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

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Shakespeare's Wife by Germaine Greer


Rating: WORTHY!

I haven't read anything by Germaine Greer since I read The Female Eunuch a long time ago, which I thought was interesting, educational, and insightful, but not anything spectacular. This book was along those lines, too. I have taken to avoiding books which have a title which makes a woman an appendage of a man in the title. By this I mean books of the form, "The ________'s Daughter or 'The ________'s Wife, because they're abusive to women. Women deserve better than to be an afterthought!

So why read this one? Well, apart from the fact that I found it to be engaging, well-researched and entertaining (and filling me with ideas!), and while the author had a choice in the title and I would expect a woman with Germaine Greer's credentials to do better than to name it this way, I have to wonder if she deliberately rendered the title in this form because it realistically portrays the reality of the situation disturbingly well.

The sad fact is that the content is forced to relate to Agnes Hathaway in the same way that the title does - as an appendage of someone else rather than a person in her own right precisely because there is so very little history available about the older woman who married Shakespeare and then was practically abandoned for twenty years. Had she not been married to Shakespeare, and had he not become famous, she would probably have been lost to history altogether.

The book is really detailed! Sometimes it's too detailed for me. Yes, it's a welcome addition to see something of what life was really like back then for your average citizen, but on the other hand, we don't need so many details about so many things, with Greer going off on long tangents into displays of how well the author researched the book, rather than displays of what we know or can reasonably deduce about the woman who is central to it. Fortunately this is quite well-balanced by Greer's take on the story as we've all-too-typically had it fed to us: that history is made by men and the little women must of necessity be confined to the sidelines. Well, I call bull's-pizzle on that one!

Greer deftly redirects us, at every reasonable opportunity, to reconsider the standard story and ask: could it possibly have been this way rather than that way (where 'that way' typically demeans and/or impugns Agnes (pronounced Annis, and shortened to Anne)? She very often, but not always makes a strong case for her view. One problem is that Agnes all-too-often is lost under the rain of research details with which Greer pads this book. Less of that and more of the realistic look at what is known and what are reasonable assumptions based on what's known would be welcome, but then we're simply back to how little is known. I think Greer does a sterling job with what's available, but she need not have padded it just because it's available, especially if it had little bearing on what Agnes may or may not have done, thought, or felt.

This is why her story, as opposed to history, is an important one, because the idea that Shakespeare is this lone genius who is isolated from, and above his world - as he is in most of his worshiper's minds - is nonsensical. All of his ideas and inspirations came from somewhere (often from someone else's work that he'd read and appropriated!). He was not living in a bubble, and part of his world was his roots, and his kids, but a huge portion of it was his loyal wife, expertly holding down the fort while he was off playing in London.

Tammy Wynette's song, Stand by Your Man could have been written about this couple, and you cannot isolate him from her (Agnes, not Tammy!), no matter how much it superficially looks like he chose to do so himself. Unlike Shakespeare's plays, this is actually a true story that's worth thinking about, and this book is worth reading.


Thomas and Buzzy Move Into the President's House by Vicki Tashman


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a great idea: teaching children history by letting them see it through the eyes of well-known historical figure's pets - and at the same time, in this case, allaying fears a child might have about a change or even upheaval in their life - such as moving to a new house.

I'm not a fan of Jefferson and see no reason for deface on Mount Rushmore(!), but whether you like an historical figure or not has no bearing on whether it's worth learning something about them, and I think this is a charming way to do it: seeing Jefferson through the eyes of his French chien bergère de Brie (sheepdog of the brie region - the home of brie cheese).

Beautifully and artistically illustrated by the talented Fátima Stamato (I loved her image of Buzzy on page six, at the start of chapter two, which is monitor-screen wallpaper-worthy!), this book tells of the worries of Buzzy, when she learns that Jefferson is going to become the new president (in 1801) and has to live in the President's House, now much more commonly known as The White House.

Buzzy (which actually was the name of a dog owned by Jefferson) is afraid of moving and leaving her beloved farm and friends behind (a horse, another dog, and a mockingbird Jefferson got to replace an earlier one he had bought from a slave), but when she realizes she can bring along her favorite pillow, and her fetch toy, and water bowl, and set them up where she wants in this new residence, she feels a lot more comfortable. Some things change, but others remain much the same, and finally she's happy with her new home.

