Friday, September 13, 2019

The Deep by Rivers Solomon

Rating: WARTY!

This novella is a fail on two counts, the main one being that whoever published it hates trees and the author apparently sees nothing wrong with this! In order to make a slim-to-nothing volume look worth the price, the publishers have made this disingenuous book have huge margins all around and widely-spaced lines such that the actual text doesn't even cover fifty percent of the page! I seriously doubt this is made even partially form recycled peper,, hence the publishers hate trees.

Naturally you don't want a page to be completely covered with text, but to allow this much white space is killing trees for vanity. Trees are one of the precious few entities on planet Earth which are actually combatting climate change. Not talking about it, but doing it! And these publishers want to slaughter trees for this book and not even respect that sacrifice by actually using the page? Screw them and screw author who allow this, and yes, screw people who buy these books.

And mermaids underwater having normal conversation in American English? Have you ever tried talking underwater? This author hasn't so let me save her the trouble: It. Doesn't. Work. Maybe they were communicating telepathically, but the author never says that. But it gets worse! This is an African slave who went overboard. She spoke no English, American or otherwise. I don't expect it to be written in some West African dialect, but neither did I expect it to be modern American English! The slaves didn't go overboard yesterday so even if they spoke English, it wouldn't be modern! I expected something to convey how alien these mermaids are even though they're purportedly descended from us. This book is ill-conceived and environmentally braindead. Warts all over. I'm done with this author. I tell you the more acclaim an author has, the more awards and honors, the less worth reading they are. Truly.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Vegan Vamp by Cate Lawley

Rating: WORTHY!

This was another freebie from a book flyer I get via email. I downloaded it some time ago, and I forgot about it until I saw it offered again in that same flyer, so I dug it out of my collection and read it. It's nice not to be beholden to Net Galley for a change, so I can pick and choose whatever I feel like reading at the time, and take my time with it rather than feel compelled by deadlines and archive dates!

The story is very short, and clearly it's aimed to be a loss-leader to lure potential addicts into a series. I'm not a series fan, nor am I a first person voice fan, nor am I a vampire story fan, so this one had three strikes against it to begin with, but it was so different, or at least it promised to be, and I am a big fan of not taking the road most traveled. I was pleased that the blurb did not lie and that this novel actually worked its way under my skin. I ended up enjoying it.

That said, series? I'm not sure I want to get back into this in another story even though I enjoyed the first one, because that way lies madness. It takes a person into that insanity territory where you're doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. This applies to you whether you are writing a series or reading one. So maybe I'll be back, but while that decision remains to be made, let's look at this one volume.

Mallory is not liked by her fellow office colleagues, except when she buys drinks. On this night, after doing that very thing and resenting it, she leaves the bar early and wakes up several days later with no memory of what happened in between. Plus she's lost many pounds in weight. Eventually she gets to a doctor who realizes that she's been bitten by a vampire. Mallory is referred to an underground vampire society that the doctor feels can help her. The problem is that she's not your usual vampire. The thought of blood, let alone drinking it, turns her stomach, as does much of the usual food she had liked to eat. She finds through trial and error that a vegan diet works for her.

That immediate issue settled, she takes up a commission from the vamp society to track down her attacker, who will be giving the underworld a bad name if he (or she) continues unchecked in this apparently random assaulting behavior. So the story goes and it was entertaining, amusing, and quite interesting although the mystery was a bit of a mess-tery. That aside though, I enjoyed the story and the voice, and the fact that the novel is set in Austin even though the author isn't. I will definitely consider reading another volume of this.

Troublemaker by Andrew Clements

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a really short audiobook aimed at middle-graders and read pretty decently by Keith Nobbs.

Young Clayton Hensley was known for the rather mean gags he pulls at school and he was getting sent to the office a couple of times each month, but when his older brother gets out of jail, he lays it on the line that he wants Clay to reform and not end up like him. On Halloween though, someone eggs the school principal's house and spray paints a graffiti sketch on the door. The picture is of something that Clayton had drawn at school in art class, so now he's the prime suspect, especially since he supposedly spent that entire evening in his ground-floor bedroom in a huff. He could have easily slipped out of the window. But did he?

The story was a bit predictable and trite at times. I mean, it seems to me it would have been difficult for someone to do all of that to a house and not been seen by trick-or-treaters for one thing. For another having the school cut-up being also artsy was a bit much, but overall it wasn't too bad and it sends a message, so I feel I can commend this as a worthy read for the intended audience.

Mr Love by Sally Mason

Rating: WARTY!

This novel had an interesting plot and for a long while I stayed with it because it had some level of interest for me, but in the end it was so improbably wish-fulfilling that I couldn't take it seriously. It's honestly far more like a fantasy than a novel rooted in realism. Plus the main characters really were not very savory - not to my taste, and particularly not Gordon, the main male character. I can't for the life of me figure out how a romance ever happened between the main female character Jane, a literary agent, and him.

It took me a while to figure out that these characters were all in their mid- to late-thirties. The first indication of age, misleading as it was, was that Jane's favorite movie as a teenager was Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I was forced to assume from this that Jane was in her seventies since that movie was released in 1961, or perhaps that she'd seen it on TV or video at a later time when she wa sin her teens, and evidently had no problem with the racism in it, but eventually the author clarified that she was only half seventy! Give or take. She actually might have been a lot more interesting had she been in her seventies.

The story starts with Gordon and is told in present tense which really doesn't work very well, but I got used to it. Gordon is a pompous jackass who wants his massive tome of pretension to be published, but is rightly getting nowhere with it. In a series of events which make zero sense, and which have no rhyme or reason, he ends up writing a romance novel about a sassy woman who is based on a young girl he knew when he was in his teens, and who died. This girl haunts him - he sees her around him all the time, now apparently grown up, commenting on his life.

