Saturday, May 4, 2019

Scavenger Scout: Rock Hound by Shelby Wilde, Yana Popova


Rating: WARTY!

This was a children's book that was available for free in ebook format, so I got hold of it because it had a similar theme to a children's book I'm working on (over three-quarters the way through it!) and I was curious to see how another writer was doing on this topic, and I have to say I was not impressed. This book was rooted in fantasy - mermaids and space travel which is not my thing - not for my book anyway, and while this one started out rhyming, it soon devolved to prose text.

The book opened with a promise that this azurite rock would be on every page to give a child something to search for - make 'em feel part of the adventure, which is fine, but the rock wasn't on every page at all. It wasn't even on every double-page spread, so any kid taking that advice literally was going to be disappointed or frustrated; not a nice thing to do to a child.

That wasn't the worst part though, and I don't know if this is the author's fault or yet another example of Amazon's crappy, Kindle conversion process, so I'll blame both equally: the author for not checking how well or poorly this worked, and Amazon for adding another sick joke to its bloated mega-empire of such jokes. They're unapologetically listening in on you now! Did you know? If you run Alexa, Amazon employees can, without warning or permission, listen in on your conversations in your own home, ostensibly to help Alexa to comprehend you better. This is yet another reason why I will have no truck with Amazon or its publishing business.

But I digress. I typically read books on my phone, and this works great for text books, but for children's picture books, not so well. In the iPad it's better, although still unsatisfactory since most books are still created as print books with little thought given to the electronic format. That's what happened here. The book announces, proudly up front, that it contains "pop-up text" which is a feature that pops up a plain text box with the text in black and white so that on a phone or small tablet for example, you can read it without enlarging the page, which brings its own set of issues. The problem was that once you've triggered the pop-up box - which seemed to happen at the slightest touch of the page - you could not get rid of it, and it blocked the image, not just on that page but on every page after that, too.

There seemed to be no way at all to get rid of it! I tried swiping it away, tapping it away directly on the pop-up, and tapping off the pop-up elsewhere on the screen - which as often as not, swiped the page to the previous one or the next one. I tried a host of other ideas, but nothing worked. This rendered the entire reading experience as an exercise in irritation and aggravation. The only way to get rid of these text boxes that I could find was to go to the contents and tap the next page there, which seemed to remove the pop-up, but as soon as you accidentally tapped on the page again, that blessed sticky text box came right back. I tried spreading the page with a finger and thumb to enlarge the text so I could see it that way instead of having to use those annoying text boxes, but that failed and simply popped-up a text box. It was intensely annoying

That said the fantasy adventure itself wasn't bad, but I had lost interest in this book by that point. The illustrations by Popova were cute and colorful (she can pop-over and illustrate one of my books any time!), but the reading experience sucked. I cannot commend it for that reason.


The Mouse With the Question Mark Tail by Richard Peck


Rating: WORTHY!

Written in 2013 by an author who died almost exactly a year ago, this was a fun little audiobook which frankly dragged a bit for me towards the end, but given how short the book is and how much fun the first two-thirds of it was, I'm not about to mark it down for that, especially since it wasn't written for my age group!

This mouse not only has a question mark tail, he lacks a real name and is known as Mouse Minor for the most part - and he is minor - small for his age. It seemed so obvious that I don't see it as a spoiler to reveal that this mouse is royalty. He's sent to school but ends up getting in trouble over a caterpillars-in-lunch-boxes incident to which Mouse Minor neither confesses nor denies. He runs away instead and ends up on an adventure in which he's kidnapped by bats and eventually gets an audience with Queen Victoria herself who seems, I have to say, curiously unafraid of mice.

Richard Peck is an American and while he does for the most part get his 'Britishisms' right, there are times when he strays, but most Americans won't notice those, especially not children. Overall though, this was a fun romp and I commend it as a worthy listen, but I should warn you that this is an old style children's novel (Peck was in his late seventies when he wrote it) and so it contains some violent concepts which tend not to appear in children's books written by younger authors. These include a somewhat bloodthirsty discussion of the beheadings in the French revolution, which goes on a little bit too long, and also instances of Mouse Minor contemplating having his brains beaten to jelly by the school bullies - that sort of thing, so be mindful of that.


Yay! You're Gay! Now What? by Riyadh Khalaf


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Errata:
“...you’re going more than you’re sexuality“ that second one should be ‘your’.
“If you ignore the bully, and removing yourself from the situation...” 'Removing' should be 'Remove'.
“If you’ve already come out to friends at school, as if they have any LGBT+ pals” Ask if they have!
This isn't so much an error as a point of order, and it wasn't the author who said this, but Simon Anthony-Roden in his advice to his younger self, but there’s no evidence that it was Oscar Wilde who said “Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.“ People are misquoted or misattributed all the time, so no big deal.

