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

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

It Takes a Village by Hillary Rodham Clinton, Marla Frazee


Rating: WORTHY!

I have to say that yet again, Goodreads screwed up royally with a book blurb. Here's how it begins: "In Mrs. Clinton book..." - way to denigrate a female author by making her an appendage of a guy. Not 'Hillary Clinton', but Mrs (Bill) Clinton. Seriously? She might have forgiven him for his shameful conduct in the White Wash Ovum office, but I never will.

I know this illiterate blurb was more than likely hand-crafted by a reviewer whose doesn't know how to cut and paste from the publisher's book description, but isn't this kind of thing what the world's most useless librarians (Goodreads style) need to fix? Oh right, that's not what they do. Frankly, I have no idea what they do do, but I do know for a fact that it ain't much.

Finally comes the only one of the collection of young children's books by celebrities that I looked at today, that sent any kind of a decent message or had any kind of respectability to it.

Told in gentle, community-building tones and illustrated sweetly and diversely by Marla Frazee, whose work I enjoyed when I favorably reviewed Clementine and the Family Meeting by Sara Pennypacker back in January of 2017, this book does the job it sets out to do and I commend it. Ignore the professional Clinton-haters and naysayers, take a look at it online and make up your own mind!


The Shadow in the North by Philip Pullman


Rating: WORTHY!

This was first published in 1986 as The Shadow in the Plate and is set six years after the previous volume The Ruby in the Smoke, this novel takes place in 1878. I know that they tended to go in for long engagements in the past, but six years seems like an awfully long time for nothing to have changed between Frederick and Sally. Indeed, it's like things have actually gone downhill. They are frequently at odds and outright name-calling arguing in this volume, so perhaps the long-term outcome was all for the best.

The dark stories continue with both Frederick, who is inexplicably a private investigator now, working with Jim, and Sally tackling different ends of what turns out to be the same problem. Sally, now with her own financial advisory business and a large dog, is trying to help a client recover the three thousand pounds which she lost after investing it on Sally's advice. The company went bust and Sally just knows that it wasn't any accident or poor planning. On the contrary: the collapse of the company was planned in detail by Axel Bellmann.

Meanwhile, via Jim, a showman and magician Alistair Mackinnon has had death threats. Mackinnon supposedly has the power of psychometry - being able to divine things from touching objects, and through this he has become aware of a murder. At a séance conducted by Nellie Budd, Jim and Fred learn of the very death which Mackinnon has seen. Evidently Nellie has psychic powers despite the fraudulent medium game she pursues.

Bellman sends a lackey to threaten Sally, who works alone out of her home. He has documented many visitations from men - obviously seeking financial advice, but Bellman plans to spin it as a house of prostitution if Sally doesn't back off. Sally doesn't back off.

To further his interests and influence, Bellmann plans on marrying the daughter of Lord Wytham. I have two observations here. The first is purely regarding my own amusement when I read this sentence: "Lord Wytham was a handsome man" to which I wanted to append, "Lord without 'em he was ugly as sin," but that's simply frivolity. It does, however, offer an insight: you should be careful how you write things, and also how you choose your character names if you don't want to provoke unintended mirth amongst your readership! Moreover, why were his looks important? No answers are to be found here.

The second thing relates to this with regard to the complementary sex (not opposite, surely!) in describing female characters as beautiful. It's almost like there's a law forbidding female characters from being ordinary or plain. It seems that male characters - even major ones, in novels can get away with any amount of ordinary and average, yet females are required to be young and beautiful - not pretty, not attractive, not good-looking, although these do occur, but outright beautiful. I think it's a poor choice and worse, a clichéd choice against which I've railed on more than one occasion

I want to give here, thanks to Philip Pullman, an example of how it can be done and made to work well. Frederick, the photographer, has his breath taken away by Lord Wytham's daughter, Lady Mary. The text reads, "...beautiful wasn't quite the word. The girl was astoundingly lovely, with a grace and shyness and delicate coral coloring which made him want to reach for his camera..."

So here is the first part of it - a photographer's view. Note that it's not the author telling us she's beautiful, but a character observing her to be so, and he's doing this because he is a photographer - someone who we would expect to react to beauty whether it's in the face of a woman, or in a sunset, or a flower, or something else.

Later, another character says to the main character, Sally Lockhart, "...Lady Mary's beauty would fade. Yours is not dazzling, but it is a beauty of mind and character, and it will grow stronger...." To me, that is exactly how it should be approached and how it can be done well. Anything else is cheap by comparison and insulting to women in general.

In addition to Sally, there is another strong woman in this novel - she's an ardent admirer of Mackinnon's who has no illusions about her own lack of beauty. Her face is disfigured by a birthmark, but she shows her inner beauty by how strong she is in the face of her poverty and in her lack of a more ordinary-looking face. She is the one who shows them a newspaper clipping which confirms the visions both Mackinnon and Budd have had. It's someone Bellmann killed in a duel. We also have confirmed something which has been a growing suspicion for attentive readers: that Mackinnon is actually the son of Lord Wytham and Nellie Budd.

