Chris' Fish Place

Thoughts on things, mostly books.




 Challenge ParticipantFrequently Auto-Approved80%Reviews PublishedProfessional Reader













Out in Oct

The White Darkness - David Grann

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley


                You might not recognize Henry Worsley’s name, but you mostly likely have heard the story.  At the end of 2015-the beginning of 2016, he attempted to cross Antarctica alone, but sicken, was airlifted, and, sadly, died while doctors while trying to save his life.  His quest, done in part as a fundraiser, was followed by the media and classrooms.  He received support from the royal family.  If you are like me, you were impressed by the drive and the attempt, but also wondering why.


                David Grann’s White Darkness does a good job at answering a question whose best answer till now has been “because it’s there”.


                Grann is perhaps the best teller of true stories working right now.  This short book showcases his shorter work (the story appeared in The New Yorker), and proves that his short profiles can be just as riveting.


                As Grann notes, Worsley was obsessed with Shackleton an artic explorer who is better know for his failures where people didn’t starve to death than anything else.  Unlike Amundsen who made it or Scott who died the stiff upper lip way, Shackleton got his people home.  Worsley’s obsession seems in part because of a family connection (his ancestor Frank worked with Shackleton).  In fact, prior to his solo attempt, Worsley had done a three-person hike with Will Gow (a descendent of Shackleton) and Henry Adams (a grandson of Jameson Boyd).  Worsley’s obsession too does seem to be a case of hero-worship, he makes on interesting pilgrimage to Shackleton’s grave.


                Grann presents a quick overview of Worsley’s life, giving the reader a sense of who was lost, and not just a vague or abstract tragedy.  While Grann never says, this is why, he does a great job of allowing the reader to get a sense of the drive and determination that fueled Worsley’s quest, but also to see the family that supported him.


                The long essay is supplemented by photos, and the tone itself is one of remembrance, but more peaceful or comprehensive than an obituary.

So there is a new Aquaman trailer.  And the movie looks good, and not just because of shirtless Aquaman.

Read this

Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” - Zora Neale Hurston

While Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is a deeply loved masterpiece, many people do not know about her work collecting oral folklore and oral history. It is okay that we have the rediscovery/recovery of this manuscript to add to her important work in such areas.

Hurston visited Cudjo Lewis several times. Lewis was kidnapped from his home in West Africa and taken to the USA; this occurred after the Atlantic slave was outlawed, so he was pirated human cargo, in modern parlance he was a victim of human trafficking.

He never returned home. He was sold into slave, given the name Cudjo Lewis (among others), later freed as a result of the Civil War, married, had children, lost children, and eventually told his story to Hurston.

The book is more of academic entry than a slight forward read. So, if you are not an academic or have little interest in folklore or discussions about the manuscript (including plagiarism issues), you might want to skip part of the introduction and all the appendix. If you are interested in these issues, don’t skip. In fact, despite being published by HarperCollins, the format of the book reminds me strongly of the excellent Norton Critical Editions.

Lewis’ narrative is told largely via his own voice with dialect, with Hurston’s own words functioning more as a framing device. Lewis’s story isn’t just one of human trafficking and forced slavery, but also of trying to make a life in a world that doesn’t think that he should live. The problems that Lewis and his family faced after the Civil War, illustrate issues that the country is still struggling with today.

1000 Lashes: Because I Say What I Think - Ahmed Danny Ramadan, Constantin Schreiber, Raif Badawi, Lawrence M. Krauss

Badawi's book is made of the writings that got him into trouble with the Saudi Arabian government. The book is short as the writings were blog posts, and one does wonder why such writings could be so dangerous. But the words are powerful. The book worth reading.

Nirliit - Juliana Leveille-Trudel

In Montreal, near McGill University there is a wonderful store called Paragraphe.  Every time I am in Montreal, I make sure I stop by and I usually drop around 70 bucks.  I’m careful.  I make sure I pick up either autographed books or books that are not easily available in the US.  This book was one of the ones I picked up this year.


                Nirliit was originally written in French (the author lives in Montreal), and it should be noted that the translator is Anita Anand.  She deserves praise as way for the book is lyrical.  For instance, in describing the town that the she is going to, the unnamed speaker says, “Purvinituq is a plain girl with magnificent eyes that you only discover if you are paying attention.” (16).  And in describing the Inuit language, the phrase “rugged poetry” is used”. 


