Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Small Days and Nights

Title:  Small Days and Nights
Author: Tishani Doshi
Published: 2019
ISBN-13:  9781324005230
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publisher’s Blurb:  A captivating and clear-eyed story of two sisters caught in a moment of transformation, set against the vivid backdrop of modern India.

The protagonist, Grace Marisola, gets dropped into unforeseen circumstances.  Understandably, it’s hard to know what to do when recalled from the US to oversee the cremation of her mother, and finding out the family secret is an older sister with Down’s Syndrome who has been institutionalized Grace’s entire life.

But even under those circumstances, plans arise and actions take place.  The book suffers from not knowing what it wants because Grace  doesn’t know what she wants.  Is it divorcing the husband she left behind in the US?  Remaking family connections?  Taking care of her sister for the rest of her life?

Things happen to Grace, she doesn’t happen to them.  There’s no core to her.  Small Days and Nights suffers from a sort of malaise.  There’s nothing wrong with the book, exactly.  Neither is there something right.

I often overthink my reviews as I try to pin down what I want to write about.  Lots of books offer plenty of opportunities to dig in and do the analysis I love.  Doshi’s book wasn’t one of them.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t write about how her language often captivated me.  For instance,  “Mornings at the beach can arrive like a whore, in a jangly too tight dress at the end of a long and sleepless night.”  Or,  “The heat of summer is behind us but the days still feel bedraggled and worn.

The beauty in that language and those images make promises the book doesn’t live up to.

On Writing: 2019 Book Commentary

“The creative life is not linear” – Austin Kleon

2019 by the numbers.

Random thoughts about the madcap year that was 2019 reading.  Some events were so glorious as to be unrecognizable as anything I’d ever dreamed could happen to me.  Others predictable and necessary (day job). In addition for my own blog, I now write for Hugo award-winning fanzine Drink Tank, and M. Todd Gallowglas’ Geek’s Guide to Literary Criticism.

  • In Toni Morrison’s Beloved Paul D’s story about learning to read and being beaten for it just leaves a hole in my heart.  He kneels on the ground with a bit in his mouth and notices the rooster named Mister doing whatever he wanted.

“I was something else and that something was less than a chicken sitting in the sun on a tub.”

  • I’m not qualified to  review Ta-Nehisi Coates’ We Were Eight Years in Power.  How does one speak to a tragedy caused by differences in pigmentation?

“Barack Obama [governed] a nation enlightened enough to send an African American to the White House, but not enlightened enough to accept a black man as president.

Trump, more than any other politician, understood the valence of the bloody heirloom [slavery] and the great power of not being a n*****.”

  • As Kameron Hurley’s The Geek Feminist Revolution brought me to myself in 2018, so too did Feminisms and Womanisms edited by Althea Prince & Susan Silva-Wayne.  The taste of seminal feminist works from Emma Goldman, Simone de Bauvoir, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem made it easier to understand big parts of my life.

It is truly amazing how long we can go on accepting myths that oppose our own lives, assuming we are the odd exception.” – Gloria Steinem

The need to be noticed and liked, the need to be listened to and accepted, the need for encouragement and praise; all became sources of shameful, rather than normal, neediness in my mind.  Especially the need for affection.” – Nancy Graham

Susan Sontag’s essay on women and aging made me want to throw the book across the room in a fit of rage.

The rules of this society are cruel to women.”  – Susan Sontag

  • Stealing:  Life in America by Michelle Cacho-Negrete, sent to me for a review by Adelaide Press.  Her essays are powerful as she relates the stories of a life lived right, doing everything she was supposed to do and still needing to steal food to feed her children.  Her triumph over that and the particular experiences of being “other” really sang to me.
  • Stopwatch Chronicles, M. Todd Gallowglas’ collection of flash fiction bowled me over.  He is sharp, witty and fun. His insights are dead on and I love his wordplay.  Ditto Bard’s Cloak of Tales.
  • The Killing Light, the triumphal conclusion to Myke Cole’s Sacred Throne trilogy.  I’ll just quote myself here, “Heloise remains the hero we need for today..”
  • How Fiction Works by James Wood .  I will forever be grateful for the phrase “flaneurial realism.”
  • Literary Theory by Sarah Upstone – this little book packs a lot into it and is one of my go to reference books.
  • The Art of Fiction and Moral Fiction by John Gardner

“… in order to achieve mastery [they] must read widely and deeply and must write not just carefully but continually.”

