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

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Hot and Badgered by Shelly Laurenston

Rating: WORTHY!

"Max opened ajar of honey-covered peanuts" should be "a jar"
"I don't have a million pounds just lying around to fix my father's fuckup." - The amount is a hundred million pounds, so I don't know if this is in error or just a character misspeaking.
"she wouldn't upset Stevie by killing him." - the phrase should, I believe, be precisely the opposite: she would upset Stevie by killing him.
"I'm going to crack his jackal bones like kindle." should read " I'm going to crack his jackal bones like kindling." Let's not give Amazon's crappy app any more due than it's worth, which isn't much! Now if it had read "I'm going to crack his jackal bones like a Kindle device," I would have found that funny!
There was a section that read (in part) "...last few months, but they’re already booked through the first of the year.” that was all in Italics. I think the first word of that section, 'is', was intended to be in italics, but the rest of it was not.
There was a merged paragraph where the second person's speech ran into the first person's without having a paragraph break between them so it read, “Out.” “Fine.”
There was also a sentence which began with Or, and which should have had a question mark after it but didn't. I was too tired to copy & paste it at the time and when I tried to find that in Amazon's crappy Kindle app, I discovered that their crappy search engine isn't case specific so when I searched for "Or" it found a bizillion of them including examples such as 'door', 'before', 'woodworking', 'disorder, and on and on. It should be easy to find it in a word processor.

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

So this hilarious story is about the MacKilligan sisters: Charlie, Max, and Stevie. They all have the same father, but each a different mother. They're all honey badger hybrid shifters, and all are dangerous and violent, or at least paranoid when off their meds - which at least two of them are taking. I had the opportunity to read a sneak preview back in September 2017, which turned out to be the prologue of this book. Normally I don't read prologues because they're useless and antiquated, but that was all I got back then, so I read it and I really liked the idea and the story.

I'm not a fan of urban fantasy stories or of series and this was both - at least I assume it's volume one in a series - and this is the first such volume I've read in a long time where I'd actually welcome a volume two. That's very high praise from me! For me in general, it's tedious to read stories of endless werewolves and vampires all looking the same, behaving the same, doing the same things over and over. It goes completely against my grain to read a paranormal romance - which are beyond tedious and well into laughable. This book skillfully avoided that trap and instead went for the humor and the action, and especially for the out-of-left-field off-the-wall situations and it was right up my alley. I would love to see a movie of this.

The market is glutted with bad paranormal and urban fantasy stores, most of which are boring cookie-cutter vomit, and few writers seem to have the smarts or the ability to move on and write something different. This author is definitely not in that category. I don't usually have much interest in shifter stories, but the idea of reading about honey badgers was very appealing to me. I was thrilled to get a chance to read the whole novel (minus the prologue!) and I enjoyed this one thoroughly because it was so different from the run of the mill uninventive werewolf and vampire romances. This one actually had a story! it also had a romance but thankfully that was not the point of the story and it was well written.

I have to say I am not a fan of prologues or epilogues and this book had both. I honestly do not get why authors don't simply label them chapter one and Chapter whatever-the-last-chapter-number-is. The very word 'epilogue' puts me to sleep. But I read this one and it was, in effect, the prologue to volume two. Please no more epilogues and prologues! But please, volume two!

Anyway...the MacKilligan trio's father is a shiftless shifter, a worthless piece of non-human trash, and no one knows it better than the MacKilligans themselves. When they learn that he's dead, they're thrilled by the prospect of identifying the body, but you know how this is going to turn out, right? He's alive, he has absconded with a hundred millions pounds from his Scots relatives, and they are after him, and after the MacKilligan sisters to find their father. Other people are also after them, either to recruit them because they're so violent and deadly, or to kill them because...they're so violent and deadly.

This is the world we're in and oh my, there are lions, and tigers, and bears! The MacKilligans are semi-adopted by the bears who provide some protection, but this doesn't protect them from the machinations of their father, who is as sneaky as he is dishonest, and the kind of man who would be willing even to sell his children if he thought he could come out ahead on the deal. But to put that in perspective, the MacKilligan family is widespread and not altogether properly hinged. And that's the nicest thing you can say about many of them; then there's the wedding...and cousin Dutch.

Fortunately, theres also Charlie Taylor-MacKilligan, who is equal to any challenge. And her half-sister Max, who is barely shy of psychotic, and who regularly has knock-down-drag-out fights with kid half-sister Stevie, a bona-fide genius who is completely paranoid. Especially of bears. But they're sisters, and no one better try to mess with them.

This was a really beautifully-realized world, populated with interesting individuals. Even the bad guys were fascinating and nuanced. If I had any complaints, I have to say the story was a little bit on the long side and I was somewhat disappointed it wasn't nicely wrapped-up after this volume. Also there seemed to be far too many shifters for the human population not to be completely aware of them. And I won't get into the biological issues of inter-species mating (if two animals - or plants! - can successfully mate, they're the same species!). The definition of a species is that it can't mate outside it's own species. Since this is paranormal, pretty much anything goes, but I always think it would be nice to have some sort of rationale behind it, no matter how hazy!

Like I said, not a fan of series, but I'd read volume two and follow this series if it maintained (as opposed to tainted) the high standards set in this novel. I'd even buy this volume in hardback just to have it on my shelf, so hopefully I don't have to spell out that I fully recommend this. It's one of the best books I've ever read and unquestionably the best novel I've read this year.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Little Pierrot Amongst the Stars by Alberto Varanda

Rating: WARTY!

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

I reviewed Little Pierrot Get the Moon favorably back in August of 2017, but I cannot say the same for this volume. It's in the same format, comprised of sepia-toned sketches that are, in this case very disjointed, more-so than in the first volume. Many of them made no sense to me. Some of them seemed like a response to something which had gone before, but which wasn't included in the book! Nearly all of them were not interesting or amusing. The artwork was of the same high standard, but overall, this seemed like a completely different book compared with the first one I reviewed. Of course, it is a different book, but it's so different that it seemed totally unrelated to the first book.

I wish the author all the best, but I cannot recommend this volume.

Bettie Page Vol 1 by David Avallone, Colton Worley, Craig Cermak, Esau Figueroa, Bane Duncan Wade, Sarah Fletcher, Brittany Pezzillo

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This took me by surprise, and pleasantly so because it wasn't at all what I expected. Frankly I'm not sure what I expected except that I hoped it would be fun - and it was. It was a great romp and put the renowned Bettie Page in a spotlight I'm willing to bet she was never in before - that of government agent! bettie was a real life pin-up girl, probably the last of the truly "innocent" models there was; her pictures were very cheeky but seemingly to outside eyes to be all in good fun. At least, she seems from her expressions in her images to be having a rare old time.

But this novelization isn't about that at all. All of that is just background to her 'real' life, in which she helps fight pinkos and weirdos in New York and Los Angeles. The story collects a four part serial story and a bonus one-off story together into one volume. Bettie doesn't plan this career, it simply befalls her as her modeling plans take an unanticipated wrong turn at the start of the story. Everything else is more like a comedy of errors, with Bettie being in the wrong place at the wrong time until she takes charge of her own fate and starts making things happen instead of having them happen to her.

The story is right on - with a nice line of fifties banter, and the artwork is wonderfully evocative - except for once or twice when the blue-eyed Bettie is shown with brown eyes or even green eyes at one point! She's also depicted as being a little more lanky and boney than the more normally -proportioned real-life Bettie who was only five-two and comfortably rounded without being overweight.

No one obsessed about not being skinny enough back them - at least not as commonly as we encounter it today because women were not conditioned to feel inadequate in the way our modern society seems intent upon rendering them (when it can!). It would have been nice to have seen this reflected better in the drawings and not just on the 'covers'.

Virtually all models were short and normally proportioned back then! As were actresses: Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe for example, were the same height as Bettie and no more "hourglass" than was she, and no one consider what today would be described as 'chubby' knees, as being out of place, nor was body hair for that matter. How far we've slid down the wrong chute since then!

ost of the fifties pop-culture references were right one as well, as far as I could tell, except for one mention of Ian Fleming. The story was set in 1951, and Fleming was unknown at that time since he had not yet penned his first James Bond adventure. He didn’t write Casino Royale until 1952 and it wasn’t published until 1953. It wasn’t published in the USA until 1954! The only other problem i spotted was on page 89 (as depicted on the tablet reader - the comic pages themselves are not numbered) where I read “The exist to be ruled." I'm guessing that should have been “They exist to be ruled”

There was the welcome but unlikely addition of a black female police officer. It was welcome to see a person of color in this story, but there were no female police officers in the USA 1951 to my knowledge. Atlanta did, believe it or not, have black male cops as early as 1948, but even then, they weren’t allowed to patrol white neighborhoods or work in police headquarters! We've come a long way but nowhere near far enough.

