Showing posts with label print book. Show all posts
Showing posts with label print book. Show all posts

Friday, February 15, 2019

Let's Celebrate Valentine's Day


Rating: WORTHY!

A day late, for which I apologize, but this apparently authorless book is full of interesting things for kids to make and do on Valentine's Day. It's full of of greetings and best wishes you can exchange with friends, parents, grandparents on this day, as well as hosting a few puzzles which curiously have nothing to do with Valentine's Day!

Of course you should express your love for your loved one(s) every day in one way or another, but there's nothing wrong with having a special day dedicated to it. I commend this book as a fun read for children who might wonder about this day and what to do on it!


A Kid's Guide to Global Warming by Glen Murphy


Rating: WORTHY!

This large format, illustrated-book is full of facts and observations about climate change - and no, contrary to the clueless comments of an appallingly and willfully ignorant president, it didn't get renamed because global warming is a lie. Global warming and climate extremes are all part of climate change and anyone who cannot see that is blind, period. People need to be educated, especially our children and grandchildren who are the ones who are unfortunately going to have to live with the worst of what we have done to this planet. This book is a good start.

There are four sections: What is global warming?; What does it mean for us?; What are we doing?; and What can you do? The book goes into some detail, with great illustrations, about the fact that the planet's atmosphere and oceans are heating up, about fossil fuels and greenhouse gasses, about melting ice and rising sea levels, spreading disease vectors, extreme weather and pollution, all of which we're already seeing. The book also talks about carbon footprints, saving energy and water, and reducing waste. In short it has everything a kid needs to know to arm themselves against what's coming, and I commend it as a worthy and essential read.


Saturday, February 9, 2019

Manners and Mutiny by Gail Carriger


Rating: WARTY!

I read all four of this series and liked only the first two. I thought I was going to like this one until it became such a clichéd bore of a werewolf romance story that it made me want to vomit. I have no time for bullshit werewolf or vampire romances. This one promised not to be such a novel when it began. It was steampunk. Why authors feel the need to include vampires and werewolves in their steampunk tales is a complete and utter mystery to me, because it never works. The story always wants to be one or the other and is ruined by trying to make it both.

Sophronia is at a girls' finishing school based on an airship, but it's really a finishing school for female spies. That part was all well and good, but of course the author had to throw in a forbidden romance because no YA female main character is complete unless she has a demanding and pushy bad boy after her.

The guy's absurd name was Soap and he was a grease monkey on the airship - so, forbidden. Then the author evidently thought she had to up the ante, and she had Sophronia save Soap's life by begging the werewolves to bite him. Now Soap is a werewolf and even more forbidden, and far from being pissed at her for interfering in his life (or death), he now sees her action as a declaration of her love for him, and bizarrely thinks he owns her. Never once does Sophronia set limits or boundaries, because he pulls all sorts of entirely inappropriate behaviors on her and she gulps it down like a bitch in heat.

In short, the whole thing reeked. The author might have rescued it if she'd had anything going on other than the romance, but there was literally nothing happening that was worth the telling in the fifty percent of this that I could stand to read, and the romance was all this book had to offer. That was certainly not worth the telling. It's been done countless times before. Please, bring me an author with an imagination and some originality. I'm done with this one. I ditched it and moved on to something hopefully better, and which I felt certain couldn't possibly be any worse.


Saturday, February 2, 2019

Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve


Rating: WORTHY!

Back when the movie was out - a movie I enjoyed, but which failed at the box office in December 2018 (it made only 80% of its production budget) - you could not find this book at the library at all (they were all checked out), but recently when I went in there to look for the sequel to Philip Reeve's Railhead (which was not to be had!) Mortal Engines was sitting right there - a modest paperback, so I grabbed it. And I loved it despite its three-hundred-page reading length.

The movie follows the book closely to begin with, but then increasingly departs from it. I can see why it does, but it occurs to me that if it had followed the book more closely, it would have done better than it did. The book was beautifully done and doesn't shy away from depicting hard truth and gritty reality. Hollywood not so much, and so it's sad world when a movie makes eighty million dollars, and is still considered a failure, isn't it?!

So briefly, the story is of a future, but rather steampunk world, that when analyzed makes little sense. Cities are no longer places you go to, they're places that come after you in what's repeatedly referred to as Municipal Darwinism. It's a city-eat-city world, and this is how the cities are powered and grow: by traveling the land, hunting and wrecking other cities, absorbing their populations, and recycling their raw materials as fuel and building supplies.

The biggest problem for me was the energy requirement. I'm not saying you couldn't build something that huge and have it move, but the power required to move it would be exorbitant, and where would it come from?

This story isn't set a hundred years hence, but several thousand, after a disastrous global war. Even if society could rebuild itself and take its cities mobile, the fuel (you name it: natural gas, coal, oil) would have long run out by that time, so what are they running the cities on? It's never actually discussed, only vaguely alluded to!

We're running out of oil now, something the gas-guzzling USA, with its car manufacturers ditching decent-mileage passenger cars for poor mileage SUVs and trucks while the rest of the world wisely looks to renewables. This is touched on in the story, with the USA described as an abandoned wasteland.

