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

Monday, September 3, 2018

Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour by Bryan Lee O'Malley, Nathan Fairbairn

Rating: WORTHY!

Last volume! A worthy read. Scott finally confronts Gideon, who is much less of a mystery figure in the book than he is in the movie. Ramona has vanished and Scott is so stupid that he thinks she has gone to Gideon despite clear indications to the contrary. Unlike in the movie, she never does go off with Gideon and is entrapped by him only in her mind. Also unlike the movie, and I'm sorry for this, Knives Chau never does become a ninja maiden and fight against Gideon alongside Scott. I think the movie makers made a wise choice in that departure because that scene was awesome.

The character interactions were much warmer and more realistic (and still amusing) in this volume and in volume five, and it made for a deeper and better story. Again, Kim Pine was outstanding. Again Ramona wasn't quite and scintillating as she was in the movie. It felt like some things were not wrapped up here, but that didn't really spoil it. Anyway, after moping over Ramona for the first half of the book, Scott decides to confront Gideon at the opening of his new club and the inevitable battle begins. Scott is killed, but he has gained for himself another life during his previous episodes, and comes back to life, better than ever.

Ramona and Scott don't go off into the sunset at the end, but they do go off into the subspace world which works even better. I commend this as a worthy read.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. the Universe by Bryan Lee O'Malley, Nathan Fairbairn

Rating: WORTHY!

This is the penultimate volume of the Scott Pilgrim hexalogy and after having not really liked the middle two so much, I'm happy to report that the trailing bookend pair were pretty good. They were a little bit different and had more soul to them, and they were more entertaining. The artwork as usual was as usual.

In volume five, he faces off against the Japanese twins, who keep sending robots to attack him. This is completely different from the movie, and is actually more entertaining. The movie was a bit repetitive itself in this regard because the battle with the twins was really nothing more than an amplified version of his battle with Todd Ingram, whereas in the book, it's necessarily more extended and more inventive.

Also, the intriguing Kim really starts coming into her own, not least of which is for noticing - and photographing - the fact that Ramona has a glow, which I was sorry to learn never actually was explained. Anyway, that aside, I commend volume five as a worthy read.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Beats by Harvey Pekar, Ed Piskor, and others

Rating: WORTHY!

This is a graphic novel about the so-called Beat Generation, although 'Beat-up Generation' might be a better term. I've never been a fan of Jack Kerouac or William Seward Burroughs, or had any interest in anything those two jerks had to say, and I only consider this a worthy read because it pulls no punches in exposing what these poseurs and losers were, warts and all. And there are many warts.

Of the main three depicted here, Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs, only the middle one comes through with any decent sort of character intact. Kerouac was a racist and a bigot who thought the world owed him a living, and misogynist Burroughs got away with murder - literally - in a case that would not be equalled until OJ Simpson came along. It was not the only murder one of this group would get away with. Lucien Carr was aided in a half-assed cover up by Burroughs and Kerouac, of a murder he perpetrated. He served only two years for it relying on an early version of the so-called 'homosexual panic defense'.

Kerouac denied his daughter was his until a blood test proved what a lying cheapskate he was; only then did he oh-so-kindly allow that she might use his last name if she published anything. Jerk. Burroughs shot his wife in a drunken recreation of William Tell's supposed feat, but whereas Tell shot the apple on his son's head, Burroughs shot his wife through the forehead killing her instantly and got away with it. Alcoholism seemed to be an integral and significant part of the Beat Movement and more than one of them had done time in prison and shown no real improvement for it afterwards!

These were not nice people, yet such as these are worshipped by the pretentious and clueless alike, and were the main - or perhaps more accurately the most celebrated - founders of the Beat Generation which was supposedly known for spiritual values inter alia. According to Wikipedia the hallmarks of the Beat Generation were: "rejection of standard narrative values, spiritual quest, exploration of American and Eastern religions, rejection of materialism, explicit portrayals of the human condition, experimentation with psychedelic drugs, and sexual liberation and exploration."

It made for an interesting read, but there was no rejection of materialism or any sort of values in evidence here. There was lots of drugs and irresponsible and unsafe sex, and denial of responsibility or their actions. After the main three were given their own mini-stories, a lot of lesser-known people in or tied to this group are also mentioned. I read about half of those supplementary materials. It's notable that there is only one person of color mentioned and very few women at all except insofar as the women were involved (usually to their detriment) with the men, or were offspring of the men.

So, while it was worth reading to learn all of this, it's not worth reading for any sense of spiritual enlightenment or literary enrichment.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a fun graphic novel in nicely-drawn grayscale, about this girl, Anya Borzakovskaya, a Russian émigré who lives with her kid brother and her mother, and is trying not to feel like the odd one out at this private school she attends, trying to play down her origins, losing her accent, trying to fit in. She even refuses her mother's сырники (syrniki, a sweet cheese fritter. I had to look that up after first translating the Russian!) because she thinks she's overweight. She really isn’t, but shamefully slick advertising has brainwashed far too many girls into thinking they are.

I couldn’t quite follow how she ended-up going home in the dark though a deserted field, but she did. And she fell into a well. Fortunately, all was well, because despite the depth of it, she landed at the bottom without breaking or spraining anything. The problem is that it’s a deserted area and there's no one around except these bones, which bring forth the ghost of the girl, Emily, who once owned the bones. This is Anya's ghost.

