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

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Demagoguery and Democracy by Patricia Roberts-Miller


Rating: WORTHY!

Having battled a few young-Earth creationists in my time online, I can't say there was anything new in this book for me, but I still considered that it was worth the reading. It refreshed my mind, and reminded me of a few things that I might be getting rusty on. The saddest thing about it is that the people who most need to read this are the very ones who are least likely to want to read it, but I hope I'm wrong on that score, because everyone who is registered to vote needs to read this book, especially after the last few elections in the USA, and there is no excuse not to, since it's very concise, very clear, and pulls no punches.

From the blurb, we learn that a demagogue is someone who turns "complicated political situations into polarized identity politics," but as the author points out, it's more complicated and more nuanced than that, and it's all-too-often difficult to spot when the demagogue wool is being pulled over your eyes precisely because we're so used to it. In fact you could make a decent argument that American politics is composed entirely of demagoguery on both sides of the aisle these days. Those who bravely seek to do an end-run around it and stand as independents, are mauled to death by the sound-bites of the two front-runners. The media - which is supposed to be impartial and be wise to these tricks - simply plays along with them.

We can learn from this book what these shameless, grandstanding people say and do to gain and hold power, and what we can do to restore deliberative democracy, because that's the antidote to this poison. The first step is to recognize it, and the next step is to focus on the best way to deal with any given instances of it. This book will help you with both of these issues, because this author knows her stuff and displays it to advantage here. I recommend this book and I sincerely hope more people read it than I fear actually will!

I'm surprised the author didn't use references to creationism or climate change, because demagoguery is rife in the shallow dialog over those contentious issues, too, but if I had a complaint about the book, it's not about the content or the writer's style, but about the presentation, which is in what I call academic minimalism - and it's a style which is wasteful and may even turn-off some readers.

For an ebook, it really doesn't matter that much, but even there, a bulkier book requires more energy to transmit over the internet. From the point of view of a print run, a book like this is far harsher on trees than it ought to be. The pages have wide margins and widely spaced lines. Were the margins smaller and the lines closer, the book could have been probably a third smaller and saved a proportionate number of trees (and perhaps encourage more people to read it since it looks shorter!) I realize my voice is one of a paltry few crying in the wilderness, but at this rate that wilderness ain't gonna be with us much longer and all that will be left is the crying.

Other than that I recommend it unreservedly. Trish Roberts-Miller is a Professor in the Department of Rhetoric and Writing at the University of Texas. She has a Ph.D. in Rhetoric from the University of California, Berkeley, and teaches in the Liberal Arts department. Though UT is only a few miles from where I live, I don't know this author, but I do know never to get into an argument with her! I wish her all the best with this book.


The First Taste is Free Pixie Chicks - Tales of a Lesbian Vampire by Zephyr Indigo


Rating: WORTHY!

Not to be confused with The Pixie Chicks by Regan Black, or with the Pixie Chicks' Writers Group, this story was so whimsical (and very short, but it's free - as an introductory overture) that I was lured into reading it and in the end, it was not a bad temptation at all. I'd be interested in reading more, but the story is an episodic one, and there are ten episodes, which means you'll end up paying nine dollars for the whole book. Is it worth that?

Only you can answer that question, but consider that there is no page count offered for these 'episodes', only a file size, which is a cautionary omission! This one (excellently titled 'The First Taste is Free!) is 174K. The next one is only 211K so that means it's hardly longer than the free book - maybe 25 - 30 pages max, depending on font size. So all ten can't me more than two hundred to two-fifty or so pages. For nine dollars it had better be good for as slim a volume as that would be.

Mega-vendors like Amazon have forced authors into this world though, so it's what we as both writers and consumers have to deal with. Will it work? Does it pay? I guess we'll find out! At least with this method, the author gives you the option of buying bite-sized pieces and you can quit any time, so you don't find you've laid out the full price for a novel that you can't stand to read past page twenty! Frankly, I'm wondering if I should try that with one of my novels. I had this weird idea for a humorous story just a couple of days ago, and I'm wondering if it might be worth experimenting with this technique: write it as a short set of episodes for ninety-nine cents each. It's worth a try, but I would never run it to ten volumes of twenty pages each, so you can relax on that score!

I'm not familiar with the author at all, but I seriously doubt that Zephyr Indigo is a real name. I also have my doubts that the author is even female. It's a sound marketing ploy to have a female front for this kind of story, but I feel like it's probably a guy; however, I do not know, so I could be completely wrong on both scores. I often am!

That said, and though I was skeptical about this story, it did win me over, so there is something there. You;'re quite free to disagree of course, but for me, I thought it was pretty darned good for this genre. The story was fresh and different, and though the sex is rather perfunctory, which may displease many female readers, it really did feel like it counted as erotica. It's about a lesbian vampire. Much of what is termed erotica these days is nothing more than smut, but this wasn't like that. I know it sounds cheesy, but the erotic bits are decently if somewhat clinically done and the story that links them is actually an interesting one.

The vampire is sick with herself and looking for a cure or for the vampire hunters to find her and finish her, but she meets this pixie one night, alone in the forest, which is a dangerous place to be when vampires are loose. The vamp of course get the hots for her, but the pixie, who goes by the amusing name of mint (but who may as well have been called catnip) will only give in to her desires if the vampire meets with Ariel, the pixie goddess. Ariel has a mission for the vampire - to work with the pixies in finding a cure for vampirism.

