Showing posts with label WORTHY!. Show all posts
Showing posts with label WORTHY!. Show all posts

Saturday, January 18, 2020

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery

Rating: WORTHY!

This book sounded quite interesting and although it wanders from the octopus often to delve into other topics, it always comes back to the main one and overall, despite an issue or two, I enjoyed this audiobook, read by the author, and commend it as a worthy read. It's for the most part well written, although a bit sentimental and anthropomorphizing at times, and the author has a pleasant and enjoyable reading voice.

The story covers her falling in love with the octopuses (octopods if you must, never octopi), at the Boston Aquarium, and since they're so short-lived - the Pacific giant octopus, which is the mainstay of this book, lives only for four years or so at most, and is biologically programmed to die after caring for the thousands of eggs that she lays. In the main, there were three of these animals discussed throughout the book: Athena, Kali, and Karma, but others were also touched upon - sometimes literally!

At one point I had to question the purpose of bringing these animals from the wild into a zoo to be put on display. There was this one relatively young octopus they named Kali, who featured in a large part of the book. Overnight, she managed to get out of this new tank she'd just been put into that same day, and she died of dehydration and suffocation on the floor at night.

There was a small gap in back of the tank where the water pipe went in, to keep the water refreshed, and she somehow squeezed through that. You have to wonder how intelligent these critters really are when they deliberately leave a safe environment to go into the open air through a two- or three-inch gap. The thing that really bothered me though, was the sheer number of accounts in this book, of this kind of thing happening repeatedly, affecting one species after another. Frankly it was irresponsible of the captors of these animals not to have seen to their welfare better than they did and I'm sorry the author didn't seem angry about it. She was more like, 'Oh well, there goes another octopus. Bring a fresh one in.' It's a little cruel to phrase it like that, but honestly, that was sometimes how it felt to me.

Obviously caring for animals is not an exact science, and things can go wrong. I can imagine if these animals were kept by private owners there would be all kinds of stupid and thoughtless mistakes made and animals dying, but this is the Boston Aquarium staffed by seasoned professionals and the number of incidents was disturbing, like for example, when this electric eel got from its tank into a neighboring one where it electrocuted two prized fish in that tank.

Seriously, did these people never consider keeping the tanks completely isolated from one another? Keeping secure lids on them? At least giving a nod and a wink to Murphy's Law? The saddest thing is that it felt like none of them learned anything from past experience and were therefore condemned to repeat their mistakes. This is incompetence, plain and simple. I sincerely hope other zoos and aquaria take more care.

I can also imagine that Kali's death was an emotional moment for the author after she'd bonded quite strongly with this particular octopus, but the rapidity with which she moved on to Kali's replacement, named Karma, of all things, rather cheapened her mourning period. It was at that point that she put some stuff in the book aimed at justifying going through this parade of wild-captured octopuses.<./p>

She talked about the value of the education that the aquarium does, but she never said a word about pollution or climate change and whether or not the educational experience, for whatever it's worth, that random members of the public get in seeing these animals in captivity, ever really translates into any concrete results in terms of public awareness and support for combatting climate change, or pollution, or in increasing environmentalism.

The absence of something like that undercut the value of her words, because without knowing if that works and produces results it seems fatuous indeed to me to be so devil-may-care about capturing these animals from the wild and then seeing them die in foolish and thoughtless ways. Neither does it do any good to educate people that the giant pacific octopus is really cute, interesting, and harmless if they don't connect its habitat with a polluted and warming ocean. I found that annoying and inappropriate.

I had to ask myself why they aren't breeding these octopuses and repatriating their offspring back to the ocean, or using the bred-in-captivity offspring to populate zoos instead of capturing more from the oceans. That would help to make up for those that are dying in captivity, but she didn't say a word about that either! Overall I got the impression that she was so enamored of the animals that her thoughts really were not free enough to stray very much into the bigger picture, which was truly sad.

