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

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Tootle by Gertrude Crampton, Tennant Redbank, Sue DiCiccio


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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


Lulu-Grenadine Fait des Cauchemars by Laurence Gillot


Rating: WORTHY!

Continuing the international theme from the last review, There is over 20 Lulu-Grenadine books for children written by this slightly crazed-looking female author. This is the first I ever encountered her, and it was appropriately in French. I have only high-school French and most of that is forgotten, but I had enough to guess at what was being said and it was entertaining. I didn't know the word 'Cauchemars' but it became obvious that it means nightmare, of which a literal translation from English would be jument de nuit, except that the 'mare' in nightmare has nothing to do with a female horse, but is derived from an ancient European word related to oppressive feelings. So no more horses of the night! LOL! I have no idea what cauchemar actually means if translated literally.

In the story, this young girl, Lulu-Grenadine (that latter word meaning pomegranate) has a nightmare of little white dark-eyed ghosties floating around in her room, but eventually realizes they're nothing but her wild imagination. The book is entertaining and educational, usefully advising children that there really aren't any ghosts, and that an active imagination can be put to better uses than keeping you awake at night! I commend this book even though it needs no mending, except to maybe have it in the English version for better clarity for us English-speakers!


Friday, August 9, 2019

Sahara Special by Esmé Raji Codell


Rating: WORTHY!

Sahara has issues with her school, most notably that they confiscated some of her letters. These were ones she'd written to her absentee father and then stored in a disused locker at the school. Sahara also has issues, evidently about storing things at home, because she's also a writer and when she's written something creative in her journal - another chapter in her Heart-Wrenching Life Story and Amazing Adventures, she tears out the pages and hides them behind a disused section of books in her local library where she loves to spend her free time.

Sahara was a special-ed student, but now her mother has demanded she be removed from that category and integrated into regular classes. This requires some adjustment on her part, but Sahara is amazed to discover that her teacher isn't going to be who she thought it would be. There's a new fifth-grade teacher by the name of Poitier, but since these children seem unable to pronounce her name, she gets labeled 'Miss Pointy'. She's unlike any other teacher Sahara has ever encountered. Her methods are rather radical and pretty soon everyone is paying attention to the teacher. How radical is that?

I'm not normally a fan of this kind of story, but this one was different, amusing, and Sahara was an interesting and strong female character and also a main character of color. I liked her, liked the story, and commend it as a worthy read.


The Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a sequel to Zita the Spacegirl which I reviewed recently and loved. This one is equally loveable. Zita is irrepressible. I didn't know, when I read the first one, that Zita was actually invented by a fellow college student of the author's named Anna, who would go on to marry him. Paradoxically, Zita was older when she was first conceived than she is now, and the art was much more basic. She then transmogrified into an adventurer a bit like, I guess, a space-faring version of Jacques Tardi's Adèle Blanc-Sec. I'm not sure I would have liked her like that, because I much prefer Zita in the incarnation I first came to know her, which is this early middle-grade femme de feisty.

In this adventure, Zita, who we left thinking she had saved her friend and dispatched him home safely in the previous volume, is brought to trial in a kangaroo court which disappointingly isn't held by kangaroos, but by an alien villain and his hench-robots. His purpose is to recruit people by foul means (fair isn't an option with this guy) and set them to work in his mine in search of a crystal. He doesn't care that removing it will collapse the asteroid which bears the mine, and kill the indigenous life forms which look like lumps of coal with startling white eyes. Why a mined-out asteroid would collapse remains a bit of a mystery, but I didn't let that bother me! This is more sci-fantasy than sci-fi!

Zita meets her usual assortment of oddball alien friends - but even more-so in this outing, it seems - and she attempts to escape, but even when freedom is within her grasp, she can't help but go back and lend a hand to an alien she noted earlier who is being sorely-abused. Since this graphic novel was published just over four years after a Doctor Who episode titled The Beast Below, I have to wonder at the author purloining this idea from Stephen Moffat, but maybe the latter purloined it from elsewhere before that and so it goes. Writers can be a very derivative bunch can't they? Especially if they work for Disney. Remake much? But as long as suckers will pay, they'll be delighted to keep suckering them in won't they - innovation be damned?