Sally has by now learned that Bellmann is building an automated steam gun. His belief is that once every nation owns these guns, peace will inevitably reign because no one will dare start a war. He's delusional of course, as the arms race between the US (United States) and the US (Union of Soviets) conclusively proved. The big guys simply pay the little guys, one way or another, to fight proxy wars. As long as there are haves and have-nots, war is inevitable. But this is not the problem with the steam gun as Sally discovers. It's confined to railway tracks. With such limited mobility, Sally determines that it's intended to be used against a nation's own population, not against foreign aggressors. But Sally has a plan.

Pullman evidently likes to kill off main characters with the glee of a Joss Whedon or a Jo Rowling, and he manages to slaughter both Sally's dog and her fiancé, as Frederick is by then. Bellman is also dead, and we're left with the knowledge that Sally's one brief dalliance with Frederick has borne fruit. I recommend this as a worthy read.


The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman


Rating: WORTHY!

Published in 1985, and set in Victorian times, 1872, this is the first of a quadrilogy, three-quarters of which I enjoyed overall. It's been a long time since I read this though, and I still have to read the last volume in the set!

I have multiple problems with Goodreads (not least of which is that it's owned by the unforgivable Amazon), but one of them is that the blurb for this book begins: "Sally is sixteen and uncommonly pretty." I don't see what that has to do with anything. If she were sixteen and plain would her story be not worth telling? Are her age and her looks her most important qualities? Goodreads makes me sick at times.

Yes, maybe that blurb was posted by some reviewer, but if Goodreads librarians were not among the most useless people on the planet, they would fix things like this. I'm surprised that Pullman himself hasn't complained about it. I know I would if someone characterized one of my main characters so shallowly. But then he's not listed as a 'Goodreads author' whatever the hell that means, so maybe his voice doesn't count since they don't own him? Or maybe he gives less thought to Goodreads machinations than I do? I dunno.

The Wikipedia entry isn't much better! The entry doesn't talk about beauty, but it's so obsessed with TV and stage adaptations of the book that it completely fails to say a word about the plot! Pathetic. An encyclopedia entry that says not a word about its subject! LOL! That's sadly underperforming for Wikipedia I have to say.

Take it from me that Sally Lockhart's looks are unimportant in this story. It's her character that's the critical quality and she has that in abundance. She's an orphan, her mother some time past, and her father having died in a shipwreck. She's under the care (so-called) of a cold bitch of a woman, but this doesn't hold sway for long.

Sally is called to the shipping office to which her father had ties and she learns of some information there that sets her on a course of conflict with the bad guys, which consist of a mysterious Asian and an evil woman who works for him and who isn't entirely lacking in similarity to Marisa Coulter of the 'His Dark Materials' hexalogy. Sally bests them both and makes a friend of Frederick with whom she has only a short-term relationship, it turns out.

I really liked this story and commend it as a worthy read. I also commend the TV adaptation starring two Doctor Who alumni: a very young Matt Smith and Billie Piper.


The Lonely Balloon by Gemma Mallorey, Cleoward Sy


Rating: WORTHY!

The very title of this made me laugh. I am so far out of the intended age group for it, yet I couldn’t help but read it! That’s the importance of a good title. Good art also helps, and the amazingly-named and equally talented Cleoward Sy definitely stepped up there. The illustrations are awesome: colorful and beautifully rounded as you’d hope for in a book about a balloon. The writing is good, too, full of question and feeling, replete with wonder about where this little balloon will end up.

The poor balloon seems to be above everyone. Is that why finding friends is hard? Birds aren’t interested, neither are the flags – but at least they wave! Maybe the toys in the little kid's bedroom will befriend a balloon? I liked this story and commend it for young children. It’s full of hope and persistence, and there isn’t a better combination to be had.


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

They say Blue by Jillian Tamaki


Rating: WORTHY!

I commend this book! Reading it was like reading a series of haikus. The theme is color and it meanders all over the world and the seasons, starting with the blue sky and ocean in summer, and drifting through the seasons. It was beautifully written and gorgeously illustrated and I fell completely in love with it. I enjoyed Jillian Tamaki's drawings in Gertie's Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley, which I favorably reviewed back in June of 2016. It's nice to see her out on her own. I recommend this nook, even if you don't have children!


Sunday, July 15, 2018

Goldilocks and the Infinite Bears by John McNamee


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was an unexpected gem I found in net Galley's 'read now' selection, which is always a hit and miss affair. This was a hit. The graphic novel consists of simply-drawn cartoons - several panels and sometimes more than one page to each topic, illustrating humorous and unexpected outcomes to stories arising from assorted inspirations such as fairy tales, pop culture, religion and so on.

The very first one, for example, shows Goldilocks entering a room and unsuccessfully sampling various servings of porridge, and eventually revealing that the reasons she cannot find one to her taste is that this is hell and it's where porridge thieves are sent!

