Showing posts with label ebook. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ebook. Show all posts

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Dear Haiti, Love Alaine by Maika Moulite, Maritza Moulite

Rating: WARTY!

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

I had looked forward to reading this, but in the end I was very disappointed. There were problems with this novel from the very start and not just with the writing. The most noticeable was that this was evidently created as a print book and no thought whatsoever was given to the conversion to ebook. Submitting it in Amazon Kindle format was the first mistake. Amazon is renowned for trashing books when running them through its crappy kindle conversion process, and this one was a disaster. I've said this many times before and I will never tire of saying it until Amazon fixes it: unless your book is essentially plain vanilla, Amazon will trash it.

You can get away with bold fonts and italicized text, but the moment you start putting page headers in there, and drop caps, text box inserts, or any sort of special layout or formatting, and Amazon will destroy it, guaranteed. Never put images in it. Despite this being a given, no one evidently ever thinks to check if the resulting ebook is ready for Amazon Prime time. This one was not. I get that this was an advance review copy, but there is no excuse for the shoddy condition it was in. Evidently no one bothered to check it. This is on the authors and the publisher. I'm at the point now where I'm about ready to fail a book in review for something like this regardless of what else it has right or wrong about it, because I'm so very tired of seeing books in this condition having been mauled in the Amazon jungle.

It's not just a matter of the odd bit here and there having an issue. As writers, we all have to suck that up, but when a book is appallingly mashed-up by the conversion process (which is Amazon's forte as judged by the repeated problems with books I read in Kindle format), someone needs to check it and fix it before it goes out. Given that this was an ARC, there is plenty of time to fix it before it's published in September, but this is really no excuse for putting out a book for review that evidently hasn't even been so much as grammar- and spell-checked:

Here's an example: "...Twitter account I reserve for ratchetness and told them where they could shove keep their opinions." There is a spelling error and a grammatical error right there. Right after this there was a whole section turned red - that is to say a red font as opposed to black. I often see red sections in Kindle format books, usually in the end papers at the beginning - which would be the beginning papers, right? These things make me see red because there's no excuse for them. In this book though, there were random red paragraphs all over the book. I have no idea what it is in Amazon's evidently sloppy and substandard conversion process which causes these, but it would have taken only a cursory glance through the book to see that there was a serious quality problem.

Here's a grammar problem that was evidently caused by a sentence being written one way, changed to sound a little different, and then never re-read to make sure it made sense: "I said she could just show up and show out be herself." Say what? Whether this was caused or contributed to by the fact that this novel had two writers, I do not know. I have often thought it would be nice to have a co-writer, because in addition to spurring on your partner, each of you could catch the other's mistakes, but from the evidence here, it doesn't work that way!

Another example is "...they replavced her presentation with a chat about resolving disputes..." which ostensibly is an attempt to mash two words (repaved and replaced) into one! Inventive, but not good English! I rather suspect though that it was a typo, 'V' and 'C' being next-door-neighbors on the keyboard. This is why I believe a final spellcheck/grammar check was never done on this novel before it was submitted to Net Galley for us poor reviewers who merit only the ebook!

Following are a couple of examples of the poor formatting created by Kindle conversion process; in both of them, the page header and number has been meshed with the text of the novel:

The guests included the usual round
table setup plus a congressperson or two.
This next one had both the header mesh and a red section:
BEAUPARLANT: Exactly. So, when the public hears rumors of expensive dinners at Zuma and court
side Miami Heat seats on their dime..."
The portion beginning 'BEAUPARLANT' and ending with 'court' was all in blood red! And these were all in the first fifth of the novel.

In this example, the page header cuts right into the middle of the word!

in my hands, shak
ing my head
Clearly something is wrong here.

When I got to around twenty percent, this red paragraph issue had become more than an aberration; it was so bad that I chose not to continue wrestling with a book that I wasn't even enjoying in the first place. I'm not a fan of experimental fiction and this felt like it. I'm not a fan of stories which are largely texting messages, or chat room exchanges or which incorporate large portions of such. I don't think it's edgy, I think it's tired and lazy writing. This book didn't go in for that so much as it went in for including the full text of emails, school event programs, transcripts, and that kind of thing. I quickly took to skipping these sections entirely and you know, it made no difference to my understanding of what was going on! So why include them? To me it's just lazy writing.

Because, I suspect, of these attempts to be cutting edge, the story became somewhat incoherent in places, and here I'm talking about what took place in the narrative flow of the text, not the parts where there were disruptive intrusions by emails and newspaper articles and so on. Skipping those parts actually made the story more coherent to me, but maybe that's just me.

The plot is about this one high-school girl, Alaine Beauparlant, a name which I thought was a bit much given she wants to be a journalist and her mother is a TV talk show host. Handsome-speaking? Really? Anyway, having been dissed in school by another girl in a very public way, Alaine reacts in kind, and gets punished for her misdemeanor while the other girl gets off scot-free. The other girl's behavior was without question outright bullying, yet she had no disciplinary action imposed on her while Alaine is suspended?! It's not authentic. Either that or Alaine attends a really, really bad school which didn't seem that way from what I read of it.

I never made it as far as Alaine's suspension. This was yet another novel set in a high-school where bullying is rampant and there is no accountability. I don't doubt that there is bullying in schools unfortunately, but reading about it in yet another YA story is getting very old, and it was only one of many tired tropes employed here. I'm also tired of stories where the girl needs to have the handsome beau, like no woman is sufficient on her own; she has to have her prince charming to validate her. This book could have done quite well without "Tati's distractingly cute intern." We need to have a #MeNeither movement to encourage writers to write about women who don't need men to get what they want out of life and get where they want to go. Maybe it should be tagged #MenOptional.

There was another disturbing issue here and this is a small spoiler, so be warned. Alaine's mother starts acting strangely very early in the story and this is apparently due to Alzheimer's. Alzheimer's usually hits late in life. Only about five percent of cases are early-onset, and sufferers don't typically become violent until late stage, and then only in extremis. While there is always room for aberrations, this story felt unrealistic in its approach to Alzheimer's, which didn't help its case with me. Just saying!