So, overall, I loved this story and look forward to reading more. I recommend this as a fun and original adventure series with a strong and fascinating female lead.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Harry's Lovely Spring Day by Nathan GK, Janelle Dimmett

Rating: WORTHY!

This is an out-and-out old-fashioned romantic fairy-tale starring Harry the Mouse who lives in a box on a street in what looks a lot like a French town, although the author is British and the artist American! Janelle Dimmett's illustrations are painstakingly detailed, even down to individual leaves drawn on trees!

I enjoyed Harry's Spooky Surprise by NGK, not to be confused with scientist GK Nathan, so it was perhaps to be expected that this one would also pass muster. Harry is helped by passer-by Katie the mouse when his house is blow away in a storm. Those refrigerator boxes are not what they used to be since Trump's steel tariff, are they?! LOL!

Anyway, Katie kindly donates her umbrella top Harry to help him out. She doesn't need it, she claims, because she's off to the country to live where it evidently never rains! She hops on the bus and away she goes (mice can hop really, impressively high!). Harry decides he must find her and thank her and well, romance happens!

Told in simple rhyming couplets, the story is quite charming, and will doubtlessly and endlessly entertain young kids. I read in an author interview about the concept of paying it forward, although Harry actually isn't paying anything forward here, he's really just taking advantage of a kindness - but not in a mean way. He is thankful Katie and that's important too. But for readers and kids, the story doesn't have to end when the book does. Kids and their grown-ups can take the story on, discussing how it might unfold if Harry had donated his newly-acquired umbrella to someone else, and so on!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Atom Land by Jon Butterworth

Rating: WARTY!

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

This is Jon Butterworth's second book on physics. I have not read his other book. The author is a Professor of Physics at University College London and also works at CERN on the ATLAS particle detector experiment. This was one of two large hadron collider experiments which were instrumental in discovering the long-sought-after Higgs Boson.

I have to say up-front that I was very disappointed in this book. For me, it confused things far more than it clarified them, which is unfortunate. I'm not a physicist by any stretch of the imagination, and I have only a lay-person's understanding of the topics covered here, but I have read extensively on these subjects, so I know my way around them in general terms. I was hoping for more clarity or new learning here, and I felt I got neither. The author used the metaphor of exploring oceans and islands to pursue the investigation of forms of energy and sub-atomic particles, but it didn't work and it felt much more like a shallow tourist trip where it's all about superficiality and gewgaws, rather than an actual exploratory voyage during which we really learn something about the venue we're visiting.

But before I really get started on content, I find myself once more having to say something about formatting. This book is laid out as a typical academic-style text, with very wide margins, lots of white space, and lots of extra pages up front that strictly aren't necessary. The publisher determines how a book should look, and supplicants to the publishing world are required to conform whether the antiquated rules make sense in a modern world or not.

For me, the bottom line is that we cannot afford to sacrifice so many trees in a world where climate change is running rampant and may be irreversible. We need trees alive, not crushed and sparsely printed on. Naturally in an ebook, this is irrelevant except in that bulkier books eat up more energy in transmission over the Internet, but for a large print run, this slaughter of forests has to stop, or at least be contained. Wasting so much paper is unacceptable.

This book had an extensive contents which served no purpose at all because it contained no links to the actual chapters nor did the chapters contain a reverse link to get back to the contents. Neither was there an index in the back. I assume there was no index because ebooks are searchable and therefore an index and a contents are really irrelevant. Who reads a contents page? Maybe some do, but I never do. I don't read prologues, forewords, introductions, or prefaces, either. If you want people to know what's in the book, make the back cover blurb serve a real purpose and put a brief contents list on that cover!

The real problem here though was the margins which ate up (by my estimation) at least a quarter of each page in white space. The chapter title pages wasted more, and each book section wasted yet more by having its own title page. I'm sure authors and publishers think this makes a book look pretty but you know what? Trees are far prettier than any book I've ever seen or heard of. The book could probably have been two hundred pages instead of three hundred, had more judicious margins and a slightly wiser use of overall space been employed. I can't sanction that kind of wastefulness in formatting.

Another issue was that while the publisher very wisely did not publish this using Amazon's crappy Kindle format, which mangles anything but the plainest of text, the book was published in a format which lent itself poorly to being read on a smart phone, because every page insists upon presenting itself as a complete page. Like an atom, it's not easily broken down into smaller component parts and the entire page is too small, especially with those margins, to be read comfortably on a phone screen. It's really designed for a tablet computer which is far less easy to tote around than is my phone.

On the phone, the reader is constantly having to stretch the page to fill the screen. Shrinking those large margins made it intelligible, but that also rendered it 'unswipeable': you can't swipe to the next page, so you have to reduce the page back to original size - sometimes requiring two shrinking efforts to achieve this properly - swipe it, enlarge it, read it, shrink it, rinse and repeat. It makes for an irritating reading experience at best.

The real problem or joy of any book though is the content (as opposed to contents!). Does it do the job? For me this did not because there were so many confusing metaphors here that it really muddied the water rather than clarified it. It was like comparing the pristine Inverness river of the thirteen century with the disgustingly polluted Thames of the Victorian era.

As I mentioned, the metaphor of sea-travel and island visits is employed here, and the book even includes maps of them of these locations, but this struck me as completely fatuous and an entirely wrong-headed approach. Illustrations of some of the concepts he was discussing would definitely have clarified things, but none of those are to be found anywhere. Instead, we have fake maps of fictional seas and islands that really have nothing whatsoever to do with the subject under discussion. To me this was ill-advised.

It didn't help that the author continually jumped around like he was in Brownian motion between one topic an another. First we sail to this island, then we sail back to where we started, then we take a train journey, then we re-board the ship and sail to another island, oh look at that island over there, but here we are at this island instead. It made for a nonsensical text in which the reader struggled to follow the topic instead of being helped along by a favorable breeze as it were.

I can't test the whole document since I don't have the text, but out of curiosity I typed in this one tiny section which struck me as being obtuse:

The sprays, or jets, of hadrons will be collimated roughly in the direction of the initial quark and antiquark. The energies and directions of the initial quark and antiquark can be calculated in QCD, and the calculation agrees well with measurements of the jets.
This scored marginally over a forty four in Flesch reading ease, where a score for comfortable reading would be sixty or seventy. Low scores are bad! The Flesch-Kincaid grade level was 12.5 which indicates a person who has started college (beyond twelfth grade in the US means graduated high-school - or post-GCE-A-level student in Britain). Although this was hardly a random sample, I believe it's representative since it isn't atypical of how this book is written, so be warned that the reading level isn't exactly aimed at the general populace! I think this is a flaw perhaps induced by having only scientist colleagues read the text? I don't know.

By the time this book reached chapter 19, roughly halfway through, and very accurately titled 'The Weak Force', and went rambling on about W and Z particles, once again without really explaining anything, but instead comparing the whole thing to an airline, I had pretty much lost all interest in this book. This chapter seemed to be one of the most confusing and therefore the weakest in the chapter list so it was aptly named, but maybe this was simply because I was so tired of these meaningless meandering and overblown metaphors that I really had no heart left in it at all, and I decided my time would be better spent elsewhere.

Even when we got down to the actual topic under discussion, the text really didn't do very much to educate or illuminate. As I mentioned, it was like a tourist version where we see the sights, but learn little to nothing of local color and history. We got a scientist's name tossed in here and there, but nothing in depth about the subject before we were whisked-off to the next. Every topic got the same short shrift no matter how easy or hard a topic it might have been to explain.

For example at one point (page 127 of the book, page 145 of the screen page count, which is an indicator of how many fluff pages there were at the start of this book), there was a brief discussion of the elements and how well-bound (or otherwise) they are, with iron standing out as tightly-wrapped no-nonsense kind of a fellow, but nowhere in this section was there any sort of discussion as to exactly why iron, of all the elements, is like this! There were hints all around it but nothing as solid as iron itself is.

