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

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Tootle by Gertrude Crampton, Tennant Redbank, Sue DiCiccio

Rating: WARTY!

This story - at one time the third best-selling hardback children's book in the English language - was originally written (in 1945) by Gertrude Crampton and illustrated by Hungarian artist Tibor Gergely. neither get credit here. Those who do get credit get no copyright. The copyright goes to the publisher. Highly suspicious. I'm not sure why Big Publishing™ decided this needed to be adapted by Redbank and re-illustrated by DiCiccio, but while the illustrations were sweet and colorful, I'm not sure about the message this book conveys to modern children. That message is "Most of all? Stay on the rails no matter what!"

That sounds far too much like "stay in your lane." Do we really want kids to be told that they have to follow the same track as everyone else? Maybe back in 1945 there was a culture that saw nothing wrong with offering advice akin to 'children should be seen and not heard', but in the twenty-first century, I don't want my kids to be told they can't go off piste. I never have told them that.

There's a different between going off the rails in a maniacal way, but that's not what's meant here. Tootle is trying to cut his own path - and admittedly he's forgetting his goal for the day, but he's also having fun, and finding out new things that he would never learn were he to rigidly follow those rails. As long as they were re-doing this anyway, a better story would have been to have him complete his task for the day, and then to sneak off the rails after hours and go do his own thing. A book like that, I could have got with.

I know there's a lot been said lately about staying in lanes - a lot of misogynistic crap included - but not all of the commentary on that has been well thought-through. I read an article titled "Gender Norms: The Problem With The 'Stay in Your Lane' Phenemenon," written by by Kourtney Kell where she actually wrote: "Was it because I thought I was going to get hit on? No, I wasn't even wearing makeup." This suggests to me that Kell seems to think she's ugly - or at least unattractive - without make-up. What? Talk about staying in your lane! I quit reading that article right there.

But the bottom line is that while there are certain societal conventions that are broken at one's peril, there is a serious problem with restricting children too much and trying to fit them into a certain box rather than let them choose the box - if any, they'd really like to get into. I know this book was simply intended as a fun young children's book, perhaps even intended as a lesson about following rules, but to me, in this day and age, it's far too contrtricting and I can't commend it as a worthy read.

The Hole by Øyvind Torseter

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a highly amusing children's book written and illustrated by a Norwegian writer (don't worry - it's translated into English by Kari Dickson). The first name is pronounced a bit like Irvin with a 'd' on the end. Quite literally the central theme of the book is that it has a hole right through it, cover to cover. The hole takes part in the story. When this guy moves into a new apartment and discovers the hole in his wall, he also discovers that as he moves around, so does the hole! Eventually he manages to capture it in a box and take it to a research lab where they conduct various experiments on it - determined to find the hole truth no doubt.

On each page of this large format book, the hole appears in different locales. It's a lightbulb on one page, a traffic light on another, someone's eye in another, someone's nostril in another, and so it goes. How they ever managed to match the hole so well to the drawings in putting together this book I can only guess, but it was well done and the book was very entertaining. I don't know what a child will make of it, but hopefully they will be at least as fascinated with it as I was!

I commend this book as a worthy read.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie

Rating: WARTY!

Here's an example of Christie reusing old material. One the characters is named Bella like the one in her Dumb Witness story, and also we have an instance here of Poirot being summoned to help out someone whose life is on the line and he arrives too late - again, like in the Dumb Witness story. It's also in some ways a case of mistaken identity as in Dumb Witness. The story takes place in Merlinville-sur-Mer in France where Poirot arrives with all Hastings at the Villa Genevieve to discover that mister Renauld was stabbed in the back with a letter opener the previous night, and left in a newly-dug grave by the local golf course.

The worst part of this story for me was the appalling reading by Charles Armstrong, who has no idea how to pronounce French words and repeatedly mangles ones such as Sûreté and Genevieve. When he tries to imitate a female voice his own voice sounds like he's being strangled. It was horrible to listen to and I couldn't stand to hear any more after the first 15 percent or so. I DNF'd this and consider it a warty "read".

I got hold of the DVD for Murder on the Links as well as Dumb Witness. Of the two, the latter departed from the book the most - and by quite a considerable margin, but I enjoyed that filmed story. It was cute and amusing, but Miss Peabody was totally absent, which annoyed me to no end. Murder on the Links, by contrast, was a lousy story which made no sense and in which Hastings was a complete dumb-ass (even more than he usually is) who got rewarded rather than getting his just deserts for actively perverting with the course of justice.

