Showing posts with label historical. Show all posts
Showing posts with label historical. Show all posts

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Malinche, Pocahontas, and Sacagawea by Rebecca K Jager


Rating: WARTY!

Subtitled "Indian Women as Cultural Intermediaries and National Symbols," this book turned out to be completely wrong for my purposes and from the little I read of it, it felt to me to be completely wrong when it came to the purpose the author evidently intended it to serve. It seemed abusive to me in a way, in ascribing two, three, or four hundred years on, motives to women whose motives were never considered important at the time, so we have no idea what moved them to do the things they did, and we most certainly no grounds to ascribe high-flying reasons for their behavior.

The book does talk about the mythology that has built-up around these woman and discusses the roots and aims of that in some detail, but that aspect of their story as viewed today seems to me to be so painfully obvious as to be a fruitless exercise in pursuing it more. People have used these women for their own ends whether those ends were supposedly noble or malign. Of that there is no doubt, but the book seems like it wants to go beyond all that to view them in hindsight as cross-cultural ambassadors and I don't agree that's what they were. They were certainly not at the time, and ascribing such a role to them in hindsight seems pointless to me. It seems like it's just as abusive to them as people were in their own lifetime by disrespecting and using them in much the same way that people have done ever since.

The simplest solution to me is that these women acted in their own best interest, and in the interest of the foreigners for whom they may have developed feelings of affection, respect, or love. It's a perfectly human motive, and it's not superhuman. Malinche, who aided Hernán Cortés during the Spanish take-over of central America in the sixteenth century had been treated shabbily by her own people and was respected by the Spanish, so it's entirely unsurprising that she had switched loyalty and wanted to help those who had treated her better than her own people had. There is no overriding nationalist motive here, anti or otherwise. These women had no great plan. They had none of the hindsight we have today, to see where this was going. They were merely doing what they saw as best in their circumstances at the time.

The same 'motive' applies to Matoaka (aka Pocahontas) and Sakakawia (aka Sacagawea). Matoaka was a child and came to the Jamestown village because it was exciting and new, and there were new playmates to interest her. She was not a princess. She did not represent her father. She had no great diplomatic aspirations. Yes, she came often with gifts of food, but there's nothing recorded to show that this was her idea as opposed, say, to her father's idea. Maybe she talked her father into it, maybe not. We don't know! Maybe she was no more than a spy for her father, infiltrating the English camp and reporting all she saw back to dad. We don't know!

The great life-saving story that John Smith belatedly related was in my opinion pure fiction, and there's an end to it. He'd used the same story before in a different context. And Disney ought to be ashamed of themselves for dishonestly portraying it as a love story, but since when have they cared about historical accuracy, or about integrity in retelling ancient fairytales?

Sakakawia started out in very much the same as Malinche, being kidnapped at a young age and sold or traded off. Her life followed a somewhat less abusive trail than did Malinche's but they were both torn from their roots and were sharp enough women to make it work for them. My own personal feeling about Sakakawia isn't that she saw herself as a great diplomat either, but that she enjoyed new adventures and may well have talked her way into being the one wife of Charbonneau who went on this excursion merely because she relaly wanted to go. She had no great ambition to be a bridge between peoples and to pretend now that she was is farcical!

So I can't take a so-called 'scholarly work' like this seriously, I really can't, and I certainly cannot commend it as a worthy read.


Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Sacagawea: crossing the continent with Lewis & Clark by Emma Carlson Berne


Rating: WORTHY!

I'm reviewing three different books this month about the life of "Sacagawea" who is actually more accurately referred to as "Sakakawia" - which was, it's important to remember, her Hidatsa name, not her Shoshone name. No one at the time bothered to ask her about her previous name or her life before the Hidatsa era. All we know of her earlier life came out because of fortuitous coincidence during the expedition.

William Clark spent a lot of time with Sakakawia, but he never wrote anything down of their interactions - which admittedly were limited in regard to conversation since she spoke no English and he none of Shoshone, Hidatasa, or French, all of which she had at least a smattering of. Since American Indian names tended to be quite fluid throughout life, perhaps Sakakawia didn't care that much how she was referred to or would have been concerned if two centuries on, we had a clue what it really was or what her short life had been.

This book was fine, but of the three I've read, it was the least interesting even though it wasn't the last I read. I say that because the facts are very limited in discussing her life, and the only thing a new author can add is their own spin, which may or may not count for much. So one book about her tends to be very much like another. That's why I don't intend to write yet another boring book about her life on the expedition; I have something very different in mind which to my knowledge hasn't been done before, and this is why I've been reading all of these books, and why I intend to read the Lewis and Clark diaries too. This is all for background, but my story won't be the expedition, which I feel has been done to death and beyond.

This book tells a workmanlike version of the story if given to flights of fancy at times. That said it isn't ridiculously exaggerated and it does not make up stories any more than any bother such book has done. The problem is that these books tend to ascribe things that were never there in real life. All native Americans, for example, were tough people back then, men and women alike, so personally I don't feel there was anything particularly special about Sakakawia's toughness and abilities. Any "Indian Squaw" could have done what this woman did because it's what they did day in and day out!

