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

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Kiss Him Not Me by Junko


Rating: WARTY!

In Japanese this manga was called Watashi Ga Motete Dōsunda or, What's the Point of Me Getting Popular?. Superficially it purports to tell the tale of a girl who loses weight and suddenly finds herself popular, but in reality it's just another Shōjo designed as teen female wish-fulfillment and as such it's actually harmful because of the 'fat-shaming' attitude employed in it. There's nothing wrong with having a healthy fantasy life as long as it's kept in check (or untethered in creative writing or other art forms!), but the author went about this entirely the wrong way. There are ways of addressing issues or over- or under-weight in characters and this one was a fail in my opinion.

In the story, Kae Serinuma is a fujoshi - essentially a geek - who is into gaming, and who is also obsessed with male homoeroticism, picturing selected boys she knows, as being in gay romances in her fantasies. Since all the boys look like girls in these drawings that makes for rather interesting pairings! There are four boys in her life: Igarashi, Mutsumoi, Nanshima, and Shinomya, and only one of them might have had any real interest in her when she was overweight. Now they all do for sure, This is pretty shallow and she needs to reject them all with the potential exception of the guy in her gaming club, but she does not, despite the protesting title. She seems not so much enamored of them as she is enamored of their attention.

Where I had the real problem with this though, was after an accident where she's dinged by one of the players in a sport she's watching. Serinuma is knocked to the floor, and goes home after a brief recuperation at school. The next morning (or perhaps some unspecified time later - it was hard to tell), when she wakes up she has lost all her excess weight and then some. Not only that, her eyes have grown to huge proportions, her chin (which though prominent) never was a 'double' chin, has shrunk almost to nothing, her hair has become rich, thick, healthy, long, and shining and healthy, her head has shrunk or her facial features have expended to fill the whole face instead of the tiny center portion, and and her wardrobe has fantastically changed from baggy sweats to short, pleated skirts and tight sweaters.

Moreover, her legs have grown long and slim, and her breasts have miraculously tripled in size. In short, instead of a oval shape, she now has an hourglass figure. These factors combined are not the usual outcome of weight-loss, so one has to wonder if this is an illusion or wishful thinking, but by the end of the novel her appearance had not changed and all four boys desperately wanted to date her.

This sounded far more like wish fulfillment than ever it did an honest attempt to write a realistic, thoughtful, and honestly engaging story. But is this type of manga ever intended to be realistic? Wouldn't that defeat the purpose?! Maybe that's so, but this was all wrong for a host of reasons.

First of all, this shallow 'they like me now I'm anorexic and infantilized' is an awful thing to do to a woman. I expect it form some male authors, especially far too many of those who draw graphic novels, but there are different levels of 'fat' and they have all kinds of 'cute' names with which to euphemize them (BBW, chubby, corpulent, full-figured, matronly, plus-sized, portly, robust, rotund, and so on), but the question is not whether a person is overweight so much as whether they're healthy.

Clearly carrying too much weight, and eating poorly and getting no - or too little - exercise is a recipe for medical disaster, but you can be unhealthy whether you are under-, over-, or even at optimal weight, and you can likewise be healthy even when you might appear overweight to some overly-critical eyes. So the real question is over your health, not your weight per se.

In this novel, neither was the issue. The issue we're presented in (literal) black and white - and without a shred of supportive evidence - is that not only does no one love a 'fat' or 'dumpy' girl, but no one even notices her. As it happens, Serinuma is fine with this because she lives largely in her fantasy world anyway, but when she magically (and that's the only term employable here) morphs into 'a total babe' - as a frat boy would (and evidently these schoolboys do) perceive her - she makes no analysis whatsoever of her situation, and never once (not in the parts I read) harks back to how she was or makes comparisons or even tries to understand what happened. This tells me she is so shallow that it doe snot matter whether she is overweight, or a superficial model agency's dream applicant, or anywhere in between she's not worth knowing because there's nothing worth knowing about her.

I had wondered if, by the end of this volume, she might wake up and find she has dreamed this whole thing, or much better yet, that her knock on the head caused her self-perception to change, and everything that happened afterwards was because of this, not because she had literally physically changed. In my opinion, that would have made for a far better, more intelligent, realistic story, and a worthy read but I guess I shall have to write that one.

Women have hard enough time being blasted perennially with commentary from all manner of sources, most of them not even remotely medical, and most of them ads, telling her that she's ugly, fat, her hair is nasty, her clothes suck, she needs more high-heeled shoes, and she is useless in bed. Every time she passes through a supermarket checkout aisle, she has this blasted at her on the one side from women's magazines written by women it shames us all to report, and on the opposite side of that selfsame aisle, she is blasted by fattening snack foods, candies, and sugar-laden sodas. is this a problem? You bet your ass it is. Literally.