The author rather glosses over the fact that Jefferson had been vice president for the previous four years (a position he got through a mistake in the constitution!), so while he had not been resident in the White House (vice presidents lived in their own home until relatively recently, when a government residence was opened for them) he certainly knew it quite well, both inside and out. That doesn't mean Buzzy ever visited, of course, so this was more than likely a very new situation for her.

The author also glosses over the fact that Jefferson soon became a breeder of the variety of dog (indeed, Buzzy gave birth on the trip back to the US, so Jefferson actually arrived here with three dogs). Buzzy was not the only such dog at Monticello, but to have multiple "Briards" running around would just confuse things as would it have done to depict Buzzy more accurately as an outdoor dog, rather than living in the house. Dogs back then were considered working animals (and even pests in livestock country, the ownership of which was taxed), so the mockingbird, "Dick" was much more of a pet to Jefferson than Buzzy was, but again, this makes for a better story for children, even if somewhat inaccurate, so overall I was very pleased with this book, and I recommend it as a worthy read for the intended age range (4 - 8yrs).


Monday, May 15, 2017

Handbook of LGBT Tourism & Hospitality by Jeff Guaracino, Ed Salvato


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is the second non-fiction book tied to the LGBTQIA community that I shall review today and it gets a 'worthy', too, despite problems I had again with the formatting of the ebook. Clearly this is intended as a print book, with the e=-version getting short shrift, in that it looks like ti was pretty tossed together to get it out before reviewers, but just as this book advises those who wish to take advantage of the spending power and willingness to travel of a particular community to prepare well and know your market, I'd advise publishers to send out better review copies if they don't want to irritate reviewers and get lower grades!

That said this is an important book, and formatting problems aside, it offers a detailed and thoughtful approach to how businesses can position themselves to take advantage of the current boom (which I dearly hope continues) in how the LGBTQIA community is looked upon by the rest of us, and I thought it deserved to have the shortcomings of the e-version overlooked in the hope that if this ever does get released as an ebook, it will look a lot better than the sorry copy I got to review! The rainbow community deserves better, too!

It may sound a little mercenary to talk about a community of people who have had enough crap to deal with already, as a marketing opportunity or as a rising segment of disposable income, but that's what this book is about, and businesses wouldn't be in business long if they didn't make money, so what are they going to do? Ignore this community? They're morons if they do. Meanwhile the smart ones are going to be looking for ways to work with an in this community and this is where this book shines. The authors have done their homework and talked to the people who know.

I list below a more detailed contents than you might find elsewhere (and frankly, I deserve a medal for managing to extract this from Kindle's crappy app!):
THE FOUNDATIONS OF LGBT TOURISM AND HOSPITALITY
Your “elevator pitch”: The importance of developing a segment-specific program for LGBT tourism
Sizing the LGBT segment: Buying power
The importance of the LGBT segment in the travel industry
Tips before launching your LGBT marketing campaign
Success in the LGBT travel market: Top ten tips from Jeff and Ed

BUSINESS ESSENTIALS: UNDERSTANDING THE LGBT TRAVEL MARKET
Understanding key segments and focusing your resources
Lesbian travel: Women first, then lesbians
Bisexual travel: Identifying an elusive population
Putting the T in LGBT travel: Introducing the trans traveler
LGBT family travel trends
The top ten trends in LGBT travel
Training, staff, business policies, and employee resource groups

BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES
LGBT tourism and hospitality businesses
LGBT events, festivals, and sporting events: An overview
LGBT sports to drive revenue and visitation
Pride festivals
Tailoring your mainstream product with an LGBT twist
Welcome signs and symbols
The cruise industry
LGBT tour operators
Gays and the motor coach
Airlines: Putting more butts in seats
Hotels and lodging
Meetings, conventions, and business groups
Milestone celebration travel: Weddings, honeymoons, and other celebrations
Navigating controversies and turning them to your advantage

MARKETING YOUR BUSINESS
Setting your marketing goals, budget, and staff
Getting your advertising history straight
Strategies for building an effective marketing campaign
The changing media landscape: The rise, fall, and rise of LGBT publications
Great content in context is your foundation
Communications, public relations, and media relations
Smart press trips
LGBT print advertising and gay-inclusive creative
Online and digital marketing
Marketing through mobile phone apps
Ten tips to keep your LGBT campaign and your destination competitive
The ten classic principles of successful LGBT marketing

