goes for it.


But really what makes this book stand out is that the supporting characters.  Fisher is not the only woman of brains and what not.  Even Dot, who Fisher saves, has intelligence.  Fisher admires other women too, including Dr Elizabeth who admires Fisher's skill with a plane.


Is it a can't put down mystery?   Not really, but it is fun.  Really fun.



Midnight Riot - Ben Aaronovitch

In the interest of full disclosure, I've read this series out of order. I read the first comic book story, then #2 in terms of the novels.

Midnight Riot introduces us to the character of Peter Grant, who is a copper who can see ghosts but is most likely going to get detailed to data entry. Lucky for him, that sees ghosts thing saves him for a dull life in front of computer during police work he much rather push off on his friend Leslie who he wants to shag. She doesn't mind doing the grunt work even though she seems like she is a better copper, at least in terms of dealing with real people.

Anyway, Grant finds himself working with a wizard who is not Voldemort or Harry Potter or Dumbledore. His name is Nightengale, and he has a maid/something named Molly who is very senesitve about her teeth. Grant also finds himself dealing with the embodiments/spirits/gods of the various rivers and what not of London.

It is the folkloric and river beings of London that make the book most interesting. Honesty, the idea of Mama Thames as a black woman is wonderful, espeically considering the immigrantation issues and debates. I love it. Though there is a bit about the rivers that is a little, iffy, for me. Beverly is one of Mama Thames' daughters and is first described as a teenager. Then Peter has a wet dream about her. Now, I am sorry. I get Peter isn't that far out of his teens himself and that teenager can mean 18 or 19 as well. But for much of the book Beverly comes across as younger than that. I am well aware that her actual age can be far greater, but there is something about icky about Peter's reaction. Quite honesty, if he paused for just a sec to examine the whole issue I would've felt better. Additionally, I'm sorry, but I like Tyburn who is simply doing what she should be doing so why is she the bitch?

Still, enjoyable for the use of folklore and myth. There is some nice humor, and Peter grows a bit.

This was fun

Alien: Out of the Shadows - Andrea Deck, Kathryn Drysdale, Ishmael "Mac"mcdonald, Corey Johnson, Rutger Hauer, Matthew Gregory Lewis, Tim Lebbon, Laurel Lefkow, Dirk Maggs
I picked this up for free during Audible's anniversary celebration. 

While I enjoy some of the Alien movies, I am not a huge Alien fan, but this was a pretty fun read. It details what happened to Riley between movies. Drysdale does a damn good job of being close enough to Weaver. The action is exciting, the effects good. It really is movie worthy. The only thing that seemed a little force was an attempt at a romantic sub-plot. But that was about it.


Star Trek: Log Four - Alan Dean Foster
I have a fondness for the Star Trek Log books. I read several of them long before I saw the cartoon. I mean, years before seeing the actual cartoon. This installment is three stories, including one story about giant tribbles.

Yes, giant tribbles. Go on, you know you want to.




Paris Tales - Helen Constantine

The best story in the collection is Maryse Conde's story about being alien.  The other stories are pretty hit and miss.  Some are good, and some are meh.  The earlier ones tend to be the better ones.

I give upt

The Alienist - Caleb Carr

Dear Mr Carr,

It's not you. It's me. Or maybe it's both of us. This was the fourth time I tried reading this novel. I mean honesty that TNT series looks hot. But, nope. Can't get pass page 80. Don't really know why. The fault is in our stars. 


Justice League

Have to say Justice League was good.  It had sexy people in it. In fact, I loved everyone but Bats and Superman - they were just okay.  And I am looking forward to Aquaman not only because of JM but Amber Heard looked good too - she kicked some ass.


Honesty, I want Wonder Woman to date Cyborg because that would be so awesome.

Read in English

Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur Vol. 2: Seccature Spaziali (Italian Edition) - Brandon Montclare, Amy Reeder, Marco Failla, Natacha Bustos, Tamra Bonvillain, Elena Cecchini
I found this one a little less enchanting than volume one. Now, don't get me wrong, I think part of that is how I feel about Marvel, and has less to due with Moon Girl.

I think it is great that Marvel is showcasing characters like Moon Girl and Ms Marvel. Not only are they minority characters but they are non-trophe female characters. To me this was always the charm of Firestar (and to a lesser degree Scarlet Witch), and yet, I had to watch Marvel writers constantly screw over Firestar and finally paint her simply as the girlfriend and that pissed me off. (Seriously, her home life is too normal Mr Marvel Writer Fabien? She had a father figure die in her arms, and almost lost her real father the same way. Hey, and what about her mother? Shit poor writing, dude. You just like the male characters better. You never could write women and you screwed your female characters over). Marvel still wastes her. So I guess, I am a little jealous on her behalf.

