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

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Green Almonds: Letters from Palestine by Anaële Hermans, Delphine Hermans

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is an interesting story told in graphic novel form, of a trip to Israel and Palestine by one of a pair of sisters (Anaële the writer), the other sister (Delphine the artist) remaining in Belgium. I never did get out of it why the one sister went and not the other, or how she financed her trip which lasted ten months, or what the actual reason was for her trip!

The other thing that was missing was any sense of history which would have put the present circumstances into perspective. This conflict (which is much too polite a word for it) between these two peoples, and which has religion at its root, did not arise yesterday! It's been going on for centuries, but most notably since 1948 when Palestine, as it was then, was carved into two, with the Palestinians being given what is now known as Jordan, and the Israelis being given a sliver of land along the Mediterranean coast.

On the day Israel was effectively created, it was invaded by four Arab nations (later joined by four others) and yet it held its own without outside help from anyone. It's been under siege ever since, with a continual rain of rockets and mortars (well over ten thousand combined) onto Israeli territory which has been beset by terrorist attacks for some seventy years.

Over just the last two decades, these attacks have killed over two dozen Israeli civilians, five foreign nationals, at least eleven Palestinians, and only five Israeli soldiers. None of this is ever mentioned in these stories. The wall which looms large, both figuratively and literally in this story is a direct outcome of these attacks, yet none of this is ever mentioned in stories like these.

None of this excuses the Israeli behavior towards innocent Palestinians, either, which is quite flatly inexcusable, but it does put it in context. This story focuses on Palestinian deprivations and hardships, and on efforts by both Palestinians and Israelis to address the conflict. For that reason, because it gives a different and very personal perspective and about country I have also traveled in (Israel) and visited many of the places mentioned here, I consider it a worthy read, because it tells a story which definitely needs to be told, and which was both saddening and heartwarming in almost equal measures.

Goldilocks and the Infinite Bears by John McNamee

Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Fire and Heist by Sarah Beth Durst

Rating: WORTHY!

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bessie Stringfield Tales of the Talented Tenth by Joel Christian Gill

Rating: WARTY!

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

I have to rate this negatively because it begins with the fictional version of Bessie Stringfield's life, and from that point onward, it necessarily casts doubt on the rest of the story. Bessie Beatrice White was born in Edenton, North Carolina, not Jamaica, and there was no dramatic crossing of the ocean to Boston during which her mother pretty much succumbed to consumption (or whatever) and her father abandoned her in a hotel. Why the author felt he needed to augment this story with pure fiction, even fiction she purveyed herself, is a mystery.

It's like he felt her story wasn't good enough without it. The author/illustrator seems strangely averse to illustrating faces too, such as her parents, the woman who runs the fictional hotel where she's fictionally abandoned, the woman who adopts her, and the woman who interviews her.

The frame of the story is a woman interviewing Bessie who then recounts her life. For me it failed because it made Bessie seem to be an extraordinarily selfish and self-centered person. It also skips a lot of detail. Like how did she pay for her gallivanting after she took off at age nineteen? It mentions later that she performed in carnivals on her bike, but there's nothing about how she financed her trips at such a young age or where her bike came from. The author seems to have bought into more fiction: that of divine miracles!

The story mentions that she had six marriages and no children, but it fails to discuss the fact that that her first marriage gave her three miscarriages. It also says nothing about why she married six times, whether she abandoned each of those husbands, split from them amicably, or they abandoned her.

It relates that she took off after college and started riding around the US, but her criss-crossing the country eight times was during her time as an army courier. Despite working for the US to help the war effort, she was subject to racism repeatedly, and they didn't even have the "excuse" of having a racist, misogynistic, homophobic jackass as president back then.

So while this is a story worth telling, I did not feel this was the version worth reading, and I cannot recommend it.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Infinity 8 Vol. 1: Love and Mummies by Zep, Lewis Trondheim

Rating: WARTY!

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

This graphic novel was a bit of a ill-fated cross between iZombie and the Ood alien race from Doctor Who; it takes the worst elements from them rather than the best. I did not like the story. It made little sense and I DNF'd it about three-quarters of the way through. The main character is far too sexualized and without any good reason for it except that this is what comic books do, of course. It needs to stop.

