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

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Hal by Kate Cudahy

Rating: WARTY!

I was interested in reading this because in some ways it reminded me of my own novel Femarine, but in the end - or more accurately in the middle since I never reached the end, it was quite different. Hal is the abbreviated name of the main character - either that or some computer got a body for itself and is seriously going after Dave, because Hal is a duelist, so we're told. Really she's a prizefighter and gives most of her take to her slave overlord because she's too much of a wimp to go it alone.

She's also an idiot. And a lesbian. All of these preconditions come together to trip her up big time when the daughter of a rich and powerful merchant falls for her, and inexplicably so, because Hal is arrogant and selfish (as their 'love' scenes confirm). I have no idea why either falls for the other, so that wasn't really giving me an authentic story, and what story I got was made worse by Hal's appallingly dumb behavior.

Hall knows perfectly well she's walking on thin ice with this girl, and she also knows she's being spied on, and she's warned repeatedly by two different people that trouble is heading her way, but she stubbornly keeps her blinkers on and walks right into it. It was at this point that I decided I have better things to do with my time than to read any more of this, so I moved on.

The book needs a little work too. At one point, I read, "a large pair of double doors." Is that four large doors? I don't think so! So why write it like it is? 'A large pair of doors' or 'a large double door' is all that's needed. Later I read, "Someone tapped her on the shoulder and she span round" Nope! She spun round! So yeah, work. I can't commend this.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Charlie Franks is A-OK by Cecily Anne Paterson

Rating: WARTY!

I didn't realize when I began this that it was volume 2 of the 'Coco and Charlie Franks' series, otherwise I probably would have skipped it altogether, but there is, once again, nothing on the cover to indicate to a poor unsuspecting reader that this is part of a series. This book won the CALEB writing prize in 2017 (this is a competition that authors pay to enter) and I can't for the life of me figure out why. I guess the competition was poor?

The book isn't god-awfully bad, and the reason I decided to read it was because I thought it might be different. It's set in Australia for one thing, and doesn't involve an only child or a child who is an orphan or who has only one parent. Aside from that, it hit every trope you can find in a book about girls and horses - the evil girl competitor, the competition you must win no matter what, the girl getting all the credit and the poor horse none; problems with her horse that threaten to derail her overriding ambition, lack of parental support (although both parents are present, they're really absent); resentment of a new addition to the family that becomes unrestrained joy later, trope overreaction to 'necessary' guy to validate the main female character, and so on.

After a year of home-schooling, the twins are going back to public school. Why they were home-schooled and why they're now going back goes unexplained. Maybe it's from something in volume one? It's at school where Coco fits in to the alpha girl pack and of course Charlie doesn't because she's nothing like her twin. Maybe this was something else that was gone into in the first novel, because it's not mentioned here as to whether they're identical or fraternal (can girls be fraternal twins? LOL! Sororal?).

I'm not one who expects identical twins to be exactly alike in behaviors and desires etc. I prefer it if they're not, but that said, they are quite literally clones and therefore have the same genes which often express in the same ways when it comes to preferences, tastes (not testes which is what I first accidentally typed! LOL!), lifestyle, etc. These two showed none of that whatsoever, so the point of twinning them was lost on me.

The worst problem for me though, was that the main character wasn't AOK. She wasn't even likeable. She had a one-track (or maybe in this case one-tack?) mind which revolved solely around her own selfish and self-absorbed desires, and really had no time for anything or anyone else, not even her sister who loaned Charlie her own horse after Charlie's wasn't able to compete. Charlie didn't strike me as having an over-abundance of smarts, either, as this quote indicates:

While I was at school, I put in enough effort to show I was actually present in the class, and at least vaguely interested in most subjects (I think I mostly just looked vague in Ancient History) but as soon as the bell went and I was on the bus, school was forgotten. Horses were the only things that were important....

The only other thing - quite literally - that she had her mind on was this guy with the asinine name of 'Jake' who seemed to have super powers since Charlie literally felt electric shocks when she so much as looked at him. I'm sorry, but no. How shallow can you make her? Well, this author paradoxically plumbed the depths of shallowness.

With regard to the baby her mother was expecting, this is Charlie's Take On it: " I didn't want to say 'she'. That baby was an 'it', forcing its way into our lives, and making my mum sick" Don't sugar-coat it like that, Charlie. Just plan on trampling the 'it' under your horse's hooves why don't you?!

I'm guessing that the author's plan was to turn this around, but by this point it was too late! I was slightly over halfway through, at the end of Chapter 13 (or 13 Chapter 13 as this book insisted on labeling its chapters!) and I was so sick of this character's attitude that I simply didn't care what happened to her. I refused to read about her any more. She was a dick, and you can't turn that around with simple homespun remedies.

Charlie boasts that she's never fallen from her horse, but even if this is what the author has planned, you can't turned around that obnoxious arrogance, and selfishness with a fall from a horse. You can't do it with mom having a miscarriage, because Charlie selfishly hates the baby. You can't change it by her mom having a cute baby because Charlie selfishly hates the baby. You can't do it by winning the championship, because she's already convinced that a win is inevitable. You can't change it by having her lose the championship because she'll simply blame it on having to ride her sister's horse, for the use of which she's never even properly thanked her sister. She's a big jerk, period and I refuse to commend a novel that makes virtues out of vices in one so young and then seeks to fix all these problems with a magical redemption.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Magic Beneath the Huckleberries by Kristy Tate

Rating: WORTHY!

“She’d and hand Annie a sack lunch” (omit 'and')
“he’d by her a prettier one” ('buy', not 'by')

This was a really short story (less than ten pages) about a young girl, Annie, whose mother is dying of cancer. Annie is a book addict who would sneak reads of children's books at the library that her mother probably wouldn't approve of (maybe some of those are the 'banned' books I'm reviewing this month!). She also reads her mom's romance novels that a friend brings by, sneaking them into her own room when her mom is sleeping. Mom doesn’t have long left to live and Annie realizes that praying won’t do any good. The ridiculous idea that a benign god would make a person beg for something that the god could grant effortlessly were it not actually a malign and cruel god, says it all.

Annie wonders if the school witch coven can help, but discovers there's more sauciness than ever there is sorcery going on in that 'coven' in the woods, sitting around camp fires with boyfriends. On her way back from her pointless excursion Annie discovers some magic of her own, hiding in the huckleberries! This was very short, but sweet and I recommend it for a fast and entertaining read for anyone who likes a warm fuzzy story.

Skinny Me by Charlene Carr

Rating: WARTY!

For a novel which is centered on body image, this one sure objectified and dissed other types of body. It’s not just fat-shaming that's a problem, it’s also male objectification which was rife in this novel as it is in far too many books I've read, too many of which are YA stories that have proved as laughable as they are shameful, and I find it hypocritical in the extreme. How can an author write a novel that features a person resolved to take charge of her life - which is this case she conflates with her body, and perhaps understandably so - and so was focused on body image, while abusing the bodies of others?

