Showing posts with label adventure. Show all posts
Showing posts with label adventure. Show all posts

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Harlem Charade by Natasha Tarpley

Rating: WORTHY!

Read sweetly by Bahni Turpin, this was another successful audiobook! See? it does happen! To be perfectly honest, it was a bit lacking in credibility: the usual middle-grade story where adults never help, and kids never go to them for help, which frankly annoys me, but that aside, it was an interesting and credible story (for the most part!), decently plotted and which involved adventuring and detective work as three kids-of-color from disparate backgrounds strove to track down some historic paintings by a black artist from Harlem, and overcome the machinations of an unscrupulous property developer. I recommend it.

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.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 15, 2017

James Bond Hammerhead by Andy Diggle, Luca Casalanguida

Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Ivy + Bean by Annie Barrows

Rating: WORTHY!

This book was a true delight from start to finish. The wonderfully feisty and mischievous Bean (short for Bernice - somehow), is a little tyke, which is why she's not interested in making friends with Ivy, the quite evidently boring girl across the street who just moved into the neighborhood.

Fortunately for history (and literature), fate has other plans and the two are thrown together as Bean has to make a hasty escape from her older and rather peeved sister Nancy. Ivy is teaching herself to be a witch, and suddenly Bean is very intrigued. The two set off on an amusing adventure (which never leaves their's and their neighbors back yards, and I loved it.

This may be written for seven years and up, and aimed at readers who are past the beginning reading stage, but not yet on to more strenuous novels, but it kept me entertained quite readily! Sadly, it's a quick read which left me wanting more. It's only a hundred or so pages, with copious and amusing illustrations by Australian artist Sophie Blackall. Does that make them illustralians? I think so. Anyway, I recommend this.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Lady Mechanika Vol. 2: The Tablet of Destinies by Joe Benítez, MM Chen, Martin Montiel, Mike Garcia

Rating: WARTY!

This combines volumes one through six of the original comic books and was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

In a beautifully wrought steam-punk world, the young daughter of a friend of Lady Mechanika's is in need of assistance, and the Lady responds. Her father has disappeared on a quest in Africa, and Mechanika sets out to find out what happened. Her quest is lent added urgency when the young girl is kidnapped. Mechanika meets a mysterious guy in London, who offers air transportation to Germany, where the kidnap victim is, and where lies another clue pointing to a specific site in Africa, so they set off there, only to crash in the desert and be taken prisoner by slavers!

Meanwhile in interleaved portions, we get the view from the other end of this quest, where the professor and his assistant are under pressure to decipher ancient scripts and uncover what the villains believe is an unprecedentedly powerful weapon.

The adventure was well-written, fast-moving, and full of action and feisty characters, including the distressed young girl at the start. The artwork was beautifully done and colored. That alone would have been sufficient for me to rate this graphic novel as a worthy read, but what bothered me too much here was what I let slip by in volume one, and it was the sexualization of all the female characters. When the blurb says, "Lady Mechanika immediately drops everything" it really means her clothes, and for me, this is what brought this particular volume down.

I found it disturbing, because Mechanika is fine regardless of her physical appeal or lack of same! She doesn't need to be rendered in endlessly sexual ways to be an impressive character. It's sad that graphic novel creators seem so completely ignorant of this fact. It's like they have this phobia that their female characters are going to be useless and entirely unappealing unless their sexuality is exploited. I'm not sure if this failing says more about the creators or about their readership, but either way it's obnoxious and I sincerely wish they had more faith in women than they evidently do. Do we really want to be writing comics which only appeal to people who see women as sex objects and very little else? Do we really want to be perpetuating a message as clueless as it is antiquated, and which offers only the sleazy equation that girls = sex = girls? I hope not.

This abuse was bordering on being abused in the first volume, but it was nowhere near as rife as it was here, so why they went full metal lack-it in this one is a mystery. Unlike in the first volume, it was all-pervasive here, with full-page in-your-face images of scantily clad adventurers bursting at what few seams they had, entirely impractically dressed for their quest.

