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review 2018-09-07 10:33
The Last Werewolf
The Last Werewolf - Glen Duncan

by Glen Duncan


This started out with a different tone than I usually see in werewolf novels. More of a crime drama or conspiracy story tone as it's established that with the murder of a werewolf in Berlin, the protagonist is the last of his kind and an organisation that hunts down and kills werewolves will now be focused on him.


This was a very literary read. Despite a few descriptions of violence, the use of language made it a joy to read and the first person pov of the werewolf throughout felt very intimate and personal. I found myself wanting him to survive. It had a few very sexual references. Apparently being a werewolf sends the libido into animal rut. But both the sex and violence stopped short of becoming gratuitous, even if it nudged that parameter on occasion.


There was a lot of suspense well done and a few twists to keep things interesting. The last few chapters had me breathless!


The writing was so good that I went to see what else the author had written and found that this is actually a trilogy! I'll look forward to reading the next books. This was one of those stories that when it ended, I just had to sit a few moments, staring into space while processing the feels. It really had a strong emotional impact on me.


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review 2018-06-16 21:42
All the old feels, and why this is in my personal canon
King Of The Wind - The Story Of Godolphin Arabian - Marguerite Henry

When my copy arrived from Thrift Books yesterday and it was EXACTLY what I had been looking for, I burst into tears.  I haven't completely stopped crying yet.  It's so beautiful!


As I went through it later last night, I did find a few small pencil marks which I think I can safely remove.  And as I went through it later last night, I also went through several more tissues.  Yeah, it's that kind of story.


How much of the Godolphin Arabian's story as told by Marguerite Henry is true and how much is story, I don't know.  At least part is true, of course, because he was a real horse and the history of his descendants is well known and documented.  But all the stuff before that, from his birth in Morocco through his trials in Paris and London, who knows?


Like most little girls, I was fascinated by horses.  When my grandparents moved from Edison Park, IL, to Roselle, where they had a couple of acres of land "out in the country," all I could think of was having a horse out there.



Of course, that never happened.  Once in a while when we visited I'd see a horse that someone else in the neighborhood owned, but I never got one.  The drive from our house to theirs, however, wound through the stable area of Arlington Park Racetrack, and when we went there during the summer I would literally hang my head out the window of our '53 Chevy to smell the horses.  If by some chance I actually happened to see one, well, that was even more terrific.


Oddly, even though we lived barely a mile from the track, I don't think I went there more than a dozen times in fifteen years.


I never became a huge racing aficionado, filling my head with pedigrees and times of various horses who became famous in those growing-up years of the 1950s and '60s.  A few stuck in my imagination, though, and none more than Round Table, the "little brown horse" who was so famous he warranted a visit from Queen Elizabeth. 


Not long after I moved to Arizona, I struck up a friendship with a woman whose husband was very much a horse racing fan.  I was at their home one day in the summer of 1987 when I happened to flip through one of his racing magazines and learned that Round Table had recently died, and I burst into tears.  Yeah, the feels, for a horse I never knew.


Round Table was a turf horse, claimed to be the greatest ever, and for 40 years or so even had a race at Arlington named after him.


King of the Wind begins with Man O' War, who was descended from the Godolphin Arabian, as are most Thoroughbreds.  I learned from Marguerite Henry's Album of Horses that there were three foundational sires of the breed: the Byerley Turk, the Darley Arabian, and the Godolphin Arabian.  From other reading - I devoured books about horses, too - I knew that Man O' War's dam (mother) was Mahubah, described as "a Rock Sand mare." 


Man O' War, like Secretariat, was a big red horse, not at all like Round Table.  But the little brown horse was also descended from Rock Sand, and through him the line goes back to the Godolphin Arabian.


All. The. Feels.


And all this was in my mind even before the book arrived yesterday.  As I read it last night, yes, there were details that I had forgotten, because after all it's been close to half a century since I last saw it.  But one thing struck me more than anything else, and it had nothing to do with all the feels about Sham the horse and Agba the stableboy and Grimalkin the cat and Lady Roxana the mare and the other things I did remember. In fact, it wasn't even really a detail about the story itself.