The story focuses on Hester Shaw, a badly-scarred young woman (the movie beautifies her giving her only a scar. She is much more disfigured in the novel), and on Tom Natsworthy, a third class historian trainee who lives in London. Hester is in a smaller village and purposefully, it turns out.

The village is absorbed by London, bringing Hester into contact with her quarry - a man named Valentine, beloved in London, but who murdered her mother. She almost manages to kill him, and then escapes by jumping into the waste chute when pursued by Tom. Inexplicably, Valentine pushes Tom down there after her, because he thinks he knows too much. I did not get that part at all - in the movie or the novel.

Tom loves London and is in denial. He forms a very uneasy relationship with Hester and each grows, over an extended time, to respect and then love the other. They have multiple adventures - more-so than in the movie - being captured twice, the second time by pirates.

The ending was very different from the movie and was amazing. I heartily commend this novel as a worthy read. There are three sequels, but I'm not sure I want to read those because I fear the first will be sullied by reading any more!

Why authors feel this need to squeeze the life out of their inventions by forcing them into ritualistic trope-filled sequels escapes me. I know it's very lucrative for publishers and authors if they can get a good pot of serial novels like this boiling, but to me it's lazy and avaricious - and abusive of readers, so I think I'll stop at this one. I had a different experience with Railhead, where I do plan on reading the next volume. Hopefully that will not become something I regret doing! LOL!


Isadora Duncan a Graphic Biography by Sabrina Jones


Rating: WORTHY!

Before I read this I didn't know squat about Isadora Duncan - not even what she was famous for other than her death which is probably better known than her life by too many people - myself a prime case in point. I also remember her name from a Beatles movie, although I forger the specific movie tile. It's where Ringo chants at one point, "Isadora Duncan worked for Telefunken." He either got it from a song title by John Lennon, or Lennon titled his song after Ringo's chant. I don't know which came first, but I never could get that line out of my head! Telefunken was at the time a German electrical appliance manufacturer the name of which had perhaps amused the Beatles during their tenure in the country at the outset of their career.

I'd rather idly assumed that Duncan had been a writer, maybe a poet, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover from this biography that she'd been known pretty much solely for dance in her own time. I enjoyed the biography and it was packed and informative, but for me, Isadora Duncan came off as a bit of a flake, and probably not someone I would have taken to had I ever met her. Not that that's chronologically possible since she died in 1927.

Her dancing seems to me to have been the visual equivalent of jazz music - free-form and undisciplined. I can't say for sure since sadly, there's no film of her dancing, although there are photographs, but such static snapshots cannot possibly give a good picture of how she moved or what her dancing was truly like. I'm guessing I would not have liked it.

Regardless of my personal preference though, she impressed very many people with her dance in her lifetime, and attempted at one time or another, to start schools to teach others to be free and self-motivated in their dance rather than rigidly adhere to preset forms. In this regard she was the Bruce Lee of dance, for he advocated precisely this same thing except that it was in regard to martial arts in his case. Whether he knew anything of Isadora Duncan I can't say, but the two of them would have probably gotten along quite well had chronology been such that they could ever have met.

Her death, for anyone who has never heard of it, was the equivalent of a hanging, when her flowing scarf became caught in the open-spoked wheels and axle of the open-top car in which she was riding, resulting in her being pulled out of the car by the neck, which broke. Death was instantaneous, we're assured, although I doubt many deaths truly are. She was only fifty and still had so much to offer the world, which redoubles the tragedy.

The thing is that her life was equally ill-favored in many regards, including that of raising children. She was not an advocate of marriage, She was very progressive and feminist, and a pursuer of free love as it was called. Today she'd likely be cruelly dismissed as a slut, but she had two children with her lovers who both died when the car they were in ran off by itself into a river. She later had a third child which died shortly after it was born. So tragic a life.

She was so renowned in dance that she was able to support her several siblings and mother (father abandoned the family when Isadora was quite young), but then she would go off on a tangent and embark upon some project - such as starting a dancing school or proposing an idyllic retreat in the hills of Athens, none of which ever really took off.

After those, she would find herself in debt and would began dancing again to raise money before launching a new venture - another school or whatever. At one point she had a dancing troop of six girls who toured, and were known as the "Isadorables" which is an amusing and charming name. Her professional reputation and influence lasted a lot longer than her schools did. The last of her Isadorables died quite recently, in 1987.

The book in general, I think, does a good job of conveying her life, but from subsequent reading I've done, it appears to omit some details, such as her private life becoming less private and more scandalous in later life, her drunkenness and her waning ability to pay her bills, so it seems that this book set out only to paint a glossy and positive picture, but that said, I feel better for knowing more about her than I did before, and I commend this graphic novel for getting me there.


The Speed of Light by Amber Kizer


Rating: WARTY!

This is the third volume in the 'Meridian' trilogy which began with Meridian in 2009, and was followed by Wildcat Fireflies in 2011, and this one a year later. Despite liking the first, and not so much the second, both of which I read before I started blogging books, I could not get into this third volume at all. Maybe I left it too long before moving on to read this one? But that said it didn't ought to have affected my perception of it to this extent.

