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

Monday, June 26, 2017

Cutie meets Mr Lizard by Felicia di John, Terence Gaylor


Rating: WORTHY!

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

The first in a planned "Cutie's Big Adventures" series, this story is about a Chihuahua named Cutie, who lives in the desert and is just finding her legs as a little adventurer. She also lives up to her name! In her first trip outdoors, bored with her puppy chow and looking for some excitement, Cutie sneaks down the tree outside the upstairs window. If the cat can do it, why not the dog? No argument from me!

Cutie heads out and meets the lizard family, who seem to enjoy eating ants. As hungry as Cutie is, she isn't that hungry. She returns home and enjoys her puppy chow after all!

I liked this story, and Terence Gaylor's 3D-effect artwork and fun, colorful pictures were cute as a button that's really cute, and has a button nose. The story by Felicia di John is simple and easy to understand for young kids, and teaches a lesson that maybe the grass isn't always greener - especially in the desert! I recommend this one.


Prym and the Senrise by PS Scherck, Sheng-Mei Li


Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a simple story which I was unsure about when I began it, but which I ended up enjoying immensely even though it’s written for a younger audience than I represent. I felt the story was slightly lacking in 'magical' although now I think about it, I have a hard time trying to define what I mean by that, and I'm not going to let vague feelings get in the way of a positive review for a story that well deserves it. The writing was engaging, and Sheng-Mei Li's artwork was a joy - one I would have liked more of.

The characters were delightful, and interesting, even though the story has its roots in established mythology of supernatural and fantasy characters. I had never heard of the Steigens, so this was a fun and new revelation, and I liked how they were represented. They're a sort of underwater fairy people, who live in the deeps and are related to vampires in that they cannot be exposed to sunlight on the surface, or they will suffocate.

This limitation does not please Prym, who has heard tales from her fishy and mollusc-y friends Daeggar and Seffy, that the senrise is the most beautiful thing, full of joy and color. Prym, who loves colors, cannot get the idea of watching a brilliant senrise out of her head, and so she sets about learning how it is she can get to see one.

I loved Prym, who is sensible despite her adventurous streak. She's a strong character who is possessed of self-confidence and derring-do, and she starts her quest in a library, which is admirable. And she succeeds, not by machismo, but by thoughtful approaches and inventive solutions.

There were a couple of minor issues with the text. I read, "...an arrow of pure energy would appear, knocked and ready...." An arrow is 'nocked', not 'knocked'. This is a common error and no big deal; most people probably wouldn’t even notice it. The other issues is more of a pet peeve of mine rather than an outright error because I've seen this done so often it’s actually becoming an accepted part of the language, but to me a book is 'titled' - not 'entitled'. Entitlement is something different entirely. Or is it tirely?!

The book worked both on the smart phone and on a tablet in a Kindle app, although the cover was broken inexplicably into about fifteen pieces on both devices. The rest of the artwork looked fine, especially on the tablet. One odd thing I noticed on both the tablet and the phone was the appearance of strange capital letters such as 'P' and 'H' apparently randomly in the text, such as at location 81, where it read (or red!): P"You know what I said...", at location 159, where I read, "...a skull Pthat looked...", and at location 180, where I read, "Cold hands Phad wrapped...".

There were several instances of this kind of thing. In the iPad they were red letters, on the phone they were the same color as other text (white on black by my choice because it saves the battery!). Part of the problem in my opinion is Amazon's truly crappy Kindle app which cannot handle anything that contains pictures or fancy text with any reliability at all. Barnes & Nobles's Nook does a much better job in my experience.

I don't know where the 'P's and 'H's came from, but the red 'I' at location 6 appears to be a drop-cap from the top of the page. It was missing from the start of the chapter, which began, "n the farthest reaches...' rather than "In the farthest reaches...". The 'I' which should have been up there was several lines below, between "In the beginning," and "there was only one magic creature". Weird, but that's Kindle for you. This is why I detest Amazon. The book was viewed on an iPad in the Kindle app and on an LG smart phone in the Kindle app.

But hopefully these issues will be fixed before publication. Or you can play it safe and buy the print version! I checked this out in the PDF version in Adobe Digital editions on my desktop computer and it looked beautiful there. The text looked (I imagine!) exactly as the author imagined it, and the images in particular were gorgeous, especially the one of Prym watching the sunrise. That needs to be a screensaver or a wallpaper!

In conclusion, I recommend this book for a fun read for younger children. It's great fantasy tale, well told, and even adults can enjoy it, especially if they're young at heart.


The Adventure of Thomas the Turtle by Stuart Samuel


Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a fun trip - literally - although Thomas, heedless of the good advice he was given, probably didn't think so as he was swept from the placid waters of his boringly calm pond, down the creek and over a waterfall. Can he get back home? Don't you just hate book blurbs that ask questions with the obvious answer "Yes"?! Fortunately this one had no such dumb blurb because it wasn't a dumb story. Although I have to say that the 'turtles' here looked far more like tortoises to me! But who cares? Maybe tortoises are just turtles with a dry sense of humor....

Thomas's father disappeared a long time ago when he went down the dangerous end of the pond. Thomas of course cannot resist following his lead, and he has a slightly scary adventure tumbling downstream. Just when he thinks he might never get home, fortune, as they say, favors the brave. He gets a piece for good luck and doesn't have to...shell out for a bus ride back home!

The book worked equally well on a smart phone as it did on a tablet (both in a Kindle app which is frankly not the best way to look at picture books). But if you're caught without the tablet, you can get by with the phone, which is always nice, although the pictures aren't shown at their best on the smaller screen, and the phone doesn't allow enlargement of the pictures for a closer look, whereas the tablet does.

The story was amusing, and a bit scary, and engaging. The artwork was adorable. I'm not an artist. In fact I'm about as far from one as you can get without going all the way around the other side and backing into it by mistake, but this was at least reminiscent of watercolor and oddly maybe mixed with crayon, and it looked really great. I recommend this book for young children who like adventure - and who doesn't as long as you can be safe at home reading about it?!


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Uninvited Ghosts by Penelope Lively


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a very, short story from a collection titled Uninvited Ghosts and Other Stories. It's playful and sweet, and slightly tongue-in-cheek.

Marian and Simon Brown have moved into a new house with their parents, and the family is so worn out they all troop off to bed, which is when the first ghost arrives from out of the chest of drawers. The children order it to leave, but it argues that it's lived there longer than they and so has precedence! The next night, there are two ghosts and the third night, three ghosts along with a ghost dog which has ghost fleas and scares the cat!