This book is a complete guide to how to handle your discovery that you're gay - or at some other place on what's commonly referred to as 'the spectrum' but which I prefer to think of as a slide since a spectrum implies something that's fixed, and I think very few people are solidly fixed in whatever position they're in. Your orientation and preferences can change over your life and no, thats not the same as saying 'gayness can be cured' because there's nothing to cure.

There were times when it felt a little bit over the top for me, but you can't blame a guy for reveling in who he is, so that's no big deal. There were also times when I felt he went a little in the wrong direction - like seemingly implying right up front that gay guys don't play soccer (Justin Fashanu, Robbie Rogers, and and the entire amateur team of Paris Foot Gay would disagree, as would Eudy Simelane, had she not been raped and murdered in 2008), but usually when he seemed to be veering, it was for a reason.

The book covers pretty much anything a young person may want to know if they have perhaps been wrestling with identity and how to face what's becoming obvious to them, and deal with accepting it, and whether to come out and who to come out to. It doesn't matter what your question is, you will find valuable advice in this book, and not just from the author, but also from an assortment of others who have walked this same path.

it begins with asking if you think you might be gay, and moves on to coming out, finding friends and finding love, then appropriately gets to "all about bodies" and "Let's talk about sex," both of which contain excellent guidance and advice. Be warned, there are no punches pulled here. For a gay guy, the author tells it straight! Each of these sections is filled with personal anecdote, good advice and comments on their own sexuality and advice they would have given to their younger selves by some celebrities, the only two I'd heard of, I have to confess, were Stephen Fry, of whom I'm a fan, and Jin Yong, who I heard of only recently. Others are Clark Moore, Simon Anthony-Roden, Rory O'Neill, James Kavanagh, Matthew Todd, Shane Jenek, and Ranj Singh. That said, I'm not a big TV watcher. There is only a few shows that I tend to watch, and I've never been a fan of RuPaul Andre Charles, so I've never seen his Drag Race, but I have heard of Cortney Act, Jenek's alter-ego, a stage name I've long thought was choice!

The bottom of page 171 (page 86 on the iPad I was using) ended with “You don’t need an” but page 172 (87 on the tablet) was the start of a new chapter! I guess we’ll never know how that sentence ends!

This is yet another case of a print book farmed-out to reviewers as an ebook for convenience, but I often wonder if publishers ever consider what a poor impression one of these 'afterthought ebooks' leaves. As it happens, and apart from a very negative experience on my iPhone before I switched to a tablet, this book wasn’t so bad. There was an occasionally 'sticky page' (and no, not that kind of sticky - but sticky in the sense it wouldn't swipe easily tot he next or previous page, and took two or three times to move it. On the iPhone there were also times when pages came up on the wrong oder, so I wouldn't recommend reading it on a device that small.

This book wasn't so bad, but I’m honestly at the point now where I will negatively review a poorly conceived ebook regardless of its literary merit. Here’s why: the modern concept of an ebook was initiated almost half a century ago by Michael Hart who founded Project Gutenberg and even ePub books have been around for some two decades. There really is no excuse for substandard ebooks these days, and if authors/publishers are going to issue one to reviewers, they need to look at the thing in the e-version on one or two different devices to make sure it's worthy of issuing!

That said I commend this ebook for being a worthy read and a useful contribution to helping those in need of advice and a leg up here and there.


Friday, May 3, 2019

Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Oima


Rating: WARTY!

This was the second of two manga I looked at recently which featured a person with some sort of disability. In the other it was a person with a wheelchair. In this it was a girl who communicated by sign language. The main male character had been abusive to this girl when he was younger - making fun of her and so on, and now he was older he regretted it and sought to make up for his appalling behavior when he encountered her again, but the problem was that the girl still remained largely mute despite her sign language, and there really was no emotional content here. It was more like a comedy than a moving story and I couldn't stand it.

The girl was completely flat for me, with no emotion, and no fire. She never got annoyed, angry, upset, frustrated or anything. She was like this little magical paragon of Zen and so completely unrealistic that she was a nonentity - a hole in the story instead of a whole story. The guy was no more interesting, so I gave up on it in short order. Now, admittedly I came into this at volume three, but the thought of going back and trying to dig up volumes one and two to catch up was severely disabling for my psyche!

Besides, for a girl who was mute, having increasing volumes seemed painfully paradoxical to me! Certainly, I had no desire to go back and read the earlier volumes in this series when this one in particular had failed to stir me at all. I should say I've never been a fan of that style of Manga which features girls with such ridiculously large eyes, or in which all of the characters look decidedly western rather than Eastern. I do not know why they do this, but I don't like it. So in short I was disappointed in this and cannot commend it.


Real by Takehiko Inoue


Rating: WARTY!

I've not had a lot of success with Manga. Reading a book 'backwards' doesn't come naturally to me(!), but I've made it through one or two that have proven themselves to be worthy reads. This one wasn't. I'd thought it might be interesting given that it features a wheelchair-bound protagonist, but it's not a story about a person with a handicap. It's a story about basketball which happens to feature a person with a handicap. That's not the same thing and the book suffers for it.

