Showing posts with label humor. Show all posts
Showing posts with label humor. Show all posts

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Totlandia Vol 1 by Josie Brown

Rating: WORTHY!

Totlandia was an oddball story that I ultimately ended-up loving. I don't quite know why except that it was funny and interesting and unusual. I have to wonder how the author ever came up with this story. Maybe she had some personal experience?

The story is the first of four very short books (100+ pages or so) in a series that covers several years of kindergarten. The 'onesies' is four volumes and there is at least two more volumes for the 'twosies'. While I'm not a fan of series typically, I might be persuaded to read more of this one if they're like the first, but be warned, the first volume ends on a huge cliffhanger, so you might find it very addictive! And there may well be four volumes for each of five years, which is quite a financial commitment to keep up with!

The Pacific Heights Moms and Tots Club is a very exclusive and snotty San Francisco daycare, managed by well-to-do and very elitist moms. You have to compete for one of the annual ten spots get in, and forget about it if you're a single parent or a working mom. You're automatically disqualified.

This novel focuses attention on four candidates, each of whom has a secret, such as one of them (Jillian) is about to undergo a divorce, another (Ally) is supposed to have quit her job a a big-wig in business, but is still secretly on the board - and she's single! A third is a guy who is ashamed of his wife jade, a former stripper and prospective porn actor and is trying to keep her out of things while having sex with one of the existing PHMTC moms to get an in (so to speak). Lorna's child may be a special needs kid, which would disqualify him, so there is lots of dirt to dish, and lots of secrets to be kept hidden.

I really enjoyed the easy pave, the decent plotting, the good story-telling and the humor, so yes, this one is a worthy read.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Charlie Bingham Gets Clocked by Maggie M Larche

Rating: WORTHY!

I love books which have a title that makes it sounds like the author has done something perhaps she oughtn't! I mean did Maggie Larche really clock Charlie Bingham? That's what it says: Charlie Bingham gets clocked by Maggie M Larche! Seriously, this was a fun middle-grade book aimed at slightly mischievous, or perhaps slightly unlucky boys. Or perhaps both more likely. It's part of a Charlie Bingham series.

Charlie's friend Brad has a rather unruly pet lizard which secretes itself in his clothes when he heads out to school. Then it gets loose and hides in the teacher's old-fashioned alarm clock - the one with big bells on the top. Rather than reveal his reptilian pet is running around, Brad takes the clock and hides it in his backpack, intending to retrieve the lounging lizard later.

From this point on it's a bit like a game of pass the parcel, as they try to retrieve the lizard and return the alarm clock without being discovered! It doesn't go according to plan of course, and there are questions of trust and betrayal, but it all works out in the end. I liked it, and I think the intended age range will like it even more than I did, so I recommend this one for a fun romp for the intended age range.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

Rating: WORTHY!

This is the first of two memoirs I shall be reviewing this month. The other was The Midwife by Jennifer Worth One is a regular chapter book, the other is this one: a graphic novel in which the artwork is rudimentary. It looks like pencil and crayon, and so it looks like a young kid did it, but the thing is that it works for the story and I enjoyed it. This is evidently a memoir about a summer girls camp which Maggie attended and developed a crush on one of the older girls. The story is by parts hilarious and tragic, fun and disturbing. The disturbing part is that anyone would send their young, impressionable daughter to such a psychotic place! But she survived and lived to tell the tale, and it was a most engrossing tale. It's over 260 pages, but it flew by, and I recommend this one.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Extra Credit Epidemic by Nina Post

Rating: WORTHY!

"What will be doing on the phones?" (missing 'we')
"quiet, hereas if the media got a hold of it…" (whereas?)
"Van take the two steps down into the scoring pit and Taffy handed him a jacket from a bag." Wrong verb tense: 'took' required

This young-adult story began like it might be headed into science fiction territory, but it wasn't - it was just a really strong start to a fascinatingly fresh novel about a high-school senior who is anti-social and bordering on OCD, and who is obsessed with working in epidemiology which is, according to Wikipedia, "the study and analysis of the patterns, causes, and effects of health and disease conditions in defined populations."

The student, with the unlikely if not hilariously sweet-toothed name of Taffy Snackerge evidently has some good reason for her behavior, but this isn't really discussed in the novel except for hints that she was always this way. She has awesome parents who are out of the picture only because they're away travelling, so they play very little part in the story. Taffy is therefore home alone, and although she doesn't wear skirts, she does believe in skirting the rules at school which is, you just know it, going to get her into trouble with the prissy vice-principal.

One of the science teachers, Van Brenner, used to work for the local epidemiology department until they downsized, and now he's teaching science at the school and advising Taffy despite, or perhaps because of her rebellious streak, as she mounts her own investigation into a salmonella outbreak. The problem is that Brenner wants her to work with two other students, one of whom is a bit of a princess, so Taffy perceives. The other is a guy who apparently won't stand up for himself, and who really doesn't like science, yet Taffy is forced against her will to form a team with them and nail down the source of this minor outbreak of sickness which the local health department seems unable to pursue.

The first issue is that they all think they should use Taffy's home as their base of operations. They have calls to make to pursue their investigation of the incipient epidemic, but in this day and age of ubiquitous cell phone use (and each of these kids has one), this sounded lame to me. Why do they need to be at anyone's house?

This was a minor irritation - and nowhere near as irritating as the fact that the author evidently feels that italics have been for too long out of work, and absolutely loves to employ them at every opportunity. That itself would not have been so bad, but Kindle's crappy conversion process for their smart phone app rendered every italicized word in a smaller font and very faint, making it really hard to read. Additionally, it doesn't italicize superscripted words, so when I read "1st Offense: Minimum Two Detentions," all of it was italicized except for the 'st' after the number 1 (and the 'nd' after the two and so on). Fortunately, the story started out so strongly for me that I was quite willing to overlook these issues.

It was this strength and power which carried the story all the way to the end for me. Taffy is a go-getter and flatly refuses to let any obstacle stand in her way, including a vindictive vice-principal who has more vice than principles. She forms a relationship with the other two despite her dysfunctional social qualities, and she even begins learning how far out on the edge she is as she's slowly, but surely reeled back in by Taylor, with whom Taffy forms more than a friendship. Both Taylor and Gabriel are characters in their own right and don't let taffy hog all the center stage. The whole story is beautifully done, with smarts, with humor, with a sly sense of the absurd, and with a really good story underlying it all.