For me it made for an interesting story, even though it was only some twenty pages. I am sure this is what the author wants, to lure readers in, but you can't blame him or her for that in this ebook world we've created for ourselves, and this is a good lure. Maybe I'll be lured into reading more. We'll see.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Starbird Murphy and the World Outside by Karen Finneyfrock


Rating: WORTHY!

This amazingly-named novel, from an author I now intend to read more of, is about a teen-aged girl in a religious cult (not an evil one, just a misguided one as they all ultimately are). Starbird has grown up leading a rather sheltered life, but she gets the chance to go out into the world and this is her story.

All of the characters have bizarre names. Starbird's brother is called Douglas Fir. Apparently the cult went through eras of selecting names from particular inspirational sources, so the founding members are all named after planets in our solar system. The leader is called Earth, and the name is always capitalized, but he's disappeared. He went out on some sabbatical, and no one heard from him since.

Starbird ends-up working with a girl named Venus Lake (daughter of Venus Ocean) in a restaurant owned by the cult. Venus is not a founding member but since her mother, who was a founder, died in childbirth, they gave her name to her daughter. Yes, it's that kind of weird. It was really hard to get into for the first couple of pages, but then it started making sense and I really liked it, which is a good feeling form a new novel by an author I was not familiar with. It's the best part of a novel, right? Before you've become disappointed in it and ditch or, or worse, before you read it avidly and then are disappointed that it's over! LOL! The manic world of novel addicts.

That;s not to say it was perfect. I had a problem with, in the space of 6 pages in chapter 9, meeting two guys and two girls. In each case the guy is described in terms of his hair, while in each case the girl is described in terms of how pretty or attractive she is. Fortunately, this was the only instance of this I encountered, so I let it slide, but this business of typing females by how pretty they are has to stop. I'm getting so tired of it that I'm ready to start rating novels based solely on that, if it's indulged in to absurd lengths, regardless of how well-written or otherwise the novel is.

Women have other qualities and the people who should perhaps most realize this are female writers, yet so many of them sell-out their characters with this genderist bullshit that it's nauseating. As I said, the author went on to show admirably how these women had other qualities and she backed-off on the skin-deep garbage, so I let it slide this time.

I can understand it if a character, in the novel reduces a woman to her looks alone; this happens in real life, but these descriptions came directly from the author, not from one of the characters. In each case the woman is reduced to her looks and in doing this, the author is very much announcing that women who are not considered attractive need not apply, because when it comes to women, looks are all that matter. I don't subscribe to that and I wish that a lot fewer female authors did, particularly in the YA genre.

That caveat aside, and because it was so limited in this novel, I do consider this a worthy read.


The Cute Girl network by Greg Means, MK Reed, Joe Flood


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the last of three graphic novels I'll be reviewing this weekend. This one ca,me form my excellent local library and I think it's my favorite of the three. The story is of Jane and Jack. It's illustrated with black and white line drawings by Flood. I was a little disappointed that writers Means and Reed didn't go the whole hog and name her Jill, since she introduces herself with a tumble.
It's not down a hill, but nothing is perfect, right?

Skateboarder Jane has been in town for about a month when she wipes out in front of Jack's soup cart. He supplies a free ice tea (in a bottle!) for her to soothe her injured coccyx. As the two interact more, they end up on a date and start liking each other, even though she's feisty as all hell and he is highly-prone to complete disasters.

Two of Jane's vampire romance-obsessed roommates freak-out when they learn she's dating Jack. Actually the vampire romance thing is pretty much a story all in itself, and I appreciated that; however, suddenly Jane finds herself introduced to the Cute Girls Network (not to be confused with the cukegirls network) - a loose alliance of women who dish out the skinny on guys you should avoid like the plague. Jane hears several embarrassingly gauche stories of Jack's history of bad conduct, but despite these dire warnings, she decides to stay the course.

The story is cutely illustrated and amusingly written, and it tells a fascinating and unusual story. I really liked the character Jane. She was definitely my kind of fictional girl. Jack was hilarious, as were the various roommates of both main characters. This was an excellent read, and I highly recommend it.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

James Bond Hammerhead by Andy Diggle, Luca Casalanguida


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is the second of three graphic novels I'm reviewing this weekend, and I started out thinking I wasn't going to like this, but it won me over as I read on! It's not your movie James Bond. Luca Casalanguida's illustrations bear no relation to any Bond from the silver screen. This Bond harks back much more to the traditional Ian Fleming Bond (there's even a cover shown towards the back which pays homage to the paperback Bond novels of the fifties and early sixties). It's not exactly Ian Fleming's conception of the character (who Fleming believed should look like a cross between Hoagy Carmichael and himself!), but it admirably fits the bill. That said, it's a very modern story in a modern world, so while it felt like a clean break from the movies in some regards, Andy Diggle tells a story worthy of any screenplay.

There's everything here you've come to expect from Bond: a big plot, continual action, a terrorist on the loose with a cool code-name, subterfuge, assassination attempts, double-cross, daring Bond exploits, and the inevitable cool Bond girl. Bond begins the story in the doghouse. M, in this story not a woman but an Anglo-African, kicks him out to an arms convention in Dubai where he meets Lord Hunt - Britain's biggest arms dealer, and his sophisticated and charming daughter, Victoria, who knows her way around weapons of any calibre!