I wish the authors all the best with their career, but I could not get with, and cannot commend, this novel. It wasn't where it needed to be for my taste. If it had started with Alaine arriving in Haiti, cutting out all the high school BS that came before, it might have been be an improvement, but for me it wasn't working at all, and I chose to move on to something more engaging and more realistic.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Be Kind by Naomi Shulman

Rating: WORTHY!

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

Yes there really are 125 kind things to say and do in this book and if everyone did them the world would automatically be a better place. Despite the fact that people say "kindness costs you nothing" or words to that effect, it actually does cost. If it didn't, everyone would be doing it. It takes an effort. It takes thought. It takes time. Sometimes it costs money or personal possessions. But the thing is that it rewards, too, and it has a 'knock-on' effect, so it not only gives a return, it adds interest.

This book has the advantage of offering scores of ideas that really don't take much effort, or much thought. They don't cost money. They really don't eat up too much time. They're easy to think of, to remember, and to do, and it was not only fun to read them, it will be fun to do them. I commend this positive book.

Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was an autobiographical comic following the author's long, and evidently ongoing, trek into gender identity. At one point, the author choses to use what are referred to as 'Spivak' pronouns (E, Em, Eir) after Michael Spivak, for reasons which are never made clear. These particular ones were first used in 1975 by Christine Elverson, so I didn't get why they weren't referred to as 'Elverson pronouns', but there it is.

For me, one big problem with these sort of options is that there is maybe half-dozen or more sets of them, all unagreed upon. For me, the worst problem with them is that they're superfluous when we already have they, them, and their which are all-inclusive gender-neutral words. Personally, I find this to be a fatuous and pointless attempt to create a new word group set when a perfectly functional one already exists. I'm for simplicity and clarity, for ease and comfort, so I will use existing, established pronouns in this review.

The journey they undertook in trying to feel comfortable with themselves is a remarkable and moving one, told here unvarnished and raw as it must have felt in making that journey. To feel constantly uncomfortable with your body in a world which has a two-million-year tradition of humans supposedly (if often delusionally) being definitely either male or female has to be traumatizing, and we get the whole feeling of that conveyed in this book. If it makes you feel uncomfortable and brings you along on this journey, then author is doing a fine job. It worked for me.

A person who starts out biologically female, and if the zygote is destined to be a male, certain things need to kick in, and often they do, but quite often they do not, or they kick in part way, and this is how we get a sliding scale, all too often holding people hostage, who feel somewhere adrift, but not exactly sure where.

In this case the author ended-up feeling extremely uncomfortable with breasts, and a vagina that bleeds periodically(!), but not feeling like a male either (even while harboring fantasies about male physiology), they became someone who is interested in friendship and companionship but not in marriage, children, or even sex. "What am I?" is a question they asked themselves frequently - as frequently, probably, as "Where am I going and what will I find when I get there?" which is a scary question for anyone in this position.

The blurb says this book is "a useful and touching guide on gender identity" but I disagree. I think it's more of a guide in lack of identity, and how to cope with that, how to work with it, how to address it and pursue your own path even while surrounded by uncertainty.

This was a long journey, and I traveled every step of the way, and I think this book is an amazing and informative volume, very personal, but universal, very uncomfortable, but comforting, readable, amusing, disturbing and unnerving. I think everyone needs to read this and try to understand it, especially in the political climate we've made for ourselves in the USA right now. I commend this as a worthy read and salute the author and wish them an easier journey in the coming years than it has been at times over the last few.

Art Makers: Polymer Clay for Beginners by Emily Chen

Rating: WARTY!

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

I'd never heard of polymer clay and I don't consider myself an artist, but art interests me and has done more so since I started this childrens' picture book series of mine, so anything out of my experience zone tends to attract my attention.

For the most part, this book was well-written and very informative, colorfully illustrated and explained in detail where necessary. This 'clay' is made from polyvinyl chloride or PVC. The water that comes into your house and the waste you flush away more than likely runs through PVC pipes, and the electricity you use more than likely runs through cables insulated with PVC. Polymer clay is treated in various ways with 'plasticizers' to render it into modeling clay. You will need to work it to get it soft and ready to mold into whatever shapes you want, but once it's 'loosened up' it's just like clay. When heat-treated though, instead of melting or drooping, it hardens and retains its shape; it's rather like baking ceramic or pottery. It also retains its color. This makes it perfect for making items you want to keep and even use, such as jewelry. You could make buttons for your clothes and other useful items such as, for example, the pieces for a chess game - and even the chessboard itself!

The author shows many techniques and steps the reader through making a variety of items, some of which look good enough to eat - such as fake chocolate chip cookies and a fruit flan that, when done properly, looks very realistic. Polymer clay comes in a variety of bright colors and it mixes readily with other colors to blend shades. There are also varieties you can get which make for a semi-translucent or a pearlescent finish. You can, as the author explains, add other materials to the clay to change appearance, and make a more matte finish to your project. The clay remains workable until 'cured' by heating at relatively low temperatures in an ordinary oven, but perhaps a dedicated oven might be a better bet, or an alternate heating technique. Here's why.

The author doesn't mention this, which for me was a big no-no, but there are certain health risks associated with long-term use of certain types of polymer clay - specifically those which contain more than 0.1% of any of a half-dozen specific chemicals known as phthalates. This is why polymer clay isn't a good material for making children's toys or for making items which might be used as food containers. I understand that the manufacturers of this clay have sought to remove such plasticizers from the clay since 2008, but it's always a good idea to be fully aware of what it is you're working with and what the risks are, which is why I would have preferred at least a mention of this in the book.

I found this an inexcusable omission in that this was not mentioned at all. I also understand from reading around on the topic, that the clay doesn't necessarily need to be baked - it can be heat treated with a hair dryer, dryer for example, or put into very hot water and left for a time to harden that way. Given that some formulations of polymer clay could exude hydrogen chloride gas when heated, the water idea seems like a safer bet to me, but maybe more modern formulations of the clay do not have this problem.

The fact is that I don't know, and the author made no mention of this in this book. I think this was a serious omission and which is why I am not recommending this book. The author also neglected to mention pricing, which can vary and change over time, I know, but a rough price-range would have been nice as a guide. A dedicated oven (an old toaster oven will do) might cost around $70. The clay itself costs about a dollar an ounce, or perhaps more from a brief survey I did, and a hand pasta roller - which you can use to work the clay and make it malleable prior to modeling, will be around $30, although you can work it by hand or even with a rolling pin, I guess; then you would not want to use that rolling pin for food, so a dedicated roller is also wise.

