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

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Cinders by Cara Malone


Rating: WARTY!

Erratum
“She leaned against the hood and worried at a hangnail on her pointy finger”
Surely she means 'pointer finger'?! This is why I have a problem with that term.

Well I made it almost 60% of the way through this before I had to run from it gagging. It started out pretty decently - a female firefighter, an arsonist, a love interest who wasn't yet a love interest but was quietly in the wings. Even when Marigold and Cynthia aka Cinder, aka Cyn, start to hook up, it still made for an entertaining story, although from that point on it became much more of a YA love story than ever it was an investigation into an arsonist. That I could even handle.

The problem came for me when the story made its nod and a wink to the Cinderella story. Marigold, who always complains about the amount of work she has to do, but all she seems to do is be a socialite, invites Cyn to a social event and Cyn comes dressed up, but gets called away to a fire. She changes shoes while talking to Mari in the parking area (for no apparent reason!), and accidentally leaves one of her loafers behind, which Mari then returns to her at the station house.

That part was fine, but as soon as these two began making out and going into a full blown sex session right there in the bunk room of the station house that was too much for me. It just felt wrong and sordid, and juvenile. If the author had made the fire alarm go off so they were interrupted when they began to make out, that for me would have made for a much more entertaining story! But this author went obvious on me and rather gross and immature as well, and that was far too much for my taste. That's when the romance felt fake and forced, like the author was faking it rather than feeling it, and I lost all interest.

I can't commend this based on the 60% or so that I read.


Sunday, August 11, 2019

Mythologica by Steve Kershaw, Victoria Topping


Rating: WORTHY!

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

If Steve is the cake in this book, then Victoria is definitely the Topping. The text is great, but the artwork will blow your socks off. In fact I still haven't found mine, and I'm seriously considering billing the artist for a new pair.

I asked myself, when beginning to read this, what it can bring to the table that couldn't be served equally well by a quick reference to Wikipedia. The answer quickly became obvious. This book has pizazz, which no one could ever accuse Wikipedia of! It's not dry and technical, but lively, exciting, and has roots you can follow all the way back to Tartarus. Unlike those annoying Rick Riordan books which brutally-wrenched the mythology from its native Greece and inexplicably transplanted it to the USA with nary a με την άδειά σας (which is Greek for 'by-your-leave'), like only the USA matters and alas who cares about Hellas anyway, this book keeps everything where it originated and tells the complete story in pithy paragraphs that skip none of the weird details which is what makes these tales so engrossing.

The book runs to some fifty pages of text and illustration, and covers Zeus, Hera, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Poseidon, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Hermes, Dionysius, Hades, Demeter, Persephone, Ares, Gaia, Prometheus, Pan, Eros, Penelope, Narcissus, Oedipus, Pandora, Icarus, Midas, Cassandra, Orpheus, Helen, Achilles, Hector, Jason, Medea, Cyclops, Argos, Typhon, Chimaera, Medusa, Cerberus, Talos, Pegasus, the Muses, the Fates, the Amazons, the Argonauts, the Hydra, the Centaurs, The Griffin, the Giants, the Hundred Handers, The Minotaur, the Sirens, the Harpies, the Phoenix. In short, it has everything in one convenient place.

The text alone would have made this a worthy read, but add to that the artwork (and especially its diversity) and it takes it to a whole other place. I was repeatedly struck by how much of the Bible's mythology was taken directly from the earlier Greek stories. This is a wonderful book with much to entice, and I commend it as a worthy and educational read.


Math Games for Kids by Rebecca Rapoport, JA Yoder


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Telling a kid that the book you're gifting them has some forty pages of math might well make the kid turn and run the other way. Is math fun? Well that depends how it's done. If you lead with the idea of building 3-D shapes using toothpicks and...gumdrops, then you might get the kid's attention, and that's how this book starts out!

Not all kids are math averse, of course. Some do love it already, but for many, if they're at all like me (and hopefully they're not!), then math might seem daunting rather than haunting. The first thing you should know is that this isn't really about working with numbers, but about working with shapes and patterns, and reading this made me wonder if maybe our approach to math ought to include topics like these early - bring math to your kid as fun and games and maybe when the tougher and more numerically-oriented materials inevitably crop up, they'll be less inclined to run? I know I would have been.

Colorfully- and simply-illustrated and full of fun topics laid out intelligently and attractively, this book begins with creating shapes using toothpicks for the edges and gumdrops for the vertices, teaching about prisms and pyramids, but before your child becomes completely imprismed, the book moves on to drawing circles and ellipses, including how to create a giant one in the playground. Next up is topology and Möbius strips, which might sound scandalous to some but it really isn't, because Möbius knows where to draw the line.