When Anya finally is discovered and gets out, Emily, whose ghost has been tied to her bones for ninety years, somehow manages to follow her. At first this freaks out Anya, but after she discovers that Emily is useful, she becomes somewhat less fraught with misgivings. Emily can’t be seen by anyone else, and so is able to crib answers from other students during a test and relay them to Anya, for example. Having spent a lot of her free time reading fashion magazines in Anya's bedroom, Emily is also able to advise Anya on how to dress to kill, and put on make-up for a party she wouldn’t normally have attended.

It would seem that all was well with this new relationship in Anya's life, but when Anya starts talking about putting the ghost to rest, Emily deflects the matter repeatedly. Anya is a strong female character though and pursues the quest unbeknownst to Emily, co-opting the aid of another Russian émigré, a boy whom Anya had had little time for until now. What she learns from her investigation is disturbing, leading to a disturbing confrontation with Emily.

I really enjoyed this story. It was in some ways reminiscent of others I've read or seen in movies, but nonetheless fresh and very entertaining. The artwork was sweet, sand the main character, Anya, was admirable and very cute. I definitely would read something else by this author, and especially if it featuring this same character.

Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a sweet graphic novel that in many ways reminded me a bit of Green Almonds: Letters from Palestine by Anaële Hermans and Delphine Hermans (positively reviewed in July 2018), but much more of Algeria is Beautiful Like America by Olivia Burton and Mahi Grand (positively reviewed in May 2018).

In the latter of those two graphic novels, we get a story very much like this one: the ex-patriate (or descendant of same) returning to the homeland for a visit and learning some truths about her past, but this story is much more mystical. FYI: pashmina is a scarf - in this case a magical one. Technically, pashmina refers to the fine Kashmiri wool which we in the west know as cashmere (cue track six of Led Zep's Physical Graffiti album!).

Main character Priyanka Das lives with her mother in the USA. The two of them do not always get along. Neither does this suitcase get along with the shelf it's stored on apparently, because it keeps falling off, and when Pri finally opens it, she discovers the scarf, but more importantly, discovers its power.

When she wraps it around her shoulders, she is transported to India, not literally, but to the heart and soul of the land in her mind. Her visitations there are hosted by an elephant and a peafowl. She's also transported from the grayscale images we've been seeing so far into brilliantly colored, vibrant depictions of India. The change is quite startling.

Priyanka is very much into creating comics, encouraged by her uncle Jatin. Despite this she is shy about her work. Without her knowledge, her teacher sends one of her efforts to a competition, which she wins. I guess this is why she doesn't react when he tells her he did this behind her back, which struck me as a bit odd. She didn't feel violated at all? And this is after she had earlier flatly refused to enter a contest he wanted her to enter. However, this win means she can afford to go to India - so the story would have it. In actual fact, the round trip airfare is twice what she won - but this is a bit of a fantasy!

India isn't what she had imagined from her pashmina-induced flights of fancy, but she's still thrilled to be there and to see it all. She's not so thrilled that her scarf doesn't work now she's actually in-country. The scarf had been showing her things, including a mysterious shadowy figure which her elephant and peafowl friends had been anxious she avoid (for reasons which are never made clear), and a primitive reed hut. What's this all about? She becomes quite the detective, follows clues, and eventually finds out what she needs to know. The revelation is just the ticket.

I liked this story very much. Admittedly I am rather biased toward India, but the story was a good one about a strong female character who made things happen, and I typically enjoy a story like that no matter what ethnicity or nationality the main character is. I commend this one as a worthy read.

Seconds by Bryan Lee O'Malley, Jason Fischer, Nathan Fairbairn

Rating: WORTHY!

I've slowly become a fan of this author, and this was no exception despite a new team coming on board, with Jason Fischer co-illustrating and Nathan Fairbairn coloring.

Katie Clay (as in 'subject to being molded') is a chef who is the founder and co-owner of a restaurant called Seconds, but she longs to start her own place, and has been putting money into this derelict place she plans on naming 'Katie's'. How she is the founding owner but also co-owner of this restaurant isn't explained.

She has an ex, Max, who seems to want to get back with her, but the reason why they're no longer together isn't given and Katie seems rather resentful of him. She's having a very casual affair with the cook instead, and trying to figure out the deal with this tall dark waitress, Hazel, who has been working the tables at the restaurant for a while, but who is an enigma to Katie, not least because she draws curious pictures of this odd-looking girl in her spare time.

Katie has two encounters, one with some magic mushrooms (no, not that kind!) growing under the floorboards, and the other with Lis, who is apparently the house spirit of the Seconds establishment, which is housed in a venerable building. Katie lives in the attic room of this building. One night, Lis appears and introduces Katie to the mushroom before Katie finds out where they grow. Katie gets a do-over and can fix problems from the past by writing her wish in a notebook which Lis also gives her, and then eating the mushroom while on the premises. In the do-over, Katie is the only one who knows that this is an alternate reality.

