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

Monday, September 3, 2018

Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour by Bryan Lee O'Malley, Nathan Fairbairn


Rating: WORTHY!

Last volume! A worthy read. Scott finally confronts Gideon, who is much less of a mystery figure in the book than he is in the movie. Ramona has vanished and Scott is so stupid that he thinks she has gone to Gideon despite clear indications to the contrary. Unlike in the movie, she never does go off with Gideon and is entrapped by him only in her mind. Also unlike the movie, and I'm sorry for this, Knives Chau never does become a ninja maiden and fight against Gideon alongside Scott. I think the movie makers made a wise choice in that departure because that scene was awesome.

The character interactions were much warmer and more realistic (and still amusing) in this volume and in volume five, and it made for a deeper and better story. Again, Kim Pine was outstanding. Again Ramona wasn't quite and scintillating as she was in the movie. It felt like some things were not wrapped up here, but that didn't really spoil it. Anyway, after moping over Ramona for the first half of the book, Scott decides to confront Gideon at the opening of his new club and the inevitable battle begins. Scott is killed, but he has gained for himself another life during his previous episodes, and comes back to life, better than ever.

Ramona and Scott don't go off into the sunset at the end, but they do go off into the subspace world which works even better. I commend this as a worthy read.


Scott Pilgrim Vs. the Universe by Bryan Lee O'Malley, Nathan Fairbairn


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the penultimate volume of the Scott Pilgrim hexalogy and after having not really liked the middle two so much, I'm happy to report that the trailing bookend pair were pretty good. They were a little bit different and had more soul to them, and they were more entertaining. The artwork as usual was as usual.

In volume five, he faces off against the Japanese twins, who keep sending robots to attack him. This is completely different from the movie, and is actually more entertaining. The movie was a bit repetitive itself in this regard because the battle with the twins was really nothing more than an amplified version of his battle with Todd Ingram, whereas in the book, it's necessarily more extended and more inventive.

Also, the intriguing Kim really starts coming into her own, not least of which is for noticing - and photographing - the fact that Ramona has a glow, which I was sorry to learn never actually was explained. Anyway, that aside, I commend volume five as a worthy read.


Sunday, September 2, 2018

Tib & Tumtum by Flora Grimaldi, Nicolas Bannister


Rating: WARTY!

This is a Calvin and Hobbes wannabe and it fails. It also has elements of Minecraft in it in that this area looked like a series of giant stacked flower boxes straight out of Minecraft's lack of design workshop. I learned later that it was supposed to be a cliff! The art other than that, by Bannister, wasn't bad. The stories by Grimaldi were boring and uninventive.

The story is of Neanderthal kid Tib, who has a birthmark in the form of a red splash around his left eye. Other kids constantly make fun of him because of this. He's friends with a dinosaur (the Hobbes of the duo) named Tumtum, which animal his mother detests because she thinks it's dangerous. Well, it is to bird chicks, because this one poor nestling who fell out of the tree was swallowed whole and eaten by the dinosaur without a second thought.

The entire graphic novel is a series of one page cartoons retelling the same stories of cruelty and stupidity and bullying and loneliness over and over. The kid is bullied by his peers, or he plays with the dinosaur. His parents are largely absent and don't seem to care how miserable the other kids make him. The story is a disgrace and therefore warty.

Anyone who thinks humans and dinosaurs ever lived at the same time in history is a moron, period. I'm not going to recommend a book that panders to that while at the same time offering nothing to ameliorate it and make it worthwhile suffering this fictional lie. If it had been a sabertooth cat for example, in place of the dinosaur, it would have made more sense, but I'm guessing that the authors didn't do that because it would have shown exactly how much of a cheap rip-off of Calvin and Hobbes this book truly is.

The book doesn't even attempt to teach any history with all of the people having a modern mindset and using a modern vocabulary. All the author did was to take the laziest way out possible: put modern people into stone-age times, add an anachronistic dinosaur and hope people will (literally) buy it, without making any attempt to offer anything original, educational, inventive, fresh or new. Why not rip off the kids? It's pathetic.


Saturday, September 1, 2018

Hild by Nicola Griffith


Rating: WARTY!

This is a tome! A five-hundred page novel which I normally avoid like the plague for the very reasons which led me to DNF-ing this one.

I normally do not trust a book by its cover, because covers are so misleading. Experience has taught me that they're all too often created by someone who has no idea what's in the book, and so the cover has nothing to do either with the author or the novel. This is why I laugh out loud when I learn of some idiot author hosting a big "cover reveal" like it's some spectacular event. I ahve no time for that. I'm much more interested in what you wrote, not how pretty your cover is.