I would really love to know what triggered the author to come up with the idea for this one! It's been a long time since I've read anything like this, and this was a welcome breath of fresh air after reading what feels like far too many stories of late which start out well and go to hell. This one had everything I look for in a novel, including a truly strong female main character, and a curiously endearing title. I'm not a fan of series, but I would definitely read a follow-up novel about Taffy & Co if there ever was one. I recommend this one unreservedly.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Turncoat by Ryan O'Sullivan, Plaid Klaus

Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. More info about this graphic novel can be had at

This tongue-in-cheek and highly amusing super hero graphic novel features Duke and Sharon, who don't get along, which more than likely explains why they're not married any more. When they were together, she shot him fifteen times, putting him in hospital for eighteen months, and filed for divorce. That ought to tell you how infuriating he is. Now he has a restraining order against him, but the real problem here is that she and Duke work for different teams in super hero control programs - clandestine operations designed to cull super heroes before they proliferate everywhere, and thereby keep them down to a manageable number. Let's face it, someone has to do this.

Now though, it looks like Sharon has taken to swooping in on Duke's sanctions, completing them before he does, and getting all the credit. She even took out The Savior, who'd been widely considered not only untouchable, but also invulnerable. Maybe there's more going on here than first meets the eye mask. Like, are these heroes based loosely on well-known super heroes from Marvel and DC, or does it just look that way?

Duke really isn't very good at his job despite his profound detestation of everything about super heroes, so he's not likely to figure it out. He's about as on the edge and you can get without flying off from centrifugal force (and to those pseudo scientists who don't think centrifugal force isn't real, I invite them to hang on to edge of something that can spin, get it spinning really fast, and then let go. If they survive, they can tell me how it doesn't really exist). Duke's also really annoying in an amusing (for the reader) and infuriating (for his fellow characters) way.

Sharon, on the other hand, looks like a kick-ass heroic figure. She'd merit a story all of her own. But she's retired - isn't she? Told with a quirky sense of humor and with a sharp eye for comic book super hero conventions (not those conventions, the other ones), this book had me enthralled and I read it faster than the flash. With a name like Plaid, how could he not be an artist? The artwork was perfect for the tone and genre and the story was brilliant. The only complaint I have is that the lettering was often a bit on the small side and too 'plump' to make out characters distinctly from time to time. It was nothing bad enough to spoil the story, though, so i recommend this unreservedly.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Bearded by Jeremy Billups

Rating: WORTHY!

This is a charming and weird rhymed tale of a bear with a beard. The redheaded child is telling us about this bear. The bear is apparently a beard-wrestling champ, and rumor has it he may have even beaten Santa Claus himself! If you sign up for the author's newsletter, you can even get free coloring pages from the book, for your kids to color between the lines. There are no lions. Perish the thought. Who even said that?

This bear, and we know he's not bare-faced, so I'm assuming he's not a bear-faced liar...has been knighted even though he may (or may not) hang around with pirates! The redhead likes to travel far and wide with her bear, and it was pleasing to see that this author knows whence bearded dragons hail!

I loved The End! I heartily (yes, people still say that!) recommend this one for young children and their parents and guardians and grandparents and baby-sitters and older siblings. It's crazy enough that it doesn't even have to be educational, which I normally look for in children's books, but even though it's crazy, it will still tell you where bearded dragons can be found! I discovered that most children's books are shockingly mum on this topic, and even seem to be dragon their feet....

Monday, June 13, 2016

Gertie's Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley

Rating: WORTHY!

I don't know her, but in my opinion, Kate Beasley is a mischievous-looking author, so it was hardly surprising to me that that this came from her keyboard! It's a nicely-written middle-grade novel and is of course about Gertie, who is planning on being the best fifth-grader ever this year. She's well-on-track to kick-start it with her zombie frog, until Mary Sue Spivey shows up as a transfer student. Mary Sue is smart and her father is a movie director who happens to direct movies featuring Jessica Walsh, who is a hero of fifth graders everywhere, so Gertie's plans have to hop-it.

Her phase two decision to become a genius student and thereby overshadow Mary Sue also gets a D. It seems like every plan Gertie comes up with is effortlessly derailed by Mary Sue and now, looming on the horizon, is career day, wherein Mary Sue gets to have her movie director father show up maybe, and Gertie can't even bring her own father because he's gone for two weeks working on an oil-rig out in the ocean. Gertie decides she can handle this alone. She's a big girl now. The problem is that career day doesn't go anything like Gertie planned or even imagined it would, and now Mary Sue is more popular than ever and Gertie is looking more and more like the villain in this little drama they have going. Talking of which, the school play is auditioning next....

The story was a bit of a roller-coaster, and Gertie was in many ways her own worst enemy, but this state of affairs wasn't random. For reasons which go unexplained, Gertie's mom abandoned her and her dad, and married another guy, and Gertie has never come to terms with it. She grew up with her dad, who was absent periodically, and her great Aunt Rae, and an annoying little kid named Audrey who was often parked with Rae when her folks wanted a date night or day (both of which seem to be very often). Gertie doesn't suspect that her 'perfect' nemesis also has personal issues with which she wrestles, too.

Names of characters in my stories are important to me and (as they used to in years gone by) tend to carry a meaning behind the façade, which relates something of the character who carries them. In that context, I have to observe here that the popularity of the name Gertrude - which I personally don't like - fell steadily throughout the twentieth century, becoming very effectively non-existent since the mid-sixties, so why this name was chosen for this character, who I think deserved better, is a mystery explicable it seems to me, only as a rather forlorn attempt at alliteration, but I decided not to fret too much over that any more than I wondered why it was Kate Beasley and not Kat Beasley which to me is a kick-ass name! Not that Kate is awful; I have several nieces named in some variation on 'Kate'.

But I digress! I had some technical issues reading this in Adobe Digital Editions reader. The chapters were slow to load, taking about eighteen seconds for the screen to appear when turning the page to a chapter header, whereas pages with images on them (which often do load slowly in ADE) popped up right away! I don't know what that was all about. The only problem with the images was that some of them were truncated so it was impossible to see all of the image. In contrast, on the Kindle app on my phone, I had no problem with slow screen loading or with seeing the images (although the images were understandably small). The best of all, though, was on the Bluefire Reader app on my iPad, where it was picture (and text) perfect.