This is why I typically despise trilogies because far more often than not, the author takes a great idea and ruins it by dragging it out way past its natural life cycle. This is what happened here. Each volume was less than the previous, and this particular one was a bloated tome. One of the reasons for that was the appalling waste of trees involved in its production. There were massive margins, and the widely-spaced text did not start until halfway down the page on new chapters. How many trees could you have saved, Ms Kizer if you had formatted your book a little more wisely? Maybe she doesn't care. Maybe she hates trees. No one wants to see a book that's all text and no white space not even me(!), but come on! I think I'm going to start negatively-reviewing any print book that's so disrespectful of our environment.

Anyway I think I am done with this author after this experience. But briefly, the book is about Meridian Sozu, who is known as a Fenestra, that is, a human who has been, dare I say it, touched by an angel, and who is supposed to help transition souls into the next world. Why such a person would ever be needed goes unexplained. It implies that the resident god is incompetent and needs help shoring-up the defective system he created!

The author pairs her up with a guy, of course, who is naturally her soul-mate and protector. Why the author couldn't have changed this up a bit instead of taking the road most traveled, I do not know. She could have made the two antagonists, or made the protector a lesbian who wants Meridian, but whose love is not requited, or something else, but no, let's stick with traditional weak women who desperately needs a guy to validate her, young adult crap.

In volume one, this wasn't so bad as it happened, but it got worse. In this volume there's a battle to save this girl Julia who will do almost anything to find her parents, and who is siding with the idiotically named 'nocti' - the forces of dark who try to steal souls from people like Meridian. Plus there's a disaster awaiting at the Indianapolis 500, which some would argue is already a disaster, but still. Sorry, but no - not interested! The author has done insufficient work to create this world, and consequently it doesn't hang together at all well.


Monday, January 28, 2019

Railhead by Philip Reeve


Rating: WORTHY!

Having DNF'd a younger children's novel by Reeve, I'm happy to report a worthy commendation on this one, aimed at a young adult audience and the first of a trilogy. I'm not a fan of the inevitable YA trilogy or the series, for the most part. I refuse to write them myself; they smack of lazy writing and avarice, dragging a one-volume story out over three.

I blame authors, readers, and publishers equally for this rip-off, but this particular one caught my imagination because it tells an honest story and doesn't pad it. I am intent upon reading the next volume which is a rarity for me. However, once again it failed to reveal on the cover that it was the first volume in a series. Fortunately on this occasion I knew it was, so it did not piss me off with the cliff-hanger ending.

I saw a review in The Guardian which compared this novel to other works of sci-fi, but to me it is most comparable to the His dark Materials trilogy by another Philip - and this one a Sir Philip Pullman. The way this is told and the way int ends - about to enter a new world, very much reminded me of The golden Compass and the ending to that.

This one is more hardcore sci-fi though. The protagonist, Zen Starling is a shoplifter and pick-pocket from the end of the line world called Cleave which is like the wrong side of the tracks, and rail metaphors are apropos here because the way one gets form one world to another is be sentient trains (and Reeve takes great delight in describing them!) which can traverse special tunnels which link one planet in the system to another which will be many light years away through normal space.

The story hits the ground running with Zen running after stealing a necklace. There is a drone following him but he manages to shake it - so he thinks, and gets back to Cleave, but the girl who knew his name and tried to waylay him in the street shows up in Cleave and he's on the run again. He's picked up by the Railforce - the interplanetary police - but after escaping them when their armored train is wrecked, he ends up with arch-villain Raven, who seems to have a personal vendetta against the ruling emperor family which goes by the name of Noon.

It turns out that Zen is related to the Noons and as such, he can board their special train, wherein lies an artifact which Raven wants Starling to steal for him. This seems to go well at first and then all hell breaks loose, and things are complicated by the fact that Zen, against his better nature since androids (and gynoids!) are detested in Cleave, finds himself falling for Nova - Raven's Moto - and the girl who tried to help Zen after the necklace theft.

There is much more to the story than this, including the mysterious guardians that Raven has tangled with in the past, and the strange, ethereal 'angels' which often appear over the track when a train comes out of a transition tunnel known here as a K-Gate. I enjoyed the story immensely and look forward to volume two, hoping it has the same power of engagement and drive that this one had.


Carnival in a Fix by Philip Reeve, Sarah McIntyre


Rating: WARTY!

This is the first Philip Reeve book I've read that I did not consider a worthy read. Note that its not aimed at me, but at a much younger audience, and for them it may well be good, but there were too many cliches and tropes here for my taste and even for a children's book I can't condone that kind of lazy writing.

Whether it would be discernible to its intended audience, I don't know, but it was blatantly obvious from he start what was going on here. Emily lives at an interplanetary unfair situated on a moon somewhere, and visited by aliens of all stripes (and dots and heliotrope!). On the day the story starts, she bids goodbye to her parental units - an odd couple - only to discover that a unfair inspector has arrived and is a nasty piece of work. She sets off to inform her guardians.

What's obvious is that this is no fun-fair inspector. He's an unfair inspector - some dude who is sabotaging the fair by use of little spiky spidery type critters while pretending to fail everything because of poor maintenance and so on. No one sees this, or even suspects it. This tells me that everyone at the fair, and in particular Emily, is really rather stupid. I do not appreciate stories about stupid people (unless the author is planning on taking it somewhere interesting) and especially not about stupid female characters.