“… the temptation to explain should almost always be resisted.”

“Art, in sworn opposition of chaos, discovers by its process what it can say.  That is art’s morality.”

“…art can at times be baffling …”

  • Wizardry & Wild Romance by Michael Moorcock.  Each reading enriches my understanding of the genre I live and breathe.
  • Better Living Through Criticism by A. O. Scott.  Scott’s commentary helped give voice to the questions I’d been asking about what criticism is and why it has value.  His outstanding thoughts on art and criticism as a conversation resonate deeply. As does his insistence criticism is a way to seek out the excellent as a foodie demands excellence from their favorite chef or restaurant.

“… our understanding of art emerges from our experience of it.”

Writing for Drink Tank led me to works I might never have read.  Chris’ unbounded knowledge of books and themes kept me busy.

  • Challengers of the Unknown by Ron Goulart led me to one of the cheesiest books I’ve ever read.  (Drink Tank #414)
  • Before the Golden Age edited by Isaac Asimov, From the Earth to Around the Moon by Jules Verne, and First Men in the Moon by H. G. Wells were fodder for thought about Antique Space.  (Journey Planet/Drink Tank Crossover)
  • Drink Tank #410 gave me a reason to join the Alexander Hamilton party.

 

2019 in Review – By the Numbers

Total Books Read: 34
Total Pages Read: 12,456
Total Books Procured: 83
Diff: -49
Publication Dates: 19 (1953 – 2019)
Author Count: 28
Written by Women: 8 books (4 authors)

Most read authors:
Myke Cole (4)
N. K. Jemisin (3)
M. Todd Gallowglas (3)

New (to me) Authors I Would Read Again:
Michelle Cacho-Negrete
Sara Upstone
Ron Chernow
Stephen F. Knott
John Gardner
Alfred Bester
Michael R. Underwood
A. O. Scott

Recommendations:
Stealing: Life in America by Michelle Cacho-Negrete
Stopwatch Chronicles  by M. Todd Gallowglas
The Killing Light by Myke Cole
Beloved by Toni Morrison (2nd reading)
We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates

LitCrit Theory:
How Fiction Works by James Wood (2nd reading)
Literary Theory by Sara Upstone
The Art of Fiction by John Gardner
On Moral Fiction by John Gardner
Wizardry and Wild Romance by Michael Moorcock (2nd reading)
Better Living Through Criticism by A.O. Scott

Non-Fiction:
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
Feminisms and Womanisms  edited by Althea Prince, Susan Silva-Wayne

Commentary
An Open Letter to Stubby the Rocket Concerning the Guns Of Fantasy” – THE GEEK’S GUIDE TO LITERARY THEORY

Reviews:
From the Earth to Around the Moon by Jules Verne / First Men in the Moon by  H.G. Wells / “Jameson’s Satellite” by Neil R. Jones in Before the Golden Age edited by Isaac Asimov (Journey Planet)
Challengers of the Unknown (Drink Tank)
The Killing Light
Euridyce (City Lights Theatre)
Alexander Hamilton (Drink Tank)
Literary Theory: An Introduction
The Sprawl Trilogy
Binti Trilogy
The Handmaid’s Tale
Jazz
The Mortal Word
Stealing: Life in America
God’s War
Projections

Review: The Killing Light

The Killing Light by Myke Cole

Title:  The Killing Light
Author: Myke Cole
Published: 2019
ISBN-13: 978-0-76539559-3
Publisher: Tor.com Publishing
Twitter: @MykeCole
Publisher’s Blurb: Heloise and her allies are marching on the Imperial Capital. The villagers, the Kipti, and the Red Lords are united only in their loyalty to Heloise, though dissenting voices are many and they are loud.

