Thursday, August 15, 2019

Cinders by Cara Malone


Rating: WARTY!

Erratum
“She leaned against the hood and worried at a hangnail on her pointy finger”
Surely she means 'pointer finger'?! This is why I have a problem with that term.

Well I made it almost 60% of the way through this before I had to run from it gagging. It started out pretty decently - a female firefighter, an arsonist, a love interest who wasn't yet a love interest but was quietly in the wings. Even when Marigold and Cynthia aka Cinder, aka Cyn, start to hook up, it still made for an entertaining story, although from that point on it became much more of a YA love story than ever it was an investigation into an arsonist. That I could even handle.

The problem came for me when the story made its nod and a wink to the Cinderella story. Marigold, who always complains about the amount of work she has to do, but all she seems to do is be a socialite, invites Cyn to a social event and Cyn comes dressed up, but gets called away to a fire. She changes shoes while talking to Mari in the parking area (for no apparent reason!), and accidentally leaves one of her loafers behind, which Mari then returns to her at the station house.

That part was fine, but as soon as these two began making out and going into a full blown sex session right there in the bunk room of the station house that was too much for me. It just felt wrong and sordid, and juvenile. If the author had made the fire alarm go off so they were interrupted when they began to make out, that for me would have made for a much more entertaining story! But this author went obvious on me and rather gross and immature as well, and that was far too much for my taste. That's when the romance felt fake and forced, like the author was faking it rather than feeling it, and I lost all interest.

I can't commend this based on the 60% or so that I read.


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Tootle by Gertrude Crampton, Tennant Redbank, Sue DiCiccio


Rating: WARTY!

This story - at one time the third best-selling hardback children's book in the English language - was originally written (in 1945) by Gertrude Crampton and illustrated by Hungarian artist Tibor Gergely. neither get credit here. Those who do get credit get no copyright. The copyright goes to the publisher. Highly suspicious. I'm not sure why Big Publishing™ decided this needed to be adapted by Redbank and re-illustrated by DiCiccio, but while the illustrations were sweet and colorful, I'm not sure about the message this book conveys to modern children. That message is "Most of all? Stay on the rails no matter what!"

That sounds far too much like "stay in your lane." Do we really want kids to be told that they have to follow the same track as everyone else? Maybe back in 1945 there was a culture that saw nothing wrong with offering advice akin to 'children should be seen and not heard', but in the twenty-first century, I don't want my kids to be told they can't go off piste. I never have told them that.

There's a different between going off the rails in a maniacal way, but that's not what's meant here. Tootle is trying to cut his own path - and admittedly he's forgetting his goal for the day, but he's also having fun, and finding out new things that he would never learn were he to rigidly follow those rails. As long as they were re-doing this anyway, a better story would have been to have him complete his task for the day, and then to sneak off the rails after hours and go do his own thing. A book like that, I could have got with.

I know there's a lot been said lately about staying in lanes - a lot of misogynistic crap included - but not all of the commentary on that has been well thought-through. I read an article titled "Gender Norms: The Problem With The 'Stay in Your Lane' Phenemenon," written by by Kourtney Kell where she actually wrote: "Was it because I thought I was going to get hit on? No, I wasn't even wearing makeup." This suggests to me that Kell seems to think she's ugly - or at least unattractive - without make-up. What? Talk about staying in your lane! I quit reading that article right there.

But the bottom line is that while there are certain societal conventions that are broken at one's peril, there is a serious problem with restricting children too much and trying to fit them into a certain box rather than let them choose the box - if any, they'd really like to get into. I know this book was simply intended as a fun young children's book, perhaps even intended as a lesson about following rules, but to me, in this day and age, it's far too contrtricting and I can't commend it as a worthy read.


Lulu-Grenadine Fait des Cauchemars by Laurence Gillot


Rating: WORTHY!

Continuing the international theme from the last review, There is over 20 Lulu-Grenadine books for children written by this slightly crazed-looking female author. This is the first I ever encountered her, and it was appropriately in French. I have only high-school French and most of that is forgotten, but I had enough to guess at what was being said and it was entertaining. I didn't know the word 'Cauchemars' but it became obvious that it means nightmare, of which a literal translation from English would be jument de nuit, except that the 'mare' in nightmare has nothing to do with a female horse, but is derived from an ancient European word related to oppressive feelings. So no more horses of the night! LOL! I have no idea what cauchemar actually means if translated literally.

In the story, this young girl, Lulu-Grenadine (that latter word meaning pomegranate) has a nightmare of little white dark-eyed ghosties floating around in her room, but eventually realizes they're nothing but her wild imagination. The book is entertaining and educational, usefully advising children that there really aren't any ghosts, and that an active imagination can be put to better uses than keeping you awake at night! I commend this book even though it needs no mending, except to maybe have it in the English version for better clarity for us English-speakers!


The Hole by Øyvind Torseter


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a highly amusing children's book written and illustrated by a Norwegian writer (don't worry - it's translated into English by Kari Dickson). The first name is pronounced a bit like Irvin with a 'd' on the end. Quite literally the central theme of the book is that it has a hole right through it, cover to cover. The hole takes part in the story. When this guy moves into a new apartment and discovers the hole in his wall, he also discovers that as he moves around, so does the hole! Eventually he manages to capture it in a box and take it to a research lab where they conduct various experiments on it - determined to find the hole truth no doubt.

On each page of this large format book, the hole appears in different locales. It's a lightbulb on one page, a traffic light on another, someone's eye in another, someone's nostril in another, and so it goes. How they ever managed to match the hole so well to the drawings in putting together this book I can only guess, but it was well done and the book was very entertaining. I don't know what a child will make of it, but hopefully they will be at least as fascinated with it as I was!

