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

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Lyddie by Katherine Paterson


Rating: WORTHY!

I twice had mixed feelings about this novel, but both times in the end, it came through for me, and so I have no choice but to rate it a worthy read! That's my kind of author, despite the fact that she won a Newbery for some other novel she wrote. I started out int he first few chapters wondering if I could drop this at a quarter the way through, but as soon as Lyddie left her rural background and headed for the city, it picked-up and never stopped from there on out. That was when I began enjoying it.

This is the story of a young girl who lives on a farm with her mother and her younger siblings, but their father has left them and offers no hope that he's coming back. Their mother is weak and worn out, so it would seem that it's all up to Lyddie Worthen (come on - if she'd been named Worthy it could hardly be any closer!). She almost despairs when her mother announces that the family must be split-up in order to pay off the debt that's owed. Mother and the youngest are going to stay with relatives, but Lyddie and Charlie, despite their tender age, are to be let out as servants in order to start working down the crushing debt.

The paltry little farm will stand idle and Lyddie hates that. She isn't happy with her lot either although Charlie, in a luckier situation, flourishes. Lyddie hears about the money that's to be made up in Lowell, Massachusetts, working in the yarn-spinning factories, and she jumps ship.

The life in the factory pays well (by Lyddie's previous standards), but the work is long, long, long, and the conditions are awful. Get used to this folks because this is where the The Business President is aiming to take us all in the next four years. Lyddie struggles at first, but eventually becomes the best loom operator in the whole factory. It's piece-work which means that the workers have no peace, because they have to meet a quota and unfortunately, saving is slow and problems abound.

Some girls are talking of agitation for better conditions, and all the while the factory makes greater demands - running the looms faster, reducing pay and raising quotas. The horrible condition inside the factory are best exemplified in the BBC TV serialization of Elizabeth Gaskell's novel North and South which stars Richard Armitage of The Hobbit fame. Several scenes in this show display in graphic detail how god-awful working conditions in a spinning factory were back then.

Lyddie has no time for agitation. She focuses on working hard, and being the best, so she can run four looms and make more money, but even as she almost literally slaves away, her family and farm situation deteriorate bit by bit. The ending seemed obvious and I was getting ready to down-rate it because it looked like this author was going to perform a YA weak, dependent, girl atrocity on her main character, but once again she turned it around and sent Lyddie in a different direction: one which returned control to Lyddie, and one of which I fully approved. It was this that really won me over, because the girl had not given-up. She had merely refocused her goal and went for it with a control-taking dedication which I admired and approved of. I fully recommend this read.



Monday, January 23, 2017

Gangster Women by Susan McNicoll


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a book about the women who hung out with the infamous mobsters and gangsters, mostly during their heyday in the early thirties, but also covering one from the fifties. it tells an unflinching tale of the ruthlessness and brutality, and of the love and loyalty. The book begins by covering the quartet of Billie Frechette, Marie Comforti, Jean Delaney Crompton, and Helen Gillis. Frechette was John Dillinger's girlfriend, and Delaney was one of three sisters, all of whom took up with gangsters. Helen Gillis was the wife of Lester "Baby-Face" Nelson, who died in her arms with nine bullets in his body after an insane shootout on a back country lane in late November 1934.

That turned out to be a banner year for renowned gangsters flaming out. It saw the deaths of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow in May, Marie Curie and John Dillinger in July (one of those might not be an outlaw), and Charles "Pretty Boy" Floyd in October. Ma and Fred Barker only just escaped that watershed year by 16 days, dying in a gunfight with police in mid-January 1935. There were lesser names, too, such as Ford Bradshaw, Robert Brady, Tommy Carroll who was an associate of Dillinger's and who was the boyfriend of Jean Crompton, Aussie Elliott, an associate of Floyd's, Fred "Shotgun" Goetz, of Valentine's Day Massacre fame, Joseph Moran, an associate of the Barker gang, and last but not least, Wilbur "Mad Dog" Underhill. Also on the list are five more associates of John Dillinger: Eddie Green, John Hamilton, Charles Makley, Harry Pierpont, and Homer Van Meter. Clearly it wasn't safe to be a member of the Dillinger crew!

The book covers Bonnie and Clyde, of course, and Clyde's brother Marvin Barrow aka Buck, who was wounded with his wife Blanche and died in July 1933. Blanche lived to a ripe old age. Bonnie and Clyde's career seemed like ti was laways on the downhill slope. They were petty thieves and violently resisted arrest. Their spree lasted only two years, all of it spent on the run, and often wounded. Bonnie was injured severely in a car accident and never recovered, spending the last year of her life in pain form an injured leg. They both die din their mid-twenties.