That said, the book was educational, although it could have gone a lot further, and it was entertaining. It gave me more of a picture of what's involved in maintaining an exhibit in an aquarium and in how octopuses interact with novelty - including humans sticking their arms into the tanks. It said a lot less about what I was interested in: how intelligent (or dumb!) these animals truly are or what efforts are being made to measure and test that intelligence. I'd hoped for more. This was very much a puff piece - a PR exercise for octopods - but I was reasonably satisfied with what I got, so on that basis I rate it a worthy read.

Monday, December 23, 2019

The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

Rating: WORTHY!

Holmes suffers through some terrible winters and storms in this volume. Why Doyle wanted a good many of these stories to start out with bad weather is a mystery worth exploring, I feel! Maybe they just reflect the time of year he was writing them. The stories are listed below with brief comments.

  • The Adventure of the Empty House
    Set in 1894, three years after the supposed death of Sherlock Holmes, the detective returns and contacts Watson. He faked his death - of course - and was scurrying around for thre previous three years trying to lay his hands on Moroarty's confederates. This sotry invovles the trappign of the last of them with a completely unbeleivable dummy of Sherlock Holmes which invites the confederate to murder him using an air gun (that fires real bullets, not BBs or pellets), and thereby get himself captured.
  • The Adventure of the Norwood Builder
    This invovles holmes's exoneration of John Hector McFarlane who was set up as a murderer.
  • The Adventure of the Dancing Men
    This features the alphabet code of dancing men - each of which has a flag if it's the end of the sentence. Otherwise the code is ocmpeltely simple and unremarkable and does ntothignt o hdie the prevalnece of certain letters of the alphabet, such as the eltter 'E' which is coomon in English writing. It retreads an old story used in other Holmes adventures, of a betrothed woiman who has a previous assignation.
  • The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist
    This sounds like the title of a Monty Python skit, and it's almost as amusing as one, but not quite. It's a story about ruffians deceiving a woman to get at her inheritance.
  • The Adventure of the Priory School
    This was a story that was used in the British Sherlock TV series, and features the apparent kidnapping of a schoolboy.
  • The Adventure of Black Peter
    Black Peter the pirate! LOL! Really he's a whaler and dishonest to boot!
  • The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton
    Thgis sotry was also used in the British Sherlock TV series, but it pans out differently in the book than it did in the show. There's no mind palace here, just a blacklmailer.
  • The Adventure of the Six Napoleons
    Again, used in the TV series where it became the Six Thatchers and was about spyies. In the book it was about missing jewelery.
  • The Adventure of the Three Students
    The three students were all suspects in the theft of exam answers. No murders at all in this one!
  • The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez
    The golden pince-nez were left a the scene of a murder and Holmes must track down the apparent female guilty party. The story starts out "It was a wild, tempestous night" which is almost as good as the trope 'dark and sotry evening"!
  • The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter
    The missing three-quarter was a rugby player who apparently let down his side!
  • The Adventure of the Abbey Grange
    Sir Eustace Brackenstall has been killed! Holmes rousts poor Watson on minutes' notice to rush away on a train to solve the crime! Why Watson puts up with this treatment from Holmes is the real mystery. Holmes thinks nothing of sticking the doctor with the hotel bill.
  • The Adventure of the Second Stain
    The Right Honourable Trelawney Hope, Secretary of State for European Affairs, is desperate for Holmes to find a misisng document before war breaks out! This is also the story in which we hear that Holmes has at last retired, forbidding watson to publish any more accounts of his doings. In an earlier story we'd learned that Holmes was dissatisfied with Watson's telling of these adventures, and was thinking fo writign his own treatise on the detective work he does.

I had never read these stories before, so they seemed fresh and it was an interesting experience to read them rather than go over something I'd read before. It's full of relatively mundane crimes rather than sensational ones, which for me made it more interesting, so I commend this as a worthy read.

The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale, Dean Hale, LeYuen Pham

Rating: WORTHY!

