Chris' Fish Place

Thoughts on things, mostly books.




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Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics and Pesky Poltergeists (Pottermore Presents) - J.K. Rowling

These are not so much short stories about but character sketches, almost as if Rowling was showing her character sheets for Umbridge and Slughorn among others. The highlights are also a list of the Minsters of Magic, which includes some funny tidbits. If you are a Harry Potter fan, these are worth a read and nicely add to the universe.

Swiss Neutrality? Psst

Nazi Gold - Tom Bower

Disclaimer: ARC of the Kindle edition via Netgalley.


                When I mention Holocaust Denial someone always asks how can a denier be so stupid, what could motivate someone to deny something so documented.  I usually counter with, well, you have people who believed slavery really wasn’t that bad; it’s a little like that.  It’s true that such a comment is most likely a facile respond, but it is a hard answer.  The reasons seem to run from a desire to shock to a refusal or need to defend the honor of one’s country to straight forward and outright anti-Semitism (not that you couldn’t say the first two points aren’t).


                One could also argue that the denial was not something that started long after the war was over.  In this book, Tom Bower chronicles the Swiss attempt to keep Nazi gold, stolen from Jewish citizens of various countries.  In some case, the gold was in fact deposited by rightful owners who were killed and whose heirs could not inherit because proper documents were not to be had.


                It is a maddeningly story, even if Bower’s prose is a little dull.  It does call into question how neutral the Swiss were, or how neutrality should be defined.  What is chronicled is one part sleight of hand, one part finical and bureaucratic genius, and one part a lack of gall (on behalf of some of those trying to get access to the gold).


                In some ways, the cynicism exhibited by the Swiss government and banking establishment seems to suggest a refusal not only of compassion but of realities of the Second World War.   A start of denial that might have a grounding in greed or covetous of a monetary gain.

Well Folks, something is going on

cause Trump tweeted Obama tapp (tapped) his phones.

Out for Kindle May 02, 2017

The Broken Bridge - Philip Pullman

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.  Open Road is doing the kindle edition of this previously released work.


                Ginny has a problem.  It’s a huge problem.  She doesn’t know a great many things.  She lives with her father in a town in Wales, and she is one of the few people of color in the village.  She has never met her Haitian mother from who she inherits artistic skill, talent, and interest.


                In many ways, while not perfect, Ginny’s life is good.  But then, as is always the case in such books, something happens and things change.  In this case, change is brought the visit of a woman, who sparks a desire or allows Ginny to give voice to questions.


                While race is not a huge factor in the novel, it does make an appearance, or several.  And yet this is not a novel about race.  It’s true that Ginny does deal with racism in both a family setting and a societal setting.  It is also true that she is not the only person of color to do so, yet the focus of the book is the mystery that Ginny must solve – the mystery of her past.


                That mystery concerns her much loved father, and that mystery is one that is not dependent on race.


                It sounds strange, perhaps.  But think about, how many mass market teen and pre-teen books with a poc as hero/heroine have a race as a central theme and/or driving plot point?  This book doesn’t ignore race; Ginny is called slurs, she wonders about her sense of self as a poc being raised only by a white father in a white community, and she wonders about art and race.  Yet removal those conversations or change them to reflect a different minority group, and the story is about any teenager and the search for identity.  It’s refreshing really.


                It’s true at some points one feels that Ginny’s mother as passionate outsider is a bit of an over played trope (poc is passionate, white family is passionless), yet Pullman does not go down that tired old road.


                In terms of the mystery that Ginny solves, too say too much about it would give away major spoilers.  Much of the mystery plot does work, and there are one or two places where disbelief does need to be suspended a little.


                And yes, this book does pass the Bechdel test.  Ginny’s best friend is Rhiannon and why they do at times talk about boys, they talk about more.  The two girls have a great and real friendship.  It is one of the charms of the book.  Ginny is not the only good woman/girl in a world of men.  She has female friends and they act female as opposed to men with boobs.


                There are wonderful touches in the book – in particular with Ginny’s interest in art and how it manifests in a variety of ways.   There are some wonderful passages about the scenery and places, in particular Ginny’s kingdom – a passage that details a very real connection to places. 


                Highly recommended. 

A boy goes to a graveyard and the president shows up

Lincoln in the Bardo: A Novel - George Saunders, Nick Offerman, David Sedaris

Apparently this audio book has over 160 actors, and I would believe it. To be honest, I wanted the audio version because Don Cheadle was one of the performers.

He's the only reason I watched part of Iron Man something or other.

But, the handsome and talented Cheadle aside, this book. This book. This book is about grief, about life, about relationships, about sin, about . . . Lincoln coming to terms with self and death of his son.