Now I know you can argue that it should not be about the handicap - and I agree that far. You can argue that it should be about basketball, and I agree that far, but if you're going to write about basketball and just put one of your characters in a wheelchair and not write about that at all, then what have you done other than to gratuitously include a person with a disability merely for the sake of it? (And that's sayk, not saky! LOL!)

While the wheelchair shouldn't dominate the story unless there's really something weird going on, like a wheelchair version of Stephen King's Christine (which I haven't read), then the wheelchair has to have a role in the story just like any other character because it's either a character or it's a cynical and cheap attempt at diversity without having a thing to say about diversity. Aside from that issue, the story was boring. It didn't offer anything new and worse, it was hard to follow what the hell was actually going on here at times, so I ditched this pretty quickly, especially when skimming through more pages didn't offer me any hope that the story would improve.


Cinderella Screwed Me Over by Cindi Madsen


Rating: WARTY!

I'm not opposed to chick lit and I've read a bit of it myself although it's not my first choice of genre, but quite honestly this was the worst kind of chick lit - arguably anti-#MeToo. I didn't read much of it, but to me it looked like the only connection it had to Cinderella was that the girl met her tediously predictably hunky guy when her stiletto heel got stuck in a crack between floorboards in this restaurant she frequents and in which this guy is part owner.

Her shoe comes off of course and he hands it back to her, but instead of leaving it to her to put it on, he puts his hand on her hip - not her arm or shoulder, or offers her his own arm for balance, but uninvited, he puts his hand on her hip 'to steady her', and she gets the wilts and the vapors. I'm immediately thinking, "I'm outta here. This is not my literature!" so I gave up on it. At only a few pages in.

Despite having a professional job in an office, this girl did not come off as very smart to me. She automatically assumed this guy was a liar when he told her he was part owner of the restaurant, like she was an expert on the place just because she eats there often. Neither is she the impoverished stepsister, so what this had to do with Cinderella, I have no idea. All I had actually needed to know is whether it was trespassing on my Cinderella territory or I on its, and the answer to that was a resounding 'no!' The story's nothing like what I'm writing so I fortunately don't need to be concerned with it at all, which is great, because I certainly didn't want to continue reading it.

I don't get why so many female authors so frequently subject their main characters to manhandling by strange men and then instead of becoming annoyed at it, turn to Jell-O. It sucks and it needs to stop. These two 'girls' were in the restaurant at the time of the shoe incident, so it probably wouldn't have been hard for the guy to quickly grab a chair from a nearby table. If they'd done that and she'd sat down and asked him to put the shoe on for her, that might have brought it a bit more in line with Cinderella and certainly been more socially acceptable and even romantic, but this author doesn't get it, and that's a problem. It might have been better yet if the guy had been part owner of a shoe store rather than a restaurant so he'd be naturally helping her to try-on shoes.

I didn't get how being a part owner fo a restaurant made him any kind of a prince either, unless the restaurant was Burger King! LOL! But as it happens, I really don't care because this story was trashy pap and not worth anyone's time. Readers need to demand better. Much better. More original, better written, more intelligent, and with real people instead of antique Barbie and Ken dolls.


Who Laid the Egg? By Audrey Sauble


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a colorful little book for young children about eggs and the creatures that lay them. It poses a question at each egg illustration, and offers some possible solutions as to who laid it. Sometimes there are many suggestions, sometimes a few, sometimes only one! Children can have fun guessing who did what, and comparing the kinds of eggs to see if that can be used as a reliable clue. The animals include birds, turtles, dinosaurs, and even a mammal! This is a fun book for young children and I commend it.


The Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea by Lynn Rae Perkins


Rating: WORTHY!

Read by Brittany Presley, this audiobook was entertaining. I came to it after having really enjoyed the author's Nuts to You story. This isn't really aimed at males, and certainly not at men of my age, but it's still enjoyable in its sweet innocence, and it's definitely a worthy contender for an age-appropriate audience, female or male. It read (or listened!) more like a vacation diary than an actual story which didn't sound as odd as it might have. There was no 'Dear Dairy' affectation in it, but it still had that sort of a vibe, like maybe the author was recounting events from her own childhood rather than making up the story from scratch.

It was about two sisters, Alix and "Jools" Treffrey, and their week's vacation at the beach with their parents. Told form Alix's PoV, it talks about the long trip there, and the even longer trip home caused by three flat tires in a row, but most of the story is filled by Alix and Jools games, adventures, fanciful scenarios they invent, and their discoveries at the beach. It's sweet, innocent, playful and easy listening, and I commend it as a worthy title.


I am Amelia Earhart by Brad Metzler


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a very short book for young children which skipped a huge part of Earhart's life and harped a bit overmuch on her purportedly dedicated lifelong devotion to flight, which actually didn't happen in real life. She took something of a scattershot approach to her career, aiming vaguely toward medical service until she saw this guy fly an airplane at a show. He must have spotted her and her friend standing on the ground watching, and aimed the plane straight down at them before swooping by quite closely. It was at that point, when she was in her early twenties that she really decided she wanted to fly, not when she was a child, but it doesn't hurt to stir up kids' ambitions here and there, or encourage them to aim higher than they might otherwise do, so I wasn't too focused on that.