I guess I should be grateful that the African woman who joined Lady Mechanika wasn't bare-breasted, but what I most noticed about Akina (other than the fact that she at least had a Congolese name) was that she looked like your typically white-washed model from Ebony magazine, not like the Congolese woman she supposedly was, whose skin would have been darker, and her face broader and less Nordic-nosed-white-westerner than this woman's was.

Why are comic book artists so afraid of showing the real world? Do they think real Congolese women are unappealing? Or is it that they feel they cannot sell the sexuality of a black woman (as opposed to a pale brown one)? If this medium is to grow-up and maintain relevance and meaning, then this kind of bias needs to be dispensed with urgently, because it's bone-headed at best, and racist at worst.

So, despite the appeal of the art in general, and the entertainment value of the story, I can't condone these practices, and I cannot rate positively a graphic novel which is so brazenly perpetrating abuses like this one did.

Lady Mechanika, Vol.1: the Mystery of Mechanical Corpse by Joe Benítez, Peter Steigerwald

Rating: WORTHY!

This gathers volumes 1 through five of the single comic books and was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I had a better experience with this one than I did with the second volume of the series, which I requested at the same time as this. The steam-punk world is rendered and colored beautifully, and the story was an intriguing and entertaining one, well told. Lady Mechanika is a cyborg - inasmuch as such things went in Edwardian times. I am by no means a fashion expert, not even in modern times, so I may have this wrong, but the styles didn't look Victorian to me, notwithstanding what the blurb says. That's not a problem, just an observation. I rather liked them as it happens. Joe Benítez and Peter Steigerwald could probably make a living as fashion designers if they ever tire of comic books!

Lady Mechanika is quite evidently someone's creation, but her memory is impaired, so her origins are as much of a mystery to her as they are to us. I am wondering if the guy she meets in volume two (reviewed separately) might have some knowledge of that, but it remains a mystery in that volume, too! Her mechanical parts are her limbs, and her 'title' was given to her by the tabloids. Her backstory isn't delivered here or in volume two, so we don't know how she came to be a private investigator and adventurer. I was interested in this story because of the upcoming (as of this writing) live-action remake of the Ghost in the Shell movie, which is a favorite of mine. I'm looking forward to the new one.

When the story opens, the Lady meets the 'Demon of Satan's Alley' which appears to be some sort of a human animal hybrid and which isn't a demon but which has been demonized by the public. Some crazy guys blunder in and kill it before Lady Mechanika can talk to it enough to maybe find out what it knows of its past - and maybe of hers, too. She's not best pleased by that. Soon she's off adventuring and trying to track down this creator of mechanical melanges. In this regard, the story has some resemblances to Ghost in the Shell, including the overt and unnecessary sexuality.

There were some technical issues with this as there are with all graphic novels which have not yet clued themselves in to the electronic age. In BlueFire Reader, which is what I use on the iPad, the pages are frequently enlarging themselves to fill the screen which means a portion of the page is curt off, since the iPad screen and the comic book page size are out of whack compared with each other, the comic book being a little too 'tall and slim' for the 'stouter' table format.

This is something I can work with, but whenever there's a double-page spread, it means turning the tablet from portrait view to landscape and back again for the next page. This isn't such a hassle except that the tablet is self-orienting, so the page is constantly swinging around like a loose yard-arm on a boat at sea.

One image was a portrait-oriented double-page spread, and it was so set-up that I could not orient this to view it since the image always swung to the wrong orientation no matter what i did! The only way to actually see it as intended by the creators was to orient it as a landscape, then carefully lay the pad flat and rotate it while it stayed flat; then the image was view-able in all its glory, but this only served to highlight one other problem - the minuscule text. It's far too small for comfortable reading. I know comics are all about imagery, but for me, unless there's also a decent story, all you really have, is a pretty coffee-table art book. It seems to me that artists and writers might consider collaborating a bit more closely on legibility!

