Showing posts with label fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fiction. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Nuts to You by Lynne Rae Perkins

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a short and adorable audiobook. The original novel is both written and illustrated by the author who is, I'm sorry to report, a Newbery medal winner. I normally detest stories that have won Newberys and avoid them and their authors like the plague, but this novel is not itself a Newbery winner, and so is totally unpretentious and completely loveable. Inspired by this one, I'm planning on reading more work by this author.

Squirrels are not the most reliable of mammals, so it means a lot to have a friend who will go to great lengths - at least great groves of trees anyway, to save a squirrel who was snatched away by a hawk. When Jed is carried off by the hawk, who ends up dropping him, his best friend TsTs (sutsuh, who is a totally happening squirrel) talks their other friend Chai into going with her to find out what happened to Jed. They end up finding a new community of oddly-speaking red squirrels, and learn of a threat to their home from those evil forest-flaying humans

Nuts to You is actually a well-wishing gesture in squirrel, and this story is full of fun, humor, and squirrel lore. I delighted in it and commend it fully as a worthy read.

Home Sweet Homicide by Craig Rice

Rating: WORTHY!

Craig Rice is an interesting and underrated author. She was the first female author ever to appear on the cover of Time magazine. Born Georgiana Ann Randolph Craig in 1908, she changed her professional name for her adoptive parents family name, putting her original family name first when she moved from journalism and radio writing, to detective fiction.

Most of her output was a series featuring three oddball investigators, none of whom was actually a police officer. She wrote other stories too, and this was one of them. Here, the three investigators were the children of a detective fiction writer. Maybe Georgiana was rewriting her own less-than-satisfactory childhood - and adulthood for that matter. She died before the age of fifty probably largely due to her heavy drinking, but she had issues with deafness, blindness, and she attempted suicide more than once.

This cheery story reflects none of that. It's bright, screwball, upbeat, well-written, and fun all the way through, I loved it. The title is emblematic of her screwball titles, too. Other titles were of a similar nature: The Big Midget Murders, The Corpse Steps Out, Crime on My Hands, The Lucky Stiff, The Pickled Poodles, and my personal favorite My Kingdom for a Hearse although I confess, it was a close-run thing between that latter one and the title of the novel reviewed here.

The three Carstairs kids, Dinah, April, and Archie, are left almost totally unsupervised while their windowed mom, Marion, is in one of her writing frenzies. They happened to be sitting outside on the porch when they heard two gunshots from their next-door neighbor's house, home to a woman who was widely despised and who was, it seems, blackmailing certain of her neighbors. The kids try to involve their mom, who isn't interested and so, despising the local cops for stupidity (the kids learned a lot from reading their mom's stories, including pseudo-gangster dialog, but unfortunately expended no effort in differentiating between fact and fiction!), they decide to undertake their own investigation, misleading the cops about the time of the shooting because they don't believe the husband did it.

They also believe if they solve it and give the credit to their mom, it will work miracles for her sales. Additionally, there is one cop they think might make the perfect partner for their lonely mom so they have to tread carefully, deny the police information they discover while luring the detective in to bring him and their mom into frequent contact. Published in 1944, this novel was made into a movie in 1946, but as usual, the movie doesn't follow the book too closely.

I completely loved this novel and I commend it highly.

Thor Ragnarok by Jim McCann

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a Disney-style audiobook based on the Marvel Movie of the same name. While I detest Disney's all-powerful mega-corporation status, and their lack of credit for the work people do on books like this, I do confess I'm a fan of the Marvel movies, and I was curious as to what they had done with this story which was aimed at younger children. In this case, the rewrite of the movie script was credited - to comic book author Jim McCann and the reading to narrator MacLeod Andrews who did a fine job.

It tells the story of Thor's battle against the Ragnarok beast, thinking he's won when he hasn't, of his return to Asgard to discover his mischievous stepbrother Loki has been impersonating Odin, and Odin's death, which permits the imprisoned sister Hela (whom Thor never knew he had) back into the world, and of her fight to take over Asgard and Thor's resistance to it - after he escapes confinement on a planet where the 'owner' captures tough visitors to make them fight one another for entertainment. It features the Hulk, and Valkyrie - an estimable addition to the Marvel pantheon of heroic women.

Apart from being tamed appropriately (and having some portions changed more than seemed necessary) it stuck to the story in the movie so it would make a decent read for young children who for whatever reason are not allowed to see the movie. So I commend this as a worthy listen.

Eloise by Kay Thompson

Rating: WARTY!

