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

Friday, June 1, 2018

Why Juan Can't Sleep by Karl Beckstrand, Luis F Sanz


Rating: WORTHY!

This 'mystery' book for young children examines why it is that Juan can't sleep! There are a gajillon rhyming reasons, every one of which is valid and has probably affected you at one point or another! Although driving through a stop sign with grandpa never was one of my issues! maybe I'll start that trend in my family?!

Luis Sanz's ustrations are far from ill 9as you can see form this sentence!), and the rolling, cascading, helter-skelter poetry is mesmerizing. This is the second Karl Beckstrand book I've enjoyed, the first being The Bridge of the Golden Wood> which I reviewed back in July of last year. I have no hesitation in recommending this one to go with it.


The Animal Book by Steve Jenkins


Rating: WARTY!

This is an educational book about animals and the senses that they have at their command, which tend to put out own to shame, but I can't recommend it because it was so annoying to use unless all you ever want to do is to swipe from page one to the last page and back again. The page-swiping was a bit 'sticky' and slow, and there is no slide bar to rapidly move to different portions of the book.

The images are drawings which are in color but are nothing spectacular. No photographs here. There is a small paragraph of text to accompany each illustration. The book covers a bunch of different senses, fro example revealing that an octopus can taste you through its suckers! Yuk!

Other than that, it's not that great and I'd recommend looking at other options before considering this one, at least in ebook format.


Sheets by Brenna Thummler


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a great ghost story about real ghosts and a young girl who felt like one. Thirteen year old Marjorie Glatt runs the family laundry business while her bereaved dad runs a 24/7 pity party in the apartment above the laundry. Even school wouldn't be so bad if her life was not lonely and PE such a pain. Her work life isn't much better, plagued as she is by the obnoxious Saubertuck, who wants to buy out the Glatt family so he can open a spa on the premises, to which end he starts a campaign of sabotage.

Help is at hand though, in the unlikely form of Wendell the young ghost, and who sneaks out of the ghost compound to explore. he haunts the laundry and at first causes issues, but eventually...well, it's spooky how things work out! The story is well illustrated, well told, and it makes an interesting use of sheets! I recommend it in the spirt in which it was written!


The Enchanted Chest by Jean-Francois Chabas, David Sala


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. Note this is not a graphic novel despite being listed as one! it is instead a short-story with illustrations on alternating pages.

This was a super-cute story with great artwork. A fisher pulls up this ornate chest from the ocean and ends up having to turn it over to the emperor. It's locked, and he tries in vain to get it open by means of calling-up one official and expert after another: the Locksmith, the Strong Man, the Magician, the Alchemist, and finally the lynx who can see through anything, including the emperor's shallowness.

This was different: a fun, well-illustrated and nicely told tale, and I recommend it.


Accell Volume 2: Pop Quiz by Joe Casey, Damion Scott, Robert Campanella


Rating: WARTY!

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

I read the first volume of Accell and quite enjoyed it, but this volume simply did not resonate. It was all over the place, and the artwork was indifferent, so there nothing that special to look at or to read. Accell himself isn't a very impressive character. He's very self-absorbed and self-important, and he objectifies women (maybe it should have been titled Pop tart given the female character who's introduced?). On the other hand, given his jackass of a girlfriend, maybe some of this is understandable.

She was an unrelenting nag, and yet he had no spine to ask her to back-off or to lay it on the line that if she doesn't quit this endless complaining, he was going to be getting out of this relationship; then we get this other girl who's presented as stereotypically evil, but she's not really. It appeared to be a ham-fisted change of wind in relationships, but even that went nowhere. Overall the story was like a day in the life of a superhero, but it was a derivative and boring day.

This character borrows too much from DC's The Flash, and brings nothing new. The guy is supposed to be faster than sound, but there's never a sonic boom when he takes off, and never any complaints about one! And where are the other heroes in this world? Do none of them ever show up to help out a fellow hero when a bad guy turns up? I guess not. I wasn't at all impressed by this outing and I cannot recommend it. I'm done with this graphic novel world.


Summit Vol 1: The Long Way Home by Amy Chu, Jan Duursema


Rating: WORTHY!

Errata:
Aeropsace on p13 Misspelled.

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

There was an event in which an asteroid nearly hit Earth. The planet was supposedly saved by Lorena Payan, which no doubt is pronounced 'pain'. Some people developed superpowers from this event, but curiously, the event seemed to have a preference mostly for white American adults.

The stories of these mutants are covered in various editions by various writers and artists. This one is the story of one of those white Americans who happened to be actually on the mission: Valentina "Val" Resnick-Baker who rescues and protects a young kid. Can anyone say Aliens 2 Redux?

