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

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Batwoman vol 1 the many Arms of Death by Marguerite Bennett, James Tynion IV, Steve Epting, Stephanie Hans, Renato Arlem


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. This review was embargoed by the publisher until today's date of publication

While I enjoy the Marvel and DC comics super hero movies, I have a harder time with the comic books which originated these same heroes. Part of that problem is in the way the female characters are hyper-sexualized. I don't believe this is productive and it certainly isn't appreciated. The movies do great without it, so why do the comic books cling to it so desperately? It's not remotely necessary.

Batgirl (as Bat-girl) has been around since 1961, and Batwoman appeared even earlier, in 1956. It's a shame then that neither of these has made it to the big screen, a brief appearance in the old Batman TV show notwithstanding. I was thrilled to learn that Joss Whedon will write, direct and produce a Batgirl film and even more thrilled that it will be based on Gail Simone's comic book work. Unfortunately there's nothing on the roster for a Batgirl movie the DC Extended Universe before 2021 at least so, although schedules can change, it looks like we have to wait a while for that!

This is one reason why I was pleased to read this graphic novel with writing by Marguerite Bennett and James Tynion IV, and art by Steve Epting, Stephanie Hans, and Renato Arlem, so we have at least one female writer and a female artist involved, and it shows. I was hoping for something a bit better than your usual fare and thankfully, I got it with this.

With the roaring success of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, which had some strong female characters, I was hoping for female super heroes from that world to arrive in its wake. Batwoman would have seemed like an obvious follow-up, but instead DC seems to have opted for more Batman movies instead. Until we get Batman's female counterpart on the screen, we have the graphic novels, and that's why I think it's critical that we get more like this one.

In a very small way, this is an origin story, but the origin is conveyed in a series of touching single frame images with a palette as red as Kate Kane's hair: Kate at age nine, shooting a bow, at twenty in the military, and at twenty-seven crashing into the frame as Batwoman. But something is missing, and this crashes into the story on the next pages. A car is rammed by a truck, parents and a child are kidnapped, a mom dead. Next, Kate is depicted in unarmed combat at West Point. It's all disjointed, as is Kate.

Because of this disjunction, I had, I confess, a bit of a hard time getting into the story, but it found its footing quickly - or I did, one or the other! There is a new drug on the street: Monster Venom - and it can literally do what its name says: turn people into monsters. In order to fight it, Batwoman finds that she has to revisit one of her own points of origin: the island of Coryana in the Mediterranean. Here she confronts more than just her past.

This novel contains not only the expected - and hoped for - action scenes, it also carries with it a journey into memory and pain, disillusionment and determination. And Batwoman proves equal to what's asked of her, even to the female villain who is like a breath of fresh air as villains go. I'd like to see more of her.

It's reassuring to know there's someone we can count on, especially since Batwoman seems to have her head together more than Batman does despite her traumatic history and self-doubt. I liked this story and I recommend it. The story not only works, it's intelligent and has depth, and the art and coloring, by Jeromy Cox and Adriano Lucas not only complement the story all the way, they bring it to visual life. I look forward to more stories like this one. Hopefully we won't have to wait on Joss Whedon to get them!


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Why Cats Paint by Heather Busch, Burton Silver


Rating: WORTHY!

I'm not a big cat fan, that is, I am not a big fan of cats, but when I saw this book I had to take a look at it. My conclusion is that either these two authors are either high amongst the most tongue-in-cheek authors ever, or they're dangerously delusional. I shall be charitable and go with the first of those options, mainly because I share their evident opinion that the art world is just as bad as the fashion world for being puffed-up, vacuous, and ridiculous.

Seen in that light, this book, subtitled "A theory of feline aesthetics" is brilliant, and I salute the authors. The tone is pitch perfect, the images gorgeous, and the overall effect hilarious. Cats are not the only animals that paint. By 'paint' I mean daub a surface with color. Chimpanzees and elephants do it, rhinos and meerkats (Google's idiot spell checker wanted to change that latter to 'marketeers' LOL!), raccoons and pigs, goats and lemurs, parrots, and even seals, and not just at Easter (or estrus)!

Employing the word 'paint' suggests a purpose. Do they have a purpose? Clearly it attracts them, but what exactly is going on in their sub-human brains remains to be seen. Something does however compel animals to daub the paint, yet no one can possibly know what's going on in the animals' mind, except, of course, these two authors who deliberate over it and quote references, and have a high old time extolling both art and artist!

I recommend this not only because it's intriguing that animals do this, but because of the images of the artists, which are charming and adorable, and also the art itself, which is inspiring for anyone who, like me, who all to often thinks he can neither paint nor draw. I recommend the book as a coffee table book, a reading book and a guaranteed conversation-starter.


Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Facts of Life by Paula Knight


Rating: WORTHY!

This was another library book. The author, Paula Knight, changed her name to Polly in the book as she changed everyone else's name too, so it wasn't too personal, but it is in fact a very personal story told by a graduate (BA in Graphic Design form Bristol Polytechnic in England about her pursuit of a pregnancy and her grappling with a fatigue syndrome.

Paula/Polly grew up an only child and tells an interesting and moving, and humorous story about her life beginning with hanging out with her best friend, learning about sex, and spending more and more time as she matured, wondering if she ever wanted to have children. In the end she discovered she had ME/CFS, which is myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, a very disabling illness which an come back and bite you often. It resulted in her losing all her energy at times, and feeling like everything was real struggle.

When she finally found the partner she wanted to be with, she was in her mid thirties and starting to feel a 'now or never' imperative to having a child of her own. When they began to seriously try, however, she and her partner repeatedly got the reward of very brief pregnancies ending in miscarriage, After trying IVF, she and her partner gave up. It was only then that she began to notice how pervasive 'pronatalism' - the idea that a family consists of mom, dad, and one or more children - truly is in society.

Illustrated by the author in simple gray-scale line drawings, this novel is well imagined and well executed, and (be warned!) takes a no holds barred approach to telling her story of sexuality, of growing up in Britain in the seventies and eighties, of learning, of struggling, of disappointment, and finally of coming through it all with a new perspective on life. I really liked the story and I recommend it.