For reasons unknown, the city-sized spaceship containing a variety of aliens is halfway between the Milky Way and Andromeda when it encounters a debris field. Space being only two-dimensional as it so often is in these stories, the ship can't go over the debris, so it's halted and the captain, again for no good reason, decides to investigate.

The investigation is a joke and goes nowhere nor does it try to go anywhere. Once again, just as in Star Trek, we're faced here with a futuristic society in which all of the robotics, and AI, and drones which we have today, has not only failed to advance, but has also somehow inexplicably been lost to history, so instead of robots going out to investigate, we have to send humans. Fallible. Distractable. Weak. Troublesome humans.

So poor is the management of this ship that aliens also get loose. One of this particular alien race (the Ood rip-offs) is in love with the main character while another of the same race wants her dead - again for no reason, while a bunch more of these aliens are trying to destroy the very ship they're traveling on - and the ship the size of a city evidently has no peacekeepers or law enforcement on board! I think that sense continued the journey while the ship got left behind. That hypothesis honestly explains a lot in this story.

I don't think very many sci-fi writers expend much energy on thinking about how their alien races evolved. They simply create the aliens because they think they look cool and that's the way it is no matter how ridiculous or improbable they all are. So these aliens were once again a poor and irrational assortment, all of them derivative of Earth species, so none of them really looked alien.

Worse, these writers have aliens falling in love with humans without giving any thought to the improbability of it. It would be like trying to get people to take you seriously while your story has a human fall in love with a shark or a boa constrictor. I can't take a story like this seriously, and I cannot recommend this at all.

Lizzy and the Good Luck Girl by Susan Lubner

Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Last Jungle Book by Stephen Desberg, Henri Reculé

Rating: WARTY!

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

In Rudyard Kipling's original Jungle Book stories, Mowgli is first introduced as a wild man living in the forest who is recruited into the forest ranger service because of his extraordinary jungle craft. He marries, has a child, and returns to the forest. In later stories, his childhood is related, but it really isn't quite like the sanitized Disney version (is anything?!).

I was very disappointed in this version, which let's face it is more of an introduction than a story. The blurb was completely misleading in that it suggests that Mowgli (rhymes with cow-glee) has returned to the scene of his childhood to write the last chapter in it - which I presumed would the the dispatch of his hated enemy Shere Khan (which means 'Tiger Chief', not 'lame'! 'Lungri' means lame - it was a nickname for Khan, who was lame). The problem is that none of this happens, nor will it since Mowgli is a silver-haired old man now in this story.

All we get is a pictorial re-telling of the popular version of Jungle Book with nothing new added. It makes Mowgli's vow at the end - to drape Shere Khan's pelt over the council rock of the wolves, all the more hollow, since no such thing ever happened in this story. It did happen in the original jungle books stories - not the draping but the capture of the pelt, so maybe there are more volumes to come, but even if there are, I was so disillusioned with this one that I have no interest in reading any more. This contributed nothing new, and while the artwork was acceptable and the writing not awful, neither of these offered anything truly new, original, or outstanding.

I can see why this was on Net Galley's 'Read Now' shelf. I cannot recommend it. I'd recommend going to Kipling's original material and reading that - and I believe it's all out of copyright now if you're looking for story ideas!

Herakles by Edouard Cour

Rating: WARTY!

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

This was a 'Read Now' graphic novel at Net Galley and a reviewer takes their chances with works in that category! I frequent it because there is a gem in there often enough to make it worthwhile. This was not such a read, unfortunately. The artwork was monotonous, indifferent, and dull, and the story was lacking in anything compelling, although I did finish it, since it's only 160 pages. Had it been longer I would probably have DNF'd it.

The story is of Herakles (more popularly known as Hercules in the same way that nuclear is too often known as nu-cue-ler in our illiterate society unfortunately). Legend has it that Herakles murdered his entire family and to atone for it, he had to live with his cousin, King Eurystheus, for twelve years, during which time, he could have his indentured servant do whatever tasks he saw fit to lay on Herakles.