The cover of this novel shows a young woman in armor à la Jeanne d'Arc, and it;s entirely misleading. The woman in the novel - at least as far as I read - is no warrior woman; she's a mystic. Even that would have been fine by me if the novel had gone anywhere, but it never did - not through the first thirds or so of it, which is when I gave up on it because it was becoming tedious to read and literally nothing was happening.

If I had wanted to learn about the dark ages, I would have read a scholarly book about it instead of this one. I don't mind some atmospheric scene setting, but when it hampers the story, it's too much. I don't want to spend my reading time learning how much research the author did! I want to spend it seeing the characters do interesting things, have meaningful interactions, and go to fascinating places. There was none of that here. This character, Hild, was one of the most passive and tedious characters I've ever read of in a book. I'm sorry but no!


Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together by Bryan Lee O'Malley, Nathan Fairbairn


Rating: WARTY!

On to volume four, which was just as much of a disappointment as volume three, and for the same reasons: one note story, nothing fresh on the table, repetition of the motifs from previous stories.

Thee was a mild improvement which came from this short section where Knives's dad comes after Scott with a sword and ends up killing off one of the exes which is left entirely out of the movie, but that was about it. Everything else was humdrum. Even Ramona! Even that section was a bit stereotyping in that her Asian father is portrayed as a sword-weilding vengeance seeker.

I was thinking about this Ramona issue, too, and I think one of my problems with this was that Ramona was portrayed so perfectly by Mary Elizabeth Winstead in the movie that the graphic novel version of her looks rather threadbare in comparison. She has her moments but she cannot hold any sort of decent candle to the movie Ramona.

Another problem I had with this was that it was more exploitative than previous volumes: a lot of female characters were drawn seemingly for purely carnal purposes than I recall from the earlier outings, including Knives, whom we're told is still seventeen. It's like on the one hand the author wants to represent her as an innocent child in need of protection, but on the other he has no problem depicting her in a bikini on a beach for no purpose other than to show her ass (which appears more than once in this volume).

So, I was not impressed with this one either, and I cannot commend it.


Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness by Bryan Lee O'Malley, Nathan Fairbirn


Rating: WARTY!

Now it's my sad duty to report on two failures by Bryan Lee O'Malley. Volumes three and four of this series. Starting with volume three. This is one reason why I dislike series as a general rule because they are frequently so derivative and lazy and it's hard to be genuinely creative when all you;re really doing is telling the same old story over and over again which is all too often what series end up doing.

I came to this by way of the movie which I'd been in two minds about watching for some time, but I discussed it with myself and we came to an agreement: I wouldn't spoil the movie if I agreed to give it a fair shot. I watched the movie with my kids and it was hilarious, so then I decided to go to the source and read the graphic novels.

There are six and I didn't realize that the movie encompassed all of them. Given what had happened with the first volume, it quickly became evident that some serious departures from the books must have occurred over the remaining five volumes and sure enough, this was the case. I was hoping this meant more fun, but starting with volume two, the graphic novels and the movie parted ways increasingly while still telling the same overall story.

The problem was that while the movie told a cogent and succinct story, the graphic novels were all over the place and I could see why much of it had been cut out of the movie. I could also see that if you really liked the graphic novels, and then moved on to the movie, you might not like it so well, or vice-versa.

I positively reviewed the first two volumes. Volume one was like watching the movie - which had been taken almost frame for frame and word for word from the comic. Volume two departed somewhat but was still a worthy read. After that it has gone downhill, based on my experience of volumes three and four, I'm sorry to report. It would seem like there's not a lot new that can be added given that the author has locked Scott into fighting every one of Ramona's evil exes.

Volume three is entirely about Scott's run in with Ted Ingram, Envy's band-mate and boyfriend, aka The Vegan. There's also a lot of fluff tossed in which did not entertain me. The story continues with the flags added to characters, like telling us that Knives Chau is seventeen, or tallying up how much Scott won for beating an opponent, or what kind of an outfit he's wearing, or telling Ramona he loves her. These are things we already know and it was simply irritating to read those this time around. It wasn't inventive any more, and it brought nothing fresh to the table.

So the hot potato of volumes one and two was now a wrinkled, drying, sprouting and slightly smelly potato that cannot be improved, no even by frying, and overall I can't commend this as a worthy read. If you're addicted to the series or if you haven't seen the movie and want to find out how it play out, then go ahead by all means, but it left me disappointed.


Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a fun graphic novel in nicely-drawn grayscale, about this girl, Anya Borzakovskaya, a Russian émigré who lives with her kid brother and her mother, and is trying not to feel like the odd one out at this private school she attends, trying to play down her origins, losing her accent, trying to fit in. She even refuses her mother's сырники (syrniki, a sweet cheese fritter. I had to look that up after first translating the Russian!) because she thinks she's overweight. She really isn’t, but shamefully slick advertising has brainwashed far too many girls into thinking they are.

I couldn’t quite follow how she ended-up going home in the dark though a deserted field, but she did. And she fell into a well. Fortunately, all was well, because despite the depth of it, she landed at the bottom without breaking or spraining anything. The problem is that it’s a deserted area and there's no one around except these bones, which bring forth the ghost of the girl, Emily, who once owned the bones. This is Anya's ghost.

When Anya finally is discovered and gets out, Emily, whose ghost has been tied to her bones for ninety years, somehow manages to follow her. At first this freaks out Anya, but after she discovers that Emily is useful, she becomes somewhat less fraught with misgivings. Emily can’t be seen by anyone else, and so is able to crib answers from other students during a test and relay them to Anya, for example. Having spent a lot of her free time reading fashion magazines in Anya's bedroom, Emily is also able to advise Anya on how to dress to kill, and put on make-up for a party she wouldn’t normally have attended.

It would seem that all was well with this new relationship in Anya's life, but when Anya starts talking about putting the ghost to rest, Emily deflects the matter repeatedly. Anya is a strong female character though and pursues the quest unbeknownst to Emily, co-opting the aid of another Russian émigré, a boy whom Anya had had little time for until now. What she learns from her investigation is disturbing, leading to a disturbing confrontation with Emily.

I really enjoyed this story. It was in some ways reminiscent of others I've read or seen in movies, but nonetheless fresh and very entertaining. The artwork was sweet, sand the main character, Anya, was admirable and very cute. I definitely would read something else by this author, and especially if it featuring this same character.


Seconds by Bryan Lee O'Malley, Jason Fischer, Nathan Fairbairn


Rating: WORTHY!

I've slowly become a fan of this author, and this was no exception despite a new team coming on board, with Jason Fischer co-illustrating and Nathan Fairbairn coloring.

Katie Clay (as in 'subject to being molded') is a chef who is the founder and co-owner of a restaurant called Seconds, but she longs to start her own place, and has been putting money into this derelict place she plans on naming 'Katie's'. How she is the founding owner but also co-owner of this restaurant isn't explained.

She has an ex, Max, who seems to want to get back with her, but the reason why they're no longer together isn't given and Katie seems rather resentful of him. She's having a very casual affair with the cook instead, and trying to figure out the deal with this tall dark waitress, Hazel, who has been working the tables at the restaurant for a while, but who is an enigma to Katie, not least because she draws curious pictures of this odd-looking girl in her spare time.

Katie has two encounters, one with some magic mushrooms (no, not that kind!) growing under the floorboards, and the other with Lis, who is apparently the house spirit of the Seconds establishment, which is housed in a venerable building. Katie lives in the attic room of this building. One night, Lis appears and introduces Katie to the mushroom before Katie finds out where they grow. Katie gets a do-over and can fix problems from the past by writing her wish in a notebook which Lis also gives her, and then eating the mushroom while on the premises. In the do-over, Katie is the only one who knows that this is an alternate reality.

Katie's told she gets only one do-over, but she's not happy with it, and when she discovers the mushroom trove, she steals twelve of them. Despite Lis's angry admonishment, and she begins doing-over her do-over multiple times. In her do-vers, Katie becomes closer to Hazel and discovers that Hazel is drawing Lis, but cannot see her. Hazel is also the one who placates Lis by leaving clothing and bread for her in the rafters.

This story is in some ways reminiscent of the movie The Butterfly Effect in that her do-overs seem to progressively make things worse rather than better, and with Lis's help, Katie realizes that there's a third influence working against her wishes. In the end she manages to get what she thinks she wants - and certainly what she can live with.

The drawings are simplistic and offer limited coloring, but are nonetheless well done and charming. They tell as much of the story as the text does. While I wasn't sure about Katie's feelings for Max or why she had them, or why she misbehaved, I did enjoy the story. It's easy to get through and entertaining. I commend this graphic novel as a worthy read.


Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves


Rating: WARTY!

After reading about a third of this I came to the conclusion that while librarians may be experts on the concept and management of books, this doesn't necessarily translate to the content of a book. For a novel written by a librarian, this book was lacking far too much. It made no sense, was poorly written, and was larded with cliché.