Friday, November 17, 2017

The Astonishing Ant-Man Small Time Criminal by Nick Spencer, Ramon Rosanas, Annapoala Martello, Brent Schoonover


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a graphic novel I got from my wonderful local library on spec. I loved the Marvel movie, but my love doesn't necessarily translate to a love of the associated comic books. In this case it almost didn't, but in the end I liked this enough to consider it a worthy read, even though it was hardly brilliant. It certainly wasn't as funny as the Ant-man movie.

In a small way, this was an origin story although it really didn't give the entire story. That was more of a reminiscence. In it, Scott Lang is separated from his family (as in the movie) and is bothered and bewildered by what's going on around him. In the comic book, the Pym Particles are things which can be carried and handed around almost like drugs. Some of them found their way to Lang's daughter, Cassie, who is more grown-up than in the movie.

She has been a Young Avenger, but somehow lost her powers and now feels their absence painfully. This is why she throws her lot in with a villain who works at an organization called 'Hench'. Why the police would not be interested in a man who claims to be able to turn people into super-villains goes completely unexplored here, and this is one problem I have with both movies and comic books: the stories completely neglect existing law-enforcement and the larger world, such as with fire-fighters and national guard, the FBI, the CIA, and so on. It's like those people don't exist in Super World™!

Cassie thinks she can get her powers back (or get some powers anyway) by infiltrating Hench under the premise that she wants to become a super villain. When she gets her powers she will turn on them, The villain figures out her motives, but he agrees on a deal with her: if she will retrieve something that was taken from him, he will grant her powers and they can go their separate ways, no hard feelings. Scott doesn't realize this of course - he just learns his daughter is working with super villains and has to deal with that shocker.

A friend of Scott's becomes Giant Man by employing his share of Pym Particles, but he does so much damage due to his size that the people of San Francisco detest him, so Scott takes him to a Lego village and has him practice being a gentle giant. This is mildly amusing, but more amusing, and why I rated this worthy, are the super-villains. They're more clownish than villainous and I grew to like them and sympathize with them as Cassie works with them to complete her task and earn her powers.

So overall a worthy read but not something that made me want to rush out and grab the next issue (although I do have one more issue to review!).


Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane


Rating: WORTHY!

Set in 1954, the story begins with two US Marshals setting out for Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane which is housed in an old fort on Shutter Island. On the ferry to the island where the story opens, Teddy Daniels has a new partner named Chuck Aule with whom he has never worked. Teddy is throwing up in the bathroom.

They are sent to investigate the disappearance of a female inmate named Rachel Solando, who evidently murdered her own three children, so the story has all the hallmarks of a locked room mystery. I saw the film made from this novel some time ago and barely remembered it, so my impression was that I didn't like it very much, but I decided to give the novel a go anyway since I'd liked this author's novel Mystic River. After I read this I watched the movie again and liked it, but was not overwhelmed by it.

The novel was good though, and I found that the reader quickly learns that not everything is as it seems here. People appear to be keeping secrets. There are hints that perhaps some radical experimentation is taking place on the island on some of the patients. It doesn't help that real clues are hard to come by, that many of the potential witnesses are literally insane, that Teddy is suffering migraines, and that a hurricane is coming down hard on the island. Worse than this, Teddy has an agenda - to find the guy who he thinks burned down his home and thereby killed his wife, and he thinks Andrew Laeddis is somewhere in Ashecliffe.

It became apparent at a point early in the story that someone was deluding themselves, but I could never tell whether it was going to take the predictable route or if there really was something else going on. It took the predictable route, but that didn't make it any less of a worthy read for me. I enjoyed it and I recommend it.


Theatrics by Neil Gibson, Leonardo Gonzalez, Jan Wijngaard


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Set in the 1920's in New York City, this graphic novel by Neil Gibson tells the story of Rudy Burns who is a playboy of an actor who one night is mugged behind a bar and ends up not looking pretty any more. Out of hospital at last, he arrogantly turns own a paltry role that's offered to him, and quickly finds himself out of work and unsought-after for his looks any more. Even his well-to-do girlfriend has found someone else, although her rejection has nothing to do with his appearance. Shades of Mickey Rourke, for want of employment elsewhere, Rudy takes up boxing.

I am not a series fan and I'm frankly not sure where a series based on this premise could successfully take itself, but for this first installment, I found that I liked the novel for the story. It turned an unlikable protagonist into a pitiable one and brought my interest in. I also liked it for the free-flowing graphic content by Leonardo Gonzalez and for the vibrant colors by Jan Wijngaard.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Tovi the Penguin Goes Trick or Treating by Janina Rossiter


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a bit late for Halloween, but I thought I'd already posted my review. Sorry! This is another in the Tovi series, nearly all of which I've liked (of the ones I've read). I liked this one as well. Not only was it an amusing story which told an interesting tale, and only a wee bit scary, it was also beautifully-drawn and brilliantly-colored by the author herself.

One of the delights is that it was legible on a smart phone so you can access it anywhere, and the double-page spreads, which all-too-often in the non-print version are given short shrift and end-up chopped into individual pages, thereby losing the sweep of the double image, were maintained here, and they looked gorgeous. I fully recommend this, not just for next Halloween, but for any time you want to curl up with your kid and a cup of hot chocolate and enjoy a warm tail!


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen


Rating: WORTHY!

Jane Austen is batting a .6 with me at this stage. I really liked Pride and Prejudice, not so much Emma or Sense and Sensibility, but then I enjoyed Lady Susan and I loved Northanger Abbey! What a lot of people do not seem to get about this novel is that Jane wrote it when she was just 28, and still very much a playful youngster in many ways. It was her first real novel that we know of, but it was put aside as she worked on others. Though she began re-writing it later in life when she was more than a decade older, she died before she could finish it.

The story revolves around Catherine Morland, in her late teens, and fortunate enough to be invited on a trip to Bath (evidently one of Austen's favorite locales) by the Allen family. It's there that she meets two men, the thoroughly detestable James Thorpe, and the delightful Henry Tilney. While Thorpe pursues the naïvely oblivious Catherine, she finds herself very interested in Henry and his sister Eleanor.

