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

Friday, September 22, 2017

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Teen Boat! by Dave Roman, John Green


Rating: WORTHY!

There seem to be an awful lot of reviewers (even positive ones) who simply didn't get this book. It was a parody, and on top of that, it was gorgeously illustrated and on top of that, it was funny.

The stories were off the wall, but were also played for serious effect even as humor came squeezing through at every tack. Frankly, this is something and I might have launched in all seriousness to get my kids going and make them think their dad is really losing it - as they accuse me of so often (especially after I released Baker Street), but these guys (Dave Roman writer, John Green - not the John Green who makes me barf - artist) actually produced it. It's about this teenage guy who can turn into a boat! It was pretty funny, and consistently so through every story.

This foreign exchange student comes to the school and her name is Nina Pinta Santa Maria. Teen Boat (his actual name) falls for her, but she only has eyes for the school jock, who is a jerk of course. Teen has a best friend, a girl named Joey, whom he takes completely for granted. He is so oblivious of her that it's truly funny rather than annoying, although it does make me wonder why she puts up with him.

But then Joey has a secret of her own which isn't revealed in this volume. One of my sons, who seems to have inherited my wife's power to divine these things long before I ever do, thinks she's secretly an iceberg, and I'm on board with that. She's definitely a cool character.

Teen Boat runs for class president, falls in love with a Gondola, crashes into a gas tanker on his driving test, and has a run in with pirates, and therein a sequel lies! One which I shall track down ASAP and hopefully find it on sail..... If not, I may well end-up on the dock before the judge and be propelled with a stern warning into the brig for failing to bow! If looks could keel!


The ABC Animal Picnic by Janina Rossiter


Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this is an advance review copy. In honor of full disclosure, I should say that I while I am not a personal friend of the author's, I was asked by her if I would review this one, and I freely confess that I was happy to do so having had on balance, such a good experience with her books in the past.

It would be easy to favor this one for the sake of past positive perspective (get used to the alliteration - it's in the book!), but I honestly believe she would not appreciate it if I did so on that basis, and I certainly would not rate a book positively were it one I had not felt was worth reading. Fortunately for both of us, she made it very easy for me to not only really like this one, but to feel sure it was a worthy read in terms of educational value for children.

It was gorgeously-illustrated to begin with, which engendered positive feelings about it before I had begun really getting into it. The illustrations - by the author - truly are remarkable. I know a few graphic novel artists who could take a page of out Janina Rossiter's artbook! I wish I had her talent.

Whereas many children's artists are content to draw simplistic pictures, these line drawings of assorted animals, and they were very assorted, were very realistic. Usually you get only mammals in a book like this but while fish and amphibians were not present, the often neglected insects were represented, as well as one from the even more often neglected, yet crucially important Annelida phylum. We also got molluscs and even Cnidaria! Try saying that when you have an allergy going on! These drawings honestly would not have looked out of place in a Victorian-era natural history book, although they were rather more playful here, than you'd find in a book like that!

The book is aimed at helping children with their ABCs, so each four-word sentence alliterates on the key letter. The first, for example, is Andy Ant Adores Apples. I don't normally do this, but I'm going to give a huge spoiler here: the last letter is Z! There I did it! Can you guess which animal that is? I also loved the British spelling of Yoghurt, although I am sure she didn't put that in there for my benefit!

Each illustration is set in a brightly-colored background that looks like water-color, and it makes the image even more striking. There are commonly-known animals and much lesser-known ones which was appreciated, and they were not all tied to mammals, although those were prevalent. To be honest, I'm quite sure that one of them is mythical, although I am equally sure that many of us wish it were not!

So overall I am happy to rate this as a worthy read and recommend it: buy it for the educational value, Keep it for the artwork. If you can interest your kids in learning to draw like this, then you will definitely kit them out to have a career as a children's book illustrator, graphic novel artist or whatever they want! The sky isn't even the limit - and isn't that what we all want for our children?


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Antisocial by Heidi Cullinan


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Erratum: "A had on Xander's knee" about 79% in should read, I think, "A Hand on Xander's knee".

This was one of the most engaging and beautifully-written novels I've ever read. I was sucked in from the start and swept along with it effortlessly. There were times that I hated to have to stop reading to get back to real life because this was more interesting! But you know it was better that way because this novel was such a tease in so many ways that by denying myself the chance to read it all in one go, I felt I shared a little something with the two main characters.

Skylar Stone is the proverbial 'born with a silver spoon in his mouth' (except that it's more complex than that), and that spoon was a very cold and uncomfortable one. Nevertheless he pressed on in life and was doing well, being both extremely popular and much sought-after as an escort to various functions by campus coeds, but he's living solely to please his father, the chill, efficient, lawyer who wants Skylar, essentially, to become a clone of him, and join his law firm - after he gets accepted to Yale Law college and graduates, of course. Therein lies the problem, because Skylar isn't scoring well on his LSAT test papers and is being tutored with little good result. His heart just isn't in it, but he's in denial about that so desperate is he to keep his father happy.