Written by the Hales and illustrated exquisitely by Pham, this short, large print chapter book tells the story of a cute little princess who fights monsters under the guise of The Princess in Black! Definitely empowering, especially for female readers, I felt this was an inspired story designed to quell fears of monsters under the bed and at the same time tell a story to entertain - and it's not all about the princess! There's something in there for boys, too. It was well-worth the reading.

See, Touch, Feel by Roger Priddy

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a highly colorful, fun book full of pictures of young children one one page and a texture to feel on the other, although the textures didn't always seem in sync with the image. You can get a good...feel...for the content here: Encouraging kids to use all of their sense is a wonderful thin and for those on a budget, finding textures around your own living space is a fair substitute.

The Not So Scary Hairy Spider by Rosie Greening, Stuart Lynch

Rating: WORTHY!

Another touch and feel with a different set of textures, including the very hairy spider! Most spiders are harmless and there's no reason why any child should grow up living in fear of them. Written by Greening, illustrated by Lynch this provides touch sensations galore, but these can also be provided by materials and fabrics around your own living space if you so wish and can invent stories to go with them.

This Little Piggy by Emily Bannister

Rating: WORTHY!

This book is part of a series of touch and trace nursery rhymes (Itsy Bitsy Spider is another one, but it seems to me that once you've done one you've done them all - one being very much like another). Children can use their fingers on each page to explore patterns, pathways, and textures. It's a fun and colorful book allowing kids to explore, and it's better than those which have things stuck on the page (like the one with ten ladybugs) because there's no risk here of having a piece fall off that a child can choke on.

The Story of Rock by by Nicola Edwards

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a cute, colorful, and brief book about famous artists from the rock and roll era from Chuck Berry to Jimi Hendrix, from Janis Joplin to The Beatles, leaving no turn unstoned! It was fun and educational and can be enhanced, should you choose, by playing snippets of songs from your own collection by the artists featured here, and dancing with your baby or toddler!

Never Touch a Shark by Stuart Lynch

Rating: WORTHY!

This is a colorful touch book where various animals have an insert which children can touch and explore. It's fun and brings the senses alive. My parents couldn't afford books like this when I was a kid, but if you can, get this or something like it and let your kids have a sensathon! Or put together an inventive collection of materials from around the house, and let them explore with their eyes closed, guessing which animal it might be!

Baby Feminists by Libby Babbott-Klein, Jessica Walker

Rating: WORTHY!

Written by Babbott-Klein and illustrated by Walker, this book really is just a trip down memory lane, highlighting various feminists and outstanding females of history from Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg to activist and assassination survivor Malala Yusafzai, from artist Frida Kahlo to astronaut Mae Jemison, from tennis player Billie Jean King to musician and artist Yoko Ono, and making the point that they were all babies at one point, long before they became known to the rest of us. The adult figure can be lifted up revealing the baby they once were underneath. Baby Frida is adorable with those eyebrows!

The Pigeon Needs a Bath by Mo Willems

Rating: WORTHY!

This is literally a book your kid can read in the bath without it becoming soggy. It comes in its own little plastic bag. The pigeon does not want a bath, but finds out it's bubbly fun when it finally gets in there. Not that my kids ever resisted bathing, but yours might and this might be a great temptation!

My First I See You by Eric Carle

Rating: WORTHY!

Designed by Hannah Frece, this is a cute young children's book which offers a safe mirror on every page of various shapes and styles for kids to discover that they have a face, they are a person just like everyone else they see, and not this blank faceless shell that must feel weird. every young kid should see something like this often.

Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andreae, Guy Parker Rees

Rating: WORTHY!

A cute little book for young kids, and an affirmation of do-ability for anything they want to try. The tall, ungainly giraffe wants to enter the jungle dance contest, but while other animals disport themselves famously, the poor giraffe can do a thing until it gets some advice from Jiminy Cricket - or some relative of his, and inspired by the full Moon, it finally finds its groove! This was a very colorful, silly and fun book that children will love.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Mia Marcotte and the Robot by Jeanne Wald, Saliha Çalışkan

Rating: WORTHY!

