Showing posts with label strong female character. Show all posts
Showing posts with label strong female character. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Fire and Heist by Sarah Beth Durst


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

THIS BOOK WAS FREAKING AWESOME!

Let me say here, right up front, that I am not a fan of were-books: shape-shifters and the like. I particularly detest the plethora of werewolf novels that have flooded the market in the wake of the execrable Twilight garbage. It should have been named Twee Light. What I respect are not those authors who jump on the latest big trilogy bandwagon (it's alway a tedious trilogy, isn't it?), but those who take the road less traveled, and I had a feeling about this one. So it's congrats to the blurb writer for once!

Anyone who follows my reviews has to know that I have little respect for publisher's back-cover blurb writers. I have to love a blurb that doesn't ask a totally brain-dead question at the end: "Will she find the love of her life?" (after the spineless chicky has fled back to her hometown?) Duhh. Of course she will otherwise what's the point of your dumbass romance? "Can Jack-Me-Lad-The-Hero ex-Marine special forces cowboy save the wilting maiden in distress and take her in his manly arms?" Who the heck cares, really? Can the young fresh filly in the werewolf pack win the hardened heart of the aloof, troubled, damaged, warped, out-of-whack, blemished, besmirched, gun-shy, bad-boy alpha male? Or should the bitch just shoot him like the rabid cur he is? Do those blurb writers really think their readers are that stupid?

But I digress! I decided take a chance and it paid off. I am not a fan of first person novels at all, but this one was first person and I loved it. See? It can be done - if you know how to write, and two things Sarah Beth Durst knows are how to plot and how to write. I was enraptured from the start and flew through the pages like a were-dragon through the sky, and talking of which, Sky Hawkins is my new go-to-girl.

The story is quite short, but packed with amusement, action, and awesomeness. I can't give it a better compliment than to say I wish I had thought of this first! I guess I'll have to stick with Saurus! The story is of the Hawkins family - once well-to-do in the wyvern world, but now rather disgraced and humbled, their mother having failed in her last heist (wyverns are famous for their heists), and also having shamefully disappeared without a trace.

Well, Sky isn't going to put up with it, and if her frightened brothers and father aren't going to help, she's going to put together her own crew, and find out exactly what her mother was up to on that fateful night trying to rob the vault of her boyfriend's...sorry, ex-boyfriend's (he ditched her after the scandal) father. I won't insult your intelligence by asking if she knows what she's doing! I'll just say, read it and leap!

I came across a couple of notes I'd made to myself that I only just uncovered recently. Here they are! At one point, Sky observes of the dragon land that she calls home: “'Home has robots?' When I’d pictured a dragon homeland, I hadn’t pictured, well, Star Trek" Excuse me, but Star Trek has no robots! It’s one of the big problems with it, just as the problem with Star Wars is too many ridiculous and annoying robots. We have robots and drones already, here and now. I makes no sense whatsoever to posit a future where they no longer exist - not without a really good explanation for it which has yet to be forthcoming.

The other thing was that on p132, Novi, the portal guard has to return to her post, but then four pages later, she’s still there with Sky! These are only minor issues, and have nothing to take away from the overall enjoyability of the book. I don't doubt that we've all made the Novi error or something like it, but it is something a professional editor should catch even if the writer doesn't. So I still recommend this work as a worthy read. Just wanted to tidy up and close out the review!


Thursday, July 5, 2018

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Emily Carroll


Rating: WORTHY!

The last thing (and only thing prior to this) that I'd read by this author was the pretentiously titled "The Impossible Knife of Memory" and I hated and DNF'd it. This graphic novel is based on Anderson's first novel, and it's actually pretty entertaining and amusing. It's about this dysfunctional girl in high-school and her thoughts and observations on the world around her, which is pretty much what the other book was about now that I think of it, but I like this one a heck of a lot better. It does make me wonder though, if Anderson is something of a one-note author.

We don't learn until well into the novel what exactly happened to high-school freshman Melinda Sordino, which all-but rendered her speechless. It's pretty obvious though, as the story moves along, that she was raped by a senior and has become so shut-down by the horrifying experience that she can barely articulate anything, much less tell what happened to her.

The story is a strong one, but I can't help but feel that the real tragedy here is not so much what happened to Melinda, as it is about how society failed her so comprehensively once she had been assaulted. None of that is explored in this - at least not in the graphic novel, which I'm forced to assume is representative of the original.

So many rape stories have been explored, but so few of those pursue how the victim was failed by everyone around her. This would have been a perfect vehicle for that. I'm sorry the author wasn't more imaginative.

The story was amusing and Melinda's caustic observations of high-school life are amusing, but in some ways the story itself is one-note because there is very little to leaven this dull, leaden bread. I can understand how every day might well feel the same flat gray to her, but that's no excuse for an author to risk making the reader feel the same way about every page!

The ending is also a little trite and convenient. I don't imagine many people who have been raped find this magical catharsis so quickly. That's not to say they don't or can't heal.

However, overall, I did enjoy this and managed to read all the way to the end without feeling I should ditch the volume, so I have to declare this a worthy read despite its flaws.


Wednesday, July 4, 2018

City of Saints &Thieves by Natalie C Anderson


Rating: WORTHY!

This was another audiobook experiment and it's the one I wait for while wading through all the others! The story was really good, very engrossing, and it kept moving. I felt there were bits here and there that dragged, but for the most part it was exceptional. More importantly, it's based on real truths about what happens to people, especially to young woman, in this volatile part of the world.

Pascale Armand's reading of it was flawless and remarkable. It was so good and it definitely contributed to my attachment to and appreciation of the novel.