Frankly this story it was a bit bland, repetitive, and disjointed, but overall it was better than the other two I read in this batch of stories. While I am happy to rate this one as a worthy read, I think I'm done with this whole series which really isn't moving, shaking, or breaking new ground. It's petty much broken and crumbled like the asteroid was at this point.


KINO Vol. 1: Escape from the Abyss by Joe Casey, Jefte Paolo


Rating: WARTY!

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

KINO stands for Kinetic Impulse Neoterrestrial Operative which is one of the most bland and meaningless phrases I've ever read, but it was appropriate for a story that made no sense whatsoever. I've been following this X-Men knock-off world for some time and initially I was enjoying it, but lately I've become more and more disappointed in it with every new volume I read, and I feel like I'm about ready to drop it after this one. Nothing happens and nothing moves the story, and by that measure, this book is looking like a microcosm for the entire series at this point.

The backstory is that a "meteor" was heading towards Earth, and this powerful Latin woman orchestrated an assault on it by a half-dozen international astronauts all of whom supposedly died. It turns out she was more sinisterly involved than anyone knows, but now she's a celebrity because she "saved" Earth. The offshoot of this near-miss heavenly body was that some people garnered for themselves super powers. How that worked isn't explained, but whatever explanation it turns out to be has to be better than a dumb-ass "X gene" for sure.

This story (one of many told by different authors and illustrated by different artists) focuses on Major Alistair Meath of the Royal Airforce, so kudos for at least acknowledging - unlike DC and Marvel - that there are places outside the USA. It's believed Major Meath, aka KINO, is dead, but in fact he's been kept in some sort of suspended animation by the Latin girl. The British somehow find out about this and send in a covert team to extract the major's body, but they themselves are hijacked and the body ends up in the lab of Aturo Assante, a stereotypical mad scientist. So far so good.

This is where the story goes seriously downhill because from then on the story itself goes into suspended animation. Assante seems to think that by programming the Major's mind with various challenges - fighting-off super powered bad guys - he can turn KINO into precisely the super hero he requires (for what purpose goes unexplained). So they have Meath suspended from wires, an idea taken directly from Robin Cook's novel Coma. The purpose of this in Cook's novel is so that the patient doesn't get bedsores from lying in one position on a bed, but as I recall Cook doesn't really address the various medical issues raised by this system, the first of which is infection.

The suspension wires go right through the skin into the bone, so unless there is fastidious sterility in the environment which even in a hospital there never is, then the patient is going to get all manner of infections. Just as important is the lack of exercise. Muscles atrophy when not used, as astronauts know only too well, so there's no point in mentally creating a super hero (even if it were possible) if the body isn't also brought up speed. This is why competent nurses turn their coma patients in the bed, and stretch and bend limbs to keep muscles active.

The story consists of repeated rounds of the Brit agent searching for Meath, the Latinx woman searching for Meath, Assante issuing bullshit demands of his programming team, and Meath having a rough and tumble inner life. It's boring. For example, at one point Assante (or someone in his lab, I forget) talks about "cortextual" - there's no such word. He's confusing the 'tex' in 'cortex' with 'text' and getting 'textual' from that, presumably. The correct term is 'cortical'. A real doctor (and a real spellchecker!) would know that.

But the problem is that if these guys have the technology to program scenarios into a living person's mind, then they can also read out of that mind what's going on, but they repeatedly claim that they have no idea what's going on in this guy's brain, yet even so, they know it's bad? Even without feedback they keep feeding things in? It makes no sense. Add to that indifferent and oddly angular artwork by Jefte Paolo and the story doesn't even make up in eye-candy for what it loses in the 'textual' aspects! I didn't like this, and I cannot recommend it.


The Hockey Saint by Howard Shapiro


Rating: WARTY!

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

This is the second in a kind of series or collection aimed at telling a buoyant, life-affirming story and I'm afraid I was no more impressed with this than I was the first one. This story is about a relationship which develops between an established major hockey star and a college hockey player.

One major problem reported by other reviewers is that the college player, Tom Leonard, looks more like a girl than a guy for some reason, and while I agree with this perception, I don't see how it would be a problem, except in that Tom looks way too young to be a 21-year-old college student, so while it's entirely conceivable that a very young-looking, feminine-looking person could well play hockey in college, it's a bit distracting from the story.

A second, similar complaint was about the Jesus-clone of a hockey player who some people complained appeared to be too old for the character he was supposed to be. I disagree with that. While the long hair did seem a bit much, I didn't have any other problem with his appearance. It was his behavior and attitude which bothered me. He lived a hugely secret life and this would have been fine, except that no reason was offered for it except some half-hearted and rather mealy-mouthed comments the guy makes about being misunderstood. It seemed inauthentic and irrelevant to the story. One of the secrets was that he was married to the woman he was, in public, passing off as his cousin! That was just weird.