Saunders combines history - at the least several of the sources cited in the history section of the book are real - and fiction - the bardo section, that takes place in the graveyard. The term bardo is a clue to the actual point of the novel. Critics have referred to it as modern Our Town, but I loved this whereas Our Town makes me want to throw up. There is a harshness to this, some of the language isn't present, but in the harshness lies truth.

Seriously, it is whatever says - the best book of the year.

Holds up quite well

The Nonsuch Lure - Mary M. Luke

I'm pretty sure the last time I read this was when I was in college. It just goes to show how good I thought it was then because I held on to it.

It holds up pretty well. I'm not a fan of the whole past life regression thing in general, but the historical bits in the novel are quite good so I don't mind it here.

Watch out for the Bulldozer!

Ladies of Letters - Lou Wakefield, Carole Hayman, Prunella Scales, Patricia Routledge, BBC Worldwide Limited

This is very, very funny, especially the part with the bulldozer. Lovely.

Great writing, but the Temporary Wife needs a bit more something

The Temporary Bride: A Memoir of Love and Food in Iran - Jennifer Klinec

I think I would have enjoyed this far more if it had been one of two things. Either just about the food, or a chronicle a relationship that develops between two different people. If it was going to be a chronicle of the relationship, I actually think the story would have been far more interesting if it had been written by both Klinec and her husband.

In case you missed it,

CNN, NY Times, Poltico were barred from the Press Briefing.  The AP and Time Magazine refused to attend in protest.


NY Times report here.



In case anyone wonders, the First Amendment reads:  

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Up and Down the Mountain

The Snow Leopard - Peter Matthiessen

“Amazingly, we take for granted that instinct for survival, fear of death, must separate us from the happiness of pure and uninterrupted experience in which body, mind, and nature and the same.” (42)


                Matthiessen’s book is part travelogue, part naturalist observations, and part coming to terms with loss.  About a year after the death of his wife, Matthiessen travels along with a friend in search of a snow leopard, really in the search of big blue sheep.  It’s much hiking and camping, and eating. 

                Early in the book, I found myself wondering why or to be more exact what type of father would leave a young son just a year after the son lost his mother.  Matthiessen himself seems to be aware of this reaction, and he does not try to beg excuses.  Instead, he quotes his son’s letter, a sobering missive. 

                And yet, this is not a self-indulgent pity party book.

                It’s a book about coming to terms with one’s self, with loss, with life.  Or what “Walt Whitman celebrated the most ancient secret, that no God could be found more divine than yourself” (63)

                The point is that Matthiessen is able to make this a book about enlightenment, both his and the readers, so much so that one des agree with GS who wonders if it would perhaps be better if the snow leopard remained unseen.

                At times, the reader does wonder.  For instance, if PM had been a mother, would the book have garnered as much support and positive reviews.  Is my reaction about his leaving his son because I don’t, I can’t, understand PM’s own grieving process?  What is normal grieving anyway?

                In many, it is the confessional tone, the prompting of these questions as well as the wonderful nature writing make the book worth a read.

Waddle Waddle Quack

Downy Duckling - A.J. MacGregor, W. Perring

I was cataloging my Ladybirds and re-read this one. For a children's book there is a quite a bit of drama. I also like how the mother and sister are doing the rescue.

Trump should read this, but he will not

March (Book One) - Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell, John Robert Lewis

While this series has been on my radar for a bit, two things made me finally pick it up. One was Trump's attack on John Lewis. And the second was that I got a gift certificate to B&N. Anyway, damn John Lewis this is great. Too often books do not deserve the awards they get, but this one does. The framing device is great, the use of the chickens is wonderful, the whole package just works.


Mr. Bounce (Mr. Men Classic Library) - Roger Hargreaves

Just as funny. It's great that these age well.

Hello Mister Richard

FREE: Classic Love Poems - William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Richard Armitage

Ah, Richard Armitage reading love poetry, what more do you want? Well, keep your x-rated comments to yourself.

Nice collection. Bonus points for including work from the Bible that was not Song of Songs. Good definition of love.


Dickens' Women - Miriam Margolyes, Sonia Fraser

Right down the street - in my local park - stands a statue of Dickens and Little Nell. Every year, there is a Dickens celebration. On year, it was some anniversary, Miriam Margolyes showed up. She is like 21 shades of awesome.

I have a love/hate relationship with Dickens. I love some of his work, others I hate. I prefer Trollope to a degree because Trollope writes better women. Margolyes audio version of her stage show is quiet amusing, if not as critical as perhaps one would like. Still if you like Margoyles, this is well worth listening to.

Feb 2017

Like Death - Guy de Maupassant, Richard Howard

Feb 2017 NYRB Book Club Selection

I enjoy Maupassant's short stories, and this was the first longer work of his that I read. At times, I felt it was almost too long, but it is an excellent look at love and value.