The story is of young Tina, who runs with the Goondas, a street gang in Sangui, Kenya. Having fled with her mother from the Congo, Tina is an orphan; her mother was shot while working at the home of the wealthy Greyhill family, and Tina just knows Mr Greyhill did it. She's planning on revenge, breaking into his home and exposing him for all the dirt she's convinced he has on him - that is until she's captured in flagrante delicto by Greyhill's young son, and held prisoner. But why doesn't the just turn her in?

Being pressured on one side by her gang leader to come up with the goods - the secrets to where Greyhill's wealth is hoarded - and by her captor on the other, who is equally convinced his father is innocent, these two young people forge an uneasy alliance and develop a plan to determine the truth no matter what it is, but that involves traveling on a banana lorry right back into the Congo where it all began.

I loved this story, and I recommend it highly.


Sunday, July 1, 2018

Strong is the New Pretty by Kate T Parker


Rating: WORTHY!

This book consists of a series of sections showing the different ways that girls can be strong, from overcoming personal handicaps (so called) to being a good friend, excelling in some activity or other, and so on. There are pictures galore of girls who are strong, of all ages, ethnicities, interests, and social classes, and each has something pithy and engaging to say.

The sections include:

  • Wild is strong
  • Kind is strong
  • Resilient is Strong
  • Fearless is Strong
  • Independent is strong

This is a powerful and dangerous book and never has it been more important than in an era where we have a weak president who won his office on a minority vote against a strong female opponent. It would make a great gift for any young girl, especially one who might be going through a tough time. I recommend this as a great ego booster and confidence builder, and a team builder, too - to show your young girl she's not alone and she won't fail.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, David Roberts


Rating: WORTHY!

Written poetically by Andrea Beaty and illustrated artfully by David Roberts, this book shamelessly promotes a girl as an engineer. We need far more female engineers than ever we get, so anything that puts the idea into young children's fertile minds that this is something they can do, beats the heck out of far too many books, TV shows, and movies which depict women as not engineers, not even close. It's nowhere near often enough we are shown professional women in this kind of a career, so this book is a welcome addition to children's literature in showing what a smart, capable, and self-motivated child Rosie Revere is. "The engineers are coming! The engineers are coming! And they're girls!" Let the cry ring out! I recommend this because it is a welcome and refreshing variation from the usual book-in-a-rut for children.


Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, David Roberts


Rating: WORTHY!

Written not drearly but sweetly by Andrea Beaty and illustrated lucid and not inert by David Roberts, this book put forward the amazing proposal that even a girl can be a scientist! You would not know that from reading a lot of other materials, watching TV, or seeing movies. It's nowhere near often enough we are shown professional women, especially women of color, in jobs like this, so this book is a welcome addition to young children's literature, demonstrating what a dedicated, competent, and able (if slightly troublesome!) child Ada Twist is. I recommend this because it is so different form the usual book-in-a-rut.


Friday, April 6, 2018

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo


Rating: WORTHY!

Read with gusto and love by Jenna Lamia, this was an adorable audiobook story. It was literally short and sweet and very amusing. The three main characters were brilliantly-drawn and admirably entertaining. The author's name was so familiar to me that I thought I'd read something by her before, but I can't find any record of it, so this is evidently my first encounter. I plan on it not being the last. This was a pleasant find. I tend to experiment a lot more with audiobooks than other formats, and many of them fail because of that. Once in a while a gem like this comes along and makes all of the unsatisfactory assaults on my ears bearable!

Raymie isn't a Nightingale, she's a Clarke. Nightingale is the book about Florence (of the lamp, not of Tuscany, which is really Firenza) which Raymie was taking to read to a resident of a retirement home (Raymie has to do good deeds). Raymie is missing her father, who ran off with a dental hygienist, and she figures if she wins the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition (which requires good deeds and baton-twirling), her father would see her picture in the paper and be so proud of her, and miss her so much that he would immediately return home and all would be well.

Raymie has a lot to learn about guys.

Also competing in the contest is Louisiana Elefante, daughter of the Flying Elefantes, the famous trapeze artists, now deceased. Louisiana has 'swampy lungs', and is living with her kleptomaniac grandmother. They are so poor that Louisiana is counting on winning the contest to shore-up their finances.

Beverly Tapinski has no intention of winning the contest. She hates these contests so much that she's dedicated to sabotaging this one. The only reason these three girls meet is that they all show up for baton-twirling lessons as taught by the irascible Ida Knee who is the antithesis of long-suffering. The girls don't really get along too well to begin with, but inevitably they get into bizarre and amusing mishaps and scrapes, and are drawn into a tight trio who call themselves The Rancheros (it's Louisiana's idea). That's all I'm going to tell you. Like I said, the story is short and it's fun, so what have you to lose? Very little time if you don't like it. I loved it and I recommend it.


Sunday, March 18, 2018

Bettie Page Vol 1 by David Avallone, Colton Worley, Craig Cermak, Esau Figueroa, Bane Duncan Wade, Sarah Fletcher, Brittany Pezzillo


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This took me by surprise, and pleasantly so because it wasn't at all what I expected. Frankly I'm not sure what I expected except that I hoped it would be fun - and it was. It was a great romp and put the renowned Bettie Page in a spotlight I'm willing to bet she was never in before - that of government agent! bettie was a real life pin-up girl, probably the last of the truly "innocent" models there was; her pictures were very cheeky but seemingly to outside eyes to be all in good fun. At least, she seems from her expressions in her images to be having a rare old time.