I do feel, and this is just a guess, that she had an interest in adventure, and so was game to go on this expedition. It could have been Charbonneau's other wife (latterly referred to as 'Otter Woman' although no one actually recorded her name at the time) who went instead, but to me it feels like Sakakawia was intent on going and did not see her post-partum status as an obstacle, whereas Charbonneau's 'Other Woman' wasn't at all interested, and perhaps this 'Older Woman' saw his prolonged absence as a chance to get away from him and find a better life for herself? The truth is that we don't know how or why the cut was made the way it was, we just know it was.

The backcover blurb for this book - which is not typically in the hands of the author admittedly - claims that without Sakakawia, "Lewis and Clark certainly could never have succeeded," but I think that's patent buffaloshit. I think they would have succeeded with or without Sakakawia, with or without "Otter Woman" and with or without Charbonneau, but that doesn't take anything away from the real and solid contributions that Sakakawia made and the fortitude and can-do qualities she exhibited. She deserved a hell of a lot better than she got, and she deserves to be remembered, honored, and commemorated. If this book helps with that, then it's a worthy read.


Sacagawea : westward with Lewis and Clark by Alana J White


Rating: WORTHY!

With any book on Sacagawea the problem is not only getting her name wrong, but also fictionalizing her life and adding fanciful and wishful things which are not in the historical record. This is nothing new. Historical revision began over a century ago when the suffragette movement in the USA was looking for a strong female figurehead and poor Sakakawea was resurrected to fit the bill. That's when the myth-making began. No one stopped to think whether she would have wanted or supported something like that.

The fundamental truth about her is that the record is light. She's barely mentioned in the diaries that the two expedition leaders kept, and when she is, the variations in spelling are numerous making it difficult to do a search to find all the references to her. She's referred to as "the Indian woman", as "Charbonneau's squaw" (various spellings), and by the name the Hidatsa kidnappers gave to her (again with variations). That's how little regard she was given at the time.

No one bothered to record her original name or her thoughts and feelings about the journey. In that, she was treated like every other member of the expedition despite being the youngest who also happened to be carrying and expertly caring for a young baby for the entire journey. In this, she was treated as an equal to the men, so in that regard she might be considered the first recorded exemplar of equal rights in North America.

The closest we can come to her Hidatsa name is Sakakawia which means Bird (sakaka) Woman (wea). No one recorded why she had this particular name or what happened to her original Shoshone name. Native American names were very fluid, changing sometimes many times between birth and death. They were more like a current status - like something in social media - than an actual name as we in the west in modern times view names, so perhaps even Sakakawia didn't care that much what her name was.

This book along with most others, refers to her as Sacagawea which is closest to the name used phonetically in more than one spelling, in the diaries. As to her Shoshone name, no one knows what it was. A popular one doing the rounds is 'Boinaiv', but that sounds far too much like Bowie Knife to be taken seriously. Besides, as far as I know, Grass Woman in Shoshone is Ambosoni, not Bonaiv!

The next thing the books tend to do is to inflate Sakakawia's importance and contributions to the expedition by claiming, for example, that it could not have succeeded without her. I don't buy that, and neither Lewis nor Clark ever made such a claim, but this takes nothing away from the important contributions she did make, which were acknowledged by the expedition leaders.

Stoicism was an important part of Indian life. These people were tough and resilient, and Sakakawia was stoic without a doubt. She never complained, even when she was sick. She accepted what life laid before her if perhaps hoping always for something better. She obviously never wanted to be kidnapped by the Hidatsa, but she made a life with them. She more than likely didn't want to be married to Charbonneau, but she made a life with him, too.

When he signed on for the expedition, in part being allowed in because he could boast two "squaws" who spoke Shoshone, it raises the question as to why she went along when she had a newborn in tow, rather than his other wife who was referred to in later mythology as midapokawia (Otter Woman), although she remained nameless during the time of the expedition and disappeared from recorded history at that time.

But she was older with no new child, so why take the younger post-partum woman? Personally my feeling is that Sakakawia actually wanted to go on the expedition and didn't see her newborn as an obstacle. I really think she wanted the adventure and a chance of seeing her own people again, whereas 'Otter Woman' (Other Woman?!) wasn't that interested and perhaps saw this as a chance to get away from Charbonneau in his absence?

There seems to be some conflation of Otter Woman with the friend of Sakakawia's who was kidnapped at the same time as she was. That girl is referred to as Leaping Fish. I have no idea what the Shoshone for that name is, but fish is Akai. She was not Otter Woman, because Leaping (or Jumping) Fish managed to escape the Hidatsa and return to her own people. Why Sakakawia didn't go with her was never recorded. Perhaps she could not escape, didn't know about Leaping Fish's escape plan, or was recaptured. Or maybe she didn't want to escape because staying with the Hidatsa was an adventure for her - a chance to see different things. Perhaps that's why she married Charbonneau too. Perhaps she didn't escape because Charbonneau offered another distraction. We simply don't know.

So those are the facts, and this book does not embellish them inordinately. It tells a wider story, too, offering insights into life back then, into the different tribes we learn of, and so on, so it fills out the story and makes for a much more rounded reading experience. But in the end, one book about 'Sacagawea' is pretty much, of necessity, like another, because the facts don't change - only the spin an author chooses to put on them. So while I think I am done reading such books after this present flurry, I can commend this one as a worthy read.


Sacagawea by Judith St George


Rating: WORTHY!

You might guess that when I start in on reading a slew of books about a certain topic, I'm thinking about writing a story, so here we go again!