I saw an Eloise movie a while back and it was passably enjoyable, but nothing spectacular. Now having listened to most of these three short stories on this audiobook: Eloise first published in 1955, Eloise at Christmastime (1958), and Eloise in Moscow (1959), I am not impressed at all.

Why the collection did not include the fourth one, Eloise in Paris from 1957 I do not know, but it undoubtedly would have been as bad as the others, so no big loss. As it was, this was more than enough to bore me, which was unexpected since I had enjoyed the movie and the stories were read by Bernadette Peters who I loved as an actor. The problem with that was that Bernadette was in her late sixties when she read these and sounded like it, so it made the first person Eloise stories totally unbelievable.

The first story was tediously repetitive and juvenile in its approach. It made Eloise look like she was four instead of the more mature girl she supposedly was. The Christmas story was written in verse and was boring. The Moscow story was another short story that had Eloise sneaking into people’s rooms at night. I gave up on it at that point. No. Just no. I cannot commend this because it was simply awful: written poorly, read by an inappropriate reader for the character, and the stories had nothing interesting to offer.

Killashandra by Anne McCaffrey

Rating: WARTY!

This is the second volume in a trilogy and exemplifies why I have such a poor track record with series and why I flatly refuse to even think of writing a series myself. The problem is that, with some rare and treasured exceptions, the second volume must of necessity be a repeat of the first, because it's all you have. Yes, you can bring in new characters, but you're still stuck with the same original character you're writing about, who is going to do largely the same things. It's boring, lazy, and uninventive, and I don't feel that ought to be rewarded.

I really enjoyed Crystal Singer, the first volume, which is why I moved on to the second one, but here's where it predictably fell apart. I should have quit after volume 1! Killashandra is a crystal singer - or cutter. She 'mines' crystal by cutting it with a sonic knife on a cliff face, and in the first novel she found herself a nice claim which had a vein of black crystal. So valuable was it that she got to visit another planet and install the crystal in a communications system. Now in order to try and change-up this story for volume two, the author had her do almost exactly the same thing. Instead of black crystal, which had somehow been tragically lost in a planetary storm, she was mining white crystal - and sure enough he had to go off planet to install it in a system. Same old, same old....

This losing of her invaluable black crystal open-face 'mine' made zero sense. Yes, even give that a violent wind storm could wreck her mine face - which is a stretch - this crystal was so valuable and useful that it was unthinkable there would not have been a major effort to uncover that vein again, so premise was fouled right there. But having her repeat the first story - mine the crystal, escort it to another planet and install it? Boring.

The author tried to change this up by having a ridiculously conformist society whereas Killashandra is a bit of a rebel of course, and have an assassination plot. Yes, Killashandra was hit by what had evidently been an intended three-pronged bolt of death come at her, which she escaped with only minor injury.

Later when she snuck off without her escort, she was kidnapped and abandoned on a remote island. Why did this assailant try to kill her and then when he had her in his clutches, simply abandon her on an island instead of killing her as he had originally intended? It made no sense. But it got worse. She managed to escape from this and get back to society, but coincidence of coincidences, she ran right into the very same man who had tried to kill her and then had abducted her. He didn't recognize her - the most famous woman on his planet - because she now had a suntan. What? But it got worse. She got the hots for him - for her attempted killer and kidnapper. I'm sorry but no! Fuck no! This story sucked and I'm done with this author.

Strangers in Paradise vol 1 by Terry Moore

Rating: WARTY!

I came to this by way of reading another graphic novel, Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe, which I had enjoyed. They liked this series a lot, but we'll have to disagree on it, because I found it unappealing and unoriginal. This black and white line-drawing affair (illustrated decently by the author) is about the tangled relationship between Francine and Katchoo, who are roommates, David, who is interested in Katchoo (who appears only interested in Francine), and Casey, who married and then divorced Francine's ex, and later became interested in both David and Katchoo.

It felt like the TV show Friends, only rather desperately fortified with sex, and I never was a fan of Friends, which bored the pants off me, and not even literally. I felt that was one of the most stupid and fake TV shows I've ever had the misfortune to accidentally see a part of. I read most of the first volume of this graphic series, and found it completely uninteresting, with nothing new, funny, entertaining, or engaging to offer. That's all I have to say about this particular graphic novel.

I Smile For Grandpa by Jaclyn Guenette, Kathryn Harrison

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a sweet and instructional story about a young kid whose Grandfather is diagnosed with a dementia disease. The kid with the slightly odd 'name' of "Little Buddy" is used to going to all sorts of places and having fun with grandpa, but when his grandfather starts to become forgetful, it changes the relationship and in turn, the kid's life in many ways. Grandpa can't play soccer with him anymore, but he can sit and watch. He can't take "Little Buddy" camping, but they can still go if dad comes along.