THE GLOBAL VIEW: OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES
Asia: The most gay-friendly destinations
Argentina: Five tips for your LGBT business
Brazil: A strong LGBT tourism market
Canada: New ways of marketing using content in context
China: A market opportunity
Colombia: Five tips from an emerging destination
Europe: Tips on the lesbian market
India: Cultural, religious, and societal challenges
Israel: Marketing LGBT tours in Tel Aviv
Japan: Welcoming international LGBT guests to a conservative country
Mexico: A gay-friendly but macho country
United Kingdom: Reaching LGBT travelers is always a challenge
The United States: Beyond New York and San Francisco

TRENDS AND INDUSTRY RESOURCES
Market research: Companies, data, surveys, and reports
Associations and conventions
Advocacy organizations
Conferences and expositions
Further reading
Annotated bibliography
Discussion question
Notes
Index

I'll mention a few of the problems with formatting I encountered which will hopefully be cleared up before any ebook is released. need to mention. There were items like this: "For exam2A ple, an LGBT traveler in the United States," where some sort of numerical marker had become embedded in the text. This was quite common.

There's a table, Table 2.2, featuring "Terms Used by Trans People to Describe Themselves" which is so screwed up that it's completely unintelligible. The phrase, "3d 3D PRIDE FESTIVALS" was not only repetitive, it was in three different font shades/colors!"

But as I said, I am not rating it on the crappy Kindle app(earance). I'm not a fan of Kindle (or Amazon!), so ignoring that, I rate this a worthy read and a valuable asset to anyone who wants to attract LGBTQIA business, because take it from me, we're never going to be over the rainbow!


LGBTQ-Inclusive Hospice Palliative Care by Kimberly D Acquaviva


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This amazingly-named author is a tenured associate professor at the George Washington University School of Nursing, and evidently knows her stuff. I'm not a health-care professional, but I have worked closely with nurses in two different hospital environments, so I was familiar with the kinds of things she discusses here, and the importance of getting them right. She's also a doctor - of the PhD variety (in Human Sexuality Education) rather than the MD variety - and has a master's in Social Work and a BA in sociology (all from UPenn). She's also been a Fulbright scholar, so clearly she's on top of her game when it comes to the material she goes into here, and she pretty much covers the gamut of required learning when it comes to the treatment (in the broadest sense) of people from the LGBTQIA community.

The chapters cover these topics:
Self-Awareness and Communication
Sex, Gender, Sexual Orientation, Behavior, and Health
Understanding Attitudes and Access to Care
The History and Physical Examination
Shared Decision Making and Family Dynamics
Care Planning and Coordination
Ethical and Legal issues
Patient and Family Education and Advocacy
Psychosocial and Spiritual issues
Ensuring Institutional Inclusiveness
But what was really impressive was how often the author steps outside the box to point out areas you might never even have considered might be relevant or important. She's definitely given this topic some considerable thought, and I doubt there are many questions you could come up with which aren't at least touched on here.

The book is written for academics, but it's very accessible and straight-forward throughout. It contains a glossary, references, and an index. Overall I recommend it. If I had a reservation about any of this, it was that, as usual, this type of book seems to have been written solely with a print version in mind, and the e-version coming in a poor second, so while I am sure the presentation and formatting of the print version is excellent, the e-version which I got left a lot to be desired! I am hoping, as I write this, that the advance review copy I had was a quick and dirty conversion for reviewers, and that if there is to be a ebook, it will be a lot better than this, because frankly the e-version was awful!

The errors and poor formatting of the e-version made for a really irritating read. You may call me a prima donna if you wish, since I don't care what you think of me, but my expectations are low when it comes to the quality of e-versions of ARCs. Even so, there really is no excuse for a sloppy review copy like this. Reviewers aside, it's an insult to the LGBTQIA community, and any reviewer would be perfectly justified in failing a book in this condition. I know Amazon offers a truly crappy Kindle app, but even it can do better than this would lead you to believe!

I'm not a professional reviewer despite the shields with which Net Galley has honored me, and I realize that we amateurs can't expect to be treated like professional reviewers and get a pristine copy, much less a print copy, but we do deserve a certain minimum level of respect, especially if we're expected to enjoy a book and be persuaded to feel inclined to review it favorably! personally, I ditched Smashwords as a publishing platform because they're insanely anal and too-often inconsistent for my taste, but I have to agree in principle with their approach to pristine ebooks, because it does matter!

