Chris' Fish Place

Thoughts on things, mostly books.




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Erstwhile 3

Erstwhile #3 - Gina Biggs, Louisa Roy, Elle Skinner

Disclaimer: I backed this project on Kickstarter.  My name is listed on the thank you page.


                My mother asked me while I needed comic book version of the Grimm tales.  While, I suppose, I don’t really, but I am glad I have this.


                Gina Biggs, Louisa Roy, and Elle Skinner take lesser known Grimm tales and adapted them.  In many cases, the main characters are depicted as minorities, and there are interracial relationships.  The stories themselves are set in a wide variety of places.  Many of the tales have a woman or a girl as the main character.  There is also a drawing on other media.  For instance, Mother Holle would be at home in a Miyazaki movie.


                It is to the volume and Elle Skinner’s credit, that the volume starts strong with a version of “Beauty and the Beast” – “The Singing Springing Lark”.  Unlike many variants, though the trend is changing, Skinner makes the family more supportive of the Belle character. 


                The one that I was surprised to see was “King Thrushbeard”.  I worked on annotating “King Thrushbeard” for Surlalune.  The tale is a patient Griselda type, where a proud princess is taught humility by, basically, being abused by her father and husband.  I have to give Louisa Roy credit for she does an excellent job with this story and sticks to the general plot while giving it a modern test.  It has a very good ending.


                My favorite story is “The Twelve Huntsmen” done by Elle Skinner.  In part, this is because I have always loved the story, but here I am so happy to see a princess who is beautiful but who is not skinny and who has freckles.


                Gina Biggs’ version of “Sweetheart Roland” is well done too, keeping the darkly romantic feel of the story.


                Highly recommended.

Well that was good

The Gunslinger - Stephen King

When I was in high school, I read King. I mean, I really read King. I was told by my mother not to leave the books around the house because the title "The Dead Zone" had freaked out my young brother. Then I read three of his books in row that I didn't like - Deadzone, Salem's Lot, Tommyknockers. It was like a switch had been flipped, and I didn't read King for years.

Years, really, outside of a few non-fiction issues.

Until a close friend gave me a copy of Christine because he thought it was funny considering my first name. Honestly, Stephen King if you are reading this review, you owe me and everyone named Christine who was young when the book and movie came out, an apology. It was horrible. Because this is a close friend who loves King, I read it, eventually, and remembered how good King was. So when the sexiest men alive, Mr Elba, was cast in the movie based on this series, I knew I had to at least try the series.

This edition is the slightly edited version, as King notes in the forward. But I still think, even the earlier edition, would have re-stirred a love for King or at least his version of a western. Because this is at heart a western.

I grew up watching The Big Valley. I was the only student who cried when Barbara Stanwyck died.

It is not a flawless book. In many ways, it is a young man's book. For instance, the role of women in the story - even given the western limitation on women's roles (but Victoria Barkley kicked ass. Audra wasn't a slouch either). Yet, it is also a compelling quest book drawing on Childe Roland as well. The characters are more types than actual characters, at this point. But for a fan of Mag Seven, this is fine. It does get a bit bloody, but it's King.

Love that crow.

A little dry but worth reading

Sunken Gold: A Story of World War I Espionage and the Greatest Treasure Salvage in History - Joseph A. Williams

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley


                Joseph A Williams’ book isn’t so much a chronicle of a sinking, but a history of a salvage mission.  The best parts of the book are the ones that describe the development of diving technology.  It also illuminates a lesser known story about WWI.  The writing is a bit dry when moving beyond driving, but the use of background material does keep the reader interested.

:takes deep breath to ask a touchy question:

I feel safer asking this question here as opposed to twitter (which doesn't get sacrasm and where very few people seem to bother to look at a series of posts) or Facebook.  But I really want to hear the answers to it, and it is a touchy question, or more likly a series of a questions, and it has to do with race.


For the record, I am white, but I also work at a college where nine times out of ten, I am the white person in the classroom, so all my students are minority, majority African-American.  I tend to think about race a bit.  I know that my students have taught me as much, if not more, then I taught them.