This is a middle-grade story which isn't exactly my cup of tea, but it's entertaining enough that it passes muster for me. What I liked about it was that it stars a female protagonist who is self-motivated, imaginative, and a strong character, and who is deeply interested in science. All of that is a big plus. What I didn't like about it was that the 'rather dumb, pedantic, literal robot' has been done to death. It was already tiresome when Star Trek Next Generation introduced the ridiculous Commander Data and it could only go downhill from there. I think the science could have been a bit stronger and more prominent, too. Those gripes aside, I liked Mia and her attitude and the story was a short, fast read illustrated nicely by Turkish illustrator Saliha Calıskan.

One annoying thing to me was Mia's father's habit of referring to Mia as 'louloute', which is a diminutive endearment (purportedly!) for a young female child. I felt giving her a pet name and using it so often rather diminished poor Mia, who already had enough to deal with. Plus it felt so out of place. Maybe this family lived in Louisiana, but there was no mention of that state in the novel. The family name is suggestive of French origins, but there was nothing in the story to indicate why her dad would use this term since not a word of French was spoken in the entire story to indicate any such origin or tradition.

Mia really wants to be an astronaut, but in order to get one small step closer, she needs to do well in the science fair, but she needs a project! Can her visiting aunt's robot Aizek help her or will he get her into trouble? And can she help him learn to be a better robot? Those are the questions explored and answered here and despite some issues with it, I consider it a worthy read for a young female - and male - audience.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

No Easy Day by Mark Owen, Matt Bisonette, Kevin Maurer

Rating: WORTHY!

This book proved to be so much better than the previous one I read about SEAL life. This guy, who I shall refer to as Owen (because it's easier to type than Bisonette!) seems far less of a puffed-up, self-aggrandizing boor than the other guy. He's a lot more modest, authentic, and straight-forward in how he tells his story, although it occurs to me, since both of these SEALs had co-writers, that maybe the influence of the co-writer might have something to do with the tone of the book. Who knows? I guess writing is one of the very few things SEALs are not professionally trained for huh? LOL!

It also occurs to me that if more SEALs are going to write books about their life, they're going to have to work on a new opening sequence, because all of the ones I've read so far start out with their stringent training, which is seriously strenuous and very tough, make no mistake, but after reading at least three of these now, the routine is starting to be a bit tedious.

Having said that, I have to grant that this one was different enough though that it wasn't too bad as it happens, because this guy was already a SEAL before he started in on the advanced training to join the Green Team. No book had made that clear to me before. When they want to get into the Green Team, which is the anti-terrorism and hostage rescue unit, they have to step-up to a whole new level of training, and no one cuts them any slack. So even though they're already a SEAL before they start, they can and do wash out of this particular training. That was an eye-opener.

Note that there really is no SEAL Team Six. There was, when there were only two other SEAL teams! They called it Six to mislead the Soviets as to how many teams there were. Team Six actually got sucked into DEVGRU decades ago, although it's still called six for shorthand, but even that's misleading because there isn't one team (and it doesn't have six members!). Teams vary and fluctuate, and are put together in groups suitable for the mission at hand. Thus the last one mentioned in the book, the infiltration of the compound in Pakistan, comprised of 22 SEALs handpicked as the most experienced from several teams, along with an EOD tech (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), a CIA operative, and a dog! And they still had things go wrong.