The story is your usual teen trope: a new girl in a new town having acceptance problems. The author throws in the supernatural, but instead of this making the story better, it made it far worse. It didn't help that said teen, Hanna, wasn't remotely likeable. She was living with her aunt, but decided to hit her aunt over the head with a bottle, and leave, thinking her aunt was more than likely dead, to move to small town Texas, where her mother lives. This was a good move since both of these women were quite evidently sociopaths at best, and belonged together.

Hanna hears her dead father talking to her until she starts back on her meds, having negotiated with her mom a two week stay of eviction to prove she can make friends in her new school. Thus far there had been nothing remotely plausible in this story, but that was about to improve. Soon there would be nothing conceivably plausible.

Despite the school being possessed by some parasite that resides in the windows and can turn a living being into glass while sucking the life force and all organic tissue from them, not one single person: not her mother, not her teachers, nor her classmates, tell her a single thing about what's going on, nor do they offer a single warning to her, or a single piece of advice on how to protect herself. I'm sorry but no. The author has made the typical YA writer's blinkered assumption that every single person is exactly the same, has the same feelings and motives and will treat a newcomer to the school in exactly the same cruel manner. I've come to expect this from your average female YA writer; I made the mistake of expecting more from a librarian.

Worse than this, this supernatural crap has been going on at this school for months, yet not a single alarm has been raised about kids dying or going missing. No one from out of town has any idea there's something seriously wrong with this town?

There's also something seriously wrong with the majority of YA authors. A few of them are brilliant, but far too many of them seem to be incapable of creativity or imagination and end up taking the road of least effort, cloning everything everyone else has already written, and applying the same brain-dead ham-fisted techniques of authorship to it. YA is the most blundering, dead-end, mindless, derivative, festering swamp of unoriginality and cluelessness, rivalled only by chick-lit café and/or bakery 'sleuthing' genre (I flatly refuse to read any novel that carries the word 'sleuth' on the cover), and by the chick-lit 'poor spineless rejected girl flees back to her home town and meets Mr Ri-ight like that's going to happen, and he'll save her because he's a manly man and she's just a poor weak woman' garbage genre.

This particular example of all that's wrong with YA has the 'girl hating the guy that you know for a fact she's going to be swooning over in short order' trope. It has the 'no one tells her shit' trope; it has the 'throw the girl together with the guy she supposedly hates' trope. Frankly, it would be easier to list the tropes it doesn't have so I'll stop there. The thing which finally made me throw this book out before it made me throw my breakfast out of my stomach was when the girl and the guy were thrown together after she encountered the evil thing in the glass.

So this guy invites himself to her home afterwards, and she tells him he can't come in, but he pushes his way in anyway and she has no problem with that. At least now they both have the chance to sit down and finally discuss everything that's been going on, right? Nope. Not a word. He explains nothing and she's far too brain-dead to ask any intelligent questions. This novel SUCKED, period.


Fishtale by Hans Bauer, Catherine Masciola


Rating: WARTY!

Read acceptably by Adam Verner, this turned out to be a boring audiobook that had initially sounded interesting. The story is of this oddball family whose mother loses her wedding ring to a particularly hungry fish, which has bitten her finger and won't let go. Before it could be caught and made to barf up the ring, the little fish is eaten by a cormorant which in turn, while chasing another fish, is eaten by a much larger catfish in the shady water. It's rather like a nesting doll or maybe like the layers of an onion, but this doesn't mean the missing valuable is an onion ring!

The main character (maybe - I really couldn't tell from the story) is Sawyer Brown, whose Mississippi family has a catfish farm. After his mom is bitten by this ring-hungry fish, she gets sick, and sawyer decides that this is connected with her ruing the ring. Naturally he has to go on a quest to get it back. It was at this point that I lost interest in the story. It may well appeal to a younger audience, but I've read many stories aimed and younger audiences and enjoyed them. This one just piscined me off. There really wasn't anything in it to pull me in (the big fish notwithstanding!), even when I tried to see it through younger eyes than mine.

I can't therefore recommend it based on the 25% or so I listened to. One problem I had was keeping all the characters clearly defined in my mind. This may have been because I was driving while listening, and when I drive my primary focus is on the road, but the morning drive is usually quiet and uneventful and I don't usually have this problem, so I can't help but think this was because my mind was wandering for no other reason than that the story simply wasn't engaging it.


Matt the Green Cat by Jenny Mitchell, Abira Das


Rating: WARTY!