But this novelization isn't about that at all. All of that is just background to her 'real' life, in which she helps fight pinkos and weirdos in New York and Los Angeles. The story collects a four part serial story and a bonus one-off story together into one volume. Bettie doesn't plan this career, it simply befalls her as her modeling plans take an unanticipated wrong turn at the start of the story. Everything else is more like a comedy of errors, with Bettie being in the wrong place at the wrong time until she takes charge of her own fate and starts making things happen instead of having them happen to her.

The story is right on - with a nice line of fifties banter, and the artwork is wonderfully evocative - except for once or twice when the blue-eyed Bettie is shown with brown eyes or even green eyes at one point! She's also depicted as being a little more lanky and boney than the more normally -proportioned real-life Bettie who was only five-two and comfortably rounded without being overweight.

No one obsessed about not being skinny enough back them - at least not as commonly as we encounter it today because women were not conditioned to feel inadequate in the way our modern society seems intent upon rendering them (when it can!). It would have been nice to have seen this reflected better in the drawings and not just on the 'covers'.

Virtually all models were short and normally proportioned back then! As were actresses: Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe for example, were the same height as Bettie and no more "hourglass" than was she, and no one consider what today would be described as 'chubby' knees, as being out of place, nor was body hair for that matter. How far we've slid down the wrong chute since then!

ost of the fifties pop-culture references were right one as well, as far as I could tell, except for one mention of Ian Fleming. The story was set in 1951, and Fleming was unknown at that time since he had not yet penned his first James Bond adventure. He didn’t write Casino Royale until 1952 and it wasn’t published until 1953. It wasn’t published in the USA until 1954! The only other problem i spotted was on page 89 (as depicted on the tablet reader - the comic pages themselves are not numbered) where I read “The exist to be ruled." I'm guessing that should have been “They exist to be ruled”

There was the welcome but unlikely addition of a black female police officer. It was welcome to see a person of color in this story, but there were no female police officers in the USA 1951 to my knowledge. Atlanta did, believe it or not, have black male cops as early as 1948, but even then, they weren’t allowed to patrol white neighborhoods or work in police headquarters! We've come a long way but nowhere near far enough.

So, overall, I loved this story and look forward to reading more. I recommend this as a fun and original adventure series with a strong and fascinating female lead.


Saturday, February 17, 2018

Scarlett by Brian Michael Bendis, Alex Maleev


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a kick-ass novel from the off, with a good, intelligent story and beautiful artwork. It's a bit bloody here and there, and the eponymous main character (modeled on a woman named Iva) is inevitably sexualized, but it's not overly done thankfully. I favorably reviewed Bendis's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3: Guardians Disassembled back in June of 2016.

The story is set in Portland, Oregon, and is a bit controversial in its subject matter since it suggests that, contrary to the tale we were told in the TV series Grimm, some of the Portland PD isn't so much going after mythical creatures, as it is after drug money for personal use. Why Portland gets picked on, I don't know. Maybe these guys live there?! Maybe Portland has a drug problem? I dunno.

Scarlett is a young woman whose boyfriend is killed by corrupt police looking to notch-up another drug dealer taken out, but her boyfriend was never a dealer; he wasn't even into drugs other than maybe a little weed (this is blog spot, not blogs pot after all!), but he's dead, and Scarlett isn't going to stand for it. She starts taking out she corrupt cops herself and becomes an almost legendary figure.

She varies her MO. We first meet her in a dark alley being approached by a cop who evidently thinks she's a sex worker. When he tries to get a freebie from her, he gets a death sentence instead, and Scarlett finds six hundred bucks on him which she, despite some doubts, takes as evidence that he's dirty.

After this we get her backstory which for a change wasn't boring me (I normally dislike flashbacks), and then the story takes off, always moving somewhere. My only disappointment in it is that this is only book one, so now I have to find others in this series! I recommend this one.


Sunday, January 14, 2018

That Thing We Call a Heart by Sheba Karim


Rating: WORTHY!

This is ostensibly a high-school romance story, but it offered so much more than that. It begins during Shabnam Qureshi's last week of high-school and extends into her last summer before college starts. She is nominally a Muslim, but that speaks more to her heritage than her practice, because she really doesn't practice her faith. The story is more about cultural and religious clashes and about how foolish a first love can be.

Shabnam meets Jamie, a charming, romantic guy who easily knocks sheltered Shabnam off her feet. Because of her sheltered upbringing, she has very little experience of boys and is therefore easy prey for the much more worldly Jamie, who seems a bit 'off' right from the start. While Shabnam is falling in foolish teenage love with him, he's more in love with the idea of an exotic and potentially forbidden femme than ever he is with her for herself, and she is far too inexperienced to see this.

In a way, they have a lot in common: they are both very shallow in their own way, and they both purvey a big lie to the other. The difference is that Shabnam is potentially a much deeper person than ever Jamie could hope to be, and as the story progresses, we see this blossoming in her repeatedly. Shabnam knows she lies, Jamie is too selfishly in love with himself to see that he's a living embodiment of a lie.

On the topic of lies, too many YA novels betray their main female character by insisting that she be validated by a man. I detest novels like that. This was not such a novel. It was about girl power and female friendship and it was the better for it. It was also about culture, religion, and conflict between generations, and in some ways I felt it risked cheapening the very message it was trying to send: about the riots and slaughter in India during partition, by tacking those on to this story.

