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

Friday, February 15, 2019

Let's Celebrate Valentine's Day


Rating: WORTHY!

A day late, for which I apologize, but this apparently authorless book is full of interesting things for kids to make and do on Valentine's Day. It's full of of greetings and best wishes you can exchange with friends, parents, grandparents on this day, as well as hosting a few puzzles which curiously have nothing to do with Valentine's Day!

Of course you should express your love for your loved one(s) every day in one way or another, but there's nothing wrong with having a special day dedicated to it. I commend this book as a fun read for children who might wonder about this day and what to do on it!


A Kid's Guide to Global Warming by Glen Murphy


Rating: WORTHY!

This large format, illustrated-book is full of facts and observations about climate change - and no, contrary to the clueless comments of an appallingly and willfully ignorant president, it didn't get renamed because global warming is a lie. Global warming and climate extremes are all part of climate change and anyone who cannot see that is blind, period. People need to be educated, especially our children and grandchildren who are the ones who are unfortunately going to have to live with the worst of what we have done to this planet. This book is a good start.

There are four sections: What is global warming?; What does it mean for us?; What are we doing?; and What can you do? The book goes into some detail, with great illustrations, about the fact that the planet's atmosphere and oceans are heating up, about fossil fuels and greenhouse gasses, about melting ice and rising sea levels, spreading disease vectors, extreme weather and pollution, all of which we're already seeing. The book also talks about carbon footprints, saving energy and water, and reducing waste. In short it has everything a kid needs to know to arm themselves against what's coming, and I commend it as a worthy and essential read.


Uncomfortable Labels by Laura Kate Dale


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Erratum:
“The more I learnt into trying to hide it, the more it hurt.”
I'm not sure what she was trying to convey with that! I wonder if the 'R' in 'learnt' ought to have been omitted so that it read 'leant' which is Brit-speak for 'leaned'. Or maybe I'm misunderstanding what’s being said there.

This made for a difficult read because of what that author went through, but it was a worthwhile read, and I commend it for that. It was well-written, informative, educational, and important. It felt like a sick joke how much was piled onto this author's plate: mtf transgendered woman who is queer and on the autism spectrum which poor understanding by those closest to her and a late diagnosis of both the ASD and the transgender circumstances did nothing to help. This is precisely why we need understanding and education, so that this doesn’t happen to other people undergoing these same realizations and discoveries.

If either experience (the transgender or the autism) had been the only one this writer endured, it still would have been difficult, but it might also have made for a better outcome. Having both of these to deal with together not only served to confuse things, but also seemed that one would sometimes to feed off the other, obscuring what ideally ought to have been early recognition and a smooth treatment to help both the ASD and the transition to what was to become, if unfortunately belatedly, her natural gender.

The book is divided into three sections: before, during, and after, and each has its own story to tell and difficulties to relate, particularly the last section. For me, who didn't have to go through this, that last one sounded the most painful, but the middle one gave it a close run for its money. The first section as sad, but in some ways very cute and endearing. The whole is a heart-warming story with a happy ending, and a useful tool for others in similar circumstances. I highly commend this as a worthy read, and an essential one for anyone who wishes to understand and learn.


Saturday, February 2, 2019

In Blossom by Cheon Yooju


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I have to confess up front that I had no idea if this author's first name was Cheon or Yooju. Net Galley has her name as "Cheon Yooju", but the book cover has it as "Yooju Cheon," and the book cover is in English, so did this mean that her last name was Cheon? Fortunately, my local library, which has this book, came to my rescue because it has her name listed as by "Yooju, Cheon" - so there you have it! Last name is Yooju! How confused we are in the west about Eastern practices and culture, huh?!

Anyway, I was charmed by Cheon Yooju's book which features simple, but beautifully elegant illustrations, sparse, but meaning-laden text, and drawings (by Cheon Yooju) which effectively conveyed as many words as the text did. Dog meets cat and rather than fight with the cat ending up a tree, they both sit on a bench under the tree and enjoy the breeze and the blossoms falling, and then...something clicks! I loved it and I commend Cheon Yooju's work as a worthy read and a worthy art work. And now I hold the record for most uses of Cheon Yooju's name in a review! Yeay me! (And yeay Cheon Yooju!)


A Story About Cancer With a Happy Ending by India Desjardins, Marianne Ferrer


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a wonderfully well-illustrated (by Ferrer) and written (by Desjardins) short story about a fifteen-year-old girl who is diagnosed with leukemia. I was unable to discover if this is a true story or not, but in a more meta sense, it must be, because there are remarkable recovery stories, and this was one of them.

The story begins with the girl heading into the hospital with her parents to learn the verdict on her latest round of tests, and she is preparing herself to be told when she will die. As she walks the uninviting hallways of the building, she recalls episodes from her life that have taken place since she was first diagnosed.

She remembers her best friend, and her boyfriend, and her parents behavior and reactions. And of course, there's a happy ending! I thought it was beautifully done and gorgeously illustrated, and I commend it as a great story (even if not strictly true). It's honest and positive, and perhaps would make a sweet gift to a young someone who is going through a similar experience.


Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve


Rating: WORTHY!

Back when the movie was out - a movie I enjoyed, but which failed at the box office in December 2018 (it made only 80% of its production budget) - you could not find this book at the library at all (they were all checked out), but recently when I went in there to look for the sequel to Philip Reeve's Railhead (which was not to be had!) Mortal Engines was sitting right there - a modest paperback, so I grabbed it. And I loved it despite its three-hundred-page reading length.