I commend this book as a worthy read.


Sunday, August 11, 2019

Return to Cinder by Kristy Tate


Rating: WORTHY!

Having enjoyed Magic Beneath the Huckleberries by this author, I thought this might be a decent read too, and it was. It's very short - just thirty pages or so. It's a supernatural kind of a story about a life-changing event, but it's not a scary story.

Angela is heading home from a friend's wedding where her drive there took longer than the ceremony itself. On her way back through the Nevada desert, her car starts behaving erratically, but fortunately, a patrol car comes by and hooks her up with a tow truck. While she's awaiting the car being fixed, she heads across the street to a function and finds a bite to eat and some warm and friendly people. The thing is that when she finally does get back home, Angela can't find any trace of the hamlet where she'd stopped.

Spooky but not scary, this story was sweet, light, and an easy and fast read. I commend it.


Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie


Rating: WARTY!

Here's an example of Christie reusing old material. One the characters is named Bella like the one in her Dumb Witness story, and also we have an instance here of Poirot being summoned to help out someone whose life is on the line and he arrives too late - again, like in the Dumb Witness story. It's also in some ways a case of mistaken identity as in Dumb Witness. The story takes place in Merlinville-sur-Mer in France where Poirot arrives with all Hastings at the Villa Genevieve to discover that mister Renauld was stabbed in the back with a letter opener the previous night, and left in a newly-dug grave by the local golf course.

The worst part of this story for me was the appalling reading by Charles Armstrong, who has no idea how to pronounce French words and repeatedly mangles ones such as Sûreté and Genevieve. When he tries to imitate a female voice his own voice sounds like he's being strangled. It was horrible to listen to and I couldn't stand to hear any more after the first 15 percent or so. I DNF'd this and consider it a warty "read".

I got hold of the DVD for Murder on the Links as well as Dumb Witness. Of the two, the latter departed from the book the most - and by quite a considerable margin, but I enjoyed that filmed story. It was cute and amusing, but Miss Peabody was totally absent, which annoyed me to no end. Murder on the Links, by contrast, was a lousy story which made no sense and in which Hastings was a complete dumb-ass (even more than he usually is) who got rewarded rather than getting his just deserts for actively perverting with the course of justice.

Having DNF's this, I can't comment on whether the book was as bad, but the TV show in regard to this particular episode simply isn't worth watching. Worse than this though was that despite the story taking place almost entirely in France, every single person spoke with a perfect English accent with no trace of actual French marring it whatsoever! Even French words like Genevieve and Sûreté were mangled. It was almost as though it was filmed entirely in England with a complete English cast! Whoah! Trust me, it sucked. I think it's by far the worst Poirot episode I ever saw and I've seen most of them so this one is double-warty!


Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie


Rating: WARTY!

This started out rather well, and was quite well read by Hugh Fraser, who played Poirot's companion Captain Hastings in the David Suchet TV series which covered very nearly all of Poirot's stories. The problem for me was that it descended into predictability and tedium in the last third or so, and the brilliant detective Poirot failed to see clues that even I could see, which tells me this story was badly-written.

I'm not a fna of detective stories which begin by telling us information the detective doesn't have. I much prefer the ones where we come in blind to the crime, just as the detective arrives. This one was not one of the latter, but the former, so we got an overly-lengthy introduction to the crime which to me was uninteresting and removed any suspense and excitement.

That said it wasn't too bad once the story began to move and Poirot arrived, but Hastings was a complete asshat with his endless whining along the lines of 'There's nothing to see here! Let's go home'. I'm truly surprised Poirot didn't slap him or kick him in the balls. I know this business of having a dumb-ass companion was set in stone by Arthur Doyle, but it's really too much.

The story is of the death of Emily Arundell, and aging and somewhat sickly woman of some modest wealth, at whom her relatives are pecking for crumbs before ever she's dead. After a fall down the stairs which she survives, Emily passes away at a later date, and after this, Poirot gets a letter form her which was somehow delayed in posting. It seems rather incoherent, but it does suggest she fears greatly for something. Poirot arrives to discover she died, and rather than turn around and go home, he poses as an interested buyer for a property that belonged to Emily so he can snoop around and ask questions. This part went on too long, too, for my taste.

Eventually Poirot's deception is exposed by Miss Peabody who for me was one of the two most interesting characters, and hands down the most amusing in the book. I really liked her. My other favorite was Theresa Arundell, whose initials, you will note, are TA, which have mirror symmetry. It's this that Poirot fails to grasp for the longest time after he learns that a person was identified by initials on a broach which was glimpsed in a mirror.

The problem though is that Christie fails to give us vital information that would have clearly identified the killer for anyone sharp enough to have picked up on this mirror image, so we're cruelly-robbed of the chance to nail down the actual killer, although some of the red herrings are disposed of with relative ease.

The final insult is Poirot's gathering of all the suspects together for the dénouement, and this is ridiculous for me. I know it's a big thing in these mysteries, but really it's laughable and spoils the story. It's so unrealistic and farcical especially since everyone, including the murderer, blithely agrees to gather for this exposure. How absurd! If the murderer had any sense, he or she would off Poirot before he had chance to expose the culprit, and thereby they would get off scot-free since Poirot is such an arrogant and persnickety old cove that he never reveals to anyone who the murder is until that last minute, thereby giving them ample opportunity to scarper!