In parallel, James has a sister Isabella. They are the children of Mrs Allen's school friend Mrs Thorpe, and Catherine feels quite happy to be befriended by Isabella who seems to be interested in Catherine's brother John - that is until she discovers he has no money when she, like Lucy Steele in Sense and Sensibility, transfers her affection to the older brother - in this case, of Henry Tilney. Captain Tilney, not to be confused with his father, General Tilney, is only interested in bedding Isabella, who is in the final analysis every bit the ingénue that Catherine is. Once he's had his wicked way with the girl, she is of no further interest to him whatsoever.

Meanwhile, Catherine manages to get an invitation to Northanger, the Tilney residence. Catherine is a huge fan of Gothic novels, and Ann Radcliffe's potboiler, The Mysteries of Udolpho is mentioned often. Arriving at Northanger, she is expecting a haunted castle with secret passages, but everything turns out to be mundane - the locked chest contains nothing more exciting than a shopping list, and General Tilney did not murder his wife.

Henry Tilney is a lot less miffed with Catherine in the book than he was depicted as being in the 2007 movie starring the exquisite Felicity Jones and the exemplary JJ Feild, but as also in the movie, the novel depicts a lighter, happier time with General Tilney absent, but when he returns, he makes Eleanor kick Catherine out the next morning to travel home the seventy miles alone, which was shocking and even scandalous for the time, but by this time Catherine has matured enough that she's equal to the burden.

It turns out that the thoroughly James Thorpe (much roe so in the novel than in the movie), who had been unreasonably assuming Catherine would marry him, only to be set straight by her, has lied to General Tilney about her, and whereas the latter had been led initially to believe that she was all-but an heiress, he now believes her to be pretty much a pauper and a liar.

Henry bless him, defies his father and makes sure that Catherine knows (as does Darcy with Lizzie!), that his affections have not changed which (as was the case with Lizzie). This pleases Catherine immensely. Despite initially cutting-off his son, General Tilney later relents, especially when he realizes that Catherine has been misrepresented by Thorpe.

There are a lot of parallels in this book with the later-written Pride and Prejudice. You can see them in the dissolute soldier (Captain Tiney v. Wickham), the rich suitor (Tilney v Darcy), the break and remake between the two lovers, the frivolous young girls (Isabella v. Lydia) and so on. Maybe Northanger Abbey is, in a way, a dry-run for the later and better loved novel, but I think that Northanger Abbey stands on its own. I liked it because it seems to reveal a younger and more delightfully playful author than do her later works. I dearly wish there had been more novels from Austen from this era. She could have shown today's YA authors a thing or two, but I shall be content with this on treasure.


Sunday, October 29, 2017

Bubby's Puddle Pond by Carol Hageman


Rating: WORTHY!

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

The purchase price of this book is a little steep, but it runs to 33 pages of story and support material, and it's a fully-colored and illustrated (by Nate Jensen) book. The story is rooted in the real-life creatures resident in the Sonoran desert and additionally, a dollar of the purchase price is donated to the Arizona Game and Fish Adoption Program.

The story is based on a tortoise adopted by the author's daughter, and tells of Bubby, who settles into his new home and meets several friends: a wren, a quail, a rabbit, a small dog, and a gecko (which is actually not a native, but technically an invasive species which has spread across the world adapting to similar climes outside of its origin - rather like the rat, although geckos are not usually considered pests!).

Bubby has several adventures, not least of which is going into hibernation each winter - yes, even in Arizona, where winters can be distinctly chill (as I experienced one New Year's Eve - but the hot tub helped!). The story is sweet and easy-going with the emphasis being on friendship and the 'crises' being very minor and not scary. I recommend this for young children who enjoy nature and animal stories, and perhaps as an introduction to such stories for children who are not yet endeared to them (if there are any!).


The Monster at Recess by Shira C Potter


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This story, by the author of The Friendly Monster (anyone spot a trend here?!) was very short (only 13 pages), and it had a bit of an abrupt ending, but it had heart, and I liked it. It's aimed at kids who are just beginning to read with confidence by themselves, and tells the tale of Sophie (the name means 'wisdom'!). It is a text-only book - no illustrations.

Sophie is in elementary school and she isn't happy there. Everyone seems the same to her, stuffy and dull. Even the name of the school is Grey Stone Day School, and she seems to be the only one who stands out with her red hair. Worse, people are mean to her and she doesn't know why. Sophie is a bit of a day-dreamer, and she eyes the monsters from the school next door - a school which shares its recess yard with Sophie's school - with envy because they seem to get along and have fun, but her school has a fear of monsters and this is why they do not share their recess time.

Sophie however, finds a colorful hat - just like the ones the monsters wear - and she's determined to return it to its rightful owner, even if it means braving the monsters at recess. Well, you know what Robert Burns said? "The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley" or as we know it, go sideways! Unlike in her own school, the monsters (most of them anyway) celebrate difference, not conformity, and Sophie starts to feel like she fits right in.

I had two views of this story! On the one hand I liked it and I liked that it showed Sophie learning that you do not have to fit in to be happy with yourself; it's OK to be different. On the other hand, I wish that Sophie had done something about the bullying in her own school instead of running away from it! What to do, what to do? The book also depicts her breaking some rules and lying to a teacher, but on the other hand the teacher isn't doing anything to control the rampant meanness, and is in fact mean herself, so what choice does Sophie have?

There are different ways of dealing with problems, and running is certainly a valid one in many regards, when there seems to be no alternative and no one to turn to, but I would have liked to have seen Sophie address that; however, she doesn't run very far, just towards friends who will accept her. So is that really running?

On the other hand, I didn't like that the bullies got away with their meanness while it was Sophie who was portrayed, indirectly, as the monster (because that's who she hangs out with). I would have liked to have seen that addressed, but one step at a time: Sophie does show bravery in stepping out at recess when only the monsters are playing out there.