My other problem with this was the aliens. Like far too many sci-fi stories, the aliens were caricatures. And yes, it's a kids book, but multiple eyes on stalks? If only sci-fi authors had paid attention during the evolution module in school they would come up with far more engaging aliens. Most of this is on McIntyre since she was the artist, but the author doubtlessly could have nixed these drawings had he wanted.

That wasn't the biggest problem though. That problem was Emily. She was purportedly alien (there's no word about where she came from or how she ended up there) but she looks exactly like a human - except for a tail tacked on to her. It would have been nice had Emily been shown as alien, so kids understand there are interesting stories to be told about people who are not like the reader.

So all told, I DNF'd this and cannot commend it as a worthy read.


Thursday, January 24, 2019

Cowl Vol 2 The Greater Good by Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel, Rod Reis


Rating: WARTY!

I didn’t like this. It was too much of a rip-off of Watchmen: set in earlier times in the 20th century, a death of a super hero, an investigation. That might have been fine, but the problem was that it did not have the characters that watchmen had. The super heroes here had no life to them. They were boring. If I had read volume 1, I might have found more investment in it, but I doubt it. The story by Higgins and Siegel was dragging, and there was nothing of interest (to me) happening, especially since the super heroes were out on strike(!) and so there was no super hero-ing going on to speak of. It seemed stuck in a rut, and the Reis‘s artwork was nothing special either. I cannot commend it based on this experience and I have no interest in pursuing this series at all.

And what a trite title! Cowl? Could they not have come up with something a bit better and more original?


Oliver and the Seawigs by Philip Reeve, Sarah McIntyre


Rating: WORTHY!

I came into this series rather ass-backwards, reading the second volume (Cakes in Space) first, then the third (Pugs of the Frozen North), and finally coming back to the first. I found the titles hilarious. It doesn't really matter where you start as it happens, since they're not really sequential or even about the same people. All three have been enjoyable although they're aimed at a much younger audience than I represent.

This one was about this little kid named Oliver, which is becoming a quite popular name choice in the USA over the last couple of years - unlike Sarah, which recently dropped out of the top 100 for the first time since records began.

As it happens, the art for this novel is by a Sarah - McIntyre. She's definitely not unpopular! Oliver has explorers for parents, and he's not happy endlessly wandering the world. To his relief, the parents have finally explored everything, and are moving back to their family home on the coast. Oliver is thrilled.

The thrill evaporates rapidly as his parents are more interested in the islands off the coast - which were not there when they were last at home, than they are in moving things into their house. Poor Oliver is doing this when he realizes that the inflatable dinghy his parents took is back on shore sans parents, and the islands have all disappeared, save for one of them.

It turns out that the islands are the Rambling Isles - rock people who wander the ocean trying to find items to put on their heads to make an impressive sea wig, with which to win the septennial competition among the Rambling Islands.

Befriending an albatross who lives on this one island - which Oliver names 'Cliff', and a short-sighted mermaid, Oliver sets off, transported by the island, to find his parents. The story is delightfully whimsical and inventive, playful and imaginative, and light hearted, with a pair of all-but mustache-twirling villains thrown in. But you might want to steer clear - not of the Sargasso Sea, but the Sarcastic Sea, where the seaweed will make salty remarks about you.

The author is best known for his Mortal Engines series, which I haven't read (yet!), although I enjoyed the movie (unlike most people it seems!). I loved this story, and want to read more of this series.


Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Lost City of Solomon and Sheba by Robin Brown-Lowe


Rating: WARTY!

I picked this up because I thought it might have something interesting to say about the very enigmatic Queen of Sheba, which might perhaps lead to an idea for a future novel, but no! It had almost nothing to say about her because almost nothing is known about her. Solomon gets short shrift. It's tempting to say that the main thrust of the book is as its title suggests - the lost city of Ophir, but I can't say that because there is no thrust, and the names of Solomon and Sheba were obviously just tossed into the title merely to draw potential readers' interest. Well, shame on me!

This endlessly rambling book does recount a lot of history, but it's disjointed and disconnected and sways back and forth between time periods without ever making its case. The main problem with it is that, in the same manner employed by those morons who write books about Earth being visited by aliens from outer space, it builds tissue-thin claims upon non-existent foundations, with the author, who is not an archeologist but a journalist, making huge speculative leaps based on the flimsiest of 'evidence'.

Thus we have him categorically setting Ophir in Zimbabwe, based on the Great Zimbabwe, a beautiful monument which racists have traditionally tried to deny was built by native Africans. The author seems to be doing the same thing. His chapter titles are sensationalist: To Ophir Direct, Ophir Revealed, Ophir Spinning, and closing with Ophir Writ Large (there are many other chapters) yet not once does he fulfill the promise of the title by laying down a solid case for The Great Zimbabwe being Ophir. Nor doe she explain

He defeats his own claims because while the book does contain some photographs, none of them support the text our the claims he makes in it. In fact, some refute his claims. One of these claims is that bird effigies were found at Zimbabwe which had a design around their neck like a necklace or perhaps, it occurs to me, a pattern or tattoo, yet though he shows several pictures of the birds, not one of them has any of the features he claims for them. This alone defeats he 'thesis'.