I liked the author's informative and reserved (and modest!) style, and I enjoyed the descriptive writing, although I did not appreciate the alt-right take on President Obama, which was entirely uncalled-for. The author talked about his SEAL training in only the first two chapters and by the third, he was in the Middle-East on a mission to secure a dam from being blown-up after the invasion of Iraq. This led into, one after another, other stories of missions, from participating in the rescue of Captain Phillips from Somali pirates, to clearing insurgent-held houses in the Middle East and hunting terrorists in Afghanistan. It culminates in the stealth assault on the bin laden compound in Abbottabad, and the entire book is filled with enough detail to satisfy, without Tom Clancy-fying the fuck out of it, about these these Green Teams do their work, what the equipment they use consists of, what the dangers are, and how things pan out. In short it was perfect for my purposes and I highly commend this book as the best I have so far read on special forces.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Code Girls by Liza Mundy

Rating: WORTHY!

Coming from a long line of renowned Mundys, such as the late lamented Sic Transit Gloria, and the animalistic Coty, this author...I'm kidding. The real review starts next.

This book is about the literal thousands of young women such as the work-like Dorothy Braden Bruce and the stellar Ann Caracristi (and some, such as Agnes Meyer Driscoll and Elizebeth Smith Friedman, not so young) who worked in, oversaw, and contributed invaluably to cracking Axis codes during World War Two. Most of these women are unsung and many just as heroic in their way as the men who went into battle. It was that very drafting of men en masse which deprived the allies of critical help in the war effort on the home front, which is where women came in.

Realizing help was going to be needed in the grunt work of cracking enemy coded transmissions, women were initially sought from the upper crust colleges of the northeast, but before long, the trickle of such women became a flow and as soon as the white men running things realized that it wasn't so much a woman's academic qualifications as other characteristics that made her useful (r useless) in not just working the pipeline, but also cracking codes, the floodgates opened and women from all walks of life came in by the hundreds, and not just civilians.

In the course of this recruitment, there was created a Navy branch which came to be known as the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). Despite these women being summarily rejected at the end of the war, not all of them left the espionage service, and the world would never be the same again after women had finally been given the chance to show what that could do.

I had some problems with the organization and the writing of this book. It had too much extraneous detail, and the time-line jumped around like a grasshopper on a hot tin roof. It made things much more confusing than they ought to have been. It once again only goes to show that a journalist is not necessarily qualified to be a writer of books.

The brainwashing that journalists are given to put some humanity and personal interest items into the story got in the way of this story at times. I know there were a lot of women worthy of mention, but here there were so many that it often got to be a problem keeping track of who was who, and the jumping did not help this. And did we really need to know that so-and so resided at address X in city Y? No! Who cares? Seriously? I sure a shell wouldn't want to see my address appear in a book because so and so lived here in 1943. Hell no!

There was a lot of this kind of thing, and while some details were interesting (such as Bets Colby's "epic" parties about which I actually would have liked to have learned more!), this technique (if you can call it that) failed to make a lot of the women who were mentioned actually stand out. They tended to get lost in the mundane. It seems like those who did stand out, achieved that despite the writing, not because of it, and many did, purely from the sterling contributions they made and the insights they had in the actual breaking of codes, but others, who nevertheless made serious contributions in terms of attention to detail and work ethic, often got lost which was a crying shame.

That said, the author did make a remarkable and very welcome contribution to offset the woeful lack of information out there about what these girls and women did. There were scores of them, far too many to mention here, and they worked their butts off to crack codes and save lives. They lived and breathed their work and it was a sad loss when most of them went back to their unheralded lives after the war, never to be heard from again. Although no doubt at least a few of them were happy to do that, I am sure many more were not. I found this book gripping and fascinating, and could not put it down for the last third because I was so engrossed in it and really wanted to finish it. I commend it fully as a worthy read despite some writing issues.

There were code-breakers and female 'yeomanettes' in World war One, believe it or not, and I found it quite curious how these two wars panned-out in terms of what happened afterwards. Post WW1, we had the era of the 'roaring' twenties and the flappers, but after WW2, all we got was the fifties - not an era known for excitement and rebellion in the lives of women! What happened? What was the difference? Why were these two periods so varied? To me that would be worth a book. But I doubt it will be mine! I do have to say though, that normally when I finish a book or a novel, I donate it to the small local amateur library that serves my area of town; this one I kept because it gave me some ideas for a novel that I might write about this particular era and these women.