That's the kind of humor, and sometimes it's hit and sometimes miss. There were several of these I simply didn't get, or I did get (or thought I did!), but did not find funny, but there are enough here that anyone is bound to find something to their taste. The closest better-known example of this kind of humor that I can reference are the cartoons of The Far Side, although this is a bit different from that. I had the same feeling of hit and miss with those cartoons that I do with this, but this was, overall, funny enough and original enough that I consider it a worthy read.


The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen Minor Works


Rating: WORTHY!

As I mentioned in the previous review, I checked this out of the library at the same time as the other, only to discover that they pretty much contain the same material, so you takes your library card and you pays your respects, I guess. These can probably be found online these days so maybe a trip to the bookstore or library isn't necessary.

This volume contains very much the same thing the other did, but in a different order, this one being more chronological, and largely in reverse order of the other, strangely enough. Up front is young Jane's 'juvenilia' so-called, which consists of literary efforts preserved (and thankfully so) from her childhood which are amusing and very interesting for Austen fans. This is followed by Lady Susan a very short epistolary story which may have been written as early as the mid 1790's when Jane wasn't even in her twenties, but which wasn't actually published until almost a century later. Lady Susan is quite different from her other work.

There is also The Watsons (rather a prototype of Pride and Prejudice) and Sanditon, aka The Brothers, which was uncompleted at the time of her death. This book also contains quite a few poems written by Austen which make for interesting reading. I recommend this as a worthy read.


Sanditon and Other Stories by Jane Austen


Rating: WORTHY!

I got this from my local library out of curiosity. I got a companion volume to it also, but both volumes contain pretty much the same thing: the Jane Austen works that didn't quite make it big!

This volume contains what is commonly called Sanditon, which was the novel Austen was working on when she died. Her own title for it was The Brothers. Many people have pretentiously tried to 'continue' this novel since it was incomplete, but unsurprisingly, it has never taken off as her other major works did.

It contains Lady Susan, about a very aggressive and self-possessed older woman, which Austen finished right before she began work on "Elinor and Marianne" which came to be known as Sense and Sensibility, and following which she began her second full-length novel, "First Impressions" which is known today as Pride and Prejudice.

It also contains The Watsons - the story of Sherlock Holmes's famous companion before the two of them met. Just kidding! Seriously, The Watsons is about an invalid and impoverished clergyman and his four unmarried daughters. Sounds remarkably like Pride and Prejudice, doesn't it?!

Additionally this collection contains what's come to be called "Juvenilia" which is material Austen composed when she was a juvenile. Some of this is really quite amusing. It also contains Austen's tongue-in-cheek 'plan of a novel' and opinions she evidently collected, expressed by friends over her (then) recently published work such as Mansfield Park and Emma.

I recommend this for real fans of Jane Austen.


Atheism: The Case Against God by George H Smith


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a book which covers the ground which Richard Dawkins was accused of failing to cover in his excellent The God Delusion, but as Dawkins himself mentioned in that book, it was never his intention to do that since it had been done already - in books such as this one! Note that these arguments are not new (indeed, the copyright on this one is some forty years old), and some of them go back to antiquity, but the refutations still stand as strong as ever since nothing new or original has arisen to overturn these.

The author opens with a discussion of the scope of atheism and the concept of a god, and then specifically looks at the god of Christianity. In part two, he considers reason versus faith, the varieties of faith, and the revelation. Part three addresses the arguments for a god tackling them one after another: those from natural theology, from a first cause, from contingency, and from design: a non-argument which has been much popularized lately by those who are clueless about science and who call themselves creation scientists. Trust me, there is no such thing as creation science unless the definition of science is changed by faith so that it equates to 'carping about things you don't like and can refute neither by logic nor by counter evidence'.

He concludes with a discussion of the practical consequences of belief and the sins of Christianity.

I recommend this as a worthy read, but please note that you can these days find pretty much everything this book contains online.


The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding


Rating: WORTHY!

Subtitled "and the best burger in Los Angeles" this book tells the story of Abby, who is working a summer part time internship at a fashion store called Lemonberry not far from where she lives. Normally the store takes on only one intern, but the manager, Maggie, is expecting a busy summer and so takes on two this year, and therein lies the problem - the intern often gets to stay on at the store as a paid employee (how that works given that they;re already staffed isn't gone into), so it means that Abby in in competition with Jordana Perez, on whom she soon discovers, she's crushing.

If you don't like cute, you won't like this because this is a very cute relationship. But that said, it's also quite stereotypical. I've read too many YA novels where there's the girl and the bad boy, and while this is an LGBTQIA story, Jordi is definitely the trope bad boy, short-haitred, dressed in black, in complete contrast to Abby who wears bright colors, often with a fruit motif. It turns out that Jordi isn't as bad as she's painted, so there is an out, but it still seemed a bit been-there-done-that to me: Abby the femme with Jordi the butch. It's right there in the names! it would have been nice had they been named against stereotype, and the fact these these contrasts between them were never really explored was a minor problem for me.

Another contrast is that Abby is overweight and Jordi is far from it. Some reviewers have outright described her as fat, but I don't like to use that word, especially in a case where we never really get an idea of exactly what body type Abby has. Ultimately, it's not important what body a person has if they're healthy and are getting some exercise, but it felt like a bit of a betrayal in that Abby seems far too comfortable in herself for the real world, and we never really get any feeling that she's had a hard time for her body.