The ghosts won't leave. The children get a chance to visit with their well off Uncle who has a beautiful home and a nice TV, and they lure the ghosts into taking a trip with them but the ghosts won't stay. They prefer to be around children, and that wouldn't be so bad if they didn't appear out of nowhere and try to help with homework, or sit on top pf the TV, dangling their legs in front of it, or if one of them didn't suck peppermints and leave the smell lingering so their parents thought the children were sneaking candy into bed!

Fortunately the whole thing is resolved as the ghosts fall in love with a neighbor's noisy newborns, both of which calm down considerably when the ghosts begin paying them attention. eventually, Marian and Simon manage to persuade the ghosts to move a few doors away to the neighbor's house, where the children are pacified and peace and quiet reigns in the Brown house! This story was gorgeous and delightful, and I recommend it.

Penelope Lively has written about thirty children's books and a host of adult novels as well, so no doubt there is much more to mine there.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter? by Heath Fogg Davis


Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

In a seemingly radical, but ultimately common-sense challenge to status quo, this author asks whether it's ever necessary to require someone to have their gender flagged on something like a birth certificate or a driver's license. He examines four areas where a true unisex environment is called for - not just to not use a binary sex-marker, but to dispense with sex-markers altogether. These areas are (from the blurb): "sex-marked identity documents such as birth certificates, driver's licenses and passports; sex-segregated public restrooms; single-sex colleges; and sex-segregated sports." A section of the book is devoted to each of the four topics.

While I support this agenda as a general principle - there are far too many areas where gender is irrelevant, but where it's made into an issue of one kind or another - I'd take some small issue with the way this argument is presented in some areas. I felt it didn't make as good of a case as it ought to have, and I felt it was a somewhat biased case - there wasn't much of a serious effort to look at the opposite side of the argument or to seek out opposing views and present them - and argue against them.

Yes, there were some objections raised and summarily overruled, but it felt more like the author was trying to steamroll his case through in preference to offering a completely calm and rational approach. Not that he was raving or ranting, but it felt a little bit like a high pressure salesperson, and I have little time for those!

One example of this was in the section where the author is talking about how long a person has to live as a woman before they're considered fully a woman. It's more complicated than that, and you'd have to read the book to get the full scoop on the issues and arguments, but for my purposes, this fell into the gripe I made about too little use of studies to back arguments and more reliance on personal opinion and anecdote than was healthy to make a solid case.

The author says, "...does it matter that some transgender women will have been socialized as boys and/or men for certain periods of their lives?" The problem with this is the inherent assumption it carries that they have indeed been fully socialized as their biological gender as opposed to their desired or self-identified gender.

I could see my argument being irrelevant if a need for a gender-switch was triggered from a head injury or by a sudden whim or need for attention, but this is flatly not the case. One thing I learned early in my reading about transgender people is that they had lived all their life feeling like they were the gender they eventually (hopefully!) were able to migrate to. So why would they honestly be socialized as boys/men or as girls/women necessarily?

It felt presumptive and patronizing to leap to the conclusion that they had or likely had. We had no evidence presented to support (or refute) this - it was just out there like it was self-evident, and this felt like the author had fallen into the same trap he was arguing against: if it's always been this way, why should we change?

Of course we haven't always been this way. Binary gender is just a convenient convention we fell into because historically we were too ignorant and blinkered to think it through. Maybe a biological male who has always felt female might be rather less acclimatized to male patterns of behavior and thinking than we should feel comfortable assuming, and so might a female in inverse circumstances. This is what I mean when I talk about making better arguments.

So one issue I had with the book was that it felt like it relied too much on anecdote - some of which was personal - which left some holes where a wider survey or study would have filled the gap. Some studies are quoted, but the inline references in this book are not actually links, which is a problem in this day and age for an ebook. In a print book you can flip through pages to get to end notes. It's a lot harder in an ebook, which is why actual links would have been a big help.

That said, the anecdotes were engrossing, saddening, disturbing, and downright horrifying at times, and this is the main reason people need to read this book, because the hit is still shitting the fan, even after all these years, and it needs to stop now. If getting rid of sex markers is guaranteed to do that, then I'm pretty well on-board! But I have some qualms about the arguments, mainly because of the area the book did not cover, which is medical care.

You can argue all you want about men and women and everyone between and on both sides being treated equally in areas of sports, rest rooms, college admissions, and state and government documents, but being treated in hospital is another issue because the fundamental fact is that men and women are anatomically and biochemically different and sometimes it genuinely matters what gender you are.

Let me give a simple example:- a traffic accident victim is brought into an ER unconscious, and xrays need to be taken. if this is a man, there's usually no problem, because men never get pregnant, but if this is a woman, the doctors need to be sure they're not harming a fetus.

Often, it's easy (or at least seems easy!) to tell what gender the patient, but also often it's not and it's downright foolish to make assumptions, as this author has pointed out often! If the woman is a mtf individual, then short of religious miracles, there's going to be no fetus, but if the doctors do not know, then there's potentially a problem.

I'd argue this is a case where gender does indeed matter and more importantly, knowing the gender matters, and while this is a simple demonstrative example, it's not the only medical instance where the gender (or sex if you like - I don't like to use that term because it's so loaded with baggage) of the patient matters. Men and women react differently to some medications, so knowing the gender of the patient can be vitally important.

Now you can no doubt press arguments against my simplistic example, and maybe against medical treatment and knowing the birth sex of the patient, but that's just the problem: since this critical topic wasn't covered in this book, none of this was ever addressed. Having a sex-marker on the driver's license could be in some cases, the difference between life and death here. So maybe we should not argue to eliminate the sex-marker at least on driver's licenses or state ID cards, but to make it voluntary? It's just a thought.

I don't typically comment on book covers because my blog is about authoring, not fa├žades and lures, but in this case I have to say that this cover was quite a stunner. The ambiguity and charm in it were remarkable! It's a credit to the book and a pity the publisher rarely sees fit to give some credit to the model.

One curious personal comment I found was when the author volunteered, "For example, my birth mother was white and my birth father African American. I identify as either biracial or black" but he never went on to explain why he doesn't ever identify as white. It seems to me he has an equal case for either or both. It's not a big deal to me, but I just found it interesting and curious that someone with one black and one white parent had to be (at least historically), considered black instead of white!

To me, that's just as screwed-up as the gender issues discussed here, but I guess it's none of my business; however, it was one of several times things were tossed into the mix which I found curious. Another was his reference to the 2013 movie Identity Thief. The author cites this as an exemplar of the inadequacy of sex verification as fraud protection.

