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

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa by Erica Silverman


Rating: WORTHY!

Read in fine style by Liz Morton, this was a charming book for very young kids about Kate and her fine steed Cocoa. They live on a ranch and there are always things to do on the ranch. I was slightly perturbed by the fact that, on the one hand the ranch was "naturally" run by a guy, but on the other hand, it was a girl, Kate, who was doing a bunch of the chores. Is that genderist? Make of it what you will!

Other than that, it was read at a pedantic pace for grown-ups, but at a good pace for children. There were two disks: one being the story and the other being the story augmented with a little 'ding' each time you should turn a page - obviously meant to be listened to in conjunction with with the print book so the child can follow along. Presumably the print book is illustrated, too, as a further aid. This is a great book for kids learning to read.

I liked Kate and loved Cocoa and I recommend this as a fun read for kids.


Sunday, January 14, 2018

That Thing We Call a Heart by Sheba Karim


Rating: WORTHY!

This is ostensibly a high-school romance story, but it offered so much more than that. It begins during Shabnam Qureshi's last week of high-school and extends into her last summer before college starts. She is nominally a Muslim, but that speaks more to her heritage than her practice, because she really doesn't practice her faith. The story is more about cultural and religious clashes and about how foolish a first love can be.

Shabnam meets Jamie, a charming, romantic guy who easily knocks sheltered Shabnam off her feet. Because of her sheltered upbringing, she has very little experience of boys and is therefore easy prey for the much more worldly Jamie, who seems a bit 'off' right from the start. While Shabnam is falling in foolish teenage love with him, he's more in love with the idea of an exotic and potentially forbidden femme than ever he is with her for herself, and she is far too inexperienced to see this.

In a way, they have a lot in common: they are both very shallow in their own way, and they both purvey a big lie to the other. The difference is that Shabnam is potentially a much deeper person than ever Jamie could hope to be, and as the story progresses, we see this blossoming in her repeatedly. Shabnam knows she lies, Jamie is too selfishly in love with himself to see that he's a living embodiment of a lie.

On the topic of lies, too many YA novels betray their main female character by insisting that she be validated by a man. I detest novels like that. This was not such a novel. It was about girl power and female friendship and it was the better for it. It was also about culture, religion, and conflict between generations, and in some ways I felt it risked cheapening the very message it was trying to send: about the riots and slaughter in India during partition, by tacking those on to this story.

The Brits are often blamed for the problems they caused in India as they should be, but at least they treated all Indians with equal disdain; they didn't single-out any one ethnic group or religion for abuse, whereas during partition, every religion turned against every other religion, which is one reason why I detest religion. It's divisive by its very nature in its arrogant and unprovable assertion that 'we're the chosen ones and you're doomed to hell' or whatever. That said, the injection of the parts about partition were not overdone, so it didn't feel like a lecture, nor did it disrupt the story, and it did get the word out about an historical tragedy that's been largely forgotten today.

Lending more weight to what is an already heavy subject, Shabnam is also at odds with her once best friend Farah, who is far more deeply religious than is Shabnam, but Farah has her own take on her religion. She approaches it in a far more fluid manner than many other people, adapting it to herself as much as she adapts to it. She's a lot more brash and brave, wise and mature than is Shabnam, and she was my favorite character, but I am often in the position of finding the side-kick more interesting than the main character in YA novels.

This is very much a high-school romance, YA novel, but that said, it's leagues ahead of the usual poorly-written, crappily-plotted story that's out there. That's why it won't sell as well as the others, because the bar is so low in YA books, and this one clears it so handily that it's going to be way above the head of an embarrassingly large number of YA readers. That said, this novel, like many YA novels, does fixate on music which it seems to me, is far more the author's addiction than ever it is the character's. This music will date this novel, so I paid as little attention to it as I did the poetry. The music and the poetry were both overdone and contributed nothing to he story. There was more wisdom came out of Farah's mouth than came out of the mouth of the poets and songwriters featured here!

Shabnam betrayed Farah when her friend chose to start wearing a hijab, but Farah failed to give Shabnam advance warning of her unilateral decision, and this is what caused the rift. Shabnam is embarrassed by Farah's change in habit (as it were!), and Farah feels betrayed by her friend's distancing of herself and her lack of support. They do maintain a prickly contact with each other especially since Farah is the only one Shabnam can turn to over her romance. Farah is often warning her friend about it, but Shabnam won't listen because she claims that Farah doesn't know Jamie like she does. In the end, it turns out that Farah actually knows Jamie better, even though the latter two have never met.

Some reviewers have chastised this novel for its lack of portrayal of Islam accurately, but those reviewers make the blind assumption that everyone practices Islam in exactly the same way and no-one ever makes foolish teenage jokes about aspects of it. I don't know a heck of a lot about Islam, and I am not religious myself. I think it's a serious mistake to blindly put your faith in the scientifically ignorant dictates of relatively primitive people from some two thousand or more years ago, but I do know people, and at least I have the decency to regard practitioners of religion, misguided as they are, as individuals, and not as a monolithic block of clones. Every walk of life and every religion has saints and sinners, and I would be surprised if Islam is somehow fundamentally different given that its practitioners are people just like the rest of us!

One thing which did strike me as odd was the whole hijab issue. My understanding is that it's related to modesty (and in this regard, both men and women are supposed to be modest), so I find it interesting that Farah, who considered wearing it to be pretty much a tenet of her faith, made such a big deal of wearing brightly colored and patterned hujub (the plural of hijab, although most westerners use 'hijabs'). I'm against forcing women to do something which men are never forced to do, but I don't have a lot of time for religion, and especially for rigid and blind religious practices, but that's not my point here.

Note that there is a spectrum of covering for females in the Muslim world from the least which is the hijab, or headscarf as we in the west would call it, to the most, which is the full-body burka. Farah wears only the headscarf and it's that term which is used in this novel for the most part, but the ones she wears are colorful and she also dolls them up as elaborate fashion statements. This whole practice was never discussed other than to mention it, but it occurred to me that this was rather hypocritical in that it can hardly be considered modest to wear such bright colors and to sport designs so elaborate that they can only succeed in drawing more attention to a woman than would otherwise be drawn!