The aptly-named Xander Fairchild, on the other hand, or more accurately, on the same hand, since he's also alienated from his parents but for different reasons, is almost the polar opposite of Skylar, because he is the eponymous recluse, cantankerous and unaccommodating. He wants to do the bare minimum when it comes to interacting with others, but he has to put on an art show to graduate. The two meet almost accidentally but not quite and slowly, both come to realize they both need each other to finish their senior year projects.

This need, at first purely utilitarian, and at first resented intensely and predictably by Xander, develops into something much more personal over time as they discover that there is something more going on here than helping each other out. They're also each helping to meet a need in the other, and it;s one that one of them resented and the other barely recognized he had.

This romance comes about as the most teasing and taunting of slow-burns, and it's a real pleasure to read because you're never quite sure what will happen next. I could list more than a few YA writers who need to read this and learn from it about how real relationships begin, develop, and grow to fruition.

Note that while this author likes happy endings, she certainly doesn't like ones loaded with sugar, so if you've been getting force-fed a debilitating diet of too much sugar and fat with your reads lately, this healthy nutritional blend of wholesome writing and fiber-filled characters should please you immensely. It did me. I recommend it unreservedly. I will be looking for more novels by this author (and secretly hoping she might be contemplating writing one about one of the characters featured in this one: Zelda! I just know they have a story to tell!).


Friday, September 15, 2017

Phones Keep Us Connected by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld, Kasia Nowowiejska


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a great little children's book about the history of phones, including how they work, and how they've been developing and changing over time. It's done in a simple (but not too simple!) and colorful way that will allow any child of the appropriate age range to understand it.

It includes simple instructions to make your own phone (the cup and string method!) and ways to experiment with your design to see if your 'improvements' make it perform better or worse. I think this is a pretty darned good book to get your kids interested in science and experimentation as well as educate them about a small, but ubiquitous piece of technological history. The book is diverse and fun, and nicely done. I recommend it.


Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the sequel to The Bear and the Nightingale which I read and enjoyed very much. I was thrilled to be offered the chance to read the sequel even though I am not much of a reader of series, because the first book was so good. I am pleased to report that this (an advance review copy, note) was very much up to the standard of the first.

In this story, Vasilisa Petrovna decides she wants to travel rather than be confined in one place, especially since it is a place where she is disliked and at risk of being labeled a witch. The frost prince, Morozko, who effectively created her in the earlier novel, building on the young and gifted child that she was at birth, objects strenuously to her plan, but unwilling to bow to anyone, she forges ahead with it anyway.

On her journey, she encounters a village which has been burned by bandits who have abducted several girls, and Vasya decides that she's going to retrieve them. This in turn leads to her joining the prince's party from Moscow, which is hunting these same village-burners, and she becomes a favorite of the prince. The problem is that he thinks she's a young man, not a girl! And that scandalous situation isn't the worst thing which happens to her by far. And no, this novel is not a romance except in the very old fashioned sense of the word, I am thrilled to report!

I have to say this got off to a rather slow start for me. I do not read prologues or introductions or what have you, but the opening chapters felt like one, and I wasn't sure what they contributed to the book, but as soon as we left that part behind and joined Vasilisa as she sets off with her magnificent horse Solovey in the depths of a Russian winter, everything turned around for me, and I was engrossed from that point on. I loved that magical Russian folklore characters pop-up unannounced every now and then, some of them important to the story. They make for a rich and charming read.

Vasya is at her core a particularly strong female character, independent and not tied to any man, nor will she chase any. This feisty independence appeals to someone like me who has read too many trashy YA novels where a woman can't be a woman unless she's validated by a man. There's none of that here: Vasya will not be reigned in by anyone. She's strong, but vulnerable at times. She is almost fearless and she tries to do what she thinks is right, although it is not always the wisest course for her or those around her.

But there is a point where Vasya's gender deception is uncovered. You know it's coming, but even so it's hard to see her fall so fast and so hard, just when her life had been perking up. She's every bit up to the challenge, though she's confronted with some difficult choices and some obnoxious male figures. Despite all this, she remains strong and valiant, and I really loved the way this story went and how she made it through these obstacles without selling out.

This was a gripping and entertaining story about an awesome female character of the kind we see far too few of in novels, so yes despite my aversion to series, I should like to read more of her in the future, but for now this satisfies admirably! It's a worthy read, and I recommend it highly.


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Hot and Badgered by Shelly Laurenston


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I can't honestly review this novel because all we were allowed was the first chapter! Due to a small oversight on my part I did not realize this, but based on that sole chapter, I was interested in reading more. The blurb was misleading though. The interaction between the shape-shifters: a bear (a guy of course) and a honey badger (a girl of course) bore only passing resemblance to what was described in that blurb.