The movie follows the book closely to begin with, but then increasingly departs from it. I can see why it does, but it occurs to me that if it had followed the book more closely, it would have done better than it did. The book was beautifully done and doesn't shy away from depicting hard truth and gritty reality. Hollywood not so much, and so it's sad world when a movie makes eighty million dollars, and is still considered a failure, isn't it?!

So briefly, the story is of a future, but rather steampunk world, that when analyzed makes little sense. Cities are no longer places you go to, they're places that come after you in what's repeatedly referred to as Municipal Darwinism. It's a city-eat-city world, and this is how the cities are powered and grow: by traveling the land, hunting and wrecking other cities, absorbing their populations, and recycling their raw materials as fuel and building supplies.

The biggest problem for me was the energy requirement. I'm not saying you couldn't build something that huge and have it move, but the power required to move it would be exorbitant, and where would it come from?

This story isn't set a hundred years hence, but several thousand, after a disastrous global war. Even if society could rebuild itself and take its cities mobile, the fuel (you name it: natural gas, coal, oil) would have long run out by that time, so what are they running the cities on? It's never actually discussed, only vaguely alluded to!

We're running out of oil now, something the gas-guzzling USA, with its car manufacturers ditching decent-mileage passenger cars for poor mileage SUVs and trucks while the rest of the world wisely looks to renewables. This is touched on in the story, with the USA described as an abandoned wasteland.

The story focuses on Hester Shaw, a badly-scarred young woman (the movie beautifies her giving her only a scar. She is much more disfigured in the novel), and on Tom Natsworthy, a third class historian trainee who lives in London. Hester is in a smaller village and purposefully, it turns out.

The village is absorbed by London, bringing Hester into contact with her quarry - a man named Valentine, beloved in London, but who murdered her mother. She almost manages to kill him, and then escapes by jumping into the waste chute when pursued by Tom. Inexplicably, Valentine pushes Tom down there after her, because he thinks he knows too much. I did not get that part at all - in the movie or the novel.

Tom loves London and is in denial. He forms a very uneasy relationship with Hester and each grows, over an extended time, to respect and then love the other. They have multiple adventures - more-so than in the movie - being captured twice, the second time by pirates.

The ending was very different from the movie and was amazing. I heartily commend this novel as a worthy read. There are three sequels, but I'm not sure I want to read those because I fear the first will be sullied by reading any more!

Why authors feel this need to squeeze the life out of their inventions by forcing them into ritualistic trope-filled sequels escapes me. I know it's very lucrative for publishers and authors if they can get a good pot of serial novels like this boiling, but to me it's lazy and avaricious - and abusive of readers, so I think I'll stop at this one. I had a different experience with Railhead, where I do plan on reading the next volume. Hopefully that will not become something I regret doing! LOL!


Isadora Duncan a Graphic Biography by Sabrina Jones


Rating: WORTHY!

Before I read this I didn't know squat about Isadora Duncan - not even what she was famous for other than her death which is probably better known than her life by too many people - myself a prime case in point. I also remember her name from a Beatles movie, although I forger the specific movie tile. It's where Ringo chants at one point, "Isadora Duncan worked for Telefunken." He either got it from a song title by John Lennon, or Lennon titled his song after Ringo's chant. I don't know which came first, but I never could get that line out of my head! Telefunken was at the time a German electrical appliance manufacturer the name of which had perhaps amused the Beatles during their tenure in the country at the outset of their career.

I'd rather idly assumed that Duncan had been a writer, maybe a poet, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover from this biography that she'd been known pretty much solely for dance in her own time. I enjoyed the biography and it was packed and informative, but for me, Isadora Duncan came off as a bit of a flake, and probably not someone I would have taken to had I ever met her. Not that that's chronologically possible since she died in 1927.

Her dancing seems to me to have been the visual equivalent of jazz music - free-form and undisciplined. I can't say for sure since sadly, there's no film of her dancing, although there are photographs, but such static snapshots cannot possibly give a good picture of how she moved or what her dancing was truly like. I'm guessing I would not have liked it.

Regardless of my personal preference though, she impressed very many people with her dance in her lifetime, and attempted at one time or another, to start schools to teach others to be free and self-motivated in their dance rather than rigidly adhere to preset forms. In this regard she was the Bruce Lee of dance, for he advocated precisely this same thing except that it was in regard to martial arts in his case. Whether he knew anything of Isadora Duncan I can't say, but the two of them would have probably gotten along quite well had chronology been such that they could ever have met.

Her death, for anyone who has never heard of it, was the equivalent of a hanging, when her flowing scarf became caught in the open-spoked wheels and axle of the open-top car in which she was riding, resulting in her being pulled out of the car by the neck, which broke. Death was instantaneous, we're assured, although I doubt many deaths truly are. She was only fifty and still had so much to offer the world, which redoubles the tragedy.

The thing is that her life was equally ill-favored in many regards, including that of raising children. She was not an advocate of marriage, She was very progressive and feminist, and a pursuer of free love as it was called. Today she'd likely be cruelly dismissed as a slut, but she had two children with her lovers who both died when the car they were in ran off by itself into a river. She later had a third child which died shortly after it was born. So tragic a life.

She was so renowned in dance that she was able to support her several siblings and mother (father abandoned the family when Isadora was quite young), but then she would go off on a tangent and embark upon some project - such as starting a dancing school or proposing an idyllic retreat in the hills of Athens, none of which ever really took off.

After those, she would find herself in debt and would began dancing again to raise money before launching a new venture - another school or whatever. At one point she had a dancing troop of six girls who toured, and were known as the "Isadorables" which is an amusing and charming name. Her professional reputation and influence lasted a lot longer than her schools did. The last of her Isadorables died quite recently, in 1987.