So my questions are 


1. What extactly is cultural appropriation?  Look I know the textbook defination, but is a white writer creating a black character doing so?  Is that author simply being diverse?  Is it culutural appropriation only if the writer creates such a character without making the character believable or only creates such characters or only creates a minority character who is minority only in skin color?  There was an op-ed piece in the NYT and I read Marlon James thoughts on it, so is there a hard answer to this one? I am also thinking about the recent art debates.  What do you think?  For instance, if The Hate U Give had been written by a white, Latina, Chinese, person would that have been appropriation? If it had been written by a man and not a woman?  I don't really know the answer to these questions, yet I have students who ask me about these issues.  I realize there probably isn't a hard or fast answer, but it seems like very places are open to discussion without name calling.  And I don't think LIonel Shriver was right either.


2. I understand why Elizabeth Banks is being called out, and she should be.  Forgetting the Color Purple is wrong and white woman feminism.  But why is it therefore okay for everyone to forget Memoirs of a Geisha which Spielberg produced?  Isn't that the same thing?

Out Soon

Surfer Dude: The Legendary Stallion of Chincoteague - Lois Szymanski, Linda Kantjas

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review


                To be honest, this is the time of horse book that I normally hate.  There is a bit too much romanticism to be honest, and the ending sequence is bit too sugary.

                Yet, and it is a big yet.


                Yet, this is actually pretty good.  Part of this is the afterword where Szymanski acknowledges that the story is romanticized This furthered not only by a summary of actual facts but also a page identifying the other horses, each with a brief biography.  There is even detail about other animals on the island with a challenge presented to find them in the illustrations.  These last few pages carry the book from a 3 or 4-star book to a 4 or 5. 


                The basic story is that of Surfer Dude, a stallion on the island of Assateague.  He was popular among residents and tourists because of his good looks.  His life is a little atypical, in particular in regards to one of his sons. 


                The artwork is quite lovely and fits the story quite well.  The animals are well drawn, and the ponies look like ponies as opposed to well-groomed thoroughbreds.  It is quite easy to imagine prints of the illustrations on a wall.


Despite the sometimes-romanticized tone, Szymanski doesn’t shy away from horse herd behavior, in particular the rejection of older colts by stallions. 



Wonder Woman

The new Wonder Woman movie is awesome.  It’s great.  It’s what many women have been waiting for.  It’s all that.  The Mary Sue has been publishing some very good essays about the feminist view of the film.   They are not the only ones.


                There are a few points I would like to raise.  So, spoilers ahead.


                While much has made of the Amazons, in particular the diversity in terms of age and looks, let’s give a closer look to Etta Candy.  She’s more than just comic relief and truth speaking.  She accepts Diana readily, acknowledging the other woman’s great looks without any jealously.  Additionally, she is smart and observant enough to know that Steve and Diana have been tailed.  She shows up to provide back up, readily with an unfamiliar weapon (Diana’s sword) in head.  Etta may not be bad ass Amazon general or warrior, but she is just as strong and brave.


                This aspect of bravery without superhero powers gets overlooked very often.  While Hawkeye, Black Widow, and Falcon are said to be the weakest Avengers, they are also the bravest – going into battle with a lack of superhero powers or very expensive equipment that protects them head to toe.  Admittedly, Falcon is in the middle, his wings in Civil War can deflect bullets, but this is not the case in Winter Solider. 


                Furthermore, Etta’s ability is another thing that speaks strongly to Steve’s character.  Despite what some others do in the movie, Steve never doubts any woman’s ability.  He had enough sense to work, possibly hire Etta, and respects her abilities.  He is not surprised to see her at his back.  Further, he never questions Diana’s ability, just the whole existence of Ares or Zeus.  Even when he is seducing Dr. Poison, he is observant enough to realize where her true interest lies.  He speaks to her as an equal, something that he does to every single woman in the movie.  He is the only male main character to do so (his posse by and large do so, after Diana has proven herself in the bar).


                His Marvel counterpoint is Nick Fury in the movies who relies heavily on Maria Hill and Black Widow, getting their opinions before making a decision. 


