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

Saturday, January 25, 2020

A Girl Like Me by Angela Johnson, Nina Crews


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a rip-roaring lion of a book in which young women of color stand up for their right to be whomever they want, and we've never needed that more than we do now with a groping, misogynist of a racist president in office backed by a bunch of weak, white old sheep of 'men' in his party and yes-men of that same aged hue in his cabinet.

Defying the nay-sayers, who tell her she can't fly so high, or swim so far, or climb so strongly, the girl at the heart of these stories carries on not out of rebellion or defiance (that comes later when she goes to by a new cape!), but because she knows without a doubt that she can do do the very things others would have her believe she can't and deny her the right to even try. This is affirmative action at its best! I loved this book, the photo-collage illustrations, the powerful text and the strong females who inhabit this world. Angela Johnson and Nina Crews? You rock!


Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Story of My Life by Farah Ahmedi, Tamim Ansary


Rating: WORTHY!

For my last review of 2019 I have found a real cracker! Books like this are essential reading because such a book almost comes with a guarantee that no matter how bad you think your life is, no matter how badly you think you've been treated, there's always someone worse-off than you who has struggled through their difficulties and found a life worth celebrating on the other side.

This book was also highly educational in that it reveals the shortcomings of groups that while admirably seeking to help refugees, also inadvertently fail them in really taking care of newcomers, leaving them feeling lost and abandoned just when they were starting to hope their troubles were over. No one in their right mind wants to stand around handing out peeled grapes to someone reclining indolently on a couch, but once you have taken charge of someone's welfare, it is incumbent upon you to see it through to the point where the people you are supposedly helping can stand unaided and take care of themselves. Rescue followed by abandonment halfway through the job does no-one any good, least of all the nation that's adopting the refugees.

Farah Ahmedi was born in Afghanistan - where the people are called Afghans, and they don't speak "Afghani," which is not a language, but their currency! A dozen or more languages are spoken there, the most common of which is Dari, also known as Afghan Persian and Farsi, which is what this author calls it. Farah was born into the Hazara ethnic group, the third largest, concentrated toward the center of the country. She had her earliest years in quite a large family in the time right before the Taliban destroyed Afghan culture, and so had the chance to experience a life without being hidden under a blanket, and which included school, but she had very little of that, because at the age of around 7, running late for school and taking a shortcut across a field, she stepped on a landmine.

She spent the next two years or so alone in Germany being fixed, which in her case meant having pins put into her good leg, because her knee was infected, and having a good portion of her other leg amputated because it was too badly damaged to fix. So she had a 'good' leg she was unable to bend, and a leg she was able to bend, but which was artificial. The Germans took good care of her and fitted her with a prosthetic leg and foot. Returning to Afghanistan, she felt a certain amount of alienation because her own culture now seemed so small and primitive compared with her mind-expanding experiences in Germany, where she had begun learning their language and forgetting her own.

Any relief she may have had at returning was soon stomped on by the Taliban which moved into Kabul like a disease. While out shopping for Afghan clothes now that Farah had decided to give up the western outfits she had worn in Germany, a rocket landed on her home, killing most of her family and leaving only herself, her mother, and two brothers, who quickly had to flee the country because the Taliban was enforcing military recruitment: every family had to give up a son to the Tali-whackers. The problem was that the Taliban would rather shoot than recruit the Hazara ethnic people, so the two young boys fled to Pakistan at their mother's insistence. Farah never saw her brothers again nor learned what happened to them.

'

This began a nightmare for Farah and her mother because they too, were forced to flee, and were lost to a system of deprivation, endurance, bribery and hopelessness. They made it to Pakistan, and learned of a faith program aimed at helping war-torn Afghan families move to the USA. The problem was that they were approved right before 9/11 and so lost their chance to go, but later they managed to make the trip, dreaming of a better life only to find they were largely abandoned once they had been settled in the USA.

Farah seems to have placed far too much faith in her religion which did practically nothing for her, and little to none in people who were really the ones who helped her. Despite barely speaking any English and having no money and no jobs, and no facilities, they were essentially told, after the settling-in period, that they must fend for themselves now. Finally, due to the kindness of one family in particular, they were able to properly make the transition, and Farah wasn't done overcoming obstacles even then. Fortunately, she had a facility for languages and a dedication to achieving her goals which was beyond admirable, and she almost single-handedly kept herself and her mother afloat until life, finally, eased for them.

This is a story of triumph and heroism that the likes of Marvel and DC comics can never hope to match and that alt-right assholes can never begin to understand or appreciate. People like Farah Ahmedi are not a burden on a nation, but the backbone of it, and one can only hope and dream that a disturbingly large forty percent of the US population will one day come to understand that.


Monday, December 23, 2019

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.


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.


Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Princeless The Pirate Princess Girls Who Fight Boys by Jeremy Whitley, Rosy Higgins, Ted Brandt


Rating: WORTHY!

Written by Whitley, with art by Higgins and Brandt, this began as a Rapunzel rip-off about the rescuing of a purported princess (she'd deny it) from a tower. Her hair, unfortunately, was nowhere near long enough, but the escape was affected anyway, and they were on their merry way. The 'pirate princess' was desperate to take over the nearest pirate ship, especially since it was being run by her brother (although he was not on board). I was sorry one of the trio dropped out and spent the rest of this volume napping, but that's dwarves for you.

Most fun sentence: "We kept company for a few moments before she continued eastward while I ate and watered my horse." I've heard the phrase "I could eat a horse," but the way this was worded, she actually did eat a horse. And then watered it. That takes some doing....

Loved it though. A fun romp. Commend it. Looking for more.


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.


Friday, August 9, 2019

Sahara Special by Esmé Raji Codell


Rating: WORTHY!

Sahara has issues with her school, most notably that they confiscated some of her letters. These were ones she'd written to her absentee father and then stored in a disused locker at the school. Sahara also has issues, evidently about storing things at home, because she's also a writer and when she's written something creative in her journal - another chapter in her Heart-Wrenching Life Story and Amazing Adventures, she tears out the pages and hides them behind a disused section of books in her local library where she loves to spend her free time.

Sahara was a special-ed student, but now her mother has demanded she be removed from that category and integrated into regular classes. This requires some adjustment on her part, but Sahara is amazed to discover that her teacher isn't going to be who she thought it would be. There's a new fifth-grade teacher by the name of Poitier, but since these children seem unable to pronounce her name, she gets labeled 'Miss Pointy'. She's unlike any other teacher Sahara has ever encountered. Her methods are rather radical and pretty soon everyone is paying attention to the teacher. How radical is that?

I'm not normally a fan of this kind of story, but this one was different, amusing, and Sahara was an interesting and strong female character and also a main character of color. I liked her, liked the story, and commend it as a worthy read.


Sunday, August 4, 2019

Runaway Twin by Peg Kehret


Rating: WORTHY!

This book was amazing and despite it not being aimed at my age range for entertaining reading, it thrilled me because it did exactly what I advocate: tell me something new! Don't take the road most-traveled, but strike out on your own route which is coincidentally, precisely what the main character did. This book has a happy ending, but it isn't the happy ending you might think you're going to get. That's what made it special.

Sunny Skyland has been raised in foster homes one after another, since she was separated from her twin sister when they were both aged three. Now, in her early teens, Sunny happens upon a large sum of cash which no one claims, so she employs this windfall to embark on her dream road trip - hunting down her sister, Starr.

She doesn't dislike her current foster home, but she desperately needs to find her sister so she leaves a note for her foster mom Rita, and gets herself a bus ticket. Before long, she's in deeper than she imagined. It's not all plain sailing: soon she's taking on board a stray dog, running into bullies, missing a bus, taking a potentially risky long-distance cab ride, and finally, finally, finding her sister, which isn't at all the reunion that Sunny has envisioned all these years.

I commend this author for some fine writing and a great ending. I'm not much for series and sequels, but this is one story where a sequel would be highly appropriate. I'd read it.


Thursday, August 1, 2019

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a fun book for younger middle graders and pre-middle-grade. Zita is outdoors playing with her friend when they find a meteorite crater in a field, with a small meteorite in the bottom of it. There's something sticking out of the meteorite which has a large red button on it, and you know you have to press the button if it's large and red. Zita doesn't listen to her friend, and she presses it, and suddenly a rift in space opens and her friend is pulled through it. After some miserable and desperate recrimination, Zita realizes she has to go through the rift and get him back.

The other side of the rift is very much a United Nations kind of a planet (or maybe not so united - more untied really) with aliens of all sorts, mechanical and meat, and the planet is under threat. Within a short few days, an asteroid is due to strike the planet wiping out everything on it. Zita can't be bothered about that. She has a friend to find and she heads out in her newly-created super hero-looking outfit. She was sort of befriended by a humanoid scientist who is also hosting a giant creature that looks exactly like a mouse, but is the size of a small horse, complete with saddle, and which Zita rides.

From this point on, and heading into the foreboding rust lands, Zita picks up a bevy of oddball alien associates, two of whom are mechanical, one of whom isn't, and finally tracks down and tries to liberate her friend, but there are surprises and betrayals in this story, so you never quite know who your friends are or who the villains are, or when your protective military robot will break down. None of this fazes the intrepid and fearless Zita at all, Not even a phaser fazes Zita, and she kicks buttons and takes names.

This was a playfully, and beautifully-illustrated book with a fun story that I enjoyed despite it being way out of my age group - or was it?! I commend it fully and will look for more from this author.