The unstable alliance faces internal conflicts and external strife, yet they’re united in their common goal. But when the first of the devils start pouring through a rent in the veil between worlds, Heloise must strike a bargain with an unlikely ally, or doom her people to death and her world to ruin.

This is the final book of The Sacred Throne trilogy
Book 1 –  The Armored Saint | Book 2  – The Queen of Crows

I was provided an Advanced Reader’s Copy by Tor Publishing in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

“But I am thine Emperor, and the harder the step, the closer it taketh thou unto me. –Writ. Lea. IV.2.”  (p. 167)

In The Art of Fiction, John Gardner writes, “The primary subject of fiction is and always has been human emotion, values, and beliefs.”  (p. 14)  and “The writer must enable us to see and feel vividly what his characters see and feel …” (p. 44)

Any writer who can make the reader feel great anxiety for his characters and drive them to tears in relief has most definitely met the criteria set forth by Gardner.  That Myke Cole’s writing kept me fully engaged and emotionally involved says something about the great talent he has for telling a story.

There’s a thread running through The Killing Light about men and how they must be treated by women.  Repeatedly a female will say something like, “Everything with men is a great care.”  (p. 46)

Heloise was never meant to be and do all the things she does in The Sacred Throne trilogy.  She was meant to be a young woman who marries the man her parents have chosen for her and to settle into the role of home keeper, as women in her village have always done.

But we don’t always get to choose the shape our life takes and who we fall in love with.  The best we can hope is to be gentle with ourselves when we are tested. This is part of the story Myke Cole tells with Heloise, how she must accept and come to terms with herself, and her evolving beliefs and leadership skills.

Her world is one in which only hetero normative standards are accepted.  In Book 1, The Armored Saint, she finds herself in love with her best friend who not only doesn’t reciprocate those feelings, but is horrified by Heloise’s feelings.  Shortly after this reveal, Basina is killed and that death haunts Heloise more than anything else through the series.

Cole portrays her struggle with tenderness, and introduces Xilyka from one of the Traveling People clans who join Heloise’s army.  Xilyka becomes one of Heloise’s bodyguards, never leaving her side. It is in the most tender moments we see Heloise began to overcome her fear of being a lesbian, and of driving Xilyka away.

In one such scene, Heloise’s father, Samson, has arranged a private place with hot water so Heloise can bathe after many weeks on the battlefield, stuck in the war machine.  At this point, the agoraphobic leader  trembles in abject terror at leaving the machine which has protected her and allowed her to become the leader she is.  Samson the loving father tries to coax her out.  Xylika literally rides to the rescue, leading Heloise in her machine behind the screen and bathes her tenderly.  Cole does not ignore the sexual tension such a situation would create, but neither does he dwell on it. His deft writing shows us the normality of two people getting to know each other, carefully exploring the beginnings of a physical relationship.

At the other end of the spectrum, there is Onas, a 16-year-old boy from a different Traveling People clan who also becomes bodyguard, and tries to assert his authority over Heloise as potential husband.  This does not go well. Heloise is exhausted, she doubts her moral imperative to be leading this fight, is grieving for the many deaths caused in this war, and is in despair over having to re-evaluate the values she was taught about the Emperor and the Order.  She literally has no energy to put into this boy’s demands for romance.

Onas keeps pushing.  Heloise side steps, telling him when the war is over, she will think about it.  He sees what’s going on with Xilyka, which infuriates him and makes him push even harder.  Then, the unthinkable happens and Onas’ mother, the leader of his clan, dies in  battle. Onas blames Heloise for his mother’s death.

It becomes too much for him to bear when they stumble upon a band of the Order whose leader has killed so many, and Heloise refuses to let anyone kill Brother Tone.  She recognizes Tone can provide entrance and information into the Emperor’s city and palace that will prove useful.  Onas throws a teenaged temper tantrum and runs off taking other disgruntled fighters with him.