Written by Registered Social Worker Jaclyn Guenette and illustrated by Kathryn Harrison, the book's colorful pictures complement the text and tell a warm and considerate story of how, even as things change, they can still remain the same in important ways. I commend this as a worthy read for young children whether or not they have a relative with a similar problem.

Tales From Nature: Ladybug by Magali Attiogbé

Rating: WORTHY!

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

Ladybug not actually a bug but a beetle. The difference between the two is that bugs suck. No really, they have mouthparts that function like a straw whereas beetles can chew. They're all insects. It's not a bird either, just FYI! The book title in Net Galley was Ladybug, but on the book cover it's Ladybird, as the British call these beetles.

Other than that minor confusion, the fact that the title on spine was still in original French (where the series is evidently called My Little Nature), and which also contains author's name, Magali Attiogbé (which isn't visible on front cover), and the fact that on page 4 the bug was missing her entire body and was reduced to being a hungry head only, the book was informative, colorful and interesting. I am sure lots of kids would enjoy having this read to them. Hopefully these issues will be fixed before the final print version comes out, and on that basis I commend it as a worthy read.

Tales From Nature: Bee by Magali Attiogbé

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a fun book for young kids to learn about nature - and they will need to learn if they're to make up for our incompetence in managing this planet. Notwithstanding the idiot denialists, climate change is already significantly and adversely affecting our lives, and it will only get worse as long as those in power do nothing about it. If our young people can understand what a precious home we inhabit and how important every little thing is, then maybe they can save us from our own addled and stubborn stupidity.

Books like this can help with that by inculcating in children a deeper understanding of nature and thereby a solid respect for it. In this book we follow a bee as she (not 'he' as the book blurb mistakenly claims) goes about her daily business of collecting pollen for food, and nectar for making honey, which is stored for use when pollen isn't available. A huge portion of our food supply is dependent upon the health and industry of worker bees. We will ignore this at our peril.

Again this was designed as a print book with fold-out flaps which do not exist in the ebook version (obviously!), so I was unable to get a complete picture of how the book itself will work, but the ebook version was informative and colorful. However, the page numbering was off. The last page wasn't 10, but 8, which was one page less than previous page. Page 10 was unreachable, so the book seemed to end rather abruptly. Not being the kind of reviewer who merits a print version, I'm forced to assume I saw the whole book, and I can confirm that what I did see is a worthy read!

The Woods by Rob Hodgson

Rating: WORTHY!

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

How can I not want to read a book that's named after my family? No, it's not really named after me, you silly goose, but the book isn't about geese, either. Or about woods - excepting in that it takes place in the woods. It's really about foxes versus rabbits, and while foxes are supposed to be cunning and crafty, you'll find that maybe the rabbits can teach them a thing or two, especially since the foxes aren't too smart.

I read and enjoyed this author's The Cave and if you're familiar with that, you'll realize he likes to put a twist in the tale if not in the tail, so expect one here! The foxes, one tall, one small, one round, all clowns, are hunting rabbits, but they're not having much success no matter where they seek out these liberated lagomorphs. Observant children might be a bit better at spotting rabbits than the foxes are. They can even emulate the foxes by maybe climbing on a chair to simulate climbing a tree, and crawling under the table to simulate crawling through a tunnel.

It's all about fun, and like The Cave this was a fun book. I commend it as a worthy read for young children. No rabbits here indeed! I don't know what the foxes were rabbiting on about....

Friday, March 8, 2019

Doc's Mobile Clinic by Marcy Kelman

Rating: WORTHY!

Based on a TV show created by Chris Nee, and illustrated by the so-called 'Character Building Studio' which appears to make heavy use of computer-generated imagery, this book actually wasn't half bad as it happens. It's also from Disney (although the show was produced by Brown Bag Films, it was shown on the Disney Channel and Disney Junior). The book was even mildly amusing.

Doc McStuffins likes to take care of injured toys and now she has a mobile clinic which hooks on the back of her bike, she can travel to where the injured toys are and fix them up, which is exactly what she does. This book depicts a kid of kolor who is actively pursuing her own goals and not afraid to wield the tools she needs to do it (and that's not a metaphor!). She's a self-starter and definitely not a princess, and she deserves some recognition as a much better and more realistic character than some of the whitewashed and flimsy female abuse that Disney has served up over the years and doesn't seem like it's going to give up on any time soon!