This book was entertaining, but very much buying into the popular mythology of Sacagawea. Let's get her name straight first. It never was Sacagawea, and certainly not Sacajawea. Lewis and Clark recorded it as minor variations on "Sah-kah-gar we a" in their diaries, but the closest we can come today is probably Sakakawia.

The real problem though, is that this was a Hidatsa name, not her Shoshone one! She was kidnapped at the age of eleven or twelve and absorbed into a Hidatsa tribe before being given to a fur-trapper named Charbonneau, who already had a previous (and slightly older) Shoshone wife. I guess he was really into Shoshone women. The name never was her original Shoshone name, but that said, American Indian names were rather fluid and one person might go through several names during their lifetime. To them, a name was really more like Facebook status in a way! As far as I can tell, Sakakawia is closest to the name she became most commonly known by in her own time, so it's the one I'll use here. No one uses it in books and novels because people generally don't recognize that name as applying to her.

Additionally, no one knows what Sakakawia actually looked like. She's never described based on the farcical "all Indians look like" fallacy that was prevalent then and unfortunately still is among certain categories of people even now. Even as Lewis and Clark described in some detail the things they saw during their trip.

Despite ostensibly being on a journey of observation and recording, never once did either of this pair think of describing Sakakawia in any way - physically, mentally, personality-wise, clothing-wise or whatever. She was "just a squaw" to them and therefore not that important. So, while the model for the image on the US dollar coin minted in 2000 was a Shoshone woman (Randy'L He-dow Teton), even she was not Lemhi Shoshone. She was a thoroughly modern woman who graduated from University of New Mexico at the same age as Tsakakawia apparently was when she died.

Why the image from a photograph taken much closer to the time of Tsakakawia's life wasn't used instead, I have no idea, but what we must do when seeing all these modern images and thinking of her life, is to keep in mind that Sakakawia was actually much younger when she became the only woman on that expedition. She had just had a baby less than two months before the expedition began, and she was barely more than a child herself.

This begs the question, why her instead of the less-well-known 'other wife' - an older Shoshone girl given the much less exotic name of Otter Woman - which wasn't actually her name either! This suggests to me that Sakakawia actually wanted to go on this trip whereas Charbonneau's other wife probably did not, and so she left history whereas Sakakawia entered it quite forcefully

All that said, the book is entertaining, but the constant championing of this young woman becomes a bit tedious and feels a little fake. She's mentioned often in the diaries, but under variations of her name, and also as a 'squaw' (various spellings) and as 'the Indian woman'.

The telling thing about these mentions is that it is of her utility to the expedition - saving light objects that were in danger of being washed out of a flooded pirogue at one point, finding roots and herbs to feed the hungry crew at another, easing Indian tribes fears of the intentions of the travelers at another, of giving up her prized blue-bead belt in trade for an otter skin cape that was given to Thomas Jefferson and for which Sakakawia received no credit other than the brief mention in the diaries, and of her joy at meeting her brother, now a chief, whom she had not seen in a decade, when they finally arrived in Shoshone territory.

Although her value did not really give cause for much comment in the body of the diaries, in a letter written after the expedition was completed, when he was in process of what became an adoption of her children, Clark apparently had misgivings and pretty much apologized that their appreciation of her contributions had not been better represented. That says it all right there. I commend this book as a worthy read for younger children, but keep in mind that there's much more going on in her story than a short and somewhat biased book like this can convey.


Home Sweet Homicide by Craig Rice


Rating: WORTHY!

Craig Rice is an interesting and underrated author. She was the first female author ever to appear on the cover of Time magazine. Born Georgiana Ann Randolph Craig in 1908, she changed her professional name for her adoptive parents family name, putting her original family name first when she moved from journalism and radio writing, to detective fiction.

Most of her output was a series featuring three oddball investigators, none of whom was actually a police officer. She wrote other stories too, and this was one of them. Here, the three investigators were the children of a detective fiction writer. Maybe Georgiana was rewriting her own less-than-satisfactory childhood - and adulthood for that matter. She died before the age of fifty probably largely due to her heavy drinking, but she had issues with deafness, blindness, and she attempted suicide more than once.

This cheery story reflects none of that. It's bright, screwball, upbeat, well-written, and fun all the way through, I loved it. The title is emblematic of her screwball titles, too. Other titles were of a similar nature: The Big Midget Murders, The Corpse Steps Out, Crime on My Hands, The Lucky Stiff, The Pickled Poodles, and my personal favorite My Kingdom for a Hearse although I confess, it was a close-run thing between that latter one and the title of the novel reviewed here.

The three Carstairs kids, Dinah, April, and Archie, are left almost totally unsupervised while their windowed mom, Marion, is in one of her writing frenzies. They happened to be sitting outside on the porch when they heard two gunshots from their next-door neighbor's house, home to a woman who was widely despised and who was, it seems, blackmailing certain of her neighbors. The kids try to involve their mom, who isn't interested and so, despising the local cops for stupidity (the kids learned a lot from reading their mom's stories, including pseudo-gangster dialog, but unfortunately expended no effort in differentiating between fact and fiction!), they decide to undertake their own investigation, misleading the cops about the time of the shooting because they don't believe the husband did it.