This is not unusual behavior.  Boys have been conditioned to believe that their wants and needs take precedence over a girl’s.  So it is with Onas and Heloise. Despite the many stupid reasons he throws at her as he storms away, the one he cannot voice is he expected her to fall into his arms and she did not.  All logic does not penetrate.

Onas is not the only male in this story who treats her as less than because of her gender.  Sir Steven, leader of the Red Army which falls in with Heloise and her villagers, treats her with great disdain both because she is young and, more to the point, a woman.  During a council at which he has commanded Heloise attend, she questions him. Obliviously he says, “This is my punishment for taking a council of war with a girl.” That word, that attitude, meant to demean her in the presence of other leaders has exactly the opposite effect.  She draws herself up and asserts her authority as the one who has killed a devil and therefore, has more expertise on this subject than Sir Steven.

When they reach the capital city, Steven’s attitude has changed and he treats her as equal.  He has seen her leadership grow, witnessed her wisdom. It is her determination to get through, and her insistence on continuing to fight when too many have died and others have given up, which leads Steven to fight more equitably alongside her.

Even Brother Tone who for two books did everything he could to kill Heloise and her village because of her questions regarding the Emperor’s governance comes to accept, and follow, her leadership.

In one of the pivotal scenes of The Killing Light, the reveal literally drives Tone to his knees, and makes him question everything he has ever believed.  He becomes vacant and only continues the fight at Heloise’s insistence. His knowledge is the key which will lead to stopping the war between Devils and humankind.

Tone goes from murderous devotee to thoughtful follower, all due to Heloise’s mission to settle things once and for all.  Most of the characters, male and female evolve, becoming more self-aware and thoughtful about their actions and the effects those have on the bigger picture.

Teenaged Onas is not completely immune to this, but  his maturity will come only through time.  Myke Cole’s writing shows he’s attentive to what makes the most sense for the entire cast, including keeping Onas true to his male teenaged arrogance.

The Killing Light is the satisfactory and logical ending to this trilogy.  Heloise becomes what she’s destined to become after all the pain and death she’s been witness to.  Heloise remains the hero we need for today.

The Daily Communiqué – 24 April 2019 – Eurydice

Sarah Ruhl‘s Euirdyce is a fabulous retelling of the myth.

The original tells of Orpheus and Eurydice and the story of her death, but focuses on Orpheus and his efforts to locate her and bring her back to the world of the living.

Sarah Ruhl‘s Eurydice focuses on what happens to Eurydice in the Underworld.

She dies on her wedding day,  kidnapped by the Lord of the Underground who promises her a letter from her dead father.

She arrives, confused and with no memory of life among the living.  Her father, who has never forgotten her,  finds her and together they rebuild her memories.

Meanwhile, Orpheus tries everything he can think of to get to the Underworld to rescue his beloved wife.   His music makes the gatekeepers weep, and he is let in to bargain for her return.  There’s a condition for her departure, Orpheus mustn’t turn back.  Turning in response to hearing his name called, Eurydice is sent back to the Underworld, where she dies a second time.

San Jose’s City Lights Theatre Company’s bilingual performances in American Sign Language and English provided an exquisite twist to the usual theatre production.  Each character was portrayed both by an English and an ASL speaker.  The ASL actors made it a sort of play within a play, interacting with their English speaking counterpart and each other.   CLTC’s intimate setting is a perfect place to see small productions like this.

It’s been about a week since I attended and I’m still struggling with how to write about it.  The theme of love, both filial and romantic made me tear up in unexpected ways.  As did themes of memory and communication.  To be loved that much, to be cared for that deeply, to be led back to memories and learn better communication … I found it moving, unsettling, challenging, and thought-provoking.

Most memorable for me is Lauren Rhodes as the English speaking Eurydice, whose shouted, “I’m very angry at you!” made me proud.  Women are so rarely allowed to show their anger, that to allow Eurydice to express hers is a high note.  It’s one that sticks with me even now.

And I must mention Erik Gandolfi (English) and Dane K. Lentz (ASL) who perform the Lord of the Underworld with unhinged glee.  Gandolfi’s costume in the underworld features a school boys’ uniform with short pants and a bright red jacket.  The eerie little boys’ voice made this performance all the more chilling.