This is followed by a little bit of geography and a lot of four-color maps, and then stitching curves (which commendably shows both boys and girls at work) followed by fractals. And trust me if you understand only a part of the fractal section you've got it all. Snowflakes and graph theory lead to Eulerian circuits and a trip to Königsberg which now has a much less appealing name I'm afraid to say. No! I'm not afraid to say it. I will say it! It's Kaliningrad! There, I said it!

All the solutions to the various puzzles are included toward the back of the book along with an index. I liked this book, and consider it very useful and effective way to introduce young children to math. I commend it as a worthy read.


Saturday, August 10, 2019

Catch Cat by Claire Grace


Rating: WARTY!

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

This is aimed at providing fun and interesting facts about the world, continent by continent, but it was designed from the ground up as a print book and I got to review only the ebook which was disturbingly low-resolution. The problem was that this very resolution defeated one of the stated challenges in the book - that of finding things in the picture of the continent in question, including the 'Catch Cat' of the title.

The book is laid out in a series of descriptive pages, each of which is followed by a color image of the continent being covered. The challenge is to find those things described in the descriptive page, in the continent image, including the cat. While the descriptive pages seemed fine and even interesting, the continent page was so crowded and of such poor resolution that I couldn't see anything reliable in any of them. It reminded me of those old computer games way back when resolution was poor: blocky and ugly. It certainly wasn't possible to see anything useful let alone pick out things described on the previous page. Even when I looked in the area the cat was supposed to be (there are 'solution' pages at the end of the book which highlight it), I still couldn't pick it out.

That wasn't even the worst problem. Judged by the first continent covered - North America - I can judge fairly confidently that the author is of USA origin, and is white. I've never seen her so I don't know, and I may well be wrong, but I got this impression from the fact that despite being home to nearly forty countries, North America is described by the author as consisting only of Canada, the USA, and Mexico. The 'landmarks' page covers solely things found in the USA, with the lone exception of the Canadian Mounted Police! Disturbingly, there's not a word about Mexico - nor any of the other countries. It's like they don't exist.

I'm used to the USA behaving as though it's the only important country on the planet, and being so insular and provincial as to be laugh-worthy, particularly under this president where hatred toward Mexico is being daily fomented, but even so, this was a bit much. It's put right there front of the line for no good reason. Alphabetically it comes almost last in a listing of continents. It's a USA-produced book, aimed at USA audiences presumably, so I can understand North America coming first, but it was entirely inappropriate to treat North America like it's only the USA and nothing else matters or is of interest. That I can't forgive. And yes, in case you wondered, the book is printed in China! I guess the USA isn't everything after all, huh?!

I would like to assume that the print book is larger format and higher resolution than my iPad, but since I didn't get the print book to review I can review only this one, and based on what I saw here - or more accurately in some regards, what I failed to see - I cannot commend this as a worthy read.


Birds & Butterflies Drawing & Activity Book by Walter Foster Jr Creative Team


Rating: WARTY!

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

I have to say right up front how disappointed I was in this book - designed as a print book but reviewed as an ebook - which purports to teach how to draw birds and butterflies. I felt it didn't do anywhere near enough to teach any art at all. The book offers three methods and cycles through each of them with different pictures alternating between birds and butterflies. The first is simple tracing, and the print version of the book has tracing paper built in, presumably over the top of the image you're expected to trace. Tracing isn't really art in my book.

The second method is drawing using a grid. You copy each square section of the larger image by duplicating the lines in a marked four square wide by six square tall grid. This is a step closer to art, but it's still not really teaching anything. The third method comes closest, but even here there are problems. The third step involves drawing simple shapes initially, to 'map out' the more complex shape of the thing you're drawing. I've seen this method used many times in art books and while I remain unconvinced that it's the best method to teach art, I do acknowledge that it provides a rudimentary means to that end which hopefully anyone who is serious about pursuing art will find ways to circumvent as their personal technique improves.

My problem with this method was that as presented here in this book, it offers not steps, but jumps. The examples shown start with simple clusters of circles and some other shapes for, say, a butterfly, and these are refined in subsequent steps, but suddenly, in five steps, we have a professionally-drawn butterfly and in the sixth, a colored one without any hints, tips, suggestions, or advice about how to get there from step four, which was nothing more than an outline that might as well have been traced.

For me this was a major failing with this book because it assumed way too much, particularly with the coloring. It was a mystery because on the face of it, the book appears to pander more to people who want to idle their time away while on vacation and who are not really that serious about learning to drawn and paint. For an art book this contains a disturbing amount of non-art activities, such as word search, sudoku, spot the differences, and on and on.