They also believe if they solve it and give the credit to their mom, it will work miracles for her sales. Additionally, there is one cop they think might make the perfect partner for their lonely mom so they have to tread carefully, deny the police information they discover while luring the detective in to bring him and their mom into frequent contact. Published in 1944, this novel was made into a movie in 1946, but as usual, the movie doesn't follow the book too closely.

I completely loved this novel and I commend it highly.


Thursday, March 7, 2019

Tidewater by Libbie Hawker


Rating: WARTY!

You know I should just swear off any novel about Jamestown which features the name Pocahontas on the cover. Even though that was not strictly speaking, her name, but a descriptive term, the author uses this name exclusively for the main character (at least in the part I listened to which honestly wasn't very much).

The American Indians speak in modern English idiom, and while I certainly didn't expect that their words would have been spoken in their own language in this audiobook, I thought some effort might have been made to render their exchanges a little more authentically. It felt so fake.

On top of that, The Pocahontas, who was well-known amongst her own people, was refused entrance to a meeting to which she had been instructed to bring food by her father. The guards on the door didn't recognize her? There were guards on the door? It felt so completely unrealistic that I couldn't hear it. It felt like the author had no clue whatsoever as to how these people lived back then, and simply translated everything into modern western European terms and was happy with what she'd done. The truly disturbing thing is that believe it or not, this wasn't the worst part of it for me!

The story was narrated by three people, and the woman who narrated the Powhatan portions was Angela Dawe, an actor who isn't native American and whose voice was one of the most harsh and strident I have ever heard. It was quite literally painful on my ears. I began listening to this on the drive home from the library after I picked it up. That drive is very short, but even so, I couldn't stand to listen to her voice for the entire journey home. I turned it off and almost looped the car around to return the book that same afternoon! LOL. It was awful. The voice was completely wrong in every measure. It was hard to listen to because of the tone, and cadence and pacing. Every single thing was off about it, and it made my stomach turn to listen to it.

So based on an admittedly tiny portion of this, I can't commend it.


Saturday, February 9, 2019

Dreaming in Code: Ada Byron Lovelace, Computer Pioneer by Emily Arnold McCully


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I really enjoyed this short biography of Ada Lovelace, a near contemporary of Jane Austen, who is commonly described as the world's first computer programmer. It goes into sufficient detail to give you a good picture of her life, but not so much that it gets bogged down. There are images of some of the main characters involved in her life to provide a visual, and the text is a swift and informative read.

Lovelace was beset by a matching pair of bad parents in that one was way too loose and the other way too strict - to puritanical levels. She never knew her father in any meaningful sense because she never really met him. Her mother took her from him at a very early age, got custody - which was unusual for a mother back then, and she never let Ada know who her father was until after he had died, by which time Ada had sort of figured it out for herself. That said her mother was very liberal in terms of getting her daughter an education, which was extremely unusual back then.

Ada had some flighty impulses, but constantly either had them reined in or reined them in of her own accord. She was an avid scholar of many disciplines and excelled at math, which brought her into Babbage's sphere when she became interested in his difference engine at the tender age of seventeen. The rest is quite literally history. Ada died quite young. I commend this story as a very worthy read about a strong female character who happens to have been real, not fictional!


Saturday, February 2, 2019

The Mozart Girl by Barbara Nickel


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Set in 1763, this is a middle grade (not middle-grave as I initially typed! That's a whole different genre! LOL!) novel that I originally thought was based on a diary, but no such diary exists. In fact we have almost nothing of Maria Anna Walburga Ignatia Mozart (who was a contemporary of Jane Austen), that doesn't come to us via a third party. There is a notebook that was created by her father, and which contains compositions that she played, but the only reason that survives, I suspect, is that it also contains compositions that her kid brother, the renowned Wolfgang Amadè Mozart, added to the book of his own accord.

I was disappointed to discover that the diary entries are spurious. That removed this novel further into fiction, and that became a problem for me because other than the general outline of the story - a tour which actually did take place - this book is pretty much all fiction, and for me it was way over-done. I had thought the over-wrought tone of the novel was taking its complexion from the diary, but that's obviously not the case if there is no diary.

Additionally, some of the history is a bit off and the modern language seems inappropriate. Naturally you don't want a novel of this nature to sound archaic, but a little less modern slang would have improved the tone. It's also historically inaccurate. At one point, the author is talking about wax candles when in that era, tallow was the norm, and she mentions gelatin, when aspic was the norm back then.

She frequently refers to financial woes when in fact, the Mozarts did very well for themselves in this tour, at least until both children became ill and things slowed down quite a bit, but no such illness is mentioned for "Nannerl" (Marianne), only for "Wolferl" (Mozart). I have to say that though it is historically accurate, these endless '-erl' nicknames made me want to hurl. I shall refer to the sister as Marianne which was what she went by when pet names were not used.

The worst faux pas was getting the main character's birthday wrong! Marianne turned 12 on 30 July 1763 when the family was in the middle of a three year tour of Europe, but in this novel, she turns twelve before the tour begins, and the author has her birthday in June!

At each stop during the tour, the author has her taking second place to Wolfgang whereas in reality, she was, at least initially, the star performer, but clearly this changed as Mozart the younger began to flourish, and maybe that's what the author is trying to reflect here. I don't know. I was quite confused by this point!

