Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Lost City of Solomon and Sheba by Robin Brown-Lowe


Rating: WARTY!

I picked this up because I thought it might have something interesting to say about the very enigmatic Queen of Sheba, which might perhaps lead to an idea for a future novel, but no! It had almost nothing to say about her because almost nothing is known about her. Solomon gets short shrift. It's tempting to say that the main thrust of the book is as its title suggests - the lost city of Ophir, but I can't say that because there is no thrust, and the names of Solomon and Sheba were obviously just tossed into the title merely to draw potential readers' interest. Well, shame on me!

This endlessly rambling book does recount a lot of history, but it's disjointed and disconnected and sways back and forth between time periods without ever making its case. The main problem with it is that, in the same manner employed by those morons who write books about Earth being visited by aliens from outer space, it builds tissue-thin claims upon non-existent foundations, with the author, who is not an archeologist but a journalist, making huge speculative leaps based on the flimsiest of 'evidence'.

Thus we have him categorically setting Ophir in Zimbabwe, based on the Great Zimbabwe, a beautiful monument which racists have traditionally tried to deny was built by native Africans. The author seems to be doing the same thing. His chapter titles are sensationalist: To Ophir Direct, Ophir Revealed, Ophir Spinning, and closing with Ophir Writ Large (there are many other chapters) yet not once does he fulfill the promise of the title by laying down a solid case for The Great Zimbabwe being Ophir. Nor doe she explain

He defeats his own claims because while the book does contain some photographs, none of them support the text our the claims he makes in it. In fact, some refute his claims. One of these claims is that bird effigies were found at Zimbabwe which had a design around their neck like a necklace or perhaps, it occurs to me, a pattern or tattoo, yet though he shows several pictures of the birds, not one of them has any of the features he claims for them. This alone defeats he 'thesis'.

Of these birds, wikipedia says, "They are unique to Great Zimbabwe; nothing like them has been discovered elsewhere." - something which the author seeks to muddy at best, and never once does he mention that certain birds were sacred to the people, more than adequately explaining why they would want to sculpt images of them. So once again we see a native culture being denigrated by a white writer, as though no native African could ever have an advanced thought in their head, and none could create or build anything beautiful. I call bullshit on that.

So after plodding through most of the book vainly searching for his supporting evidence, and skimming other repetitive areas, I concluded the guy doesn't know what he's talking about. As wikipedia puts it, "The majority of scholars believe that it was built by members of the Gokomere culture, who were ancestors of modern Shona in Zimbabwe." And the site is dated as originating In the Iron Age, long after Solomon. The stone structures were built in the eleventh century. It was half millennium after that before any white person came anywhere near them. QED.

The author is not wrong in asserting that there is a genetic link between the male line of the peoples known as Mwenye, and people of ancient Jewish descent, but he fails to mention that they could also be of South Arabian descent too. This is dishonest, in reporting only the evidence that can be deemed to support his claims and withholding that which might defeat or dilute them. Just because a lineage has certain DNA doesn't make the author's case at all. DNA is so dissipated around the world these days that no one group is really isolated from another, and we're talking many hundreds of years ago. One trader passing on his DNA to a local woman all that time ago could easily lead to a tribe later in history, and there were no doubt many traders. This doesn't prove the author's thesis though, especially not with the lack of evidence he has.

I disrecommend this book.


Saturday, January 19, 2019

Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller by Joseph Lambert


Rating: WARTY!
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I believe in giving credit where credit is due, but aside from the focus on Sullivan rather than Keller - and lets face it, without Sullivan there would be no Keller as we know her today - there really is very little due here.

This graphic novel is aimed at grades six through eight, but while I am far from those grades, I was not happy with it. The artwork is indifferent and appears in tiny panels (a rigid and plodding sixteen per page) such that the image is not only tiny, but the text is also small. I had a hard time reading it and an almost impossible time reading the narration, which is in script. There were parts I skipped rather than strain my eyes trying to read it. If the format of the book had been larger this would not have been such a problem, but as it was, it was really irritating to me and overwhelmed the story.

While the book does convey the magnitude of the task which faced a visually-impaired 20-year-old Sullivan trying to teach a willful and spoiled seven-year-old who was impaired in ways much greater than Anne herself was, it fails to make the impact it should because it is so choppy. An early flashback itself dissolves into an earlier flashback and this back-flashing keeps happening as we move back and forth between the 'present' where Anne is teaching Helen, and the past, where Anne had her own trials to go through, which were tough enough. Anne Sullivan was a strong woman.

This story is about Anne as opposed to Helen, which most stories are written about, and such a story is important and needs to be told, but I don't think this book gets it done. The 'Annie' of the title was better known as Anne, although her birth name was Johanna Mansfield Sullivan to which she added a 'Macy' when she married later in life. Her initial interactions with Helen were nightmarish because Helen was so spoiled and had no discipline. Anne was not only fighting her charge, but also Helen's parents who did not understand the huge amount of work which needed to be done to liberate Helen from the prison of her impaired senses.

Much as I'd like to recommend a book like this, I cannot. I've read other books about Helen Keller and the one I commend so far is Helen Keller by Jane Sutcliffe. This might not be quite as appealing as a graphic novel to children in this age range, but it isn't something they could not handle, and I'd prefer it to this graphic novel. However, if this novel gets kids interested enough to read something on this topic that's more grown up and less picture-y, then all well and good, but I have doubts it will do that.


HP Lovecraft He Who Wrote in the Darkness by Alex Nikolavitch, Gervasio, Carlos Aon, Lara Lee


Rating: WARTY!

I'm always interested in reading about other writers if they have anything interesting to say but for me, this graphic novel about Lovecraft was a fail. He wrote over sixty stories - most of them short stories, during his short lifetime (he died at 46 from cancer), but this didn't really delve into many of them or even keep track of his writing them, which seemed very odd to me for a book about a writer.

It did highlight some of his quirks and made a passing mention of his racism, but it seemed more focused on his inabilities rather than his abilities - his inability to live with his wife (a curiosity for someone whose name is love craft!) and his inability to focus on writing stories while effortlessly penning thousands of long letters - than it ever did in discussing his work or even mentioning it.

That said it is a graphic novel, not a biography, so some things inevitably get left out. It just felt to me that writer Nikolavitch left out the wrong things, and the art by Gervasio, Aon, and Lee was average at best, so I cannot commend this as a worthy read.


Heavy Vinyl by Carly Usdin, Nina Vakueva


Rating: WORTHY!

This was different and quite fun and fresh, but it doesn't contain a complete story. This features editions one through four, and there is another collection that will either continue or complete it, so I was rather dissatisfied with the lack of a resolution, but that was nowhere near as bad as the wildly inaccurate blurb on the back cover of this graphic novel! Other than that, the book was well-written by Usdin, and beautifully drawn and colored by Vakueva.