It would be nice if that was everyone's case, it really would, but it's not, so this felt a bit unrealistic to me especially set as it was in a teen/high-school environment. Literally everyone accepted her and no one ever had a remark about her? And this is when she's hanging around with jocks because her best friend is dating one? It seemed a bit too sunshine and rainbows, especially in an era of a shameful presidency where crassness and crudity and rampant misogyny, homophobia, and racism is positively encouraged. The book was published only this year, so yes, the author knew, and I was sorry she didn't do more with that.

That said, I really loved Abby for her humor and wit, and for her observations of life around her and even for being scatterbrained at times. Her relationship with her best friend Maliah was a solid one, and even what she develops with this new guy during the course of the story - one of the jocks, named Jackson, or Jax for short. He was pretty cool despite being a dick on occasion, and be warned there is an ulterior motive!

Abby seems to be fine with how she is, but there seems to be a lot of reference to her body in spite of this. She mentions it quite a lot in contrast to her profession that she's happy with how she is, and this isn't gone into either. Nor is her mother's shameful behavior towards her which seems inexplicable and particularly with regard to the kind of person Abby grew up to be.

Abby got her internship because she is a blogger with a lot to say about fashion for plus-sized women. Jordi got the job because of her photography and it's this which causes some grief later in the story - a plot point I found to be a little on the thin side which is ironic give the subject of the story! Once she and Abby begin dating, Jordi starts takign lots of pictures of Abby, and Abby never objects or questions to what use these might be put, not even when she realizes that Jordi likes to show the world how she sees it, and that she has an upcoming show at a local public display area.

Warning bells should have rung in Abby's head, which is sad, because they don't and this makes her look a lot less astute about trends and signs than she's been shown to be to that point. I'm not usually good at picking these things out, but even I could see exactly what was coming from a mile away.

The blurb tells us that "...when Jordi's photography puts Abby in the spotlight, it feels like a betrayal, rather than a starring role." Yes, Abby is the star of Jordi's show. This is not a spoiler because it's no surprise whatsoever. This is followed by the truly dumb, trademark question that utterly moronic blurb-writers cannot seem to keep themselves from asking: "Can Abby find a way to reconcile her positive yet private sense of self with the image that other people have of her?" Hell no! The world will explode in a nuclear holocaust! Hell no! She's met a hot Internet celeb, and fallen in love, throwing Jordi over. Hell no, Abby is so offended by Jordi's pictorial that she's scared straight and starts dating Jax. Seriously? Of course Abby and Jordi will end up together - it's that kind of story. Duhh!

Book blurb writers must have a truly abyssal view of their readers' intellect to pose imbecilic questions like that. And they're so frequent, especially in chick lit. What does that say about how publishers view their readership?

Abby's reaction to Jordi putting her into the spotlight seemed disingenuous to me, and it completely betrays the relationship far more than Abby whines that Jordi has betrayed her. Grow a pair Abby! Her reaction is far too dramatic and written solely for the purpose of breaking them up so they can have a tearful reunion later, and this smacked of amateurishness to me. It read t this point more like fanfic than ever it did a professionally published novel.

This is the part of the book that I did not like and which seemed much more unrealistic than any other part. Some people have called out Jordi in their reviews, for her behavior, but she's behaving true to character. It's Abby who is willing to betray Jordi and her supposed love for this woman, over a thing like this which could easily have been resolved instead of discussing it with her. This relationship is doomed, trust me!

I think it would have been a better ending to have had Abby realize that she had overreacted, and had her go to reconcile with Jordi only to find that Jordi refuses, because Abby had betrayed her by showing such a ready willingness to completely ditch her and turn her back on her over a simple misunderstanding. That's how I would have ended this one.

I have to say a word about the fashion element too! On the one hand this book shows Abby as being very stylish and dressy, and on a budget too (although Abby never actually seems short of money, Where she gets it all goes unexplained). I have no problem with Abby wanting to be stylish and having an eye for it. She can be anything she wants. Even the anorexic, self-indulgent, fatuous and shallow world of fashion is waking up - begrudgingly and far too slowly - to the fact that people come in other sizes than Bulemic Zero.

But it bothered me that Abby (and the author) had nothing much to say on this topic. Just saying. It's this and the magazines, and Hollywood, and TV which contrive to make women feel ugly and poorly dressed, and unsexy and worthless, and it's shameful. This is why I have no tolerance for the fashion world. Its sole purpose is to make women feel inadequate and out of date, and thereby inveigle them into endlessly dieting and spending money they don't have on the endlessly updating latest fashions, and it's criminal, misogynistic, and disgusting. Women have enough to contend with in the academic ad business worlds without piling this on.

But all of that said, this book was cute and for the most part told a story I really liked and enjoyed. I just think that the predictable break-up was far too predictable and for the most predictable of reasons, and this betrayed the story. Plus I am not a huge fan of predictable! A little bit predictable yes, because it's comforting, and we can use a lot of that under this presidency, but not so glaringly so! That said I commend the novel as a worthy read overall.