The book in general, I think, does a good job of conveying her life, but from subsequent reading I've done, it appears to omit some details, such as her private life becoming less private and more scandalous in later life, her drunkenness and her waning ability to pay her bills, so it seems that this book set out only to paint a glossy and positive picture, but that said, I feel better for knowing more about her than I did before, and I commend this graphic novel for getting me there.


Monday, January 28, 2019

Railhead by Philip Reeve


Rating: WORTHY!

Having DNF'd a younger children's novel by Reeve, I'm happy to report a worthy commendation on this one, aimed at a young adult audience and the first of a trilogy. I'm not a fan of the inevitable YA trilogy or the series, for the most part. I refuse to write them myself; they smack of lazy writing and avarice, dragging a one-volume story out over three.

I blame authors, readers, and publishers equally for this rip-off, but this particular one caught my imagination because it tells an honest story and doesn't pad it. I am intent upon reading the next volume which is a rarity for me. However, once again it failed to reveal on the cover that it was the first volume in a series. Fortunately on this occasion I knew it was, so it did not piss me off with the cliff-hanger ending.

I saw a review in The Guardian which compared this novel to other works of sci-fi, but to me it is most comparable to the His dark Materials trilogy by another Philip - and this one a Sir Philip Pullman. The way this is told and the way int ends - about to enter a new world, very much reminded me of The golden Compass and the ending to that.

This one is more hardcore sci-fi though. The protagonist, Zen Starling is a shoplifter and pick-pocket from the end of the line world called Cleave which is like the wrong side of the tracks, and rail metaphors are apropos here because the way one gets form one world to another is be sentient trains (and Reeve takes great delight in describing them!) which can traverse special tunnels which link one planet in the system to another which will be many light years away through normal space.

The story hits the ground running with Zen running after stealing a necklace. There is a drone following him but he manages to shake it - so he thinks, and gets back to Cleave, but the girl who knew his name and tried to waylay him in the street shows up in Cleave and he's on the run again. He's picked up by the Railforce - the interplanetary police - but after escaping them when their armored train is wrecked, he ends up with arch-villain Raven, who seems to have a personal vendetta against the ruling emperor family which goes by the name of Noon.

It turns out that Zen is related to the Noons and as such, he can board their special train, wherein lies an artifact which Raven wants Starling to steal for him. This seems to go well at first and then all hell breaks loose, and things are complicated by the fact that Zen, against his better nature since androids (and gynoids!) are detested in Cleave, finds himself falling for Nova - Raven's Moto - and the girl who tried to help Zen after the necklace theft.

There is much more to the story than this, including the mysterious guardians that Raven has tangled with in the past, and the strange, ethereal 'angels' which often appear over the track when a train comes out of a transition tunnel known here as a K-Gate. I enjoyed the story immensely and look forward to volume two, hoping it has the same power of engagement and drive that this one had.


Thursday, January 24, 2019

Oliver and the Seawigs by Philip Reeve, Sarah McIntyre


Rating: WORTHY!

I came into this series rather ass-backwards, reading the second volume (Cakes in Space) first, then the third (Pugs of the Frozen North), and finally coming back to the first. I found the titles hilarious. It doesn't really matter where you start as it happens, since they're not really sequential or even about the same people. All three have been enjoyable although they're aimed at a much younger audience than I represent.

This one was about this little kid named Oliver, which is becoming a quite popular name choice in the USA over the last couple of years - unlike Sarah, which recently dropped out of the top 100 for the first time since records began.

As it happens, the art for this novel is by a Sarah - McIntyre. She's definitely not unpopular! Oliver has explorers for parents, and he's not happy endlessly wandering the world. To his relief, the parents have finally explored everything, and are moving back to their family home on the coast. Oliver is thrilled.

The thrill evaporates rapidly as his parents are more interested in the islands off the coast - which were not there when they were last at home, than they are in moving things into their house. Poor Oliver is doing this when he realizes that the inflatable dinghy his parents took is back on shore sans parents, and the islands have all disappeared, save for one of them.

It turns out that the islands are the Rambling Isles - rock people who wander the ocean trying to find items to put on their heads to make an impressive sea wig, with which to win the septennial competition among the Rambling Islands.

Befriending an albatross who lives on this one island - which Oliver names 'Cliff', and a short-sighted mermaid, Oliver sets off, transported by the island, to find his parents. The story is delightfully whimsical and inventive, playful and imaginative, and light hearted, with a pair of all-but mustache-twirling villains thrown in. But you might want to steer clear - not of the Sargasso Sea, but the Sarcastic Sea, where the seaweed will make salty remarks about you.

The author is best known for his Mortal Engines series, which I haven't read (yet!), although I enjoyed the movie (unlike most people it seems!). I loved this story, and want to read more of this series.


Saturday, January 19, 2019

Heavy Vinyl by Carly Usdin, Nina Vakueva


Rating: WORTHY!

This was different and quite fun and fresh, but it doesn't contain a complete story. This features editions one through four, and there is another collection that will either continue or complete it, so I was rather dissatisfied with the lack of a resolution, but that was nowhere near as bad as the wildly inaccurate blurb on the back cover of this graphic novel! Other than that, the book was well-written by Usdin, and beautifully drawn and colored by Vakueva.