But this story was amusing, entertaining, and made me want to read it to the end, so I commend it as a worthy read.


Sunday, August 4, 2019

Runaway Twin by Peg Kehret


Rating: WORTHY!

This book was amazing and despite it not being aimed at my age range for entertaining reading, it thrilled me because it did exactly what I advocate: tell me something new! Don't take the road most-traveled, but strike out on your own route which is coincidentally, precisely what the main character did. This book has a happy ending, but it isn't the happy ending you might think you're going to get. That's what made it special.

Sunny Skyland has been raised in foster homes one after another, since she was separated from her twin sister when they were both aged three. Now, in her early teens, Sunny happens upon a large sum of cash which no one claims, so she employs this windfall to embark on her dream road trip - hunting down her sister, Starr.

She doesn't dislike her current foster home, but she desperately needs to find her sister so she leaves a note for her foster mom Rita, and gets herself a bus ticket. Before long, she's in deeper than she imagined. It's not all plain sailing: soon she's taking on board a stray dog, running into bullies, missing a bus, taking a potentially risky long-distance cab ride, and finally, finally, finding her sister, which isn't at all the reunion that Sunny has envisioned all these years.

I commend this author for some fine writing and a great ending. I'm not much for series and sequels, but this is one story where a sequel would be highly appropriate. I'd read it.


Saturday, August 3, 2019

Framed by Gender by Cecilia L Ridgeway


Rating: WARTY!

I had high hopes for this book which discusses how women are framed by their own gender when it comes to getting "fair do's" out of society. This is so embedded in our culture that despite several revolutions such as the 'emancipation' of women way back, women becoming 'liberated' in the sixties, and even the #MeToo events of very recent years, women are still not where they logically and rationally ought to be. This author asks why. To me it's right there in 'emancipation'! 'Man' is right up front - 'E MAN', even! It too much like 'He Man', and that needs to change.

But joking aside, the problem I had with the book is that it's far too scholarly for the average reader. It has an index and extensive references, and that's a part of the problem in a sense: it's not written in a popular tone like, say, Richard Dawkins might write a science book, and make it accessible to the masses. I've read a few scholarly publications in my time and this one felt disorganized and meandering, and it was way too dry and academic for most readers, so Ilm not sure who it was written for. I quickly took to skimming the text and focusing on the conclusions, and even that took some effort. I agree with the author's thesis in general terms, but I don't see that she really gets her point across or effectively offers any good ideas for solutions.

Gender ideas are, as she explains, so profoundly embedded in our society that people find it hard to function when gender cannot be used to help categorize a person. The example she employs at one point is that of the 'Pat' sketches which ran in the early 1990's in the Saturday Night Live comedy sketch show, where this character named Pat was completely gender neutral and everyone was trying to categorize Pat as either a male or a female, and when they failed to do so, they could not function adequately and began to panic. But it's not just gender - it's typically gender in the context of some other factor which is what really causes problems for people: again, it's a perception (or lack thereof) problem it would seem.

Scientific studies have shown this to be the case, and likewise shown that people - men and women alike, have inbuilt gender biases that inappropriately favor or disfavor a given gender depending on context. So I think the author's overarching idea is that the reason gender imbalances persist so tenaciously is that we have yet to provide ourselves with the tools to adequately address discrepancies, perceptions, and biases and until and unless we get these, we're never going to get the issues of inequality properly resolved.