At one point I read, "She’s plump, but not fat, still attractive. She’s one of those girls who is clearly somewhat overweight" - like there is some point on a sliding scale of weight gain where a woman becomes downright ugly. The fact that this sliding scale is purely skin deep is evidently irrelevant to this character (or this author who is writing the character). That was one of the problems with Jennifer Carpenter, the main character who tells this story. She's so shallow herself and it seems the more weight she loses, the more ugliness in her it reveals, which is quite the contrary to what she thinks she's achieving.

The book had snide comments like that quite often and they seemed to get worse the more weight Jennifer lost. This includes what might be termed thin-shaming, which is just as nasty as fat-shaming, but which gets nowhere near the same attention. There was also appearance shaming, such as when Jennifer refers to an older man's hair: "though his hair is thinning it’s a full head of hair." like losing one's hair is something debilitating and ugly, or something that diminishes a person. Men have far less control over hair loss than women do over weight loss, and yet this is seen as a fair target? It's somehow fine to make bald jokes, but fat jokes are off limits? I don't think you can have this goose and eat the gander too. Hair is seen as a sign of youth and virility, but the truth is that it’s testosterone which contributes to male pattern baldness!

The novel also indulges in precisely the opposite - what might be called Glute Glorification? Beauty Blinging? The number of times Jennifer objectifies her personal trainer, Matt, is laughable. I read things like: "Matt greets me in a black tank that accentuates his perfectly sculpted arms and hints at the pecs." Jennifer's best friend is named Autumn, and she's dating Matt, yet Jennifer has no problem with ogling him and considering him fair game. I read, "I look up at him, he smiles at me and I wonder how happy he and Autumn really are. He seems pretty glad to see me and Autumn doesn’t usually take her relationships very seriously." So her best friend's boyfriend is fair game?

This is made even worse by the fact that Jennifer never tells Autumn that she's training with her boyfriend. This was sad because the author apparently expects us to believe that Matt never mentioned to Autumn that "Hey, guess who I'm training now? Your friend Jennifer!" This was beyond credibility. Neither of them had taken any sort of vow of secrecy to keep this from Autumn (why would they?!), so why expect us to believe Matt never mentioned it?

This is a sign that a writer wants to set a certain train in motion in her story, but is too lazy or thoughtless to do the work to make it seem natural - or at least natural enough that a reader would be ready and willing to let it go. This was the first time this story really pulled me up and told me: hey, you’re reading a story! It was amateurish and unnecessary.

I’d thought it a bit odd that Autumn, as her best friend and also a fitness trainer, wasn't giving Jennifer tips and encouragement in getting fit and losing weight, but maybe Jennifer simply wouldn’t listen? On the other hand, Autumn, even knowing how inexcusably mean Jennifer's brother has been to her, felt no compunction about dictating to Jennifer how she should live her life: "I know you and Billy never got along but he’s still your brother, Jenn. I shouldn’t be the one to tell you this stuff" No, Autumn, you shouldn't! It’s none of your damned business, and you weren't the one her brother shamed and denied and insulted in front of his friends!

I don’t buy into this happy ending and family has to come together horseshit that is so pervasive in novels, movies and TV shows. Families are not always like that and it’s dishonest to pretend otherwise. The author tries to win our sympathy for Billy by having him suffering some malady which goes unspecified for the longest time. It didn't win mine. Billy's behavior was inexcusable and he deserved what he got, whatever it was, for being such a jerk. I’ll bet Autumn never dictated to him that he should reconcile with his sister. Jennifer hasn’t done anything wrong there, yet Autumn is putting it all on her like it’s her fault! Perhaps she deserves Jennifer trying to steal her boyfriend? That doesn't make Jennifer a nice person though.

Most of the writing was technically pretty good, even thought it was worst person voice, but there were some lapses. At one point, after repeatedly hitting the reader with the sixty-two pounds Jennifer had lost, the author refers to the last time Jennifer met these people when she was "almost sixty pounds heavier.” What happened to the sixty-two pounds? Isn’t that over sixty pounds heavier?! But the worst part about it is that Jennifer, who began as an interesting story-teller, seems to be on a downward spiral.

She met this guy Rajeev, who is clearly interested in her - as a friend if nothing else, but when Jennifer goes to a party and meets him for only the second time, he comes over to greet her and she rudely dismisses him as soon as she sees Matt come through the door. At this point I really did not like her at all, which was a one-eighty from how I began this novel in some admiration of her willpower and work ethic in losing weight. It didn’t help that she now, if not before, saw herself only in terms of her worth to a man: "I’ll be worth a guy like him." What a moron!

Her diet doesn't seem to have educated her about food, either. In Chapter nine, I read that she'll "load up my plate with celery, carrots, tomatoes (but only a few—they’re loaded with sugar". Carrots actually have more sugar than tomatoes, if only by a smidgeon. Celery does have very little, but Jennifer is missing the point: these are sugars in whole foods - not like the mounds of sugar added to a cola or to yogurt (which is more sugary in organic form than in other form, believe it or not!).

The point about eating sugar in whole food - like a fresh fruit or a vegetable - is that it’s an integral part of the whole food and your body processes it rather differently from the added mass sugar in all the appallingly bad foods which people eat. It’s not the same threat in other words, so her concern is misplaced at best. You'd think with all the reading she's supposedly done thus far, she'd be a bit better informed. Or the author would be! It took me five minutes to 'research' this. You’d think Jennifer would have bought a good book on the topic and or watched a few documentaries about diet and health, rather than simply rely on Internet sources which can be dubious, but she doesn’t. Neither did the author apparently.

It may well have been that Jennifer improved her outlook later in the story but she was taking so long to wise up that I was sick of her by this point. I couldn't face reading any more about her, and I DNF'd the entire book, glad to be rid of it and have the opportunity to move on to something else. From what I read, the book was awful and I cannot commend it.

Nefertiti's Heart by AW Exley

Rating: WARTY!

Since the author announces her first chapter as taking place on Sunday, June 23rd, and later reveals it's a quarter century after Queen Victoria's ascension to the throne, then this novel has to be set in 1860, not 1861 as the idiot blurb in Goodreads states. But that's Amazon-owned Goodreads for you.

Cara Devon is a Victorian woman supposedly living in a steampunk world, but the author seems not to understand steampunk, and features very little of that genre. The story seems to have more in common with Fifty Shades of Grey than ever it does with streampunk, but given that I haven't read (and have no intention of reading) that latter novel, I'd have to say it's a grey area...!

Anyway, that's what I gathered from it from my reading of just under a fifth of it before I felt unable to stomach any more. It's set in an alternate reality which not only bears little resemblance to steam-punk, but also bears little resemblance to Victorian London! There were too many anachronisms and they began to grate in short order.

The character's name alone seems suspect. She is the daughter of Lord Devon, but historically, someone elevated to the peerage didn't simply add Duke or Earl or Lord to his last name. He took the name of the locale over which he was actually the lord (at least historically), so Lord Devon might have been named so because he has or had land holdings in the county of Devonshire. That doesn't necessarily follow especially not these days, and doesn't mean he necessarily lived in Devon either.