Those pages could have been better used to explain the art and suggest ways to work on and improve ones technique. So on the one hand we have these professional insta-art projects which start out looking like amateur step-by-step methods before leaping to a professional finish with no suggestions as to how to get there from here, and on the other, we have completely unrelated activities that contribute nothing to learning about art and seem merely to be mindless time-wasting activities.

Admittedly, it helps to step away from your art now and then, so you can come back to it with a fresh eye, and I know the cover says quite plainly it's an art and activity book, but the way this book is thrown together seemed insulting to anyone who seriously wants to learn how to draw and color, and pointlessly complex to anyone who merely wants to dabble and who really does want some mindless distraction for a vacation. For these reasons I cannot commend this book, with anonymous authors, as a worthy read.


Friday, August 9, 2019

The Animal Awards by Martin Jenkins, Tor Freeman


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Written by Jenkins and illustrated by Freeman, this is a fun and educational book about animal world record holders. Some of the records are less to be desired than others, but are nonetheless interesting. The book covers axolotls to vampire bats, and scores of others in between, but it features only those who are outstanding in one way or another - and their closest competitors. It might be that they live longest - like an estimated 400 years for a Greenland shark! - or that they are the fastest on land - like the cheetah, or the fastest in the air, like the peregrine falcon.

Maybe they have the goofiest mating dance, or can make the loudest noise (from one of the smallest animals, too!). Maybe they dive deeper or travel further, or have the most boring diet. Whatever it is, they're very likely in here. The record holders are not always cute and cuddly-looking mammals either. They could be vertebrates or non-vertebrates, fish, molluscs, birds, insects, mammals, amphibians. They could live anywhere on land or sea, or in the air. They could live in the hot or the cold, the jungle or the plains. But they're out there, and this books tells you what's special about them, and with enough text to educate, without lecturing, and with colorful and useful illustrations.

We puff ourselves up with human achievements, and often forget that these animals were first in the field (and elsewhere!). I commend this as a worthy read.


Portrait of an Artist: Frida Kahlo by Lucy Brownridge, Sandra Dieckmann


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I've been intrigued by, nay, in love with Frida Kahlo ever since I first heard of her. She's something of an enigma. I'm a lot more a fan of hers than I am of her art as it happens - not that there's anything wrong with her art. I find her work evocative, and some of her most moving paintings are featured here as modest reproductions. Many of her works are like mini biographies - the equivalent of what today, with always-on instant communication, are called 'status updates'. She went through two different hells as a child and a teenager: first suffering polio, and then a pelvis-breaking tram accident which left her in pain for the rest of her life.

This didn't stop her from painting and painting and painting. In fact one could argue that the accident, which left her in bed for some time, unable to do anything much other than read and paint using a special easel her father made for her, triggered her advance into art. Her meeting renowned painter Diego Rivera gave her another push. He liked her work and liked her and eventually they married, but the marriage wasn't always a happy one. This book wisely doesn't go into that. While it does talk of her polio and the accident, it otherwise paints a rosy picture of her too-brief life, written in short, clear bursts and eminently suitable for a younger child to read. Kudos to Lucy Brownridge for getting it right.

And talking of art, Sandra Dieckmann paints us a fine visual picture on every page: colorful and playful, serious but not staid, and very endearing. I already knew lots about the artist (Kahlo, not Dieckmann!) having read at least four other books, including children's books about her, or about art that mention her, yet I still found this one engaging, fresh, and entertaining, and I commend it as a worthy read. Let Frida Ring!


Portrait of an Artist: Vincent van Gogh by Lucy Brownridge


Rating: WORTHY!

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

What can be said about van Gogh that hasn't been already? Well, this book reveals that and more! It's very colorful, aimed at a younger audience, and it tells an honest story while not becoming maudlin or depressing. The book features modest reproductions of several of his works including the well-known ones, and the art (by Edith Carron) is as well-done as the text, which is brief without being too brief and informative without being exhausting - in short, just right for a young reader whom you want to introduce to the kind of art that, let's face it, a child might emulate in many ways, especially if they try to copy the colorful, unadorned, yet fine-looking works that Carron reproduces here.

For me the real tragedy of van Gogh isn't his life, but what happened afterwards. He can never know how beloved he is today after having such a short and unappreciated life, and that's inexcusable, so it would behoove us all to remember that when looking at new art today.

The book discusses van Gogh's art, his life, his relationship with his brother, and even his depression without becoming medical or unintelligible. It's not just about the art, but about the whole idea of what brings an artist to paint what they do, and as such the book does have something new to say about van Gogh, something younger reads would like to hear. I commend this as a worthy read.