Other than that, the book was largely factual, amusingly and colorfully illustrated, and an enjoyable read, so I commend it as a worthy read for young children.


A Dark Inheritance by Chris D'Lacey


Rating: WARTY!

Read rather oddly by Raphael Corkhill, this was another audiobook which started out really well and then Le Stupide set in big time. I had thought I was going to get through it unscathed, but it was not to be. About two-thirds the way in, it went south with the ducks - and normally I like ducks. Some of my best friends are...not ducks, but anyway, to see them in the southbound lane was still rather sad. Duck asses are not the most engaging of sights.

The initial premise was an interesting one and the story changed up periodically so it did not quickly become boring, but the more I listened, the less the story seemed to have a plan to go anywhere. It wasn't until later that I discovered why. The main character was so passive as to be tedious, as was his momma! Worse than this, I discovered by skipping to the end after I'd given up on it, that this novel is part of a series, of which there is zero indication whatsoever on the book cover, so the publisher is outright lying to readers and I will not countenance that.

This explains why this novel never was interested in going anywhere. The author gave up that motivation when he decided to thinly-stretch material sufficient for one book into a trilogy or more. Michael learns nothing - not even how to control his ability, and he never does learn a damned thing about his father because this is not a novel, it's a prologue.

By accident, this semi-orphan with the uninventive name of Michael Malone discovers that he has the ability to not so much change reality as to be able to switch between realities in a multiverse. He can only do this at first when under stress, which is how he does it the first time. His new reality is always very similar to the old one with some minor changes, but the important thing is that he's supposed to be able to switch to one which conforms to some idea he has of the kind of reality he wants to live in.

Michael is seventeen. A kid of that age ought to be at a point in life where he has some self-motivation and some idea of what he wants out of life, along with a few grown-up thoughts here and there, but none of this is true with Michael who acts more like he's thirteen. He has no excitement or curiosity whatsoever about his magical power and shows no inclination at all to investigate it or to try to use it to put himself into a reality where his father is back with the family, and the villains are out of his life. He'd evidently much rather attend his own self-pity party.

These villains arrive suddenly in the form of a young French woman and an older German man by the name of Klimt. We never learn how they latched on to Michael, but apparently it's through his missing father who evidently had some of the same abilities as Michael does. Klimt wants to use Michael for some purpose of his own and holds the carrot of finding Michael's father and the stick of changing Michael's reality into something horrible. These people are from the "Unicorne" society and Michael at one point discovers he's been inducted into it while he was unconscious after an bike accident. Now he has now has a black Unicorne tattoo, which covers a spot in his skin where he has, he's informed, been injected with a microchip for the purpose of tracking him not only in this reality, but in others, too.

Michael shows zero anger at this, zero curiosity about how he can disable the chip, and no amusement at how pathetic it is that this secret society blatantly advertises its existence with this unusual tattoo. This was my first adverse reaction to the story. If this had been a middle grade novel, then I could probably have countenanced this , but for a young adult novel it was pathetic at best. There are ways to write that do not make your characters look limp, or stupid, and your story amateur, but this author is apparently too lazy or unimaginative to think of them, hence his penchant for writing series with uninventive titles. That coupled with the laziness and lack of imagination inherent in writing a series is enough to avoid this author like the plague from now on. I expect a lot better from a university-educated writer. Or maybe that's the problem.

It got worse when the story began to drag with little-to-nothing happening. At one point Michael is hit by a car when riding his bicycle and ends up in a private hospital where the doctor is of course Klimt, and the nurse is this same French girl. On top of this there are two police detectives investigating the car accident, yet they are literally grilling Michael over matters that are totally irrelevant to what happened and neither Michael nor his mother objects to this line of questioning. That immediately said "Dumbasses" to me, and it's where I quit being interested in this purportedly young adult, but more like middle grade or younger story.

I skimmed to the end, and discovered that the book has no resolution whatsoever, and so is merely a prologue to volume two. I don't do prologues, and I do not accept books like this one. I would have rated this negatively for treating readers like mushrooms (keeping them in the dark and feeding them bullshit) if it hadn't already failed me. The book is poorly written and is a rip-off. I dis-recommend it.


Zachary and the Great Potato Catastrophe by Junia Wonders, Giulia Lombardo


Rating: WORTHY!

Junia Wonders sounds like a made-up name for a children's book writer, but apparently it isn't! So we have Junia and Giulia, who is the accomplished artist. This was a cute children's picture book based, purportedly, on a true story! This rat named Zachary in the story, lived under the wooden floor of a bakery, which is never a good thing. Anyone who's read any of my The Little Rattuses™ series can't fail to see that I love rats, but I'd wouldn't want to buy anything from a bakery that has rats living on the premises, pet or otherwise!