One thing which undermined this book in my opinion was that it is completely North America-centric. It's hard to be absolutely sure because the author herself doesn't specify or qualify, but from a reading of the references and the publications they appear in, it felt to me like the studies the author quotes an uses to support her position are almost entirely rooted in north America. I'd have liked to have seen much broader perspective taken. Is this problem just in the US? Is it just in western civilization, or is it world-wide? I know there are cultures and societies in this world which differ widely when it comes to gender roles and perceptions, and a failure to consider those necessarily means a survey like this one is missing something important.

So, while this topic is a critical one that begs for resolution, I can't commend this book as properly addressing the issues, and I can't commend it for cleanly and clearly conveying even the narrow and biased perspective the author does consider, despite largely agreeing with her overall view with regard to how deeply-embedded this is and how constricting it is to any efforts to move forward wisely and effectively.


Sequence by Lori Andrews


Rating: WARTY!

I gave up on this about ten pages from the end because I was so tired of it by then, and I regretted even hoping it would improve. This is yet another novel that convinces me that if the story isn't getting you where you want to be, there is no shame involved if you abandon it, and there is every good and sane reason to drop it and move on to something more fulfilling instead of wasting your life in continuance. To do otherwise is a prime example of the sunk cost fallacy.

The main character, Alex, who is a geneticist working for the government in a military lab who gets dragged into a crime investigation since she can to DNA forensics, was profoundly dumb. There were times when she was not so stupid, and I had hoped that this would be a case where a not-so-smart character shows a steady improvement as the story goes on, but she did not. In fact she actually regressed. For example, despite being a geneticist, she couldn't see what was obvious to me from the off: that if genetic markers are close but not an exact match for a suspect, then perhaps those markers might be those of a relative of the suspect rather than the suspect himself. Once she got on that path, the crime was all-but solved.

Obvious was an issue with this novel because I was way ahead of the investigators several times and that's not often the case with me in this kind of a novel, so I know a story is poorly-written if even I can figure it out so easily. It wasn't so much the obvious as the dumb that got to me though.

Alex leaps directly into bed with someone she barely knows, but of whom she does know he's a player. She has unprotected sex with him without a thought about condoms, which immediately turns me right off a story. Yeah, if the portrayal is of a character who is profoundly stupid and is heading for the wrecker's yard, that's one thing, but for a modern professional and purportedly a smart woman who is a medical doctor to boot, it completely betrays the character. It's especially bad if that same character is pining for a lost but hopeless love, and yet she has no problem simply leaping without even looking. I almost quit reading the story right there. It turns out I should have gone with my first instinct.

So overall this was not too bad of a plot in very general terms, but the writing wasn't where it needed to be to make this a really good story, and to have a female author once again have a female character who needs some sort of validation by having a male magically come into her life and give her everything she needs is too much in this day and age - or any day and age for that matter. I cannot commend this as a worthy read and resent the time I wasted on it! I'm done with the book and the author.


Thursday, August 1, 2019

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a fun book for younger middle graders and pre-middle-grade. Zita is outdoors playing with her friend when they find a meteorite crater in a field, with a small meteorite in the bottom of it. There's something sticking out of the meteorite which has a large red button on it, and you know you have to press the button if it's large and red. Zita doesn't listen to her friend, and she presses it, and suddenly a rift in space opens and her friend is pulled through it. After some miserable and desperate recrimination, Zita realizes she has to go through the rift and get him back.

The other side of the rift is very much a United Nations kind of a planet (or maybe not so united - more untied really) with aliens of all sorts, mechanical and meat, and the planet is under threat. Within a short few days, an asteroid is due to strike the planet wiping out everything on it. Zita can't be bothered about that. She has a friend to find and she heads out in her newly-created super hero-looking outfit. She was sort of befriended by a humanoid scientist who is also hosting a giant creature that looks exactly like a mouse, but is the size of a small horse, complete with saddle, and which Zita rides.

From this point on, and heading into the foreboding rust lands, Zita picks up a bevy of oddball alien associates, two of whom are mechanical, one of whom isn't, and finally tracks down and tries to liberate her friend, but there are surprises and betrayals in this story, so you never quite know who your friends are or who the villains are, or when your protective military robot will break down. None of this fazes the intrepid and fearless Zita at all, Not even a phaser fazes Zita, and she kicks buttons and takes names.