The Brits are often blamed for the problems they caused in India as they should be, but at least they treated all Indians with equal disdain; they didn't single-out any one ethnic group or religion for abuse, whereas during partition, every religion turned against every other religion, which is one reason why I detest religion. It's divisive by its very nature in its arrogant and unprovable assertion that 'we're the chosen ones and you're doomed to hell' or whatever. That said, the injection of the parts about partition were not overdone, so it didn't feel like a lecture, nor did it disrupt the story, and it did get the word out about an historical tragedy that's been largely forgotten today.

Lending more weight to what is an already heavy subject, Shabnam is also at odds with her once best friend Farah, who is far more deeply religious than is Shabnam, but Farah has her own take on her religion. She approaches it in a far more fluid manner than many other people, adapting it to herself as much as she adapts to it. She's a lot more brash and brave, wise and mature than is Shabnam, and she was my favorite character, but I am often in the position of finding the side-kick more interesting than the main character in YA novels.

This is very much a high-school romance, YA novel, but that said, it's leagues ahead of the usual poorly-written, crappily-plotted story that's out there. That's why it won't sell as well as the others, because the bar is so low in YA books, and this one clears it so handily that it's going to be way above the head of an embarrassingly large number of YA readers. That said, this novel, like many YA novels, does fixate on music which it seems to me, is far more the author's addiction than ever it is the character's. This music will date this novel, so I paid as little attention to it as I did the poetry. The music and the poetry were both overdone and contributed nothing to he story. There was more wisdom came out of Farah's mouth than came out of the mouth of the poets and songwriters featured here!

Shabnam betrayed Farah when her friend chose to start wearing a hijab, but Farah failed to give Shabnam advance warning of her unilateral decision, and this is what caused the rift. Shabnam is embarrassed by Farah's change in habit (as it were!), and Farah feels betrayed by her friend's distancing of herself and her lack of support. They do maintain a prickly contact with each other especially since Farah is the only one Shabnam can turn to over her romance. Farah is often warning her friend about it, but Shabnam won't listen because she claims that Farah doesn't know Jamie like she does. In the end, it turns out that Farah actually knows Jamie better, even though the latter two have never met.

Some reviewers have chastised this novel for its lack of portrayal of Islam accurately, but those reviewers make the blind assumption that everyone practices Islam in exactly the same way and no-one ever makes foolish teenage jokes about aspects of it. I don't know a heck of a lot about Islam, and I am not religious myself. I think it's a serious mistake to blindly put your faith in the scientifically ignorant dictates of relatively primitive people from some two thousand or more years ago, but I do know people, and at least I have the decency to regard practitioners of religion, misguided as they are, as individuals, and not as a monolithic block of clones. Every walk of life and every religion has saints and sinners, and I would be surprised if Islam is somehow fundamentally different given that its practitioners are people just like the rest of us!

One thing which did strike me as odd was the whole hijab issue. My understanding is that it's related to modesty (and in this regard, both men and women are supposed to be modest), so I find it interesting that Farah, who considered wearing it to be pretty much a tenet of her faith, made such a big deal of wearing brightly colored and patterned hujub (the plural of hijab, although most westerners use 'hijabs'). I'm against forcing women to do something which men are never forced to do, but I don't have a lot of time for religion, and especially for rigid and blind religious practices, but that's not my point here.

Note that there is a spectrum of covering for females in the Muslim world from the least which is the hijab, or headscarf as we in the west would call it, to the most, which is the full-body burka. Farah wears only the headscarf and it's that term which is used in this novel for the most part, but the ones she wears are colorful and she also dolls them up as elaborate fashion statements. This whole practice was never discussed other than to mention it, but it occurred to me that this was rather hypocritical in that it can hardly be considered modest to wear such bright colors and to sport designs so elaborate that they can only succeed in drawing more attention to a woman than would otherwise be drawn!

In fact, I'd go further than that, because if the purpose of wearing a hijab is to avoid drawing attention, then wearing a hijab or any such garment in the west fails because it draws more attention! If they were to be rational and consistent (which religion is not, admittedly) then they would wear such things only where the majority wears them, and dispense with them where the majority does not wear them, because this is the only way that they would truly blend in instead of standing out! I know it's not quite that simple, and that modesty and means different things to different people, but in this particular story, Farah seems to be flying in the face of modesty by wearing the things she wears in the style she wears them. This was never raised as an issue, which I felt betrayed the whole point of Farah's choices.

That and the fact that the author doesn't seem to know the difference between tread and trod (the past tense of tread, as in 'take a step', is trod, not treaded, and tread and trod are not interchangeable!) are the only complaints I had about this. Farah was awesome and kick-ass, and I'm tempted to think a whole novel about her (her first year in college would be a great place to stage it) would be a worthy read, but that feeling is tempered by the fact that her power perhaps came from the fact that she was a limited exposure character, and if she had a whole novel to herself it might ruin her(!), unless the writer was me! No I'm kidding, I want to say unless the writer was particularly adept at her craft, which has author seems to be, so maybe it would work. But for now, I thoroughly recommend this as a worthy read and I plan to read more by this author.


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Dream of the Butterfly Vol 1 by Richard Marazano


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Richard Marazano is a French writer and illustrator, and in this work he seems to have channeled Chinese mythology very heavily into a very lighthearted story about young girl who strays in a snowstorm from her valley to a nearby one in which is a village occupied by animals who seem very resentful of humans Actually, given how we treat animals I for one am not at all surprised by their attitude.

The girl is a very strong female character and I recommend this story for that to begin with, but it's much more than that. The story is very whimsical, and quirky even, I tend to run in the opposite direction when I read of a story being described as full of whimsy or with quirky characters, but this one nailed it perfectly.