Having DNF's this, I can't comment on whether the book was as bad, but the TV show in regard to this particular episode simply isn't worth watching. Worse than this though was that despite the story taking place almost entirely in France, every single person spoke with a perfect English accent with no trace of actual French marring it whatsoever! Even French words like Genevieve and Sûreté were mangled. It was almost as though it was filmed entirely in England with a complete English cast! Whoah! Trust me, it sucked. I think it's by far the worst Poirot episode I ever saw and I've seen most of them so this one is double-warty!

Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie

Rating: WARTY!

This started out rather well, and was quite well read by Hugh Fraser, who played Poirot's companion Captain Hastings in the David Suchet TV series which covered very nearly all of Poirot's stories. The problem for me was that it descended into predictability and tedium in the last third or so, and the brilliant detective Poirot failed to see clues that even I could see, which tells me this story was badly-written.

I'm not a fna of detective stories which begin by telling us information the detective doesn't have. I much prefer the ones where we come in blind to the crime, just as the detective arrives. This one was not one of the latter, but the former, so we got an overly-lengthy introduction to the crime which to me was uninteresting and removed any suspense and excitement.

That said it wasn't too bad once the story began to move and Poirot arrived, but Hastings was a complete asshat with his endless whining along the lines of 'There's nothing to see here! Let's go home'. I'm truly surprised Poirot didn't slap him or kick him in the balls. I know this business of having a dumb-ass companion was set in stone by Arthur Doyle, but it's really too much.

The story is of the death of Emily Arundell, and aging and somewhat sickly woman of some modest wealth, at whom her relatives are pecking for crumbs before ever she's dead. After a fall down the stairs which she survives, Emily passes away at a later date, and after this, Poirot gets a letter form her which was somehow delayed in posting. It seems rather incoherent, but it does suggest she fears greatly for something. Poirot arrives to discover she died, and rather than turn around and go home, he poses as an interested buyer for a property that belonged to Emily so he can snoop around and ask questions. This part went on too long, too, for my taste.

Eventually Poirot's deception is exposed by Miss Peabody who for me was one of the two most interesting characters, and hands down the most amusing in the book. I really liked her. My other favorite was Theresa Arundell, whose initials, you will note, are TA, which have mirror symmetry. It's this that Poirot fails to grasp for the longest time after he learns that a person was identified by initials on a broach which was glimpsed in a mirror.

The problem though is that Christie fails to give us vital information that would have clearly identified the killer for anyone sharp enough to have picked up on this mirror image, so we're cruelly-robbed of the chance to nail down the actual killer, although some of the red herrings are disposed of with relative ease.

The final insult is Poirot's gathering of all the suspects together for the dénouement, and this is ridiculous for me. I know it's a big thing in these mysteries, but really it's laughable and spoils the story. It's so unrealistic and farcical especially since everyone, including the murderer, blithely agrees to gather for this exposure. How absurd! If the murderer had any sense, he or she would off Poirot before he had chance to expose the culprit, and thereby they would get off scot-free since Poirot is such an arrogant and persnickety old cove that he never reveals to anyone who the murder is until that last minute, thereby giving them ample opportunity to scarper!

I got hold of the DVD for this story from the library and watched it. I also watched Murder on the Links. Of the two, the former departed from the book the most - and by quite a considerable margin, but I enjoyed that filmed story. It was cute and amusing, but Miss Peabody was totally absent, which annoyed me to no end. Murder on the Links, by contrast, was a lousy story which made no sense and in which Hastings was a complete dumb-ass (even more than he usually is) who got rewarded rather than getting his just deserts for actively perverting with the course of justice. I can't comment on whether the book was as bad since I DNF'd it, but the TV show in regard to this particular episode simply isn't worth watching. Worse than all I've mentioned though was that despite the story taking place almost entirely in France, every single person spoke with a perfect English accent with no trace of actual French marring it whatsoever! Even French words like Genevieve and Sûreté were mangled. It was almost as though it was filmed entirely in England with a complete English cast! Whoah! Trust me, it sucked. I think it's by far the worst Poirot episode I ever saw and I've seen most of them.

So while there were some interesting and even fun bits to this audiobook, overall it was tedious, and I cannot commend it as a worthy listen.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Little Concepts: A is for Apricat by Mauro Gatti

Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

Jerry the Squirrel by Shawn PB Robinson

Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Lord and Lady Bunny - Almost Royalty by Polly Horvath

Rating: WORTHY!