Perhaps this character only grew to be what she is because she didn't originate in Disney studios? Anyway, I commend it as a fun and worthy read and I hope Disney learns something from it.

Enchanted Moments by the Disney Product Marketing Team

Rating: WARTY!

This seemed to me to be a cynical offering from Disney. I have mixed feelings about this mega-corporation. They're way too big for one thing. Worse than that, they insist on churning out Star Bores movies that are so derivative as to be pathetic, and turned me permanently off the whole space opera.

But I do like what their Marvel unit puts out. The problem with Marvel is the same as it is with the 'princess' movies: it's all about the guys even though those princess movies superficially appear to be dedicated to their respective princesses! Most of the time, the stage is occupied by the male characters at least as far as speaking roles go. Apparently the princesses have little to contribute according to Disney. This weekend Marvel makes a major move to redress its deficit. What's its parent going to do?

This book, however, was just too much. It's nothing more than an advertisement for their Disney princess product line which is a part of the three billion dollar Disney product marketing machine. I have zero respect for the princesses despite Disney's limp efforts to retcon these girls into feminine powerhouses.

These days, if not always, Disney is all about retconning, taking public domain properties and turning them into movies and products, and then incestuously and endlessly feeding off of those same products by nothing more inventive or imaginative than repackaging. There's no originality here at all. Just how many times have they remade Cinderella? And now it seems they're embarking on a massive remake of everything. The only fresh thing they've had for years is Frozen, which I had a sneak preview of and enjoyed, but now they're essentially remaking that by adding a limp sequel.

This particular book consists of five thick cardboard pages, each starring a 'princess':

  • Cinderella, not really a princess, but certainly the girl with the smallest shoe size on the planet, yet whose movie stands alone in the Disney canon by actually giving her close parity with the male characters in terms of exposure, but the truth is that Cinderella really did nothing for herself. She had it all handed to her by her fairy godmother and her animal slaves.
  • Ariel was disobedient from the start, putting herself first and foremost in everything, and completely disregarding her father and the rest of her family in pursuit of her own selfish ambition.
  • Belle's actual name was Beauty in the original (contrary to Lady Gaga's dilemma, early Disney movies were all about the Shallow). Again, she wasn't a princess, and she curiously seemed to favor the beast in his animal form, but her worst trait is that she despises everyone else in her village!
  • Snow White was demoted from princess by the queen, and I've heard that she was Hitler's favorite Disney character. Perhaps the limpest of all princesses, she needed not one guy, but seven to validate her. And all she had ambition to do was clean house.
  • Aurora slept (and didn't even walk) her way through life until some dude kissed her without her permission - which admittedly would have been hard to give. She has the least to say of any major Disney character.

I find none of these inspiring and cannot rate this as a worthy read. It's really just a marketing tool

The Looking Book by PK Hallinan

Rating: WORTHY!

I loved this book. It's a great idea especially if, like the somewhat beleaguered, but upbeat woman in the story, you have kids who are glued to the video screen whenever they get a chance. It encourages them to get to the other side of the screen - the screen door that is! - and enjoy the great outdoors.

Mom hands the kids a pair of eyeglasses each, but there are no lenses in them! She advises the kids to put them on, and to go outside to see what they can see through these special 'glasses'. It turns out that the kids notice more wearing them than they're used to seeing - especially on the highly restricted and biased canvas of a video screen! It also turns out that they learn they can see just as much even without the glasses, so their whole world opens up. I think the story is a great and inventive idea to encourage kids to pay attention to the world around them and get away from the idiot box for a while. I commend it.

Me by Tony Bradman, Bill Brandon

Rating: WORTHY!

In the Care Bears Big Wish Movie, there;s a scene where Me Bear accidentally catches sight of herself in a mirror and exclaims in surprise, "Oh! Me!" which fro me, watching this with my kids years ago, was the funniest thing in the whole movie and made having to sit through the rest of it worthwhile! Maybe that's why this book title caught my eye (don't worry, there was no injury - I still have my sight!).

There's an interesting juxtaposition of last names between the author (Bradman) and the illustrator (Brandon) here! The book itself was very short and simple, and aimed at lending some identity to young children who may have been befuddled one time too many by peoples' tendency to tell them they have their mother's eyes, and their father's ears and this that and the other thing.

If all her parts 'belong' to someone else, then who exactly is she? It's a good question, and this book has her decide that she's not anyone, but herself, which is the only valid and rational conclusion! I think this might be a good read for kids who have been told one too many times that they're made up of bits of other people! I commend it.