I am not a fan of the vampire/werewolf stories so I normally would not have read this, but the fact that this was expressly not about wolves (which is a genre way-the-hell overdone these days), but about a bear and a badger made it more interesting to me. I'm a big advocate of authors taking that road less-traveled rather than trying to clone some other writer's work, and it pleased me that this author appears to be, too.

I have to say that the idea that a bullet hitting someone in the shoulder or arm could propel them over a balcony is preposterous! If you understand a little physics you know that those absurd gunfights in the movies and on TV, featuring grown men flying backwards after being hit is nonsensical. A bullet is so small and so fast that it will tear right through you barely if at all affecting your stance or your motion. Depending on the circumstances, you might not even notice you've been hit at first.

To paraphrase Golden Earring in their song Twilight Zone, you are likely going to know if the bullet hits a bone. It may break it, and that will cause you problems, but it still won't throw you dramatically backwards or toss you over a balcony, unless you happen to be precariously balancing on the balcony in the first place, in which case you might drop off it.

If you've seen the North Hollywood Bank of America robbery shootout from February 1997, which is admittedly grisly, you can see from it that when shot, the suspects do not go flying anywhere, and when killed, they simply drop to the ground. If you do not want to see that, it's perfectly understandable, in which case, I'd recommend watching the twelfth episode of Ray Donovan in the third season, where Ray has a shoot-out and is hit more than once. His reaction seems far more realistic than ninety percent of actors in standard TV or movie gunfights.

One thing which was a little confusing to me was the time of day that this opening chapter took place. I'd got the impression, rightly or wrongly, that it was very early morning - as in very late at night, but then we find there are school-children on the street, so I was confused, because we'd been told the streets were quiet, so I'd been thinking it was about three AM. Clearly it was not, but if it was late enough in the morning for school-kids to be out and about, how was it that the streets were so quiet, and how come a team of mercenaries could invade a hotel and not be seen and reported? And if the hit squad was specifically after Charlie (the honey-badger) then what were they doing at the grizzly's hotel room? he had no connection with her at that point. The author might want to rethink her setting and action a bit, or explain it better!

That and the irritating shortness of the sample aside, I have to admit the idea of three sisters in serious trouble and trying to figure out what's going on, sounds like a great idea for a story. As long as we don't get the grizzly bear always riding to the rescue of the poor helpless maidens in distress, like these girls can't handle themselves and need a man to validate them, which would simply ruin the story, I'd recommend it, based on the admittedly inadequate portion I had access to.


The Art of Hiding by Amanda Prowse


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Amanda Prose would work well as this author's name too, since this was well-written and flowed so nicely! It told an engaging story and told it well. I am not a fan of novels which carry too much unleavened negativity, but this one avoided that, despite the painful topic it dealt with.

Nina McCarrick is living 'high on the hog' as they say in the USA, in an almost palatial home with her self-employed husband, Finn, and her two fine sons: Connor and Declan, who attend an exclusive private school. She's made her profession that of a full-time housewife and homemaker.

When Finn dies in a car accident, Nina is left alone with the boys, and as if this isn't bad enough, soon her whole world begins to crumble around her as she learns that her husband has run-up eight million pounds in debt on a bad investment in a construction job that his business was trying to negotiate, but which fell through.

Nina had no idea they were stretched so thin, since she was kept entirely in the dark about his business. He always assured her things were fine. Worse than this, as if it could get any worse, their house was tied-up in the company's finances, having been mortgaged to raise funds, and they are going to have to leave. Everywhere she looks, things seem blacker. Their savings are gone, and men show up one day to strip her home of anything saleable. Connor only manages to retain his laptop because it's for his education.

Nina and her kids must leave their home and she cannot think of anywhere she can go. Her family is unable to help and her snotty neighbors do not want to know her any more. Her sister steps up and manages to find her a place that's owned by an uncle, but she still has to pay rent. She figures she has enough to get them though two months, but she desperately needs to find a job - one for which she has zero qualifications or training because she has not worked since she married. Her endless, fruitless job search is heartbreaking to read. It's sad to think that the civilized world end up this way if the Business President™ continues his current insanely reckless course!

The rental place is minuscule compared with what Nina's used to, and it's cold during this winter of Nina's profound discontent, but it's a home of a sort, and Nina is now back in her home town of Southampton, close by where her sister lives - and surprisingly simply compared with what Nina's old life provided.

This is a sister with whom she has barely been in touch over the years. Nina could not shed her background fast enough once she met Finn all those years ago, and she has not looked back since, but now she finds she is having her face rubbed in her failings every time she turns around.

This story follows Nina as she tries to hold not only herself together, but her family and her life. She has to weather some dark times, and deal with her older son's anger and despair at having his comfortable life taken from him so speedily and abruptly. She bounces unpredictably between anger at her husband's betrayal and secrecy, and her pain at losing him, between fear for their future and hope that things will turn around.