This audiobook was laugh-out-loud hilarious, and while there were some tame bits, for the most part it amused me highly. I'm not sure who it was aimed at. It seems a bit too mature for a middle-grade or earlier audience, and a bit too 'bunny' for older audiences, but none of that bothered someone like me who is completely insane.

It's read in fine style by the author, and she does a great job. She seems to take an unhealthy delight, it must be noted, in pronouncing bunny with an explosive beginning and a whimper of an ending. That word appears in almost every other sentence. 'Rabbit' not so much.

This is a sequel to Mr and Mrs Bunny - Detectives Extraordinaire! which I have neither read nor heard, but which deficit I intend to rectify at an early opportunity. Fortunately this one worked as a stand-alone so I didn't feel robbed at not having encountered the initial volume first. Once again it's a case of the publisher not having the decency to put something on the cover indicating it's a part of a series. This is why I self-publish. I do not trust Big Publishing™ one bit.

In this story the bunnies, Mr & Mrs, travel by ship to England to inherit a sweet shop, and hopefully a title - like Queen - along the way, and the story is about their travel across the ocean, their struggle to get to the shop, and get it up and running profitably, and endure assorted mishaps along the way including an unprovoked assault with acorns by squirrels along the way. I tell you, those squirrels. If I had an acorn for every time....never mind. I do.

I commend this as a funny bunny story and a worthy wabbit wead. Or wisten! Be advised: Do not let it get anywhere near marmots.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Best Friends and Other Liars by Heather Balog

Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

Cursed by Thomas Wheeler, Frank Miller

Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. The publisher requested that reviews not be released until a month before publication, which is in October 2019, but since Amazon-owned Goodreads already has nearly sixty reviews as of this posting, I don't see any harm in publishing mine and getting it off my lengthy to-do list!

This was written like a movie and it didn't work. A novel needs to be written like a novel, but I understand this was conceived as a multimedia project and I think that was the problem: we really got a sort of a movie script translated into a novel. I understand Netflix has plans to televise this next year, but I won't be watching. I can only hope they do a better job in the writing, because although I was intrigued by the plot and I tried to like this, I couldn't get with it and DNF'd it at just over 25%. Initially, when I'd seen Frank Miller's name attached to it, I'd thought it was a graphic novel, but it isn't. It's a really long book which goes nowhere fast, and Nimue is sadly-lacking in anything to appeal to me in a main character

Having grown up in Britain, I'm familiar with the Arthurian legends, but I'm far from expert in them and I didn't realize, initially, that Nimue is one of several names that are given to the Arthurian Lady of the Lake. The thing is that in this novel, she was such a non-entity that I wasn't impressed with her at all. She's a changeable, inconsistent, weepy little brat of a girl who is all over the place.

Her mother's dying wish is that Nimue take this magical sword to Merlin, who will know what to do with it, but at one point very shortly afterwards, Nimue is considering selling the sword for some cash so she can escape! This is after she supposedly feels really wretched that all of her people are dead, and despite the guilt that she carries over a fight with her mother before her mother died. Shortly after that, when a guy wants to take the sword from her, she suddenly decides she wants to keep it from him and cuts off his hand! Way to keep a low profile Nimue.

What really turned me off this novel though, is how this guy Arthur (yes, that Arthur, apparently), moves in on her, starts stalking her, and suddenly she's getting the wilts and the vapors whenever she's near him. He takes over and Nimue loses all agency, becoming totally dependent upon him in true YA fashion. Barf. That's when I call "Check please, I'm done here." Why even have a female lead if all you're going to do with her is make her subservient to a male? Why even call the male Arthur? Just call him Jack and be done with it. That's the most over-used name in literature for the alpha male, so go with it, and forget about making your story original.

The book - in the portion I read anyway - completely abandons all Arthurian legend, just FYI. I didn't worry too much about that, because it was supposed to be different, but a nod and a wink to it here and there would have been appropriate. And in the end it wasn't different from so many others I've read. It was an Indiana Jones from medieval times: Arthur Jones and the Very Lost Crusade. That said, the whole thing about Arthurian legend is that it's always presented wrongly - with knights in shining armor. The people who gave rise to these legends never were those knights. Arthur was at best a tribal leader, dressed not in chainmail but in a leather jerkin and leggings.