So while this book did offer hints, tips and advice about getting started, the lack of any sort of pricing or safety warnings made it a fail for me, and I cannot commend it. It may well be that safety concerns have been reduced with newer formulations of this material, but still a note of caution would have been wise I felt, especially if (for all I know) there may be 'cut price' older formulations of this material out there. Hopefully there are not!

The Art of Visual Notetaking by Emily Mills

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was an interesting book discussing a technique for note-taking that involves not just notes, but graphical elements to enhance the written word, highlight portions of it, and make specific points stick in the memory.

While I am confident this will help people who are very visual in how they retain information, I have to say that for me personally, I saw no use for it. I am not a student and rarely attend lectures and conferences, so I have no need of note-taking for that purpose, but I can see a use for this in brainstorming ideas for writing projects which I'm very much into!

One thing I would have liked to have seen discussed is how well this author's note-taking held up over time so that, for example, if she went back several years later, and consulted notes she had taken much earlier for a conference or lecture, how much of what she had drawn and written would be clear to her.

The reason I mention his was that she included images of two examples of her own work, one a church conference which was the first thing she did this on, and another - a later example of her note-taking - when she attended a lecture by a writer. To me the church conference material made a kind of sense, but the material she had prepared representing the writer's lecture made zero sense at all. It conveyed literally nothing except that the writer was tall, which to me was irrelevant and said more to me about the author of the notes than the author the notes were about! Obviously they were not taken for me and would mean more to the person who created the record, but I would have liked to have heard about that side of the process.

This raised another issue related to the one I just raised: we do not remain the same people over our lifetime. While there are, of course, continuities, we are different in high school than in college and different again in a college senior year than we were when new to college life. It occurs to me that we do not perceive the world in quite the same way, and therefore the imagery that we might employ to represent something as a high school senior might be significantly different from that we employ as a college senior or a doctoral candidate. This author must have insights into that, but I don't recall any of that being raised here which mades me sad and a little disappointed.

That aside, though, I think this book has value and it was a worthy read for me. There were some minor issues related to the fact that this was obviously designed as a print book with little thought given to the electronic version which is why page 73 for example, led to blank page 71, which in turn led to page 74! Strange but true. Note that this was an advance review copy, so maybe there will be changes to get rid of the 'sticky' screens, where one swipe won't move the screen to the next one.

I had several similar issues with books I read this weekend, all of which were no doubt designed as print books while other books I read had no such issues so something was going on independently of my tablet. Maybe I should have tried two tablets and written this in the morning?! But my considered opinion is that the ebook version requires attention and I'm sorry publishers undervalue ebooks so badly. Sometimes I found myself swiping three or four screens just to get the page numbering to go up by one! Obviously there is an issue with the conversion process which perhaps ought to be given some serious attention if this is going to be actually issued as an ebook.

But I am willing to let that slide and declare this a worthy read because I think this process has a lot of potential.

Portfolio: Beginning Pen & Ink by Desarae Lee

Rating: WORTHY!

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

Part of the Portfolio art series from Walter Foster Publishing, this book takes the reader from beginning level to competency status with advice on tools of the trade, techniques, step-by-step examples, and ideas for projects. It covers drawing techniques for achieving ink effects such as softly graduated shading, each aimed at improving your drawing technique and making it look ever more advanced and professional.

The book instructs on terminology with examples, explaining light, mood, shadow, texture, tone and value in terms of drawing effects, and while most of the book is black ink on white paper, it also introduces the idea of using color. This book was designed as a print book and there were issues with the page numbering such that, even on a full-screen iPad, I had to swipe by four screens before the page number went up by one. I'm not sure what was up with that. It looked to me like this was yet another book designed with little thought given to the electronic version. Aside from making it difficult to go to a specific page to reference something I'd read earlier, this was a minor issue, and overall I consider this a worthy read and a useful asset to anyone who is interested in pursuing this as a hobby or a career.

The Ultimate Guide to Surviving in the Wild by Clive Gifford

Rating: WORTHY!

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

If you don't know Leia and Caroline Carrico to ask them personally how to survive the wilderness as they did for two days recently, then this book is your next best bet. They made it out of the woods using survival training, and with what's in this book you can too - or out of the frozen tundra, or the parched desert, or the thick of the Amazon.

The book is short, but it's packed with useful information and it worked well on an iPhone so it's very portable. Anything more might be overwhelming, but something like this is memorable and handy. It covers several different types of locale, from the Sahara desert to the Arctic desert to the salty sea, and from the jungle to the mountains, and it offers simple and readily understandable tips about survival, finding shelter, making shelter, finding food and water, and avoiding dangerous animals.

Also included are real life stories of people who were smart, who did nothing foolish and everything right, and who made it out of being lost in each of these areas. In truth there's nothing better than getting direct advice from people who have been there and who know the risks and solutions, but failing that, this book will help to make a difference. I'd personally have liked a bit more detail on finding water and food, with photographs of the food sources and how to identify you have the right kind rather than something similar which is dangerous, so I don't know if I'd agree that this is quite the ultimate guide, but that aside, I consider this a worthy read which will at the very least inform you of the dangers and some realistic solutions.

Artist Toolbox: Surfaces & Supports by Elizabeth T Gilbert

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This, the third title in a series, proved to be another useful book of information to help you not so much take steps as to stride confidently through your art ambitions by ensuring that you have the most suitable surfaces on which to work once you embark on an art project. It covers not only drawing and painting surfaces you might employ, but also what effect this medium has over that medium when using those surfaces.

Just like a building, a firm foundation gets your creation off to a good start in not only supporting your work physically, but also bolstering it artistically in terms of how your work looks both texturally and colorfully. There's no point is painting brilliantly if your support isn't there and your efforts are washed out or otherwise undermined because of a poor choice of material on which to paint or draw. It's not just how you do it and what medium you use to create the work, it's also about upon what medium you use as a foundation for your work, and how that's going to interact with your other materials and influence the final piece.