Of these birds, wikipedia says, "They are unique to Great Zimbabwe; nothing like them has been discovered elsewhere." - something which the author seeks to muddy at best, and never once does he mention that certain birds were sacred to the people, more than adequately explaining why they would want to sculpt images of them. So once again we see a native culture being denigrated by a white writer, as though no native African could ever have an advanced thought in their head, and none could create or build anything beautiful. I call bullshit on that.

So after plodding through most of the book vainly searching for his supporting evidence, and skimming other repetitive areas, I concluded the guy doesn't know what he's talking about. As wikipedia puts it, "The majority of scholars believe that it was built by members of the Gokomere culture, who were ancestors of modern Shona in Zimbabwe." And the site is dated as originating In the Iron Age, long after Solomon. The stone structures were built in the eleventh century. It was half millennium after that before any white person came anywhere near them. QED.

The author is not wrong in asserting that there is a genetic link between the male line of the peoples known as Mwenye, and people of ancient Jewish descent, but he fails to mention that they could also be of South Arabian descent too. This is dishonest, in reporting only the evidence that can be deemed to support his claims and withholding that which might defeat or dilute them. Just because a lineage has certain DNA doesn't make the author's case at all. DNA is so dissipated around the world these days that no one group is really isolated from another, and we're talking many hundreds of years ago. One trader passing on his DNA to a local woman all that time ago could easily lead to a tribe later in history, and there were no doubt many traders. This doesn't prove the author's thesis though, especially not with the lack of evidence he has.

I disrecommend this book.


Saturday, January 19, 2019

Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller by Joseph Lambert


Rating: WARTY!
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I believe in giving credit where credit is due, but aside from the focus on Sullivan rather than Keller - and lets face it, without Sullivan there would be no Keller as we know her today - there really is very little due here.

This graphic novel is aimed at grades six through eight, but while I am far from those grades, I was not happy with it. The artwork is indifferent and appears in tiny panels (a rigid and plodding sixteen per page) such that the image is not only tiny, but the text is also small. I had a hard time reading it and an almost impossible time reading the narration, which is in script. There were parts I skipped rather than strain my eyes trying to read it. If the format of the book had been larger this would not have been such a problem, but as it was, it was really irritating to me and overwhelmed the story.

While the book does convey the magnitude of the task which faced a visually-impaired 20-year-old Sullivan trying to teach a willful and spoiled seven-year-old who was impaired in ways much greater than Anne herself was, it fails to make the impact it should because it is so choppy. An early flashback itself dissolves into an earlier flashback and this back-flashing keeps happening as we move back and forth between the 'present' where Anne is teaching Helen, and the past, where Anne had her own trials to go through, which were tough enough. Anne Sullivan was a strong woman.

This story is about Anne as opposed to Helen, which most stories are written about, and such a story is important and needs to be told, but I don't think this book gets it done. The 'Annie' of the title was better known as Anne, although her birth name was Johanna Mansfield Sullivan to which she added a 'Macy' when she married later in life. Her initial interactions with Helen were nightmarish because Helen was so spoiled and had no discipline. Anne was not only fighting her charge, but also Helen's parents who did not understand the huge amount of work which needed to be done to liberate Helen from the prison of her impaired senses.

Much as I'd like to recommend a book like this, I cannot. I've read other books about Helen Keller and the one I commend so far is Helen Keller by Jane Sutcliffe. This might not be quite as appealing as a graphic novel to children in this age range, but it isn't something they could not handle, and I'd prefer it to this graphic novel. However, if this novel gets kids interested enough to read something on this topic that's more grown up and less picture-y, then all well and good, but I have doubts it will do that.


HP Lovecraft He Who Wrote in the Darkness by Alex Nikolavitch, Gervasio, Carlos Aon, Lara Lee


Rating: WARTY!

I'm always interested in reading about other writers if they have anything interesting to say but for me, this graphic novel about Lovecraft was a fail. He wrote over sixty stories - most of them short stories, during his short lifetime (he died at 46 from cancer), but this didn't really delve into many of them or even keep track of his writing them, which seemed very odd to me for a book about a writer.

It did highlight some of his quirks and made a passing mention of his racism, but it seemed more focused on his inabilities rather than his abilities - his inability to live with his wife (a curiosity for someone whose name is love craft!) and his inability to focus on writing stories while effortlessly penning thousands of long letters - than it ever did in discussing his work or even mentioning it.

That said it is a graphic novel, not a biography, so some things inevitably get left out. It just felt to me that writer Nikolavitch left out the wrong things, and the art by Gervasio, Aon, and Lee was average at best, so I cannot commend this as a worthy read.


Heavy Vinyl by Carly Usdin, Nina Vakueva


Rating: WORTHY!

This was different and quite fun and fresh, but it doesn't contain a complete story. This features editions one through four, and there is another collection that will either continue or complete it, so I was rather dissatisfied with the lack of a resolution, but that was nowhere near as bad as the wildly inaccurate blurb on the back cover of this graphic novel! Other than that, the book was well-written by Usdin, and beautifully drawn and colored by Vakueva.