Most of the writing, while shallow, was serviceable, but some of it was downright bad. We got the trope of the flecks in the eyes, which is so rife in YA that it's nauseating. Usually, it's gold flecks so kudos to the writer for going with green, but it's still flecks! That wasn't even the worst part though. The worst part was when Nimue noticed these: she was, for reasons unexplained, practicing sword-fighting with Arthur. It was night. They were hiding in a copse off the road, to avoid being seen, and at best had a small fire so how, in the virtual pitch dark, is Nimue going to see green flecks - or any kind of flecks - in Arthur's eyes? It doesn't work! Let's quit it with the YA flecks.

Did you know that 'whicker' describes movement? Well that's not surprising - because it doesn't! A horse whickers when it makes soft whinnying noises. It has nothing to do with movement - except movement of the lungs and larynx! Yet this writer has this: "He whickered his horse down the road at a trot." What the hell does that even mean? Did the horse whicker as it trotted down the road? That's not what he's saying here. Maybe he means the horse moved down the lane like the late Alan Whicker, the globe-trotting and much imitated British television presenter? That could work, I guess: "As the Kaleidoscopic Knights ride reverently along the rocky road, we have wonder why the nefarious, nincompoop Nimue isn't with them...."

At one point - during her ever-changing attitude toward the sword - Nimue declares, "I have to bring the sword to Merlin." Actually she has to take the sword to Merlin. I know in modern usage, people say 'bring' and it's bad grammar, but it's what people do. The question is, would this modern parlance have been in use a thousand years ago? I doubt it, and this is emblematic of another problem with the story - the modern lingo. I don't expect the writer to write it in medieval English, but I do expect at least a nod and a wink to cadence and modes of expression back then, yet here, the language is completely modern in every regard. Disbelief is not only not suspended, it's hung, drawn, and quartered, and dead and buried.

This inattention to what was being written sometimes comes back to bite the author such as in, "She realized that whatever was inside her darkness had made her come, had somehow drawn her there," which made me laugh out loud the first time I read it. It was merely bathroom humor I'm afraid, but the real problem was that I had to read this sentence twice more before I properly understood what he was saying.

That's not a good thing, and it wasn't the only time, but fortunately it didn't happen often. The damage was done though and the problem was that the unintended humor in that sentence made me keep thinking of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and having lines like "...if I went around sayin' I was an emperor just because some moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me, they'd put me away!" running through my mind didn't help to take this seriously, especially since I was having trouble taking it seriously to begin with! So while I think the basic idea for this story was a good one, the execution of if left far too much to be desired for my taste. I can't commend it as a worthy read.

Friday, July 26, 2019

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

Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

Brightly and Glow by Sophie Carmen, Christina Sanchez

Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

When I Imagine by Sophie Carmen, Fanny Liem

Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

Princess Ugg by Ted Naifeh, Warren Wucinich

Rating: WARTY!

PU turns out to be apt initials for this graphic novel. I came to this via Naifeh's Courtney Crumrin books that I really enjoyed, but this one on a new subject, despite being in glorious color (from Wucinich), standard graphic novel page size, and well-illustrated, left me feeling deprived of a good story. This is a fish-out-of-water story, which is the kind of thing I don't normally go for because they can be tedious and predictable if not done right, and that's exactly what happened here.

So Princess Ülga is supposed to be some sort of Viking warlord's daughter used to living rough, buff body, not remotely afraid to tackle barbarians with a battle axe. Curiously she speaks with a Scots accent. For reason which were not exactly clear to me, she's sent to a school for princesses, and of course all of the current students there are finely-mannered and even more finely-dressed, and they take exception to Princess "Ugg" as they call her, to even being there, let alone wanting to better herself.

You know things are going to be resolved, but this isn't a stand-alone so while there is some sort of resolution, the story isn't really ever over in a series. I really didn't like Princess Ugg despite becoming rather fond of Ülga. You never see women like this in the movies because they're far from what Hollywood considers to be a female ideal - and don't think for a minute that "diversity" is going to improve that narrow, blinkered perspective. It's still Hollywood.

I can't commend this as a worthy read although I do commend the creators for offering up a different perspective on what a female main character can be. She just deserved a lot better story than to be plonked down in the middle of a bunch of boilerplate Disney princesses with a wish upon a star that something fun would come from it. I recommend reading Kurtis Weibe's Rat Queens instead - it has a much more diverse set of main characters, and is an fun and interesting story as well.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Jem and The Holograms Dark Jem by Kelly Thompson, Sophie Campbell, M Victoria Robado

Rating: WARTY!