Fearless girls, wise women, and beloved sisters edited by Kathleen Ragan


Rating: WORTHY!

Subtitled "heroines in folktales from around the world" this was a mixed quality book which I nonetheless commend as a worthy read. I picked it up because folk tales are always fun; plus I'm currently working on a book based on a fairy tale, and I was hoping it would contribute to enriching that book, but it really didn't! It did give me some entertainment, and those ideas are now percolating in my brain, which is always a dangerous thing.

This book, be warned, is a very long book, and it took me some time to get though in my leisurely, meandering, idiosyncratic manner. It's divided into somewhat arbitrary regions of the globe from which these various tales are derived: Africa, Pacific, Europe, Asia, North and South American, etc., and each story indicates the people it came from, so the variety (and the quality, as I mentioned) is immense. It does mean that there is something for everyone.

After each story, the editor adds a paragraph about the thrust of the story or adds some personal observation, or something about feminism. The book is after all, as you can guess, comprised of stories wherein the main character is a woman, and some of them are based on legends of real historical women.

My favorites were Molly Whuppie, A Wonderful Story, Davit, and Anait, but that's not to say I didn't enjoy many of the others. Now I've commended it, I can recommend it!

Sailor Twain or, The Mermaid in the Hudson by Mark Siegel


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a graphic novel written and illustrated by Siegel, which I read a while back and had forgotten to blog! I do not know how that happened, but now I'm correcting that mistake. I really enjoyed this. It went on a bit long to be truly perfect, and the ending was somewhat confused, but overall it was a worthy read.

I'm not a big fan of mermaid stories, despite having an idea for one of my own! They have never made a whole lot of sense to me, but to have the, what might be called 'vagina-shaming' and erroneous insult of a fishy smell taken ownership of in so graphic a manner whereby the lower half actually is a fish, is too delicious and intriguing a concept, and I have to love it.

My lack of fanship for these stories is admirably attested to by the fact that I've reviewed only one mermaid book in my entire blog of many hundreds of reviews, and I liked that one. I know I have another somewhere on my shelf which I should read and blog, but for now, this is the only other one. That said, I watched and enjoyed an entire TV series about these mermaids who live on the coast of Queensland, Australia. it was called H2O and had a kick-ass theme song (Ordinary Girl) written by Shelly Rosenberg and performed by Kate Alexa.

The reason I made this drastic decision was that I was working on my Terrene World novel Seahorses, a follow-up to Cloud Fighters, although featuring a different cast (I'm not a fan of series!). My characters are not mermaids, but they do have special powers in this environmentally-themed, female-empowerment novel for middle-graders which was also set in that same general vicinity, and I wanted some local flavor and accent, and in the end I became quite a fan of the show because it was so cute and amusing! Plus I've always been a softie for Australians.

Anyway! Sailor Twain plies the Hudson river in New York and he lands a mermaid one day. She's sick and he keeps her hidden in his cabin as he nurses her back to health whereupon the two become quite attached. The story then becomes highly embellished with shady characters, mysterious females, and undersea enchantments, and apart from the somewhat confused ending, it tells a fun story of intrigue, fantasy, and mystery and does quite a good take on mermaid mythology. I recommend it. Or maybe just commend it. I mean, why would I recommend it when I haven't commended it in the first place? Okay...so I commend it, and now I recommend it! Yeah, that's it!


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Fire and Heist by Sarah Beth Durst


Rating: WORTHY!

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

THIS BOOK WAS FREAKING AWESOME!

Let me say here, right up front, that I am not a fan of were-books: shape-shifters and the like. I particularly detest the plethora of werewolf novels that have flooded the market in the wake of the execrable Twilight garbage. It should have been named Twee Light. What I respect are not those authors who jump on the latest big trilogy bandwagon (it's alway a tedious trilogy, isn't it?), but those who take the road less traveled, and I had a feeling about this one. So it's congrats to the blurb writer for once!

Anyone who follows my reviews has to know that I have little respect for publisher's back-cover blurb writers. I have to love a blurb that doesn't ask a totally brain-dead question at the end: "Will she find the love of her life?" (after the spineless chicky has fled back to her hometown?) Duhh. Of course she will otherwise what's the point of your dumbass romance? "Can Jack-Me-Lad-The-Hero ex-Marine special forces cowboy save the wilting maiden in distress and take her in his manly arms?" Who the heck cares, really? Can the young fresh filly in the werewolf pack win the hardened heart of the aloof, troubled, damaged, warped, out-of-whack, blemished, besmirched, gun-shy, bad-boy alpha male? Or should the bitch just shoot him like the rabid cur he is? Do those blurb writers really think their readers are that stupid?

But I digress! I decided take a chance and it paid off. I am not a fan of first person novels at all, but this one was first person and I loved it. See? It can be done - if you know how to write, and two things Sarah Beth Durst knows are how to plot and how to write. I was enraptured from the start and flew through the pages like a were-dragon through the sky, and talking of which, Sky Hawkins is my new go-to-girl.