Katie's told she gets only one do-over, but she's not happy with it, and when she discovers the mushroom trove, she steals twelve of them. Despite Lis's angry admonishment, and she begins doing-over her do-over multiple times. In her do-vers, Katie becomes closer to Hazel and discovers that Hazel is drawing Lis, but cannot see her. Hazel is also the one who placates Lis by leaving clothing and bread for her in the rafters.

This story is in some ways reminiscent of the movie The Butterfly Effect in that her do-overs seem to progressively make things worse rather than better, and with Lis's help, Katie realizes that there's a third influence working against her wishes. In the end she manages to get what she thinks she wants - and certainly what she can live with.

The drawings are simplistic and offer limited coloring, but are nonetheless well done and charming. They tell as much of the story as the text does. While I wasn't sure about Katie's feelings for Max or why she had them, or why she misbehaved, I did enjoy the story. It's easy to get through and entertaining. I commend this graphic novel as a worthy read.

Woody Saves the Day by Harvey Storm

Rating: WORTHY!

How can I not like a book which has a title character whose name so closely allied with my own?! Yes! Biased review coming up!

Woody is a mouse who rules by fear. He has a secret which makes other animals try to placate him with gifts, but life at the top can be a lonely one as Woody discovers, until along comes Rocky the fox, who is caught in a downpour and finds shelter in this strange and forbidding cave. Rocky discovers Woody's secret and urges him to come clean. Honesty is the best policy (as neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris pointed out in his very perceptive - and honest! - book Lying). Woody decides to take the plunge and face whatever it brings - and good for him!

This book is interesting and useful, and a good idea. The story is simple and the images colorful and illustrative. The only oddball thing I encountered was this sentence: "...and there was a terrible noise that made his wool stood on end." The verb tense is wrong and foxes do not have wool! They have a type of hair commonly referred to as fur, in keeping with all other members of the dog family. This made me wonder if English is not the author's first language and if his name is a fake one! C'mon, hurricane Harvey Storm?

That's a minor problem though, so overall, I commend this book as a worthy read for young children - and even a few adults who might be inclined to tell stretchers.

The Sleeping Dictionary by Sujata Massey

Rating: WORTHY!

It's appropriate I should start listening to this audiobook the day after Indian Independence Day (August 15th). It's first person voice, but listenable for once, especially since it was read very well by Sneha Mathan. I could listen to an Indian woman talk until the Brahma bulls come home, their voice is usually so mellifluous.

There was a film released in 2003, which I haven't seen, about this same topic and with the same title. The two aren't connected, and the book is supposedly different and was published in 2013. The story begins in 1930 and is about a girl whose entire family is wiped out in a tsunami, but who then goes on to be a force in the fight for Indian independence. I have to say that I felt let down by the ending, which could have been a lot better, but I'm not going to let that trip up the earlier story which was engaging and captivating.

As far as I know, this is not true, but the term 'sleeping dictionary' is supposed to refer to the mistresses that the English male occupiers of India took to bed with them and from whom they learned some language and some culture. Perhaps many people today do not realize just how many words came to England from Indian back then. Words like Bungalow (for a Bengali style house - single storey with a low roof). Cot is another one. Avatar; bandanna; bangle; calico; cheetah; chintz; chutney; cummerbund; cushy; dinghy; dungarees; gymkhana; guru; jungle; loot; mantra; mogul; nirvana; pajamas; pundit; shampoo; thug; typhoon; veranda.

Juggernaut comes from the Indian god Jagganath and the unstoppable cart upon which the god's effigy was placed for transportation during ceremonies. A word for crazy, known in England, but not in US English is doolally, which refers to Deolai, and Indian town which had a sanatorium. Another English word is pukka, meaning a stand-up guy (or girl!). The Brits often referred to England as Blighty, which is another Indian word, although not one which means Britain. Some Brits refer to jail as chokey; another word by way of India. A Brit might say, "Let's have a dekko" meaning "let's take a look." Again it's an Indian term.

Even the word 'punch' comes from Hindi. Punch has five constituents and in Hindi the count to five goes; ek, do, teen, char, panch. Char is also a word for tea in England, so the English often talk about a cup of char even though in Hindi it's actually chai or chaay, and nothing to do with the word for four, although four o'clock is teatime!

But I digress! This book tells the story of someone whose name we never know, although we have a plethora of pseudonyms. We first meet her as Pom, a young girl who is about to lose her family to a tsunami. From that point onwards, her existence become precarious at best. She manages by accident to secure a place for herself as a janitor at a Catholic school where she's arbitrarily renamed Sarah. Because of the kindness of a teacher, discovers she has a facility with languages. She learns English, and emulates the refined teacher's 'BBC English' pronunciation and accent effortlessly, and she learns to read, write, and type, and starts to pick up a smattering of other languages.

Although despised as an untouchable by other Indians, and bullied by the snobbish English schoolgirls, she is befriended by a fellow Bengali named Vidushi (sp? This was an audiobook! I'd originally thought the name was Bidushi). The two become very close, especially since it is Sarah who actually writes Vidushi's letters to her lawyer fiancé, Pankaj, in Britain. but when Vidushi unexpectedly dies and a necklace goes missing, Sarah is automatically blamed for it.

