The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

Read: 11 July, 2014

When I was a kid, I watched the usual fare of The Little MermaidThe Last Unicorn, and other The Adjective Noun cartoons. But perhaps less usual, I absolutely loved old detective movies. I just gobbled them up! The Maltese FalconThe Big Sleep, and The Thin Man were three of my absolute favourites (and, to date, I think I’ve seen The Thin Man at least 50 times). So when I found a copy of Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon at a garage sale, I knew I had to read it.

And it’s pretty close to the movie. Really close to the movie.

Hammett’s dialogue is fantastic and full of character, so it’s very easy to tell who is speaking even without added signifiers. Gutman, in particular, was fantastic. It made me appreciate how good the casting was in the movie version.

Some aspects are dated (or ought to be, but that’s a rant for another day). The frequent references to Gutman’s fat, for example, or Cairo’s homosexuality (something that I hadn’t picked up on in the movie version for some strange reason, though in retrospect it’s quite clearly there, too).

The romance is just as gag-worthy. Man meets woman, man knows woman for a handful of days during which she doesn’t do much except lie to him and rather obviously try to manipulate him, man falls so deeply in love with woman that he vows to wait for her while she serves her 20 year jail sentence. I mean, really? Couldn’t the love angle just be dropped? Or is it just meant to highlight what a tough cookie Spade is that he can be head-over-heels in love and still turn her in? Either way, it was the only aspect of the story that I felt was bungled.

Buy The Maltese Falcon from Amazon and support this blog!

    A Feast of Ice & Fire by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel & Sariann Lehrer

    I love cooking, particularly hearty, flavourful foods. I love A Song of Ice and Fire. I also love Medieval Europe (touristing only, there is no way I’d like to live then). I think it’s rather obvious that A Feast of Ice & Fire is right up my alley. All three of my alleys, in fact.

    The book takes us to the different locations of ASOIAF: the Wall, the North, the South, King’s Landing, Dorne, and across the Narrow Sea. For each location, there are several dishes mentioned in the books (all include a breakfast) with recipes. Even better, many of the dishes are presented with two recipes – one drawn from medieval sources (using the term “medieval” loosely, as they actually span the period from the Roman Empire to the Elizabethan period, and some of them are not European in origin), and one modern variation.

    Some of the ingredients can be hard to find, but the book includes a list of substitutions.

    The best part is that all of the recipes are fairly simple, most having only a handful of steps. It would actually be feasible to put on a multi-course Game of Thrones dinnerparty without running yourself ragged.

    This is a thoroughly enjoyable cookbook, for regular use as well as for it’s novelty gimmick. It would make a great gift for a reasonably experienced cook who likes experimentation and trying new things.

    Buy A Feast of Ice and Fire: The Official Game of Thrones Companion Cookbook from Amazon and support this blog!

      Wheel of Time #0: New Spring by Robert Jordan

      Read: 2 July, 2014

      Moiraine is in training to be Aes Sedai when she learns of a prophecy that will change the world. Meanwhile, Al’Lan returns home to find a powerful faction has declared him king in his absence. 

      This book passes the Bechdel test and then some! Considering that my last modern fantasy read was Terry Goodkind (who seems to have a really weird relationship with the concept of feminity), it was so refreshing to see a novel with two female best friends who set a quest for themselves and carry it out, in large part, entirely without the help of men. Heck, a female friendship is refreshing to see in any genre!

      The use of the belligerent sexual tension trope was unfortunate, but I suppose it was in keeping with Moiraine’s character.

      I’ve been told to read The Wheel of Time by countless people and, so far, I’m enjoying the series!

      Buy New Spring from Amazon and support this blog!

      Continue reading

        As Demographics Shift, Kids’ Books Stay Stubbornly White

        There’s a story on NPR about demographic shifts in the US, and how the publishing world has not been keeping up. The problem is a big one, and it affects all of us. It means that non-white children don’t feel represented in literature, which can affect engagement with texts and reading rates, the effects of which ripple through their future lives.

        It also affects white children, who benefit from access to narratives other than their own. I’ve frequently referred to fiction as “empathy training.” When we read fiction, we see the world through the eyes of another person, we experience things that we cannot and do not experience in our “real” lives. This trains our brains to consider the stories and backgrounds of other people, it helps build our ability to slip into their perspective and try it on. It makes hate so much harder.