Without any sort of effort or promotion, the novel becomes a runaway best-seller after he self-publishes it. That's of course when Big Publishing™ comes knocking on his door. I mean, why would they care about someone they couldn't immediately milk for a fortune? Or at least they would come knocking if they knew who he was, since he published under a pseudonym. Jane, who already had two jerks in her life - her asshole of a boss and her douche of a fiancé, figures out who he is and tracks him down, seeing this as the path to her own corner office.

Gordon denies all authorship and talks his sister into pretending to be the author all along, although Jane suspects it's really Gordon. So they immediately get eight million for the book rights and a fat movie contract. All in the space of a few days! Ri-ight! The most amusing part of the book was the completely shallow movie star who hasn't even read the book, and the complete jerk of a movie director who has read it but wants to make his own version of it. I kept wanting someone to tell him to go fuck himself, but no one ever did.

Then the story went right down the shitter. As soon as it's revealed that Gordon is the author, somehow all of this movie stuff is off! Just like that! Why? How? What the fuck difference does it make who the author is if a contract has been signed and the book is real? The novel made zero sense at this point because it then has the movie rights magically revert to Gordon, who marries Jane and they get a new movie contract and a better star. No lawsuits are involved! I'm sorry but no!

This might have been a decent novel had it been more realistic and had Gordon any redeeming features at all, but he was a lousy drunk, completely unlike anyone Jane would want anything to do with, because let's face it, she really needed yet another dick make in her life. For me that's when I gave up on it despite being so close to the end. I can't commend it because it's far too amateurish to commend even though it did have a few entertaining bits here and there.

Love Him Not by Tara K Reid

Rating: WARTY!

This was one of those do-it-yourself stories, where you would, were it a print version, be directed to turn to page X if you want to do Y or turn to page Z if you chose to do B. I was curious as to how this would work - or even if it would work - in an ebook, and the book was free, so despite the story not interesting me, I picked it up. It was aimed squarely at women, although the gay male or bisexual communitiers might find some fun here. I had to persuade this guy Nick to fall for me - so I wasn't remotely impressed by the story, which was YA pap and you pretty much - it seemed from the parts I read - had to basically lay yourself out on a plate if you wanted Nick to like you.

Well, guess what - it turns out that I'm not that kind of a girl, so no! I failed with him twice. Apparently the novel is set up that you fail most of the time, which was fine with me because Nick ought to have been named Dick, judged from his behavior, but it's interesting that the mechanics of it did in fact work. You could tap the link to go to the optional sections of the story, or to return to the previous location and make a different selection.

I had no interest in pursuing this particular story, and cannot commend this as a worthy read. Obviously others - particularly the females at whom this is aimed - and maybe a few guys too, might have a much warmer view of this one than I did, but the format itself was interesting to me, and I can see this being useful in other stories. How well a book set up like this would translate across publishing platforms such as ePub, mobi, and PDF remains to be seen. My own feeling is that it's something better-suited to a middle-grade adventure story than to a romance, but who knows?

As far as this story itself is concerned, it felt trivial and silly to say nothing of how inappropriate it seemed in and age of #MeToo, college rape issues, and workplace harassment. I can't commend it.

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall

Rating: WARTY!

After really enjoying The Penderwicks at Point Mouette I made the mistake of trying another one! It was just the opposite: boring, no humor, silly, unimaginative, unrealistic, and thoroughly-lacking in entertainment value. If it had been written in the fifties then it might have made for a cute tale, but as it was, I was truly disappointed in it. On the upside, this does support my contention about series: you can't maintain that rush of the first volume! Not that the previous volume was the first, but....

From volume two onward, you're inevitably going into territory that's already a beaten path, so what can you bring to it that's truly new? A precious few authors have good answers to that question, but far too many do not. I blame publishers for selectively seeking-out authors who promise, for better or for worse, to bring them a lucrative series. I blame readers too, for reading on in quiet desperation despite the poor quality of the sequels, thereby propping up a failed regime.

Like the previous volume I listened to, I had no idea which volume this was in the series when I listened to it, since once again the idiot publisher failed to even so much as mention that it was a series on the cover, let alone identify which in the series this volume is. With these stories I guess it really doesn't matter at all, since it appears of little importance in what order they're read - at least as judged from my sample of two. The reading by Susan Denaker was again very good, but not good enough to make up for trite and uninteresting material as the four Penderwick sisters interfere with their father's dating experience which is initiated by an aunt.

Obviously these children, Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and the unfortunately-named Batty, know better than the grown-ups. Not! While in a well-written story, these fictional kids might know their father better than he knows himself, the problem here is that the author fails to do the work to convince the reader that this same case holds here. Worse than this though, the author seems to fail to grasp that there's technology in our modern world! Despite all of these stories being written since 2005, there is no computer, television, or phone anywhere to be found in this story, which it turns out was the second in the series, written in 2008. Unbelievable! It's like the author set it in 1955, but forgot to change the scenery to match.

I can't commend this at all.

Dead Man's Folly by Agatha Christie

Rating: WORTHY!

After this I have about four more Agatha Christie novels I'm interested in reading because they had mentions that interested or intrigued me in the biographies I read, and then I'm done with her. I think I've done enough! LOL! This one was another attempt to listen to one of her stories, an effort which hasn't been going well lately, but I can hope that if they're read by David Suchet as this one was, they might engage more. He does a masterful job of reading this particular novel - really quite engaging. That may be why I enjoyed this story, although the story is one of her better ones, I think.

The mystery is of the death of Marlene Tucker, a young girl who is ironically playing the victim in a murder mystery enactment put on as a sort of treasure hunt for attendees at a fête held at Nasse House in Devon. I recently saw a novel advertised which essentially steals this plot for its own. The treasure hunt is being staged by Ariadne Oliver, a well-known writer of murder mysteries, who has contacted Poirot because she has become suspicious of an assortment of changes to her plot which have been requested by various people. Something feels wrong to her and she hopes Poirot can figure out what's up, but before he can do so, Marlene is dead, and Lady Stubbs, wife of Sir George Stubbs, the newish owner of Nasse House, is missing.

