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

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Internet Security by Nel Yorntov


Rating: WORTHY!

Subtitled “From Concept to Consumer” this officious-sounding title is actually aimed at children. This is in a simialr vein to the book I just reviewed, but it was written by someone who understands the actual meaning of 'pithy'.

According to the book, job opportunities in Internet security are rife, and kids would do well to consider this as a career opportunity. If that’s the case, then this book is well-written to interest children in the Internet, in security, and in what hackers get up to, and what opportunities to make a difference a young person has available.

Illustrated with lots of photographs and color, and replete with small digestible text sections, this book will give a good overview of things without weighing down young readers with copious technical stuff. It discusses the history and rise of the Internet, and how vulnerabilities which were never an issue in the very early days, have come now to be seen as sources of mischief, profit, and retaliation.

In this era of trillions of web pages and billions of individual Internet forays into a bewildering variety of areas and topics from surfers all over the world, a person could easily get lost or entranced, or deceived, so this book helps map things out and also serves as an important warning to young users as to how they can become used if they’re not careful.

I commend this as a worthy read.


Countdown to Zero Day by Kim Zetter


Rating: WARTY!

I came to this book via a TV documentary from Nova: Cyberwar Threat that I saw on Netflix. The author was one of those interviewed during the show and my library happened to have her book. I was pleased to be able to read it, but the author insisted on larding it up with excessive detail that wasn't necessary and got int eh way of the real story.

Her problem, I think, is that she's a journalist and journalists were traditionally taught to make stories human interest stories, so every time a new person was introduced, we got a potted biography and it was both irritating and boring to see this pop up every time a new name did. I quickly took to skipping these.

The book was also not quite linear. It kept bouncing back and forth, and was often repetitive, reiterating things which had already been fully-iterated. There was a lot in it to interest me and a lot that was good material, but you really have to dig through the fluff to get to it.

The book was some 400 pages and I really felt for the trees that had been sacrificed unnecessarily to the God of Excruciating Detail to produce this thing. I felt better about that knowing that the last reader had recycled this book back to me and I had in turn recycled it back to the library after my use, but still! It was too much detail. Far too much!>

I cannot commend this unless you're really anal about excessive detail, and enjoy wasting your time reading all this stuff instead of getting to the story you thought the book contained. I really do not like authors who insist you make your life revolve around their inability to edit themselves then when all you really want to do is read a good book.


Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Undaunted: by Zoya Phan, Damien Lewis


Rating: WORTHY!

Subtitled " My Struggle for Freedom and Survival in Burma" and co-written with a British journalist, this book describes the horrific life Zoya Phan led as a member of the Kariang, Kayin, or Yang people usually referred to as Karen in this book. Karen nationalists have been fighting since 1949 for an independent state (which was to have been called Kawthoolei). The Karen National Liberation Army has been in conflict with the Tatmadaw, the well-funded Burmese military all this time.

You will not read this in the book, but three-quarters of the Karen population has never lived inside Karen State, which is in the southeast corner of Burma. Karen is a generic term meaning peoples of the forest, and this is not a homogenous group, nor is there complete agreement among all Karen peoples about objectives. In the Burmese election in 2010, for example, there were three separate Karen political parties.

That said, it doesn't take a single thing away from this author's own personal experience and the horrors she had to endure as a child. The Karen people are one of the most populous ethnic groups, numbering around six million, which makes it startlingly clear how big a problem this is when we understand that some two million people of the many ethnic groups in Burma have been displaced, and another two million are refugees living in squalid conditions across the border in places like Thailand. The bulk of those latter people are Karen.

That story - the one of being attacked in one's own country and forced to flee to become an illegal emigrant, living in a camp and desperately trying to keep family together, and keep track of those family from whom you're separated, and trying to make a decent life for yourself, are what this book is all about. I found it depressing to read, but that did not prevent me from reading it. The most horrifying thing about this is that the author is one of the luckiest ones, yet even her story is soul-destroying.

How much worse then was it for they who did not get to tell their story because they were captured, and raped as children, and tortured and mutilated, and murdered for simply being one of the Karen? That's what people who rated this book negatively simply didn't get and they should be ashamed of themselves, because they focused on grammar and story-telling and completely forgot that this book isn't a story, it's a life, one of millions, and a positive one. Far too many other "stories" were not, and this book exists to speak for them, and to remind us of those people who cannot speak.

The author lived a life of misery and deprivation from the time she was fourteen until even after the time she was able to move to Britain, where she still initially had to suffer some more, but that treatment never once caused her to lose courage, and never once did she stop from speaking out for her people and their suffering. This woman is a hero. A real hero. And her story ought to be required reading. I commend this book for its honesty, bravery, and for the truths it reveals.