It does not help at all to have a manga written by a woman telling women this same thing. It's Junko food, and women need to stop letting authors like this one feed it to them.


Friday, August 4, 2017

My Dead Girlfriend: Vol 1 by Eric Wight


Rating: WORTHY!

Another graphic novel with a weird-ass title! How could I not?!

In this one, Finney Bleak's outlook on life is...well...bleak. All of his relatives died unusual deaths and usually early ones, so he feels he has nothing to look forward to, especially when he's abandoned by mom in a cemetery of all places. He's raised by ghosts who already have ghost daughters named April, May, and June, and of course he attends high-ghoul. While surviving Salamander Mugwart (one of the local witches named Glindas), and growing healthily with the aid of ghost mom & dad, Finney eventually falls for a girl named Jenny Wraith, but she fails to show up for their second date!

Finney thinks she didn't like him. He doesn't learn that she was on her way to see him when she fell down a well and died. He discovers this much later when ghost Jenny shows up at his cemetery, announcing she has been his guardian angel for some time. Now wants to resume their relationship rather than see him take off with another girl!

Initially, he thinks there can be nothing between a body and his incorporeal love, but when she leads him in (cor!) real love, he gets with the program! Great story, interesting graphics, and a fun read. I recommend it. Note that despite being titled Volume 1 A Tryst of Fate, there are no other volumes - kind of like Mel Brooks's History of the World, Pt 1.




The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan


Rating: WARTY!

This fiftieth anniversary edition was not impressive to me. It was larded with prologue and afterword and introduction, all of which I ignored as usual. I had heard of Anna Quindlen, but not of Gail Collins. They're both journalists just like Friedan, so this was hardly a broad spectrum we got on it anyway.

I prefer to focus on the actual body of the text, and that was rather too verbose. I had to keep reminding myself that this was fifty years out of date and things have changed dramatically, but even with that in mind, it was hard to find very many diamonds in the slag. Friedan seemed not content to raise an issue and cite a few examples and let it go; she had to keep slamming the reader with stories which sounded, after the first couple, to be very much the same thing over and over again - which in itself validates what she was saying, but quickly became tedious with all those repetitive details!

I readily admit that my frustration with much of this book may well be that we are, at least theoretically, much more enlightened now than we were then, and so it felt like flogging a dead horse, but that horse is still a nightmare for far too many women, so this is about the only remaining reason I can think of for reading this - that we do not forget how bad things were, and in not forgetting, we ensure they never happen again. That and its historical value. These beefs with the text are not to say that Friedan did not have a point. She did, but I found her text dense and obscure - more like a litany of complaint (if valid complaint) than anything which offered hope of a real solution, but that said, a solution can only arise after the problem has been identified.

The worst part about this book for me though, was that it was so appallingly elitist. Friedan seems only to care about middle and upper class women like herself, and the 'great unwashed' be damned. Their experience - poor people who no doubt had both spouses working perforce - were largely ignored. Although I cannot pretend to speak for them (or I could but it would be fraudulent!), I rather suspect that spouses of color back in the fifties and sixties had little or nothing in their experience which they could employ to relate to the women on whom Friedan was so tightly focused, and this was despite Friedan frequently mentioning civil rights!

The book blurb, with laughable hyperbole, describes it as "Landmark, groundbreaking, classic" and no, it wasn't. It goes on to add, "these adjectives barely do justice to the pioneering vision and lasting impact of The Feminine Mystique. Published in 1963, it gave a pitch-perfect description of 'the problem that has no name'." I was surprised it did not mention the name Friedan gave it, but it's probably better that it didn't, since Friedan's title makes absolutely no sense. I remain unconvinced that she even knows what 'mystique' means (and no, it's not an X-Men character!). Her sobriquet made no sense to me and she never actually defined it, leaving it to the reader to distill some meaning from reading this five hundred page tome. Good luck with that.

Another group that Friedan ostracizes are those women who can both afford to and choose to stay home. This is a perfectly valid option, yet Friedan would rob women of it, becoming part of the problem by trying to dictate women's choices in the same way she was complaining men and society were doing! What a hypocrite. I read about half of this book and gave up on it. I can't recommend it because there are better books out there than this one, which in my opinion does not deserve the street cred it seems to have garnered for itself, and which I think it has accreted only because it was an early one and a high profile one, and not because it honestly left the home, got a job, an earned its status!