Knowing she can never find justice, she goes on the run, aided by a Muslim cart driver who worked at the school and whom she has befriended. This means forsaking all the money (a pittance, but a lot to Sarah) she earned at the school, and talk of 'out of the frying pan into the fire', her plan to go to Kolkata (aka Calcutta) to try and link up with Pankaj is derailed when she gets off the train at the wrong stop and cannot afford another ticket.

Sarah is 'befriended' by a young woman named Bonney, who is actually a recruiter for a local brothel. Young and naïve, Sarah, now with a new name Pamela (a misunderstanding of 'Pom'), is slowly sucked into the life and spends the next three or four years there until she is raped and becomes pregnant.

Realizing that her baby, if it's a girl, will be kept in disgusting conditions and raised to be a whore, Pamela flees the place with her newborn, again leaving her accumulated earnings (five hundred rupees - a substantial amount this time), and leaving her child Cabeta (again, sp?), with the Muslim driver, she finally makes it to Kolkata where she's unsuccessful finding work or finding Pankaj.

Now going as Camilla, she happens into a job organizing the substantial personal library of an English government official, Simon, who pays well. Finally she feels like she can settle and put her past behind her. She can send gifts and money to the family taking care of her daughter, and be stress-free. But that's not going to happen! She ends up spying on her employer and reporting back to Indian freedom movements, but she also finds herself falling for him.

And that's enough spoilers! I really enjoyed this book up until the last ten percent or so. The ending felt a little bit too trite in some ways and amateurish in others. Both Camilla and Simon suffer Harry Potter syndrome - failure to talk and share things, even when there was no reason not to. Obviously Camilla had some deep secrets, but there were ways she could have sidled into those if she had been as smart as she was portrayed as being later in the book.

But overall, I consider this a worthy read and commend it for those who enjoy a good historical story that involves romance, yet isn't sappy, and who are sick of endless cookie-cutter stories about the US civil war and the antebellum south and want to branch out - out of the country and into something that feels more real and less derivative.

Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

Rating: WORTHY!

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

Inappropriate as it may be, I fell in love with Louisiana Elefante when I read of her in this author's Raymie Nightingale which I also fell in love with back in April 2018 when I listened to it on audio and loved the amazingly-named Jamie Lamia's reading of it. So yeah, you can call me biased going into this one!

I snapped this one up as soon as I saw it on Net Galley, and did not regret it one bit! And this is despite the author's winning the Association for Library Service to Children's Newbery Medal (Twice!), which normally turns me right off both an author and her oeuvre. Good thing I didn't know about the Newbery before I read these books, right?! I hadn't read either of this author's Newbery winners (The Tale of Despereaux and Flora & Ulysses prior to this, but afterwards I did read that latter novel and was predictably unimpressed with it!

I tend to side with Anita Silvey, John Beach, and Lucy Calkins on this Newbery medal, but maybe for different reasons. The medal is overwhelmingly genderist: two-thirds of both honorees and winners are female. You can argue that most children's writers are female, and even try to argue that since women are underrepresented in books in general, both as authors and recognition winners, this bias only helps to redress a sad imbalance, but that imbalance goes deeper.

If most children's authors are women (and it's surprisingly hard to get solid statistics on that!), then why are books for children so overwhelmingly about white boys? Something's rotten in the state of bookmark! But on a personal reading level, Newbery books have almost consistently bored the pants off me, fortunately not literally, but this is why I won't read 'em, and why (unlikely as it would be!) I'd turn down a Newbery if one was offered to me.

But I digress! I'm not a fan of series, unless they're particularly well done, and few are. They're more often a lazy and mercenary rip-off of the original novel, but this is a spin-off, not a series, which to me is a different thing altogether. Louisiana, one of the trio of 'Rancheros' in Raymie Nightingale, and I have to add, my favorite of the three, is on her own in this story with no support network of friends, only her aging, eccentric, and it has to be said, kleptomaniac grandmother. Her parents were the Flying Elefantes: renowned acrobats who died when Louisiana was very young. I guess this one time they failed to fly.

Ever since then, Louisiana has lived with her grandmother who is a bit bats, or maybe not. In this story, grandmother wakes Louisiana up at three in the morning to say they have to go, and they take-off down the highway with virtually no money, charming someone out of a can of gas here, and a treatment of her grandmother's bad teeth there, and so on. Louisiana has to sing at a funeral to pay for their motel room.

The story is slightly tongue-in-cheek and eccentric and highly entertaining. Louisiana's perspective on life is completely charming. I have been seeking out more by this author even as I read this particular one. Normally if a book is described as quirky, or words to that effect, or has 'wacky' characters in it, I avoid it like the plague, but this story is just my cup of tea. Louisiana is captivating and her thought-processes refreshing. She is at once innocent and wise, naïve and jaded, and the combination is irresistible. I commend this, even if it does end up winning a Newbery!

Anna at the Art Museum by Hazel Hutchins, Gail Herbert, Lil Crump

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was an amusing and entertaining Canadian production written by Hutchins and Herbert. It's also educational story for young children, with an enterprising young main character who is on a trip to the art museum and is not onboard with this idea at all!