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

First Year Out by Sabrina Symington


Rating: WORTHY!

This is another graphic novel about transitional experiences. It's completely honest about feelings and experiences from start to finish and it pulls no punches.

Presumably based on the author's on experiences at least to an extent, this is a fictional account of a mtf transgender named Lily. As is typical, she always knew she was a female from a very early age, despite being hampered with a male body. She wasn't gay, and she fought against these 'sissy' feelings by body-building and indulging herself in insensitive traditional masculine behaviors, but of course these were doomed to fail because her body notwithstanding, she was a woman through and through.

The color artwork is fairly rudimentary, but what's most important is the story, which discusses her problems: personal and interpersonal, the troubles in finding a decent date - and keeping him, and the support or lack thereof she got, from her parents' changing perspectives to being denied use of the women's restroom in a restaurant, to the friendships she made and the loving relationship she formed, to the unintentional torture of the final step of sex reassignment surgery.

This is educational, painful, humorous, and thoroughly worth reading. I commend it.


Fight Like a Girl by Kate Germano


Rating: WORTHY!

Not to be confused with Fight like a Girl by Clemetine Ford, or Fight like a Girl by Roz Clarke, or Fight like a Girl by Megan Seely, or Fight like a Girl by Lisa Bevere, or Fight Like a Girl by April Steenburgh, this book tells the story of LtCol Kate Germano's turmoil-ridden experience in commanding the Fourth Recruit Training Battalion at Parris island - the Marine training unit which is the only one of the major branches of the military which segregates women from men in basic training. That ought to tell you all you need to know about the attitude of the Marine Corps when it comes to integrating women into the service.

I liked this book and consider it a worthy read, but the biggest weakness of it was the fact that it lacked a good editor. Given that it was co-written by a journalist who also had a military background, this prolixity and repetitiveness in the text was strange to say the least, and it made the whole book come off as a bit on the whiney side. If the repetition had been cut back, the book could have been about two hundred pages instead of almost three hundred and it would have been better for it. Neither was the glossary necessary since each item in it was explained in-line in the text and made for a better read that way. And it was hardly rocket science!

That said, I enjoyed the book because it pulled no punches and made sense to any rational person reading it. LtCol Germano made an irrefutable case that there is institutionalized resistance to fully including women in the Marines and worse, that the training is set up to deliberately cause women to fail in a self-fulfilling prophecy: they can't hack basic training and therefore don't deserve to be 'real Marines', when everything from recruitment to basic training is set up with a lack of planning and a deliberate lack of caring about what happens to recruits who go through it. It's no wonder they come out the other end looking bad.

LtCol Germano set about fixing this from day one and her success is a matter of record, but her superiors and some of her inferiors were against her all the way, undermining her attempts to do her job and as she explained, thereby sabotaging half the population so that they appear inferior when compared with the other half. in the end she was forced out and the situation in that battalion is unlikely to improve until they get someone else with the integrity, standards, and determination exhibited by this officer - and the full support of the Marine Corps behind her.

This book will probably hold no surprises for far too many women, I'm sorry to admit, but I recommend it as a worthy and important read.


The End of Summer by Tillie Walden


Rating: WARTY!

This was a nonsensical graphic novel which I did not enjoy because I had no clue what was going on despite wasting my time reading right to the end!

The story is of this extended family which lives in a palatial home in some location where the winters last three years. How that works is an unexplained mystery. Usually the winter (or the summer) is a function of axial tilt and orbit. If the axis of the planet isn't parallel to the axis of the star, then for half the year one hemisphere will be more or less inclined towards its star, the other half of the year inclined away.

This is how the seasons work, so aside from bizarre orbital systems or multiple stars, the only way a three year winter is going to work is if the planet takes six years to orbit its star, which means it would be so far away from the star that winter would be all year! The planet could have a highly elliptical orbit, bringing it closer to the star in summer and further away in winter, but this would be a one year winter from a subjective perspective. It makes no sense to talk about a three year winter, but we're expected to accept this, and that the winter requires that the people have to lock themselves inside the house for three years.

Fine, let's accept that and move on; next up is this giant cat. It's exactly like a cat, but it's the size of a horse. There's no explanation for this - it just is! They don't even turn the cat outdoors for the night! Anyway the house is shutting up and then what? I have no idea what. The story is vague to the point of non-existence. It shows the family eating, playing games, relaxing, sauntering around, riding the cat, but suddenly it's like a kid is missing and no one knows what's going on. Is someone dead? I have no idea. Is there a killer on the loose? You got me.

The artwork was so scrappily bad that it was truly hard to distinguish one character from another, and they were all so uninteresting that I gave up trying. I read the early part and then read and skimmed to the end without having a clue what was going on or how it panned out. That's how blandly bad this was. I cannot commend it, not even slightly. It's nothing but a long, drawn-out winter of discontent for the reader.