Thursday, August 3, 2017

Hell Hath No Fury: True Stories of Women at War from Antiquity to Iraq by Rosalind Miles, Robin Cross


Rating: WORTHY!

YA authors an graphic novel writers could learn a lot from an awesome book like this, about depicting strong female characters. Full of detail, it relates the stories of scores of women who were warriors, most of them in times when women were not considered capable or emotionally up to it, let alone being strong, independent and fierce.

Even with the detail it offers, it also includes references for further reading. The book is divided into sections for different types of female "soldier" in the broadest sense. It offers war leaders such as Cleopatra, Elizabeth I, and Margaret Thatcher, actual combatants such as Molly Pitcher, Lily Litvak, and Tammy Duckworth, spies like Belle Boyd, Virginia Hall, and Noor Inayat Khan, and reporters and propagandists such as Martha Gellhorn, Tokyo Rose, Anna Politkovskaya. It also has a section on women whom we in the west could not consider heroic: women suicide bombers, and despite the success (for their cause) of female suicide bombers, women in the Middle East are still in a fight for equality, respect, and fair treatment.

The accounts are a mix of general overarching stories supported by very many detailed accounts of individual women. There is a bias towards white western women, but then this is where the best documentation resides, and even there, some of it was biased against women or largely erased or considered not noteworthy! Women can't win no matter what color they are, but hopefully that's undergoing what will become a permanent change now.

Despite this there are many women of color included as well as rather obscure women where documentation could be found, and the stories cover ancient history (Greek and Roman) through modern (Iraq War). The authors are not afraid to tell it how it is even if it does not make the woman in question look exactly pristine. While there seems to be something of a bias in World War Two accounts to British and American women, and in more recent wars to American soldiers, there is something for everyone here, and it all goes to prove beyond any question that women are every bit the equal of men, no excuses, no qualifications, no more lies and bullshit.


Girls & Panzer by Ryohichi Saitaniya


Rating: WORTHY!

Translated by Greg Moore, this was another quirky graphic novel from Japan, which has elements in common with Tank Girl. I couldn't not pick this up from the library shelf with a title like this! Japanese schoolgirls in their sailor outfits driving humongous and obsolete tanks from World War Two?! Competing against other schools in an all-out war? No injuries??

It was weird but oddly compelling. Miho Nishizumi is a new transfer student to Ooarai All-Girls High School. She had departed a previous school where she was involved in "tankery" as this activity is amusingly referred to. She had a falling out with her older sister and left on somewhat bitter terms. She evidently is looking for a quiet academic life, but she's denied it! Her new school is reinstituting its tankery program, and because of her experience, Miho is drafted into putting together a tankery team for an upcoming national contest.

With some oddball teammates, and a limited selection of tanks, Miho has her work cut out for her, but she wins through in the end. The story was amusing, but I'm not sure if I want to pursue it beyond this volume. I think there is only so many tank battles I can stand to watch, especially since it was rather confusing at times. The bulk of this graphic novel was black and white line drawings, and the characters looked very much alike, so there was very little in the way of distinction not only between the two teams but also between the members on the same team, and parts of this were hard to follow, for me at least.

Overall, though, I consider this to be a worthy read. It was fun and feisty, and I will perhaps dip into another volume at some point. What's not to like about girls with tanks?!


A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Oima


Rating: WORTHY!

This is an interesting story about a school bully and a deaf girl. Shoya's problem is boredom, but instead of finding benign ways to deal with it, he resorts to destructive ones - picking on other children and doing dangerous stunts like jumping off bridges. Shoko is a girl who is deaf, and consequently her speech is impaired. She is new to Shoya's school, and she communicates by writing in a notebook, and encouraging others to use it to write questions to her.

Shoya immediately starts picking on her because she is such an easy target for him, especially since she has such an accepting and friendly disposition, and she never retaliates. His behavior is abominable, but the thing is that very few people in the class treat Shoko with respect and consideration, not even other girls. Shoya's behavior is the worst though, and even as his friend start deserting him and abandoning their juvenile practices as they mature and pursue academic interests more studiously, he never does.

Inevitably, Shoya goes too far and Shoko quits the school. Several years later, they meet again. This meeting is where the story begins. All the rest is flashback, and since this is a series, the story is never resolved in this one volume. On the one hand this is why I detest series as a general rule, and why I dislike flashbacks. On the other, this series - at least this introductory volume of it, was not so bad. The art was a bit too manga for my taste, but on the whole, not bad, and the writing was enjoyable, but all this can ever be is a prologue. I detest prologues!

So while I may or may not pursue this series, I did enjoy this one volume despite my reservations about such efforts, so I recommend it, and I may well get into volume two as time and opportunity permit.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Tucker's Apple Dandy Day by Susan Winget


Rating: WORTHY!