The current Earl of Devon isn't named Devon, but Courtenay. In 1860, Viscount Palmerston was 'prime minister', but his name was Temple, not Palmerston. With regard to the government he oversaw, the Lord Chancellor was Lord Campbell and that was his last name as it happens, but the president of the council was Lord Granville, whose actual name was Leveson-Gower. The Duke of Argyle was also John Campbell - a different John Campbell! The Duke of Newcastle was named Pelham-Clinton. The Duke of Somerset was named Seymour, and Lord Elgin was James Bruce. So yeah, it's possible a Lord would have his last named in his title, but it wasn't common then, not like it is now because of the life peerages that have been added.

And that's just the last name. Cara was not a common name. An author can choose whatever name they want of course, but to me names mean something, and Cara wasn't remotely on the radar of names in and around the 1840s which was, I assume, roughly when Cara would have been born. Popular names tended to be queen's names such as Mary, Ann, Elizabeth and so on. Cara wasn't even in the top 100 popular names for a kid.

Maybe the parents wanted to give her an unpopular name, but Cara means beloved. That hardly sounds like a name an abusive father would give a girl he detested - and remember it was the men who ran everything and owned everything back then - often not for better but for worse, so this name felt like something the author had coined because she felt it sounded cool rather than a name which had any real thought given to it or which fitted the milieu in which this character was so precipitously deposited.

Anyway, this author has her hero Cara Devon carrying a pair of Smith & Wesson revolvers in 1860 in England. Given that the company wasn't even founded until 1852 in the USA and that it manufactured (when that word literally meant 'by hand') rifles to begin with, it's unlikely she would have a pair of these revolvers (and ammunition to keep them filled) in England so soon afterwards!

Given that this is an English hero, why not give her a Beaumont-Adams revolver, which has the two names she could have used in place of Smith and Wesson in her slightly tired joke. This was a sidearm in use in the British army from 1856 onward. It took me five minutes to 'research' this. Anita Exley isn't an American author as far as I know. She's evidently from New Zealand, so her choice of weapon is a mystery and her evident laziness was a little off-putting.

There are a lot of modern phrases used in this book which detracted from the Victorian setting, and it wasn't just phrases. There were anachronous behaviors, too. In terms of phrases, for example, I read at one point, "She knew leaving the house unattended would be an invite to every questionable person in London" whereas a Victorian would have used 'invitation', not a shortened version which would have been considered unconscionable slang back then, as would ' Union Jack flag' - it was only a 'jack' when used on a ship, otherwise it was just the Union Flag and in Victorian times probably just the British flag. This flag - in one form or another - dates back to James's accession to the throne after Elizabeth died without (recognized!) issue.

Another instance was in one of Cara's thoughts that are shared with us about a visitor to her house: "Cute, for a copper. Shame he's wearing the coat. I can't check out the rear view." which is hardly what a Victorian woman of breeding would think. And even if she had thought it she would not use the modernism 'check out' which is also an Americanism and would not have been in use in London back then. Nor would she have used a phrase like, "the sooner I can get the hell out of London." This was all in the first few pages. "I guess they are a necessary evil" was another phrase that wouldn't have been uttered. Substitute 'suppose' or 'imagine' for 'guess' and you're in business. This is not rocket science.

In a scene in a lawyer's office I read: "Tea, please, Miss Wilson." He directed his comment to the efficient secretary.... No - they would never have had a female secretary back then. Such a thing was very rare and the solicitor's office did not seem very much inclined to support women's emancipation. At one point I read, "The flow of cards through her mail slot was unrelenting" but it was highly unlikely that a door would have had a mail slot in the 1860s, nor would there have been a "pissing contest" back then. These anachronisms began to jar in short order.

Now you can argue that Cara is not your usual gentile Victorian, but the author tells us Cara was abused. It turns out she was beaten by her brutal father, and also was used as payment for a debt by being loaned out as a whore to the creditor for a week during which she was frequently raped. After that kind of treatment at men's hands, I have serious doubts that she would be 'checking out' men's asses. It seemed more likely she would detest and despise them thoroughly, especially in light of her nervous and retiring behavior exhibited later in the story. This felt like a betrayal of what she had been through and was not appreciated, especially in light of what followed.

At one point the author has her hero going out into the street wearing jodhpurs, which is bad enough, and a corset over her outfit. Bullshit. Women didn't even wear jodhpurs for riding back then, and no one wore a corset over their clothes. This was really a poor choice. Methinks the author was far too influenced by what modern steam-punkers seem to favor and paid no attention at all to convention and culture as it was actually in Victorian times. Again, I know this is an alternate reality, but why even claim it's set in Victorian times if you're going to completely flout all conventions?

The emphasis on youth and beauty in this is disgusting, especially from a female author. I thought that perhaps we were starting to get beyond that, but YA writers don't seem to get it for some reason. Thus we have a victim of a murder mentioned early in the story and the only quality she seems to have had is beauty (and youth). Or was it youth (and beauty)? I read, "The death of a young and beautiful aristocrat." This woman is described in a newspaper headline as a "beautiful debutante" No! Victorian newspapers did not go in for that sort of thing! Later I read that someone couldn't imagine anyone wanting to harm her because she was "so beautiful." "Her face was heart-shaped and would have been beautiful [when she was alive]." later, "...on a beautiful young woman?"

No, no, no! Why is it that YA authors are so insistent upon betraying their gender by declaring so categorically that if you're not beautiful you have nothing to recommend you? Had this murder victim been rather plain would that have made her death far less tragic? It would seem so according to this author, who evidently thinks that all a woman has to offer is the shallow depth of her skin.

If the whole point of the story hinged on a woman's looks - like she was a model or an actor or something, then I can see some attention being paid to superficiality, but when her looks are irrelevant, could the author find nothing else to day about a woman? Perhaps that she was loved? Talented? Had her whole life ahead of her? That she did charity work? That she was brilliant? That she was a wonderful friend? That she was an only child? Anything? Bueller? I detest authors who demean and cheapen women like this.

The worst sin is that this author seems to be setting up the bad boy to win Cara's cold and isolated heart. As I said, Cara was raped repeatedly as a child, yet she accepts the villain's offer to go to his home - unescorted - and have dinner with him. When she gets there, the villain insists she take a bath and put on a dress he has for her and she meekly acquiesces. This supposedly feisty hero of the novel essentially lays down and exposes her belly and throat to the alpha dog. This is the rape victim. This is the woman who was abused. This is the woman who supposedly would die before letting anything like this happen to her again, and she rolls over and comes to heel at this guy's bidding? What a pile of horseshit.

That's when I quit reading this garbage; when the villain went into his bedroom - where Cara was taking a bath, and he spies on her through the slightly open bathroom door, and then while she's still in the bathroom and could exit at any time, he begins himself to change for dinner - and without taking a bath. Later Cara decides of this pervert, "He doesn't look villainous, he looks devilish...or delicious." Barf.

Did #MeToo never make it as far as New Zealand? I find it hard to believe. Maybe Anita Exley is simply clueless. Whatever the reason, this novel is garbage.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Little Learning Labs: Astronomy for Kids by Michelle Nichols

Rating: WORTHY!

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

Not to be confused with Nichelle Nichols of Star Trek fame, Michelle Nichols is Master Educator at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, which I can say I have visited although it was many years ago. I thought this book was great. It's simple without being too simple, instructive, useful and very educational.