Anyway, Zachary was in the habit of coming out and taking just one cupcake or whatever, which he would sneak back to his lair and consume. He lived a solitary life and didn't want anyone else around. He wasn't into sharing, not even with his hosts, so when he found a large sack of potatoes, which were different from anything he'd tasted before, he brought one back with him, and discovered that they were so addictive, even without being chipped, fried, and salted! He started bringing all the potatoes home, until he had a bed of them under the floorboards.

Potatoes keep remarkably well, but they don't keep forever. Zachary discovered this when his supply began turning green and stinky. The smell even reached the baker who seems to have been extraordinarily lax with his stock-taking in that he never missed a whole sack of potatoes until a rotting smell alerted him. He uncovered the rat hole in the wall then, and a startled and terrified Zachary, who despite an attempted assault with a saucepan, managed to escape into the sewer where he gave up his solitary life and lived happily among friends - although this part of the story hasn't been officially confirmed yet.

I enjoyed this story and consider it a worthy read for kids of any age.


The Grown-Up's Guide to Making Art with Kids by Lee Foster-Wilson


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Subtitled "25+ fun and easy projects to inspire you and the little ones in your life" this book was just what it claimed to be, although I have to say this is an artist working here so she might well make many of the rest of us look less than stellar; that said, she does generously offer tips hints and shortcuts to improving our work.

The book has a clickable "Tables of Contents" but there's actually only one table. I never got 'table of Contents' although many books use it. It's really a list of contents, isn't it?! That's why I never bother with such a thing, but this one does offer an easy jump to any chosen chapter. You don't get that in a print book! LOL! There's no jump back to the content page though, in case you jump to the wrong chapter, but the slide bar at the bottom will get you into easy swiping distance.

The book charts a steady course between a drawing tutorial and then a connected project, and so on, and you don't need a professional set-up for this; just some inexpensive paints you can buy at any big store, and/or some colored markers or pencils, or even crayons, along with some paper or card stock you can get from cardboard food packaging if you want. The important thing isn't the high quality materials, but the creativity, fun, confidence-building and sense of accomplishment children will feel when you work though these projects with them. I'm behind that 100%.

The book opens with some discussion of colors and how to work with them and mix them. There's a glossary at the back which explains some terms, although I'd take issue with the comment about orientation - which merely means which way your painting surface lies - if it's wider than it is tall, then it's landscape - imagine a sweeping vista. If it's taller than it is wide, then it's portrait. You'll know this if you take pictures with your phone, and that's my point - the last sentence claims orientation has nothing to do with the subject of the painting, but I disagree with that. Perhaps children won't much care, but to me letting them see that the orientation of the finished image can contribute a lot to how that image is perceived when it's done isn't a wasted endeavor. Anyone who's tipped their phone to the side or held it straight-up to take that picture understands this. It's the same with a painting, but that's a quibble.

The book covers animals, people, flora (if you haven't met flora you have no business being an artist!), buildings, and robots! The projects are a delight, and includes pop-up image like you might find in some children's book, and a shadow puppet theater - and many more. Don't feel dissuaded when you see how easily this artist throws together a sweet image. With practice and following her instructions, you'll get there, and even if you don't your kids will be inspired to strive for the little bit better look to their own work. I commend this as a worthy read.

On a slight downer, just as an advisory, I think this was yet another book designed as a print version, but of which I only get to see the ebook version, and even on a medium-sized iPad, some of the image labels were dissociated from the image they discussed. I think this is because the label came before the image instead of after it and wasn't tied to it, so I'd read, for example, "A cow has a similar structure, with slightly different shapes" but this would appear underneath the sketch outline of the horse. I had to swipe to the next page to see a sketch of the cow. This potentially may offer some confusion when following the step-by-step instructions for some of the projects, but with diligence, you'll master them.


Thursday, May 2, 2019

The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole by Michelle Cuevas


Rating: WORTHY!

And for my 3,000th review on this website in less than six years, I can't think of anything (my own novels and children's series excluded!) better than to give this one the honor!

Read delightfully by Laura Ortiz, this audiobook was a blast. It was sly and humorous, intelligent, but endearingly simple, and fully entertaining. It reminded me a bit of the old Calvin and Hobbes cartoons where the characters have rather more maturity than they would seem to merit at first glance.

Set in the mid-seventies, when Stella Rodriguez was eleven and still very much feeling the loss of her father, she decided during a school holiday to visit NASA and offer a tape recording of her father's laughter that she has. She hopes it will be added to the recording of Earth sounds and images that was included on a gold analog disk that is now flying outbound from the solar system on Voyager 1, which is headed for a rendezvous with the Oort 'cloud' in about 300 years, and will then will spend the next thirty-thousand years transiting that body, which is believed to be a repository for embryonic comets.

