Feminist, Fictionista, Foodie, Francophile

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Janesville, a review

A Washington Post reporter’s intimate account of the fallout from the closing of a General Motors’ assembly plant in Janesville, Wisconsin—Paul Ryan’s hometown—and a larger story of the hollowing of the American middle class--Janesville is on a lot of year-end "Best Books" lists. It's easy to see why. The event that grounds the book is the closing of a GM parts plant just before Christmas in 2008, a move that threw the struggling blue-collar town into financial disarray. Even as town leaders looked to their hometown hero Paul Ryan to help them out, citizens scrambled to find other jobs. And as in the Bruce Springsteen song, "These jobs are going boy, and they ain't coming back."

Now, nearly a decade later, Ryan (who comes from a wealthy family) has offered his own Christmas present to his constituents, and to the rest of America. And just like GM, his decision was based purely on profit with no regard at all for the human cost of his actions.  We expect corporations to be soulless. It's still a surprise when humans are completely without compassion. It's worth noting that in the 2012 election, Romney and Ryan did not carry the vote in Janesville.

Here's my review:

This is a story that plays out much like the star-studded adaptation of Randy Shilts’ AND THE BAND PLAYED ON, bringing together related plot strands and characters in a story that does not have a happy ending. The writing is very good, and one of the surprises is the sympathetic portrait of Congressman Paul Ryan, who grew up in the wealthy part of Janesville (his family was part of the “Irish Mafia” who got rich in construction), but who seems to have worked very hard to save the plant for his neighbors and constituents. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Gifts for Feminists

sisterhood is powerful.

This has been a year when women's voices have begun to be heard, from the millions of women who marched in January to the many women of color who voted their values and led the way in last night's historic Alabama vote. 

The future is female.

This is a year to celebrate the achievements of women and look forward to 2018.  Show your solidarity with your Christmas gifts.

Level up your solitaire game with this pack of 54  cards celebrating women. Just $20 and the perfect size for a stocking suffer. 
You can never have too many t-shirts, right? Buy this "I Stand With Planned Parenthood" t (one of those "graphic t-shirts the fashion blogs are always tweeting abuot) and $2 of every $25 sale will be donated to Planned Parenthood, so that's a win/win. 

Show your appreciation for California's junior senator with a Kamala Harris portrait t from kamalaharris.org's online store. While you're there, get to know where the Senator stands on the issues that are important to you. Even if you're not one of her constituents, she's working hard for you.

The vote on repealing net neutrality is coming up

I know it's hard not to feel overwhelmed right now. Even though Doug Jones won his election in Alabama (yay Doug Jones and yay for the black women who tipped the voting balance), he won't be seated until after the new year. So the next couple of votes are going to have to be another knife fight. Because nothing is coming easily right now.

Net neutrality should not be a partisan issue. Why would one party want people to have limited access to the internet?  That's the kind of question that leads to conspiracy theories, doesn't it? But if you don't want to see higher cable bills because you want to access Facebook and Twitter, you need to make your voice heard. Because at its heart, this is just another action that seems to be nothing more than a reaction to something President Obama wanted.

We deserve better. And it's cynical to pretend there's any reason WHY net neutrality needs to be repealed. Here's the guy you need to call. If you, like me, have kind of a horror of speaking to strangers, this number leads to voicemail so you can leave your message without actually having to interact with Mr. Pai.  The website 5 calls.org has a script you can use.

Ajit Pai, FCC Chairman

The Paranormal Gift Guide

Really, nothing says "holiday" like a vampire gift. I remember years ago when the last book of the Twilight saga had been published and my nearest Bookstar couldn't keep the trilogy in stock at Christmas. The sellers knew it was going to be a phenomenon but even they were taken aback (and brought up short) by the demand.

The paranormal book world has moved on since then, but if you have a hardcore vampire fan on your wish list, you might want to stuff their stockings with some old school bloodsucking reads like Les Daniel's awesome Spanish/Aztec The Silver Skull. (It's actually part two of a duology, but it can be read as a stand-alone.) The book is out of print but pretty readily available as a used book on Amazon. (

There's a more expensive hardcover version available on Etsy and if you go on Etsy in search of the book, why not pick up some "Vampire Kisses" bathbombs while you're at it.)

Continuing the Vampire theme, no collection of vampire horror is complete without the late, great Tanith Lee's Blood 20, which is available from Telos Books, a UK publisher. it's not cheap at almost 15 pounds, but while supplies last, the books come with stickers signed by Lee herself. This one is definitely on MY wish list.

If you're looking for an historical vampire novel for someone who has already read Barbara Hambly's Those Who Hunt the Night or Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian, you might check out Lauren Owen's debut novel The Quick, which is set in Victorian London.

