Book Review: Adventure and Mundane Magic

Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic create a world that looks and operates a lot like ours, with one big exception – magic is real and everyone has some level of ability.

Since the world runs on magic, getting into a really good university requires both exceptional magical skill and strong academic ability.

Gooseberry Bluff Community College is not a particularly good school. Yet, there’s very powerful magic located on and around the school grounds; which is why the people who work there aren’t always what they appear.

The novel takes the reader on an adventure where bad guys from another dimension use a magic-wielding cult-like collection of community college professors as the key for entry into the Gooseberry dimension. If the bad guys get through, the very-similar-to-our-own world will be viciously invaded and transformed into something terrible (in a post-apocalyptic kind of way).

While the story is well told, with a plot that provides ample opportunity for adventure and intrigue, the truly unique aspect to this novel is Joy, the main character – a black woman with exceptional magic skills and a life-long struggle with Prosopagnosia, the inability to distinguish or recognize human faces (including her own).

Joy was recruited to work for a secret agency that greatly resembles the FBI or the CIA, despite her handicap, because her magic skills and knowledge are exceptional. She also has the ability to read auras, which she uses in place of reading faces; s system that works just fine, most of the time.

Another interesting element is the description of magic. There are characters who compete in magic martial-arts competitions where laser-light-shows and smoke machines are utilized to show where the magic is flying through the air. In this world, the combatants don’t need to see the magic attacks because they can feel every move. It’s the audience who needs the light show – to make watching the combat easier.

Tossed in here and there are the personalities of characters who cross-over into this world from other dimensions. They provide a fascinating contrast to the personalities of the Gooseberry Bluff natives, many of which are complicated and nicely fleshed out.

All in all, this is a fun read. If you are looking for some vacation-time entertainment, I highly recommend this novel

Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic by David J. Schwartz

Quotes from this book can be found HERE.

Giggle Book Award: Spy Games

dThis book was a hit with the kids in my life because Spy Guy is a kid who plays ‘spy games’ with his dad. It’s basically an elaborate game of hide and seek and his dad gives him both feedback pointers at every step. In the end, Spy Guy manages to sneak up on his dad, causing the adult to jump in fright, which is very funny to a child. Then Spy Guy’s dad proudly compliments him on his hiding place.

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The only draw back to this book is the technique Spy Guy uses to sneak up on his dad. it involves climbing a tree and lowering himself down with a rope. If you have a child who is inclined toward actually trying such things, then be prepared to remind him or her that it’s a story, not an instruction book.

“The secret to spying…is never stop trying!”

Spy Guy, the Not So Secret Agent, written by Jessica Young and illustrated by Charles Santoso

 

German Refugees and Swedish Furniture

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“Maria Helene Francois Izabel von Maltzan…he daughter of a German count who had been raised on a beautiful 18,000-acre estate, had not been surprised by the roundup of Jews in Berlin. In fact, she wasn’t surprised by any of Hitler’s actions against the German Jews. Because she was a count’s daughter and closely related to several Nazi officers she was at first considered above reproach and was able to obtain useful information from elite Nazi social gatherings. But eventually she came under suspicion of assisting the enemies of the Third Reich. When called in for questioning, however, her cool demeanor, her Nazi connections, and her excellent acting skills always led to her release.”

Maria…also smuggled people out of Germany and into Sweden in a system that was called schwedenmöbel (Sweden furniture). Sometimes she would use a vegetable cart to transport refugees out of Berlin and into the woods...When (the train arrived], a group of men, hidden in a different part of the woods, would rush to the train and open one of the boxcars. (The conductor and train workers had been previously bribed with food and money.) Inside the boxcar would be crates of furniture. The men would remove the furniture and replace it with the refugees, seal the box back up, and eventually destroy the furniture. The crates of people would then be loaded onto a freighter and later unloaded in Sweden, where it would finally be safe for the refugees to come out of hiding.”

Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue (Women of Action) by Kathryn J. Atwood

American Racism European War

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Given the current tensions (and the history of tension) in St. Louis, a few quotes about performer, activist and French Resistance fighter Josephine Baker, seemed appropriate.

Also, the following quotes are the reason why these books have been added to my To Read list:

  • Haney, Lynn, Naked at the Feast: The Biography of Josephine Baker (Robson Books: London, 1995).
  • Wood, Ean. The Josephine Baker Story  (Sanctuary Press: United Kingdom, 2000).

“Increasing racial tensions in East St. Louis, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis…Black homes were destroyed, and white mobs attacked and killed black people while the police watched and did nothing. Some blacks tried to fight back, but most of them—about 1,500 in total—fled to St. Louis. Josephine stood by the foot of the bridge, watching them come. She would never forget their panicked and terrified expressions as they rushed desperately across the bridge away from the violent racism that had chased them out.”

Because Josephine seemed to embody everything that was beautiful about African Americans, she was an absolute fascination to Parisians. She was the most photographed woman of 1926 and became a symbol of the decade.

“Before the Germans invaded Paris, Joseph Goebbels had denounced Josephine as a decadent artist. After the invasion, the Germans passed a law that expressly forbade the performance of black or Jewish entertainers. However, none of this mattered to Josephine.

It was in North Africa that Josephine was reminded of the racism that was still rampant in the United States. Before her shows began, she noticed that the white soldiers were always seated in the front and the black soldiers in the back. She refused to perform until the seating was desegregated. It usually was.

She was wearing the FFL uniform when she spoke at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963, just before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his stirring “I Have a Dream” speech.”

Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue (Women of Action) by Kathryn J. Atwood

CIA Agents and Sex Crimes

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First I must admit to being a bit of a Tom Robbins fan. I simply love Even Cowgirls Get the Blues and Skinny Legs and All has some wonderful commentary on international peace efforts and the connections between human beings. It is entirely possible that I will post quotes from these, and other, novels by Tom Robbins at some time in the future.

Can you feel the ‘but’ coming?

Yep, Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates will stand as the Tom Robbins exception. The main character is a CIA agent with violent tendencies and a drug habit – all of which are pretty standard character traits incorporated into the character of international spies (See: James Bond) and elements that are covered in other Tom Robbins novels. The one thing Switters, the main character, indulges in that separates this novel from others is pedophilia. Specifically, he likes teenagers and extremely young looking international prostitutes found in countries where child sex-trafficking is disturbingly common. He is also entirely unrepentant about and comfortable with his ‘tastes.’

Add onto that the fact that his primary love interest is his 17-year-old step-sister, thus crossing the boundaries of incest; and he would make the perfect bad guy. If he were the bad guy, this novel might be more palpable; but he’s not the bad guy, he’s the highly sympathetic main character who stands as the voice of reason and the source of wonderfully philosophical statements on the nature of life and universe.

I gave it my best shot, but I simply cannot read this book.

Women and Resistance Work

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“Women were involved in all aspects and all levels of Resistance work, although the most common job for a female in the Resistance was that of a courier, someone who carried messages and documents from place to place. Women, less in demand for factory work, could move about in public more freely. Plus, the Germans did not—at first—imagine that women could possibly be involved in Resistance activities.”

Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue (Women of Action) by Kathryn J. Atwood