She's bored in the foyer before they even start looking at these classical paintings and sculptures, and she's constantly finding herself getting berated by the security guard for being too noisy, or for touching the exhibits, or for eating in the museum. It's enough to make her scream (and I really enjoyed the page featuring Edvard Munch's Der Schrei der Natur) but then something changes and Anna gets to see a little of the inner workings of the museum.

For me this was a bit of a stretch that this would bring about a magical change, but art is in fact magical so I let that slide without any problem. Now Anna sees art in a new way and relates it to nature and everything is sweet! Finally she appreciates these things she's been seeing, but not really seeing before, on the walls all around her.

Lil Crump's artwork is amazing and skillful and if that doesn't win over a kid then I don't know what will! Her depiction of the actual classical paintings is wonderful. She definitely beats my parodies in The Very Fine-Art Rattuses so if I had a hat, I'd take it off to her! I think this book was wonderful. It teaches a valuable lesson and makes for some fine entertainment. One of the real joys of this book is that Anna is not only depicted as a person of color, but as part of a mixed race family, and this is very rare in children's books, so the story is to be commended on that score too. Now that I've commended it, I can recommend it as a worthy read!

Jane Goodall by Isabel Sanchez Vegara

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is another in a series of books aimed at doing its part to redress the imbalance between genders when it comes to high achievers. This one shows young children that a determined young woman can do whatever she wants if she puts a mind to it.

The story simplifies Goodall's interesting and complex life considerably, but hopefully it will inspire children to read more about her as they mature. Her story is one of an abiding interest in animals ever since she was young, inspired in part by a plush toy she had as a child: a chimpanzee. From this simple beginning, she found her way to Africa and came into contact with famous human ancestry researcher Louis Leakey, who eventually dispatched her to work at Gombe, where Goodall's unorthodox research practices were at times criticized, but which nonetheless produced original and unexpected research results.

Goodall was one of three Leaky Ladies, so to speak, whom Leakey named 'The Trimates', the other two being Dian Fossey who died horribly at the hands of gorilla poachers, and Birutė Galdikas, who studied orangutans. Each of these has written one or more books on their studies. It would be nice to see a book in this series for each of the other two women. I commend this one as a great start.

Lucy Maud Montgomery by Isabel Sanchez Vegara

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This one covers the author of Anne of Green Gables who also authored many, many other books including sequels. Montgomery had a rather troubled childhood in that her mother died before Montgomery turned two, and her father felt incapable of raising a child. He immediately put her into the care of her maternal grandparents, who were rather cool towards Lucy. When she was seven, her father left to work elsewhere, making Lucy a very lonely child, so she made up imaginary friends and had a rich fantasy life to go with them.

It's this imagination which led her into writing, something she was very interested in from a young age despite some setbacks. When she had Anne of Green Gables published it was such a roaring success that she never looked back, focusing on fulltime writing, at which she was very prolific. This book does an admirable, if slightly fanciful job of depicting this writer's childhood and her determination to succeed, and I commend it as a worthy read for young children. We need serious writers and if this inspires more of them it can only be a good thing.

Earthrise by James Gladstone, Christy Lundy

Rating: WORTHY!

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

Although I disagree with the author's thesis that the Apollo 8 photo of the Earth rising above the Moon taken on Christmas Eve of 1968 was "the photo that changed the world," I do consider this young children's book a worthy read. 1968 had not been a good year for the USA. It was the year that North Vietnam, breaking a truce for the end-of-January Tet holiday, showed the USA what they were truly capable of and what they were willing to sacrifice to unite their country. 1968 was a leap year, but the US took far too long to make that leap. It was also the year of the Prague Spring and Earthquakes in Sicily and the Philippines.

It was the year of the Olympics, and the year Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were both shot and killed. It was the unfortunate year that that idiot Pope Paul tried to tell women that he, and not they, owned their bodies. It was the year that France detonated its first hydrogen bomb. It was the year that 150 members of New York Radical Women protested about the 'bombshells' being exploited in the Miss America 'Pageant', which no matter how they try to tart it up by labeling it a pageant and not a beauty contest, is still about shallow skin-depth looks.

It was the year the Boeing 747 jumbo jet was unveiled, a plane that allowed terrorists to kill more people at one time in an air crash than ever before. It was the year the Beatles released the White album and United Artists banned the 'Censored Eleven' - eleven cartoons deemed to be racist. And it was capped when Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders looped in a figure of eight around the Moon becoming the first humans to see the far side of it as well as traveling further away from Earth than any humans ever had before. The photos they took showed how tiny and undivided Earth is in terms of political boundaries: it's a planet we all have to share because there is nowhere else to go.

That's what this book is about, and it is well illustrated by Christy Lundy (and I have to add, commendably showcasing human diversity), and bright and colorful. I must say that the pages were sometimes awfully slow to load on my iPad. At first I thought this was because it was relatively old, but my wife's new iPad also took the same time to load, give or take, so it's the book's pages or it's the app (Bluefire Reader), not the iPad.

Anyway, the book tells the astronaut's story from liftoff on the venerable Saturn 5 rocket through their trip to the Moon (where we apparently leave them stranded because there's no return to Earth or splashdown!). Mostly it's about this one photograph that Bill Anders took, first of a black and white Earth on the way there, and then in color, of Earthrise, with the Earth half-illuminated by sunlight, the other half in darkness, creeping up above the bleak, gray, inhospitable Moon.