The murder investigation drags on over several weeks with neither the police nor Poirot making progress, until Poirot has an insight and finally solves it. I find it ridiculous that Poirot is never charged with obstructing justice since he frequently withholds so much information from the police, even when he has strong suspicions, if not a strong conviction of the murderer's identity! But that aside, this story was well-written and entertaining, and beautifully-read, so I commend it as a worthy listen.

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

Rating: WARTY!

This began finely enough, but it really didn't show any interest in going anywhere. I suppose it's a bit autobiographical since the author admits to having two sisters and to reading a lot. I don't get this with the reading though. It's way overdone, especially in so-called 'literary books'. I read a lot myself but don't feel an urge to brag about it or write novels about it. It doesn't mean I'm deep or smart or profound! It just means I like to read. I may well even have put a book in the hands of a character here and there in my own novels, but I can recall only one specific case of doing so.

The thing is that Americans simply don't read books! Depending on where you look for survey results, the typical American has read only four books in the past 12 months, but a quarter of adults haven't read one at all in the last year. Hispanics, high salary-earners and people with most college education are least likely to read. About forty percent of people won't read ebooks and reading in general in the US has gone down close to fifty percent over the last fifteen years or so.

That's one reason why you're having such a hard time selling your self-published novel! It's not necessarily that it's bad - it's that fewer people are reading and there's far more available to them - and thanks to the assholes at Amazon who care more about what shareholders make than what creative people make, it's available for free or next-to-nothing. The USA is not even in the top twenty among nations which read. So if you're writing about Americans, don't have them reading a book unless there's a plot need for it, and sure as hell don't use reading a book as a measure of intelligence. It fails.

At least the author doesn't name-drop classic books or classic authors all over the place, but the one thing she does do which I found intensely annoying was put the father of the family in the position of quoting lines from obscure literature instead of actually answering questions. If the quote had answered the question, that would be one thing, but it never did! The guy needed to have his ass kicked sharply, but all of the girls put up with this, including the supposedly rebellious one, which made all of them lose my respect.

Rosalind, Bianca, and Cordelia all have issues and are gathering back together at their parent's home not because their mother has breast cancer, although that provides a convenient excuse, but because each sister has problems in her life. Rosalind's fiancé is away in England for an extended period working in a university lab and she fears she may lose him, but she doesn't have the wherewithal to either shit or get off the pot. Bianca was let go from the law firm where she worked in HR, because she was skimming from the books, and Cordelia has just discovered that she's pregnant - and broke. She had to shoplift the pregnancy test to even verify that she was expecting. So we're reading about three losers here form the off.

I don't normally read this kind of novel - although I've noticed from looking around that it's a sort of mini-genre to have women gather and air dirty laundry. Usually it's old friends from college who haven't seen each other in years who are vacationing together as a sort of reunion. In this case it's sisters. It was a curious coincidence to begin reading this right when I was also around that time watching the last few episodes of the Netflix series, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. In that show, which is really quite good, there is a trio known as the weird sisters, and both that one and the one in this novel derive their name from Shakespeare, although in Shakespeare, it's 'wyrd' not weird, and it means something different.

But that was the problem here. The author was far more interested in being 'literary' whatever the hell that means, than ever she was in telling a story that moved and engaged, and I lost interest about a third of the way in and ditched it. Like I said, there are far more novels available to me, and I know one of those is going to grab me.

Best Friends and Other Liars by Heather Balog

Rating: WARTY!

I get that this is "chick lit" as it's termed, and isn't aimed at me, but it's a novel and to me there are certain things a novel really ought to do. It ought to be original for one thing, and this one was not, and it ought to be realistic within its own framework which this genre really can't be by definition, so there were two strikes against it right away. I guess you could say it ought to be entertaining too, but with the poor writing it wasn't - not for me. Others may disagree. On the bright side, the author has evidently been on a cruise so there is a certain amount of authenticity except for the part where they got onto the boat with such amazing speed.

Either her cruise ship was really small, or they arrived very late to be able to get through the waiting line, and to board as quickly and hassle-free as they did. Real cruise lines aren't like that - not if the ship is large. My own experience demonstrated that it took hours - literal hours - to get on board. I'd have been willing to grant that her boat was small, but that's not what the text said, so it lost believability for me on that, and yes, I get that the author may have wanted to move things along, but to skip even mentioning the line was really inexcusable. On the other hand, the massage was pretty accurate! I didn't feel remotely relaxed after mine either. To me it simply was not worth the money.

What turned me off this in the end was the trope male character, because while adherents of this genre might like that idea, the fact of the male always in every single case being muscular with film-star looks is ridiculous. I get why it's done, but to me it's pathetic and I demand much more realism in my stories than this genre - and this author in particular - is evidently capable of delivering. I DNF'd this at about a quarter the way through, right after she literally bumped into the guy - another tired trope which makes me barf. Sorry, but no. This was pathetic. I can't commend it, not remotely. It had a boatload of issues.

Sequence by Lori Andrews

Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

Cinders by Cara Malone

Rating: WARTY!

“She leaned against the hood and worried at a hangnail on her pointy finger”
Surely she means 'pointer finger'?! This is why I have a problem with that term. OTOH, maybe she does have a pointy finger....

Well I made it almost 60% of the way through this before I had to run from it gagging. It started out pretty decently - a female firefighter, an arsonist, a love interest who wasn't yet a love interest but was quietly in the wings. Even when Marigold and Cynthia aka Cinder, aka Cyn, start to hook up, it still made for an entertaining story, although from that point on it became much more of a YA love story than ever it was an investigation into an arsonist. That I could even handle.

The problem came for me when the story made its nod and a wink to the Cinderella story. Marigold, who always complains about the amount of work she has to do, but all she seems to do is be a socialite, invites Cyn to a social event and Cyn comes dressed up, but gets called away to a fire. She changes shoes while talking to Mari in the parking area (for no apparent reason!), and accidentally leaves one of her loafers behind, which Mari then returns to her at the station house.