                Another fine and subtle point comes in Diana’s face off with Ares.  Diana defines herself in terms of matrimonial, not surprising considering the birth story she was told and her childhood.  What is interesting is how Ares defines her – as the daughter of Zeus, a child he had with the Amazon Queen.  He never acknowledges Hippolyta’s name, he sees her only in relation to the men whose only connection to her is in that of blood – no emotional connection.  Further, he sees her only as a tool – and it appears so did Zeus.  It is the Amazons who have the compassion to see her as Diana.  Even Antiope who pushes the Godkiller aspect of Diana must loves Diana, has compassion for Diana.  Every Amazon sees her as a person, as something other than a tool or a weapon.  It is such a telling difference, all in a few words.  Just like Ares’ attempt to get Diana to kill Dry Maru is based on Dry Maru’s morality and scarred appearance – he gets rid of the mask to show physical ugliness as well.  Incidentally, why neglecting the ugliness of war that Diana has seen.  Jenkins makes sure we know which is worse – Maru’s physical appearance is not something the viewer (or Diana) cares about, the ugliness of war is.  The disappearing of the mask is not a big reveal moment.  At that point in the movie Diana and the viewer are one, we care about morality, nothing else.  Jenkins does a wonderful job at highlighting how ugly war is.  She keeps the horror of WWI.


                Look, it’s true that Wonder Woman’s costume is still a male gaze thing; hell, that is true for a few of the Amazons.  But, there is so much here for a woman to love – the male butt scene but no female nudity is only the tip of it.  There is such much nuance in it.  It’s lovely, it really is. 


                For years, one of the best movie experiences I had was watching 300 and cheering with every woman in the audience when the Queen stabbed the traitor.  That was awesome.


                Now, the best movie experience I had was watching Wonder Woman.


                The Best.




Some Wonder Woman Take Aways

Awesome movie


Love the fact that the Amazon range in age but mostly mature and still kick ass.  Also the use of scars!


Love Etta.  Love the fact that she knew enough to follow Steve and Diana and stood her ground with an unfamiliar weapon.  Love that.  Also love the fact that she acknowledges Diana's beauty with no jealous whatsoever.


Love the fact that Chris Pine had a butt scene but not one woman did!

Just read this okay

The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas

It’s Obsidian Blue’s fault I read this book now.  It is.  I was, still am, advocating this for my book club, but it wouldn’t be until the end of the year because we are booked till October.

                Yeah so, but after Blue wrote a glowing review, I knew I had to read because if Blue really loves something, it means that I will really love it.

                Yeah, so, all those reviews about how this is the book of the year, how this is the book that everyone should read this year, all those reviews are right.

                Starr is from the “ghetto” but because her parents want the best for her and her brothers, so she and her brothers attend a fancy prep school about 45-60 minutes away.  In her home neighborhood, she is known basically as her father’s daughter who works at his store.

                She is two people prep school Starr and neighborhood Starr.

                And then what happens to often happens.  A friend is shot by a police officer.  An unarmed friend is shot by a white police officer.  Starr’s worlds collide in ways that are expected and not so much.

                Look, I’m white so what Starr experiences is something I never experienced and never will experience.  Yes, all teens have that dichotomy, but there is a vast different between the standard two persona teen and two personas for simple survival sake, so my view of reality is different, but this book feels real.  I have taught Starr’s parents.  My friend teaches Starr’s classmates.

                The amount of detail in this engrossing read is great.  It is Starr’s growing knowledge about those around here, in all her places – not only her classmates but her family and friends as well.  There is the case of Maya, Kenya, and Chris – who quite frankly comes across as a wonderful.  Starr’s father is a former gang member, but her uncle is a detective.  There is the conflict of a desire or need for a better and/or safer life and to do right by your birth place.  There is a good bit about cycles and the need to break them, about being trapped in a place where every choice is bad.

                And it is to Thomas’ credit that fairy tale ending isn’t there, at least not wholly (you could argue that a certain facet of a fairy tale ending is present).  The ending feels real, Starr’s voice is real, there is not a false step here at all.