This was a playfully, and beautifully-illustrated book with a fun story that I enjoyed despite it being way out of my age group - or was it?! I commend it fully and will look for more from this author.


Sunday, July 28, 2019

Polly and the Pirates by Ted Naifeh


Rating: WORTHY!

After the disappointment of Princess Ugg, I might not have read another Naifeh novel, but this one was already in the works, so I ended up reading it and was glad I did. I don't believe in pirate treasure stashes. I don't think pirates were the kind of people to hoard their loot. I think they spent it as fast as they stole it, and while I'm sure there were some who set themselves up in a new life after a piracy voyage and never went back, I think the majority just spent all they had, and then went right back to sea to go after some more.

This story is cute and a little bit different in that polly, a new girl at a boarding school where young girls sometimes foolishly fantasize about pirates, is actually the daughter of Meg, the pirate queen. When Meg's pirate crew come looking for Polly, it's out of desperation. There's a map (there's always a map!), and the pirates think perhaps Meg's daughter is the very one who can find it for them. Now since this is Meg's loyal crew who were presumably with her when she hid the treasure, you'd think at least a few of them would know exactly where it was, but no! Hence Polly.

I honestly don't believe there ever was a legitimate pirate map either for that matter. Why would any pirate commit their precious knowledge of their treasure (assuming there even was any) to paper or parchment or whatever? It would be foolish and go against the very grain of a pirate's character! Besides, pirates were largely illiterate and relied on sound memory to supply everything they needed to know to get from A to B and plan their pirating. They had no need of the written word or the drawn map.

But they kidnap Polly thinking she can help them retrieve this map and at first she's completely against it, but then she becomes involved and sneaks out of school at night to go on adventures. It's a bit of a stretch to imagine that she can, like Santa Claus, get it all done in one night (or eventually, in a couple of days' absence), but this is fiction after all - and pirate fiction at that! So Polly becomes ever more involved and eventually she does find the map but the treasure isn't what the pirates thought it would be. I thought the story might continue with a second map that had been hidden in something they found in the treasure vault, but the story pretty much wrapped up after that.

This is a series as far as I know, so it's possible there are other volumes which continue the story (maybe with that second map, assuming there is one), but just as Polly seems done with pirating after this adventure, I think I'm done with Naifeh now. It was a bit oddly-written. Naifeh isn't English and so doesn't quite get the lingo down, and much of it is rather anachronistic so his attempts to make it sound period were a bit of a waste of time. He doesn't know what 'The Sweeney' is for one thing. The term wasn't in use back in the classical pirate era. The Sweeney is rhyming slang: Sweeney Todd - Flying Squad, referring to a division of the London Metropolitan Police. Obviously that didn't exist in the old era of piracy and neither did the stories of Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

It was a bit much to think only a young girl could open the treasure vault since most pirates probably had a young boy or two on their crew who could have done the same thing, but overall, I enjoyed this tale. It was a cute and fun story, and while it was nothing which made me feel any great compulsion to search out other volumes, assuming they exist, I did enjoy this one and commend it as a worthy read.


Friday, July 26, 2019

An Olympic Dream by Reinhardt Kleist


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a sad, sad graphic novel telling the true story (as near as such a rendering can reasonably get to the truth), about Samia Yusuf Omar, Translated from the original German by Ivanka Hahnenberger, this tells in a 150 or so pages in black and white line drawings, of how Samia competed and came last in her heat in the 2008 Olympic Games and yet garnered for herself cheers louder than the winner did.

Always game, following her dream, plucky to a fault, and never allowing brutality and indifference to dampen her spirit, she decided she wanted to get to the 2012 Olympics in London, and the only way to do that under a brutal, women-repressive regime that an extremist Islamic group brought to Somalia, was for her to flee the country and go through Sudan and Libya, to get on a boat to Italy and beyond.