Another faux pas the author makes is the discussion of money. She makes the father sounds like some sort of avaricious beggar. As I said, they did well for themselves on this tour earning substantial amounts, but the author always has them sounding impoverished. That's not as bad as this one section when they visited an important family - that of Baron Kerpen and his musically talented children - and the Mozart father says at one point: “How wonderful to have such a fine orchestra, all in one family...Do you ever play in public, for money?”

That would have been an unconscionable impertinence back then. It really stood-out like a sore thumb to me, and continued a process of turning me off this story even more than I already had been. If the novel had not been so short, and I was not already over halfway through it by then, I would have DNF'd right there. As it was I made it only to eighty percent before I could not stand to read any more when the author was making a fuss about Christmas, which back in Mozart's time, was not the big event it is today. Yes, it was celebrated, but the bigger event was Saint Nicholas's Day which was early in December.

I understand this is fiction, and little is known about Marianne, particularly how she thought and felt, and that some dramatic license is permissible in a novel like this, but the portrayal of her in this story felt wrong, inauthentic, and frankly, disrespectful of such a talented young woman. It may well have been that she had the same musical yearnings as her brother, and even the same skills, but we will never know because nothing of hers survives to compare with Mozart's own work.

What does seem likely is that her facility with music was what inspired such a passion for it in her kid brother. He watched as her father taught her to play. She was an accomplished musician, but that doesn't necessarily mean it was all she ever had on her mind as is implied here.

Rightly or wrongly - obviously wrongly by our modern expectations - there were different pressures and constraints on girls back then, and certain behaviors that now are considered restrictive and even abusive, were the norm and accepted as the way things are. Precious few people saw life differently. To present her in a modern light as though she had beliefs and lofty, but frustrated ambitions that she may well not have had is an imposition and is dangerous ground for writers to traverse with such abandon.

Perhaps Marianne was exactly as she was as depicted here, but we don't know, and it seems to me to be more likely that she simply enjoyed playing, and had no other ambition. It may well be that she chose to set aside music later in life in favor of other priorities, and had no grand plans, frustrated or otherwise, that she longed to pursue.

It may have been just the opposite. The fact is that we do not know. What we do know is that women had certain expectations both for themselves, and also that were set upon them by others, particularly their parents and husbands, and we do not know exactly where her own views lay, so to present her as this thwarted, frustrated genius felt like a grave imposition to me and one which is not supported by history.

It's true that there is much debate about her talent, not so much about her playing ability, which is a given, but about her compositional skills, but as I mentioned, of those we have nothing by which to judge. She composed music, that we do know, but none of it has survived. The only real 'evidence' we have of its quality is the complimentary comments of both her father and her brother, and while I'm sure these were genuine, we do not know if father was praising a talented daughter and brother was praising a fellow prodigy, or if both were simply bolstering a beloved daughter/sibling with great praise where average praise may have been more objectively appropriate. It’s a great shame that we do not know, but the fact remains that we do not.

Where this book did well was in highlighting her playing ability, but everything else is pure speculation and I felt it serves a woman like Marianne badly to puff her up for talent (in composition) that we know nothing of, while underserving the talent she had that we can certainly attest to, based on historical records. I cannot commend this as a worthy read therefore.


Thursday, January 24, 2019

Cowl Vol 2 The Greater Good by Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel, Rod Reis


Rating: WARTY!

I didn’t like this. It was too much of a rip-off of Watchmen: set in earlier times in the 20th century, a death of a super hero, an investigation. That might have been fine, but the problem was that it did not have the characters that watchmen had. The super heroes here had no life to them. They were boring. If I had read volume 1, I might have found more investment in it, but I doubt it. The story by Higgins and Siegel was dragging, and there was nothing of interest (to me) happening, especially since the super heroes were out on strike(!) and so there was no super hero-ing going on to speak of. It seemed stuck in a rut, and the Reis‘s artwork was nothing special either. I cannot commend it based on this experience and I have no interest in pursuing this series at all.

And what a trite title! Cowl? Could they not have come up with something a bit better and more original?


Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Lost City of Solomon and Sheba by Robin Brown-Lowe


Rating: WARTY!

I picked this up because I thought it might have something interesting to say about the very enigmatic Queen of Sheba, which might perhaps lead to an idea for a future novel, but no! It had almost nothing to say about her because almost nothing is known about her. Solomon gets short shrift. It's tempting to say that the main thrust of the book is as its title suggests - the lost city of Ophir, but I can't say that because there is no thrust, and the names of Solomon and Sheba were obviously just tossed into the title merely to draw potential readers' interest. Well, shame on me!

This endlessly rambling book does recount a lot of history, but it's disjointed and disconnected and sways back and forth between time periods without ever making its case. The main problem with it is that, in the same manner employed by those morons who write books about Earth being visited by aliens from outer space, it builds tissue-thin claims upon non-existent foundations, with the author, who is not an archeologist but a journalist, making huge speculative leaps based on the flimsiest of 'evidence'.

Thus we have him categorically setting Ophir in Zimbabwe, based on the Great Zimbabwe, a beautiful monument which racists have traditionally tried to deny was built by native Africans. The author seems to be doing the same thing. His chapter titles are sensationalist: To Ophir Direct, Ophir Revealed, Ophir Spinning, and closing with Ophir Writ Large (there are many other chapters) yet not once does he fulfill the promise of the title by laying down a solid case for The Great Zimbabwe being Ophir. Nor doe she explain

He defeats his own claims because while the book does contain some photographs, none of them support the text our the claims he makes in it. In fact, some refute his claims. One of these claims is that bird effigies were found at Zimbabwe which had a design around their neck like a necklace or perhaps, it occurs to me, a pattern or tattoo, yet though he shows several pictures of the birds, not one of them has any of the features he claims for them. This alone defeats he 'thesis'.

