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

Friday, June 1, 2018

The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a short and fascinating book which ought to be required reading for anyone interested in autism, or who has some sort of relationship of any kind with someone on the autism spectrum. it was written by a Japanese boy who has this condition, and who painstakingly typed out each letter using a system not dissimilar to the one Stephen Hawking used. It's really quite entrancing to read his inner perspective and his explanations for the things some autism sufferers do.

As I said, it's not a long book, but it makes for engrossing reading. In some ways, it's a bit like reading something written by an alien because his thought process are so altered by his condition that they are truly alien to those of us who do not have this condition. That he was thirteen when he wrote it makes it all the more of an achievement. Highly recommended.


Why Juan Can't Sleep by Karl Beckstrand, Luis F Sanz


Rating: WORTHY!

This 'mystery' book for young children examines why it is that Juan can't sleep! There are a gajillon rhyming reasons, every one of which is valid and has probably affected you at one point or another! Although driving through a stop sign with grandpa never was one of my issues! maybe I'll start that trend in my family?!

Luis Sanz's ustrations are far from ill 9as you can see form this sentence!), and the rolling, cascading, helter-skelter poetry is mesmerizing. This is the second Karl Beckstrand book I've enjoyed, the first being The Bridge of the Golden Wood> which I reviewed back in July of last year. I have no hesitation in recommending this one to go with it.


Doing Harm by Maya Dusenberry


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a great book about gender problems within modern medical practice. There is a systemic bias against women not only in how many women get into medicine and just as importantly, get onto professional medical boards, but also in how women are perceived and treated as patients and even how medical studies exclude women. The contents list is quite short, but the book is quite fat and very dense. I liked the fact that it was not written in an academic style which means wide, tree-killing margins and acres of wasted paper. Just the opposite here! What it does mean is lots of detail to wade through, and I confess I skipped some sections once I'd got a good sense of the general topic.

Topics in part one cover things like a knowledge gap and a trust gap, both of them serious. The author tackles issues from lab rats (mostly male!) to human tests (mostly male) to how a female patient is perceived by the majority of doctors versus how that same doctor views a male patient. There are anecdotal stories, yes, and those are tragic, telling of women who took forever to be taken seriously when they showed up reporting pain, but these individual stories are backed by study after study which shows that sexism in the practice of medicine is rife at all levels, harking sadly back to an era when women's medical complaints were far more likely to be brushed off as 'hysteria' than they were to be taken seriously, diagnosed, and treated.

Part two investigates heart diseases and auto-immune diseases, relating how people have taken literally years to get a decent diagnosis after being dismissed repeatedly by multiple male doctors many of whom would rather overlook a woman's reported symptoms of pain, labeling them as attention-seeking or drug-seeking. Ninety percent of lupus cases are in female, yet it takes longer to diagnose a woman with lupus than it does a man because of the lack of regard doctors have for female medical complaints. Black women not only received an even shorter end of the stick, they were beaten with it being dismissed as drug-seekers, despite the fact that the largest abuse of prescription drugs is by whites! Racism. Genderism. It's the same old story.

Part three is amusingly subtitled "The Disorders Formerly Known as Hysteria" but it's no joke how the possession of a womb, the most important thing to the continuation of the human race, gets its owner dismissed and labeled as not a serious patient. It was depressing to read story after story of people failing to get vital treatment not because they didn't have a medical issue but because doctors wouldn't believe they had one. it's sickening and it needs to stop. Hopefully this book will at least start a serious movement away from status quo.This is an important book, to be taken seriously and to be seen as a call to alarms when over half the population is being discriminated against in very real and dangerous ways. I fully recommend this as a worthy, if sad, read.


Freaks by Kieran Larwood


Rating: WORTHY!

Sheba is a freak, so-called. She has some sort of wolfish traits in her that don't come out at the full Moon, but which do surface when she's emotionally disturbed. Fortunately that isn't often, since she's quite accepting of her freakishness and her lot in life which is as a lonely exhibit on a pier in an obscure Victorian seaside town.

This all changes one day when a rotund man from London shows up with his traveling freak show and buys her from her 'owner'. She finds herself in a wagon full of people like her - not wolfish, but each with strange appearance or talents, and unfortunate smells. Sheba's enhanced sense of smell is one thing which is always on tap, she's sometimes sorry to suffer. At other times it can be very useful.

