Chris' Fish Place

Thoughts on things, mostly books.




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Seriously, you should be reading this series

Full Fathom Five - Max Gladstone

Gladstone's third installment in the Craft sequence takes us to an alternate Hawaii.  At first, it seems that we have two different stories.  But Gladtsone brings them together quite well.  More importantly, Gladstone writes wonderfully strong and varied female characters who don't talk about men to each other.

Okay that was good

The Ballad of Black Tom - Victor LaValle

I am not a huge Lovecraft fan. I'm not a Lovecraft fan at all. I understand why he is a touchstone and all that, but yeah, he's not for me. So outside of the two characters, there are probably some Lovecraft references I missed.

This is a fine book about racism, society, and what society makes people become. LaValle gets so many points for the wonderful story arc that kicks Hollywood stories to the curb. 

Overall the writing is beautiful (though the kindle edition has at least two run-ons that jarred). This novella is a brillant work of criticism and homage to Lovecraft as well as indictment of USA past and present.

And it is a story about music too.

There is this bit about gas

Squid Empire: The Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods - Danna Staaf

Disclaimer: I won a copy via Librarything.
Unlike Staaf, it took me quite a while to warm up to squid, octopuses and the like. It wasn’t until I read “The Vampie Squid from Hell” by Richard Ellis that I took an interest. Staaf’s book isn’t about one specific squid, octopus, or whatnot; instead it is about the history of cephalopods as a whole, in particular the evolution.

Which you think would make it a rather dull science book, but it is not.

In part, this is because of all the cool and interesting facts that Staaf shares. For instance, did you know that a sperm whale eats 700-800 squid every day and that isn’t that unusual because apparently everything eats squid, including squid. And then there is the squid’s brain and that is really strange. Not to mention the whole thing about gas. So, all that is pretty awesome.

Then there are all the Clue references. Quite honestly, I mean that should have to be all I need to say.

But if that is not enough for you, there is this. Staaf’s love for her subject comes through with every single word. She’s not trying to talk down to the reader, to be smart, to be funny, to be cool. She is simply, lovingly, wonderfully writing about a family of animals she loves. This is a love poem. She will make you love cephalopods and give you reasons why you should - like the whole thing about shells.



Exit West - Mohsin Hamid

Nov 2017 UC Book Club Read


                When I opened today’s copy of the New York Times, I was greeted with stories about refugees to Europe and the Rohingya massacre/refugees.  This isn’t counting the almost constant debate in the US about DACA and illegal immigrants to the country who are in many cases refugees as well.    Therefore, the topic of Hamid’s book is hardly surprising.


                On the surface, Hamid’s book with its beautiful prose is about two refugees, their life before they are forced to flee and their life after.  Nadia and Saeed are both from an unnamed, presumably, Middle Eastern/Asian/African country that succumbs to a civil war.  Naida appears, at first, to be conventional, but this is shown to be simply a pose to keep herself safe.  Saeed too isn’t quite what he appears to be.  Eventually, when war breaks out, the two must leave their home and travel to Europe.


                And this is the interesting part of the book.  Hamid’s book is magic realism (or fantasy depending on which term you prefer.  For me, magic realism is fantasy), so the journey to Europe and another points West is, quite frankly, a door.  Hence, the title that sounds like a stage direction.   The use of doors as portals not only removes the need for horrific crossing stories that perhaps, sadly, we have become too immune to.  Additionally, doors are portals, powerful symbols of change.


                And doors work many different ways.  They are not one way.


                This seems in many ways to be a main point of the novel.  The story of Saeed and Nadia as they adjust and change to the circumstances in which they find themselves is interwove with that of people from the West as they find the doors.  In part this is brilliant.  The first use of the door is creepy, and literally a WTF moment.  Hamid might have a future in genre writing considering how well done it is.  But there is also a brilliant moment of the door that is simply a woman on a tram/train who realizes that her fellow passengers are not necessary her fellow people.  That small sequence is so well done that Hamid should win prize after prize for that passage alone.


                In part, Hamid seems to be arguing that one truth of humanity is that we all are (or will be) a refugee – whether in the newsworthy form of Nadia and Saeed or simply in the quieter ways of the other characters in the novel.  There is some truth in this statement, and this book challenges us to change how we look at refuges and how we define them.