Why is iron such a problem in star formation and development such that when a star starts making iron in its belly, it's doomed? Iron is like the legendary black spot in pirate lore, predicting your demise if you get it, but we learn nothing of exactly why this is so. We're told only that this is why iron is so common. I had expected, in a book like this, that there would be something to learn here, but it seems that either there isn't or the author thinks it not worth sharing, and we were never party to which of those options it was. To me this was a starting point: begin with trusty old iron, talk about the elements, and use those discussions of elements and their properties to launch the other topics covered here.

Another such issue was when the text started in on the color of quarks. Color when used in this sense has nothing whatsoever to do with what you see on the TV or movie screen, or in images on your camera. It's an idiosyncrasy of science which Richard Feynman detested. Red, green and blue are used to describe various quarks, but their opposites are not cyan, magenta and yellow! Instead, they're woodenly named: anti-red, anti-green, and anti-blue! There was an opportunity for humor there which was missed a in a community which seems fine with quarks named strange and charm! In physics, the color of a sub-atomic particle has to do with the charge of the particle, not with color, but beyond that I have no idea what it really means and this book utterly fails to explain it, or even broach it. This to me was emblematic of the overall skimpy approach employed here. I'm surprised the ship didn't run aground in such shallow seas.

The fact that topics got short shrift - or more à propos, set adrift, as opposed to being anchored solidly in something people have an instinctive grasp of, really sums up the problem: I expected a lot more from this than I got, and it was a truly disappointing experience. I wish the author all the best in his career, both academic and literary, but I cannot recommend this book.

The Crystal Key by Robert William Gronewold

Rating: WARTY!

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

This book was overall decently well-written from a technical perspective and it started out quite engaging, but as I read on, I found it more and more slipping into the worn-out mold of young adult fiction: the perky best friend who is either gay or a female. In this case it was a female named Margo who was obsessed, of course, with fashion. There was the trope of the girl (in this case the oddly-named Felicity Bough) finding her new and great magical power and then being thrown into the threat or clutches of evil. There was the tiresome love-triangle with the reliable trustworthy boy-next-door versus the so-gritty-he's-really-animated-sandpaper bad boy who rescues her. That's what actually turned me off the story. Not so much the ultra-predictable bad boy as the fact that this girl who was initially shown to be so strong, was rescued and thereby was rendered into nothing more than a simpering acolyte of the thoroughly nauseating bad boy.

Evidently like other reviewers, I initially thought this was a graphic novel. It is not. It's a ~400 page tome of pure text, which is way too long. The story revolves around a world which is evidently ours but projected into a future where evil has become so pervasive that even the sun has gone out. What keeps the planet alive are these inexplicable well-springs of light which fountain-up from various places on the planet, But, just like in The Never-Ending Story movie, the dark is encroaching upon the planet piece-by-piece and no one seems to be interested in doing anything about it.

This world is predictably exactly like the USA, except for the magic and the asinine transportation, which seems (for no reason I was given in the fifty percent of this novel that I read) to be based on animals. Cars are tigers and stallions, buses are bears, cargo transportation is elephants, and so on. I was rather surprised not to see the cat bus from the anime Totoro. These are not real animals, but machines named after them and which apparently have some animal traits, but the description was so vague as to leave these things a mystery. They do evidently have wheels, so I didn't get the animal reference at all. None of this made any sense to me; it wasn't entertaining or amusing. Quite the opposite: it increasingly became an irritant in short order.

Someone at Chapterhouse Publishing needed to read this because there were multiple problems with the text. In general it was not awful by any means, and spelling and grammar were fine as a general rule, but there were some bizarre oddities which ought to have been caught by an editor if not by the author himself. For example, on page 48 I read "...then is shot down and dived...." I assume the author meant, 'then it shot down'. A little later I encountered, "...verdant shade of green" on page 73. Verdant actually means green, so this is a tautology. On page 117, I read "...plain stone brick wall...." It's either brick or it's stone; the two are not the same. This is maybe a case where the author started out using one and changed to the other, but forgot to delete the one they were trading out for the other. We've all done that!

On page 128 there was a mistake of using clamored instead of clambered as in "...clamored over the old blocks....' Clamor is to make a noise, whereas clamber is to climb over. I suppose one could say that clambering over the rocks was causing a clamor, but it really doesn't make a lot of sense to do that. On the next page I read, "...who knew what something bigger could do." which ended in a period instead of a question mark. I encountered a common error on page 134, where I read "She tread quietly...." The past tense of tread is 'trod', not tread, and certainly not 'treaded' which I've actually read in more than one novel.

On page 153, I read, "...two large trees that created the top of the hill" I don't get what that's supposed to mean. The trees don't create the top of the hill; they might sit atop it or surmount it. They might even furnish it, but they don't create it. In a part of the novel where Felicity is sitting in a machine I read "...two throttles sat upright ready for steering." Nope! Throttles control speed. They don't control steering, unless the direction is also controlled by the thrust, but since this was a land vehicle, not a water or space vessel, that seemed unlikely, especially since Felicity didn't know how to drive it. Finally on page 156, I read, "I'm hungry too," this speech was followed by the word 'returned' I think it was intended to be 'he returned', as in he spoke back to her. I'm guessing by how often I was discovering these that they didn't end on that page, but that's what I found in as far as I wanted to read in this novel.

In terms of overall formatting, I once again find myself having to beg authors and publishers to have some consideration for trees. This book had very wide margins on all four edges, constituting, by my rough estimate, some twenty-five percent of the page. If the book is issued only in electronic format, this isn't such an issue (although longer novels eat up more energy to transmit over the Internet), but for a book that might go to a long print run, serious consideration needs to be given to how many trees you're going to slaughter in this era of runaway climate change. No one wants to read a novel where the text is jammed together over the entire page, but if the margins had been even slightly less generous, the book would have been shorter and eaten up less paper.

Chapter one didn't actually begin until page fifteen and it ended on page 400. Some of those fifteen pages could have been also dispensed with, instead of rigidly and blindly conforming to antiquated publishing rules created when no one gave a damn about trees and climate change. I found it ironic that the encroaching evil upon which this author discourses is actually upon us (albeit in a different form from the one he writes of), and yet publishers and authors perpetuate their blithe (or blithering) blindness to it.

If these story had been shorter, less 'maiden in distress', and the bad boy third leg of the tired love triangle been dispensed with, this would have been a lot better. In faith, methinks it too low for a high praise, too long for a short praise and too little inventive for an imaginative praise. Only this commendation I can afford it: that were it other than it is, it is unhandsome; and being no other but as it is, I cannot recommend it.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Elephant's Child by Rudyard Kipling, Karen Baiker, Davin Cheng

Rating: WORTHY!

This is a Rudyard Kipling story adapted by Karen Baiker, and illustrated nicely by Davin Cheng. I reviewed Kipling's Just So Stories a long time ago on this blog, and this one was included in that book under the title How the Elephant Got His Trunk which is the subtitle of the present story. As this newer author and illustrator have shown here, there is probably a rich and free vein of children's stories to be mined there now that Kipling is out of copyright. I'm going to get on it right away. Kidding! I have too much on my plate as it is.

The story is that of an annoyingly curious young elephant who, as all elephants did back then of course, had a snub nose. He was constantly asking questions of his older relatives: the baboon (who is shown incongruously hanging from a tree for which baboons are not really well-known!), the giraffe, the hippo, but none of them can spare him any time, so he takes the advice of a very possibly maliciously-inclined bird, who advises him that his last question, 'what do crocodiles eat?', could best be answered by hiking over to the Limpopo river and asking a croc directly.

The elephant in his innocence thinks this is a brill idea and heads off forthwith. The croc advises him that he will not only be happy to tell him, he will show him what he's going to eat for dinner and snaps at the elephant. This was very probably the first sound bite. Or perhaps more likely, an unsound bite since the croc only manages to grab the elephant's nose. In the ensuing tug of war, the nose is stretched and stretched of course (you knew this was coming, didn't you?!).

Unlike his elders, the young elephant is happy to take the time to relate his story of how his nose grew so long. And there you have it! So while this isn't an original story, it is nicely told and beautifully illustrated, and it's in a nice, so I recommend it.

Poetry for Kids: William Shakespeare by Marguerite Tassi, Mercè López

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy, for which to the publisher I can no other answer make, but, thanks, and thanks!

