Showing posts with label WORTHY!. Show all posts
Showing posts with label WORTHY!. Show all posts

Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Girl Who Married an Eagle by Tamar Myers


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a sweet and fun book, although disturbing in parts. It relates the tale of a young African girl Buakane, who is effectively sold to a brutal chieftain as one of his many wives, but who, on her wedding night, decides she'd rather run away than submit to this. She ends up at a missionary school where a brand new recruit and college-grad, Julia, has freshly arrived, ready to become the director of the school. Julia meets Hank, who is the bereaved father of Clementine, a young girl known locally as The Great Distraction, and who is the third in this trio of strong female characters who dominate this story.

During her escape, Buakane is set upon by hyenas and gets bitten in the thigh. Fortunately, Hank happens to be driving by, bringing Julia to the mission, and they're able to pick up the wouldn't-be bride and deliver her to dour Nurse Doyer who happens to be a skilled nurse although a truly unpleasant person. Quite honestly, I could have done without the references to Mrs and the reverend Doyer. Other than the sewing up and Buakane's wound, if they'd been omitted entirely from the story it wouldn't have made a bit of difference to it.

That aside though, I loved each of these characters. Obviously there is a strong religious element to the story, and while I feared this might ruin it for me, in the end it wasn't an issue. Each of the three main characters was in their element and strong and feisty and amusing. To watch them interact and in particular to see how the problem of the chieftain demanding his wife back or demanding Julia's head is resolved, was a joy. I loved this story and highly commend it.


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

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

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.


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

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.


Thursday, August 1, 2019

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a fun book for younger middle graders and pre-middle-grade. Zita is outdoors playing with her friend when they find a meteorite crater in a field, with a small meteorite in the bottom of it. There's something sticking out of the meteorite which has a large red button on it, and you know you have to press the button if it's large and red. Zita doesn't listen to her friend, and she presses it, and suddenly a rift in space opens and her friend is pulled through it. After some miserable and desperate recrimination, Zita realizes she has to go through the rift and get him back.

The other side of the rift is very much a United Nations kind of a planet (or maybe not so united - more untied really) with aliens of all sorts, mechanical and meat, and the planet is under threat. Within a short few days, an asteroid is due to strike the planet wiping out everything on it. Zita can't be bothered about that. She has a friend to find and she heads out in her newly-created super hero-looking outfit. She was sort of befriended by a humanoid scientist who is also hosting a giant creature that looks exactly like a mouse, but is the size of a small horse, complete with saddle, and which Zita rides.

From this point on, and heading into the foreboding rust lands, Zita picks up a bevy of oddball alien associates, two of whom are mechanical, one of whom isn't, and finally tracks down and tries to liberate her friend, but there are surprises and betrayals in this story, so you never quite know who your friends are or who the villains are, or when your protective military robot will break down. None of this fazes the intrepid and fearless Zita at all, Not even a phaser fazes Zita, and she kicks buttons and takes names.

This was a playfully, and beautifully-illustrated book with a fun story that I enjoyed despite it being way out of my age group - or was it?! I commend it fully and will look for more from this author.


Roll With It by Jamie Sumner


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. The publisher requested that this not be published until a month before publication (which is October 1st), but there is already fifty reviews published on Amazon-owned Goodreads and a bunch of them elsewhere, so frankly I don't see the point in withholding mine any longer.

This one is about this pre-teen girl with cerebral palsy, and since the author has a child of her own with this condition, she speaks with knowledge about it. Due to the illustration on the cover, I had mistakenly thought it was a graphic novel at first glance, so I was somewhat surprised to discover it was a text novel, but that's fine. It was still an interesting and fast read because it engaged me always.

There were some issues with it - often with parts of a story that seemed to be opening up concerning other characters, only to be abandoned because the focus was so squarely dead-set on Ellie. It was a first-person voice, which is typically not a good idea in my book, and so in a way it explained the somewhat selfish perspective, but on the other hand, it still did feel selfish here and there, which is precisely my problem with first person voice. In this book it was not as bad as some I have read, so I was able to get by that and focus more on the story, but the blind self-focus was quite honestly an irritant at times.

Ellie is twelve and was a premie when she was born which is why they think she has these issues, and right at the point where she gets to come off her seizure meds, her mother's father is developing distinct signs of dementia, so she and mom (dad is not, of course, in the picture) move miles from home to live with grandma and help out with grandpa. This means, of course, that she's the new kid in school and has to start over again in the friends market, but Ellie has more on her mind than just that. Her CP is a constant companion, never letting her forget that she's different from most other kids she meets, but when she meets two other kids at school who are different in their own ways, she realizes she has already found her friends.

Ellie's grandparents live in a trailer park and nice as it is, it's a 'wrong side of the tracks' kind of a deal, so initially Ellie feels she has problems piling up faster than she can handle them, but none of this gets in the way of her ambition to be a baker, which is her primary dream. She tries new recipes constantly, and bemoans her failures, but she's always thinking about them in terms of how she can fix what went wrong. That doesn't mean she has no successes. Far from it!

I think it would have been nice to twist it a bit and make it mom who left to find a new partner leaving dad with his ornery daughter, but this author went the traditional route, so dad left and now has a new family and really isn't in the picture. The way this was written made it seem to me that he might put in an appearance at some point, or maybe even come back into his daughter's life, but he never really does. At one point, after Ellie has an episode requiring hospitalization, her mother is about ready to give up on project 'help grandpa' and head back to their old life, and this brings the fight out in Ellie, because she has changed her mind about this place and refuses to leave.