The story is quite short, but packed with amusement, action, and awesomeness. I can't give it a better compliment than to say I wish I had thought of this first! I guess I'll have to stick with Saurus! The story is of the Hawkins family - once well-to-do in the wyvern world, but now rather disgraced and humbled, their mother having failed in her last heist (wyverns are famous for their heists), and also having shamefully disappeared without a trace.

Well, Sky isn't going to put up with it, and if her frightened brothers and father aren't going to help, she's going to put together her own crew, and find out exactly what her mother was up to on that fateful night trying to rob the vault of her boyfriend's...sorry, ex-boyfriend's (he ditched her after the scandal) father. I won't insult your intelligence by asking if she knows what she's doing! I'll just say, read it and leap!

I came across a couple of notes I'd made to myself that I only just uncovered recently. Here they are! At one point, Sky observes of the dragon land that she calls home: “'Home has robots?' When I’d pictured a dragon homeland, I hadn’t pictured, well, Star Trek" Excuse me, but Star Trek has no robots! It’s one of the big problems with it, just as the problem with Star Wars is too many ridiculous and annoying robots. We have robots and drones already, here and now. I makes no sense whatsoever to posit a future where they no longer exist - not without a really good explanation for it which has yet to be forthcoming.

The other thing was that on p132, Novi, the portal guard has to return to her post, but then four pages later, she’s still there with Sky! These are only minor issues, and have nothing to take away from the overall enjoyability of the book. I don't doubt that we've all made the Novi error or something like it, but it is something a professional editor should catch even if the writer doesn't. So I still recommend this work as a worthy read. Just wanted to tidy up and close out the review!


Essential Art History by Paul Duro, Michael Greenhalgh


Rating: WORTHY!

Now back to some books I can get behind! I recently published the sixth in my own Little Rattuses series for children and insane adults like myself. Titled The Very Fine-Art Rattuses, the book aimed at teaching a smattering of fine art to young children. Arts are all too often forgotten in our ridiculous addiction to sports in the USA, and it's important not to lose them or lose sight of them, especially in young impressionist...er...impressionable children! A book like this, while not itself aimed at children, is useful for anyone who wants to know more, or, like me, seeks to include art in a novel, and make it look like they know what they're talking about! Now you know my secret! I don't paper over the cracks, I paint over them!

This three-hundred-some page paperback is a literal A-Z of art terminology, a virtual encyclopedia of everything from Abbozzo (not to be confused with a bozo) to Zola, Émile (not to be confused with a bozo). I recommend this for anyone who wants a handy art book to hand, but note that this book is text only - it carries zero illustrations. This book may know a lot about art, but it doesn't show what it's like! This may strike you as odd, but it would be ten times as thick if it had illustrated the terminology, and imagery is all over the Internet these days anyway for reference purposes. I recommend it.


Saturday, July 7, 2018

Lizzy and the Good Luck Girl by Susan Lubner


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was an entertaining book about Lizzy, her friend Joss, and this young girl they find living rough in a decrepit house across the street from Lizzy's family restaurant where Lizzy also helps out. It's almost an exhausting book to read because there's always something going on! I don't know where Lizzy gets the energy! She is a sweet-hearted girl who helps out at the local animal rescue center and is working with Joss to produce cat sweaters to sell to raise funds for the shelter.

Her soft spot for down-on-their-luck pets is what gets her into that building where she and Joss encounter Charlotte, who has run away from home because her family is breaking up, and she can't stand to see it. Lizzy and Joss promise not to give the girl away, but when the house across the street burns down, Lizzy ends up taking in another stray, and Charlotte starts living in her closet!

I don't normally comment on covers because they're usually nothing to do with the author, and my blog is about writing: interiors, not covers! But I have to say in this case, the cover image is quite charming. I liked it very much.

Overall this book was fun, engaging, told a great story, and really brought me, as a reader, in. Even though it's not aimed anywhere near me, I'm happy to be collateral damage in this case! It touches on some delicate topics with appropriate humor, sensitivity, and complete honesty. I recommend it as a worthy read.


Alex and the Monsters: Here Comes Mr. Flat! by Jaume Copons, Liliana Fortuny


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Translated from the original French by David Warriner, this book (curiously originally titled Arriba el Sr Flat!) was a bit young for me, so while I found it entertaining and I recommend it as a worthy read for middle-grade readers, it's also the start of a series, and I don't intend to follow it beyond this volume. I'm not much of a series kind of a guy!

So Alex is a middle-grader who is totally irresponsible and I'm not completely convinced that he learned his lesson by the end of the book! His room is a mess and his homework assignments - while he does them - do not get turned in. Frankly I think his teachers are as irresponsible as Alex is if they don't require the kids to turn in their assignments regularly!

Alex discovers that this plush toy he finds (which he calls a 'stuffie') is actually a real monster from a book (so the monster claims). The monsters all got kicked out of their book by the evil Dr Brut. The monster, Mr Flat, brings a change to Alex's life by interesting him in reading, but aside from Mr Flat going missing, that's about all that happens in this short novel.