This book was a little bit different from what I expected, but there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. For me, I thought it might be Shakespeare's words altered somewhat to facilitate children's reading, but in fact the text was untouched. What editor Marguerite Tassi (on the faculty of University of Nebraska-Kearney, and much published on many aspects of Shakespeare's work) did was to choose the pieces, include them unaltered in any way, but to add a short glossary after each to explain some of the more obscure or more readily misunderstood terms. Language use and meaning changes significantly in four hundred years!

There is also included some notes at the end on "What William was thinking," and an index. I read this on an iPad and what I would have liked to have seen was a means to get back to the contents page from a given excerpt. From that screen you can get to any item with a tap, but once you've shuffled off this mortal contents, you can't get back except by sliding the bar at the bottom of the page which oft trigger'd Apple's pop-up bar, and it was annoying. To link or not to link, that is the question!

Talented and Spanish-born artist Mercè López contributed illustrations for many of the excerpts. The illustrations, well-aimed at children, served to leaven what otherwise would have been a landscape solely of text and perhaps, because of that, a tragically undiscover'd country. It's a pity the editor doesn't hail from the same place as the illustrator, because then it could have been billed as 'Two Gentlewomen of Barcelona'. But it was not to be!

There are over thirty selections here, so there is no arguing over what was the most unkindest cut of all, because if they are mark'd to read, they are enough. Let us not wish for one choice more; the fewer options, the greater share of honour each derives! The excerpts were a fine selection in my amateur opinion, and made for some great reading if you're at all a fan of Shakespeare. The choice selection (There's a double meaning in that!) is as follows:

  • All the World’s a Stage from As You Like It
  • O, for a Muse of Fire from Henry V
  • We Were, Fair Queen from The Winter’s Tale
  • Over Hill, Over Dale from A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • Round About the Cauldron Go from Macbeth
  • Under the Greenwood Tree from As You Like It
  • Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day? (sonnet)
  • O Romeo, Romeo, Wherefore Art Thou Romeo? from Romeo and Juliet
  • Now Is the Winter of Our Discontent from Richard III
  • If Music Be the Food of Love from Twelfth Night
  • How Sweet the Moonlight Sleeps Upon this Bank! from The Merchant of Venice
  • O, She Doth Teach the Torches to Burn Bright! from Romeo and Juliet
  • O Mistress Mine, Where Are You Roaming? from Twelfth Night
  • What Light Is Light, if Silvia Be Not Seen? from The Two Gentlemen of Verona
  • But Soft, What Light Through Yonder Window Breaks? from Romeo and Juliet
  • My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun (sonnet)
  • The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet from A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • Let Me Not to the Marriage of True Minds (sonnet)
  • Cowards Die Many Times Before Their Deaths from Julius Caesar
  • Once More Unto the Breach from Henry V
  • All Furnish’d, All in Arms from Henry IV, Part 1
  • The Quality of Mercy Is Not Strain’d from The Merchant of Venice
  • Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Lend Me Your Ears from Julius Caesar
  • All That Glitters Is Not Gold from The Merchant of Venice
  • That Time of Year Thou Mayst in Me Behold (sonnet)
  • To Be, or Not to Be, That Is the Question from Hamlet
  • Blow, Winds, and Crack Your Cheeks! from King Lear
  • To-morrow, and To-morrow, and To-morrow from Macbeth
  • Why, Man, He Doth Bestride the Narrow World from Julius Caesar
  • If We Shadows Have Offended from A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • Our Revels Now Are Ended from The Tempest

But soft, what a great way to get kids involved, especially if they can read and you can get them to get all dramatic and really speak these words from the heart with spirit and energy. O for a muse of fire! Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious reading by this daughter of Baltimore! I recommend this.

Great Polar Bear by Carolyn Lesser

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a beautifully-rendered (using elegantly torn paper) and charmingly-written novel for young children about the hard life of a polar bear. If I had a criticism I would say it was that climate change, while referenced in a note at the end of the book (which can be used as a talking-point with your child of course), wasn't really factored into the story. I felt it should have been because despite the liars who nay-say it, climate change is real, it's affecting people's lives now as well as the very existence of hundreds of species of plant and animal. It's already affecting Polar bears.

That said, this story tells, in gorgeously-written prose and pulling no punches, of the tough existence of this bear in the frozen north, sleeping in wind-sheltering snowdrifts for warmth, and hunting seals. It describes some of the means by which Polar bears stay warm, including the hollow hairs on their pelt. I think it might have gone more into the fact that it's getting harder for bears to find sufficient food as climate changes, but it does tell a stirring story and if it gets childrens' interest warmed to this icy, precarious life, then it will have served Polar bears well.

In the USA, as I write this, there is a movement - finally - to protect our schools from deranged people with automatic weapons. This is long overdue and shames our politicians that they love the NRA more than they do the lives of young children, but as many lives as are sacrificed to political self-interest and inertia, those lives, awfully tragic and irreplaceable as they are, are a tiny portion of what will be lost if climate change is not addressed. It is the most critical crisis facing humanity today, but selfish business interests are literally buying-off right-wing politicians and these callous, cynical low-lifes are sacrificing our children's future for short-term personal profit. They are also sacrificing nature, Polar bears along with it.

I would like to have seen climate changed addressed more directly here because Polar bears are utterly dependent on the ice-floes which are fast disappearing. While these magnificent animals are technically not considered endangered, they are rated as vulnerable and as the North Pole warms (it's thought that it will be ice-free by mid-century at the present rate of warming), their territory shrinks. If the North Pole melts, since it is already floating on the ocean, it will contribute little to sea-rise, but it will rob Polar bears of a major hunting ground. Because the Greenland ice sheet is all on land, if it melts, it will raise sea levels by over twenty feet. Coasts will be inundated and Polar bears will be left with nowhere to go.

If this book does anything to educate people, especially youngsters, about this crisis, then it will have served us well. I liked the book, loved the prose, found the images quite entrancing, and I highly recommend it.

Daughters of the Storm by Kim Wilkins

Rating: WARTY!

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

I requested to review this novel because I was truly intrigued by the premise. I have to report that it got off to a bit of a rocky start with me, then I began to get into it, then it hit a slack patch before taking off again, so it was a bit of a roller-caster ride, but when you're a writer, you have to go with what your gut tells you (or your editor if you don't self-publish! LOL!) so each to her own, I guess. In the end though, I found myself becoming more and more disappointed in it and I can't recommend this.

People say you can't really review a novel if you don't read it all, but I think that's nonsense. Several times I considered DNF-ing this because I was so disappointed in it and did not consider it worth continuing. Instead I read on, hoping it would turn around. It didn't. If I had quit at thirty percent or fifty percent, or seventy five percent, my gut instinct about it would still have been right, yet once again I plugged along to the end only to discover that nothing changed for the better, especially not my mindset. This novel is apparently the start of a series and I have zero interest in following it. Let me tell you why.

To begin with, I have to report that this is one of the most overused novel titles. There are many other novels with this same or with a very similar title including: Daughter of the Storm by Jeanne Williams, Daughters of the Storm by Aola Vandergriff, Daughters of the Storm by Elizabeth Buchan, Daughters of The Summer Storm by Frances Patton Statham, Daughter of Air and Storm by Sherryl King-Wilds, Daughter of Storms by Louise Cooper, The Daughter of the Stormed by Catherine Cuomo, and so on. I recommend authors finding truly original titles for their novels even if the title they end up with isn't their first choice.

The book is volume one in the "Blood and Gold" series, and I should confess I'm not a fan of series books. I like novels that have an ending and "book ones" tend to be nothing more than a prologue to a chain of books that can be so derivative and unimaginative that they're simply boring. I avoid prologues, introductions, forewords, and prefaces like the plague, so it took some thinking before I elected to take a look at this. Like I said, the blurb was compelling, but I have a love-hate relationship with blurbs at best, and I really dislike novels that have no kind of end point at all.

I was not a fan of the blood and guts (or gold!) opening, but the story took-off after that in a more pleasing fashion at least for a while, introducing the five sisters. In some ways it felt like this was a fantasy rewrite of Pride and Prejudice. We have the five sisters and a somewhat ineffectual father (in this case because he's taken ill). There's no real mother interfering. For Elizabeth Bennet, we have Bluebell (all the daughters are named after angiosperms), but Bluebell is nowhere near as perspicacious as Lizzie Bennet. Nor as amusing.