Unfortunately, Lord Hunt is assassinated, and Bond and the young Lady Hunt are thrown together in pursuit of the villains, so once again, Bond is back in business looking for super villain Kraken, who seems to be targeting the very thing the Hunt weapons manufacturing concern is charged with renewing: Britain's aging nuclear deterrent. Bond is of course led astray, but in the end gets back on track, and saves the day.

Note that this Bond is a violent one, and the artist shows no fear of illustrating that violence. This might have been rather shocking before Bond was rebooted with Daniel Craig stepping into the role and making it more gritty and brutal, but still, there's rather more gore and red ink here than you see in the movies, so be warned of that. Overall, I really liked it, and I recommend this as a worthy read.


Betty Boop by Roger Langridge, Gisèle Lagacé


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the first of three reviews I'll be doing this weekend of graphic novels; it's from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher!

I'm not sure why comic book writers go to such lengths to put a completely different image on the cover to the ones you routinely find inside. It smacks of bait & switch. In this case, I didn't expect anything other than standard imagery inside, so the cover was pretty well-received and not resented for misrepresenting! Howard Chaykin's work here, colored by Jesus Aburto, is really was quite stunning, worthy of your screen wallpaper if not framing and hanging on a wall! I felt it a pity though, that someone isn't willing to buck tradition and do a whole comic like that, but it seems Betty is going to continue to be confined to the 1930's which was her era (and she owned it!).

Betty Boop is modeled (both in face and voice) on singer Helen Kane who was best known for "I Wanna Be Loved by You," and who sued Betty Boop's creators, but they cited the "boop-boop-a-doop" as originating with Esther Jones, and Kane eventually lost the lawsuit. I think she needed a better lawyer!

I never was a big fan of Betty Boop (although I love the concept) and I've enjoyed some of the whacked-out animated cartoons which were really off the wall, especially for the era they were created in. In this series, which combines several comics, the arc is all about villain Lizard Lips. I wish there had been more variety but it was all LL all the time. Each story is self-contained, and LL plagues Betty in every adventure, obsessed with getting his hands on her house, for no reason that was apparent to me!

Betty always wins of course, and there's a lot of celebratory singing, which obviously doesn't work as well in print as it did in animation. Betty isn't as much of a sex symbol here, either - she plays more to cute than to Woot! This isn't a bad thing, but it did lend her a slightly neutered air. Since Betty began life as a sex symbol it would have been nice to see her let off the leash a little more in a comic book.

That said, she was extremely cute and I enjoyed the dialog, the references back to her original life and friends, and the quality of the artwork by the amazingly-named Gisèle Lagacé. She really captured the essence of the original, and is definitely an artist to keep an eye out for. So overall, this was a fun book, told good stories, and was very enjoyable. Despite the one or two relatively trivial regrets mentioned, I think it's a winner, especially if you're a big fan already.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray


Rating: WORTHY!

This volume concludes the trilogy and is set a year after the previous one, when Gemma is about to come out to society. She's still at the Spence Academy, but finds she has lost her power to enter the realms at will. When she finally does get in she discovers the Pippa has been building a little queendom for herself and has changed significantly, now bordering on megalomaniacal evil. Pippa is unable to cross to the afterlife because she has become so embedded in the realms by this time.

Feeling like her life is slipping out of her control, Gemma decides she has no choice but to follow every clue and discover what is really going on here since her mother was so utterly useless in helping her. After rambling around London following rather tedious clues, Gemma enters the realms again and visits the Winterlands in hopes of finding the so-called Tree of All Souls. When they touch the tree they get visions, and Gemma's is of Eugenia Spence telling her about this mysterious girl in lavender she keeps seeing. Evidently, the girl has a dagger which is somehow a threat to the Winterlands.

Felicity and Ann are becoming increasingly frustrated with Gemma's refusal to allow them back into the realms, and they discover that they don't need her because there's an alternate way to get there. When Felicity encounters the very dangerous Pippa, the latter tries to talk her into eating the realm berries which will maker her visit to the realms permanent so she can always be with Pippa - who's true love was evidently Felicity all along.

In a big showdown at the end, Kartik sacrifices himself to save Gemma who then does what we all thought she'd done in volume two which was to give her power back to the realms, robbing herself of power and sealing the two worlds from each other. She then retreats to the Americas which is what all young girls do when they have no power, of course!

Some issues with this last volume, but overall, I recommend it as a fitting finale to the trilogy. It's a worthy read, despite a few problems here and there (mostly there).


Rebel Angels by Libba Bray


Rating: WORTHY!

Now we're two months along from the end of the first novel, and we learn that Kartik has been ordered by the anti-Order known as the Rakshana, to induce Gemma to perform a certain piece of magic and to then kill her. Gemma must go into the realms, and "bind" the magic therein, in the name of the "Eastern Star".

Unfortunately for Kartik's plan, it's Xmas and Gemma goes to London to finally meet her family. Her brother Tom is supposed to pick her up, but Gemma cannot find him and she believes she's being stalked by someone from the Rakshana. Rather brazenly, she accosts a nearby young man (of course), Simon Middleton, and feigns acquaintanceship with him. Middleton is from a wealthy family and is quite taken with Gemma, so he invites her family to dine with him.