The guard at NASA wouldn't let her in, but due to an emergency she manages to sneak inside; then exits quickly followed by what turns out to be a black hole which has become attached to her. She names it Larry. Of course. Why not?

Hiding out in her bedroom, Larry promptly begins consuming assorted objects, including the school's pet hamster, Stinky Stew, which Stella was supposed to be taking care of over the holiday. She doesn't miss Stew very much, but objects when Larry devours a picture of her father, and really loses it when it swallows her new pet puppy, so she launches herself into the hole and begins sailing the Black Hole Sea in an old iron bathtub in search of the dog star...er, puppy star....

While I feel it lost a little momentum when she entered the black hole, the story in general was hilarious, fast-moving for the most part, and full of humorous asides and amusing events. I recommend this completely as a worthy read for any age, but particularly for young readers and listeners.


Ella the Slayer by AW Exley


Rating: WARTY!

"Let me give you a leg up then" says the young Duke to Ella at one point after they have just met at the beginning of this story, as she is about to mount her horse. His hands are all over her and her legs are jelly. Hell no! FUCK NO! What the hell is wrong with AW Exley that she thinks this is anything more than pure YA weak protagonist garbage? After the disastrous Nefertiti's Heart, I should have learned my lesson and never picked up another Exley as long as I lived, but there I went and here it goes, into the garbage. I guess I can at least say I got what I paid for, since this was a free offering in a book flyer and I was interested because I've had my own focus on Cinderella recently.

The blurb didn't make this clear, but this book is nothing but a Zombie apocalypse, written in the mold (take that word either way) of books like Jane Slayre and others. Ella, of course, is the femme fatale, and the Duke is the guy whom she needs to validate her because she's nothing but a princess in desperate need of a prince. Barf. It's young adult trash and it's not even worth the free price. Warty to the max. Plus it's not even a novel, it's a prologue to a series. Double barf.


The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec by Jacques Tardi


Rating: WORTHY!

I came to this via the Luc Besson movie. This first volume includes two stories: "Pterror over Paris," from which the movie was made, and "The Eiffel Tower Demon." The former is about a pterodactyl which magically pops out of a fossil egg in a museum in Paris, and begins to terrorize the city. The second involves the scary appearance of the demon Pazuzu, whom you might recall from The Exorcist. This demon is thought to have been conjured-up from the nether regions by a cult in the city of Paris which reaches into some of the highest levels of government, but all is not what it seems! In fact, I wouldn't mind meeting a demon like that! Oh wait, I did! And I married her! Adèle Blanc-Sec is equal to both challenges though.

The drawing is good and the script, set in and around 1911, is entertaining. While I enjoyed this particular volume, this is not a series I feel a huge compulsion to pursue. It was entertaining enough, but not completely engrossing and life is too short! Adèle Blanc-Sec is very much a female Indiana Jones, especially as rendered in the movie, so that was amusing and entertaining, and I do consider this graphic novel a worthy read.


Nifty Thrifty Music Crafts for Kids by Felicia Lowenstein Niven


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a great crafts book for kids because it allows them to make musical instruments (near enough!) out of household scraps. Stuff that would normally go into recycling can hereby be recycled into an instrument, and then when that's worn out, it can be recycled back to recycling!

The book gives illustrated instructions on how to make a xylophone, rhythm blocks, panpipes, finger cymbals (always fun!), a colonial drum (whatever that is! I suppose it's a drum that wants to take over and make you pay a tax on your tea imports?), American Indian clapper, tambourine, rain stick, maracas, and a rubber band ukulele! You could outfit a whole band with this book and each project gives you a double return because it offers a confidence-building activity for a child, and then a fun toy for that same child. Can't argue with that, unless you have rocks in your head instead of rock 'n' roll! Unless you have no soul! Unless you're tired of taking the rap! Unless you have a bad hip and can't hop! I commend this as an inventive and a fun book for children's activities.


Criss Cross by Lynn Rae Perkins


Rating: WARTY!

Having had success with two previous LRP novels, I ventured into this audiobook (read adequately by Danielle Ferland) with high hopes which were soon dashed. This novel won the 2006 Newbery Medal for excellence in children's literature, an assessment with which I beg to disagree. I normally void Newberys like the plague because - apart from one or two very rare exceptions, I've been almost consistently bored to tears with them, and this was no exception. It seems to me that Newberys are awarded based on how tediously boring a novel is, and from that perspective this one certainly earned it.

It's called Criss Cross because it's a mess. It makes you cross and then it makes you curse. Worse, it jumps around like a - what was the term that Elvis used in All Shook Up? Oh yeah, like a catfish pole-dancing (or something on those lines, I'm sure, but I;m fishing here...). Actually, the best version I've heard of that song was by Suzie Quatro who really knew which poles on a catfish to hook up to make it jump, and they're all positive. It was written by African-American song-writer Otis Blackwell, who also penned classics such as Fever (yes, that one!), Great Balls of Fire, and Don't be Cruel, which in my amateur opinion was best done by Billy Swan. But I digress.