Sovay by Celia Rees

Rating: WORTHY!

I enjoyed Celia Rees's Witch Child which was one of the earliest novels I blogged since I first began blogging reviews. I'm happy to report I enjoyed this one, as well.

It's set in renaissance Italy, and Sovay is the bastard daughter of a well-to-do Italian, who had an affair with a seamstress. He loved his daughter and left her a dowry, which her evil stepmother uses to buy not a husband, but a berth in a convent for her detested stepdaughter.

Sovay has other plans, however, and consults an astrologer who informs her she will find her true love despite events. As extra insurance, she buys a charm which is supposed to heat up(!) when her true love shows up. I have to say I felt that the charm was a bit of a waste of time. I admit a curiosity as to why the author put it in there, because for me, it really contributed nothing to the story which would have worked better without it.

Nevertheless, Sovay, something of an artist, attends the convent and starts learning the rules. There are mean rich girls there who bully her - again that's a trope that could have been omitted, but once Sovay's art is discovered, she's taken out of normal convent life and assigned as an initiate into the art department - which is run by a renowned female artist, inventor of the prized and secret 'Passion Blue' pigment, and who helps fill the convent coffers with commissions for her art. Sovay begins learning much, but is not willing to give up her pursuit of true love, and forms an attachment to a boy who is working on restoring a mural at the convent.

Needless to say, things do not pan out the way Sovay was hoping for or expecting, but they do pan out and the story reaches a satisfying conclusion. I enjoyed it very much and will probably seek other work by this author since she continues to bat a thousand with me. I commend this as a worthy read.

The Unexpected Spy by Tracy Walder

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was the unexpected memoir for me because it popped up as an invitation in my email box and I didn't need to be asked twice! The book was very short (about 200 pages) which I normally love, but frankly I could have stood to have read a lot more of this. The author doesn't waste words or pages, and after a very brief mention of her childhood and college, both of which are relevant to things that occur later, we get right into her recruitment at the CIA, the work that she did, and then a switch to the FBI, which I did not expect but which I think I found even more interesting than the CIA, which had been engaging aplenty.

Obviously a lot of this is about the CIA, so the details she gives are naturally censored in parts. This was my only problem with this book - not that things were censored, but that the author had chosen to leave the expurgated portions (which were not that many) in the text, but as a series (in my copy) of tilde marks, rather than write around the topic. For example, I read at one point, "I'd been moved into what was then a deeply classified operation within the CIA, the ~~~~~~~~ Program." I didn't get why she hadn't simply changed it to say something like "I'd been moved into what was then a deeply classified program." At another point I read, "if we ever were to ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~, that action would never be taken without thorough analysis." That could easily have been rendered as something like "any action on something like that would never be taken without thorough analysis." The tildes were most annoying when they ran on for many lines - twelve or nineteen on a couple of occasions. But as I said, it wasn't that often and it wasn't a book-killer for me.

The author was born with what's called 'floppy baby syndrome' or more professionally known as hypotonia, in which the body's muscles are less than sturdy, but she overcame that. I'd never even heard of it until I read this book. Here it stands as an foreshadowing of some things the author had to overcome in her career. This led to some bullying in school, then on to her being a blonde Delta Gamma sorority girl and hardly - to some people's narrow minds - the kind of person who would end up in the CIA! But she did, and started out life eying satellite photographs and analyzing them as an aid to tracking terrorists. It reminded me of a scene from that Harrison Ford Tom Clancy thriller Patriot Games in which they were similarly examining photographs to try and identify people at a camp.