However, for me what's most important is the overall book - not the cover, the gloss, the blurb, or the hype, but the interior, and what it says (or what the author clearly intended it to convey in the version they worked on!). What saved this book for me was that it's far too important to fly off the handle over poor formatting in review copy, so while I recommend it, I am going to point out examples of the main flaws I saw here for the record in the hopes that they will be fixed before any e-version is published.

Tables are not represented well in this version. Some of them appear right in the middle of the text with no separation, such as table 1.1 in the self-disclosure section. The result of this is that the table appears as though it's a part of the text, causing some sentences to end right in the middle, and then resume later, such as "...wife, though her eyes were dry..." in Chapter I step 5. There was a really bad example at location 593: "If you notice the patient appearing agitated or impatient each time a family My dad moved in with me over the Christmas holiday in 2012." 'Family' was completed three paragraphs later with 'member'. The 'My dad' portion was evidently an insert for a side bar or something like that.

There were also other oddball mixtures, such as Location 679 where there was a book reference and copyright notice to this book and author right in the middle of the text with what looked like a page number (38), but it's hard to tell what that was since there are no easily discernible page numbers in this e-version of the book. I don't read introductions (or prologues, prefaces, etc). I think they're antiquated, but as I was swiping past the intro to get to chapter one, I noticed that the lower case Roman numerals for the page numbers were in the middle of the screen rather than at the top or bottom. Some text was randomly in red "ink" such as " What are your goals related to the treatment and prevention of adverse effects of treatment?"

So, while I was disappointed that the presentation was not better, I was delighted with this book, which from my non-professional, but not uninformed PoV, looks to be an invaluable addition to resources any health care professional can call upon to enable them to do a better, more empathetic, and more caring job. The rainbow can only get brighter.


Saturday, May 13, 2017

Random Illustrated Facts by Mike Lowery


Rating: WARTY!

The facts in this book (an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher) were just a little too random for my taste, and the illustrations are extremely rudimentary (if sometimes amusing), so i cannot recommend this because I see no purpose to it unless you find it amusing to read a mix of true and at best "augmented" or at worst, possibly fictional "facts".

It quite literally does have random facts. The organization of the book is as rudimentary as the printing and illustration, but it does make some vague kind of sense. The facts however, are very short and completely unreferenced so it's hard ot know whether they relaly hard facts without a lot of research. I checked a (random!) few here and there, and most of what I checked seems to be true, but there were some glaring errors that would have been easy to fix has some simple fact-checking been indulged in online. Some, such as the church steeple in Germany which was stuck four times by lightning over several years, each time on April 18th were unverifiable. No, I don't believe that one!

This begs the question as to how some of these 'facts' arose. One I checked on, for example: that it is illegal to fall asleep in a cheese factory in Illinois, while technically true, is misleading. The Illinois statute forbids sleeping in food preparation places http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs3.asp?ActID=1584&ChapAct=410 which is entirely reasonable, and which I imagine is also forbidden in other state laws, so to single out Illinois, and word the "fact" that way isn't exactly honest. I was more surprised that it was Illinois that was chosen rather than say Wisconsin, than I was impressed by this "fact"!

By the same token the California Fish and Game Code over not eating frogs used in jumping contests is a law aimed at preventing people capturing frogs for food (for which they would need a license), by claiming they were going to use them for a jumping contest (for which they would not need a license). In context, it's clear that the law is to protect amphibians from being eaten to extinction and makes perfect sense, and has nothing to do with "eating a frog that died in a jumping contest" per se. So once again, this "random fact" is highly misleading. I'd have liked this book a lot better if it had been vetted more stringently over the facts which appear in it.

The story of the five-year-old-girl mailed to her grandparents in 1914 is equally misleading. It was a four-year-old-girl named Charlotte Pierstorff, who was accompanied on a train by a postal clerk, so she wasn't exactly put into a cardboard box, stamped and dropped into a mailbox as the illustration suggests. So yes, it did happen, but again the random "fact" doesn't tell the whole story. Mailing children back then (right after the post office first introduced parcel post) wasn't exactly a complete rarity. The first child to be so mailed was a ten pound baby! It was unarguably bizarre and abusive in the extreme to modern minds, but innovative to impoverished families back then!