The last story in the book is of Bugsy Siegel's abused girlfriend Virginia Hill, who looked like a movie star and who evidently was a petulant and avaricious girl. She was apparently murdered in the mid-sixties, but she outlived a girl who as a kid, resolved to emulate her, and who ended up 'collateral damage' in a hit job on the guy she was traveling with, Little Augie Pisano. Janice Drake left behind a thirteen year old son.

It had to be infatuation. No one who wasn't blinded by love of some variety or another would be seen dead with these people. Or maybe they would....


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Critical Mass by Steve Martini


Rating: WARTY!

This is my first and probably my last Steve Martini novel. Am I sure it wasn't Steve Martin and not Martini? No! This was a plodding, predictable, obvious novel with no thrills at all, which is hardly surprising given his background as first a journalist, then a layer. What was I thinking?! I read only a third of this four-hundred-some page novel because I couldn't stand to read any more when I have other books literally weighing down my shelves. Life is far too short!

The only conceivable reason to include a lawyer in this novel is Martini's history. She had no other purpose. In fact none of the chapters in which she was featured made a lick of sense. On top of this was the obvious: it was painfully obvious who was behind the theft of the nuclear weapons before the plodding Gideon figured it out. It was glaringly obvious that 'Belden' never died in the airplane explosion. Pathetic.

The story is about the theft of two nuclear missiles from Russia. We know from the off that they will be discovered and disarmed at the last minute, and that since we have "weak, gullible" female character Joselyn the Lawyer and love interest for Gideon, she will be imperiled before the story ends (probably by Belden), so there were no thrills here, and I have considerably better reads to do with my time.


Hamlet by William Shakespeare, Neil Babra


Rating: WORTHY!

No Fear Shakespeare is a collection of "translated" Shakespeare texts - in other words, delivered in modern English instead of in the antique lingo with which Shakespeare was familiar. A web version of Hamlet done in this way can be found here.

I'm familiar Hamlet from its general reputation, and from the Kenneth Branagh and Mel Gibson movie versions, but I've never read the original play. I will be setting that right at some point since reading this gave me an idea for a novel! Those who have no familiarity with this story (the full title of which is The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, but shorted merely to Hamlet for this book) might be surprised to discover how many quite well-known English catch-phrases were derived from this play. It seems like it's full of them. This was Shakespeare's longest work and was derived from the medieval Scandinavian legend of Amleth which in the beginning is very much like the Hamlet we know, although the ending is rather more convoluted (Amleth ends up with two wives!).

This graphic novel follows the 'No Fear' text, and the black and white line drawings are rudimentary (and predictably shaded dark in many places!), so the artwork was no great shakes (peer!), but overall I liked the way this was done. I found it eminently readable and easy follow (although frankly the text could have been more legibly printed, especially in the reversed panels where it was white text on a black background).

The story is of course that Hamlet's uncle, with the rather un-Danish name of Claudius, murdered Hamlet's father and took over the throne, but disguised the murder and got away with it. This never made any sense to me. Hamlet was old enough to be king, so if his father was king but died (whether murdered or through natural causes), why was Hamlet not king? I think Shakespeare screwed up!

Whether Hamlet was insane or merely faking it to achieve the end result of exposing his uncle is a much debated question. I think at first there is no doubt of his sanity, but certain later actions of his, such as his lack of remorse at slaying the father of the woman he purportedly loved, and his callous rejection of this same woman and lack of concern over her becoming unhinged suggest to me that while he wasn't exactly what I'd term missing a few planks from his stage, he was certainly a folio short of a play!

So in the end, as is the wont in Shakespeare's tragedies, there's a slaughter and, as Prince Escalus might have it, "all are punish'd." Denmark falls to Norway, the very nation which was lost a war with it before the play begins. This part made no sense to me either. Did Shakespeare not know his Europe? It made zero sense that Norwegian armies would need to March across Denmark to get to Poland! Why did they not go directly through Sweden (a country with which they had not been at war recently), or simply sail though the Baltic? That Shakespeare, I tell you! But let's take a page out of Shakespeare's book on this: "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so"! So it's all good and I recommend this one.


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Luther: The Calling by Neil Cross


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a prequel to the successful British TV series of the same name (Luther). It begins on about the same level as the TV show, but becomes darker and darker as the reader ventures further into the plot. The novel ends with the events depicted at the beginning of the TV show, and it certainly makes it quite clear why Luther acted as he did.

