Chris' Fish Place

Thoughts on things, mostly books.




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In the Heat of the Moment (Sandhamn #5) - Viveca Sten, Marlaine Delargy (translator)

This installment finds both Thomas and Nora on more solid footing as they adjust to the changes in their lives. Thomas has a new daughter, and Nora is dating someone and trying to figure out how to do the whole blended family thing.

And of course, there is a murder. A teen has been found day, and Thomas must help solve the case. Nora is only involved in the case in a slight way. Don't worry - she is still in the book.

Sten seems to capture the confusion and pressure on the teens quite well. The conflict that Nora feels over her relationship with Jonas is well done as well.

The mystery was pretty good too. The solution isn't easily guessed at but it doesn't come out of left field.

Out Now

A History of Cadbury - Diane Wordsworth

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.


                I know there are people out there who do not like chocolate.  I’m not taking about those people who are allegoric to chocolate, but people who simply do not like chocolate.  I know these people exist in some mythic realm that also houses those people who do not read books.  But I really do not want to meet those people.


                This book is about chocolate and, therefore, it is yummy.  But even if you are one of those people who doesn’t like chocolate this is a book that you should enjoy.


                In the United States, Cadbury is most likely famous primary for its Cadbury Eggs – or for the commercials for those Cadbury Crème eggs, but the company is actually famous for much more.


                Like Flake.  I mean, Flake is terrific.  Or Roses, who doesn’t like Roses?


                Okay fine, but even if you lack taste, this book is delicious.


                Wordsworth traces the company’s history from its start in Bull Street in Birmingham in the 1820s to the most recent corporate sale with Kraft.  In 1824, John Cadbury with a stake from his father, a draper, opened a tea shop that also sold cocoa beans.  The Cadbury family was a Quaker family, and John Cadbury was also a temperance advocate, which was one of the reasons he put forward chocolate as an alternative to drinking.  (He obviously never had a Guinness and chocolate milkshake).


                Eventually the firm was passed down to his sons Richard and George who saved the business by expanding it and refining it – in part because of Dutch tech that allowed for the making of better chocolate.


                However, it is important to note that the Cadbury family was far different than many in today’s heavy capitalist society where workers are being replaced with machines or losing wages and benefits.  The Cadbury family actually seemed to have cares for their workers.  What is most surprising is the emphasis on health and learning that the firm gave its employees.  The workers had sports field, class, doctors, and dentists.  It is turn that at some point there were some strange rules – like the ones about married women – but considering the overall care and concern that the family extended to employees.  Wordsworth does an excellent job of making this attitude clear and connecting it to the family’s Quaker’s beliefs.  She also discusses the two ways such care could be seen – Patriarchal or patriarchist.


                The emphasis of this book, therefore, is on what Cadbury was and what in some ways was lost in the later mergers and buy outs.  The later mergers of the firm while dealt with are not dealt with in depth.  This leads to more of a sense of loss when Kraft enters the picture.  It is impossible to think of a big business being so vested in the success of their employees on such a level.


                In part, one does wish there was more analysis about the changes or differences.  To be fair, though, it is entirely possible that such a criticism could be unwarranted.  Wordsworth seems to have been contracted for a slim volume so the cutting of information must have been difficult.  So, if it is a fault, it is more to do with contract.  Wordsworth makes up for a bit of the gloss at the end by including a further reading list.  She also includes several documents – such as testimony from a libel trial – and interviews with employees.


Footnotes from the World's Greatest Bookstores: True Tales and Lost Moments from Book Buyers, Booksellers, and Book Lovers - Garrison Keillor, Bob Eckstein

From the World might be pushing it since about 17 are from NYC.  He even had bookstores in NYC that were closed.  I mean come on.  (He does include a few bookstores that are closed which beggars the question why - simply because of an interesting story?  But not every bookstore mentioned has an interesting story.  Quite a few are simply general statements, so it's a bit strange).  It is a celebration of Independent Bookstores (used or new) so I get why big chains aren't mentioned but cities besides NYC have bookstores.