It turns out that Middleton was very conveniently at Eton, a very manly college, with her brother. Moving around London, Gemma also runs into Hester Moore, who is known to Gemma because she used to teach art at Spence, and who now conveniently lives in London. Hester's replacement at Spence, Miss McCleethy, is the one who Gemma believes is really Circe.

While on the topic of complete, utter, and highly suspicious convenience, Gemma's brother works at Bethlem Royal Hospital a psychiatric institution (although that's not how it was known back then) from which we derive the word bedlam. Conveniently, one of Tom's patients is Nell Hawkins. When Gemma is conveniently with her one day, she conveniently rambles on about "The Temple" which is the very thing Kartik had requested that Gemma seek out in the realms! it turns out that Nell was once also conveniently a student at a school at which McCleethy once taught.

We learn here why Felicity requested power as her wish from the realms - when a girl called Polly comes to stay with them, Felicity warns her severely to lock her doors and not let Felicity's uncle into her room. Gemma's father is a drug addict and is not well, eventually winding up in a health facility.

In the finale to this volume, Gemma determines the real identity of Circe, and defeats her in open battle. She discovers the true meaning of the temple, which is quite messianic, and in discovering this, she finds she can distribute the magic democratically across the realms so it resides in no one person's hands.

Eminently readable and listenable, this novel was a bit too convenient in many places, but despite that, made for a worthy read. I recommend this as part of this complete series!


A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray


Rating: WORTHY!

Gemma Doyle is a girl in her mid-teens who is rather less than thrilled with her lot with life with her mother in India. She dreams of going back to her native England where her father resides, and taking up the society life to which she believes she's entitled.

Gemma should be careful what she wishes for, because when her wish comes true, it’s at the cost of the tragic death of her mother. One day, out in the hot and dusty market place in Mumbai, Gemma's mother is approached by a man accompanied by a boy who is conveniently Gemma's age. The man relates a cryptic message to Gemma's mother, and her mum then demands that Gemma return home immediately. Gemma becomes so frustrated with her mother's secrecy that she runs away, and gets herself lost. She's visited by a horrible vision of her mother committing suicide, and when she finally makes her way to where her mother is, she discovers that her vision was true: her mother is dead, and subsequently Gemma is being hastily packed off to England, to be sequestered at the elite Spence Academy.

Gemma starts out by being the lonely newbie because of her derided Indian background, but when she discovers the snottiest girl in school, Felicity, in a compromising situation, Gemma finds herself elevated to the top notch of clique-dom. Finally, she's where she wanted to be. She begins to form a close relationship with Felicity and her two friends, Pippa and Ann. Gemma also learns that Kartik, the boy she saw with the man in Mumbai, is now in England! He warns her that she is in danger, and must close herself off to what happened to her mother if she wishes to remain safe.

Gemma increasingly has visions and one of these leads her to a cave in the school grounds, where she finds a 25-year-old diary written by Mary Dowd, a girl of Gemma's age, who also was a student at Spence. Gemma identifies with Mary because May also had visions which she shared with her friend Sarah Rees-Toome.

Gemma reads the diary and discovers that Mary was associated with a society known as the Order, initiates of which were able to open a portal to other realms. They could use this power to ease the passage of souls, and the power gave them prophetic insight and the power to create illusions. The four new friends create their own "Order", meeting in the cave.

As they read more of the diary and investigate the history of Spence, they discover that the two girls from a quarter century ago died in a fire at Spence along with the principal of the school.

Finally Gemma & Co travel to the realms which are weird, beautiful and wonderful. They do not travel there bodily but spiritually, leaving their bodies behind in the real world. Gemma is able to meet with her mother there, but predictably her mother is unnecessarily mysterious. She does, however, warn Gemma not to take magic from the realms into the everyday world because it would let them fall foul of Circe, who seeks this power and wishes to take over the realms. The magic of the realms allows them to have a wish granted. Ann, who is plain, requests beauty. Felicity, who feels abused, asks for power. Gemma wants insights into her self, and finally, Pippa seeks true love.

The girls begin a routine of secret night-time meetings in the cave when they visit the realms. Gemma discovers that her mother was Mary Dowd, who obviously she did not die in the fire but escaped and changed her name. She also learns that Sarah is Circe.

Gemma is the only one who can control the portal, and during one visit, Pippa is separated from them and is left behind as the others flee an evil power seeking them in the realms. Back in the real world, Pippa is now having a seizure. Gemma returns to the realms to retrieve Pippa, but Pippa has met her true Love there and refuses to return to real life and the arranged marriage which awaits her there. When Gemma returns to her own world, Pippa is dead.

I've also listened to the audio book version of this, narrated by Jo Wyatt, and I recommend that version, too. She does a thoroughly amazing job of narration and voices. I've had good success with Libba Bray, and although this is a series (a trilogy specifically) which I usually detest, this one turned out to be eminently engaging. I recommend it.


Arriving at Ellis Island by Dale Anderson


Rating: WORTHY!

At a time when we have a president who seems dedicated to destroying all that the US stands for (apart from rampant capitalism, that is), I think it's important to remember the things it used to stand for: huddled masses yearning to be free, being an important one of them.