In this story, she's the feisty elder daughter, renowned and feared for her blade (rather than her wit as was the case in P&P), but it would seem that this warrior rep, thinking only of killing and sword-fighting is literally all she has going for her. She was very one-note and this began to gall in short order. She was next in line for the throne, but she certainly was not monarch material at all, not even in a blood-thirsty world like this. Nor was she military material, proving herself a poor strategist and a very average warrior.

It wouldn't have been so bad had she merited her renown, but she did not. She was stupid and incompetent. In two fights she had after the opening - fights when she was alone facing four attackers - she gave a really poor account of herself and had to be rescued by her magical sister both times. So no, she was not even a great warrior, and I had to ask how on Earth did she ever get this reputation that we were reminded of repeatedly, when she was so bad at what she did?

Next came the Jane Bennet of the family, known in this story as Rose. She has been married-off to Wengest, king of Nettlechester to secure an alliance. This author likes to name countries with names which sound like English cities, for some reason. The author is Australian and I am predisposed to look favorably on Australiana, but I wasn't fond of these names. The seemed unrealistic. Rose was once enamored of Wengest, but now is in love (so she claims) with his nephew Heath, and she pursues him like a love-sick teenager instead of behaving like a mature monarch. She was truly sickening in her stupidity and her selfish bitch-in-heat behavior. This did not come off as a great and tragic love story as perhaps the author intended, but as hack high-school love-triangle nonsense.

Next is Ash, who is the equivalent of Mary Bennet. She joins us as a resident in a type of convent, but she soon leaves to go home when she learns her father is ill. She has some sort of magical gift which evolves somewhat as the story unfolds. I enjoyed that to begin with, but in the end it also became tedious, because it really went nowhere. Ash constantly whined about this gift and where she felt it might lead. She meets an undermagician who tells her she is also an undermagician, but at no point was it ever really explained what an undermagician is or how one might differ from an actual magician. She and Bluebell were by far the most interesting characters to me, so it was sad that both of them became ever more annoying and dislikable the further I got into the story.

After Ash come of course, the troublesome twosome: Ivy and Willow. They're the equivalent of Kitty and Lydia, with Ivy being the ridiculously promiscuous Lydia, and Willow the dissatisfied, complaining Kitty. Ivy pretty much wants to jump the bones of anything in pants. She was a caricature of Rose who at least was only idiotically fixated on one guy. Willow is secretly an adherent of an anti-feminist religion, for reasons which are never actually revealed. She's hoping to convert her father so if he dies he can enter the sunlit afterlife instead of the dark place. Or something along those lines. Neither of these girls seemed remotely realistic.

There are two villains, Hakon, a rival warlord, and Wylm, the stepbrother of the girls. Both of these felt like caricatures at best and jokes at worst. Fearing what will happen if the king dies and Bluebell becomes queen, Wylm sets off on a quest to find Hakon at the same time as Bluebell orders her father moved away from home to seek help for the supernatural illness which she believes is killing him, so we have two parallel road trips in place. Here is where thing really fell apart and suspension of disbelief with it. Bluebell precipitately takes her father, along with two other soldiers, and all of her sisters on this trip. We've already been told how dangerous the countryside is, with raiders (who always seem to find Bluebell), yet we have only herself and two soldiers protecting a sick king and four other women? And no one is left in charge at the palace? It made zero sense.

It made less sense, having brought them along, to let the sisters split-up later, dividing the party. Bluebell sends Ivy, of all people, to return Rose's daughter to her father. She sends one of her two soldiers with Ivy. That soldier then disappears and we never hear of him again. Where did he go? Why did he never return to Bluebell? And why not send Rose, the child's mother, with the child? It made absolutely no sense whatsoever, except to keep the adulterous Rose with her lover and send the promiscuous Ivy to Rose's husband. There were realistic, organic ways in which this could have been achieved, but they were not employed. In short it made no sense whatsoever, especially since Rose later leaves - alone - to follow her child. Wait, isn't the countryside dangerous? Aren't there roving bands of raiders that the kings army never seems to be interested in hunting down? Yet Rose is going to make a journey of several days alone? Again, suspension of disbelief collapsed.

There was no reason at all to have these girls all go on the trip. There was no reason not to take a garrison of soldiers from the castle along with them. There was no organic reason for Rose to go with Ash and Bluebell to find this "undermagician" who might be able to help their father, as opposed to her taking her daughter back home, so this part of the story felt so stage-managed that it really turned me off the writing. It was such an artificial attempt to keep Rose near Heath and send Ivy to Wengest that it was really laughable. It was very poorly-plotted.

Bluebell is depicted as being with a group of soldiers at the very start of the story, and these guys also disappear from the story. They never follow Bluebell back to the castle despite the country being in a crisis because of the sick king. What happened to them? Where were they when Bluebell needed them? The original departure of Rose from her husband with her daughter made as little sense. It made sense that Rose would want to visit her ailing father and perhaps that she would take her daughter with her, but we're told that "There are bandits on these roads. Violent bandits." and we've already seen them, so why is King Wengest trusting his wife and only offspring to an escort of only one soldier?

Again, it's because that one soldier was Heath, her lover! It made no practical sense to let his wife and her daughter, his only immediate offspring, and also his nephew, his only heir to the throne, travel with absolutely no armed guard. Again it failed to suspend disbelief. The author seemed so intent upon following a rigid course in relating this tale - in this case because it would bring these two together - that she never seems to have thought about the absurdity of such a situation in the context of her own story, and authenticity was sacrificed again.

On a technical note, drop caps aren't a favorite of mine and they usually don't work well in Amazon's crappy Kindle app. They were better on the iPad than on my android phone, and not so bad on an iPhone, but Kindle usually mangles any attempt at fancy text or fancy formatting, so it's best avoided. Here it wasn't too bad, but there were odd-looking chapter beginnings, such as when the 'T' in "The sun rose..." was dropped and enlarged, and sat squarely against the 'W' that began the next line so it looked like it read, "He sun in the Twest." It was amusing, but it should never have happened. It's an issue of which authors and publishers need to be aware when publishing ebooks and trying to make them look like their print versions. It simply doesn't work in the lousy Kindle app. It just doesn't! Keep the text simple for Kindle; it's all it can handle.

But poor formatting, especially when it's as mild as this was, can be overlooked if the story is engaging, This one was not. The silly sisters were tiresome, annoying, predictable, and not in the least bit credible as characters. None of them appealed to me as characters. I had no one to root for, and I honestly didn't remotely care what happened to any character in this story. They were all one dimensional, and therefore just not interesting. The author needs to kill off Willow, Ivy, and Rose, give some depth to Ash and Bluebell, and also keep the story tighter, more realistic, and shorter, and maybe it will work, but I have no faith in this series at all after reading this prologue. While I wish the author a fair dinkum career, because I think she has the makings of a good novelist, I can't say 'good on ya sheila!' for this novel, and I cannot recommend it.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Darznik

Rating: WARTY!

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

This novel is complete fiction. It may sound strange to describe a novel (which is by definition fiction) in that way, but this one, it turned out, was purporting to tell the life story of real life Persian poet, Forugh Farrokhzad (فروغ فرخزاد‎). Normally such a thing is done in a biography, and one does exist for this poet, but evidently the author thinks that wasn't quite good enough.

I read, "IT WAS HERE, IN A VILLAGE at the foot of Mount Damavand whose name in English means “closed gates,” that my story with Parviz and also with poetry truly began." This was at the beginning of chapter four! It immediately begged the question: if this is where the story began, why aren't we starting it there instead of wasting my time with three wholly-invented chapters that were meaningless and - by the author's own admission - irrelevant?

To write a novel about such a person you would have to know them intimately. And preferably have their permission. And be bereft of ideas for truly original work! Only two of these options would seem to hold in this case. Since Forugh died in a car accident two days after Revolution Day in 1967, she's not alive to object, and the author felt completely free to make up her own version of this poor woman's life, and not just the major events, but every minor event down to intimate conversations, putting words into her mouth, and thoughts in her head. If someone did this to me after I died and I learned of it from beyond the grave, I would feel violated and insulted. Of course it's not likely to happen to me, but if it does, I hope my estate will sue whoever did this to me!