She did all of this, often alone and usually without much money, always being brutalized by the savage and avarice-driven scum who preyed on these poor refugees that certain equally savage and misogynistic presidents would callously turn away at the doorstep, Samia made it onto a boat which promptly ran out of fuel. Fortunately a passing Italian ship spotted them and began to haul them aboard, but Samia fell into the ocean and drowned before she could be pulled out. Yes, there are more important things in the world than plastic straws, but why would anyone with real power be bothered with these "shit-hole countries".

I commend this as a worthy and essential read about what happens to people who reside in brutal countries where there's no oil 'to make it worthwhile going in'....


Princess Ugg by Ted Naifeh, Warren Wucinich


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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


Thursday, July 25, 2019

Courtney Crumrin Volume 4 Monstrous Holiday by Ted Naifeh


Rating: WORTHY!

Volume four wasn't quite as entertaining as the earlier volumes I think in part because Courtney seemed much more gullible in this one than she had in all of the three earlier volumes, which made little sense. Admittedly she was charmed by a boy, but having gone through what she'd been through previously, you'd think she'd be less inclined to fall for something instead of more so. And yes, she was feeling disgruntled (her gruntle had never been so dissed in fact), but it made her look limp and weak in comparison to how she'd appeared in earlier volumes. Ideally this would have been the first volume. That would certainly have made more sense in terms of her personal growth and would have explained a lot about her attitude in the other volumes.

That said it still made for an enjoyable read and I commend it as worthy. This story involves Courtney's visit, with her great uncle who is sometimes not so great it has to be remarked, to a family chateaux which of course is occupied by vampires, one of whom is mature and very old (although she looks in her thirties), and the other of whom is around Courtney's age, but also very old. So Yuk! The mature one is an old flame of Aloysius's evidently, and plays very little part in the story. It's the young one who charms Courtney and wins her confidence, and at first she wonders if he's a ghost, but when she realizes he's solid, she changes her view. Even when she suspects he's a vampire though, she trusts him and that trust is misplaced.

He bites her three times over the next few days, which is supposed to either be fatal or seal her fate as a vampire, but this is where the story let me down because the ending was a complete fizzle! I couldn't say if the vampires were destroyed because the panels where Great Uncle Aloysius did battle with them were not exactly categorical, and would a blood transfusion save Courtney at that stage? I dunno, but the book ended without giving any sort of an answer. It begs the question as to why her uncle even took her there is there were vampires and if he still insisted, why he didn't provide her with some magical protection against them.

So while the story was entertaining and I commend it, I have to say the ending was poorly done and a sad way to end such a sterling series.


Saturday, July 20, 2019

Courtney Crumrin Volume 2 The Coven of Mystics by Ted Naifeh


Rating: WORTHY!

Volume two - meaning I finally caught up to the first volume I read in this series, which was three. I'm not a huge fan of series, not regular books, and not graphic novels, but this is one of those rare exceptions that manages to change up the story and keep it fresh and interesting even though we're following the same main character.

In this volume, Courtney learns new ways to circumvent and side-step the witch conventions that seem to hold everyone else in paralysis or in rigid regimentation. She's always ready to try something new, learn something extra, or make unexpected and unusual friends, and she has great instincts. She's not afraid to change her mind either, so this makes for a multi-faceted and engaging character.

So she starts out tackling Tommy Rawhead, the hobgoblin of the marl-pit, whom someone has unleashed. Fortunately, her enigmatic and mysterious uncle is just the match for Tommy, but just because Tommy's beheaded doesn't mean he can't be useful to Courtney later! Courtney gets an usual invitation to visit the cat council, but this involves her becoming a cat herself. Finally she befriends Skarrow of the under-world, and this brings trouble on her uncle's house.

The variety and inventiveness of these stories is remarkable and welcome and is what kept me reading on - that and the indefatigable Courtney. This is why I commend this volume and intend to go on to read volume four.