I adore this author's name! I've always been fond of 'Susan' and I had to wonder of this one whether or not she might wing it with her writing? If so, it works! This book was the polar opposite of Dinosaur Kisses and exactly what a young children's book should be. A warm fuzzy story with warm fuzzy characters, beautifully illustrated in sweetly warm, fuzzy autumnal colors!

Tucker gets to visit a farm on his school field trip, and they all get the chance to pick their own bag of apples to take home, but Tucker is so busy helping others to get their share that he never has chance to get any for himself. All the people he helped, though, rally around and donate a few of their apples to him so he gets a few for himself after all. It's beautifully told story about the selflessness of helping others without expectation of a reward, and it's delightfully illustrated. I fully recommend this one.


Blue Sky by Audrey Wood


Rating: WORTHY!

Couldn't fail to review a book by a namesake now, could I?! Not that I know this author, or am any relation to her (as far as I know!). This book was about what's in the sky and how beautiful and fulfilling it is to contemplate it in all its facets. The book is very light on text and very heavy on vibrant colors and eye-arresting depictions.

What little text there is though, is quite gripping, because it also illustrates the very idea it conveys: 'cloud sky' is made up of clouds, rather like my own Cloud Fighters (evidently it runs in the Wood family! LOL!), and 'rain sky' is dripping with precipitation, and so on.

You'll want a cold drink and ice cream after seeing 'sun sky'. The book is slightly whimsical and doesn't fail to consider a dream sky towards the end, inviting children to fall asleep and experience it for themselves! Great idea! I loved this book and thoroughly recommend it.


Princess Jellyfish by Akiko Higashimura


Rating: WORTHY!

This title was so bizarre that I pulled it off the shelf in the library and glanced through it, and decided to take it home. I'm always game for a good graphic novel, and this one was so weird it intrigued me. I love the utterly bizarre names the Japanese give to their manga and anime. This delightfully-named author-illustrator is apparently quite accomplished in Japan and this particular book has already been made into a Japanese TV show and a live-action film which I may try to catch if I can.

This girl named Tsukimi Kurashita lives in this apartment block which is for girls only, and several of those who live there are artists for comic books. She is painfully shy and poor at interacting either with men or with what she describes as princesses, which are good-looking and fashionably-dressed girls. The story gives an interesting insight into Japanese culture. How authentic it is, is hard to gauge, but I assume it has at least some roots in reality. Tsukimi believes that there are only two kinds of women: the princesses, and what she calls fujoshi, which literally means 'rotten girl' and is a term used to describe Japanese women who do not want to get married, stay at home, and raise children.

Tsukimi is of course a fujoshi, who is obsessed with jellyfish because that was the last good memory she had of time with her mother before she died. She views some of the jellyfish, in their natural finery, as dressed like princesses, and she starts drawing them and collecting pictures of them. She ends up with a pet jellyfish when she passes a pet store and sees two different species in the same tank which she knows should never be kept together.

She ends up taking the jellyfish home, accompanied by a princess who helps her when the guy at the pet shop is abusive to her. This princess stays with her in her room, and it's only the next morning that she realizes that the princess is actually a guy named Kuranosuke Koibuchi, who cross-dresses to avoid having to deal with the political aspirations of his family.

He's much more interested in getting into the fashion industry than ever he is in pursuing politics. He's adopted by the girls that Tsukimi knows in the apartment, because they don't know he's not really female, and because he brings food from home, which they enjoy. Tsukimi doesn't dare tell anyone she's invited a guy into the house. He ends up giving them all make-overs!

I'm amazed at how bizarre this story is, but I adored how playful and mischievous it was. You have to wonder how writers like this come up with these totally oddball ideas. Both Tsukimi and Kuranosuke were delightful. Other than friendship with an interesting woman, Kuranosuke has no professed attachment to Tsukimi when they first start hanging out, but he suffers distinct pangs of jealousy after he gives Tsukimi a make-over and his older brother - very much a suit - starts showing an interest in her. His bother is the only one who knows that he cross-dresses, and has kept his secret even though he finds it rather objectionable. This relationship was a joy.

Overall this was a delight to read - amusing, entertaining, and fun. I recommend it.


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Soldier, Sister Fly Home by Nancy Bo Flood


Rating: WARTY!

This book, I have to say up front, was a fail for me. Superficially it pretends to be a tribute to Lori Piestewa, who was a member of the Hopi tribe and was also, at the age of 23, the first woman in the US military to be killed in combat in the Iraq War in March 2003, but there is very little in this novel about the military.