Roll With It by Jamie Sumner


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. The publisher requested that this not be published until a month before publication (which is October 1st), but there is already fifty reviews published on Amazon-owned Goodreads and a bunch of them elsewhere, so frankly I don't see the point in withholding mine any longer.

This one is about this pre-teen girl with cerebral palsy, and since the author has a child of her own with this condition, she speaks with knowledge about it. Due to the illustration on the cover, I had mistakenly thought it was a graphic novel at first glance, so I was somewhat surprised to discover it was a text novel, but that's fine. It was still an interesting and fast read because it engaged me always.

There were some issues with it - often with parts of a story that seemed to be opening up concerning other characters, only to be abandoned because the focus was so squarely dead-set on Ellie. It was a first-person voice, which is typically not a good idea in my book, and so in a way it explained the somewhat selfish perspective, but on the other hand, it still did feel selfish here and there, which is precisely my problem with first person voice. In this book it was not as bad as some I have read, so I was able to get by that and focus more on the story, but the blind self-focus was quite honestly an irritant at times.

Ellie is twelve and was a premie when she was born which is why they think she has these issues, and right at the point where she gets to come off her seizure meds, her mother's father is developing distinct signs of dementia, so she and mom (dad is not, of course, in the picture) move miles from home to live with grandma and help out with grandpa. This means, of course, that she's the new kid in school and has to start over again in the friends market, but Ellie has more on her mind than just that. Her CP is a constant companion, never letting her forget that she's different from most other kids she meets, but when she meets two other kids at school who are different in their own ways, she realizes she has already found her friends.

Ellie's grandparents live in a trailer park and nice as it is, it's a 'wrong side of the tracks' kind of a deal, so initially Ellie feels she has problems piling up faster than she can handle them, but none of this gets in the way of her ambition to be a baker, which is her primary dream. She tries new recipes constantly, and bemoans her failures, but she's always thinking about them in terms of how she can fix what went wrong. That doesn't mean she has no successes. Far from it!

I think it would have been nice to twist it a bit and make it mom who left to find a new partner leaving dad with his ornery daughter, but this author went the traditional route, so dad left and now has a new family and really isn't in the picture. The way this was written made it seem to me that he might put in an appearance at some point, or maybe even come back into his daughter's life, but he never really does. At one point, after Ellie has an episode requiring hospitalization, her mother is about ready to give up on project 'help grandpa' and head back to their old life, and this brings the fight out in Ellie, because she has changed her mind about this place and refuses to leave.

There was one part of the novel which felt wrong, or at least odd to me. We have a letter here and there which Ellie has supposedly written to some well-known baker or other asking them a question or complimenting them on a recipe, and these to me were neither here nor there, but I didn't think too much on them until a point where Grandpa has a serious episode himself. He might have died and I wondered whether or not he might have been intentionally putting himself in that position because he considered himself a burden, but this particular event was pretty much brushed-off as though it were nothing. The next thing I read was not Ellie in the hospital worrying over him, but a light-hearted letter to a baker about a recipe! That seemed cold and out of place to me.

Also for me the ending was rather lax, not really an ending at all, but then life isn't always neatly-packaged and its episodes don't really have a beginning, a middle and an end in the way a prim and proper three-act play has, so this kind-of worked. Regardless of that, the story was engaging and made me want to read it, which is a good thing for a middle grade novel, some of which I've been disappointed with of late. I think this tells an important story and it certainly kept me reading to the very end. I commend it as a worthy read.


Saturday, February 2, 2019

Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve


Rating: WORTHY!

Back when the movie was out - a movie I enjoyed, but which failed at the box office in December 2018 (it made only 80% of its production budget) - you could not find this book at the library at all (they were all checked out), but recently when I went in there to look for the sequel to Philip Reeve's Railhead (which was not to be had!) Mortal Engines was sitting right there - a modest paperback, so I grabbed it. And I loved it despite its three-hundred-page reading length.

The movie follows the book closely to begin with, but then increasingly departs from it. I can see why it does, but it occurs to me that if it had followed the book more closely, it would have done better than it did. The book was beautifully done and doesn't shy away from depicting hard truth and gritty reality. Hollywood not so much, and so it's sad world when a movie makes eighty million dollars, and is still considered a failure, isn't it?!

So briefly, the story is of a future, but rather steampunk world, that when analyzed makes little sense. Cities are no longer places you go to, they're places that come after you in what's repeatedly referred to as Municipal Darwinism. It's a city-eat-city world, and this is how the cities are powered and grow: by traveling the land, hunting and wrecking other cities, absorbing their populations, and recycling their raw materials as fuel and building supplies.