Luther is what people would call a dirty cop, but in his case, what he does isn't for self-gain (except occasionally to get him out of scrapes that his more altruistic behavior has got him into in the first place). For example, one of his altruistic moves is to side with an elderly and frail man who is being bullied - and brutally so on one occasion - into quitting his home so a financially distressed and morally-challenged developer can build on the land. The man won't move, so the heavies are sent in and in response to this, Luther torches the developer's venerable Jaguar car. Unfortunately there are witnesses who describe a man very like Luther at the scene (Luther stands out in a crowd!), so this necessitates the DCI having to take some other measures outside the law, to avoid being nailed for the crime.

The big thrust here though, other than to, obviously, prequel the events in the excellent first season of the TV show (which it does very well), is to tell yet another sorry and violent story about a sick villain who, due to childhood trauma, is now visiting that trauma on children himself. His overwhelming passion is to have a child of his own. Somehow he senses that he would never be considered suitable were he to apply for an adopted child. His own lack success in impregnating two prostitutes that he kidnapped and held prisoner (and subsequently murdered and fed to his dogs), and his lack of faith in the "quality" of some random child he might buy from European sources has forced him into stalking couples and selecting a "healthy breeding pair" from whom to kidnap a newborn. His first attempt goes bad and so he tries a second time with an older girl, whom he plans to raise to maturity and then impregnate himself.

The job, then, for Luther, in addition to dealing unsuccessfully with his failing marriage, and warding-off serious questions about his behavior and tactics from within his own police organization, is to find this girl before things can deteriorate even more than they have already. The book is tense, very dark in many places, brutal in others, and hard to read at times, but it stays true to Luther and to the TV show. One of the highlights for me, of the show, was Alice Morgan, but she is necessarily absent here because Luther has not met her yet. I understand this, but still missed her. She was such a high-spot for me in the show. But I can't hold the book responsible for that!

One of the annoying things about the whole Luther world is the rumors which surround it: that there will be a movie (not so far!), that the third series was the last (it wasn't!), that there will be an Alice Morgan spin-off (not yet!), that the novel is the first of a trilogy (again, not yet!). It's hard to gage where this will go next and I wish people would quit saying where it's going until it's set in stone. That aside I recommend both this novel and the show, viewed in that order.


Sunday, January 1, 2017

Lise Meitner Pioneer of Nuclear Fission by Janet Hamilton


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a great book for young readers. It's clear, concise, informative, and pulls no punches. Lise Meitner was an Austrian who made amazing strides as a woman through a man's world of science and education. She earned herself a doctorate, became a professor, and importantly, was key to understanding the process of nuclear fission in uranium caused by the absorption of a neutron.

Born in Austria, Lise moved to Berlin in Germany to pursue a physics education, and she worked there for thirty years on the forefront of nuclear physics, fighting sexism by means of leading by example, rarely getting the distinction and recognition she earned, sometimes betrayed by those she worked with and trusted, and because she was Jewish, falling afoul of the brain-dead and psychotic Nazis who were destroying their own world-domination plans by chasing-off and killing the very Jewish scientists who could have won the war for them had they been enabled and inclined to do so! Morons.

Lise barely escaped Germany with her life and had to kiss goodbye not only her lab and equipment, but also pretty much everything she owned. First Holland and then Sweden took her in. Of all her calculations, her biggest miscalculation was her failure to move to Britain when she had the chance. World War Two broke out and she was trapped in Sweden for the duration, but she continued her work, her blind pursuit of science inexplicably helping her former colleague Otto Hahn who remained in Germany.

During World War One she had worked as an X-ray technician (pioneering the medical science with her own physics knowledge!), and as a nurse, and was so disturbed by the horrors she experienced there, that in the Second World War, she refused to contribute her expertise to developing the atomic bomb because she hated war so much.

In her later years she finally did receive much of the recognition she had been denied for much of her life, and led a quiet life in science, teaching and continuing her research. She died in 1968 at the ripe old age of nearly ninety! This is a great book for young girls to learn how much they could contribute if they decided to pursue a life in science as Lise Meitner had done.


Lydia's Golden Drum by Neale Osborne


Rating: WORTHY!

Disclosure: After I positively reviewed (yes, I'm positive I reviewed it!) Neale's Lydia's Enchanted Toffee back in November 2015, he and I became email friends, so I am definitely biased here, but I loved this book! The writing is so rich that you feel like you've eaten a tin of toffee by the time you're done reading. You might even get an empathic if not emphatic tooth-ache!

If I had a complaint it would be that the book felt a little bit long, which was fine with me since I was very much into it, but which might not appeal to some readers. I also felt the print version might have been kinder to trees in being a little more compact (the lines were widely spaced), but I have that complaint about a lot of print books, including my own, which is why I refurbished them all last year.