This is going to become increasingly a problem as the old school comic fraternity struggles to repel all technology boarders. Personally, I prefer e-format to print format as a general rule, if only because it's kinder to trees, which are precious. The sentiment is especially poignant when we read horror stories to the effect that 80,000 copies of Jonathan Franzen's novel Freedom had to be pulped because of typos. At 3 kg of carbon emissions per book, that's not a charmed system. You would need to read a hundred books for every one print book to balance the manufacturing pollution of an e-reader against that of the print version, but then your ebook comes over the wire at very little cost to the environment, whereas the print book has to be transported to you, even if only home from the store in your car.

But you can also argue the other side, which is that reading devices employ petrochemical products, and precious and toxic metals, and probably contains 'conflict' minerals which were mined in the Congo (curious given the location for volume two in this series!); however, you can argue that a multi-use device, such as a tablet or a smart phone, can be employed as an ebook reader without contributing to even more environmental carnage than it might already have caused. On the other page, you can also argue that a book never needs upgrading (as countless young-adult Jane Austen rip-offs have conclusively proven), will last for years, and can be recycled when done with. So you pays your greenbacks and you hopes you get the green back.

For this volume, I think it worth reading in any format, and I recommend it if you can overlook the sexploitation which is relatively restrained in this volume.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Forbidden Stone by Tony Abbott

Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook which failed for me. I didn't like the story and the reading by the curiously-named MacLeod Andrews was bad. The story started out just fine for the first chapter or so, but after that it devolved into tedious and stupid activities in which an irresponsible father trails four kids with him to Europe (and elsewhere, evidently) into dangerous situations, and then fails to go to the police, fails to get his kids out of danger, and in general just is a moron. These dimwits contaminate crime scenes and tamper with clues which could have led to a perceived suicide being seen by the police for the murder it was. I quickly decided this was too stupid to live. The fact that it's the start of a series is only one more reason to reject the mercenary heart of it.

It's a ridiculous Dan Brown-style story where some idiot leaves a trail marked by asinine cryptic clues for Becca, Darrel, Lily, and Wade, when all he had to do was make a phone call and tell his friend, or better yet, the police, what the deal was. Failing that, then at least post it on the Internet so the "shadowy" villains have no reason at all to chase your kids threateningly. It was profoundly dumb. I hope middle-graders are smart enough to see how silly this all is, and I feel sorry for those who are not, but of course, without this level of stupidity, there couldn't be a six book series, and neither the author nor the publisher would get rich off the allowances of middle-graders, would they now?

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Caribbean's Keeper by Brian Boland

Rating: WORTHY!

"began to peal the skin back" 'peal' should be 'peel' unless the skin is ringing like a bell!
"from where the helo had come from" - too many 'from's! The last one needs deleting.
"Cole treaded in place and watched it" The past tense of 'tread' is 'trod'. Don't you love English?!
"Cole bid his time and made idle chatter with Tony." The past tense of bide is bided, bit bid (and apparently even Google doesn't know this!).

I was invited by Open Road Media to read this advance review copy, and I was glad I got the chance!

The author was actually in the Coastguard, so he knows what he's talking about, which always helps! I have a brother-in-law who is in the Coastguard and have nothing but respect for the job he does - so yeah, call me biased! This novel felt real, and the descriptions were very evocative. The story unfolded naturally. It was credible. It felt like being there in many ways, which makes for a really nice read! Of course, the plot counts too, more-so than the descriptions for me, but that was also appealing and felt authentic. I haven't been to any of the places the author mentions: Curaçao, Martinique, Nicaragua, Panama, and so on, and my experience in Florida is very limited, but there was nothing here that struck me as implausible or dumb.

The story is of Cole (yeah, I know. Hardly my favorite character name, but at least it wasn't 'Jack', in which case I would have flatly refused to read the novel at all!). Cole is a Coastguard operative who gets kicked out for his rather unruly behavior and his disregard for the rules on occasion. Out of work, he drifts a little in Florida and eventually, to make ends meet, starts working on a tour boat. It's hardly his style, but it pays and he gets to room with one of the guys he works with, someone he likes and gets along with.