Little Concepts: A is for Apricat by Mauro Gatti


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a cute book which takes fruits and veggies and turns them into animals - real fruit and veg, drawn-on, colorful animals. It teaches ABC's, healthy eating (everyone can use some fresh fruit and veggies in their diet!) and some fun since children will no doubt want to draw their own made-up animals after this. I know I would have done so! So this book not only helps your health, it helps the planet if we all eat less meat and more fruits and veggies.

I found the names (among which are Broccolion, Cowconut, Iguava, and Kangaroot) highly amusing and inventive and the artwork well-done indeed. The book is short with brief text and full page images in brilliant colors, and I commend it as a worthy and educational read for young children.


Jerry the Squirrel by Shawn PB Robinson


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I'm a big fan of squirrels because they're so utterly insane and so proud of it to boot. I couldn't not read a book about them, and I'm glad I did in this case as it happens, because it was amusing and entertaining. Jerry is an inventor and while he doesn't necessarily always think things through, he does carry things through, and he never conceives of a solution to a problem without actually designing and building that solution. That's when the real problem starts, unfortunately.

Cold floor? That calls for super-duper slipper solution! Nut harvest time? That clearly calls for a nut-harvesting machine! Nut beetle invasion? That calls for...well, Jerry has some issues with the solution to that one!

The slippers, the first story in what, in effect, amounts to a collection of short stories about Jerry, was by far the most amusing to me. It was inspired, and I loved it. The impact of the subsequent stories seemed less after that one, but they were still eminently entertaining even when the rather-annoying Gary and his mom moved in upstairs.

If I have a complaint it was that I felt Jerry ought to have been granted some reward, somewhere along the trail, in some fashion or other, but the hapless squirrel never seems to get one. While this is amusing in some ways, I can't help but wonder if children who read this might be induced to feel that being creative is a forlorn and pointless exercise because of poor Jerry's singular lack of lasting success and recognition.

That aside, the stories were amusingly-written, inventive, and engaging and I commend this as a worthy read.


Crack The Credit Code by Todd Wilson


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Subtitled "To Play The Game, You Need To Know The Rules" this book aims to teach the reader about credit scores and how to make the most of them. It discusses how your credit score is arrived at and how to work on improving it.

The book has been worked-over by Amazon's crappy Kindle conversion process, which is apparently a portmanteau of con and aversion, because it can seriously mangle a book if the book's text and layout is anything other than plain vanilla. The result in this case is that it's a bit of a 'run on' sort of a book with one section leading straight into another and no "white space" between sections.

The content page is rather sliced and diced too, and runs straight into the Introduction (which I skipped as is my wont!). As a wild guess, I think the content page was supposed to be set up with a chapter enumeration (which says 'Chapter 1' for example) on the left side of the screen and the chapter title on the right with the page number, but in practice, all the left side is listed first, and below it all comes the right side with the page numbers, so it's a mess. It is 'clickable' (at least, the lower half is), but it's so jumbled and so close together that it really serves no purpose for jumping to a chapter unless you have very small fingertips, and there's no way to click back from the chapters to the content page if you happen to tap the wrong link. This was an advance review copy, so hopefully that can be fixed before it's finally published.

That aside, and though the book layout felt a little bit disorganized, it dispenses good and useful advice. Obviously the way to stay out of credit trouble is never to have a credit card, but such cards are really a requirement in this day and age, so the next safest bet is to get the card and use it for small items here and there, always paying-off the balance, or the bulk of the balance each month, so it never builds up to unmanageable levels.

Should that fail, this book offers advice about credit repair (and engaging a repair service isn't your best bet unless you have lots of money and little time to do it yourself). But if you have lots of money, your best bet is to use that to pay down your balance, meet your payments, and thereby improve your credit score! That's the kind of common sense approach this book takes. It's short, to the point, and offers sound advice for all kinds of credit situations, including explaining the background and thinking behind credit scores.

I commend this as a worthy and useful read for anyone who is experiencing credit difficulties of any kind.


Saturday, August 3, 2019

The Time Slip Girl by Elizabeth Andre


Rating: WARTY!

This sounded from the blurb like an interesting novel, reminiscent in some small ways of my own Tears in Time wherein a lesbian girl travels in time. This book was much more straight-forward and simple than mine was though.

Dara, a young woman from 2014, is still suffering from the loss of her Asian fiancé Jenny, who died in a car accident. With Jenny, Dara shared a bucket-list of foreign locales to visit, but she felt she could not go to the next place on the list: China, since that was Jenny's trip. Instead, she visited the next after that: London with her brother, and while touring an Edwardian house, Dara goes off piste in a big way, first entering a dark basement alone, but then falling down the steps and awakening in 1908 in that same basement.