That said, this book is poetic and rich, it's endlessly inventive to an amazing and humbling degree, and it was a joy to read. Lydia is once again called into action with her toffee tin drum and magically empowering toffee, which gives her control over metal (probably including metal dental fillings!). The Jampyrs are evidently on the move and someone has to stop them. Lydia's journey involves meeting up with friends and traveling her Candi world to collect the tools they will need to defeat the horrific jampyr menace and save their planet. Can she succeed? Can she suck toffee? I think you know the answer to that! I recommend this one. It's a sweet read....


Gilgamesh by Stephen Mitchell


Rating: WARTY!

Edited by Stephen Mitchell from translated sources, this is the antique story of Gilgamesh, King of the "Great walled Uruk" which is where the Biblical Abram hails, I think.

This book has a bibliography, a glossary, some eighty pages of notes, as well as as sixty-page introduction which I skipped as I do all introductions, prologues, and so on, meaning that the actual story occupies only a hundred pages or so in the middle! That said, the story was fun. It's they way they told tales back then which was as entertaining as the tale itself. There was much repetition, especially during the travel portions, but to be able to read literature from two thousand years BC is pretty epic. How many authors of today will still be read in 6017?!

Gilgamesh and his sworn friend, once enemy, Enkidu were giants of men, legends in their own lifetime, who took on challenges and monsters, and even faced-down gods, and while they were often fearful, they nevertheless won through with each other's support. These epics predate and underlie the later biblical stories (the Biblical flood story comes from the legend of Utnapishtim mentioned here). You can truly feel Gilgamesh's grief when Enkidu dies, and understand his sudden need to find out if it's possible to live forever. How he's robbed of this is a bit unconvincing, but even story-tellers back then knew that no one really lived forever!

I recommend this. You can find it free online at Google docs or at Gutenberg. I'm pretty sure this is out of copyright by now(!) even by Disney's ever-expanding standards, so you might consider it as an inspiration for your own novel.


East of the Sun by Julia Gregson


Rating: WORTHY!

Having just reviewed East of the Sun, West of the Moon by Jackie Morris and liked it, I thought it would be fun to review this one alongside it. Now I've anchored East of the Sun in India, maybe I can read West of the Moon, either by Margi Preus or by Barbara Bickmore, and find where that's set, which would then pinpoint the location of the troll queen's castle in the first novel! LOL!

Well, they said I don't have the stamina for a long novel any more! Pshaw! They laughed at me, but I showed them; then they laughed even harder! Oh well! This one was 587 pages, and for the first 487 it was really quite engrossing and pretty good. It was well-written and told an engaging story. The last one hundred pages though, felt like the author had lost interest and just wanted to get it wrapped up, and so did I somewhat, at that juncture.

This is one reason I'm not a huge fan of long novels or series: it's far too much valuable time invested if the novel goes south! As it happens I'm quite willing to give this particular one a worthy rating because it did entertain me for so long, and the ending wasn't a disaster, it was just dissatisfying and highly predictable.

Viva is a twenty-something girl living in the early inter-war years in England, who decides to return to India, a place she knew vaguely as a child, so she can recover a trunk which her deceased parents left there for her. Why she didn't simply pay to have it shipped is a mystery, especially since she's not well-off enough to pay for her trip! She has to agree to play the role of chaperone in order to have her passage paid. She's to look after two teens: Victoria, who goes by Tor and who was an interesting character for all her flightiness, immaturity and insecurity, and a guy named...Guy, who is a young sociopath.

On the ship Viva and Tor form a little klatch with another young woman named Rose, a rather disappointing character who is going to India to marry her soldier - a man she's met only a couple of times, and who frankly turns out to be a bit of a jerk. The weird thing about him is that he seems like a different character when we first meet him, so his resolving into your typical spoiled, regimented, chauvinistic Edwardian soldier as we read on was something of a shock to me. It's not as much of one though as realizing what women and so-called minorities had to go through back then (and sadly still do).

The truly depressing thing about the "minority" here is that this is their nation and they're actually in the overwhelming majority! The author pulls no punches; we get India, warts and all: the stunning beauty, the scary, the over-heated barren plains and deadly mountains, the ignorance of both the people and of the ruling Brits about this people and their beliefs and realities, the nauseating poverty and sickness, and the huge clash of cultures.