I think this is a great start to a book, or perhaps a series, but it felt like it was missing a bit here and there. If it were to turn into a series which shows how Sophie faces the problems and deals with them, this would make a great story. But Rome wasn't built in a day (some parts of it, like the Colosseum, just look like it was!), and I consider this a worthy read for young children, especially if it's used as a discussion springboard to address how a young child should deal with bullying and with people who just don't want to be friends.

The book references a website, www.heartlabpress.com, but the site isn't really up-and-running as of this posting. Not that I'm one to talk! LOL! I still have some serious work to do on my stuff, but writing has been calling to me of late far more strongly than dressing up websites ever does, so I can't blame an author for that! I wish Shira Potter all the best with her stories.


Saturday, October 28, 2017

Kid Authors by David Stahler


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I could have done without the illustrations by Doogie Horner, but maybe those will appeal to the age range at which this is aimed. The actual content on the other hand was at times entertaining and interesting, but the racism and genderism inherent in the choice of writers featured here bothered me immensely, and it's why I cannot recommend this book. It's long past time to take a stand against white American males being the only important people in the world. We see it on TV, we see it in movies, and we see it in books. It needs to stop.

The book is not about children who are authors, but about the childhood of now well-known authors. The details are necessarily brief: each author gets ten or eleven pages on average, of quite large, liberally-spaced print and some of that space is taken up by the illustrations. At the back there is a half dozen or so pages with one paragraph 'also-rans' which is interesting because it includes writers like Alice walker and Maya Angelou who apparently didn't make it into the 'big time' here, but even in this section, most of the writers appear to be white American males like no one else is worth listening to.

The book has an introduction which I skipped as I routinely do, because introductions (prefaces, author's notes, forewords, prologues and so on) are wasteful of paper, are antiquated, and really tell us nothing useful. I rather get right into the body of the work than waste my time on frivolity.

Some of the stories are upsetting, when you realize what some kids had to go through to get where they got, and that isn't over today either, but how much more of a struggle is it for some authors to get ten pages in a book like this? Other stories are endearing or amusing, so there's something for everyone, but that said, the vast preponderance of coverage is of white American male authors which represent eleven out of the sixteen - almost seventy percent - who get ten pages here. Four of the others are British, and one is French.

That's a seriously limited coverage in a world where two-thirds of the planet's population is Indian or Chinese, fifty percent of the planet is women, and most of the planet isn't white. There are only three are non-white (two African Americans and one American Indian) authors represented here so it bothered me that children reading this might get the impression that only America (and maybe Britain) has anyone who can write, and nearly all those who can write are white men. This is neither an accurate nor a realistic impression, nor is it a useful one to give children in a world where whites are the real minority.

This is a skewed view which is already being hammered into young peoples' heads by the appalling number of novels coming out of the US which are also set in the US (or if they're set abroad, they star Americans, like no one else ever has anything to say or any adventures to write about), and largely written about white characters.

This Trump mentality is isolationist and very dangerous, so I would have liked to have seen a much wider coverage and more female authors (who get less than forty percent representation here). Also the youngest writer represented here was born in 1971! Almost half of them were not even born last century! 13 of the sixteen were born before the 1950's! It's not being ageist to ask for a sprinkling of younger writers! And could there not have been more females, more people of color, including an Asian or two?

Could there not have been a Toni Morrison or an Octavia Butler? A Clarice Lispector or a Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie? A Zadie Smith or an Elena Ferrante? A Lu Min, a Zhang Ling? No Jenny Han or Tahereh Mafi? No Jhumpa Lahiri or an Indu Sundaresan? There are so many to choose from, so it's a real shame that this book evidently went with the easiest, the commonest, the path of least resistance? It felt lazy to me at best.

These are the authors which do appear:

  • JRR Tolkien (white, English, b. 1892)
  • JK Rowling (white, English, b. 1965)
  • Edgar Allen Poe (white, American, b. 1809)
  • Sherman Alexie (American Indian, b. 1966)
  • Lewis Carroll (white, English, b. 1832)
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder (white, American, b. 1867)
  • Zora Neale Hurston (black, American, b. 1891)
  • Mark Twain (white, American, b. 1910
  • Judy Blume (white, American, b. 1948
  • Langston Hughes (black, American, b. 1902
  • Jules Verne (white, French, b. 1828)
  • Roald Dahl (white, Welsh, b. 1916)(
  • Stan lee (white, American, b. 1922)
  • Beverly Cleary (white, American, b. 1916)
  • Lucy Maud Montgomery (white, American, b. 1874)
  • Jeff Kinney (white, American, b. 1971)

The book had at least one inaccuracy: it proclaims that Joanne Rowling (now Murray) was Joanne Kathleen Rowling, but she never was. It was only Joanne Rowling (pronounced 'rolling'). The 'Kathleen' came about because her weak-kneed and faithless publisher declared that boys wouldn't read a book written by a girl. They insisted that she use her first initial and a fake middle initial. Not having any clout back then, she chose the 'K' for 'Kathleen', the name of her grandmother.

This is why I despise Big Publishing, but at least I have the knowledge that a dozen idiot publishers turned down her Harry Potter series and thereby lost a fortune. The sad thing is that now they're trying to make up for it by buying every idiotic magician series ever produced, which is cheapening the whole genre. This why I self publish. I refuse to let blinkered publishers try to tell me what my name should be. I'd rather sell no books than deal with people like that.

So, in short, this could have been a hell of a lot better and I cannot recommend it.


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Harry’s Spooky Surprise by NGK


Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated charmingly by Janelle Dimmit, this is the story of Harry’s plan to have a fun Halloween, and rather than go out grabbing candy, he’s not thinking of himself, but of others! It’s a great theme to have for a book about a holiday that kicks off a fall and winter season during which it all too often seems that our lives revolve around “What can I get for myself?” be it candy at Halloween, feasting at Thanksgiving, or receiving presents at Christmas.