I wasn't impressed with this. The story, written by Jenny Mitchell, and illustrated colorfully but lazily by Abira Das, is supposed to be about accepting differences, but the cat really isn't different: it's just paint-stained, so that it's green instead of ginger. Perhaps this isn't going to be noticed by young children, but it bothered me.

Matt the cat is green. His mom was repainting the wall in one of the rooms in their house (so kudos for allowing that a woman can paint rather than defaulting to the dad!), and Matt got splashed. Rather than put him in the tub and wash him off, everyone seems to suddenly accept that Matt is now green and is stuck with it.

This struck me as weird also! The rest of the story is then about Matt parading aimlessly around and being accepted by everyone he meets with no issues. I don't think that quite gets to the core of the matter! Unless the author's intention as something quite different from what I thought it was (color-prejudice), which is quite possible.

I had a problem with Matt in that every picture of him was pretty much the same - like the artist could paint only one perspective. I swear his head was reused several times and never once does he look at the reader. This gave him an air of arrogance and superiority which mitigated strongly against the air of affability with which the author seemed to want to imbue him. Again, it's for young kids ands maybe they won't notice, but why take that chance?

The worst problem with this book though is that the image wouldn't shrink to fit the iPhone I first read this on unless the iPhone was in portrait position in which case it was way small. it was way small anyway, so I looked at this book on my iPad and had the very same issue! It's not just the iPhone, it's Amazon's crappy failure of a Kindle app - yet again!

It was really annoying too, because picture was always larger than the screen which meant that often, the text wasn't visible. You either had to pinch the picture to reduce it and hold it to read the text, otherwise it would spring right back to oversized, or you'd have to slide the picture up and down (the width was fine, it was just the height that was off screen since my phone isn't square but rectangular!) until you found the text to read it.

Amazon doesn't care. They're so big, they don't have to care! Why waste effort on improving a free app when they can frustrate you through their incompetence to buy a device instead? This is one more reason why I thoroughly detest Amazon.

So, in short, I cannot recommend this, and I wouldn't advise selecting this book to read at all unless you do have some sort of tablet computer to read it on that's bigger than a phone.


Woody Saves the Day by Harvey Storm


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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


The Sleeping Dictionary by Sujata Massey


Rating: WORTHY!

It's appropriate I should start listening to this audiobook the day after Indian Independence Day (August 15th). It's first person voice, but listenable for once, especially since it was read very well by Sneha Mathan. I could listen to an Indian woman talk until the Brahma bulls come home, their voice is usually so mellifluous.

There was a film released in 2003, which I haven't seen, about this same topic and with the same title. The two aren't connected, and the book is supposedly different and was published in 2013. The story begins in 1930 and is about a girl whose entire family is wiped out in a tsunami, but who then goes on to be a force in the fight for Indian independence. I have to say that I felt let down by the ending, which could have been a lot better, but I'm not going to let that trip up the earlier story which was engaging and captivating.

As far as I know, this is not true, but the term 'sleeping dictionary' is supposed to refer to the mistresses that the English male occupiers of India took to bed with them and from whom they learned some language and some culture. Perhaps many people today do not realize just how many words came to England from Indian back then. Words like Bungalow (for a Bengali style house - single storey with a low roof). Cot is another one. Avatar; bandanna; bangle; calico; cheetah; chintz; chutney; cummerbund; cushy; dinghy; dungarees; gymkhana; guru; jungle; loot; mantra; mogul; nirvana; pajamas; pundit; shampoo; thug; typhoon; veranda.

Juggernaut comes from the Indian god Jagganath and the unstoppable cart upon which the god's effigy was placed for transportation during ceremonies. A word for crazy, known in England, but not in US English is doolally, which refers to Deolai, and Indian town which had a sanatorium. Another English word is pukka, meaning a stand-up guy (or girl!). The Brits often referred to England as Blighty, which is another Indian word, although not one which means Britain. Some Brits refer to jail as chokey; another word by way of India. A Brit might say, "Let's have a dekko" meaning "let's take a look." Again it's an Indian term.

Even the word 'punch' comes from Hindi. Punch has five constituents and in Hindi the count to five goes; ek, do, teen, char, panch. Char is also a word for tea in England, so the English often talk about a cup of char even though in Hindi it's actually chai or chaay, and nothing to do with the word for four, although four o'clock is teatime!

But I digress! This book tells the story of someone whose name we never know, although we have a plethora of pseudonyms. We first meet her as Pom, a young girl who is about to lose her family to a tsunami. From that point onwards, her existence become precarious at best. She manages by accident to secure a place for herself as a janitor at a Catholic school where she's arbitrarily renamed Sarah. Because of the kindness of a teacher, discovers she has a facility with languages. She learns English, and emulates the refined teacher's 'BBC English' pronunciation and accent effortlessly, and she learns to read, write, and type, and starts to pick up a smattering of other languages.