The story is of Chris, all excited to start her first day at a vinyl record store. I've frankly never understood this craze for vinyl. We had vinyl and it sucked, which is precisely why we went to other media! You can't win me over by arguing about audio fidelity when the vinyl recording you have is full of noise, and skips and jumps which is the inevitable fate of all vinyl. Nor can you argue that any purported difference matters when you can't listen to vinyl through your iPod or your phone or whatever medium you use outside the home. Whatever you run through those devices is processed in exactly the same way, so you gain no advantage even if there is one to be gained! There may well be people who can tell the difference between a vinyl sound and a CD, or an MP3, or a streamed track, but I cannot, and I suspect most people cannot and are just fooling themselves that they can.

I can accept that there are vinyl snobs and stores catering to them, so I had no problem with the setting for this story, which is called Vinyl Destination (the blurb inaccurately called it "Vinyl Mayhem"). The plays on words through the story were one thing which highly amused me. It's rather a genderist establishment though, given that every employee and the boss are all female. It's also ageist in that they are all in their teens and early twenties, including the boss! You'd think a store like that would want someone with vinyl experience! But I let that slide.

The book isn't set today - it's set in the 1990's for reasons which escaped me. Given that era, some reviewers have complained about the lack of homophobia depicted here, saying it was unrealistic, but there was very little in the way of gay representation in this book at all, so there was nothing for incidental homophobes to react to. It's not like the book was presenting as an LGBTQIA romance. It's not. That's a part of it, but the main thrust is about another topic entirely. It was mainly Chris's innocent and clumsy crush on a fellow employee that was the gay element, and the awkwardness and humor inherent in her inability to determine if her attentions would be reciprocated. I think that was plenty for a book like this, aimed at the younger YA audience as it was, especially when it had other fish to fry. It seemed perfect to me, but I'm coming from a cis background, so your mileage may well differ depending on your own perspective.

But to get back to the lack of homophobia - I think a lot of those reviewers failed to fully grasp that the entire story (very nearly!) takes place in the relatively safe confines of the record store which is entirely populated by young and very open-minded females, all of whom (except for newcomer Chris) were already tightly-bonded by their vigilante background, so the claims that the story was unrealistic in its nineties portrayal seemed shallow to me. Were there no such enclaves in the nineties? I'd call bullshit on that one. And it's not like these girls didn't have other issues to contend with!

It felt like some of these reviews hadn't warmed to the story and went through it looking to find any little scrap which would support what were evidently vague feelings that 'this story was not for me'. Hey, if you don't like it, you don't like it, and if you can't articulate why, that's fine! Personally I prefer reviewers who go into some detail over their likes and dislike because it helps me get a handle on where they're coming from and helps me to make a better decision about whether to read it or not, but I don't demand it of every reviewer in every review! You don't like it and can't put your finger on a good reason? I'm fine with that!

Anyway...there is something odd going on at the store and it doesn't take long for Chris to start feeling excluded, but it soon becomes clear that the store employees aren't in a secret band. The blurb claims that they are "endlessly trying to form a band" but this is a lie. They're not! Not until the end of this volume anyway. Whoever wrote the clueless blurb should be the one kicked out of the store! Some reviewers had an issue with that, too, but they seemed to be taking the story too seriously to my mind. It's a light and fun romp. Relax and enjoy that ride, I say!

Chris is finally invited to stay over with the rest of the staff one day after work, and she feels accepted at last, but is unsure if she wants to be when she discovers that the girls are all a part of a teen girl vigilante group (not a "fight club" as the blurb inaccurately claims). They do fight each other, but only as practice for their vigilante-ism, which is actually going through some slack times until their pop idol, Rosie Riot, goes missing, and certain zombie-like, or perhaps more accurately, robotic-like behaviors are noted in some members of visiting bands.

No, this isn't a zombie story. I would never have picked it up if it were. It's more of a sci-fi mystery/thriller, and it works pretty well. I liked the characters and I would read the next volume if I could get my hands on it, so while I was disappointed that the story ended so quickly and abruptly, I liked it well enough that I consider it a worthy read.


Songs of Our Ancestors Vol 2 by Patrick Atangan


Rating: WARTY!

Subtitled "The Silk Tapestry and Other Chinese Folktales", this is the volume two I wondered about when I positively reviewed volume one back in October of 2018. This one was less than enthralling for me, so while it did hold the charm of the original to a certain extent, the stories seemed a lot less engaging, and I left the book feeling dissatisfied with it, so I cannot commend it.

The first story was of an old woman and her longsuffering daughter. The woman meets a water spirit one day at the river and is inspired to create a tapestry, based on vivid dreams that she has, of living a life as courtesan, but the story rambles on a bit too much, and then seems to completely fizzle out at the end so I wasn't at all sure what exactly happened. I didn't like it.

The next story went to the opposite end of the scale, featuring young, not old, and male, not female, and was about a boy who could paint pictures that took on a life of their own, rather reminiscent of Harold and the Purple Crayon. This story was entertaining, and the artwork was good, but it never really seemed like it wanted to go anywhere. The third one is a creation story bearing a lot of resemblance to the Biblical story (or vice-versa), and featuring a lonely god who separates waters from waters and creates things. It was boring.

So overall, I was not impressed and unlike after reading the first volume, I do not feel inclined to pursue this series any further.


Friday, January 11, 2019

Despicable Deadpool Bucket List by Gerry Duggan, Matteo Lolli, Christian Dalla Vecchia, Scott Koblish, Ruth Redmond


Rating: WARTY!