The story follows these three over the next few months as Rose gets married and becomes pregnant, as Tor finally meets a guy and marries him in order to avoid having to return to England, and as Viva inevitably marries the guy we knew she would almost from the moment she met him. The story took rather too long to tell and not have better resolution at the end than it did. I would have liked to have seen Viva do something unusual rather than predictable. I would have liked to have seen Rose take charge, and I would have liked to have seen Guy get his just deserts. None of these things really happened, so in some ways it felt like a long build-up to a finale we never got, but overall I think this is a worthy read. Maybe other readers will find more satisfaction in the ending than I did.


East of the Sun, West of the Moon by Jackie Morris


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a really good print book I found in a used bookstore. On the one hand you have to be a bit cynical in this age of writers (YA authors, I'm looking at you!) taking fairy-tales wholesale and rewriting them shoddily for profit, but that said, this author at least chose a fairy-tale that's not been done to death, and is lesser-known than many others. Plus it's illustrated by the author, very nicely, and decently written. This one is based on a Norwegian story of a polar bear who visits an exiled family and tells them it's important that their daughter comes with him for a year and a day (there's always a day isn't there?!). The girl somehow knew the bear had come for her and that she must go. She didn't like the idea, but she knew in her heart it was her duty. We never learn why it is that the bear selects her, though.

The bear takes her miles away to an underground lair where she has every comfort - except for not being with her family, of course. He's kind and attentive and sees that she wants for nothing. Here's where it departs from your usual juvenile fairytale: that first night, and every night thereafter, in her dark room, someone enters, climbs into bed with her and goes to sleep. It's too dark to see who is it and she isn't allowed lights at night. In the morning, the visitor leaves.

After a few months, the girl asks if she can visit her family just for a short while, and the bear agrees, but warns her never to let her mother get her alone and give her advice about her time with the bear. He doesn't explain why this is so, and there's no reason at all that he shouldn't, so this is poorly done, even though it is trope for such tales. The girl visits her family, and of course her mom meets with her alone, and once she learns of the nightly visitor, far from being shocked and lecturing her wayward daughter, she offers her matches and candles so she can light up the night, and identify this visitor. This the girl does, and she discovers it's a handsome prince, of course. He's been cursed by the troll queen, and if he cannot spend a year and a day with a girl, without her discovering his real identity, the he has to marry the troll daughter.

The problem is that now she's discovered his true self, he has fallen afoul of the enchantment, and he's whisked away to the troll princess. Why this is a problem, I don't know, because troll princesses are hot according to Amanda Hocking! The girl refuses to give up on the guy though, and she makes it her mission to find and free him. He's held in a castle that's East of the Sun and West of the Moon, but she has no idea how to get there. She makes inquiries and is eventually led to three sisters, each of whom passes her on to the next with a gift which she will need to use at the right time in order to save the guy.

Of course she eventually finds him and frees him, and this is where the story, while predictable in some ways, takes a ninety-degree turn away from trope and cliché which is one of the major reasons why I found this a worthy read. The ending is one I liked precisely because the author (or the original fairy-tale) had the courage to side-step the tedious and go somewhere different. I liked, for the most part, the way this was written. It's very well done except for one or two oddities - such as given how long it takes the girl to find her quarry, how come the troll princes hasn't already married the guy?! But I liked the ending and the overall tone of the novel, so for me it was a worthy read.


Monday, December 19, 2016

Zathura The Movie Deluxe Storybook by David Seidman


Rating: WORTHY!

Chris van Allsburg is the author of many interesting books, not least of which are Jumanji from 1981 (about to be remade into what looks like a disaster of a movie for 2017), and The Polar Express from 1985. Lesser known is his Zathura which was published in 2003. It had many similarities to Jumanji, and like the other two, it was also made into a film. It had nowhere near the success of the other two, but it featured a disturbingly youthful Josh Hutcherson and Kristen Stewart before they took each off in different trilogies.

Zathura is a board game that comes alive when its played, and the only way to escape its clutches is to finish the game, just as in Jumanji, but this is a different movie with its own peculiar twists and traps. This book isn't the original, but one taken from the movie, featuring movie stills and following the movie plot rather than the original author's illustrations and plot. I liked it!

On a point of order for the Polar Express movie, I have to say that Eddie Deezen's annoying little character was totally wrong about the engine. It wasn't a Baldwin, it was a Lima, although the wheel arrangement, 2-8-4 was correct. Baldwin merged with Lima, but this was after Lima's steam-engine building days were over. The train which inspired Chris van Allsburg was owned by the Pere Marchette railroad and was designated as number 1225, which is also the date of Christmas! Now you know the idea for a great story can quite literally come from anywhere if you keep yourself open to it!


Friday, December 9, 2016

Exile by Jan Burchett, Sara Vogler aka Working Partners Limited


Rating: WARTY!