Herakles was famously tasked with completing ten labors nearly all of which involved animals. I don't know what that says about ancient Greek society (maybe that it was agricultural back then?). In two of these tasks, he was disqualified because he had help, so he ended up doing the dirty dozen (so to speak!):

  1. Slay the Nemean lion, which was a shapeshifter
  2. Slay the Lernaean Hydra which had been created for the express purpose of slaying Herakles
  3. Capture the Ceryneian deer, which was faster than a speeding arrow
  4. Bring back the fearsome Erymanthian Boar alive
  5. Clean the stables of King Augeas which hadn't been cleaned in three decades and which held 1,000 cattle
  6. Defeat the carnivorous Stymphalian birds which had beaks of bronze
  7. Capture the Cretan Bull
  8. Capture the carnivorous Mares of Diomedes
  9. Retrieve the belt of Queen Hippolyta of the Amazons
  10. Rustle the cattle of Geryon
  11. Retrieve some of the golden apples of the Hesperides
  12. Capture Kerberos, the multi-headed hound of Hades
Clearly these tasks are based on constellations!

The author tries to inject humor into the story but it fell flat for me, and I did not enjoy these adventures at all. I wish the author all the best in his endeavors, but I have no intention of reading any more volumes in this series.

Power to the Princess by Vita Weinstein Murrow

Rating: WARTY!

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

Although I was enjoying this book I can do none other than rate it poorly because of the truly poor reading experience I had with it.

The book interested me because in some ways it's similar to one I am currently engaged in writing - variations on fairy tales. It perhaps doesn't need to be remarked to serious readers that there are too many reboots of fairy tale stories such as Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast on the market right now. I blame Disney and YA writers. The genre has become flooded with cheap knock-offs, and this means that if you have an idea for such a book, then you have to write something truly different to make a splash.

That's my plan and that was obviously also this author's plan. What I had feared was that she had beaten me to it, but our ideas are very different thankfully, and mine is aimed at grown-ups whereas her is aimed at a younger audience, so I am continuing with mine!

The thing is that you can't copyright an idea for a novel! You have to turn that idea into a book before you can consider it finished and this book truly is a well-finished work. It consists of several short stories based on traditional folk tales and commendably it goes back to the original roots of the stories, but then it amends them in diverse and inclusive ways. It's a great idea. There's no Disney all cis-gendered, all white-washed tales here thank goodness (at least based on what I managed to read)! The first three were Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and The Snow Queen.

Amusingly if annoyingly enough, the Snow Queen was where I was frozen out. Quite literally. I read the first two stories, but ran into increasing problems with the book ”sticking” such that I could not swipe pages nor enlarge or reduce them (the text is quite small even on my iPad so I had to enlarge each page for a better reading experience, not having falcon eyes!). I was reading it in Bluefire Reader on my iPad - an app I recommend highly.

Normally I have zero issues in Bluefire Reader, but it was becoming increasingly unresponsive with this book open, and it eventually locked up the app entirely. I closed and restarted only to run into the same problem. On a second restart, the novel wouldn't even open. I tried a reboot of the iPad, but this changed nothing, so I deleted the book from Bluefire and went back to Net Galley for a fresh copy only to find I could no longer download it - it's archived! I hope this isn’t indicative of the experience a regular reader will have.

I have to allow that I was irritated, to put it politely, at being frozen out like this, especially since I'd only downloaded this a few days ago. To me there's a contract when I agree to review a book: I will post a review, guaranteed. It would be nice to feel the publisher felt the same way and made the book available until the review was published, but I'm just an amateur reviewer and although I'm just as dedicated to this craft as professional reviewers (perhaps more so since I don't get paid for this!), I don't merit such considerations. That's just the way it is - and an argument in favor of print books, huh?! LOL!

It occurred to me that perhaps the book began misbehaving on my pad because it had been closed on Net Galley? I don't know, but they understandably have so many protections on these things these days that it would not surprise me if that happened. Usually when that happens, there is a note in Bluefire telling me the book has expired (in a non-fatal way!). So all I can conclude is that this was a poor or corrupted download copy. it would have been nice to have been able to fix that and finish reading it.