                The book isn’t anti-police – after all there is Starr’s uncle.  Additionally, it isn’t racist against white people.  There’s not only Chris, but his parents (not central characters but their part in the end works), there are also several white friends of Starr who are her friends.  The question of her boyfriend at the end of the book isn’t so much questioning as teasing (honestly, it happens all the time).

Personal Canon 02

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood - Howard Pyle

Title: Adventures of Robin Hood and His Merry Men

Author: Howard Pyle


First Read:  Have no idea, forever


                This was my first literary introduction to Robin Hood, it might even pre date my seeing of the Flynn movie, though I am not sure. 


                The strange thing is that this book also had my first literary crush – David of Doncaster.  I’m not sure why I fastened on to him, but I did.  Maybe because I knew, or thought, Robin was already taken, and Little John never seemed to be a man for me.


                Robin Hood no doubt is a large influence on my love for elves, so this book is partly to blame.  Much is made of his books being for boys, but they are pretty good for young girls too.  The examples are all heroic, but there is no moralizing.  The purpose, if purpose there is, seems to be educate the reader on the basic myth or legend.


                This was also one of the first books that my father gave me.


The aged palmer gives young David of Doncaster news of Will Stutely.  From The merry adventures of Robin Hood, written and illustrated by Howard Pyle, New York, 1892.  (Source:


Victory Nelson

Blood Price - Tanya Huff Blood Pact - Tanya Huff Blood Trail (Victoria Nelson, #2) - Tanya Huff Blood Debt - Tanya Huff

Years ago, after graduating high school, a group of friends and I spent senior week at the shore.  There, a friend brought the first two Vicky Nelson (Blood Noun) novels by Tanya Huff.  By the end of the week, everyone in the house had read them.


                More importantly, now over twenty years later, they have aged extremely well.


                The basic premise of each book is a mystery, a supernatural one of course, that Vicky must solve.  Vicky is a former cop, who left the force due to a degenerative eye dieses that has destroyed her night vision.  In the course of the first book, Vicky teams up with Henry Fitzroy, a vampire who happens to be the bastard son of Henry VIII (he’s that Henry who died young).  Together, along with Mike, Vicky’s former partner and friend with benefits, they defeat evil.  In the course of the series, Mike learns what Henry is, and the threesome negotiates their love triangle.


                Unlike most current UF, Huff’s love triangle features a human woman, a vampire, and a human male instead vampire/human/werewolf.  What is more interesting, is that Huff’s love triangle is also an open relationship on all ends.  There are similar love triangles in various series.   For instance, the original Anita Blake one involving a vampire and a werewolf.  But unlike the Blake novels, Vicky does not expect her men to be faithful to only her.  If she is already more than one love, so are they.  While there is jealously, Vicky does not force the men to adhere to nonsensical rules the relationship is one of equals.


                What is also great is that each person brings a strength to the conclusion.  The three survive and thrive because they work as a team.  Vicky might be the central around all which turns, but she is not super Vicky.  She is not super Vicky.  Too often in many UF series - such as Dresden, Blake, the Hollows – the lead is the only one who saves people.  Not here.  Both Henry and Mike are vital components of heroic daring do.  It is a true partnership and triumvirate.


                Henry is not a weepy emo vampire.  Thank god.  He might be nice, but he has bite and while he respects Vicky, he does not crave into any emotional blackmail, sticks to his code, and is willing to push back.  No one in the relationship is a doormat.

                And the men are the ones who start the relationship talk.


                There also isn’t much angst.  There is regret especially after Vicki becomes a vampire, but there isn’t constantly angst and drama.  Things get resolved and sorted out.  It makes a nice change from a never-ending love triangle with a sappy ending that is vaguely rapey.

                And the books also address the question of consent and obligation in the character of Tony who realizes that his feelings for Henry are complicated.  This is something that is not always examined in UF.

                Huff deserves more credit and acknowledgement for her Vicky Nelson series.  While it relies less on sex and romance, then most modern UF novels, there is romance and love there.  What Huff does is showcase a strong woman in a relationship with strong men as all three struggle to come to terms with self.

Eddie Izzard's memoir

Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens - Eddie Izzard

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

                Back when BBC America show actually British shows instead of movies and Star Trek, I saw my first Eddie Izzard show.