Back in mid-September of 2015, I favorably reviewed the debut graphic novel in this series by the same author, Kelly Thompson who also wrote a Marvel Jessica Jones graphic novel that I favorably reviewed this very month, but I can't do the same for this one which was confusingly written and told a really scrappy story. The artwork, drawn by Campbell and brilliantly colored by Robado was fine, but the story let it all down.

The story was what attracted me - how can you not want to read one titled 'Dark Jem'? really? The basis of this goes back to when Jerrica's father programmed Synergy - a device which could project animated holograms onto people to disguise their features, and this gave the confidence-lacking Jerrica the courage to appear on stage and brought her this great success. The problem is - we learn here - that there was a flaw in that programming which their dad could not get out, and now that issue has come back to bug them as it were, as the program itself projects a new version of the holograms - a goth metal band which can infect listeners with some sort of ear-worm turning them into mindless zombies.

Jerrica and the crew figure this out of course, but they also have to figure out how to beat it. Unfortunately, the story fell apart at around this same point and never got it back together, not even having a real ending. There was an interesting transgender character who came to audition for the band early in the story when lead (and only!) singer "Pizz" (that sounded too much like 'piss' for my taste!) partially lost her voice after an accident, but she disappeared without any fanfare about two-thirds the way through the story and Mz Pizz magically reappeared with the same lack of fanfare, and story just fizzled out at that point. It was nowhere near a patch on the original I read and was very unsatisfactory. I can't commend this as a worthy read.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Hope by Corrinne Averiss, Sébastien Pelon

Rating: WORTHY!

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

Hope is a gently-written (by Averiss) and beautifully, artfully illustrated (by Pelon) set out in about 20 double-page spreads depicting a young boy named Finn, and his large and very hairy dog named Comet. The two are very close and do everything together, so when the dog gets sick, Finn worries understandably, yet so much that it consumes him. His dad - almost as hairy as the dog(!) - comes into Finn's room one night with a torch (flashlight) and some advice, it resonates with Finn and turns his perspective around a little bit, so he learns to hope for the best and hang in there.

I really liked this story; it had a steady pace and an easy meter, and I loved the artwork which was exquisitely rendered. I commend it for any young reader, especially ones who might find themselves in Finn's position vis-à-vis a dog or any pet. I recently went through the loss of two pets - and these were not dogs but rats. I never thought I'd ever get attached to a pet rat, but these two were the inspiration for a series of children's books I started writing, and I bonded with them far too deeply, which left me devastated when they died, one of them last December right before Christmas, and the other five months later.

This book has a much happier ending than that, but I can also still recall how I felt when the first family dog we had when I was a child grew old and into a condition where she had to be put down, and it devastated me too. I've never forgotten how much that affected me back then, and if a book like this helps young children cope with such feelings, no matter whether the outcome is good, as it is here, or the worst, then it's well-worth investing in. I commend this as a worthy read for the message it carries and for the art is displays.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Giant Days Not on the Test Edition by John Allison, Lissa Treiman, Max Sarin, Whitney Cogar

Rating: WARTY!

I 'graduated' to this from the Bad Machinery graphic novels which I loved, but I was very disappointed in this one. Part of the problem is that Allison has sold out to American audiences, I think. I have to say that I can't get with a comic that has the same rhythm as a pop song. The format of this one mirrored US sitcoms which are lousy at best: one-liner, canned laugh, one liner, canned laugh, two one liners, extended canned laugh, repeat without rinsing.

The premise is that of three female friends at college (just like the three female friends at high school): Daisy Wooten, Esther de Groot, and Susan Ptolemy. I thought Esther was going to be like Charlotte Grote (especially given the name!) in the Bad Machinery comics but she wasn't a patch on Lottie. None of these characters was as interesting as the other girls, and the situations were so predictable, and not very inventive.

The worst part about it though was that pretty much the entire focus of this was not on the girls as it had been in Bad Machinery, but on the girls in relation to boys, which made them far less self-motivated and interesting, and turned the whole thing into a YA novel. I have precious little respect for most YA output. So in short, this was a fail for me and I have no intention of reading any more of this series. It's time to find something completely new.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

What You Don't Know by JoAnn Chaney

Rating: WARTY!

