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review 2017-06-14 17:55
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. 

               

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review 2017-05-09 15:27
Out Oct 3
Haunted Nights - Lisa Morton,Ellen Datlow

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

 

                Who doesn’t love Halloween?  Okay, it’s true that in some areas of the country, you will have near adults dressed in nothing more than a cheap mask ringing the doorbell and then being upset that they haven’t received a whole Snickers bar, but, hey, it’s Halloween, and look at those Princess Leias.  Brings a bit of hope about the future generation.

 

                But as most people can tell you, as the Princess Leias illustrate, there is also an attempt to make Halloween less scary.  Some schools have forbidden scary outfits, and most customers in my neighborhood recently have been superheroes and princesses.  (And that is another issue).  While it is understandable not to want to frighten young children, the sexualization of costumes and the move to cute, does tend to be a bit disturbing.  Look at the difference between male and female Iron Man costumes, for instance.

 

                Thankfully Morton and Datlow hew to the original concept of Halloween in this well edited collection.

 

                All the stories are set on Halloween (or on a related festival).  All the tales are spooky and focus on the darker aspect of the holiday.  Thought, it should be noted, that cute can still make an appearance in one or two tales.  But it is cute with a big bite, lots of sharp teeth, and you know, it is going to leave a scar.

 

                Seanan McGuire’s “With Graveyard Weeds and Wolfbane Seeds” starts the collection.  It is, on the surface, a haunted house tale (what better way to celebrate Halloween), as well as makes us of the idea of Mischief Night.  It is a good teen story too, at least in terms of the idea of needing and wanting to belong to a group.  It’s a rather quiet study of it, and while the subject matter and execution are completely different, in many ways it reminds me of Kij Johnson’s “Ponies” – the most chilling story about peer pressure ever.

 

                Which isn’t in this collection, but McGuire’s short story is just as good, so if you liked “Ponies”, read it.

 

                McGuire is followed by “Dirtmouth” by Stephen Graham Jones, a tale about fame, death, and afterlife.  To say much more would be giving a bit too much away, so I won’t.  Let’s just say, it makes a good companion piece to “The Monkey’s Paw”.

 

                Look, if you are over 12, and don’t know “The Monkey’s Paw,” I can’t know you.  Sorry.

 

                Perhaps Jonathan Maberry’s “A Small Taste of the Old Country”.  Considering the Trump’s administrations misstatements, false statements, or missteps (you can pick the word, I prefer lies) in terms of the Holocaust, Maberry’s somber story is a good rebuke to all those statements.  It also, like most good fiction, raises questions about justice, remembrance, and freedom.

 

                Joanna Parupinski’s tale “Wick’s End” makes good use of several folklore and tale motifs as does Kelley Armstrong’s “Nos Galen Gaeaf” (which is set in Cainsville).  Additionally, both stories make excellent use of the idea of storytelling.  Phillip Pullman’s “Seventeen Year Itch” also makes use of this idea and combines with the overuse trope of a madhouse.  Yet, he writes quite a spooky story.

 

                Jeffrey Ford gets bonus points for placing a tale in the New Jersey Pine Barrens but not including the Jersey Devil.  Paul Kane too plays with the sounds of footsteps, and John R. Little sets a Halloween on the moon.  Work by Pat Cadigan, Kate Jonez, S.P. Miskowski, and John Langan round out the collection.

 

                In all, the short stories are strong and contain a good deal of spook and spine tingles.  The emphasis is on fear rather than shock.  This isn’t to say that there is not blood, but the horror is more psychological than shock with blood spurting.  Not there isn’t the odd spurt or so.