In fact, I'd go further than that, because if the purpose of wearing a hijab is to avoid drawing attention, then wearing a hijab or any such garment in the west fails because it draws more attention! If they were to be rational and consistent (which religion is not, admittedly) then they would wear such things only where the majority wears them, and dispense with them where the majority does not wear them, because this is the only way that they would truly blend in instead of standing out! I know it's not quite that simple, and that modesty and means different things to different people, but in this particular story, Farah seems to be flying in the face of modesty by wearing the things she wears in the style she wears them. This was never raised as an issue, which I felt betrayed the whole point of Farah's choices.

That and the fact that the author doesn't seem to know the difference between tread and trod (the past tense of tread, as in 'take a step', is trod, not treaded, and tread and trod are not interchangeable!) are the only complaints I had about this. Farah was awesome and kick-ass, and I'm tempted to think a whole novel about her (her first year in college would be a great place to stage it) would be a worthy read, but that feeling is tempered by the fact that her power perhaps came from the fact that she was a limited exposure character, and if she had a whole novel to herself it might ruin her(!), unless the writer was me! No I'm kidding, I want to say unless the writer was particularly adept at her craft, which has author seems to be, so maybe it would work. But for now, I thoroughly recommend this as a worthy read and I plan to read more by this author.


Saturday, January 13, 2018

Chance by Kem Nunn


Rating: WARTY!

This is form an audiobook I got form my library after having watched season one of the TV show which is based on this book and actually follows it pretty closely.

Overall, I though that this was a worthy read, but I have to qualify that by adding that this author is so in love with his own turn of phrase and with repetitive philosophizing that he spoils the story in some places. The worst example of this was during what ought to have been a gripping climax, when the final showdown comes between the corrupt detective and the, let's face it, equally corrupt doctor. In stead of letting the pace pick up and making it exciting, this author slowed it down and went off into endless rambling diversions which caused me to skip pretty much the whole of that section instead of enjoying it as I was hoping to. Kem Nunn does not know how to write a thriller.

I did not like Eldon Chance, the so-called "neuropsychologist" either. That actually is a profession, but to me, the name sounds like it was made up by a writer who didn't know medicine too well! Chance was just as corrupt as the detective who was the villain in this story. As a doctor, Chance sees people to evaluate them for legal purposes: court cases, last will and testament contestations, and so on. When he meets Jaclyn Blackstone, he falls for her - which is to say that he just wants to jump her bones; he doesn't really fall for her in any other way, or at least if he does, it's not apparent from the writing.

The problem is that he's the doctor here, which makes him a quasi-authority figure, so though she is technically is not his patient as it's generally understood, he is in a professional relationship with her and it would be flat-oout wrong to get involved. Worse than this, she is a sick woman. She has multiple personality disorder and it's entirely unethical to take advantage of that and of her vulnerability. That said, it's hardly the "steamy affair" the book blurb extolls. Worse than this in a different way, by becoming involved with her, Chance has undermined any reliability his professional diagnosis might have had should people find out about his behavior. This could actually harm Jaclyn Blackstone.

She's not only vulnerable as a patient; she;'s also the victim of an abusive and somewhat codependent relationship. She's married to, but separated from a detective in the San Francisco PD. As Jaclyn Blackstone, she is afraid and seeking to avoid her husband, but as Jackie Black, she willingly has rough sex with him. When the detective discovers that Chance is hoping for a chance with her, he makes veiled threats.

Here is where I really took a dislike to Chance. Instead of thinking of his family and backing-off, he continues to actively pursue Jaclyn, leaving his young daughter open to retaliation by the detective. At one point he spends a weekend with Jaclyn, with his phone turned off (turning it off and forgetting to recharge it are constants in Chance's life), and when he finally gets back on the air, eh discovers his daughter is in hospital having OD'd. That's the kind of lousy, selfish, absentee father he is. We never see him interact with his daughter except in reaction to something.

Chance is also separated from his wife and they're divorcing. In order to try and raise some money, he sells some antique furniture after having had it tarted-up to look like it's all original, by a guy named Dee (real name darius Pringle, but you'd better never call him darius to his face). Dee is a big tough guy who lies about his military experience, but who nonetheless is a very dangerous man. He and Chance form an awkward friendship and partnership in trying to get one-up on detective Blackstone, but until the climax. it's like everything Chance does is ill-conceinved and doomed to failure.

For me, Jaclyn and Dee were fascinating people, and even detective Blackstone was more engaging than Chance, but we only got to know about them through Chance interactions, as it were. Dee and Jaclyn both have amazing stories to tell but that's not what we got unfortunately. I was sorry about that, but even so, we got enough of them and enough of a decent story for me to rate this a worthy read.


Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Mitosis by Brandon Sanderson


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a free (as opposed to fee!) short story published as a filler between this author's Steelheart, and book two in The Reckoners series, called Firefight. The story features David, aka Steelslayer, one of The Reckoners - the people who fight against the Epics, which are the super-non-heroes. The problem with gaining super-powers in this world is that once you use them, you go bad. No one knows why. The only way to use them and stay good is to gift them to others who can use them in your name.

In this story there is a brief introduction with David and another reckoner buying hotdogs, which is rather boring. I don't get this obsession with hotdogs, so it was meaningless to me. The author should have put it in a prolog so I would have known to ignore it! LOL! David and his friend are heading to the city gates where people are screened as they come into the city. The main reason is to catch people who simply want to start a life of crime in the clunkily-named Newcago, but also so The Reckoners can catch Epics and Epic sympathizers who might be trying to sneak in. Why the Epics wouldn't simply come over the walls goes unexplained.

Anyway, David is suspicious of this one guy who comes in, and he soon discovers this guy can split himself just like 'Multiple Man' in X-Men: The Last Stand, but like Michael Keaton's character in Multiplicity, the more he clones himself, the dumber he becomes. This made no sense. Why would the cloning affect only his brain? Why would it not make his body weaker too? Or his heart? Fortunately for this rating, this was addressed.