There was one part of the novel which felt wrong, or at least odd to me. We have a letter here and there which Ellie has supposedly written to some well-known baker or other asking them a question or complimenting them on a recipe, and these to me were neither here nor there, but I didn't think too much on them until a point where Grandpa has a serious episode himself. He might have died and I wondered whether or not he might have been intentionally putting himself in that position because he considered himself a burden, but this particular event was pretty much brushed-off as though it were nothing. The next thing I read was not Ellie in the hospital worrying over him, but a light-hearted letter to a baker about a recipe! That seemed cold and out of place to me.

Also for me the ending was rather lax, not really an ending at all, but then life isn't always neatly-packaged and its episodes don't really have a beginning, a middle and an end in the way a prim and proper three-act play has, so this kind-of worked. Regardless of that, the story was engaging and made me want to read it, which is a good thing for a middle grade novel, some of which I've been disappointed with of late. I think this tells an important story and it certainly kept me reading to the very end. I commend it as a worthy read.


Sunday, July 28, 2019

Polly and the Pirates by Ted Naifeh


Rating: WORTHY!

After the disappointment of Princess Ugg, I might not have read another Naifeh novel, but this one was already in the works, so I ended up reading it and was glad I did. I don't believe in pirate treasure stashes. I don't think pirates were the kind of people to hoard their loot. I think they spent it as fast as they stole it, and while I'm sure there were some who set themselves up in a new life after a piracy voyage and never went back, I think the majority just spent all they had, and then went right back to sea to go after some more.

This story is cute and a little bit different in that polly, a new girl at a boarding school where young girls sometimes foolishly fantasize about pirates, is actually the daughter of Meg, the pirate queen. When Meg's pirate crew come looking for Polly, it's out of desperation. There's a map (there's always a map!), and the pirates think perhaps Meg's daughter is the very one who can find it for them. Now since this is Meg's loyal crew who were presumably with her when she hid the treasure, you'd think at least a few of them would know exactly where it was, but no! Hence Polly.

I honestly don't believe there ever was a legitimate pirate map either for that matter. Why would any pirate commit their precious knowledge of their treasure (assuming there even was any) to paper or parchment or whatever? It would be foolish and go against the very grain of a pirate's character! Besides, pirates were largely illiterate and relied on sound memory to supply everything they needed to know to get from A to B and plan their pirating. They had no need of the written word or the drawn map.

But they kidnap Polly thinking she can help them retrieve this map and at first she's completely against it, but then she becomes involved and sneaks out of school at night to go on adventures. It's a bit of a stretch to imagine that she can, like Santa Claus, get it all done in one night (or eventually, in a couple of days' absence), but this is fiction after all - and pirate fiction at that! So Polly becomes ever more involved and eventually she does find the map but the treasure isn't what the pirates thought it would be. I thought the story might continue with a second map that had been hidden in something they found in the treasure vault, but the story pretty much wrapped up after that.

This is a series as far as I know, so it's possible there are other volumes which continue the story (maybe with that second map, assuming there is one), but just as Polly seems done with pirating after this adventure, I think I'm done with Naifeh now. It was a bit oddly-written. Naifeh isn't English and so doesn't quite get the lingo down, and much of it is rather anachronistic so his attempts to make it sound period were a bit of a waste of time. He doesn't know what 'The Sweeney' is for one thing. The term wasn't in use back in the classical pirate era. The Sweeney is rhyming slang: Sweeney Todd - Flying Squad, referring to a division of the London Metropolitan Police. Obviously that didn't exist in the old era of piracy and neither did the stories of Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

It was a bit much to think only a young girl could open the treasure vault since most pirates probably had a young boy or two on their crew who could have done the same thing, but overall, I enjoyed this tale. It was a cute and fun story, and while it was nothing which made me feel any great compulsion to search out other volumes, assuming they exist, I did enjoy this one and commend it as a worthy read.


Friday, July 26, 2019

An Olympic Dream by Reinhardt Kleist


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a sad, sad graphic novel telling the true story (as near as such a rendering can reasonably get to the truth), about Samia Yusuf Omar, Translated from the original German by Ivanka Hahnenberger, this tells in a 150 or so pages in black and white line drawings, of how Samia competed and came last in her heat in the 2008 Olympic Games and yet garnered for herself cheers louder than the winner did.

Always game, following her dream, plucky to a fault, and never allowing brutality and indifference to dampen her spirit, she decided she wanted to get to the 2012 Olympics in London, and the only way to do that under a brutal, women-repressive regime that an extremist Islamic group brought to Somalia, was for her to flee the country and go through Sudan and Libya, to get on a boat to Italy and beyond.

She did all of this, often alone and usually without much money, always being brutalized by the savage and avarice-driven scum who preyed on these poor refugees that certain equally savage and misogynistic presidents would callously turn away at the doorstep, Samia made it onto a boat which promptly ran out of fuel. Fortunately a passing Italian ship spotted them and began to haul them aboard, but Samia fell into the ocean and drowned before she could be pulled out. Yes, there are more important things in the world than plastic straws, but why would anyone with real power be bothered with these "shit-hole countries".

I commend this as a worthy and essential read about what happens to people who reside in brutal countries where there's no oil 'to make it worthwhile going in'....


Bella's Very Wonderful Day by Sophie Carmen, Fuuji Takashi


Rating: WORTHY!

Last but far from least in my mini-tour of Sophie Carmen books for young children is the story of Bella, who leads an active life and this necessarily means she ends up with what seem on the surface to be disappointments, but she soon finds that if she looks deeper, she can get some joy or rewarding experience out of any situation. Misses the school bus? She gets to spend time with mom walking through an imaginary fairyland on the way to school. Scrapes her knee in the playground? Well there's always that lollipop the school nurse hands out....

I commend this, illustrated delightfully by Takashi, as a worthy read because it shows the benefit of having a positive attitude - and that really is a benefit in life, that once learned will help through many more years of growing and learning.