The novel is illustrated by Liliana Fortuny, and has some comic-book like pages, but mostly it's a chapter book and it's mildly amusing and entertaining, and the pictures are sometimes funny, so I consider this a worthy read for its intended age group.


Thursday, July 5, 2018

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Emily Carroll


Rating: WORTHY!

The last thing (and only thing prior to this) that I'd read by this author was the pretentiously titled "The Impossible Knife of Memory" and I hated and DNF'd it. This graphic novel is based on Anderson's first novel, and it's actually pretty entertaining and amusing. It's about this dysfunctional girl in high-school and her thoughts and observations on the world around her, which is pretty much what the other book was about now that I think of it, but I like this one a heck of a lot better. It does make me wonder though, if Anderson is something of a one-note author.

We don't learn until well into the novel what exactly happened to high-school freshman Melinda Sordino, which all-but rendered her speechless. It's pretty obvious though, as the story moves along, that she was raped by a senior and has become so shut-down by the horrifying experience that she can barely articulate anything, much less tell what happened to her.

The story is a strong one, but I can't help but feel that the real tragedy here is not so much what happened to Melinda, as it is about how society failed her so comprehensively once she had been assaulted. None of that is explored in this - at least not in the graphic novel, which I'm forced to assume is representative of the original.

So many rape stories have been explored, but so few of those pursue how the victim was failed by everyone around her. This would have been a perfect vehicle for that. I'm sorry the author wasn't more imaginative.

The story was amusing and Melinda's caustic observations of high-school life are amusing, but in some ways the story itself is one-note because there is very little to leaven this dull, leaden bread. I can understand how every day might well feel the same flat gray to her, but that's no excuse for an author to risk making the reader feel the same way about every page!

The ending is also a little trite and convenient. I don't imagine many people who have been raped find this magical catharsis so quickly. That's not to say they don't or can't heal.

However, overall, I did enjoy this and managed to read all the way to the end without feeling I should ditch the volume, so I have to declare this a worthy read despite its flaws.


Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Josephine Baker by Isabel Sanchez Vegara, Agathe Sorlet


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is a charmer of a book for young children, told by Vegara, and illustrated in charming simplistic color by Sorlet, it tells the spectacular story of Freda Josephine McDonald, a dirt poor girl from St Louis Missouri, who became known to the world as Josephine Baker, dancer, actor, and World War Two hero, who spoke out against racism and adopted a rainbow family of children to put her actions where her mouth was.

This book is part of a series (Little People, Big Dreams) aimed at young children, and relating the lives of outstanding people including:

  • Maya Angelou
  • Jane Austen
  • Agatha Christie
  • Marie Curie
  • Amelia Earhart
  • Ella Fitzgerald
  • Anne Frank
  • Jane Goodall
  • Audrey Hepburn
  • Frida Kahlo
  • Ada Lovelace
  • Georgia O’Keefe
  • Emmeline Pankhurst
  • Rosa Parks
  • Harriet Tubman

The list seems sadly more biased towards the arts than ever it is towards the sciences or engineering, or military or other public service, for that matter, but that really just reflects what a disproportionate influence celebrities have upon in modern society, doesn't it?

However, this book in particular tells a stirring story worth telling, and worth children learning, and I recommend it highly.


The Night Dragon by Naomi Howarth


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I recently favorably reviewed this artist's book Tug of War. I had slightly mixed feelings about that, but this book is not so much an order of magnitude greater, as it is in a different universe. It's a pure pleasure to read.

For some reason, this book did not want to download from Net Galley, but I'm glad I persisted. After three attempts it finally came down - dragons are like that! - and it turned out to be one of the most gorgeously-illustrated children's books I've ever read.

The cover looks like it's lit with neon lights, and the interior is one breathtaking image after another. Maud is a rainbow joy especially when compared with the earth tomes of the other dragons. I read this in my iPad, but out of curiosity I downloaded it to my iPhone too, and it still looked good on there although the text is too small to read without stretching the image on the screen, but the pictures are worth having in your pocket!

Maud is a very shy night dragon and while her four colleagues (they're not really friends) launch every evening to spew out soot and darken the sun for night time, Maud sits and dreams. Her only true friend is the mouse who urges her to fly, but Maud is shy.

One afternoon the other four dragons have a party - Maud isn't invited it needles to say - and afterwards the others are so sleepy that they fail to awaken to start the night. It's all up to Maud! It turns out that Maud really isn't like the other dragons after all. Instead of sooty, dark sunsets, she breathes out the most fiery orange, startling yellow, deep red, heliotrope, and gold sunsets you ever saw. She flies all around the world delivering this brilliant bounty of beauty, and finally comes into her own - as any artist will given sufficient encouragement and support!

I loved this book and I recommend it as a worthy read for children young and old.