Of these birds, wikipedia says, "They are unique to Great Zimbabwe; nothing like them has been discovered elsewhere." - something which the author seeks to muddy at best, and never once does he mention that certain birds were sacred to the people, more than adequately explaining why they would want to sculpt images of them. So once again we see a native culture being denigrated by a white writer, as though no native African could ever have an advanced thought in their head, and none could create or build anything beautiful. I call bullshit on that.

So after plodding through most of the book vainly searching for his supporting evidence, and skimming other repetitive areas, I concluded the guy doesn't know what he's talking about. As wikipedia puts it, "The majority of scholars believe that it was built by members of the Gokomere culture, who were ancestors of modern Shona in Zimbabwe." And the site is dated as originating In the Iron Age, long after Solomon. The stone structures were built in the eleventh century. It was half millennium after that before any white person came anywhere near them. QED.

The author is not wrong in asserting that there is a genetic link between the male line of the peoples known as Mwenye, and people of ancient Jewish descent, but he fails to mention that they could also be of South Arabian descent too. This is dishonest, in reporting only the evidence that can be deemed to support his claims and withholding that which might defeat or dilute them. Just because a lineage has certain DNA doesn't make the author's case at all. DNA is so dissipated around the world these days that no one group is really isolated from another, and we're talking many hundreds of years ago. One trader passing on his DNA to a local woman all that time ago could easily lead to a tribe later in history, and there were no doubt many traders. This doesn't prove the author's thesis though, especially not with the lack of evidence he has.

I disrecommend this book.


Saturday, January 19, 2019

Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller by Joseph Lambert


Rating: WARTY!
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I believe in giving credit where credit is due, but aside from the focus on Sullivan rather than Keller - and lets face it, without Sullivan there would be no Keller as we know her today - there really is very little due here.

This graphic novel is aimed at grades six through eight, but while I am far from those grades, I was not happy with it. The artwork is indifferent and appears in tiny panels (a rigid and plodding sixteen per page) such that the image is not only tiny, but the text is also small. I had a hard time reading it and an almost impossible time reading the narration, which is in script. There were parts I skipped rather than strain my eyes trying to read it. If the format of the book had been larger this would not have been such a problem, but as it was, it was really irritating to me and overwhelmed the story.

While the book does convey the magnitude of the task which faced a visually-impaired 20-year-old Sullivan trying to teach a willful and spoiled seven-year-old who was impaired in ways much greater than Anne herself was, it fails to make the impact it should because it is so choppy. An early flashback itself dissolves into an earlier flashback and this back-flashing keeps happening as we move back and forth between the 'present' where Anne is teaching Helen, and the past, where Anne had her own trials to go through, which were tough enough. Anne Sullivan was a strong woman.

This story is about Anne as opposed to Helen, which most stories are written about, and such a story is important and needs to be told, but I don't think this book gets it done. The 'Annie' of the title was better known as Anne, although her birth name was Johanna Mansfield Sullivan to which she added a 'Macy' when she married later in life. Her initial interactions with Helen were nightmarish because Helen was so spoiled and had no discipline. Anne was not only fighting her charge, but also Helen's parents who did not understand the huge amount of work which needed to be done to liberate Helen from the prison of her impaired senses.

Much as I'd like to recommend a book like this, I cannot. I've read other books about Helen Keller and the one I commend so far is Helen Keller by Jane Sutcliffe. This might not be quite as appealing as a graphic novel to children in this age range, but it isn't something they could not handle, and I'd prefer it to this graphic novel. However, if this novel gets kids interested enough to read something on this topic that's more grown up and less picture-y, then all well and good, but I have doubts it will do that.


HP Lovecraft He Who Wrote in the Darkness by Alex Nikolavitch, Gervasio, Carlos Aon, Lara Lee


Rating: WARTY!

I'm always interested in reading about other writers if they have anything interesting to say but for me, this graphic novel about Lovecraft was a fail. He wrote over sixty stories - most of them short stories, during his short lifetime (he died at 46 from cancer), but this didn't really delve into many of them or even keep track of his writing them, which seemed very odd to me for a book about a writer.

It did highlight some of his quirks and made a passing mention of his racism, but it seemed more focused on his inabilities rather than his abilities - his inability to live with his wife (a curiosity for someone whose name is love craft!) and his inability to focus on writing stories while effortlessly penning thousands of long letters - than it ever did in discussing his work or even mentioning it.

That said it is a graphic novel, not a biography, so some things inevitably get left out. It just felt to me that writer Nikolavitch left out the wrong things, and the art by Gervasio, Aon, and Lee was average at best, so I cannot commend this as a worthy read.


Friday, January 4, 2019

The Mechanical Horse by Margaret Guroff


Rating: WORTHY!

Subtitled 'How the Bicycle Shaped American Life', this book made for an informative and at times fascinating read and even gave me an idea for a novel - you never know where your next inspiration will come from!