I really appreciated that this author is smart enough to make this story about Nina and her strength,golden goose and rescue her from the dragon of disaster that seems constantly looming over her. I really liked this story, it was a fast comfortable read, and had interesting and engaging characters. It was realistic and enjoyable, and I recommend it. I shall look for other novels by this author.


Sunday, September 3, 2017

Bunny Drop Vo 2 by Yumi Unita


Rating: WORTHY!

How could I not pick this up at the library when the author's name might sound like 'yummy' and the title is Bunny Drop? It could have been bad, but in the end, although a little bit on the long side (and this was volume 2 in a series), it was an enjoyable read. I have not read volume one but I think I will try to get hold of that.

In volume one, Daikichi Kawachi finds himself the guardian of a six-year-old girl, Rin Kaga, who was living with his grandfather until the old man died. Rin (who has his grandfather's last name) was given up by her mother, and raised by Daikichi's grandfather and a helper who worked for him. Now Daikichi is the 'dad'.

This volume follows their life as Rin becomes ready to start elementary school, and it gives us quite an education on the pressure put on students and parents in Japan, as they have to compete to get into a good elementary school to kick-off their education, and Daikichi has to worry about whether Rin will be victimized because she does not bear the same family name as he has.

The story also works its way towards an interesting encounter with Rin's actual mom, who has her own story to tell which sounds like rather a selfish one to me.

It's amusingly and sensitively written, and beautifully-drawn (black and white line-drawings with some shading), and tells an engaging story, but I think it is a bit overdrawn - not in the art, but in the telling. I think a few trees would have appreciated this if it had been more compact. I sure would, but I am not going to negatively rate it for that. I just hope publishers and authors start to think about the impact of their work on the environment before they start writing their series, and especially their YA trilogy clones that could be told in one volume or better yet, not at all.

As for this, I recommend it.


Saturday, September 2, 2017

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen


Rating: WORTHY!

I think this is the best of Austen's efforts, and I recommend it.

Gutenberg has a free ebook of this novel. This is my second time through it, but this time it was by means of an audiobook I got from my trusty local library. I was less pleased listening to someone else read it, and I confess a bit surprised by how much prose there was between conversations. When one thinks of Austen one thinks of amusing observations and retorts, but sometimes I think I've been spoiled by seeing excellent TV productions of these stories. Austen does include a lot of (sometimes tedious) exposition, but it can also be amusing.

Mrs Bennet is perennially trying to find husbands for her five daughters, from oldest to youngest: Jane, Elizabeth (Lizzie), Mary, Catherine (Kitty), and Lydia. The story is special in that it is 200 years old and so is quite different from modern novels in outlook, and different again from American novels since it's British. It is an historical novel written contemporarily and therefore is as authentic as it gets! A lot of modern writers, especially in the YA field, could learn a lot from reading it - and internalizing the lessons here. 'Tis a pity that more do not.

I have to reiterate that Austen fanatics tend to forget what a life of privilege most characters in her stories lead. They are rich even though they often plead poverty (Bennets, I'm looking at you!). They are spoiled by having servants run around after them. They live in better homes than most people have even today, and they lead a life of the idle rich. In short, it's snobbery and privilege, and we're supposed to overlook all of that and enjoy the romance!

For me the romance is soiled by the grotesque inequality and entitlement. Would not Fitzwilliam Darcy have been that much more heroic had he been shown to do far more for the impoverished and needy than ever he was inclined to do here? Yes, he rescued Lizzie's family from the scandal brought on it by Wickham, but he did it for selfish reasons. He would have been more heroic had he challenged Wickham to a duel after the SoB tried to seduce his sister, and shot the jerk. His behavior seems almost cowardly here, and Wickham never does get a come-uppance.

That said, I did enjoy this story as it was, for what it was and for when it was (quite literally) penned. Austen often has a (perhaps unintentional) turn of humor that I find delightful, as in chapter 17 where she has Jane and Elizabeth secretly discussing Wickham's revelations regarding Darcy, from which they're disturbed by Bingley's arrival with an invitation to the ball which he had promised Lydia he should hold:

The two young ladies were summoned from the shrubbery, where this conversation passed, by the arrival of the very persons of whom they had been speaking;
Austen seems overly enamored of shrubbery in this story!

Austen also seems inconsistent in how she uses the indefinite article before an aspirate. She writes 'a husband', but 'an hope'. This may be less interesting to others than it is to me, because to me it's yet another reason to take interest in more antiquated writing styles, especially when found in the form of fiction. This antiquity of style is one of the charms of such novels. I almost end up feeling as though I'm a better person, and certainly I feel that I'm better equipped as a writer for having an acquaintanceship with such work.