After Orpheus loses Eurydice the second time, he stands at the threshold to the world of the living expressing his anguish and grief.  In a cross talk dialogue, he says, “Your timing was always off!  I would tell you that if you didn’t come in on the downbeat, you’d lose everything.”

Meanwhile, Eurydice stands in the Underground shouting, “I’m sorry!”

Stephanie Foisy (ASL) added a poignant dimension to the already distraught Orpheus, portrayed by  the English speaking Robert Sean Campbell.

As I left, tears in my eyes and my heart filled with unprocessed emotion, I walked past a table with pieces of paper and pens made available for anyone who wanted to write a note to someone who’d died.  It occurred to me that I didn’t really get to say a proper goodbye to the friend I’d known for over 30 years who died from cancer nearly five years ago.  So I stopped and wrote a little note to him.

Out into the bright Sunday afternoon light, I tried to make sense of how such a performance could have a profound effect on me.  A week later, I’m still sorting it out but no longer hurting as deeply as I was then.  Emotions wax and wane, it’s their nature.  We just gotta hold on for the roller coaster ride.

 

 

Review: Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Title: Alexander Hamilton
Author: Ron Chernow
Published: 2004
ISBN-13: 9781594200090
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publisher’s Blurb:  Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Chernow presents a landmark biography of Alexander Hamilton, the Founding Father who galvanized, inspired, scandalized, and shaped the newborn nation.

 

Alexander Hamilton & the Persistence of Myth by Stephen F. Knott

Title: Alexander Hamilton & the Persistence of Myth
Author: Stephen F. Knott
Published: 2002
ISBN-13: 978-0-7006-1419-6
Publisher: University Press of Kansas
Twitter:  @publius57
Publisher’s Blurb:   explores the shifting reputation of our most controversial founding father. Since the day Aaron Burr fired his fatal shot, Americans have tried to come to grips with Alexander Hamilton’s legacy. Stephen Knott surveys the Hamilton image in the minds of American statesmen, scholars, literary figures, and the media, explaining why Americans are content to live in a Hamiltonian nation but reluctant to embrace the man himself.

“The image of Hamilton fashioned by Jefferson and his allies has endured and flourished, and the Hamilton of American memory is a Hamilton who championed privilege and who was a foe of liberty.”  (Knott, p. 26)

Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton and Stephen F. Knott’s Alexander Hamilton & the Persistence of Myth offer a unique insight to both the man, and the legend of the man.

And while I have pondered long and hard about how to write about Hamilton without turning into a Thomas Jefferson bashing machine, it is difficult to talk about one without the other.  Thanks to Jefferson and his network of devoted mouthpieces, Hamilton’s reputation remains in tatters centuries after the founding of the US.

That it took a musical based on Chernow’s book to address, and repair, Hamilton’s reputation is a statement on how deeply entrenched lies and rumors become.  It’s also a statement on how easy it is to believe the worst in people instead of looking for the best.

Not that Hamilton was a complete paragon of virtue, and could, “at moments of supreme stress, … screw himself up to an emotional pitch that was nearly feverish in intensity.”  (Chernow, p. 115) It is hard to imagine how a man with such an towering intellect could have so many blind spots, and be so stupid.

Soaring blind spots seem to go hand in hand with towering intellect.  Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, and James Madison, all seemed to be intimidated by Hamilton’s intellect.  “The byzantine, interrelated nature of his programs (e.g. central banking, professional standing military, international trade with Britain) made him all the more the bane and terror of his opponents.”  (Chernow, p. 349)

Nuance, and the lack of understanding thereof, is the two-edged blade of smart people everywhere.  It’s baffling how so many around us just don’t understand what we think is an easy idea. “… things were so blindingly self-evident to Hamilton that he was baffled when others didn’t grasp them quickly – an intellectual agility that could breed intolerance for less quick-witted mortals.”  (Chernow, p. 119)

Knott picks up this thread, “At bottom, Jefferson could not countenance the fact that an immigrant upstart without the appropriate pedigree … dared challenge him.”  (Knott, p. 11)

Jefferson presented the image of a down-home gentleman farmer who understood the agrarian slave-holding farmers of Virginia.  He came from wealth, owned property and was a slaveholder. That the bastard child of poverty from the island of Nevis in the Caribbean should rise up and challenge him was more than Jefferson could tolerate.