I had some minor issues with the writing, too. I felt the story ended a little too abruptly. There never did seem to be any resolution. It felt like it was left hanging a bit. Although the very brief epilogue (which I typically don't read since the epilogue ought to be the last chapter, not some appendix), was unexpectedly interesting, and peculiar in that it didn't wrap-up the story at all. In fact, it seemed like it was actually the prologue (which I don't read either) to another story! I felt that Mary Sue was portrayed as much more of a villain than she actually was, which was misleading given later revelations), but perhaps middle-graders won't be so picky.

Those gripes aside, I really liked the story and the general way in which it was unveiled. I liked the tone and the chapter headers and the excellent gray scale illustrations by Jillian Tamaki (now there's another great name to play with!), and taken overall, I recommend it as a worthy read for its intended age range and perhaps, beyond, too! Go read it if you don't believe me!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The People of Forever Are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu

Rating: WORTHY!

After someone whose reviews I follow mentioned this, I requested it from the library thinking initially that it was a woman's account of being in the IDF, but while the author has indeed been in the IDF, this is a fictional work about three other women in the IDF. As such, I'm sure that it does contain biographical elements, but it is not a biography. That clarified, I found it an eminently worthy read. It was fascinating, funny a hell in parts, and engrossing. A couple of pieces fell completely flat for me, and the penultimate chapter was completely bizarre, but overall I loved it. The closest thing I've read to this was Joseph Heller's Catch-22 which I favorably reviewed back in February 2014. If you liked that, you'll probably like this, and vice-worsted.

This fictional work follows three Israeli women (Avishag, Lea, and Yael) from their last months in high school in an isolated north Israel village, to enlistment the Tsva ha-Hagana le-Yisra'el (known in the west as the IDF or Israeli Defence Force), and beyond. It's written by a Harvard graduate who grew up in Israel in a location similar to the one where the novel begins. All Israelis, male or female, are required to enlist at age eighteen, for two years. There is no distinction between genders. That's what makes the IDF so amazing. The rest of the world is scrambling to catch up to this obviously optimal state of affairs.

The story isn't exactly linear, nor does it follow the usual story flow. Normally this would annoy me, but once in a while it works, and it works here. I lived in Israel for a short period of time (a while ago!), and this story came across as authentic through and through. The layout is a series of slightly disconnected vignettes or impressions - almost still life's - of these three girls as they travel through the next two or three years, and it is by turns disturbing, frightening, saddening, hilarious, and heart-warming. The way the story is laid out makes the reader feel disconnected, too, and makes nonsensical stories make sense in this context. It also serves to give the reader a good idea of what it's like to live in a nation which feels itself constantly at war even when no overt war is going on.

For me, Lea was the most fascinating character, especially after her experience with a man who slashed the throat of her fellow guard on the border-guard duty they were engaged in. How Lea reacts to this - the slow burn she undergoes - is disturbing and deeply unnerving. Avishag is the most amusing character. Her entire life seems almost like a Monty Python sketch and her name seems particularly à propos. At one point she completely loses it while on guard duty in a tower across from the Egyptian border. They are so bored with nothing happening day after day after day that when she takes off all of her clothes and lays down in a fetal position on the floor of her tower, the Egyptians don't even notice for some time.

Eventually one of the Egyptians is so bored that he decides to actually do his job as a break from the monotony, and when he aims his binocs at the Israeli side, there are two female border guards lying naked on the floor of their watch tower. The Egyptians think it's some sort of trick or insult, and a report travels up the Egyptian chain of command to the top, crosses the border, and travels down the Israeli chain of command. The girls get eight weeks in the brig for being improperly dressed on duty or something. Yael, for me wasn't quite so interesting, and some of the snapshots in general were boring to me, but overall, the novel was quite stunning and I fully recommend it.

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Bitches of Everafter by Barbra Annino

Rating: WORTHY!

This is without a doubt the most hilarious and best-written (with a couple of amusing exceptions I shall point out) novel I've read in a long time. It's humbling to read something like this and distressing to think I might never write one this good, although Femarine, which came out this month, would give it a good run for its money on a level field, I'll warrant!

In a lot of ways, it's like the TV show, Once Upon a Time, which I used to watch, but gave up on because it became boring and repetitive. There were no worries about that here until I discovered that the ending wasn't. There are two more planned volumes. This annoys me, and it means I did have a problem because I am not a fan of series. They rarely end well. Having said that, there are some series I've read and enjoyed throughout. The horns of this dilemma are: dare I pursue this one and risk disappointment or should I quit while I'm ahead?

This novel also got away with breaking a rule which I normally like to see enforced: don't start chapter one in the future and then flashback in the rest of the book. In this case it was done perfectly, which just goes to show that some authors can write and others can't. We quickly meet the main characters, which is another good thing about this since they're far too good to keep them waiting in the wings. A third wonder about it is that it's written in third person. Far too many stories of this nature are in first person, and I am ever after grateful to the amazingly-named Barbra Annino for giving that route the derision and disdain it so richly deserves. Twit to all YA authors: you can write a brilliant novel in 3PoV! Rilly! Wed this and Reap!

We do get the story mainly from the perspective of Snow White, who has committed some crime over which she holds no regret, but for which she has a ninety-day psych eval to endure. She's not confined to a hospital ward, but is living in Granny's Home for Girls, along with Aura Rose, an ex-car-thief and burglar, Cindy Glass, a non-recovering drunk, and Punzie Hightower, who can currently be seen stripping at the Fairest of Them All club downtown. All of whom are corralled and controlled by the estimable Bella Bookless, whose dog is named 'Beast'.

These girls were all put there by Judge Redhood, aided by the surprisingly deep and self-motivated Tink, and these villainous vamps are watched over by parole officer Robin Hood and psychiatrist Jack Bean. So far so good, but what is happening in this house when Snow finally gets settled in? What are the odd lights she sees? Do patterns on the walls really move? What's behind the forbidden doors? Why is the fearless Aura suddenly and inexplicably terrified of a spinning wheel?