Over time he notices that this guy Kevin, has something going on on the side and as the two grow to trust each other, Cole finds himself involved in the smuggling of Cubans into Florida. So far so good, but Cole is not only a functional alcoholic (at least that's how he came off to me) he's also an Adrenalin junkie, and the kick he gets from outrunning and outfoxing his old colleagues in the Coastguard starts to be insufficient for him. Like every addict, Cole wants more. That's how he gets into drug-running, but there's no loyalty in that world. You upset the cartel kingpins and they're going to come gunning for you - literally. This is the story of how Cole survived and who he met along the way.

It was gripping and engaging, and just as importantly, it was realistic. It really felt like any and all of this could have happened. It was like reading a good James Bond thriller, and I kept wanting to turn the next page to find out what happens. The book is not too long, not too short, and makes for really easy reading. The ending felt a little bit abrupt, but it was right, and I'd rather have it come to a halt like that, than have the author just write on and on not knowing quite where to stop. Plus it's a single volume as far as I know, so not being a fan of series, this worked well for me. I recommend it for anyone who wants an adventure with a likable rogue (despite his faults) who is in it for the thrills, only to discover that underneath it all, he actually has a conscience. Great story.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Light by Rob Cham

Rating: WORTHY!

This is a magnificent work of art. Rob Cham is inventive and talented and has produced a visual feast of a comic which needs no words. The story is of a young character who is fearless and adventurous, and who goes out into his literal black and white world looking for something new. Deep in a cave world he discovers it in the shape of five hard-won crystals, each a different color. Along the way he makes enemies and friends, but when he returns and unleashes his treasure, his whole world changes.

The drawings are very detailed, and superbly drawn and shaded, even when black and white. The world is imaginative and the characters, all of them non-human, are fantastical in nature and fascinating. The comic is a hundred pages or so, but seems too short. It flies by too fast even as you take your time reading it. I recommend this comic book highly.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner

Rating: WORTHY!

This audio book was a major disappointment. It began well and really drew me in quickly, but around halfway, when it ought to have been picking up speed for the David and Goliath-style grand finale, it just fizzled away into tedium and nonsense and became insufferable. I gave up on it. I have to say I would not have listened for as long as I did were it not for the excellent and talented reading voice of Carrington MacDuffie. Kudos to her!

This is book one in a series and I have no interest in listening to any more. I have no idea why it would even become a series, either, for that matter, but as I said, I did not finish it, so maybe there's something there at the end which gives some sort of reason for the book to go on to a second volume, however weak. I don't care what it is!

Here's one problem with audio books. If a word is unfamiliar to the listener - and this especially applies to names! - or if the word sounds like one you know but is actually a different word, there's no way to tell what word was used or how it was spelled, so I am relying on some research in Google books for the spelling of the character's names. Set in the period of the early days of the French revolution, this novel begins with a small troupe of entertainers being invited to the house of Marquis de Villeduval for a well-paid private performance. Yann Margoza, one of the three in the troupe, counsels against going, but the leader, Topolain insists upon it. He is signing his own death warrant by doing so, because also in attendance is and Count Kalliovski, who shoots Topolain dead by "accident" during his performance of his "bullet proof routine

This is the first thing which ticked me off about the story: I never did learn what it was between Kalliovski and Topolain which led to this. It may be that it was covered in the part I skipped, but I listened to a lot of this and it never came up. Either that or I was so focused on driving at the time it was revealed, that I missed it! Maybe the author kept this for volume two which would have ticked me off even more!

Topolain's death leaves Yann and the dwarf member of the troupe, Têtu (which is actually the French word for 'stubborn') running for their lives because evidently - again, I know not why - the Count is out for them too, and they'll be out for the count if they don't get away. Somehow, out of this, it winds up that Yann, who has started falling for the Marquis's daughter, Sido, ends up going to England. I have no explanation for how this happened. I'd been seeing this woman's name as Çideaux or Sideaux. Maybe Sido is short for Sidonie or maybe it's short for Do-si-do! I don't know!

The count has been loaning large sums of money to the marquis, but he knows he's not going to get it back. What he wants instead is Sido's dowry and eventually he forces the marquis to effectively sell her off in marriage, whereupon he will kill her and keep her fortune. Back then, women were essentially property. In some parts of the world this hasn't changed even today. They had no rights, no vote, no say, and could own nothing. Sido was money int he bank to the trope evil count, and nothing else.