The story is of Chris, all excited to start her first day at a vinyl record store. I've frankly never understood this craze for vinyl. We had vinyl and it sucked, which is precisely why we went to other media! You can't win me over by arguing about audio fidelity when the vinyl recording you have is full of noise, and skips and jumps which is the inevitable fate of all vinyl. Nor can you argue that any purported difference matters when you can't listen to vinyl through your iPod or your phone or whatever medium you use outside the home. Whatever you run through those devices is processed in exactly the same way, so you gain no advantage even if there is one to be gained! There may well be people who can tell the difference between a vinyl sound and a CD, or an MP3, or a streamed track, but I cannot, and I suspect most people cannot and are just fooling themselves that they can.

I can accept that there are vinyl snobs and stores catering to them, so I had no problem with the setting for this story, which is called Vinyl Destination (the blurb inaccurately called it "Vinyl Mayhem"). The plays on words through the story were one thing which highly amused me. It's rather a genderist establishment though, given that every employee and the boss are all female. It's also ageist in that they are all in their teens and early twenties, including the boss! You'd think a store like that would want someone with vinyl experience! But I let that slide.

The book isn't set today - it's set in the 1990's for reasons which escaped me. Given that era, some reviewers have complained about the lack of homophobia depicted here, saying it was unrealistic, but there was very little in the way of gay representation in this book at all, so there was nothing for incidental homophobes to react to. It's not like the book was presenting as an LGBTQIA romance. It's not. That's a part of it, but the main thrust is about another topic entirely. It was mainly Chris's innocent and clumsy crush on a fellow employee that was the gay element, and the awkwardness and humor inherent in her inability to determine if her attentions would be reciprocated. I think that was plenty for a book like this, aimed at the younger YA audience as it was, especially when it had other fish to fry. It seemed perfect to me, but I'm coming from a cis background, so your mileage may well differ depending on your own perspective.

But to get back to the lack of homophobia - I think a lot of those reviewers failed to fully grasp that the entire story (very nearly!) takes place in the relatively safe confines of the record store which is entirely populated by young and very open-minded females, all of whom (except for newcomer Chris) were already tightly-bonded by their vigilante background, so the claims that the story was unrealistic in its nineties portrayal seemed shallow to me. Were there no such enclaves in the nineties? I'd call bullshit on that one. And it's not like these girls didn't have other issues to contend with!

It felt like some of these reviews hadn't warmed to the story and went through it looking to find any little scrap which would support what were evidently vague feelings that 'this story was not for me'. Hey, if you don't like it, you don't like it, and if you can't articulate why, that's fine! Personally I prefer reviewers who go into some detail over their likes and dislike because it helps me get a handle on where they're coming from and helps me to make a better decision about whether to read it or not, but I don't demand it of every reviewer in every review! You don't like it and can't put your finger on a good reason? I'm fine with that!

Anyway...there is something odd going on at the store and it doesn't take long for Chris to start feeling excluded, but it soon becomes clear that the store employees aren't in a secret band. The blurb claims that they are "endlessly trying to form a band" but this is a lie. They're not! Not until the end of this volume anyway. Whoever wrote the clueless blurb should be the one kicked out of the store! Some reviewers had an issue with that, too, but they seemed to be taking the story too seriously to my mind. It's a light and fun romp. Relax and enjoy that ride, I say!

Chris is finally invited to stay over with the rest of the staff one day after work, and she feels accepted at last, but is unsure if she wants to be when she discovers that the girls are all a part of a teen girl vigilante group (not a "fight club" as the blurb inaccurately claims). They do fight each other, but only as practice for their vigilante-ism, which is actually going through some slack times until their pop idol, Rosie Riot, goes missing, and certain zombie-like, or perhaps more accurately, robotic-like behaviors are noted in some members of visiting bands.

No, this isn't a zombie story. I would never have picked it up if it were. It's more of a sci-fi mystery/thriller, and it works pretty well. I liked the characters and I would read the next volume if I could get my hands on it, so while I was disappointed that the story ended so quickly and abruptly, I liked it well enough that I consider it a worthy read.


Songs of Our Ancestors Vol 2 by Patrick Atangan


Rating: WARTY!

Subtitled "The Silk Tapestry and Other Chinese Folktales", this is the volume two I wondered about when I positively reviewed volume one back in October of 2018. This one was less than enthralling for me, so while it did hold the charm of the original to a certain extent, the stories seemed a lot less engaging, and I left the book feeling dissatisfied with it, so I cannot commend it.

The first story was of an old woman and her longsuffering daughter. The woman meets a water spirit one day at the river and is inspired to create a tapestry, based on vivid dreams that she has, of living a life as courtesan, but the story rambles on a bit too much, and then seems to completely fizzle out at the end so I wasn't at all sure what exactly happened. I didn't like it.

The next story went to the opposite end of the scale, featuring young, not old, and male, not female, and was about a boy who could paint pictures that took on a life of their own, rather reminiscent of Harold and the Purple Crayon. This story was entertaining, and the artwork was good, but it never really seemed like it wanted to go anywhere. The third one is a creation story bearing a lot of resemblance to the Biblical story (or vice-versa), and featuring a lonely god who separates waters from waters and creates things. It was boring.

So overall, I was not impressed and unlike after reading the first volume, I do not feel inclined to pursue this series any further.


You Can Do It, Squirrel by Kate Breuer


Rating: WARTY!

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

This sounded like a fun picture book for young kids according to the blurb but unfortunately, Amazon's renowned crappy Kindle conversion process destroyed the book. I downloaded it twice, once to my phone and once to my iPad, and in both cases, the book delivered a cover and nothing else. Every one of the seventeen pages was a black screen, so there was on book to read. Not that I'm racist! I enjoy a mix - black text and white background, or vice versa. Either color on its own is a fail! We have to stand together on this!

This is therefore more a review of Amazon's pathetic process and its lousy, destructive, abusive Kindle conversion process than it is of this novel. It sucks. I urge all publishers and authors to abandon Amazon and their pathetic process altogether. We're just handing them more and more power and they do not deserve it. They haven't earned it and don't even try. Please use a process that works and that does not shred, spindle, and mutilate your book. Use something that works, such as PDF, Barnes's and Nobles's Nook system or something else. Anything but Kindle.

I can't commend a book that has quite literally been gutted by Amazon.


Relentless by Wudasie Nayzgi, Kenneth James Howe


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Subtitled "An Immigrant Story," this book tells of how an Eritrean woman, writing under the pseudonym of Wudasie Nayzgi, single-handedly took on the challenge of bringing her family to the USA. The thing is that this isn't what her initial plan was. She had only wanted treatment for her daughter, 'Titi', who had a heart defect, and her mother had not the first inkling back then, that this would embark her entire family upon a journey that would, all told, take ten years and thousands of dollars to finally get her daughter treatment and knit her family back together again. I don't doubt though, that had she known this from the beginning, she would still have undertaken this journey. There is a companion book to this, Dreams of Freedom, written by her husband 'Yikealo', describing his own experiences during this time.