The novel suggests a closer friendship between Jane and Bingley's two sisters than either the 1995 movie or the 2005 movie would have you believe. The novel also indicates that Elizabeth's first two dances with Collins were much more embarrassing than they were depicted as being in the 1995 movie ('mortification' is the term Austen uses, followed by 'ecstasy' as the dances are over and Elizabeth is released!). The 2005 movie shows no problem there at all.

This novel was not originally intended to have the title 'Pride and Prejudice', it was to have been titled 'First Impressions', but two other works with that title had been published quite recently as Austen was revising her work, so she changed it to what is in my opinion a far better title. It's hard to see this novel under it's original name!

one of the reasons I enjoy this novel is that I am familiar with many of the places mentioned, not only from having been there but also from having lived here! On her trip with the Gardiners to Derbyshire, a county in which I was born and raised Mrs Gardiner's home village of Lambton is mentioned. There is at least two Lambtons in England but neither is in Derbyshire.

One of them is famous for being the home of the Lambton Worm, an ancient legend from which Bram Stoker took his inspiration for his The Lair of the White Worm. Wikipedia informs us that the home of Fitzwilliam Darcy was modeled on Chatsworth House, a beautiful place not far from my home town. It was this very house which was used (for exteriors only) in the 2005 movie.

Austen also has Lizzie refer to other places with which I'm very familiar: Dovedale to which I've also been several times, the Peak District, and finally, my own home town, Matlock (yes, just like the TV show, but we had it first!) which is part of the Peak District.

I think of the two movies, the better one for this portion is the 2005 version, even though it strays way beyond the bounds of canon. In it, a scene was added where Lizzie is looking at some truly amazing sculptures, one of which is a bust of Darcy. Yes, Virginia, men had busts back then, and proud of them they were, too! A non-canonical scene was also added where Lizzie is attracted by some beautiful piano-playing and finds herself watching Georgiana, without knowing who she is. Darcy suddenly walks into he scene and hugs her. He sees Lizzie, who runs, evidently thinking this is Darcy's girlfriend!

There is no scene where Darcy takes a swim in this book, FYI! And there was far more detail than ever I was interested in hearing at the end of this novel, so while I still recommend reading this or another of Austen's works for their authentic period detail, and for Austen's occasional humorous and charming turn of phrases, I have to say that I'm not overwhelmed by her overall talent as a writer. But, overall, I'm quite prepared to declare it a worthy read!


Friday, September 1, 2017

Dash by Kirby Larson


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a pretty decent read for a younger reader, but perhaps a bit immature and bland for a middle-grader or older. There's very little in it for the adult reader, but since it's not aimed at an adult audience I can't fault it for that, so I consider it a worthy read for the intended audience.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941, a date which will live in infamy according to then president Roosevelt, he signed an exec order which brought infamy to the US, and shamefully so. The order eventually resulted in over a hundred thousand Japanese Americans being forced into internment camps. Curiously, in Hawaii, where many more Japanese Americans lived, little more than a tenth of those people were also interned. The man who was charged with accomplishing this, John DeWitt, the Army general in command of the coast, is portrayed as a decent person in this story but in reality, his inflammatory racist view was "A Jap's a Jap. They are a dangerous element, whether loyal or not."

The fact that this was indeed pure racism is proved by the fact that there was no large-scale wholesale incarceration of residents of German or Italian ancestry. It was America once again over-reacting to a bad and embarrassing defeat, taking the ball and going home. Meanwhile, in Japan there were over 2,000 civilians of allied nations. These people were also interned and very little (to my knowledge) has been written about them and very little is ever heard of their experiences. Bernice Archer has written a book about it, The Internment of Western Civilians Under the Japanese published in 2004. The Japanese treated Japanese Americans as Japanese Nationals, although American citizens of Japanese ancestry were urged to return to the US.

In this story, young Mitsi Kashino and her family are transported to an isolated camp, but she must leave behind her pet dog, Dash. The story, as I said, is a bit tame and bland, which given the audience for which it was written is understandable in some ways, but not in others, since this was written as recently as 2014. I think kids can handle more truth than the author does, evidently. It fails in that it does not give any real feeling of the horror or even of the foul injustice of these events, which is why I think it's suitable for a younger audience. I think older children will need more than this offers, but I consider it a worthy read for the young.


The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a long (and slightly draggy in places, but otherwise) excellent novel which went in somewhat unexpected, but nevertheless entertaining directions.

In the antique port of Malacca, which has slipped out of Dutch influence, but is still under the sway of Muslim and British presences, young Pan Li Lan learns that she has been chosen as the ghost bride for the unexpectedly deceased Lim Tian Ching. There is some suspicion over his death, and Li Lan is not interested in a relationship with this man, even a ghost one. She'd much rather be involved with his cousin, Tian Bai, who is now the family heir, but the Chings and the Pans were once close, and now that Li Lan's father has made such a mess of their family finances, they need this relationship to keep them on an even keel.