What you don't know is how bad this book is! This audiobook was so hard-bitten it turned me right off. It made me think of eating soft tacos that were encased in in heavy-duty aluminum foil instead of a soft tortilla. The reader was Christina Delaine, who pretty much growled her way through it and I couldn't stand the tone, nor did I like the story, so I gave up on it and consider this a truly warty read/listen.

The basic story sounded interesting from the blurb, but the execution as poor. The story is that of two people, one, a police detective who was involved in bringing down a serial killer, and the other, a newspaper reporter who covered the story. Now both have fallen on hard times, him stuck on resolving cold cases, and she selling make-up in a mall. How that happened I don't know because I didn't listen to this for very long, but when a new series of murders begins, both of these people see this, rather sickly, I have to say, as a chance to get their lives back. Why that would be, again I don't know, but it smacks of that old sawhorse of the retired police detective being pulled back in to solve a new case because evidently the entire police force is utterly incompetent and only he can save them. The same thing applies to the reporter in a different way. I don't like that kind of story, so I guess I should never have picked this one up. My bad!

The blurb mentions that the wife of the serial killer didn't suspect a thing, so she claimed. Now I'm wondering if she's the real killer and her husband was innocent, or at least whether they were working together, and that's how these murders have started up again, but I didn't like how this story was told, or the narrator, so I wasn't about to listen to it anymore just to satisfy that curiosity. The author spells her first name with a capital A, but because of the idiot cover designer, you'd never know this since her name is block caps. Another publisher fail! Long live self-publishing.

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

Rating: WORTHY!

This was an audiobook which started out great, got a little lost in the middle section, but came out entertainingly enough at the end for me to rate it a worthy read for the middle-grade audience it's aimed at. It's in the 'Rick Riordan Presents' series, which apparently meant he offered some advice during her writing of it, but what that would have been, I do not know since shortening the middle section was what was required, and he either never suggested that, or she didn't listen if he did! I guess it's good of him to give a boost to other writers (depending on the motive behind it!), but I am not a fan of his writing at all, so seeing his name on something is more likely to turn me away from a book than onto it! Fortunately in this case I read the blurb before I ever saw the Riordan name on it, and I was interested enough not to put it back on the shelf.

I think the character names might have been better chosen! I'm sure that pandering to a western audience wasn't Lee's first thought in writing this, Indeed, in some ways the novel is bigoted in that it presents a sci-fi scenario where everything is Chinese which is just as bigoted as a writer who presents the future as American or any other nationality.

I'm sure the author felt the names were great, and objectively they probably were, but looked at from the point of view of a person listening, who may not be used to Chinese names, hearing something like 'Yune Me', especially while distracted by driving to one extent or another, made the name sound rather like 'You and Me', and so it went! One character was named Min, but it was pronounced like it read 'mean', so that didn't work too well for western ears. The final amusement was a character named Inspector Suk (not sure about the spellings since this was audiobook).

But maybe that's just me who loves playing with words. The story itself was quite interesting, being a blend of sci-fi and fantasy. The main character is Min, who is described as a 'fox spirit' who is also a shape-shifter, but she never changes into a fox (not that I recall, although I did skip some parts during the boring bits!). Her brother Joon, is in the military as a cadet on a spacecraft, but he has disappeared. When a government official arrives in Min's insignificant little village on an insignificant little half-terra-formed planet, Min's trouble-making ways are highlighted, and she's threatened with being shipped-off to stay with an auntie. She is not pleased by this.

Rather than let that happen she runs away, and eventually winds up - in a bit too much of a coincidence - on the same ship her brother was on. Since she can shape-shift and see ghosts, she makes a deal with the ghost of another cadet who had died during an encounter with pirates, to impersonate him. I somehow missed how it was that his body never gave her away. The idea was that in impersonating him, she could help him move on to the spirit world, and for herself, learn what happened to Joon. The ghost really is of no help to her, so I was at a loss as to why he was even included as a character in the story at all.

The biggest problem was that for me, this is where the story ground to a halt. Min spent far, far too much time dicking around on the ship learning how to be a cadet and learning nothing of what happened to Joon. Recall that this is a girl who can shape-shift and is good at it, so she could have impersonated anyone, gone anywhere and discovered anything, yet it was all cadet all the time, and it was boring.

I began skimming the story at that point until she finally got off the ship and went unsurprisingly to what was called a Lost Colony not because they didn't know where it was, but because they couldn't use the planet due to the prevalence of unfriendly ghosts there. That's where Min found the Dragon Pearl and became a hero.