This is simultaneously a heart-breaking, nightmarish, horror-story and the ever-hopeful narration of an exceptional and strong woman who would not let anything get in the way of doing what needed to be done for the health and integrity of her family. I am not sure, I confess, why the author needed a co-author. By the time this book was written she was perfectly fluent in English, a language she already spoke before she ever had any idea of leaving Eritrea. But speaking English well is by no means a guarantee that the speaker can writer it engagingly.

The problem with that is that while I do commend this story as a worthy read, it was not written well despite having another author onboard. The use of English was perfectly fine, but the flow of the story was another matter. At times it was so vague that it was hard to tell what was going on. There seemed to be gaps where things happened without them being related, and so they became a surprise when I read of them later. For example, one of the problems she had to contend with was losing her job, then a lot of time passed with no mention of her working, and suddenly she apparently has another job, but I don't recall ever reading how, where or when she got it. It felt like part of the story was missing. On that topic, note that the cover picture is not the author - its a misleading stock photo and probably not even an Eritrean.

There were large gaps in the narration when an amount of time, often quite large, passes within the space of a few words, which makes it hard to keep track of how much time is passing in the story overall, so although it took ten years to get this accomplished, the narration makes it seem like it was much shorter. On top of this, there is a lot of detail about life in Eritrea, but much of it seems superficial, while other things that appear to be customary in Eritrea aren't mentioned, leaving questions. I'd like to have learned more and in greater depth.

A lot of the story is about 'Wudasie's' worrying over what was going to happen, and it occupied so much of the story. While this is in a way understandable, it is also something that anyone who has had such problems, even if they were nowhere near as critical as 'Wudasie's' were, can readily understand. It's something with which we are familiar, and became a little tedious to read repeatedly. Life in Eritrea, on the other hand, is something that was worth learning about, and it's something which few people - including most everyone who hasn't lived there, can grasp. It would have been nice to see more of the latter, and a little less of the former.

One thing which was confusing was the names. I understand there may be a need or at least a desire to protect family, but it was unnecessarily confusing. The youngest of her two daughters was named 'Natsanet', but when in an afterword we see her graduate from high school, her name is given as 'Natsanet Yikealo', not 'Natsanet Nayzgi'.

Her husband's name is consistently given as 'Yikealo', so I had assumed this was his first name; then why is their daughter named so? The companion book is attributed to Yikealo Neab. That latter name is never mentioned in the book except as the author of the companion novel, so why isn't the daughter named 'Natsanet Neab'? Is 'Yikealo' a last name? if so why does she call her husband by his last name all he time and why isn't the author named 'Wudasie Neab'?

If 'Wudasie' is married why is her last name different from both her daughter's and her husband's? I later learned the these are pseudonyms, presumably aimed at protecting the privacy of the the author and her family, which is perfectly fine, but it lacked consistency. If the explanation for all of this is through some sort of Eritrean custom, it would have been interesting to hear of that, but as it was, it looked like this was really sloppy writing, and it leeches credibility from the story.

It just felt strange that something like that had never been gone into, especially given how much talk there is about filling out forms and verifying marital status and listing children and so on. You'd think at some point during that, this would have come up, but I don't recall it ever being addressed. You'd think a co-author would have asked these questions and offered explanations, which is why it begs the question as to why a co-author was used here. Maybe others will not be concerned at all over things like this, but for me, when I read about another country in a book like this, I really like to really learn about that country as part of the author's experience, otherwise why bother reading a story like this?

Anyway, 'Wudasie' was planning on getting treatment for her daughter's condition in Ethiopia since her own country, Eritrea, did not have the medical facilities to accomplish what needed to be done. The problem was that Eritrea had claimed its independence from Ethiopa only a few years previously, and not every abrasive surface had been sanded smooth between the two nations, both of which had seemed to become more radicalized and authoritarian since the breakup. The situation deteriorated when a new war broke out between the two nations, and deteriorated further still when her husband was forcibly-conscripted into the Eritrean army during a business trip he was making.

'Wudasie' didn't see him for six months until his basic training was over and wasn't even officially notified what had happened to him. She had to dog for that information herself. He was luckily re-assigned to a military base in the town where they both lived. All this time she was fighting to get her daughter's condition treated, and failing or being stone-walled every step of the way, through no fault of her own. The thing is that Eritrea is an oppressive, authoritarian government - or it was back then - and seemed completely indifferent to the suffering of its citizens, even if they were children. This book will really put your own problems into perspective: every step of the way it was like two steps forward and one step back for this mom.

Your daughter can be treated by visiting surgeons from abroad - but they find other children that have crowded into the waiting room for treatment to be more needy than your daughter. You can get her treated in the USA, but doctors there discover she has three conditions, not one, and are willing at her age to treat only two. You can leave the country to take your daughter to the USA for treatment, but you must leave your other daughter behind in Eritrea. You can bring your other daughter to the USA, but you cannot also bring your husband, even though travel regulations require an adult to accompany a child so young. Your daughter finally arrives in the US, but looks painfully thin and it has been so long since you saw her that she is unbearably shy around you, and stand-offish, treating you like you're a stranger, not like a mother. You can bring your husband over, but it's going to cost and take a year to do it.

Every single step involved the massive weight of indifference, bureaucracy, and the need to supply little (or a lot) of cash - to grease the wheels, some of which disappeared without bringing a thing in return. Everything involved almost interminably long waits which were often followed by setbacks because some more paperwork was needed, and the wait for that paperwork meant a deadline was missed on some other process, which then needed to be restarted as well. This wasn't just on the Eritrean side, but also on the American side.

It was depressing to read how often she fell back on her faith, which didn't do a thing for her. No god helped 'Wudasie', yet she often ascribed 'miracles' to the work of a god, denying herself credit for what was solely her own tireless and unstinting efforts. The fact is that everything she did was through her own strength, grit, determination, and a flat refusal to let anything stand in her way of getting treatment for her daughter and reuniting her family. The author, it would seem, despite appeals to her god, would agree with me. She wrote:

No one is going to hand you what you think you deserve just because you won the right. You have to go get it if you can. You have to grasp it and hold onto it, and then wield it like a sword. And you can't let it go if someone tries to wrestle it away from you.”

A miracle would have been if her family had gone to bed the night after her daughter's initial diagnosis, and awoken the next morning in the USA, as full citizens, with her daughter cured. That's what a miracle is. Fighting tooth and nail for ten years, suffering endless delays and setbacks, and spending a fortune on corrupt officials isn't a miracle. Nothing happened that she did not go out there and wrestle into submission with her own two hands, and make happen for herself. She is heroic, and everyone who thinks their own petty problems are insurmountable needs to read this book and find out what real problems are like.