I thought it was an inappropriate reference in a book that rightly tries to set a more scholarly tone, but the objection here was that, as the author explains, "...the fact that many people have gender-neutral or 'unisex' names, Sandy being just one of many examples." I get that this is irrelevant when credit card fraud is perpetrated over the phone,or the internet, but it does prevent some abuse in person when a woman might try to use a credit card which clearly has a male name on it. It's not foolproof, especially in these days of fast everything, but it does offer some preventive opportunities! The real question to ask is: is it worth the hassle some people might get for the prevention it offers in other cases?

But that's not the reason I thought the example of the movie was a poor one; it's that, in the movie (which I have not seen I have to say), the man whose identity has been stolen, Sandy, seems like a sad sack of an example to offer since he apparently never thought to report his card stolen and thereby avoid all of the issues he was subject to in the movie! Hollywood is not real life and I think it was a mistake to cite what seems to be a rather slapstick comedy movie in support of a serious topic like this.

That said, I recommend this because it needs to be read - it's that simple. It has important issues in it about an ongoing problem that needs to be cut off summarily at the ankles, and it makes some good arguments, especially in sports, which has long been a pet peeve of my own. Some of the sports anecdotes are truly upsetting, as indeed are the anecdotes in other areas. Read them and weep - seriously. I felt like it after reading what some of these people - including the author - have had to endure.


Monday, June 12, 2017

Same Love by Tony Correia


Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Set in Canada, this was a short but sweet story that I fell in love with just from the blurb. The idea is that a young Christian guy, Adam Lethbridge, with religiously strict parents, is suspected of being homosexual - it's true, but the condemnation is based on the flimsiest of evidence - he was seen shopping in the mall with a "known gay"! Clearly this 'raving pooftah' needs to be saved from Hell, so he's promptly dispatched to a Christian summer camp to be 'deprogrammed', aka saved by Baby Jesu, but there he meets another guy, a Korean-Canadian named Paul, who is questioning his own sexuality, and the two fall for each other!

I thought that was hilarious, but the story isn't a romantic comedy by any means. There is humor in it, but it's a story which is told seriously and thoughtfully. I really enjoyed it.

There's nothing explicit in it - nothing more than a kiss and holding hands - so it's a safe read for anyone who is bothered by a lot of overt physical affection. The funniest thing about it was highlighted by controversial comedian Lenny Bruce many years ago: how do you punish homosexuals for breaking the law? Lock 'em up with a bunch of guys! The same thing happens here, and the lack of straight-thinking behind that kind of philosophy boggles the mind.

Of course this seems like it was always worse for men because the white male authorities behind this asinine approach to relationships were not only horrified by, but scared of homosexual men, while they never took homosexual women seriously. As queen Victoria was supposed to have said, "women simply don't do that sport of thing!" That doesn't mean women had it so much easier, by any means. In some ways they had it worse.

I confess I had a bit of a time getting into this at first because the story seemed so full of conversational prose and very little descriptive prose, but after Adam arrived at camp, the reading became very easy and comfortable. He's bunking with three other guys including Paul: a depressed guy named Martin, and a weirdo named Randall. The dynamic between these four was fascinating. Adam also meets Rhonda on the bus up to the mountain retreat. She's being sent to the camp to be have the 'slu't removed from her - and she and Adam bond quickly.

I loved that the author pointed out the hypocrisy and cluelessness in these approaches, although I would have loved it more had there been a complete deconstruction of Biblical teachings, but the thrust of this novel was not in that direction, so that was fine. The point was clearly made that there's a difference - and sometimes a huge one - between what's in the Bible and what people claim is in the Bible. I loved that bit!

Speaking of which, as is often the case in novel for me, one of the more minor characters was the most interesting. Rhonda intrigued me and was the outstanding character. I loved how feisty, confident, and outspoken she was, and would have liked to have read more about her, especially taking the camp religious teachers to task over their poor understanding of the bible, but of course the focus was on Adam and Paul, and his other roommates.

If there was a weak spot, for me it was Randall, who didn't quite ring true at times, but other than that, the story was great, well-written, instructive, and it had a beautiful ending. I recommend this one.


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Beebo Brinker by Ann Bannon


Rating: WORTHY!

In this, the last of the so-called Beebo Brinker Chronicles (and it's a good thing they were not actually called that, otherwise I would never have read them!), the author ends the series by taking us back to the beginning - to when Beebo first arrives in New York City and runs into another of the regulars in the series: Jackson Mann. After a slightly distrustful start, Jack, who is gay, takes Beebo under his wing and even arranges for her to get a job as a "delivery boy".

Beebo begins to come out of her shell, and to accept herself as a lesbian, but she has two dicks to deal with. One of these is the husband of the woman for whose Italian restaurant Beebo delivers, and the other is Mona, a bisexual woman who is independently wealthy and has nothing to do with her time, but to be abusive to people and even outright vindictive when she feels slighted - as she does with Beebo after an unfortunate misunderstanding.

Beebo is just 18, and fled her small farming-community town in Wisconsin after the gossip about her became too much to bear. Her real name isn't Beebo any more than Ann Bannon is the author's real name. Betty Jean "Beebo" Brinker is outstanding in more than one way, not least of which is that she wears her hair closely-cropped, and refuses to be feminine, wearing trousers and taking a very masculine role. She's also tall and muscular.

Jack conducts her around the local gay scene and at first Beebo is mildly disgusted in a lesbian bar, but she cannot get those images of women dancing together out of her head, and she's finally persuaded to accept her true self. After the badly-mismanaged non-relationship with Mona, Pete, the Italian husband, puts her onto Paula, an ex of Mona's.

Paula turns out to be exactly what Beebo wants and needs, but it's not plain sailing because Beebo once again proves as vacillating here as she had in Women in the Shadows - or as she would later be in that volume! Once she's made a pizza delivery to the New York home of a Hollywood star, Beebo cannot get "Venus" out of her head, and when Venus tempts her with an offer of employment on her trip to Hollywood to film a new TV show, Beebo drops everything, including Paula, and takes off like a bitch in heat.

The story was great until this point, but it goes downhill somewhat once Beebo gets to California, with rather unbelievable stories of the press's great interest in Venus's private life. It seemed entirely incredible to me. Yes, the press is shamefully like that now, but it wasn't anywhere near as bad in the late fifties and early sixties.

This doesn't mean there were no scandals and it doesn't mean that no-one's career was ruined, but it felt too much to take seriously, especially since Venus wasn't exactly a premier A-list star, and there was nothing at all to lead the press to believe that anything 'untoward' (as they would deem it), was going on. This is the early sixties, after all, and while the US was (and still is) extraordinarily conservative, this "scandal" seemed too much to believe.