The first person she meets is Agnes, also a lesbian, but neither girl dare reveal her sexual nature to the other for fear of recrimination, repulsion, or derision. Since Agnes lives alone in a 'flat' (apartment) and works a decent job at a local department store, she allows Dara to stay with her until she can find her feet. Agnes slowly comes to accept Dara's story that she's from the future, and is fascinated by her "Butter toffee" skin. Agnes has met no women of color before.

Over the next few weeks Dara starts to settle in, gets a job serving in a disgustingly smokey pub, and meets a man who is studying what he calls 'timeslips' - and through whom she hopes to get back to her own time. In time also, the two young women finally realize they are both the same in terms of their desire for another of their own gender, and this is where the story fell apart for me. There was too much "Darling" this and "Darling" that, and it seemed so utterly unrealistic that it completely kicked me out of suspension of disbelief. It was far too sugary and didn't even sound remotely like anything a young woman of 2014 might say, let alone a woman of 1908, and I couldn't stand to read any more. Plus it was completely inauthentic.

Now I'm not a lesbian - I don't even play one on TV, but my beef isn't with that. It's with Agnes's character. This girl has been portrayed as shy, retiring, reserved, unadventurous, and intimidated by her older, mean, racist drunk of an exploitative brother. He completely disappears from the picture, but the problem for me was that Agnes changes overnight from being this shrinking violet into a sexual tiger in bed, and it seemed so out of character that I could not take it seriously.

If we'd been given some reason to expect this - some inner monolog about how she wants to be more aggressive in bed - that would have been one thing, but this is shortly after her brother is taken out of the story, and while you might think that his absence would liberate her somewhat, it happens so close to that - while she's still in mourning for losing her only living relative, that it fails as a plot device. It comes over instead as a clunky foreshadowing - look, I have no ties left in this life therefore I can come back to the future with you! Like her brother was ever a tie.

Another issue is that Dara is supposedly a computer programmer, so not expected to be dumb, yet never once in the part I read, which was about thirty percent if I recall, did she ever consider that she could maybe find a 'timeslip' to save Jenny from the accident. Perhaps that occurs or even happens later - I can't say, and I had no interest in finding out. I'd completely lost faith in this author's ability to get anywhere interesting or imaginative with this story.

The point was that as mournful of Jenny as she is, it never even crosses her mind, and despite her computer credentials, she never once considers the possibility that she might be able to help this scientist in some way to help herself. No, they had no computers back then - not as we would recognize them anyway, but she did have a logical mindset - you have to have that to be a programmer, yet it never entered her head to see if she could help. So this was a major betrayal of the character's smarts and desires.

So overall, while I was attracted to this story because I like time-travel stories, the execution of it left too much to be desired and I lost interest and DNF'd it. I can't commend it was a worthy read.



Thursday, August 1, 2019

Best Friends and Other Liars by Heather Balog


Rating: WARTY!

I get that this is "chick lit" as it's termed and isn't aimed at me, but it's a novel and to me there are certain things a novel really ought to do. It ought to be original for one thing, and this one was not, and it ought to be realistic within its own framework which this genre really can't be by definition, so there were two strokes against it right away. I guess you could say it ought to be entertaining too, but with the poor writing it wasn't - not for me. Others may disagree. On the bright side, the author has evidently been on a cruise so there is a certain amount of authenticity except for the part where they got onto the boat with such amazing speed.

Either her cruise ship was really small, or they arrived very late to be able to get through the waiting line to board as quickly and hassle-free as they did. Real cruise lines aren't like that - not if the ship is large. My own experience demonstrated that it took hours - literal hours - to get on board. I'd have been willing to grant that her boat was small, but that's not what the text said, so it lost believability for me on that, and yes, I get that the author may have wanted to move things along, but to skip even mentioning the line was really inexcusable. On the other hand, the massage was pretty accurate! I didn't feel remotely relaxed after mine either. To me it simply was not worth the money.

What turned me off this in the end was the trope male character, because while adherents of this genre might like that idea, the fact of the male always in every single case being muscular with film-star looks is ridiculous. I get why it's done, but to me it's pathetic and I demand much more realism in my stories than this genre - and this author in particular - is evidently capable of delivering. I DNF'd this at about a quarter the way through, right after she literally bumped into the guy - another tired trope which makes me barf. Sorry, but no. This was pathetic. I can't commend it, not remotely. It had a boatload of issues.


Roll With It by Jamie Sumner


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. The publisher requested that this not be published until a month before publication (which is October 1st), but there is already fifty reviews published on Amazon-owned Goodreads and a bunch of them elsewhere, so frankly I don't see the point in withholding mine any longer.