                He made me laugh so hard.


                To call this book a straight forward autobiography or memoir is slightly incorrect.  While the progression in the work is somewhat linear, there are digressions, and in some places, you go two steps back after one step forward.


                This doesn’t mean the book is bad.  It isn’t.  In fact, it is like Izzard is there talking just to you.  So, it is really nice.


                The other thing is that Izzard is not one of those stars who celebrate or shoves his celebrity in his face.  He does not make himself sound extra special or anything like that.  He is, in fact, every day, everybody.  So, when he discusses his struggles to come to terms with himself, to find himself, to succeed, he is in many ways just like you.  Look, I don’t know what it is like to be transgender or TV as Eddie Izzard calls it.  Yet, for a straight woman who doesn’t like to wear heels, there is much here.  Izzard’s writing lacks that self-inflation that sometimes infuses memoirs.  In part, the book feels like he is still trying to figure himself out, and on another level, it gives me the same feeling that reading Pancakes in Paris did.  Everyone struggles to discover who they are and make peace with it.  Most struggles are different yet similarly.  (Yes, I know it is oxymoron).


                There are funny insights here too – for instance “Wasps are actually like The Borg from Star Trek” or how real football is more American than people think it is.  “Stinging nettles are the Nazis of the  weed world”.


                And he is so right about warm milk.  Warm milk is just wrong in so many different ways.


                And Mr. Izzard, you are not the only vomiter, just saying.


                The book isn’t just humor – though Izzard’s humor is on full display, it is full of introspection and touching passages.  When Izzard discusses his relationship to his step-mother, in particular his attending concerts with her, the emotion shines though.   It is a rather intimate and touching story.


                Even if you are not an Eddie Izzard fan (and you should be), you will enjoy this touching memoir.





Seriously, I am furious about Trump pulling out of the climate deal.  
Here are some definations and ideas for Covfefe
Covfefe - when your spray on orange tan goes bad at the same time your wife slaps your hand away.
My dog covfefed a woodchuck.
Merkel grabbed Drumpf by the covfefe, body slammed him to the ground, and ripped off his tiny balls.
Covfefe - a term for tiny hands
Covfefe- what Drumpf and his family are doing as they go to the bank.  The rest of us are dying due to lack of health care, pollution, and no money.
Covfefe - when the leaders of Nordic countries troll you
Covfefe - the slow murder of language by a man with tiny hands

Those body snatchers

Digging in the Dark: A History of the Yorkshire Resurrectionists - Ben Johnson

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.  Note the ARC did not have a source listing, I presume this is that the case for the print version.


                Shortly after finishing this book, the now annual war between woodchucks and dogs started.  To call it a war is wrong, it is more like Darwinism in action as in woodchucks that are so stupid to enter a fenced in yard that contains two dogs deserved what they get, especially when said woodchuck gets caught at the apex of three fences.  This year, the new dog apparently believes that offering me a dead woodchuck as a tug toy is the way to go.


                I suppose it is better than dismembered woodchuck over the yard.


                It made me think of this book.  True, the history detailed in Johnson’s book doesn’t involve dogs wanting to play tug with dead rodents, but it does involve the digging up of bodies, and as I have had to dispose of one.


                My favorite story about grave robbers or Resurrection men is not included here, not surprising considering that the story takes place in Edinburgh and Johnson’s book details those of Yorkshire.


                We are talking about grave robbers and body snatchers in case you didn’t know.


                Johnson provides background before moving into full, detailed history of various resurrection men.  This overview also includes those who met have cheated death, including a piper who could not be hung but who was buried anyway.  That’s all I am going to say about that, and if you want to know about that story (and you should), read the book.


                Johnson’s discussion includes the most famous Resurrection Burke and Hare, but the majority of the book is centered on Yorkshire and less known cases, including ones involving children’s bodies.  The trials are discussed in details, including actual reporting and transcripts from the time.  While at times, this can be a bit slow considering the style of whichever source he cites.  Yet, what comes across quite clearly, is the fascination and interest that Johnson has for his subject matter. His interest in the subject more than compensates for various slow points in quoted material (and he gets credit for quoting the sources).