I'm a fan of the movie universes created by Marvel and DC - if you can call that latter a universe - so obviously more of a fan of Marvel than DC, but Wonder Woman is still the most kick-ass female hero so far in those movie worlds. Comic books have never been my thing. Even as a kid I was not a great fan, although I read quite a few. Since I left that phase of my life, they've mostly felt too juvenile for me, although I've read a few recently which transcended that problem. Comic books in general still have some big fish to gut before they can fry them, sexualisation of females being the prime one.

But that wasn't the problem here. The thing here is that there's nothing more asinine than two people locked in a supposed life-or-death struggle and exchanging quips throughout the fight. It's utterly ridiculous, but it's de rigueur in comic book hero fights. It occurs twice on the early pages here, once between Deadpool and Rogue, and once between the merc with a smirk and a villain who was too laughable to take seriously. And whose name didn't even register.

Not that there ever is an actual life-or-death struggle in comic books because no matter how "final" a demise is, the character always comes back whether they're good or evil. It doesn't matter, so the story itself didn't matter when you get right down to it. It's a farce and not even amusing in the best tradition of British farce.

Comic books are a Buddhist's worst nightmare - trapped on the eternally cycling wheel of suffering, and while a good Buddhist would never espouse this, the only solution is to kill off the villain! Don't lock them up in the same prison they already escaped from fifty times before. Slay them! Burn their bodies to ash! Seal the ash in lead, put that urn on a rocket, and fire it into the heart of the sun! End of story. Invent a new and different villain for next time instead of resurrecting the zombie villains of yesteryear. Quit taking the lazy way out.

Frankly, it really is boring to have the same hero battle the same villain over and over again, or if not the villain, then the villain's evil daughter - or some other relative. These writers need a new shtick. The Joker is a joke. The Mandarin is as toxic as Agent Orange. Find fresh villains for goodness sake! It's reached a point now where one universe isn't enough for the comic book writers and they have to bring in other universes/parallel worlds for no other reason than that they can lazily repeat the same stories, but with non-different characters.

By that I mean the character is supposedly different, but not really, and so we get the same stories warmed over with a different color palette. Winsome repeat is all they seem to have. This is why I quit watching The Flash TV show because every season was an exact repeat of the previous season: a "new" villain just like the one from last season - evil and faster than The Flash - and Flash had to defeat him, and always did. It was tedious.

The most annoying thing about this particular volume is one that seems to be common in Marvel's arena: writers cannot produce a comic about a super hero these days that doesn't grandfather-in a host of other heroes and villains from the Marvel stable. So we have Deadpool, who I love in the movies, supposedly going through a bucket list of items, each of which is apparently a cameo appearance of other notables from the Marvel world. Although I confess I did find Stevil Rogers amusing.

Deadpool cannot die. This is a given, so at least they're owning that fact of comic book super hero life up front, but why he thinks he's in a position necessitating a bucket list is a mystery. This was volume 2 and I didn't read volume 1 because celestials forbid that a publisher should actually inform the reader right there on the cover of which volume in what series this is! So maybe it was explained, but let's run with it, ready or not.

So anyway Deadpool starts out fighting Rogue, who he evidently had a thing with in a previous volume. Rather than sit down and talk, they start smashing the hell out of each other. That's a great plan for a relationship isn't it? Never once did she consider bringing along a collar from the Ice Box and snapping that on him to take him down. Nope! They smash-up everything around them and take no responsibility for it. It's like Sokovia never happened. And given comic book penchant for redux up the wazoo, maybe it didn't in this particular universe.

So the story is that a male writer has a female hero take the brute force approach rather than an intellectual or cooperative one. You know, someone did a study of comic-book violence in terms of who perpetrates it, and it turns out that the super heroes are more violent than the super villains. How did that come about? It's reported at https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-11/aaop-gi102218.php. But I digress.

Rogue has apparently acquired many powers, including the power to fly and hover, as well as to recover from what would otherwise be debilitating - if not death-dealing - injuries. Good for her. After Deadpool escapes her, he takes on a complete nonentity and has Marvel guest star The Collector pick him (or her) up and cart them away; then it's Marvel Guest Star Captain America putting in an appearance to star in a redux of the Deadpool origin story where he gets pinned to the cement by a large, shaft of steel. Who says male super heroes aren't sexualized?!

After that we get a visit from Colossus and Kitty Pryde, which frankly sounds like the name of a cat toilet product. I'm sorry, but there really was no story here. It was all one long and tired cliché, and I refuse to commend something as unimaginative as this.


Battlepug by Mike Norton, Allen Passalaqua


Rating: WARTY!

I may have been unduly precipitous with my declaration that this is the year of the pug and not the year of the pig.

This was a rather bizarre story in which a small amount of entertainment was lost among crimes against women. The story is related by a woman to her two pet dogs, a pug and a small bulldog, both of which constantly argue with each other - yes, they can also talk. Why the woman had to be lying prone on her bed, gratuitously butt-naked in telling the story I do not know, but look at the gender of the creators, and all becomes clear. Y-Chromosome Norton is the writer and also the artist, and Y-Chromosome Passalaqua did the coloring.