Behind Every Great Man by Marlene Wagman-Geller


Rating: WORTHY!

I did not expect great things from this book because of the nature of its construction: potted 'biographies' of women 'behind' much better known men (or behind a slightly better known woman in one instance), so I can honestly say it met my expectations. I felt it was worth reading though because whenever I read something I always have in mind whether it can be employed in some way to enhance my own writing, and histories and insights like the ones contained here are wonderful for that kind of thing - making characters more real and filling them out somewhat, or even for giving you an idea about a character you could make a novel out of.

Most of the forty stories here were interesting in their own right though, despite being so very brief, but I have to take issue with the word 'great' as used in the title. Some of these people weren't what any rational person would call great. Infamous was a better term when it came to historical characters like Hitler, the Rosenbergs, or Wagner (the racist German composer, not the actor).

The list was, as usual, heavily biased towards white couples (90%) and heterosexual couples (nearly 100%). On the other hand, these people are historical and many of the famous people that are typically recalled from history were white and cis, so maybe the problem was the available and already biased selection rather than selection bias.

Less understandable was the heavy bias toward the arts. Fifty five percent of these 'great men' were from such career pursuits as film, literature, stage, music, etc., with the vast bulk even of those from literature and to a lesser extent, music. Does this mean that those couples are more likely to have weird relationships or just that it was easier to dig dirt on those people without working too hard?

It certainly seemed like digging dirt was a major criterion for including a couple, since most were quite scandalous in various ways (although not by today's standards). Only two of these 'great' men were scientists and none engineers. There were no mathematicians, monarchy, biologists, inventors, astronomers, explorers, gymnasts, and only one each from the military, sports (surprisingly!), and from architecture. There were almost no really historical couples (most were from the last hundred years or so), and fifteen percent were in politics in one way or another.

The book didn't seem to have any sort of organization to it; it simply listed them out in apparently random order. Predictably, almost half of them were American, suggesting that half the great men in the world are necessarily born in the USA. I disagree. The next biggest chunk was from the UK, and the bulk of the rest European. This was a truly sorry bias.

The wives/partners covered were those of:

  • Karl Marx
  • Richard Wagner
  • Oscar Wilde
  • Mohandas Gandhi
  • Albert Einstein
  • Gertrude Stein
  • Bill Wilson
  • Alfred Hitchcock
  • Simon Wiesenthal
  • Frank Lloyd Wright
  • Oskar Schindler
  • Salvador Dali
  • Adolf Hitler
  • Douglas McArthur
  • Julius Rosenberg
  • Ian Fleming
  • F Scott Fitzgerald
  • Billy Graham
  • Jackie Robinson
  • Charlie Chaplin
  • Pablo Picasso
  • Gerald Ford
  • Aldous Huxley
  • CS Lewis
  • Stephen Hawking
  • Bernie Madoff
  • Jim Henson
  • Malcolm X
  • Samuel Beckett
  • Nelson Mandela
  • Frank Sinatra
  • Arthur Miller
  • Timothy Leary
  • Jerry Garcia
  • Jim Morrison
  • Lech Walesa
  • Larry Flynt
  • Stieg Larsen
  • Gordon Sumner
  • Robin Gibb

Some of these men were truly despicable - and I am not necessarily referring to Hitler. Yes, Einstein, Hitchcock, Wagner, Wilson, and so on, I'm looking at you! Their wives put up with hell in many cases, although not in all. The story of Simon Wiesenthal and his wife was one of going through hell, but had a happy ending. Some of the other stories were equally fascinating. Some were boring, some a dismal mess. I only considered it a worthy read because I got it from the library. I wouldn't recommend buying it since you can probably get the same information from Wikipedia or elsewhere online if you wish to find it, but if you're interested in this sort of thing, it's worth a read.


Saturday, July 21, 2018

Snotgirl Vol 2 California Screaming by Bryan Lee O'Malley, Leslie Hung, Rachel Cohen


Rating: WORTHY!

This was amusingly subtitled 'California Screaming' and I had to wonder why not 'California Streaming' given the manifold mucus from Snortgirl's allergies, but streaming means a whole other thing these days.

This is the second compendium of comics about this problematic fashion blogger named Lottie Person, who has been nicknamed 'Snottie" by her new 'friend' who Lottie in turn had nicknamed Coolgirl, but who is actually a fellow blogger named Caroline.

One of my early theories about Caroline was that she might be a complete delusion created by Lottie under the influence of a new experimental allergy drug prescribed by her new doctor. Caroline could well be the girl Lottie wishes she were, but since other people see Caroline, then either she's real, or Lottie's delusion is disturbingly larger than even she fears. Could Lottie be imagining this whole world while sleeping off her allergy drug in her apartment? Who knows?