None of the entertainment media had even seen Beebo, much less knew she was a woman, much less knew she was having an affair with Venus. The only thing they had was a rumor from some unknown gossips in New York City (Obviously, Pete and Mona) about an affair. There wasn't anything to get the rumor rolling! It was not credible that this would happen as fast as it did and to the extent that it did.

But it does happen and the upshot is that Beebo comes running home to Paula, who of course accepts her and takes her back! It's all lovey-dovey, but clearly it means nothing given Beebo's later history, so it's really hard to understand what Bannon thought she was doing with this story. It's especially hard to understand, given that this is really exactly the same story that was told in Women in the Shadows, where Jack plays the role of Paula, and Beebo becomes both Mona, and Venus! That said, however, the early part of the story was told well and with great feeling if a little over the top here and there, so I recommend it as of historical interest.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Women in the Shadows by Ann Bannon


Rating: WORTHY!

Funny - I thought The Shadows was an all-male band! (That's a Brit joke). Frankly this novel came close to being a warty read, but in the end, it saved itself and I consider, while the main character is not likeable - not to me anyway - her story is worth reading, if only from an historical perspective.

I'd also like to note that while these stories have been praised for their realism, this realism extends only so far. Sexual promiscuity, whether hetero- or homo-, carries with it potential health costs, which were just as much of a problem in the sixties (even though AIDs had not reared its ugly head yet) as they have been in every other decade. This novel, though, is very much a summer of love novel (lots of sex and zero consequences), even though the summer of love was a long way in the future when these were written.

So for me, the strength of the novel was not in the realism per se, but in the graphic depiction of relationship problems as being precisely the same for the queer population as they are for everyone else. I think this was Bannon's real strength, showing that gays and lesbians (and everyone in between) are no different from anyone else, and this was in an era where they were widely (and legally) considered deviants and predators by the population at large.

Worse than this, and something these novels also show, is that anyone else doesn't have to deal with also being shamed and made into pariahs for who they love. This is a grotesque fear which has not been dispensed with even now, as we approach the diamond jubilee of these novels. That's the saddest thing about all of this.

There is one more thing: in an era where appallingly misnamed 'honor' killings are still the things which need to be killed-off, but which, instead of dying out as they must, are threatening to spread along with all those who are immature, insecure, and clueless enough to consider women to be property at best and inconveniences at worst, this novel unashamedly shows an interracial relationship exactly as it ought to be shown: where it's about the relationship, and not the skin color of those who are involved in the relationship.

In celebration of Gay Pride Month (which may be June or July - no one seems to agree on it!), I'm reviewing several LGBTQIA novels, of which this is one of three Ann Bannon books I got from my local - and very excellent! - library. Excellent as they are, though, they did not have the first three of her hexalogy, only three of the last four: Women in the Shadows, Journey to a Woman, and Beebo Brinker. The other books are Odd Girl Out, I Am a Woman, and The Marriage.

Ann Weldy, who wrote as Ann Bannon, completed the so-called 'Beebo Brinker Chronicles' in the late fifties and early sixties as a means of giving vent to lesbian feelings which she felt constrained from letting loose in any other way. Like this way wasn't brave enough?! Good god! She was married to a guy who didn't approve of these 'sordid little tales', and yet she went ahead and did it anyway and the novels were very well received for their realism in a world of sadly cheap 'pulp' sex novels. She had no idea of how influential these books had been until twenty years later when she separated from a husband with whom she had had two children in a marriage that must otherwise have been barely endurable for her.

Laura first appeared as a student in the very first book, where she was involved in a lesbian relationship with another student - mirroring a somewhat similar but unrequited relationship Ann knew of in real life. In this book, Laura is coming to the end of a two year-long relationship with Betty Jean "Beebo" Brinker - a classical butch lesbian. The relationship is diseased and co-dependent, and it's highly destructive, but Laura doesn't seem to have the strength to get out of it, and Beebo doesn't want to get out of it. She claims to love Laura, but in reality, she's a jealous, manipulative, rather psychotic alcoholic, who will do almost literally anything to hold on to Laura.

Laura goes from one bad relationship to another because she doesn't seem capable of recognizing it when she gets a good one. She starts an affair with a woman who calls herself Tris, but who uses Laura just as cruelly as Beebo does. Eventually, and feeling rejected by Tris and fearful of Beebo, Laura agrees to marry Jack, who is gay, but who is tired of "chasing boys" as the author unfortunately describes it. No, he's not a pedophile, but he calls young men boys and he's sworn off them.

In many ways, Jack and Laura are mirror images. He's had it just as bad as she has. He's also an alcoholic, but in order to get over being dumped by Terry, his young stud of a lover, he proposes to Laura who eventually feels weak enough to accept it, and they marry and move in together, and Jack quits the booze. Theirs is a loving but asexual relationship since neither finds the other sexually attractive, although they are quite affectionate.

Laura becomes pregnant through artificial insemination with sperm from Jack, who is a sweet guy when he's not bemoaning Terry or getting drunk. Actually he's even sweet when he's drunk, but can Laura see what a good thing she has going? Not really. The problem is that Terry isn't done with Jack and Laura isn't done with Beebo, so things get bad for a while, but the ending turns it around enough for me to rate this a worthy read despite Laura's pathetic, limp rag character. It does tell an interesting story although some readers might be put off by the rather twisted actions, particularly those engineered by Beebo, during some of it.


Friday, June 9, 2017

Things I Should Have Known by Claire Lazebnik


Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was an awesome book by an author with a mouth-twisting last name - which happens to be the Arabic word (zebnik) for zebra as far as I know (but that's only as far as I know)! It's also a book where things could have gone sadly and badly wrong, but the author picked her way carefully through this maze and the result was amaze! For me she put a foot wrong on only a couple of occasions, missteps which I was happy to let slide because the rest of the novel was totally awesome.

Having read so many (far too many, in fact) YA novels which have timidly, like a lamb, followed the rest of the herd along the path most traveled (usually into bland oblivion or itchy annoyance), I live for novels like this, which strike out on their own path, tell their own story, and make it real.

The differences are clear from the start. Contrary to far too many YA novels, instead of starting out as the outcast and the underdog, Chloe Mitchell is a popular girl who is well-liked and dating the school's hottest guy (so she says), so that's a welcome reversal of the usual YA trope right there. In another departure, Chloe's sister, Ivy, is autistic, quite highly functioning, but nonetheless decidedly on the spectrum. What Chloe doesn't know to begin with though, is that the guy she most detests in school, David, also has an autistic sibling, Ethan, and he attends the same school Ivy does.