Apparently the CIA has a crazy course in vehicular pursuit, called Crash and Bang, where they get to drive these old beat-up cars and have to try to run the opponent off the road. The course ends with them deliberately crashing into a cement wall just so they know how it feels, which seems a bit extreme to me, but I guess it's better to be prepared. I assume it's a relatively low speed crash, but they were told if they didn't hit hard enough to render the vehicle un-drivable, they'd have to do it again!

I got to read about how it was in the CIA right after 9/11, when people like George Bush, as well as Condoleezza Rice, and Dick Cheney would come in unexpectedly, asking rather desperately if the operatives had managed to find a link between this guy Zarqawi, who they knew was into making chemical weapons, and Saddam Hussein, and each time the CIA would report in the negative. At one point the administration learned that Zarqawi had been to Baghdad for surgery, so they used that as the link, changed the heading on the information this author supplied them, and went on national news claiming a link! That news meant that Zarqawi went underground and they lost track of him for a while. It also meant they had manufactured a 'justification' for invading Iraq. It was disturbing to read things like this, it really was. The book was an eye-opener in many regards.

After some time with the CIA, the author wanted a change of pace and applied to the FBI where she was accepted for training. I'm not sure I'd personally consider that a change of pace, but each to their own! At Quantico though, unlike in the CIA, it seemed like there was an institutional program of resentment and bullying of females, and particularly of one who 'claimed' to have worked in the CIA. The three trainers seemed intent upon employing the same genderist attitude toward her from day one, despite one of the trainers being a woman. Their behavior was appalling.

The book is replete with anecdotes and interesting information not about the details of the work (where permissible!), but about the way the work is done and how hard these people strived to keep a country safe - and how awful it is when they feel like they have failed, either because they did not reach the right conclusions in time or because they did, but those who could act on the information would not listen to the experts who were telling them there was a threat. It made fascinating reading and I commend it whole-heartedly.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a graphic novel, apparently based on personal experience, about a twelve-year old girl going through typical 12-year-old experiences, except that in this case, she becomes fascinated by the so-called sport of roller derby.

Main character Astrid has been best friends with Nicole for what seems like forever, but comes the summer of their twelfth year, and they each want different things. Nicole wants to go to Ballet camp. Astrid, overwhelmed by her first trip to a roller derby, wants to go to derby camp. Her blithe assumption that Nicole will fall in with her plans means Astrid is in for a rude and unnerving awakening.

I'm not a fan of so-called sports that encourage violence and conflict, but this story was amusing enough that even while I disapprove of the sport, I'm willing to consider this graphic novel a worthy read. Astrid has to learn to stand on her own two feet with Nicole gone, and that's not easy on skates! Plus, she lies to her mother about the fact that Nicole isn't going to derby camp with her. The derby work is hard and Astrid is brand new to it, so it's a long learning curve for her, but eventually she picks up the rhythms and skills, and she finds her place.

The story, the second I have liked by this author, had humor and heart, and the art was pretty decent, so I consider this a worthy read.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Mindful Artist: Sumi-e Painting by Virginia Lloyd-Davies

Rating: WORTHY!

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

I love the idea of painting, although I do none of it myself these days. I don't have the time! This book, written by a woman named Virginia who lives in Virginia, but who has studied with the masters in the East and the West, struck me as particularly interesting because it is also about mindfulness and Asian art. I imagine all art is about mindfulness in one way or another, but this book focuses on it particularly, and it has a lot to say about technique too, so I concluded that it will be of immense value to anyone who wants seriously to get into this art form - and likely of interest to other artists too, regardless of which style they favor.

On a technical note, I have to say that the book doesn't work well on an iPad which means that the publisher wasn't very mindful about how it would look in other formats! Unless you have the large-format tablet, the text is far too small to read comfortably, meaning I had to enlarge the page and read, then slide the page around to the reach next section; then shrink it to swipe to the next page. This didn't always work well and was quite annoying - not at all conducive to mindfulness! Then there were problems in moving to the next page, requiring several swipes sometimes before it would slide over, so I wouldn't advise getting the ebook version - and unfortunately that's the only kind of book a reviewer like me gets to read! Maybe it's not available in ebook format? I dunno, but if that's the case it makes me wonder why it's issued for review in such a format! I now claim the record for using the word 'format' more times in a single review than any other reviewer! Yeay!