I got hold of the DVD for this story from the library and watched it. I also watched Murder on the Links. Of the two, the former departed from the book the most - and by quite a considerable margin, but I enjoyed that filmed story. It was cute and amusing, but Miss Peabody was totally absent, which annoyed me to no end. Murder on the Links, by contrast, was a lousy story which made no sense and in which Hastings was a complete dumb-ass (even more than he usually is) who got rewarded rather than getting his just deserts for actively perverting with the course of justice. I can't comment on whether the book was as bad since I DNF'd it, but the TV show in regard to this particular episode simply isn't worth watching. Worse than all I've mentioned though was that despite the story taking place almost entirely in France, every single person spoke with a perfect English accent with no trace of actual French marring it whatsoever! Even French words like Genevieve and Sûreté were mangled. It was almost as though it was filmed entirely in England with a complete English cast! Whoah! Trust me, it sucked. I think it's by far the worst Poirot episode I ever saw and I've seen most of them.

So while there were some interesting and even fun bits to this audiobook, overall it was tedious, and I cannot commend it as a worthy listen.


Mythologica by Steve Kershaw, Victoria Topping


Rating: WORTHY!

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

If Steve is the cake in this book, then Victoria is definitely the Topping. The text is great, but the artwork will blow your socks off. In fact I still haven't found mine, and I'm seriously considering billing the artist for a new pair.

I asked myself, when beginning to read this, what it can bring to the table that couldn't be served equally well by a quick reference to Wikipedia. The answer quickly became obvious. This book has pizazz, which no one could ever accuse Wikipedia of! It's not dry and technical, but lively, exciting, and has roots you can follow all the way back to Tartarus. Unlike those annoying Rick Riordan books which brutally-wrenched the mythology from its native Greece and inexplicably transplanted it to the USA with nary a με την άδειά σας (which is Greek for 'by-your-leave'), like only the USA matters and alas who cares about Hellas anyway, this book keeps everything where it originated and tells the complete story in pithy paragraphs that skip none of the weird details which is what makes these tales so engrossing.

The book runs to some fifty pages of text and illustration, and covers Zeus, Hera, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Poseidon, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Hermes, Dionysius, Hades, Demeter, Persephone, Ares, Gaia, Prometheus, Pan, Eros, Penelope, Narcissus, Oedipus, Pandora, Icarus, Midas, Cassandra, Orpheus, Helen, Achilles, Hector, Jason, Medea, Cyclops, Argos, Typhon, Chimaera, Medusa, Cerberus, Talos, Pegasus, the Muses, the Fates, the Amazons, the Argonauts, the Hydra, the Centaurs, The Griffin, the Giants, the Hundred Handers, The Minotaur, the Sirens, the Harpies, the Phoenix. In short, it has everything in one convenient place.

The text alone would have made this a worthy read, but add to that the artwork (and especially its diversity) and it takes it to a whole other place. I was repeatedly struck by how much of the Bible's mythology was taken directly from the earlier Greek stories. This is a wonderful book with much to entice, and I commend it as a worthy and educational read.


Math Games for Kids by Rebecca Rapoport, JA Yoder


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Telling a kid that the book you're gifting them has some forty pages of math might well make the kid turn and run the other way. Is math fun? Well that depends how it's done. If you lead with the idea of building 3-D shapes using toothpicks and...gumdrops, then you might get the kid's attention, and that's how this book starts out!

Not all kids are math averse, of course. Some do love it already, but for many, if they're at all like me (and hopefully they're not!), then math might seem daunting rather than haunting. The first thing you should know is that this isn't really about working with numbers, but about working with shapes and patterns, and reading this made me wonder if maybe our approach to math ought to include topics like these early - bring math to your kid as fun and games and maybe when the tougher and more numerically-oriented materials inevitably crop up, they'll be less inclined to run? I know I would have been.

Colorfully- and simply-illustrated and full of fun topics laid out intelligently and attractively, this book begins with creating shapes using toothpicks for the edges and gumdrops for the vertices, teaching about prisms and pyramids, but before your child becomes completely imprismed, the book moves on to drawing circles and ellipses, including how to create a giant one in the playground. Next up is topology and Möbius strips, which might sound scandalous to some but it really isn't, because Möbius knows where to draw the line.

This is followed by a little bit of geography and a lot of four-color maps, and then stitching curves (which commendably shows both boys and girls at work) followed by fractals. And trust me if you understand only a part of the fractal section you've got it all. Snowflakes and graph theory lead to Eulerian circuits and a trip to Königsberg which now has a much less appealing name I'm afraid to say. No! I'm not afraid to say it. I will say it! It's Kaliningrad! There, I said it!

All the solutions to the various puzzles are included toward the back of the book along with an index. I liked this book, and consider it very useful and effective way to introduce young children to math. I commend it as a worthy read.


Saturday, August 10, 2019

Catch Cat by Claire Grace


Rating: WARTY!

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

This is aimed at providing fun and interesting facts about the world, continent by continent, but it was designed from the ground up as a print book and I got to review only the ebook which was disturbingly low-resolution. The problem was that this very resolution defeated one of the stated challenges in the book - that of finding things in the picture of the continent in question, including the 'Catch Cat' of the title.

The book is laid out in a series of descriptive pages, each of which is followed by a color image of the continent being covered. The challenge is to find those things described in the descriptive page, in the continent image, including the cat. While the descriptive pages seemed fine and even interesting, the continent page was so crowded and of such poor resolution that I couldn't see anything reliable in any of them. It reminded me of those old computer games way back when resolution was poor: blocky and ugly. It certainly wasn't possible to see anything useful let alone pick out things described on the previous page. Even when I looked in the area the cat was supposed to be (there are 'solution' pages at the end of the book which highlight it), I still couldn't pick it out.