One of Fred's Girls by Elisabeth Hamilton Friermood


Rating: WORTHY!

This isn't normally the kind of book I read, leaning toward the old west and romance, but it was told in such a sweet and realistic way that I was able to overlook my reservations and enjoy it as a story about life in the old west rather than as a romance. The author puts to shame so many other YA writers who think people fall in love instantly ('instadore' as I call it). She even has a love triangle - after a fashion - going on here without making it farcical and ridiculous. YA authors could learn a lot about how to write realistic romance from reading this, and some of them sorely need an education if they want to avoid becoming part of the problem.

Another draw for me was that Fred Harvey's girls were a really thing. I have a distaste for novels that are titled after the fashion 'The ______'s Daughter' or 'The ______'s Wife', labeling these women like this one does, as though they're a possession of Fred Harvey. It's an annoyance, but this is how they were known back then. Harvey really did have a chain of restaurants tied to the railroad network, where he (or rather the girls he hired) served fine food quickly; it was not the same as the larded, calorie-laden, obesity-driving fast food we eat today! These restaurants had a good, solid reputation, and the girls were highly trained and had standards imbued into them, so they were considered a 'catch' by the men who encountered them. Consequently, many of them got married and made good matches, but there was a penalty for those who quit their job before the year's contract was up: they had half their year's wages docked.

This story is about a fictional girl named Bonny who is looking for a better life and when she sees Harvey's ad in a newspaper looking for girls to go out west and work in the restaurants she sees it as a chance to earn money to buy her mother a new porch for the farmhouse, so off she goes. She travels alone initially, and we have the trope of her running into someone famous - Horatio Alger in this case - which seemed a bit much to me. This was a more civilized time and traveling alone not so bad, if a little scary for her, but after she pairs up with another girl heading for the same life she has chosen, things look up. At first she feels a bit lost and homesick at eh new restaurant, especially since it's so new it hasn't even been built yet. Food is served in some converted railroad cars, but soon she's working the job without a second thought, and meeting men.

Will is the railroad telegraph operator, but soon he moves up to become a representative of Fred Harvey's with regard to a new trade that he and Bonny helped originate: selling Indian crafts and wares at the restaurants, which turns into a profitable sideline. It's so successful that Will is soon coopted into setting-up an Indian camp at the upcoming Chicago world's fair, but when measles strikes the Indian village, Bonny's other acquaintance, a doctor named Joshua, comes to the fore. Bonny doesn't feel especially drawn to either of these men, although Will seems to occupy her thoughts more and more since she's become such good friends with him and he's a real gentleman.

Seeing her two closest friends happily marry two very different guys - one a wealthy rancher and the other a poor, down-to-Earth gold prospector yet to strike anything, Bonny is stuck wondering if she's expecting too much in waiting for her idealized man to put in an appearance, and whether she ought to take Joshua or Will more seriously or at least quit giving either the inadvertent impression that she might be seriously interested in them.

I really enjoyed this novel despite it being a bit out of my usual fare, and I commend it as a worthy read.



Wednesday, July 17, 2019

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


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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


Scarlet Hood by Mark Evans, Isobel Lundie


Rating: WARTY!

No success with this graphic novel either. I don't have anything to say about Isobel Lundie's artwork except that it was gray-scale and scrappy. And the writing was simple, pedantic, and uninventive.

When I picked this up and glanced through it briefly, I thought maybe it was a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, but it was not. It looked superficially interesting, but it was not. Greta the Cruel sounded like a fun villain, but she was not. It was just a story of school bullying and a magical remedy and it was very, very short.

Scarlet treks through the forest to grandma's house, doesn't get eaten by a wolf; grandma isn't impersonated by a wolf, and all grandma does is give to Scarlett a red hoodie which she claims will help her granddaughter. She says nothing about it delivering the poor girl to a dragon! Thanks grandma.