It places equal emphasis on fun projects and scientific learning, and some of this stuff was new to me, who thinks of himself a something of a science buff. Who knew you could measure the speed of light with a chocolate bar?! I kid you not, and you don't need to worry if you get it wrong because you can comfort yourself with the chocolate afterwards!

The book contains a galaxy of simple child-sized 'experiments' which any kid can do and which are certainly not dangerous. Divided into two units: observing, and scoping out the science, the book begins at the vey very beginning - not, not the Big Bang, silly, but at the beginning of the scientific method - making observations and recording your findings. It teaches children how to estimate angles in the sky with a reasonable degree of accuracy, and how to determine east-west and north-south line by means of two simple observations of shadows cast by the sun. It discusses sunrise, sunset, high noon, the Moon's phases, eclipses, and why stars twinkle. All of this begins with simple tests, experiments and observations any child can make, bolstered by the science behind the experiments explaining why we get the results we do and what they mean.

The science takes over with the construction of a pinhole projector made from a cardboard box and aluminum foil, how to detect infrared light, what ultra violet light is, making a solar oven, mysterious glowing water, and of course the very chocolatey speed of light. Does light travel slower in dark chocolate? Never mind, I just made-up that last bit!

I loved this book, I think it's a great introduction to astronomy for young children, with no dusty cobwebbed lessons! It's all fun, all simple, easy-to-understand and well explained, and most importantly, it's tied in to the science in easily grasped ways. You can't get a better science book for kids than this one, and I commend it fully.

The Slow Cooker Baby Food Cookbook by Maggie Meade

Rating: WORTHY!

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

Margaret Meade is a famous name in cultural anthropology, but this is not that Margaret Meade! Maggie Meade is a cook and a mom who runs and is the author of The Wholesome Baby Food Guide. This book - an alternative to 'who knows what's in there other than sugar and salt' processed baby foods - contains 125 recipes for creating your own 'I know exactly what my baby is eating' foods.

This section discusses the differences between organic and non-organic, but it makes no mention of cost! Organic is often an excuse to bump the price up and nutritionally speaking, organic food is no better than non-organic food. If you buy fresh non-organic food and wash it, there's no reason to fear fruits and vegetables, and the GMO 'worry' is a non-issue as far as I'm concerned, but obviously there is a variety of opinion on these topics and over use of any chemical is an issue. If you're vegetarian, the question of antibiotics in meat isn't a problem either, but it's definitely something you want to avoid as an omnivore!

Part one asks why make homemade baby food and why use a slow cooker? It covers the fundamentals of homemade baby food, slow cooker basics, choosing ingredients and serving them safely, and feeding your baby solid foods at every stage which also contains an important discussion about allergies. Allergies are being re-evaluated and better understood all the time, and things which parents were once urged to avoid with young children are now becoming more and more viewed as foods which ought to be introduced at a relatively young age to avoid children developing allergic reactions later in life, but obviously these are things you need to discuss with your pediatrician. This book also covers topics such as incorporating baby food making into your routine and tools and equipment needed to do so.

Part two covers slow cooking: single ingredient dishes, fruit and vegetable combinations, beyond applesauce recipes, grain-based cereals, and recipes for fingers, spoons, and plates. Towards the back there are sample meal plans, a list of resources, and a comprehensive index.

I have to say that this book appears to have been designed as a print book from the ground up. The pages are in two-page spreads and are legible on a decently-sized tablet computer, but I'd definitely not try using this via a smaller tablet and certainly not on your smart phone, which to me would be a bit of an inconvenience.

That aside the book is well-written, contains good and concise information, and lots of useful advice - plus, of course, a wealth of wholesome healthy recipes to bring children along from the early milk-diet to the regular world of soft and then solid foods as they mature and become accustomed to new foods. Babies are very adaptable, and introducing new tastes at a young age will circumvent many of the 'my kid hates vegetable X' problems as they progress to the otherwise troublesome twos!

Children need to be loved and cared for, but they are tough and do not need to be swathed in sterility and padding and 'protected' from 'evil foods', even at a young age. Careful introduction of a variety of foods at an early age is a great recipe for raising a healthy child at a healthy weight, who has no fear of new foods, and who eats their greens! I think this book goes a long way towards resolving some of those early food issues and I commend it as a useful and worthy read.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

O is for Old School by James Tyler

Rating: WORTHY!

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

A is for apple is old school. This new look at children's ABC's is da biz! I loved it. There's no reason you can't have fun educating your kids, so why not start with this new look, where A is for 'all good', D is for 'dawg', H is for 'hood' and so on?! The book is colorful, amusingly illustrated, and spot on with the alphabet! I commend it as an original, amusing, and a welcome and different take on your ABC's! Word, Bro!

Simone de Beauvoir by Isabel Sánchez Vegara, Christine Roussey

Rating: WORTHY!

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

Simone Lucie Ernestine Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir was a French author and philosopher, and very close companion of Jean-Paul Sartre. She lived through most of the twentieth century, and left a strong legacy of feminism. She wrote novels, biographies and an autobiography, and she made a lasting impression on literature.

Illustrated simply but colorfully by Roussey, this book tells a concise and easy-to-read story of her impressive life from her well-to-do origins, through her family's loss of fortune, to a decent education, to a life spent as a single woman, giving birth to literature instead of children, by her own choice. She pretty much became a feminist before there were women recognized as such (back then they were called trouble-makers!), and a philosopher long before earning any academic credentials. It just goes to show that girl-power isn't a modern invention!

She lived a long and productive life and while I would not agree with the assertion that she "was the first person to write about women making their own choices" (has the author not heard of female authors such as Emmeline Pankhurst, Mary Wollstonecraft and even earlier, women such as Japanese poet Izumi Shikibu?!), she definitely made substantive contributions to what was known back then as emancipation.

I think books like this - part of a series of strong females of history - are highly important for young children - male and female - to read, and this is one more in a series I have been happy to support (with one exception!). I commend this one as a worthy read.

One Day So Many Ways by Laura Hall, Loris Lora

Rating: WORTHY!

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

Written descriptively by Hall and illustrated well by Lora, this book is definitely needed. As a reader who tires of so many novels by American authors set in the US, as though nothing ever happens elsewhere in the world, I welcome books which amplify how important the rest of the world is, and illustrate how critical it is to have an awareness and understanding of other nations, especially at a time when we have a president who seems determined to wear blinkers.

Children need to grasp how big this world is and how different and alike other children are. It never hurts to be wise to the ways of the world and this book represents a sterling start, taking us through a typical day across Earth, but looked at through many facets: those of children of over forty other nations.

It begins with the kids waking up to a new day, breakfasting, traveling to school, learning, playing, making friends, having quiet time, enjoying sports and games, traveling home and completing chores, homework and going to bed! It discusses how different each country can be, or how similar, by illustrating each new page with many vignettes of life elsewhere and at home.

Do the Venetians in Italy enjoy the same food as us? How about children in Burkina Faso? In Jining? In Kathmandu? Do they play the same games? Dream the same dreams? Hope for the same things? The stories come from literally across the entire globe, from two-score nations, from Australia to Alaska, Mali to Mexico, Ecuador to England, Ireland to India, Patagonia to Poland and more.