Li Lan is further dissuaded when Lim Tian begins to visit her in her dreams. She becomes stressed and ill, as is the wont of young girls in those times, and she finds herself visiting the astral plane where she seems to have become trapped, unable to return to her body. Here she encounters Er Lang, a mysterious man who is investigating the afterlife of the Lim family because of suspected corruption. He and Li Lan become allies, and with his promise of helping her to return to life, and his need to uncover this corruption, they begin working together.

I am not a believer in any afterlife at all, but I do enjoy a good story about this kind of thing, and this one was inventive and original enough to keep my interest, even as it became a bit slow and irritating from time to time. The afterlife depicted here had several facets. One of these was merely the ghosts haunting the real world, but Li Lan discovers another, one where the living do not normally get to visit.

This next phase was purely a ghost world, which was modeled on the real one, but in which there were only ghosts - no solid people at all. That world, which was bleak and confusing, was to an extent was made possible and supported by burned offerings: you burn a paper house, and one appears in the afterlife for the person to whom the offering was dedicated. The more elaborate and realistic the burned offering is, the better the quality of the one in the hereafter - so even in the afterlife, the rich have it better! I guess Jesus lied with that "camel through the eye of a needle" shtick, but it's a great pitch if you want to rip-off the gullible and pull in some cash. Christian churches have been pulling this same trick for two thousand years!

But other than that, it was just like the life they left, and it made me wonder what was the point? The story tried to explain it as a way-station - a transition between the substantial life on Earth and a more spiritual one afterwards, but it was supposed to be only a way-station prior to judgment, yet even here, there was corruption, and the dead could lead and life of luxury for some considerable time, evidently buying-off the judges so judgment never came.

It made for an interesting read, but life wasn't roses there by any means. There were bull-headed demons hunting Li Lan, and ravenous leathery flying creatures which feasted on meat and would eat people caught out in the open. I have no idea what that was about since this was supposed to be before they were judged! Some of this made no sense, but overall, it was a fun story, inventive and interesting, and it made for a worthy read. I recommend it for anyone who is interested Asian fantasy, and ghost stories that are off the beaten track.


Ivy Takes Care by Rosemary Wells


Rating: WORTHY!

This, in a way, was an odd sort of a novel in that it was set in 1949, yet had a very modern sensibility to it because it was written quite recently. It's short and highly amusing, and it proved to be an audiobook experiment which was a great success.

Ivy's on summer break from school and has an argument with her best friend Annie before that friend leaves for summer camp, so she's a bit down. She wants to buy a friendship ring, but money is tight and Ivy's family, unlike Annie's, isn't well-off (although they do seem to be able to afford Hershey's Kisses, so I guess they're not so completely impoverished that there's nothing available for a treat now and then).

Ivy's solution is to put up posters around the town offering her animal care services. She's soon signed up to look after a horse named Chestnut, which is in need of some exercise while the owners are on vacation, and then a dog named Inca, whose owner had to leave it behind temporarily, and finally a racehorse named Andromeda, and this one somewhat troubled. Ivy herself is troubled by Billy Joe Butterworth, a pain-in-the-nectar of Ivy's summer, and a busybody neighbor to boot, who has his nose into everything and has no concept of personal space whatsoever.

Each time ivy is unsure of her ability to rise to the situation, she masters it and finds smart and inventive ways to overcome obstacles. I liked the pace and tone of this story, and it's unusual setting: the Red Star Guest Ranch, in Nevada, where divorcing husbands or wives need to stay for six weeks in order to satisfy a statutory requirement and have their marriage dissolved, hassle-free. It was unusual to find something like this in a children's story, and it lent a depth and humor to it that really emboldened the story and contrasted beautifully with Ivy's innocence and sweetness. I loved Ivy, who is a real charmer and a strong female character. I recommend this one.


Saturday, August 26, 2017

Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a huge tome of a graphic novel - over five hundred pages, and at that size, probably too long, but in some ways I saw the whole thing as an integrated work - we were meant to suffer through those long years of trying to overcome multiple eating disorders and body image problems, and a significantly shorter graphic novel would have trivialized this.

While I would still argue for something less than five hundred, I wouldn't argue for something dramatically shorter, because it really helps to bond with and empathize with the author as she tells what is a very personal and painful story of desperately trying to cope with a negative body image and the sheer effort required to set things right. We all, as a society, share the responsibility as we should also share the guilt for making women feel ugly and sexually incompetent and for forcing them into doing things no sane person would do were they not constantly bombarded by negative views of the female body.

Everyone who has ever been through a supermarket checkout with their eyes open cannot fail to have seen that on one side women are told via endless trashy magazines that they are fat, ugly, and useless in bed, while on the other side of that confining aisle - the very width of which would make anyone feel corpulent, they are offered glorious candy and sugar-laden sodas to comfort them and help them cope with the negative feelings with which the other side of the aisle has imbued them. This is worse than pornography because it is out there in public, in the face of women and children, every day, every TV show, every commercial, every music video, every trip to the store, every movie you watch, every book you read.