Once the guy has split into many clones, he starts yelling the same message from different parts of the city - that he will shoot some passer-by if David doesn't show up. We're told the clones have to rejoin in order for their independent memories of what they did to be re-united, but when David shoots the first of these, all the others immediately come running. How did they know?

It turned out that David's information on the Mitosis - the cloning guy - was partly misinformation and in the end it was due to that, that he was saved. Like I said, short story, but not bad! I consider it a worthy read - and it's free, so what do you have to lose?! I'm currently reading book 2. I'll report on it when I'm done.


Frozen by Jennifer Lee


Rating: WORTHY!

From a story by Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, and Shane Morris, and a screenplay by Lee, who also directed this as a movie - the most successful animated film of all time - this book for young children distills the epic movie which I, who am not a big Disney fan, really loved, and brings it to a level where young children can enjoy it at their own level and their own pace. It was read appropriately by Andi Arndt.

When I say read appropriately, I mean that Andi Arndt gets that the voice needs to be a little slower and well-pronounced, and she does a fine job. It felt odd to me at first because the voice sounded rather pedantic, so I had to keep reminding myself that this was for very young children, and it's been a while since I've had those around the house!

I'm not going to go into the story at all because it's the same as in the film, with the same dialog, but without the songs, and it's much shorter, of course. Pretty much everyone knows this film now, whether you have kids or not(!), and if you don't, this is a great way to learn what it's about with your young child and decide if you want to outlay the cash for the actual film. I recommend this as a worthy read (or in this case, listen!).


Sadia by Colleen Nelson


Rating: WORTHY!

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

The story is about displaced and immigrant Middle-East young Muslim girls in Canada. Sadia Ahmadi is fifteen years old. She and her family left Syria when her father got a teaching post at a University in Winnipeg, which is the capital city of Manitoba, a Canadian province. Winnipeg sits some seventy miles north of the North Dakota-Minnesota state line. It's cold up there at this time of year! it's 5° Fahrenheit, or minus fifteen Celsius as I write this! The average low in January is minus twenty one! Even in August it doesn't breach eighty (25°C), and it's down to the fifties (12°C) at night. Call me a wuss, but that's way too cold for me! You have to be tough to live in Canada!

By moving when they did, Sadia's family missed the Syrian civil war. Sadia has some mixed feelings about the move and her new homeland, but she gets a real education as to how lucky she is when Amira Nasser, a refugee, ends up at Sadia's school having left everything behind in Syria to escape the not-so-civil war. Now she's in a strange land with different customs and language and she's expected to integrate and learn. Sadia is assigned by her school (Laura Secord High School) to help her get up to speed. Laura Secord is (or was) a real person - a Canadian hero of the 1812 war.

But the story isn't about Amira; neither is it about Sadia's best friend Nazreen Hussani who originally hailed from Egypt. Instead, these two are rather employed to represent the trope angel and the devil sitting on Sadia's shoulders. Amira is very much a traditional Muslim girl. Nazreen is a rebel who removes her hijab and conservative clothing as soon as she gets to school, replacing them only before she leaves to head home. Sadia has issues with this and while she tries to maintain their friendship, she also feels increasing tension, dissent, and distance between herself and Nazreen. She feels pulled between these two extremes, yet tries to find her own path.

The thing which seems to erode the rough edges, and bring all these girls together is basketball. It is Sadia's passion. She has the chance to be on a co-ed team which enters a small tournament. Everything seems to be going great until the finals, when one of the teams objects to Sadia wearing what is a suitable outfit for a strict Muslim girl to play a sport in public, but which the opposing team finds objectionable, and which we're told is contrary to the official rules of the game.

On a point of order, it really isn't. The problem is that there is a slow turn-around time for professional publishing houses - a lag between the author finishing a novel and it being published. I don't know when the author wrote this or how long it was between her signing-off on the finished copy and the publishing date (which is this month) but as it happens, the rules in basketball got changed early last year in Canada to allow religious headwear (with certain restrictions), so I chose to assume that events in this novel took place before that date! Full disclosure here: the publisher, Dundurn, is the largest Canadian-owned publisher, and I am on their auto approved list on Net Galley, for which I am grateful since I tend to like what they publish.

Just as importantly, a young girl named Amina Mohamed of the Dakota Collegiate in Winnipeg came up with a design for headwear that meets both Muslim restrictions and basketball regulations. In the novel, it's Nazreen who comes up with this idea. There's no acknowledgement to Amina, so I'm wondering if this book was locked-down before that item got into the news. Perhaps in future editions, the author can acknowledge Amina Mohamed's accomplishment.

The story itself, though, was well-told and moving. It did bring to the fore the issues Muslims have when trying to live in Western society and stay true to their faith: the restrictions, the difficulties, the prejudices and the outright racism in some cases. I'm not religious at all, so some of these issues struck me as trivial, but that's certainly not how they feel to people who are invested in faith, so I let that go, but what did bother me is that there are deeper issues which the author did not explore. The most outrageous of these is the appalling gender bias that seems to go hand-in-hand with far too many organized religions (and not a few disorganized ones as well, for that matter).

If the purpose of covering a woman's body is to prevent inciting passions, then it seems to me to be doomed from the off, because when a woman is completely covered, doesn't that in a way inflame an embarrassing number of the male half of the population with curiosity and desire to know what's under there? Of course you could argue that no matter how a woman dresses, but this is actually the other half of this problem: while all the pressure is placed upon women to tone down their dress (whether it's Muslim dress or even western dress as it happens), none is placed upon men to tone down their behavior and it was this which the Quran addressed first!

The whole idea of covering a woman up isn't only an insult to the woman, it's also an insult to the men in its implicit assertion that they're so lacking in self-control that women need to be hidden under blankets lest their very appearance cause the men to become serial rapists. That whole idea is absurdist and wrong-headed to me and says far more about the men who promote these ideas than ever it does about the women who have suffered and continue to suffer under this oppressive and cruel patriarchal hegemony.