But Scarlet ends up befriending the dragon as she ends up befriending the school bully, who never pays for her previous acts, and no-one in the entire school seems to have any issue with the bullying. The best thing I can say about this, is that it's short. I can't commend it in any way.


Shuri Volume 1 The Search for Black Panther by Nnedi Okorafor, Leonardo Romero, Jordie Bellaire


Rating: WARTY!

It's no wonder I'm reading that TV and movies have taken over the SDCC, because comics just aren't cutting it any more, es evidenced by this one, and many others I've read of late.

The only thing I'd previously read by Okorafor, the writer of this graphic novel, was Street Magicks which was a collection of short stories by assorted authors, and hers was one I did not like. So perhaps it's not surprising that in the end, I did not like this comic, with art by Romero, and colors by Bellaire. The story is ostensibly about Shuri, the younger sister of King T'Challa of Wakanda, aka the Black Panther. It started very strongly, but then sort of faded into mediocrity. I hate it when that happens.

When T'Challa, as the Black Panther, was out of commission in the past, his sister Shuri had stepped up and took over the role, but when he disappears this time (flying a warp spacecraft of Shuri's design!), she feels very reluctant to replace him again, and instead of exploring that, or showing her determined efforts to find out what happened to him, the novel goes off in two or three different tangents which have nothing to do with her ambivalence or her brother's disappearance. It's never even explained why T-Challa has to fly this craft. Evidently T'Challa is from the Star Trek world, where he can't delegate and has to go on every single mission himself, which is utterly nonsensical, but it seems to be the way things are done in fiction!

The story just felt way too dissipated and disingenuous to be an engaging one, and the artwork was not appealing to me. There was a huge gulf between the cover art and the occasional full page image of similarly striking quality, and the very angular and rather simplistic artwork in the actual story where Shuri looked nothing like she did in those individual images. I had a hard time reconciling the one with the other because those full-page pictures really showed-up the mediocrity of the regular and very utilitarian work in the panels.

But while the art is a large part of the graphic novel and can help to make or break it, for me the story is always the most important part and if the story sucks, no amount of brilliant art can save it. But unfortunately, here the art wasn't brilliant and the story sadly betrayed the agency of Shuri because it put her constantly in need of others helping her and thius robbed her of any power. It felt like a sellout - like she couldn't handle things on her own with her macho bro out of the picture, so she needed others to come rescue her including the white savor at the end, in the form of Tony Stark. I was disgusted by that.

To me there's a difference between an ensemble story like the Avengers, and an individual story about one of Marvel's characters, and I don't mind if there's some interaction between one super hero and another in an individual story, but it seems like every Marvel comic I've taken a look at recently insists upon dragging into the story the entire Marvel stable. Enough already! If you want to do that, then make it an Avengers (or whatever team) story. Don't proclaim on the front cover that this is a Shuri story and then proceed to portray her as a maiden in distress requiring periodic rescue by other characters. When these other Marvel heroes flock into the story for no apparent reason and worse, serve no useful purpose, then you have to really wonder if the writer knows what she's doing.

The first of these was another female 'goddess' (so we're told). I'd never heard of her, but then I'm not steeped in Wakandan lore. The problem is that this goddess disappears and contributes zero to the story. She could, were she actually a goddess, have helped Shuri on her mission, but no! Why do go that route? So Shuri is sent into space in spiritual form and completely flies by the place where she's supposed to go - her brother's spacecraft.

No reason is offered for that failure and it makes no sense since it's her brother she's focused on, not the two guys she ends up with! She then finds herself battling a ludicrous 'space insect' which is sucking power from Rocket and Groot's spacecraft. What? Why would she go there? No logical reason - except that the writer evidently decided to include those two in the story to serve no purpose whatsoever! Shuri inhabits Groot's body - again for no reason - and starts chanting "I am Shuri" in complete disregard of the fact that such a phrase would be meaningless in Groot's language since the phrase, 'I am Groot' is actually not Groot's way of introducing himself!

