BY: Bernard Cornwell
PUBLISHED BY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-06-225087-2
Review copy purchased by reviewer
Review by Ida Vega-Landow
I was pleasantly surprised to find this book as one of my selections in the Doubleday Book Club. I was also surprised to find that I knew the author from one of his previous works. Bernard Cornwell is the creator of the Saxon Tales, which served as the basis for “The Last Kingdom”, a TV show I was fond of about the dawn of the British Empire, when the Anglo-Saxons and the Danes were still fighting over England.

The story is about William Shakespeare’s younger brother, Richard. He is an actor, or player as they called it back then, in his brother’s company at The Theatre, a forerunner of the Globe. (In real life, the Bard of Avon was the third of eight siblings, so it’s possible he might have had a brother who was as talented an actor as he was a writer.) You’d think that being related to the head of the company, who’s also its scriptwriter, young Richard would be one of the stars. But alas,‘tis not so.

It seems there is no love lost between William and Richard, the older brother being constantly under pressure to write a good play by his biggest fan, Queen Elizabeth I, while being hounded by the Puritans, Elizabethan England’s self-appointed guardians of the public’s morals, who fear the Catholic Church means to dethrone Elizabeth by murdering her and putting a good Catholic princess in her place, like her late sister Mary. You remember Liz’s big sister Mary Tudor, also known as Bloody Mary? She didn’t get that name because of her fondness for a certain drink. She got it because she was a devout Catholic who tried to save England’s souls from sin by imprisoning, torturing, and executing Protestants. Now that Liz is firmly on the throne, she intends to stay that way. So she turns a blind eye to the Protestant extremists who hate the Catholic Church and will do anything to keep it down, even to the extent of recreating some of the same cruelties the Catholics practiced on Protestants.

Due to the Puritans’ disapproval of anything morally questionable which might affect the public’s morals (Translation: Anything that is fun), all the theatres are located outside of London, a short walk from the town’s gates during the day, a long walk home at night, especially after curfew. Women weren’t allowed on the stage in those days, so women’s parts were usually played by boys or young men whose voices hadn’t broken yet. Young Master Shakespeare, only three years younger than his brother (about thirty-two but already with a receding hairline), has been playing women for so long he’s getting restless. All he wants to do is play a man, for once. William promises him a man’s role after the company receives a commission from Lord Robert Hunsdon, the Lord Chamberlain and Queen Elizabeth’s cousin, to put on a play for his daughter’s wedding. The play is “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and the part is that of Francis Flute the bellows mender, one of the peasants who put on a play for Duke Theseus’ wedding day, in which Francis must play the part of—you guessed it, Thisbe, a woman. So poor Richard is playing the part of a man who pretends to be a woman, a cruel bit of drollery on William’s part.

Richard decides to pay a visit to the new theater being built across the Thames by the Earl of Lechlade, to be called The Swan, to see if he can get a better acting job that pays more (big brother Will is so cheap, he only pays Richard a couple of guineas a week, barely enough to pay his landlady and still be able to eat, which is why little brother Richard is also a petty thief). While at The Swan, he meets the earl’s man of business, Christopher deValle, who offers him employment as an actor if he will steal his brother’s latest play, as well as the new one he’s working on, which is set in Verona and is about two young lovers from rival houses.

You would think that after being scorned and humiliated by his brother for so many years, starting when he came to London at the age of fourteen to escape his apprenticeship to a cruel master back home in Stratford, only to be sent to Sir Godfrey Cullen’s choir school to learn acting, and be abused physically and sexually for three years by this fat old hypocrite (a pedophile in priest’s clothing, the title “sir” being a mere courtesy given the ministers of the Church of England), Richard would jump at the chance to further his acting career at a more prestigious theater, as well as get even with his brother. But strangely enough, Richard still feels enough loyalty to his brother to say “No” to Lord deValle. But his brotherly loyalty is really put to the test when his old tormentor Sir Godfrey, now working for the Puritans to root out Catholicism wherever it rears its head in England, convinces another player in Shakespeare’s company to bring false testimony against Richard and William to make it look like they’re plotting sedition against good Queen Bess. The only way to avoid being charged with treason is for Richard to steal his brother’s plays for the earl’s new theater.

Happily, all’s well that ends well, with the help of Richard’s sweetheart, a pert lady’s maid named Silvia in the lord chamberlain’s house, and some quick thinking on the part of both Shakespeare brothers, after they stop quarreling long enough for Richard to confide in William. I can see this book being made into a movie; it has many comic elements, as well as a great deal of suspense caused by both religious and political conflict.