The girl seems resigned to living in this town because no one will help her get back. She's boarded with a foster family of birds, and finds a job working in an energy factory - she has to change out the hamsters in their wheels when they become tired - but her lunches of packed worms, she could do without. She eventually learns she's not the only human child in town.


Because she is a human, Tutu is spied upon by the emperor through his rabbit secret service. The rabbits are adorably inept, but they are also actually helpful to Tutu when she gets lost or doesn't know which bus to catch. Known as yuè tù (moon rabbit) in China, the idea behind these is that while the Moon may look to us westerners like it's the face of a man in the Moon, many other cultures see it as a rabbit in the Moon, which is more intriguing to me.

If you look hard, you can see the long ears (Mare Foecunditatis and Mare Nectaris)stretching to the right, about half way down the Moon's right side, from the head (Mare Tranquilitatis where Apollo Eleven landed) to the left, and the body (Mare Serenitatis and Mare Imbrium below it on the left edge of the Moon's disk. Below that is the Oceanis Procellarum with the big back legs and a tail sticking out to the left. The rabbit appears to be sitting by a box or a bowl, (Mare Nubium), and some cultures see this as a mortar, in which the rabbit is grinding something using a pestle.

The emperor takes a great interest in Tutu and wants her to help him by catching a rare white butterfly, but she's not very impressed with him or the opera he writes. She's especially disrespectful of his surrogate robots which tend to break down when faced with Tutu's sarcasm.

This story was a delight through-and-through, and my only complaint was that this is volume one, so the story didn't end! Although that's really a good thing because if it had ended, there would be no more to look forward to! As it was, I could have kept on reading this for many more pages than there were, and I recommend it as a worthy read.


Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Way to Bea by Kat Yeh


Rating: WORTHY!

Being a big fan of well-done plays on words, I loved the title of this book and I also loved the book itself. It was a smart, well-written and beautifully-plotted work, and the main character was a strong female who is a good role model. She's is very withdrawn when the novel starts, but comes out of her shell naturally and admirably as the story grows.

Bea (Beatrix) is a schoolgirl poet of Taiwanese extraction, but she is painfully shy, and sensitive to people noticing her. She tries to be invisible but she also wants to be involved with the school paper for the experience, yet she doesn't want her poetry to appear in it! In short, she is trapped in a strange maze of her own making, and she needs to find her way out. It's fortuitous then, that she starts forming a friendship with an autistic boy (maybe Asperger's) who also works at the paper and whose ambition she learns, is to navigate a private labyrinth.

He likes to keep files to help him categorize things, and he's very precise in all his thoughts and behaviors, so he lectures Bea on the difference between a maze and a labyrinth. Since the labyrinth is private and no one is allowed in there except the family which owns it, he is a bit at a loss as to how to go about it, although very exacting in his plans where he can make them. Bea discovers a secret that will give them an 'in' to the labyrinth, and this is where things begin to unravel and Bea really needs to step-up to save the day. She does not fail.

I love the way Bea is very physical about her poems - mostly haiku which were fun - writing the words in the air before her as the poem materializes, working through the beats and the rhythm. Unfortunately, this gets her noticed, so she starts writing them in invisible ink and posting them in a hole in a wall in the woods near the school. It's only when someone starts writing back that she is jolted out of her private world. So she is dealing with her shyness, her loss of a dear friend who now seems to be hanging out with a new crowd, and the arrival of new people in her life with whom she does not know how to interact.

I loved the characters in the newspaper office, and how they were very individual and slightly quirky and how they all interfaced with one another. I am glad the book did not say 'quirky' in the blurb because I immediately walk away from books that do and tell them to go jump into Lake Woebegone as I leave, but this was just the right amount of quirk to appeal to me without being idiotic or painful in how hard it was trying. The story was wonderfully-written and well-worth reading.


Cloudia & Rex by Ulises Farinas, Erick Freitas, Daniel Irizarri


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a great story which I really enjoyed, although I have to say it was a bit confusing at times. The art was lovely and the story was different from the usual fare. I always appreciate that! For one thing, it presented African American females as protagonists. It was nice to see strong female characters of color, who are far too few in comic books, and strong, independent females who are equally rare. I would not recommend a graphic novel if that was all it had to offer, but I would sure be tempted! Fortunately this offered much more.

In the story, two young girls, the eponymous Cloudia and Rex, and their mother run into ancient gods who are seeking safety which can only be found in the mortal world. An antagonist named Tohil wishes to destroy those same gods and is hot on their heels.

Somehow the gods end-up being downloaded into Cloudia's phone, and some of their power transfers over to the girls. Rex is somewhat bratty, but she finds she can change into an assortment of animals. It's amusing and interesting to see what she does with that. Cloudia is a bit strident, but maybe she has reason when her life is screwed-up so badly and unexpectedly.

Daniel Irizarri's coloring is bold and pervasive, and it really stands out from the comic. It's almost overwhelming, actually, but overall the story was entertaining and the characters were fun, I recommend this one.


4 Kids Walk Into A Bank by Matthew Rosenberg, Tyler Boss


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This is a compendium of issues 1 though five of the originally published comics and runs to about 180 pages in the print version. I read this in Bluefire Reader on an iPad where it looked good but the text was a bit hard to read, especially the one character Walter, who is painfully shy and reserved. His speech was deliberately written under-sized in a regularly-sized balloon, and it was hard to read, so I didn't appreciate that. I think Tyler Boss's art told Walter's story well enough; it would have been nice if writer Matthew Rosenberg had had more faith in it (or the designer - or whoever decided that this was a good approach!).