As I said, I was enjoying the book prior to this, but I cannot rate a book positively that gives such a poor reader experience, so this is why I rate this negatively.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Night Dragon by Naomi Howarth

Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twisting Fate by Pamela Munster

Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

  • "So at worst the tumor would small" - I assume this should read 'would BE small'
  • "Kate told me that she had noted that her skin dimpling about a couple of months back" - I assume this should read, 'skin WAS dimpling' or 'noted her skin dimpling' (omit 'that').
  • " woman needs the dreadfully surgery..." - dreadful, not dreadfully
  • "...the goal to reduce the body's estrogen in the body." Too many bodies! Either 'to reduce estrogen in the body' or 'to reduce the body's estrogen'
  • "So why are so many mastectomies are still being done" - Too many 'are's!
  • "What appeared important early on may not remained important as the time goes by" - 'may not HAVE remained important'?
  • “And all of us a sudden I found myself weeping” There's an us that shouldn't be in there.
  • “...specific sections on chromosomes 17...” There’s only one chromosome 17 per genome!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Chimera Book One: The Righteous & The Lost by Tyler Ellis

Rating: WARTY!

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

I have no idea what this graphic novel was about, even having read it! It made no sense and was so choppy and disjointed, jumping back and forth between sometimes seemingly unrelated events that even when they turned out to be related offered no clue as to what they were actually all about.

The art work was fine enough, but there was no coherent story there so all we had was a coffee table art book. The blurb claims that "...a crew of thieves is hired for a covert mission in the midst of a galaxy being ripped apart by an interstellar holy war." but I don't recall ever a crew being assembled. There was a rag tag group of four creatures who might be the crew referred to, but not a one of them was appealing as a character.

I did see relentless images of an artist's attempt to invent bizarre and threatening alien creatures, none of which had any inventiveness about them, and some made zero sense, which is what happens when an artist with no idea of biology, or evolution tries to invent alien organisms. I cannot recommend this at all.

Oothar the Blue by Brandon Reese

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This story was so tongue in cheek that that I had to go see an orthodontist after I read it. Oothar isn't literally blue, notwithstanding the book's cover. In fact, Oothar is not withstanding anything. He ignores bedraggled dragons. He can't be bothered with railing, wailing wraiths. And he certainly isn't interested in gouging rouge rogue ogres. Nothing seems to bring him pleasure until he finds, after a fit of constructive rage, that a career change is in order, and suddenly, everything is coming up roses!

I'm not sure exactly who this forty-some page graphic novel book is aimed at, but I think it would entertain anyone, especially barbarians with its Aryan barbs. It did me, anyway. I recommend it.

Wanda's Better Way by Laura Pederson, Penny Weber

Rating: WORTHY!

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

In trying to decide what she wants to do with her life, young Wanda discovers that she's actually a scientist and an inventor. She doesn't just complain when she sees a problem, she also sees a solution and then goes and puts it in place by herself. Seeing a crowded, untidy changing room at dance class, she finds a fix. Seeing squirrels stealing bird seed, she finds a way to prevent it. Seeing dad separating egg yolks for a cake, she finds a better way to separate them!

I liked the go-getter character, and the fact that she fixed things herself, but there was much more than this. There was the analysis of the problem, which is explained at the end of the book, and the desire to do something - to be active, not passive. Wanda was also the child of a mixed-race family, which was a joy to see. There are so few books about diversity and it's as rare to see mixed-race parents in a children's book as it is to see same sex parents.

The illustrations were beautifully done by Penny Weber and the text by Laura Pederson was straight forward and evocative. The book had a great overall feel to it. I liked it very much and I recommend it.

Sloppy Takes the Plunge by Sean Julian

Rating: WORTHY!

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

Sloppy is a tree dragon, and as anyone who knows anything can tell you: tree dragons love being mucky and do not mix well with water. Unless it's well water...well, maybe. But. Dewdrop is a fairy and as anyone who knows anything will also tell you, fairies do not hug mucky tree dragons. So maybe Sloppy will take a bath? But what about sharks and crocodiles? But what about baby ducklings who are afraid of the water? Maybe sloppy can help?