Lottie certainly has some issues. She introduces her new acquaintance to her hater's brunch group which consists of Cutegirl and Normgirl, both fellow bloggers. The four of them decide to go on a desert retreat, but barely has it begun when they change their minds and instead go to a fashion blogger conference in California, where things get really weird.

Talking of, weird Lottie stalker Charlotte was pushed off a roof by Coolgirl (or Lottie under a delusion she's Coolgirl) towards the end of volume 1, but shades of Tricky, she don't, she don't, she don't die! Instead, she's in hospital being visited by Snotgirl's ex, Sunny.

Worse than this, Lottie starts being haunted by a girl who died violently but who can't remember who killed her. Worse than that, Coolgirl elects to room with Cutegirl instead of Snotgirl, and so Lottie is stuck with Normgirl, with whom she seems to be fighting constantly. And now there's a new blogger on the block with very few followers, but who wishes to befriend Lottie and then becomes offended when Lottie spaces-out over her. Will Lottie ever have a day when things don't go disastrously south and park? Oh, and Cutegirl has a twin whom she refuses to acknowledge the existence of! And maybe Normgirl's perfectly ordered life isn't so perfect?

I loved this one and I admire Leslie Hung's drawing. She makes the characters, male and female look real, cute, and even sexy without pumping them up to improbable proportions like the super hero stories do, and Rachel Cohen's coloring is every bit as good in this volume as Mickey Quinn's work in volume one was. I commend this volume as a worthy read.


Snotgirl Vol 1 Green Hair Don't Care by Bryan Lee O'Malley, Leslie Hung, Mickey Quinn


Rating: WORTHY!

I got the two Snotgirl graphic novels from the library. The title was so bizarre that I couldn't help but request them just out of curiosity. I didn't know what to expect, but I was intrigued and I actually enjoyed reading the first one. She gets her name from this weird friendship she strikes up with a girl named Caroline, who sounds like nothing but trouble. Snotgirl's real name is Lottie Person, and she's a fashion blogger who has chronic allergies, hence the Snotgirl nickname that this new friend bestows on her. Lottie was kinder, calling her new friend Coolgirl.

Coolgirl calls her Snottie instead of Lottie, which pisses off Lottie, because she's the one always making up nicknames for fellow bloggers. She refers to one as Cutegirl, and another as Normgirl. Those three get together for Hater's Brunch once a month, which is a little breakfast club they created. Events in Lottie's life are slightly warped and a bit absurdist, so they appealed to me. I had trouble at first in trying to figure out if this other girl actually existed, or was merely a figment of Lottie's imagination - perhaps the Lottie that Lottie herself dreams she could be.

Coolgirl appeared right around the time a new allergy doctor put Lottie on an experimental medication, and from that point on, Lottie's life became even more weird. She believes that her new friend fell over in the bathroom and cracked her head open, but when she wakes up the next morning, there are no police at her door, and no reports of dead girls in bathrooms, and eventually the girl reappears in Lottie's life none the worse for wear. Did she crack her skull? Did Lottie imagine the whole thing? Does this girl even exist, or is Lottie imagining her? Maybe Coolgirl is imagining Lottie?!

The comics are done by the same guy who did "Scott Pilgrim Against the World," or whatever that was called. I never read it, but I read about it. It ended up as a movie, but I can't see something called Snotgirl making it to the movie screen. Not in the USA I'm sorry to say. Because old white men are in control, there's far too much idée fixe about how young girls should appear on movie screens in the USA to have a Snotgirl up there.

I can see it as an animated TV show. It's actually pretty funny. I think Lottie is more cute than Cutegirl. Cutegirl just seems annoying, but she's not the one who gets pushed off a building at the end of volume one!

So I have to say, if you haven't figured it out, that I am a Snotgirl fan now, and I'm very much looking forward to reading volume two already. Fortunately, I have it in hand so I can get to it right away! This comic is beautifully drawn by Leslie Hung, gorgeously colored by Mickey Quinn, and it tells quite an entrancing story. I love it.


You Can! by Watty Piper, Charlie Hart, Jill Howarth


Rating: WORTHY!

Subtitled "Words of Wisdom from The Little Engine That Could," written by Piper and Hart, and nostalgically illustrated by Jill Howarth, this book offers simple phrases of advice and encouragement all with a little engine flavor - like choosing your track, keeping yourself in good working order, but everyone needing a little downtime, and so on - this book is the perfect pep-talk for young children who have any interest at all in engines. It's colorful and worthy, useful and entertaining, and I commend it.