It details the growth, retrenchment and regrowth of the bicycle (and it went through that...cycle...several times) from the earliest bike to modern times, discussing how it impacted not only the obvious - roads - but also other things, such as women's independence and military activities. It tells some great stories and makes for an engrossing book, and I commend it as a worthy read.


Saturday, December 29, 2018

Miss Don't Touch Me by Hubert, Fabien Vehlmann Kerascoët


Rating: WORTHY!

Set in 1930s Paris, this was a fun "naughty" (but not too naughty) novel about a young girl Blanche, who sees her sister Agatha murdered by the 'Butcher of the Dances'. No one will believe her, and Agatha is written-off as a suicide. Losing her job as a maid, Blanche seeks work at the Pompadour, an elite brothel, and the only place which might take her in. She's almost laughed out of even there, but once taken in, quickly establishes herself as a mistress of untouchability and the virgin dominatrix.

But she hasn't forgotten her sister and slowly begins to unravel the brutal crime, while fending off assaults from patrons, unwelcome attempts at relieving her of her prized virginity, and shifting allegiances among the call-girls. This made for a different and fun read and I commend it.


Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers by Sara Ackerman


Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook experiment which looked superficially good but which turned out to be just another idiot romance in the telling. It’s been only a short while, but the novel is already a vague memory to me. So this woman on Hawaii at the outbreak of WW2, which for the US began on December 7th, two years after everyone else signed up!

This woman whose name I happily have forgot, is supposedly widowed - her husband was at the dock, blood was found, but no body - which typically means he’s still alive, is evidently not that caring about him because she easily falls for a smooth-talking soldier who is stationed on the island and becomes way too familiar with her way too fast. That’s when I ditched this as a waste of my time. I'm guessing the husband is alive and having an affair with some other woman, which gives the main character the freedom to carry on with the soldier. There are better-written and even badly-written yet still more entertaining stories out there which I’m not going to get to if I waste more time than is necessary on one’s like this. Based on about a third of this that I could stand to listen to, I can’t commend it.


Spellbound by Blake Charlton


Rating: WARTY!

There's not much to say about this that I didn't cover in the negative review of volume one of this trilogy. In volume two we abandoned Nicodemus altogether at least as far as I read, which was not very far because, despite a really quite engaging beginning, it rapidly descended into one of those love-hate romances which I despise.

It's set ten tears after the first volume, which struck me as very strange, and Nicodemus, the boy wizard who lived from the first volume, was barely mentioned, much less actually appeared in the part I read. After a great start, the story began obsessing on this healer woman named Francesca DeVega, who had interested me to begin with, but who then became involved in this 'roguish' pilot who reappeared in her life, and I couldn't stand to read this anymore. Based on my short acquaintanceship, I cannot recommend this, and I'm done with this dreary and unimaginative author.


Spellwright by Blake Charlton


Rating: WARTY!

I picked up the sequel to this without realizing it was a sequel - once again Big Publishing™ failed to disclose on the front cover that it was volume two of a trilogy. Despite this dishonesty, I started reading it and enjoyed the opening chapter, so I decided to get the previous volume - this volume - from the library and read that one first. I ended up enjoying it sufficiently to want to go back to volume two and continue reading that, although the entire story was rather ponderous and overall left a bad taste.

In this volume we're introduced to Nicodemus who is the usual hobbled wizard in this kind of story. In his case though it has a twist in that spells (for reasons which went unexplained) are wrought in the muscles of the body and involve words which then migrate to the hands where they can be used. Bizarre, yes, but that's how it was. So Nicodemus's problem was that he was dyslexic, and therefore could not cast spells reliably - and sometimes cast them dangerously. He was the Seamus Finnigan of this story. Harry Potter's Finnigan may well have been named after Seamus Finnegan, an Irish playwright, but Nicodemus was initially interesting to me because of this twist.

As is the case in most every wizarding story, Nicodemus was the savior of the world because of his 'defective' condition. He'd been rendered this way because some other wizard was sucking the magic out of him. Albus Dumbledore - er, the aging wizard - who has taken a special interest in Harry - er Nicodemus - of course keeps him in the dark, so when all hell breaks loose, Nicodemus doesn't have a clue and has to figure it out himself with the aid of his male and female companions, one of whom is a powerful wizard herself, and just like in Harry Potter, friends are being murdered, and Nicodemus has to go on the run. Unlike with the Rowling stories, this all happens in book one.

here's something I've warned about before. The problem with pronouncing the word 'shone' as 'shown' instead of pronouncing it like you'd pronounce 'one' ('shonn'), as many Americans do, is that sometimes it bites back. On one page, I believe in this volume, but perhaps in volume one, I read, "A wall of silvery text shown down from the other side of the door..." Clearly this was intended to be 'shone down'. Not 'shown', but when pronounced incompetently, leads to a different word and a different meaning! Beware the language, fellow writers! Rein it in before it rains on you (or at least that's what it will tell you is falling on your back...).

So apart from the dyslexia which I found interesting, there really was nothing new here that we haven't seen before. I was able to read all of this and get back to volume two, but things continued to go downhill, only more rapidly. On that basis, I'm going to rate this negatively because it really didn't live up to its potential, it was boring in parts and brought to the table very little that was fresh. I cannot commend it, especially in light of how volume two went.