Harry is a bit of a nervous nelly, since it’s dark out and he sees a lot of strange shadows, but the mildly scary bit is soon resolved as he realizes that not every shadow is a problem. Few are as it happens! He ends up meeting his friends, preparing his surprise, and then surprising his unprepared friends! I think this is a sweet, fun book, and it tells a worthy tale for Halloween.


Ghosties by Gerald Hawksley


Rating: WORTHY!

Another fun and silly rhyming book from the guy who does them so well. This time, in time for Halloween, it's Ghosties, and never was there such a bunch of goofy ghosties. They're everywhere, and they're into everything. Floating in the sky, rushing around, woo-hooing. There's even ghosty cats and dogs, ghosties wearing hats, ghosties on stage. It's all the rage. I think this is a fun and non-frightening book for kids to enjoy a Halloween with.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Secrets From the Eating Lab by Traci Mann


Rating: WORTHY!

I have to say that I'm a little suspicious when I see a book about dieting or health and the author has a string of letters after their name. You never see highly-regarded science authors like Stephen Gould, or Carl Sagan, or Richard Dawkins doing that. In this case, it's just PhD which all too often in these situations seems to stand for PinheaD judged by some of the crap I've seen published accompanied by initials, but in this case, Traci Mann is not only completely legit, she's smart, perspicacious, interesting, and full of useful information and ideas.

She's the leader of the Mann lab at the University of Minnesota, which despite some slightly less than PhD English ("We are a psychology laboratory, under the direction of Dr. Traci Mann, that focues [sic] on how people control their health behaviors" is a going concern, testing out why people behave the way they do vis-à-vis food and dieting and fads.

This book is subtitled "The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again" and though I've been fortunate enough never to have felt like I had to go on a diet, it's convinced me that I now never will because diets are useless and pointless, serving only to enrich the fat wallets of those fatheads who devise these idiotic and ultimately fruitless schemes.

Why don't diets work? They do in the short term, but with very rare exceptions, people always put the weight back on, and sometimes more than they shed, because your body is predisposed to keep you within a certain weight range, usually of thirty pounds wide, and no matter what you do, you will have a hell of a time in trying to nudge it out of that zone. Biology, advertising, evolution, and other factors are all against you.

That sounds depressing, but the author also offers a better reason not to diet: you are not necessarily unhealthy even if you are deemed 'overweight'. If you're eating healthily and exercising, it doesn't matter what your weight is, because your overall health and life expectancy is going to be the same as those skinny people you seek to emulate so much.

One thing I (and evidently other reviewers) had an issue with is that on the one hand, the author says we have this weight range we tend to stay within which is why dieting is pointless, but on the other hand, there has been a steady increase in average weight among Americans over the last few decades. How is this possible if we have this natural weight baseline that makes it just as hard for us to seriously overeat as it does to shed weight?

The author doesn't seem interested in trying to reconcile this discrepancy in her reporting. Is her 'weight range' shifting upwards, and if so how did this happen and doesn't it overturn her claim that we have an immutable range for our weight, within which we're stuck? Is this weight range very large, which means there is hope for people who do want to try to shed many pounds? Genes do not change this fast, so is there an epigenetic factor in play here? Or is there something wrong with her whole philosophy? It would have been nice to have seen this addressed if not resolved.

The book is in four parts with several subsections: 'Why Diets Fail You', 'Why You Are Better Off Without the Battle', 'How to reach Your Leanest Livable Weight', and 'Your Weight is Really Not the Point'! You can't argue with the science or the clear information and suggestions laid out here. I recommend this book not only because it offers sound advice, but as an interesting read about weight, health, and dieting, and also about psychology and societal pressures.

The book isn't perfect by any means, but it takes a rational approach, and offers simple and scientific advice on what works and what doesn't, and tips on how to make what works, work for you. I've seen a lot of negative reviews of this book complaining about how it talks about your leanest livable weight but never tells you how to calculate it. These reviewers completely missed what had been said earlier! You don't have to calculate anything, because you're already in your weight range. It's your baseline! You can lose a few pounds within your range by eating healthily and exercising, and you're there. No calculation required!


Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola


Rating: WORTHY!

I considered this a worthy read, but it's the first in a series and I don't think based on this one, that I'd be interested in a series, but then it's not aimed at me; it's aimed at young children who might find it worth their time.

My biggest problem with it was that the story was really not original. It's merely a retread of the Sorcerer's Apprentice story. This guy works for Strega Nona (this term means grandmother witch). One day he sees her make spaghetti using a spell, but he misses a crucial part to turn-off the charm, and so when she's out and he makes his own pasta, it never stops spewing out.

Soon the whole village is being strung along but even they can't eat it all. Fortunately, Grandmother Witch returns in time to stop the issue and then the poor assistant has to eat all this pasta until he is fed up of it.... It was a fun read, but not really al dente enough for me to order a second course.


My Mei Mei by Ed Young


Rating: WORTHY!

A mei mei is a little sister and Antonia wants one. Her mama and baba fly to China to adopt one, and then Antonia realizes it's a problem because her mei mei now gets all the attention she's been used to! Worse, she can’t hang out with Antonia because she can neither walk nor talk! She just kind of lies there demanding to be changed and fed! What fun is that?

This is rather a personal story from the author, reminiscing indirectly about his own childhood. Since he's called Young, was his little sibling named Younger?! But don't worry, Antonia over time comes to love and appreciate her sister. I think this is a great story, gorgeously illustrated and well worth reading, even for an adult. I recommend it.


Help! The Wolf is coming! by Vincent Bourgeau


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a short young children's book; that is, its not a book for young children who are short, but a short book for all young children! It was a great idea, and it originated in France. The book is bright and very colorful, and a fun read. There's a wolf coming (and walking on two legs yet!) and it's heading right for you! Can you avoid the wolf?

Well the writer suggests various ways to get rid of it, by turning the book around and trying to get the wolf to slide off the page! It's a neat interactive scheme, because the drawings accommodate the idea that your actions are making a difference; then the author brilliantly suggests going back to the start to see if you really got rid of the wolf! I think you could occupy a young child for hours with a book like this while you get working some more on your own novel, so it's a great investment! I recommend it.