That said, the characters: Paige, the tough feisty female, Stretch, an abnormally tall expert in irony, the irreverent Berger, who in some depictions seems slightly pudgy, but in others seems a lot more trim, and retiring almost to the point of self-effacement Walter, are all interesting to read about and even more interesting to see interact with each other. They all bring their own strengths as characters, but Paige is a dynamo.

The story is that four thugs from Paige's dad's past show up wanting her father to resume his role in their history of thieving. Dad isn't interested, but the four idiot wannabe robbers won't take no for an answer. The kids decide the only way to save Paige's dad is to rob the bank first so the thugs can't. Great idea, huh? The entire story leading-up to 'will they or won't they?' was entertaining and at times completely hilarious. I really enjoyed it. That's not to say I didn't have a few problems with this.

Paige was an oddity to me because in many panels she looked distinctly male. There's nothing wrong in a female having male characteristics or vice-versa; nothing at all in real life, but in the case of a minimally-drawn comic book character, this can be confusing. At least it was to me.

I found myself at one point honestly thinking there were two characters, and wondering who this new guy was and where he came from, because it wasn't Paige! Except that it was. It just didn't look like Paige. When I realized that, for a short while, I found myself thinking I had misunderstood and Paige was actually a guy, not a girl, but no, Paige was very much a girl. It was just the graphical depiction of her that confused me. It made for an unpleasant reading experience on occasion because I was happy that she was a girl!

This surreal experience wasn't helped by two other events both towards the end of the novel. The first of these was the random addition of a fifth person to their four-person team towards the end of the novel. I had no idea who this fifth person was. Maybe I missed something, but I had no idea where this person came from!

The second incident was the very ending of the novel, where Paige and her dad meet up at a prison. I had no clue whatsoever whether she was going into jail or getting out. I honestly and truly did not. I even looking back through many the pages trying to figure it out, but I couldn't, so I was unhappy with the ending. But the rest of it was great. Mostly! I recommend this, anyway. Maybe you'll have a better handle reading it than I did!


Friday, December 1, 2017

Prime Meridian by Silvia Moreno-Garcia


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This is a very short story (56 pages in Bluefire reader on an iPad), and it's less of a sci-fi (notwithstanding the cover which I pay little attention to anyway!) than it is a 'sigh and fie on you!' story, but in the end it was just the right length. Any longer and it would have been padded, and I would not have liked it so much. Any shorter, and it would have been inadequate.

The world this is set (Mexico in the near future) reminded me very much of the kind of world William Gibson created in Neuromancer. This author does it just as well if not better, but here it's nowhere near as hi-tech, so it's more relatable. In this world lives twenty-five-year-old Amelia with the emphasis on old, because that's how she feels. Another two years and she won't be able to make money by selling her blood to old farts who think it will rejuvenate them. Amelia's only dream is of visiting the colony on Mars.

She lives with her sister Marta, who extracts a steep price for her sister's iffy employment prospects by using Amelia very nearly as a full-time baby-sitter and school bus for her kids in lieu of a decent contribution to the rent and food. Other than her blood, Amelia's only utility seems to be through her assignments from the Frienderr app which pairs companions with people in need of one.

Amelia doesn't even do so well at that because she's really not a people person, but she manages to keep a regular gig with an aging B movie actor named Lucía, who likes Amelia to sit with her while they watch her old movies and she talks about them. She's supposedly working on a memoir, but doesn't seem to make much progress.

Things look like they might change for Amelia when her old and wealthy boyfriend Elías shows up, "renting" her company on Frienderr. Amelia feels like she has to go because she really needs the money. It's obvious that her boyfriend wants her back, but you never get the impression that things are going to follow your typical romance novel path, or worse, your typical young-adult author path, especially since when he left before, Elías did so abruptly and without a goodbye.

That's the beauty of this novella, because the author keeps throwing you for a loop as soon as you get comfortable with the way you think this story is going. She never takes the easy path either, and I could see that right from the off, because she wrote it in third person whereas a lesser author (and your typical YA author!) would have gone for worst person voice (aka first person) which would have ruined this story for me, as it has far too many others which I've DNF'd sadly.

You can't enjoy a painting if your nose is pressed to the canvas nor appreciate a posing model by putting their skin under a microscope. There needed to be a certain distance from this character so you could properly enjoy who she was becoming, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia delivered it like an expert sculptor, exposing every graceful curve, chipping steadily down to every artful dimple and shadow with very little waste, nearly every line contributing to the final image of a strong woman, the like of which we see far too little in sci-fi stories.

The sole exception to this, for me was the movie dialog. Some chapters began with a lead-in, in the form of a movie script based on one of the movies Amelia watched with Lucía, but tailored to Amelia's life. I took to skipping these because I felt they took away from the story rather than added to it. If the last one had been left in place, but the rest removed I would have probably ended-up building a santuario religioso to this author! And that's another joy now that I think about it: she's Mexican by birth and uses some Mexican terms in the story without any apology and without a tedious translation en suite. I appreciated that: that she treated her readers like adults, not students who needed to learn a foreign language. It was perfectly done.

I loved this story and I highly recommend it. I shall be looking at other work by this author and I wish her all the best in her future endeavors.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu


Rating: WORTHY!

Rachel Walker is a seventeen-year-old who has been raised all her life in a Christian cult. I'd argue that all religions are cults, but some are far worse than others. The author apparently rooted this story in what is known as the "Quiver-Full" cult which is merely, from what I can tell, a religious movement that sees children as a blessing from their god and so wants 'their women' to have as many children as possible to the forfeiture of everything else in life.