According to the blurb, Tom is supposed to be sorting through issues that are "both very real and seemingly insurmountable," but I saw no such issues on his plate. He did cause problems for himself, such as being trusted with the responsible position of assistant captain of his team, and promising the coach he won't let him down, and then blowing off the first chance he has to keep his word. This made me view him as a dick and a slacker, and that perception never improved.

One of the things the blurb mentions is that Tom's perception of his hockey hero is a bit too golden, but after all the sports and celebrity scandals we've had, Tom would have to be a blind and deaf choir-boy to imagine someone was flawless or some sort of paragon, which would make him a complete idiot.

I did not like anything about this story, and it made little sense to me. It was far from being inspiring as I'm sure was intended. I cannot recommend it.


The Stereotypical Freaks by Howard Shapiro, Joe Pekar


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. It was another 'read now' offering from Net Galley, and while some of those really are gems that ought to be more widely read, too many of them are like this one unfortunately was - not really that interesting.

This seems to be the start of a series which features different characters in life-affirming stories, full of bon-mots and optimism. That's fine, but along with that, there really needs to be a story that draws a reader in and in this case, there was not. Set in high-school, in the senior year, this is the story of four guys who get together in a band. The problem was that there didn't seem to be any real reason why these guys would get together.

The worst part of this though for me, was that once again we had a story of young guys whose taste in music is curiously exactly the same as the older author's taste! I've seen this time and time again in novels and it really kicks the reader out of suspension of disbelief because there's no reason that we're offered for why these kids would like music which is so far from their peers.

Much of the music (at least those songs I looked up) was from decades ago, and it wasn't what I would describe as 'rock 'n' roll, although some of it was. If you want your young character to like it, fine, but you really need to supply a good reason as to why they stray so far from the norms for their age group.

There may well have been more recent music that I didn't take note of, and there are, without a doubt, kids who like music from earlier periods, but usually there's a good reason for that. Maybe there was in this story, too, but none was offered to the reader, so why these kids were together and why they all seemed to like this same 'antique' music was a complete mystery, the only explanation for which is that the author was writing what he knows and including his favorite music without giving any thought or regard to whether it would really be the music of choice for these particular high-school kids.

I didn't really like any of the characters. The author, who I understand does a lot of work raising money for hockey charities, a sport he's evidently very such into, did not flesh out any of them. They seemed, ironically, very much like Joe Pekar's artwork - sketchy and unfinished. The art was black and white line drawings, and some of it was so faint in my ARC electronic copy that it looked like it was only partially done: an initial sketch which never got fleshed out. Like I said, it was an ARC, so it may well have been unfinished, but I can only judge on what I see, not on some future promise, so I can't recommend this graphic novel for the artwork, either! The drawings were OK, but nothing special.

Although the author says, in an interview I read, that he doesn't like to write predictable stories, this one was very much predictable all the way down the line, including the ending. I didn't like the way the characters were pigeon-holed. We're told that the name of the band came from the characters being stereotyped by their peers in school, but this didn't have a ring of truth to it. For example, the 'smart kid's did not appear particularly smart. And how would he be stereotyped as a 'smart kid'? I don't think 'smart kid' is the term anyone abusing him would choose!

By that same token, the 'geek' was not particularly a geek and would more likely have been pigeon-holed for his weight or appearance than for being a geek. The 'star athlete' was a dick who let one of his jock friends - a stereotypical bigot - be truly mean and abusive to his bandmates without offering a word in their support or their defense. And what's with naming a sick kid a weirdo? He wasn't weird at all - just quiet. High-school being what it is, he would more likely have been abused for his ethnicity, which was Inuit, than for being weird or quiet. So in short, all of this seemed fake and false, like it was no more than an attempt to cover all demographics.

Overall I did not like this story. It felt inauthentic throughout, and it was stuck in a very traditional rut, so it did not appeal to me at all. I wish the author every success in his endeavors, particularly in his charity ventures, but I cannot in good faith recommend this effort.


Please Don't Grab My P#$$y by Julia Young, Matt Harkins


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was an amusing and very short book of poetry and paintings (which are indirectly tied to the poem) designed to teach certain presidents who are a disgusting stain on any civilized and self-respecting society, some lessons they badly need to learn, but are apparently unwilling to do so and/or incapable of doing so. There is something fundamentally wrong with a nation which will elect a boorish, sexist, racist, misogynist, outright lying person into public office, especially when he's three million votes shy of having won an actual majority in the election, but this passes for democracy these days.