This was a fun book designed to lure kids into the bathtub, and anything that can do that is worth a read! I liked the book. it was fun and boisterous, and colorful and playful. I also liked the characters, and I consider this a very worthy read.

Luke and Lottie. It's Halloween! by Ruth Wielockx

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is a little out of season, it not even being July 4th as I post this, but October isn't that far away. My look forward in October is not to Halloween, but to the next season of Doctor Who, which features a female doctor for the first time, but this book is on my to-do list for today, so here goes!

I had a couple of issues with this one - the girl being scared of the spider, but the boy not, and mom being the stay-at-home while dad ventures out with the kids, but later the kids meet up with their aunts who are out trick or treating, so it evened up a bit. The story really doesn't offer anything new, but to me what won for this book was was the really amazing color scheme. It was replete with beautiful illustrations in rich, deep colors, and with lots of detail, so it was a very impressive work of art, and I recommend it!

The Wormworld Saga Vol 1 The Journey Begins by Daniel Lieske

Rating: WARTY!

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

I wasn't impressed with this story and it reconfirmed my rule of thumb never to read any story with the word 'saga' (or 'cycle' or 'chronicles' in the title). I didn't apply that rule to comic books and now I think I shall have to!

Of course it wasn't aimed at me and maybe the middle-graders it is aimed at will go for it, but for me it was too abrupt of an ending - it never really offered any sort of resolution because it was so determined to leave you on a cliff-hanger to draw you into the next one in the series. This is the problem with series, and why I am not very much a fan of them. I appreciate an author more who leaves you wanting to read on because he or she has done such as good job of investing you in the story rather than one who forces you into a choice by breaking the story in the middle of something.

The art work was colorful but a bit plastic in my view, so it left something wanting, although some individual images were really rather fetching. But the story really wasn't anything new: a kid finds a magical portal into some other world where they magical find themselves a special being. It's been done so many times that if you want to do it again, you really need to bring your 'A' game and I felt none of that here. Indeed, I felt like there was more story told in the blurb than ever we had in the actual story which I think is a first for me.

So all in all I cannot recommend this, although I wish the author all the best in his pursuit of this tale.

Once a King by Erin Summerill

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

There was nothing in the Net Galley page for this book to indicate it was part of a series. If I had known it was I would not have requested to review it. It does not stand alone well. I am not a fan of Sarah J Maas who recommends this. I should have taken her recommendation as a bad omen and steered clear. My bad!

I think books in a series, especially in a trilogy, and especially if it's a YA trilogy should carry a warning sign like on cigarettes. In general terms, and while there are exceptions, series are not known for being inventive. The whole existence is predicated upon derivation and cloning and that's what this felt like, even not having read the first two volumes. The earth, fire, water, and wind motif is overdone in books, and the way it’s depicted here is far too reminiscent of Jim Butcher's Codex Alera series for it to be truly original.

I was really disappointed in this because it offered so little that was new. It's like the author read a dozen popular YA love stories and appropriated the most clichéd parts of each of them. I was still waiting for the king - the male interest - to be revealed to have gold flecks in his eyes when I DNF'd this out of disgust at twenty percent in. Out of sheer devilment I did a search to see if 'gold flecks' or 'gold flecked' appeared in the book, but it doesn't; however, in conducting this search I discovered that the king's other golden traits: hair, skin, eyelashes, are trotted out a sickening number of times, so in my book that counts just as badly as the gold-flecked eyes!

So this is your standard tired story of a man and a woman who hate each other and then fall in love, so there's nothing new there at all. I can't even give any credit for the author making him a king rather than a prince because really? If it had been the other way around and she was the queen and he the 'maiden-in-distress' character that would have made at least a bit of a difference, but as it was, I saw nothing here that I haven't read two dozen times too many in female-penned YA novels.

Why so many female authors pen themselves up this way is a mystery to me, but then I like to read something new when I pick up a new book - not the same tired old thing I've read a score of times before. Far too many YA authors seem not to care about that in their desperation to sell their trilogy, and neither do publishers, evidently. I think it's because, for too many writers, it's not about the writing, it's all about the Benjamins isn't it? They seem like they want play it safe by cloning trilogies of other writers, and recovering old ground endlessly, rather than take the road less traveled and bring us something truly sterling, and it's a crying shame. Rest assured I will never go down that path. It's too boring.