The second thing which ticked me off was that the count is all set to marry Sido, and then suddenly two years are gone and we're with Yann in England. When we get back to France, Sido still isn't married! This made no sense to me, and again no reason was given for it - not in the part I listened to. It was at this point that the quality of the story began a rapid decline, and I lost all interest in it, so I can't speak for what happened after that. I can't recommend this base don my experience of it, despite the MacDuffie voice!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Infinity Ring a Mutiny in Time by James Dashner

Rating: WARTY!

The author of The Maze Runner fouls up again with this series aimed at middle graders. Not that I've actually read The Maze Runner series. I was interested after seeing the first movie, but then lost all interest after the disastrous second movie which was profoundly dumb and tedious. If it's anything like the novel I've lost all desire to read any of those books. I was curious to see if he might do better with something aimed at a younger audience. He didn't.

The cover designers showed their legendary ineptitude again by putting a compass on the front cover instead of the actual infinity ring. This is about time travel not geographic travel per se, so what's with the compass? I swear I get more laughs out of Big Publishing™ cover designers than I do from books which are actually intended to be humorous!

This is your standard middle-grade time travel novel where young kids save the world by visiting extremely famous points and/or people, and/or landmarks in history. I'm sure there's a novel (or maybe even a series) which gets it right, but this one isn't it. Set in an alternate reality (where the US capital is Philadelphia and Columbus didn't discover Cuba) - which we learn is really our reality gone awry, we soon discover that there are breaks in history, starting in Aristotle's time, which must be set right to put reality back on track. Who determined where these were, and how they figured out there were breaks in the first place is left unexplained.

That's just the problem with this novel: there's far too much unexplained. Why they cannot go back and fix the first (in Alexander and Aristotle's time) and have all the other breaks fall into place goes just as unexplained as why they start with Columbus instead of starting with the first, or even with the last and work backwards. My guess is that no matter how many they fix, and no matter where they start, every single volume in this series will be exactly the same - with Time Wardens seeking to thwart or to capture them no matter how much history they change, which makes zero sense, and it's why I didn't bother finishing this novel once I saw where it was stupidly determined to go. Worse than this, the two kids have a pad computer with them, yet instead of information, it delivers clues in cheap rhymes and in absurdly simple visual puzzles! Why? No reason at all! God forbid we should make our young readers actually think when we can serve everything up like it's fast food!

The idea is that there are good guys and bad guys (the Time Wardens) stationed throughout history. How that works goes unexplained, because they would either already have to know where the breaks were, in order to station guards there, or they would have to station people all over the entire planet throughout time, which is absurd. That was the major problem with this story: the sheer absurdity of it. I couldn't stand to finish it, especially since it was puffed up with so much fluff. The novel could have comfortably begun on page 80 or thereabouts, at the end of chapter twelve, about two fifths of the way into the story, and lost nothing in the telling!

Had anyone but an established author submitted this trash, any respectable publisher would have rejected it. This novel seemed to me to be nothing short of a cynical attempt to bilk the rubes (aka middle-graders) out of money by running a cheap series which retells the same story over and over with a few details changed here and there to make them superficially different. I mean why tell an intelligent and original story in one concise volume when you can stretch it to a dozen? I can't support that and I can't recommend this.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Tapper Twins Tear Up New York by Geoff Rodkey

Rating: WORTHY!

I favorably reviewed this author's The Tapper Twins Go to War in December 2015, and I got this other volume from the library and read it through very quickly. it was in a way, more of the same, which is why I liked it, but the story was different, and equally as inventive as the first one, and it was highly amusing.

It's told in the same way as the previous volume, wherein Claudia, the female half (or maybe two-thirds) of the Tapper twins, gives an oral history of an event. This isn't, of course an oral history - it's a written history, or at best, a transcription of an oral history. You'd have to listen to the audio book to get the actual oral history! That aside though, the story was well told, being both funny and inventive. The premise is that Claudia organizes a scavenger hunt in order to raise money for the Manhattan food bank. The hunt consists of groups of four children from the school - each group with an adult escort, I'm happy to report, taking pictures of landmarks and other not-so-readily-visible items. In order to prevent cheating, each photo must include the school mascot, a small plush toy of which each group has in its possession.