I didn't realize, when I requested this for review, that this was about a real person otherwise I would not have wished to read it. I honestly thought it was pure fiction, and it sounded interesting, which only goes to prove that I'm not perfect - something I've been saying all along. No doubt my fictional post-mortem novelizer will fix that for me though! Personally I'd far rather read an actual biography where (we hope and assume) events are told as truthfully as possible without fictionalizing them, than a purely made-up story that brings nothing new to the table and doesn't even make for an interesting read.

Apparently this author decided Forough's life was far too mundane to make good reading, and her poetry of course just wasn't a good enough legacy, so she was in dire need of a make-over, and not even Persian style. Since this author hasn't been in Iran since she was five years old, we get it American style, where everything is jazzed-up, emotionalized, overcooked and dramatized way beyond reality - and second-hand. At least thats what it felt like, reading this.

There were also undercooked parts such as the crass description of the main character's appearance by means of having them look at themselves in a mirror: "I pulled the chador over my head and then stood studying my reflection. The girl in the mirror was thin, with pale skin and thick bangs that refused to lay flat under the veil." This amateur method is so overdone in novels that it ought to be banned. If that's the limitation of your ability to reveal your character, then you really need to do some deep thinking about your commitment to writing.

Even her death is made out to be heroic, and in this novel it's a complete lie. Forugh died swerving to avoid a school bus, not in a car chase. Whether she was going too fast or not paying attention, we don't know. No one speculates about that; they say only that she avoided a school bus, thereby making her into a hero, not an unsafe driver. No one is willing to let her alone. Everyone wants a piece of her body. Even this author who claims to admire her so much cannot resist exhuming her and trying to put her stamp on the cannon.

In real life a person's every action does not carry a forewarning about future events. Nothing hangs on a tiny thought. No big events are foreshadowed by trivial happenstance. Yet here everything was amateurishly highlighted in college-student blue and magnified as though it were a critical piece in a flawless edifice. Everything is more brutal and more tragic, like reality simply isn't enough. Maybe for American readers it isn't.

The novel is predictably in first person, and the 'author' of it even speaks to us from the grave - literally. This made me laugh, and that's entirely the wrong emotion to have over a woman like Forugh Farrokhzad, who was abused more than enough in her lifetime, but now has to suffer being a cheap fictional character. This novel is wrong in so many ways, you could write a novel about it.

I cannot in good faith recommend a novel like this which to me is at best parasitic. The poor woman is barely cold in her grave and already the buzzards have gathered. It surprised me not at all when I learned later that the author teaches a creative writing program, but how creative is it really, to pick over a corpse?

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Sociable by Rebecca Harrington

Rating: WARTY!

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

This novel was very short and not appealing to me at all. I started out not liking it, began to like it when I got a little bit in, when the main character had a career change, but then went right off it when I realized that nothing really had changed, nor was it going to. The main character, with the unlikely name of Elinor, shades of Hill House, was one of the most drab and uninteresting people I've ever had to read about. She showed no sense of self-worth, no intelligence, no motivation, and was quite willing to be in an emotionally abusive relationship with a complete jerk of a guy for no reason whatsoever. She wasn't even smart enough to know she was in an abusive relationship nor did any of her friends care enough for her to warn her off it. In short she was an idiot and showed no sign of ever improving. How she ever hoped to be a real journalist is a mystery.

The story was all dot com, but paradoxically was so starkly newspaper black and white as to be a caricature of itself. There was not one single decent guy depicted in this entire novel that I saw - although I freely admit I read only half of it, skimmed another quarter, read the end and then gave up on it completely. The end was entirely dissatisfying. If I were to judge solely from this novel, which I won't, I'd be forced to conclude that the author hates guys! Either that or she doesn't know how to write decent male characters or even gray-area character, but paradoxically the women were such drab people in this story that they were colorless. And everyone was so one dimensional that I honestly believe it I had the print version of this, and turned it sideways, I would not be able to see it any more, and I'd be fine with that.

The story is essentially of Elinor getting a new job writing those idiot dumb-ass lists that far too many websites post. She apparently excels at this mindless task while her boyfriend, who doesn't give a shit about her (which begs the unanswered question as to he's even with her in the first place) is an having an affair right under her nose, gets this purportedly prestigious job and then finds it's not as great as he thought. He leaves Elinor and then wants to come back to her and Elinor doesn't take him back because she's too stupid to even realize that's what he's after!

That's it! That's the entire story and it drags on and on page after page with one moron after another trooping through the meandering paragraphs. Some parts were flashbacks, but they were so badly written that I had a hard time telling when they were done and we were back in the present. I detest flashbacks. This was an awful story and I resent even the relatively small amount of time I spent reading what I did of it. here;s badly written: "The headphones were giant white conical spheres." What, exactly, is a conical sphere?! I cannot recommend this, not even as soporific reading, because it is so irritating it wouldn't actually put you to sleep.

Fresh Ink by various authors

Rating: WARTY!

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

This was an anthology put together by Lamar Giles under the Random House Children's Crown Books for Young Readers imprint, but the themes here seemed rather adult, so I'm wondering if young adult might have been better than 'young children's' - to me that's misleading. Worse than this there are os many books out there titled "Fresh Ink" that it's a bit sad the publisher could not have come up with something better and less over-used.

Overall I was not impressed by this. Out of thirteen stories only two were really enjoyable and one was a maybe, but the rest were not interesting, and overall the stories belied the anthology title - there really wasn't anything fresh here at all. Maybe the stories were newly-written, but that doesn't mean they're fresh, and most of the themes featured here have already been done to death. They need really fresh ink to keep these themes alive, and sadly, this wasn't it.

The range of authors was in one way commendably diverse, but the problem with that is that all of these authors are USA authors! Only Melissa de la Cruz and Nicola Yoon were not born here and they apparently got here as soon as they could, and every story was set in the USA, like no other country in the world matters. I found this to be a big indictment of the 'fresh' claim: it really was very much same old, same old, and this made me sad. There's little point in talking about diversity and inclusiveness, and "#ownvoices" when it's all USA all the time, like there is nowhere else in the world worth writing about or setting stories in. It makes the whole enterprise hypocritical.

The blurb on Goodreads and on Net Galley says, "Careful--you are holding fresh ink. And not hot-off-the-press, still-drying-in-your-hands ink. Instead, you are holding twelve stories with endings that are still being written--whose next chapters are up to you." but this is disingenuous bullshit! All of these stories are copyrighted to their authors. You start writing 'chapter two' of any one of these and you will be sued.

The story titles are listed below with my comments on each. I'd heard of only three of these authors before through reading their work, so this felt like a good opportunity to 'meet' the others and see what they can do.