Selection is also a bit hit or miss. I can understand the inclusion of many of the bookstores (Powell's, The Strand) - but seriously why isn't Foyle's mentioned? Or Kramerbooks in DC? Or Joseph Fox here in Philly? The Word in Montreal perhaps?  Paragraphe in Montreal as well isn't mentioned.  Politics and Prose or Busboys and Poets isn't even mentioned.  (Both are in DC).


Not mentioning Joseph Fox is a sin.  I mean that store provides the books for the library book signings in Philly.  It's small, but oh so dangerous, and the staff is so great.  All you have to do is say I read about this book but I can't remember the title.  And they know what book it is.  They even keep dog biscuits for pooches.

Some of the stories are interesting -like the one about Bowie - but it is a very strange look at the word "greatest"

100th book of the year

More Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason - Nancy Pearl

I'm upping this to three stars because she mentioned Barbara Hambly and The Little White Horse.

But honesty, if you are talking about dog books and you don't mention Albert Payson Terhune, there is something wrong with you.

It's a little bit disorganized and the list descriptions are bit weird. I also hate grouping fantasy, sci-fi and horror together, by cyber punk gets its own section. She also repeats quite a few book titles. But I did jot down quiet a few titles I want to look at


Kuessipan - Naomi Fontaine, David Homel

Early in her novel, Fontaine writes, “. . .the grey skin of a man who is too young for the varnished wooden box with its gilt pattern and golden handles” (13).  A beautiful and tragic sentence, which in many ways sums up this slim novel.


                It isn’t so much a novel but more a collection of prose poems about the life of a reservation.  The characters, if that is the right terms, are nameless and, for the most part faceless, but that makes it more powerful.  The episodic, poetic style is like that of Split Tooth and Niirlit, both of which are pre-dated by this book.  I wonder if it is capturing of narrative oral story telling in written form.


                It is also a mediation on nature and a way of life that is threatened, a need to find a sense of self where a world does not value the traditions and lives of one’s people.


                “Tonight, neither the city nor the airplanes colour the sky with a soft purple as sinuous as a wolf” (26).


                Part of the loss is the encroaching of Western culture, of the arrival of non-Indigenous people to lands that were free of lights of cities. 


                “Three hours of chaos to reach the intimacy of a lake much too beautiful to remain hidden, but too remote for most human eyes” (20)


                There is so much to unpack in that sentence.  The beauty of nature, the fact that not many will see it, the belief that people should see it, as well as the knowledge that too many visitors will ruin it.


                The book is a haunting meditation.  Part song of loss, part song of hope, part song of knowing.  It is a quiet masterpiece of strength.

Aquaman, Volume 1: The Drowning - Dan Abnett, Brad Walker, Philippe Briones, Gabe Eltaeb, Pat Brosseau

This is the first straight forward Aquaman comic I've read.

The artwork isn't bad. The fact that Mera says my love quite a bit is rather annoying.


This issue has several great things about it.

1. Mera - she decks Superman (and the reaction to this action is so wonderful). She is also kick ass.

2. The look at how people see Aquaman - how despite being part of the Justice League, he is still a bit outside of the league. He isn't part of the Trinity or part of the second Trinity, he's different.

3. Because he is different and, to some people, doesn't belong above or below, he struggles to bring together his two worlds. Yet, in many ways, he seems the most healthy mentally of male superheroes (and many superheroes in general). In part, this could be because he has a stable relationship. But if this book is any indication, it seems more that he has reconciled who he is and what he has done.

4. This book handles the hero killing someone quite well. And it ties back to point 3.

5. The responsibility of being a leader of a nation is examined here. Not just with Aquaman's actions but those of the other characters. It's actually a good look at what the right decision is, or if there is even a right one.

6. The amount of women in power in this book rocks!

A Maigret Christmas And Other Stories - Georges Simenon, David Coward

This is the first Maigret that I have read, though it is not the first Simenon that I’ve read.  I’ve read this after watching the Rowan Atkinson version of Maigret.


                And those are great.


                This book is actually three stories – one of which stars Maigret and his wife, while the other two use characters from the Maigret series.


                The first story is the title story and is about Maigret solving a mystery on Christmas day when he is at home with his wife.  No, it does not involve a missing Christmas turkey.  The culprit is pretty obvious.  You do not really mind because the charm of the story is the interactions of everyone with Maigret.