Chloe is truly torn between wanting to have a life for herself, and feeling responsible for Ivy, and facilitating her having a life, and she manages it well despite feeling put-upon and abused at times. It comes to pass that when Ivy expresses some interest in Ethan, Chloe decides maybe the two could date. Despite being four years younger than her sister, Chloe is very much the older sibling in this relationship, and she nudges Ivy along and arranges for them to meet at a yogurt shop downtown.

When she and Ivy show up, there is Ethan, and with him most unexpectedly, is David. Chloe is confused and annoyed at his presence until she discovers David is Ethan's brother, and has the same relationship with him that Chloe does with Ivy. Suddenly she not only has something in common with the guy she detests, but it's also something of vital importance.

A lesser author might have left it at that, but this author doesn't. She keeps on ramping it up. Ivy, while enjoying, in her own way, her visits with Ethan. has much more interest in a girl at her school named Diana, and rather belatedly, Chloe realizes her sister is gay.

Here was the first misstep in the writing, for me, which is that Chloe then refocuses on finding Ivy a "young, gay woman with autism" which is wrong-headed. Ivy's partner needs to be someone who can be with Ivy and appreciate her for who she is. The partner is required to be neither 'young' nor autistic herself!

Chloe makes a lot of mistakes and typically learns from them, but she never seemed to learn from this one. That she was so wrong about Ivy's sexuality ought to have taught her that she should be more cautious in who she tried to "line up" for her sister in future.

Of course it's obvious what was going to happen, because this novel still has the trope of the girl falling for the guy she initially hates, but here's it's done sensitively and not at all like a Meg Ryan romantic comedy, which was very much appreciated.

The relationship between David and Chloe grows naturally and organically, and there's no miraculous transformation. The relationship is troubled and thorny, because David is, but it's easy to see how the two of them are learning to accommodate to each other's ofttimes uncomfortable shape and demeanor as they grow to know each other. That kind of maturity in a relationship is rare in YA novels which are all-too-often puke-inducing, instadore-laden disasters.

This brings me to the second misstep, which is that David, at one point, is described by Chloe as having yellow flecks in his eyes. This is the biggest, most annoying cliche in all of YA-dom. Usually it's gold flecks, but yellow is hardly any better. I despair of YA writers who employ this because I have read it so often it's nauseating, and it smacks of a complete lack of imagination and inventiveness on the part of the YA author.

In the unintentional humor department, I have to quote the opening few words from chapter six which are: "A little before seven" which I thought was hilarious because chapter six is indeed a little before seven. But that's just my truly, hopelessly warped mind. In the intentional humor department, of which there were many sly instances, this line was a standout: "The indoor tables are all occupied by unshaven guys writing movie dialogue on their MacBook Airs, so we sit outside." The novel takes place in LA, so this was perfect and made me LOL.

My two minor gripes aside, I truly loved this novel and I fully recommend it. It was a welcome breath of life in a YA world which has become glutted with the rotting corpses of an endless parade of YA clone novels marching lock-step towards oblivion. The formatting of the ebook needs some work, but I assume that will be taken care of before it's released. In case it isn't, this needs to be fixed: "wish she could stay in in high school forever." (An 'in' too many!). But other than that, this book was about as near to perfect as you can humanly get it.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a full-cast audio production of a graphic novel I reviewed positively back in February. Noelle Stevenson is of Lumberjanes fame - a graphic novel I did not like at all. Nimona is altogether different, but I'm not going into any detail here since you can read that in my previous review. here's I'll just comment on the differences between it and the audio.

I wanted to listen to this because it struck me as odd that there should be an audio version of a novel written in a format that is known primarily for appealing to the visual! At first, I was annoyed. This audiobook succumbs to one of my pet peeves about audiobooks, which is that there is music. There are also sound effects. After a while I learned to tolerate all of this, but I was never completely happy with it. Full-cast is listed on the audio itself, but not on the cover, which mentions only three people: Rebecca Soler, Jonathan Davis, and Marc Thompson. They did do a good job, though, once I had got used to the voices.

Soler - who could actually play Nimona very effectively if the story ever got made into a movie - truly gets into her character and does a great job, and the other two, one of whom, I assume, does Ballister Blackheart, and the other Ambrosius Goldenloin, deliver beautifully. I recommend this version - it's very short, of course, but if you want some delicious villainy and intrigue delivered direct to your ear, then this is a great way to get it.


Ellen's Broom by Kelly Starling Lyons, Daniel Minter


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a story of marriage and slavery, and emancipation and tradition, which was nicely illustrated by means of block-printing by Daniel Minter. Before slaves had any freedom, they could marry by means of "jumping the broom" together. After emancipation, they were able to legally marry and feel finally free from having their family torn-apart if a slave owner decided to separate a couple form their children or from each other.

it's vitally important we never forget how evil we have been in the past because the surest way to descend into that criminal behavior again is to forget it. This book is a sweet and non-preachy way for younger children to learn of the way we were, and must never be again.


Hattie & Hudson by Chris van Dusen


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a charming, fun, and colorful children's story, with beautiful images, and it's all about inclusivity. Hattie likes to go out on the lake enjoying nature, and one day she meets Hudson, who is what's typically described as a monster - a huge, aquatic creature reminiscent of something from the dinosaur era - but he's not dumb and he's very gentle. Hattie starts forming a friendship with him, but inevitably, other people find out and suddenly there's a panicked mob. Hattie doesn't know what to do. No one will listen to her protests on Hudson's behalf, but she comes up with a cunning plan with Hudson's help, and with some very neatly orchestrated choreography, the two of them manage to win over the town.

This is a great little story about how love and friendship can overcome fear, and I recommend it.


Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey by Nick Bertozzi


Rating: WORTHY!

While I enjoyed this graphic novel and consider it well-done, and a worthy read, I have to object to the blurb extolling Ernest Shackleton as "one of the last great Antarctic explorers." He really explored nothing. His only goal was to strive for the pole, at attempt at which he failed. Thereafter, he went back with the intention of crossing the continent via the pole, yet this expedition was a complete disaster, and even bigger failure than his attempt to reach the pole. Never once did he consider the smart move of turning back and perhaps trying later. If none of his expeditions had ever taken place, how would the world be one iota worse off? it would not. The guy was a self-centered moron.

He was an insensitive clown who wasted his life in money-losing pursuits, and then in ridiculous 'exploratory' pursuits, essentially abandoning his wife and three children for years on end. Who took care of them? Emily barely gets a mention in Wikipedia, but Shackleton's blind blundering on Antarctica is detailed endlessly! What did he achieve? He didn't discover the pole - it was already known to be there!