This change isn't a bad thing as it happens, because she finds acceptance and companionship in this circus as they travel back to London and take up residence in their permanent quarters, as a freak show in a dismal London side-street in a ramshackle, run-down and dirty house, where Sheba has to sit each day in a room so people can stare at her. But it's just for a short time and then she gets to have a decent bed and not too horrible food, which is new to her.

One day a little girl sneaks in to the show and meets Sheba, before the interloper is discovered and tossed out. The two of them bond in that moment, so when Sheba later learns that this same girl - a mudder who scours the low-tide banks of the Thames for anything of value to sell to buy food for her family - has gone missing, Sheba is moved to act. In her search for the mudder, she is joined by Sister Moon, a ninja girl with almost super-human speed and accuracy, and Monkey Boy, who is frankly gross-out disgusting.

This for me was the first and one of very few false steps in this Victorian era novel with steampunk elements, which is aimed at middle-grade readers. Given that three of the main five 'freak' characters are female, it suggests that the novel is aimed primarily at girls, yet the toilet 'humor' if you can term it that, is aimed at boys, so it made little sense. Other than that it was fine and it featured some other intriguing characters too, such as the woman who trains rats and the gentle giant who writes romance stories!

The plot became clear pretty quickly, but for younger readers it may remain more of a mystery for a little longer, and the story is engaging, with a few thrills and spills to keep a young heart racing, so overall I liked it. In some small ways it reminded me of the Philip Pullman series 'His Dark Materials' and young Lyra Belaqua. Sheba isn't quite like that, and this novel isn't in that league or about the same subjects, but young readers who enjoyed that might like this, and vice-versa. It's educational too, about the horrific conditions under which children lived, and how they were exploited back then, especially if they were not like most other children, so I recommend this as a worthy read.


Welcome Back by Christopher Sebela, Jonathan Brandon Sawyer, Claire Row


Rating: WORTHY!

This piqued my curiosity because it as about a character who kept reliving her life through the ages, and in assorted genders, carrying on a feud which went so far back in history that no one knew any longer why it was they were feuding.

People are reincarnated and the main character Mali, reappeared this time as a woman named Mali. She is living a quiet life because her father was a serial killer. It's only when she 'wakes' and recovers memories of her past lives that she realizes her father is a reincarnator too, and his serial killing was no more than him 'doing his job' which job Mali now inherits.

Her main foe is Tessa, a kick-ass, short-haired blonde girl who was quite impressive and who was relentlessly if not manically pursing Mali for their showdown, even as Mali backs away, tiring of this endless, pointless, ridiculous war.

I enjoyed this story but it was rather wordy with endless expositional internal monologue, so i will not pursue this series, but this one I can recommend because it had a great ending.


James Joyce Portrait of a Dubliner by Alfonso Zapico


Rating: WORTHY!

Erratum:
“...practicing law, or becoming as academic” = should be AN academic!

This graphic novel was interesting, not least of which because it paints James Augustine Aloysius Joyce in a very unflattering light. The man was a moocher, a womanizer, an alcoholic who was often abusive towards his wife, and he was extremely lazy. Based on how he was presented here, he was not a person I would like had I ever met him in real life. But my review isn't of him, it's of this graphic novel, and in that case, for the art and the story, I can recommend it.

if I had reservations, it would be over two things: some of the poses of characters in the panels - especially of people walking - seem very static, almost like they weren't walking at all, but were posing as though they were walking, or like their legs were copied from earlier pictures and repurposed. I can understand this from those of us who are lesser artists (if artists at all!). The temptation to reuse and modify is great, but this author/illustrator can draw, so it would have been nice to have seen some variation.

The other issue was with the high volume of text. It seemed to overshadow if not entirely defeat the purpose of the novel being graphic. Sometimes it felt more like an illustrated biography than a graphic novel! To be fair, it was a graphic novel with many panels on every page, but be warned there is a heck of a lot of narrative reading.