This one is about this pre-teen girl with cerebral palsy, and since the author has a child of her own with this condition, she speaks with knowledge about it. Due to the illustration on the cover, I had mistakenly thought it was a graphic novel at first glance, so I was somewhat surprised to discover it was a text novel, but that's fine. It was still an interesting and fast read because it engaged me always.

There were some issues with it - often with parts of a story that seemed to be opening up concerning other characters, only to be abandoned because the focus was so squarely dead-set on Ellie. It was a first-person voice, which is typically not a good idea in my book, and so in a way it explained the somewhat selfish perspective, but on the other hand, it still did feel selfish here and there, which is precisely my problem with first person voice. In this book it was not as bad as some I have read, so I was able to get by that and focus more on the story, but the blind self-focus was quite honestly an irritant at times.

Ellie is twelve and was a premie when she was born which is why they think she has these issues, and right at the point where she gets to come off her seizure meds, her mother's father is developing distinct signs of dementia, so she and mom (dad is not, of course, in the picture) move miles from home to live with grandma and help out with grandpa. This means, of course, that she's the new kid in school and has to start over again in the friends market, but Ellie has more on her mind than just that. Her CP is a constant companion, never letting her forget that she's different from most other kids she meets, but when she meets two other kids at school who are different in their own ways, she realizes she has already found her friends.

Ellie's grandparents live in a trailer park and nice as it is, it's a 'wrong side of the tracks' kind of a deal, so initially Ellie feels she has problems piling up faster than she can handle them, but none of this gets in the way of her ambition to be a baker, which is her primary dream. She tries new recipes constantly, and bemoans her failures, but she's always thinking about them in terms of how she can fix what went wrong. That doesn't mean she has no successes. Far from it!

I think it would have been nice to twist it a bit and make it mom who left to find a new partner leaving dad with his ornery daughter, but this author went the traditional route, so dad left and now has a new family and really isn't in the picture. The way this was written made it seem to me that he might put in an appearance at some point, or maybe even come back into his daughter's life, but he never really does. At one point, after Ellie has an episode requiring hospitalization, her mother is about ready to give up on project 'help grandpa' and head back to their old life, and this brings the fight out in Ellie, because she has changed her mind about this place and refuses to leave.

There was one part of the novel which felt wrong, or at least odd to me. We have a letter here and there which Ellie has supposedly written to some well-known baker or other asking them a question or complimenting them on a recipe, and these to me were neither here nor there, but I didn't think too much on them until a point where Grandpa has a serious episode himself. He might have died and I wondered whether or not he might have been intentionally putting himself in that position because he considered himself a burden, but this particular event was pretty much brushed-off as though it were nothing. The next thing I read was not Ellie in the hospital worrying over him, but a light-hearted letter to a baker about a recipe! That seemed cold and out of place to me.

Also for me the ending was rather lax, not really an ending at all, but then life isn't always neatly-packaged and its episodes don't really have a beginning, a middle and an end in the way a prim and proper three-act play has, so this kind-of worked. Regardless of that, the story was engaging and made me want to read it, which is a good thing for a middle grade novel, some of which I've been disappointed with of late. I think this tells an important story and it certainly kept me reading to the very end. I commend it as a worthy read.


Friday, July 26, 2019

Bella's Very Wonderful Day by Sophie Carmen, Fuuji Takashi


Rating: WORTHY!

Last but far from least in my mini-tour of Sophie Carmen books for young children is the story of Bella, who leads an active life and this necessarily means she ends up with what seem on the surface to be disappointments, but she soon finds that if she looks deeper, she can get some joy or rewarding experience out of any situation. Misses the school bus? She gets to spend time with mom walking through an imaginary fairyland on the way to school. Scrapes her knee in the playground? Well there's always that lollipop the school nurse hands out....

I commend this, illustrated delightfully by Takashi, as a worthy read because it shows the benefit of having a positive attitude - and that really is a benefit in life, that once learned will help through many more years of growing and learning.


Brightly and Glow by Sophie Carmen, Christina Sanchez


Rating: WORTHY!

In the second of three reviews of children's books by Sophie Carmen, Brightly and Glow are brothers and best friends in the world of starlight, but there's one big problem. Brightly is a shooting star and glow is not, so when Brightly has to go off shooting and granting wishes, he's not happy at leaving glow behind. In fact, he feels so bad that he turns around and returns to his brother, but the Queen Star has been watching all this and takes pity of them. Just as the shooting star can grant a wish to a boy or girl, so the Queen can grant a wish to a star, and so Glow gets to be a shooting star too - and jets off with Brightly.

This was a simple, colorful (Sanchez) story about friendship and sacrifice, and I commend it as a worthy read for younger children.


When I Imagine by Sophie Carmen, Fanny Liem


Rating: WORTHY!