If you're a fan of Game of Thrones, you may not know that before he embarked on that epic book journey, George R. R. Martin wrote a series of one-off horror novels including one called Armageddon Rag (about a rock band that resurrects their lead singer) and Fevre Dream, a dark, sensual nightmare of a vampire novel. It's a vampire novel for people who don't think they like vampire novels and it's a lot of fun. More Vampire-themed stocking stuffers include Black Phoenix Labs' perfume oils inspired by Jim Jarmusch's lush movie Only Lovers left Alive. You'll need to act fast, though. Cut-off for domestic Christmas mailing is today, December 13. Other vampire-themed gifts that aren't books include Dracula t-shirts found on Red Bubble (mostly featuring various Bela Lugosi images) or the super-cute Japanese-inspired "Dracula blood-drive t-shirt that features tiny Draculas. (Find it on Snorg.)

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Fun with Pictures

There was a Facebook challenge going around earlier this month--take one picture a day in black and white and post it without comment. The idea was ... no people and no explanation. It was a lot of fun. and I stumbled across the insanely useful and free website LunaPic, a place that enabled me to convert my color snaps to black and white.  LunaPic is a free online photo editor and it allows you to do all kinds of snazzy things with your photos. They have a filter called "space" that I'm especially fond of. It enabled me to change my fairly boring head shot into this.

Playing around on the site is a most excellent distraction from any unpleasantness that might be going on in your life. I highly recommend it.

The Net Neutrality Vote is Thursday

The chairman of the FCC wants to repeal "net neutrality."

Here's a really good explanation of what that means, put together by ABC news. If you're not sure where your Senator stands on the issue, here's a handy site with that information (and more). At this point, petitions and postcards are not particularly helpful but calling your representatives is. Daily KOS has put together a list of phone numbers. Here it is. (And keep it handy because there's going to be a new vote on the evil tax plan pretty soon as well.)

Monday, December 11, 2017

My favorite dinosaur-themed gift

I have never really had bookends because I usually have so many books stuffed in my bookcases there's no need for them. But if I did need some bookends, I'd buy these.

They're not cheap--$65 from Etsy, but they are unique and playful and they are perfect for the dino-lover/book lover in your life.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Say NO on repealing Net Neutrality

Here's a video that explains what you have to lose if Net Neutrality is repealed.

And here's John Oliver explaining it way better than I could.  There's going to be a vote on Net Neutrality on Wednesday. I'll be posting some tips on how to protest this. But in the meantime...here's what I'm talking about.




A picture is worth a thousand words

My mother was a commercial artist with a degree in fine art, and so our home was filled with art--paintings she'd done, paintings and prints she picked up  on her travels, pieces of sculpture, objects she prized for their intrinsic beauty (shells and rocks and pretty pieces of crockery). When I first started fournishing my own apartment, I did what every 20-something did and bought posters. (One of which, a stunning 1978 poster for AIDA is now out of print.  YOu can buy it for $1200 on Instadibs.  I sooo wish I still had that poster, which went missing during one of my moves.)

But one day I stumbled across an arts fair in a park near my apartment and discovered I could buy ORIGINAL ART for the same price (or even less) than a copy of the Picasso Don Quixote print (you know the one) or the reproduction of Ansel Adams "Moonrise over Hernandez, New Mexico (you also know that one, and did you know the bidding started at more than half a million when a print was auctioned by Sotheby's in 2006).
Then eBay came along and suddenly you could buy art from all over the world. It wasn't necessarily cheap--I paid $500 for a painting by a Vermont artist who signed her paintings VERTE--but the works were original and I wasn't going to see them in every corporate waiting room and low-end motel in the city.
Then I discovered Red Bubble. And Etsy. And well, let's just say that I now choose my living quarters by how much available wall space there is.

Art is a great gift to give people but it's so very, very personal that unless you know someone REALLY well, the best thing to do is buy a greeting card that's an art piece you like and then enclose a gift card for a site your friend might enjoy browsing.

On Redbubble, posters begin in the $12 range and go up, depending on size. You can get something like one of Tanyashatseva's dreamy, spacetime inspired glitter-infused acrylic paintings called "Nahdezhda Nebula") as everything from a sticker to a phone case to a t-shirt to a greeting card if you don't have room for a poster.)  You can even get the image on leggings!

Other sites with original art for sale are:

Artfinder
Artshow
Etsy
Minted
UGallery

Root Division (a gallery in San Francisco) also has terrific art in the $200-$500 range, but it's only available for local pickup. That's a shame because there's a piece by Eva Enriquez that calls to me.

Life needs to be beautiful. Do your part. (And remember, no matter how awesome Georgia O'Keefe is, friends don't let friends hang posters of her bones and flowers.







Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Zombie Apocalypse Christmas

first you have the cards. There are so, so many possibilities, from the Game of Thrones-themed cards to a bazillion variants of Walking Dead cards. And really, what says Christmas better than zombies?  (I have a lot of bah humbug types on my Christmas list.)
Here's a minimalist version.  Attach it to a package of classic zombie books for a theme present:

1.  Seanan McGuire's Feed (the first book in her newwflesh series).  She wrote it under the name Mira Grant. If you haven't heard of it, check it out here.