It may affect your romantic view of Elizabethan England once you read about how dirty and corrupt it was behind the scenes, not to mention your view of William Shakespeare as a creative genius who wrote immortal plays that are still acted to this day. Bernard Cornwell’s portrayal of Shakespeare the playwright is certainly far from the jovial Bard of Avon that I’m accustomed to seeing at the local Renaissance Faire. To be blunt, he makes Shakespeare look like a jerk, from the way he treats his brother to the way he abandons his wife Anne and their three children, dumping them on his parents in Stratford, while he goes to London and kisses up to any nobleman from Liz’s court who he thinks can help his company rise above every other group of players in town. No, William Shakespeare is not a noble man in this story, but he is an honorable man when he finally stops fighting with his brother and helps him escape the clutches of the corrupt Sir Godfrey. While helping himself escape a charge of sedition at the same time, of course. Cornwell has already established William Shakespeare as an opportunist from the beginning. So why shouldn’t he help his little brother if it helps himself too, while at the same time throwing the Puritans into an unfavorable light?

So if you’re in the mood for something Shakespearean that isn’t written in iambic pentameter, and you’re into historic fiction that doesn’t whitewash well-known historic figures, if you’re tired of romantic accounts of the past that leave out all the unpleasant facts, like chamberpots being emptied out of windows and live animals being tortured to death for sport (aka bear baiting), as well as all the religious rivalry between Catholics and Protestants that made them kill each other in the name of Jesus, then treat yourself to a copy of “Fools and Mortals” by Bernard Cornwell. It may make you curious enough to check out his Saxon Tales as well, or furious enough to read or watch all of Shakespeare’s plays on DVD to wash the bad taste out of your mouth. Either way, you get to enjoy the history of old England without actually having to live through it.

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AnimeNYC 2017 – a con in mini review

AnimeNYC hits Jacob Javits for the first time November 17 to 19. The convention center is no stranger to anime cons, the last time New York Anime Fest being there in 2011. Helmed by Crunchyroll, the event was even bigger then NYAF with participating studios including Pony Canyon, Funimation, Viz, NYAV Post and more. An industry con with a heart in the fandom with a plethora of guests from directors, producers, voice actors, cosplayers and singers. Anime Diva night kicked off the weekend on friday with classic singers, masquerade on Saturday and the highlight of sunday, two movie premieres, Gundam Thunderbolt: Bandit Flower along with the sold out Fullmetal Alchemist live action movie. Hit the link for photos and fun….
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Otakon 2017 – cosplay pics

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Otakon 2017 – T.M.Revolution Q&A panel

The panel had a no photo policy which I felt was more of a Anisong management restriction rather then one from the T.M.Revolution management. I say that since the past panels with Nishikawa-san’s appearances, photos were always allowed as noted from my previous coverage of the artist. However, I do respect their decision and didn’t inquire further. The panel opened with the chants of “TMR! TMR! TMR!” as the man of the hour, Nishikawa Takanori-san came on stage. The panel opened immediately to questions by the fans.
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Otakon 2017 – Official Gundam Panel by Sunrise

The Sunrise host Yamashira greeted the audience and introduced Producer and managing director Hideyuki Tomioka. Hideyuki worked on Mobile Suit Gundam Origins, Gundam X as well as Inuyasha, Steamboy amongst others.
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AnimeNEXT 2017 – a con in review

For their second year at Atlantic City, Anime Next pulled out all the stops and invited the production staff of the hit Fall 2016 series, Yuri!!! On Ice. However, that is not all of the extensive guests from Japan. Already a staple of ANEXT, Studio Trigger’s Wakabayashi Hiromi-san and Koyama Shigeto-san returns with animators Handa Shuhei-san and Yoshinari Yo-san. Staff of ReLIFE makes an appearance with seiyuu Ueda Reina-san and there are more news from VOCALOID. Stateside guests include voice actors, Ellyn Stern, John Swasey, Lex lang including cultural speaker Charles Dunbar and comedian Uncle Yo. More from the weekend of cosplay, fandoms and fun under the cut!
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AnimeNEXT 2017 – Yuri!!! on Ice with MAPPA panel (sunday)

Thankfully, the panel started on time and the host began with the same introduction as the day before. Yuri!!! on Ice is a 2016 anime about male figure skating created by Kubo Mitsuro-sensei and director Yamamoto Sayo. He jumped right into the intros of the guests from left to right of the stage with producer Ogawa Takahiro in charge of the animation schedule, prop designer Ito Noriko (designer for the cellphone covers as well as Yuuri and the triplet’s explanations,) color designer Hirose Izumi, animation director and many of the skating scenes Tatenaka Junpei.
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AnimeNEXT 2017 – Oblivion Dust concert gallery and setlist

It was nice of the staff to provide ear plugs for us. It was fun concert though I was more concentrated on the photos rather than the music for once. After the 4 songs, I left the front of the room with the other press. It was a rocking concert though
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AnimeNEXT 2017 – Yuri!!! on Ice Q&A with MAPPA (saturday)