She is immensely lucky too, to have gone through this before the current president got into the White House on the coat-tails of Russian hackers. Had she tried all this now, she would never have left her (and I quote that same president) "shithole [African] country" and been accepted here. She would have been written-off as a rapist and a drug smuggler, faced a flat denial that these children were really hers, been accused of being an actress purveying fake news, and she and her family deported back to the nightmare she left behind her, assuming her kids didn't die in the custody of the ICE, that is. That's where huddled masses are re-directed these days from one of the most wealthy, best-off, and most pampered countries on the planet.

Despite these problems, I commend this book. I think it should be required reading.


Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Emily's Runaway Imagination by Beverly Cleary


Rating: WORTHY!

Read competently by Christina Moore, this was a pleasant listen - not spectacular, but highly amusing in parts. In other parts it was slow, but overall, I considered it a worthy listen.

Set about four years after the author was born, in the early 20th century, this 1961 novel tells the story of Emily Bartlett, who is the young daughter of a farming couple in the hamlet of Pitchfork Oregon, and she has some peculiar ideas about what to do with her time. She seems to expend a lot of thought on how others will perceive her, and not enough though on whether what she's doing is smart or even makes sense, and she seems to have some sort of learning disability in that she never really learns!

Her biggest dream in life appears to be to read Anna Sewell's 1877 novel Black Beauty and so she enthusiastically helps her mother with a plan to start a local library, which they do in bits and pieces over the course of the novel. I'm not sure if 'runaway imagination' accurately describes Emily. It's not like she's a Walter Mitty character, but she does come up with one odd scheme after another. These are usually cooked up in pursuit of self-aggrandizement, but sometimes they're rooted in thoughts of helping others, such as when she tosses fermenting apples into the pig yard and gets the pigs drunk on the cider in the apples.

There's an arguably racist part near the beginning of the novel where Emily corrects a venerable Chinese gentleman who mispronounces her dog's name with the clichéd 'l' substituted for an 'r'. He greets the dog as 'Plince' rather than 'Prince' and Emily corrects him, so it goes viral (such as it was able in those days) and the dog is known by its new name for the rest of the story.

The dog and pony show really got underway though, when Emily decided to bleach her family's plough horse to make a white beauty in celebration of her cousin's visit. Black Beauty is her cousin's favorite story. My problem with this was that not once was any thought given to what the bleach - which was left on for fifteen minutes, might do to the horse's skin and health. If Emily had had the decency to try the bleach solution on her own skin for fifteen minutes, I'd have had a lot more respect for her, but she didn't have that kind of imagination, unfortunately.

But, given the age of the tale and the humor in it, I decided to let this slide this time and commend this as a worthy read, although I'd recommend some discussion with your child(ren) - after words afterwards (or during, if you read it to them!) about correct conduct and empathy. I would have thought a farm girl like Emily would have had a lot more smarts than she did, but the story wasn't bad, so there it is!


Friday, January 11, 2019

An American Plague by Jim Murphy


Rating: WORTHY!

The attribution of this audiobook is rather misleading in more than one way. Jim Murphy was really the editor, not the writer. I had initially thought that this would be a dramatization, but it was the dry reading (very dry and pedantic delivery by reader Pat Bottino) of a bunch of diary and journal entries, medical reports and newspaper articles (such as they were back then) about the epidemic of Yellow Fever that laid Philadelphia low in 1793. These were strung together with some narrative from the author.

The book was listed in the local library among the children's books, but I cannot imagine for a minute that very many children, especially not younger children, would find this remotely entertaining, or even educational because they wouldn't sit through it, or they would tune it out.

For me it gave me two different ideas which I can use in future novels, and it was interesting. It's a very graphic story which pulls no punches in describing bodily emissions under duress from this nasty disease caused by a virus carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Today we can vaccinate against this, and treat it for those who become infected, but with climate change already rampaging across the globe, this is one of many thoroughly noxious diseases that will doubtlessly spread.

Back in 1793, when Pennsylvania had an appreciable amount of skeeter-breeding swamp, and when the disease process wasn't remotely understood, this thing got out of control and eventually killed one in ten of the original population of the city. That's nowhere near the death toll exacted by the 'Great Plague' of medieval Europe, nor is it even a match for the same plague which struck the USA in 2015 killing one in four victims, although the death toll there was considerably smaller despite the higher rate.

Why Murphy chose to title this 'An American Plague', as though it affects no one else is a mystery smacking of self-importance and pretension. Not everything is about the USA! This book isn't even about the USA as such, it's about one city; although Philly was the seat of government, and relations between it and other cities are mentioned towards the end, including some shameful as well as generous conduct.

In 1793, Washington was president and the government was located in Philly, but heroic George wasted little time vacating the city. He fled so hastily that he left behind essential papers which would have enabled him to do his job. He wasn't so heroic either, when a foreign envoy arrived soliciting his help in siding with France, which had been instrumental in aiding the fledgling USA against Britain. He cold-shouldered the very people who had facilitated the very existence of the USA! He tried to blame this on not having his paperwork with him.

The contribution of African-Americans at least gets its fair due here, which is nice to see. Black nurses were of critical value in a disease-ridden city where everyone was panicking, those who could afford to were leaving in droves. Very few dared come near to others in this highly-religious society for fear of 'contracting' this disease. Germ theory wasn't even a remote twinkle in anyone's eye, and the so-called doctors of the period were obsessed with blood-letting and poisonous purges which did nothing to save lives despite dishonest claims to the contrary. More than likely such dire stratagems actually hastened many a shuffle off this mortal coil. (How is earth a coil? Anyone know? LOL!).

Given that they had some immunity to malaria, it was considered that slaves and free people of color would also be immune to Yellow Fever, but they were not. They died at the same rate as whites, but nonetheless they willingly acted as nurses. So popular were they that people tried to outbid each other for their assistance, and then these same assistants were maliciously accused of callous price-gouging by jackass racists.

It was interesting to read of the problems that people like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Adams encountered in trying to attend to their duties. Government was moved (illegally as it happened!) to Germantown ten miles away and Jefferson could not get a decent room. The other two were forced to sleep on benches in a common area. Of course this was before any of them had become president, although they were each men of high importance even then. Another interesting aside was that Dolley would never have become first lady had not the Yellow Fever taken away her first husband, freeing her to marry James Madison later. The plague made a difference to a lot of things and in ways you might not consider at first blush.

As I said, I have grave doubts about both the suitability and utility of this for children, but I consider it a worthy read.


Despicable Deadpool Bucket List by Gerry Duggan, Matteo Lolli, Christian Dalla Vecchia, Scott Koblish, Ruth Redmond


Rating: WARTY!

