Chris' Fish Place

Thoughts on things, mostly books.




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The Summer Book - Tove Jansson, Esther Freud, Thomas Teal

March 2018 Reader’s Group Read.

Rhianna Pratchett recently penned a piece for the Guardian about what the Moomins meant to both her and her father, Terry Pratchett. The Moomins are truly magical and wonderous. Jansson’s Moomin books are also about acceptance and love; it is not really funny in the book that one character wears a dress his aunt once wore.
But Jansson’s other work is as powerful as the Moomins. 
The Summer Book doesn’t really have a plot. In some ways, it is a collection of loosely connected short stories about a young girl and her grandmother as they spend time on a summer island. Sophia’s mother has died, Jansson never mentions what exactly happened, and her father is present but more as a hovering figure.
Sophia and her grandmother wander the island, and there are wonderful descriptions about the forest and the water. There is a visit from of Sophia’s, a young girl with wonderful hair. Sophia comes across as a rather interesting child. The book examines the rhythms of life and the conflicts that can occur. It’s a lovely little tale

Read this

Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route - Saidiya V. Hartman

There are things that I can take for granted. I may not be able to recite my family tree by rote, and there is the question that my paternal grandmother may have been Jewish, but I know that my family hails from England, France, Canada, Lithuania, and Italy. It is something that I have taken for granted. Saidiya Hartman’s book is about, in part, having a lack of that, a lack of sense, and a lack of belonging.

It’s too glib to say that we all feel that sense of loneness. In part this is true, but many of us at least have a sense. Many of us can even break down to country and region, perhaps even a city. 
Hartman has a continent. That’s it. 

But to call this a book about a quest for self or identity is wrong. Hartman’s journey to Ghana, to uncover the story of the common slave – a slave who is not from a family of kings. The idea of a return to Africa is a return to homeland, but as Hartman points out -it isn’t quite that simple. Hartman feels out of place because the history of the slave trade depends upon the lenses – African-American versus African. IF Hartman isn’t American, then she isn’t African either. She is stateless. Her past is a commodity in both ways – as her ancestors were slaves and as their descendent returning.

So, in part, the book is about the different use of language and the different history. About the effects of slavery that we do not fully think about. The question of otherness.

There is much packed into this slim volume and it is the type of book that you mull over for days.

Not bad

Monstress Volume 1: Awakening - Marjorie M. Liu

This isn't bad.  It's an interesting idea.   The artwork is wonderful.  But the story doesn't fully grab or engage me.  I will be reading vol 2 considering I got it the same time, but it isn't a drving narrative.

Review of Audio Book

I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer - Michelle McNamara, Gillian Flynn, Patton Oswalt

The term masterpiece is thrown around a bit too much when it comes to describing books, especially books that have been released in the past few years.  If it isn’t masterpiece, it’s groundbreaking.  The truth is that not many books live up to the hype and to describe them as masterpieces or groundbreaking weakens those adjectives.


                This book does live up to the hype.  It is truly a masterpiece, and even in its’ unfinished state rivals, if not bests, In Cold Blood. 


                I honesty don’t know why this book popped up on my radar.  I had never heard of the Golden State Killer (who started as a rapist).  It appeared on my tbr list around Christmas, and then when the positive reviews came in I used an Audible credit.  I hadn’t read McNamara’s blog, and I dimly remembered hearing about her death when it occurred (as well as the idiots who felt they had a right to tell a husband how long he had to stay a widower). 


                McNamara’s account of the killer’s crimes switches between her memoir and interest in crime.  Her writing has an incredible amount of life and pulse.   The sections detailing the crimes are chillingly told and read by Gabra Zackman.  Zackman’s voice shifts as she reads the memoir sections.         


                The investigation sections and chapters are well done, with that same wonderful writing tone.  McNamara not only discusses possibilities but also the development of science and DNA testing, things that allowed for break thorough. 


                Because she died before the book could be completed, there is, at times, a slightly uneven feel – this is particularly true towards the end of the book where a chapter is simply a transcribed audio.    It is too the credit of the editors who finished the book (McNamara’s researcher and a fellow reporter) that they keep themselves separated from the book.  They let McNamara speak for herself. 


                The book is also very touching, especially the afterward. 

What is going in Romance Land that is exploding twitter? {UPDATE}

I mean first it was the whole Sherman Alexie news, and now something about a m/m romance writer.


Thanks to Obisdan Blue for the link:

Lydie - Jordi Lafebre

Disclaimer: Arc via Netgalley.

Lydie is a ghost story, or is it? What it really is, is a story about a neighborhood. It is the neighborhood that pulls together in the face of a tragedy. Told by a statue, perhaps, it chronicles the life of Camille, a simple soul whose daughter is stillborn. 