The book covers:

  • Canvas
  • Glass
  • Metal
  • Panels
  • Paper
  • Stone
  • Textiles
And the coverage isn't just in selecting a good medium and knowing how and what to paint on that particular piece, but also how to clean and prepare the material before you paint, so your efforts are not destined to fail. It also covers how to best preserve your work once it is painted.

The book contains some fabulous examples of artwork on each of these surfaces, and while no one can guarantee you will end up with strong artwork like those, you will be assuredly a lot closer to it knowing your materials and approaching your project fully prepared than ever you will going at it haphazardly! I commend this for being comprehensive, easy to understand, and offering good advice, and lots of tips and examples.

Artist Toolbox: Drawing Tools & Materials by Elizabeth T Gilbert

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This book is less about creating great art than it is about the tools you will need to create great art, and more importantly than the tools, how to use tools to get you the image you're seeking. And it also talks about creating great art - so what's not to like?!

As the title suggests, it covers a range drawing media, from colored and graphite pencils to crayons and crayon-like painting sticks in assorted forms, along with charcoal, vine charcoal, white charcoal, and conte materials, but it doesn't just talk about what's available, it gets into it about how to employ those materials to get the kind of results that will elevate your work to the next level, and it includes advice on how to store those materials to best preserve and protect them to prolong their life.

Since the surface upon which you create your art is also an important tool this area isn't spared attention, so we have a discussion of different materials available, and how your painting materials work on each surface, with some photographic examples of results achieved using different tools on different surfaces.

It goes beyond this as well, with step-by-step instructions on working through several projects for even a beginner to learn to draw effectively, so in short, everything you will need to get a firm grounding in your materials and your technique. I commend this as a comprehensive and useful tool to add to your artistic arsenal.

What on Earth: Birds by Mike Unwin, Paulina Morgan

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a fun and colorful book and you'll never guess what it was packed with information about! Birds, you say? How did you guess?! Seriously, this was a neat little book and a useful tool for young children interested in living things around them - and which kid isn't? In an age where climate change denial idiots simply do not get that the damage we are doing to Earth is critical and the dire fallout from it imminent, the more our young children know about the world, the better they will be prepared to fix it. After all these are the children who will be forced to grow up living with the awful mess we've made because we adults refuse to grow up.

Notwithstanding the educational content, the book isn't dull reading - far from it. It combines three facets inviting readers to explore, create, and investigate, so there is always something new and interesting in the flight plan - or the walking plan or the swimming plan depending on which birds we're talking about! Readers will learn about flight and migrations, about food and bird plumage, and about anatomy and behavior.

One minor quibble is that this is another book designed as a print book with little thought given to the ebook version. I read this on an iPad, and the double page spreads worked fine until page 13 which was printed lengthwise such that if you had the print book, you would rotate it ninety degrees to read the page in portrait format as opposed to landscape which all the other double spreads adopt.

This was hard to read on a tablet because every time you change the angle of the pad to look at it lengthwise, the image on the screen rotates and defeats your purpose! The only way to see it was to keep the tablet completely flat and slowly rotate it to see it as the authors intended. It was annoying, but as I indicated, not a deal-breaker. Overall I consider this a worthy read and a useful educational tool for children.

Tales From Nature: Ladybug by Magali Attiogbé

Rating: WORTHY!

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

Ladybug not actually a bug but a beetle. The difference between the two is that bugs suck. No really, they have mouthparts that function like a straw whereas beetles can chew. They're all insects. It's not a bird either, just FYI! The book title in Net Galley was Ladybug, but on the book cover it's Ladybird, as the British call these beetles.

Other than that minor confusion, the fact that the title on spine was still in original French (where the series is evidently called My Little Nature), and which also contains author's name, Magali Attiogbé (which isn't visible on front cover), and the fact that on page 4 the bug was missing her entire body and was reduced to being a hungry head only, the book was informative, colorful and interesting. I am sure lots of kids would enjoy having this read to them. Hopefully these issues will be fixed before the final print version comes out, and on that basis I commend it as a worthy read.

Tales From Nature: Bee by Magali Attiogbé

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a fun book for young kids to learn about nature - and they will need to learn if they're to make up for our incompetence in managing this planet. Notwithstanding the idiot denialists, climate change is already significantly and adversely affecting our lives, and it will only get worse as long as those in power do nothing about it. If our young people can understand what a precious home we inhabit and how important every little thing is, then maybe they can save us from our own addled and stubborn stupidity.

Books like this can help with that by inculcating in children a deeper understanding of nature and thereby a solid respect for it. In this book we follow a bee as she (not 'he' as the book blurb mistakenly claims) goes about her daily business of collecting pollen for food, and nectar for making honey, which is stored for use when pollen isn't available. A huge portion of our food supply is dependent upon the health and industry of worker bees. We will ignore this at our peril.

Again this was designed as a print book with fold-out flaps which do not exist in the ebook version (obviously!), so I was unable to get a complete picture of how the book itself will work, but the ebook version was informative and colorful. However, the page numbering was off. The last page wasn't 10, but 8, which was one page less than previous page. Page 10 was unreachable, so the book seemed to end rather abruptly. Not being the kind of reviewer who merits a print version, I'm forced to assume I saw the whole book, and I can confirm that what I did see is a worthy read!

The Woods by Rob Hodgson

Rating: WORTHY!

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

How can I not want to read a book that's named after my family? No, it's not really named after me, you silly goose, but the book isn't about geese, either. Or about woods - excepting in that it takes place in the woods. It's really about foxes versus rabbits, and while foxes are supposed to be cunning and crafty, you'll find that maybe the rabbits can teach them a thing or two, especially since the foxes aren't too smart.

I read and enjoyed this author's The Cave and if you're familiar with that, you'll realize he likes to put a twist in the tale if not in the tail, so expect one here! The foxes, one tall, one small, one round, all clowns, are hunting rabbits, but they're not having much success no matter where they seek out these liberated lagomorphs. Observant children might be a bit better at spotting rabbits than the foxes are. They can even emulate the foxes by maybe climbing on a chair to simulate climbing a tree, and crawling under the table to simulate crawling through a tunnel.

It's all about fun, and like The Cave this was a fun book. I commend it as a worthy read for young children. No rabbits here indeed! I don't know what the foxes were rabbiting on about....