The story covers Joyce from childhood - actually from before - there is an introductory section which details the failed business exploits of his forebears. Joyce makes petulant and impulsive decisions, like going off to study medicine in Paris for no good reason and without a penny to his name. Consequently, he mooches money off everyone and then rather than spend it on his stated need, he spends it on living high on the hog until it runs out and he's kicked out of yet another boarding house.

He seduces and lives with Nora Barnacle, who turns out to be his lifelong partner and the real hero of the story in my opinion for what she put up with. Eventually they did get married, but why she stuck with a man like that I cannot imagine and the author of this novel, perhaps wisely, doesn't try to understand either. He doesn't even address the paradox. This is a judgment-free biography!

The story goes on to discuss Joyce's health, notably his recurring problems with his eyesight, and finally his work which he eventually got around to writing. We also learn of Joyce's two children, Giorgio, who died as recently as 1976, and sadly, of his daughter Lucia, who was a dancer and later in life suffered from schizophrenia, but she outlived all of them, dying in 1982 still in an institution - the very one that Joyce himself did not want her staying at 'among the English'!

So not a happy life for James Joyce at all, but he had his moments and was fortunately taken care of by a strong and inexplicably devoted woman. I recommend this as a worthy read for anyone interested in Joyce.


The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly


Rating: WORTHY!

Read delightfully by the amazingly-named Lulu Lam, this is the story of two girls who came with their father to Louisiana, only to have him abandon them and return to the Philippines, leaving them at the mercy of their somewhat sadistic stepmother. Soledad and Dominga, aka Sol and the unfortunate abbreviation of 'Ming' which makes her sound Chinese, lost their other sister, Amelia when they were much younger, and Sol feels she is responsible in some way. As if that wasn't bad enough, their mother died not long afterwards. Now their dad has ditched them so they're stuck with stepmother for the last two years or so.

Their stepmother Vee (?spelling since this was an audiobook) works, and feeds and houses them, but in many ways she resents them and demands strict adherence to her rules. Sol quietly and not so quietly rebels and often retreats into fantasy, particularly when she's punished. Some of those occasions, like when she's locked in a closet in her bedroom, are paradoxically quite amusing because she pretends she's in a spaceship traveling through space. When Ming opens the door later and asks why she isn't coming out, there ensues a conversation which made me laugh out loud. Sol asks, "What's your planet like?" and Ming looks around their bedroom and answers, "It's kind of messy."

Sol's behavior is highly questionable. She and her best friend Manny regularly steal from a convenience store where the popsicles are wonderful and out of the line of sight of the person minding the checkout. She and Manny regularly bully the kids from the snotty school not far from the convenience store. At one point, Sol throws a pine cone and hits the albino girl on her head, cutting her so badly that blood runs down her face. This girl is nicknamed Casper after the white ghost, but her name is Caroline. She's a particular favorite to mock, but Sol later seeks her out at her home and apologizes and the two become friends, and Ming befriends Christine, Caroline's younger sister.

Somehow, because of Sol's constant story-telling, Ming begins to focus on their non-existent Aunt Jove, and claims she writes to her and gets letters back. She refuses to show these replies to Sol, but maintains Jove will come and get them - which of course never happens. Meanwhile, Sol is regularly seeing Amelia's ghost and asking advice of a ghost which appears to be the same age now as Sol is. Fortunately for their welfare and sanity, they befriend a Chinese woman down the hall, Mrs Young (Yung? Again, audiobook) who seems to enjoy their company as much as the enjoy hers.

I felt that this book had some unresolved issues, but in other regards, I liked it. I liked the inventive stories and the humor, and I consider it a worthy read, although the morality is a bit off, be warned.


Rat Queens Vol. 3 Demons by Kurtis J Wiebe, Tess Fowler, Tamra Bonvillain


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the last of these that I had not yet reviewed. It was slightly odd, reading them out of order, but it really didn't spoil my experience because I really loved these characters and this series. I look forward to the next one! Tess Fowler took over the art work when Stjepan Šejić stepped down due to ill-health. She had illustrated a special issue introducing transgender Orc warrior Braga and stayed on for this volume which brings together individual issues 11 - 15 and also includes the Braga story as an appendix.