There was nothing there when he got there, not even a pole! Not that he ever did get there. There were no new medicines came out of this. No great survival or sailing techniques. No life-altering discoveries. No educational material. There wasn't even any exploring - just a desperate drive to get to one place after another, all of which failed. He achieved literally nothing, and contributed nothing to the advancement of humankind. And for being benighted, he was knighted?

That's nothing to do with this graphic novel which only tells his story, and does it well as it happens, but all this does so well is to highlight what a thoughtless and ill-prepared fool Shackleton was! I found it amusing, and truly, very sad. But it does make for an entertaining read.


Sunday, June 4, 2017

Mighty Alice Goes Round and Round by Richard Thompson


Rating: WORTHY!

This book had the feel of a compendium of daily and Sunday newspaper cartoons, but it apparently isn't. It is a collection, loosely linked, of cartoon stories of Alice, the four-year-old feisty daughter of the Otterloop family, consisting of mom, dad, and her older brother Petey.

In the same way that Calvin and Hobbes was written more for grown-ups than ever it was for children, this is too, because the language skills and mental processes of the four-year-old crowd Alice hangs with are completely unrealistic, but they are amusing, while the mostly line-drawing artwork (some is in full color) is very rudimentary - very much cartoon style.

In some ways I can see that books like this are pretty pointless because they count completely on you buying into the standard lifestyle of your standard, white, well-to-do, American family, as though the fifties was not a by-gone era. In other ways, taking a look at things from a different perspective is never a bad thing - unless that perspective comes by way of falling off a bridge or high building or something painful like that!

So while I found this amusing, I got the book on clearance. I would never have paid ten dollars for a book like this. I do consider it a worthy read, but I also consider it worthy of borrowing rather than buying unless you can get a discounted copy as I did, or a cheaper electronic version. Good luck with that last option, since the e-version is only about a dollar cheaper than the print version. How that works is that the print version comes from China. You'll have to make up your own mind about whether you want to send your money there.


Friday, June 2, 2017

I Hate Reading by Beth Bacon, Johanna Hantel


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a subversive book designed to encourage children to read by telling them how to get out of reading, or to make it look like they're reading when they're really not. Of course, to learn all these tips and tricks, the kid has to read the book!

The book is bright and colorful (imagery by Johanna Hantel), but there are no illustrations in it; just a lot of words, but not too many. The words are funny too, and the ideas are amusing, so it would seem to me that this book will admirably serve its purpose, and I recommend it.

You can get a really good look at the interior here: http://www.hqtrs.co/i-hate-reading. It's more of a look than I'd feel comfortable giving to anyone about a book of mine (that was this short), but it's there if you want to take a look! or at least it was when I first published this.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Crazy, Wonderful Science by Mary Lee


Rating: WORTHY!

I've had some good success with Mary Lee's children's books. I've not been a fan of all of her books that I've read, but certainly most of them, and this is another winner, not least of which because in a world where women are far too often taught - by everything around them - that shallow beauty is all important, and without it, you're nothing (yes, YA authors, male authors, romance authors, etc, I'm looking at you) this book has the guts to put young girls and science together.

It's a book in the Mia series, and this time Mia is interested in what she can do for her science project. She has several options, and if you read to the end, you can discover two of these which your own daughter (or even son!) can do for herself. Mia makes her own choice as your child can make theirs. The book was fun, easy reading, well-written, and very colorful. I recommend it.


The Sisters Chase by Sarah Healy


Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this is based on an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a charming story from start to finish, keeping my interest and proving to be a very fast read with a sudden ending that took me by surprise, since I hadn't realized I was so close to the end of the novel. This is the price of an ebook: you get no tactile feel for the dwindling pages! But it definitely took my breath away in more than one way.

If I had any real complaint, it was about the flashbacks. Other readers may appreciate these, but I am no more a fan of flashbacks than I am of prologues. Maybe some writers think they're cool, or edgy, or 'the thing to do', but for me flashbacks bring the story to screeching halt when all I want to do is keep abreast of what's happening now, not what took place a decade before. To me they're irritating at best, and antagonizing at worst. I rather quickly took to skipping over these and they did not - as far as I can tell - reduce my enjoyment or understanding of the story one iota. So I rest my case!

Seriously, for me the story would have been better served had the flashbacks been incorporated into a 'part one', or better yet, as long as you want to put in some remembrances of things past as it were, I'd rather read them in-line with the story as an occasional thought here and there, and I know this author is quite capable of that, because she writes beautifully. I look forward to her next opus with anticipation!

The other issue is relatively minor, and relates to this being an ARC, and not yet quite ready for prime time. The formatting in the Kindle app on my phone was a bit ragged here and there, with a line ending mid-screen and being continued on the line below, or a paragraph offset from the body of text when it was not supposed to be.

There was also the occasional wrong word in the wrong place, which no spell-checker will catch, such as "the thrown secure" when it should be presumably, 'the throne secure', and "Where'd you here that?" when it should clearly have been 'Where'd you hear that'. The price of auto-correct! If you're a writer, turn the damned thing off!

But let's talk about the joy of this novel, because this is far more important than anything else. As I indicated, it was passionately and beautifully written, evocative as hell, and it told a truly realistic and gripping story of two half-sisters, aptly named Chase, since the whole time we're reading this, they're chasing something. Unfortunately it's not the same thing they're chasing, but this only becomes apparent as they mature.

The story flows wonderfully. The girls age about a decade as the book follows its course, and the author does this so well that you do not notice any gaps - not as gaps anyway! Major Kudos for that. Mary is a decade older than her stepsister, and the odd thing is that both girls' parentage is hazy. They know for sure who their mom is, but dad is a less well-defined concept. The thing is though, that Mary, after an initial ambivalence, becomes fiercely devoted to Hannah, whom she calls 'Bunny' due to an event we learn nothing of until the very end of the story. Hannah never seems to resent this name even when she's in her teens.

It's a name that's also evocative of a life running from one place to another, just as Mary's nickname, 'Mare', is evocative of 'nightmare', which is what her life feels like at times, as she struggles to keep the two of them together, ahead of trouble and creditors, and fed and clothed. Initially Bunny goes along with Mary's travel plans because Mary is very skilled at what she does - not only at lifting a few dollars here and there from the wallets of guests at the hotels she finds work in, but also in spinning a fairy-tale of two princess struggling to avoid evil, which Hannah eats up as a child.