Friend or Fiction by Abby Cooper

Rating: WARTY!

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

This is an odd and lethargically moving story about young Jade whose father is in remission from cancer, and who is so lonely and at a loss in life that she invents a friend for herself through writing down all the pertinent details in her notebook, unfortunately not many details are pertinent to Jade, and she never seems to grasp the import of this. Consequently I grew a strong dislike of Jade the more I read of this and by eighty percent in, I could not stand to read any more of her and I quit the novel.

In writing in her precious notebook, Jade creates a best friend named Zoe, who is so close to her that the two can almost read each other's thoughts. They get along famously, and have the best times together; then Zoe appears in real life, moving into the house across the street, just like in Jade's original story. Jade discovers that whatever she writes in the book happens in her life with Zoe.

The biggest problem with this book for me is that it never went anywhere. Jade did the same kind of things every day even after Zoe showed up. She went through the same motions, and never seemed to grow; never seemed to change. It was Zoe who began to change, going beyond what Jade had written for her. And that was part of my problem with Jade. She was so annoyingly self-centered and focused on her own needs. I kept thinking, hoping, she would start to see the light, but she never did and by eighty percent it had grown super tiresome reading the same story over and over again.

Everything was about Jade and despite getting multiple signs that things were wrong with her relationship with, and control of Zoe, Jade was too dumb to figure it out. Zoe has only what things Jade has written - nothing more, nothing less, and even when Jade learns this she makes no effort whatsoever to set things right. Zoe herself never seems to think there’s anything wrong with this relationship. This held true way past the halfway point in the novel and by then this repetitive pattern was mind-numbingly tedious.

Perhaps the worst thing about Jade though was that she was so selfish that she never thought of using her magical writing ability to help her family. Her kid bother has some issue which is clear from the endless drawings he does of fighting a nameless 'bad guy'. The odd thing is that no one ever thinks this is odd, and Jade shows no interest in that or in helping him by adding something to her magical notebook to ease his concerns. Neither does she once think of helping her father, who admittedly is in remission from his cancer (presumably the 'bad guy' the boy is fighting in his pictures), but who is far from free and clear. It never even crosses Jade's mind that maybe she could fix this - she doesn't even experiment just to see. It's really deadening to read about someone whose mind simply doesn't function intelligently.

Another thing which bothered me is that Jade's English teacher, who commendably encourages Jade to write, actually read one of her stories about Zoe - and this was after Zoe had appeared in real life. Her comment was, "I think it’s so clever how you incorporated our new student into your story," but never once does she ask Jade if Jade had asked permission to write about Zoe. Not only was it really not clever incorporating a real living school friend in a fictional work, it was disturbing that the teacher never even offered so much as a cautionary note about incorporating classmates into your fiction without permission. It’s not like Jade was six years old. She was beginning the pathway to maturity and definitely needed some guidelines about what’s permissible and the importance of choosing the liberty not taken.

Jade is not a very proactive girl. She's very much passive, even when it comes to writing things that she thinks will help her relationship with Zoe. She came across as very shallow and not capable of standing up for herself, even when this really creepy guy at school steals her notebook and refuses to give it back to her for a whole weekend. She simply lets him have it, and never complains to anyone about it. He gives it back to her after the weekend, but she has to ask for it. Her passivity here was disturbing.

If this guy had been her best friend, that would be one thing - there would have been some level of implicit trust, and I could see then that she might let him get away with it, but she didn't even like this guy - in fact, she actively disliked him, yet she let him walk all over her. That's not the kind of girl I like to read about. I don't mind if a character starts out this way in a novel but I expect to see something happen - some change start taking place and when there is literally none in four-fifths of a novel a reader is highly justified in considering DNF-ing the book. I resented the fact that I had trusted the writer to make things happen and so kept reading. I will never get that wasted time back.

There were the usual technical issues with the kindle version of this novel caused by Amazon's crappy Kindle conversion process which will, I guarantee you, mangle your book if it has any pretentions beyond being plain vanilla in format and layout. This was obviously another book aimed at the print market without a single thought given to the ebook version, and it showed.

Admittedly it was an ARC which hopefully will improve before publication, but this ebook had multiple issues. A common one is that text lines would randomly end before they reached the right side of the screen and then resume on the next line while other lines go the whole way across the screen as you would expect, and I'm not talking about naturally short single lines, I'm talking about lines in the middle of a paragraph ending prematurely like they have a hard carriage return in the line.

Additionally, there were random letter V's in the middle of the text. I ahve no idea what that was all about but it's typically what will happen when your print version has page headers (such as book title on one side and author name on the other for example). Kindle will put these right into the text, because Amazon doesn’t care. Never has, never will. Why the book would have a single letter 'V' as a header, I do not know, but this frequently appeared in the middle of the text on a line on its own, breaking up the flow of the test, such as:

needed a little more time. Maybe you couldn’t rush real happy feelings.
But maybe you couldn’t write them into happen
ing, either. ≈
"I’d like to make a toast,"

Don't ask me what that 'almost equal to' math symbol (the wavy equals sign) is doing there! That was a common occurrence, and I can only assume it’s a section marker where the author used ≈ instead of the more technically correct §. Authors use all kinds of things to denote a break in the text, but Kindle didn't respect this here and it rarely does, so instead of appearing on its own line in the center of the line as it ought, it appeared as you see it above along with the random bolding of that penultimate line!

If Kindle can screw up your ebook, trust me, they will. This process also mangled chapter headings. You cannot use drop caps and expect Kindle to know what to do with them. Amazon will mangle them with relish. So, for example, chapter three was titled 'More Than Zero', and it began with the word 'The' but the 'T' was a drop-cap, so this is what Kindle did to it:

More Than
He lunch-is-over bell rang. Still clutching my

Now that there is some seriously professional mangling. You have to hate literature to design a conversion process that will trash-up a chapter heading/beginning as badly as that. And no one does it better than the Amazon juggernaut. Again, DO NOT submit a novel to Amazon for conversion to ebook format unless it is pure plain vanilla text. Anything more than that, Amazon will destroy it because Amazon hates anything that looks individual or artistic. This is why they have their own format instead of using the standard format. It's because they want to control and homogenize everything, even how your novel looks. Barnes and Noble have their own issues, believe me, but at least they don’t predictably trash your writing. Yet Amazon rules. Go figure!