While I did not feel the poetry was at its best, the book contains a bemusing variety of euphemisms for a woman's private parts some of which I had not heard before. I think my favorite is panty hamster now, replacing nappy dugout, which itself wasn't included in this collection, but I'm sure many readers could find one that was missing. I believe Mary Shelley's term of choice was 'pretty notch' but that was also, and I suppose unsurprisingly, missing from the collection.

That said, this was a worthwhile effort because I support anyone who does something rather than nothing, even if they don't have the courage to put 'pussy' on the cover (although that may be a Publisher Advisory), which is why I recommend this.


Final Draft by Riley Redgate


Rating: WORTHY!

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

“...but the team here are great people...” this was spoken by Mr Madison, an English teacher Seriously?! 'Team' is singular.

Laila Piedra, like me, is very much into writing, but she's better looking! She secretes herself away in her room with her laptop and creates sci-fi worlds of adventure and derring-do. But daring isn't something Laila ever does herself. She'd rather have a quiet life: no partying, no boyfriend, no extra-curricular activities. She's all about writing, and meeting with her high-school senior year English teacher, Mr Madison, on lunchbreaks to discuss her stories. Apparently he has very little of a life too, and you have to wonder why he's misleading Laila so much in his advice. He seems so full of praise, but later a professional author disagrees with him.

Due to an injury, Mr Madison was forced to take time off school and substitute teacher came in. This woman was a Ukrainian ex-pat who had a successful writing career. Even given that she was a friend of the principal's, it seemed a bit of a stretch that someone of her purported stature would step in to teach. This oddity was explained later in the novel, but even accepting that, it made little sense that her approach to teaching was so minimalist that she essentially didn't teach at all. Instead, she merely had her students continue their writing projects and then marked them scathingly.

Despite Laila's skill and the endless positive, evidently criticism-free encouragement of Mr Madison, Laila's first score from Nadiya Nazarenko was a 32%. Everyone else scored less, and no one was given any real advice about what was wrong or how to improve it. No-one read their work in class either, so it felt unnaturally like a super-secret, under-the-table event; like everyone was ashamed of what they wrote, or their work was too scandalous to ever see the light of day. Worse, Laila never questioned Mr Madison's bona fides given that he was all 100% and the Nazarenko consistently less. That rang hollowly - that Laila never questioned anything.

Frankly she was a bit too passive for my taste, but then I seem condemned to prefer the side-kick characters in young adult and even middle-grade novels rather than the main one. Her sidekick is Hannah, and Hannah fascinated me.

Laila's desperate desire to impress the substitute flings the young writer into dangerous territory, visiting bars with a fake ID, and risking arrest by the police at a fight. Never once does she consider she's being foolish in pursuit of a ridiculous goal. It felt odd, too, that when a school hottie guy befriended her, she didn't try to talk him out of fighting her own friend, a guy who was dating his ex. That was an interesting little story.

The novel could have easily gone downhill several times for me, it didn't, fortunately for this review! It kept me hanging in there, sometimes by a slim thread, and even as I wondered about some of the writing choices the author was making. What made it worthwhile in the end was Laila's outcome, which I had seen coming for a while but was never quite sure if the author would actually take me there - despite having a pretty awesome name for an author: Riley Redgate! I mean come on! That's almost as good as Teenage Negasonic Warhead. You know Riley Redgate's middle name is Negasonic, right? Well, it might be!

Meanwhile, back in Realityville, I have to say that it was such a nice gift that she did do this, that I felt a bit miffed when there wasn't more of it. The novel ended somewhat abruptly with Laila's future seemingly left rather hanging. I don't know if this was a conscious choice or if the author plans on continuing this story in a second volume. It's difficult to see where that would go given the powerful ending this one had (before the abrupt bit!), but I might be tempted to read such a sequel even though I'm not a fan of series, trilogies, and the like. As for this particular volume, I consider overall, that it's a worthy read, and I recommend it.


Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Red As Blue by Ji Strangeway, Juan Fleites


Rating: WARTY!

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

I was very disappointed in this. I knew it was experimental going into it, but I did not realize it would be more mental than experi-. I don't know if the contributor's names are real or made up, but Strangeway definitely describes how this story is told, and the illustrations are minimal, so do not go into this thinking it's a graphic novel in any way; it isn't.