2.  Jennifer Adele's The Bone Gatherer. I know, I haven't read it either, but the point is to give your friends books they haven't already read. (And am I the only one thinks that World War Z was a tad overrated?)

3.  The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell. Almost 250 reviews on Amazon with a rating of 4.5 out of five stars. This is another book (the first in a trilogy, that wasn't on my radar.

When it comes to fantasy zombies, the master is probably George R. r. Martin and you'll be happy to know that you can give all your Game of Thrones fans a suitable card. There are a bunch out there, but this one is my favorite. 




Friday, December 8, 2017

Gifts for the slightly skewed...

You can start off with this *tweaked* Christmas card from Etsy. If you order it now, you still have time to mail it or to tuck it into a gift box.

Maybe you know someone who missed out on the velvet skulls Target was selling for Halloween (they were awesome and by the time I heard about them they were completely sold out.

But that same friend might adore a pair of velvet skull leggings, also on Etsy. (Seriously, Etsy is everything and to prove it,  you can get this really cool skull soap that can be customized for color and fragrance).


New for the TBR pile: Sorry to Disrupt the Peace

Recommended by my colleague Katy Lim as a "must-read," Sorry to Disrupt the Peace  sounds fascinating.  Here's the sales pitch from the Amazon page:

Helen Moran is thirty-two years old, single, childless, college-educated, and partially employed as a guardian of troubled young people in New York. She’s accepting a delivery from IKEA in her shared studio apartment when her uncle calls to break the news: Helen’s adoptive brother is dead.

According to the internet, there are six possible reasons why her brother might have killed himself. But Helen knows better: she knows that six reasons is only shorthand for the abyss. Helen also knows that she alone is qualified to launch a serious investigation into his death, so she purchases a one-way ticket to Milwaukee. There, as she searches her childhood home and attempts to uncover why someone would choose to die, she will face her estranged family, her brother’s few friends, and the overzealous grief counselor, Chad Lambo; she may also discover what it truly means to be alive.

A bleakly comic tour de force that’s by turns poignant, uproariously funny, and viscerally unsettling, this debut novel has shades of Bernhard, Beckett and Bowles—and it announces the singular voice of Patty Yumi Cottrell.

I am always DEEPLY skeptical of books that are described as "bleakly comical"' but I trust Katy, so I'm going to check it out.

Holiday Gift Guide--part one

This has been a year of terrible natural disasters, from the hurricanes to the horrifying fires now burning in California to the deadly 7.1 earthquake in central Mexico. and that's not even counting flooding in various parts of the world. Even a little bit of money (what the politicians call "small dollar donations") can go a long way toward helping people who need help.

And because you work hard for your money, you'll want to make sure your money works hard for you. Avoid scamsters. check in with Be Wise to see how your charity stacks up.

California Wildfires

Here's a list the L.A. TIMES published of places you can send helpHere's a more extensive list. An d because L.A. is my second hometown and I place I dearly love, I will donate 100% of the proceeds for every copy of my short story anthology, Just Another Day in Paradise, that I sell for the next six months.  Not my royalties, the actual purchase price. (It's only 99 cents.)  The cover image is by a firefighter who also takes photographs. The photo was from another of the apocalyptic fires that periodically rage through the area.

Mexico Earthquake

The most powerful earthquake I ever experienced was the Northridge quake of 1994, which had an official magnitude of 6.7, although I've seen estimtes that it was at least a 6.9.  The earthquake that hit central Mexico earlier this year was a 7.1.  Let that roll around in your head.  At 6.7, you actually hear the freight train roar of the earth grinding together. I can't imagine how much more terrifying that sound would be if it were magnified. L.A. was relatively lucky with that quake. A lot of us lost power and water,. There was structural damage all over the city. (A brick building a block from my apartment building SHOOK ITSELF APART.  It was pretty scary looking. But Mexico?  Not that lucky and they are still in dire need of help.

Here's the New York Times' list of places to send your help. Here's a special GoFundMe page, which has raised 17K (of an admittedly modest $15K goal)

Hurricanes

It's been nearly three months since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the people there are still pretty much on their own. Local agencies have taken up the slack and they desperately need help. Remote Area Medical (RAM) is an organization that's leading the way. Here's Save the Children's Hurricane Maria Relief Fund.  Here's an extensive list put together by PBS last month.

Shemless Self-Promotion...MISBEGOTTEN

Years ago, when I published Dark Valentine Magazine, I wrote a story called "Tired Blood" that featured a vampire so old he'd contracted dementia. I fell in love with the characters and the world, which was set in a UF version of Los Angeles. I've been playing in that world, off and on, for a decade now. (I wrote enough short stories in the world that I have a whole collection, LA. Nocturne.)

I've been working on the novel-length story in the world for nearly that long and next month--yes, next month--it's finally coming out. It's on preorder for 99 cents and if you like vampires and werewolves who aren't sparkly or tattooed, you might like it.