Amazon's website was predictably hopeless when it came to learning the print book's dimensions. I have no idea why so many publishers and authors sell-out to such an abusive behemoth. Obviously they claim that it's where everyone goes, but it is we who voluntarily give that power to Amazon. They wouldn't have it if we didn't kiss Billionaire Bezos's ass so passionately and routinely. But Waterstone's tells me the book is about 11" (2.96cm) tall. My iPad is only 7"x5" so the height of the book in landscape mode was less than half the actual print height. From this, I imagine the print version is a lot more legible! And now I'm exhaisted. I have to go lie down. Kidding. The book was 65 pages in ebook form, but it's twice that in print because both the Adobe Digital Editions app and the Bluefire reader app were counting each double-page spread as one page. Had the book been published in ebook form as single pages. It would probably have been more legible on my iPad at least.

So enough with the technical. Let's look at content! This was much less frustrating and much more relaxing! The art was beautiful, and delicate, and inspiring, and eye-catching - everything you expect from traditional Asian art. The author took us through selecting brushes and paints, and other materials and the kind of environment you might want to find to paint in. One issue I, as a vegetarian, had with the brushes was that the author recommends animal hair. For me, it would be hard to be mindful when painting with a brush that had animal hair in it because I'd be wondering where that animal was, and how the brush manufacturer got that hair. If it came from a slaughterhouse, I doubt that would make me feel good about using it to paint with! But maybe that's just me!

That aside, I was impressed by the thoughtfulness that had gone into this book, and the useful information with which it was replete. It had all kinds of suggestions from the type of paper to the type of brush, to how the ink was prepared and loaded onto the brush. Following this was page after page of beautiful art, with hints, tips, and step-by-step instructions on how to get there from here.

I was impressed and I commend this book as a useful tool for anyone who is into painting.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Princeless Raven the Pirate Princess by Jeremy Whitley, Rose Higgins, Ted Brandt

Rating: WORTHY!

Normally I would steer clear of a book, even a graphic novel, with a title like this, but I had come to this via its predecessor, the Princeless graphic stories about a feisty young princess whose self-appointed mission is to rescue all of her sisters who are distributed in various towers throughout the kingdom, the aim of which is to inspire princes to come and rescue them so the king can get them married off. I've given up on this entire series now not so much because it was so bad, although the stories were becoming rather monotonous, but because it was impossible to figure out in which order they should be read.

Take this one for example: it's listed as 'Book 2 Free Women', but it's not the second in the pirate Princess series. It's the first. I don't think it's even the second in the Princeless series, although at this point I'm not sure. For me this was the biggest problem with this - that the arrangement of these volumes is a total disorderly mess. I can't find a definitive listing, although I admit I did not search exhaustively because I was so tired of looking by then and my local library did not help because there was no consistent naming strategy for the volumes! Thanks librarians!

Anyway this volume, wherever it comes, deals with Raven and her crew of women setting sail to go after Raven's evil brothers. I read this a while back and only just realized I never reviewed it, so while I did want to say I found it a worthy read, it only just fell into that category, and my review will be a bit vague since I recall only the gist of it. Higgins and Brandt did the heavy lifting with the art which was pretty decent, while Whitley did a bit with the writing.

Raven has to deal with all manner of villains on this island they arrive at, and that's pretty much it! I do recall it was entertaining, but I started running into the law of diminishing returns, which is inevitable in any series, and which is why I tend not to read very many of them. It's rare for one to truly engage me because there's typically too much sameness, too much repetitiveness, and very little innovation once a writer has locked their self into a series. This is why I'll never write one! While this was okay, I read this and a companion volume, but didn't feel any urge to continue reading because it wasn't that great!