This story jumped around between several characters which is almost, but not quite, guaranteed to annoy me. I like to read about a character I can invest in, but when all you get is julienned character cameos in this kind of a story, you really don't care about them that much - leastways I don't. If I'd known previously that Kirkussed Reviews had described this novel as a "tenderly existential work" I would have skipped it without hesitation. Since Kirkustomarily never has a criss cross word to say about any novel, their assessment is utterly worthless, so when they lard-up a review with this pretentious drivel, it's assuredly garbage.

So, in short, I can't recommend this because I couldn't commend it in the first place.


Hinges Book 1: Clockwork City by Meredith Mclaren


Rating: WARTY!

This graphic novel was a fail for me because it was unintelligible. I had no idea, for the most part, what the hell was going on because there was very little dialog, no narration, and the images while engagingly drawn, were far from crystal clear in terms of what exactly was supposed to be happening in any given frame.

It was supposed to be a clockwork city, but none of these characters ever seemed like they needed winding up. The author seemed more interested in winding up the reader. The characters had visible joints in some images, like they were mechanical, but none in others. This one girl out of the blue is put front and center with no explanation as to who she is, where she came from, or why she's there.

She's told she needs an 'Odd' with no explanation as to what exactly that is or why it's needed. It's a small character like a child's plush toy, but is alive. Why she picks the one she does and why that's a problem isn't explained. Why she even needs a job and why she's so wrong for the jobs available is a mystery. For that matter, everything is a mystery and I quickly lost interest, because the biggest mystery was why the author wasn't interested in telling an engaging story. I had zero investment in the characters or the story, and I ditched it DNF. Life's too short. I can't commend this gray-scale graphic story based on about fifty percent of it that I read.


Goslings by JD Beresford


Rating: WARTY!

Read rather awkwardly by Matthew Brenher, this audiobook was a quick fail. I am not one for these end-of-the-world survivor stories, but this particular one seemed interesting from the blurb, which means only that the blurb did its job in luring me into picking up the thing.

Once I started listening to it though, it was boring. It was really nothing different from any other apocalypse story, and the characters were completely uninteresting to me. The story was too lethargic; I made it through less than ten percent before I ditched it back to the library in favor of something which wouldn't make me fall asleep listening, which would be disastrous when driving a car! I can't commend it based on my admittedly limited experience of it, but life is far too short to waste on books that don't do it for you right out of the gate.


51 Things to Make With Egg Cartons by Fiona Hayes


Rating: WORTHY!

When I was a young kid, my younger brother and I used to use the cut-off bottoms of egg cartons as hoards of Daleks (the menacing robotic beings from the BBC's Doctor Who TV show which I have to say has rather taken a step backwards under Chris Chibnall's leadership - not because the Doctor is now a woman by any means - I like the new Doctor - but because we get fewer episodes and only every other year, it seems. Shameful!).

This author is much more inventive than we were, and this book was a great idea. With the ideas colorfully illustrated and explained in detail - but simply! - kids can end up creating a large variety of neat little toys from animals (chicken, bee, hedgehog, tortoise, octopus, bunny, and others) to vehicles (dump truck, fire engine, pirate ship and more), to flowers, face masks, treasure chests, rockets, and on and on. This will keep a kid occupied and render you broke buying enough eggs to generate all those cartons! LOL!

But approached as a bi-weekly project, once you've used all those eggs, it can be a cheap and fun way to spend your time, especially if it's raining or cold out. They may need some supervision depending on their competency and trustworthiness with glue, paints and scissors, but it's worth it to see their joy at making something themselves - something fun and practical - boosting their self-confidence and getting double the return - time well-occupied making a toy and then more time well-occupied playing with the toy! I commend this as a worthy tool to a child's happiness.


Fast Forward by Adam Skinner


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a fun book, especially for me who isn't really into motor sports. I have been to one or two races myself and I'm always interested in potential topics for novels, so this felt like a good book to review and I guessed right!

The book is quite short, but full-color illustrations of tracks, cars, and drivers, and a wealth of facts on cars, circuits, and interesting events make it seem a lot bigger than it is. It covers circuits and featured cars as follows:

  • Nürburgring - Porsche 911 GT2 RS
  • Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps - McClaren MP4/4 Honda
  • Suzuka - Honda NSX
  • Circuit des 24 Heures du Mans - Ford GT40 Mk 2
  • Albert Park Lake - Maserati 250F
  • Circuit de Monaco - BRM P57
  • Monza - Ferrari F1-2000
  • Goodwood - Jaguar E-Type 4.2
  • Daytona - 1970 Plymouth Superbird
  • Bahrain International - Red Bull RB8
  • Dakar Rally - Mitsubishi Pajero 2005
  • Indianapolis Motor Speedway - Lotus 38
  • Pikes Peak - Drive eO PP03
  • Silverstone - Aston Martin DB5
  • Hockenheimring Baden-Württemberg - Williams FW23
  • Shanghai International Circuit - Holden Commodore VZ
  • Laguna Seca - Dodge Viper ACR
  • Mount Panorama - Holden Torana A9X

There's a short glossary and a longer index at the end, and rest assured it's not just about cars and tracks, the book also has assorted drivers of note and yesteryear highlighted on each page (such as Juan Manuel Fangio, Jutta Kleinschmidt, Michael Schumacher, Jackie Stewart, Alex Zanardi, and a score of others) including career masterpieces, amazing wins, tragic deaths, come-from-behind wins, fistfights, track and racing records, and amazing escapes from accidents.