Or is the young girl?

That is the question – how real is Lydie and if she is real, how did she become real?

That too is the charm of the story. It is a wonderful little graphic novel about the power of a community that may not have much money and may not like each other but come together to help one of theirs. In the process, perhaps, they became better for it. The story is sentimental, but not sweet. It hearkens to Chocolat in part, that same type of feeling.

Lafebre’s illustrations are beautiful and remind me of the Triplets of Belleville

Curse of the Narrows - Laura M. Mac Donald

I picked this after hearing about the release of a book about the same topic, though written by an American. The Halifax Explosion was the explosion of the Mont Blanc that destoryed a good section of the city. (The Mont Blanc's anchor traveled miles). MacDonald details the events leading up to the explosion as well as the aftermath. She also looks at how society treated the different sections of society - for instance the Mi'kmaq damages and deaths were ignored and whites saw the First Nation people as looters, though there was no proof. Black residents recieved far less than they were entitled to out of the damage fund and were short changed as a matter of policy.

The writing is vivid, the story compelling.

Miss her so much

The Princess Diarist - Carrie Fisher

The urge to dissolve into a weeping mess while reading this is so great because we really need Fisher, we truly do. This is a bittersweet feeling to reading this memoir/diary from her time on Star Wars: New Hope. And this review is going to go off the rails right here because WTF Mde Tussads???? You had to go slave girl outfit for Leia but the guys kept all thier clothes. F you and your wax. Seriously, it would be okay if you had strangling Jabba but nope. Stupids


Fisher is blunt, no nonense and her diaries are - look just read them okay?  Her discussion about her relationship with Ford is interesting, and fair.  It's a wonderful read about being a cultural icon and dealing with it.  

We're Going to Need More Wine: Stories That Are Funny, Complicated, and True - Gabrielle Union

I really wish that Lena Dunham's name would stop being dropped when talking about feminist books. I haven't read Dunham's book because everytime she opens her mouth, she shows me that she isn't a feminist. Why she is consider the standard I have no friggin idea.


If you want a book that is really by a feminist and someone with a brain, this is the book for you. I can't say that I have seen every movie or tv show in Union's body of work, but she is one of those actors who I always seriously consider seeing a film simply because she is in it. Quite frankly, Deliver Us From Eva is the only version of Taming of the Shrew that ties with Moonlight's. But more importantly, Union has long had my respect simply for her vocal support and work in women's issues. She has been speaking about rape, for example, long before the #MeToo movement took Hollywood.


This book is reall a collection of essays about her life. Union is honest; she doesn't always come off well in these stories - for instance there is the bit about the imatation crab and, more importantly, when she writes about her use of the word "faggot".

What Union does is use her personal experience, in many cases, to make larger comments about society or about Hollywood. Her story about parties with Prince is really about how important networking is, why Hollywood is so inclusive and why Prince's networking was so important. She mourns Prince but also makes larger points. Her essay about raising her stepchildren deals with raising young, tall black men in a majority rich, white neighborhood. Her passage about the family's home in Chicago is really wonderful.


At times the stories are funny - like her story about the teen who wanted to beat her up - at times they are horrible and sad - she details her rape and a death of a friend. They are always interesting highlighting differences in places, cultures, how people view drugs, and why everyone seems to care about a woman's utereus (and why they shouldn't).

Honesty, how can you not want to read a book that includes an oath with Judy Blume in it?


I would especially reccomend this book if you enjoyed Carrie Fisher's books. Union and Fisher have much in common.

Mistress Masham's Repose - T.H. White, Fritz Eichenberg

This is, basically, Gulliver's Travels for the better sex. Or the sequel to Gulliver, depending on how you want too word it. Maria is a young orphan in somewhat similar instances to Sara Crewe, and she discovers that inhabitants of an island on her estate. These are the Lillputts who were kidnapped. White usually the story to teach morals and ethics - in particularly how too helping can lead to a sense of ownership. There is some humor, and Maria, who wears glasses and is not pretty, is a perfectly realistic girl who likes to be pirate.

And the dog doesn't die.


This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America - Morgan Jerkins

Feb 2018 My Book Box Non-fiction pick.


Disclaimer:  I am a white woman.  Additionally, I teach my students that come from the same places in New Jersey that Jerkins cites in this book.  I am trying not to center myself in the narrative, but the first paragraph of the review is in part a gut reaction, so please bear with me.