The first prize is front row tickets to an event at Madison Square Garden, which features both sports and music events, so it appeals quite widely The fembots (spoiled rich kids) are cheating (or are they?), and so is Claudia's brother's group. Things get out of control. Children go astray. Liverpool fans are angered...wait, what? But it all works out in the end and the winner is completely unexpected. A fun romp which entertained me and which I'm convinced will entertain its target audience. I recommend it.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Princess Tiffany Tooth Fairy by Lily Lexington

Rating: WORTHY!

Princess Tiffany rides a royal cart pulled by two ponies as bright as the moon. Not only does she fulfill all the usual royal duties, she also had to collect teeth. it;s hard work, but it's not like pulling teeth, since these have already fallen out and have been placed hopefully under pillows by young children.

Do you have any idea how heavy teeth are when you’re a tiny fairy and you have fifty seven of them in a huge bag? I thought not. Well, neither do I! But it has to be something that makes you grit your teeth, right? It’s especially onerous if the young child wakes up right as you’re carrying our such an important duty, and rudely traps you in a glass jar. What a royal pain!

This little girl greatly underestimated Princess Tiff, however. The princess is not only cute, she’s also smart. The princess would give her eye teeth to get free, but unfortunately she has none, so she tricks the girl into letting her go. Actually it’s not even a trick. It's more like a brush off as she offers some really good advice that all children would do well to heed, and escapes by the skin of her teeth. Delightfully told and warmly illustrated, this is a fun and inventive story you can really get your teeth into. If it made an old codger like me smile, it can probably work wonders on your child!

Gracie Gourd by Lily Lexington

Rating: WORTHY!

I have no idea what goes through this author's mind, but a conversation with her would probably be weird if her routine thoughts are anything like her authorial meanderings! A gourd named Gracie? A gourd who can't get moored?! Why not?! Gracie has no idea where she belongs (she's a bit green) and she tries to take up residence with the pumpkins (which are kin - not to pumps, but to some gourds), but when the pumpkins round on her (and they're a lot rounder than she is!), she finds she has to move on.

She considers popping round to the corn, but she really doesn't fit in. She has no ears, and evidently rumors of her kinship have not even a kernel of truth to them. Where else can she go? Not the tomatoes. She makes them see red, and watermelons are even greener than she is, so perhaps it's just as well that the farmer's daughter has a stately residence available! I liked Gracie Gourd.

Luna the Night Butterfly by Lily Lexington

Rating: WORTHY!

Luna has issues. She's glowing luminous green to begin with, which is a problem, because she's a night "butterfly" and those nighttime predators are pretty skillful. Fortunately, she meets none in this poetic paean to positivity and perseverance (and don't try saying that too fast unless you cover your mouth!). Luna's kinda cute actually, despite having two legs and four arms, but you know what they say - four armed is forewarned. Maybe I got that wrong. Never mind.

Poetry is only one pleasing part of the picture (there I go again! Sometimes you just have to pee....). The images are gorgeous. Colorful (yes, even the night-time ones) and wonderfully rendered. Luna actually doesn't realize that she's a Luna Moth, but when she finds out, she adapts admirably and ably. She's absolutely awesome! I give her an 'A'!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Chasing Shadows by Swati Avasthi

Rating: WORTHY!

The author's name, we're told in the fly leaf, is pronounced SWA-thee Of-US-thee. The author was born in in India, but now lives in the USA. I find myself wondering, given that none of the native Indian languages uses the English alphabet, why her name isn't spelled phonetically. Why spell it in a way that necessitates either a phonetic spelling or a wrong pronunciation?! I've never understood that kind of thing when words are translated from languages which do not use anything remotely like the western alphabets. Life, it seems to me, would be a lot simpler for all of us if more thought was put into making it easier on ourselves!