That part was fine, but as soon as these two began making out and going into a full blown sex session right there in the bunk room of the station house that was too much for me. It just felt wrong and sordid, and juvenile. If the author had made the fire alarm go off so they were interrupted when they began to make out, that for me would have made for a much more entertaining story! But this author went obvious on me and rather gross and immature as well, and that was far too much for my taste. That's when the romance felt fake and forced, like the author was faking it rather than feeling it, and I lost all interest.

I can't commend this based on the 60% or so that I read.

Tootle by Gertrude Crampton, Tennant Redbank, Sue DiCiccio

Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

An Autobiography by Agatha Christie

Rating: WARTY!

Having listened to a few of Christie's books in audiobook format with varying success recently, I got curious about how she worked, how she felt about her books, where her inspiration came from, how she wrote them, that kind of thing, and I have to say my search for those answers went largely unsatisfied! I found four biographies - after a fashion. One was for children, which I thought wasn't bad for its intended audience, but not suitable for my needs. Another was a graphic novel which told a straight-forward story and which I enjoyed, but again not satisfying my real need. A third was a biography that I thought wasn't worth the reading - not at over five hundred pages!

This book came closest, but even it left me wishing I'd been better rewarded. I do not envy anyone heading into this almost six-hundred page tome, which Christie wrote over many years rather more like a diary than a book in some ways. For my purposes I skimmed it, pausing to actually read only those sections where her books are specifically talked about. That was interesting, particularly how screwed-over she was by her first publisher and how she quickly learned her lessons going forward. Caveat, all ye who wish to publish! This is one reason why I have no time for big publishing™.

I went into this hoping for something different than I imagine many people would, who would presumably read it for a story about her life from the horse's mouth so to speak, with perhaps a minor in book writing, so perhaps I was less satisfied than others might be because of that. I did get some idea of her writing and how she felt, but I felt like I ought to have had more out of it since this was her own words, and she was a writer! Maybe I expected too much.

On a cautionary note, those expecting or hoping for some insight into her missing days way back in 1926, will be disappointed since she doesn't even mention it; not a word. You'd learn more from looking up old newspapers on the subject! But there were parts I enjoyed, and not all of those were about her books, and overall, I commend this as a worthy read because it is from the source and it is unembellished (beyond what a writer might unconsciously do anyway!). It felt honest and from the heart and that I appreciated, but for my purposes, in seeking deeper insight into her writing and motivation, I was less than happy.

Agatha Christie by Laura Thompson

Rating: WARTY!

Having read a few of her books - or more recently listened to them, and seen virtually her entire Poirot oeuvre on TV, I decided to take a look at Christie herself out of sheer curiosity, and I picked up two books: this one and Christie's own autobiography. My interest in these was not to read about her entire life, but to skim the books for references to Christie's own writing, to see if I could gain any insights into how she put the books together or where she got her inspiration. My goal was only partially met, I'm sorry to have to report. I don't envy anyone who actually plows through over a thousand pages for so little reward, so I wouldn't commend either book unless you are really, really, and I mean seriously really into Christie! Even then you may find yourself disappointed.

Subtitled "An English Mystery" for no apparent reason other than to sound dramatic, this book is well over five hundred pages and the author seems determined to link every single thing in Christie's life to every single thing in her murder mysteries, mostly with limited success. Obviously a writer puts herself into her books, but that doesn't mean everything has link and/or meaning. For me though, the worst part about this was Thompson's pure fiction in describing the week or two Christie 'disappeared' in a huff over her first husband's infidelity, and apparently with a petulant desire to make him pay for it by making it look like maybe he murdered the murder mystery writer. It was awful. Christie herself mentions not a thing about this in her own autobiography and never talked of it, so all of this here is pure speculation and guesswork even with the best of intentions. I'm not convinced this author has the best of intentions, or the most honest in her portrait.

The book really offers nothing new and reveals the answer to no mysteries including why Christie has been such a perennial and prolific seller of her books. I can't commend this as a worthy read.

Agatha by Anne Martinetti, Guillaume Lebeau, Alexandre Franc

Rating: WORTHY!

Written by Martinetti and Lebeau, illustrated by Franc, and translated from the original French into English by Edward Gauvin, this was a really good graphic introduction to Agatha Christie, which I encountered during a search of my local library's resources regarding Christie biographies.

It begins in what is often seen as the biggest mystery about this author, which is what happened to her during her short disappearance in December of 1926. Personally I think it can be quite adequately accounted for in precisely the way this book explains it - she was pissed-off with her husband, who had told her he wanted a divorce so he could continue seeing this woman he had met, named Nancy Neele, and apparently decided that he liked better than he did Christie. I also think her depression over this may have been exacerbated from her mother's death earlier that year.

But this graphic novel goes further, bringing in her literary creations, most especially Hercule Poirot, as characters in the story, seen and heard only by Christie, but who comment on her life and discuss things with her, annoying her as often as not. The story as told her is interesting, engaging, and moving, and tells a complete story, abbreviated as it necessarily is in this format. I commend it as a worthy read.

Agatha Christie by Isabel Sánchez Vegara, Elisa Munsó

Rating: WORTHY!

I've been following the 'Little People, Big Dreams' series in the form of advance review copies from Net Galley. This is the first I've encountered in the 'real world'! It's also the first print book and it was a much larger format than I had imagined from the ebooks I've been reading. This came as part of a library search for Agatha Christie biographies so I decided to give it a look and while it was not anything spectacular, it was a worthy read considering the age range it's aimed at. It's a nice introduction to the second best-selling author in the world after Shakespeare (I don't count religious fiction).

The book keeps it simple in both illustration and text, and lays out the bare bones of her life from her childhood to her death. For a simple and basic introduction of the so-called Queen of Crime thrillers (I've had a mixed bag of results from my reading of her work). This works well. Any child who has literary aspirations could benefit from reading this, so I commend it as a worthy read.

Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie

Rating: WARTY!