The panel started really late, 25 minutes in actually. The fans screamed when the guests came onto the stage. From left to right, Producer Ogawa Takahiro, ice skating animator Tatenaka Junpei, prop designer and lead animation supervisor Ito Noriko and color designer Hirose Izumi. As they sat, Ito-san placed the Makkachin tissue box in the middle. I’m sure Makkachin will be present at all YOI events. He is very much a part of the staff.
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Book Reveiw: “Indigo”, a mosaic novel

Indigo, a mosaic novel
By Charlaine Harris, Christopher Golden, Jonathan Maberry, Kelley Armstrong, Kat Richardson, Seanan McGuire, Tim Lebbon, Cherie Priest, James A. Moore, and Mark Morris.
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: June 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-07678-6
Book supplied by publisher

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

This is the second book I’ve read that was written by a committee. The first one was “Naked Came The Stranger”, back in 1969, written by Penelope Ashe, which was a pseudonym for a group of twenty-four journalists led by Newsday columnist Mike McGrady. He wanted to write a book that was both deliberately terrible and contained a lot of sex, to illustrate the point that popular American literary culture had become mindlessly vulgar. McGrady was convinced that any book could succeed if enough sex was thrown in. He was right; the book became a bestseller. After the hoax was revealed, it sold even more copies. This proves that you can never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public, according to H.L. Mencken, renowned author and cynic.
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Katsucon 2017 – a con in review

The Gaylord Resort and Convention Center becomes a center of cosplay and fandoms as fans gather at Katsucon. This year, it wasn’t on Valentine’s Day but the weekend afterwards, February 17 to 19. The weather was beautiful, warm so cosplayers flooded the grounds with their latest outfits, photoshooting and posing. A celebration of series and music with masquerade, craftsmanship and panels. My focus of the weekend was on the cosplays as usual and the con didn’t disappoint.
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Katsucon 2017 – Aniplex of America

Marketing specialist, Allen welcomed the fans to the panel. He noted that it was the first time at Katsucon. He praised the cosplayers “The things that your characters get to do, climb rocks, get into gazebo, these are things in LA that you would NEVER get to do. It’s a hazard.” His energy was met with laughter.
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Katsucon 2017 – Model Exposition

Amazed, I’m always in awe by the level of detail and attention placed on the clothing in movies. The scene passes quickly and the characters are the main focus, usually not their clothing. But to see it up close, note the type of material and attention to the lines and colors is a great opportunity for those interested in sewing and fashion. Or simply cosplay.
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Katsucon 2017 – Masquerade

The highlight of the weekend has to be the masquerade and it was the performances themselves were amazing. The level of creativity is always high at this convention and this year was no different. Some highlights of the acts are shown below.
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Otakon 2016 – Makino Yui Concert

Makino Yui-san stepped onstage and opened with the light and cheerful melody of ‘Modokashii Sekai no Uede’ which brought on the cheers of the crowd. She then greeted the audience in English with a loud voice. “Thank you! Hi, everyone! Hi, Balitmore! I’m happy to see all of you!” The audience was definitely excited as they cheered back. Yui-san then switched to Japanese.

    Yui: Hello, everyone. I’m Makino Yui. Thank you very much. Is it okay to speak in Japanese? That’s amazing! Do you understand Japanese? Thank you so much! I love you all! Thank you!

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Book review: Joe Steele by Harry Turtledove

I’d like to publish the following guest review by my favorite collaborator, Pet Leopard, as a warning of things to come after the nomination of Donald Trump on January 20th. God help America.

“Joe Steele” by Harry Turtledove
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication Date: 12/01/2015
ISBN-13: 9780451472199
Book supplied by Reviewer

Guest Review by Pet Leopard

Well, according to a popular old saying: “The more things change, the more they stay the same. Harry Turtledove’s thought provoking masterpiece, “Joe Steele”, is a testament to the truth of that line of reasoning.

As a child of the early 1960’s, I have lived through both Kennedy assassinations, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Iranian Hostage Crisis, the Gulf War, the attacks on the World Trade Center, and a horrible decade-long period of warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq. Although Mr. Turtledove references an alternate history that’s set well before the earliest of those events had taken place, there are many parallels that resonate very closely.
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Book review: “Do You Want to Know a Secret? The Autobiography of Billy J. Kramer

BY: BILLY J. KRAMER with Alyn Shipton
PUBLISHED BY: Equinox Publishing 2016
ISBN: 978 1 78179 361 9
Review copy sent by publisher

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

The British Invasion didn’t just bring The Beatles to our shore. It also brought a great many young British bands eager to follow in their footsteps. Some went on to become big stars, like The Rolling Stones and The Who. Some were one hit wonders who just came and went. But one enduring presence was a lad who befriended the Fab Four when they were all just aspiring young musicians in Liverpool. His name was, and is, Billy J. Kramer.
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Photos from Stan Lee’s LA Comic Con

(I think that’s the name of it.)

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