This story was mostly about Hannah the mage, who it turns out got her magic in a somewhat unorthodox way, and now it seems the tab has come due. The four Rat Queens (Braga is not yet with them) return to Mage University so that lingering business can be taken care of, and they find all is not well. Dee hooks up with her brother whom she hasn't seen in quite a while. Betty the Halfling befriends a dragon, and Hannah confronts her past about which there are conflicting stories. Violet the dwarf is about the only one who has a quiet story.

The art and coloring were great, and it was nice to get some back story on at least one of these Rat Queens. Hannah not only has Mage issues, she also has family drama going on. I really liked this one and consider it a real contender for my favorite of the series, but I think I shall have to read them all again before I decide. I recommend this volume, and this series.


Rat Queens Vol 4 by Kurtis J Weibe, Owen Gieni


Rating: WORTHY!

I've been following this series, but somehow I missed volume three (newsflash - not any more!). I love it. I loved this volume. This one is about the adventures of Betty the smidge, Delilah the human witch, Hannah the elf, and Violet the dwarf teaming up with Braga the transgender Orc to find work again after a brief layoff. Vi is still not sporting her beard, and her brother, perhaps concerned about her shaving habits, has suddenly started turning up with his own team - aimed at mimicking hers. He has someone teleport him to the site of the Rat Queens' proposed work, so he can take some of the credit for it and claim some of the reward. This does not please Vi at all.

This series has been plagued by issues with the artist - not the artwork, but the artist. Original artist Roc Upchurch was arrested on charges of domestic violence in late 2014, so Stjepan Šejić came in to replace him, but he left in mid-2015 for health reasons. Tess Fowler took over and then she left (due to creative differences, apparently) which led to a hiatus in early 2016. In late 2016, Owen Gieni was brought on board for this volume 4 aka 'High Fantasies'. Rat Queens can also be found in web comic adventures.

As usual, this was a fun read and as usual, I recommend it.


Sheets by Brenna Thummler


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a great ghost story about real ghosts and a young girl who felt like one. Thirteen year old Marjorie Glatt runs the family laundry business while her bereaved dad runs a 24/7 pity party in the apartment above the laundry. Even school wouldn't be so bad if her life was not lonely and PE such a pain. Her work life isn't much better, plagued as she is by the obnoxious Saubertuck, who wants to buy out the Glatt family so he can open a spa on the premises, to which end he starts a campaign of sabotage.

Help is at hand though, in the unlikely form of Wendell the young ghost, and who sneaks out of the ghost compound to explore. he haunts the laundry and at first causes issues, but eventually...well, it's spooky how things work out! The story is well illustrated, well told, and it makes an interesting use of sheets! I recommend it in the spirt in which it was written!


The Enchanted Chest by Jean-Francois Chabas, David Sala


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. Note this is not a graphic novel despite being listed as one! it is instead a short-story with illustrations on alternating pages.

This was a super-cute story with great artwork. A fisher pulls up this ornate chest from the ocean and ends up having to turn it over to the emperor. It's locked, and he tries in vain to get it open by means of calling-up one official and expert after another: the Locksmith, the Strong Man, the Magician, the Alchemist, and finally the lynx who can see through anything, including the emperor's shallowness.

This was different: a fun, well-illustrated and nicely told tale, and I recommend it.


Final Draft by Riley Redgate


Rating: WORTHY!

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

“...but the team here are great people...” this was spoken by Mr Madison, an English teacher Seriously?! 'Team' is singular.

Laila Piedra, like me, is very much into writing, but she's better looking! She secretes herself away in her room with her laptop and creates sci-fi worlds of adventure and derring-do. But daring isn't something Laila ever does herself. She'd rather have a quiet life: no partying, no boyfriend, no extra-curricular activities. She's all about writing, and meeting with her high-school senior year English teacher, Mr Madison, on lunchbreaks to discuss her stories. Apparently he has very little of a life too, and you have to wonder why he's misleading Laila so much in his advice. He seems so full of praise, but later a professional author disagrees with him.

Due to an injury, Mr Madison was forced to take time off school and substitute teacher came in. This woman was a Ukrainian ex-pat who had a successful writing career. Even given that she was a friend of the principal's, it seemed a bit of a stretch that someone of her purported stature would step in to teach. This oddity was explained later in the novel, but even accepting that, it made little sense that her approach to teaching was so minimalist that she essentially didn't teach at all. Instead, she merely had her students continue their writing projects and then marked them scathingly.