Twisting Fate by Pamela Munster


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Not to be confused with Twisted Fate by Pamela Kennedy (there is a score of "Twisted Fate" novels!), this is the true story of a doctor and professor of Medical Oncology who works at the Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center, a part of the University of California San Francisco, who becomes a patient and thereby gets to see her work from the other side. It's a perspective not granted to many people and definitely one no-one would choose when it comes to the medical profession, but as a doctor and a scientist, this author makes the most of it, exploring her feelings as well as her diagnosis, and constantly relating it back to her interactions with her own patients both prior to her diagnosis and afterwards as well as to the prevalence of breast cancer nationwide in the USA.

The events are written well-enough that we get to feel what the doctor/patient feels, but nowhere is it flowery or so sugary that it's actually sickening. Quite the contrary. It's very sober and a little depressing at times, but it makes for an engrossing and useful read. The relation of her reactions and feelings came across as realistic and authentic, just as if they were our own, and they made me live the experience as much as it's possible for someone of the opposite gender (why opposite? Shouldn't it be complementary gender?!) and someone who has no such diagnosis can live it.

I've actually worked in a hospital oncology ward - not as a caregiver but as support personnel, mind - yet I needed none of that knowledge to follow and understand this because the text was informative and did not talk down to the reader, while still simply explaining problems and concepts as they arose.

There were, I have to say, multiple grammar issues in the text - more than I usually see in an advance review copy. Hopefully these will be corrected before the actual published copy is released. I list them here to that end:

  • "So at worst the tumor would small" - I assume this should read 'would BE small'
  • "Kate told me that she had noted that her skin dimpling about a couple of months back" - I assume this should read, 'skin WAS dimpling' or 'noted her skin dimpling' (omit 'that').
  • "...no woman needs the dreadfully surgery..." - dreadful, not dreadfully
  • "...the goal to reduce the body's estrogen in the body." Too many bodies! Either 'to reduce estrogen in the body' or 'to reduce the body's estrogen'
  • "So why are so many mastectomies are still being done" - Too many 'are's!
  • "What appeared important early on may not remained important as the time goes by" - 'may not HAVE remained important'?
  • “And all of us a sudden I found myself weeping” There's an us that shouldn't be in there.
  • “...specific sections on chromosomes 17...” There’s only one chromosome 17 per genome!

One thing I couldn’t help but find curious in this book was how little involvement the author's husband appears to have in this. It’s not my business and not my place to judge; a marriage either works or it doesn't work according to its own rules, and everyone's is different, but after having read a book recently where the author brought her husband into it to what felt like an inappropriate degree, this book contrasted sharply with that one in that it felt like this author all but excluded her husband in a situation where emotional support from family is a critical component of patient care. It may well just have been an accident of the way this was written, and since this was an ARC, things may change before the final published version, but I think it's worth some thought regarding adopting this approach.

This seemed especially relevant given that her husband is also an oncologist and thereby had a much deeper insight into what was going on than your typical spouse might. More of his involvement would have been welcome in my opinion, but there's this one brief mention when they were on a hiking holiday right before she was due to have a double radical mastectomy, and she asked him how he felt about her losing both breasts and he didn't even address the question. Instead began talking about something entirely unrelated.

That to me, seemed decidedly odd, if not outright callous. The author explained it away by saying that's how he always as - it wasn't a big deal to him so he wasn't interested in talking about it, but it presented him in a very cold light, especially when contrasted with how frequently she mentions how emotionally supportive her staff and colleagues were. It stood out quite starkly.

The author talks about her colleagues, staff, and patients quite freely, too. I am assuming - and hoping! - that she's changed the patient names at least. I also hope she asked her colleagues if they wanted to be mentioned. I'm a very private person so had I been a colleague I would have resented being talked about so freely in someone else's book, but each to her or his own.

Normally I ignore things like introductions, prefaces, prologues, author's notes, acknowledgements and dedications as well as chapter quotes and so on in books, but in this case I actually went looking for an intro or a note to see if there was anything mentioned about this: permissions and name changes, but there was not, so there was no information to be had on this topic.

I was once again disappointed here (as I have been in other books from academically inclined authors) to discover that the book is evidently formatted as a print book, with what I call 'academic margins' - meaning the margin is excessive - an inch or more (and even greater at the bottom of the page). I have to ask when are writers and publishers going to respect the only entity on the planet that is actively and dedicatedly trying to combat climate change: trees?

The text on each page occupies only fifty percent of the page. No one wants to see the entire page covered in text of course, but if this book had margins even half the existing size, and the text had not been quite so generously-spaced, the book could well have been maybe half as long, and thereby slaughtered fifty percent fewer trees. Writers and publishers need to think seriously about this, because it matters even in an ebook, which requires more energy to store, retrieve and transmit when it’s longer.

One more curiosity! When I went to look up the author at her professional page on the University web site, I found two links and each seemed to link to a different people! I think it’s really the same person but the two photos look so different: one is a blond, the other much darker haired. Her professional history though is impressive. This is one hard-working doctor!

Despite some issues I had with it, I liked this book a lot. I think it's important and useful, and I recommend it for anyone interested in what those inflicted with cancer go through and what the options are for combatting this awful disease which, despite its virulence, is slowly succumbing to technology and medical science - and to the wisdom and dedication of healthcare professionals like this one. This is a worthy read.