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

It Takes a Village by Hillary Rodham Clinton, Marla Frazee


Rating: WORTHY!

I have to say that yet again, Goodreads screwed up royally with a book blurb. Here's how it begins: "In Mrs. Clinton book..." - way to denigrate a female author by making her an appendage of a guy. Not 'Hillary Clinton', but Mrs (Bill) Clinton. Seriously? She might have forgiven him for his shameful conduct in the White Wash Ovum office, but I never will.

I know this illiterate blurb was more than likely hand-crafted by a reviewer whose doesn't know how to cut and paste from the publisher's book description, but isn't this kind of thing what the world's most useless librarians (Goodreads style) need to fix? Oh right, that's not what they do. Frankly, I have no idea what they do do, but I do know for a fact that it ain't much.

Finally comes the only one of the collection of young children's books by celebrities that I looked at today, that sent any kind of a decent message or had any kind of respectability to it.

Told in gentle, community-building tones and illustrated sweetly and diversely by Marla Frazee, whose work I enjoyed when I favorably reviewed Clementine and the Family Meeting by Sara Pennypacker back in January of 2017, this book does the job it sets out to do and I commend it. Ignore the professional Clinton-haters and naysayers, take a look at it online and make up your own mind!


Marvel Ant-Man Look and Find


Rating: WARTY!

I'm a fan of the Marvel movie universe, and I've seen Ant-Man and The Wasp twice in the theater, and watched the original Ant-Man on Blu-Ray countless times after loving that in the theater too. They're both great movies, and funny as hell, but I have to draw the line at a book aimed at young children which features a muscular Ant-Man in close-up on the cover ready to punch someone's lights out. No. Just no. Look and find something better for young kids, Marvel.


Give Please a Chance by Bill O'Reilly, James Patterson


Rating: WARTY!

Not a fan of O'Reilly or Patterson, especially not now I see the two have colluded on writing a children's book! After all the news we've had about O'Reilly and harassment allegations and multi-million dollar hush money, I don't see where he gets the chutzpah to write a book advising kids to say please. Seriously?

Several artists illustrated this, but I don't know which one of them got a juvenile into her underwear for this book. Talk about bad taste. I'm not for banning books as a general rule, but this one ought to be, based on hypocrisy alone. I don't care if they're both donating proceeds to charity. It's still not right. The guy's last contract with Fox was for what - $25 mill per year? Let him give some of that to charity and stay away from writing children's books. And let's boycott Fox for continuing to employ people like this, and Henry Holt publishers for publishing books by people like this. Some people just have no shame.

The book doesn't even do a decent job of sending the message it claims to send. The message it does send seems to be that you can bribe people to do what you want - in this case by saying please. I guess it works with simpletons on the extreme right.


The Nightmare Before Christmas by Tim Burton


Rating: WARTY!

This was another in a set of children's books written by celebrities that I'm reviewing and they're a sorry bag, I'm saddened to say.

I loved Tim Burton's Beetlejuice which I thought was inspired, and also his original Batman, both starring Michael Keaton, curiously! In my opinion, Micheal Keaton is underrated as much as Johnny Depp is overrated. That said, I did enjoy Burton's Ed Wood (no relation!) starring Depp.

I did like the movie of Nightmare. It was fun to watch once, but unlike Batman or Beetlejuice it doesn't compel me to go back to it. I'm acquainted, slightly, with one of the animators who worked on 3D clay sculptures for it, and I reviewed her book Lily Pond favorably very recently, and that work on this movie was exquisite, but I cannot say the same thing about Burton's book, both written and illustrated by him.

The illustrations, while perfectly competent, simply don't capture the presence of the characters in the movie. If your child adores the film and really, really, really wants the book then I guess they will not be so very disappointed in this, but for me it failed to capture the essence of the movie. It simply didn't have the weight and charm, and so I have to wonder why it was ever created in the way it was. As it is, I cannot commend it.


Naughty Mabel Sees it All by Nathan Lane, Devlin Elliot, Dan Krall


Rating: WARTY!

This was another in a set of children's books written by celebrities that I'm reviewing and they're a sorry bag, I'm saddened to say.

I'm a fan of Nathan Lane. I love him as an actor, but not as a writer of children's books. No idea who the other two guys are. Krall is an illustrator, but why it took two guys to write this I have no idea. That might explain though, why this book has a tone of burlesque about it which seemed to me to be thoroughly out of place in a children's book. Even the title sounds inappropriately risqué. This is one of those books that causes me to wonder, had it been submitted by a complete unknown instead of a celebrity, would it ever have got a toe in the door at Simon and Schuster? Somehow, I rather doubt it.