Despite Laila's skill and the endless positive, evidently criticism-free encouragement of Mr Madison, Laila's first score from Nadiya Nazarenko was a 32%. Everyone else scored less, and no one was given any real advice about what was wrong or how to improve it. No-one read their work in class either, so it felt unnaturally like a super-secret, under-the-table event; like everyone was ashamed of what they wrote, or their work was too scandalous to ever see the light of day. Worse, Laila never questioned Mr Madison's bona fides given that he was all 100% and the Nazarenko consistently less. That rang hollowly - that Laila never questioned anything.

Frankly she was a bit too passive for my taste, but then I seem condemned to prefer the side-kick characters in young adult and even middle-grade novels rather than the main one. Her sidekick is Hannah, and Hannah fascinated me.

Laila's desperate desire to impress the substitute flings the young writer into dangerous territory, visiting bars with a fake ID, and risking arrest by the police at a fight. Never once does she consider she's being foolish in pursuit of a ridiculous goal. It felt odd, too, that when a school hottie guy befriended her, she didn't try to talk him out of fighting her own friend, a guy who was dating his ex. That was an interesting little story.

The novel could have easily gone downhill several times for me, it didn't, fortunately for this review! It kept me hanging in there, sometimes by a slim thread, and even as I wondered about some of the writing choices the author was making. What made it worthwhile in the end was Laila's outcome, which I had seen coming for a while but was never quite sure if the author would actually take me there - despite having a pretty awesome name for an author: Riley Redgate! I mean come on! That's almost as good as Teenage Negasonic Warhead. You know Riley Redgate's middle name is Negasonic, right? Well, it might be!

Meanwhile, back in Realityville, I have to say that it was such a nice gift that she did do this, that I felt a bit miffed when there wasn't more of it. The novel ended somewhat abruptly with Laila's future seemingly left rather hanging. I don't know if this was a conscious choice or if the author plans on continuing this story in a second volume. It's difficult to see where that would go given the powerful ending this one had (before the abrupt bit!), but I might be tempted to read such a sequel even though I'm not a fan of series, trilogies, and the like. As for this particular volume, I consider overall, that it's a worthy read, and I recommend it.


Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Harlem Charade by Natasha Tarpley


Rating: WORTHY!

Read sweetly by Bahni Turpin, this was another successful audiobook! See? it does happen! To be perfectly honest, it was a bit lacking in credibility: the usual middle-grade story where adults never help, and kids never go to them for help, which frankly annoys me, but that aside, it was an interesting and credible story (for the most part!), decently plotted and which involved adventuring and detective work as three kids-of-color from disparate backgrounds strove to track down some historic paintings by a black artist from Harlem, and overcome the machinations of an unscrupulous property developer. I recommend it.


Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare - Audiobook


Rating: WORTHY!

This was one I picked up from the library at the same time as The Winter's Tale which I recently reviewed. I'm happy to report that this was much better than the other one. The cast was better for a start, and included David Tennant of Doctor Who, Jessica Jones, and Broadchurch fame) and (if you like him) Joseph Fiennes (of Shakespeare in Love fame in which he starred with Gwyneth Paltrow).

Frankly it would be nice to see a production of R&J which featured actors the actual ages of the principals in the play (Romeo's age remains unspecified, but Juliet, curiously, was thirteen!). I guess modern day sensibilities are far too squeamish for that, and in any case women - even those form wealthy families, did not marry at so tender an age in Elizabethan times, which is why her dad suggests she wait two more years. Childbirth at a later age was safer, but even marriage was unsafe for Juliet given what happened!

The question is though: are there not fine young actors aching for a chance to strut their stuff in this play? So why choose actors in their thirties? Joseph Fiennes who was 33 when this was published, and Maria Miles (who played Elfine Starkadder in 1995's Cold Comfort Farm) was probably around that same age, although little is known about her!

That said, and apart from some sorry over-acting on Fiennes part, this was not a bad full cast production and I enjoyed it.


Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Interview by Manuele Fior, Anne-Lise Vernejoul


Rating: WORTHY!

Translated from the original Italian (L'intervista) by Jamie Richards, this graphic novel tells a strange story of an alien invasion - or maybe it doesn't? Maybe it's just a collective breakdown of society.