It has some some illustrated pages sprinkled through it, but they don't really tell a story in the way a graphic novel does, and they appear only about every half-dozen pages or so. That said they were, for me, the best part, since they were well done - black and white line drawings though they were. They were full page illustrations, some with panels in them, but the downside of these was that on my iPad in Bluefire Reader, they sometimes took seemingly forever to open up. Worse: they simply retell the story in pictures and tend to precede the text which tells us the same thing the illustration just did. It seemed superfluous if not also pretentious to include them.

As far as the writing went, it was literally like reading a play. No, not like, was - it was a play. I DNF'd this, but I also skimmed through a goodly portion of what I did not read, and the format was the same all the way through as far as I could see. On nearly every page there was a conversation which consisted of a character's name in block caps in the center of the page, their speech centered below it, then the next character's name the same way, rinse and repeat except the rinse was more like a gargle.

The descriptive prose was minimal, which isn't a bad thing necessarily, but here it ran into jargon issues. So much of this is used that there's a glossary at the start of the novel to clue people in to what's obviously an unnatural system. This kind of thing doesn't work for me.

Even that might have been readable if the main character wasn't so unlikeable. She came across as a complete halfwit, constantly having to be told what relatively common, and fairly simple words mean. I can stand to read a good novel about someone who might uncharitably be described as a halfwit, but I can't read about someone who seems to have an unacknowledged learning impairment with which the author has saddled her for no apparent reason.

So for an experimental novel there was precious little experimentation, since it was pretty much a play with some pictures. It didn't strike me as being inventive or imaginative, but as lazy and pandering to a seriously niche audience rather than to a much larger audience of people who would genuinely like to enjoy a well-written LGBTQIA novel based on the author's own experiences.

Writing this my have been cathartic for an author who has grown up in a conservative small town with no role models and prejudice galore, but 270 pages is much to long of a novel to experiment with in this fashion. When I see a book like this, I have to wonder whether the author really just doesn't like trees.


Catalina and the King's Wall by Patty Costello, Diana Cojocaru


Rating: WORTHY!

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

A dear friend recommended this to me and I was glad she did. She has a knack for finding cute children's books, and this is one of the cutest. Illustrated colorfully and prettily by Diana Cojocaru, and written wittily and with a great delight in making choice puns by Patty Costello, it tells the story of a young woman's quiet determination to undermine the isolationist policy of the king.

Catalina is cookie-maker to the king and when she learns of his plan to build a wall between his nation and the nation next door (because they're 'different'), she cannot bear the thought of being separated from her family and concocts a series of seditious subterfuges to sabotage the king's plan - and she succeeds!

I loved the story, and adored the art. The book is short and very telling, and is most enjoyable. I fully recommend it.


Fire Making by Daniel Hume


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I don’t imagine a specialist work like this will have a hugely broad appeal, but it is very informative and well-written, and covers everything you need to know about starting a flame (from a wide assortment of sources) and building and maintaining a fire, doing it wisely, and safely, and taking charge of your situation when in the wild with regard to providing a fire for safety and cooking, for warmth, and of course that general feel-good attitude when you've accomplished something!

I can see it being of value to people who are scouts, and anyone who goes camping or spends time in wilderness areas, or anyone who fears they may be at risk - perhaps because they travel a lot or maybe pilot small planes - of ending up stranded in the wild for whatever reason! It's also a valuable tool for novelists who might like to write an adventure story!

I was impressed by how much this author knows. He's the kind of person who doesn't just talk about it, he lives it (and teaches it!). The fact is that he's been there and done that, and has the ashes of a T-shirt to prove it. I'm kidding about that last bit! Seriously, though, he knows what he's talking about and he not only tells an interesting story of his adventures, but also shares endless practical tips and suggestions every step of the way. I mean, would it occur to you that fungi can burn and even be used as tinder for starting fire? Or would you be stuck looking for damp logs on the ground, an exercise that wouldn't get you started on anything but frustration?

If I wanted more, I would have like to have learned a little bit more about the cultures he's visited and learned from, but he does give a lot, and he's been to places so far off the beaten track that there's no track - other than a game trail. Personally, I'd be leery about following game trails - the operative word being game; that's where the predators are looking for lunch! But bush is bush and unless you want to hack through it, you have to go where the path is easier.

On this score, it was interesting to read of one encounter with a lion - fortunately not a close encounter - where the author and a bush guide were on their way back from observing wildlife at a watering hole - another high risk area for predation! It must have been even more scary to wake up the next morning and find lion paw prints close by your tent. The book contains many illustrative pictures. It would have been interesting to see a picture of that, but there wasn't one; however there are very many illustrating the topics throughout the book.

Talking of pictures, I should say a word about reading this in electronic format. I have my devices set to night mode so the screen is black and the text is white. In this way it saves significantly on battery life. The problem with doing this in a book like this one - with images - is that the image is then rendered negative - and interestingly enough, not even a color negative but a black and white negative!