I devoured this and loved it until the last page when I was a bit disappointed to see that it ended on a cliff-hanger because it was part of yet another trilogy. I know trilogies and series are very lucrative, but how about doing we readers a favor now and then and fitting it all into one volume? I was tempted not to pursue this purely out of spite, despite enjoying volume one, but having thought that, I can’t deny that for as much pressure as Amazon megacorp is putting on book prices to squash them down to next-to-nothing, maybe the only option we authors have anymore, is to revert to the way novels used to be published: in installments.

The unintentionally amusing portions of this book were few. There was the common one of thinking biceps has a singular form: "spearing through his bicep." I had an online discussion with a friend about this, and yes, technically you can use 'bicep', but my point is that does anyone honestly think that your typical author knows anatomy well-enough to specify that one muscle? I'd have a hard time believing that! No one uses the singular form - unless it's an anatomist!

I've never seen a novel where someone was wounded through the triceps, so I'm guessing authors who do this are not actually being anatomically precise but simply don't know the difference between bicep and biceps any more than they know the difference between stanch and staunch. My guess is that they think 'biceps' refers to the muscles of both upper arms, so the muscles of one upper arm must be 'bicep'! Who knows? OTOH, Barbra Annino isn't just any author as her writing chops demonstrate, so maybe I'll give her the benediction of the doubt here and dedicate a song to her (not original with my I hasten to add):

My analyse over the ocean
My analyse over the sea
My analyse over the ocean
So bring back my anatomy....

The other mistake was one that I personally have never seen before in a novel as far as I can recall, and for which even I can offer no excuse: "Not that she was opposed to murder, per say." The Latin is per se, FYI! Some of us writers fear for the English language the way it's going with all this self-publishing, texting, and tweeting. OTOH, language isn't what you see in a dictionary - it’s a living, morphing, growing thing, so we can only guess at what we'll be reading in fifty years, but with this kind of thing getting loose, I fear for the language Dear Hearts! Fear for it I tell you! It's enough to make my tricep twitch....

Anyway, that aside, I recommend this as a worthy read.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Don't Juggle Bees by Gerald Hawksley

Rating: WORTHY!

The title of this book would seem to be eminently safe and useful advice, as is everything between these covers! Back in February 2016, I favorably reviewed this author's book which advised readers what to do if they have a hat, amongst other things. It seemed such a sensible book that I figured this one had to be of equal utility , and I am pleased to report that I was not wrong!

Juggling bees, however, is only one aspect of this fount of wisdom. Other useful tips include advice on whether it's wise to take a bath with a crocodile, balance an elephant on your nose, bounce on the bed with a hippo (parents might want to weigh in on that), or let monkeys drive your car. I can't find fault with any of the advice given here, and so I can do no other than to recommend this book! It's full of fun, frivolity and silliness in fine fettle, and it's probably guaranteed to make your child smile if not belly laugh (although this should not be deemed as an offer or representation for legal purposes. Or porpoises. It definitely amused me. That, I do guarantee!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Magruder's Curiosity Cabinet by HP Wood

Rating: WORTHY!

The novel is copyrighted to Hilary Poole, which I assume is the HP part of the author's name, and of course that’s conjoined with the 'Wood' surname, a classic of fine literature (though I say so myself...!). How could I not want to read this? I was well rewarded for my self-serving gamble.

This novel (which I read in an advance review copy for which I was very grateful!) is evidently set in an alternate timeline, because there was no major outbreak of Bubonic plague on Coney island at the turn of the 20th century. That particular outbreak took place on the opposite coast, where the idiot governor was in denial and thereby exacerbated the disease outbreak dangerously. Here, the outbreak happens in and around Coney Island and in true human tradition, the "freaks" of the carny are deemed less than human and quarantined for it. It’s easy to see this as a class struggle, but in truth, the poor lived in (slightly) less hygienic conditions than the wealthy, and this is where the rats (and the fleas they carried) congregated, so in one small way it was rational, although it was clearly done for irrational reasons.

The story revolves around two axes which quickly come into alignment. The first of these is a seventeen-year-old girl named Kitty, who is living on the streets in New York despite, just a few days before, being resident at a nice hotel. it takes a while to discover how she came to be in such sorry straits. Another part of the story involves the eponymous curiosity cabinet, which is less of a cabinet (in the way we view it today) and more of a museum. The evil undercurrent of Bubonic plague provides the grease upon which this story slides, creating very much of an 'us against them' mentality, but it’s not quite that black and white, despite there being characters of both hues playing important roles. There are undercurrents all over, none of them in the ocean.

The characters are beautifully defined, and each makes for intriguing, entertaining, and enjoyable reading. There is Zeph, not a midget, but forced to live like one because of an accident. There is Archie, an aging con-man who, despite his complete lack of ethics and empathy, plays an important part. There is Timur, the frightening, dangerous, and reclusive inventor at the heart of Magruder's. There is P-Ray, who only Nazan figures out, and there is Nazan's gentleman friend Spencer, a rich boy who plays his own unexpected role.

The most fascinating characters for me, however, were the females, three of them, all strong, but not in a super-hero, kicking-butt way. They were strong in the way an arch is. Nazan is a frustrated scientist, self-taught and at odds with her family. Kitty is the young girl, cast adrift, but not without a rudder. Another, although lesser character is Mademoiselle Vivi Leveque, leopard trainer extraordinaire. My favorite however, is Rosalind, although not a female - or maybe that depends on which day of the week it is. (S)he definitely has some classic lines to speak. At a party when America's elite, including Theodore Roosevelt - are in attendance, we get two great lines, one of which is Rosalind's. She's interrupted in conversation with Henry Ford (who has no idea she is a he and vice-versa), and resumes it thus:

Rosalind bats his lashes at Ford. "As I was saying, Henry, is there really no other color than black for your cars?”
This is not the only amusing observation she makes. The other line is Spencer's at that same gig:
"Well, Roosevelt, let’s see how rough a rider you truly are."

At one point, Nazan effects an English accent in order to try to find someone, and the hotel guy to whom she's s speaking says,

“I’ll direct you to the laundry,” he says, “if you promise to stop speaking like that.”
which slayed me. An honorable mention must also be bestowed upon Vivi, who emits this fine epithet:
"Vil mécréant! Accapareur de merde d’abeille!”
never have bee droppings been put to finer use!