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review 2016-12-01 21:07
Out today
Lindell's List: Saving American and British Women at Ravensbrück - Peter Hore

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley. People always talk about the need to remember World War II, implying, perhaps correctly, that society is in danger of forgetting the deeds of the greatest generation. Yet, the truth is, that much of what the Greatest Generation did, we didn’t need to forgot because we were never told about the deeds to begin with. This isn’t so much a charge against the various school systems, though it could be. Schools do teach about the Second World War and the Holocaust, if anything the Korean war is more glossed over. Students, however, are not really taught about most aspects of the War. Certain key details get left out. Like, for instance, Ravensbruck prison. Historians are doing their best to remedy that, but there seems to be some issues. Part of this, as always, is Hollywood that portrays any woman who does something during the war as using sex as part of it. While this was true of some women (and some of men), it couldn’t have been true of every woman. The second issue is the question of sources – women not talking about or downplaying what they did because of the time. This is something that several writers, most recently Anne - - - have mentioned in their books. Peter Hore is another in much needed list of writers who his trying to bring the forgotten history to light. Hore’s book details the war time activities of Mary Lindell, who composed a list of British and American prisoners in Ravensbruck and petitioned successfully for their freedom. Lindell has been written about before, perhaps most recently in Helms’ work on Ravensbruck. Part of Hore’s book also seems to be an attempt to present alternate view of Lindell than that which appeared in other works. He does make Lindell into more than a work on player, though to say that he makes her likable would be an overstatement. It should be noted however, that Lindell’s pushy behavior which can make her unlikable was undoubted what saved her and others’ lives. Hore does an excellent job of bring Lindell out of the shadows, and to a degree de-romanticizing her. While Hore does this to a great degree, he does at times seem to be a little overcome by admiration for his subject. At times, he slips and does to other women who worked with Lindell what he accuses other writers of doing to Lindell – repeating of gossip that may or may not be true or simply a comment or two about the woman’s looks. Hore is hardly the only writer to be guilty of this charge, and he does it far less than most. It is also important to note that he does make a clear distinction between rumor and fact. Hore’s book is a welcome addition to the volumes about women and heroes in wartime.

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review 2016-10-24 16:29
Covers Quite a bit
Inspired!: True Stories Behind Famous Art, Literature, Music, and Film - Maria Bukhonina

Disclaimer: ARC via Net galley and Museyon Inc.

Bukhonina’s book covers several famous artists and the inspiration, usually women though in some cases men, that inspired them. She deals not only with artists in terms of the literal sense of the word, but also writers, musicians and film makers. In some cases, she focuses more on the inspirational person than on the artist.
The book starts off with Alexandre Dumas’ father includes Mata Hari, Marie Dupleiness, and Doyle. Among these more well-known individuals, Bukhonia also includes the true story of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”, theater manager Renee Harris, Suzanne Valadon, as well as Hachiko, Japan’s famous loyal dog. She also includes people who might be polarizing, such as Hattie McDaniel who can be a polarizing figure because of the roles that she portrayed.
It is to Bukhonina’s credit that she includes women whose lives inspired and women who were more like muses – think of Picasso or Dali’s relationships with their perspective women. She also does not shy away from mentioning the more abusive aspects of some of the relationships.
At times, though not often, the style is somewhat like a checklist. Mention this, mention that, mention this. There is also a point where it is not quite clear that she is talking about Alexandre Dumas fils or the more famous Alexandre Dumas, his father.
Yet despite the fame and well known histories of some of the subjects, the book does an excellent jump and makes for exciting reading. It is an enjoyable, enlightening, quick read.

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review 2016-10-16 20:51
Out in Feb 2017
Ghosts of Country Music: Tales of Haunted Honky Tonks & Legendary Spectres - Matthew L. Swayne Disclaimer: ARC via Llewellyn Worldwide and Netgalley I made a nice woman roll her eyes at me this summer. I didn’t mean to; I was answering a question truthfully. It is true that I got interested in Virginia history by reading the ghost folklore collections of L. B. Taylor Jr. And that’s why I love ghost stories, the “true” ones. Well told, they can get interested in history. Swayne’s collection of ghost folklore, dealing with country singers and country music sites, is a pretty good collection. It may not be long or even short on American history, but it is full of Country Music History, and will make the person who only has a passing interest in Country Music want to listen to more. The famous people included in the book include Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, and Johnny Cash. Elvis makes an appearance as well. Famous includes concert venues but also bars and honky tonks. It’s a pretty good collection. The stories are well told and the factual information is present. It’s a great little collection and well worth a read if you are interested in country music or ghost folklore
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