                The author’s bio at the back of the book tells the reader that Léveillé-Trudel not only works in the performing arts but also taught in the Nunavil region; therefore, it is hard not to see this novel as drawing from life experience and, considering it is two monologues, as something that could be easily adapted to a show along the lines of Anna Deverne Smith.


                The speaker is addressing a friend who is missing, who is gone in the first monologue and an unnamed listener in the second.  There is an intervening few years between the two monologues, but the settings and characters are the same.


                On one hand, the story hits all the issues that people associate with native/first nations/indigenous communities – drinking, violence, spousal abuse.  There is a bleakness to the story.  You will cry when reading this.


                And yet.


                And yet, the story is more than that.  It is more than the bleakness.


                Part of the book examines solutions, mostly those proposed by the government, and the impact that those so-called solutions have those they effect.  There is also the examination of the impact of white people and other societies on Native culture and life, as well as how whites view them, why there is such resentment.  It is an examination of what happens long after the culture clash and outrages committed one culture by another.


                Because the story is told from an outsider’s point of view, of a woman trapped, to a degree, between the culture she is and the culture she serves.  Our narrator is charmed and repealed and confused.  Caught between two worlds and even two political philosophies, and I’m not talking about her views on caribou meat.  But the book is also about common humanity because while the source of the problems is different, there is also an under lying humanity between peoples that should be noted and embraced.


                I cannot do this book justice in any review.  I just can’t.  The speaker of the book says, “Beauty in the form of a punch to the gut: only the tundra has this, an immense shattering landscape, so lonely with almost no one to appreciate it”.  In many ways, those words are an accurate description of this book.  This lovely, heart-breaking book.

Ashoka: Lion of Maurya - Ashok K. Banker

Enjoyable start to a series about Ashoka. The action and the sex scenes are at times a bit over the top, but the book is entertaining enough and the characters well drawn.


Desert Rising - Kelley Grant

The world building in this series is pretty good.  The use of an alternate world and the discussion about religion is really good.  Kelley is a fantasy writer who actually seems to really think about the religion that she is using in her world.


However, at no time in the book did I feel that any of the center characters were really in danger.

Do not drink while listening

Hut 33: The Complete Series 103 - James Cary

Those code workers at Bletchley most likely did not have as much fun as I did when I listened to this BBC audio series. This excellent series chronicles the working lives of Hut 33, which is located near Hut 31. Finding it can be slightly more difficult, as Josh will tell you.

Hut 33 contains Archie (he’s from the north) who doesn’t like Professor Charles (they have history). There is Gordon who is a 17-year-old genius. He has a crush on Minka, a Polish woman who escaped to England and is as silent as a house. There is also Mrs. Best the landlady who has had just about every man.

Listen (because it is audio) as they face the evil clubs and the social classes. Wonder if Mrs. Best will have lay hands on Charles. Be awed over the fact that no one kills Josh. Be more impressed that he doesn’t accidentally end his own life. Take bets on when Archie will kill Charles. 

Plus, why does Minka hate owls so much?


P.s. Minka is played by Olivia Coleman.

Book 2 in the Re-Read

Fever Season - Barbara Hambly

I am re-reading this series this summer.  Fever Season is the second volume of the January Mysteries.    In New Orleans, many people have fled the city because of the epidemic.  January hasn’t, though he might wish he had. 


                Hambly’s series succeeds because she mixes history in with a smidge of gothic and compelling characters that confronted racial issues, not only in adjusting to how the Americans have changed New Orleans, but also with an institution that denies Ben his ability to practice medicine and forces him to earn money with his skills as musicians.


                In this book as well, we are introduced to Rose, a mixed-race woman, who struggles to be a science teacher to those mixed-race girls who are destined to be concubines to the rich white men who control New Orleans society, much the same way Ben’s youngest sister is, as was his mother.