Teshina ("Tess") isn't Hopi, she's a 14-year-old American Indian/White woman who lives on a Navajo reservation in Arizona. Her sister joins the National Guard and is subsequently called up for service in Iraq. That's pretty much the last we hear of her, and then the story is nothing more than a young girl dealing with young girl issues with a Native American twist. And a horse.

This felt like a bait-and-switch from the start, and to me it represented more of a disservice to Specialist Piestewa - who though not in a combat unit as such, distinguished herself in action, and subsequently died as a result of a head injury - than ever it was a tribute. Piestewa and the other woman of color in that action, Shoshana Johnson, got the short end of the stick as compared with the fictional farce the military made out of the other female survivor, the white Jessica Lynch.

I had to keep asking myself what this book was about because it went in so many directions that it never really arrived anywhere. Was it about native Americans in the US military? No. Was it about American Indian culture? Well, a little bit. Was it about the relationship between Tess and Gaby, her sister? Somewhat, but not so much. Tess was manic about her sister, bouncing around unrealistically between so many emotions that it was a joke. At one point she'd be angry, at another accepting, and then unaccountably angry again. I get that people do have mixed emotions, but this honestly felt poorly written and inauthentic.

Tess was left to take care of her sister's persnickety horse, and we're bitch-slapped silly with so much crap about understanding the animal that it left the bounds of the real and entered the realm of the supernatural. Yes, you can understand animals, and approach them the right way or the wrong way, and yes of course they're sensitive and have feelings, but this narrative went way overboard for no apparent reason other than that it was an American Indian story.

This same issue arose over Tess's experiences with her grandmother who was patronizingly portrayed as having almost shaman-like qualities, and Zen Buddhist composure. It felt so overdone that it was insulting, and her advice to Tess about handling inappropriate comments was hardly brilliant. The only real way to deal with bullying is to stamp it out. Ignoring it and laughing it off will not do that.

Tess's biggest issue seemed to be the fact that her parents evidently did a lousy job of raising her, so that she's stuck with this question of "who am I?" given her mixed heritage - a question they obviously had not helped her with, but here's a better question: why does it matter? Why was this story not about a young woman accepting that she is who she is and the hell with anyone who won't accept her on her own terms? This business of trying to pigeon-hole her seemed ill-advised to me, and was one in a long list of tropes and clichés, including bullying, that we had here, but with nothing new added to the mix.

The blurb on Goodreads says that "Lori Piestewa...is the first Native American woman in US history to die in combat" and I call horseshit on that one. Try Running Eagle of the Piegan Blackfeet, or Kaúxuma Núpika of the Kootenai, and there were undoubtedly many others whose names we will never know. Don't mess with American Indian women! The writer of that blurb needs an education. I know the author didn't write it, so I am not including that in my review of her novel, but that already had quite sufficient problems for me to rate it negatively. I cannot recommend this story at all.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Between Gears by Natalie Nourigat


Rating: WARTY!

This one was in my local library and I thought it looked interesting - a graphic novel diary of a senior year in college. I never did a senior year in college so this sounded interesting to me, but in the end it wasn't very interesting at all. It was quite literally a day-to-day dear diary in graphic form, telling of student parties, getting drunk, rather manically feeling the weight of the world on her shoulders and not long after that, feeling life was great.

The problem was that there was nothing in this diary that was unusual. There were some things which were mildly amusing, but mostly not. Overall it was rather boring, like someone you don't know sits next to you on a long train ride and suddenly starts recounting the last year of her life. Yeah, like that.

I think as an artist Natalie Nourigat has real talent, Her black and white line drawings had power and expressiveness, so I'd be interested in reading something else by her (as long as it's not another dear diary!), but this just wasn't to my taste at all.


Friday, July 21, 2017

Don't Wake Up the Tiger by Britta Teckentrup


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a cute and whimsical tale of several animals in the jungle, sporting a bunch of balloons and heading for a party, when they encounter a rather large tiger sleeping across the path. They dare not wake it and so they have to figure out how to get over it - not in the sense of giving up, but in the sense of bypassing the beast!

They light upon a risky but plausible (in this story anyway!) solution, but can they carry it off? Or can it, more accurately, carry them over? And what happens when the tiger awakens?! I really enjoyed this because it's so wild and crazy, and has such a great ending. And the author has a really awesome name! I recommend it.


Turtle Island by Kevin Sherry


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a great fantasy tale told in brief text and bold simple colors, about a giant turtle and its lonely vigil out in the middle of the ocean.