Yes live scorpions can be mailed, but the regs say nothing about live spiders being banned! They specifically permit "Other small, harmless, cold–blooded animals" which would include most spiders, and scorpions have restrictions ("Live scorpions (only under limited circumstances)"). So once again we find a "fact" that is not exactly up-front about what it purports.

In Serbia, there is a tradition of children tying up their mom on Materice day, but it's as part of Christmas celebrations. On a different day, parents tie up their kids. The idea is to get gifts as a 'ransom' for freeing the hostage. I'm not aware of such a tradition for Mother's Day, but I guess if they do it at Christmas, they might do it then, too. So while, like I said, a lot of what I checked did prove out (at least in part), there were far too many of these misleading ones, or ones which were wrong or uncheckable, so I felt rather disinclined to trust the other facts that I do not have the time spend checking. The book does not strike me as very trustworthy, and there really is no excuse these days for not verifying your 'facts'.

Some of the 'facts' are repeated in slightly different ways on different pages, and overall there are a lot of 'facts'. Some of these are weird and wonderful, others amusing, others not remotely surprising, but overall, I can't recommend it as a worthy read. You may not have these qualms, but for me, in an Internet age where misinformation and blind 'regifting' of trivia through endless, tedious chains of emails is the norm, I think it behooves all of use to not pass on things we don't know to be true, and certainly to not engender materials which are at best suspect.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

How Oliver Olson Changed the World, by Claudia Mills


Rating: WORTHY!

Following up on The Trouble With Ants by Claudia Mills, which I liked, I found this short and sweet audiobook at the library. Oliver Olson's parents need some therapy because what they're doing borders on child abuse. They're so over-protective as parents that they barely let Oliver do a thing for himself. He has to eat boring "healthy" snacks, and they won't let him watch cartoons (presumably because they're too violent or silly.

The thing is though, that they're inconsistent. They help him so much with his homework that it really doesn't benefit him because he's not allowed to think for himself, and they give no consideration whatsoever, in this healthy lifestyle they're promoting, to how much they are damaging him with stress by placing all these restrictions on him, denying him a pet, and not letting him cut loose once in a while.

Healthy food is fine. I have no problem with that, but if it's so unappetizing that kids are turned off it, rather than setting them up for a healthy life, you're turning them from it. You need to cut them some slack once in a while and try to make sure the healthy part of the diet is as attractive (if not more so!) than the junk food they inevitably get their hands on. Fortunately, events conspire to rescue Oliver from this strait-jacket of a life in which he's confined, before he grows up to become a serial killer or a sociopath.

The biggest complaint I would have about the book is that Oliver is inexplicably well-balanced despite all he endures, and he's rather too mature for his age. As for the audiobook, the biggest complaint about that is Johnny Heller. I am not a fan of this guy's book-reading at all, but he's the go-to guy for countless stories, which means he keeps getting stories offered to him without the audio book people giving any consideration to letting new voices in, or even to whether this guy's voice is really the best for the story.

Frankly his voice just annoys me, and it did particularly in this story because, while it is told from the PoV of Oliver, there are four main female characters who feature prominently in it, and it just seemed genderist to me to have a guy read it when four-fifths of it revolves around females and female influences.

That said, it was entertaining and amusing. Oliver's class in school is studying the solar system (and the author does a fine job in supplying information about it without seeming like she's lecturing). The school is having a sleepover so they can study the planets through a telescope and also watch a space adventure movie (which shall remain nameless since I've grown to detest it lately!), but of course Oliver's parents refuse to let him sleep over because they can't be there to watch him and make sure he brushes his teeth, like a single night without brushing will necessitate dentures first thing in the morning!

Oliver's parents pretty much take over his course assignment: to create a diorama of the solar system, but a girl comes to his rescue. Crystal Harding, known best to Oliver for talking too much in school, somehow manages to set the two of them up as diorama team, working together, and Oliver is then stuck with the task of weaning his parents off the project.

He achieves this with a studiousness, patience, and calm which is as commendable as it is rather unbelievable, given how he's been raised. This, in turn, sets him on the path to freedom form his "shut-in" world and improves his overall outlook on life. It's a great ending, a well-written and amusing story, and very short, but just the right length for this story. I recommend this one, and this writer as someone worth keeping an eye on for any new output.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Sound of the World By Heart by Giacomo Bevilacqua


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an odd sort of a story, but in the end I liked it despite some issues with the advance review copy (for which I nonetheless thank the publisher!).