So when I wanted to really see an image, I had to reverse the setting and change it back to daytime to see the photos as intended. That was annoying, but it's not on the author or the publisher, I don't believe. I don’t know if it’s on the makers of these devices (in my case a phone and a tablet computer) not making it possible, or on the designers of the app (in my case, Bluefire Reader, which is normally excellent), who may well take the lazy route to setting 'night' mode, by simply reversing colors and sliding into gray scale. They don’t care if images are also reversed, I guess!

Despite this being an ARC, I found very few errors in it. In two instances the term 4x4 to describe an off-road vehicle was rendered as 4?4. Why that is I have no idea, but the 'x' didn't translate! In another case I read, "The flames given off by a single flame" which quite literally makes no sense. Other than that it was fine. Very fine! I enjoyed reading this and I recommend it.


Friday, May 4, 2018

The Castoffs Vol3 Rise of the Machines by MK Reed, Brian Smith, Wyeth Yates, Kendra Wells


Rating: WORTHY!

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

The machines march relentlessly onwards in vol 3, but I must confess up front that I have not read volumes one or two. I asked to review this one because I thought it sounded interesting, and though it was rather hard to get into because I'd missed two-thirds of this story so far, I have to say overall I liked it even though some of it made little sense to me.

'Rise of the Machines' sounds suspiciously like an entry in the Terminator movie series, doesn't it? Wait! It is and entry in the terminator series! Couldn't we have 'Onslaught of the Machines' or 'March of the Machines' here, since they're already quite risen it would seem?! A little more originality never goes amiss.

The story itself was a bit slow-moving and it was rather side-tracked from the main issue which was, believe it or not, the march of the machines. I found it hard to believe that if this were a real life adventure, the main characters would be so distracted by relatively petty village problems that they would forget that an army of robots led by an evil woman were bearing closer with each passing minute.

Instead of going out to harass and attack the machines, or prepare traps for them, they spent their time fixing village issues which would be rendered completely irrelevant if the village was razed by the oncoming machines! They evidently didn't take the threat seriously until it was almost upon them.

I'm sure we've all been there, but sometimes people become so desperate to tell a certain story in a certain way that that they forget the reality of the characters in the story they're telling. They forget that they are people with strengths and weaknesses, and with hopes, dreams, and desperation, and with problems and pains, and so end-up with a story in which characters exhibit unrealistic behaviors. I always let the characters tell the story once they've been fully-created, because it makes for a much more realistic story-telling for me, and it often takes me (and the characters) in interesting and quite unexpected directions.

That said, this story was interesting and the relationships quite engrossing. The art work was decent, but initially, it was hard for me to tell the gender of the characters from the illustrations. That's not necessarily a bad thing and normally I would approve of it, but having missed the first two parts of this story, I felt a bit lost, and a little more cluing-in would have been appreciated since the names were not a good guide! I spent most of this story thinking Rosaiba was a female! It wasn't until close to the end that I realized he was not!

So in conclusion, while I do not personally feel compelled to pursue this story any further after this volume, I did enjoy what was offered to a certain extent, and so I recommend it with the caveat that you start with volume one! These are not stand-alone volumes!


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Ocean of Secrets Vol2 by Sophie-chan


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. Note that I have not read volume one of this series. This is volume two and starts at chapter five. And no, I really don't think my view would of this volume would have improved had I read volume one first. I'm quite sure I would never have read this had that happened!

This sounded like an interesting story from the blurb, but then don't they all? (Not really!). The problem was that the blurb didn't remotely match the story. I have to wonder if it matched volume one, because it bore no relationship whatsoever to volume two, so I felt like I was drawn into this under false pretenses.

The blurb claims that "Lia, a 17-year old orphan living by the Atlantic is swept away by the ocean currents during a ruthless storm. She is then saved by Moria and Albert, a duo of illegal runaways on their magical ship!" No! Instead, try a guy flying home from a trip who espies a landmass floating in the sky very reminiscent of Asgard from the original Marvel Thor movie. That's what happened in this novel.
No orphan. No storm. No sweeping away. No magical ship.

When he lands, the guy who is evidently a geology student, reports this experience to his professor who, instead of calling in a psychiatrist, inexplicably allows the guy to take a solo flight in a light aircraft to go find this floating island. He does, and non-adventure ensues.

I'm sorry but this story was awful and the black and white line-drawing artwork indifferent. I was sorely disappointed. It was so juvenile and the plot so thin and childish that it honestly felt like I was reading something a child had written. I wish the author all the best, but I cannot recommend it at all.