It can come as a surprise to no-one that far too many women end-up in a position like the one Katie Green found herself in: not slim enough, not pretty enough, not good enough. Guess what? It's our screwed up misplaced-priority society which is not good enough, and that's why we need stories like this in our face to ensure we never forget what we're doing to women. This and many stories like it need to be required reading. I recommend it unreservedly.


Generations by Flavia Bondi


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Matteo has been in Milan for three years with his lover. He felt forced to leave his provincial town for the city because he's gay and small towns don't do gay, especially not in a conservative Catholic Italy, but problems with his lover have caused him to return because there is nowhere else for him to go. What's with all this running away? Why hasn't he spoken with his father in those years? This graphic novel explores those questions and several others, as Teo tries to figure them out for himself.

He has misgivings about returning, because he refuses to stay with his disapproving father, and his only remaining option is to move into an already-crowded house full of aunts, a grandmother and a pregnant cousin. Some of the residents resent him being there at all, while others resent the fact that he seems to contribute nothing to the house, neither financially nor in terms of labor. When this latter issue is addressed, he finds further resentment from the hired help he displaced, but as he settles into a routine, he bonds with a fellow care-giver and discovers maybe things aren't so bad if he can just change his mind-set a little.

I liked the steadily-evolving flow of this story. I wasn't sure about the fact that everyone seemed to have freckles - if that's what the facial shading was! But otherwise, the drawing was good, and the story believable and interesting, so I have to say I recommend this, especially because it takes some unexpected directions among the expected ones, and you are never quite sure how it will end up. I will look for more stories by this author. Hopefully there will be more, because this is an Italian artist and this is her first work in English. Hopefully we're not so provincial and xenophobic in the US that that we cannot enjoy a wider selection of graphic novels other than the flood of those from Japan!


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Epic Cardboard Adventures by Leslie Manlapig


Rating: WORTHY!

This ebook was not quite ready for prime time, but it is an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

It's a book which reminds me of my own Earthquake children's book where I added a cheap and nasty way to make you own excavator out of a cereal box and some tape. This book goes way beyond that - way beyond into outer-space - almost literally! It hosts four sections, each with five sub-sections devoted to different topics, but related to the main theme:

  1. Explore the World
    1. Outer Space
    2. Deep Sea ocean
    3. Ancient Egypt
    4. Jungle Explorer
    5. Arctic Adventure
  2. Travel Through Time
    1. Prehistoric
    2. Medieval defence
    3. High Seas
    4. Ninja
    5. Wild West
  3. Put on a Show
    1. Rock Concert
    2. Puppet Theater
    3. Carnival Fun
    4. Lights, Camera, Action
    5. Magician
  4. Work a Cool Job
    1. Construction Worker
    2. Pilot
    3. Race Car Driver
    4. Shh! Secret Agent
    5. Firefighter

Fill details of how to make all of these are listed below...no, just kidding, but full details of how to make them are in the book, including a list of things you will need, the main one of which is cardboard! Cardboard boxes, toilet roll and paper towel inner tubes, construction paper, and so on.

You will also need some crafting tools if you do not already possess them, so there will be some outlay fro supplies such as scissors, a ruler, felt markers for adding detail and coloring, yarn or string, hot melt glue - or at least some sort of good strong glue - paint, if you want to add finishing touches to your creations, and what else: of course, duct tape! Or duck tape as I read in one novel I shall be reviewing soon!

The book gives step by step instructions on how to make yourself into an astronaut or a pirate, an explorer or a construction worker, a time-traveler or a deep-sea diver. The ideas are inventive and colorful, easy to make - but adult assistance will be required if your child is too young to cut cardboard or do some of the other more mature portions of the builds. There are also some safety issues if you're going to be building swords, even out of cardboard, and guns that fire, even though ti;s only projectiles using rubber bands, so be advised of that

But once you have those basic supplies, cardboard of some sort usually isn't hard to come by or to beg from a store, or a neighbor, although for the pyramid you'll need a large box if your kid is going to sit in it. Otherwise you could just make it smaller and stay outside it, using toy characters to go in and out instead!

Some of the designs are admirably elaborate (such as an airport runway with landing lights!), so be prepared to invest some time for those projects that are not especially simple, but none of these projects is so complex that your everyday parent cannot make them all.

You can always propose the idea of sharing a project with your neighbors or at school, and get several children involved, building friendships, confidence, and team spirit. There are so many ideas, well thought-out and planned, with great results from so simple beginnings. The author has put a lot of work into this and the results are awesome.

I think this is a great book which will stimulate imaginations and provide a reward of a child not only creating something, but ending up with a fine toy at the end of it which will continue to grow a child's mind. maybe it will even last longer or be treasured more than a store-ought toy because the child made it themselves. Who knows what kind of a career that might lead to when the child grows older? I recommend this book fully.


Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O'Neill


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was one of the most fun and charming graphic novels I've ever read. It's written I think for middle-graders, but it makes a great story for anyone to read. I loved how detailed it was (including the authors delightful section on the back on different species of tea dragon and their personality traits.

This book is everything that the overly-commercialized 'My Little Pony' garbage ought to have been but failed so dismally to get there. One of the best things about it is how little conflict there is. Everything in this story is about cooperation and understanding, and it made a truly refreshing change, I can tell you. The little dragons are renowned for the tea they produce through leaves which grow on their horns and antlers. Those leaves contain memories which the drinker can share, but they cannot grow without a true bond between the Tea Dragon and its care-giver. And no, you cannot buy that tea commercially!

Another delight was Greta, the main female character, who is unapologetically dark-skinned and who works with her mother in a forge, creating swords. Yes, even in this world there are monsters to fight! But her job and her skin color are ordinary and everyday in this world. The remarkable story is the tea-dragon and the friendship Greta forges with Minette, and the learning relationship she has with Hesekiel and Erik, who is wheelchair unbound. By that I mean that the wheelchair is simply there; it's no big deal and it plays no more part in the story than does the table they sit at or the shoes Greta wears, or the horns in her head. It was just nice to see how thoroughly inclusive this story was.

The artwork is gorgeous colorful, detailed, and just plain pleasing to the eye. The overall story is sweet with its steady pace and the idea of a 'changing of the guard' and traditions being kept in play by willing neophytes taking up the challenge. I think it was a wonderful read and I recommend it highly.


Little Pierrot Get the Moon by Alberto Varanda


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a billed as reminiscent of Calvin and Hobbes, and it is in some ways, but it is not as strong or as coherent as that. It's not even a story, but a series of very short sketches, which took some getting used to, yet once I did get used to it, it was a decent read.

Little Pierrot meets a talking snail on the way to school one day, and his life is never the same again. Everything that happens to him after that, every flight of fancy, every incident, the snail is there to wisecrack about it. Sometimes this is amusing, occasionally it's funny, other times it's annoying, but on balance I found it a pleasant read.

I think it would do well as a bathroom book or a waiting-room book, so that when you're detained there you can read a page or two without having to worry abut getting too deeply into the 'story' or about losing your place or losing the thread, since there isn't one!

Illustrated almost in sepia tones, but with some gentle color highlights here and there, the art work was interesting and agreeable. I recommend this.


Taproot by Keezy Young


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is a nicely-colored, well-illustrated and richly-created story about a guy who is into gardening, Hamal, and a ghost, Blue, who haunts him, but in a benign way! Blue and Hamal are friends, and I have to say it took me a while to realize that Blue was a guy and not a girl. I have never read a Keezy Young comic before and did not know she was into queer story-telling! But isn't that what we're after in a truly equal world - where gender doesn't matter, only the story?!

That faux pas aside, the story was great, and the gender was immaterial in the end because it still would have told the same charming story! The only fly in the ointment is that Hamal's boss thinks he's talking to himself and that he's scaring customers, so he has to watch his behavior, and Blue doesn't help, constantly making comments which Hamal has to ignore or respond to only in private.

When customer Chloe show sup and show interest and Hamal doesn't respond as any red-blooded (so the phrase goes) cis guy might, you know the story can get only more interesting from here on in. And Blue isn't the only ghost hanging out in Hamal's corner of the word. Fortunately the ghosts aren't mischievous - much - and things are going pretty well until death appears on the scene, concerned that there's a necromancer talking to ghosts, and Blue himself ends up switching scenery unexpectedly, and increasingly entering an eerie, dead world. Whats going on here - and worse, what; sacrifice is going to be required to fix it?

Well, you;re going to have to read this to find out, and I promise you will not be disappointed. This is yet another example of a writer stepping of the beaten track and making her own story instead of shamelessly cloning someone else's work, and that alone would be a reason to recommend it, but add to that authentic dialog, and the sweet and realistic (within the environment and ethos of a graphic novel!) illustrations, and you have a winner which I recommend.


The Little Red Wolf by Amélie Fléchais


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This book is exactly what I mean when I talk about drifting off the beaten-track and making your own trail. I wish more authors would learn from the example set here by Amélie Fléchais, instead of turning-out tired cloned rip-offs of those who have gone before. In a wonderful twist on the Little Red Riding Hood story, this author has the wolf being the victim and Red Riding Hood the villain - and she makes it work!

Delivering a rabbit to his grandmother's house Little Red Wolf gets side-tracked repeatedly until he's lost! When a sweet and charming young girl offers to help him on his way, he doesn't know she means on his way to the after-life and not to his grandma's house! She's the daughter of a dreaded wolf hunter!

Full of superficially simplistic, but actually detailed and richly-colored drawings, this story follows Little Red Wolf into the gaping jaws of death! I loved its simplicity and depth, and I recommend it.