One day a nearby boat-wreck deposits four young people on the turtle, and they have a great relationship hanging out together while pursuing their own favorite pastimes, but soon the visitors are wanting to go back home. Does this mean it's the end of beautiful friendship for the lonely giant? No! The ending swings it all around in a big way for a big friendly reptile. I recommend this one.


Jangles A Big Fish Story by David Shannon


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a great story told by an older man to a young boy about a really big fish and the attempts by the locals to catch it. This was the original one that got away, and it had the barbed hooks attached to its lower lip to prove it. Well, this man had an interesting encounter with this fish which is harder to believe than any actual tale of the one that got away.

Gorgeously illustrated and with a steady text driving it assuredly through the deep water, this story is definitely one to encourage your children to read. It's full of inventiveness and fantasy and carries a sweet message. I recommend it.


Happy by Pharrell Williams


Rating: WORTHY!

Yes, that Pharrell Williams. This is simply the words to his number one hit song of the same title, which was the best-selling song of 2015 in the USA and sold some fourteen million copied worldwide. Personally, I'm not a fan of it, but you cannot deny his success, not just with this song but with a host of others he released under his own name and which have been recorded by others.

This book takes the lyric and illustrates it with pictures of real kids of diverse ethnicity, having fun against brightly colored backgrounds, so it's an inspiring and fun book with a very light touch and I recommend it for a fun read that can lead to a number of activities, such as dress-up, dancing, and otherwise exercising. I also recommend it because it's not a common thing to have a children's book based on the lyric of an adult-oriented performer, so it's interesting for that, too!


Dinosaur Kisses by David Ezra Stein


Rating: WARTY!

Didn't like this one at all! It felt way too violent for such a sweet title, depicting a young dinosaur, fresh out of the egg, running around looking to kiss someone...or something? I have no idea where the author cooked up this bizarre idea, but it was a fail for me mostly because it featured this hefty dino barging around invading personal space and assaulting creatures and objects, including squashing one small critter to death? It's entirely the wrong message to send to young children, inviting inappropriate behaviors, and I can't recommend it.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Iron-Hearted Violet by Kelly Burnhill


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a truly great fairy-tale which did precisely what I always advocate - take the road less traveled. There's nothing worse than a cookie-cutter novel which tells you the same story and in the same way you already heard it a thousand times before. Kelly Burnhill gets this.

In a mirror world, which was a bit annoying because it wasn't explained until the end of the story, lives Princess Violet, who is not beautiful - not at a shallow skin depth anyway, but who is gorgeous inside, with her mom and dad. She's a tomboy and a tear-away, and feels not quite like a 'real' princess because she's been shamed by all those fairy-tales which have a princess who is typically defined to skin-depth and has nothing else to offer but her heart to whichever wandering jackass claims it. Yes, Disney, I'm looking at you! Although even Disney seems to be getting the message of late.

When Violet and her buddy Demetrius discover a sinister painting hidden in the depths of the castle, and her mom dies shortly after yet another stillborn baby, while her dad is off hunting dragons, things start going south badly. The kingdom is suddenly at war, and The Nybbas in the painting promises Violet she can be beautiful and have everything she wants if only she will listen to him. Dad returns with the dragon he captured for studying, but everything seems to be falling irreparably apart!

The story did start dragging a bit in the last third. At over four hundred pages, it was about 25% too long, and should have been edited better, but that aside, this was an awesome story and I fully recommend it. The only real problem I had was with Iacopo Bruno's illustrations, which once again bore little relationship to the text of the story.

How an artist can be so blind and disrespectful to an author, or how an author can be so uncritical is a mystery. Maybe she had no choice and was saddled with this by the publisher. I don't know, but if that was the case then the question becomes that of how a publisher can be so utterly clueless! This kind of complete disconnect is why I flatly refuse to go with Big Publishing™.

Let me detail a few of the problems with the illustrations. We're quite clearly told that Violet has mismatched eyes, not just in that one is a different color to the other, but that her eyes are literally different sizes. She also has wiry hair and bad skin. None of this is visible in any of the illustrations. She looks ultra cute in all of them with fine hair, great skin and tediously ordinary eyes!