I am not a fan of the manga format. I get why it is the way it is, I do, but when this is translated to the west, just as the language is translated, so too could the pages be reversed, especially in an ebook. It's just laziness and hide-bound, blinkered obstinacy that prevents it. For some stories which are worth my time to read, I can put up with this even as I do not like it, but it was just another irritant in this case. It's 2018. No, publishers, it really is! Less than two years from now we shall all require 2020 vision. You read it here first. We do not have to follow method X because that's the way it's always been done, y' know?


VBQ—The Ultimate Vegan Barbecue Cookbook by Nadine Horn; Jörg Mayer


Rating: WORTHY!

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

It's been a long time since I've been a vegan, but as a vegetarian I still keep my eye on what's happening and this is why I requested this for review purposes, because it's a topic you don't often see: a barbecue cookbook for vegans! Lots of recipe books, but nary a barbecue book amongst them!

This one was full of tasty and useful suggestions, hints and tips, including information about selecting a maintaining a Barbecue grill - even if you live in an apartment (assuming you have access to some outdoor balcony or something where you could grill). It begins with a lengthy section on barbecuing in general, followed by an introduction to barbecuing vegan style with lots of useful pointers about grilling just right, including retaining moisture and not over-grilling.

The next few sections cover burgers, sandwiches and patties, then "steaks" (including Seitan style!), "sausages", and skewers, stuffed, braised, and grilled veggies, grilled "cheese" sandwich, chapatis, veggie chili, sweet potato buns, pizza (including Vietnamese style!), wraps, and so on. The last time I grilled a wrap my wife refused to wear it and made me buy her a new one! I could probably have used the advice in this book right then! But seriously, the book goes on to cover salads (including Sichuan style!) and sauces, basics, bread, and more, so it's pretty darned comprehensive.

The only complaint I would have is one which I have about all ebooks which contain photos. It's nothing to do with these authors or this book in particular. Actually you could blame me, because I read my books in 'night' mode which saves on battery power because it lights up only the text, leaving the screen background black. The problem with this is that all images show negative, so you have to put it back into daytime mode to see the image as the author(s) intended. I'm not sure anything can be done about that - although you'd think it oughtn't to be beyond today's technology. So this is a ebook reader/ebook app issue, not a problem with this book per se.

That aside, I recommend this book for a refreshing variety of ideas, food preparation tips and tasty meals! Grilling ain't just for carnivores any more!


The Crooked Staircase by Dean Koontz


Rating: WARTY!

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

This author has more pen names than I have fingers on two hands: David Axton, Brian Coffey, Deanna Dwyer, KR Dwyer, John Hill, Dean Koontz, Leigh Nichols, Anthony North, Richard Paige, Owen West, and Aaron Wolfe. I honestly couldn't remember reading anything by him prior to this, but checking in my blog revealed two previous stories, neither of which I liked! One was an audiobook ( The Face of Fear) about a slasher serial killer going after women. This was recommended by a friend, but is quite simply not my cup of tea. My eyes glaze over when I see a serial killer novel in my daily book bargain flyer, because this genre has been so done to death. That particular novel was especially objectionable because it was in audiobook form and read by Patrick Lawler, who I honestly cannot stand as a book reader. The novel of this author's that I read was a graphic novel version of some Frankenstein-based story, and I did not like that one either.

Had I remembered either of those, then I would not have requested this one, which is not to be confused with The Crooked Staircase by Victor Gunn, so the lack of any lasting impression made by these other books had led me to think this was the first of his I'd read. I'm not sure why this one was more appealing to me initially. It's not like it was perfect, but there was intrigue and action, and nothing completely dumb to begin with, so that made a difference, but there were parts which were stretched a little too far in my opinion. I stayed with this as far as I could, but in the end it simply could not hold my interest, so I gave up on it about one third the way through. I couldn't face reading any more of it, the way it was going - or failing to go!

There's this Indian (not native American) brother and sister who live in a really nice house out in the boonies. One night when the sister is standing outside watching the rain, she sees an SUV drive up and three guys climb out, scale the gate to the property and head into the house. Knowing this can't be a good thing, she sneaks back into the house where her brother is, and she gets some hornet killer spray and disables the guys with it by spraying it into their faces. So far so good, but instead of calling the cops at that point, the two of them go on the run! There is no sensible explanation given for this behavior, so this was my first problem.