Ghost Pяojekt by Joe Harris, Steve Rolston


Rating: WARTY!

I began thinking I was not going to like this graphic novel which I picked up at my local library, but it turned out OK. Not great, but at least a worthy read. The cover was very cool: I found out by accident that it glowed in the dark! Yes, it was gimmicky, but still fun. Joe Harris's writing was okay, btu nothing to write (home) about. Steve Rolston's art was average. Dean Trippe's coloring was entertaining, but again nothing spectacular. And who cares who lettered it? Seriously? Print the damn thing. Letterers need to retire.

This made me more disappointed when I began reading the story because it offered too much disjointed mystery to start with and was confusing. It was set in Russia though, which I approve of because it's tiresome to read story after story set in the USA as though this is the only country in the world - or at least the only country which has stories worth telling or people worth learning about.

The problem with setting the story in a non-English speaking country is how to convey that it's non-English being spoken. I've seen several tricks employed to achieve this, none of which is 100% successful, but some work better than others depending on how you employ the technique. I personally think you need to establish the setting and then trust the reader to fill in the blanks - but don't lard it with too many blanks!

Some writers do it by using foreign words followed immediately by their English translation. No-one talks like this and it's really annoying to me. I prefer an occasional foreign word where the context makes the word intelligible even when you don't know what it means. A better alternative is to simply make your setting convincing enough that you can use plain English with no foreign words.

Here they made a bad choice because they did the annoying repetitive thing, but hen when it came to measurements and weights, they used American values: pounds, instead of kilos for example, which was a glaring faux pas. Sometimes writers simply do not think their story through. They also used stupid Russian interpolations, such as calling one of the characters 'Operativnyk so-and-so' instead of simple calling them 'Operative'. Every time I read this I thought 'amateur'.

Once the story got into its swing though, it took off and became quite entertaining as long as I let slide the aforementioned annoyances. The story seemed to be about biological warfare agents, and there was an American on Russian soil trying to track these down and dispose of them. He had some internal problem sustained form a previous unsafe encounter with a bio-weapon, but as soon as the supernatural element started to come into play, it became obvious he'd find a cure for his condition, and he did.

That was trite, but the story was unusual and I appreciated that. I like the girl ghost even though her behavior sometimes made no sense, and the story moving quickly and changing scenes lots of times. The characters were occasionally dumb and overall, not exactly overwhelming, but were okay for a graphic novel. The female Russian agent was average in her characteristics, so nothing special there, but not awful, and in general, it was an engaging story once it hit its pace, and I consider it a worthy read.


Saturday, October 21, 2017

Bunk 9's Guide to Growing Up by Adah Nuchi


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Subtitled "Secrets, Tips, and Expert Advice on the Good, the Bad, and the Awkward," written by the endearing if fictional girls of bunk nine at the Silver Moon Camp Sisterhood, and illustrated adorably by Meg Hunt, this book was freaking awesome! it;s a fast, simple, easy read and packed with useful information - useful, and essential.

I like to think I know a lot about women, but anyone who knows about women also knows there is always so much more to learn, and while many parts of this were quite familiar to me, many other parts were an eye-opener, and served only as yet another reminder of what women have to put up with even if they lived in a world which was totally devoid of men!

The girls of bunk nine are: Abby (from Eugene OR), Brianna (from Austin TX. Yeay!), Emma L (from NYC), Emma R (San Jose, CA), Grace (Princeton NJ), Jenna (Philadelphia PA), Lea (Paris, France), Makayla (Charlotte NC), and Sage (Eugene, OR, and full of sage advice...). They are smart, diverse, feisty, teasing, assertive, full of good humor, and more importantly full of tips and good advice.

Different chapters cover different aspects of these changes, and they go into detail but are never too long or too detailed. The chapters are amusing, with observations 'penned in' by various girls in the bunk, and by some boys too. In chapters labeled for the week of camp, we get to learn of Puberty in general, of hygiene, breasts, menstruation (shouldn't that be 'womenstruation'?!), boys, health, and feelings - in short, completely comprehensive as it ought to be.

Be warned, this book is explicit, both in in the text and in Meg hunts colorful depictions. The book is presented as a 'hand-written' guide book to be passed from girl to girl (and to be chased-down mercilessly if the boys in bunk 8 ever get their hands on it!) But the boys did, so again, be warned, they added their own chapter about how boys change as well during this time. I thought this was a smart move on the part of the author, because girls need to understand this just as much as boys need to understand what girls are going through.

I don't have any daughters I'm sorry to report, unless you count two pet girl rats whom I adore. I wish I did have daughters, but I guess my brutal Y chromosomes viciously overpowered my gentile X's and Oh! I feel so dirty. But if I had had daughters I would have no problem handing this book to them once they reached the age of seven, eight, or nine, depending on their development and progress.

My view of this is that I and my wife would have covered a lot of this with said daughter(s) before they reached that age, not as lecture, or worse, a series of lectures, but as the simple act of honestly answering all her questions without evasion in age-appropriate 'sound bites' to keep her moving along.

If she's satisfied with the answer, you're done! If she has follow-up questions, tackle those head-on in the same way. It's the only sensible way to deal with this. Tell her what she needs to know, imbue in her the advice that not everyone wants to talk publicly about some of these things, so there's a time and a place, and a choice of friends and other people with whom these things can be discussed.

In this way, you teach her no shame, and she learns caution and wisdom, and you let her know that you're the source of trustworthy, straight-forward information, and she will readily come back for more answers when she's ready for them. Whatever approach you take, you'll have a lot better answers to give after reading this book! She may or may not have more questions, or she may prefer to share it with her friends and talk about things with them. Either way you've done your job (as long as you're sure her friends parents won't object to her sharing the book or what's in it!).

If I have a criticism of the book, it's not in the occasional use of an old song title for a section header (Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes on page 17 and Get Back later - although the song title was just Changes). Actually I'm not sure if that last one did refer to the Beatles song and it's not really important whether girls in this age range ever heard of the Beatles or David Bowie, because this book is for parents too! That criticism I reserve for Middle Grade or Young Adult authors who older than their intended reader, yet are too lazy to research the kind of music these girls would actually listen to, and instead make up some lame excuse that has their main characters addicted to precisely the same music the authors knows and likes. Yuk! That didn't happen here!