Whether there are any of the coercive/oppressive elements in that cult that are depicted here, I can't say since I know very little about it, but since (as I understand it) the author did work with some escapees from the cult, then I'm quite willing to take her word for it, knowing how oppressive religion can truly be when it gets its way, and goes unchallenged and unregulated.

Rachel's family is very large, and her mother just had a miscarriage and is not handling it well, feeling like she's a failure for not increasing the tally of her offspring. She retreats to her bed for some considerable time, leaving Rachel, as the oldest unmarried daughter, to step in and assume mom's role in raising her siblings, cooking, cleaning, helping her father run his tree-trimming business, and helping her younger brothers and sisters with their schooling. This starts to wear on her and make her a bit resentful even as she tries to put it into the perspective in which she's been raised: that she's a woman and this is her duty.

Rachel has led a very sheltered existence, although she was not sheltered from the appalling mental abuse. She knows little of the real world, having been taught only that it's a godless, sinful place, so she is very naïve and backward when it comes to life outside her claustrophobic community, even as she shows herself to be a smart and curious young woman.

She's a believer though, and she tries to meet all the expectations put upon her by the Calvary Christian Church: thinking pure thoughts, dressing modestly, obeying parents, being always cheerful, praying, Bible reading, and on and on. The more she feels put upon though, the less she feels like this is what she wants in life, and it scares her that very soon she's going to be married-off to someone and expected to churn out children.

Her only respite from this oppression is her access to her father's computer, ostensibly so she can help him with his accounts, his work schedule, and maintain his website, but really so she can also look up things to educate herself. This is where her 'downfall' begins, because she's aware of a young woman named Lauren who left the community, and is now shunned by it, yet Lauren came back to this small town where Rachel lives. She did not rejoin the religious community however, and Rachel is curious about her.

She starts to focus on Lauren more and more, wondering what happened to her, and why she came back yet did not come back to the fold, and pondering if she might have answers to Rachel's ever-growing list of questions about her own life. Rachel discovers that Lauren has a web site and begins reading her story, eventually emailing her and beginning a hesitant dialog.

Despite her academic smarts, Rachel isn't that smart in other things, and eventually she's found out. Threatened with the horrifying prospect of being sent to the brutal 'Journey of Faith' brainwashing isolation camp, Rachel decides to leave the community, and her escape is made possible by Lauren who immediately comes to her aid. Lauren puts Rachel up in her modest apartment - sleeping on the couch - and Rachel tries to get her life in order.

I did not like the debut novel this author wrote, so I was a bit skeptical of this one, but it sounded interesting. Even as I began reading it, I wasn't sure I would finish it, but it drew me in, and I ended up liking it, despite some issues with it so overall, I recommend it as a worthy read.


Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the sequel to The Bear and the Nightingale which I read and enjoyed very much. I was thrilled to be offered the chance to read the sequel even though I am not much of a reader of series, because the first book was so good. I am pleased to report that this (an advance review copy, note) was very much up to the standard of the first.

In this story, Vasilisa Petrovna decides she wants to travel rather than be confined in one place, especially since it is a place where she is disliked and at risk of being labeled a witch. The frost prince, Morozko, who effectively created her in the earlier novel, building on the young and gifted child that she was at birth, objects strenuously to her plan, but unwilling to bow to anyone, she forges ahead with it anyway.

On her journey, she encounters a village which has been burned by bandits who have abducted several girls, and Vasya decides that she's going to retrieve them. This in turn leads to her joining the prince's party from Moscow, which is hunting these same village-burners, and she becomes a favorite of the prince. The problem is that he thinks she's a young man, not a girl! And that scandalous situation isn't the worst thing which happens to her by far. And no, this novel is not a romance except in the very old fashioned sense of the word, I am thrilled to report!

I have to say this got off to a rather slow start for me. I do not read prologues or introductions or what have you, but the opening chapters felt like one, and I wasn't sure what they contributed to the book, but as soon as we left that part behind and joined Vasilisa as she sets off with her magnificent horse Solovey in the depths of a Russian winter, everything turned around for me, and I was engrossed from that point on. I loved that magical Russian folklore characters pop-up unannounced every now and then, some of them important to the story. They make for a rich and charming read.

Vasya is at her core a particularly strong female character, independent and not tied to any man, nor will she chase any. This feisty independence appeals to someone like me who has read too many trashy YA novels where a woman can't be a woman unless she's validated by a man. There's none of that here: Vasya will not be reigned in by anyone. She's strong, but vulnerable at times. She is almost fearless and she tries to do what she thinks is right, although it is not always the wisest course for her or those around her.

But there is a point where Vasya's gender deception is uncovered. You know it's coming, but even so it's hard to see her fall so fast and so hard, just when her life had been perking up. She's every bit up to the challenge, though she's confronted with some difficult choices and some obnoxious male figures. Despite all this, she remains strong and valiant, and I really loved the way this story went and how she made it through these obstacles without selling out.

This was a gripping and entertaining story about an awesome female character of the kind we see far too few of in novels, so yes despite my aversion to series, I should like to read more of her in the future, but for now this satisfies admirably! It's a worthy read, and I recommend it highly.


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Hot and Badgered by Shelly Laurenston


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I can't honestly review this novel because all we were allowed was the first chapter! Due to a small oversight on my part I did not realize this, but based on that sole chapter, I was interested in reading more. The blurb was misleading though. The interaction between the shape-shifters: a bear (a guy of course) and a honey badger (a girl of course) bore only passing resemblance to what was described in that blurb.