As is also sometimes true of very smart people, Hamilton was not a crafty plotter and “often could not muzzles his opinions.”  (Chernow, p. 176) The myth which has stuck to Hamilton most is that the people are a “great beast,” not to be trusted with direct democracy.

Hamilton was right, but there’s a nuance long missed by his detractors.  Trusting a mob mentality to make sensible decisions, especially those involving running a government is a bad idea.  As individuals, we are smart and sensible. Of course we know, individually, what we want and need from our government leaders.  Put us in a big group and mob mentality takes over, and no one has a good idea, not even what’s for dinner.

This myth about Hamilton continues to live because of he understood the unruliness of a mob.  On this point, he was accused of hating all people, especially the less-privileged and standing for something like a monarchy in America.  Lesser minds were too busy making up lies and spreading gossip to try to understand the nuance in Hamilton’s statements.

He wasn’t against a democracy per se, he was against allowing the unruly mob have such power.  Among other political factors, this is one of the reasons we’re stuck with the electoral college.  How else to avoid the mistakes of mob rule?

In the late 18th century it was impossible to believe the republic would ever be big enough, educated enough, and sensible enough to have good decision making processes.  Women read? Slaves freed and owning land? Hah, never happen.

Except Hamilton sort of expected it, even if he couldn’t get past the hypocrisy of being white, educated, (male), and marrying into money.  His heart and ideals were in the right place, though. His background prepared him well to understand why paying and supplying the militias was important.  He championed a standing professional army, precisely because farmers arriving on the field of battle with a pitchfork were woefully unprepared for the rigors of professional fighting.

Hamilton even understood the need for a centralized federal bank for economic stability.  (And that’s all I’m qualified to recount because the only thing I know about banking is there are too many fees.)  He was, according to both Chernow and Knotts, an economic genius. Well, they’re not the only ones, economists over the centuries have sung his praises too.

But these lofty ideas were held in contempt by those threatened by his enormous mind and his exceptional work ethic.  I can understand his disinclination to pander or be less forceful when expressing ideas. We just want to get stuff done and don’t have the energy to play the political games at which others are so good.

And those blind spots?  How about Hamilton as participant in the nation’s first sex scandal?  For over a year, Maria Reynolds, and her husband, caught Hamilton in their thrall and blackmailed him.  “Quite understandably, [there were those who] could not conceive that someone as smart and calculating as Hamilton could have stayed as long in thrall to an enslaving passion.  Hamilton could not have been stupid enough to pay hush money for sex, [they] alleged, so the money paid … had to involve illicit speculation.  In all fairness, … it is baffling that Hamilton submitted to blackmail for so long.”  (Chernow, p. 530)

And Hamilton, rather than quietly admitting it and moving on, wrote volumes to be published in newspapers describing every sordid detail.  Career was the motive for this, not worry over his marriage to Eliza and their family. After the affair, Hamilton never strayed far from his family, remaining close by until his death.

Which, of course, leads to the duel with Aaron Burr.  Hamilton, “born without honor, was exceedingly sensitive to any slights to his political honor.”  (Chernow, p. 237) Born without honor, meaning born of suspect parental lineage. Believed to be a bastard, the quickest way to get him riled up was to mention this.

“[Burr] was a chameleon who evaded clear-cut positions on and was a genius at studied ambiguity.”  (Chernow, p. 192) He was an opportunist, and could figure out endless ways to profit from any political wrangling surrounding him.  Further, Chernow writes, “… Burr was a lone operator, a protean figure who formed alliances for short-term gain.” (p. 421)

He was bent on revenge for Hamilton’s part in Burr’s ostracism from the Jefferson administration and losing the governorship of New York because Hamilton was freely quoted as saying Burr wasn’t fit for office.  Hamilton can hardly be blamed for Jefferson dropping Burr from the ticket as VP. The quote about not being fit for office, that part was true.