I found this book fascinating and educational, and I commend it as a worthy read.


Wednesday, May 1, 2019

David Bowie by Isabel Sanchez Vegara, Ana Albero


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Erratum:
“This made his eyes look like were different colors” should read look like they were different colors!

I've been following this series quite closely and enjoyed very nearly all of the books I've read in it so far. This is another one to add to the list of successes. David Bowie's career in playing music either as an amateur band member at fifteen or as a legend right before he died in 2016 at the age of 69, spanned over half a century. He constantly reinvented himself and in this spate of musical biopics (including the phenomenal Bohemian Rhapsody and then Rocketman, and the documentary on the Beatles by director Peter Jackson) which seem to be flourishing lately, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see one crop-up about him.

He's been in and out of musical success since he debuted The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars in the early seventies, and resurged with Ashes to Ashes and Let's Dance in the early eighties, and in between he had a minor film career. He was also a controversial figure regarding his androgyny, but it's not completely clear (at least to my knowledge) whether this was more of an image he was portraying or more of the person he actually was, so I didn't feel that omitting it was a bad thing in this particular case. Overall I enjoyed this and thought it a worthy and educational read.


Mahatma Gandhi by Isabel Sanchez Vegara, Albert Arrayas


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Another in a children's 'Little People, Big Dreams' series which I've been following, this one tells a great story. Anyone who's watched the Richard Attenborough movie starring Ben Kingsley, and written by John Briley will realize how important it is for young children to be introduced to people like Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi as opposed to an excess of superhero movies where people typically beat the pulp out of one another. Not that those aren't fun in their place, but let's not ever take them seriously as solutions to problems!

Naturally a life like Bapu's cannot be adequately captured in a book of this nature, but I felt that author Vegara does a fine job in distilling the important stuff. This book, delightfully illustrated by Albert Arrayas, follows Ghandi's life from childhood through university in London, to South Africa and back to India, and it explains his philosophy and where it came from. For young children, that's an important start. I commend it.


1, 2, 3, Who's Cleaning the Sea? by Janina Rossiter


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I don't personally know Janina Rossiter, but we've exchanged an email now and then, and I've favorably reviewed several of her books on their merit, most specifically the 'Tovi the Penguin' books. She's branched out into a different concept here: teaching counting and at the same time offering some environmental awareness to young children. I believe this is something of a companion to her 'ABC' book, although I haven't read that one.

In an era where we find trash islands floating in the ocean and beached whales with pounds of plastic in their gut, and as National Geographic reported last October, your table salt most likely includes tiny plastic particles no matter where in the world you buy it, it hits any rational, caring person hard in the head as to how badly we're making a mess of our environment.

The book aims to counteract some of that by educating youngsters about this nightmare of a problem. It starts with the number one and finds a marine animal to represent each number in one way or another. Obviously the 8 is an octopus, but what number is a Jellyfish collecting plastic bags? Children will have fun finding out which other animals have different numbers of legs or fins, but more importantly, they will learn how bad our ocean is and how desperately it needs help.

Yes the ocean is huge, but so is the problem. We've been tossing modern trash into it for decades, and like climate change, it's way past time to stop making things worse. Maybe a kid who reads this will grow up to take charge of the problem and fix what we have so poorly managed. I commend this book as a worthy read.


How to Be a Butterfly by Laura Knowles, Catell Ronca


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a gorgeously illustrated little book for young children about the Lepidoptera, better known to most as butterflies. Note that Lepidoptera also includes moths, and they get a mention here, but this is primarily all about butterflies. How to be one is a cute round-about way of describing what a butterfly looks like without turning it into a boring list of characteristics. It runs along the lines of you having to have colorful wings with smooth edges, but you can also have pale wings or ones with lobes and scallops. You have to have slim antennae with buds on the end, and so on. And of course you have to drink nectar and lay eggs in safe places on leaves your caterpillars can eat, and then they have to lock themselves up and pupate before they can be beautiful butterflies too.

I was seriously impressed by how much work Catell Ronca did in illustrating scores of butterflies of all kinds. It was epic! There are multiple and endlessly varied butterflies everywhere. It was almost like being in one of those lepidopterarium places where butterflies roam free indoors and breed and live out their unjustly short lives, and you can wander around in the middle of them and enjoy the spectacle! I think this book was excellent: educational, colorful, well-written, interesting and fun. I commend it.