                Livia, Ben’s mother, is perhaps one of the greatest things about this series.  She was a field hand until she, and her two children, were sold and her new master freed her.  She became his concubine, and this former master paid for Ben’s education and is the father of Dominque.  Livia’s determination to ensure her family’s survival has alienated her eldest daughter, who has established herself in the free black community as a voodoo priestess.  But Livia is a fascinating character because she knows and works the structure that is forced on her.  She is far more aware of what is at stake than Ben is in many cases, and she appears unfeeling, uncaring, and driven only by money.  But one wonders.


                To review the plot of the novel would be to offer a major spoiler, but the plot does involve Ben trying to discover what has happened to a missing young escaped slave as well as who is trying to destroy his reputation.   The fictional plot is interwoven with real history and New Orleans lore in a realistic and compelling way.

She Had Some Horses - Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo's poetry collection does include several poems where horses are mentioned, but horses are not just horses are they?  The poems are beautiful mediations of humanity, Native American life, and woman's world.


Am I the only who goes on vaccation with a kindle and two physcial books, decides that none of them are what I really WANT to read, and heads for a bookstore the first day?  Please don't let me be the only one, please.

Two Names to Know for this week

1. Therese Patricia Okoumou - the woman who climbed the Statue of Liberty.  She said, "Michelle Obama said when they go low, we go high.  I went as high as I could".  (Source Eyewitness News out of NYC, ABCNews).


2. Saman Gunan - the diver who died while working to save the students caught in the cave in Thailand.


Star Wars Vol. 1: Skywalker Strikes - Jason Aaron, Laura Martin, John Cassaday

I have a very complicted relationship with Star Wars and Star Trek.  In part, it is because both mammoths are a part of my childhood.  New Hope was the first movie I saw in the movie theater.  Star Trek was life blood.  I remember playing both growing up.  Man, you should have seen my class illustrate the epic Yoda/Vader fight we were positive was coming in Jedi.



But they have their issues.  And people don't like it when you bring it up.  I mean a certain former Jame T Kirk harassed a Penn prof when she said while advance for its time STOS didn't do that well with gender.  She's right.  And this is also true of the ST:TNG and Star Wars.


One thing that always bugged me about Star Wars was that it was so male centric.  New Hope is set up that we feel more for Luke about Kenobi's death than Leia losing her family, home, and people.  Then there are some really strange choices in Jedi - like Leia getting her hair done with the Ewoks, and why isn't she a general, and Han is - Han who just spent a whole bunch of time frozen?


It's true that various tie ins - books and previous comic runs - have done much to either mellow, correct, or fill in those iffy things.  I still have a Marvel comic Original Star Wars series issue about Leia during the time Han is frozen.  She meets a stormtrooper who has a certain piece of rock around his neck.


Skywalker Strikes is as good as that issue.  It's set between New Hope and Empire.  Leia leads Luke and Han on a mission or two (until Han, being Han, screws it up).  Leia kicks ass.  Leia and Han try to take out Vader.  Leia does so many things.  True, the focus is on Luke coming to terms with who or what he is or can be, but its damn good storytelling and writing.  

Attempt to remove Hate U Give

I love how they disregard the fact that her uncle in the book is  polie officer.

My latest GR friends' request

So this morning I had a GR friends request from an author.  Please note, that while the author did include her website link, she did not request a review, simply noted that she liked reading my reviews, and that's it.  She has more books than friends.  


Here's what I think is funny and kinda cool- I DNF'ed one of her books.  Gave it one star.  

Lives Up to the Promise

Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World) - Rebecca Roanhorse

One cannot emphasize how important this book is in terms of representation in dystopian/urban fantasy literature.  It is one the few UF novels set in America I’ve read where all the characters are poc.  L. A. Banks’ work is the only other work that springs readily to mind.  It is the only one I’ve read where the characters are all Native American/Indigenous/First Peoples. 


                I am quite well aware that my perspective is limited, that there are books I am either forgetting or don’t know about.  Please feel free to leave suggestions in the comments.  Also note, I am taking about characters, not authors.  This book also had a big PR push as well.


                What is more, Roanhorse’s characters are Diné in all the authentic ways.  Language and terms are used in ways that a native speaker would use them.  Don’t worry, meaning is revealed but it is down in a way that feels natural as opposed to an info dump.  There are references to water deliveries as well as the classism(?) that exists between city and non-city dwellers (urban vs. rez).  What is more important is that race is not used as a shortcut for a tragic past or romantic trauma (i.e. Anita Blake who really only brings up being half Hispanic when explaining why a boyfriend’s mother didn’t like her, and then that’s it).   There is dealing with racism and stereotypes.