Weehawken, NJ on July 11, 1804 lives in infamy as the place Burr shot Hamilton, thus ending the career and loving marriage of Alexander Hamilton who only ever wanted to see the US become a strong nation.  Burr’s life ended that day too. “…Hamilton committed his last patriotic act, for he ensured that Aaron Burr would never again be a viable player in the politics of the early republic.” (Knott, p. 1)

But, Hamilton’s legend lives on.  Depending on the era, he’s been seen as selfish and elitist, interested only in money and power.  Depression-era scholars and politicians blamed the Depression on Hamilton, despite being dead for 125 years.

Even his scandalous affair made an appearance during the Clinton impeachment hearings in 1998 when his team presented “a thirty page brief to the House Judiciary Committee citing Hamilton’s affair with Maria Reynolds and the reluctance of Congress to pursue the issue after concluding it was a private matter.”  (Knotts, p. 225)

The profound effect Hamilton had on government is immeasurable.  Chernow’s nearly 800 page biography follows Hamilton from Nevis to his rise in US politics and his death at the gun of Aaron Burr.  Chernow admires Hamilton but doesn’t let that get in the way of the facts as presented.

Stephen F. Knott also admires Hamilton and defends Hamilton against the scurrilous myths which continue to be taken as truth.  Between the two, Chernow and Knott present an interesting and entertaining read of a man too intellectual and uncompromising for the likes of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Aaron Burr to respect.

Chernow has the best last word, “Any biographer foolhardy enough to attempt an authoritative life of Alexander Hamilton must tread a daunting maze of detail.”  (Chernow, p. 733)

Review: Shadow Ops: Breach Zone

Shadow Ops: Breach Zone by Myke Cole

Title: Shadow Ops:  Breach Zone
Author: Myke Cole
Published: 2014
ISBN-13: 9780425256374
Publisher: Ace (now Penguin Random House)
Twitter: @MykeCole
Publisher’s Blurb:  In the fight for Latent equality, Oscar Britton is positioned to lead a rebellion in exile, but a powerful rival beats him to the punch: Scylla, a walking weapon who will stop at nothing to end the human-sanctioned apartheid against her kind.

When Scylla’s inhuman forces invade New York City, the Supernatural Operations Corps are the only soldiers equipped to prevent a massacre. In order to redeem himself with the military, Harlequin will be forced to face off with this havoc-wreaking woman from his past, warped by her power into something evil…

Shadow Ops:  Breach Zone is book 3/3 in the Shadow Ops series

This series is a mess.  At first I thought it was because Mil SF isn’t my thing.  But then I like John Scalzi’s writing just fine.

Because I enjoyed Cole’s Sacred Throne trilogy so much (third one due in October, 2019) I had hopes for Shadow Ops.  What I will say, emphatically, is Cole has grown a great deal as a writer.  Heloise is the hero we’ve all been waiting for.

To recap, Control Point saw Oscar Britton make some of the most bone-headed, selfish decisions ever in the history of everything.  It’s in this book that Scylla is unleashed on the world.  We know in no uncertain terms, she is the most dangerous and evil creature in this world, and Britton has freed her for his own selfish reason.

Book 2, Fortress Frontier, introduces us to Alan Bookbinder, a Pentagon paper-pusher who Manifests a power no one else has and is sent to the Forward Operating Base in the Source until everything goes to hell and he ends up the commanding officer.  Oscar Britton is a bit player.

And now we come to Book 3, Breach Zone.  It’s all come together, in one big horrifying pornographic death frenzy in Manhattan.  Harlequin, a secondary character in the previous books who’s always played it by the rules, because rules are what separate the good guys from the bad, is put in charge of the defense.

Now Brigadier General Bookbinder is stuck on a US Coast Guard cutter, whose lunch is getting eaten by water goblins and leviathans, has to find his way to Harlequin’s base of operations to use Bookbinder’s unique magical power.