That part was also much better and was highly amusing in parts, so this is why I gave this book a worthy rating, although it had problems. Those problems did nothing to win me back to thinking that Rick Riordan knows how to write! All he's ever done is steal Greek mythology, inexplicably move it to the USA and put a white savior in charge. That's not my kind of writing, but for this audiobook: a worthy read with the above caveats.

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell

Rating: WORTHY!

This is something of a Cinderella story and it was also another of those audiobooks I seem to have been listening to lately which gets off to a great start, falls flat in the middle, but picks up again towards the end, so overall I consider it a worthy listen, but it had an issue or two here and there along the way. It was read by Bianca Amato who did a good job.

Wilhelmina Silver has had an amazing childhood in Zimbabwe, despite losing her mother at an early age. Her father was still around and she was allowed to run wild, learning all she needed to from her daily adventures and from the extensive library her father had in their ranch. But when he dies unexpectedly and his nurse movies in on the family and starts taking over, Wil suddenly finds herself on the outs and is eventually and summarily packed-off alone to an English boarding school while her home is sold.

To Wil, the people in her school are as cold as the weather and her spirits as dampened as the climate. Wil runs away from school and lives on her own on the streets (and in a zoo!) for a while before finally returning to the school and finding a place there. The novel tells a good and interesting story when it finds its pace, but there are times when it rather drags and you're wanting something to happen which doesn't. I'm not a big fan of school bully and cruelty stories, so I disliked that part. It wasn't so bad, but it was a bit overdone and too black and white for my taste. I found it hard to believe that girls of breeding who attended this school would have been so relentlessly, uniformly, and openly cruel as depicted here. It didn't seem realistic to me.

The worst part about this story is that Wil is presented in the early chapters as fearless, feisty, and indomitable, but in England she seems completely the opposite. Yes, she has some grit and some inventiveness, but she seems like a different character from the one we'd been introduced to earlier, and while I get that being torn from a comfortable and happy home and dropped unkindly into a new life for which they're completely unprepared can knock the stuffing out of a person, it felt a bit like a betrayal of Wil that she was so consistently and so interminably presented as weak and lost. It felt wrong and inauthentic, and did the character a disservice.

That said, she took charge and bounced back and that's where the story improved for me, so while it has its faults, it's not too bad of a story for an age-appropriate audience.

The Guineveres by Sarah Domet

Rating: WARTY!

This audiobook, read a bit like a chant by by Erin Bennet, started out well, but quickly became bogged down with pedantic definitions of saints and their purported achievements (which, based on the one I looked up, were somewhat fancifully rendered here, to say the least), and with hum-drum uninteresting activities which had already been described earlier in the story, instead of getting on with the story. I ended up becoming annoyed with it. It didn't help that it was one long flashback told in perfect recollection by one of the girls as an older woman, who can apparently recall minute details and conversation verbatim.

Set in the years of World War One (or so I believe - it was never specified), the story is of four girls named Guinevere, but who all very conveniently go by completely different nicknames, not one of them electing to go by her full name, so we have: Ginny, Gwen, Vere, and Win. They are also the same age, give or take, and all arrive at the Catholic school within a relatively short time period, and naturally gravitate together. This felt a bit unlikely not to say unnatural, but I was willing to allow that for a good story. It started out well, with the four planning a breakout from the convent, but getting caught. They were sentenced to work in the 'hospital' which is where the next thing came up.

Several severely-wounded soldiers are brought in, all of whom are not much given to doing anything other than laying there. After seeing a more senior student 'escape' the convent by being sent out along with the soldier she was caring for, to continue his care at his home, the four Guineveres all adopt one of the remaining four, and start spending time with them, praying for them and talking to them in the hope of getting the same break. It doesn't work and things start to go south.

There were some moments of hilarity, and I always felt like "The Guineveres" might do anything to entertain me at any given time. I loved the collective name for these girls and kept hoping for good things, but the problem is they almost never were delivered. The story was slow and pedantic, and The Guineveres failed to live up to my hopes, much less my expectations. I ended up skipping the parts whenever a saint was mentioned because they quickly became tedious, and then this led to skipping the boring parts and finally I realized I was skipping and skipping, and not for joy(!), and I gave up on it altogether. The book had a lot more potential than it ever delivered and left me sorely disappointed.