If I had one complaint it would be that the ebook comes as a double-page spread which makes it rather small, even on a tablet computer. It would have been easier to read had these double-spreads been split into individual pages, and I saw no reason why they could not have been. Evidently this was planned as a print book with little thought given to ebook versions which is rather sad. Other than that, I fully recommend this book as a worthy and educational read for all children everywhere!

Monday, October 1, 2018

Come Home by HL Logan

Rating: WORTHY!

This is a very short (68 widely spaced pps) which the blurb describes somewhat illiterately as a 25,000 word novella that can be "enjoyed on it's [sic] own"! I found it sad that even this story is largely based, like so many stupid YA novels that have any kind of romance in them, on pure looks. As the blurb puts it: She’s instantly drawn to the gorgeous customer," and how 'gorgeous' or 'beautiful' or 'hot' this girl is comes up often.

The blurb asks, "Could someone so caring, passionate and beautiful really ever want Kalli?" and that at least brings 'caring' into the question, but nothing about decency, smarts, companionability, integrity, reliability, loyalty, or whatever. It made it feel a bit shallow. The feeling I got was that the author had rendered Dana as a social worker as a kind of shorthand for character building, under the assumption that we’d all love her as a decent human being without the author having to do any of the work to get us there.

The two main characters behave more like they're thirteen rather than twenty-three (I assume their age is somewhere around mid-twenties although it’s not specified. I do get that people falling in love can become rather giddy, but a little more self-control would have made for a more realistic story with a greater hope of a relationship that had some legs. Fortunately this wasn't done to a nauseating degree, so I appreciated that.

One thing which struck me though, especially given how much physical lust was broadcast in this story (which was all from Kalli's PoV although fortunately for me, not first person), was the lack of any focus on any particular physical aspect of the other woman. Yeah, Kalli does become focused on Dana's green eyes, but despite a lot of lustful thoughts on behalf of both parties, neither one of them ever seems to attach herself to any specific body part - like lips, hair, breasts, legs, ass, fingers, or something like that. That felt a bit unlikely to me.

There were some gaffs in the text, too: I read at the start of chapter five that “She’d been out that morning to get a new phone, and called Dana immediately" and just a paragraph later, Kalli "...tingled at the thought that Dana called just to talk about nothing”, yet as we read, it was Kalli who called Dana, not the other way around! later I read, “A thin slither of skin was visible.” I think she means that a sliver of skin was visible!

All of that said, I do consider this a worthy read, but not a great read!

Counting birds by by Heidi EY Stemple

Rating: WARTY!

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

I was truly disappointed in this book. It certainly is a good idea to get kids out into the fresh air and exercising as well as hopefully doing something for the environment, but what exactly are they doing for the environment? This is where this book failed for me and why I cannot rate it positively.

There was another minor issue in that this book is designed as a print book and not as an ebook. In the ebook, the pages are presented not as single pages, but as double pages meaning you can only view them two at a time, which means they're small, and you have to fiddle with the magnification to see them optimally. Having them as single pages viewed in portrait format would have helped, but the pages are designed as two-page spreads, so that effect would have been lost. My advice is not to buy this for reasons I will go into, but if you want to buy it, do not buy it in ebook format.

I said above, "hopefully doing something for the environment" because there was nothing in this book to say what the purpose of bird counting is or how it actually benefits the environment or the birds. The original idea, from Frank Chapman in 1900 was that instead of going out shooting birds, which seemed to be something of an insane and barbaric tradition on Christmas Day (I wonder how many doves were slaughtered on Christmas Day by the good Christians with their guns?), he would call upon readers of his magazine to go out and do nothing more than count them, and report their results in to the magazine.

That's great, but if that's all it is: counting, then the logic is flawed. The people who went out counting were not necessarily the same people - and I would argue it's highly unlikely they were the same people - as those who were out shooting. And merely counting was doing nothing to save any birds.

Now you can argue that keeping a yearly tally of birds at least allows us to track their numbers over time, but this is precisely what the author has failed to argue in this book because she offers no justification whatsoever for counting the birds, and there needs to be one for all those children who will ask, as I would have as a child: how is this helping the birds?

Just knowing that, say, bird species X is in decline isn't going to do species X a damned bit of good unless action is taken on that knowledge - and assuming those numbers are reliable. But are they? There was no word on that, either. Nor does a wish to act do any good unless the government can be moved to put protections into place - and good luck with that with the present business-obsessed administration who are determinedly destroying environmental protections as fast as they can and outright lying about pollution and climate change.

This book was some twenty pages long and nowhere in it was any kind of word about exactly how this is helping, save for one tiny, brief, and rather vague paragraph on page fifteen. Now word on how the numbers translate to help or even to a plan to help. No word on what kind of help has been given over the last century. No word on whether it has worked. No word on species saved, if any. No word on how conservation has improved. Nothing.

This is unacceptable and unforgivable, because what it means is that this author is asking us to mindlessly go out and count birds - and that's it! Hey, I do, and you should do it too! That's not rescuing the environment, it's acting like a sheep with its attendant wooly thinking. Don't treat your readers like sheep. Treat them like intelligent human beings and give them solid reasons for asking them to do as you do. It's for this reason that I refuse to commend this book as a worthy read. It falls far too short of where it needed to be.

Quantum Mechanics by Jeff Weigel

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was one of the most entertaining graphic novels I've read in a while. Free-wheeling, fast moving, full of heart and invention, and original story, engrossing, and not a human in sight! I don't know if it's aimed at younger readers, but I found it perfectly fine and I'm definitely not a younger reader, but it will serve them too, especially girls who already really know they can do anything, but perhaps need an occasional bit of encouragement to keep them reminded so they don't get remaindered! I'm always an advocate of US writers getting away from the idea that the 'US is the only country worth writing about'. It;s such a trope and this story isn't only outside the US, it's quite literally out of this world.

It's about these two alien girls, one of whom is orphaned. The other lives close by with her mom and dad. Dad is a mechanic and they live on an asteroid surrounded by a mess of defunct spacecraft. The two girls are always trying to fix up something they can fly and all-too-often lack the pristine parts they need to do the work properly, leaving them with less than desirable results, but they're optimistic and inventive, and they never give up.

Into this sweet life comes an old acquaintance of their dad's asking for help in repairing his spacecraft - the Quasar Torrent - a request dad flatly refuses. His daughter decides this is a nifty way to make some cash and buy new parts for their own projects, so Rox and Zam offer to fix the problem only to discover, when the work is done, that they're no longer on the asteroid and are now part of a pirate crew in space - kidnapped!

As their tenure aboard as resident mechanics continues, and they fix all sorts of problems and befriend the easy-going crew, they realize there's more to this pirate life than they'd thought, and they also realize their captain isn't a nice guy at all. Plus, there are stowaways aboard!

Zam and Rox manage to juggle all these issues while keeping their sense of humor and upping their skill set, and a great story with a sweet ending is the result. The story is intelligent and fun, and the artwork is wonderful. I fully commend this as a worthy read (with a great title!)