Funnily enough, that wasn't even the worst part. The worst part was that once again the author of a YA story goes for the first person voice and then doubles-down on her error by making it dual first person. I read the first chapter (in the female's voice) and then went on into the second chapter not realizing it had changed to the king's voice. For a screen or two the story made less and less sense than it already had until I realized the author was using worst person times two. That's enough to turn me off a story even if the story is interesting, which I honestly can’t say about this one. Maybe if I’d read the first two volumes it might have made a difference - at least in that I would not have had to read this one?

The main female character, whose name I already forgot, is not an actor, she is a thing which is acted upon: just a girl who can't say "No!" The blurb even tells us that "...when he asks for help to discover the truth behind the rumors, she can’t say no" and maybe it’s a bit cruel to quote that, especially since authors have nothing to do with their blurbs unless they self-publish, but this is actually an accurate portrayal of her weakness. She is controlled and buffeted like an insect in a bathtub drain, and if she'd shown some sign that she was rebelling against this and taking arms against this drain of troubles instead of being the tool of men (take that how you will), I would have at least had the temptation to continue, but she offered me nothing. I wish the author all the best in her career, but I cannot recommend this novel based on the thoroughly unoriginal and uninventive part I could stand to read.

How to Speak Science by Bruce Benamran

Rating: WARTY!

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

Translated from the original French by Stephanie Delozier Strobel, this is a chatty, loose look at science and its history and the people who made that history, and it’s often light on the science and heavy on the chat. This might have something to do with the author having a French language You Tube channel (e-penser) on this same topic. The author has an easy, breezy tone, which can make for a nice read, but can also be annoying, and sometimes I think he assumes too much, such as when he says, "The other school of thought was led by Democritus - and of course Leucippus before that."

I found myself asking, why 'of course'? I'm not a scientist nor an expert on science, but I am very well-read for a lay-person and I try to keep up on science and technology as time permits, yet I'd never heard of Leucippus and I'd guess that most people have not, perhaps even including most scientists, so I didn't get why the author writes like everyone knows this already! No, we don't! Or maybe I'm just cantankerous today!

There was some looseness about grammar in the book, too, such as when I read, "...seemed to made it his life's goal...,' which should have been 'make it' (of course!). Not long after this I read, "Such as, running electricity through water (electrolysis) to break down two volumes of water...yields two volumes of hydrogen gas (H2) and one volume of oxygen gas (O2)." I didn't understand the 'two volumes of water' bit! To me it would have made more sense to talk about a volume of water.

Perhaps this sentence, in a section talking about the transmutation of one substance to another and the work of Lavoisier and Dalton, was transmuted itself, but the transmutation didn't complete properly, leaving two half sentences mismatched together instead of one intelligible one? It was issues like this that made me feel this book could use another read-through before publishing. Since this is a translation, it’s hard to say if these problems reside with the translation or with the original authorship, be advised. And since this was a ARC, perhaps these issues have been corrected since this version was made available for review.

There was unintentional humor, too! In a section talking about Giordano Bruno, there was a numeric reference to a footnote which revealed the source of the quote. It's after the colon in the following sentence "Bruno also believed that God was both the mystical minimum and maximum: the monad, source of all numbers" The numeric reference was 6, but it was repeated - a regularly-sized six, followed closely by a smaller, superscript six. I believe this was a duplication of the reference number. It's a pity it wasn't a triplication which would have given us an amusing 666! Although there are some who believe the number of the beast was not 666 but 616, which is several doors down the street. But again, another read-through would benefit the text and catch minor issues like this.

The overall readability though, is good, although there are some oddities and annoyances. The author refers to draft dodger Muhammad Ali when he compares a heavyweight hitter to a problem, but Ali wasn't the greatest by any measure. He comes in third after Wladimir Klitschko and Joe Louis in cumulative title wins, most opponents beaten, and most wins in heavyweight title bouts, and seventh after those two in Longest individual heavyweight championship reigns. There isn't any category where he comes out on top. Except motor mouth, maybe! He was an amusing and sweet guy so I understand but not the self-described greatest.