That wasn't even the worst problem. Judged by the first continent covered - North America - I can judge fairly confidently that the author is of USA origin, and is white. I've never seen her so I don't know, and I may well be wrong, but I got this impression from the fact that despite being home to nearly forty countries, North America is described by the author as consisting only of Canada, the USA, and Mexico. The 'landmarks' page covers solely things found in the USA, with the lone exception of the Canadian Mounted Police! Disturbingly, there's not a word about Mexico - nor any of the other countries. It's like they don't exist.

I'm used to the USA behaving as though it's the only important country on the planet, and being so insular and provincial as to be laugh-worthy, particularly under this president where hatred toward Mexico is being daily fomented, but even so, this was a bit much. It's put right there front of the line for no good reason. Alphabetically it comes almost last in a listing of continents. It's a USA-produced book, aimed at USA audiences presumably, so I can understand North America coming first, but it was entirely inappropriate to treat North America like it's only the USA and nothing else matters or is of interest. That I can't forgive. And yes, in case you wondered, the book is printed in China! I guess the USA isn't everything after all, huh?!

I would like to assume that the print book is larger format and higher resolution than my iPad, but since I didn't get the print book to review I can review only this one, and based on what I saw here - or more accurately in some regards, what I failed to see - I cannot commend this as a worthy read.


Birds & Butterflies Drawing & Activity Book by Walter Foster Jr Creative Team


Rating: WARTY!

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

I have to say right up front how disappointed I was in this book - designed as a print book but reviewed as an ebook - which purports to teach how to draw birds and butterflies. I felt it didn't do anywhere near enough to teach any art at all. The book offers three methods and cycles through each of them with different pictures alternating between birds and butterflies. The first is simple tracing, and the print version of the book has tracing paper built in, presumably over the top of the image you're expected to trace. Tracing isn't really art in my book.

The second method is drawing using a grid. You copy each square section of the larger image by duplicating the lines in a marked four square wide by six square tall grid. This is a step closer to art, but it's still not really teaching anything. The third method comes closest, but even here there are problems. The third step involves drawing simple shapes initially, to 'map out' the more complex shape of the thing you're drawing. I've seen this method used many times in art books and while I remain unconvinced that it's the best method to teach art, I do acknowledge that it provides a rudimentary means to that end which hopefully anyone who is serious about pursuing art will find ways to circumvent as their personal technique improves.

My problem with this method was that as presented here in this book, it offers not steps, but jumps. The examples shown start with simple clusters of circles and some other shapes for, say, a butterfly, and these are refined in subsequent steps, but suddenly, in five steps, we have a professionally-drawn butterfly and in the sixth, a colored one without any hints, tips, suggestions, or advice about how to get there from step four, which was nothing more than an outline that might as well have been traced.

For me this was a major failing with this book because it assumed way too much, particularly with the coloring. It was a mystery because on the face of it, the book appears to pander more to people who want to idle their time away while on vacation and who are not really that serious about learning to drawn and paint. For an art book this contains a disturbing amount of non-art activities, such as word search, sudoku, spot the differences, and on and on.

Those pages could have been better used to explain the art and suggest ways to work on and improve ones technique. So on the one hand we have these professional insta-art projects which start out looking like amateur step-by-step methods before leaping to a professional finish with no suggestions as to how to get there from here, and on the other, we have completely unrelated activities that contribute nothing to learning about art and seem merely to be mindless time-wasting activities.

Admittedly, it helps to step away from your art now and then, so you can come back to it with a fresh eye, and I know the cover says quite plainly it's an art and activity book, but the way this book is thrown together seemed insulting to anyone who seriously wants to learn how to draw and color, and pointlessly complex to anyone who merely wants to dabble and who really does want some mindless distraction for a vacation. For these reasons I cannot commend this book, with anonymous authors, as a worthy read.


Friday, August 9, 2019

The Animal Awards by Martin Jenkins, Tor Freeman


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Written by Jenkins and illustrated by Freeman, this is a fun and educational book about animal world record holders. Some of the records are less to be desired than others, but are nonetheless interesting. The book covers axolotls to vampire bats, and scores of others in between, but it features only those who are outstanding in one way or another - and their closest competitors. It might be that they live longest - like an estimated 400 years for a Greenland shark! - or that they are the fastest on land - like the cheetah, or the fastest in the air, like the peregrine falcon.

Maybe they have the goofiest mating dance, or can make the loudest noise (from one of the smallest animals, too!). Maybe they dive deeper or travel further, or have the most boring diet. Whatever it is, they're very likely in here. The record holders are not always cute and cuddly-looking mammals either. They could be vertebrates or non-vertebrates, fish, molluscs, birds, insects, mammals, amphibians. They could live anywhere on land or sea, or in the air. They could live in the hot or the cold, the jungle or the plains. But they're out there, and this books tells you what's special about them, and with enough text to educate, without lecturing, and with colorful and useful illustrations.

We puff ourselves up with human achievements, and often forget that these animals were first in the field (and elsewhere!). I commend this as a worthy read.


Portrait of an Artist: Frida Kahlo by Lucy Brownridge, Sandra Dieckmann


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I've been intrigued by, nay, in love with Frida Kahlo ever since I first heard of her. She's something of an enigma. I'm a lot more a fan of hers than I am of her art as it happens - not that there's anything wrong with her art. I find her work evocative, and some of her most moving paintings are featured here as modest reproductions. Many of her works are like mini biographies - the equivalent of what today, with always-on instant communication, are called 'status updates'. She went through two different hells as a child and a teenager: first suffering polio, and then a pelvis-breaking tram accident which left her in pain for the rest of her life.