The story is of Chris, all excited to start her first day at a vinyl record store. I've frankly never understood this craze for vinyl. We had vinyl and it sucked, which is precisely why we went to other media! You can't win me over by arguing about audio fidelity when the vinyl recording you have is full of noise, and skips and jumps which is the inevitable fate of all vinyl. Nor can you argue that any purported difference matters when you can't listen to vinyl through your iPod or your phone or whatever medium you use outside the home. Whatever you run through those devices is processed in exactly the same way, so you gain no advantage even if there is one to be gained! There may well be people who can tell the difference between a vinyl sound and a CD, or an MP3, or a streamed track, but I cannot, and I suspect most people cannot and are just fooling themselves that they can.

I can accept that there are vinyl snobs and stores catering to them, so I had no problem with the setting for this story, which is called Vinyl Destination (the blurb inaccurately called it "Vinyl Mayhem"). The plays on words through the story were one thing which highly amused me. It's rather a genderist establishment though, given that every employee and the boss are all female. It's also ageist in that they are all in their teens and early twenties, including the boss! You'd think a store like that would want someone with vinyl experience! But I let that slide.

The book isn't set today - it's set in the 1990's for reasons which escaped me. Given that era, some reviewers have complained about the lack of homophobia depicted here, saying it was unrealistic, but there was very little in the way of gay representation in this book at all, so there was nothing for incidental homophobes to react to. It's not like the book was presenting as an LGBTQIA romance. It's not. That's a part of it, but the main thrust is about another topic entirely. It was mainly Chris's innocent and clumsy crush on a fellow employee that was the gay element, and the awkwardness and humor inherent in her inability to determine if her attentions would be reciprocated. I think that was plenty for a book like this, aimed at the younger YA audience as it was, especially when it had other fish to fry. It seemed perfect to me, but I'm coming from a cis background, so your mileage may well differ depending on your own perspective.

But to get back to the lack of homophobia - I think a lot of those reviewers failed to fully grasp that the entire story (very nearly!) takes place in the relatively safe confines of the record store which is entirely populated by young and very open-minded females, all of whom (except for newcomer Chris) were already tightly-bonded by their vigilante background, so the claims that the story was unrealistic in its nineties portrayal seemed shallow to me. Were there no such enclaves in the nineties? I'd call bullshit on that one. And it's not like these girls didn't have other issues to contend with!

It felt like some of these reviews hadn't warmed to the story and went through it looking to find any little scrap which would support what were evidently vague feelings that 'this story was not for me'. Hey, if you don't like it, you don't like it, and if you can't articulate why, that's fine! Personally I prefer reviewers who go into some detail over their likes and dislike because it helps me get a handle on where they're coming from and helps me to make a better decision about whether to read it or not, but I don't demand it of every reviewer in every review! You don't like it and can't put your finger on a good reason? I'm fine with that!

Anyway...there is something odd going on at the store and it doesn't take long for Chris to start feeling excluded, but it soon becomes clear that the store employees aren't in a secret band. The blurb claims that they are "endlessly trying to form a band" but this is a lie. They're not! Not until the end of this volume anyway. Whoever wrote the clueless blurb should be the one kicked out of the store! Some reviewers had an issue with that, too, but they seemed to be taking the story too seriously to my mind. It's a light and fun romp. Relax and enjoy that ride, I say!

Chris is finally invited to stay over with the rest of the staff one day after work, and she feels accepted at last, but is unsure if she wants to be when she discovers that the girls are all a part of a teen girl vigilante group (not a "fight club" as the blurb inaccurately claims). They do fight each other, but only as practice for their vigilante-ism, which is actually going through some slack times until their pop idol, Rosie Riot, goes missing, and certain zombie-like, or perhaps more accurately, robotic-like behaviors are noted in some members of visiting bands.

No, this isn't a zombie story. I would never have picked it up if it were. It's more of a sci-fi mystery/thriller, and it works pretty well. I liked the characters and I would read the next volume if I could get my hands on it, so while I was disappointed that the story ended so quickly and abruptly, I liked it well enough that I consider it a worthy read.


Relentless by Wudasie Nayzgi, Kenneth James Howe


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Subtitled "An Immigrant Story," this book tells of how an Eritrean woman, writing under the pseudonym of Wudasie Nayzgi, single-handedly took on the challenge of bringing her family to the USA. The thing is that this isn't what her initial plan was. She had only wanted treatment for her daughter, 'Titi', who had a heart defect, and her mother had not the first inkling back then, that this would embark her entire family upon a journey that would, all told, take ten years and thousands of dollars to finally get her daughter treatment and knit her family back together again. I don't doubt though, that had she known this from the beginning, she would still have undertaken this journey. There is a companion book to this, Dreams of Freedom, written by her husband 'Yikealo', describing his own experiences during this time.

This is simultaneously a heart-breaking, nightmarish, horror-story and the ever-hopeful narration of an exceptional and strong woman who would not let anything get in the way of doing what needed to be done for the health and integrity of her family. I am not sure, I confess, why the author needed a co-author. By the time this book was written she was perfectly fluent in English, a language she already spoke before she ever had any idea of leaving Eritrea. But speaking English well is by no means a guarantee that the speaker can writer it engagingly.

The problem with that is that while I do commend this story as a worthy read, it was not written well despite having another author onboard. The use of English was perfectly fine, but the flow of the story was another matter. At times it was so vague that it was hard to tell what was going on. There seemed to be gaps where things happened without them being related, and so they became a surprise when I read of them later. For example, one of the problems she had to contend with was losing her job, then a lot of time passed with no mention of her working, and suddenly she apparently has another job, but I don't recall ever reading how, where or when she got it. It felt like part of the story was missing. On that topic, note that the cover picture is not the author - its a misleading stock photo and probably not even an Eritrean.