Just when Mary thinks she's found her prince charming, her past rises-up to set the sisters chasing again along the highways of the US, trying to get away from their nemesis and keep it together. It's only as Hannah begins to mature herself, that it becomes clear to the reader that these girls are as different as their fathers were, each having their own conflicting goals. You'll discover the power of this novel for yourself, and I promise you'll be upset, but not disappointed. I recommend this unreservedly.


Monday, May 29, 2017

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins


Rating: WORTHY!

In this closing volume of the trilogy, Katniss is prevailed upon to be the propaganda queen of the rebellion, which irks her. The by now rather bloodthirsty Katniss wants to fight, but she agrees to be a figurehead on condition that all the surviving Hunger Games victors are granted immunity and she herself is granted the sole right to kill President Snow.

She's relegated to the task of being a pretty face in films, but what she did not count on is Peeta appearing as the propaganda king for President Snow, even though it's obvious he has been brainwashed. He compatriots realize that this burden of what has happened to Peeta is hampering her effectiveness, so they organize a rescue upon which she is not allowed to go. The rescue is successful, but the brainwashing is deeper than anyone imagined. Peeta really does believe the propaganda he was spewing, and he tries to kill Katniss when they meet. This part was included as the finale to the second volume in the movie series.

They set Peeta on a long, slow, painful road to recovery, and in time, he becomes well enough to join them in the fight against the capital. Eventually, Katniss also takes up a weapon and begins to fight, becoming one of the important assault teams on the capital after a propaganda shoot in what was supposed to be a safe part of the capital goes completely south.

They set themselves the mission of hunting down and killing the president. Katniss's team is heavily mauled, losing soldier after soldier. Katniss becomes separated and finds herself on her own as she closes in on the president's residence, which is now housing children in the hope that it will prevent the rebels from bombing it. She espies a hover plane with capital markings dropping supplies to the children, but the parachutes explode, killing scores of them, including Katniss's young sister Prim.

This is more than Katniss's over-stressed and weakening psyche can take. The victorious President Coin, of the rebel army, orders a Hunger games using the capital's children. While waiting to take up her role of executioner in the public display of President Snow's capital punishment, Katniss encounters Snow by accident awaiting her killing him. He informs her that he did not order the parachute bombing of the children. He reminds her that he and she agreed some time ago never to lie to one another, and his explanation that if he'd had access to a hover plane he would have used it to escape (but we’re never told to where!), and that he had no reason to assassinate children and turn everyone against him rings true to Katniss. Snow indicates that the bombing was Coin's idea.

Katniss remembers that her longtime friend Gale had once arranged a trap which is disturbingly reminiscent of the attack on the children but when she confronts him, he denies responsibility. At the execution, Katniss spares Snow and shoots her arrow into Coin, instead, killing her. There is chaos after this, during which Snow himself is killed. Katniss is tried for the murder of president Coin but is acquitted by reason of insanity and is sent home to district 12 where she eventually takes up residence with Peeta, not too far away from Abernathy's home. The three of them write a book honoring the combatants in the Hunger games and the ensuing war.

As time passes and the raw edges ease, Katniss and Peeta have children and life assumes a vague semblance of normality, but Katniss dreads the day when she will have to tell her children the truth about what she did in the games and in the war.


Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins


Rating: WORTHY!

After their victory in the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta are sent on a 'victory tour' which is nothing but propaganda. Before they depart, President Snow himself visits Katniss for a threatening heart-to-heart. Snow is concerned that her actions in the games have inspired the districts to rebel, and it is now all on her to quell that rebellion by her behavior on the tour. Unfortunately for Snow, the first stop on their tour is District 11, the same district from which young Rue hailed, and to which Katniss sent a signal of solidarity upon Rue's death, a fate which she both witnessed and avenged.

After Katniss's speech, the crowd responds, starting with someone whistling the mockingjay riff, and everyone salutes Katniss. After the tour, they visit the capital and are again featured on Caesar Flickerman's show, where Peeta publically proposes to Katniss on air in an attempt to placate President Snow. But none of this prevents unrest in the districts which become more and more agitated, bordering on open rebellion.

Back in District 12, glad to be home and out of the limelight, Katniss takes time to herself in the woods around her home and encounters two people who are fleeing the authorities from District 8. They tell her that they believe that District 13 was not wiped out, and that people still live there - indeed, that it’s a clandestine sanctuary from the influence of the capital.

The next bombshell to drop is that the 75th Hunger games is a Quarter Quell - where something special happens: on this occasion, the contestants will not be selected by lottery, but will be the winners from all of the previous Hunger games. This means, of course, that both Katniss and Peeta will be competing for the second successive year! Katniss determines that she will do whatever it takes to insure that Peeta wins. Peeta determines that he will do whatever it takes to insure that Katniss wins.

The competition is set in a jungle environment this time, not in a forest, and it has been much more manipulated than it was previous year, and much more dangerous. As the games begins, Katniss and Peeta find themselves in an uneasy alliance with another victor, Finnick, and with his aging mentor, Mags. Mags dies, but their party is bolstered with the addition of Johanna, one of those competitors who was especially trained for the games by her district. They also link up with an old couple from District 3 Beetee and Wiress. The latter soon informs them that the arena is a circular, like a clock, and it's divided into sectors, each of which is triggered in succession once every hour, to provide obstacles and dangerous events for them to overcome.

These events soon rob them of Wiress, and Beetee reveals that the electrical discharges they've been experiencing can be harnessed and employed to destroy the encompassing fence, allowing them to escape the arena. Beetee fails to accomplish this, but Katniss manages it, although she's knocked out by the discharge, and she wakes to find herself being flown to freedom in District 13 along with Finnick and Abernathy. Peeta and Johanna were captured, she learns. Later, her friend gale joins her to let her know that he got her family out, but district 12 was bombed into ruins by the capital in retaliation for Katniss's continued flouting of the capital's rules.


The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins


Rating: WORTHY!

I'm in process of moving titles from my 'Novel series' page, which will be retired eventually, to the regular blog page. Here's another trilogy. I'm not normally a fan of YA trilogies, but this one was one of the rare and delightful exceptions I've encountered.

This novel - indeed this entire phenomenon - really needs no introduction, since it's been so immensely successful. The only reason I have it here is that I wanted my own review where I can reference it and know it's here and know what it contains!

Thirteen colonies surround the nation's capital in the country of Panem (read: USA). At some point in the past there was a disaster of some sort, which remains unexplained and somehow these colonies (harking back to the original 13 US colonies) were the result of it. At a point after that, some three-quarters of a century ago, the colonies rebelled against the capital, and were brutally put down, one of them (District 13) being destroyed completely, so we're told.