Mister Miracle by Tom King, Mitch Gerads

Rating: WARTY!

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

I was truly disappointed in this. I tried to overlook the juvenile naming conventions which were put in place long before this volume was created: the 'super hero' being named Scott Free, and the abysmally brain-dead 'Apokolips', and focused on the story which was supposedly about escape artist 'Mister Miracle' being able to escape anything. The story began with an interview about how he had escaped death and this, despite telling us nothing, was the most coherent part of the story. After that it became a two-hundred page nonsensical drag.

The artwork and coloring was a mixed bag and the story boring, meandering, and directionless. The blurb informed me that there would be no ending (THIS IS AN INCOMPLETE PROOF OF THE BOOK ONLY CONTAINING CHAPTERS 1-10). I'm not sure why they would put it out there with no ending, but I was willing to accept that. I'd never read anything about Mister Miracle or his wife 'Big Barda' before, so I thought it would be interesting to me, but it really wasn't. Other than the fact that the hero is married, there was nothing new or different here. There was oddity which I speculated was explained by his purportedly cheating death, but the artwork which I think was supposed to convey this really wasn't pleasant to look at.

There were parts of it that were blurry with the colors not registering correctly and after a short while I realized this was deliberate, but it wasn't appreciated, and was nauseating to look at. I do not know what sort of effect the creators were going for here but it was a fail with me. There were also panels which appeared to be from a TV transmission, and far from giving us "a new take" here, we got the same ridiculous representation with scan lines on the image - like this was a low-res cathode ray TV and not a modern one. I've never found that appealing, not remotely. It's not even intelligent and it certainly isn't new. Instead, it's trope and it's tired.

I can't tell you what the story was about because despite reading all of it, I couldn't tell myself. I can tell you it was disjointedly all over the place, and it made no sense. There was endless talk of raging battles and frequent scenes of massed people fighting, but these were interspersed with laughably domestic scenes. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Big Barda is so pregnant that the baby is due, and then we got endless pages of the delivery which was tiresome. I have no idea where that came from since there was no lead-in to it.

The leader of the fighting forces for which Mister Miracle and Big Barda fought was a psychotic and the fact the Miracle and wife (who was very much secondary to him) failed to see this, told me they were profoundly stupid; far too stupid to successfully raise a child. The kindest thing I can say about this is that maybe it represents one long dream sequence somehow induced by Miracle's supposedly escaping death (or while he's in process of escaping it), but that trope is so tired it's pathetic, if that's what it was. Even if that's what it was, it lacked any kind of a pretense at coherence and so made for tedious reading.

We're told in the blurb that Mister Miracle "even caught the attention of the Justice League, who has counted him among its ranks." That's not only poor grammar, it's irrelevant to this story in which (or should I say in who?!) I saw no redeeming feature at all. Miracle's costume makes him look reminiscent of Iron Man, and since the latter precedes the former by almost a decade, some serious thought ought to be devoted to giving Mister Miracle a makeover. That would have made this story at least a little bit different. As it was, all it was, was more of the same and that's not good enough. I can't rate this positively.

101 Healthiest Foods for Kids by Sally Kuzemchak

Rating: WORTHY!

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

Divided into four main sections: Vegetables, Fruits, Grains, and Protein-Rich Foods, with an addition section on Spices and Seasonings, I found this to be a great book for ensuring young children have access to healthy and tasty recipes. The book is lavishly illustrated with full color photographs of enticing food. The only thing missing was it not being printed on edible paper - but then the recipe would be gone, so perhaps thats not a bad thing!

The author is a dietician and it shows in how she writes. Each section listed above is divided into a smaller section on a particular fruit or veggie or whatever. She fearlessly lists foods a lot of kids would never dream of eating, because they've never been shown how dreamy such a food can be when introduced early and presented right. Each page not only has information about the nutritional value of the food and the best way to prepare it, but also hints, tips and suggestions on how to overcome that veggie shyness. My only disappointment here was that rutabagas (Swedes) were excluded, but they're so yummy that probably kids snarf them down without any issue, right?

Fruits are an easy sell - usually - but that doesn't mean there's nothing new to learn or even yummier ways to look at them (blueberry banana "ice cream" I'm looking at you!). Protein-rich foods included beef, but since it's alphabetical, it began with beans and is followed shortly afterwards by chickpeas. As a vegetarian I was thrilled by this!

The only overall issue I had was that this ebook advance review copy was clearly conceived as a print book, so the ebook pages were actually double-pages. I had to turn my iPad to landscape to see the whole thing, which meant it was rather small for reading, and it's definitely not something you can do a quick reference to on a smart phone - not without eyestrain or a lot of fiddling to enlarge the image. I'd have much preferred it if each page had been a single page which would have permitted portrait reading and a larger image, but overall I really liked this book and I commend it as a worthy read.

Creative Adventures in Cursive by Rachelle Doorley

Rating: WORTHY!

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

Cursive! Foiled again! This was a great idea, luring children into writing well under the guise of having them create decorative and useful items involving handwriting. There is a score of neat ideas. I found it a little disturbing that while the photographs showed a commendable diversity of children, it seemed to be only girls until the 'painting of the rocks' section showed up and then it seemed mostly boys. After that section the gender mix was more diverse. But overall, it is commendable.

So are the ideas. There is a huge variety of options - for both boys and girls together! - to make fun things that will teach elegant writing, and also make useful items such as: greeting cards, seed packets, book plates, stenciled pillow, embroidered napkins, abstract art, cake decoration, and so on.

Provided with abundant hints, tips, illustrations, and photos, the book will talk you through every detail without going into excessive detail, of how to make everything from scratch, including practice warm-up exercises before you even get started! Judged by the faces of the children it was a lot of fun and it also taught concentration and focus! There are also comments from the kids themselves distributed throughout the book about how hard or easy something was, and what experiences they had in doing this work.

I loved this idea and I commend this as a worthy read.

A Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories by Angela McAllister, Alice Lindstrom

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a well-written and easy introduction to Shakespeare for young readers, providing a short story version of a dozen plays. Note that it pulls no punches, telling the stories as Shakespeare wrote them, so there's no hiding the murder, intrigue, and double-cross - and there's a lot of it, for fully half of these plays are the tragedies, the other half the comedies. There are none from the 'histories'. Overall, I think this worked well and it strikes me as a great way to get your kids interested in a highly enduring and popular writer.

The book didn't offer anything aside from the plays - apart from a few illustrations by Alice Lindstrom, which I personally could have done without because I did not feel they contributed anything beyond padding. I'd rather have seen some information or commentary added, and there was a small section at the back with a short paragraph on each included play which gave some background details, but it was very brief.