There were large gaps in the narration when an amount of time, often quite large, passes within the space of a few words, which makes it hard to keep track of how much time is passing in the story overall, so although it took ten years to get this accomplished, the narration makes it seem like it was much shorter. On top of this, there is a lot of detail about life in Eritrea, but much of it seems superficial, while other things that appear to be customary in Eritrea aren't mentioned, leaving questions. I'd like to have learned more and in greater depth.

A lot of the story is about 'Wudasie's' worrying over what was going to happen, and it occupied so much of the story. While this is in a way understandable, it is also something that anyone who has had such problems, even if they were nowhere near as critical as 'Wudasie's' were, can readily understand. It's something with which we are familiar, and became a little tedious to read repeatedly. Life in Eritrea, on the other hand, is something that was worth learning about, and it's something which few people - including most everyone who hasn't lived there, can grasp. It would have been nice to see more of the latter, and a little less of the former.

One thing which was confusing was the names. I understand there may be a need or at least a desire to protect family, but it was unnecessarily confusing. The youngest of her two daughters was named 'Natsanet', but when in an afterword we see her graduate from high school, her name is given as 'Natsanet Yikealo', not 'Natsanet Nayzgi'.

Her husband's name is consistently given as 'Yikealo', so I had assumed this was his first name; then why is their daughter named so? The companion book is attributed to Yikealo Neab. That latter name is never mentioned in the book except as the author of the companion novel, so why isn't the daughter named 'Natsanet Neab'? Is 'Yikealo' a last name? if so why does she call her husband by his last name all he time and why isn't the author named 'Wudasie Neab'?

If 'Wudasie' is married why is her last name different from both her daughter's and her husband's? I later learned the these are pseudonyms, presumably aimed at protecting the privacy of the the author and her family, which is perfectly fine, but it lacked consistency. If the explanation for all of this is through some sort of Eritrean custom, it would have been interesting to hear of that, but as it was, it looked like this was really sloppy writing, and it leeches credibility from the story.

It just felt strange that something like that had never been gone into, especially given how much talk there is about filling out forms and verifying marital status and listing children and so on. You'd think at some point during that, this would have come up, but I don't recall it ever being addressed. You'd think a co-author would have asked these questions and offered explanations, which is why it begs the question as to why a co-author was used here. Maybe others will not be concerned at all over things like this, but for me, when I read about another country in a book like this, I really like to really learn about that country as part of the author's experience, otherwise why bother reading a story like this?

Anyway, 'Wudasie' was planning on getting treatment for her daughter's condition in Ethiopia since her own country, Eritrea, did not have the medical facilities to accomplish what needed to be done. The problem was that Eritrea had claimed its independence from Ethiopa only a few years previously, and not every abrasive surface had been sanded smooth between the two nations, both of which had seemed to become more radicalized and authoritarian since the breakup. The situation deteriorated when a new war broke out between the two nations, and deteriorated further still when her husband was forcibly-conscripted into the Eritrean army during a business trip he was making.

'Wudasie' didn't see him for six months until his basic training was over and wasn't even officially notified what had happened to him. She had to dog for that information herself. He was luckily re-assigned to a military base in the town where they both lived. All this time she was fighting to get her daughter's condition treated, and failing or being stone-walled every step of the way, through no fault of her own. The thing is that Eritrea is an oppressive, authoritarian government - or it was back then - and seemed completely indifferent to the suffering of its citizens, even if they were children. This book will really put your own problems into perspective: every step of the way it was like two steps forward and one step back for this mom.

Your daughter can be treated by visiting surgeons from abroad - but they find other children that have crowded into the waiting room for treatment to be more needy than your daughter. You can get her treated in the USA, but doctors there discover she has three conditions, not one, and are willing at her age to treat only two. You can leave the country to take your daughter to the USA for treatment, but you must leave your other daughter behind in Eritrea. You can bring your other daughter to the USA, but you cannot also bring your husband, even though travel regulations require an adult to accompany a child so young. Your daughter finally arrives in the US, but looks painfully thin and it has been so long since you saw her that she is unbearably shy around you, and stand-offish, treating you like you're a stranger, not like a mother. You can bring your husband over, but it's going to cost and take a year to do it.

Every single step involved the massive weight of indifference, bureaucracy, and the need to supply little (or a lot) of cash - to grease the wheels, some of which disappeared without bringing a thing in return. Everything involved almost interminably long waits which were often followed by setbacks because some more paperwork was needed, and the wait for that paperwork meant a deadline was missed on some other process, which then needed to be restarted as well. This wasn't just on the Eritrean side, but also on the American side.

It was depressing to read how often she fell back on her faith, which didn't do a thing for her. No god helped 'Wudasie', yet she often ascribed 'miracles' to the work of a god, denying herself credit for what was solely her own tireless and unstinting efforts. The fact is that everything she did was through her own strength, grit, determination, and a flat refusal to let anything stand in her way of getting treatment for her daughter and reuniting her family. The author, it would seem, despite appeals to her god, would agree with me. She wrote:

No one is going to hand you what you think you deserve just because you won the right. You have to go get it if you can. You have to grasp it and hold onto it, and then wield it like a sword. And you can't let it go if someone tries to wrestle it away from you.”

A miracle would have been if her family had gone to bed the night after her daughter's initial diagnosis, and awoken the next morning in the USA, as full citizens, with her daughter cured. That's what a miracle is. Fighting tooth and nail for ten years, suffering endless delays and setbacks, and spending a fortune on corrupt officials isn't a miracle. Nothing happened that she did not go out there and wrestle into submission with her own two hands, and make happen for herself. She is heroic, and everyone who thinks their own petty problems are insurmountable needs to read this book and find out what real problems are like.