Set in the near future, it had a feel to it like Stephen Speilberg's Close Encounters of the third Kind but without the embarrassingly juvenile effects. This was especially highlighted by a a parallel encounter with oddity at a railroad crossing at the start of the story, but rest assured this is much more subtle and a much deeper story than that ever could have hoped to be.

I loved the artwork. The book was gorgeously and richly illustrated in a soft, dark, gray scale palette, and I adored the main female character Dora. Both she and the main male character Raniero were not your usual comic book icons of masculinity and femininity and yet both achieved that end.

In an acknowledgement at the back, the author gives thanks to Anne-Lise Vernejoul for conceiving and creating special effects, but it makes no specification as to what they were or on which pages they appeared. I wondered if it was some of the night scenes, particularly the encounter between Raniero and Dora between pages 86 and 115. I don't know.

I can say this made for a wonderfully illustrated and entertaining story, if slightly confusing over the ending! I enjoyed reading it though and in the end, that's all that matters! Do note that it is a quite graphic graphic novel so be prepared!


Catalina and the King's Wall by Patty Costello, Diana Cojocaru


Rating: WORTHY!

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

A dear friend recommended this to me and I was glad she did. She has a knack for finding cute children's books, and this is one of the cutest. Illustrated colorfully and prettily by Diana Cojocaru, and written wittily and with a great delight in making choice puns by Patty Costello, it tells the story of a young woman's quiet determination to undermine the isolationist policy of the king.

Catalina is cookie-maker to the king and when she learns of his plan to build a wall between his nation and the nation next door (because they're 'different'), she cannot bear the thought of being separated from her family and concocts a series of seditious subterfuges to sabotage the king's plan - and she succeeds!

I loved the story, and adored the art. The book is short and very telling, and is most enjoyable. I fully recommend it.


Fire Making by Daniel Hume


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I don’t imagine a specialist work like this will have a hugely broad appeal, but it is very informative and well-written, and covers everything you need to know about starting a flame (from a wide assortment of sources) and building and maintaining a fire, doing it wisely, and safely, and taking charge of your situation when in the wild with regard to providing a fire for safety and cooking, for warmth, and of course that general feel-good attitude when you've accomplished something!

I can see it being of value to people who are scouts, and anyone who goes camping or spends time in wilderness areas, or anyone who fears they may be at risk - perhaps because they travel a lot or maybe pilot small planes - of ending up stranded in the wild for whatever reason! It's also a valuable tool for novelists who might like to write an adventure story!

I was impressed by how much this author knows. He's the kind of person who doesn't just talk about it, he lives it (and teaches it!). The fact is that he's been there and done that, and has the ashes of a T-shirt to prove it. I'm kidding about that last bit! Seriously, though, he knows what he's talking about and he not only tells an interesting story of his adventures, but also shares endless practical tips and suggestions every step of the way. I mean, would it occur to you that fungi can burn and even be used as tinder for starting fire? Or would you be stuck looking for damp logs on the ground, an exercise that wouldn't get you started on anything but frustration?

If I wanted more, I would have like to have learned a little bit more about the cultures he's visited and learned from, but he does give a lot, and he's been to places so far off the beaten track that there's no track - other than a game trail. Personally, I'd be leery about following game trails - the operative word being game; that's where the predators are looking for lunch! But bush is bush and unless you want to hack through it, you have to go where the path is easier.

On this score, it was interesting to read of one encounter with a lion - fortunately not a close encounter - where the author and a bush guide were on their way back from observing wildlife at a watering hole - another high risk area for predation! It must have been even more scary to wake up the next morning and find lion paw prints close by your tent. The book contains many illustrative pictures. It would have been interesting to see a picture of that, but there wasn't one; however there are very many illustrating the topics throughout the book.

Talking of pictures, I should say a word about reading this in electronic format. I have my devices set to night mode so the screen is black and the text is white. In this way it saves significantly on battery life. The problem with doing this in a book like this one - with images - is that the image is then rendered negative - and interestingly enough, not even a color negative but a black and white negative!