Agba is a stableboy in the vast complex of the Sultan of Morocco (even though the horse is believed to have actually come from Yemen). Unable to speak, Agba nonetheless is devoted to the horses in his charge, especially a pregnant broodmare.  It is the holy month of Ramadan, and the Sultan has decreed that the horses shall abstain from food from sunrise to sunset along with their human caretakers.  Agba is able to ignore the temptations of food all around him, but he is very conscious of the strain this puts on the pregnant mare. 


I don't know if Agba ever existed or not.  Maybe there are notes in the life of the Earl of Godolphin, who acquired the stallion, that tell of the boy who could not speak.  I don't know.  But what I do know is that I learned two things from the fictional character: that Ramadan was a holy month of a respected religion and that a person with what most people think of as a handicap can still be a hero.


My maternal grandmother's family is Jewish, so even though I grew up in a nice, white, christian suburb, I knew about prejudice, and I knew about the Holocaust when few of my schoolmates did. I didn't know, at the age I got my copy of King of the Wind, about anti-Islam bigotry, though it wouldn't be much longer. But what Marguerite Henry did, even if she did it unintentionally, was to give this one reader a portrait of someone very different from myself yet who I could see as a kind of role model.


That's a pretty powerful thing. To this day, I tend to judge people on the basis of what they do, not on the basis of what they are.


When I worked at the public library and when I was a grocery store cashier, we had two customers no one wanted to wait on.  At the library she was a quiet woman who almost never spoke, but came in frequently and checked out lots of books.  One of my fellow librarians called her "creepy" because she was always staring at people.  It didn't take me long to figure out this patron was severely hearing impaired.  She stared because she was trying to read our lips.  Most of the librarians turned away from her, making the experience even worse for her.  I spoke directly to her, and we got along fine.  I never did learn ASL, and she still spoke very little, but she smiled.


The same with the man at the grocery store.  He tried to teach me to sign, but it's hard when there's a whole line of impatient people behind you.  He learned to look for me when he came into the store so he would have a better experience checking out.


Had I learned that from Agba?  From Marguerite Henry?  Maybe.  Maybe from Sham, the Sultan's horse who endured so much and never gave up. 


King of the Wind is a beautiful book.  I'm glad I posted here about my frustration with the first order that ended up being a flimsy paperback, and I'm doubly, triply glad that Chris found this copy at Thrift Books.  It seems like $7 shouldn't be a strain on a budget, but at the moment it really is for me, but I'll do without something else along the way because this was definitely a book I needed.


The paperback will be donated somewhere, and I still have another copy on order from Better World.  I'll probably donate that one, too.  But this one, with its slightly tattered corner, is a keeper.


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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-05-26 17:44
The long, long, long road to the Well at the World's End . . . and back
The Well At The World's End: Volume II - Lin Carter,William Morris

Prior updates:









Some spoilers ahead.


According to Lin Carter's Foreword to the 1970 Ballantine paperback edition, The Well at the World's End is William Morris's 228,000-word masterpiece of heroic fantasy.  Carter goes on to state that both he and his friend and fellow author L. Sprague de Camp consider Morris the founder of the heroic fantasy genre because although there were fantasies written before the 1895 publication of Morris's other fantasy novel, The Wood Beyond the World, Morris told his tales as if they were real, as if the places where the action happened were real places in a world we just somehow didn't know about.  John Moreton Drax Plunkett, known to the world as Lord Dunsany, would call this location "beyond the fields we know," but not beyond existence.


This is all an important commentary on The Well at the World's End, because there is much about the actual setting of the tale that has to be reconciled.


In almost any fantasy, and maybe especially in those that blend over into other genres such as romance and mystery, the characters have to be reasonably identifiable as human, in thought and action and psychology if not species.  The trappings of imaginary worlds and magical powers can't make up for characters the human reader can't identify with.


The cast of characters in The Well are all very human.  The hero Ralph of Upmeads is a perfectly ordinary young knight of medieval Earth tradition.  His father is King Peter of the small kingdom.  His brothers are Blaise and Hugh and Gregory.  Though many of the characters in the novel don't have given names, those who do are both familiar and commonly spelled: Katherine, Clement, Ursula, Walter, Richard, Roger, Stephen, even Joyce and Agatha.