This wasn't actually the first Earthrise photograph taken! The first was taken by a robot in 1966 and showed much the same image, but the color image taken by humans is the one remembered. It was photographer Galen Rowell who made those hyperbolic claims for it being such a crucial image, but when you look at the actual Earth and how it progressed into 1969 and beyond, it's quite clear that this photograph ultimately influenced nothing.

There was no sea-change, only more of the same, so like I said, I do disagree with the author's assessment, but it does no harm to expose children to stirring imagery like this, and hopefully, in the long term, their astonishment and love of such imagery really will lead to an improvement among humanity in time! We can hope! I therefore commend this book as a worthy read.

Glimmerglass Girl by Holly Lyn Walrath

Rating: WORTHY!

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

As I mentioned in the post for the other volume of poetry I reviewed today, I feel something of an obligation to read a book of poetry now and then because I published one myself. Poetry is a tough sell these days and is in fact a dying art in terms of publishing. I actually find that strange, because in this modern world of short attention spans and sound bites, you would think that poetry would do well. On the other hand, sound-bites tend to be the lowest common denominator, which is the very antithesis of good poetry, so maybe that's why it doesn't do so well?!

This does makes me wonder though, if poetry has become too disconnected from real life for its own good. It used to be that poetry rhymed and while as a kid I never did quite get the non-rhyming ones, as an adult they made a lot more sense. I'm not advocating for rhyming poems here although I personally have no problem with them. For some reason - the leading suspect is disdain - they're out of fashion these days in poetry books, but are an area of endeavor that seems to have been usurped not by greeting cards, but by popular music these days. Perhaps, when all is said and done, this is what rap music is? I don't know! I'm not a fan of rap, but it does seem to be the natural if belated heir to the beat generation of the forties and fifties.

I would definitely advocate for poetry that's more accessible, and especially that's accessible to children, who are actually being spoiled by growing-up learning only that a poem has to rhyme line for line. A poem can rhyme in many more senses than the last word in the line: it can rhyme in sense, in meaning, in feeling and in other ways. This is the heart of poetry, and it's something children do not learn. They're taught exactly the opposite with nursery rhymes and rhyming children's picture books, which makes it hardly a surprise that when those children become adults, they don't pay poetry much mind, associated with childhood things and put away as it evidently is.

This particular volume was a pleasure to read, although it seemed a little odd to read in the front of the book that it was a work of fiction! It was the standard disclaimer, but when related to a book of poetry that's hopefully pulled from the author's heart and soul, what can that mean exactly? I wonder!

The first poem, "Espejitos" (Mirrors - that's what living in Texas will get you!) was highly topical and had #MeToo written all over it; not literally, but in the words of Doctor Who, "Give me a crayon and some time...." The book has a butterfly image superimposed on the text, appropriately a glass-winged butterfly, but I have to say that parts of the image were so dark that they obscured the text. I'm not sure if this was intentional. If so it was an interesting effect: a poem about women being undervalued, effaced, unseen, retired to a haunting mirror image, abused, and then being further abused by something as delicate as a butterfly?

There were other poems accompanied by images, but none of those seemed to interfere with the text like this first one did, except perhaps for "Wind-up Girl", which featured a picture of a ballerina collapsed almost like a tortoise retreated into a shell. The picture was dark and the text white, but some of it disappeared into the tutu it must be reported! Maybe this was the #MeTutu movement? The poem and image very-well recalled the dancing girl in a music box and how captive she is.

I really liked several of these poems, in particular "In rejoice of Kindred Grief", "Two Young Wives", and "She learns How to Disappear." I particularly liked "Woman" which in its succeeding line echoing the previous reminded me so much of some of my own work and harks back to what I said above about rhyming in ways other than matching the last words of each line. I will quote a small section of this to illustrate:

I split myself apart
parting seas
seaward bound prow
prowling wood hewn rough
rough as the chill of

There's no rhyme here in words as such, but there is rhythm in how the first word of the next line catches the last word of the previous one and reinterprets it, continuing the poem. This is very much to my taste and something I like to bring to prose when I can, if I can. It's especially apparent in my parodies where I feel no need to constrain myself, so for me, it was a real joy to read it here and see how well done it was.

The book is quite short, only some forty-six pages of which only thirty or so are poems, but it says a lot in that small space - itself evoking the small space some women are forced to occupy in this male-dominant world, so even that worked. I can't claim that I loved everything in the book by any means, but poetry is like a box of, I won't go there! Suffice to say there was more enough to love, and I commend this as a highly worthy read, full of heart and meaning.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Toil and Trouble by Mairghread Scott, Kelly Matthews, Nichole Matthews

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a sweet graphic novel written by Scott and illustrated by the Matthews's. it is of course rooted in The Tragedy of Macbeth by Shakespeare, which dates back to around 1606. There was a real life Macbeth, known in his time as Mac Bethad, or son of Bethad, and who rose to prominence as Lord of Moray in 1032, more than likely after murdering his predecessor, Gille Coemgáin and marrying his widow, Gruoch. Was it really worth it to marry someone named Gruoch? I guess we'll never know!