I'm a fan of the movie universes created by Marvel and DC - if you can call that latter a universe - so obviously more of a fan of Marvel than DC, but Wonder Woman is still the most kick-ass female hero so far in those movie worlds. Comic books have never been my thing. Even as a kid I was not a great fan, although I read quite a few. Since I left that phase of my life, they've mostly felt too juvenile for me, although I've read a few recently which transcended that problem. Comic books in general still have some big fish to gut before they can fry them, sexualisation of females being the prime one.

But that wasn't the problem here. The thing here is that there's nothing more asinine than two people locked in a supposed life-or-death struggle and exchanging quips throughout the fight. It's utterly ridiculous, but it's de rigueur in comic book hero fights. It occurs twice on the early pages here, once between Deadpool and Rogue, and once between the merc with a smirk and a villain who was too laughable to take seriously. And whose name didn't even register.

Not that there ever is an actual life-or-death struggle in comic books because no matter how "final" a demise is, the character always comes back whether they're good or evil. It doesn't matter, so the story itself didn't matter when you get right down to it. It's a farce and not even amusing in the best tradition of British farce.

Comic books are a Buddhist's worst nightmare - trapped on the eternally cycling wheel of suffering, and while a good Buddhist would never espouse this, the only solution is to kill off the villain! Don't lock them up in the same prison they already escaped from fifty times before. Slay them! Burn their bodies to ash! Seal the ash in lead, put that urn on a rocket, and fire it into the heart of the sun! End of story. Invent a new and different villain for next time instead of resurrecting the zombie villains of yesteryear. Quit taking the lazy way out.

Frankly, it really is boring to have the same hero battle the same villain over and over again, or if not the villain, then the villain's evil daughter - or some other relative. These writers need a new shtick. The Joker is a joke. The Mandarin is as toxic as Agent Orange. Find fresh villains for goodness sake! It's reached a point now where one universe isn't enough for the comic book writers and they have to bring in other universes/parallel worlds for no other reason than that they can lazily repeat the same stories, but with non-different characters.

By that I mean the character is supposedly different, but not really, and so we get the same stories warmed over with a different color palette. Winsome repeat is all they seem to have. This is why I quit watching The Flash TV show because every season was an exact repeat of the previous season: a "new" villain just like the one from last season - evil and faster than The Flash - and Flash had to defeat him, and always did. It was tedious.

The most annoying thing about this particular volume is one that seems to be common in Marvel's arena: writers cannot produce a comic about a super hero these days that doesn't grandfather-in a host of other heroes and villains from the Marvel stable. So we have Deadpool, who I love in the movies, supposedly going through a bucket list of items, each of which is apparently a cameo appearance of other notables from the Marvel world. Although I confess I did find Stevil Rogers amusing.

Deadpool cannot die. This is a given, so at least they're owning that fact of comic book super hero life up front, but why he thinks he's in a position necessitating a bucket list is a mystery. This was volume 2 and I didn't read volume 1 because celestials forbid that a publisher should actually inform the reader right there on the cover of which volume in what series this is! So maybe it was explained, but let's run with it, ready or not.

So anyway Deadpool starts out fighting Rogue, who he evidently had a thing with in a previous volume. Rather than sit down and talk, they start smashing the hell out of each other. That's a great plan for a relationship isn't it? Never once did she consider bringing along a collar from the Ice Box and snapping that on him to take him down. Nope! They smash-up everything around them and take no responsibility for it. It's like Sokovia never happened. And given comic book penchant for redux up the wazoo, maybe it didn't in this particular universe.

So the story is that a male writer has a female hero take the brute force approach rather than an intellectual or cooperative one. You know, someone did a study of comic-book violence in terms of who perpetrates it, and it turns out that the super heroes are more violent than the super villains. How did that come about? It's reported at https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-11/aaop-gi102218.php. But I digress.

Rogue has apparently acquired many powers, including the power to fly and hover, as well as to recover from what would otherwise be debilitating - if not death-dealing - injuries. Good for her. After Deadpool escapes her, he takes on a complete nonentity and has Marvel guest star The Collector pick him (or her) up and cart them away; then it's Marvel Guest Star Captain America putting in an appearance to star in a redux of the Deadpool origin story where he gets pinned to the cement by a large, shaft of steel. Who says male super heroes aren't sexualized?!

After that we get a visit from Colossus and Kitty Pryde, which frankly sounds like the name of a cat toilet product. I'm sorry, but there really was no story here. It was all one long and tired cliché, and I refuse to commend something as unimaginative as this.


Battlepug by Mike Norton, Allen Passalaqua


Rating: WARTY!

I may have been unduly precipitous with my declaration that this is the year of the pug and not the year of the pig.

This was a rather bizarre story in which a small amount of entertainment was lost among crimes against women. The story is related by a woman to her two pet dogs, a pug and a small bulldog, both of which constantly argue with each other - yes, they can also talk. Why the woman had to be lying prone on her bed, gratuitously butt-naked in telling the story I do not know, but look at the gender of the creators, and all becomes clear. Y-Chromosome Norton is the writer and also the artist, and Y-Chromosome Passalaqua did the coloring.

As far as the story went, it had interest and humor, and the art was decent, but this was overshadowed. It featured a Tarzan-type character known only as 'The Warrior' and who was purportedly the last surviving member of the Kinmundian Tribe, a claim which I personally did not buy. My guess is there's also a female survivor out there somewhere, but this book was only the collected volume one.

The Tarzan impersonator reluctantly teams-up (which curiously isn't the opposite of teaming down any more than undertaking is the opposite of overtaking) with a giant pug and a wizard, to take on the villain. If it had been just that, all would have been well and good, but the nudity? Not appropriate. The guy wore a loin-cloth, so no real nudity there. What happened to equal time? And why only a loin cloth when he had been raised in the frozen north?

There was no reason at all for why the woman narrator, Moll, was naked. She could just as well have been clothed, but throughout the narration, she lay bare-assed and unembarrassed on her bed. She could have been putting the dogs to bed and telling them a bedtime story over a cup of cocoa while wearing a robe herself. It could have been a naked guy telling the story about a warrior woman, but that would have been considered odd now wouldn't it? And it would have been just as inappropriate.

If there's a valid reason for the nudity, then fine, I have no problem with that, but there usually isn't other than an enduring male writer's need to sexualize their female characters, and there certainly wasn't any reason for it here other than that these guys with the evident mentality of frat boys wanted to see a naked girl on a bed.

The comic was published in print form in 2012 after a life as a web comic, so it's not like it was written with antique sensibilities. I can't commend a comic that has female nudity without any reason other than male comic book writers and artists have evidently still not yet left the stoned age. It's for this reason alone that I rate this as an unworthy read, notwithstanding any other qualities it had.


Pugs of the Frozen North by Philip Reeve, Sarah McIntyre


Rating: WORTHY!

The Chinese claim that this is the year of the pig (kick-off February 5th, 2019), but I hereby declare it the year of the pug! It's only a vowel away!