She is immensely lucky too, to have gone through this before the current president got into the White House on the coat-tails of Russian hackers. Had she tried all this now, she would never have left her (and I quote that same president) "shithole [African] country" and been accepted here. She would have been written-off as a rapist and a drug smuggler, faced a flat denial that these children were really hers, been accused of being an actress purveying fake news, and she and her family deported back to the nightmare she left behind her, assuming her kids didn't die in the custody of the ICE, that is. That's where huddled masses are re-directed these days from one of the most wealthy, best-off, and most pampered countries on the planet.

Despite these problems, I commend this book. I think it should be required reading.


Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Emily's Runaway Imagination by Beverly Cleary


Rating: WORTHY!

Read competently by Christina Moore, this was a pleasant listen - not spectacular, but highly amusing in parts. In other parts it was slow, but overall, I considered it a worthy listen.

Set about four years after the author was born, in the early 20th century, this 1961 novel tells the story of Emily Bartlett, who is the young daughter of a farming couple in the hamlet of Pitchfork Oregon, and she has some peculiar ideas about what to do with her time. She seems to expend a lot of thought on how others will perceive her, and not enough though on whether what she's doing is smart or even makes sense, and she seems to have some sort of learning disability in that she never really learns!

Her biggest dream in life appears to be to read Anna Sewell's 1877 novel Black Beauty and so she enthusiastically helps her mother with a plan to start a local library, which they do in bits and pieces over the course of the novel. I'm not sure if 'runaway imagination' accurately describes Emily. It's not like she's a Walter Mitty character, but she does come up with one odd scheme after another. These are usually cooked up in pursuit of self-aggrandizement, but sometimes they're rooted in thoughts of helping others, such as when she tosses fermenting apples into the pig yard and gets the pigs drunk on the cider in the apples.

There's an arguably racist part near the beginning of the novel where Emily corrects a venerable Chinese gentleman who mispronounces her dog's name with the clich├ęd 'l' substituted for an 'r'. He greets the dog as 'Plince' rather than 'Prince' and Emily corrects him, so it goes viral (such as it was able in those days) and the dog is known by its new name for the rest of the story.

The dog and pony show really got underway though, when Emily decided to bleach her family's plough horse to make a white beauty in celebration of her cousin's visit. Black Beauty is her cousin's favorite story. My problem with this was that not once was any thought given to what the bleach - which was left on for fifteen minutes, might do to the horse's skin and health. If Emily had had the decency to try the bleach solution on her own skin for fifteen minutes, I'd have had a lot more respect for her, but she didn't have that kind of imagination, unfortunately.

But, given the age of the tale and the humor in it, I decided to let this slide this time and commend this as a worthy read, although I'd recommend some discussion with your child(ren) - after words afterwards (or during, if you read it to them!) about correct conduct and empathy. I would have thought a farm girl like Emily would have had a lot more smarts than she did, but the story wasn't bad, so there it is!


Friday, January 11, 2019

An American Plague by Jim Murphy


Rating: WORTHY!

The attribution of this audiobook is rather misleading in more than one way. Jim Murphy was really the editor, not the writer. I had initially thought that this would be a dramatization, but it was the dry reading (very dry and pedantic delivery by reader Pat Bottino) of a bunch of diary and journal entries, medical reports and newspaper articles (such as they were back then) about the epidemic of Yellow Fever that laid Philadelphia low in 1793. These were strung together with some narrative from the author.

The book was listed in the local library among the children's books, but I cannot imagine for a minute that very many children, especially not younger children, would find this remotely entertaining, or even educational because they wouldn't sit through it, or they would tune it out.

For me it gave me two different ideas which I can use in future novels, and it was interesting. It's a very graphic story which pulls no punches in describing bodily emissions under duress from this nasty disease caused by a virus carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Today we can vaccinate against this, and treat it for those who become infected, but with climate change already rampaging across the globe, this is one of many thoroughly noxious diseases that will doubtlessly spread.

Back in 1793, when Pennsylvania had an appreciable amount of skeeter-breeding swamp, and when the disease process wasn't remotely understood, this thing got out of control and eventually killed one in ten of the original population of the city. That's nowhere near the death toll exacted by the 'Great Plague' of medieval Europe, nor is it even a match for the same plague which struck the USA in 2015 killing one in four victims, although the death toll there was considerably smaller despite the higher rate.

Why Murphy chose to title this 'An American Plague', as though it affects no one else is a mystery smacking of self-importance and pretension. Not everything is about the USA! This book isn't even about the USA as such, it's about one city; although Philly was the seat of government, and relations between it and other cities are mentioned towards the end, including some shameful as well as generous conduct.

In 1793, Washington was president and the government was located in Philly, but heroic George wasted little time vacating the city. He fled so hastily that he left behind essential papers which would have enabled him to do his job. He wasn't so heroic either, when a foreign envoy arrived soliciting his help in siding with France, which had been instrumental in aiding the fledgling USA against Britain. He cold-shouldered the very people who had facilitated the very existence of the USA! He tried to blame this on not having his paperwork with him.