The Quran is quite explicit in terms of modesty, but this requirement did not so much address clothing as partition between the genders, and it does not apply solely to women! It applies to men, too, yet in this story, we find no issues raised over the boys, only over the girls. I thought this ought to have been delved into a little. What;s good for the goose is worth taking a gander!

Why must girls wear a head covering (which technically is a khimar, 'hijab' having a more general meaning) and not the boys? I think there is some mileage to be had there, especially when telling a story of this nature. On a related, but slightly different topic, one of the things Nazreen did in her little rebellion against conformity was to wear (when she did wear them!) very colorful Khumur (the plural of khimar).

Personally, I have no problem with what women wear (or don't wear!), it's their choice, but I can't help wonder how making a Khimar more attractive meets the stated purpose of the garment in the first place, which as I understand it, is to promote a modest appearance. Isn't it less modest to make yourself stand out? Indeed, in western society, wearing a Khimar in the first place is rare enough that it makes a woman stand out more than if she went bare-headed, so this seems to me to be in conflict with the whole purpose of a head covering if it's to detract from attention! That's all I'm going to say on that topic, although I certainly reserve the right to go into it in some future novel of mine!

On a minor technical issue, and prefacing this by saying that I'm not a basketball fan and I certainly don't pretend to be an expert on rules: as far as I know in regular play, once a basket is sunk, the ball goes to the other team! There's no rebound to be had and you certainly can't try to score again. So when we read that Jillian scored a trhee-pointer and then "Allan grabbed the rebound to shoot again" I had to ask: what rebound? There's no rebound from a sunk basket! And even if there were, you can't just grab the ball and shoot again! The possession devolves to the defending team. I'm thinking that the author was conflating regular play here with taking a free throw during which - if the ball rebounds - a player can grab it and take a shot. But like I said, it's a minor issue and we all manage to let a few of those get by if we're honest!

So in conclusion, the novel felt maybe a little young for high school, but then the students were only on the cusp of the high school experience, so perhaps I'm being too judgmental there. Or maybe just mental! I felt there were some issues with this as I've mentioned, more in the omission than the commission, but overall, the novel was a worthy read and I recommend it, especially for the intended age range.


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Dream of the Butterfly Vol 1 by Richard Marazano


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Richard Marazano is a French writer and illustrator, and in this work he seems to have channeled Chinese mythology very heavily into a very lighthearted story about young girl who strays in a snowstorm from her valley to a nearby one in which is a village occupied by animals who seem very resentful of humans Actually, given how we treat animals I for one am not at all surprised by their attitude.

The girl is a very strong female character and I recommend this story for that to begin with, but it's much more than that. The story is very whimsical, and quirky even, I tend to run in the opposite direction when I read of a story being described as full of whimsy or with quirky characters, but this one nailed it perfectly.

The girl seems resigned to living in this town because no one will help her get back. She's boarded with a foster family of birds, and finds a job working in an energy factory - she has to change out the hamsters in their wheels when they become tired - but her lunches of packed worms, she could do without. She eventually learns she's not the only human child in town.


Because she is a human, Tutu is spied upon by the emperor through his rabbit secret service. The rabbits are adorably inept, but they are also actually helpful to Tutu when she gets lost or doesn't know which bus to catch. Known as yuè tù (moon rabbit) in China, the idea behind these is that while the Moon may look to us westerners like it's the face of a man in the Moon, many other cultures see it as a rabbit in the Moon, which is more intriguing to me.

If you look hard, you can see the long ears (Mare Foecunditatis and Mare Nectaris)stretching to the right, about half way down the Moon's right side, from the head (Mare Tranquilitatis where Apollo Eleven landed) to the left, and the body (Mare Serenitatis and Mare Imbrium below it on the left edge of the Moon's disk. Below that is the Oceanis Procellarum with the big back legs and a tail sticking out to the left. The rabbit appears to be sitting by a box or a bowl, (Mare Nubium), and some cultures see this as a mortar, in which the rabbit is grinding something using a pestle.

The emperor takes a great interest in Tutu and wants her to help him by catching a rare white butterfly, but she's not very impressed with him or the opera he writes. She's especially disrespectful of his surrogate robots which tend to break down when faced with Tutu's sarcasm.

This story was a delight through-and-through, and my only complaint was that this is volume one, so the story didn't end! Although that's really a good thing because if it had ended, there would be no more to look forward to! As it was, I could have kept on reading this for many more pages than there were, and I recommend it as a worthy read.


Drawing Cute with Katie Cook by Katie Cook


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This book is an awesome introduction to illustrating, aimed at younger children. And even adults for that matter who might want to get into the fun business of creating a cute children's book. I had never heard of Katie Cook, but despite looking barely older than a teen herself, she's a mature illustrator who has worked on a variety of projects for, for example, Marvel comics and on My Little Pony, so she's well-known in the business for her illustration skills.

She should also be known for her writing skills since she's also a writer and her comments throughout this book were hilarious and it was worth reading it just for those. The illustrations are really the cherry on top though, because in a handful of steps she shows how to create a bewildering variety of images of animals (would that be bewilderbeasts?), assorted inanimate objects, sports and hobbies, and food - which seems to be a special favorite of hers despite her trim figure. Maybe Cook isn't just a name?!

The steps are easy. As she says, if you can draw a potato, you can draw anything, and anything and everything populates these pages. The chapters cover Animals, Foodstuff, Hobbies and Sports, Holidays and Seasons, and Handy-Dandy Objects. There's getting on for a hundred thirty pages of illustration, and each page contains about two things to draw, including domestic and wild animals, flying and swimming animals, cute and scary animals, and even fantasy animals. And insects and arachnids are animals, remember, no matter how much you might want to dissociate yourself from that end of the family.