And just to clarify, When Gruoch says, in 5.1, "Out, damned spot! Out, I say!" she's not talking to the family dog....

As usual, Shakespeare's play isn't remotely accurate and is in some ways more like a telling of the Gunpowder plot which took place the year before this play was first performed. In my opinion, it's really nothing more than a redux of The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark which he wrote a few years earlier. Billy Shakespeare was not known for his originality! In reality, Macbeth ruled for almost two decades before dying in battle. It was actually his son whose rule was less than stellar. And don't even get me started on the asinine superstitions attached to the play!

This look at it is fresh and commendable. The author, Scott, is a bit of a James Cameron in the sense that she let this idea stew for about a decade before she brought it to the screen - or in this case the graphic page!

The novel looks at the whole story from the perspective of the three witches, and makes a compelling tale. They are witches of auld, witches of nature, and they have been around, working back stage in Scots history for decades. Now that Macbeth has heard the prophecy that he will become king, he feels the need to hasten it along, and ends up killing King Duncan and laying the blame on his sons, who flee, but Macbeth can'`t live with what;s happened and follows Hamlet into madness. The three sisters are arguing over how events should unfold, and end up in a cat-fight over it and how to fix it - or how to let it continue as is, depending on which witch you root for. Macbeth's affairs are not the only tragedy playing out, here.

I really enjoyed the story and recommend it as a worthy read.


Pig is Big on Books by Douglas Florian

Rating: WORTHY!

This was short, and sweet and entertaining, and will hopefully encourage children to emulate Pig and start reading. Pig reads all the time at every opportunity. I wouldn't commend going quite that far, although I do spend an inordinate amount of time reading myself. Well, not reading myself - reading books. You know what I mean! But anything that stirs a child's imagination constructively is always a good thing.

Putting on my child hat (it's always a good idea to have a child hat around!), I can say I enjoyed this colorful outing shamelessly! This book will definitely make reading sound cool or I'll eat my hat!

Slam by Pamela Ribon, Veronica Fish, Brittany Peer, Laura Langston

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a so-so read. I didn't feel let down, but I certainly didn't feel elevated by it either, so while I rate this one a worthy read for light entertainment and a quick story, I won't be following this series because it really didn't invest me in any of the characters. The writer is an ex-Los Angeles Derby roller girl by the name of Pamela Ribon, so 'ribon fish peer' isn't some kind of fishing advice! It's the writer artist, and colorers (including Langston) and the writer definitely knows what she's talking about, which was one of the things which appealed to me.

The artwork was good, but used a very blue palette which didn't always please my palate. It was pretty decent, but not great. The story moved too fast and was a bit disconencted in places, so I wasn't quite sure what was happening some of the time. It concerns the so-called 'Fresh Meat' girls who want to become roller derby players. Jennifer and Maisie try out for the Eastside Roller Girls and both are accepted, but they're put on different teams, and while one of them flourishes, the other is despondent because she can't seem to quite make the cut.

Their now separate lives seem to be pulling them apart and they have a fight and aren't speaking, but when one of them is injured, the other immediately rallies round, so the story was a bit trite, predictable, and offered nothing new beyond the roller rink, but it wasn't too bad, so I'd commend it, particularly if you're interested in this kind of sporting life. Frankly it's a bit too brutal for my taste, so it's not something I'd choose to follow, but the story about those who do was an entertaining read for a while. If it had been a tad better I would have wanted to read more. As it is I'm satisfied with reading this far and I'm done with this series.

Ice wolves by Amie Kaufman

Rating: WORTHY!

I'm not a fan of series, with few exceptions, but once again I find myself with the first book of a trilogy (the second of the "Elementals" series is due next year and the third the year after) which had nothing up front to indicate that this actually was the first in a series. That kind of thing really annoys me, and publishers really ought to be ashamed of this deceptive practice, but why would they care when readers keep supporting them? When they can lure someone in with a novel and later reveal it to be only a prologue? My advantage is that I picked this audiobook up on spec at the Blessed Library of Our Lady of the Sneak Previews, so it cost me nothing!

One of the big problems with a trilogy is that the first book is necessarily a prologue. This leads to the second problem which is that despite the pretense of this being a novel, it really isn't because there is a beginning, but no middle or ending to it!

I avoid prologues like the plague, but I ended up reading this novel because I wasn't informed ahead of time what it was. As it happened I quite liked it, but whether I will go on to read any more in this series is still an open question. I certainly am not going to read another until both the remaining two volumes are out, but by that time I'll probably have forgotten about this one!

If I'd known ahead of time and decided maybe this series might be worth a read, I could have waited until all three were out so I could read them one after another. This business of waiting a year between reads is frustrating, because by the time volume two comes out, you've forgotten a lot of what happened in volume one, and I sure don't have the time to go back and re-read it.

Anyway, that beef aside, this story is of an apparently medieval people who live on the island of Vallen, in the main city of Halbard (sp? This was an audiobook!). In the past, scorch dragons and ice wolves lived together in peace and cooperation, but something caused a rift. Now the dragons live who knows where, and the wolves live in the city. For some reason, periodically dragons attack the city, burning things and stealing children. So we're led to believe! I had a few suspicions about the real authors of these incursions.