                I am conflicted about this book.  The thing that Jerkins does and does is generalize.  These sweeping generalizations are off putting.  I’m not even talking about the whole voting for Trump thing.  A high percentage of white woman voted for Trump, and these are the women she speaks about there (the grammar backs this up).  No, I’m talking about like in her discussion of the French film Girlhood.  I remember the discussion and reaction to that movie.  While Jerkins take on the film is overall interesting, she makes it sound like Black women all across the global are exactly alike.  Look, I’m not a black woman, so maybe, for all I know, this is true.  But I would imagine that recent immigrants to France who come from Africa also have a whole set of issues that are not related to being slaves in America – connected to the slave trade and colonialism, yes.  She does the same when she talks about white girls at her school, and how they never had to deal with being assaulted, harassed or molested sexually because their whiteness protected them.  In fact, the one time she does mention harassment towards a woman who at the very least presents as white, she is almost dismissive of it.  I’m not disregarding or ignorant to misogynoir that exists, and it is far easier to be female and white.  However, I teach students (white, black, Asian, and Native American, some of whom present white, so I doubt another sweeping generalization Jenkins makes), and I know that the number of all-female students who have been sexually molested or harassed (or raped) by their lower and secondary school’s peers is great.  In fact, it is a rarity to have a class where a female student hasn’t been (and the classes have far more ladies than gentlemen).  I found the dismissal and generalization hard, perhaps cruel.


                But that’s the point isn’t it?  The world has been belittling or simply out right ignoring the pain of black women and girls for hundreds of years.  This is what Jerkins is talking about.   She’s showing the reader here a bit of little, whether Jerkins intended to do so or not.


                What’s the term?  Checking my privilege?  Humbling?


                It’s why I am conflicted about this book.  Feminism should be intersectional.  To be so, we need to listen to everyone, talk, and listen without judgement or hackle raising.  We need to listen and need to have voices like Jerkins’.    In many ways, I think Twitter and Facebook have made the knee jerk reaction easier and far more dangerous.  True conversation means listening to unpleasant and hard truths (whether an individual’s truth or the truth – is there even THE Truth?).  Whatever I think about what Jerkins is saying, I have no doubt that she is speaking her truth and should be listened to because her experience is just as valuable and important as mine, as yours, as Clinton’s, as even Ivanka’s (yeah, I know me too).


                This doesn’t mean that I blind to the book’s faults.  Jerkins does go off on some strange digressions.  She wonders at points, and her progression in some of the essays could be far, far tighter.  I’m also reading Gabrielle Union’s We’re Going to Need More Wine, and Union does consistently what I wish Jenkins had done more – introspection.  For instance, when Jerkins is relating about her watching of porn, there are so many other themes that could have been touched on – to porn actors connection to abuse, to a society that is designed to make one group of women take joy in the degradation of another (I doubt that they are nonblack women who watch/watched the same material that Jenkins did, just different races).  I found myself thinking how Union, Gay, or Robinson might have done better. In some of the essays, this lack of connection or whatever, makes the essay weaker and digressions more annoying.


                Yet, at least half the essays are stand outs.  Her “How to Be Docile” and “How to Survive” should be in every composition and woman’s studies class.  Period.  They are not that good furthermore.  Furthermore, her “The Stranger at the Carnival” is just, quite frankly, a masterpiece.  Two sections of Malcolm X’s Autobiography tend to appear in composition readers – his learning to read in prison and his first conk.  Usually the conk selection is paired with Gates’ essay about his mother’s kitchen and the importance of the kitchen in the family.  But after reading Jerkins’, her essay should be paired with it because not only is hers a more recent presentation of the issue, but because she is a woman and raises other points.  Quite frankly, it is even better than Phoebe Robinson’s You Can’t Touch My Hair.


                Conflicted about this book I might be, but I am glad I read it.  You should read it too.  You need to read it.

Well, some to eye brow raise and some good

Courageous Princess, The Volume 1 Beyond the Hundred Kingdoms (3rd edition) (The Courageous Princess) by Espinosa, Rod (2015) Hardcover - Rod Espinosa

There is one aspect of this comic that is going to give people pause.  So I'm dealing with it first - Mabelrose is a good girl and she prays.  It isn't quite spelled out that it is a Christian god, but she does that whole kneeling hands thing.  However, there are other characters that talk about gods, and she doesn't try to convert them.  


I should also note that Mabelrose's mother, Helena,  is a traditional blonde and white skinned princess.  Her father is Arab (his name is Arabic) and he is darker in skin tone than her mother.  Mabelrose's skin color is her father's tone.  The marriage is a love match, and he saved her.  His "riva" who offers to marriage to Helena in her husband's absence is shown to be a white, racist jerk.  There is also more than one interracial and interfaith marriage too.