This didn't stop her from painting and painting and painting. In fact one could argue that the accident, which left her in bed for some time, unable to do anything much other than read and paint using a special easel her father made for her, triggered her advance into art. Her meeting renowned painter Diego Rivera gave her another push. He liked her work and liked her and eventually they married, but the marriage wasn't always a happy one. This book wisely doesn't go into that. While it does talk of her polio and the accident, it otherwise paints a rosy picture of her too-brief life, written in short, clear bursts and eminently suitable for a younger child to read. Kudos to Lucy Brownridge for getting it right.

And talking of art, Sandra Dieckmann paints us a fine visual picture on every page: colorful and playful, serious but not staid, and very endearing. I already knew lots about the artist (Kahlo, not Dieckmann!) having read at least four other books, including children's books about her, or about art that mention her, yet I still found this one engaging, fresh, and entertaining, and I commend it as a worthy read. Let Frida Ring!


Portrait of an Artist: Vincent van Gogh by Lucy Brownridge


Rating: WORTHY!

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

What can be said about van Gogh that hasn't been already? Well, this book reveals that and more! It's very colorful, aimed at a younger audience, and it tells an honest story while not becoming maudlin or depressing. The book features modest reproductions of several of his works including the well-known ones, and the art (by Edith Carron) is as well-done as the text, which is brief without being too brief and informative without being exhausting - in short, just right for a young reader whom you want to introduce to the kind of art that, let's face it, a child might emulate in many ways, especially if they try to copy the colorful, unadorned, yet fine-looking works that Carron reproduces here.

For me the real tragedy of van Gogh isn't his life, but what happened afterwards. He can never know how beloved he is today after having such a short and unappreciated life, and that's inexcusable, so it would behoove us all to remember that when looking at new art today.

The book discusses van Gogh's art, his life, his relationship with his brother, and even his depression without becoming medical or unintelligible. It's not just about the art, but about the whole idea of what brings an artist to paint what they do, and as such the book does have something new to say about van Gogh, something younger reads would like to hear. I commend this as a worthy read.


Sahara Special by Esmé Raji Codell


Rating: WORTHY!

Sahara has issues with her school, most notably that they confiscated some of her letters. These were ones she'd written to her absentee father and then stored in a disused locker at the school. Sahara also has issues, evidently about storing things at home, because she's also a writer and when she's written something creative in her journal - another chapter in her Heart-Wrenching Life Story and Amazing Adventures, she tears out the pages and hides them behind a disused section of books in her local library where she loves to spend her free time.

Sahara was a special-ed student, but now her mother has demanded she be removed from that category and integrated into regular classes. This requires some adjustment on her part, but Sahara is amazed to discover that her teacher isn't going to be who she thought it would be. There's a new fifth-grade teacher by the name of Poitier, but since these children seem unable to pronounce her name, she gets labeled 'Miss Pointy'. She's unlike any other teacher Sahara has ever encountered. Her methods are rather radical and pretty soon everyone is paying attention to the teacher. How radical is that?

I'm not normally a fan of this kind of story, but this one was different, amusing, and Sahara was an interesting and strong female character and also a main character of color. I liked her, liked the story, and commend it as a worthy read.


Little Concepts: A is for Apricat by Mauro Gatti


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a cute book which takes fruits and veggies and turns them into animals - real fruit and veg, drawn-on, colorful animals. It teaches ABC's, healthy eating (everyone can use some fresh fruit and veggies in their diet!) and some fun since children will no doubt want to draw their own made-up animals after this. I know I would have done so! So this book not only helps your health, it helps the planet if we all eat less meat and more fruits and veggies.

I found the names (among which are Broccolion, Cowconut, Iguava, and Kangaroot) highly amusing and inventive and the artwork well-done indeed. The book is short with brief text and full page images in brilliant colors, and I commend it as a worthy and educational read for young children.


Jerry the Squirrel by Shawn PB Robinson


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I'm a big fan of squirrels because they're so utterly insane and so proud of it to boot. I couldn't not read a book about them, and I'm glad I did in this case as it happens, because it was amusing and entertaining. Jerry is an inventor and while he doesn't necessarily always think things through, he does carry things through, and he never conceives of a solution to a problem without actually designing and building that solution. That's when the real problem starts, unfortunately.

Cold floor? That calls for super-duper slipper solution! Nut harvest time? That clearly calls for a nut-harvesting machine! Nut beetle invasion? That calls for...well, Jerry has some issues with the solution to that one!

The slippers, the first story in what, in effect, amounts to a collection of short stories about Jerry, was by far the most amusing to me. It was inspired, and I loved it. The impact of the subsequent stories seemed less after that one, but they were still eminently entertaining even when the rather-annoying Gary and his mom moved in upstairs.

If I have a complaint it was that I felt Jerry ought to have been granted some reward, somewhere along the trail, in some fashion or other, but the hapless squirrel never seems to get one. While this is amusing in some ways, I can't help but wonder if children who read this might be induced to feel that being creative is a forlorn and pointless exercise because of poor Jerry's singular lack of lasting success and recognition.

That aside, the stories were amusingly-written, inventive, and engaging and I commend this as a worthy read.