The contribution of African-Americans at least gets its fair due here, which is nice to see. Black nurses were of critical value in a disease-ridden city where everyone was panicking, those who could afford to were leaving in droves. Very few dared come near to others in this highly-religious society for fear of 'contracting' this disease. Germ theory wasn't even a remote twinkle in anyone's eye, and the so-called doctors of the period were obsessed with blood-letting and poisonous purges which did nothing to save lives despite dishonest claims to the contrary. More than likely such dire stratagems actually hastened many a shuffle off this mortal coil. (How is earth a coil? Anyone know? LOL!).

Given that they had some immunity to malaria, it was considered that slaves and free people of color would also be immune to Yellow Fever, but they were not. They died at the same rate as whites, but nonetheless they willingly acted as nurses. So popular were they that people tried to outbid each other for their assistance, and then these same assistants were maliciously accused of callous price-gouging by jackass racists.

It was interesting to read of the problems that people like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Adams encountered in trying to attend to their duties. Government was moved (illegally as it happened!) to Germantown ten miles away and Jefferson could not get a decent room. The other two were forced to sleep on benches in a common area. Of course this was before any of them had become president, although they were each men of high importance even then. Another interesting aside was that Dolley would never have become first lady had not the Yellow Fever taken away her first husband, freeing her to marry James Madison later. The plague made a difference to a lot of things and in ways you might not consider at first blush.

As I said, I have grave doubts about both the suitability and utility of this for children, but I consider it a worthy read.


Pugs of the Frozen North by Philip Reeve, Sarah McIntyre


Rating: WORTHY!

The Chinese claim that this is the year of the pig (kick-off February 5th, 2019), but I hereby declare it the year of the pug! It's only a vowel away!

How could I, of all people, not want to pick this up and read it with a title like that? I couldn't resist it, and I was rewarded by an inventive and amusing middle-grade story which I have to say bears some resemblance at one point to the Homeric Odyssey Book 9, wherein Odysseus, having been blown about by the wind for over a week, finally makes it to an island. He discovers that the locals feed on the Lotus (which is often taken to be a flower, but more likely referenced the fruit of a tree). This bears a soporific fruit causing them to abandon all aspiration and industry, and from which he must rescue his men.

So in this novel, having become shipwrecked and abandoned, accidentally or otherwise by the crew, cabin boy Shen finds himself alone with sixty-six pugs, all of whom are shivering. Fortunately, the ship was carrying a cargo of small, woolly sweaters, with which Shen outfits each of the pugs, before embarking on an excursion to explore and find help. He comes across a small native village where he meets a girl named Sika, who curiously is in need of dogs to pull her sled in the local sled race to the top of the world, the winner of which has any wish granted.

The two embark upon the race pulled by the pugs and have several adventures, including meeting a large kraken, and being lured into the Yeti Noodle shack where they become prisoners. This is the Lotus-Eater phase. Yes, the noodles are dreamily good - they're made from special snow, so why wouldn't they be? But the imprisonment is to do the chore of washing dishes to pay for the noodles they ate! Of course they escape.

And after another adventure or two they meet the wish-granter. I thought this was great fun. They completely snowed me with it, and I'm going to see if I can get my icy hands on some of the other books Reeve and collaborator McIntyre have created together.


Friday, January 4, 2019

The Mechanical Horse by Margaret Guroff


Rating: WORTHY!

Subtitled 'How the Bicycle Shaped American Life', this book made for an informative and at times fascinating read and even gave me an idea for a novel - you never know where your next inspiration will come from!

It details the growth, retrenchment and regrowth of the bicycle (and it went through that...cycle...several times) from the earliest bike to modern times, discussing how it impacted not only the obvious - roads - but also other things, such as women's independence and military activities. It tells some great stories and makes for an engrossing book, and I commend it as a worthy read.


Cleopatra in Space by Mike Maihack


Rating: WORTHY!

I encountered this in my luscious local library, and I could hardly not pick it up after writing Cleoprankster! I was curious, since both Maihack's Cleo and mine are roughly the same age (middle grade) what he had done with her.

I'm happy to report that this graphic novel is entirely different from my chapter book. Whereas I tried to be historically accurate and make the book educational - both to an extent! - this one went the other way and made a complete fiction of it, but I enjoyed it and consider it a worthy read.

In this introduction story, Cleo is abducted from Egypt and transported to a futuristic school out in interplanetary space, where she learns combat and weapons inter aliens. Fortunately everyone speaks Greek (which was Cleo's native language, although she spoke many others - at least as an adult - including Egyptian, which none of her Ptolemic forebears ever took the trouble to learn) so there are no language difficulties. Or maybe there's a universal translator in the air. I don't know. It's been a while since I read this! Anyway, Cleo goes on a mission and performs exemplary work, and that's about it. But then this is volume 1, so presumably there's more to come. I don't feel any great urge to rush out and get volume 2, but I might at some point, assuming there's one to be had.

As it is, I commend this as a fun and breezy story, although it won't tell you a thing about Cleopatra. She never did, for example, have a Louise Brooks-style 1920's bob. More than likely she was bald! Because of the head lice which were rife in Egypt, everyone shaved their heads, and kids ran around butt-naked. Cleo would have worn, if anything at all at that age, a wig which she could happily take off and have cleaned and maybe a short skirt. But its fiction, so what the hell!


Lumberjanes Unicron Power by Mariko Tamaki


Rating: WORTHY!

My sometimes stretched love affair with Mariko Tamaki remains intact after this audiobook version of what was initially purely a graphic novel.

Despite this being aimed at a much younger age group than ever I can claim membership of, it was highly amusing, very cute, entertaining, and told a good solid story. It turns out that unicorns aren't what you thought they were. They never were what I thought they were, not after reading (and positively reviewing) Rampant by Diana Peterfreund back in 2013, but here they're altogether different again.