The Kindle conversion process also likes to randomly bold text as I mentioned, and even turn it red for reasons I cannot explain. The red text in this book appeared right before chapter one began. The random bolding appeared throughout the text as in the example above, where "ing, either. ≈" was bolded for no good reason.

Note that these are technical issues and nothing to do with the story itself, but I think a publisher and an author ought to take it upon themselves to give the ebook version a once-over to see if Amazon has ruined their novel, because Amazon does this routinely in my experience. This is one of several reasons why I personally will have no truck with Amazon publishing my work.

But judged on the story alone I cannot commend this as a worthy read. It was too slow and showed no sign of going anywhere by 80%, and that's when I decided I'd read mroe than enough to give this one a fair chance.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Red Dove by Sonia Antaki

Rating: WARTY!

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

Not to be confused with The Red Dove by Gerry Hillier or The Red Dove by Derek Lambert, this Red Dove (illustrated by Andrew Bosley and subtitled "Listen to the Wind") tells the story of a young Lakota Sioux girl named Red Dove, who lives on a reservation in the Dakota Territory in the early 1890s. She is a child of a white Irish father and an American Indian mother. The blurb tells us that food is scarce, yet the opening few paragraphs detail a hunting trip during which the girl and her half-brother Walks Alone are looking at a whole posse of turkeys, one of which Red Dove brings down with an arrow even though women are not supposed to hunt so we're told.

One issue I had with this book was that it is supposed to be about a strong female of the Lakota Sioux, but if felt like an ordinary story, and there were no references anywhere to any other Sioux women except for the main character's mother. There have been scores of strong American Indian women, including tribal leaders, who lived around or before the time this story takes place, yet we hear of none of them. For example, the Battle of the Little Big Horn, where Custer led a bunch of the Seventh cavalry foolishly to their deaths, is mentioned in this story more than once, yet none of the female Lakota who fought in t hat battle get a mention, and there were at least three of them: Minnie Hollow Wood, Moving Robe Woman (a Hunkpapa Sioux who is credited in some accounts with dispatching Custer), or One Who Walks With the Stars (an Oglala Sioux woman). The leader known in the west as 'Crazy Horse' is mentioned, but his wife, Black Shawl, never gets a word. It's like, despite this novel being about a Sioux woman, Indian women are excluded from the story. It made no sense to me.

Note that Lakota women were not the only ones who fought in battles. There were other American Indian women of other tribes who also fought at Little Bighorn or elsewhere. These women were not shrinking violets. They were tough and self sufficient, and very strong. Names that come to mind are Buffalo Calf Road Woman, a Cheyenne woman whose rescue of her brother at the Battle of the Rosebud was instrumental in turning the tide in the Indian's favor. She also fought alongside her husband at Little Bighorn, and is credited with knocking Custer from his horse. Pretty Nose was a female Arapaho war chief who fought at Little Bighorn.

So anyway, there clearly was no scarcity of food if there are so many turkeys to be had, but these two kids are nevertheless sent off with strangers to a Catholic missionary school where they're treated brutally. Now I get that American Indians have been - and in far too many cases still are - treated appallingly, but the problem I had with this book is that it's relentless in its brutality, with no leavening whatsoever, and it's also unrealistic. It's unrealistic in that this girl was of an age which back then would have been considered 'ripe for the plucking' by the unscrupulous and brutal white men with whom she comes into contact, yet she is never once sexually assaulted or even threatened by it.

Naturally you don't want those horrific details in a middle-grade book, but to not even hint at what a precarious position a girl like her would have been in seemed inauthentic to me when other forms of violence against her were depicted without reserve. The fact is that (according to a 2010 Department of Justice study) over four out of five American Indian and Alaskan Native women have experienced violence, over half have experienced sexual violence and of those, almost all of them experienced it at the hands of a non-tribal member.

The truth is that Native Americans are more than twice as likely to experience sexual assault and rape than any other ethnic group in the United States, and this is today in our supposedly more enlightened times. To avoid this topic in a book set back when there were neither rules nor any sort of moral compass to enlighten and dissuade men from abusing American Indians is a grave failure to face the facts. It's disingenuous and the Sioux women deserve better. The author isn't native American, and while I don't consider that a disqualification by any means, I have to wonder if she perhaps she did not think this idea properly through.

The novel seemed to drag for me, made worse by the never-ending brutality, and while Red Dove is shown as escaping at one point from the Catholic school she fails to get very far before being captured. After that, she suffers the 'white savior' trope in which a white kid helps her out, so she's not really demonstrating "that her greatest power comes from within herself" as the blurb promises.

I think her agency is further diluted by the introduction of a ridiculous level of the supernatural. For me this cheapened Red Dove's story considerably, and made her look like she was mentally unstable. I think a novel without the supernatural, where the girl was shown to have delivered herself from evil as it were, but without need for spirits, and men, including her grandfather, telling her what to do, would have made for a much stronger story. The book also mentions conscription at one point in the narrative, but there was no such thing between the end of the civil war and the start of World War One in the USA to my knowledge.

This book was evidently designed as a print book with no thought given to the ebook version, so the use of drop caps, which I personally do not like, managed to screw-up the layout of the book after it went through Amazon's crappy Kindle conversion process which will mangle your book if it's anything more ambitious than plain vanilla. On more than one occasion, the drop-cap was removed from the start of the first sentence in a chapter and deposited at the start of the second line, so at one point, for example, I read, “he sun sank low behind the hills, the air carried a chill, Tand the sky shimmered from gold to pink.” Here you can see that the 'T' that should gave begun the sentence is appended instead to another word that presumably started the next line in the print version. That line, beginning with ‘Tand’ was a half line below the rest of the text as well.

Many parts of the novel seemed like they had hard 'carriage returns' built into the text, so while some screens had the text run from one side to other as is normal, other screens had the text ending mid-screen and dropping to the next line. It made for a scrappy-looking book and both author and publisher need to take responsibility for checking these things. I personally refuse to publish with Amazon, but if you're going to do that, you need to watch them like a hawk because they will ruin your book's layout if they're not watched like a hawk, as this example proved handsomely in its ugliness.