Oscar Britton doesn’t show up until very late in the book, still being let off the heinous thing he did in book 1.  The epitome of the misunderstood hero.  The monster he unleashed is leading an army of monsters to demolish Manhattan.  Scylla wants to start the new world order.

And just to make sure we understand why this is personal for Harlequin, intermittent flashbacks from six years before set the scene.  The romantic scene, of course.

All the complicated politics weight in.  Street gangs, loyal to no one scoff when asked to join the good fight.  Politicians and career officers want to use force against everything.  And, in typical fashion, only Harlequin and those on the front lines actually understand why fire power won’t work, only magic will.

There’s barely any mention of the Indian part of the Source, and Bookbinder’s experiences trying to save the US FOB.  Murica is truly on its own.

Then, bugles blaring, Oscar Britton arrives, makes a pretty little speech and everyone shows up to fight and save the day.  Peace, justice and the American way.

Or something …

Sacred Thrones is light years better from this.  I’ll call this a cautionary tale about back catalogues.  Cole’s worth reading, but this series isn’t.

Review: Literary Theory: A Complete Introduction

Literary Theory: A Complete Introduction by Sara Upstone

Title: Literary Theory:  A Complete Introduction
Author: Sara Upstone
Published: 2017
ISBN: 9781473611924
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Twitter: @SaraUpstone
Publisher’s Blurb:  Literary theory has now become integral to how we produce literary criticism. When critics write about a text, they no longer think just about the biographical or historical contexts of the work, but also about the different approaches that literary theory offers. By making use of these, they create new interpretations of the text that would not otherwise be possible. In your own reading and writing, literary theory fosters new avenues into the text. It allows you to make informed comments about the language and form of literature, but also about the core themes – concepts such as gender, sexuality, the self, race, and class – which a text might explore.

“… criticism, then, is where we find the interpretation of literature.  Theory, in contrast, is where we find the tools to facilitate that interpretation.”  (p. xii)

This little book is packed with literary theory goodness.  In 260 pages, Sara Upstone covers 19 different schools of theory.  And while I don’t always agree with her assessments, or placement of movements within theories, Upstone’s overview is a great place for anyone to start learning about Literary Theory.

Having this at my fingertips has helped me figure out how Modernism and/or Post Modernism might apply to N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy, an exercise assigned by my mentor.  If Modernism is trying to make sense of the chaotic changes in a book, then The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate offer a lot to be interpreted through that lens.  People of the Stillness must make sense of their new world as the rift and the coming of a Fifth Season wreak havoc.

Further, if Post Modernism is the questioning of reality itself, The Broken Earth Trilogy again offers an opportunity for that interpretation.  Is Alabaster turning into a Stone Eater a reality?  How it it possible he was taken into the middle of the planet by a Stone Eater and lived to come out the other side?

Mind you, these are just notions I’m playing with as I explore what both Modernism and Post Modernism mean to a critical reviewer and whatever book she happens to be reading.

My biggest quibbles with Literary Theory:  A Complete Guide have to do with the dates used to place each school in a context.  I will grant that cultural anchors must exist in order for events to have a context within the greater stories.  However, as a person with a background in history, I also know that dates aren’t hard and fast.  World War I may be marked as beginning the day Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, but that’s not really what started it all.

I mention this only because I want to caution readers not to get stuck on the dates Upstone uses as absolutes.  Surrealism, sequestered in the Modernism school of theory, had its precursors in authors like Arthur Rimbaud and André Breton.

And while I’m at it, if anything, Surrealism belongs with Post Modernism if we are to take the definition of Post Modernism at face value.

But, those are of little import when it comes to the actual information contained within this small volume.  It’s best to consider the essence of the overviews of each school of theory.  And by all means, we should give consideration to our own thoughts about what we’re reading.

Sara Upstone’s Literary Theory:  A Complete Introduction has earned itself a permanent place on my reference shelf.  If, that is, I can ever get it to leave my desk.