The story is that Mabel goes for a sleepover at her best friends' house - that of Smarty Cat and Scaredy Cat. Of course they're visited by monsters. I've seen some very cute efforts, but I have yet to really see a children's book that can deal with the bizarre subject of monsters in a truly original way.

Too many of them seem more likely to scare kids than to reassure them. And where the hell does the assumption come from that kids are scared of monsters? By that, I mean, who puts the idea of monsters into their heads in the first place that they need to reassure them in the second place? My kids never were scared of monsters under the bed, although once in a while they liked the light left on, but it went out as soon as they did and they soon grew out of that stage because they were raised rationally and objectively, and they're perfectly fine. They never needed to be reassured about monsters because they never were led to believe monsters were around or a threat. That's not to say they don't have wild and crazy imaginations now though!

So in short I wasn't impressed with this one either, and I cannot commend it.


Touch the Earth by Julian Lennon, Bart Davis, Smiljana Coh


Rating: WARTY!

Now it's time to review some children's books written by celebrities and we have a sorry bag, I'm saddened to say.

This one is by that Julian Lennon, son of John. This is a short but colorful book illustrated by Smiljana Coh, and co-written by Bart Davis. That's the first bit that I didn't get. Not to be confused with North Concord/Martinez, which is the closest BART station to Davis, or with the politician, this guy is an author who hasn't, prior to this (and to my knowledge) ever written a children's book. Lennon is a composer of some skill, so why did he need a co-writer/ghost writer, whatever this guy's job was? It made no sense to me. In fact, this entire book made no sense.

The idea of the book is to promote awareness in children of what their parents are unthinkingly doing to the environment, but if their parents don't give a damn about the environment, they're sure as hell not going to buy this book for their kids. If they do care, then they'll be educating their kids accordingly, regardless of what books are out there, and sending their money, if they have any to spare, to organizations that are going to use all of it - not 'a portion' to help the environment, instead of it going to publishers and book creators who root up trees, pulp them, and print books on them that talk about saving the environment!

The book is weird because the text tells the reader to tilt and turn it and to press (printed) "buttons" to do various things which magically - and with zero effort - fix the depredations of unrestrained capitalism, but unless your child can already read, this isn't going to work if you're holding the book to read to your child, because they can't do all these things while you're holding the book! It especially doesn't work if you want to read it to group of kids.

Lennon founded an organization called White Feather and the book advises that "a portion" of the profit will go to benefit it. it doesn't say 'all profits' or anything like that, so what this tells me is that most of what this book earns is going into the pockets of the creators and publisher and only a portion goes to the charity. I don't see any other rational way to interpret that, so what's the point of the book? To me it seems, at best, to be misguided. Why not just send the list price ($12 for the hardback) to the charity or to any charity of your choice and skip the book altogether? I can't in good faith commend this at all.


The Tiger in the Well by Philip Pullman


Rating: WARTY!

Published in 1990, for me this was the weakest book in the quadrilogy so far (I have one more volume still to read). Frederick is dead. Sally has had his child from their one brief dalliance right before he died, and it's this child, Harriet, who is at the heart of this story. Sally's closest friends and associates: Frederick's brother Webster Garland, Jim, and Charles are off in South America on a photo expedition.

What Sally doesn't know, but finds out very quickly, is that her foe from the first novel in the series has very carefully, sadistically, and expertly been putting in place her downfall, as she learns when divorce papers are served on her by a man named Arthur Parrish. This is a surprise to Sally because she has never even heard of Parrish, has never met him and has certainly never been married to him or to anyone else.

As she digs into the claims and accusations, Sally realizes that she has been set up in a way which will be very hard to fight, and especially so for a woman in that era. This situation is exacerbated, sadly, by the fact that the tough and capable Sally Lockhart from the previous two volumes is also dead. She has been replaced by a replica, exact in every detail except resolve and fortitude. This new Sally has the constitution of a wet biscuit, which is inexplicable. Why Pullman chose to do this to her is a mystery and a serious mistake.

The original Sally was not perfect by any means, but she did not let the fact that she was treated as a second class citizen (being a woman in Victorian times) get in the way of turning her life around in the first volume, or of taking down a dangerous and advantaged foe in the second. I know that here we have a child to consider, but to me this should have made Sally even more formidable, not less. That's not what we get.

The Sally here is weepy, lackluster, hesitant, nervous, distracted, aimless, clueless, and is pushed around by everyone she meets. It's sad to see a completely different person from the one we have loved in two successive volumes. Rather than stand up and fight, this sally effectively runs. Yes, she engages a solicitor, who in turn briefs a barrister to represent Sally in court, but both of these men, and particularly the barrister, are complete jerks. They aren't even willing to consider that the marriage never took place, and they treat her like a whore (the common term for a single mom in those days) and a victim.