  • Eraser Tattoo by Jason Reynolds
    This story was a poor lead-in for me because it led me nowhere. I'd never heard of this author, so I was interested to see if I liked the story, but it turned out to be a maudlin meandering tale of a young couple who were going to be separated by distance. It felt like fluff to me - like nothing. People split up all the time, so if you're going to relate a story about it, you'd better bring something new to the table: a twist, a new angle, something. There was nothing new revealed here, nothing fresh. I guess there could have been, but a story like this needs to be handled better than it was. I found it boring. The title sounds almost sci-fi, but the eraser tattoo is quite literally a tattoo made from rubbing an eraser on your skin - and painfully so. I have no idea why anyone would want to do that, so from the off these two people struck me as morons and they never changed that opinion. I honestly wondered if this one had been included only because the title of the anthology suggests tattooing, and this is the only story which features it? If I'd known that the author had won the 2016 Kirkus Prize, for As Brave As You I might have skipped this story altogether. Kirkus never met a story they didn't like, which means their reviews are utterly worthless except in their utility in warning me off books I will not like.
  • Meet Cute by Malinda Lo
    After reading Ash and Huntress Malinda Lo was way up there in my esteem, and I was looking forward to reading this more than any other story here. Once again she came through for me with a sweet, gentle easy story about two girls who happily meet by accident at a comic con. While I do recognize the story potential inherent in such scenarios, I'm not a fan of comic cons or of that culture, so for her to bring a story out of that which impressed and pleased me was even more commendable. When I say the story was easy, I mean it was easy on the mind. The story itself was layered and complex with delicious subtle undercurrents. I always felt the ending had to be a happy one, but the author kept it up in the air naturally enough that it made me feel a small sense of panic that it would not. The two girls will not forget that particular comic con in a hurry.
  • Don’t Pass Me By by Eric Gansworth
    This was a story about the American Indian experience which has been an appalling one, and which is still going on far too long, but I didn't think that this was a very good way to relate it. It did make a point about how schools are designed for white folk, as evidenced in the predominantly white (or worse, pink!) appearance of characters in biology books, but aside from that it could have been a story about anyone undergoing acceptance problems, yet it wasn't! By that I mean I think this story would have popped a lot more if there had been two people enduring the same passive bullying and rejection, one of which was American Indian, the other of which was differentiated in some other way. As it was, it was just so-so and I'm not convinced it will achieve its aim which makes me sad to report.
  • Be Cool for Once by Aminah Mae Safi
    This story was ostensibly about a Muslim experience, as exhibited in this case by Shirin, but the story really could have been about anyone in her position Muslim or not, so it failed to make a good impression on me as such a story, and the writing never rose above your standard YA girl main character story. It seemed to have no focus, being much more of a generic story about two girls going to a concert and one of them having a crush on a boy than ever it did about what it felt like to be Muslim, and maybe isolated and different. You could have quite literally put any person in the place of Shirin, anyone who had some sort of issue, male or female, and pretty much told the same story word for word. It's been done! There's nothing fresh here. Because of this, it actually rendered Shirin more 'the same' than ever it did different, and I don't mean that in any positive way. I mean it was not a fresh story, and it didn't cut to the real chase, but instead meandered into some sort of ersatz chase that stood in for and thereby negated the real story that could have been told here.
  • Tags by Walter Dean Myers
    I did not like this one at all. It was written lazily, like it was a movie script, but with speech only, and no scene setting or 'stage' directions at all, and was so boring that I quit reading after a couple of pages. Big fail.
  • Why I Learned to Cook By Sara Farizan
    This was about a girl, Yasaman, who is Persian and a lesbian. She's come out to her family, but not to her grandmother because she doesn't know how grandma will take this news, but she eventually gets around to inviting Hannah, her girlfriend, over to grandmas and it worked out of course. This story I did not find objectionable, but that was the best I could say about it because it really was nothing I haven't read before. If you're going to do a coming out story you need a fresher edge than this one offered. If the story had been set in Iran, that would have made a difference, but the author played it safe. You're not going to hit any balls out of the stadium if you're afraid to really swing that bat.
  • A Stranger at the Bochinche by Daniel José Older
    This oen was really short and so rambling that I honestly glazed-over and could not take in the story assuming there was one to be had. I'm not sure what it was trying to say, but whatever it was, if anything, was lost on me.
  • A Boy’s Duty by Sharon G Flake
    I've read three novels by Sharon Flake and liked two of them, so she was batting a .666 coming into this, but now she's down to .500 because I did not like this one. It was about racism in World War Two, and an idiot kid who seemed to delight in pissing people off. There was nothing here to interest or impress me.
  • One Voice: A Something in Between Story by Melissa de la Cruz
    While I really liked the TV version of this author's Witches of East End, I did not like her original novel, nor did I like one other novel of hers (Frozen) that I read, so I was not expecting to like this, and my expectations were met. This story was like a dear diary with somewhat disconnected episodes in this girl's life. The message was about racism, but if the message is the medium, then the medium was tedium not freedom. It was so boring that the message was blurred beyond recognition which is truly sad.
  • Paladin Samurai by Gene Luen Yang, Illustrations by Thien Pham
    This was a graphic novel which was poorly illustrated (and even more poorly exhibited in Amazon's crappy Kindle app). It wasn't well told at all, which is why I gave up on it after reading two or three pages. I really didn't care about these characters or what happened to them.
  • Catch, Pull, Drive by Schuyler Bailar
    Schuyler (pronounced like Skyler) Bailar is a ftm transgender athlete, and this story felt like a memoir, because he's a swimmer who has been through this change, but it also felt dishonest because it did not reflect what he went through. While a change like this always brings difficulties, he seems to have had the support of coaches and teammates. This story is just the opposite and that doesn't mean there aren't people who suffer through this process; I'm sure there are because we are a long way from where we need to be, but for someone who has come through this change relatively unscathed, this story felt disingenuous. If he'd told his own story, even fictionalized as this was, it would have resonated far more with me, because not every story is negative and because we need an honest balance.
  • Super Human by Nicola Yoon
    This one actually did feel like fresh ink because it took an old problem and one which is still with us, and it needed a new twist. This did the trick, which is why I liked it. The story is of Syrita, who has been chosen to talk with a super hero known only as X, who has been stellar in the past but who is now not willing to be heroic any more. It wasn't clear from the story whether he was planning on simply retiring and letting the world go to hell by simply withholding his help, or if he would actually go over to the dark side and start wreaking revenge on a society he feels (with some reason) is chronically unjust. In the end, the real super hero here is Syrita, who proves to have a lot more faith in him than he does in society! The only flaw in this story was “And those dark black eyes” which is nonsensical. Either one would work, but black is dark do you don't need both!

So I was not impressed overall, and I can't recommend this collection. There are one or two gems in it and if it's worth it to you to buy this load of crude ore in the hope of finding a gem or two in it, then you may like it, but I definitely wouldn't like to buy this, only to find that most of the stories don't really offer what the title suggests they will.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Honey Moon Not Your Valentine by Sofi Benitez, Joyce Magnin, Christina Weidman

Rating: WARTY!

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

This is the third and last of this series I shall ever read! I liked this much better than the previous two, and I think that's because it really didn't feature Harry Moon, but his sister with the unfortunate name of Honey Moon. I liked her a lot better than him - at least she did something, but her behavior tended towards the mean and the cowardly, and instead of making the right protestations, she made the wrong ones, but like her brother, she never seemed to learn anything, least of all how dumb she was.

The book had its amusing moments, but otherwise was really nothing new, and it presented children with the wrong options, I thought. The entire story was of Honey Moon's completely misguided attempts to get out of a Valentine's Day dance, and int his it suffered precisely the main problem that the previous "Harry the magician" series suffered: if only people would talk to each other instead of acting like idiots and flying off the handle, then most of their problems would never arise. How hard is it to advise children to talk to one another - and to responsible adults? No magic required!

Again the book featured bullying, but never once was it suggested the children do the right thing - go tell a grown up, preferably a teacher if this happens at school! It's really that simple. Instead of addressing Honey's problem, the so-called man of the house quotes the Bible to Honey: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink." The idea is to show kindness, but he conveniently fails to quote the sentence which follows that in Romans 12:20 though: "In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."

It's hardly a kindness to shame someone so much that they feel like this, and most of the time it will not work. One again the Bible is the last place to go to get good advice for modern times, but it is a great place for reading about bullying and rejoicing in brutality. The whole point of this advice was to show kindness to those who bully you. Well, good luck with that half-assed plan. No, the way to deal with bullying at school is to REPORT IT! For goodness sakes, REPORT IT! If you want to show kindness to bullies, then advise them that if they do not stop, you will report it, and if they do not stop, then REPORT IT! It's that simple.

Once again the illustrations - all of white folks as usual, and yes you can judge this book by its cover - were done by Christina Weidman, but either she never read this novel, or the author did a poor job in describing Honey Moon to her. In the text, Honey's hair is described thus: "Her wild brown curls waved crazily in all directions." A couple of pages later it's described as a "wild mane," and later still as "long curly hair," so the take-home message is long, wild and curly, yet her hair is consistently illustrated pretty much as kempt, short, and straight: pretty much a bob! Even when she's depicted climbing out of a box of basketballs in which she'd tried to hide, her hair is straight, and very nearly perfectly arranged.

Again the book was formatted with unnecessarily wide-margins, and widely-spaced paragraphs so I'm getting the distinct impression that neither the authors nor the publisher has any love of trees. This, too, is a really poor message to send to children and overall, I cannot recommend this volume either.

Harry Moon Snow Day Color Edition by Mark Andrew Poe, Christina Weidman

Rating: WARTY!

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

This was yet another book in the Harry Moon wizard series and I liked this even less than I did the first. The situation has not changed. There is a derivative Harry the wizard boy living in a derivative town (Sleepy Hollow, yawn), permanently stuck in a derivate Halloween, and being harassed by trope stupid, but brutal villains. Again the illustrations are by Christina Weidman and again they depict whites only.