In this context, one of the main characters is named Savitri, and again, it's not spelled how its pronounced. Interestingly, for a novel about three main characters, her name is pronounced like it's 'savvy three', but that's ruined when Holly, one of the other characters, shortens it to 'Sav'. Maybe this is on purpose, because it sounds like the way Americans pronounce 'salve'. Is Savitri going to be Holly's salve when things go bad? You'll have to read this to find out. The ending wasn't at all what I had been expecting, but it was a really good ending. Although this kind of thing is exactly the kind of word play in which I like to indulge myself in some of the things I've written, somehow I don't get the impression that this is what was going on here.

This novel is about friendship and about the psychology of loss, and about free-running or parkour. The free-running could also be taken as a metaphor for the ups and downs of friendship, and it was this panoply of opportunity and ideas which attracted me to this novel. It also has an Indian character written by an Indian author, which is another attraction for me. I find it hard to believe that authors do not include more Asian characters in their work given how huge the Asian population is - half the world! Given that African Americans are a significant component of the USA population and still struggle to get a fair shake, I guess I'm living in dreamland expecting that a community that is seen as being distanced from the US by half a world would get their turn, even though large numbers of them also populate in the USA.

There was one more thing to like about this novel. Although it's largely text, it's also somewhat of a mixed media publication in that it has a significant graphical component - rather like a comic book or graphic novel - which intrudes on the text from time to time. That said, the novel was written in first person PoV which I don't like, and to make it worse, this novel had three main characters, two of which were telling it in their own voice. That doubles the issues you have with only one PoV.

First person PoV is unnatural to me. We're being told that the author is typing-out the story as it happens, which is patently absurd, so we have to understand either that they telling us - narrating it as it happens to them - or they are writing it in retrospect, in which case, they evidently remember every little detail with eidetic clarity down to pinpoint accurate conversations, all with none of the natural modification which memory inevitably molds events. I can't take any of that seriously. Typically if I pick up a book off the shelf in a book store or the library and I see it's first person, I put it right back. Some writers, however, can carry this voice, so every time I find myself stuck with a novel like this, I'm hoping against no hope that this writer can do it without nauseating me or making me resent their self-important main character, and from the way this one started, it seems my wish was granted. In the end, it worked, and for once, worked well provided you were willing to let the absurdity of first person slide by.

Holly Paxton is the daughter of a cop, but this doesn't stop her free-running with her twin Corey and their friend Savitri Mathur across the cityscape of Chicago. These three late teens are (we're told on page six) "Defying the Physical Laws of Gravity." I have no idea what that means! There's only one law of gravity and nothing defies it, not even the birds. The best you can do is learn to work it, which is what these guys are doing, and as the story begins, Holly almost fails to work it. She comes close to missing a jump, and Savitri knows this, but neither Corey nor Holly are willing to consider that she could have died in a forty-foot fall. This near disaster presages the real disaster which is about to befall them.

Savitri and Corey are an item, but Savitri is heading off to Princeton when her high schooling is done, and Corey doesn't know this to begin with, so the story began well with a nice variety of friction from different sources showing up right from the off. Talking of controversy, the twins have a silver Mini Cooper which Corey has named "The Dana" and the author talks of this as though it's exclusively a female name, but it isn't. It's bi-gender. Just saying! In fact, pretty much every name is bi-gender if you're willing to let a few hang-ups go! There's a boy named Sue and there's a man duhh!!

What happens next is that Corey is shot and dies. Holly almost dies, and she and Savitri are left to try and make sense of their world sans Corey. The story that follows from this is beautifully told and unfolds about as close to perfection as you can hope for. The title was perfect! This is really well written, and tells a good and engrossing story. It constantly fooled me because I would think it was going somewhere when in fact it went somewhere else that was at least as interesting. I would have liked it to have gone further than it did in some directions, but I was satisfied with how it moved. Be warned: this is not your usual super hero story!