This story is told well and moves at a solid work-like pace which kept me swiping screens. The threat looming over Magruder's isn’t of the disease vector variety; it's about another disease entirely: the narrow-minded, money-grubbing, dehumanizing one. There's always something new and intriguing (or disturbing) going on. The unexpected should be expected often. The story is a very human one, endearing, warm, disturbing, and deeply engaging. I recommend this novel completely and without reservation (not even as the classy Hotel where Kitty had stayed).

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Big Bad Wolf My Side of the Story by Kate Clary

Rating: WORTHY!

If you've ever suffered bad neighbors, you'll enjoy this retelling of the three little pigs from the wolf's PoV. The wolf wasn't out hunting them down and threatening them. She was simply trying to get some peace and quiet and those pesky pigs were building trashy homes next door, and partying noisily into the night. It was simply too much!

I think this chapter book, which is short, simply written, and charming to read, would do great put up against the original story. You could organize it like a court case with your kids, using plush toys for the accused and so on, present each side, and then argue out which is telling the truth! I recommend this one.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

My New Fighting Technique is Unstoppable by David Rees

Rating: WORTHY!

This was one of the most oddball off-the-wall graphic novels I've ever read. It's also an object lesson in how to make your own comic book. It looks like the author simply cut and pasted black and white line-drawn images from martial arts (specifically karate) technique manuals, and then added his own highly humorous (and highly foul-mouthed, be warned) speech.

Sometimes the same images would be used over and over again with different speech, even in the same order. One time the exact same speech balloons were used with a different set of images. Sometimes an image is reversed. Very minimalist and quite inventive. Also, eminently effective if you have a good story to tell or some hilarious remarks to make, and this one came through in gold bullion on that score. I don't imagine this will amuse everyone, but it sure found my funny bone. Don't ask me to explain it - I can't. Something is either funny to you or it's not, and this was funny as hell to me.

Every conversation was about technique and kicking ass, spreading rumors and fighting weird fighting dudes. The weird characters began appearing early; fighters like Karate Snoopy and Circulatory System man, which no "Normal Man" would be able to fight. Ambulance drivers were kept in rip-roaring business at this "Karate Temple". Even imaginary fighters might become real, in which case could you beat them even in your imagination? Only David Rees can answer these questions! You can find new cartoons and his whole crazy world on his website: I recommend this ten times over!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Drones by Chris Lewis

Rating: WARTY!

The test of whether a novel is a worthy read is what you recall of it afterwards. You don't need to recall it all in perfect detail, by any means, to know you liked it, but if you recall the overall plot and some fondly remembered details, it did its job. That's the problem I had with Drones - a few days after I read it and came to write this review, I discovered I couldn't remember a thing about it and I realized that I would have to leaf through it to refresh my memory. I do remember I didn't finish it because the story was nonsensical to me and uninteresting. Of course your mileage may differ. I hope it does, but this is my take on it.

This was supposed to be a satire on terrorism, but it fell flat for me. It was really hard to follow what was really going on, and since it mixed 'real life' (the main characters are drone pilots) with 'fiction' (they take a few days off in Vegas and stay at a "terrorism themed hotel"), it was also hard to grasp at first whether there was real terrorism was going on in Vegas, or whether it was just "play".

I know it was satirical, but after starting into this, I really began to find the theme abhorrent, and the action totally confusing. Half the time I had no idea what was going on or how we got to this page from the previous page, and it quickly became tedious to read, and not at all engaging to my mind. I quit reading at around the 75% mark because I had better things to do with my life than to sit through any more of this trying to figure out what was going on. I can't recommend it. If the art work had been brilliant, that might have made some difference, but it was merely workman-like, and while it wasn't bad, it had nothing special to recommend it.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Anything That Loves (Various Authors)

Rating: WARTY!

Given the diversity sexual identities this purports to cover, Sapphic novel would not have identified it, so graphic novel it is! That said, there was an unwarranted bias towards bisexuality and people's confusion over it. I don't get that! People like what they like what's to confuse? This novel had an introduction which I skipped, and then also a graphic introduction. I don't know what that was all about. Finally we got onto the stories which is what interested me, and frankly, it was a mixed bag. Many were entertaining, but there were some oddities along the way, and I felt gender diversity was ill-served, which turned me off this overall.

The biggest problem was that this had a preachy tone to it, which wasn't appreciated, especially since this is more than likely going to be preaching to the choir, which begs the question of who this is expected to reach. But I wasn't going to worry about that since it's likely more aimed at reassurance than at reaching out to new pastures. Those pastures were sadly limited, though and largely populated with sheep.

The first one I really liked was Mango by Mari Naomi. I don't know exactly why I liked it so much. Maybe it was its brevity and simplicity, but it definitely spoke to me in some language. The slightly psychedelic artwork helped.

Some of the stories were rather trite and predictable, but then I'd happen upon one which came out of the blue (with the emphasis on coming out, obviously!). One which literally came out of the blue (it was set in the ocean) was Biped by Ashley Cook and Caroline Hobbs. I loved the play on bay for gay, although I was a bit surprised that bay-sexual never showed up! Bi-ped made up for that, though!

Comics Made me Queer by Lena Chandhok was fun, and got in a plug for Alison Bechdel, which is never a bad thing, and Erika Moen, who also has a story to tell here (LUG) which is awesome and does a better job of getting the point over than do half-a-dozen other stories on the same topic in this volume. Maurice Yellekoop's A Date with Gloria Badcock was a lot of fun, and a great choice of a character name there.

Kevin Boze's Platypus fell a bit flat for me. I take his point about humans obsessively categorizing things, but there's a reason for it in scientific endeavors. Although species, over time, are mutable, genus and species classification is very valid as a snapshot, and very useful. I can't say the same when people try to do it to music and novels and movies - and sexual identities! I wish he had chosen music rather than display some ignorance over evolution science to make his point.

Moen's second story, Queer left me with a less favorable impression. One of the big themes in this book, apart from its dedicated obsession with bisexuality and its neglect of other gender identities, is that of labeling, with which I can sympathize if not truly empathize. Based on what's related in this book, bisexuals evidently have a lot of jackasses who can't grasp that, just as gender identity is a sliding, and not a discrete digital scale, someone who is bisexual is also on a sliding scale from almost 100% gay all the way to almost 100% hetero (no one is actually 100% either way, let's face it!).