The plays do not appear to be in any kind of order that I could see. For example, Romeo and Juliet was written before Macbeth, yet they're the first two plays and in the opposite chronological order. The plays are these:

  • The Tragedy of Macbeth is Shakespeare's shortest tragedy. It's sourced from the Holinshed's Chronicles published a decade or two earlier and influenced by the 1590 witch trials in Scotland. It begins with MacBeth coming home from battle to be accosted by three witches who tell him he will become king, while his companion Banquo will be the father of kings but never king himself. In many ways it's just a rejiggered version of Hamlet. MacBeth, rather than wait for fate to crown him decides to hasten things along. He murders King Duncan, leaving 'evidence' that lays the blame on the king's guards (who had been drugged by Macbeth's wife). Fearing the blame trail would lead to them, Duncan's two sons flee, and MacBeth is crowned king, but like Hamlet, he can't overcome his fears and doubts and this leads to a downhill trail of guilt, suspicion, murder, and discovery. The play was essentially a paean to King James and was evidently written (or at least amended) in the aftermath of The Gunpowder Plot of 1605.
  • Romeo and Juliet which ought to need no introduction, is an early play of Shakespeare's once again ripped-off from an Italian precursor as so many of his works seem to be! The story of Mariotto and Gianozza by Masuccio Salernitano is the source, later adapted as Giulietta e Romeo and containing the entire story as Shakespeare appropriated it. The warring family names are perhaps from Dante's Divine Comedy: Montecchi and Cappelletti. It also has parallels in Pyramus and Thisbe which was a play featured in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream also included in this collection.
  • The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark popularly known as just 'Hamlet' is a play that exists in three different versions, having evidently been re-written by Shakespeare several times. Set in Denmark, it tells the story of a young prince set on a course of revenge by his father's ghost, who claims he was murdered by his brother, who now happens to be married to Hamlet's mom, and is king. You know, no one ever explained to me how that worked. Didn't the crown pass from father to son? Why is the uncle the king and not Hamlet? This was written during the reign of Elizabeth the first, and she was queen in her own right, so maybe Hamlet's mom was queen in her own right? This is one of Shakespeare's plays where everyone dies. He seemed to enjoy writing those. As with all his other works, he ripped off this idea directly from the Scandinavian story of Amleth.
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream is a fluffy nonsensical story of mixed loves and confusion written around the same time as Much Ado About Nothing. I much prefer the latter. This play is one of Shakespeare's earliest and the opening lines perhaps wisely invite the observer to pretend it's only a dream if they don't like it. Helena is in love with Demetrius who loves Hermia who loves Lysander, but Hermia's father wishes her to marry Ron, Demetrius. Sorry! All this is worked out in the end by Robin Goodfellow aka 'Puck' and his magic potion. Meanwhile a troop of players are practicing a play (Pyramus and Thisbe) which they hope to put on at the Duke's wedding. One particularly self-opinionated player named Bottom becomes the object of Puck's self-amusement as his features become those of an ass (Bottom, ass - get it? Shakespeare was not known for subtlety!). Following Fairy King Oberon's earlier instructions, Puck makes Queen Titania fall in love with this ass. This is one of Shakespeare's few plays which he did not rip-off from some other source.
  • The Tempest is thought to be the last play Shakespeare wrote and sees him once again returning to the magical as a once again an exiled Duke (cf As You Like It!) gains a belated revenge - of a sort. There is no single source that Shakespeare used for this one, so it's more like his own work for a change.
  • Twelfth Night, or What You Will. Ripped-off from yet another Italian source (The Deceived Ones), this is a comedy once again featuring twins as in The Comedy of Errors which features two sets. Shakespeare himself was the father of twins: Hamnet who died as a child, and Judith who lived to a ripe old age. In the case of this play the twins are Viola and Sebastian, who become separated when their ship wrecks. Thinking her brother has died and hoping for a better life as a man, she takes her brother's male identity, but calls herself Cesario, and becomes a trusted confidante and companion of Duke Orsino, while at the same time falling for him. Meanwhile, thinking his sister dead, her brother starts life anew and ends up encountering her accidentally, but not before confusion has been set in motion as Orsini sends Cesario to court Olivia, who of course has no interest in Orsino, but who falls for Cesario. So once again we get the same old Shakespeare routines we've seen so many times before. As it happens I like this play and it is, methinks, my favorite along with Much Ado About Nothing.
  • The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice is a direct rip-off of Un Capitano Moro, aka A Moorish Captain by Cinthio, and from which the name Desdemona was taken directly. The trouble-making Iago, who is the Don John of this story, feeds poisonous untruths to his boss, Othello, who had failed to promote Iago in his military unit. Iago sets his boss against his wife and eventually causes Othello to suffocate his wife and then upon learning too late of her innocence, kill himself.
  • As You Like It is believed to have been written in 1599 and tells the story of Shakespeare's famous Rosalind (Romeo's soon-ditched 'undying live') and her cousin Celia, who flee her cruel uncle's court and move into the Forest of Arden where others are also in exile. Arden, situated in almost the geographical center of England (not far from where I am from!), is now no longer a forest worth the name. The story is somewhat confused because while Arden is in England, the play is set in France, yet the Forest of the Ardennes lies in Belgium and Luxembourg! Shakespeare was very confused! He was one of history's most famous rip-off artists. If he were writing today he'd be doing young adult trilogies galore. He took this tale from the source story for what later became known as The Tale of Gamelyn.
  • The Tragedy of Julius Caesar was written around the same time as As You Like It and Hamlet and despite its title, is really more about Brutus and his plot to assassinate Caesar, whom he thought was bad for Rome, but really, would you want to see a play named 'Brutus' when you could see one named 'Julius Caesar'? I think people would rather see a play named 'Popeye' than one named 'Brutus'! Shakespeare took his story from Thomas North's translation of Plutarch's 'Lives' retaining many folk tales that had no historical provenance (such as the 'Et Tu Brute' line, which Caesar never said) as well as compressing events for the sake or performing them on a small stage.
  • Much Ado About Nothing! I read somewhere that in Shakespeare's time that last word in the title would have been read as 'noting' and therefore was a double entendre. If you take note, you'll notice that the importance of being noted, or of failing to take note, is at the forefront of this play. Beatrice makes mention of marking (i.e. paying attention to) something in her exchange with Benedick, and shortly thereafter, Claudio and he make mention of noting Hero. Written roughly around the same time as A Midsummer Night's Dream, this play was perhaps taken from Orlando Furioso (Furious Orlando) by Ludovico Ariosto and from Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene. In a sense it's very much like Midsummer Night's Dream in that there's a meddlesome interloper and mistaken identity. In this case the meddler is Don John, Don Pedro's evil brother. The absurdly-named Hero is besmirched by trickery and the original 'fighting couple who fall in love' (Benedick and Beatrice), which is such a staple of cheaply-written modern romances, begin at odds and even fall in love here.
  • King Lear is another tragedy taken from semi-historical sources about the ancient English character known as Leir, and he also took the character of Cordelia from Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene. The tragic ending was displeasing to so many that an alternative happy ending was later used - and for many years before the original was restored to favor. Shakespeare's play appeared about a decade after a comedy written about this same king who was believed to have reigned in the eighth century BC.
  • The Most Excellent Historie of the Merchant of Venice dates to the end of the sixteenth century and is considered a comedy, but with high dramatic content. It's a direct rip-off of Il Pecorone by Giovanni Fiorentino. Pecorone is an Italian word related to sheep (pecora), not to be confused with Percorino which is a type of cheese made from sheep's milk; so the meaning here is someone who is weak willed or easily led and no doubt refers to Antonio being sorely abused by Bassanio. Bassanio is a dilettante and profligate who wants Portia, and who persuades Antonio to loan him 3,000 ducats to spend on pursuing her. Antonio has no liquid assets at that moment so he secures a loan from Shylock - the one and original, but because of his racist remarks, Shylock forces him into a deal whereby Shylock will get neither money nor goods if Antonio defaults. Instead, he will get a pound of Antonio's flesh from around his heart! Bassanio correctly chooses the casket from three which Portia offers, only one of which contains her picture, and so gets her hand, but if it were that simple why does he need 3,000 ducats?! Anyway, Antonio's ships flounder and Shylock calls in his loan! Fortunately, Antonio is saved by the skin of his teeth when Portia and Nerissa in disguise as a male lawyer and 'his' clerk bale Antonio out.