This children's book is part of a series titled 'Landmark Events in American History', and it discusses the history of Ellis island, the arrival point of many immigrants to the USA over the years. It was nice to read a book which covers all the bases and is written in an unflinching, yet child-friendly manner. This is an illustrated, but text-based book for older children, and there is a lot to be learned from it. It mentions American Indians (as the first immigrants) and African Americans (as involuntary immigrants during the shameful slavery era), and it does not hide from teaching about the abuses that immigrants underwent, and the struggle and fight they had to endure to finally get free and start a new life. I recommend this book.


King Hugo's Huge Ego by Chris van Dusen


Rating: WORTHY!

In a world where everyone is pushed to outdo everyone else and to inflate themselves to celebrity status in the most showy way imaginable, and in a student world where so many awards are given out for 'achievements' that the awards are in fact, meaningless, we need books like this.

Humility is not a negative quality, but you would never know it in a world where this popular TV show is centered around who can best run roughshod over everyone else in order to avoid hearing "You're fired!" and that TV show is all about beauty, like it's a character trait rather than a genetic trait. In a world where our president has the most over-inflated of them all, we definitely need books like this.

This is a large-format and fun picture ebook for children with some rhyming text about Hugo, who is so self-obsessed that he cares for nothing but puffing himself up with his own achievements and qualities. One day in his blinkered ignorance, he makes the mistake of insulting a witch, who casts a spell on him that makes his head actually swell in proportion to how much his head is swollen from his own self-aggrandizement. The book is beautifully illustrated with fun images of Hugo's sad decline and then wondrous recovery from his personal(ity) problem. That witch isn't done with him yet, and he's not done with her! I recommend this for a fun and easy read for young children - and for the useful lesson to be learned from it.


Dead River by Cyn Balog


Rating: WORTHY!

This marks the start of three Cyn Balog books I got from the library, but it also marks the end of my interest in her, because the other two sucked. I really liked this author's Fairy Tale; it was quite different from your usual high-school romance novel and I appreciated it for that. This is the same thing - different from what you expect, and I think people will condemn it for that, which is their prerogative. For me, despite it having problems (as negative reviewers have no doubt discussed), I still like the book and consider it a worthy read.

The premise is Kiandra's visit to her cousin's family's log cabin in the woods by the river. Ki hasn't been anywhere near the river in a decade or so. Her over-protective father has kept her well away from it since her mother walked into the river and never was seen again. As soon as she arrives there with her boyfriend, Justin, her cousin, Angela, and this obnoxious guy her cousin invited along for no apparent reason, Ki starts hearing snatches of conversation when no one seems to be around.

This weekend is the weekend of the prom, and Ki really wanted to go, but Ki is about as weak as they come. Even though she's been dating Justin for three years, she couldn't put her foot down, and he's still not even remotely clued-in to the fact that she'd much rather go to the prom than go white-water rafting on Dead River.

You have to wonder what the two of them see in each other, but realistically viewed, this is how people end up. They start dating way too early in high-school before they have a clue what's what, and suddenly they're in a long-term relationship and don't know how to get out of it, or even if they want to because it's become kind of a rut and not one that's entirely unpleasant. Plus Ki has zero motivation as does Justin.

It's cold and wet and muddy out here and Ki is a bit of whiner, but she puts on a brave face and when they go out on the raft the next day she decides she's going to try and have fun, but things go wrong. She falls overboard and despite the best efforts of Justin to pull her back aboard, she's pulled under - quite literally. She comes around on a shore not too far from where they put in that morning. A guy named Trey has rescued her, and apparently healed her injured back. Suddenly she notices that he has a serious injury to his arm, which despite it bleeding out, doesn't seem to bother him. She realizes Trey is a ghost - the ghost of the very kid someone told a story about over the campfire the previous night.

From that point onwards, Ki can't not be interested in the river - or more to the point, she's obsessed with it, and with the east bank, which is where the dead supposedly live. This is nonsensical of course, because pretty much everyone lives on the east bank of some river (though it may be far away!). In Ki's case, Her mother might well be over there, waiting for her. Ki meets Jack - another ghost and he seems to have a quite different approach to death than does Trey. Who should Ki believe?

This is where the story got interesting for me, because of the way the world of the dead works in this place (unsurprisingly, given it's a water world, it relies heavily on Greek mythology as to how the dead pass over. Yes, if you look too closely, the world-building falls apart as it does in all of these horror stories, but if you're willing to overlook the fact that the fabric is rather threadbare in places, it's not too bad of a world the author creates here. It's a bit thin in some parts, and a bit repetitive in others, and it's disjointed in others. Some parts of it read like a first draft rather than a polished novel, but despite all of this, I liked the story and the atmosphere.

I think that a part of the problem was Ki's perspective. In true blind, sheep-mentality, YA fashion, it was told in first person by her and she really wasn't a very good narrator. I won't say she's unreliable because that's not the tack the author takes here, but she's very selfish, which accounts for how thinly the rest of the world is veneered when we see it from her perspective. I'm not a fan of first person at all, but in this case it was interesting to see up close her juvenile and sadly-blinkered view of the world. It makes me glad I'm not in high-school anymore dealing with people like that!

The ending reflects how very selfish and self-centered Ki is, too. She ends up with Trey. This isn't a spoiler because it's so obviously coming from the moment we first encounter him. There is no tension and no surprise here except in the fact that the author glosses over the same insurmountable problem that Stephenie Meyer cluelessly failed to address in Twilight: why would a several hundred year old vampire fall for a vacuous juvenile who must have been a baby relative to him?