How could I, of all people, not want to pick this up and read it with a title like that? I couldn't resist it, and I was rewarded by an inventive and amusing middle-grade story which I have to say bears some resemblance at one point to the Homeric Odyssey Book 9, wherein Odysseus, having been blown about by the wind for over a week, finally makes it to an island. He discovers that the locals feed on the Lotus (which is often taken to be a flower, but more likely referenced the fruit of a tree). This bears a soporific fruit causing them to abandon all aspiration and industry, and from which he must rescue his men.

So in this novel, having become shipwrecked and abandoned, accidentally or otherwise by the crew, cabin boy Shen finds himself alone with sixty-six pugs, all of whom are shivering. Fortunately, the ship was carrying a cargo of small, woolly sweaters, with which Shen outfits each of the pugs, before embarking on an excursion to explore and find help. He comes across a small native village where he meets a girl named Sika, who curiously is in need of dogs to pull her sled in the local sled race to the top of the world, the winner of which has any wish granted.

The two embark upon the race pulled by the pugs and have several adventures, including meeting a large kraken, and being lured into the Yeti Noodle shack where they become prisoners. This is the Lotus-Eater phase. Yes, the noodles are dreamily good - they're made from special snow, so why wouldn't they be? But the imprisonment is to do the chore of washing dishes to pay for the noodles they ate! Of course they escape.

And after another adventure or two they meet the wish-granter. I thought this was great fun. They completely snowed me with it, and I'm going to see if I can get my icy hands on some of the other books Reeve and collaborator McIntyre have created together.


Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan


Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook that didn't start out well. It was first person which is typically not a good idea, but I would have been willing to put up with that had the story engaged me. It did not. It clearly had no intention of entering into an engagement, and was evidently just leading me on! Again, it wasn't aimed at me, but I've read many middle-grade stories that entertained. My current print book is one aimed at young middle grade and it's completely engaging.

The problem with this book was the complete disconnect between events and the main character's relation of them. Willow Chance (yes, that's her name) is returning from some sort of school trip when she sees a police car in her drive. It transpires that her parents have expired. You would think there would be some sort of an emotional reaction, but if you're expecting one from Willow, you're barking up the wrong tree. She barely reacts.

Instead, she starts rambling mindlessly and tediously about her life history. I had to DNF this book at about ten percent in due to projectile vomiting. Yes, I was vomiting actual projectiles in the form of uncouth language. Robin Miles's reading of the novel didn't help. It wasn't appallingly bad, but it did nothing to contribute to easing the discomfort, either. I cannot commend this based on my experience of the opening few chapters.


Unbalanced by Courtney Shepard


Rating: WARTY!

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

I gave up on this Net Galley novel called "Unbalanced," because frankly, it was. On the face of it, the plot was actually appealing: it was about these four women who are evidently sisters who were separated at birth, but I don't know why. They each have one of the four elemental powers: air, earth, fire, and water. Not that any of those are actual elements, but I was willing to let that slide for a fun, or entertaining story, even though the names of these characters are a bit improbable if not laughable.

The blurb tells us that each generation brings out four sisters to fight against a fanatical, secret faith, but all this really tells me is that the sisters are useless in that they've obviously - and repeatedly - shown they're incapable of truly defeating this faith! The blurb says the sisters are born to fight this battle, but are unaware of what awaits them? Maybe that's why they fail? LOL! Or maybe the blurb-writer is just clueless. It's been said that when you do the same thing over and over with the same result you should try something else - or just check yourself into an institution. Evidently these girls are too dumb to own that.

The main character is fire, and her name is Asha. The earth character is named Ivy. The water one is named Mere. I forget the fourth. These are names from a parody, not a serious novel, but I was even willing to let that go for a good story. The problem is that Asha is initially portrayed as this fierce warrior woman, yet when she was captured by this guy who was originally sent to kill her, this supposedly tough young woman became immediate putty in his hands.

I started having serious problems with it at that point, but the next chapter introduced Ivy, who was kick-ass - in this case literally - but just as I was starting to like the novel again, back comes Asha, who despite her power being fire, leaves me cold, and she was even more putty-er in this chapter than the previous one. No. Just no. That was just less than 25% in, but I couldn't stand to read any more of this.

Asha hadn't been this guy's captive anywhere near long enough to be suffering Helsinki syndrome, nor had she been in his company long enough, and even had she been, she's supposed to be this bad-ass girl, yet the story began reading like a cheap BDSM "romance." I could not both keep reading this and keep my stomach contents. I chose my stomach.

I am so, so tired of YA female authors who have quite obviously never heard of the #MeToo movement, creating these supposedly strong female characters and then turning them into wilting violets and objects of gratification at the first whiff of testosterone. I cannot support a novel with this dedicated level of disrespect for women. It's unacceptable and honestly? The author needs to get a clue - and a more original title.


Saturday, January 5, 2019

I See a Bear, But... by KA Morgan


Rating: WARTY!

I tend to apply a different - but not a lower - standard to children's books in my reviews. I don't think they should offer less than books for grown-ups, but I cut them more slack in how they tell stories, in artwork, and sometimes in quality if the story is nevertheless good. I especially favor them if they're amusing, instructive, clever, or downright off the wall, which is probably why I love my own The Little Rattuses™ series so much. I couldn't do it with this one though.

I'm a great fan of puns and do not understand why something that was so beloved by Shakespeare has become such an object of derision these days, so I was amused by the title of this book and I had hoped the interior would deliver more of the same, but not exactly the same! The problem with this book was that all it did was essentially repeat the same butt joke eight times over, and the story didn't even deliver anything educational about the animals except the cliched general "knowledge" that everyone has about bears, moose, wolves, squirrels, rabbits, deer (even though a moose is in fact a deer!), raccoons, and skinks. And yes, moose is the plural of moose - not mooses, and certainly not meese.

The author has apparently made a rather extensive career out of this same shtick, because she has titles like "I See a Cat, But...", "I See a Chicken, But...", and "I See a Reindeer, But...", but it's the same thing endlessly repeated. There's nothing new or educational here and I cannot commend something as unimaginative and uninventive as this.


Friday, January 4, 2019

The Mechanical Horse by Margaret Guroff


Rating: WORTHY!

Subtitled 'How the Bicycle Shaped American Life', this book made for an informative and at times fascinating read and even gave me an idea for a novel - you never know where your next inspiration will come from!

It details the growth, retrenchment and regrowth of the bicycle (and it went through that...cycle...several times) from the earliest bike to modern times, discussing how it impacted not only the obvious - roads - but also other things, such as women's independence and military activities. It tells some great stories and makes for an engrossing book, and I commend it as a worthy read.


Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins


Rating: WARTY!