This is one of a series (the fifth) and is the second I've reviewed. The first one I read was actually the fourth in the series, titled Deception, and was a disappointment back in January 2016. I'd picked up both volumes at the same time and only just now got to this one, hoping it would be better. It wasn't! It had all the same problems the first volume had: first person, epistolic narrative, thoroughly modern language which didn't at all hark back to the Elizabethan era in which it was set. No one really wants to read archaic English, but you can write in a way which indicates history without going full-on Shakespeare.

This is a series which, judged by the titles (Assassin, Betrayal, Conspiracy, Deception, Exile), is intended to run to twenty six volumes. I can't think of anything more tedious than that! I started in on this only to see if it was indeed any better. My expectations that it would not be better were quickly and thoroughly met. It's written by a writing partnership whose members all contribute under the pseudonym of 'Grace Cavendish', the main character. I’d actually be more interested in learning exactly how that partnership works and how disputes are resolved than in reading another of these stories!

Anyway, Grace is a young lady courtier who is supposedly a pursuivant - an investigator for Queen Elizabeth. 'Pursuivant' didn't actually mean that, and in Elizabeth's time was far more likely to have still been used in its French version, poursuivant, so this felt wrong. In fact, her whole presence here feels wrong. The queen is in her thirties, so why she would be remotely interested in having a middle-grade-aged girl as a lady at court is a complete mystery. These "ladies" (not all of them were actually title-bearing) are supposed to be companions to the queen. I cannot imagine how companionable a gaggle of thirteen-year-olds would be to a mature queen. At that age, too, they wouldn't have been behaving like modern children - or even like children at all. Even thirteen-year-olds would have been considered marriageable maidens in that time, and would have had old male courtiers chasing after them, but none of that is represented here. This might well be appropriate for a middle-grade book if you want to keep your readers ignorant of real history, but all it served for me was to make it thoroughly unrealistic.

The story made little sense, too. The palace has an exiled princess being hosted by the queen. The princess is from the Middle East, and the royal leaders in her nation all speak perfect English, because during the crusades, an English Knight, rumored to be Richard Cœur de Lion himself, found himself seeking shelter and healing, and they learned English from him! Why Arabic potentates would harbor a crusader is a mystery which goes unresolved. Why their English should remain perfect after three hundred years is also unexplained. But that's what we have here. The plot involved the theft of a valuable ruby belonging to the visitor, but I lost interest long before it was even stolen, let alone was recovered, no doubt through Grace's efforts.

The worst thing about his story is the conspicuous consumption and flaunting of wealth. Never is a thought given to the poor and deprived, even as Grace is depicted as being a good friend to a maid and to one of the court clowns. I know that people back then actually didn’t spare much of a thought, if any at all, for the downtrodden, but given how Grace is portrayed as a modern girl, the fact that there isn't even a mention of the appalling way the commoners were treated and the conditions in which they lived is inexcusable. So this book fails as an interesting story and as a sort of history primer. I can't recommend this series at all.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Manga Claus by Nathaniel Marunas, Erik Craddock


Rating: WORTHY!

Subtitled The Blade of Kringle, this isn't a manga, it's a regular graphic novel, but it's about ninjas, including ninja teddy-bears and a ninja Santa! Erik Craddock's art is great, and the story by Nathaniel Marunas is hilarious.

An aggrieved elf uses a bit of illegal magic to amp up a ninja toy, ordering it to go wreck the toy-building area of Santa's Workshop (a map is included!). The elf plans to come in later and conveniently save the day. Unfortunately, the ninja starts doing his job too well and somehow unleashes a hoard of ninja bears, who go on a wild rampage through the workshop. Only ninja Santa can save the day. Or can he?

This story reminded me very much of My New Fighting Technique is Unstoppable by David Rees, but without the bad language and with better art! I'm thinking mainly of the humor here because it had that same kind of off-the-wall snap to it that made you laugh out loud. I recommend this highly.


Saturday, December 3, 2016

The History Puzzle by Susan Provost Beller


Rating: WORTHY!

This book doesn't offer a heck of a lot for the adult reader unless they're extraordinarily ignorant about historians, but it is a great middle-grade and lower high-school book which is where I donated it once I'd read it. The subtitle is "How we know what we know about the past." It's heavily biased towards US history, but it does not neglect historical and archaeological questions elsewhere, so we get coverage of Stonehenge and other such henges, of the so-called great wall of China, Roman ruins in Italy, and even cave paintings in France. Sadly, Africa gets no coverage.