Yeah, he'd no doubt want to jump her bones, but why would he have any other interest in her? Fall in love? Ain't gonna happen. The same problem arises here since Trey died in 1936, and has been living in ghost world ever since. In short, he's over eighty years old and would have zero interest in a child, yet Balog portrays him as being just like a teen. Nope. That's garbage. Yes, he's portrayed as innocent in the ways of women, but it still doesn't work because that doesn't do anything to un-age him! He'd be courting her mom (or even her grandmother) before he'd ever be interested in hitting on Ki for anything other than sex.

So that was pathetic, but that aside, I liked the way this novel flowed - like a rock-strewn river, heading for a crash down a steep waterfall. I'm not even sure why I liked it. Normally I would trash a novel like this, but something in it spoke to me, so maybe it was very personal, so I recommend it with the above-mentioned caveats.


The Witches' Guide to Cooking With Children by Keith Mcgowan


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a cute and amusing novel aimed at middle graders and younger. It's an easy and fast read, and it's very well-written. It has a layer or two in it, which is unusual for this level of writing, so I was also pleased with that. Rooted loosely in the story of Hansel and Gretel, these two young kids, 11-year-old Solomon, and 8-year-old Constance find themselves suddenly uprooted and moved to a new town for no apparent reason, but the reason does become apparent to them and quite scarily so. Their new next door neighbor is a witch - and not a pleasant one. She's known for eating kids, and their dad, who happens to be a twin, and his new wife, their stepmother, want the money that's supposed to come to the kids.

We're told that Sol is the smart one, and Connie not so much, but she's a sneaky, scheming little devil, and a mischievous one, too. I liked her! Together they decide that they must take on this witch, and when Connie is captured by her, Sol becomes frantic. Fortunately, his science smarts enable him to take a logical approach to discovering where the witch is hiding his sister.

As I said, the book is well-written, but there was one issue I encountered which is worth exploring from a writing PoV. A few days ago I reviewed a book about punctuation, and mentioned at the time that not a few professional writers might make use of it, and I read a part of one sentence in this book which revealed how important smart punctuation is: "Holaderry and Connie, tied up" was what the sentence said in part. Holaderry is the witch. She has Connie tied-up, but the placement of the comma here suggests that both were tied-up! It should have read, "Holaderry, and Connie tied up."

Just nudging that comma over to the left by two words makes a lot of difference. The classic example of how the placement of commas can change a sentence is this: "Smith says Jones is an ass" versus "Smith, says Jones, is an ass." The addition of those two tiny commas gives the whole sentence the opposite meaning! It's worth remembering as a writer.

But that was a minor issue. Overall I consider this novel to be a very worthy read and I recommend it.


Toru: Wayfarer Returns by Stephanie R Sorensen


Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this was an advance review copy, for which I thank the publisher. It's been a while since I've fond something I really wanted to read on Net Galley and this was worth the wait in gold to coin a phrase!

It was an awesome novel - steampunk set in Japan (kinda)! But that's not why I liked it. I've read a few steampunk novels and found too many of them less than satisfactory, the author being far more in love with steampunk than ever they were in good story-telling. This is a different tack. This author clearly loves to tell a great and well-put-together story and steampunk is just an accessory.

It's not even really steampunk as such, but the story of an alternate-world Japan entering the steam age perforce to save themselves from falling under the thumb of an expansionist and capitalist USA in the form of Matthew Perry, not the actor from the Friends TV show, but a US Navy Commodore who also happened to be a belligerent bully who, in the real world, forced under threat of arms, a very feudal and unprepared Japan to sign a so-called treaty which treated the US and no-one else.

In this novel, things happen differently. Toru is the name of the mysterious "fisherman" who arrives back in Japan after two years of living in (and closely observing) the USA, and in this world the Japanese, because of Toru's efforts, are fully armed and very dangerous when Perry arrives in the last twenty percent of the novel.

So no, it's not a novel full of battles. Instead, it's a story of perseverance and bravery, and of hardship and ingenuity, where Toru has to overcome one prejudice after another in a very strict, very isolationist nation which rejects him to begin with because he's 'soiled goods' having lived outside of Japan. Rejection here, please note, means no less than ritual beheading. It's a story of codes of honor, of class separation, and of how barriers can be worn away with diligence and dedication. The story is one of change, and skin-of-the-teeth survival, and of a slow awakening (in this case militarily) of a nation which in the real world enjoyed a similar rise, but economically after World War Two.

The author quite evidently knows her stuff (or at the very least, fakes it beautifully, which is fine with me!), and while - now and then - I found the frequent use of Japanese terminology annoying, for the most part it was fine and even educational. Some readers who are seeking only a story of martial might, may find this rather restrained and slow-moving, but for me it was a comfortable, easy read which entertained, educated, and showed how non-violent change can come even to a nation as rigid as Japan was (and still is in many regards).

It's not all about the men, either. We have a strong female character who is admirably understated but very much to the fore. We also have a restrained love story which even I liked, so if you've read my reviews of not a few young adult stories, you must know that this one had to be well done to please me!

