Chris' Fish Place

Thoughts on things, mostly books.




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Out Nov 1, 2017

A Tangled Web: Mata Hari: Dancer, Courtesan, Spy - Mary W. Craig

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley


                Perhaps the first thing one learns about Mara Hari is that she was dancer and a slut.  Then, perhaps one learns she was a slut because she danced naked and slept with a great many men.  Then one hears that she was spy and was shot for it.  But the important thing that one is told is that she was very, very sexy.  In fact, she seems to be the spy that gets remembered not so much because of the doubt of her guilt, but because she was a sexpot.


                She also wasn’t a very good spy.  She got caught after all.


                Mary W. Craig’s new book tries to present a more nuanced picture of Mata Hari, or at least as much as one can giving the problem of sources.


                Margrethe Zell was born in the Netherlands, where she lived until her marriage took her to the Dutch East Indies.  Her early life, Craig points out, was nice until her father suffered a major loss in business.  What then followed as an unclear life plan and, what today, we would consider at the very least statutory rape – an affair with an instructor.   Craig’s details about Hari’s early life -  her struggles after the family bankruptcy and her time spent with relatives are related in a matter of a fact way.  There is pity in Craig’s writing, but Craig isn’t turning the biography into a more sinned against than sinning story.  Hari isn’t portrayed as a victim, but as a woman who took control of her life.


                Or if she is, she is doing it by taking a brutally honest about Mata Hari.


                Nowhere is this more obviously in the discussion of Zell’s marriage with MacLeod.  It is a marriage that produced two children, possibly infected Zell with an STD, and was abusive.  While not excusing MacLeod’s behavior, Craig also places the man in context, in particular with his treatment of Hari after separation and divorce, noting that MacLeod’s actions had more to do with protecting his daughter than anything else.


                Hari was no saint, and in addition to her sexual activities (less shocking today than when Hari lived), Craig does closely examine and places Hari’s dancing in the times.  The discussion of whether Hari was lying or promoting a fantasy with her “Eastern” dancing.  How much of her dancing was imply an illusion that everyone brought into, like the body stocking she wore?  Craig can’t give a definite answer but she does truly address the issue, even reading books about Hari that were published during the height of her popularity.


                Craig, in part, is hampered by the self-serving purpose of some her sources (and she is clear about this) as well as a lack of sources.  Yet, despite these drawbacks, Craig does paint an interesting, more revealing portrait of a woman who is usually known simply for sex.


So I am kinda thinking I have to start watching American Football as a method of Resistance to the Orange One.  Damnit!

Freebie Square Read

Wolves in the Dark (Varg Veum Series) - Gunnar Staalesen, Don Bartlett

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley


                Varg Veum is a literary character that I first meet though television.  MHZ had the Varg Veum movies on, and I watched them.  So, I started reading the series in a haphazard fashion, or in other words, totally out of order.


                This installment finds Veum coming out of a drinking addiction fueled by depression after a death.  In part, some of his sobering comes from meeting a woman (who has a daughter) and part of it comes from being accused of child pedophilia. 


                The novel opens with the arrival of the police to arrest Veum and search his apartment, and the book stays to the break neck speed.  In a cell, Veum is forced to remember as much as his drunk years as he can because someone, he doesn’t know who, is setting him up.


                Not many people believe him.  Strangely enough his new girlfriend is one of those who does.      


                I guess he is lucky that way, for those that have known him the longest, by and large, view him as guilty.


                On one hand, the story is a non-stop thriller.  It starts with a bust and keeps going.  The pace never seems to slow, not surprising when Veum isn’t given the time to catch his breath.  The characters are well written, possibly not the girlfriend who seems a bit too trusting, yet she is not stupid.  Even though at times it seems like too much coincidental.  The ending too, is on level, a typical white male ending.  It is difficult to image an immigrant or even a woman, even in Norway, having the same reaction as Varg Veum to the final outcome.


                In part, that might be part of the problem with this book – Veum never seems quite aware of the societal pressures, norms, what have you, that contribute or allow the trafficking and abuse of children (and women) to occur.  On one hand, there are times when a reader wants to smack Veum for his cluelessness on the matter.  Doesn’t he realize, the reader might wonder under her breath, in particular when he is confronting woman.  Then one wonders if this genius on the part of Staalesen.  What better way to show a problem?  There is no preaching, no holier than though.  And this provokes more thought.


                This book will most likely get less attention then Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  A shame considering that it is better written and far more powerful for its subtlety.




Violette Szabo: The Life That I Have - Susan Ottaway

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley


                Earlier this month, Kate Elliot re-tweeted a thread about little known heroes, women heroes to be exact.  And this is true.  In America, the story goes women in the Second World War built the planes and nursed.  We are usually not taught about the women who dropped into Occupied France, and if it is mentioned, they are British.


                And we usually don’t tell.  Recently, a student read a selection of Julia Child.  He didn’t hate it, but found it a bit boring.  It was about food after all, but tell that same student about Child’s wartime work, and he gets more interested.


                Violette Szabo wasn’t an American, and she did have a movie made about her.  Yet, today, she is not well known by history books.  At least the ones used in schools.  After the death of her husband, Szabo joined SOE and went into Occupied France twice.  Her actions during both missions were heroic.


                Susan Ottaway’s biography of Szabo is in many ways, a counter point to Crave Her Name with Pride.  Ottaway was able to interview not only Szabo’s brothers but also her daughter Tania.  What is presented here is a pretty good and seemingly fair biography.  While detailing the heroics of Szabo, Ottaway weighs the validity of stories, looking at not only the narrator but also the possibility of such action.