That said, the author does offer some engaging stories about historical misunderstandings, such as that over the Battle of Little Big Horn, and who really did discover the Americas. The chapters are brief, each covering a different historical event or people, so we learn about gunboats in Lake Champlain, The Edmund Fitzgerald on lake Superior, which is big enough to be a sea if only someone would dump enough salt in there, Martin's Hundred, Mesa Verde, Herculaneum and Pompeii, and even Noah's ark! The Old Testament has it wrong! Who knew?!

I think this is a great introduction for young people to history, which is a subject that's all too often overlooked or under-served, and I recommend it. And it's written by a provost!


Penny Arcade Attack of the Bacon Robots by Jerry Holkins, Mike Krahulik


Rating: WORTHY!

This is an amusing retrospective of comic strips done by these guys who obsess over video games. I'm not a video gamer: I get much more fun out of a good novel (writing or reading) than ever I have had from any number of dumb video games, but I understand the culture, and besides, this isn't a video game! It's a commentary of a host of them over several years, and it's really amusing, even if you're not familiar with the games, which I found to be a curious phenomenon. Some of the games I did have a passing familiarity with, others I could guess at, some I'd never heard of. I've played none of the ones mentioned here except Pac-Man, but I still enjoyed the attitude and observations. These guys have a great sense of humor and it shines through their work. Yes, some of the strips fell flat for me, but most of them - and sometimes surprisingly - did not.

I think to get the most out of this you have to be of a certain culture and a certain era, but I do recommend it one for anyone who knows a little about gaming culture, or who has geek blood, and I would particularly recommend it for for those who are immersed in the culture and consider themselves trivia buffs on the topic, but note that these comic strips are from the period 1998 through 2000, so they have nothing to say about modern games. They're exclusively about obsolete games, which might well be beloved by potential readers. I found it a worthy read, anyway. Besides, I loved the title!


Trick of the Eye by Silke Vry


Rating: WORTHY!

There's not much to say about this book with a poetic title except that it's an awesome example of illusion and inventive art. Subtitled 'Art and Illusion', the book demonstrates handsomely that deceptive imagery in art is not anything new: it's been done for years - centuries, even.

This book has some eighty pages of examples from works by people like Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Robert Campin, Salvador Dali, MC Escher, Hubert and Jan van Eyck, Lucas Furtenagel, Vince van Gogh, Hans Holbein, Samuel van Hoogstraten, René Magritte, Francesco di Giorgio Martini, Andrea Pozzo, George Seurat, Jan Vermeer, Paolo Veronese, and Leonardo da Vinci as well as a host of more modern artists, including Banksy.

It covers not only works of art, but also objects, including the Acropolis of Athens, and offers some do-it-yourself illusions in the end pages. I recommend this for anyone who enjoys illusions and art


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Bindi Babes by Narinder Dhami


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a highly entertaining novel about three young Indian girls living in England, who lost their mother to severe illness quite recently and are not dealing, although they think they're dealing well, and in some ways they really are. Narinder Dhami is the author of the novelization of the Bend it Like Beckham movie which starred Parminder Nagra, Keira Knightley, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers. I have not read that book, but I saw the movie and really enjoyed it. Hopefully the novelization captured the spirit of the movie.

This volume was the first of at least four in a series with Bollywood Babes, Bhangra Babes, and Superstar Babes succeeding this. It was amusing enough to me that I'd be interested in reading more, although I am not a fan of series since they tend to be repetitive, derivative and ultimately boring. Once in a while though, I do find an exception, and maybe this will be such a one. The author has many other stories out there too, including individual novels and a long-running The Sleepover Club series.

In this tale, three sisters: Geena, Ambajit (Amber, the narrator), and Jasvinder (Jazz) Dhillon are the Bindi Babes. Bindi, in Sanskrit means literally 'a drop' and refers to the red dot (or these days anything!) placed on an Indian woman's forehead at the fictional point of the sixth chakra. These three though, are not traditional Indian women. They're a new generation: a mix of the old and the new, and ostensibly are doing amazingly well after the death of their mother.

All this conceals an largely unacknowledged hole in their life, which their father is failing to fill because he's working all hours to distract himself from the same loss they're feeling. This leaves the bindi babes free to run wild, but the interesting thing is that they're not running wild. They do enjoy more freedom than their peers, and their father is a pushover whenever they want anything new. He has both the lack of interest in their daily activities and the complete absence of a lack of money to buy them whatever they request of him. Curiously, they're actually not spoiled rotten. They are are spoiled, but in many ways their life is the contrary. They're mostly reasonable in what they request, although they do run to excess, but they're also confident, hard-working, self-possessed, and envied by their peers at school for being respectable, fashionable and pretty.