No, the one criticism I had was in the color scheme. Overall I really liked it - it was bright and sparkly and attention-grabbing, but I have to question, purely in terms of legibility, some of the color choices for some of the splash balloons. Light blue on light gray, and pink on light blue tend not to work!

Here's is where there is another major difference between men and women other than the pubertal changes and most obvious gender differences, ans it's one that's not well known. Women tend to see subtle shades of color better than men do. Evolution has given them better-tuned color receptors in their eyes. We have three types of receptors, and guess what? Two thirds of your color reception comes from the X chromosome! Guys only have one of these and if the color receptor genes are faulty, they're screwed! Women have a back-up on their second X chromosome, Men have no back-up X! This is why men tend to color blindness far more than do women!

In the light of this knowledge, I have to ask if these color schemes looked good to the author and the illustrator because they're women, but looked bad to me because I'm a guy?! It's definitely possible! In the case of the light blue text on light gray background I quite literally could not read it until I enlarged that balloon greatly. Then I could make it out, and the final insult hit me. It was advice specifically referring to dads! LOL! The one thing aimed directly at dads was not legible to them because we don't see shades as well as women! Was this done on purpose?! This was on page 24. Other such instances, although not quite as bad, were the note 'taped' to the bottom of page 35, light blue on pink, and also on page 84, pink on light blue. although this was, for me, easiest of the three to read. Note that this is in the ebook version, which is all we amateur reviewers get to see, so I can't speak for the print version. And I can only speak for myself of course, maybe my color vision is just muddy?!

On a note that has nothing to do with this but which is fascinating, I learned from recently reviewing a book about the human genome, that there are women who are tetrachromatic. There are not many, maybe 3% of women, but what a thrilling thing to have a fourth color channel! Assuming the brain can avail itself of the information! Dr Gabriele Jordan of Newcastle University in Northern England is actively investigating this phenomenon.

In conclusion, this book is in my opinion the perfect primer for young girls who are nearing puberty or who are already in it. I was impressed by how full of information it was. Obviously as a lifelong male, I haven't been through female puberty, so how do I judge it? For how inclusive it is, how diverse, how wide-ranging, and how intelligently it's presented. And how visually too: the text flooded the page without swamping it, and was very eye-catching and inventive.

I was, for example, pleased to see that when talk turned to one aspect of puberty - interest in the opposite sex - there was also repeated mention of interest in the same gender, which is what even hetero children can experience. The constant reassurance about this being normal and expected was wonderful. That and the endless good advice, the hints, tips, and revelations, and the honesty and humor all contributed to make this a super-special read. I advise parents to buy it, read it and give it to your daughter(s) - and sons because they need to wise-up too! I recommend it.


A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived by Adam Rutherford


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Erratum:
P345 has a tandem repeat in the footnote! A sentence fragment is duplicated! It’s a mutation! Now that there's spare DNA in the text, evolution can work on this without tampering with the original sentence! Clearly this sentence could evolve into something else! Keep an eye on it!

This book seems like it has a very ambitious title until you read the subtitle: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes, and that's exactly what this is. It might be a bit technical for some, but I think in general it's written well, clearly, and it's easy to understand, with a nice line of humor running through it. There was the usual foreword, author's note, and introduction which seem to always lard books with somewhat academic leanings. I skipped all of these as I routinely do. These are antiquated forms not most wondrous and I do not wish them to unfold, not on my time. After those, it got interesting.

I loved the way the science-free creationists are given short-shrift and sent packing. In the natural order of things, these people are parasites. They do no science of their own. Their idea of science is to sit on their lazy asses and pick over the published papers of hard-working scientists.

No, actually, they don't even do that much; they simply scan the clueless media headlines, assume that those represent the actual science paper accurately, and run with it. This book warns against taking seriously those sensationalist headlines about 'the little gene that could', but creationists are as heedless to those caveats as they are to injunctions against jumping to conclusions, and to not telling lies about evolution.

They either claim that the reported science supports the creation position (without making any effort to demonstrate how this is so), or if they dislike it, no matter how solid and well-supported it is, they claim it's all lies, and hoaxes - done by the very same scientists they previously got through praising for supporting the creation position in a different paper! LOL! These people are hypocrites at best and idiots at worst.

But this book isn't about creationism, which is why it's given short-shrift. This book is about the genome, particularly where it's been, and even where it's going (which is somewhat harder to assess!), and how it all plays into making us who we are, with all our peculiarities, habits, and even our looks and thoughts.

I found some bits of the book a little tedious and some of them superfluous to my mind, but overall this topic fascinates me and I had an easy time reading this all the way through. There are some awesome revelations (at least they were to me!), some intriguing insights, and it's grounded in solid, rational, intelligent science throughout. For me that was the best part of it. Yes, I'm biased - and unashamedly so when it comes to science.

The chapters might feel a bit long, especially if this does seem technical to you, but they're well-worth making the effort. Around every corner is something to make you stop and think, and wonder, and marvel. Each chapter is dedicated to an aspect of the genome and how it plays out in real life (if we know that much about it - there are still mysteries to solve and maybe you or your children will solve them!), and to the most intriguing parts of it and how they work together - or how they fail and cause us problems.

This book isn't just about genetics though - it's about people primarily, and how we got to be who we are. How our genes make us work, or in some cases malfunction. How we're quite literally more or less related to all life, but especially to other humans, including extinct relatives such as Neanderthals and Denisovans, and how we're inextricably tied to all life via the evolution of the genome in assorted species that lead through time from the first cell to us and everything else alive today. As the well-known Theodosius Dobzhansky, a Christian, said, "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution." He didn't add, but maybe should have, that the dark of creationism offers only nonsense.

Even as a science aficionado, this book answered questions I had not thought of asking, and questions I have thought about asking, but never got off my butt to do the answering - such as why are men more prone to color-blindness than women? The answer is simple, and you can probably figure it out with some little thought, but in case you never got there, like me, it's in this book along with lots of other answers.