Eloise and the Very Secret Room by Ellen Weiss, Tammie Lyon

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a fun book based on Kay Thompson's 'Eloise' stories. I've never read any of those, but I have an audiobook on reserve from the library. There were only five original books, one of which was published posthumously. They were originally illustrated by Hilary Knight. I did see a movie based loosely on them some time ago which was entertaining. I think it was titled Eloise at the Plaza. Thomson, who was born Catherine Louise Fink in 1909 died two decades ago, but her legacy evidently lives on.

The very secret room turns out to be the hotel's lost and found closet, and there is so much stuff in there that Eloise can spend all day hidden there playing games and dress-up using the various items she discovers in the closet. She's inventive and playful and has a good time, and so will any kid who reads this - or who has it read to them. I commend it as a fun book, with nicely rambling illustrations by Lyon.

Mike & Spike by Diane Namm, June Goldsborough

Rating: WORTHY!

Mike and Spike are magpies and this story is about a race to migrate south for the winter. The problem is that magpies really don't migrate, so I'm not sure where the authors got that idea from. That aside, the story was fun and nicely-illustrated by Goldsborough. It's a bit like the tortoise and the hare, but there's a fun twist at the end.

One of the birds is a dedicated flyer, taking off with his little backpack and heading south, whereas the other is a bit lazy and wants to find the easy way, so we get to see a variety of vehicles (cars, trains, a fire truck), as he tries to cheat his way there by hitching a ride, but of course none of these vehicles are going the distance. He also naps and lollygags, and gets there last, but he doesn't know his friend also cheated - and was smarter about it!

Safari Babies by Lisa McClatchy, Cindy Kiernicki

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a sweet book for young kids talking about African animals (mostly mammals as usual - you won't find a crocodile here, but you will find an ostrich) and their young. It's brief, colorful, and informative, and covers a variety of critters starting with Lions and zebras, and going on through elephants, gazelles, hippos, meerkats, warthogs, and so on - the usual suspects. A bit more variety would have been nice. Some emphasis on threatened species would have been good (some of the species here are vulnerable or threatened, but there was nothing said on that topic). Overall, this isn't bad for kids to learn a bit about the world, so I commend it as a worthy ready for young kids.

The Doorbell Rang by Pat Hutchins

Rating: WORTHY!

This was an amusing and nicely illustrated story that's really about math. Or is it really about sharing a plate of cookies? Anyway, it's really about generosity of spirit.

One or two kids are sitting down to enjoy a large plate of cookies, but that doorbell rings. More kids come in, and each time they divide up the cookies, the doorbell rings again. Finally they're down to one cookie each when that pesky doorbell rings again! Are they going to have to divide the individual cookies into pieces? Or maybe some good Samaritan will help them out?

This was a fun story about interruptions, good nature, and sharing, and I commend it as a worthy and educational read for kids.

Jamaica's Find by Juanita Havill, Anne Sibley O'Brien

Rating: WORTHY!

Jamaica (who may actually be from Jamaica for all I know!) is a young girl who likes to ride her bike and ride the swing in the park when there are few other kids around and no one is crowding to use the swings. This one afternoon on her way home she does just this, and discovers a couple of things that got left at the park. She returns one of them to the lost and found, but the little plush dog, which has seen better years, she takes home.

Then she feels guilty about it, and the next morning she hands it in to lost and found as well. Returning to the park she meets another little girl and on befriending her, learns that this girl lost something at the park the day before! I wonder what it could be? It's a perfect friendship. I enjoyed this story about honesty, integrity, and friendship, and I think it's perfect for young kids.

Deputy Dan and the Bank Robbers by Joseph Rosenbloom, Tim Raglan

Rating: WORTHY!

I can feel a bunch of children's book reviews coming on, and there aren't many more amusing ones to start it off with than this one. I rather suspect that the author had more fun writing this one than any kid will reading it, but it amused me at any rate. Some would argue that's easily done....

Deputy Dan is new to the job and unfortunately, he's rather a literal kind of guy. You tell him to answer the door and he'll go say "Hello" to it. You tell him to cover the door, and he'll fetch a blanket and hang it over the door. But when it comes down to finding criminals like the scrambled egg gang, he's willing to go to no lengths to catch them, and he doesn't! You tell him they're dirty crooks and he'll make 'em take a bath!

This was amusingly illustrated by Tim Raglan and even more amusingly written by Joseph Rosenbloom. My kids are too old for this now (or maybe not!), but they would have loved it when they were younger. I commend it as a fun read.