Is this a blank page I see before me? Out, out damned text! I ran into a couple of issues with this advance review copy. The most serious of these was a problem - in two different downloads of this book - in that p82 (the last page of As You Like It), and also pps 98, 99 (in Much Ado About Nothing) were all completely blank - no text at all! I assume this will be fixed before the final copy is published. This was viewing the PDF format file in Bluefire Reader on an iPad.

Double, double, toil and trouble! The other issue was more of an annoyance in that the pages are presented as double-pages, meaning you have to tip your tablet over to landscape view to read them - and therefore at a smaller magnification than you'd be able to if they were presented as individual pages you could read in portrait view. To me this was an annoyance and a sign of yet another book being conceived as a print book and suffering for that in the ebook version. You definitely don't want to try reading this on your smart phone! Not smart!

Other than that I enjoyed these very much and I commend this collection as a worthy introduction for youngsters new to Shakespeare.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Woody Saves the Day by Harvey Storm

Rating: WORTHY!

How can I not like a book which has a title character whose name so closely allied with my own?! Yes! Biased review coming up!

Woody is a mouse who rules by fear. He has a secret which makes other animals try to placate him with gifts, but life at the top can be a lonely one as Woody discovers, until along comes Rocky the fox, who is caught in a downpour and finds shelter in this strange and forbidding cave. Rocky discovers Woody's secret and urges him to come clean. Honesty is the best policy (as neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris pointed out in his very perceptive - and honest! - book Lying). Woody decides to take the plunge and face whatever it brings - and good for him!

This book is interesting and useful, and a good idea. The story is simple and the images colorful and illustrative. The only oddball thing I encountered was this sentence: "...and there was a terrible noise that made his wool stood on end." The verb tense is wrong and foxes do not have wool! They have a type of hair commonly referred to as fur, in keeping with all other members of the dog family. This made me wonder if English is not the author's first language and if his name is a fake one! C'mon, hurricane Harvey Storm?

That's a minor problem though, so overall, I commend this book as a worthy read for young children - and even a few adults who might be inclined to tell stretchers.

Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

Rating: WORTHY!

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

Inappropriate as it may be, I fell in love with Louisiana Elefante when I read of her in this author's Raymie Nightingale which I also fell in love with back in April 2018 when I listened to it on audio and loved the amazingly-named Jamie Lamia's reading of it. So yeah, you can call me biased going into this one!

I snapped this one up as soon as I saw it on Net Galley, and did not regret it one bit! And this is despite the author's winning the Association for Library Service to Children's Newbery Medal (Twice!), which normally turns me right off both an author and her oeuvre. Good thing I didn't know about the Newbery before I read these books, right?! I hadn't read either of this author's Newbery winners (The Tale of Despereaux and Flora & Ulysses prior to this, but afterwards I did read that latter novel and was predictably unimpressed with it!

I tend to side with Anita Silvey, John Beach, and Lucy Calkins on this Newbery medal, but maybe for different reasons. The medal is overwhelmingly genderist: two-thirds of both honorees and winners are female. You can argue that most children's writers are female, and even try to argue that since women are underrepresented in books in general, both as authors and recognition winners, this bias only helps to redress a sad imbalance, but that imbalance goes deeper.

If most children's authors are women (and it's surprisingly hard to get solid statistics on that!), then why are books for children so overwhelmingly about white boys? Something's rotten in the state of bookmark! But on a personal reading level, Newbery books have almost consistently bored the pants off me, fortunately not literally, but this is why I won't read 'em, and why (unlikely as it would be!) I'd turn down a Newbery if one was offered to me.

But I digress! I'm not a fan of series, unless they're particularly well done, and few are. They're more often a lazy and mercenary rip-off of the original novel, but this is a spin-off, not a series, which to me is a different thing altogether. Louisiana, one of the trio of 'Rancheros' in Raymie Nightingale, and I have to add, my favorite of the three, is on her own in this story with no support network of friends, only her aging, eccentric, and it has to be said, kleptomaniac grandmother. Her parents were the Flying Elefantes: renowned acrobats who died when Louisiana was very young. I guess this one time they failed to fly.

Ever since then, Louisiana has lived with her grandmother who is a bit bats, or maybe not. In this story, grandmother wakes Louisiana up at three in the morning to say they have to go, and they take-off down the highway with virtually no money, charming someone out of a can of gas here, and a treatment of her grandmother's bad teeth there, and so on. Louisiana has to sing at a funeral to pay for their motel room.

The story is slightly tongue-in-cheek and eccentric and highly entertaining. Louisiana's perspective on life is completely charming. I have been seeking out more by this author even as I read this particular one. Normally if a book is described as quirky, or words to that effect, or has 'wacky' characters in it, I avoid it like the plague, but this story is just my cup of tea. Louisiana is captivating and her thought-processes refreshing. She is at once innocent and wise, naïve and jaded, and the combination is irresistible. I commend this, even if it does end up winning a Newbery!

Anna at the Art Museum by Hazel Hutchins, Gail Herbert, Lil Crump

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was an amusing and entertaining Canadian production written by Hutchins and Herbert. It's also educational story for young children, with an enterprising young main character who is on a trip to the art museum and is not onboard with this idea at all!

She's bored in the foyer before they even start looking at these classical paintings and sculptures, and she's constantly finding herself getting berated by the security guard for being too noisy, or for touching the exhibits, or for eating in the museum. It's enough to make her scream (and I really enjoyed the page featuring Edvard Munch's Der Schrei der Natur) but then something changes and Anna gets to see a little of the inner workings of the museum.

For me this was a bit of a stretch that this would bring about a magical change, but art is in fact magical so I let that slide without any problem. Now Anna sees art in a new way and relates it to nature and everything is sweet! Finally she appreciates these things she's been seeing, but not really seeing before, on the walls all around her.

Lil Crump's artwork is amazing and skillful and if that doesn't win over a kid then I don't know what will! Her depiction of the actual classical paintings is wonderful. She definitely beats my parodies in The Very Fine-Art Rattuses so if I had a hat, I'd take it off to her! I think this book was wonderful. It teaches a valuable lesson and makes for some fine entertainment. One of the real joys of this book is that Anna is not only depicted as a person of color, but as part of a mixed race family, and this is very rare in children's books, so the story is to be commended on that score too. Now that I've commended it, I can recommend it as a worthy read!