Sally never once stands up to them much less fires them. Instead, she simply fails to turn up at her own trial, and of course loses - something she pretty much knew her barrister was going to do beforehand. She goes on the run with Harriet, which is ill-advised at best. In that era women, regardless of what they had or who they were before the marriage, became effectively the property of their husband once married, and he took possession of everything they owned and all of their children. They had no rights. Sally, therefore, as a now 'proven' wayward wife, lost everything. She knew this was coming yet took not a single step to counter it. She's not your Ruby in the Smoke sally, sorry to report.

Just as in the first novel, she's now penniless and on the street, this time with a very young child in tow. She could have transferred her ownership of her home and her business interests, and although that would have been challenged, it would have been something - a delaying tactic at least. What she could certainly have done is remove every penny from her back account, but she failed to even consider this, much less actually do it. Now her "husband' has everything and she has nothing.

Once again a man comes to her aid. He's a Jewish agitator who is also up against Parrish for his exploitation of Jewish immigrants. His associates give her shelter and hide her and Harriet from the police and Parrish. One of these, a man named Dan Goldberg, reveals to Sally that Parrish is a criminal who is running frauds and scams all over London, including houses of prostitution and exploitation of minorities. She learns from him that the man behind Parrish is known as Tzaddik, and it's he who is really doing all this to Sally, but Sally doesn't make the connection to a man named Lee with whom she had a run-in - and shot, but not fatally - back in book one, the events of which took place many years before those occurring in this volume.

Tzaddik is outright evil and to bring him down Sally takes a job in his house as a maid. he doesn't know what she looks like, and it all works out in the end, including Sally magically forgetting about the terrific romance she'd had with Frederick and having no problem shacking up with a different guy that she hardly knows. It's not a great story, and I cannot recommend it. The only thing which made me want to read volume four is that it's really a different story altogether, otherwise I would have quit right here.


The Shadow in the North by Philip Pullman


Rating: WORTHY!

This was first published in 1986 as The Shadow in the Plate and is set six years after the previous volume The Ruby in the Smoke, this novel takes place in 1878. I know that they tended to go in for long engagements in the past, but six years seems like an awfully long time for nothing to have changed between Frederick and Sally. Indeed, it's like things have actually gone downhill. They are frequently at odds and outright name-calling arguing in this volume, so perhaps the long-term outcome was all for the best.

The dark stories continue with both Frederick, who is inexplicably a private investigator now, working with Jim, and Sally tackling different ends of what turns out to be the same problem. Sally, now with her own financial advisory business and a large dog, is trying to help a client recover the three thousand pounds which she lost after investing it on Sally's advice. The company went bust and Sally just knows that it wasn't any accident or poor planning. On the contrary: the collapse of the company was planned in detail by Axel Bellmann.

Meanwhile, via Jim, a showman and magician Alistair Mackinnon has had death threats. Mackinnon supposedly has the power of psychometry - being able to divine things from touching objects, and through this he has become aware of a murder. At a séance conducted by Nellie Budd, Jim and Fred learn of the very death which Mackinnon has seen. Evidently Nellie has psychic powers despite the fraudulent medium game she pursues.

Bellman sends a lackey to threaten Sally, who works alone out of her home. He has documented many visitations from men - obviously seeking financial advice, but Bellman plans to spin it as a house of prostitution if Sally doesn't back off. Sally doesn't back off.

To further his interests and influence, Bellmann plans on marrying the daughter of Lord Wytham. I have two observations here. The first is purely regarding my own amusement when I read this sentence: "Lord Wytham was a handsome man" to which I wanted to append, "Lord without 'em he was ugly as sin," but that's simply frivolity. It does, however, offer an insight: you should be careful how you write things, and also how you choose your character names if you don't want to provoke unintended mirth amongst your readership! Moreover, why were his looks important? No answers are to be found here.

The second thing relates to this with regard to the complementary sex (not opposite, surely!) in describing female characters as beautiful. It's almost like there's a law forbidding female characters from being ordinary or plain. It seems that male characters - even major ones, in novels can get away with any amount of ordinary and average, yet females are required to be young and beautiful - not pretty, not attractive, not good-looking, although these do occur, but outright beautiful. I think it's a poor choice and worse, a clichéd choice against which I've railed on more than one occasion

I want to give here, thanks to Philip Pullman, an example of how it can be done and made to work well. Frederick, the photographer, has his breath taken away by Lord Wytham's daughter, Lady Mary. The text reads, "...beautiful wasn't quite the word. The girl was astoundingly lovely, with a grace and shyness and delicate coral coloring which made him want to reach for his camera..."

So here is the first part of it - a photographer's view. Note that it's not the author telling us she's beautiful, but a character observing her to be so, and he's doing this because he is a photographer - someone who we would expect to react to beauty whether it's in the face of a woman, or in a sunset, or a flower, or something else.