As far as the story went, it had interest and humor, and the art was decent, but this was overshadowed. It featured a Tarzan-type character known only as 'The Warrior' and who was purportedly the last surviving member of the Kinmundian Tribe, a claim which I personally did not buy. My guess is there's also a female survivor out there somewhere, but this book was only the collected volume one.

The Tarzan impersonator reluctantly teams-up (which curiously isn't the opposite of teaming down any more than undertaking is the opposite of overtaking) with a giant pug and a wizard, to take on the villain. If it had been just that, all would have been well and good, but the nudity? Not appropriate. The guy wore a loin-cloth, so no real nudity there. What happened to equal time? And why only a loin cloth when he had been raised in the frozen north?

There was no reason at all for why the woman narrator, Moll, was naked. She could just as well have been clothed, but throughout the narration, she lay bare-assed and unembarrassed on her bed. She could have been putting the dogs to bed and telling them a bedtime story over a cup of cocoa while wearing a robe herself. It could have been a naked guy telling the story about a warrior woman, but that would have been considered odd now wouldn't it? And it would have been just as inappropriate.

If there's a valid reason for the nudity, then fine, I have no problem with that, but there usually isn't other than an enduring male writer's need to sexualize their female characters, and there certainly wasn't any reason for it here other than that these guys with the evident mentality of frat boys wanted to see a naked girl on a bed.

The comic was published in print form in 2012 after a life as a web comic, so it's not like it was written with antique sensibilities. I can't commend a comic that has female nudity without any reason other than male comic book writers and artists have evidently still not yet left the stoned age. It's for this reason alone that I rate this as an unworthy read, notwithstanding any other qualities it had.


Pugs of the Frozen North by Philip Reeve, Sarah McIntyre


Rating: WORTHY!

The Chinese claim that this is the year of the pig (kick-off February 5th, 2019), but I hereby declare it the year of the pug! It's only a vowel away!

How could I, of all people, not want to pick this up and read it with a title like that? I couldn't resist it, and I was rewarded by an inventive and amusing middle-grade story which I have to say bears some resemblance at one point to the Homeric Odyssey Book 9, wherein Odysseus, having been blown about by the wind for over a week, finally makes it to an island. He discovers that the locals feed on the Lotus (which is often taken to be a flower, but more likely referenced the fruit of a tree). This bears a soporific fruit causing them to abandon all aspiration and industry, and from which he must rescue his men.

So in this novel, having become shipwrecked and abandoned, accidentally or otherwise by the crew, cabin boy Shen finds himself alone with sixty-six pugs, all of whom are shivering. Fortunately, the ship was carrying a cargo of small, woolly sweaters, with which Shen outfits each of the pugs, before embarking on an excursion to explore and find help. He comes across a small native village where he meets a girl named Sika, who curiously is in need of dogs to pull her sled in the local sled race to the top of the world, the winner of which has any wish granted.

The two embark upon the race pulled by the pugs and have several adventures, including meeting a large kraken, and being lured into the Yeti Noodle shack where they become prisoners. This is the Lotus-Eater phase. Yes, the noodles are dreamily good - they're made from special snow, so why wouldn't they be? But the imprisonment is to do the chore of washing dishes to pay for the noodles they ate! Of course they escape.

And after another adventure or two they meet the wish-granter. I thought this was great fun. They completely snowed me with it, and I'm going to see if I can get my icy hands on some of the other books Reeve and collaborator McIntyre have created together.


Friday, January 4, 2019

The Mechanical Horse by Margaret Guroff


Rating: WORTHY!

Subtitled 'How the Bicycle Shaped American Life', this book made for an informative and at times fascinating read and even gave me an idea for a novel - you never know where your next inspiration will come from!

It details the growth, retrenchment and regrowth of the bicycle (and it went through that...cycle...several times) from the earliest bike to modern times, discussing how it impacted not only the obvious - roads - but also other things, such as women's independence and military activities. It tells some great stories and makes for an engrossing book, and I commend it as a worthy read.


Kim by Rudyard Kipling


Rating: WARTY!

I've enjoyed several of this author's works, but I could not get with him on this one. I positively reviewed The Elephant's Child in February 2018, and his Just So Stories in December of 2014, and I even enjoyed the Jungle Book stories related to Mowgli, which admittedly I did as research for a novel, but nevertheless! This one was boring, I'm sorry to report.

Set in the late nineteenth century, this story has a great plot to begin with: Kim is Kimball O'Hara, an orphan whose Irish father and mother are both dead. He continues to live in poverty as did his parents, and earns a living (if you can call it that) from begging and running errands on the streets of Lahore, which nowadays is a major city in Pakistan in the Punjab pradesh. Kipling's story was set before the partition. Kim is so much a part of the local culture that he is routinely mistaken for a native. He sometimes does jobs for Mahbub Ali, who is a Pashtun horse dealer, but who also works for the British secret service.

Kim attaches himself to a Tibetan lama and begins traveling with him as the lama seeks to free himself from the never-ending wheel of life and achieve enlightenment, For some reason this necessitates a quest to find a certain body of water, but Kim is separated from the lama and sent to school when it's discovered that he is a British subject. Somehow this impoverished lama-beggar funds his education, and after he is done with school, he rejoins the lama on a trip, the lama still traveling, Kim now spying for the British government.

I never made it that far though, because the story bored the salwar off me. I cannot commend it as a worthy read.