Somehow people can't cope with that, and think that when they're dating someone of the same (or more accurately, similar!) gender, then they must be gay and when they date someone of a different gender then they must be straight. I have this same kind of a problem when people learn I'm vegetarian! They ask, "What do you eat?" like, if you don't eat meat, then there's nothing else. They can't see an alternative. Horse shit! And no, that's not my diet, it's my comment on their being horse's asses.

My problem with Moen's story here though has to do with the labeling. She complains about the labeling of gender preferences, but then proudly identifies as queer! What's that if not yet another label? I can't see that as a very wise solution. It's her choice, of course: she can identify as whatever she wants, and I'm good with whatever she (or anyone else) choses for her or himself, but it felt like her approach was somewhat lacking in logic. OTOH, it's gender preference, and I'm not sure logic even applies. It is what it is.

Some of the other stories were nonsensical or too scrambled to attract my attention, much less my approval. Some were not appealing. Others, like Roberta Gregory's Queer Career, were far too much text and far too little variety of image and I hadn't the patience to plow through them, especially given that they were really repeating the same thing far too many other stories had already done to death. At least I think the title was Queer Career. This was another problem in that there was no title page for the individual stories - they ran into one another and on a couple of occasions, I had to back pedal to discover I'd started on a different story. While I appreciate saving trees by not adding superfluous pages, The titles were not at all well defined in many cases, so I wasn't actually sure what the story was called. Some help there would have been appreciated.

Given the focus on labels here, I was astounded to see one story where an example of a woman wearing a dress and sporting leg hair was seemingly held up as a problem, but when I later went back to find this (and had a hard time doing so), I wasn't so sure looking at it the second time that it really was doing what I thought it had been the first time I saw it, so maybe this wasn't a problem! LOL! Talk about confusion....

Jason Quest's Scout was the first story featuring people of color, and I was almost half-way through this book by then. A little more representation would have been better appreciated. This one made up in quality what was sorely lacking in quantity, fortunately. It was followed by the long and excellent Swimming Pool Suitor by Leanne Franson (Leanne, I'd be your platonic date if I were not married and not living miles away!).

One problem is that while some stories went on way too long and contributed little beyond killing a few extra trees - which as you know are very bad for preventing climate change - others such as Leanne Franson's could have stood to be longer, but the biggest problem was that, as I've mentioned, the book is obsessed with bisexuality, which isn't what the front cover misleads us to expect. I think it could have used a much better editing job and a lot more diversity and subtlety.

Far too much of this book was focused on sex rather than love which, given the title, is a complete betrayal. Yes, there were delightfully many stories about companionship and caring, and friendship and love, but there were also stories which had people jumping into bed on the first date, having picked up a stranger in a bar or somewhere, yet there was nary a word about safe sex. I think it was mentioned twice in this entire book. That's shameful. If you want to promote understanding of gender queer people and relationships, then the last thing you want to do is play into the absurd religiously-fueled stereotype that all gays are sexually obsessed and that's all there is to it. I was expecting better from a book like this and writers like these.

The biggest betrayal, however, is that while the cover subtitle is "Beyond 'gay' and 'straight'", these authors can see only minor variations on bisexuality, so despite all this blather about labels and gender preference fluidity, there was no dance party here. There were only three relatively rigid labels - gay, straight, and bi, and this is bullshit. It's for this reason that I cannot recommend this, although your mileage will more than likely differ. At least I hope it does, otherwise all those trees died for nothing.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Zombie Versus Fairy Featuring Albinos by James Marshall

Rating: WORTHY!

The world of zombies is real, but we know nothing of it because the zombies have an alliance with the supernatural people, such as fairies and centaurs, who clean up after the zombies and keep them hidden from the humans. In return, the zombies agree not to stage any rampages, and to keep their carnal pleasures down to a reasonable amount. This bites, but they now must focus their lack of attention only on people who genuinely want to embrace the zombie death-style. No problem there.

Buck Burger, however, is a depressed zombie. He hates the wife-style, especially when she catches him cleaning up. She’s disgusted by this and nags him to be all he can zombie. It’s a great life in the harmful. She wants to go to counselling with him just as all her friends are doing. Buck gets a prescription from his zombie doctor for his condition, and has it filled by the fairy pharmacist, whom he befriends. Though he’s winging it more than she is, he’s in awe of her élan vital, her perfection and cleanliness, and the fact that she can feel through her skin. Little does he know that the albinos, who control 90% of your average zombie’s brain and who, in favoring ordered chaos over zombie mayhem, have a far-reaching plan. Buck is going to be an integral part of it. He’s the kind of zombie who has no balls, but grew some (this pun is dedicated to Aimee, purger of puns by appointment to her major jesting Queen).

Despite the fact that I fell in love with the title, I wasn’t sure I would like this when I first began reading it. There is a previous volume to this, set in the same world, but not necessarily featuring all the same characters, and a similar sequel. I am interested in reading both of them now. I had not read the first volume, however (never having heard of it), and did not need to have done so in order to enjoy this, but this particular volume got its teeth into me and would not let go. The writing is really good – if you’re willing to ignore the fact that the author is yet another who employs staunch when he means stanch. Apart from that, his writing style in some ways reminds me of Jasper Fforde, so if you like the latter and also like zombies, especially humorous ones, then there’s a good chance you’ll like this.

The novel flagged a bit in the middle but came back strongly and kept my interest. Overall I rate it a worthy read.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Max the Brave by Ed Vere

Rating: WORTHY!

I almost missed my chance to review this one - Net Galley slipped it into my in box without me getting any kind of notification via email (that I recall anyway!) that it was there. Fortunately I found it before the deadline was up, because it would have been a tragedy to have missed an hilarious and charming children's book like this one.

Max is a fearless cat, as all cats are of course. He's black with huge eyes, perky ears and a swishy tail which doubtlessly twitches in anticipation. It's nice to have a super hero of color for a change! He hates to be dressed up in bows. His one real ambition in life is to chase mice, and possibly eat them if he has the time and it doesn't prove to be too much trouble. Unfortunately his education falls short of this ambition. He has no idea what a mouse looks like and consequently is left in the rather embarrassing position of making plaintive inquiries of any creature he encounters in his quest. If there's one thing cats cannot abide (apart from getting wet), it's being embarrassed.