Likewise, the places have a distinctly English ring to their names: Hampton under Scaur, Whitwall, Utterness, the Wood Perilous, Wulstead, the Burg of the Four Friths, Valley of the Sweet Chestnuts, the Wall of the World.  Towns and villages have churches and abbeys; there are enough references to saints to recognize that this world is Christian even before Morris states it. 


And though these folks whereunto we shall come, are, some of them, Christian men by name, and have amongst them priests and religious; yet are they wild men of manners, and many heathen customs abide amongst them; as swearing on the altars of devils, and eating horse-flesh at the High-tides, and spell-raising more than enough, and such like things, even to the reddening of the doom-rings with the blood of men and of women, yea, and of babes: from such things their priests cannot withhold them.

Morris, William. The Well at the World's End: a tale (p. 131).  . Kindle Edition.


At one point Ralph comes into possession of a Turkish bow, and one particular place on his journey is likened to a Roman theater.


so that the said valley was like to one of those theatres of the ancient Roman Folk, whereof are some to be seen in certain lands.

Morris, William. The Well at the World's End: a tale (p. 233).  . Kindle Edition.


The wild creatures Ralph encounters are also quite normal, albeit often called by archaic names: hart and hind, neat, bears, lions, rabbits and coneys.


The effect of all this familiarity is to make the world of The Well less important than the story.  Little needs to be explained; most readers will know the difference between a forest of oak trees and one of pine trees.


So to say that Morris succeeded in setting his tale in an imagined world that was still recognizable to his contemporary readers is pretty obvious.


The problem is that he spent so very much time describing Ralph's travels through this landscape, each hill and valley, each ridge and down, and far too little on the things in that landscape that made it fantastic, that set it apart from the fields we know.


Unlike Tolkien, Morris didn't provide a map of his world.  I found that, as I read each stage of Ralph's journey, I tried to impose the geography on a map of Middle Earth as I remembered it from The Lord of the Rings and of course that's not possible.  At the beginning, when Ralph and his three brothers set out from Upmeads, each heads in a different direction.  After Hugh and Gregory and Blaise have gone north, south, and west (not necessarily respectively), Ralph is left with going east.  Though there are references to his following various streams or rivers heading in that direction, I never got a clear sense of where he was going in relation to where he had been.


In other words, what's the geographic relationship between the various towns?  Which is east or west or north or south of the other?  How far is Utterbol from the Plain of Abundance?  What's the difference between the Wood Perilous and the Wood Debateable?  Where did the Wheat-wearer people live? Where was Swevenham in relation to Whiteness?


I think anyone who has read The Lord of the Rings knows roughly where the main theatres of the Fellowship's adventures are.  The Shire is a real place in the imagination, as are Rohan and Mirkwood and Weathertop and Mordor. The reader gets a real sense of what Rivendell is like, and Lorien, and Shelob's Lair, the mountains, and so on.  Tolkien built on Morris's foundation, a foundation that was solid but dull and boring.


Morris established a world that the reader could believe was real, that the reader could fall into and mentally see because that world was all around her.  Tolkien and the others who came after Morris embellished that reality and allowed the reader to believe in the unbelievable.


The only thing that's unbelievable in The Well at the World's End is the well itself.  It's the only magical thing in the story; all the rest is ordinary and almost boring.  Sometimes there's no "almost" about it.


The story begins with Ralph and his three brothers deciding that they are tired of little Upmeads and they want adventure.  They draw straws, with the shortest being forced to stay home and take care of the parents.  Hugh, Blaise, and Gregory get to go adventuring, while young Ralph gets left behind.  The very next day, he runs away to have his own adventures.


Nothing forces him to do this.  There's no real opening motivation other than boredom.  Nothing happens.  If you look at most novels written in the past 300 or so years, something outside the main characters forces them to act.  The suddenly orphaned Regency heroine is facing her third Season with no prospects and if she doesn't find a suitable spouse, she will be forced to marry her odious Cousin Chermondey or be on the streets.  The successful stock broker heroine is caught up in a web of financial chicanery and her only hope of avoiding life in prison is to team up with a government investigator who thinks she's guilty as hell.  In other words, the situation the protagonist finds her/himself in is NOT of their own making.


But Ralph's adventures are of his own making.  There is no outside event that forces him to act, and this seriously reduces the dramatic tension throughout the novel.  And that makes for a very long 228,000 words.