The insect follows them back to Wakanda (of course, because why not?!) despite there being no reason at all why it would. It evidently feeds on electricity, and let's not even get started on how such a creature would even evolve in space before the advent of machines using electricity. This insect is evidently a direct rip-off of the Mynocks from Star Wars. Yawn. And since there's no air in space, why does it have wings? Again, no reason at all. It's possible to have fantasy and magic in a story and have it make sense within its own framework, but this author simply doesn't care, so then why should I? This was a poor story, indifferently illustrated and an outright insult to the Shuri character. I dis-commend it.


Sunday, July 14, 2019

Courtney Crumrin Volume 1 The Night Things by Ted Naifeh


Rating: WORTHY!

As promised a few days back, I did pick up volume one and read it and loved it. I think I liked this more than the volume 3 I read previously, so now volume 2 is on the way!

This volume brings Courtney to her great uncle Aloysius's house...or is it her father's great uncle? Or his father's great uncle? Courtney gets bullied by the spoiled rich kids at school, but when she discovers her uncle has some interesting spell and charm books in his secret collection, she manages to co-opt help from a forest sprite, get herself glamoured to become the most popular person in school (big mistake), and lose the baby she was babysitting in a unilateral exchange with the fairies. But she cdecides she likes it here and wants to stay.

I enjoyed this book - the steady pace, the interesting situations, the steadfast fearlessness of Courtney and the endearing artwork. I commend it as a worthy read.


Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Diary of a Tokyo Teen by Christine Mari Inzer


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a short and fun graphic novel written by a seventeen year old who was born in Japan to a local woman and a US citizen father, so she has two passports. She migrated at a young age to the US, and this is a sweet and fun graphic documentary of her return trip a decade or so later.

It's quite idiosyncratic, obviously; she remarks upon and records the things which intrigue and amuse her, but much of it has a wider appeal than that. The author and I couldn't be more different than chalk and cheese in things like age and gender, but we do have the ex-pat thing in common, so I could see through her eyes quite well, and she expresses herself with smarts, erudition, and a nice eye for oddity and absurdity.

The book is also educational. Because she was absent from Japan for so long and having left at such an early age, although a lot of what she saw on her return had a familiarity to it, there was also a lot that was - or at least seemed - new, so we get to look at Japan very much through a visitor's eye, but this eye is softened by her familiarity with the culture. There is also culture shock with regard to how clean and neat everything is, how proud and polite the people are who serve in both fast food places and restaurants, and how curious the toilets are - among many other things!

I've never been to Japan, but I certainly would like to visit. Reading books like this help me feel a little bit like I've already visited. I commend this one as a worthy read.


Bad Machinery Volume 5 The Case of the Fire Inside by John Allison


Rating: WORTHY!

This was one of the last two of this series that I had not read yet, although by no means the last in chronological order. Not that that matters very much with this series, but this one was published as volume five, and was the last one I read, and it's odd to think this grew on me so quickly after I had initially not liked one of these volumes when I read it a few years back and so never pursued the series! Now I'm sorry it's over, but I do understand Allison's desire to move on and try something new. I'm just sorry I didn't like what he did next.

In this volume, the author explores Selkies - mythological seal-like creatures that inhabit the ocean, but after casting-off their sealskin cloak, appear as human - and very pretty young girls some of them are, too. Due to Lottie's discovery of one of these cloaks on the beach, and her stuffing it into one of the boys' bags, the Selkie latches onto this boy and pursues him ardently, including enrolling at his school, where she poses a threat to the established swimming champion in the school, who is also threatened by her boyfriend dating one of the girls without telling her he doesn't want to date her any more. But wait, his ex is good-looking, and a great swimmer? What's going on here? Meanwhile the Selkie's dad emerges from the ocean in search of his lost girls and is immediately assumed to be a homeless guy!

Once again I was highly amused by this and I am sorry to see the series come to an end. I commend this as a worthy read.