After Violet is transformed, she's essentially exactly thew same as she was before the transformation! So where is the contrast? There was none. Yes, her hair is longer, but the artist even screwed that up. The author makes it quite clear in the text that Violet's feet have shrunk and her hair grown to Rapunzel proportions. Not a single one of the illustrations shows these changes. To me, this means the artist is quite simply stupid or incompetent. I'm sorry, but what other conclusion is there? That he's a lousy coward maybe, and doesn't have the courage to illustrate this the way the author wrote it, thereby undermining the very message the author is trying to send? Or did the author chicken out? There really is no excuse for sabotaging the writing like this and whoever is responsible should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

On a related topic, there was one part of the text where Violet and Demetrius crawled through a small gap in a wall. The text makes it quite clear that they're reduced to crawling, yet the illustration shows them walking through the gap like it's a regular doorway! In another instance, the text says a door handle made a mark in the plaster when it was thrown open angrily, but illustration shows the door with rope handles! Rope is hardly likely to make a mark in the plaster! So I score a zero for the illustrations.

Even the map which is included inside the front and back covers makes little sense, not only in relation to the story, but also with regard to the map itself. I mean why does a trade route not visit any cities, for example?! Given this, why even mark it when it has nothing to do with the story?

There were writing issues, too. I mean, did this castle really have plaster for the door handle not to make a mark in? Such a thing is highly doubtful given the context of the story and the state of the castle in general, but it's a relatively minor issue. More problematic is a description of a horse being "So black he was nearly blue." Excuse me? So dark blue he was nearly black makes sense, but it's idiotic to put it this way.

Also problematic is that at one point we're told that the king has only two days to get ready for a war, and then nothing happens, but later, there is a bustle of activity aimed at this very readiness, none of which had a remote chance of being completed in two days! And yeah, all the "my loves" and "darlings', especially those from the story-teller, were frankly creepy.

So yes, there were some writing issues that the author really needed to have nailed down. These are somewhat less important in children's stories since they tend to be less exacting, but some children might notice things like that. Do such children deserve less because they're children? Not in my books!

That said, I really liked this novel and consider it a very worthy read, so I recommend it to adults and children alike, and particularly to writers who want to break the mold, as this author has done so definitively here.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Founding Father's Funnies by Peter Bagge, Joanne Bagge


Rating: WARTY!

This is a day late in celebration of Independence Day. I was otherwise occupied yesterday, and no, that does not mean I was laid-out drunk somewhere! I can't remember the last time I was drunk, but then probably, neither can you!

Why this was titled using the word 'funnies' is a mystery to me because it wasn't even remotely funny. I think it's meant to hark after the Sunday papers "funnies" but I find those tedious, so maybe I should have left this one on the library shelf? Too late! I read it. Or some of it. It wasn't appealing enough to read it all.

It was a series of riffs off of supposed historical, but purely fictional events, describing how the founding fathers did this, that, and the other thing - mostly the other thing in fact. I'm surprised they didn't have George Washingtooth busting his cherry. Actually that might have been funny. You could make jokes about his teeth having a woodie while he wasn't even able to get his pinnace across the Poontang!

I'm equally surprised that idiot Ben Franklin wasn't flying a kite in a thunderstorm. Folks, that doesn't mean he's a genius, it means he's a moron - an idle tinkerer with far too much time on his hands. These days he'd be called a slacker, but because he lived two hundred and fifty years ago, he's labeled a genius? Go figure. But thankfully he was absent - at least in that scenario.

The graphic novel was supposed to illustrate how amusing these things were, but the things were simply not amusing, and while the illustration was competent the emphasis was more on ill than patent, so it wasn't that great. This meant that there was neither the written word nor the fine art to entertain, and this book definitely needed one or the other. In the absence of both, I sure can't recommend it.


Saturday, July 1, 2017

Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak


Rating: WORTHY!

I read some of the reviews for this and I think a lot of the negative reviewers got the wrong idea about what this book intended to do. The title clearly says it's about the women who created Nancy Drew and that's exactly what the author delivered. It's not a biography of a fictional character, because that would be just stupid!

I never read any Nancy Drew stories. I'd never heard of her until I moved to the USA, but my blog is primarily about writing, not about fancy book covers or how hot a particular author is in terms of 'moving units', so this book, about the people behind a successful novel series, appealed to me, particularly because it was about two powerful women who were cutting edge for their time. The book focuses largely on them, and in particular on Harriet Stratemeyer, a Wellesley-educated girl who found herself having to deal with her father's business when he died prematurely, although he was in his sixties.

Yes, it doesn't go into the writing process as much as I would have liked, but it does go into it, so I wasn't disappointed. I enjoyed the book. In fact, it gave me an idea for a novel of my own! I confess I would have liked to have read much more about Mildred Wirt, though. To me, as a writer, she's more interesting than Harriet. The latter did do some of the writing, but Mildred was the real writer of Nancy Drew for me, and she's become something of a hero and a figure of fascination. Her work ethic was astounding and she was a little dynamo.