So when I wanted to really see an image, I had to reverse the setting and change it back to daytime to see the photos as intended. That was annoying, but it's not on the author or the publisher, I don't believe. I don’t know if it’s on the makers of these devices (in my case a phone and a tablet computer) not making it possible, or on the designers of the app (in my case, Bluefire Reader, which is normally excellent), who may well take the lazy route to setting 'night' mode, by simply reversing colors and sliding into gray scale. They don’t care if images are also reversed, I guess!

Despite this being an ARC, I found very few errors in it. In two instances the term 4x4 to describe an off-road vehicle was rendered as 4?4. Why that is I have no idea, but the 'x' didn't translate! In another case I read, "The flames given off by a single flame" which quite literally makes no sense. Other than that it was fine. Very fine! I enjoyed reading this and I recommend it.


Saturday, May 5, 2018

In Clothes Called Fat by Myoko Anno


Rating: WORTHY!

Author Myoko Anno is married to director Hideaki Anno of Neon Genesis Evangelion fame. This story was first published as a serial in Shukan Josei (主観 女性 women's matters), Japan's first magazine aimed at mature women. The story was published as a manga in 1997. I don't normally go for books that depict weak women, but this one was compelling because it was so very real in its story.

Society, it does not matter whether it is western or eastern, is quite obviously intent upon treating women like cars. If the vehicle is not new and sexy, it's really not worth anything, so women are raised by society to understand that they really are worthless if they are not young, beautiful, slim, readily available, willing, and compliant. A woman can't be too willing otherwise she's a slut. She can't behave like a man otherwise she's a lesbian slut. On the other hand, men can never be sluts no matter how willing they are. Those are the rules society has imposed upon women from birth, and one consequence of that is women like Noko.

Noko Hanazawa is like every other middle class Japanese woman: she wants a respectable job, she wants to perform well in the job, she wants a happy love life (and note this is a very graphic novel!). Noko seems to have all of this, but her success hides a diseased mind which constantly struggles with her body image. She binge-eats to cover emotional stress, and constantly berates herself for being fat, despite having an apparently loving boyfriend who has dated her for many years.

As depicted in the illustrations, Noko isn't really fat. Maybe she has a few extra pounds but she doesn't look bad except in the tightly-focused and highly-critical lens of societal pressure. The biggest problem with this novel I feel, is that Noko's 1mage isn't helped by the rather inconsistent artwork, and by some portions of the story feeling more fantasy than reality, so paradoxically, it's quite hard to get a good idea of what Noko looks like despite this being a graphic novel! Or more accurately, despite it being a manga, since it reads backwards, which I found rather less than usually irritating in this case for reasons I cannot define! It occurred to me more than once that perhaps Noko is not a reliable narrator and perhaps she isn't being honest about everything that happens to her.

As each chapter rolls by, we realize that we are reading an onion, with each new layer peeling back to reveal underneath it a glistening, slightly sticky, white vein that seems to pulse with scarcely understood animation, and which may well bring tears to your eyes. Noko's best friend at work secretly conspires to undermine her both professionally and socially, even while promoting their friendship. She's secretly seeing Noko's boyfriend, but not because she wants him. Instead she seems to want to punish him for choosing Noko over her, and consequently takes the role of Dom to his submissive.

Noko lives only for Saito, the boyfriend, and at first the relationship seems loyal, loving and healthy, but as we continue to read about it and more layers are peeled back for us, it reveals itself to be as diseased as everything else in Noko's life. Saito wants only sex, it seems, and it also seems that he seeks to punish himself for wanting Noko.

The novel feels claustrophobic and repetitive, and I think this does an admirable job of depicting Noko's state of mind as she binges and purges, and pays for expensive diet plans which in real life almost never work, and neither does it here. The only diet plan that works is eat healthily and exercise, and hold a realistic and accepting view of your body. Not everyone can be a runway model and I am personally glad of it because runways models are ridiculous. They are broken toys; dolls for men to dress up. The problem is that giving good advice doesn't work in cases like Noko's because it's not a matter of lack of willpower or laziness. It's not stupidity or simply not caring; it's a medical problem and can only be properly aided with competent and qualified medical care.