There are cakes and ice creams, teapots and milk cartons, pineapples and avocados. You'll like her grapes a bunch! When you see her apples you'll say "Core!" Drawing peppers will no doubt ring a bell. The broccoli looks very cubby, but it's with the sandwiches that you'll earn your bread. Okay, enough pun-ishment! There are also kayaks and racquets*, knitting and football, jigsaws and books - enough to keep you busy making variations on a theme until before long, you're launching into your own original drawings in short-order Cook style! (Okay, I lied about the puns).

I really liked this, the drawings are good and simple enough for anyone to follow and create your own. The results are very cute, just as the title promises. The supporting text is, well, supportive, and funny, and this book makes for a great gift! If there's one thing we really do need, it's a lot more talented illustrators, especially of cute, and from a diverse background. This book is a great way to encourage that and I recommend it.

*Isn't racquet a weird word? Seriously? Who would even think up a word like that? Just sayin'.


Superb by David F Walker, Sheena C Howard, Ray Anthony Height, Alitha Martinez, Eric Battle


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I didn't like the first one I read in this series. Normally that would be the end of it, but I read a second one without realizing until the end that it was part of the same series, and I liked it. I also liked this one, probably more than any of the previous ones. The artwork was really good, the characters realistic (as comic book super heroes go!), interesting, motivated, and believable, and the writing was very good. I noted a strong female influence not only in the writing, but also in the art, and this can make a big difference to the overall look and feel of a comic.

I really like the way so called minorities are front and center. Minorities are actually the majority of people on the planet, yet they're so poorly served in comics, TV and movies that it's criminal. It was nice to see that balance being redressed without going overboard. It was also nice to see a character with Down Syndrome (aka trisomy 21) included as a major player. The relationship between him (Jonah, aka "Cosmosis"!) and Kayla (aka Amina). and the awesome Abbie, was choice. It really made the story shine for me.

Each individual graphic novel in this set is a sort of origin story, but its not your usual origin tale; it's more of a development story, which to me is more interesting, especially this one. All of the graphic novels I've read so far run in parallel, but there is no repetition. Each story advances the whole, and the only tiresome bit was the last bit which is the same in each comic. Of course you can skip this once you've read it the first time, and it does mean you can start with any comic in the group without having to worry that you missed something because you didn't start with the 'right one'.

In this story Kayla, already aware of her powers and that she's not the only one with them, is trying to keep a low profile, especially since her parents work for the corporation which is trying to capture, intern, and experiment upon those with such powers. Jonah is less retiring. He breaks into the corporate facility to finds out what they're up to, and he barely escapes with his life. Kayla protects him and this is how the two of them team up with Abbie, who is Jonah's friend. Unfortunately, Kayla's desire to live a normal life is seriously compromised, and that's all I'm going to say!

On the negative side, I have to say that this shtick with the powers-that-be coming down hard on the mutants is really reaching saturation point. Marvel has repeatedly done it with X-Men, Inhumans, and Gifted, and it's been done in other graphic novels unrelated to the DC and Marvel stables, including one I reviewed negatively recently. Frankly, it's starting to be boring. It would be nice to see something different.

In terms of this comic, it's hard at this point, despite having read several of them, to see how the foresight corporation got so much power that it can openly act as a paramilitary force and hunt down these people. That felt a little bit much, but maybe it will be explained. Or maybe I missed it in that first volume I read because I was so disappointed in it!

That quibble aside though, I really liked this graphic novel and I recommend it as a worthy read.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Faith and the Future Force by Jody Houser, Stephen Segovia, Barry Kitson, Ulises Arreola


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Now this is the kind of super-hero story I can really get with. I was thrilled by the first one in this series, so I was equally thrilled to have a chance to review another one and see how Faith is doing. She's doing fine and I'm keeping the Faith!

Once again, it's written by Jody Houser, who continues to sprinkle promos for Doctor Who (how can you not love a writer like that?!) as well as toss in other Sci-fi references. As I write this I am patiently counting down the days to the Doctor Who Christmas special, and the change over from the current Doctor who was not my favorite, to a new one who will, for the first time, be female! Squee!

On an unrelated topic, is it just me, or is anyone else amused by the superficial similarity between areola (the ring of color around a nipple, and the name of the colorist? Of course his name apparently derives from the Spanish for horse tack (or a part of horse tack, anyway!) not from coloration, but still! I love words!

This is a time-travel story featuring a time-traveling robot which is intent upon destroying the fabric of time itself. Consequently, we have with Faith being sought by some strange woman who is costumed like a super hero, but who evidently needs Faith's help (and that of a charming assortment of her super friends) to stop this machine. In that regard, it borrows a bit from Pixar's The Incredibles

What I liked about this is that it conveniently side-steps one objection I often find to time-travel stories, especially Doctor Who, who always seems to arrive in media res, which is: why not go back earlier and fix the problem before it starts? In which case there would be no show, so the Doctor always tosses out some patent nonsense about crossing his own time stream which of course he does time after time, especially in New York City where it's supposed to be all but impossible to visit. Hah! How many times has he been there now?

This story solves that problem because the robot is eating time, so they can't go back earlier - it doesn't exist! Double-hah! Faith aka Zephyr, is recruited by Timewalker (not Time Lord!) Neela Sethi several times, each time unaware that she's already been recruited and failed! Why does this keep-on getting repeated? Read it and find out! I recommend this one as a fun, sweet, entertaining, Segovially and Kitsonorously drawn, and areolistically-colored(!) story which is a very worthy read! Keep 'em coming you guys and I'll keep reading 'em!


Friday, December 15, 2017

Accell by Joe Casey, Damion Scott, Robert Campanella, Sigmund Torre


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I had no idea this comic was connected with Noble Vol 1 by Brandon Thomas, Roger Robinson et al. It's just as well, because if I had, I would not have requested it! As it happens I did request it, and ended up enjoying this one whereas I did not like the first one at all. While I still assert that the plot twist at the end is too far-fetched to be realistic, the story leading up to that was actually really good.

In this case, this was not one of the astronauts who was affected, but a guy down on Earth who saw the meteor shower and found a meteorite near his home - just a tiny piece. He slept with it under his bed and suddenly, he can move like the Flash. Unlike the Flash, he actually pays a price for his super-speed, which means hunger. He has to eat a lot.