This was sitting on the library shelves and it was by the author of The Hunger Games, which I loved and favorably reviewed, so it seemed like it might make for an interesting read. If I had known it was part of 'The Underland Chronicles' I would never have picked it up. I make it a policy never to read anything with the word 'chronicles' (or 'cycle' or 'saga') associated with it, but once again the idiot publishers failed to put a warning on the cover that this was part of a series, much less a chronic one! Personally I think they ought to have a warning affixed similar to that one attached to packs of cigarettes, worded o the effect that it was written by an unimaginative, or washed-up, or outright lazy author who can't do original work anymore, but that's just me.

I began listening to it before I knew any of this. It was poorly read by Paul Boehmer and the story was poorly written for my taste, so I quickly gave up on it. It was too young for me. According to Wikipedia, the story begins thus: "Eleven-year-old Gregor is left home alone in his family's New York City apartment to watch his sisters and grandmother. When Gregor's baby sister Boots falls through an old air duct grate in the building's basement, he dives in after her. The two fall miles below into the Underland: a subterranean world home to humans with near-translucent skin; giant sentient bats, rodents, and insects; and an escalating conflict between the human city of Regalia and the rats' King Gorger."

So maybe this will appeal to a younger audience, but based on my admittedly limited experience, I cannot commend it.


Kim by Rudyard Kipling


Rating: WARTY!

I've enjoyed several of this author's works, but I could not get with him on this one. I positively reviewed The Elephant's Child in February 2018, and his Just So Stories in December of 2014, and I even enjoyed the Jungle Book stories related to Mowgli, which admittedly I did as research for a novel, but nevertheless! This one was boring, I'm sorry to report.

Set in the late nineteenth century, this story has a great plot to begin with: Kim is Kimball O'Hara, an orphan whose Irish father and mother are both dead. He continues to live in poverty as did his parents, and earns a living (if you can call it that) from begging and running errands on the streets of Lahore, which nowadays is a major city in Pakistan in the Punjab pradesh. Kipling's story was set before the partition. Kim is so much a part of the local culture that he is routinely mistaken for a native. He sometimes does jobs for Mahbub Ali, who is a Pashtun horse dealer, but who also works for the British secret service.

Kim attaches himself to a Tibetan lama and begins traveling with him as the lama seeks to free himself from the never-ending wheel of life and achieve enlightenment, For some reason this necessitates a quest to find a certain body of water, but Kim is separated from the lama and sent to school when it's discovered that he is a British subject. Somehow this impoverished lama-beggar funds his education, and after he is done with school, he rejoins the lama on a trip, the lama still traveling, Kim now spying for the British government.

I never made it that far though, because the story bored the salwar off me. I cannot commend it as a worthy read.


The Speed of Light by Amber Kizer


Rating: WARTY!

This is the third volume in the 'Meridian' trilogy which began with Meridian in 2009, and was followed by Wildcat Fireflies in 2011, and this one a year later. Despite liking the first, and not so much the second, both of which I read before I started blogging books, I could not get into this third volume at all. Maybe I left it too long before moving on to read this one? But that said it didn't ought to have affected my perception of it to this extent.

This is why I typically despise trilogies because far more often than not, the author takes a great idea and ruins it by dragging it out way past its natural life cycle. This is what happened here. Each volume was less than the previous, and this particular one was a bloated tome. One of the reasons for that was the appalling waste of trees involved in its production. There were massive margins, and the widely-spaced text did not start until halfway down the page on new chapters. How many trees could you have saved, Ms Kizer if you had formatted your book a little more wisely? Maybe she doesn't care. Maybe she hates trees. No one wants to see a book that's all text and no white space not even me(!), but come on! I think I'm going to start negatively-reviewing any print book that's so disrespectful of our environment.

Anyway I think I am done with this author after this experience. But briefly, the book is about Meridian Sozu, who is known as a Fenestra, that is, a human who has been, dare I say it, touched by an angel, and who is supposed to help transition souls into the next world. Why such a person would ever be needed goes unexplained. It implies that the resident god is incompetent and needs help shoring-up the defective system he created!

The author pairs her up with a guy, of course, who is naturally her soul-mate and protector. Why the author couldn't have changed this up a bit instead of taking the road most traveled, I do not know. She could have made the two antagonists, or made the protector a lesbian who wants Meridian, but whose love is not requited, or something else, but no, let's stick with traditional weak women who desperately needs a guy to validate her, young adult crap.

In volume one, this wasn't so bad as it happened, but it got worse. In this volume there's a battle to save this girl Julia who will do almost anything to find her parents, and who is siding with the idiotically named 'nocti' - the forces of dark who try to steal souls from people like Meridian. Plus there's a disaster awaiting at the Indianapolis 500, which some would argue is already a disaster, but still. Sorry, but no - not interested! The author has done insufficient work to create this world, and consequently it doesn't hang together at all well.


Thaw by Elyse Springer


Rating: WARTY!

This is published under the 'Season of Love' collection, so I assume there is one for each season. Maybe the author changes her name, so the next one after this would be Elyse Summerer, the next, Elyse Faller, and finally, Elyse Winterer? But it's not a series; each can be read as a standalone - at least that's my judgment from having read a goodly portion of this one; however, it did not appeal to me sufficiently. I read about a half or maybe two-thirds of it, but it wasn't anything special and wasn't holding my attention so I gave up on it.

The story is of Abigail the librarian who ends up dancing with a high profile model at a charity ball, and for some obscure reason the model is so thrilled with Abigail that she invites her on a date, and so the two begin seeing each other, but the relationship has ups and downs and is platonic until one night when Abigail pleasures Gabrielle sexually, but even then there's no flinging of the sexual.

The two seem to be settling into an asexual relationship, but this felt so wishy-washy that I gave up on it. Not that two people cannot be asexually attracted to each other to the point where they want a partnership. I wrote of one myself in my novel Bass Metal, but somehow this particular story felt disingenuous and unrealistic, as though the author had wanted to write about a full-on lesbian relationship but didn't have the courage to do so.

The book blurb definitely doesn't help. It is so shallow when it says of Abigail that "she finds herself dancing with one of the most beautiful women she's ever met" as though that alone is the basis of the relationship. I felt this betrayed the author. Authors typically don't write their own blurbs unless they self-publish, so some idiot blurb writer for the publisher is likely responsible for that. The relationship in the book wasn't that shallow at all, but it still didn't engage me, so I can't commend this.


Disturbing Ground by Priscilla Masters


Rating: WARTY!

I love the Welsh accent, so this sounded like it might be a good listen for me, and while I could listen to Siriol Jenkins reading in those dulcet tones forever, I can't listen to them when she's reading something like this, which had gone quite literally nowhere by about fifty percent in, except in that this Doctor, Megan Banesto, who is the de facto investigator here in this little mining town of Llancloudy, seems far more interested in trying to make time with someone else's husband than ever she does in finding out who drowned Bianca - a schizophrenic patient of hers who was known to be terrified of water.