                The other two stories are a bit different.  “Seven Small Crosses in a Notebook” focuses on the police who have to man what seems to be something like a dispatch center.  There is wonderful description in this short story.  The story takes it name from the crosses that one of the police officers puts into his notebook.


                In many ways, the best story is the last story, “The Little Restaurant near Place des Ternes”.  It is supposedly a fairy tale for grown-ups.  It actually treats women of the evening quite sympathetic and the present is a rather unique one.  Because in the last story, the police form more of a backdrop, the story is actually in some ways the most touching of the three.  The ending and feeling are so wonderfully quite and lovely.  Like snow falling from the sky.

Federal Reports on Police Killings: Ferguson, Cleveland, Baltimore, and Chicago - U.S. Department of Justice

Okay, so this is a series of government reports; therefore, to call it riveting reading would be incorrect. But it is important reading, not only for the details it provides on the death of Michael Brown, but for the in depth studies on the police departments of Cleveland, Chicago, and Baltimore. If you are teaching The Hate U Give you should read the Baltimore section.

The conclusions seem to be that the over use of force isn't tied solely to racism but to understaffing and undertraining. This is not to say that the reports do not take the question of racism - the Baltimore report is particularly damning in this regard.

If you live in American, you should read this.

Gotten as a freebie

Julie d'Aubigny: Or One Of The Coolest Gals In History (Pop History #2) - CJ Evans

This isn't bad; it's just that the tone is a part too chatty for my tastes (it is like it is trying to hard to be cool or something). It is has endnotes and source listing. It does make you want to read more about Julie d'Aubigny.

Good start to (hopefully) a series

A Study in Honor - Claire O'Dell

So, if you are a Sherlock Holmes purist, this is not the book for you.  For instance, if you are like my dad who believes the Rathbone movies are the only ones where Sherlock is allowed to be modern, you most likely wouldn’t like this book.  (My dad hates the BBC recent Sherlock series.  Hates it.  I don’t like for it entirely different reasons.  My dad, however, admits that Disney’s Great Mouse Detective is good but that’s because Basil is named after Rathbone).  I’m not judging by the way.   I totally get that; my limits test is how adaptions do Adler (which begs the question why is she so often a villain and in love in Holmes, considering that in the original story she was neither).


                If, however, you like Sherlock stories that are alternate version – like say Elementary (which was far superior to the BBC’s redo – then this might be the book for you.


                First, the book is a gender and race bent Sherlock and Watson.  So, Holmes and Watson are queer, black, American women.  Second, the book takes place in the near future.  It is an America that is post Trump and post liberal successor to Trump.  Her election and her policies (which include addressing racism in the justice system) led to a second secession and terrorist attacks by those who wish to secede.  The near, and hopefully alternate future, allows for DC to have some changes (there is a Georgetown Metro stop, for instance).  Third, the book does actually deal with PTSD that those in the armed forces suffer.  It really is the first real look at what Watson would have been like after being injured in a war and adjusting to that injury. The mystery that Holmes and Watson are tasked to solve has to do with the military, unparticular treatment of the enlisted (largely majority) by those higher in rank.  This excellent because it dwells on the question we have of lower classes/minorities being a largely percentage of the military but the white power structure sending them into battle.


                The world building in the book is excellent.  The near future that O’Dell has imagined is one that could happen.  It’s true that it seems a bit strange that Watson wouldn’t have any friends still left in DC when she returns after her time in the army.  But the politics are believable.  Janet, too, feels like a very believable character.  (I should note that the author of the book presents as white, and I am white so my perspective on this would be limited).  Racism is not disregarded, and part of Janet most negotiates is sexism and racism (there is a stand out scene where Janet cannot get into her apartment and the police are called).  Holmes is the right type of mysterious, at times crossing boundaries (which seems to be a modern take on the character), but Sara Holmes is also interesting enough to want to know more about.


                What I also love are the refences to various books.  Big name fantasy writers are mentioned but so are those who are well loved but, perhaps, don’t have the same name level recognition.  You can believe that Watson likes to read.  It isn’t the lip service to reading that exists in some books.