It wasn't all plain sailing, though. For example, I didn't get why both Savitri and Holly were letting jerk Josh back into their lives. It seemed to me to be unforgivable what he had done, but then it wasn't my call, it was Holly's and Savitri's choice. There was also one instance where Savitri came home from free-running and without washing her hands, immediately launched into helping her mom make roti (chapati). This didn't do Asian cuisine any favors and played right into the hands of any bigots and racists who like to trash foreign kitchen hygiene. Maybe most young readers won't notice this, as probably they won't notice (but they sure as hell should) that a revolver does not have a safety like an automatic does!

The biggest issue though, if I had one, was that what was happening (with regard to the graphical portion of the story) was happening to Holly, yet it was steeped in Indian mythology. I know this author is Indian at her roots, and if it had happened to Savitri, it would have flowed organically, but it didn't make much sense that a westerner who had been raised in different cultural traditions would have experienced what Holly experienced. Yes, she had read comic books about that mythology, but she also read comic books about different mythologies, and she had been raised in an entirely different cultural milieu, so this focus on Indian ritual didn't flow logically. That said, it was still interesting to me, and it was definitely different, so I was willing to let that go and enjoy it for what it was overall: a fun adventure, engrossing and entertaining, and I rate it a worthy read.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Kat McGee and the Halloween Costume Caper by Kristin Riddick

Rating: WORTHY!

"Long Ranger" should maybe be "Lone Ranger"?!

This is my first Katherine McGee, and indeed my first Kristin Riddick, novel, and it was a worthy read, although as a series, it’s not something which at my age I feel any compulsion to continue, but for the intended age range, I see no problems with it at all. It was a fun, inventive story of wild derring-do, support and friendship and sends a very positive message. I have to add that the illustrations are remarkable and worthy of a novel aimed at any age. Nick Guarracino is a fine artist - and a useful contributor. For example at one point the questers came upon a wall of trumpets and I was picturing that completely wrong until I saw the artist's depiction of it. Hopefully he saw it as the author intended!

Kat loves Halloween, and makes her own costume every year, but this year, "the menacing Dr S" has prevailed upon the powers that be to cancel Halloween, based on problems of vandalism and theft which have accompanied previous events. I strongly suspected Dr S of actually orchestrating those very events, and we soon learn why. Kat's grandmother - the only one who fully supported Kat's amizing costuming ambitions, feeds her a special home-made lollipop one evening which not only puts Kat to sleep, it transports her from her native Totsville to Treatsville, which is the town where the Halloween costumes live. Someone there, who looks remarkably like Dr S, is stealing those costumes for his own benefit, which in Treatsville, where the costumes have a life of their own, is nothing short of kidnapping!

Kat is hosted by Dolce, who frankly creeped me out despite her charming demeanor and her appealing looks. Dolce initially prevaricates about being a witch, and certainly doesn't behave or look like traditional witch, but later she describes herself as a "wee witch-in-training," and she explains to Kat why this young girl is so important to Treatsville's future - but can she brave the Forest of Fear, the Pits of Gloom, and the Swamp of Sorrow? Kat calls to herself costumes from previous Halloweens: The Jujitsu Princess, and The Candy Cane Witch, and with these trusty companions, she launches herself on this quest, bravely if cautiously, but with Preppy Pirate spying on them and Snaggletooth trying to kidnap all costumes and thwart (yes, thwart!) her quest, can she succeed? I guessed that she would!

I had an issue or two over some of the events in the story like this one: " when Ellie Byrd stepped on the end of a rake two years ago. A fish head attached to the handle flew in her face. She hasn’t been able to go near a hay maze since." I know that's meant to be scary and funny, but stepping on a rake can lead to puncture wounds that in turn necessitate a trip to the Doctor for a tetanus shot, or at the very least a painful whack in the face. Even if we assume it was a leaf rake it's still potentially dangerous. Could the author not have called it a hoe or a shovel or something less spikey? Or maybe had the fish-head come at her by some other means?

Minor complaints like that aside, I liked Kat's attitude and the sense of humor which pervaded this story, and some of the text was choice. How about this for a rich phrase: " A festering laugh", or this comment on vampires: "...if this vampire’s bite doesn’t kill me, his four-hundred-year-old breath will!" I loved that, and it's for those reasons I am rating this a worthy read for the intended age range.