I'm sorry but I simply did not like this main character who seemed far more meddling than investigative and who was simply annoying. She walked out on a patient in the middle of a consultation to go meddling when she saw a crowd gathering up the street! What a piece of work she is! I DNF'd this and cannot commend it based on my experience of it.


Her Last Breath by Linda Castillo


Rating: WARTY!

This is evidently one in a series, although gods forbid the publisher would ever tell you that on the cover! I mean, why would they? It might actually be of use to someone! It would sure be a courtesy to those of us who are not into series so we don't pick it up off the shelf thinking it's a one-off novel, or if we are into series, so we don't pick it up off the shelf and end up randomly in the middle of a series that we'd prefer to start at the beginning - and all because the idiot publisher couldn't be bothered to say it was Book X of Series Y. This is why I do not have a lot of respect for Big Publishing™.

This book has a prologue which I normally avoid like the plague, but which I got stuck with since the audiobook doesn't always make it clear it's a prologue and even if it is, often makes it hard to skip because you can't tell where chapter one starts. What made it worse in this case was that the prologue should have been chapter one because that's where the accident occurs where an Amish buggy is crashed into by a hit & run driver. It's the start of the story - why would it be in a prologue? I blame this on the author. Prologues are antique. Quit it with the prologues already.

My problem with it came right there, with the police chief in Amish country arriving right on the tail of the accident, when a witness was still alive and yet not asking him a word about whether he saw or can recall anything that might help track down the murdering driver. I decided this cop is a moron and after listening on a little further, I decided I did not like the way this book was written at all. There was too little police and far too much whiny drama, and it wasn't engaging me, so I DNF'd it.

The blurb tells more, like the discovery human bones in an abandoned grain elevator which have a connection to Katie's past, Katie being the chief of police, and I am surprised I missed that when I looked at this, but I guess I was too distracted by the idea of an Amish murder mystery! I am so tired of these series where everything ties to the investigator's past be it a PI or a police officer. It is tedious and it has been done to death. Get a new shtick! Good lord what kind of a person was this anyway, to have so much death and misery following them around everywhere?! LOL! Give me something fresh and new for goodness sake.


Love Ruby Lavender by Deborah Wiles


Rating: WARTY!

Read obnoxiously by Judith Ivey, this book was a fail from the off.

This audiobook sounded like fun from the blurb: Ruby Lavender and Miss End User License Agreement, aka Miss Eula, rescue chickens which are destined for the slaughterhouse in Halleluia, Mississippi. We're informed that they (Ruby and Eula, not the chickens) live in a house painted pink, although I fail to see how that makes them special, and they "operate their own personal secret-letter post office." Ruby is depressed by Miss Eula's impeding visit to Hawaii to see her grand-baby.

I never made it that far because the entire first quarter or so of this novel was obsessively and endlessly going on about chickens laying eggs and it was read in such an awful, nausea-inducing southern voice that I honestly couldn't stand to listen to it - not the voice nor the tediously harping story, so I ditched it and felt great relief at doing so. Obviously it's not aimed at me, but I cannot commend it based on what I suffered through. I would definitely not want a child to have to relive this!


Cleopatra in Space by Mike Maihack


Rating: WORTHY!

I encountered this in my luscious local library, and I could hardly not pick it up after writing Cleoprankster! I was curious, since both Maihack's Cleo and mine are roughly the same age (middle grade) what he had done with her.

I'm happy to report that this graphic novel is entirely different from my chapter book. Whereas I tried to be historically accurate and make the book educational - both to an extent! - this one went the other way and made a complete fiction of it, but I enjoyed it and consider it a worthy read.

In this introduction story, Cleo is abducted from Egypt and transported to a futuristic school out in interplanetary space, where she learns combat and weapons inter aliens. Fortunately everyone speaks Greek (which was Cleo's native language, although she spoke many others - at least as an adult - including Egyptian, which none of her Ptolemic forebears ever took the trouble to learn) so there are no language difficulties. Or maybe there's a universal translator in the air. I don't know. It's been a while since I read this! Anyway, Cleo goes on a mission and performs exemplary work, and that's about it. But then this is volume 1, so presumably there's more to come. I don't feel any great urge to rush out and get volume 2, but I might at some point, assuming there's one to be had.

As it is, I commend this as a fun and breezy story, although it won't tell you a thing about Cleopatra. She never did, for example, have a Louise Brooks-style 1920's bob. More than likely she was bald! Because of the head lice which were rife in Egypt, everyone shaved their heads, and kids ran around butt-naked. Cleo would have worn, if anything at all at that age, a wig which she could happily take off and have cleaned and maybe a short skirt. But its fiction, so what the hell!


Lumberjanes Unicron Power by Mariko Tamaki


Rating: WORTHY!

My sometimes stretched love affair with Mariko Tamaki remains intact after this audiobook version of what was initially purely a graphic novel.

Despite this being aimed at a much younger age group than ever I can claim membership of, it was highly amusing, very cute, entertaining, and told a good solid story. It turns out that unicorns aren't what you thought they were. They never were what I thought they were, not after reading (and positively reviewing) Rampant by Diana Peterfreund back in 2013, but here they're altogether different again.

Lumberjanes are a topic over which I evidently have mixed feelings. I love the idea of them, but the graphic novel (Lumberjanes Vol 2 by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Brooke Allen, Maarta Laiho) I picked up and negatively reviewed back in 2016 did not impress me at all. I found it boring and DNF'd it, so perhaps it's testimony to Mariko Tamaki's writing skills that I enjoyed this one so much. One small problem I had with that earlier work was that I could not understand how the title came about. These girls are not the female equivalent of Lumberjacks, not even remotely, so the name is misleading in many regards, but it is amusing.

The title just refers to a series of girl-centric comics, and is set in a summer camp (Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady Types if you must know). In process of enjoying a field trip, the girls encounter the unicorns and also get stuck on a cloud mountain later. The camp hands out badges, rather like the scouts do, but other than that, nothing much seems to happen except when the girls end up in trouble in one way or another from their own various activities, not all of which are camp sanctioned.

FYI, the Lumberjanes are:

  • Jo, a transgender girl who tends to be a leader and who has the most badges
  • April who is the princess of puns and who takes notes. She's very strong despite her apparently small frame.
  • Molly is an archer of Katniss skills, and is a great puzzle-solver. She wears a pet raccoon named Bubbles as a hat and is right behind Jo in number of badges earned.
  • Mal looks like some rebel girl, but isn't actually like that. She's a great maker of plans.
  • Ripley is young and fearless
On the camp staff are Rosie, the camp master, and Jen, who is the leader of Roanoke cabin, which is the lumberjane's cabin

I enjoyed this listen very much and I commend it as a great introduction to the lumberjanes even though it's not the first story in line.