So all these things together made for a very unsatisfying read for me, and shortly after the white savior came riding to the rescue, I gave up on it. That was around eighty percent, when Red Dove began having out of the body experiences. Sorry but this as not for me and while I wish the author all the best in her career, I cannot commend this as a worthy read.

The Complete Food Substitutions Handbook by Jean B MacLeod

Rating: WORTHY!

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

If Jean B MacLeod who can stand against her?! I was interested in this book, but having looked at it, I confess that I'm wasn't sure how to review it. The problem isn't that there is anything wrong with it, it's that the book is quite literally what the title says. It is the complete book of food substitutions! It is an alphabetized list of a huge number of food items, many of which I have never heard of, with alternative items that you can replace them with in recipes, if you don't have the original or if you want to change it out for whatever reason. The book covers the globe with entries from literally every continent except Antarctica, which admittedly isn't known for its vegetable or meat products!

So without tasting a significant sampling of the recipes, all I can say is that the author has done some serious work here, and that from the substitutions I recognize, it looks like they will work just fine. That's not to say a substitution is always meant as an exact replacement. Sometimes the substitution is so close to the original that it's an obvious replacement and shouldn't really affect anything, but other times the replacement food is different or even quite different, so the aim is more to replace the texture or effect of adding this particular ingredient rather than replace the taste. The thing is that this book gives you choices so you can maybe find a cheaper ingredient, or one you're not allergic to, or one that fits your dietary requirements. The choice is yours! And that's the point! Most items have several options, so you can readily play with them to find something you will like.

Once again, I think the book was designed as a print book because there is very little use made of electronic linking. It's in alphabetized sections, so you can tap the letter in the contents and go to the start of that particular letter's entries, and you can tap from that same letter header for any section to return to the contents page, but one thing I noticed is that quite a number of items in the list will say something like BITTER ALMOND OIL See OIL OF BITTER ALMONDS, and there is no link to tap to go there. That would have been a nice feature.

Given that people sometimes put fake entries into lists like this so they can prove it if someone copied their list, I half wondered if, under 'FIG LEAVES' it might say, 'See LOIN CLOTHS', but it didn't! I was a little disappointed in that, but fig leaves are a legitimate food item here, so that would have meant missing an entry and thereby making the book rather less complete! So I understand, really I do! Maybe the author has an even more sneaky one hidden away somewhere else!

But overall, I liked this book, and I commend it as a complete food substitutions guide.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

The Missing Barbegazi by HS Norup

Rating: WORTHY!

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

Helle Sidelmann Norup is Danish by birth and it shows in this work which would have been handled differently by am American author (assuming one had even thought to write this). The story is original, to begin with and not derived from some long line of stories rooted in a tired old fairy-tale, like so many US middle-grade authors do, but more than that, it's realistic and inventive, playful and fun, and tells an engaging and interesting story.

It's fiction, of course, but it would be so easy to believe something like this could happen or even has happened. Not being American, the author felt no compulsion whatsoever to set this in the USA, which an unfortunately large number of US authors seem to think is the only place in the world where anything worth writing about can take place. With an attitude like that pervading our literature, it was no surprise to me at all that we finally elected a president who is xenophobic and seems to think there's nowhere else on this planet other than the USA that merits any attention at all. Believe me, this book is a breath of fresh air in middle-grade writing.

Barbegazi are beings from the folklore of the French and the Swiss. The odd name comes from the French barbe-glacée, which literally means 'frozen beard'. Tessa - the main character in this story - grew up hearing of the barbegazi from her grandfather, who has recently died. Her grandmother isn't taking it well. Tessa feels that if she can locate a barbegazi, and prove - at least to herself and her grandmother - that her discredited grandfather wasn't deranged, it will help her grandmother to recover.

Well, guess what? She does find one! She finds a whole family of them and the family has a problem. Tessa is only too happy to help them out, but the problem is: barbegazi don't trust humans! Tessa will need to learn and grow, and take on her shoulders some adult values and traits. And she's equal to it!

She knows a lot about the barbegazi from her grandfather, but when she needs to know more, she reads the notes her grandfather left. Oh my - a girl who is shown to be intelligent by her actions, not from the fact that a lazy author simply told us she reads books! What a pleasant novelty! This is how you write a story about a smart young girl! You don't say she reads books, you show her studying a book to find answers! This author gets it. Far too many authors I've read do not.

I liked this story from the start, and though I'm far from middle-grade, it maintained my interest throughout. It was original, realistic, thoughtful, and fun. Tessa was shown authentically: not perfect, not a genius, not a dope, not cowardly, not super-powered, not squeamish or squeal-ish - just an ordinary girl who has a few things to prove not for herself, but to help others. This author nailed it completely, and I'm happy to commend this as a worthy read and a fun novel. It's one of the best I've read this year so far, middle-grade or otherwise!

Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Tale of Genji: Dreams at Dawn vol 1 by Waki Yamato

Rating: WORTHY!

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

"Beatiful black hair" on p220 Beautiful is misspelled.

The original Tale of Genji was written by someone with the honorific of Murasaki Shikibu. She was a Japanese writer and lady-in-waiting at the Imperial court during the Heian period, and she lived around 1000AD. She was strictly speaking not a 'Lady'. The 'Shikibu' referred to her status as a relative of a high ranking official in a ministry, so 'Lady' is an approximation. Murasaki seems to have referred to the wisteria plant and its color which the Japanese probably did not differentiate between.

No one knows her real name, but some suspect she may have been Fujiwara no Takako. She was married for two years before her husband died, and later retired from court with her daughter. In between those times she wrote an ongoing 'novel' about a fictional character in the Heian court, known as The Shining Prince, and commonly referred to as 'Genji'. This guy was a bit of a playboy (as this pull-no-punches manga reveals), who having lost his mother early in life seems to have pursued a need to replace her with a lover who had her qualities.

He fell in love with his stepmother, something perceived as forbidden, but she's not the only one. Every few pages he finds another woman who inspires powerful feelings, yet every one of them seems inappropriate for one reason or another - that she's an older girl with whom he grew up, so there are sibling feelings involved, or that she's a lower class woman who lives in a small house in the city, and on and on. It's like he can only love she who is decidedly wrong for him to love!