Although despised as an untouchable by other Indians, and bullied by the snobbish English schoolgirls, she is befriended by a fellow Bengali named Vidushi (sp? This was an audiobook! I'd originally thought the name was Bidushi). The two become very close, especially since it is Sarah who actually writes Vidushi's letters to her lawyer fiancé, Pankaj, in Britain. but when Vidushi unexpectedly dies and a necklace goes missing, Sarah is automatically blamed for it.

Knowing she can never find justice, she goes on the run, aided by a Muslim cart driver who worked at the school and whom she has befriended. This means forsaking all the money (a pittance, but a lot to Sarah) she earned at the school, and talk of 'out of the frying pan into the fire', her plan to go to Kolkata (aka Calcutta) to try and link up with Pankaj is derailed when she gets off the train at the wrong stop and cannot afford another ticket.

Sarah is 'befriended' by a young woman named Bonney, who is actually a recruiter for a local brothel. Young and naïve, Sarah, now with a new name Pamela (a misunderstanding of 'Pom'), is slowly sucked into the life and spends the next three or four years there until she is raped and becomes pregnant.

Realizing that her baby, if it's a girl, will be kept in disgusting conditions and raised to be a whore, Pamela flees the place with her newborn, again leaving her accumulated earnings (five hundred rupees - a substantial amount this time), and leaving her child Cabeta (again, sp?), with the Muslim driver, she finally makes it to Kolkata where she's unsuccessful finding work or finding Pankaj.

Now going as Camilla, she happens into a job organizing the substantial personal library of an English government official, Simon, who pays well. Finally she feels like she can settle and put her past behind her. She can send gifts and money to the family taking care of her daughter, and be stress-free. But that's not going to happen! She ends up spying on her employer and reporting back to Indian freedom movements, but she also finds herself falling for him.

And that's enough spoilers! I really enjoyed this book up until the last ten percent or so. The ending felt a little bit too trite in some ways and amateurish in others. Both Camilla and Simon suffer Harry Potter syndrome - failure to talk and share things, even when there was no reason not to. Obviously Camilla had some deep secrets, but there were ways she could have sidled into those if she had been as smart as she was portrayed as being later in the book.

But overall, I consider this a worthy read and commend it for those who enjoy a good historical story that involves romance, yet isn't sappy, and who are sick of endless cookie-cutter stories about the US civil war and the antebellum south and want to branch out - out of the country and into something that feels more real and less derivative.


Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo


Rating: WARTY!

Newbery award winners have been such consistent disappointments that I refuse to read them anymore. This was an exception only in the sense that it became one by dint of the fact that I'd read some DiCamillo books recently and enjoyed them. I decided against my better judgment to give this one a try, but all it did was serve to prove my case! The book was not helped by the fact (and I didn't realize this when I requested it at the library) that the original print version is illustrated. The 'The Illuminated Adventures' part is very tiny on the audiobook cover, and I'd thought 'illuminated' was merely metaphor anyway, so the important question here is: why on Earth was this book turned into an audio book? Shame on the publisher.

The story is about Flora Buckman who vacuums up a squirrel named Ulysses. I tell ya, if I had a dime for every time I've done that! What is it with squirrels and vacuum cleaners for goodness sakes? Just 'cause it's called a Dyson Ball doesn't mean there's dancing, you squirrels! The Kenmore Elite Pet friendly doesn't involve any petting! The shark navigator doesn't actually guarantee safe passage through shark-infested carpets! That's more of a pest control issue, quite frankly. And a side-defect of buying deep carpets I might add....

Anyway, the squirrel magically develops super powers and Flora becomes the side-kick. And no - this isn't the most bizarre plot I've ever read - or thought of for that matter! The blurb calls this "a laugh-out-loud story filled with eccentric, endearing characters," but we all know 'back cover blurb' is another term for outright lying. It almost made me yell out loud for crying out loud. That right there should have warned me off it. I avoid books where the blurb says it hosts 'wacky' or 'zany' or 'eccentric' characters. Again I mistakenly made an exception! More fool me!

I gave up on this after listening to only a few minutes of Tara Sands reading this. This marks the fourth audiobook I've listened to which she also read, and only one of those four have I actually liked. This was not that one and I cannot commend it at all. No more books with the initials FU!


Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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


Meet Me at the Farmer's Market by Lisa Pelto, Paula S Wallace


Rating: WARTY!