This is a matter of preference and a minor issue really, but to me it was suggestive of the author going for easy rather than realistic, which is odd choice for a science volume. I could see that sort of thing in a creation "science" book, but in a real work of science? I think the same problem evidences when he tries endearments such as overusing the term "dear readers" and his repeated "joke" when he uses the word 'people' and consistently follows it with "the species, not the magazine" even when 'people' isn't capitalized. The first time might have been amusing, but repeating it endlessly? Not funny. In fact, I found both of these things truly annoying and distracting from the import of the book itself.

On big problem is that this book was written as a print book with academic inclinations, which means it has very wide, tree-killing margins. In an ebook, it matters less because no trees were harmed in its production, but this still doesn't get it off the hook. More voluminous books usurp more energy when stored, retrieved, and transmitted, so a shorter book is always wiser if it can be achieved without seriously compromising readability and quality. Narrower margins would have made this book shorter and less abusive of trees. In a world where trees are really the only entity fighting greenhouse gasses with any determination and application, I can’t favor a book which advocates killing more of them.

There were other issues caused by this being designed from the ground up as a print book and then sent to lowly amateur reviewers like me as an ebook. The organization of the printed page, if it’s anything other than straight-forward text, doesn't translate to screens on a smart phone! The print version has what the author calls 'focus panels' - which I assume are small, hived-off sections, perhaps outlined by a border, which briefly digress into a topic mention in the main text. This might well have worked admirably in the print version, but in the ebook, there is no demarcation between these focus panels and the main text other than a change in font.

Aside from that, one section runs right into another so that, for example, in the chapter on light, in a section talking about Arab scientist Abu Ali al-Ḥasan ibn al-Ḥasan ibn al-Haytham, known more commonly as Alhazen (the author tells us) one screen ends with “...mainly by Ibn“ and the next screen starts with a section on reflection and refraction, which occupies almost the entire screen. Confined tightly to the bottom of that screen is the rest of the sentence that was begun on the previous screen. It’s really disruptive to reading. Evidently no thought whatsoever was given to producing an e-version of the book wherein the focus panels are turned into links which can be tapped to read the content and then tapped again to return to the text. That’s annoying at best.

The section on al-Haytham was regrettable in another way. The author introduces this amazing scientist with the admittedly awkwardly long name, especially for we westerners, and then diminishes the man by saying, "I'm going to shorten that to 'Ali', no offense intended by using the nickname." I did find that offensive. The name Ali is not actually an insulting name in Arabic. It means something along the lines of 'esteemed', or 'worthy', but in western hands it has come to be a term that's at best dismissive and at worst abusive of someone of Arabic descent. I don't understand this patronizing usage. Why not simply use his "last" name (al-Haytham) as he would any other scientist? Why not use the already established 'nickname' of Alhazen? Going the way he went is the equivalent of saying of Einstein, I'm going to shorten that to 'Fritz', no offense intended by using the nickname! Or of saying of Richard Dawkins, I'm going to shorten that to 'Dork', no offense intended by using the nickname. It is offensive, period.

I made it about a quarter of the way though this book. I could read no more of it after I read this in a discussion of the antiquity of telescopes: "[Telescopes] were primarily used on ships for looking at things that were far away...and sometimes, I'm sure, for watching the hottie next door through the window without being seen." I know this guy is French and maybe they think they have a disreputation to keep up, but seriously? It's inappropriate. He couldn’t have said "for spying on the person next door'? Or even 'for spying on the woman next door'? It had to be 'hottie'? That was less than fifteen percent into this book of some 330 pages, so I felt like I ought to have read more than this , but I flatly refuse to continue after a comment like that in a science book. It's supposed to be aimed at the lay reader, not at readers who can only think of getting laid.

In a world where myth, rumor, wild-ass blind conviction, religious fervor, and gossip are all-too-rapidly taking the place of established facts, people need a solid grounding in science and critical-thinking more than ever, and good science books can help. I didn't feel that this one does help, so while I wish the author all the best tackling subjects outside his field of expertise, I cannot recommend this particular effort as a worthy read.