I had one or two minor issues, but nothing that put me off the story overall. For example, we're told that Toru meets Helmuth von Moltke at West Point, which is highly unlikely since he was stationed in Magdeburg in charge of the 4th army corps when Toru was supposedly in the US! Moltke is the guy who goes uncredited for saying "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy," when what he actually wrote was rather different: "No plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force." I honestly did not see the point of referring to him or to what he supposedly said. This guy was an appalling racist and doesn't deserve to be remembered for anything.

While the author conveys a good feel for Japan, when it comes to preparations for war - in this case a huge build-up of steam power - the idea of powering steam engines is a bit too easily accomplished. Coal was not scarce in Japan in terms of being available for mining, but in order to mine it to power the steam engines, a lot more work would have had to be done than there was time for here! Perhaps this is why it gets so little mention, but I'm not convinced that there were enough trees to do everything they did either - not to do it and sustain it! The same problem exists for mining iron to build those engines and the tracks upon which they would run.

But I wasn't about to let minor quibbles spoil what was otherwise an excellent and very much appreciated read. I fully recommend this one.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Basher Basics: Punctuation by Mary Budzik, Simon Basher


Rating: WORTHY!

Part of a series which covers a wide variety of educational topics from science to writing to music and math, and so on, this small volume looks like a children's book on the outside, but it really isn't - not unless that child is writing intelligently. Once they're ready for a nudge to the next level, this book will get them there. And it wouldn't go amiss as a gift for older writers too - not a few of them published ones!

Again I'm unconvinced of the value of the illustrations by Basher, but younger children might like them. Each page covers a different aspect of punctuation, in some detail, but not too heavily. The text is larger so it makes for easy reading both in seeing it and in following it. I recommend this for anyone who is interested in better using language - which ought to be all of us.


Basher Basics: Creative Writing by Mary Budzik, Simon Basher


Rating: WORTHY!

This is part of a series I'd never seen before. It evidently started out with science books and now has also branched into writing. These look - from the cover - like young children's books, but fortunately my blog has nothing to do with covers, which are all glitz and slick packaging. Mine is about what's between the covers: writing, and if you look past the cover, you'll see why I like this book. These are not for the very young, but any child who has taken their first steps into creative writing can benefit - as can many adults, including not a few published authors!

This book is a how to of getting started, and of understanding all aspects of creating a story. Each topic fills only one page of fairly large text, so there's not a lot of heavy reading, but what is there cuts straight to the chase. Frankly, I am unconvinced of the value of Basher's illustrations, which tend to obfuscate as much as illuminate, but the writing itself is where the value is here. I recommend this but it will be useless without a companion volume which I also review today: Punctuation!


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Fairy Tale by Cyn Balog


Rating: WORTHY!

I was so thrilled to read this book - an example of how to write a really well-done high-school romance. This book was amazing, and other writers of such works would do well to read this and learn from it. It was not perfect, by any means. I had a couple of issues with it, but those aside, the book was deep, well-written, passionate, amusing as hell, and amazing in how well the author controlled it, and brought it to closure.

Morgan Sparks is about to reach her sixteenth year and she gets to celebrate it with her lifelong partner, Cam Browne, who shares her birthday. That's the last great memory she has of the relationship, because almost from day one, things start going south. It turns out - hilariously, I thought - that macho football star Cam is a fairy. He was switched at birth with the Browne's newborn, and now he's about to turn sixteen himself, the fairies want him back. And Morgan isn't about to let that happen, but when he starts losing weight and growing wings out of his back, and Morgan is the only one who can see these changes, she starts to wonder if her dream romance is actually over for real.

A female fairy named Dawn arrives, and starts tutoring Cam in the ways of Fairy World. She's not supposed to be visible to anyone but Cam, yet Morgan can see her, which annoys Dawn. Dawn is, however, deadly. She has fairy magic and a mission not only to bring Cam back but to marry him and unite two fairy dynasties, and she is not about to let anyone get in the way of it, even if it means killing and maiming to accomplish her aim.

Morgan herself is psychic, yet she has a hard time seeing her own future, and has never seen future for herself and Cam. Her assumption has been that it will work out fine and they will always be together, but is it so? Or has she been so blind that she simply invented their future and now is about to find out the cold truth?

I loved this story and will look for more by this author. This story reminded me, a bit, of a story idea I have for a fairy tale, but fortunately this one is very different from what I had in mind, so I don't need to scrap mine! Phew! I did like this one. I liked that it was different, and that the author wasn't afraid to take a path less traveled. How sorry it is that far too many authors of this kind of story fail so dismally precisely because they're aping everyone else's stories? Kudos to Cyn Balog for blazing her own trail.

And kudos again for being unafraid to call it what it is: a fairy story. Nowhere in this book is there 'fae' or 'faerie'! It's 'fairy' all the way, and the author is proud of it; it's right there on the front cover. Good for her. If you're going to write a story like this and then let yourself be too embarrassed to use the word 'fairy' then I don't want to read your book anyway. And kudos to myself or being smart enough to recognize that this one might just be different! LOL!


Jane Austen's England by Roy Adkins, Lesley Adkins


Rating: WORTHY!

Sometimes fortune favors the depraved, so today I have two books to blog which were pure joy to read. The first is this one, written not about Jane Austen's stories, but about her times - not her life, but the time in which she lived, and what life was like back then. It's reasonably-well documented because people were fond of writing letters and keeping journals, and some of Austen's own letters are quoted from here.