Since the animals he encounters are largely honest, bless their little furry and feathery socks, he eventually hits upon the mouse trail, if not tail, but what he doesn't know is that the resident mouse lies - like a dog in fact - and worse than this, directs him to the neighborhood monster, the cat now operating under the tragic misaprehension that the creature is the mouse! I loved the word play on 'Gulp" at this point.

I recommend this story for the sheer fun of it and the cute drawings. Everybody loves an adventurous quest story and this is a fun one that children will want to hear again and again. This is definitely a worthy read!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant by Drew Hayes

Rating: WORTHY!

This is a first person PoV novel which for me is usually worst person PoV. I don't like the person because it's usually done badly and gets in the way of telling a good story. Here's the author explaining what a poor choice of voice it was, at the start of a later chapter:

** Note: Since I was not present for Krystal's experience after she was taken from my apartment, she has requested to tell this part of the story in her own words, rather than have it relayed. Therefore, the next two chapters will recount a part of the tale I cannot vouch for, as I did not witness it firsthand.**
As it happens, the voice wasn't completely nauseating so obviously this author can write it, although first hand is two words, not one. If in doubt, dash it out: first-hand!

It takes chutzpah to try to hawk a novel which has the words "utterly uninteresting" embedded in the very title. Fred is an accountant. He's lackluster, timid, and was alternately bullied and ignored in high school, yet he elects to attend the ten-year reunion. He's fortunate that it's at night, because as a vampire, he cannot go out in daylight.

Despite enjoying eternal youth, endless longevity, and vampire 'super powers" such as strength and night vision, Fred is still retiring and intimidated by the school jocks and the school hotties. He does take satisfaction in knowing that as they age and wrinkle, and spread around the middle, he will continue to be slim, strong, and youthful. He contemplates a future where he could visit his nemesis in his retirement home just to make fun of him, but quickly decides he should probably just confine himself to dancing on his grave instead.

He doesn't expect to see any of his nerd acquaintances at the reunion - not friends, even, just acquaintances - so he's rather surprised when Krystal sits down beside him at his lonely table. He asks her about her work, and she promptly makes an excuse to go to the bathroom. He doesn't expect to see her again, but when the lights go out in the gym and he discovers the doors are locked, he makes his way up to the commentator's box high in the rafters to hide out, and he's surprised to find her trussed to a table up there.

He's even more surprised when she finally reveals that she works for a secret government agency which keeps paranormals under control, and he's more than disturbed to discover that the school reunion has been targeted by a hungry pack of werewolves.

This is the start of not so much a story, but a series of chronologically-ordered vignettes which are amusing, engrossing, inventive, original and self contained, although linked to one another. It was interesting to me to read this not only because it's original and offers a really interesting alternative take on vampires, but also because I reviewed a book containing a similar arrangement of stories recently. That book was so repetitive and uninventive that it was boring and not a worthy read. This one, even though it used a similar format, was quite the opposite.

That's not to say there were no issues with it. There are nearly always issues! The question is whether the author can offer you enough of a solid story to make the issues relatively unimportant when it comes to overall enjoyment. This author has an interesting way with words, and often that's fine, but in some cases I was wondering what he meant. "...[T]hat was not a burden with which I had been shouldered" is not good phraseology! "That was not a burden I was used to shouldering" would have made more sense.

In another case, I read, "Ah, the crux of vanity." I can see what he means, but shuddered to read it rendered like that. There were other cases where too many words were used. This is a case of using non-words like 'irregardless' when 'regardless' does perfectly fine. In this case, the author wrote: "...formerly abandoned church..." He meant an abandoned church. A formerly abandoned church is one which is now back in service (pun intended!). There was only one out-and-out spelling error that I noticed, which was "damndest", and which is missing an 'e', and one case of using the wrong word: "...which clearing wasn't feeding." I think he meant "which clearly wasn't feeding." One final one was "We tread slowly across the plush red carpet" when the author obviously meant "we trod".

A spell checker would have caught only a couple of these errors. You need a good editor or beta readers to catch the others. It wasn't all bad though, by any means. The writing in general was commendable and I enjoyed reading this. We get an object lesson in how to avoid using 'inch' as a verb, for example: "She pulled it inward inch by inch" (as opposed to "she inched it in" which is what a writer who loves English less than this author does might have fed their readers).

I was nonetheless disturbed to see yet another writer who is evidently convinced that you can't say 'female character' in your novel without qualifying it by adding "beautiful". We got: "I didn't have a lot of experience with beautiful women asking me out..." and "... it had certainly made her beautiful."

This was the main female character who had been some other sort of persona non grata in high school, and who had been evidently over-weight. How she managed to evidently slim down and turn beautiful post-high-school isn't explained, but the explanation I really wanted was why? Why could she not still be the nerd (or whatever she was) from school? Why did she have to be rendered "beautiful" to make her acceptable, thereby loudly instructing all the real girls who had high school experiences like hers, that they're really still losers because they're are not now slim and beautiful? It's an insult to women everywhere regardless of who they are and how they look. I wish writers wouldn't do this so routinely that it's become very nearly a rule.

That complaint aside, I did, as I've indicated, really warm to this story and to the characters. It moved quickly, told interesting and original stories, and was an engrossing read, so I rate it worthy regardless of the issues I've raised, while hooping for better in the next outing with this author!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Trashed by Derf Backderf

Rating: WORTHY!

18 months of trash generated by Americans would form a line of full garbage trucks that would stretch to the Moon. A quarter billion tons a year - three pounds of trash per person per day - even after recycling. Half a century ago we generated less when there was no recycling (granted the population was less, though)!

That's the vein in which Derf Backderf launches his graphic novel, and he apparently knows what he's talking about, having worked as a garbage-man at one point in his life. This is both a reality-based fictional romp through the garbage and an instruction manual on what's wrong with our 'waste lots care not' society vis-à-vis our generation and disposal (or not) of our trash.