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

This was a brightly and simply illustrated (by Paula Wallace evidently - to my very inexpert eye - in sweet watercolors) young children's book aimed at introducing them to the delights of the farmer's market, but for me it did not get there. Our host is a young girl, seven-year-old Sophia, who each week goes with her mom (who seems to have an inordinately long shopping list!), and while this would superficially seem to be the way to do this, I felt that an opportunity was missed here.

Sophia shows us everything from her PoV, which on the one hand is a great 'in' for other young kids, but on the other, it missed out on teaching young children about good, wholesome, healthy food, and if that's not your aim, why go to a farmer's market?! Most kids these days think food is what comes from the packages on the shelves at the local supermarket. Or worse: from a vending machine. Even an organic food store or a co-op or something like that still has food on shelves. The beauty of a farmer's market is that the foods are laid out very much like they were when they were first pulled from the ground or plucked off the tree or bush. There's a panoply of sensory delights to be had here, but we seemed to have bypassed those on this outing.

This connection with the farmer and with the earth is a crucial one that children need to understand and I got none of that from this book. The book focused on Sophia's limited joys of visiting: seeing families with their dogs, playing with balloons, people-watching. In 17 pages, only four or so actually talked about the food, and none of those related to it in any real way, much less conveyed the hard work or the growth of food from the soil, or to the importance of nurturing our Earth, or of climate change making an impact, or of eating healthily and exercising.

There was barely a word about the joy of being outdoors or relating that experience to food grown outdoors. All we got was a mention of the weather. Nothing was said about the taste of fresh veggies or the smell or feel of touching fresh, whole food. Instead we got the kids eating popsicles and other junk food. There was nothing about where the food came from and what was involved in producing it. No child would want to read a story that simply and boringly lectures them, but for me, this was a truly wasted opportunity to carry a real message, subtly woven into the fabric of the fun stuff. Humans have five senses, all of which delight young children, but the only one that really got any sort of an outing here was the eye.

To me, this book felt lazy in its approach. I wish the author and illustrator all the best in their respective careers, but I cannot recommend a book that fell far too short of the fine goal it ought to have set for itself and for our children.


In the Night Wood by Dale Bailey


Rating: WARTY!

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

Usually on Net Galley, you request a book to read and review and you take your chance as to whether it will be approved. Sometimes books are listed as 'Read Now' which tends to mean the book isn't doing so well or is being undervalued, and the publisher wants it read more widely. Those books are great because I've found many gems among them. There is another option though, which is the 'wish for it' category.

This has also been kind to me because I've found some gems there, too, but since the ones I've wished for have all been granted (to my best recollection), I have to wonder if this category is used because the author or publisher is lacking somewhat in confidence in the book and wants to ensure that it's requested only by those who really want to read it? I don't know. Personally I've tended to enjoy the 'wished-for' books, but I can't say that of this particular one unfortunately.

The blurb for this book makes it all about Charles Hayden, which seems rather genderist since Hayden is only one half of a married couple who travel to Yorkshire in the UK, a place I know and from whence both my parents hailed, but we see very little of Yorkshire. We are confined to an ancient manor house surrounded by a castle-like wall, and it's Erin Hayden's family connections which have led to this inheritance: to this manor isolated in an even more ancient wood. Erin isn't even mentioned in the blurb! Charles may as well have been single.

That said, the story is told from Charles's perspective, thankfully not in first person, but this novel would have been a lot easier to like had either of these two people been themselves remotely likeable. As it was, they were chronic whiners and I was turned off both of them within a few paragraphs of starting to read this.

Both were endlessly wallowing in the loss of their daughter Lissa. A mention of this once in a while would have been perfectly understandable, but as it was, it felt like it was every other paragraph and it became a tedious annoyance, drawing me out of the story as I read again and again of how obsessed they were with their 'lost' daughter. A search for the daughter's name produced 156 hits in this novel. A search for 'daughter' produced another 56. It was too much, and it felt like a failure of writing. It's certainly possible to convey deep grief in a character without rabbiting on about it to a nauseating degree, so this felt like a really bad choice to me.

The fact that we're denied any real information about what happened to Lissa didn't help at all, and actually made things worse. Did she disappear? Was she killed? Did she become fatally ill? Who knows? The author doesn't care to share this information, at least not in the portion of this that I read before becoming so frustrated I didn't want to read any more; nor do we learn anything about the affair Charles had - just that he had one.