Resident in the city are orphan twins Anders and Rayna, who eke out a living on the street. Rayna is the dominant partner. Anders is a bit of a wuss and definitely a follower rather than a leader. While trying to pick a few pockets during the monthly ceremony to find new ice wolves, the two of them discover something extraordinarily disturbing.

In the ceremony, children are offered the chance to touch the magical staff and see if they will transform into a wolf, which would allow them to join the Ulfar Academy and begin an apprenticeship with the ice wolf guard who protect the city from dragons, but this month, they're having a sorry time finding anyone who can transform.

Nothing happens until, during a fracas, both Rayna and Anders end up touching the staff in turn. Rayna immediately transforms into a dragon! Hounded, she takes off and disappears. When Anders touches it, he transforms into a wolf! He can't believe it. Twins should both be the same. How can his sister become a dragon and he become a wolf? Alone for the first time in his life, Anders joins the wolf guard and starts learning how to be a solider.

While trying to hide his street origins, Anders makes friends, particularly with Lisabet who has a secret of her own. He learns to become a wolf, but he can't produce their signature ice spears. Even so he finds a family with the pack, but all he can think of is finding his sister, whom he thinks has been kidnapped by dragons. With Lisabet's help, he learns of a way he might get to her.

Despite feeling 'tricked' into starting a middle-grade/YA trilogy, I ended up liking this story. It started out strongly; then it faded annoyingly at the start of Anders's apprenticeship, but it picked up again later when Anders began to man up and form his alliance with Lisabet, who was herself harboring grave suspicions about what they were being taught about wolves and dragons being mortal enemies. I really liked Lisabet, who was a strong female character with a mind of her own.

I commend this story as a worthy read.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Internet Security by Nel Yorntov

Rating: WORTHY!

Subtitled “From Concept to Consumer” this officious-sounding title is actually aimed at children. This is in a simialr vein to the book I just reviewed, but it was written by someone who understands the actual meaning of 'pithy'.

According to the book, job opportunities in Internet security are rife, and kids would do well to consider this as a career opportunity. If that’s the case, then this book is well-written to interest children in the Internet, in security, and in what hackers get up to, and what opportunities to make a difference a young person has available.

Illustrated with lots of photographs and color, and replete with small digestible text sections, this book will give a good overview of things without weighing down young readers with copious technical stuff. It discusses the history and rise of the Internet, and how vulnerabilities which were never an issue in the very early days, have come now to be seen as sources of mischief, profit, and retaliation.

In this era of trillions of web pages and billions of individual Internet forays into a bewildering variety of areas and topics from surfers all over the world, a person could easily get lost or entranced, or deceived, so this book helps map things out and also serves as an important warning to young users as to how they can become used if they’re not careful.

I commend this as a worthy read.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Undaunted: by Zoya Phan, Damien Lewis

Rating: WORTHY!

Subtitled " My Struggle for Freedom and Survival in Burma" and co-written with a British journalist, this book describes the horrific life Zoya Phan led as a member of the Kariang, Kayin, or Yang people usually referred to as Karen in this book. Karen nationalists have been fighting since 1949 for an independent state (which was to have been called Kawthoolei). The Karen National Liberation Army has been in conflict with the Tatmadaw, the well-funded Burmese military all this time.

You will not read this in the book, but three-quarters of the Karen population has never lived inside Karen State, which is in the southeast corner of Burma. Karen is a generic term meaning peoples of the forest, and this is not a homogenous group, nor is there complete agreement among all Karen peoples about objectives. In the Burmese election in 2010, for example, there were three separate Karen political parties.

That said, it doesn't take a single thing away from this author's own personal experience and the horrors she had to endure as a child. The Karen people are one of the most populous ethnic groups, numbering around six million, which makes it startlingly clear how big a problem this is when we understand that some two million people of the many ethnic groups in Burma have been displaced, and another two million are refugees living in squalid conditions across the border in places like Thailand. The bulk of those latter people are Karen.

That story - the one of being attacked in one's own country and forced to flee to become an illegal emigrant, living in a camp and desperately trying to keep family together, and keep track of those family from whom you're separated, and trying to make a decent life for yourself, are what this book is all about. I found it depressing to read, but that did not prevent me from reading it. The most horrifying thing about this is that the author is one of the luckiest ones, yet even her story is soul-destroying.

How much worse then was it for they who did not get to tell their story because they were captured, and raped as children, and tortured and mutilated, and murdered for simply being one of the Karen? That's what people who rated this book negatively simply didn't get and they should be ashamed of themselves, because they focused on grammar and story-telling and completely forgot that this book isn't a story, it's a life, one of millions, and a positive one. Far too many other "stories" were not, and this book exists to speak for them, and to remind us of those people who cannot speak.

The author lived a life of misery and deprivation from the time she was fourteen until even after the time she was able to move to Britain, where she still initially had to suffer some more, but that treatment never once caused her to lose courage, and never once did she stop from speaking out for her people and their suffering. This woman is a hero. A real hero. And her story ought to be required reading. I commend this book for its honesty, bravery, and for the truths it reveals.