The story felt like it went on a little longer than it ought, but it talks about something I am quite attuned to at present having been watching episodes now and then of the Netflix series called Brain Games, which delights in telling us how our brain is in many ways magical, but also easily fooled and often in surprising ways. Despite what we might think, our attention bandwidth is quite limited, and it's on the margin of this that pickpockets and illusionists ply their trade

This story is in some ways about that: about how we have blind spots and are in denial. The one in denial - denying himself social interaction (and there's more to it than just that) - is a photographer. He has undertaken with his editor, to spend two months in New York City and during that time, not speak to anyone. He pays his rent by means of his landlady sticking an envelope under his door, he filling it with the rent money, and she giving him a thumbs up through his security glass. He isn't allowed to eat in the same place regularly, so he is forced to try different venues. He navigates this by using a sign explaining that he's deaf, and asking people to please not talk to him. He writes down his meal requests. He's not even allowed to eat at home very often.

And he takes lots of photos. Despite having an electronic camera, he likes to get the prints so he can put them on his wall and examine them. But the real printing process is in his head. He takes a mental snapshot of what he just photographed, and keeps it in mind rather well. That is until he has the next batch physically printed and discovers there's a girl in them, in color, while the rest of the print is gray-scale. He doesn't recall ever seeing this redhead, and when he tries to call up the shots from his mind gallery, he cannot - they're all blank spots! It would seem that his perspective is eagle-eyed everywhere except where this girl is. Who is she and how is this happening? The answer might be different from what you expect and certainly different from what Joan of Arc, his muse in a painting in the museum, might advise.

I've never been to New York, and I'm certainly not one of these people who worships the place. My problem with those who do is that they view it through absurdly biased and rose-tinted lenses. Crime might be commendably dropping there, but it's still horrific. There is a murder pretty much every day, which is unacceptable. The homeless population of New York rose to an all-time high in 2011. Thirteen percent of all homeless people in the USA live in NYC.

At least there, they're legally entitled to shelter, but again, it's a problem that those who worship NYC choose to ignore, extolling what they consider virtues instead. For me, paeans to NYC fall on rather deaf ears because the city, notwithstanding what worshipers say, is essentially no different from any other large city. I doubt that people are particularly more friendly or antagonistic, nor more ordinary or extraordinary, nor more heroic or cowardly than anywhere else, so those views of the city tend to fall flat for me.

That said, and while this book did indulge in some hero-worship, it was kept to what I consider an acceptable level. That aside I had no complaints at all about it, except for a couple of instances where the text balloons were inexplicably blank! The balloons were there but no speech was in them! Maybe in graphic novel worlds this should be a phrase, akin to "The lights are on, but nobody's home!" - "This dude's speech balloon is blank!" I assume this will be fixed before the published copy comes out. Either that or I hope this was merely an anomaly in my copy. The missing speeches were on pps 25 & 26, and also on 120 thru 124. There was also some staining around the dates which separated the various segments of the story, like the dates had been stuck on with Scotch tape and then Xeroxed, and the Scotch tape had left a shadow! But this is a minor thing.

Overall though, and this is what truly matters to me rather than minor details, I really liked this. The illustrations, in color, are gorgeous, and the text is easy to get into and enjoy (and large enough to read on a tablet!). It was fresh and original, and it told an engaging story, so I recommend it as a worthy read.


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Rogues' Gallery by Philip Hook


Rating: WORTHY!

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

It was also a fascinating study of art dealership over the centuries (yes, centuries!), focusing on some of the main characters of the last two or three hundred years, and their modi operandi. It's also, in parallel, a study of greed, avarice and capitalism at its worst. I found it engrossing, and was pleased to see that one of my pet peeves about scholarly works like this: that they have margins far too wide, and text lines far too widely-spaced, and are thereby abusive to trees, circumvented in this case, because the margins were not ridiculously wide and the text was quite finely spaced, so you see? It can be done! Kudos to the author and publisher for achieving this.

Of course, none of that matters if the book is only to be released as an ebook, but usually these works are not, so this is important. In fact, one of only two complaints I might make is that this book it did not work as an ebook because it was in PDF format which is not ebook-friendly unless you read it on a reasonably large tablet or on a laptop or desktop computer.