Crack The Credit Code by Todd Wilson


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Subtitled "To Play The Game, You Need To Know The Rules" this book aims to teach the reader about credit scores and how to make the most of them. It discusses how your credit score is arrived at and how to work on improving it.

The book has been worked-over by Amazon's crappy Kindle conversion process, which is apparently a portmanteau of con and aversion, because it can seriously mangle a book if the book's text and layout is anything other than plain vanilla. The result in this case is that it's a bit of a 'run on' sort of a book with one section leading straight into another and no "white space" between sections.

The content page is rather sliced and diced too, and runs straight into the Introduction (which I skipped as is my wont!). As a wild guess, I think the content page was supposed to be set up with a chapter enumeration (which says 'Chapter 1' for example) on the left side of the screen and the chapter title on the right with the page number, but in practice, all the left side is listed first, and below it all comes the right side with the page numbers, so it's a mess. It is 'clickable' (at least, the lower half is), but it's so jumbled and so close together that it really serves no purpose for jumping to a chapter unless you have very small fingertips, and there's no way to click back from the chapters to the content page if you happen to tap the wrong link. This was an advance review copy, so hopefully that can be fixed before it's finally published.

That aside, and though the book layout felt a little bit disorganized, it dispenses good and useful advice. Obviously the way to stay out of credit trouble is never to have a credit card, but such cards are really a requirement in this day and age, so the next safest bet is to get the card and use it for small items here and there, always paying-off the balance, or the bulk of the balance each month, so it never builds up to unmanageable levels.

Should that fail, this book offers advice about credit repair (and engaging a repair service isn't your best bet unless you have lots of money and little time to do it yourself). But if you have lots of money, your best bet is to use that to pay down your balance, meet your payments, and thereby improve your credit score! That's the kind of common sense approach this book takes. It's short, to the point, and offers sound advice for all kinds of credit situations, including explaining the background and thinking behind credit scores.

I commend this as a worthy and useful read for anyone who is experiencing credit difficulties of any kind.


The Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a sequel to Zita the Spacegirl which I reviewed recently and loved. This one is equally loveable. Zita is irrepressible. I didn't know, when I read the first one, that Zita was actually invented by a fellow college student of the author's named Anna, who would go on to marry him. Paradoxically, Zita was older when she was first conceived than she is now, and the art was much more basic. She then transmogrified into an adventurer a bit like, I guess, a space-faring version of Jacques Tardi's Adèle Blanc-Sec. I'm not sure I would have liked her like that, because I much prefer Zita in the incarnation I first came to know her, which is this early middle-grade femme de feisty.

In this adventure, Zita, who we left thinking she had saved her friend and dispatched him home safely in the previous volume, is brought to trial in a kangaroo court which disappointingly isn't held by kangaroos, but by an alien villain and his hench-robots. His purpose is to recruit people by foul means (fair isn't an option with this guy) and set them to work in his mine in search of a crystal. He doesn't care that removing it will collapse the asteroid which bears the mine, and kill the indigenous life forms which look like lumps of coal with startling white eyes. Why a mined-out asteroid would collapse remains a bit of a mystery, but I didn't let that bother me! This is more sci-fantasy than sci-fi!

Zita meets her usual assortment of oddball alien friends - but even more-so in this outing, it seems - and she attempts to escape, but even when freedom is within her grasp, she can't help but go back and lend a hand to an alien she noted earlier who is being sorely-abused. Since this graphic novel was published just over four years after a Doctor Who episode titled The Beast Below, I have to wonder at the author purloining this idea from Stephen Moffat, but maybe the latter purloined it from elsewhere before that and so it goes. Writers can be a very derivative bunch can't they? Especially if they work for Disney. Remake much? But as long as suckers will pay, they'll be delighted to keep suckering them in won't they - innovation be damned?

But this story was amusing, entertaining, and made me want to read it to the end, so I commend it as a worthy read.


Sunday, August 4, 2019

Runaway Twin by Peg Kehret


Rating: WORTHY!

This book was amazing and despite it not being aimed at my age range for entertaining reading, it thrilled me because it did exactly what I advocate: tell me something new! Don't take the road most-traveled, but strike out on your own route which is coincidentally, precisely what the main character did. This book has a happy ending, but it isn't the happy ending you might think you're going to get. That's what made it special.

Sunny Skyland has been raised in foster homes one after another, since she was separated from her twin sister when they were both aged three. Now, in her early teens, Sunny happens upon a large sum of cash which no one claims, so she employs this windfall to embark on her dream road trip - hunting down her sister, Starr.

She doesn't dislike her current foster home, but she desperately needs to find her sister so she leaves a note for her foster mom Rita, and gets herself a bus ticket. Before long, she's in deeper than she imagined. It's not all plain sailing: soon she's taking on board a stray dog, running into bullies, missing a bus, taking a potentially risky long-distance cab ride, and finally, finally, finding her sister, which isn't at all the reunion that Sunny has envisioned all these years.

I commend this author for some fine writing and a great ending. I'm not much for series and sequels, but this is one story where a sequel would be highly appropriate. I'd read it.


Saturday, August 3, 2019

Swans in Space by Lun Lun Yamamoto


Rating: WARTY!

I suppose I should remind readers up front that I'm not a huge manga fan. Reading backwards isn't my choice, but I can do that if the story is worth it. the problem is that the stories all-too-often aren't worth the effort of reading unnaturally. This was one such.

The premise was amusing and entertaining enough, but in the end it's the story. I can read a story which has no plot if the author writes well enough. I can't read the perfect plot if the story is written badly, uninventively, or boringly. The premise here is that a young girl is chosen in school by a classmate for testing for what seems to be UPS in space, although it's also space police - or maybe something else? I dunno and that's part of the problem. The scope of their 'duties' is so vague as to be limitless.