Sometimes he pays more than that. If he gets injured while running - or fighting crime - he really gets injured, but it doesn't stop him until he stops himself, and at that point he'd better have stopped in an ER. But he heals really fast. He's a 'person of color' as they say, so this was also appreciated - there are too few and far between of those in comics, TV, movies, you name it. His Name is Danny Santos; I'll leave you to figure his ethnicity!

So he fights crime and he has a girlfriend who at first does not know of his power, but during the story he reveals it to her. I felt bad for her because of two things: first, her father hates that she's seeing this guy, and he's willing to do quite literally anything to break them up; second: Danny is a jerk towards her to begin with, but even that changed as he grew to appreciate her and realize he actually had a responsibility to her.

Overall this ws an entertaining and well-written comic, with great artwork (although the main character was a little bit too stick figure-y for my taste!). That aside and with the caveat about the improbable ending, I recommend this as a worthy read.


The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder


Rating: WORTHY!

This was from another audiobook, another experiment that worked! I get a lot of misses with audiobooks because I experiment more with them, but the disappointments are worth it because of the gems I find now and then. This was one of the latter.

April is not too happy at having to live with her grandmother, but she finds ways to make it work. Befriending Melanie and her very young kid brother Marshall who wears a plush octopus around his neck, is a good move, especially since the two have a shared interest in ancient Egypt. Melanie has made quite sophisticated families out of paper dolls - people cut from magazines and newspapers - with entire family histories, but soon, the two of them are using an empty, slightly overgrown back yard next door, behind an antique store, as their playground.

In their eyes it's Egypt, and they concoct elaborate rituals and stories to play out, which they call the Egypt game, and they refer to themselves as Egyptians. They create props and costumes and hold sophisticated and serious ceremonies after the manner, as far as they can tell, of the original Egyptians. A third girl, Elizabeth, joins them and despite a falling-out one time, they're having the best time until there's a murder in the neighborhood. All games are on hold since all girls are grounded for safety. But before long play resumes, and just when things seem to be going well, two boys, Ken and Toby, show up.

The boys had been curious about what the girls were up to when they snuck off after school, and spied on them! Rather than make trouble the boys want to join them! Again, it's game on, but then, one strange day, the statue to which they make their 'sacrifices' starts talking back to them!

I really liked this story. It was nicely-paced, interesting, entertaining, and made me want to listen. I recommend it.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Turkey Monster Thanksgiving by Anne Warren Smith


Rating: WORTHY!

Nine-year-old Katie and school friend Claire, who is also Katie's across-the-street neighbor, both have in common that are short of a mom. Claire's father is, I believe, divorced. Katie's mom selfishly left the family to pursue a singing career in Nashville, although Katie apparently is apparently fine with that.

Claire is a bit uppity, so while Katie is looking forward to their usual Thanksgiving: eating her father's "famous" pizza in their pajamas, and then eating popcorn while watching the football on TV, Claire proudly announces that her family is going to throw a banquet for a score of people. Also her Thanksgiving decorations, which are spilling out onto the porch and the yard, are something else, especially the monster turkey which Claire's father plans to put onto the house roof, and which scares Katie's young brother.

Katie starts to feel like her plans are inadequate, and she begins to compete with Claire by making a list, checking it twice, and,...wait, wrong holiday! She does make a list of things to do, including making decorations and buying a bird ahead of time so it can be thawed and cooked, and also looking up recipes for traditional Thanksgiving dishes to prepare. She starts looking for people to invite to dinner as well, but in the end she can come up with only two, one of whom is a teacher and the other her dad's boss. It doesn't help her situation that she's lied to Claire about what kind of a Thanksgiving her family's will be like.

Now you know things will go astray here and they do (festooning the house with poison oak and setting the sweet potato dish on fire are never good ideas), but Katie stays true to her course even as she realizes and acknowledges that compromises must be made. She is an admirable and strong female character who has dreams, but who also has her feet firmly on the ground. I liked her and thought she was a good role-model for children of her age. I really enjoyed this book, and I recommend it unreservedly.


The Way to Bea by Kat Yeh


Rating: WORTHY!

Being a big fan of well-done plays on words, I loved the title of this book and I also loved the book itself. It was a smart, well-written and beautifully-plotted work, and the main character was a strong female who is a good role model. She's is very withdrawn when the novel starts, but comes out of her shell naturally and admirably as the story grows.

Bea (Beatrix) is a schoolgirl poet of Taiwanese extraction, but she is painfully shy, and sensitive to people noticing her. She tries to be invisible but she also wants to be involved with the school paper for the experience, yet she doesn't want her poetry to appear in it! In short, she is trapped in a strange maze of her own making, and she needs to find her way out. It's fortuitous then, that she starts forming a friendship with an autistic boy (maybe Asperger's) who also works at the paper and whose ambition she learns, is to navigate a private labyrinth.

He likes to keep files to help him categorize things, and he's very precise in all his thoughts and behaviors, so he lectures Bea on the difference between a maze and a labyrinth. Since the labyrinth is private and no one is allowed in there except the family which owns it, he is a bit at a loss as to how to go about it, although very exacting in his plans where he can make them. Bea discovers a secret that will give them an 'in' to the labyrinth, and this is where things begin to unravel and Bea really needs to step-up to save the day. She does not fail.

I love the way Bea is very physical about her poems - mostly haiku which were fun - writing the words in the air before her as the poem materializes, working through the beats and the rhythm. Unfortunately, this gets her noticed, so she starts writing them in invisible ink and posting them in a hole in a wall in the woods near the school. It's only when someone starts writing back that she is jolted out of her private world. So she is dealing with her shyness, her loss of a dear friend who now seems to be hanging out with a new crowd, and the arrival of new people in her life with whom she does not know how to interact.

I loved the characters in the newspaper office, and how they were very individual and slightly quirky and how they all interfaced with one another. I am glad the book did not say 'quirky' in the blurb because I immediately walk away from books that do and tell them to go jump into Lake Woebegone as I leave, but this was just the right amount of quirk to appeal to me without being idiotic or painful in how hard it was trying. The story was wonderfully-written and well-worth reading.