                The book isn’t perfect – the pacing is a little slow.  You don’t entirely care because of the world building and the characters (the majority of characters are women of color, and for the most part, the women actually respect each other), but is a more slow-paced novel.  The ending, strangely, feels a bit rushed and almost too neatly tied up in some ways.


                While not perfect, the book was highly enjoyable.  If you Sherlock Holmes and don’t mind a modern take, this is a book to check out.


That's it!

When are we, as readers, going to ban together and demand that blurbs for anything stop using the phrase "the untold story"?  Seriously this is getting out of hand.  NO!  Your book about Tolkien and the Great War is not the untold story.  People have know about that since forever.  Okay, not forever but for years.  Like right after LOTR came out.  And everyone knows about the Inklings.


And Robert the fucking Bruce is not an untold story! 




Say Nothing - Patrick Radden Keefe

When Dolores O’Riordan of the Cranberries died, some people said “Dreams” or “Linger” was the band’s best song.  But for many people, myself include, it was “Zombie”, the song about the Troubles in Northern Ireland.  It isn’t that the U2 songs about it are bad – “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” is powerful – but “Zombie” is so rare that powerful doesn’t even begin to describe it.  It is the sense of horrible lose and pain.


                And you can’t help but think of that song why reading Keefe’s account of the Troubles.


                Keefe primarily focuses on the family of Jean McConville, a woman who was one of the Disappeared; Dolours Price, a member of the IRA; as well as Gerry Adams and Brenden Hughes.


                To say that the reporting in this book is gripping is an understatement.


                In addition to the personal stories that drive the narrative, the book also considers Boston College’s interviews with both republicans and loyalists.  So, the book isn’t so much a history of the IRA or the Troubles, but of the impact of the Troubles or the effect of the Troubles upon people.


                The most tragic part of the book is the story of the McConville family, whose story is the driving force behind the narrative and opens and closes the book. Jean McConville was abducted on night, her children were ostracized by a community as well, and what happens after treads on several Irish issues.  It is interesting that for some reason I thought the number of Disappeared in the Troubles was higher than what Keefe states.  This speaks to the pain, trauma, and horror of simply having a family member go missing.  His examination of whether McConville (a Protestant who had married a Catholic) was an informer or not is well done.  Memory is a slippery thing, and Keefe is careful when he relies on memory.


                Keefe also looks at the IRA, not so much Gerry Adams, but the foot soldiers who Adams would eventually disavow.  Primary he does with the Price sisters who were somewhat famous.  They are also an example of what happens when young and pretty women do something.  Part of what Keefe notes is the looks of the Price sisters contributed to how the media and people viewed them.  But Keefe looks beyond the media and appearance.  The impact of prison on the women is examined as well as their changing political views.  Dolours Price may not get as sympathetic hearing as the McConville children but Keefe treats her and other IRA members with understanding.


                It is this question of fairness and history that also is used when dealing with Boston College and the interviews.  The project of recording interviews and the various problems this important idea of recording interviews is dealt with but so are the complications.


                This is really a stunning piece of journalism.


Magic Words - Edward Field, Stefano Vitale

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley


                This short children’s book is a translation of an Inuit creation story.  The story is told via free form verse, which is quite lovely.  The illustrations are stunning.  The human characters in the story are quite obviously Inuit, and the artwork resembles Inuit style art.  The colors are wonderful but not too bright or overly “hip”.  The illustrations include animals.  Field has a list of animals in the book at the end.


                The other thing that the book has going for it is that it makes use of words.  It showcases the power of words in a rather beautiful way.

Wonder Woman, Vol. 4: War - Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang

We get so much in this volume. We get to discover what happened to Cassandra’s neck. It is so much worse than you could think. We find out the name of Zola’s son. It’s not Wonder Woman’s choice of Steve. Wonder Woman and Co go toe to toe with the First Born, who proves just how scummy and dangerous he is. We find out more about Orion, who faces his own struggle of conscience.

But honesty, that scene where Diana calls Orion out about his sexist behavior, kisses him, and then grabs him by the balls is just awesome. Seriously awesome.