Spit and Passion by Cristy C Road


Rating: WARTY!

This is yet another LGBTQIA coming of age graphic novel and while I'm pretty sure I;m not the audience the author was seeking to impress, I'm sorry to have to report that I was not, in fact, impressed by it.

I've read many of this kind of autobiography, and they've all had a story to tell, but whereas some are outgoing and relatable even for a cis male(!), others are more a personal or even self-centered odyssey which don't seem interested in opening up or being inclusive in any way. These may well play to a segment of the population, and if they do, that's fine, but if they do, I'm not a part of it, not even indirectly, so I can't speak to it. All I can relate is what it said to me and in this case, it said very little of interest, nothing that was new or engaging.

I hate to be negative about a book like this, but I guess you can't love 'em all, especially not if the author doesn't seem interested in being loved as a writer or artist and who, instead of bringing an audience in to share her story with her, seems more interested in what's almost an internal monolog, rattling on without caring if there's an audience tuning in or not which to me, frankly, seems a bit creepy. i mean, whatever trips your ship is fine, but I've never seen the point of writing any story, fiction or no, if all you're going to do is tell the same story that's already been told and add nothing new or particularly interesting, so against my ordinarily natural inclination, and while I wish the author all the best in her endeavors, I can't rate this as a worthy read.


Becoming Unbecoming by Una


Rating: WORTHY!

Most people outside of Britain have never heard of the Yorkshire Ripper aka Peter Sutcliffe, who attacked women over the decade from 1969 to 1980. He was stopped only when arrested for using false license plates on his car. The entire inquiry was a farce of incompetent British policing. Sutcliffe had been interviewed some nine times during the lengthy inquiry and not once actually suspected of being the perp. Even after his arrest, he was able to slip away from police and hide incriminating evidence under pretence of having to take a leak!

The fact that many of his victims were prostitutes meant that police did not give this murderer the attention required to catch him. This is all disturbing, but not nearly as disturbing as the fact that he somehow got to be that way in the first place. Unfortunately, that critical factor is not explored in this story - not for him, nor for the perps who assaulted the author.

This autobiographic novel is set in 1977 after Sutcliffe had assaulted several women and murdered at least two, and yet was still several years away from being caught. The author was twelve and became herself the victim of assaults. Though fortunately not fatal, they nevertheless left an indelible mark. These parallel stories build slowly, and sometimes the reading was frankly boring. Other times it was highly disturbing in a way that complacent people need to be disturbed if this continuing abuse of women is to be stopped, so this is an uncomfortable read, as it ought to be, but one that also ought to be required reading. I commend it.


Saturday, December 15, 2018

Ella Queen of Jazz by Helen Hancocks


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a very short book - effectively only thirteen pages - aimed at a children's audience, to introduce them to a true diva, but for me it missed the mark. I don't lower my expectations for children's literature, but this book seemed to, and the ebook version - which as an amateur reviewer was the only one I had access to - was missing text on at least two pages as far as I could tell. Hopefully the print version is complete!

Ella Fitzgerald was known for her singing talent and in her earlier years for her love of dancing, but I didn't get any of that feeling for her out of this book which seemed more like it was interested in telling the tale of a struggling artist than telling that and the much more joyous success story - with a huge love of singing - that she became. Her career began when she wanted to enter amateur night at the Apollo theater, but was intimidated with regard to her dancing, so she chose to sing instead. She won first prize.

That pivotal moment was completely bypassed in this book, which began when she was already a mature performer. The first two pages which were, I assume, double-page spreads in the print version, simply showed her singing, with neither words nor descriptive text. The pages were not numbered, but the e-numbering at the bottom of the screen showed the first text appearing on page 'seven' where it began, "Before long, Ella was taking her music up and down the country" - so, story already in progress. It was a bit of a sour note for me.

While the illustrations were colorful if nothing extraordinary, and the text did tell her career story in brief, nowhere was there a song lyric. I know to quote whole lyrics demands all kinds of permissions, but to fail to quote even a line here and there, which is entirely permissible, was unconscionable for a story about someone of Fitzgerald's pedigree and contribution to music. We learned nothing of her childhood or influences, but first encounter her on the road, running from one gig to another.

There's a brief mention of how Marilyn Monroe helped her get a gig at a venue where 'coloreds' were typically not welcomed, and this boosted her career too, but then the story is pretty much over. On the 'Marilyn' page there were two speech balloons which contained no text. I don't know if this was intentional or not, but after the obviously missing text earlier in the book, it was irritating to be left in the dark about whether this was purposeful or not. Keeping Marilyn's name secret for a couple of pages previously seemed fatuous. I don't imagine for a minute than any child reading this has a clue who Marilyn Monroe was. Well, she was Norma Jean Baker! But kids today won't know that either so the reason that this section was written this way was obscure.

I felt this was a chance to really talk about a powerful and influential woman of color, and it was lost. I know for a book for young children, you can't go into huge amounts of detail and technical matters, but for a book for children, it helps to connect to them by showing that Ella was herself a young child at one point who came from poor circumstances, but who loved music and dance, and who overcame setbacks to reach success on her own merit. It could have been so inspirational, but to me it did neither her nor the young reader any favors. It essentially told a rather plodding story of how a white woman 'saved' a 'helpless' black woman, and it felt patronizing. Consequently I'm not able to commend this as a worthy read.