This one was not well read by Anna Massey, and the story wasn't engaging me at all so I DNF'd it. I had already seen this on TV but I couldn't recall the finale, so I thought it might make for an entertaining read, but in the end it was just annoying. Holmes once said to his companion, "Watson, you know my methods!" which was his polite way of saying 'figure it out for yourself' and so it's time, I think, to read a biography about Christie, and see if I can learn anything from that about what made her tick.

On the upside, this story is mercifully-free of that moron Captain Hastings who makes John Watson look like a scintillating paragon of incisiveness. On the other, it was a bit much to swallow. It features Amy Leatheran (a name to conjure with!) who is a nurse taking up her charge in the Iraq desert at an archaeological dig, caring for the ailing wife of the man in charge of the dig. This woman - the patient, not the nurse - seems to have experienced terrifying hallucinations, and in the end dies, and Hercule Poirot finds himself trying to unearth clues as to the perp. I can't commend this audiobook version based on the portion to which I listened.

By the Pricking of My Thumbs by Agatha Christie

Rating: WARTY!

This was my first - and last - experience of Agatha Christie's Tuppence and Tommy Beresford stories. Tuppence, seriously? Does she have a sister half her age named Penny? Actually her name is prudence. I have no idea how she got labeled Tuppence. The plot was quite an engaging one: a painting goes missing and it turns out the painting reveals something really rather critical about a criminal enterprise. T&T begin an investigation and showing a complete lack of prudence, Tuppence goes off alone and disappears. Rather than call the police, Tommy takes up her disappearance as his primary investigation, and he ends up knocking on the door of this woman whose name I forget, but who inadvertently became my hero!

Instead of him grilling her in the hope of finding a lead to his wife's disappearance, she ends up interrogating him and he lets her take complete control! This went on, and on and on, and on, and...on. I'm serious. It went around in circles forever and I got so irritated with it that I quit listening to this summarily. You know it's bad when you'd rather listen to rubber on asphalt than to the actual audiobook you ahve in your car, especially during a somewhat tense long-distance drive where a mild distraction would have been very welcome.

I swear I don't give tuppence about this investigating team and I never will. In fact rather than shilling out for another such story I would pound on their heads so severely that they'd be left only half a crown....

Nadya Skylung and the Cloudship Rescue by Jeff Seymour

Rating: WARTY!

I did not get far with this at all. It sounded interesting from the blurb, but it was worst person voice and I usually find that annoying. I find it particularly annoying when it's happening in real time and the narrator's voice doesn't remotely reflect the terror of enduring a life-or-death experience, as this one failed dismally when Nadya fell from the airship and went plummeting down through the clouds - and her narrating voice remained unchanged! Worse, her description of it was boring!

The most serious problem here was not that Nadya actually had a sky-lung and was stupidly named after it, but that there's no suspense here whatsoever. By definition, there cannot be in first person stories because this girl is narrating the story - what, are they going to stop it 15% in because she died unexpectedly? No! I stopped it at 15% in though, because I couldn't take it seriously. I wasn't openly laughing at it, but it was a close-run thing. Gone is your immediacy. It was sad because the world the author had been building was moderately interesting, but the voice was just not getting me to suspend my disbelief, so I suspended my listening to it instead. I can't commend it based on this experience.

Tennison by Lynda La Plante

Rating: WARTY!

I read or started to read two murder mysteries over the last few days. One of them was entertaining, moved at a good clip and provided a really decent story. This was the other one - the one I DNF'd, by 'beautiful the plant'.

I've seen Tennison on TV and was curious about the original book, but this almost six-hundred-paged massive tome was so dissipated and meandering that I lost interest after reading about a fifth of it. It was literally all over the place and it annoyed the hell out of me with all the distractions and side-shows that had nothing whatsoever to do with the central murder investigation.

I know many people enjoy a big fat read, but not me. To me it's intensely irritating to be getting to a good bit concerning the murder, and then to veer wildly off into someone's wedding or some garbage in which I have zero interest. Even skipping those parts, I still grew bored with cattle-grazing pacing of this book. That fact that it was set in the past and was larded with sexism that was the norm back then did nothing to enhance it. I'd much rather read a book featuring the sexism that's still rampant today.

In this story, set at the start of her career, Jane Tennison is a young raw recruit, new to the job, and running late on her first day because she's evidently an idiot. This isn't a good sign of a great police officer or a great main character. She misses her bus stop and then, still not paying attention to her surroundings - a really bad sign in a police officer - she collides with an elderly woman and is forced to stop and help her pick up her groceries and walk her back to her flat. Of course this is all in the pouring rain. In addition to this, Tennison's sister is getting married and Jane is senior bridesmaid and her parents don't really take her career choice seriously, so it was pretty much everything-but-the-kitchen-sink loaded into this and it really didn't work at all.

The TV show taken from this book was, as I recall (it's been a while!), watchable, but nothing I'd want to sit through again. The book I didn't want to sit through the first time. I can't commend it based on what I read.

Hawk Moon by Rob MacGregor

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a fun and entertaining whodunit set in high-school. It's a little heavy on the Hopi religion, and at first I thought this might turn me off it, not being remotely religious myself, but I do enjoy a variety of stories including those with religion in them, and in the end it wasn't an issue.

The story concerns Will Lansa, who is back for the new school year after spending the summer on a Hopi reservation with his father. After meeting with his girlfriend on a lonely stretch of land outside of town, Will breaks up with her and she promptly disappears. Will is the last one to see her alive, and consequently becomes the number one suspect when her murder appears to be the explanation for her disappearance. This becomes even more of an issue when his baseball cap, along with a knife, a distinctive gift that he had foolishly kept in the unlocked glove compartment in his jeep, are discovered with traces of Myra's blood on the knife blade.

In the rush to judgment, and even though Will hasn't been arrested, he's largely shunned at school except by a few close friends and a key person in the form of a computer whizz named Corina who has long had a crush on Will. With her help and some assistance from a spirit guide, Will eventually manages to solve the mystery and prove his innocence. I can actually think of a better way to have told this story, but in in the end, it was told well enough, and it was engrossing and a easy to finish, and I commend it as a worthy read.