There is also no defined antagonist in The Well.  Ralph goes on his quest and he meets with some bad guys, and sometimes he just makes stupid decisions that get him in temporary trouble, but there's no real over-arching villain.


Consider the standard forms of conflict in fiction:

1. Character against nature/supernature

2. Character against character

3. Character against self

4. Character against society

5. Character against technology


Ralph is never pitted against any of these in terms of the whole book.  He has occasional skirmishes against other characters -- conflict #2 -- but for the most part he just plods along on his search for the Well.


Again, to compare this to LOTR, the Fellowship has a clear cut mission in its quest to destroy the One Ring.  And they have a distinct adversary in Sauron.  Along the way there are other conflicts, whether confrontations with the Nazgul or the debacle in Moria or the battle against the Orcs at Helm's Deep; but all these separate obstacles are related to and structurally supportive of the underlying quest to destroy the ring.  All of that is missing from The Well at the World's End.


Ralph's journey is long.  He crosses many plains and a couple of deserts.  He rides through a lot of woods.  He climbs a lot of mountains.  He eats and sleeps and gets up.  He hunts for game and puts on his armor.  And to be honest, that's what most of the book is about.


The actual quest for the Well occupies about fifteen percent of those 228,000 words.  And even that part isn't particularly exciting.  Ralph -- now accompanied by Ursula -- encounters no major obstacles to reaching the Well.  He's been advised ahead of time how to watch for the signs that he's on the right path.  He has a (more or less, kind of, sort of) magic talisman to get him there.  No horrible beast is guarding it.  Reaching the Well has absolutely none of the drama of Frodo and Sam's climb up Mount Doom.


Ralph and Ursula reach the Well, find the special gold cup, and drink the water, and it's all accomplished in three or four pages. . . with a full quarter of the book yet to go!


And nothing happens.


Ralph and Ursula are somewhat changed, made somewhat superior to normal humans, but the world doesn't change.  And they now have to go back to Upmeads by the same road, the same boring road.  Across the deserts and the plains, up and down the mountains, through the woods.  As they make their return journey, they fight a few foes to bring peace and plenty to all the little villages and towns and pseudo-countries they previously passed through.  There are some reunions and some revenges.  On the whole, however, it's boring.  There's just not enough conflict and tension.


And of course they arrive at Upmeads to find all in turmoil and villains about to take over the little kingdom and do bad things.  Ralph assembles an army that defeats the bad guys -- with virtually no loss of life to the good guys -- and his father King Peter relinquishes the crown to him.  And they all lived happily ever after.


Now, given all the weaknesses I've already pointed out, you might be wondering why I still list it at 4.5 stars and place it in my personal canon.


Because what Morris did accomplish was pretty amazing.


The plot, as I've already described, is rather weak by today's standards.  The style is outrageously overweighted with telling instead of showing.  Backstory is often given via one character literally sitting up all night with another to tell the tale of whatever.  Sometimes the "whatever" has little to no relevance to the basic plot, but it's just there anyway.  Description is weak, as if Morris deliberately made the countryside so familiar that it didn't need much description, even though that left out so much that later writers would add.


But Morris made it real.  He didn't rely on "it was all a dream" or any other device to explain his world.  Everything belonged. He didn't call it Middle Earth, and if there was any magic at all it was minimal to the point of well, maybe it was magic and maybe not.


He used archaic, pseudo-medieval language throughout, and yes, it takes a bit of getting used to.  It's one thing to have the characters speak in a distinct patois, but Morris takes the device to the narrative as well.  This pulls the reader further into that imaginary world.  Even when, at the end, he writes the contrivance of having Ralph tell one of the local priests the whole story of the adventure and the priest writes it all down to form the basis of the novel, the style remains the same.


I read The Lord of the Rings for the first time in about 1966/67, when Ballantine came out with the authorized paperback edition.  The two-volume Ballantine edition of The Well at the World's End was published in 1970, and from what I can tell, that's about when I acquired my copies.  I also bought some of the other Ballantine editions, but most disappeared over the years; I've replaced a few with either used copies or digital editions.  LOTR remains dramatically far superior to The Well, but the evidence of connections between the two are obvious.