        We need diversity in literature – especially in children’s literature. We need it for the people who are currently locked out, and we need it for the people who, unless they look really hard, often see only their own stories reflected back at them over and over and over again.

          The Secret History of the Mongol Queens by Jack Weatherford

          Read: 6 June, 2014

          Genghis Khan is frequently portrayed as a savage barbarian, the enemy of culture. Yet according to Weatherford, he gave power to his wives and daughters, and he installed a system of laws that were often quite progressive. In Weatherford’s narrative, it was the great Khan’s sons who initiated the Mongolian version of the “War on Women,” excising the mentions of their sisters’ deeds from the historical record, removing them from power, and collapsing the empire Genghis Khan had built. That is, until Manduhai saved it some 2-3 hundred years later.

          I had already heard of Khutulun, the Wrestler Princess, but not have Manduhai, nor of the other ruling princesses and queens Weatherford mentions. I found their history extremely interesting, and I was glad to read a more nuanced account of Genghis Khan, as well. That being said, the Princesses Good / Princes Evil motif tried my patience.

          I have also heard from someone who read Weatherford’s Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World that the princesses and queens who are so important and central to the history of the Mongol empire, are barely mentioned at all. I can’t confirm as I haven’t read it, but it just makes me angry that he would perpetuate the distinction between History and History With Women In It, even when those women take on masculine roles.

          Same for his dismissive attitude toward those women who don’t cut quite an impressive figure as the hugely pregnant Manduhai riding into battle. For example, he describes the women of one period as “operat[ing] behind the scenes, making alliances, promoting heirs, fighting with co-wives and mothers-in-law, and pursuing the life of court ladies, who seemed so important to the political life of the moment but had minimal lasting significance on the rise and fall of empires” (p.126). As if putting someone on the throne could be dismissed as having “minimal lasting significance.”

          The sense I got was that women were central and important when they ruled directly and rode into battle. Essentially, the influence of women matters only insomuch as it takes place within spheres that are so often considered masculine. This casual dismissal of “women’s work” irked me.

          Still, it was an enjoyable and very readable book, and it was refreshing to see women discussed in relation to the Mongolian Empire (other than Borte). I wish that it could have been presented as more of a history with less opinion injection, but I haven’t seen another book that covers the same ground. I suppose beggars can’t be choosers.

          Buy The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire from Amazon and support this blog!

            33 of the most hilariously awful first sentences

            These first sentences are absolutely magnificent in their awfulness. For example, #7:

            On reflection, Angela perceived that her relationship with Tom had always been rocky, not quite a roller-coaster ride but more like when the toilet-paper roll gets a little squashed so it hangs crooked and every time you pull some off you can hear the rest going bumpity-bumpity in its holder until you go nuts and push it back into shape, a degree of annoyance that Angela had now almost attained.

            Read the rest of the collection over here.

              Percy Jackson #1: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

              Read: 3 June, 2014

              Percy Jackson has ADHD and dyslexia, and trouble always seems to follow him. Worse yet, he’s about to be kicked out of school again. That’s when he finds out that the gods (and monsters) of ancient Greece are real, and he’s stuck right in the middle of their machinations.

              I noticed a lot of similarities with Harry Potter, beyond what could reasonably be considered a coincidence. Things like characters freaking out of the names of certain gods are said out loud, the prophecy that the mentor figure won’t divulge, the comically awful step/adoptive family, Fluffy, even the configuration and traits of the two friends (brainy girl and comic friend). Not that that’s really a problem. The book never felt derivative – it worked, it was interesting, it used the material for good.

              I absolutely loved that the main character has ADHD and dyslexia – and, especially, that these are not just superficial traits but actually come up again and again in the way that Percy thinks. I’ve recommended Harry Potter to kids with prominent facial scars as a way of helping them think of the scars as something cool and unique (as someone with a very visible scar myself, I made up a lot of cool origin stories). I’ll be recommending Percy Jackson to kids with learning disabilities or ADHD.

              As for the story itself, I enjoyed it. It was a little painful to wait for Percy to figure out plot twists. I mean, yeah, the woman with the head scarf emitting hissing noises and all the life-sized statues of people on her front lawn is Medusa. Shocking. Though I think my reading may not be representative, since I am both a) an adult and b) a mythology enthusiast.

              Even with its issues, Lightning Thief was a fun and exciting book, perfect for reading out load of for early novel readers.

              Buy The Lightning Thief from Amazon and support this blog!