                I do hope that Johnson delivers a talk about this subject in the US because I sense that he would be fun to listen too.

Audible Deal of the Day (US)

The Oedipus Plays - Jamie Glover, Sophocles, Michael Maloney, David Horovitch, Samantha Bond, Julian Glover, Ian Johnston - translator, Hayley Atwell, Audible Inc (UK)

$1.99 today.  

Personal Canon - Hobbit and LOTR

The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien, Michael Hague The Fellowship of the Ring  - J.R.R. Tolkien The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien

Author: JRR Tolkien

First Read: 6 or 7 years old.


                I can’t remember when I first read the Hobbit.  I do know when I first read LOTR.  It was when I went with my mom to the eye doctor.  She started reading it to me, and when she couldn’t continue because of the eye drops, I started reading it on my own.  About four years later, I received my own illustrated copy of the Hobbit (with Hague illustrations, so he is my first LOTR artist), and then a few years after that, I brought my own copies of Fellowship, Towers, and King.  When the movies came out, I caved and brought hardcover editions of the trilogy.  Additionally, it is one of the few books where I own multiple versions – not only physical books, but kindle version, audio cassette versions, and Audible files. 


                And that’s not counting the movies.


                But let’s not count those because I will keep bitching about the lack of a thrush.


                I have read the books so many times, that I got a little po’ed when I reviewed the kindle version of LOTR and somebody thought it was the first time I read the books. 


                When I first read the books, I found everything before the Council of Elrond boring and after the first two times I read the story, skipped it for a bit.  I liked the bit at the Ford, but the Council of Elrond was where it was at because it had Elves.  I loved Elves because they had bows like Robin Hood.  Flynn’s Robin Hood was the first movie I saw, the Pyle version of Robin Hood was one of the first books I owned.  Bard was my favorite character in the Hobbit because he had a bow.  You see how it goes.  I also couldn’t figure out why Arwen married Strider because she didn’t do anything but sew.



                While I agree with Pratchett -that if you think LOTR is the greatest book every, you haven’t read it enough, I love this book.  It isn’t perfect, but it holds up well.  And yes, there are parts that don’t quite fit – Tom Bombadil for instance, but their friendship and bonds that run though the novel are the joy of the novel.


                As I got older, I grew to love the Arwen story at the same time I got angry with how it set such a standard of elven maiden giving up immortality to marry a human man, something in reverse that you tend not to see too often.  I realized that there are aspects of the Prof in many characters, perhaps mostly in Eowyn when she complains of being left to burn in the hall when men have more use for it.


                What the Prof did was not only give Britain a saga, a story that Milton wished to do.  He didn’t just simply set the standard for world building or create a template that writers like Terry Brooks would “borrow” (or steal) for years to come.


                It’s humanity.  Really. 

Personal Canon - The rule for moi -update

Moonlight Reader started this with her post about her personal canon, so she is too thank or blame or both.  And I wish to thank her again because writing this has made me think of


                I thought a bit about my criteria for my personal canon.  Then I got out a notebook with gnomes on it and designated it my canon book.  I’ve been keeping reading journals since 2000.  Listing the start date of the book, a bit about it when I finished, and so on; therefore, I have plenty of notebooks.  The first page of my Canon Notebook is the “rules”, which are roughly as follows.


  1. Fiction and non-fiction allowed.
  2. Short stories and poems are allowed.
  3. List book, author, and first reading time/period
  4. Series are allowed in some cases, but pull out a particular few books.
  5. Has to be something more than simply liked it.
  6. Give reasons why.
  7. In most cases, the book or work should be read more than once (though there will be expectations).

 Comic series or individual issues are allowed


The reason I allowed short stories and poems because for me such work is just as vital.  In many ways, I am basing the ideas of the Personal Canon along the ideas of the list of books that I had to study for gaining my Master’s in English Literature.  There are some stories and poems that are central.  So, to not include them is stupid.  In short, I am looking for what impact, touched me, or made me think in a new way. 


Currently reading

Michel Faber, George Eliot