Invisible Victims: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women of Canada (Crimes Canada: True Crimes That Shocked The Nation) (Volume 15) - Katherine McCarthy

First the bad - there are several typos, the footnotes are, big and large, simply a website link. While this makes sense for an ebook, I still want correct citation format, sorry. Lastly, you could say that a few of the sections about serial killers are de facto ads for other books in the series. They are and they are not in my view. McCarthy does a good job of showing how those cases are related to the scope of the story, so considering the series, I'm neutral on these inclusions. Finally, and this was most annoying, it was unclear at points whether a work mentioned was an essay or a book. I spent several minutes searching for a book title when it was really an essay I should have been looking for. That was rather annoying.


Those faults aside, this a pretty good overview and not at all senesation as the cover might lead some to think. McCarthy cites when she needs to and deals with the overarching issues quite well. The book is an overview, so the sections dealing with the history that lead to the society problems that allow for the murder of Indigenous women are perhaps too short, but McCarthy points you in the direction to learn more (and some of those facts, wow). McCarthy deals sympathically with the victims and points out how race and the question of "good" or "bad" girls plays into the how the media views the victim. Unlike some other work on the death of Indigenous women, McCarthy moves beyond the Highway of Tears and Residental schools and brings in classes that were not first thought of, making the book an overview. 

If the editing errors had been fixed, this would have been four stars.

Question of the Day

Executive Assistant Iris V2 #0 - David Wohl, Ryan Odagawa, Eduardo Francisco, Sunny Gho, Micah Gunnell, Josh Reed, Peter Steigerwald

Is that what I think it is on the cover just below the belt?  Please tell me I am seeing things.

Not as good as her other work

White Lotus: A Novel of Egypt's Fall - Libbie Hawker

Rhodopis is an Egyptian version of Cinderella, or at the very least, it involves a foot fitting into a shoe if not evil step sisters. Libbie Hawker’s White Lotus is the first in a trilogy about Rhodopis.

The book isn’t bad. This volume details Doricha (who will become Rhodopis) beginnings from the daughter of a starting Thracian family trapped in Egypt to joining the household of the Pharaoh. IN short, it is about a young girl sold into slavery as a high-end prostitute.

While Hawker does a good job of immersing the reader in the society and time of ancient Egypt and the clash of Egyptian and Greek saviors, as it were. Yet, the central character of Doricha is rather dull. I mean really dull. She is a great dancer, smart, and wonderful. And constantly having bad things done to her by people she trusts.

The one character that really shines is Archidike, who is at first takes Doricha under her wing, but becomes her enemy due to a misunderstanding that, quite frankly, isn’t quite explained very well to the reader. She then becomes a one-dimension villain. But before that, she carries the book because she has the spark. Archidike sings. She almost steals the story from Doricha. When she is forced back, the book suffers, and we no longer truly care about the ending or Doricha’s success.

THis is not a drill

Black Panther and Thor comics free for Amazon kindle (USA).  Check out the freebie bestseller list.

The Book Trump Will Not Read

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America - Ibram X. Kendi

I read this because I am teaching The Fire Next Time. 

It's one of those books that I find hard to review. I think everyone in America should read it, and if I had a magic wand or the power of the Force, I would make everyone read it. But writing that sounds flippant despite it being true.

What Kendi (with the aid of his wife he thanks quite a bit) does is trace the development of Racist ideas in America. He does this in part by challenging the standard definations of some words and terms. This is done early on in the book, so you know extactly what Kendi means when he uses words like antiracist, racist, and assilmation later. It's true that some people (gives certain Orange being and family the stink eye) will say that the book doesn't deal with racism towards white people - but really? Honesty, if you read the book, that question is answered. (Though in fairness, Kendi limits, or seems to do, the defination of racism as towards black. Racism towards Native Americans and Asians is mentioned but only in how racism towards or by such groups is connected to racism towards Blacks. But this limiting matches what Kendi sets out in the introduction).