Of course, admirable as all this is, they're still doing it to wall-off their pain of loss and have become so self-obsessed that they're failing their friends. All this starts to change when their father's sister arrives from India to take them in hand. No matter how they try to thwart her plans, she always seems one step ahead of them, and right at the point where they're about to take drastic action, they finally get the vision to see clearly what's going on around them.

In some ways this story is a fake, because these girls are doing fine, and are maturing pretty darned well. Yes, they're spoiled to an extent, and they've failed to grieve over their mother, but not everyone grieves in the same way and this business of 'x' number of steps of grief you 'have to go through' is bullshit, so this 'conflict' between them and their aunt and the resolution of it felt a bit fake to me. On the other hand, their aunt's story interested me, and I could envisage a novel about that rather than about the girls, or at least told from her PoV, doing very well for itself.

To me though, the girls were highly entertaining, often in-fighting, but standing firm when attacked from outside their trio, they are always thinking and planning, and they come up with some amusingly interesting schemes to try to root this pernicious Auntie influence from their lives. I'm no more a fan of first person PoV stories than I am of series, but once in a while - and this proved to be that once - an author writes one of these and she carries it. I found Amber (the middle sister's) had a voice I could listen to without becoming nauseated. Maybe this is became I married a middle sister and I've never regretted it! I can see where she;s coming from! LOL! But Amber was an intelligent, incisive, and amusing story-teller, if a bit on the cruel side on occasion. But then she's very young, and her voice did sound authentic to me.

I loved this story completely. It was entertaining and amusing, and it came to a satisfying conclusion. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in stories of Indian culture, stories set in England, or stories about young, feisty, and fiercely loyal sisters.


Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga by Koji Aihara, Kentaro Takemura


Rating: WORTHY!

This was educational (somewhat), humorous (particularly in the bathroom humor department, be warned), and entertaining, but it's really much more of a satire on manga than ever it is a how-to manual, although it does offer a surprising number of tips and suggestions.

Under the guise of explaining how easy it is to draw manga, the two authors/artists offer a commentary on the state of Japanese manga, what motivates it, and which trends are hot and cold, taking potshots at everything out there, including themselves. The line-drawing artwork is pretty decent and quite varied, and some of the stories they tell are pretty amusing. There is a distinct tendency towards bathroom humor and there is some quite explicit nudity depicted, so this isn't the book you want to give young children who may be displaying a flare for, or an interest in, comic book illustration.

That said I found it amusing and interesting and I'd recommend it for anyone who has a broad mind and is interested in manga.


Friday, November 25, 2016

Drowned City Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans by Don Brown


Rating: WORTHY!

At a time of Thanksgiving it's important to remember what we have to be thankful for, and to recall things which are, even after a mere decade, in danger of being forgotten. One of these was Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans, which was an appalling and embarrassing tragedy and which highlighted a complete failure across several systems including the local authorities under the (at best) neglectful Mayor Nagin, the Federal government under the utterly clueless George Bush, and pretty much everything in between.

Don Brown's (and yes, I'd pick Don over Dan any time!) very well-written and nicely-illustrated graphic novel tells the story as it was, unvarnished and nothing swept under the rug. It covers everything from the start (and I mean literally the start) of the hurricane to the cruel and horrific aftermath. It's a horrible read and I mean that in a sense I hope you'll understand: horrible, but necessary lest we forget what happens when humans are absurdly over-confident and tragically unprepared.


Vampire Academy Graphic Novel by Leigh Dragoon, Emma Viecelli


Rating: WORTHY!

For a graphic novel created by two female writers/illustrators, I found this to be rather more sexualized than it ought, particularly regarding main character Rose. Emma Viecelli's artwork aside though (and the art wasn't bad at all in general terms), the adaptation by the curiously-named Leigh Dragoon was faithful to Richelle Mead's original, and overall, the story was told well. As usual I could have done without the ridiculous and pathetic "romance" between Rose and the academy's pet gorilla, but other than that, I liked this adaptation and I recommend it for anyone who likes the original or who is interested in getting up to speed on the story without reading the original, which I reviewed back in May, 2014.

There was one bit of unintentional amusement, which is when Rose has one of her trips into Lissa's brain. The illustration clearly shows Lissa from a third party perspective, climbing up through the trapdoor into the attic where she meets Ozera, but the text confidently states: "And there I am seeing the world through Lissa's eyes." No, you don't see the world through Lissa's eyes looking directly at Lissa, unless she's in front of a mirror! Sometimes I wish writers were a little more intelligent than this - or artists, whoever is at fault here, but they're no worse than movie or TV depictions of such things which are routinely in third person perspective and which look utterly ridiculous because of it.