So there is that. Which is why I was a little resentful of Ms Marvel here because that is the way the women in New Warriors should have been. Really, should have been.

But I love this series because of Lunella who has two loving parents and value her own intelligence, who doesn't care when a guy says he loves her because she is fourth grade. That is so important today. So important. So give Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur to all the women and girls in your life. Because this series is actually right.


Seriously, you should be reading this series

Full Fathom Five - Max Gladstone

Gladstone's third installment in the Craft sequence takes us to an alternate Hawaii.  At first, it seems that we have two different stories.  But Gladtsone brings them together quite well.  More importantly, Gladstone writes wonderfully strong and varied female characters who don't talk about men to each other.

Okay that was good

The Ballad of Black Tom - Victor LaValle

I am not a huge Lovecraft fan. I'm not a Lovecraft fan at all. I understand why he is a touchstone and all that, but yeah, he's not for me. So outside of the two characters, there are probably some Lovecraft references I missed.

This is a fine book about racism, society, and what society makes people become. LaValle gets so many points for the wonderful story arc that kicks Hollywood stories to the curb. 

Overall the writing is beautiful (though the kindle edition has at least two run-ons that jarred). This novella is a brillant work of criticism and homage to Lovecraft as well as indictment of USA past and present.

And it is a story about music too.

There is this bit about gas

Squid Empire: The Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods - Danna Staaf

Disclaimer: I won a copy via Librarything.
Unlike Staaf, it took me quite a while to warm up to squid, octopuses and the like. It wasn’t until I read “The Vampie Squid from Hell” by Richard Ellis that I took an interest. Staaf’s book isn’t about one specific squid, octopus, or whatnot; instead it is about the history of cephalopods as a whole, in particular the evolution.

Which you think would make it a rather dull science book, but it is not.

In part, this is because of all the cool and interesting facts that Staaf shares. For instance, did you know that a sperm whale eats 700-800 squid every day and that isn’t that unusual because apparently everything eats squid, including squid. And then there is the squid’s brain and that is really strange. Not to mention the whole thing about gas. So, all that is pretty awesome.

Then there are all the Clue references. Quite honestly, I mean that should have to be all I need to say.

But if that is not enough for you, there is this. Staaf’s love for her subject comes through with every single word. She’s not trying to talk down to the reader, to be smart, to be funny, to be cool. She is simply, lovingly, wonderfully writing about a family of animals she loves. This is a love poem. She will make you love cephalopods and give you reasons why you should - like the whole thing about shells.



Exit West - Mohsin Hamid

Nov 2017 UC Book Club Read


                When I opened today’s copy of the New York Times, I was greeted with stories about refugees to Europe and the Rohingya massacre/refugees.  This isn’t counting the almost constant debate in the US about DACA and illegal immigrants to the country who are in many cases refugees as well.    Therefore, the topic of Hamid’s book is hardly surprising.


                On the surface, Hamid’s book with its beautiful prose is about two refugees, their life before they are forced to flee and their life after.  Nadia and Saeed are both from an unnamed, presumably, Middle Eastern/Asian/African country that succumbs to a civil war.  Naida appears, at first, to be conventional, but this is shown to be simply a pose to keep herself safe.  Saeed too isn’t quite what he appears to be.  Eventually, when war breaks out, the two must leave their home and travel to Europe.


                And this is the interesting part of the book.  Hamid’s book is magic realism (or fantasy depending on which term you prefer.  For me, magic realism is fantasy), so the journey to Europe and another points West is, quite frankly, a door.  Hence, the title that sounds like a stage direction.   The use of doors as portals not only removes the need for horrific crossing stories that perhaps, sadly, we have become too immune to.  Additionally, doors are portals, powerful symbols of change.


                And doors work many different ways.  They are not one way.


                This seems in many ways to be a main point of the novel.  The story of Saeed and Nadia as they adjust and change to the circumstances in which they find themselves is interwove with that of people from the West as they find the doors.  In part this is brilliant.  The first use of the door is creepy, and literally a WTF moment.  Hamid might have a future in genre writing considering how well done it is.  But there is also a brilliant moment of the door that is simply a woman on a tram/train who realizes that her fellow passengers are not necessary her fellow people.  That small sequence is so well done that Hamid should win prize after prize for that passage alone.


                In part, Hamid seems to be arguing that one truth of humanity is that we all are (or will be) a refugee – whether in the newsworthy form of Nadia and Saeed or simply in the quieter ways of the other characters in the novel.  There is some truth in this statement, and this book challenges us to change how we look at refuges and how we define them.