For that reason, I do recommend The Well at the World's End to anyone who takes a serious interest in the genre of heroic fantasy as something more than mere entertainment.  This is the root that leads to the branches.  More important, however, is the value of this book to the writer of heroic adventure, not as a plot template but as an example of immersion in style and creation of a world-ness, not just a world.  Morris establishes that this is a fictional, fantastical medieval landscape, and he never deviates from that.  Via language and syntax and even punctuation, he creates the atmosphere and sticks with it.


I wish he had had an editor who could have punched up the drama and conflict.  Perhaps as a movie this would have been improved the way the film version of Practical Magic improved on the book.  Yes, it was a bit of a slog to get through all 228,000 words.  I still don't know where the town/village of Swevenham was or why the Sage thereof ended up where he did.  I still don't know exactly how Ursula got her beads, or what they meant.  I still don't know what happened to Falcon or Gregory.  And I'm not going to go back and reread to find out!


But I am glad I made the journey again.



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review 2017-12-09 15:33
Finishing tonight
A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens

Since this is a re-read, I don't need to write a new review. My old one can be found here:



I'll be finishing it again tonight so might as well post now and save myself the trouble tomorrow.

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review 2017-11-18 18:59
Where we were, and where we still are
Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media - Susan J. Douglas

This is another of those 10-star books.


My original review, on the transfer from GR, is here.  But it's not much.


When I went back to college in August of 1998, this was one of the texts for one of my classes.  According to the syllabus, we were assigned to read a couple of chapters.  Something about the book grabbed my attention, however, and I began to read it from the beginning.


Maybe it was the picture on the cover.  I remembered going to see the movie Where the Boys Are and I remembered being confused by it at the time.  But as soon as I started reading Susan J. Douglas's book, I was hooked.  I read almost non-stop.



Douglas is a bit younger than I, just as Hillary Rodham is a bit older.  We all grew up in that same era, however, and this was our reality.


I know where I was in, say, 1964, and I still have the diaries written in spiral notebooks to back me up.  I was never a cheerleader, and couldn't afford the latest fashions, but I absolutely did sleep on my face when my hair was in rollers.


My acquaintances today who are half a generation -- ten years, roughly -- older than I didn't go through the maelstrom we boomers did.  Virtually all of them were married and raising children by the time The Sixties hit.  They had come of age before the explosion of television, of rock 'n' roll, of The Pill. 


My acquaintances today who are half a generation -- ten years, roughly -- younger than I reaped the benefits of the maelstrom.  They came of age when birth control was available and acceptable, when the idea of having a career instead of a family was not shocking.


But there is still something somehow unique about those of us born in that relatively narrow window of (roughly) 1946 to 1956, and Susan J. Douglas captures it perfectly.


We were the first generation raised on television, and it had a profound effect on us.  Not just the comedy shows like I Love Lucy (which I personally hated because I thought Lucy was so fucking stupid) that seemed to remain a hallmark of the so-called Golden Age, but the news shows that brought events into the living room, everything from Hollywood fires to political campaigns to The War.  Television also gave us commercials that made us much more consumerist than adults who had read advertisements in newspapers and magazines.  Sponsors of children's shows could target us so much younger, and for so many more years.


I wrote in my earlier review that I needed then to reread the book.  I've reread parts of it many times over the years, and maybe a full reread is in order.  Then again, I actually lived through those times.  I still have the diaries, though there are few extant photos of the teen-aged me.  (And yes, the diarist was obsessed with boys and sex.)


Maybe that's why I tend to be a little less of an absolutist when it comes to girls and women and boys and men and sex.  Oh, not about whether no means no.  It does, and that is an absolute, even if it wasn't always taken that way.  Nor do I deny that there is such a thing as rape culture; there is, and it isn't yet going away.  But the ambiguities and double standards that girls grew up with in the 1950s and 1960s were the same ambiguities and double standards that boys grew up with then and which still pervade our culture to this day.


We all got mixed messages.  Some of us tried to sort them out.  But none of us escaped the culture that was all around us, and few of us were ever given the tools to analyze it, deconstruct it, resist it.  Is it worse today?  Probably.  And it's not going to get better if we don't understand how we got where we are today.  This book is a good starting point.









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