Kendi traces racism though various major public figures in America, even pre-Independence. Jefferson of course is here, but so are Angela Davis, DuBois, Mater, and Garrison. In some ways, the weakest section is Davis, almost like this section could be a whole book in and of itsself, mostly because at that point it almost feels like Kendi is hitting a check list. Yet the first four sections are engrossing and stacked with facts. So, is the last section despite it's checklist feel. In the interest of fairness, I am from Philly, and Kendi's brief, very brief, mention of the Mumia case is enough to get anyone in Philly a bit annoyed for a wide variety of reasons. (I am of the he is guilty but the system/time was extremely racist group. Honesty, there are better anti-death cases out there. Does Mumia get the attention because he is well read and a good speaker? Is that class or the extradorinary Negro racism that Kendi talks about). It was puzzling because Kendi calls Mumia is a political prison, but Kendi doesn't mention Move and the bombing of that group (done by the police, and which ended in the destruction of a neighborhood), an event that surely seems far more political and raicst.

But this book gives the reader so much information and so much to think about. It really should be required reading for everyone in America. Quite frankly, if you are teaching about Civil Rights, Slavery, or African-American culture/literature, you should read this book before teaching the subject matter.


Funko Pop is going to release Saga (the comic) characters.


You're welcome.

RIP Robert Guilluame

He died today.

Wayward Vols 1-4

Wayward Vol. 1: String Theory - Jim Zub, Jim Zub, Steve Cummings, John Rauch Wayward Vol. 4: Threads and Portents - Jim Zub, Steven Cummings, Tamra Bonvillain

The Wayward series chronicles the adventures Rori when she goes to Japan to live her mother.  Rori’s parents are divorced, her father is Irish, and something has happened to drive her away from Ireland where she spent most of her life.  The culture shock she suffers is more “my Japanese isn’t all that good” which is a nice refreshing change.  She is of both and of neither culture.


                Rori soon finds that things in Japan are different.  She can see threads, and this leads her to meeting with Ayane, a cat girl (or cats who are a girl), and eventually Shirai and Niakido.  The four are teens who have a variety of unique powers, and they are being hunted by the Japanese powers of old, including Kitsune.  Rori’s mother is connected and in some way, and the first volume ends with an epic and from a story telling standing point, a very brave showdown. 


                The second and third volumes add more characters, including Ohara Emi and Inaba Kami (who is kitsune who is very cute but kick ass).  The team struggles with unfolding power, manipulation, and the question of what is right.


                Part of what makes Wayward so compelling is the very human nature of those who inhabit the story.  It isn’t just Rori and her companions, but their enemies as well – beings who are struggling just as much to keep alive.  Rori’s methods too are at times questionable.  One of the most heart wrenching sequences concerns Ohara who is trying to be both a dutiful daughter and a savior of society.


                In Wayward, Jim Zub and Co have presented not just a fable for modern society, but something more, something that examines not only multi-cultural issue but globalization    as well. 


                Seriously, you should read this.

Rage Enducing

Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History - Katy Tur
There is a man at my job who voted for the Trump, henceforth known as Cheeto Dust or Orange. After Cheeto Dust's victory, said man put up and keeps putting up pictures of the Orange on the boards in the break room. Normally, this wouldn't bother that much - free speech. But this man also takes down any picture that is anti-Orange. This anger me. It should be equal or not at all.

Needless, the women in the break room (and quite a few men) are made about this. We haven't filed a formal grievence yet because the man in question isn't all bad and we all are rooting for his grandkid.

So, what does this book have to do with that story?

Everything and nothing.

Katy Tur was covering Orange when Cheeto Dust decided to make a focal point of something. Who knows what, Tur doesn't know. But the book is a strong reminder that people voted for a man who views women as things and unimportant. It is a book about when the man who has it in for you, is the one who you must report on. 

It is a very crazy thing. Quite frankly. The book is a quick read, and Tur is actually quite sympathic Trump voters - less so to Orange himself, but she comes across as fair.


Updated Bingo Card - 2 Bingo

One cat has a death wish

I live with four cats and two dogs.  One cat, Moby, apparently has a death wish.  Two of the other cats were getting into a food bowl tiff and Moby goes charing at the biggest dog who could quite easily kill him.

Werewolf Square

Red as Blood: Old Tales Retold - Little Red Riding Hood (Tales of Blood and Darkness Book 1) - Simone Leigh

This paranormal romance draws quite nicely on Angela Carter.  While it is not the best kindle ebook ever, it is actually pretty interesting.  Nice dark romance for Halloween while also making comment on how we see woman and sexuality.