This Perfect Day by Ira Levin


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an audiobook, but atypically, not much of an experiment for a change. I'd read the print version many years ago and largely forgotten what happened in it as it turned out. It was almost like reading a new book listening to this version, and I enjoyed it. I felt the ending was rather cut short, but that was no big deal.

Levin wrote a sequel to what was probably his most famous novel, Rosemary's Baby, which I have not read. I doubt I will read it because that novel, it seemed to me required no sequel and it feels to me like he only did that because he was out of ideas for writing anything original. This novel, the only one of his first six novels which was not made into a movie (which is quite a record of success!), might have made use of a sequel had it been written well.

This is an "in a world" kind of a story! Chocolate gravel voice on: In a world where life is controlled down to the finest detail by a computer called Unicomp ("Thank you!" - "No, thank Unicomp!") and people are maintained in a passive and submissive state through regular injections of a lithium-based concoction, where movement is tracked through scans of identity bracelets, and even visits to one's parents are is controlled, and where even parenting itself is restricted, one man stands up the the faceless machine!

That man is nicknamed Chip, but his 'real name' is Li RM35M4419. He has had only minor infractions against decorum (aka Unicomp until he joins a band of rebellious people who find ways to get their treatments reduced and so to come alive, but this band is quickly uncovered and disbanded, with everyone including Chip, being put back on their treatments.

It's only many years later when Chip recalls Lilac, the girl he was attracted to during his brief rebellion, that he really and truly begins to rebel. He kidnaps Lilac and treats her rather violently, including unforgivably raping her one time. Nevertheless, when she recovers from her submersion under Unicomp's drug routine however, she forgives him and sides with him. They make it to a rebel island only to discover that all is not quite what they had thought it would be.

Not sure how to feel about the rape scene as part of the bigger story, frankly. That kind of thing should neither be treated lightly nor thought of lightly. There really is no forgivable rape, or if forgivable (by the person who was raped) certainly not excusable not even by arguing that he knew no better given the way he was raised (and then not raised, as it were). The whole story had people operating under unbearable circumstances while not even realizing it as they did, so things were warped throughout the story. I can't help but wonder how a woman might have written this story. But that issue aside, I liked the writing in general, and the pace of the story and Chip's smoldering desire for lilac, although not how he acted on it. To his credit, I should add that he did not fall to temptation despite being plied with it to betray Lilac at a later point in the story. Chip was stronger than Winston Smith, but then he did not have to face the terror that Smith did!


Good Food, Strong Communities edited by Steve Ventura, Martin Bailkey


Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher; because it is an advance copy though, the chapter headings I listed below may have been changed before publication.

According to Wikipedia, the "Human Development Index (HDI) is a composite statistic of life expectancy, education, and income per capita indicators" and by these measures, the USA ranks tenth. It is also the is twelfth richest in the world according to Fortune.com, yet according to Do Something 1 in 6 people in America face hunger. How is this possible?

This book takes a look at one issue in a bigger picture of food security and sensible nutrition. Written by an assortment of people in the know about urban farming and related topics, this book, subtitled " Promoting Social Justice through Local and Regional Food Systems" is a great starting point for anyone thinking of trying to start a locally-sourced food community or of joining one that already exists, or even just learning about these topics. it "shares ideas and stories about efforts to improve food security in large urban areas of the United States by strengthening community food systems. It draws on five years of collaboration between a research team comprised of the University of Wisconsin, Growing Power, and the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, and more than thirty organizations on the front lines of this work in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Los Angeles, Madison, and Cedar Rapids."

In short, it's quite comprehensive on a vast and wide-ranging topic, and one which is of grave importance to very many people. The chapter headings are these:

  1. Connections Between Community Food Security and Food System Change
  2. Land Tenure for Urban Farming: Toward a Scalable Model
  3. Growing Urban Food for Urban Communities
  4. Distribution: Supplying Good Food to Cities
  5. Food Processing as a Pathway to Community Food Security
  6. Markets and Food Distribution
  7. The Consumer: Passion, Knowledge, and Skills
  8. It All Starts With the Soil
  9. Uprooting racism, Planting Justice in Detroit
  10. Achieving Community Food Security Through Collective Impact
  11. Education and Food System Change
  12. Community and Regional Food Systems Policy and Planning
  13. Cultural Dissonance: Reframing Institutional Power
  14. Innovations and Successes
There are many subsections to each chapter, which can be seen on Google Books.

There were two technical issues I had with the review copy I got. This doesn't include my usual complaint that it was in Amazon's crappy Kindle app, but I believe it is connected. Amazon's conversion system is barely adequate, and while this was readable on my phone, some of the chapter headings had bizarre capitalizations which seemed to be tied to the same few letters. here are a couple of examples: ConStraintS on the deMand For FreSh FruitS and vegetaBleS, and SoMe eConoMiC Context: the Supply oF MarketplaCeS and Marketing. You can see how it's the same letters each time (B, C, M, S) which are capitalized regardless of where they appear in the word. The other issue was the images. They were not enlargeable on the phone and were consequently too small to really see anything of value in them. Other than that it was readable on the phone.

Food security - in a local and personal sense as oppose dot a federal sense, is critical, and good 'business'. It's far better for a community to rely on itself rather than faceless and nameless remote suppliers. Be warned though that this book is very academically inclined, so it is dense and packed with information. It is not light reading, but it is good reading for anyone who is seriously interested in getting involved. I recommend it.

Cloudia & Rex by Ulises Farinas, Erick Freitas, Daniel Irizarri


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a great story which I really enjoyed, although I have to say it was a bit confusing at times. The art was lovely and the story was different from the usual fare. I always appreciate that! For one thing, it presented African American females as protagonists. It was nice to see strong female characters of color, who are far too few in comic books, and strong, independent females who are equally rare. I would not recommend a graphic novel if that was all it had to offer, but I would sure be tempted! Fortunately this offered much more.