                At times, it does feel that Szabo is just out of reach, but considering the scant sources, this is hardly surprising.  What is interesting is looking at what Szabo and her daughter think about Szabo’s work and the “morality” of a mother doing such duty.  Ottaway also details life after the war and how the family was treated by the makers of the film.

Terror in Small Town Square

Monsters of the Gevaudan: The Making of a Beast - Jay M. Smith

Smith ties the beast of Gevaudan to French history, showing in particular, how the raise of the news was able to use the Beast. The book is interesting

Well, you see

From Hell - Eddie Campbell, Pete Mullins, Alan Moore

I was going to use this for a square.  But since I skimmed the last 200 pages, I'm not really comfortable using it.  (Undoubtedly because I have so many books that qualifiy for squares).


Moore's story telling is good and I love the historic notes. So why two stars to this good look at the Ripper? While the nudity is equal (ie both men and women), it seemed as if it was there too much. I do not think Moore was sexualizing or objectifiying anything or anyone. And it is the Ripper there is going to be violence. It just seemed over the top to my tastes. 

Darkest London Square

Moon Over Soho - Ben Aaronovitch

I love the tone and humor in the novel. Peter Grant is a great guy to hang out with. The music riffs were nice too. 

Yet, the big reveal was something that anyone, including a bug, could have seen coming and quite frankly, the fact that Grant didn't see it was stupid.

I did like the morality debate at the end though

Supernatural Square

Bound No More: A Jane Yellowrock Novella - Audible Studios, Faith Hunter, Khristine Hvam

Since this seems to be the week for everyone telling me my reviews are stupid because I am stupid western woman, let me say I didn't read the other books in this series.

On one hand, I really like this. Jane Yellowrock is a very interesting character and the audio narration was brilliant. Yet I found myself getting increasing annoyed with the story. I am sorry but in the middle of a big fight you are going to take the time to describe what your partner is wearing? Seriously? Additionally, I kept getting told the same thing over and over. And finally, I am sick and tried of the all powerful Mary Sue. Jane was totally wonderfully until she bound Angie and then you were like WTF, how she do that. 

It's a shame really because Hunter has one of the best relationships between the human and the animal in any were or shifter story I have seen.

Magic Realism Square

Nights at the Circus - Angela Carter

- A story about stories and illusion.

Magic and reading have something in common. It’s that thin wedge that question of what is real and what is fantasy. We know that the magician is doing some trick, but we just can’t get it, can’t figure it out. With books, good ones at least, the trick is the writing taking you someplace else. Books aren’t the only thing that can do this – a good movie, painting, music. 
It’s this line between reality and fantasy that Carter explores in this novel about a circus performer who may actually have real wings. At first glance it seems as if Fevvers is the only character with this problem, but every character in the book comes into contact with this question. Even the tigers, which may or may not really be jealous lovers.
In many ways, this is the human condition, the search for ourselves. Is our work face our real face? It might not be the wings that Fevvers has, but the question of reality and fantasy is one we change and fight in some way every day

Amazon Promotion (US)

I'm not sure how long this is going to last, but $3 kindle credit for romance (there are some urban fantasy books mixed into the list).


Go here

Harley Quinn

Over on Amazon, there are like 4-5 Batman comics featuring Harley Quinn for free.  If you go here you can see.

Question of the Day

9 times out 10 people who tell you that you shouldn't review  or rate a book unless you read 100% of it, only have like under 100 books on their shelves, and only read  like ten books a year?

Updated Bingo Card



Pumpkin Outline - Called, not read

Jack O'Lantern - Read but not called

JackO'Lantern with hat - Called and Read








Woods Square

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon - Stephen King

Lately, I've been applying the Bechdel test to books. It's actually quite sad how many of them fail. From a techincal standpoint, this book fails as well. But like Gravity, it is a story about survival with other characters making only brief appearances.

Trisha is a young girl whose parents are divorce, and in part the book is about her struggle to come to terms with the change in the family. Her journay though the dark, dark woods that she finds herself lost in mirrors in some ways, the journay that her family is on as they struggle to come to terms with a new life. It is hardly surprising if the reader wonders are the ghosts and demons real or only in Trisha's mind.

What King does is capture, to a great degree, the mind of a young girl and her struggle. (To be fair, at times Trisha seems to be older than her given age). There are wonderful lines about Twinkies. He captures the friendship of young girls quite well with descriptions of Trisha's relationship with Pepsi (her friend, not the drink. Look, I know. But we all know someone who would). 

Neither Trisha's mother or her father is demonized. In fact, we see what Trisha gets from both of them. And while Trisha's spirit animal is the pitcher Tom Gordon, some of her survival knowledge comes from her mother.

There is so much in this brief book and yet it is just right. Not bloated, and not a wasted word. Yet it covers family relationships, survival, nightmares, and religion.

Witches Square Read

Anita - Keith Roberts

This is a charming book. It isn't a novel, more a collection of interlinked short stories about the witch Anita. Anita lives with her Granny (who is a forerunner of Granny Weatherwax). The stories cover a wide range of themes, including pollution and urban development. But at the heart there is always sense of humor and beauty. It is impossible not to like Anita and her surrondings.

Ghost Square Bingo

Night Rounds: A Detective Inspector Irene Huss Investigation (Inspector Irene Huss Investigations) - Helene Tursten

This is one of those books that looks at gender issues but does it very subtly. Irene Huss is not a perfect character, she might not even be the smartest detective in the room, but unlike many other detectives, in particular nordic ones, that I can think of, she is one of the most well adjusted ones. She is an everywoman, and there is something comforting about that.

The mystery here is quite good and rather engrossing. It plays with the ideas of ghosts, both "real" and emotional.