What were these people supposed to be doing and why are girls taken out of school to do it? No explanation. Their travel results in time-dilation, so their return is only a minute or two after they left, but they have subjectively experienced the entire time - even if it's many hours - that they spent doing this job, which consists of flying spacecraft. These craft are designed to look like swans for reasons which are unexplained - assuming they even exist.

The girls come back already exhausted and still have the rest of their own school day to finish. It's beyond credibility that something wouldn't go wrong, and it's hardly surprising that this girl who recruits the main character into this life is totally shallow. Her brain is probably fried from the insane hours she's been forced to keep.

Even that might have been manageable if the story itself was worth the reading but it wasn't. It was so bad that just a couple of days later I've completely forgotten it. They didn't really do anything that a decent drone couldn't have done, so again: point? None! If there had been something - anything in the story to give it some oomph, then the rest of this ridiculous situation might have been overlooked. I can even get with whimsy if there's a compelling reason to, but there really was nothing to see here. I can't commend this garbage as a worthy read on any level.


Lord and Lady Bunny - Almost Royalty by Polly Horvath


Rating: WORTHY!

This audiobook was laugh-out-loud hilarious, and while there were some tame bits, for the most part it amused me highly. I'm not sure who it was aimed at. It seems a bit too mature for a middle-grade or earlier audience, and a bit too 'bunny' for older audiences, but none of that bothered someone like me who is completely insane.

It's read in fine style by the author, and she does a great job. She seems to take an unhealthy delight, it must be noted, in pronouncing bunny with an explosive beginning and a whimper of an ending. That word appears in almost every other sentence. 'Rabbit' not so much.

This is a sequel to Mr and Mrs Bunny - Detectives Extraordinaire! which I have neither read nor heard, but which deficit I intend to rectify at an early opportunity. Fortunately this one worked as a stand-alone so I didn't feel robbed at not having encountered the initial volume first. Once again it's a case of the publisher not having the decency to put something on the cover indicating it's a part of a series. This is why I self-publish. I do not trust Big Publishing™ one bit.

In this story the bunnies, Mr & Mrs, travel by ship to England to inherit a sweet shop, and hopefully a title - like Queen - along the way, and the story is about their travel across the ocean, their struggle to get to the shop, and get it up and running profitably, and endure assorted mishaps along the way including an unprovoked assault with acorns by squirrels along the way. I tell you, those squirrels. If I had an acorn for every time....never mind. I do.

I commend this as a funny bunny story and a worthy wabbit wead. Or wisten! Be advised: Do not let it get anywhere near marmots.


The Time Slip Girl by Elizabeth Andre


Rating: WARTY!

This sounded from the blurb like an interesting novel, reminiscent in some small ways of my own Tears in Time wherein a lesbian girl travels in time. This book was much more straight-forward and simple than mine was though.

Dara, a young woman from 2014, is still suffering from the loss of her Asian fiancé Jenny, who died in a car accident. With Jenny, Dara shared a bucket-list of foreign locales to visit, but she felt she could not go to the next place on the list: China, since that was Jenny's trip. Instead, she visited the next after that: London with her brother, and while touring an Edwardian house, Dara goes off piste in a big way, first entering a dark basement alone, but then falling down the steps and awakening in 1908 in that same basement.

The first person she meets is Agnes, also a lesbian, but neither girl dare reveal her sexual nature to the other for fear of recrimination, repulsion, or derision. Since Agnes lives alone in a 'flat' (apartment) and works a decent job at a local department store, she allows Dara to stay with her until she can find her feet. Agnes slowly comes to accept Dara's story that she's from the future, and is fascinated by her "Butter toffee" skin. Agnes has met no women of color before.

Over the next few weeks Dara starts to settle in, gets a job serving in a disgustingly smokey pub, and meets a man who is studying what he calls 'timeslips' - and through whom she hopes to get back to her own time. In time also, the two young women finally realize they are both the same in terms of their desire for another of their own gender, and this is where the story fell apart for me. There was too much "Darling" this and "Darling" that, and it seemed so utterly unrealistic that it completely kicked me out of suspension of disbelief. It was far too sugary and didn't even sound remotely like anything a young woman of 2014 might say, let alone a woman of 1908, and I couldn't stand to read any more. Plus it was completely inauthentic.

Now I'm not a lesbian - I don't even play one on TV, but my beef isn't with that. It's with Agnes's character. This girl has been portrayed as shy, retiring, reserved, unadventurous, and intimidated by her older, mean, racist drunk of an exploitative brother. He completely disappears from the picture, but the problem for me was that Agnes changes overnight from being this shrinking violet into a sexual tiger in bed, and it seemed so out of character that I could not take it seriously.

If we'd been given some reason to expect this - some inner monolog about how she wants to be more aggressive in bed - that would have been one thing, but this is shortly after her brother is taken out of the story, and while you might think that his absence would liberate her somewhat, it happens so close to that - while she's still in mourning for losing her only living relative, that it fails as a plot device. It comes over instead as a clunky foreshadowing - look, I have no ties left in this life therefore I can come back to the future with you! Like her brother was ever a tie.

Another issue is that Dara is supposedly a computer programmer, so not expected to be dumb, yet never once in the part I read, which was about thirty percent if I recall, did she ever consider that she could maybe find a 'timeslip' to save Jenny from the accident. Perhaps that occurs or even happens later - I can't say, and I had no interest in finding out. I'd completely lost faith in this author's ability to get anywhere interesting or imaginative with this story.