The truly intriguing part though was what an adventure the human genome is - and no: don't believe popular political announcements of how it's been finally mapped. It's mapped in the same way that old world maps of the globe were - the basic overall geography is right (near enough) but the detail is still being filled in, especially when it comes to the detail of how it all works together and how the genes (and the relatively recently discovered epigenetic markers) work together or even dissonantly.

To me, rather than a map, it was more like one of those high resolution Internet images which sometimes appears on your screen, and at first it's highly pixelated so it looks blocky and blurry, but as you watch, new scan lines are added and the image slowly comes into sharper focus by stages. That's exactly where we're at with the genome! We have that initial chunky download and now we're in the first phase of those extra scan lines being added so the resolution is slowly becoming clearer, but we still have many more 'scan lines to add' before the picture is sharp enough for science be happy with. Meanwhile the creationists still remain as idle as they are clueless.

On the topic of the increasing resolution of genetics, I learned yet more information about how humans are not binary. I mean to open minds, it's obvious to begin with, but contrary to creationist claims of perfection, we are seriously messed up when it comes to genetics and reproduction. The majority of people end up with one X and either an X or a Y, but some do not. Some get an extra X or an extra Y or only one X and no Y. There are other combinations, too.

This was intriguing to me because I learned from this book that women don't use both X's. They use only one. The other one gets those epigenetic markers and becomes methylated! That doesn't mean the same as drunk or drugged-up; it means it's muted. What I had hoped to read is that when a person gets only one X and this causes problems is it because that lone X is muted so they effectively have no X? If so, can it be un-muted and will this fix the problem? Maybe we still have to discover that, and this is why genetics is such a big industry, and such an important and massive frontier for science. There is so much more to learn, and this book is a great primer on this new ocean of discovery into which we've just begun to dip our toes.

I recommend this with the slight caveat about regarding the overall formatting. I've noticed that academically-inclined books seem to be published largely by tree-hating organizations. I'm forced to this conclusion because of the vast amount of white space I see on every page. Clearly the aim here is to use as many pages as possible and this kills trees. And such academic books tend not to be printed on recycled paper.

Chapter one begins on page 28! When we reach it, at last I can say that it doesn't start halfway down the page, but it has wide margins on all four sides of the page and the lines are quite widely-spaced. I don't know what format the print book is in (judged by the lack of links in the text, this is clearly intended as a print book.

All we amateur reviewers ever get is the ebook, which isn't always a fair representation of the print version, especially if it comes formatted for reading in Amazon's crappy Kindle app which often mangles books. But the measurements I am about to report are taken directly from the iPad screen. Since I'm going to talk percentages, it doesn't really matter very much exactly how big the print book is.

Fortunately this one came in PDF format - which I preferentially read on a tablet after the phone fiasco, in an app called Blue Fire Reader, which is a decent reading app. I tried it in the same app on the phone, but since I do not have the genes for Falcon's eyes, the text was far too small for me to read comfortably unless you turn the phone in landscape mode when the text is legible, but then you have to try to navigate up and down the page, and because the phone is so twitchy to finger movement on the screen, if you swipe or pinch or spread at the wrong point, it can flip to the previous page or to the next page and you're lost, so it's a nuisance for phone reading.

On the iPad, the page is slightly over 19.5cm tall and 13cm wide. The left margin is 2cm, the right 1.75cm, the top margin 1.5cm, and the bottom 2.5cm - when there are no footnotes - and there were lots of footnotes which in my opinion for the most part could either have been either done away with altogether, or if deemed really necessary, incorporated into the text for a much more pleasant reading experience. Didn't that last observation make for a better reading experience with it being inline with the text rather than my sending you to the bottom of the page to read it? Just sayin'!

You may guess that I'm not a fan of footnotes at all. They're simply annoying - especially when they contain more text than does the actual page they're on, which means the footnote ridiculously goes over to the next page! I can't think of anything more stupid than that, and this is in an age of: electronics, URLs, ebooks!

Don't get me started on how appallingly short-sighted it is to continue to produce books in blinkered print mode when e-mode can be employed. For a publisher to think that those print versions can be simply moved to the e-version without a second thought is idiotic. Believe it or not, footnotes/chapter notes/end notes can all be links these days!

If you're interested, you touch the link and can go to it. You touch the note, and it brings you right back to where you left off in the body of the text. You never forget the place where you left the text. This doesn't work in a print book, yet publishers - especially of academic books - are obsessively-compulsively addicted to print books. I guess they make more money on them even as trees die for their obsession.

You can say you can't blame the author for this because these are publisher decisions, but authors can choose to go with a publisher which is more reverential of trees and is also interested in keeping up with modern times. Or they can choose to self-publish.

There are of course arguments to be made for dedicated ebook readers being wasteful of resources and pollution sources themselves, but you can read a few hundred if not a thousand books before you trade in or recycle your ebook reader. That's a lot of trees saved. That's especially true if you read them on your phone which also serves as your phone, your web browser, your camera, your alarm clock, your meeting tracker, and so on.

But I digress! So the page is 19.5 x 13cm which rounds down to 250cm². The text was 15.5cm x 9cm which rounds slightly up to 140cm². This means that forty-five percent of this page is white space! The margins could have been smaller and fewer pages employed in this book while still saying exactly the same thing! And this days nothing about adjusting line-spacing.

That does not mean I advocate cramming the text in and eliminating all white space, which would be a nightmare. I had to read a book rather like that once recently, and it wasn't pleasant, but just employing a little less white space will make a big difference in a 400-some page book.

Believe me, I know this. My novel Seasoning ran to 760 pages as originally formatted, but I brought this down three hundred pages by formatting it more wisely. That's almost half the original size! It also had the effect of making it cheaper for potential purchasers. I believe I can improve even on that next time I tinker with it, yet the novel will still look appealingly formatted. You only need the will to do this, and it's done. It's not rocket science; it's caring for the environment. That's all it requires. It's well worth thinking about.