I'd like to know how she did it, and it seemed the only way I might have a hope of finding out is to read some of the books myself. I got the audiobook for two of those early stories, numbers two and four, and listened to the first of those, and found it so bland and dated that I could not listen to it! It was sad, but it was a different world back then, and it's not one I feel a part of. Had I been a juvenile (or lived in the fifties!) I might have enjoyed it more. This of course takes nothing away from what I said about Mildred Wirt's work-ethic or ability to multi-task and turn in a novel on a deadline!

I already watched a couple of the movies, which is not the same thing by any means, especially not for my purposes, but they were fun and interesting. One was the Emma Roberts movie from 2007. I've been a fan of Roberts since her recent Scream Queens TV show, although I am by no means convinced I'd like her in person. The other movie was one of the originals dating from 1939: Nancy Drew reporter, starring Bonita Granville who was a bit of a fireball herself. I liked them both.

After their father's death, Edna and Harriet's plan was to sell his business, which was what would now be called a writing mill. He would send out orders to ghost writers for various book series and plot-lines, and they would send back the finished work written to his specifications, for which they would be paid a flat fee. They would also surrender all rights to the novel to the Stratemeyer syndicate, which would then arrange for publication, and reap the benefits. Those days are long gone (except in some sad, lingering cases), but Edward Stratemeyer made a good living from this scheme. When he died, attempts to sell the business floundered because this was right around the depression, and while many might have wanted to buy a business that was one of the most successful in its field, they simply couldn't afford it!

Stratemeyer's daughters, Harriet and her younger sister Edna, took over 'temporarily', and ended-up running the business for the rest of their lives. At first it was a collaborative effort, but before long, Edna dropped out of actively participating, and from that point on, the two sisters drew apart, and eventually found themselves reduced to fighting (such as it was in the restrained and private age of the thirties and forties) over the direction the business was going, despite the fact that Harriet was doing all the work and making a go of it, and Edna was sitting at home enjoying her cut and contributing nothing but carping - a situation which evidently drove her into preceding her older sister to an early grave.

Stratemeyer's last big instruction to his syndicate before he died, gave birth to Nancy Drew, and the writer who stepped-up and made a go of it was a powerhouse by the name of Mildred Wirt, who is the true mother of Nancy Drew to a far greater extent than ever Edward Stratemeyer was the father. She actually was, in some ways, Nancy Drew in her athleticism and her adventurous spirit, so perhaps she was the best writer of all at the time to take on this project.

She wrote dozens of Drew novels, and she wrote them rapidly and successfully, even as she went through her first husband's fatal illness, a second marriage, and the birth of a child, yet she got no credit for them until relatively recently, since they were all published under the syndicate ghost name of Carolyn Keene, no matter who wrote them.

Later in life, there was a falling out between Harriet and Mildred, who had a complex and interesting relationship and collaboration, and Harriet began writing the novels herself, becoming ever more protective and obsessive over what she saw as her character if not her daughter, to the point where she routinely talked as though she was the only writer of the Nancy Drew novels.

All in all, this was an excellent history of Nancy Drew's origins and development, and of the two women who were most responsible for it, and I recommend it as a very worthy read.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Journey to a Woman by Ann Bannon


Rating: WARTY!

Ann Bannon strikes out for me in this, the third of her novels I've read, but the fourth in her opera. The problem with it was that it was the same story I'd already read twice before from this same author in different volumes! Here, in a nutshell, is why I don't read series. There was nothing new or original here. It added nothing to her oeuvre. it read like she had taken a template used in the two other novels of this author's that I've reviewed, shuffled the name cards, and re-dealt the pack, letting those names fall where they may. All she succeeded in doing was to present her main character, Beth, the college love interest of Laura, as one more in in a long line of Beebo Brinker's disposable bitches.

Beth's sitch is that having conveniently disposed of her cake in college, and married Charlie, she now whats to eat said cake. In her frustration, she's pretty much whoring around and abandoning both husband and children. She's supposed to be some sort of heroic figure for this? The sorry fact is that she's a whiny piece of trash.

She has no self-respect and she chases after a dance teacher named Vega, which is exactly what happened in one of the other two volumes (but with the name changed to something equally exotic). Beth lusts after Vega's ethereal beauty until she discovers that Vega is physically scarred from surgery, whereupon Beth can't ditch her fast enough - and this after declaring her undying love for Vega. What a complete jerk.

Failing there, she eventually throws over her husband and goes sniffing after Laura - the woman she rejected in college in favor of Charlie! When she's rejected by Laura, she takes up with - you got it - Beebo - the lesbian garbage pick-up of Greenwich Village. The whole story is insane, pathetic, lousily-written, and a disgrace to lesbian literature.