Now it's time for a review sequence of three children's books, each sweetly written by Carmen and this one elegantly illustrated by Liem. This short book for younger children tells the story of Andie who has great ambitions, but sadly, at her age, education, and skill level, few options!

This never stops her though, so when she wants to ride a unicorn, and her mother is forced to, if gently, pour cold water on that idea, Andie realizes she can imagine it, which for her is just as good. The same thing applies several more times as she comes up with plans for a picnic or to be an astronaut and so on. Always her fine imagination chases away any disappointments.

I think this book is a great idea. Children whose parents have limited resources or parents whose child has unlimited imagination can avail themselves of their children's ability to give them what they can't otherwise get. As long as the imagination doesn't become all they have! I commend this as a worthy read.


Sunday, July 14, 2019

Jet Girl by Caroline Johnson with Hof Williams


Rating: WORTHY!

Having recently had an idea for a novel involving a female fighter pilot (and no, it's never going to be the one you think it will be - not from me anyway!), I saw this on Net Galley inviting review requests, and I jumped at the chance to read a first-hand account. Subtitled "My Life in War, Peace, and the Cockpit of the Navy's Most Lethal Aircraft, the F/A-18 Super Hornet," this book was a fascinating story of the life of a Navy Lieutenant from induction to flying combat missions over Iraq, and it was everything I hoped it would be. I'm very grateful to the publisher for my chance to read and review this advance review copy. Or maybe I should say 'ARC' since we're into military jargon territory now, which as the author makes clear, is almost a foreign language!

This book was perfect for me because I've read several books written by military personnel, including a Navy SEAL and others, but always written by men, and I really wanted a female take on it because I knew this would be more informative than the gung-ho macho perspective too many male writers adopt. That does not mean, by any means, that there was no machismo or gung-ho spirit here. Caroline Johnson - callsign 'Dutch' - was a navy fighter pilot after all - planning and executing more than 700 flight missions, but all of that was tempered by a hell of a lot of other perspectives and it made the reading so much more rounded, with depth and sharp insight. I read it in two days which is not quite a record for me, but it is a sterling effort these days for a book that exceeds 280 pages of tightly packed print! I usually prefer my books shorter, but this one seemed short because it was to the point, with short chapters and an easy-reading style.

Talking of which, I often rail at books which waste paper by having wide margins and widely-spaced text. I've never had to rail the other way, but I came close this time because the book was really tightly-packed! It reminded me of my own tree-saving formatting, although mine isn't as tight as this one. I could not get it to look how I wanted it in Adobe Digital Editions, which I've been using lately because Bluefire Reader - my usual go-to reader, had been giving me grief with a lot of the illustrated books I've been reading recently, but this time, I went back to BFR, which gave me control over the font, and so I finally got it into a format that was easy on the eye and ran with it.

When I first began reading this (it has a prologue and and epilogue, both of which I skipped as I do routinely in any book) and followed the author through her military schooling, I confess I started to wonder where the harassment was. I've read much about harassment and hazing of female conscripts, and there seemed to be none here, which made me wonder if something was being left out, but it seems it was not, because this kind of thing, it would appear, did not happen in college, but was reserved for when you would least expect it: when Lt Johnson was assigned to her first combat role with the VFA-213 Blacklions which flew deadly Hornets off aircraft carrier CVN-77 USS George HW Bush, the tenth and final Nimitz-class carrier to be commissioned into the USN, and named after the USA's 41st president who was a naval aviator in World War Two.

Lt Johnson got her first taste of this shameful conduct when she arrived on base and went to a meet-and-greet kind of a get-together, and was assumed, by the Navy wives there, to be the wife of a male aviator. When she revealed that she was herself the new pilot and was single, she was shunned by these other women which was a disgraceful way to treat anyone in national service in good standing - typically first in her class. Later in the book, Lt Johnson tries to excuse these women for their conduct, and that's her choice, but to me their behavior, particularly against another woman, was inexcusable, even if it's understandable from their shaky perspective.

This isn't the only issue she had as a female pilot in a "man's world" and she lists many, many others, but she rose through them all and she did her job in outstanding fashion. In doing her sworn duty she got some kind of release from that when flying missions - combat or practice or something in between. Even though missions were stressful in themselves, they were fun, until after many years and long deployments they were not so much fun, especially when these pilots wanted to do something about the atrocities they could see ISIS committing on the ground and could not engage because the order had not yet come down from the commander-in-chief to go weapons hot.

The stress doesn't let up even when a pilot isn't even flying, because you never know when you will hear of a Navy plane crash as this author did on more than one occasion, and cannot help but wonder if it's someone they knew from college, from training, from flying, who died. In those circumstances, the Navy requires all personal phones to be on lockdown so no one can even call to tell their own family they're ok, not until the family of the deceased has been personally told by a Navy representative.