This affair is related to us as if it were no more important than his remembering he had once stubbed his toe, so even as big of a betrayal as that was, it carries little import because of the way it's so casually tossed out, yet this woman Syrah, is mentioned a further 34 times in the book. It's another thing that Charles is unaccountably obsessed with. No wonder he gets nothing done: his mind is always elsewhere! And this obsession is a continuing betrayal of his wife.

Frankly, these two, Charles and Erin, were so annoying I wanted to shake them and slap them. Not that I would, but the truth is that they were seriously in need of inpatient psychiatric attention and it showed badly, but no one seemed to care. The fact that we're told his wife has a boatload of medications she's taking and Charles doesn't even care made me dislike him even more intensely. He came across as shallow and selfish and quite frankly, a jerk. His wife was painted a little bit better, but neither of them remotely interested me as characters about whom I would ever want to learn anything more or about whose futures I cared.

At first I had thought the story would end with their daughter being returned to them, but then I learned of another child in the story and it seemed pretty obvious what would happen at that point. I don't know if that's what did happen, but if it did, that would have been way too trite and predictable for my taste. It's been done before.

Charles's other obsession, aside from his daughter, the woman he had an affair with, and the woman, Silva at the local historical society with whom he'd like to have an affair, was this book he stole as a child, and which was written by a Victorian relative of Erin's. He thinks he can write a biography of the author, Caedmon Hollow - yes that's the name of the guy, not the name of the mansion! - but it seems like he's much more interested in getting into Silva's panties than ever he is in writing anything. He's been into that book only once in his entire life, but he's into thinking about Silva at the drop of a hat.

The book and the mystery it was attached to should have been central to the story but there was so much stuff tossed in here (I think there was actually a kitchen sink at one point) that the book robbed that purported mystery of any currency it may have had. It became a secondary issue to everything else that was going on.

Since it was that very mystery which had drawn me to the novel in the first place, this felt like a betrayal if not an outright slap in the face and really contributed to my decision to quit reading. It felt like it was going nowhere and taking a heck of a long time to get there, and I had better things to do with my time. I wish the author all the best, but I cannot commend this book as a worthy read.


His Own Way Out by Taylor Saracen


Rating: WARTY!

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

I could not get into this book at all and DNF'd it at around a third of the way through. The characters - three or four kids in high school - were such utter dicks that there wasn't a single one of them that was even likeable, let alone relatable. I read in some other reviews that it's apparently a fictionalized version of a true story. I did not realize that going in, but now I do know it, I have to wonder what the purpose of this treatment of it was supposed to be.

Thinking it was fiction, I was pulled in by the fact that the main character was bisexual. This is rare in a book and the only other such book I've read that immediately comes to mind, I didn't like very much. I'd hoped for a lot more for this one, especially given the positive nature of the title, but it was a fail for me because although the main character was presented as bi, he had no real interest in women at all, aside from his ex-girlfriend. His entire focus seemed to be on men, so while he was technically bi, this story really offered nothing that your typical gay high school story offers, so what was the point?

Again from what I read in other's reviews after I decided to ditch this as a waste of my reading time, the 'way out' is for the main character to go into the porn industry which, while it's entirely his choice to make, is hardly the kind of way out that the high-flying title suggested to me. It's hardly an heroic option, and it's not inventive, or unique or original. I was hoping for a lot more and was sadly disappointed when I learned that this was his 'way out'. After reading those other reviews, I was glad I did not try to read further than I did.

As for my own take on it, I found nothing here to inspire or interest me. The guy was a jerk, unlikeable and with nothing to offer the reader. It was a tedious read. He just bounced around between parties, doing drugs and drinking, with no ideas in mind for any sort of a future. The limited and boxed-in mindset was simply depressing and uninteresting. The guy behaved like a loser and showed no sign of improving. He was boorish and one-track-minded, and I saw no saving graces in him and nothing educational or even original in his thought processes. Whether the reality upon which this was apparently based is different, I can't say, but I can only believe that a biography would have been far more fulfilling than this fiction ever can be. I cannot commend this as a worthy read based on what I experienced of it.


Saturday, August 18, 2018

Pig is Big on Books by Douglas Florian


Rating: WORTHY!

This was short, and sweet and entertaining, and will hopefully encourage children to emulate Pig and start reading. Pig reads all the time at every opportunity. I wouldn't commend going quite that far, although I do spend an inordinate amount of time reading myself. Well, not reading myself - reading books. You know what I mean! But anything that stirs a child's imagination constructively is always a good thing.

Putting on my child hat (it's always a good idea to have a child hat around!), I can say I enjoyed this colorful outing shamelessly! This book will definitely make reading sound cool or I'll eat my hat!