Lumberjanes are a topic over which I evidently have mixed feelings. I love the idea of them, but the graphic novel (Lumberjanes Vol 2 by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Brooke Allen, Maarta Laiho) I picked up and negatively reviewed back in 2016 did not impress me at all. I found it boring and DNF'd it, so perhaps it's testimony to Mariko Tamaki's writing skills that I enjoyed this one so much. One small problem I had with that earlier work was that I could not understand how the title came about. These girls are not the female equivalent of Lumberjacks, not even remotely, so the name is misleading in many regards, but it is amusing.

The title just refers to a series of girl-centric comics, and is set in a summer camp (Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady Types if you must know). In process of enjoying a field trip, the girls encounter the unicorns and also get stuck on a cloud mountain later. The camp hands out badges, rather like the scouts do, but other than that, nothing much seems to happen except when the girls end up in trouble in one way or another from their own various activities, not all of which are camp sanctioned.

FYI, the Lumberjanes are:

  • Jo, a transgender girl who tends to be a leader and who has the most badges
  • April who is the princess of puns and who takes notes. She's very strong despite her apparently small frame.
  • Molly is an archer of Katniss skills, and is a great puzzle-solver. She wears a pet raccoon named Bubbles as a hat and is right behind Jo in number of badges earned.
  • Mal looks like some rebel girl, but isn't actually like that. She's a great maker of plans.
  • Ripley is young and fearless
On the camp staff are Rosie, the camp master, and Jen, who is the leader of Roanoke cabin, which is the lumberjane's cabin

I enjoyed this listen very much and I commend it as a great introduction to the lumberjanes even though it's not the first story in line.


Monday, December 31, 2018

Parfois by Emma Dodd


Rating: WORTHY!

Definitely the last review for 2018!

The author studied Graphic Design and Illustration at the famous Saint Martin's in London. This was a delightful novel which was perfectly intelligible even though written entirely in French (translated from the original English by Albin Michel Jeunesse). Why my local library had a book written entirely in French, I do not know, but since my French is very rusty and never was fluent, rest assured you would have an easy time too, no matter what state your lingo is in.

This colorful and short book is aimed at very young children, and depicts a naughty baby elephant getting up to antics as such offspring do. It was elphantastic. I predict that this young elephant is going to become very big.


The New Color Mixing Companion by Josie Lewis


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a useful book for artists, going into some interesting and practical detail about color mixing, gradation, shading and tinting. It's patently evident that the author has put in some serious work here. It covers collage, mixed media, and pure paint, and works through examples you can follow practically, exploring various aspects of color mixing as you go.

The book includes a glossary of terms and goes above and beyond color wheels and simple paint-matching and contrasting into a more advanced appreciation of just what color can do and how it can impact the eye. It offers inexpensive solutions and provides a series of printed templates for the practical experimentation and emulation of the examples the author sets. Obviously it's intended as a print book, and presumably using photocopies of these images rather than paint directly in the book(!), but it would be no problem to take a screen-shot of the images in your ebook version, bring them into a computer so they can be printed out to work with them that way.

I found this to be a comprehensive, detailed, and eminently useful contribution to painting, and I commend it as a worthy read.


Creative Coding in Python by Sheena Vaidyanathan


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Erratum:
On page 57, the second text box has 'reminder' instead of 'remainder'.

Sheena Vaidyanathan, a computer science teacher in California, is a respected name in programming education, and this was a fun and easy-to-follow book that introduces anyone to the Python programming language. Python - named after Monty Python - was created by Dutch programmer Guido van Rossum in 1991 and version 3.0 was released in December 2008. It was designed to be sensible, simple in concept although powerful in execution, and very easy to read and understand.

Although I'm not a professional programmer by any means, I have a long programming experience in a variety of languages, so please keep that in mind when I talk about how simple and straight-forward this is! Your mileage may differ, especially if you have no experience, but that won't make any difference to your ability to learn this language if you're willing to apply yourself. As the author explains, the language and the development environment are free, so there is no outlay. It won't cost you a thing to play with it for a couple of weeks and see if you take to it - except for the time you spend on it of course. It's inspired me to try it out even though my main focus and the bulk of my free time these days is devoted to writing fiction.

This book explains simple concepts to begin with, to get you up and running, and expands on these until you're producing much more complex programs without feeling like it's been a pile of hard work to get there. It includes over thirty Projects in art, games, math, and other endeavors, but it doesn't simply tell you to do this and get that result, it opens up creative options whereby you can change the code to achieve new objectives. You can build a chatbot! The book references the first convincing chatbot, ELIZA, named after Eliza Doolittle of Pygmalion (and the better-known My Fair Lady) and created by at MIT by Joseph Weizenbaum, and which I remember tinkering with when I first started learning basic.

One of the benefits of Python is that it can import modules that expand the range of things it can do, so by importing what's known as the Turtle module, you can get it to create some amazing geometric designs and change those designs just be tweaking the code that you write. That's one of the nicest things about this book. In process of teaching, the book enables you to both learn the concepts and take advantage of them, and in tinkering with them, learn them more thoroughly. In the section on using Boolean logic (named after George Boole, a self-taught English mathematician who nevertheless became a professor of mathematics, and who wrote a book The Laws of Thought, which prepared the ground, a century later, for the information age. Here you can use his discoveries to create an adventure game! The book also covers arcade style games.

This is a fun, useful and educational book which will, in easy ways, introduce children and other novices to computer programming. I think it was wonderful; it teaches an important skill and sets up the mind for critical thinking, I commend it highly.