We get more of Hera here to, and it is quite nice. I really do enjoy how this series has dealt with Hera. She is too be pitied but is also bitchy and horrifying.

It is worth noting too that while Wonder Woman is wearing hot pants and boob armor, she isn’t sexualized in the same intense way that she has been by other artists. She is a warrior here, not a sex object. It is nice.

The highlight of this arc is the closing volume which is a battle between Wonder Woman’s crew and the Firstborn. The army that War brings with him is just stunning and a sharp reminder of what just a god of War is. How Wonder Woman decides to end it and the ramifications of her actions is powerful. Especially in the culminating panels of the fight and the last panels of the issue.

This arc is about family, anger, and loss. The use of power, the cost of doing good, and the need to stand for something is here as well. The book focuses on the questions of, not mortality but morality. In many ways, in exploring Wonder Woman’s godhood (she is a daughter of Zeus), we see Wonder Woman at her most human.

Wonder Woman, Vol. 3: Iron - Tony Aikins, Amilcar Pinna, Cliff Chiang, Brian Azzarello, Dan Green

This third volume of the Wonder Woman New 52 series concerns Wonder Woman struggling to adjust to several things.  First there is the fact that she is the last Amazon, then there is what happened to her mother, but she is also adjusting to the fact that she has a whole slew of siblings (they share a father-Zeus), but the newest one of those siblings has been stolen by Hermes.  Diana has promised the child’s mother, Zola that she will find and return him.


                Oh, and Hera is human.


                But has discovered ice cream, so there’s hope there.


                Yet, there is this First Born of the gods running around trying to kill everything.  He hangs with Cassandra.  Or to be more exact, she hangs with him, and what is with her neck?


                One thing I love about this series is the way that the Greek gods are portrayed.  There’s War, who is an old man; Aphrodite whose face we never see; Hephaestus, who has cool arms; the twins Apollo and Diana are quite wonderful.  And Hades.  Hades is awesome.


                Orion and the New Gods also make an appearance.


                In one sense, this story ARC is a quest story, the object being finding Zola’s baby, whose sex Zola doesn’t even know for the child was snatched at birth.  The story is really about relationships.  This collection includes the story of Diana’s training at the hands of her uncle War.  It is a pretty good short story about teacher and student.  The story is important for what occurs later in the ARC.


                One of the relationships that is centered is that of Wonder Woman and Zola.  Zola might be a woman in distress, but she is far from helpless.  Diana might be a kick ass super-hero but you would also want Zola in your corner.  She also stands up to Hera, asking why Hera attacks the children and lovers of Zeus instead of Zeus himself. 


                The most powerful though is the story of Sicora, a child of Zeus whose help Wonder Woman must get if she is to find the child.  Sicora’s story and actions, and Wonder Woman’s response to them is just heart-rending.  The use of the cost of being a child of a god is so starkly shown multiple times in this volume.  It is quite nice to see that aspect of Greek myth being used.

Gotten as a Kindle freebie

The Magic Three of Solatia - Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen has been called America’s Hans Christian Anderson.  It is an apt comparison.  Most of her work is either for children or young adults, yet the work has that quality that can also attract adults.  There is much going on there.


                Magic Three of Solatia functions in part as a reply to Andersen’s Little Mermaid.  Not the Disney version with its happy ending but the dark original tale.  In that one, the prince is, perhaps, not truly deserving of the mermaid’s love.  Yolen looks at what comes next, both above and below the surface of the sea.  It isn’t a novel, but a series short novella that are interconnected.  The first two involved Sianna, a young woman whose mother was loss to the sea, and the last two stories concern her son Lann.


                The four stories together are an examination of the uses and the abuses of power as both mother and son struggle with questions about when it acceptable to use magic and how magic should be used.  This done though the use of other fairy/folk tale themes – the struggle to kill a wizard, the noble seeking a bride, the hidden bridegroom.  The last two novellas are quest tales in form of having to undo curses. 


                The charm of the stories isn’t so much in the characters but in terms of the style.  The novella has the power and rhythm of oral tales, and it is quite easy to imagine Yolen herself reading you the tales.  The lesson, if there is one, is that the greatest magic is love.