Austen was a contemporary (near enough) of Mary Shelley, although to my knowledge, the two never met. Austen was twenty-two and had completed Lady Susan when Shelly was born. She died by the time Shelley was twenty, the year before the latter published Frankenstein, so while Shelley had undoubtedly heard of Austen, the reverse was never the case. Austen as so prim and proper that the two of them probably would not have got along together even had they known each other! The Brontës were all of this era, but they were all born right around the time Austen died, so they never met either, which was probably just as well. By all accounts, Charlotte was no fan of Austen's.

There were other well-known writers alive in this era, too, such as Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, who published anonymously, Donatien Alphonse François, aka the Marquis de Sade, who died three years before Austen, and Mary Wollstonecraft, Shelley's mother, who died as Shelley was born. There was also Sophia Briscoe, and in terms of better known writers, both Charles Dickens and Mary Ann Evans, better known as George Eliot were born around the time Austen died - to within a few years. Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, better known as George Sand, was around treize when Austen died.

Austen was not the only known and read female writer of that time; Fanny Burney, Maria Edgeworth, Elizabeth Inchbald, and Ann Radcliffe all preceded her very slightly, and she knew of, and liked at least two of these. She disliked Radcliffe. The reason I mention all of these people is that this book surprisingly does not. Despite it being about Jane Austen's England, and despite it quoting many many writers of letters and journals, there are none other of what we might term "professional" writers, even mentioned! We get not a word on their lives or influence during this era. I found that very strange.

That glaring flaw aside, I enjoyed this book every much; it was well written, well-supported by contemporary account, well-referenced, and fascinating in many regards. It was very much another era back then, with different senses and sensibilities, much misplaced pride and prejudice, and a different outlook on life altogether, with death and disease looming at every stage. There was war, off an on, and many injured ex-soldiers had been left on the scrap-heap with little to their name despite their sacrifices. There was a huge gap between rich and poor, as there is now, and very little hope for - or love of - the latter.

This book devotes a chapter to each stage of life, exploring what it was like for rich and for poor, what customs and habits were, and how things fell together. There was an introduction, which I skipped as I do all antiquated prologues, prefaces, forewords and so on; then comes a chapter each devoted to marriage, "breeding", childhood, home, fashion, church, work, leisure, travel, crime, medicine, and death. Some of it is amusing, much disturbing, some very surprising. Nude weddings, for example, were not invented by Star Trek writers!

Aside from the missing writerly references, this is all-in-all a very comprehensive work, and a must-read for anyone who aspires to write a novel as Austen did. I recommend this as a worthy read, although I must confess curiosity as to why Roy gets precedence in the attribution over Lesley. The names are not alphabetical, so was this done because Roy did the most work? Because it was his idea? Or because even in 2013 when this book was published, even in a book dedicated to a woman and her times, the male still takes precedence as he did during Austen's lifetime, and the woman still takes his name?


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Ivy + Bean by Annie Barrows


Rating: WORTHY!

This book was a true delight from start to finish. The wonderfully feisty and mischievous Bean (short for Bernice - somehow), is a little tyke, which is why she's not interested in making friends with Ivy, the quite evidently boring girl across the street who just moved into the neighborhood.

Fortunately for history (and literature), fate has other plans and the two are thrown together as Bean has to make a hasty escape from her older and rather peeved sister Nancy. Ivy is teaching herself to be a witch, and suddenly Bean is very intrigued. The two set off on an amusing adventure (which never leaves their's and their neighbors back yards, and I loved it.

This may be written for seven years and up, and aimed at readers who are past the beginning reading stage, but not yet on to more strenuous novels, but it kept me entertained quite readily! Sadly, it's a quick read which left me wanting more. It's only a hundred or so pages, with copious and amusing illustrations by Australian artist Sophie Blackall. Does that make them illustralians? I think so. Anyway, I recommend this.


Monday, March 13, 2017

Argyle Fox by Marie Letourneau


Rating: WORTHY!

My wife may leave me for confessing this in public, but I'm in love with Argyle Fox! But this is not one of those fatuous YA romances. No! It's based on understanding and respect! And yes, I confess a prior bias: I love not only foxes, but the entire concept of them and the mythology and folklore that surround them.

The day is very windy outside (as it whimsically illustrated by author Marie Letourneau), and as Argyle looks out of his window, he longs to go play in the wind. Argyle's problem though, is that he's not a very good listener. Every time he makes a plan - to play cards, pirates, knights in a castle, and so on - he's warned that it won't work in the high wind, and the warnings prove true and dire!

So while I would have liked to have seen Argyle learn the adult trait of being able to listen in place of his childish willfulness, I have to approve of three other things in this fox's tale. The first is his mature trait of steadfastness. He's determined to achieve his goal and is willing to work at it, even as he seems to fail often. The second and third are both tied to his thoughtfulness. When he finally realizes that his game plan isn't working, he first of all cleans up after himself without having to be told, keeping his forest neat and tidy, and then secondly, he sits down and gives the problem some hard thought - until he finally does come up with a plan that will work on a windy day!

I liked these traits and they way they were shown in this story. I also liked Argyle, and I recommend this as a worthy read, and a fun and instructive story that can be well made use of as a teaching tool, and a fine example (eventually!) of good behavior for children to follow.