I am not a fan of the vampire/werewolf stories so I normally would not have read this, but the fact that this was expressly not about wolves (which is a genre way-the-hell overdone these days), but about a bear and a badger made it more interesting to me. I'm a big advocate of authors taking that road less-traveled rather than trying to clone some other writer's work, and it pleased me that this author appears to be, too.

I have to say that the idea that a bullet hitting someone in the shoulder or arm could propel them over a balcony is preposterous! If you understand a little physics you know that those absurd gunfights in the movies and on TV, featuring grown men flying backwards after being hit is nonsensical. A bullet is so small and so fast that it will tear right through you barely if at all affecting your stance or your motion. Depending on the circumstances, you might not even notice you've been hit at first.

To paraphrase Golden Earring in their song Twilight Zone, you are likely going to know if the bullet hits a bone. It may break it, and that will cause you problems, but it still won't throw you dramatically backwards or toss you over a balcony, unless you happen to be precariously balancing on the balcony in the first place, in which case you might drop off it.

If you've seen the North Hollywood Bank of America robbery shootout from February 1997, which is admittedly grisly, you can see from it that when shot, the suspects do not go flying anywhere, and when killed, they simply drop to the ground. If you do not want to see that, it's perfectly understandable, in which case, I'd recommend watching the twelfth episode of Ray Donovan in the third season, where Ray has a shoot-out and is hit more than once. His reaction seems far more realistic than ninety percent of actors in standard TV or movie gunfights.

One thing which was a little confusing to me was the time of day that this opening chapter took place. I'd got the impression, rightly or wrongly, that it was very early morning - as in very late at night, but then we find there are school-children on the street, so I was confused, because we'd been told the streets were quiet, so I'd been thinking it was about three AM. Clearly it was not, but if it was late enough in the morning for school-kids to be out and about, how was it that the streets were so quiet, and how come a team of mercenaries could invade a hotel and not be seen and reported? And if the hit squad was specifically after Charlie (the honey-badger) then what were they doing at the grizzly's hotel room? he had no connection with her at that point. The author might want to rethink her setting and action a bit, or explain it better!

That and the irritating shortness of the sample aside, I have to admit the idea of three sisters in serious trouble and trying to figure out what's going on, sounds like a great idea for a story. As long as we don't get the grizzly bear always riding to the rescue of the poor helpless maidens in distress, like these girls can't handle themselves and need a man to validate them, which would simply ruin the story, I'd recommend it, based on the admittedly inadequate portion I had access to.


Saturday, August 26, 2017

Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a huge tome of a graphic novel - over five hundred pages, and at that size, probably too long, but in some ways I saw the whole thing as an integrated work - we were meant to suffer through those long years of trying to overcome multiple eating disorders and body image problems, and a significantly shorter graphic novel would have trivialized this.

While I would still argue for something less than five hundred, I wouldn't argue for something dramatically shorter, because it really helps to bond with and empathize with the author as she tells what is a very personal and painful story of desperately trying to cope with a negative body image and the sheer effort required to set things right. We all, as a society, share the responsibility as we should also share the guilt for making women feel ugly and sexually incompetent and for forcing them into doing things no sane person would do were they not constantly bombarded by negative views of the female body.

Everyone who has ever been through a supermarket checkout with their eyes open cannot fail to have seen that on one side women are told via endless trashy magazines that they are fat, ugly, and useless in bed, while on the other side of that confining aisle - the very width of which would make anyone feel corpulent, they are offered glorious candy and sugar-laden sodas to comfort them and help them cope with the negative feelings with which the other side of the aisle has imbued them. This is worse than pornography because it is out there in public, in the face of women and children, every day, every TV show, every commercial, every music video, every trip to the store, every movie you watch, every book you read.

It can come as a surprise to no-one that far too many women end-up in a position like the one Katie Green found herself in: not slim enough, not pretty enough, not good enough. Guess what? It's our screwed up misplaced-priority society which is not good enough, and that's why we need stories like this in our face to ensure we never forget what we're doing to women. This and many stories like it need to be required reading. I recommend it unreservedly.


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Water Memory by Valérie Vernay, Mathieu Reynès


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

From writer Mathieu Reynès and artist Valérie Vernay, this beautifully illustrated and well-written story of a family curse and how it affects a younger generation is a delight. It begins with a single mom, Caroline, and young daughter, Marion, arriving at a gorgeous clifftop home overlooking the Atlantic off the coast of Brittany in northern France. The home has not been lived in for years, but the two of them soon have it shipshape, and Maron is off exploring.

Marion is a little too adventurous for her own good, and almost drowns when an incoming tide takes her by surprise, but her restless spirit also takes her to the clifftops, where strange carvings exist, and to the lighthouse, just off the coast, which can be visited at low tide, but which is not a welcoming place at all. From her trips and questions she learns of local legends, one of which is very ominous indeed. Something vague and malign, something from the sea, hit the town with a severe storm in 1904, and now it looks like that storm is returning.

The story explores the gorgeous Brittany coast, sea legends, and a curious old lighthouse keeper who seems to be shunned by the entire village. Except for Marion who despite warnings from her mom, senses that this old man is the key to the mystery. Marion is a strong female character, well worth reading of.

Despite being static drawings on paper (or on my screen in this case!) the story is nonetheless creepy, insinuating itself into you like a crawling fog, chilling bones and driving you to follow Marion as she learns the truth about this curse that follows all descendants of this one family name, which must do penance for an ancient evil it perpetrated. The drawings are colorful, beautiful and as captivating as they are varied. I recommend this.