Happenings at Hookwood by Michael Wilton

Rating: WARTY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I made it a quarter the way through this, but had too many issues with it to continue. It may appeal to a certain set of readers, but I found it inappropriate for children and downright objectionable in parts.

The story is of a young rabbit named Startup who lives with his mom and dad in a community close by an old house. When a couple move into the house and bring their cat, an alarm runs through the wild community. This part I could get with because pet cats are in fact devastating our ecology. There are so many of them preying on wild birds and other animals that they're actually destroying wildlife at an alarming rate. Unfortunately that's not the thrust of this novel at all. On the contrary - rather than trying to do good with the fiction, it seems like the story is going in the opposite direction. More on this shortly.

My first problem with this is that while this is obviously a children's book, one of the rabbits smokes a pipe. Admittedly he does have it taken away by his wife later, but the fact that he had it at all is a problem in a children's novel. This is not the nineteen-fifties! I don't mind some anthropomorphization of animals in children's books, but if you're going to make them completely human, then why have them as animals at all? To me it makes no sense to divorce them completely from their nature. These rabbits - and other animals such as squirrels and owls, for example - were entirely human - so much so that they'd lost all connection with nature. That was a problem for me. This lack of a vision as to what their origin was, had become so all-encompassing that at one point Mrs Rabbit, Startup's mom, was making curtains. For a burrow. Which by definition is underground. Where there are no windows. I won't get into why mom is depicted in traditional female roles and so on.

The next problem was that Startup - who seems to be appropriately named, sought to trick a squirrel into paying him for recovering some nuts. I could not get my mind around exactly how this came to be despite going back and re-reading several pages, but clearly Startup's motives were hardly altruistic. I didn't think this was a good example to set before children.

Right after this we're introduced to a hare, the characterization of which is evidently heavily-influenced by the idea of 'mad as a march hare' and the creature is depicted as crazy which again to me was a highly inappropriate precedent to set before children when thinking about a person who appears to have to some mental health issues, or who is maybe simply a bit different in his approach to life. He was called 'Lenny the Looney' and Startup's attitude to him is described like this: "He had no desire to get caught up in a dotty duscussion with Hare'. That's about where I decided I didn't want to read any more of this book, and why I cannot commend it based on the portion of it I have read.

An ABC of Equality by Chana Ginelle Ewing, Paulina Morgan

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This is a neat little colorful book (illustrated by Morgan) for young children written by Ewing, aimed at teaching tolerance and acceptance, and it's never too soon to learn such things. Young children in particular are far more accepting than so-called grown-ups when it comes to those who might be perceived as different, and it's only to the good to bolster those non-discriminatory perceptions. From A for ability through D for difference and E for equality, through I for immigration and J for justice to T for transgender and Y for 'Yes!', this book covers it all. I commend it as a worthy read for young children.

Experiment with Kitchen Science by Nick Arnold

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

What kid doesn't like to mess it up in the kitchen? This book facilitates all of that, but with a purpose: that of learning some science (and making some sweet treats along the way). We learn how to make butter, how to make a non-Newtonian fluid - which is a lot more fun than it sounds. We lean about fat and protein, starch and cellulose, swelling jellies, and how to mix oil and water!

We learn about specific gravity, air pressure, and surface tension, making beautiful paintings using milk, dishwashing liquid and food coloring, and also about colored foam and giant green eggs! The lesson on bicarbonate of soda and volcanoes makes some crunchy sweet treats, but note that not everything that results from these scientific forays ends up being edible! Educational it is, though. There will definitely need to be a lesson about brushing teeth properly after that one.

Throughout the book there are safety warnings and copious advice on when adults should step in and help out. I think this was a smart, fun, safe, entertaining, and very educational book, and I commend it fully.

Winter Sleep by Sean Taylor, Alex Morss, Cinyee Chiu

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a sweet and charming book about animals who sleep their way through winter the better to creep out with the spring and renew their lives along with nature revitalizing itself each year. Visiting his grandmother, the unnamed boy in the story is taken to a secret glade in the nearby woods where he finds the charm and appeal of nature to be irresistible. But when he makes a return visit in winter, the entire glade has changed, and far from being a place of buzzing insects, flourishing flowers, and chirping birds, it lies asleep under a blanket of snow, soundless, lifeless.

Or so it appears.

Grandmother Sylvie points out though that even in the midst of the quietude, they're surrounded by sleeping nature: the bears and the bees, the dormouse, the bat, the beetles, the earwigs, the moths, the fish and the frogs, all hidden and awaiting the return of long days and strong sunshine to wake up and get moving. There's a section at the back of the book about how and why animals hibernate, and the illustrations by Cinyee Chiu are charming and well-wrought. I commend this as a worthy read.

Wild in the Streets by Marilyn Singer

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

A Singer writes poetry! I'm not a huge fan of the poetic despite having published a volume of my own short stories and poems, but you have to love this one which not only teaches about wild animals that have adopted a lifestyle among humans - for better or for worse, but which also teaches a bit about poetry, using several different forms to describe the various animals and discussing those at the end of the book.

As for the animals? Well! The book travels the world from Austin to Australia, Rome to Rio, and it looks at Coyotes in Chicago (although pick most places in the US and you'll find coyotes!), Agoutis in Brazil, Bees in Vancouver, Butterflies in California, Boars in Germany, Hyenas in Ethiopia, tree frogs in Taipei, badgers in burial grounds, and so on. The animals are fascinating: from charming to harming, and trooping to pooping. Just like the the pigeons with the deadly aim, you can't miss with this book, which was fascinating and engrossing. I commend it as a worthy read.

One More Time by Nancy Loewen, Hazel Michelle Quintanilla

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I had two bad starts with this writing/illustrating team due to technical problems with the books, but I had no such problem with this particular title, which was much better.