And that's the problem in a nutshell. No one seems to want to help Noko, not even Noko herself, and so the story comes to an unsatisfactory, if realistic close. There's no Disney ending here; it's more like an Infinity Wars ending. In this it is perhaps most realistic of all because people with eating disorders are like those with a drug problem: they're never really cured and it's a long, hard climb back from those depths. It's a constant and ongoing fight, and the battleground is the cold light of each new day and every long. lonely night. I recommend this book for a great story, if a slightly depressing one!


Friday, May 4, 2018

The Castoffs Vol3 Rise of the Machines by MK Reed, Brian Smith, Wyeth Yates, Kendra Wells


Rating: WORTHY!

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

The machines march relentlessly onwards in vol 3, but I must confess up front that I have not read volumes one or two. I asked to review this one because I thought it sounded interesting, and though it was rather hard to get into because I'd missed two-thirds of this story so far, I have to say overall I liked it even though some of it made little sense to me.

'Rise of the Machines' sounds suspiciously like an entry in the Terminator movie series, doesn't it? Wait! It is and entry in the terminator series! Couldn't we have 'Onslaught of the Machines' or 'March of the Machines' here, since they're already quite risen it would seem?! A little more originality never goes amiss.

The story itself was a bit slow-moving and it was rather side-tracked from the main issue which was, believe it or not, the march of the machines. I found it hard to believe that if this were a real life adventure, the main characters would be so distracted by relatively petty village problems that they would forget that an army of robots led by an evil woman were bearing closer with each passing minute.

Instead of going out to harass and attack the machines, or prepare traps for them, they spent their time fixing village issues which would be rendered completely irrelevant if the village was razed by the oncoming machines! They evidently didn't take the threat seriously until it was almost upon them.

I'm sure we've all been there, but sometimes people become so desperate to tell a certain story in a certain way that that they forget the reality of the characters in the story they're telling. They forget that they are people with strengths and weaknesses, and with hopes, dreams, and desperation, and with problems and pains, and so end-up with a story in which characters exhibit unrealistic behaviors. I always let the characters tell the story once they've been fully-created, because it makes for a much more realistic story-telling for me, and it often takes me (and the characters) in interesting and quite unexpected directions.

That said, this story was interesting and the relationships quite engrossing. The art work was decent, but initially, it was hard for me to tell the gender of the characters from the illustrations. That's not necessarily a bad thing and normally I would approve of it, but having missed the first two parts of this story, I felt a bit lost, and a little more cluing-in would have been appreciated since the names were not a good guide! I spent most of this story thinking Rosaiba was a female! It wasn't until close to the end that I realized he was not!

So in conclusion, while I do not personally feel compelled to pursue this story any further after this volume, I did enjoy what was offered to a certain extent, and so I recommend it with the caveat that you start with volume one! These are not stand-alone volumes!


Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Hexed by Michael Alan Nelson, Emma Ríos, Cris Peter


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an awesome graphic novel written beautifully by Nelson, drawn gorgeously by Ríos, and colored richly by Peter.

Luci Jennifer Inacio das Neves, or Lucifer for short(?!), is no ordinary thief. She steals magical artifacts which often have dangerous magical protections. Unfortunately, the job she turned before immediately leaving town is coming back to bite her in the form of Dietrich, who insists that since she skipped out on him, she owes him and will steal something for him as well as introduce him to The Harlot. Or else.

Dietrich aims to become number one in the magical underworld, which makes him number two right now, and he behaves like it towards Luci. After he threatens her employer Val Brisendine, a vulnerable art dealer, she feels like she has no choice but to go along with his plan even as she plots to get out permanently from under his thumb.

The stakes grow higher and Luci dives deeper, and it's starting to look like maybe she can't fight her way through this. Or can she? I ain't tellin'! But I do promise you this is an awesome novel and well worth the time to read it if you're into magical fantasy work at all.

I knew as I was reading this that I would welcome a sequel and it looks like I'm in luck, because the author appears to have written such a thing in at least two parts: Hexed: The Harlot & The Thief! Unfortunately that has a different illustrator: Dan Mora. I'm not a big fan of male illustrators' habit of hypersexualizing characters, but I may still take a look at this in the hope that Dan Mora is not focused on physical. Don't go searching for this series on Boom! Studios's site though: their sad search engine can't find it even though I know for a fact that it's on there! Look elsewhere for information about it or do a site search from outside of the actual website.