                This also means that this book carries quite a bit on its metaphorical shoulders, fairly or unfairly.


                Thankfully, it carries the unfair load quite well.


                It’s true and fair to say that Maggie, the heroine, suffers from the problems that exist in all too many UF and dystopian novels of late.  She has a tragic past, she doesn’t trust people (but mostly men), she is shut off, she isn’t “girly”, and she is special in terms of power.  She also doesn’t think that she is good looking (though to be fair, not every man in the book lusts after her, so this doesn’t annoy me at all in this book).  She also is the only woman of name for over 150 pages of the book.  She is the only woman of power until the last quarter of book, and the other women or girls are either victims, non-fighters, or get hurt.  There is a slight shift in this at the end that I loved (and the book does technically pass the Bechdel test), but overall, outside of race, Maggie is very much like every other UF heroine you can think of.


                This doesn’t mean that she is a bad character or unbelievable.  Roanhorse is not the only author who makes such a standard character work either (think Armstrong’s Elena or Vaughn’s Kitty) and like those other UF/dystopia series that stand out, Roanhorse expands on the standard.


                It is also possible that we are to see the woman victims as symbolical of the cold hard fact that Native American women are most at risk for rape, sexual assault, and murder (domestic violence is 10 times higher, 1 in 3 Native American women are raped, Native American women are murder at least 10 times the national average in some places.  Check out among other websites).  I think this symbolical view is especially true with the opening sequence of the book, considering the lack of response from society and government to that fact.


                The book works for a few seemingly simple reasons.  The first is that the world building is absolutely wonderfully down.  Not only does Roanhorse create a believable world, references are made to today’s events (such as Trump’s wall).   Roanhorse’s writing carries you there.  The use of Native American belief and folklore is well done.  The book is not overcrowded with an overpopulation of magical creatures and various vampires and weres (honesty, I really want a book about a were slug.  I swear that is the only were we haven’t seen yet).  There are no vampire politics (thank god).  The use of clan powers is wonderful and brilliant.  What I particularly enjoyed was Maggie’s relationship to her own powers.   The descriptions are vivid and the characters, in particular Maggie and Kai, totally believable.


                More importantly, as other reviewers have pointed out, this is one of the few fantasy novels where a tragic heroine actually heals.  In part, this is because of Kai, a medicine man (and something a bit more that isn’t that big of a reveal.  I have theories about book 2 as well), but also because Maggie herself wants to heal.  That’s why you root for her.  She doesn’t want to be the biggest bad ass.  She wants to be the best Maggie, or at least a whole Maggie or better Maggie that she can be (Maggie’s views and relationship to her clan powers is also a factor here.  Nicely done too).  Very few authors in UF have their heroines actually heal or learn.  There might be lip service to the idea in some UF fiction, but you never really see it.  Again, Armstrong’s Elena and Vaughn’s Kitty are two characters who break this trend, and we see them healing.  I enjoy and love both Women of the Otherworld and the Kitty Books, but Roanhorse does the emotional and mentally healing much better.  She truly does.  We know that Maggie has healed not simply by how she opens herself up to Kai, but also though little descriptive touches.  It is these touches that make it more realistic.


                Kai also gets a mention for not being the abusive douche bag that we are suppose to find romantic.  He is as just a real character as Maggie, with his own wants, needs, fears, and problems.  The relationship that develops between the two does not feel forced and rings true.  He also is a balance for the view of “girly” that Maggie has.  To often in books, the central heroine is seen as better than the other women because she does not like hair and make-up.  Maggie doesn’t like a certain hairstyle it is true, but her objection has to do with the practicality of the style.  Kai and a few other characters not only balance Maggie’s dismissal of looks and presentation but challenge her view.  Additionally, even though Maggie is the heroine, she needs the other characters to succeed.  This isn’t super woman saves everyone type of heroine.


                It’s true it is not a perfect book.  But it is a damn fine debut.  Can’t wait for the second installment.


                Highly recommended.