We learn a lot about the dubious joys of this line of work from the disgustingly liquid and stinking garbage of the summer to the frozen to the curb garbage of winter, as well as other issues such as the weight of the garbage, the dangers of driving a truck on icy roads, and the exhaust fumes coming out at face height on a truck supposedly designed to allow guys to ride on the outside - right behind that exhaust! The authors tells us that garbage collection has the sixth highest mortality rate, behind only logging, commercial fishing, piloting aircraft, roofing, and iron working. Yep, they beat out even policing and fire fighting!

So what's in our trash? According to the author, using an EPA survey, a third of our trash is food and yard waste, which effectively recycles itself as compost. Another third is recyclable materials such as wood, metal, plastic and glass. Less than ten percent of the plastic is recycled. And the EPA figures used here may not even be telling the whole truth.

The distressing thing is that this graphic novel itself wastes paper by having way too much white space and empty pages! In the e-version which I read, this doesn't matter of course, but it would if it went to a significant print run. In addition to assorted blank pages throughout the course of this book, and the occasional page with only one small illustration, there is a rather staggering twelve blank pages at the end of the book. That's an even number, meaning this book could have been significantly smaller and thereby used proportionately less paper in a print version. It's worth thinking about - but then so is the content of this book.

The novel is illustrated crisply and competently in black and white line drawings. The author doesn't know how to spell temperamental (tempermental? No!) or asbestos (asbestoes is not a disease you want, trust me on this!). After a while it occurred to me that this had been done deliberately, but I wasn't sure. Other than that, this is good, interesting, fun, and best of all, informative enough to make a reader think. For example, although we now have less than a quarter of the active landfills we used to have, the size of the landfills has increased. The example this author gives is of Salton, which expanded from eight acres, 45 feet deep in 2008 to 287 acres 250 feet deep in 2012. Some can dip down to four hundred feet. Some can cover more than two thousand acres, or over three square miles, such as the one outside Las Vegas. The author gets all these things across without any long and boring lectures.

On the up side, landfills can produce methane which can be captured and used as energy for up to half a century after the landfill becomes land full. On the down side, even a ten acre landfill can leak 3,000 gallons of toxic fluids into ground water every year, and the decomposition of the waste takes almost forever. Even a steel can might take half a century to disintegrate; a plastic bottle almost half a millennium, and both of them should have been recycled. Don't even get started on the yellow torpedoes - the plastic drink bottles full of urine that are tossed out by truckers who don't want to stop for a rest break. Utah, so we're told, found 30,000 of these one year!

There are over 4,000 landfills in Texas alone, both functional and defunct. This reminded me of the John Lennon contribution to the Beatles song, A Day in the life: "I read the news today, oh boy! 4,000 landfills, Texas, USA, and so the stink was rather large, and we could smell it all. Now we know how just how much stench it takes to fill the Astrodome! I have to re-cy-cuhl-uh-uhl-uh-uhl...."

I highly recommend this book as a very informative and worthy, if rather depressing, read, but get the e-version!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Keep Austin Weird by Mary Jane

Title: Keep Austin Weird
Author: Mary Jane (no website found)
Publisher: Smashwords
Rating: WORTHY!

"He then flawless recited..." should be "He then flawlessly recited..." (note I read this on a smartphone which means that page numbers are useless and locations are pretty much worthless when we can simple do a search).
"when I picked up you backpack" should be "when I picked up your backpack..."
"...once or twice.”“Really, just one our twice..." should be "...once or twice.”“Really, just once or twice..."
"Texas’ capitol building" should be "Texas’s capitol building". Texas isn't a plural so it's apporpriate to add apostrophe 's'.
"...if she was like that when they first meet..." should be "...if she was like that when they first met...".
"knew each other at UT.”They shake hands and exchange pleasantries, Kim mentally trying to place the term, 'know each other..." should be ”They shake hands and exchange pleasantries, Kim mentally trying to place the term, 'knew each other..." (Tense is changed).
"You’re Bitchy Barista reputation" should be "Your Bitchy Barista reputation"
"I’m violating the only philosophical tenant..." should be "I’m violating the only philosophical tenet..."

Mary Jane may be male or female (I am by no means convinced by the Goodreads blurb for this author! Is "Mary Jane" really comedian Lindsay Rousseau? Who knows?) and it doesn't matter, except that this author treasures anonymity so highly that I can't give you an author's website, although you can try here to get a sampling of this author's writing which sports titles such as, "Like Water for Macaroni". The title of this novel is unfortunate because if you enter it as a search term on the web, you're going to get everything but this novel showing up, including an ungodly number of tie-dyed T-shirts! That and a few too many typos aside, it was a fun read.

The story is about Eleanor Cooprider and Kim Park, who are people I would definitely like to know. Having said that I wouldn't want to go to one of their soirées, which I confess struck me as slightly tedious. These two are at their best when it's just these two, and they're talking about any topic. They're playful, smart, interesting, eclectic, off-beat, irreverent, supportive, and very warm people who dearly love each other no matter what.

This story begins at the beginning - they day they met, but then it jumps around a lot, be warned - perhaps a bit too much for some readers, but for me it wasn't too annoying, just a little confusing here and there. The chapters have a sub-heading giving time and place, full of pseudo-self-importance which is always a bad sign, and which assumes that the reader actually remembers the time and place from the previous chapter, which is neither a wise nor is it a safe assumption given how engrossing their story is when it's really good. It's not very flowing either, in addition to being rather non-linear.

I had some issues with the story in general. For example, Kim is 23 but she references Larry Bird. Bird was a Boston Celtics player who had a distinguished career, but he retired in 1992, before Kim was born. It’s not really very likely she would recall him or esteem him as a player. It's possible, but a much more recent reference would have made more sense here. The problem was that the author was so locked into the name that she evidently forgot to check for appropriateness.

The Christmas play they put on as the story gets going is one about Charlie Brown and Christmas. We read, "...actually entitled 'Linus and Lucy'...", but entitled is used wrongly. It should be 'titled'. 'Entitled means something different, although I see more and more authors using it wrongly like this.

If you can handle this however, you're in for a treat. This story follows the two from their first meeting at the school where they teach, until Eleanor retires - and it's quite a short book. Kim is convinced that Eleanor is a super hero because she can detect which career is best for her young school charges, but even super heroes make mistakes. The question is, what will happen to their relationship if Eleanor's "high flying" days come crashing down around the two of them?

I loved this story (mostly!) and recommend it.