On a smart phone, the text is far too small to read comfortably, and if you try to "stretch" the screen to enlarge it, it takes forever to get the fit right, and then you can't swipe to the next screen without reducing the text again! It was a real irritation. Another issue was that the PDF format did not lend itself to reading in "night mode" wherein the screen colors are inverted so the text is white and the page is black.

This is actually my preferred mode to read, and it's a great way to save energy (by reducing battery use so recharges are required less frequently), but it doesn't work with this because what happens is that the screen colors are quite literally inverted - not just the text, but also the images, so instead of looking at gray-scale photographs of people or art works, you're looking at photographic negatives. I think publishers have a long way to go before they can say they're in the ebook book business - and have that claim sound intelligent!

The other complaint I originally had was circumvented in one away but exacerbated in another! It was initially to be that the biggest problem with the book was that, for a work which talks about paintings, it was curiously lacking in pictures of them! In fact there are pictures, and in color, but they are set together in the middle of the book rather than appearing close to the text that references them. Again this is because the book as designed as a print book, not as an ebook.

There are also pictures of some of the characters brought to life here, but these are in gray-scale imagery. When I also saw a couple of pictures in that format too, I had feared this was all I would get, and not even at their best because of the lack of color, but I need not have worried because between pages 160 and 177 there is satisfaction to be had. It only served to leave me wanting more though.

If there is to be an ebook version of this, then it would have been a real joy to have had links directly in the text to an online source for color images of the paintings which are discussed. This would be a perfect use of an ebook, especially since I am also greedy when it comes to wanting to see everything that's talked about. Again this leads me to believe this was produced solely with thought to the print market and not to the electronic market, which begs the question as to why the review copy is being distributed in electronic from? It made little sense to me and did no justice to either the print version or to the e-version if there ever is to be one. But I have to blame the publisher, rather than the writer, for this! it did make me decide not to request any books of this nature for review in future. I don't think it's possible to adequately review a book designed for print by means of an electronic version of it when it contains art work as this one does.

But let's look at the writing because to me, that's typically far more important than anything else. This book focuses on the last four or five hundred years, becoming more detailed as we get into the twentieth century, but it reaches even as far back as ancient Grecian times, so it is very wide-ranging.

Art dealing is nothing new, but those dealers from yesteryear can scarcely have imagined the kinds of sums that modern art dealers routinely deal in, not when a dealer sells a picture in the USA and immediately claims $300 is the highest price that will ever be paid for a painting in America! LOL! Even in Victorian times, there were large sums of money exchanging hands in one direction as paintings moved in the other. Some of these characters, such as Joe Duveen, were both notorious and well-liked, others were merely notorious. For at least one character, his love of his partner's wife evidently exceeded his love of art, and this queered his pitch in a serious way in time.

Another dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel, who almost single-handedly brought Impressionist works into the spotlight when no one else gave them the time of day was an intriguing guy. The names of the people he personally knew are impressive: Degas, Monet, Manet, Pissaro, Renoir, and so on. It's pretty odd to think someone knew all of those guys and such a relationship would be a lot harder to have today, when artists names are not so legendary as those past masters.

There are controversial issues discussed here, too, such as how maligned should be those art dealers who dealt with the Nazis? On the one hand, they rescued paintings that would probably have been destroyed, since the Nazis considered them deviant. On the other hand, those who rescued the paintings by buying them from the Nazi art dealers (and others), were helping to fund that evil cult even as they preserved the paintings. Were they good or bad or were they, like the pictures of the people featured in this book - in a gray area?!

The author makes some fascinating observations and interesting points, and he's not afraid to ask awkward questions about dealers or about dealing in general. Does it really make it better to say that pictures are sources and placed rather bought or sold, for example?! It may rob the transaction of its 'filthy lucre' connotations, but does it really sanitize those transactions?

I should probably say before I close out this review, that I'm not widely knowledgeable about art, nor do I consider myself even remotely an expert on the topic. I'm not an artist either, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate a book like this or learn something from it.