When a young boy gets a new scooter for his birthday, he naturally wants to ride it at once, but he can't - he keeps falling off! Well, the answer to that is perseverance and with some help from grandpa and his own mettle, the kid learns that practice makes perfect. A nicely-illustrated and fun story about sticking to it.

A Little Bit Different by Claire Alexander

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Where would we be without individuals and personalities? This is a fun, short and cutely-illustrated book for young children about the joy of being an individual.

Among the ploofs, Shoof is definitely an individual, but at first, Shoof is shunned. It's only when minds are opened and individuality is finally appreciated, that Shoof finds a place in this world. Whether Shoof's friend's talents will be appreciated is another matter! I commend this as a worthy read for young children.

The Art of Drawing People by Debra Kauffman Yaun, William F Powell, Diane Cardaci, Walter Foster

Rating: WARTY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This is another of those step-by-step books which approaches art from the lowest common denominator, under the assumption that all prospective artists are the same, at the same level, with the same skills and interests. There was nothing new there, and the art was competent enough, but the questions which bothered me about it were two-fold. One was: what does this book teach that a score of others like it do not, and I could find no worthy answer to that.

The other question was why is the book so larded with images of women? Are men so worthy of depicting? Surely what's sketch for the goose is sketch for the gander? If it had not been for the appalling gender-bias in the art and the limited range exhibited in the various depictions of figures, then I might have favored this book somewhat more, but as it was, I cannot commend it as a worthy read.

The Little Book of Drawing Dragons & Fantasy Characters by Michael Dobrzycki, Bob Berry, Cynthia Knox, Meredith Dillman

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a short but useful book about drawing and shading, and making realistic images of fantasy beasts such as dragons, griffins, satyrs, and wyrms. It takes a step-by-step approach, and I'm not sure I buy into this raw blocky shapes first approach, followed by refining them because, for me at least, it means a rather soul-destroying trudge through drawing and erasing repeatedly as the blocky shape is transformed into the final artwork. Ultimately though, the point is to get to that final image, so whatever works for you as an artist is the way to go.

I wish more attention was paid to thais kind of thing, because I've seen very many art books which take this same approach and treat all prospective artists as though they are at the same level with the same personality and methodology and in need of precisely the same tuition. That is patently untrue, but I guess if you wish for more individual attention, you take an art class. This book is a 'lowest common denominator' kind of approach, but that doesn't mean it can't take you at least a part of the way along the path you wish to travel, and if starting here gets you closer to that fine end result embodied in the examples we see here, then this is as good a way to go as any!

On that basis I commend this as a worthy read.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Volcanoes and Earthquakes by Anita Ganeri, Chris Oxlade, Pau Morgan

Rating: WORTHY!

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

From the same team who brought The Water Cycle (Ganeri and Oxlade writing, and Morgan illustrating), comes this one about volcanoes and earthquakes. Once again our guides are Ava and George who seem to have an extraordinary wealth of knowledge about a commendable diversity of topics! Would that our president was as well-informed as these two kids are. In this one we go up to the top of volcanoes and deep into the Earth's core.

In this volume we learn of magma chambers and ash clouds, of sliding sandwiches and lava lamps. Actually I made up that last one, but we do have sliding sandwiches so kids can make their own fault lines and strike slips! Fun! The kids take us through tectonic plates and home-made volcanoes and educate us along the way. The only thing I found fault with (if you'll excuse the pun) was that in the section on famous earthquakes it seemed to be largely the USA which was featured - San Francisco and Alaska, with a mention of Kobe in Japan.

It's a little tiresome for the US to always be puffing-itself up into the forefront, like the rest of the world doesn't exist. San Francisco barely makes it into the top ten of the most devastating earthquakes. All of the others were elsewhere, such as the appalling St Stephen's tsunami of 2004 in the Indian Ocean, and the devastation in Haiti less than a decade ago. I felt it disrespectful that the US was held up as being famous (for what exactly?) as though nowhere else really matters, when these other disasters took far more lives and some of which are far fresher in the world's memory. The world isn't the US and the fiction that it is has become a serious and dangerous problem under our current president. This insularity and provinciality needs to stop.

That aside though, I consider this book an informative and worthy read.

The Water Cycle by Anita Ganeri, Chris Oxlade, Pau Morgan

Rating: WORTHY!

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

In the back of the book, in a section labeled 'Notes for Teachers and Parents', I read in the second paragraph "How do the children think this might have effected the city?" which should have employed 'affected' rather than 'effected'. I'd recommend changing that before any teachers read it! It's much more effective, and not an affectation!

This was an amusingly-illustrated (by Morgan) and informatively-written (by Ganeri and Oxlade) book which discusses the water cycle, without which Earth would be a desert The book discusses, sometimes a bit repetitively, but repetition helps recollection, how water from the oceans evaporates and later precipitates over land as fresh water, which nourishes the soil and eventually flows back to the ocean via rivers, thereby completing the cycle.

The water cycle is a critical part of everyone's need for water, and access is becoming more stressed as the climate change grows worse and the rains come too harshly or not at all, and changing snowfall patterns leave less water to return to the rivers and ocean in spring. Lack of access to sufficient clean fresh water is looming as the number one crisis on our planet. As spoiled Americans each splash through 300 gallons a day in average, the poorer residents of, say, Chennai, in India, which is undergoing an appalling drought in 2019, have less than eight gallons per person per day.

Ava and George the 'geo-detectives' are our guides in this story, and are well-informed. Taking trips on boats and via airplane and even a parachute, and traveling from beach to mountain, they explore not only the cycle, but how water is abused and polluted. Until recently, Cape Town in South Africa was facing a zero water day in the near future: a day when there would be no fresh water for the city's population to use. This scared people so much that they began a serious conservation effort, and now they have put off zero day indefinitely.

There are eleven other major cities across the globe: Bangalore, Beijing, Cairo, Istanbul, Jakarta, London, Mexico, Miami, Moscow, São Paulo, and Tokyo which will face this crisis as well in the very near future if something isn't done - if water isn't valued as highly as it ought to be. This will occur during the lifetime of the children who might read this book, so any effort to educate them as to the vital importance of water is to be commended. This book as a worthy effort in that direction.