The point was that as mournful of Jenny as she is, it never even crosses her mind, and despite her computer credentials, she never once considers the possibility that she might be able to help this scientist in some way to help herself. No, they had no computers back then - not as we would recognize them anyway, but she did have a logical mindset - you have to have that to be a programmer, yet it never entered her head to see if she could help. So this was a major betrayal of the character's smarts and desires.

So overall, while I was attracted to this story because I like time-travel stories, the execution of it left too much to be desired and I lost interest and DNF'd it. I can't commend it was a worthy read.



Framed by Gender by Cecilia L Ridgeway


Rating: WARTY!

I had high hopes for this book which discusses how women are framed by their own gender when it comes to getting "fair do's" out of society. This is so embedded in our culture that despite several revolutions such as the 'emancipation' of women way back, women becoming 'liberated' in the sixties, and even the #MeToo events of very recent years, women are still not where they logically and rationally ought to be. This author asks why. To me it's right there in 'emancipation'! 'Man' is right up front - 'E MAN', even! It too much like 'He Man', and that needs to change.

But joking aside, the problem I had with the book is that it's far too scholarly for the average reader. It has an index and extensive references, and that's a part of the problem in a sense: it's not written in a popular tone like, say, Richard Dawkins might write a science book, and make it accessible to the masses. I've read a few scholarly publications in my time and this one felt disorganized and meandering, and it was way too dry and academic for most readers, so Ilm not sure who it was written for. I quickly took to skimming the text and focusing on the conclusions, and even that took some effort. I agree with the author's thesis in general terms, but I don't see that she really gets her point across or effectively offers any good ideas for solutions.

Gender ideas are, as she explains, so profoundly embedded in our society that people find it hard to function when gender cannot be used to help categorize a person. The example she employs at one point is that of the 'Pat' sketches which ran in the early 1990's in the Saturday Night Live comedy sketch show, where this character named Pat was completely gender neutral and everyone was trying to categorize Pat as either a male or a female, and when they failed to do so, they could not function adequately and began to panic. But it's not just gender - it's typically gender in the context of some other factor which is what really causes problems for people: again, it's a perception (or lack thereof) problem it would seem.

Scientific studies have shown this to be the case, and likewise shown that people - men and women alike, have inbuilt gender biases that inappropriately favor or disfavor a given gender depending on context. So I think the author's overarching idea is that the reason gender imbalances persist so tenaciously is that we have yet to provide ourselves with the tools to adequately address discrepancies, perceptions, and biases and until and unless we get these, we're never going to get the issues of inequality properly resolved.

One thing which undermined this book in my opinion was that it is completely North America-centric. It's hard to be absolutely sure because the author herself doesn't specify or qualify, but from a reading of the references and the publications they appear in, it felt to me like the studies the author quotes an uses to support her position are almost entirely rooted in north America. I'd have liked to have seen much broader perspective taken. Is this problem just in the US? Is it just in western civilization, or is it world-wide? I know there are cultures and societies in this world which differ widely when it comes to gender roles and perceptions, and a failure to consider those necessarily means a survey like this one is missing something important.

So, while this topic is a critical one that begs for resolution, I can't commend this book as properly addressing the issues, and I can't commend it for cleanly and clearly conveying even the narrow and biased perspective the author does consider, despite largely agreeing with her overall view with regard to how deeply-embedded this is and how constricting it is to any efforts to move forward wisely and effectively.


Sequence by Lori Andrews


Rating: WARTY!

I gave up on this about ten pages from the end because I was so tired of it by then, and I regretted even hoping it would improve. This is yet another novel that convinces me that if the story isn't getting you where you want to be, there is no shame involved if you abandon it, and there is every good and sane reason to drop it and move on to something more fulfilling instead of wasting your life in continuance. To do otherwise is a prime example of the sunk cost fallacy.

The main character, Alex, who is a geneticist working for the government in a military lab who gets dragged into a crime investigation since she can to DNA forensics, was profoundly dumb. There were times when she was not so stupid, and I had hoped that this would be a case where a not-so-smart character shows a steady improvement as the story goes on, but she did not. In fact she actually regressed. For example, despite being a geneticist, she couldn't see what was obvious to me from the off: that if genetic markers are close but not an exact match for a suspect, then perhaps those markers might be those of a relative of the suspect rather than the suspect himself. Once she got on that path, the crime was all-but solved.

Obvious was an issue with this novel because I was way ahead of the investigators several times and that's not often the case with me in this kind of a novel, so I know a story is poorly-written if even I can figure it out so easily. It wasn't so much the obvious as the dumb that got to me though.

Alex leaps directly into bed with someone she barely knows, but of whom she does know he's a player. She has unprotected sex with him without a thought about condoms, which immediately turns me right off a story. Yeah, if the portrayal is of a character who is profoundly stupid and is heading for the wrecker's yard, that's one thing, but for a modern professional and purportedly a smart woman who is a medical doctor to boot, it completely betrays the character. It's especially bad if that same character is pining for a lost but hopeless love, and yet she has no problem simply leaping without even looking. I almost quit reading the story right there. It turns out I should have gone with my first instinct.

So overall this was not too bad of a plot in very general terms, but the writing wasn't where it needed to be to make this a really good story, and to have a female author once again have a female character who needs some sort of validation by having a male magically come into her life and give her everything she needs is too much in this day and age - or any day and age for that matter. I cannot commend this as a worthy read and resent the time I wasted on it! I'm done with the book and the author.