Mabelrose is a strong character, perhaps a bit too goody two shoes, She doesn't kick ass like Xena or Jim C Hines' princesses, but she is strong in a different way.  She usually her brains and grit more than skill.  


Overall, it's an enjoyable story about girl escaping a dragon.

A Note on Kill Your Darlings game play!

I'm working on the game right now, and will be posting more over the next few days. However, I can see a bit of confusion already developing!


Players won't be "playing" as suspects or victims. I don't want to deter anyone from using their imagination, so feel free to adopt a persona for your game play, but the general way that the game will work is that the participants need to identify the suspect, the victim, the crime scene and the cause of death by posting guesses, and then they will need to "collect" the appropriate card. I will be responding to the guesses with a "right" or a "wrong."


So, for example, the solution to the crime might be:



So, let's say that player 1 wants to make a suspect guess. Now, let's say that player 1 reads for the Arthur Conan Doyle card, and makes his/her guess. That guess is wrong, and it tells everyone that they can cross ACD off their list of suspects. 


Now player 2 reads a book that fits the Agatha Christie card, player 2 can post "Agatha Christie" as their guess. That guess is right. The suspect identification part of the game has been completed.


So, If I respond with a "wrong," everyone will know that they can cross out that possibility.

If I respond with a "right," then you can cross out all of the other possibilities.


If another team identifies the suspect, your team still needs to "collect" the card by completing one of the tasks on the card. Only ONE team member needs to do this. The remaining team members can continue to read for the other crime elements.




Until someone identifies the suspect, he/she can continue his/her crime spree by adding victims/crime scenes/causes of death to the game play. This will be done at random by me, because I am the mastermind! ;)


And remember, the suspect authors are WILD CARDS. You can read any of their novels and use them for any guess. If you want to use a Sherlock Holmes short story, you need to read enough stories to get to novel length (240 pages/60K words).




We are going to start with everyone playing the same game. You can team up with other players and get the benefit of their reading, or you can play alone. Everyone will know what the other investigators have discovered, but if you are playing alone, you still have to complete the card before you can "collect" the element. If you are playing as a team, you can strategize however you want! And I encourage strategizing!




The game ends when a player or a team has collected all of the cards that are in play. Once someone collects all of the cards, that game ends. Depending on how long each game takes, we may do another round or two.




The suspects will NOT kill their own character. So, if the suspect is J.R.R. Tolkien, you can knock Samwise Gamgee off of your victim list. The authors are killing other writer's beloved characters. They do, however, have no compunction about using their own settings/weaponry.


Feel free to ask questions below!

Reblogged from Moonlight Reader
Twilight of Empire: The Tragedy at Mayerling and the End of the Habsburgs - Greg King, Penny Wilson

The world loves a good Romeo and Juliet story because the average person tends to forget that Romeo was in love with Rosalind and Juliet was all of 13. Odds are, if they had married, Romeo would have had a mistress and Juliet would have died in childbirth. 
Shakespeare has much blame to bear considering our fascination with star crossed lovers.

This fasciation extends to the Incident at Mayerling, though the name might not be familiar to you. If you have flipped through a catalog from PBS, Acorn or BBC America, you might have seen the ad for a mini-series about Sissi, Empress Elizabeth, or the movie about her son and his lover. That’s the incident at Mayerling. The crown prince of the Habsburg empire killed himself and his lover. 

Unless you want to believe those conspiracy rumors and what not.
The real story isn’t quite film mini-series, and Greg King certainly does not describe Rudolf the Crown Prince, and Mary Vetsera, his lover, as star crossed lovers. She was 16, and King described as a bit spoiled. Rudolf was 30, married with a daughter, and he had transmitted an STD to his wife, Stephane, making her sterile.


You feel really sorry for Stephane.

You really don’t feel all that sorry for the Hapsburg, and you feel sorry for Mary in a “she was spoiled but young” type of way.

King shreds the romance from the story and quite righty, places it historical context. He also examines the conflicting stories and rumors as well as describing Vienna as the suicide capital of Europe. Apparently, romanticizing suicide goes way back. King treats all his subjects as fairly as possible. 

Dark Tales - Shirley Jackson

These stories are so awesome. On one hand, the stories are wonderfully dark fantasy. On the other hand, you are left wondering how much autobiographical details are interwoven in the story - such as the story with a town gossip, or the married couple fighting.

Book News

So apparently there are two major things happening on Book Twitter today.


1. Terry Goodkind literarlly bashed the cover work for his next book.  In fact, held a contest for his fans to make fun of it.


2. Sherman Alexie has been accused of harassment by multiple women.