The actual combat and near-combat missions are not the most interesting thing in this book, interesting as they are. What I enjoyed most was learning of the day-to-day routine, the cramped conditions (it's not just on submarines where people live on top of one another!), the limited access to things we take for granted, the sometimes long days, down to the the numbed butt from sitting in a hard seat for several hours (the seats are hard so that there is no movement of legs in the event of an emergency eject, which takes place so fast that it could break a thigh-bone, were there any give in the seat).

One of the things you'd be unlikely to find in this book had it been written by a guy, was the issue of going to the bathroom while flying! Astronauts have this taken care of, but not so much the pilots. There are special devices designed for women, believe it or not, but the old version doesn't work well and the Navy wouldn't spring for the new version because it was more expensive (these devices are in the range of thousands of dollars, and unlike Red Wing flying boots, it's not something a pilot can just go out and buy on their own dime). One chapter described an amusing, although inexcusable, situation for a pilot to be put in when they've been on a mission for too long, and despite avoiding drinking too much fluid beforehand, they find themselves absolutely having to go.

So this book had it all - the highs and the lows, and the details I'd been most interested in learning about, and it was a fascinating read on almost every page for me. There were almost no issues I had with it, but I'll mention two which I think worth mentioning. The first is the claim made in the opening paragraph of chapter seven that "The United States is the only country in the world to dare to take off and land on aircraft carriers at night...." This is simply untrue. Even as I write this, British pilots are doing this very thing on their new aircraft carrier, the Queen Elizabeth, and this isn't the first time they've ever done this! Nor are they the only other navy which does this. When you think about it, it makes no sense. Why would a navy restrict itself like that and give potentially hostile nations the knowledge that they can get up to something as darkness falls knowing that the nearest aircraft carrier can do nothing about until the sun comes up because they don't fly at night? Nonsense!

The other issue was that there are no pictures in the book. I didn't expect anything that's potentially compromising, or group shots of happy pilots and graduates, but it would have been nice if there had been pictures of the aircraft and the aircraft carrier!) mentioned in the text. There were many airplanes mentioned, and while I have seen some up close and personal, I've enver seen a Hornet. Each of these planes I had to look up to get an idea of what craft was being discussed, which wasn't a huge hardship, but it was a nuisance. Military terminology and acronyms were explained, but we were not even treated to a description of the aircraft, let alone an image.

I feel that would have been an improvement, but even without that, I consider this book to be essential for anyone who is seriously interested in the military. I commend it as a worthy and satisfying read, and I thank Lt Johnson for her service and for being so candid about it in this book.


The Rocking Book of Rocks by Florence Bullough, Amy Ball, Anna Alanko


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Bullough and Ball have proven themselves to be a formidable writing team in this stunningly-illustrated (by Alanko) book on geology, with a great title aimed at young readers. It's in glorious color and skips nothing in its story of how the superficially mundane, but underneath fascinating, rocks that we live on and around, came to be.

It's a hugely long story in the making, going back well over four billion years, but the authors have shrunk it down to easily digestible chunks, starting with what are rocks and minerals, and going through the formation of the Earth and a geological timeline (here there be dragons - aka dinosaurs!). There's an overview of the main three types of rock, and the book then goes into a bit more detail about igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rock, how they're formed, and the interesting sub-types of rock formations that can be found within each, including fossils and precious stones.

The book not only talks about the rocks, crystals, and gems, but about how they came to be, and where they're found, and each double-page spread (there are about fifty of them - 100 or so pages in all) has gorgeous, detailed artwork. I learned things myself from this book that I hadn't known, and this is after I'd already put out my own modest book about crystals in my "The Little Rattuses" series, so it's not just the young 'uns who can learn from this. I enjoyed it and commend it fully as a fun, interesting, and educational book, and a tour de force of illustration.


Whizzy Wheels Academy: Dylan the Dump Truck by Peter Bently, Sébastien Chebret


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I have a nephew named Dylan so maybe I'm biased, but it is my considered opinion that this book was far too cute not to like. I liked the scatterbrained Dylan. I can imagine Yoda remonstrating with Dylan as he did with Luke, "...never his mind on where he was, on what he was doing."

Dylan is constantly distracted and not paying attention. He hears 'race' instead of 'pace' and goes racing off. He's focused on a cat on a tree instead of keeping still so he can be loaded with sand, and ends up dumping the sand in the wrong place. But Dylan finally pulls it together and makes a major save, at last realizing that safety is the watchword on a building site.

I commend this book for a fun story by Bently and some colorful and attractive artwork by Chebret. It's entertaining, cute, and educational for that fidgety kid you might know!