One of the guys in the trio invading the home was from the sheriff's department - the girl recognized him. If he was a police officer, then why sneak up? Why not simply go knock on the door (or ask for admittance through the gate in this case) like he was on official business, and then when the door was opened, force their way in? Anyway, the girl disables all three of them with the hornet spray, which was pretty cool, but instead of taking their guns and tying them up (or even handcuffing them, if the sheriff had cuffs on him), and calling the police, the brother and sister go on the lam! These characters are both authors and they have zero imagination, so this felt really inauthentic to me, not to say lame. This is a serious problem with Big Publishing™ and an author who garners a certain level fo success: the editors don't know when (or maybe how) to say no!

If these two feared the police might be compromised because of the sheriff's presence, they could have called the FBI or something. These two were not criminals and not dumb people. They had no idea why the sheriff had shown-up with some heavies and some chemical, and needles like maybe it was for an interrogation. All the siblings had had to do was call the cops. OTOH, if the author actually wanted them to run (and int his case it seems he didn't), then he needed to supply a more convincing reason than was on offer here. I was willing to let that slide, but the whole thing slid too far downhill for me in the end.

There's a second story running in parallel with this one, in which this woman, who is evidently scared of something given her exhaustive security precautions, arrives home to find a woman already in the house waiting for her. This visiting woman, who goes by Jane, isn't a threat and is apparently going after the first woman's ex-husband (a man who had treated her brutally to get what he wanted). The visiting woman is an ex-FBI agent who is living off the grid and has her own personal vendetta against this man.

It sounded like a great start to the story, but the problem was that the author rambles way too much for my taste and for an action story. There were too many asides, too many details, and too many wasted pages. At one point there are two guys trying to track the Indian pair down, and this goes on and on and endlessly on, and it became tedious to read, especially since it was obvious where it was going. I couldn't help but wonder why there was all this padding when the end result was the same. The same thing happened in the parallel story with the main character getting into a boring conversation with this young woman who she encountered in a house where she was trying to get to the house-owner.

In the end I was beaten by sheer boredom waiting for the real story to begin, This felt like one long prologue, and I don't do prologues. I wasn't about to spend any more time on a 340 page novel when it was this uninspiring in the first hundred pages, and especially with such an improbable plot. Based on what I read, I cannot recommend this.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

This Is a Taco! by Andrew Cangelose, Josh Shipley


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This short, illustrated story was hilarious. Told as a children's story about a perky and rebellious (and it must be said, slightly corpulent) little squirrel, it starts out innocently enough, introducing us to the squirrel and its habitat and foods, but as the descriptions are trotted out, the squirrel becomes more and more disappointed in its own story. "Wait I eat bark?" (or words to that effect) it complains at one point. Its preferred food is, of course, tacos, and who can argue with that? I can say without fear of common diction that some of the best squirrels I know are partial to tacos. They don't like the soft ones, only the hard ones. This completely explains corpulent squirrels.

Now you know those redheads are feisty (at least that's what every YA writer, and not a few grown-up writers, would have us believe), so it's not surprising that the story deteriorates further (for the squirrel, not for the reader!) when we learn that the hawk likes to prey on squirrels. I won't go into any more details otherwise I'll start laughing and won't be able to finish this review. Oh! Too late! I feel the titters and giggles coming on! if you can't find a laugh on the Internet, then Giggle it! Let me finish quickly by saying: this is hilarious and the work thinks marvelously outside the book. I fully recommend this for a highly amusing read.


The Lost Path by Amélie Fléchais


Rating: WARTY!

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

I have to say, up front, that I was disappointed in this story, which is depressing because back in August of 2017, I reviewed this author's The Little Red Wolf and loved it. This was a different kettle of comic though, because I'm not even sure what happened in it, despite reading it all the way through.

It felt unfinished for one thing, and on top of that it was disjointed and confusing. I had a hard time following it, which was fine, because it seemed to be going nowhere anyway. The story is supposed to be of these three kids who remain nameless, and who get lost in the forest and encounter strange and magical creatures, but while I found nothing magical in the story, I'm sorry to say I found a lot of strange, and not in a good way. I ended-up being glad these kids were lost and hoping they were never found, thereby decreasing the surplus boredom - as Ebenezer Scrooge might have wished!

The weirdest thing about the graphic novel was that it started out in full color - and quite well done as it happened, but then inexplicably switched to black and white line drawings. I thought at first that maybe this was to indicate that it was nighttime, but it wasn't! Later the color came back - again for no apparent reason, and then went away once more.

Was there a reason for this? Who can say? It was a gray area, but I could see no purpose in it! There was at least one image which had a splash of color, like the artist had begun to color it, but hadn't finished. The only conclusion I could draw by then was that this was unfinished because it was an advance review copy. Alternately if the author/artist was trying to say something with the absence/return of color, it was lost on me, as was the bulk of this non-story.

I was truly disappointed in it, and I cannot recommend this at all.