I enjoyed this story and I'm now inspired to actually go read the original (in translation of ocurse! LOL!) that's been sitting on a shelf to my right as I sit typing this, for several years. The author published this manga some time ago and it has been rereleased to coincide with the opening of “The Tale of Genji: A Japanese Classic Illuminated” at MoMA in NYC. To prepare for writing it, Waki Yamato traveled to the locations where the Heian court had existed and visited museum exhibits to see the kind of clothing they would have worn.

She even was able to don one outfit and have photos taken so she could see how it hung and moved. The effort was worth it, because the artwork is beautiful. My only problem with it was that the drawing style tends to render characters to look very much alike and it was at times confusing and a little harder to follow the story when one new character after another was whisked in and out.

The design of the book was a bit confusing too. This was an ebook, which slid up and down the screen on my pad, not left to right. It began at the front of the book rather than at the rear, as many manga do, yet the page had to be read from right to left, not the western left to right, and this was really confusing to begin with because some of the panels made little sense until I figured out what they had done here! Also page numbers are not visible, and there is no slide bar to navigate the whole book so you can't tell at a glance where you are in it. You can only see page numbers if you tap the screen twice or during the actual swiping form one page to the next.

This was also a bit annoying, especially since, in swiping up to the next page, if you accidentally started too low on the page it would bring-up my iPad's nav bar which then necessitated a tap on the center of the screen to dismiss it. That was also annoying! So not the best design for an ebook, but I'm guessing it was as usual, never designed as a ebook, but as a print manga which was then crammed into ebook format without much thought to practicality. Publishers really need to get on the ball with this and decide what it is they're publishing these days! A book cannot be all things to all formats! That aside, though, I really enjoyed the story and the art, and I commend it as a worthy read.

The Humiliations of Pipi McGee by Beth Vrabel

Rating: WARTY!

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

I started out really liking this book, but it developed two major strikes against it. The first was that the ending really went downhill into complete unbelievability for me, so the last twenty percent or so was an unpleasant read. That wasn't the worst part though. The worst was that the main Character Penelope McGee, never ever seemed to learn!

I don't mind reading about a dumb female character if she turns herself around, or if she has some other qualities that come to light, but "Pipi" never changed. As the story went on, she proved herself to be actually worse than anyone she had a vendetta against, and on top of that she proved weak, unassertive, and just completely lackluster, willing to betray friends, family, anyone, to get what she wanted. She was not a nice person and had little thought for the consequences of the poor choices and decisions she persisted in making.

The basis story is that in her last year of middle school, she unilaterally decides she can wipe her slate clean and start high school with a fresh outlook. She determines, against the better advice of her friends to whom she pays little heed, that the only way to do this is to seek vengeance on everyone who wronged her, and try to wipe out her humiliations. She talks like this will be redemption, but she really doesn't act like any of it is. It felt like a real shame to me because some parts of the story were really good, and there was this one nose-piercing scene which mede me laugh out loud, but such meager leavening in a book that is otherwise sinking does far too little to improve matters.

On top of this, her story is presented against the backdrop of what has to be the worst middle school in the entire country. There is no discipline there, the teachers are all either bullies or idiots, and there is absolutely zero parental involvement whatsoever. It's not surprising then that there was open and unchecked bullying going on in this school, which the teachers never did a thing about.

One of the teachers openly bullied the girls, yet there never were any repercussions, for example with parents making complaints about her. The principal of the school was female and all this was going on under her watch, so what message does this send about female competency? It was a disgrace. It was so unrealistic as to be more of a caricature than anything that felt real.

Pipi herself was also a caricature in practice, because everything presented in this story was either stark black or it was glaring white. there was no subtlety here; no shades of gray. On top of that, Pipi had to be one of the most self-centered and ignorant characters I've ever encountered. It was pretty obvious that one of the main characters was gay and Pipi never figured this out at all. She was so self-focussed and self-obsessed that it never occurred to her that other people might be real people with feelings and secrets and problems and worries.

On a technical level, this book was not helped by submitting it to Amazon's crappy Kindle conversion process. Personally I refuse to have any truck at all with Amazon for a variety of reasons, but one repeated problem I see with review books that come to me in Kindle format is that they have evidently been submitted to Amazon with far too many expectations for the end result, and the ebook comes back looking like a mess. If the publisher or author doesn't vet the resulting ebook for quality, the review ebook gets sent out to reviewers looking like a disaster.

I see this a lot with a variety of books. In this particular instance, there were page headers and page numbers blended into the body of the text. There was random bolding of text here and there, and all of the images at the start of the book were sliced, diced, and julienned. Kindle does this routinely. You cannot submit a book to Kindle for conversion unless it is the plainest of vanilla - nothing fancy, no images, no text boxes, no page headings or numberings, no tables, charts, or anything remotely fancy. Essentially it must be just plain vanilla text, otherwise Amazon will completely mangle it for you.

Here's an example. At one point I read the following:
Ricky glanced around, nodding at me, then sat (this part was bold. The text line ended here)
next to Tasha. (this was on the next line and was regular text)
Tasha even wore makeup today—something she rarely did—her lipstick and eyeliner a bright turquoise blue. When I asked her about it, she (this was the next couple of lines, all bolded)
said Eliza showed her how to do it. (this, the next line, was back to regular text).

On another page (evidently page 107!) I read this:
It’s just how I pictured Freya.” 1 07 Tasha grinned.
There were also random examples of a bold lower case letter 'f' appearing in the middle of the text like so:
"The dots disappeared.
I called Sarah over and over,"
I have no idea what that was all about.

So technical issues aside, I cannot commend this as a worthy read when it has such a limp and misguided main character who never seems to learn her lesson and yet for whom everything magically works out in the end? No. Sorry but no! That's way too much fiction for my taste!

Friday, March 1, 2019

Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs by Susan Schaefer Bernardo, Courtenay Fletcher

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a warmly-written kids book which offers way to feel close to someone you love when they're not right there before you - or when they may even be far away. Told poetically by Bernardo, and illustrated equally poetically by Fletcher, it advises turning to nature - which is usually a good idea provided we don't destroy it first. It was a fun read and I commend it.