Later, another character says to the main character, Sally Lockhart, "...Lady Mary's beauty would fade. Yours is not dazzling, but it is a beauty of mind and character, and it will grow stronger...." To me, that is exactly how it should be approached and how it can be done well. Anything else is cheap by comparison and insulting to women in general.

In addition to Sally, there is another strong woman in this novel - she's an ardent admirer of Mackinnon's who has no illusions about her own lack of beauty. Her face is disfigured by a birthmark, but she shows her inner beauty by how strong she is in the face of her poverty and in her lack of a more ordinary-looking face. She is the one who shows them a newspaper clipping which confirms the visions both Mackinnon and Budd have had. It's someone Bellmann killed in a duel. We also have confirmed something which has been a growing suspicion for attentive readers: that Mackinnon is actually the son of Lord Wytham and Nellie Budd.

Sally has by now learned that Bellmann is building an automated steam gun. His belief is that once every nation owns these guns, peace will inevitably reign because no one will dare start a war. He's delusional of course, as the arms race between the US (United States) and the US (Union of Soviets) conclusively proved. The big guys simply pay the little guys, one way or another, to fight proxy wars. As long as there are haves and have-nots, war is inevitable. But this is not the problem with the steam gun as Sally discovers. It's confined to railway tracks. With such limited mobility, Sally determines that it's intended to be used against a nation's own population, not against foreign aggressors. But Sally has a plan.

Pullman evidently likes to kill off main characters with the glee of a Joss Whedon or a Jo Rowling, and he manages to slaughter both Sally's dog and her fiancé, as Frederick is by then. Bellman is also dead, and we're left with the knowledge that Sally's one brief dalliance with Frederick has borne fruit. I recommend this as a worthy read.


The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman


Rating: WORTHY!

Published in 1985, and set in Victorian times, 1872, this is the first of a quadrilogy, three-quarters of which I enjoyed overall. It's been a long time since I read this though, and I still have to read the last volume in the set!

I have multiple problems with Goodreads (not least of which is that it's owned by the unforgivable Amazon), but one of them is that the blurb for this book begins: "Sally is sixteen and uncommonly pretty." I don't see what that has to do with anything. If she were sixteen and plain would her story be not worth telling? Are her age and her looks her most important qualities? Goodreads makes me sick at times.

Yes, maybe that blurb was posted by some reviewer, but if Goodreads librarians were not among the most useless people on the planet, they would fix things like this. I'm surprised that Pullman himself hasn't complained about it. I know I would if someone characterized one of my main characters so shallowly. But then he's not listed as a 'Goodreads author' whatever the hell that means, so maybe his voice doesn't count since they don't own him? Or maybe he gives less thought to Goodreads machinations than I do? I dunno.

The Wikipedia entry isn't much better! The entry doesn't talk about beauty, but it's so obsessed with TV and stage adaptations of the book that it completely fails to say a word about the plot! Pathetic. An encyclopedia entry that says not a word about its subject! LOL! That's sadly underperforming for Wikipedia I have to say.

Take it from me that Sally Lockhart's looks are unimportant in this story. It's her character that's the critical quality and she has that in abundance. She's an orphan, her mother some time past, and her father having died in a shipwreck. She's under the care (so-called) of a cold bitch of a woman, but this doesn't hold sway for long.

Sally is called to the shipping office to which her father had ties and she learns of some information there that sets her on a course of conflict with the bad guys, which consist of a mysterious Asian and an evil woman who works for him and who isn't entirely lacking in similarity to Marisa Coulter of the 'His Dark Materials' hexalogy. Sally bests them both and makes a friend of Frederick with whom she has only a short-term relationship, it turns out.

I really liked this story and commend it as a worthy read. I also commend the TV adaptation starring two Doctor Who alumni: a very young Matt Smith and Billie Piper.


The Lonely Balloon by Gemma Mallorey, Cleoward Sy


Rating: WORTHY!

The very title of this made me laugh. I am so far out of the intended age group for it, yet I couldn’t help but read it! That’s the importance of a good title. Good art also helps, and the amazingly-named and equally talented Cleoward Sy definitely stepped up there. The illustrations are awesome: colorful and beautifully rounded as you’d hope for in a book about a balloon. The writing is good, too, full of question and feeling, replete with wonder about where this little balloon will end up.

The poor balloon seems to be above everyone. Is that why finding friends is hard? Birds aren’t interested, neither are the flags – but at least they wave! Maybe the toys in the little kid's bedroom will befriend a balloon? I liked this story and commend it for young children. It’s full of hope and persistence, and there isn’t a better combination to be had.