In the story, two young girls, the eponymous Cloudia and Rex, and their mother run into ancient gods who are seeking safety which can only be found in the mortal world. An antagonist named Tohil wishes to destroy those same gods and is hot on their heels.

Somehow the gods end-up being downloaded into Cloudia's phone, and some of their power transfers over to the girls. Rex is somewhat bratty, but she finds she can change into an assortment of animals. It's amusing and interesting to see what she does with that. Cloudia is a bit strident, but maybe she has reason when her life is screwed-up so badly and unexpectedly.

Daniel Irizarri's coloring is bold and pervasive, and it really stands out from the comic. It's almost overwhelming, actually, but overall the story was entertaining and the characters were fun, I recommend this one.


4 Kids Walk Into A Bank by Matthew Rosenberg, Tyler Boss


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is a compendium of issues 1 though five of the originally published comics and runs to about 180 pages in the print version. I read this in Bluefire Reader on an iPad where it looked good but the text was a bit hard to read, especially the one character Walter, who is painfully shy and reserved. His speech was deliberately written under-sized in a regularly-sized balloon, and it was hard to read, so I didn't appreciate that. I think Tyler Boss's art told Walter's story well enough; it would have been nice if writer Matthew Rosenberg had had more faith in it (or the designer - or whoever decided that this was a good approach!).

That said, the characters: Paige, the tough feisty female, Stretch, an abnormally tall expert in irony, the irreverent Berger, who in some depictions seems slightly pudgy, but in others seems a lot more trim, and retiring almost to the point of self-effacement Walter, are all interesting to read about and even more interesting to see interact with each other. They all bring their own strengths as characters, but Paige is a dynamo.

The story is that four thugs from Paige's dad's past show up wanting her father to resume his role in their history of thieving. Dad isn't interested, but the four idiot wannabe robbers won't take no for an answer. The kids decide the only way to save Paige's dad is to rob the bank first so the thugs can't. Great idea, huh? The entire story leading-up to 'will they or won't they?' was entertaining and at times completely hilarious. I really enjoyed it. That's not to say I didn't have a few problems with this.

Paige was an oddity to me because in many panels she looked distinctly male. There's nothing wrong in a female having male characteristics or vice-versa; nothing at all in real life, but in the case of a minimally-drawn comic book character, this can be confusing. At least it was to me.

I found myself at one point honestly thinking there were two characters, and wondering who this new guy was and where he came from, because it wasn't Paige! Except that it was. It just didn't look like Paige. When I realized that, for a short while, I found myself thinking I had misunderstood and Paige was actually a guy, not a girl, but no, Paige was very much a girl. It was just the graphical depiction of her that confused me. It made for an unpleasant reading experience on occasion because I was happy that she was a girl!

This surreal experience wasn't helped by two other events both towards the end of the novel. The first of these was the random addition of a fifth person to their four-person team towards the end of the novel. I had no idea who this fifth person was. Maybe I missed something, but I had no idea where this person came from!

The second incident was the very ending of the novel, where Paige and her dad meet up at a prison. I had no clue whatsoever whether she was going into jail or getting out. I honestly and truly did not. I even looking back through many the pages trying to figure it out, but I couldn't, so I was unhappy with the ending. But the rest of it was great. Mostly! I recommend this, anyway. Maybe you'll have a better handle reading it than I did!


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi, Betheny Hegedus


Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated impressively by Evan Turk employing a dazzling variety of inventive techniques, this was a fascinating book. How do you ever cope with having a close relative who is as famous and renowned as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, aka Mahatma Gandhi? This is written by Arun Gandhi, son of Manilal, who was Mahatma Gandhi's second child to survive; conditions were harsh back then and still are for many people, and not only in India.

Arun describes an event which obviously must have made an impression on him. It was when he went to visit his father as a young child and was abused on the football (soccer) field. He became very angry at being pushed, and then ashamed that he was unable to emulate his grandfather, but in talks with Gandhi-ji, he learns a few things about how to live his life non-violently and turn his anger into a light, not a thunderous darkness.

If only we could all learn this! All of us struggle with anger and frustration at times. The book might have offered more, but it's aimed at young children and I think it at least lights a candle, so I recommend this book as a beginning for children trying to deal with all of that.


Getting to the Bottom of Global Warming by Terry Collins


Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated well by Cynthia Martin and Bill Anderson, this book teaches young kids about climate change, aka global warming. 'Climate change' is a better term because 'global warming' confuses stupid people, who seem to think it means that everywhere will get dramatically hotter. No, it means climate change.

In general, the planet will warm (and has been warming because of human induced pollution), but not everywhere will warm up and become a tropical paradise. It's more a case of extremes becoming more extreme, so while some areas are becoming hotter, others are seeing serious winter storming. On top of that we're seeing flooding from more extreme rainfall and rising oceans, and we're seeing plant and animal life changing in terms of the areas it's normally found. We're also seeing tropic diseases spreading beyond their historical boundaries. In short, it's a mess.

This book features the novel idea of time-traveler, Isabel Soto who is "an archaeologist and world explorer with the skills to go wherever and whenever she needs to research history, solve a mystery, or rescue colleagues in trouble." One has to wonder why she can't fix climate change if she can go back into the past, but it's a lot to ask one person, so I decided to let that pass! Maybe she tried and no one would listen. We've sure seen way too much of that. Yes, Republicans, I'm looking at you.

We have a president who is obsessed with saving coal-mining jobs when he ought to be proposing retraining programs to find work for all those people in sensible and forward-thinking technologies like solar energy which is the fastest rising portion of the US economy, or in other renewable energy employment which will, given resources and time, solve the energy and pollution crisis. Now there's a case of a man who cannot think out of the box and who is obsessively-compulsively offering knee-jerk non-solutions instead of thinking it through, and looking to the future. That's why books like this are important: so children can learn that they do not have to be hide-bound by tradition and blinkered by the erroneous, selfish, and tunnel-vision thought patterns of yesteryear and politicians who, despite being past their sell-by date have nonetheless sold out to corporate interests.