The villains work for the mayor, Kligore, whose motivation is entirely unclear. Why he is evil goes unexplained. What he hopes to gain from it goes unexplained. Why he keeps the town permanently at Halloween goes unexplained. Why no one outside the town even notices Sleepy Hollow is permanently at Halloween goes unexplained. Why the senior magician in situ never does anything to stop the mayor's evil goes unexplained. Why no adults or police in town ever even so much as try anything to stop the mayor's evil goes unexplained. Why Harry, supposedly the derivative last great white hope for salvation (in which other magical Harry book series did I read that now?) never ever ever performs any magic, nor seems to learn anything new goes unexplained. In short, the novel made even less sense than the prologue novel did.

The only difference between this and the previous one is that Harry is somehow now quite famous in town (for reasons which went entirely unexplained). Because the mayor is allergic to cats (despite employing a humanoid one as a minion!), he forgets to control the weather (why he must do this each night goes as unexplained as why he even wishes to do it), and again for reasons unexplained, it snows. So snow day! School is out! All the kids want to play in the snow, but the mayor's minions are ordered to stop them having any fun. Why on this day they're not supposed to have fun when on every other day the mayor apparently has no problem with kids having fun goes unexplained.

The villains, including the mayor's two sons, dress in white track suits and wear ski masks, and they patrol the town brutalizing - quite literally - the young children who are out sledding. They scare the kids, break the sleds, and yet no police ever show up! No one even calls the police and the parents of the town do quite literally nothing to stop it. Not a single parent even has anything to say about this terrorism. These violent and merciless kids are encasing blocks of ice in snow and throwing them at other kids' heads. Yet they face no justice whatsoever by the story's end.

Never once does the majestic white wizard Harry ever bring out his wand - because that would be inappropriate! What? This book was unnecessarily violent, entirely unjust, and was a wizard book in which the great wizard boy never does any magic, not even to save young kids from being hurt. In short, Harry is just as evil in passively letting this happen and not reporting it, as any of the mayor's minions! It's entirely inappropriate for young children to read, even though it is evidently written for the young end of middle-grade. Apparently the message being purveyed here is that bullying is wrong, but doing anything to stop it is also wrong!

The magic on the extremely rare occasions we do get a fleeting glimpse of it in these books is of the original Harry-the-wizard sort: mindlessly simplistic, except that instead of chanting two Latin words and waving a stick, they chant an English rhyme and wave a stick. There is no cost to anyone for using this magic, yet even though it is so simple and inexplicably cost-free, Harry still cannot bring himself to do it, not even to save young kids. Not even to save his friends. I'm sorry, but no!

Again, with its wide margins and widely-spaced paragraphs, this book is quite literally a waste of paper, and I cannot recommend it.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Trenton Makes by Tadzio Koelb

Rating: WARTY!

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

If I had known that author was a graduate from a writing program, I would not have requested to read this novel, because whenever I have read such novels in the past, they've universally been sterile, poorly-written, and boring with thoroughly uninteresting characters. The authors of such novels seem to be so tightly focused on the writing that they completely forget that the story is where it's at, not the technical writing of it.

I'd much rather have an indifferently-written, or even poorly-written, novel that tells a really good story than one which is exquisitely written, yet tells a less than mediocre tale. The blurb did its job and made it sound interesting: "...a woman who carves out her share of the American Dream by living as a man." but whereas the blurb was all sound and fury, the actual novel signified nothing. The main character was thoroughly unlikeable and had no saving graces.

How you can make such a story boring is a mystery to me, but this author managed it. I gave up at forty percent in because my mind was going numb. The blurb describes this as "A vivid, brutal, razor-sharp debut..." but none of that is true. Instead, what we get is clinical (have you ever tried to read a doctor's handwriting?!) and unappealing tale which meanders and mumbles and which offered me nothing whatsoever. A lot of it was confusing. To continue the clinical metaphor, I always felt like I was in an operating room after the operation was over. The most interesting part of the process was already long gone, leaving nothing but a messy OR in dire need of sterilization.

It's set in 1946 in Trenton, New Jersey, and Mrs Kunstler kills her husband and assumes his identity. I'd forgotten about this by the time I got around to reading this novel, so it was like coming into it completely blind, and I have to tell you there was nothing in that first forty percent to really clarify exactly what the hell was going on. If I'd wanted a detective story, with me as the detective, I'd have written one myself!

I actually had to go back and read the blurb to figure out why I'd even requested this novel to review in the first place! That's how bad it was. I know authors don't get to write their own blurbs unless they self-publish, but when the story is told in the blurb, you gain noting by being all coy about it in the novel itself. I know that's ass-backwards, but it's the way the professional publishing business actually is: you write your story and then the publisher turns it into something else in the blurb and you get a dissatisfied readership as a result.

If "stylized prose" means tedious, then yeah, the blurb got it right. If by "gripping narrative" the blurb-writer meant that you grip the novel ever tighter out of sheer frustration and annoyance, then yeah, they got that right, too. But no, it was not remotely provocative. No, it was nothing like incisive. The hyperbole of the burb was laughable, but there was nothing funny about a novel that promises so much and then utterly fails to deliver even a semblance of a decent story. I cannot recommend this one at all when the same patient in better hands would have survived the surgery handsomely.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Captain Canuck Vol 1 Aleph by various writers and artists

Rating: WARTY!

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

Captain Canuck evidently has a long history, but I was truly disappointed in this outing, which collects issues 1 through 6 and which was my introduction to this character. I should have realized from the cover image that it was going to be confused and unrealistic. Giant savage mutant polar bears are very much in the realm of fantasy and the disrespect for the polar bear itself was nauseating. As the name of the graphic novel suggests, this is essentially a rip-off of Captain America with sufficient changes made to avoid a lawsuit from meg-conglomerate Disney, and it was not a very good rip-off.

The artwork and coloring was fine enough, but the writing and the overall story was really and truly confusing. Worse, it was all violence and gore with no humor or humanity in sight. Even having read fifty percent of this before I gave up in disgust, I have absolutely no idea what this story was supposed to be about. Chapter one started out strongly with a man who evidently has no super powers but is augmented by technology, going in to rescue people from a burning oil facility. He encounters what appear to be zombies and as you know, anything like zombie is inevitably violent and irrational. This is a tedious trope.

if the man had no super powers, but merely uses technology, this immediately begs the question as to why there's only one of him! Why not train several people like this and make a team? That story would have had a much better dynamic than this one did, but that question (why only one of them) wasn't even asked much less answered.

This was clearly a comic designed for print and not for electronic distribution which begs the questions as to why the review copies are electronic. I'm about ready to quit reviewing comics unless I can get a print version or unless the comic is specifically aimed at the ebook market. Publishers and comic book creators simply have not got their heads around the ebook concept, and graphic novel publishers who ought to be all over it seem slower than other forms of publication for reasons which escape me.

Thus pages 11 & 12 are a double page, but there's no obvious indication of this, so I'd started reading straight down the page before I realized it went over two pages. The amusing thing was that it made just as little sense whether you read down each page individually or read right across both pages and then down, which involved a lot of swiping back and forth on a tablet reader.

The fact that some panels seem to run off the edge of the page is no guide because on page 12 there's one that runs off the edge and looks like it might go to a second page, but it doesn't! Logic? You're not welcome in this layout! Readability? Thou art banishéd! The same kind of thing happened on other pages. Clearly the designers were so focused on trying to make the individual pages look so 'edgy' and 'kewl' that they completely forgot that actual people have to read it and make sense of it. If they so obviously don't care about the whole reading experience, much less about the electronic version of it, why should I care about what happens in their comic? Really?

The story quickly became lost in itself, with Captain Canuck blundering around blindly trying to find the people he was supposed to be rescuing, little progress made towards any actual story-telling. Their only escape seemed to be down a toxic waste chute, which begged he question, what toxic waste? This was an oil refinery, They're so mercenary in such places that there is no waste. They use literally everything for something to reap every buck they can from the oil, and while oil and gasoline are toxic, it's not the kind of toxic that was suggested here. And any word on the environmental impact of such a fire? Nope. Who cares about the environment? And this is Captain Canada in effect? That was a bad miss.

Chapter two was worse. We got a confused flashback which brought the story to a screeching halt and contributed nothing to it except to add a meandering and unnecessary backstory. I detest flashbacks for that very reason. I plowed on gamely for another couple of chapters until I was halfway through this, but gave up because the story wasn't getting any better and it wasn't remotely entertaining. I cannot in good faith recommend this.