As a punishment for this rebellion, every year since that war, each district has been required to send two young people between the ages of 12 and 18, as a 'tribute' to the capital, where they compete against each other in a vicious survival game, the last one remaining alive being declared victor and being showered with fame and honors, except of course the 'honor' of remaining in the capital where citizens are spoiled rotten, leading lives of frivolity, extravagance, and hedonism.

If you really look at it, none of this makes any real sense, but if you’re willing to put that behind you then the story gets better! The only thing you can really blame this for is that it lamentably spawned a shit-ton of clones, none of which have ever come close to the standing this one has, and some of which (Veronica Roth I'm looking at you) are closer to a joke than to an intelligent and thoughtful adventure.

Our interest in this story begins in District 12, a coal mining district, where Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old girl who illegally hunts for food with a bow (why is it illegal?), and lives in squalor, poverty and endless hunger with her mother and younger sister Primrose. Her father died in a mining explosion. She often hunts with her close friend Gale, a slightly older guy. This year is the 74th Hunger Games, and each young person is required to put their name in either the boy box or the girl box, so that one of each gender will be selected. At least it’s an equal opportunity system, right? No glass ceilings here!

Candidates can put in extra copies of their name; this garners extra food for their family, but also a greater chance of being selected. A representative from the capital arrives to draw the names, and Katniss is horrified when Primrose's name is pulled out. Katniss, knowing that Prim wouldn’t survive the first five minutes of the contest quickly volunteers in place of her sister. She expects to die, and before she leaves, she begs Gale to take care of her mom and Prim. Given how close Gale and Katniss are supposed to be, and given that Gale has been putting his name into the draw extra times, you would think that he'd immediately volunteer to be her partner, but he does not. I found this rather revealing about what would happen later.

However, we also learn that Peeta Mellark, a baker's son, who tossed some bread to a starving Katniss some time before, is all but in love with her, yet he doesn't volunteer either; however, he does get picked as the male candidate, which is an amazing coincidence. Given the potential result of the games that year, it’s also amazing that there never has been a year when all candidates died!

After an all-too-brief goodbye, Katniss and Peeta are forced to board the express train to the capital. Before then, Katniss rails on her mother, who went into shock when her husband died, forcing mothering duties onto Katniss. Now her daughter gets in her face and yells at her, ordering her not to tune out if Katniss dies, because Prim needs her. On the train, the tributes meet Haymitch Abernathy, the victor of the 50th Hunger Games, who is now a professional layabout and a drunk, but he's supposed to be their coach! Katniss is still in a state of shock, but Peeta seems to be 'getting it' and playing the part of a candidate, trying to ingratiate himself with Abernathy and then with the capital populace.

They arrive in the city, overwhelmed by it all. They have a 'style' team assigned individually to each of them, and Katniss bonds quite closely with her team. Her style coach is Cinna who takes her under his wing and tries a very daring approach to their appearance at the opening night - a public exhibition of the twelve teams, viewed by a massive audience, not only in the capital, but also in the districts via public TV screens set up especially for the event.

On a show devoted to the games, each candidate is interviewed by popular TV personality Caesar Flickerman. This is their one big chance to win over the public in the hope of garnering sponsors who can help them during the games by sending in helpful gifts to aid their chosen tribute. These gifts can be food, medicine, or anything else the tribute might need to help them survive and win. The gifts are sent floating down to the tribute on a parachute. Katniss has a hard time adapting to this showmanship, but when Peeta is interviewed, last of all the tributes, he confesses his love for Katniss, and this immediately sets them apart and makes them memorable and popular, as "star-crossed" (and yes that is so overused in novels these days it's nauseating) tragic lovers, one of whom must die, although Katniss thinks he simply said it as a ploy to win sponsors.

Eventually, the games begin. The twelve candidates are arrayed around a giant cornucopia containing supplies and weapons to help the tributes in their respective killing sprees Abernathy has advised Katniss and Peeta to get away from the initial carnage - to not even try to grab anything, but to flee from it and hide. He advised Katniss to play to her strengths, living off the land, staying out of the way as the other tributes whittle each other down. The slaughter is horrific, with almost fifty percent of the tributes dying right there at the start.

Katniss follows Abernathy's advice, but she manages to snag a backpack with some useful things in it, and she gets away and hides out in trees. She uses her hunting skills, and desperately tries to find water to slake her terrible thirst in the hot and dry forest in those first few days. After a day or two, she runs into Rue, a diminutive tribute from District 11, who reminds Katniss of Prim. She takes Rue under her wing, forming an alliance, which would seem to be of benefit only to Rue, yet Katniss learns some useful things from her little partner.

She's disturbed to find that Peeta appears to have formed his own alliance, with a group of tributes from the richer districts, which can afford to specially train their best people for the games, and whose tributes frequently win. But Peeta is playing on Katniss's team, and he gives Katniss and desperately needed break when he actually does have a chance to kill her.

To Katniss's horror, despair, and anger, her little friend Rue is killed with a spear, a death for which Katniss immediately exacts revenge with a knee-jerk loosing of an arrow at Rue's attacker. Things really start to get out of hand as Katniss sings an old nursery rhyme to Rue as she dies, before collecting flowers, and placing them on her chest, laying Rue's hands gently over them. She raises her hand in a signal of respect to District 11, and this signal becomes a rallying call.

As Katniss is beginning to fall into despair over Rue's death, an announcement comes over the speakers which are all over the artificial games arena: there has been a change of rules which now permits any two tributes from the same district to win as a pair. This fires Katniss up to seek out Peeta, and she eventually discovers him badly wounded, and hiding beneath one of his amazingly-painted disguises.

Katniss nurses him back to health, playing the part a girl in love to curry favor with sponsors, and it works. Peeta recovers and they manage to kill the last tribute, remaining as the sole two game winners, but the organizers cruelly change the rule again, trying to force the two of them to battle it out to the bitter end. Katniss rebels against this and she and Peeta agree to swallow the poisonous berries, but the organizers chicken out at this, not daring to have a game with no winner. Katniss and Peeta are declared to be the first joint winners of the games.

Abernathy warns Katniss that she has now painted a target on her back by defying the game organizers in front of the entire Hunger Games audience. So the author achieved a satisfying ending to the first volume, without leaving an unnatural cliff-hanger, and without making the first volume nothing more than a prologue. YA authors could learn a lot from Suzanne_Collins, but she's also now in the unenviable 'Rowling' position of having reached her peak with her first real effort, and seemingly having nowhere to go, but downhill from here! You can't win in this game, can you?!