Kind Mr Bear by Steve Smallman

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is a very short book, illustrated by the author, about a kindly old bear who helps everyone in the forest. He helps recover a kite from a tree(that is, a toy kite, not a bird of the same name!), lift heavy things, and shelter the tiny denizens of the forest from surprise rainstorms. People take Mr Bear for granted until he's not there any more. When he's sick is when people miss him, and finally it dawns on those forest folk that maybe Mr Bear could use some help.

The book was wonderfully-illustrated and the story poignantly told, and I commend it as a worthy read. The only oddity is that in a section in the back, title Next Steps, the discussion topics weren't about Mr Bear, but about Percy and Posy the penguins. I suspect this was put in there as a place-holder for a new discussion page to be written for this particular book, and that has not yet been added since this is an advance review copy. Presumably that will be fixed before the final version is published!

The Red Suitcase by Gilles Baum, Amandine Piu

Rating: WARTY!

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

I was very disappointed in this. Clearly it was designed as a print book, and I'm not the sort of reviewer who is privileged enough to get those, so I get only the ebook. Usually that's enough to evaluate a book for the most part, but in some cases, particularly with children's books, it's inadequate. In other cases - like this one - it's impossible.

The problem was that the PDF version I got frequently got stuck and would not swipe past a certain page without great and persistent swiping efforts. I've encountered books like this before, but they are not common, and what it is exactly which causes it, I do not know. I tried this in both Adobe Digital Editions, and in Bluefire Reader, both of which are excellent ebook readers for the most part, and both of them had the same problems with this book, and on the same pages, too. On occasion, it locked up the reader and crashed it, which is a huge no-no.

The first page to stick was the title page. If you swipe very v-e-r-y slowly, i.e. leave many seconds between arriving at a page and swiping to the next one, it works better, but at any reasonable swiping rate, it sticks. You definitely cannot skim over several pages to quickly get to a specific page, and when it sticks, even tapping on the screen will not bring up the slide bar to navigate quickly. When you finally get the navigation bar and move the little slider along, it takes several seconds to respond and change pages. Sometimes after a swipe I would count slowly from one to twenty before the page would indicate it was ready to move. I had downloaded several children's book from Net Galley for review along with this one, and this was the only one of them which I had this kind of trouble with.

My second problem with this is even more serious and it is that, while I get that this book is minimalist, having merely the outline of the red suitcase - and not even a complete outline on over twenty pages - was too much. or rather, far too little. The book struck me as lazy and even cynical, which went completely counter to the message the book was supposed to be purveying - that of perseverance. This book taught me far more about irritation than ever it did about its stated topic. I lost patience with it repeatedly, and I cannot commend it at all.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Girl Who Married an Eagle by Tamar Myers

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a sweet and fun book, although disturbing in parts. One of the disturbing parts came right on the first page, second paragraph, where I read, "She'd been born and raised in Oxford, Ohio, the home of Miami University." Only I'm the USA can you get such an utter rip-off and bastardization of names. Oxford is purloined directly from England, of course. Ohio isn't even an American Indian name. The name was oyo or o-he-yo which meant simply 'big water'.

Finally comes Miami university - in Ohio, not in Florida much less actually in Miami! The hilarious thing here is that that isn't even the name: the name was Mayaimi after a people who were pretty quickly rendered extinct because of the depredations of white folks. The name itself means? Big water! LOL! Of course Oxford itself is named so because it was the place where the oxen crossed the...big water! Water, water, water and not a drop to drink!

The story relates the tale of a young African girl Buakane, who is effectively sold to a brutal chieftain as one of his many wives, but who, on her wedding night, decides she'd rather run away than submit to this. She ends up at a missionary school where a brand new recruit and college-grad, Julia, has freshly arrived, ready to become the director of the school. Julia meets Hank, who is the bereaved father of Clementine, a young girl known locally as The Great Distraction, and who is the third in this trio of strong female characters who dominate this story.

During her escape, Buakane is set upon by hyenas and gets bitten in the thigh. Fortunately, Hank happens to be driving by, bringing Julia to the mission, and they're able to pick up the wouldn't-be bride and deliver her to dour Nurse Doyer who happens to be a skilled nurse although a truly unpleasant person. Quite honestly, I could have done without the references to Mrs and the reverend Doyer. Other than the sewing up and Buakane's wound, if they'd been omitted entirely from the story it wouldn't have made a bit of difference to it.

That aside though, I loved each of these characters. Obviously there is a strong religious element to the story, and while I feared this might ruin it for me, in the end it wasn't an issue. Each of the three main characters was in their element and strong and feisty and amusing. To watch them interact and in particular to see how the problem of the chieftain demanding his wife back or demanding Julia's head is resolved, was a joy. I loved this story and highly commend it.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Tootle by Gertrude Crampton, Tennant Redbank, Sue DiCiccio

Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

Lulu-Grenadine Fait des Cauchemars by Laurence Gillot

Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

The Hole by Øyvind Torseter

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a highly amusing children's book written and illustrated by a Norwegian writer (don't worry - it's translated into English by Kari Dickson). The first name is pronounced a bit like Irvin with a 'd' on the end. Quite literally the central theme of the book is that it has a hole right through it, cover to cover. The hole takes part in the story. When this guy moves into a new apartment and discovers the hole in his wall, he also discovers that as he moves around, so does the hole! Eventually he manages to capture it in a box and take it to a research lab where they conduct various experiments on it - determined to find the hole truth no doubt.

On each page of this large format book, the hole appears in different locales. It's a lightbulb on one page, a traffic light on another, someone's eye in another, someone's nostril in another, and so it goes. How they ever managed to match the hole so well to the drawings in putting together this book I can only guess, but it was well done and the book was very entertaining. I don't know what a child will make of it, but hopefully they will be at least as fascinated with it as I was!

I commend this book as a worthy read.