So while I can very much enjoy works of art, I can also see both sides of this world - the appreciative side, and the cynical side. What I think is that art is a very personal thing, and its most personal for all of course, for to the artist. Anyone beyond that artist who talks about art is doing it purely from their own perspective, not from any objective and authoritative position. Anyone who wants a laugh at the expense of art critics (not the same as dealers per se, but definitely in a parallel line of "business", they should look up Pierre Brassau in wikipedia.

On a related note, When we have a director of a state museum of art, Katja Schneider, mistaking a painting done by a chimpanzee, for a work by the artist Ernst Nay, it serves only to highlight how very personal a world this is, and sometimes i honestly have to wonder if any of these people really have a clue what they're talking about!

That Impressionism, which is today renowned, had to be kick-started against opposition for example, poses questions about what is art, who determines this, how the quality of one picture over another is to be honestly and fairly judged, and how some works get to become all but priceless, whereas others which to someone like me, seem every much the same, cannot even command a price. This book helped with some of those questions (it comes down to trust as often as it does dissimulation it would seem!), but it also raised others, and that's fine with me; ideal in fact!

Overall, I do recommend this for anyone interested in art and art history. It makes for an engrossing insight into the past, and into the world of the dealer, As well as into artists and dealers themselves, and the shifting, often contentious, yet at other times endearing and heartwarming relationship between them, and into people struggling to make a living, and those with more money than sense!


Friday, April 28, 2017

Salt and Oil, Blood and Clay by Jennifer Bresnick


Rating: WORTHY!

This is "A collection of short stories, poems, and vignettes that use fantasy and the harsh realities of ordinary life to explore the impact of solitude, sorrow, hope, and longing on how we see and believe in the world." I don't think that blurb does this justice. This is short, but it was quite engaging. I liked how it hung together, and even though I didn't 'get' everything, and didn't like some things, overall I considered it a very worthy read.

I loved that the author isn't afraid to make her poetry rhyme. I'm not one of those people who thinks poetry should be "just like in the Hallmark cards' but neither do I think rhyming poetry is a dirty word. Or more to the point, a set of dirty words! I think poetry needs to have rhythm, meaning, and yes, rhyme, but you can rhyme with meaning and sentiment instead of literally with words. Far too much poetry these days is pretentious prose arbitrarily broken into random clauses. Not with this author, who writes so well that you can feel the emotion coming through those words straight into your heart. That's exactly what poetry should be.

The short stories were quirky and engaging, and in some cases felt like they were unfinished - or were the beginning of something longer, which the author abandoned, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing to get from a story. Some of those were intriguing. Life is unfinished until it's too late; then there's nothing we can do about it! We've left it to others to finish what we started, so my advice is to get it done while you can, and this author brings that and more. I recommend this.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Demagoguery and Democracy by Patricia Roberts-Miller


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Trouble With Ants by Claudia Mills


Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated by Katie Kath, this is evidently part of the "Nora Notebooks" series, but can be read as a standalone. I'm not a huge fan of series, but this one was harmless, and moreover, it placed a heavy emphasis on science, which is a wonderful thing in books for young girls and makes them far from harmless!

Middle-grader Nora gets a new notebook and decides to devote the space to recording observations on her pet ants which she naturally (or unnaturally depending on your perspective!) keeps in an ant farm. Personally speaking, if all ants, wasps, hornets, and Africanized bees became extinct, that would work for me! Nora loves her ants though, and observes them every day. The problem, of course is that the ants die when separated from their queen, but Nora's ambition is to be the youngest girl ever to be published in a science journal, so she presses on with her research.

No one else gets her obsession though, so at school she has to contend with shrieks when she unveils her ant farm during show and tell, and she has to suffer the fake and fawning attention her classmates devote to one girl's addiction to making videos of her cat, dressed in assorted outfits. Making the girls be "girlie-girls" with this shrieking was a mistake, because it perpetuates stereotypes that need to become extinct also!

There is strife and trouble, problems with ants, problems with school; in short, the usual , but Nora maintains an objective view and deals with it all with wry comments and good humor, and everything works out in the end! Despite the stereotyping I mentioned earlier, I thought this story was charming, and I recommend it.


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


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Starbird Murphy and the World Outside by Karen Finneyfrock


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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


Saturday, April 15, 2017

James Bond Hammerhead by Andy Diggle, Luca Casalanguida


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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


Betty Boop by Roger Langridge, Gisèle Lagacé


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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


Rebel Angels by Libba Bray


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Arriving at Ellis Island by Dale Anderson


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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