The biggest problem for me was the energy requirement. I'm not saying you couldn't build something that huge and have it move, but the power required to move it would be exorbitant, and where would it come from?

This story isn't set a hundred years hence, but several thousand, after a disastrous global war. Even if society could rebuild itself and take its cities mobile, the fuel (you name it: natural gas, coal, oil) would have long run out by that time, so what are they running the cities on? It's never actually discussed, only vaguely alluded to!

We're running out of oil now, something the gas-guzzling USA, with its car manufacturers ditching decent-mileage passenger cars for poor mileage SUVs and trucks while the rest of the world wisely looks to renewables. This is touched on in the story, with the USA described as an abandoned wasteland.

The story focuses on Hester Shaw, a badly-scarred young woman (the movie beautifies her giving her only a scar. She is much more disfigured in the novel), and on Tom Natsworthy, a third class historian trainee who lives in London. Hester is in a smaller village and purposefully, it turns out.

The village is absorbed by London, bringing Hester into contact with her quarry - a man named Valentine, beloved in London, but who murdered her mother. She almost manages to kill him, and then escapes by jumping into the waste chute when pursued by Tom. Inexplicably, Valentine pushes Tom down there after her, because he thinks he knows too much. I did not get that part at all - in the movie or the novel.

Tom loves London and is in denial. He forms a very uneasy relationship with Hester and each grows, over an extended time, to respect and then love the other. They have multiple adventures - more-so than in the movie - being captured twice, the second time by pirates.

The ending was very different from the movie and was amazing. I heartily commend this novel as a worthy read. There are three sequels, but I'm not sure I want to read those because I fear the first will be sullied by reading any more!

Why authors feel this need to squeeze the life out of their inventions by forcing them into ritualistic trope-filled sequels escapes me. I know it's very lucrative for publishers and authors if they can get a good pot of serial novels like this boiling, but to me it's lazy and avaricious - and abusive of readers, so I think I'll stop at this one. I had a different experience with Railhead, where I do plan on reading the next volume. Hopefully that will not become something I regret doing! LOL!


Monday, January 28, 2019

Railhead by Philip Reeve


Rating: WORTHY!

Having DNF'd a younger children's novel by Reeve, I'm happy to report a worthy commendation on this one, aimed at a young adult audience and the first of a trilogy. I'm not a fan of the inevitable YA trilogy or the series, for the most part. I refuse to write them myself; they smack of lazy writing and avarice, dragging a one-volume story out over three.

I blame authors, readers, and publishers equally for this rip-off, but this particular one caught my imagination because it tells an honest story and doesn't pad it. I am intent upon reading the next volume which is a rarity for me. However, once again it failed to reveal on the cover that it was the first volume in a series. Fortunately on this occasion I knew it was, so it did not piss me off with the cliff-hanger ending.

I saw a review in The Guardian which compared this novel to other works of sci-fi, but to me it is most comparable to the His dark Materials trilogy by another Philip - and this one a Sir Philip Pullman. The way this is told and the way int ends - about to enter a new world, very much reminded me of The golden Compass and the ending to that.

This one is more hardcore sci-fi though. The protagonist, Zen Starling is a shoplifter and pick-pocket from the end of the line world called Cleave which is like the wrong side of the tracks, and rail metaphors are apropos here because the way one gets form one world to another is be sentient trains (and Reeve takes great delight in describing them!) which can traverse special tunnels which link one planet in the system to another which will be many light years away through normal space.

The story hits the ground running with Zen running after stealing a necklace. There is a drone following him but he manages to shake it - so he thinks, and gets back to Cleave, but the girl who knew his name and tried to waylay him in the street shows up in Cleave and he's on the run again. He's picked up by the Railforce - the interplanetary police - but after escaping them when their armored train is wrecked, he ends up with arch-villain Raven, who seems to have a personal vendetta against the ruling emperor family which goes by the name of Noon.

It turns out that Zen is related to the Noons and as such, he can board their special train, wherein lies an artifact which Raven wants Starling to steal for him. This seems to go well at first and then all hell breaks loose, and things are complicated by the fact that Zen, against his better nature since androids (and gynoids!) are detested in Cleave, finds himself falling for Nova - Raven's Moto - and the girl who tried to help Zen after the necklace theft.

There is much more to the story than this, including the mysterious guardians that Raven has tangled with in the past, and the strange, ethereal 'angels' which often appear over the track when a train comes out of a transition tunnel known here as a K-Gate. I enjoyed the story immensely and look forward to volume two, hoping it has the same power of engagement and drive that this one had.


Saturday, January 19, 2019

Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller by Joseph Lambert


Rating: WARTY!
<\p>
I believe in giving credit where credit is due, but aside from the focus on Sullivan rather than Keller - and lets face it, without Sullivan there would be no Keller as we know her today - there really is very little due here.

This graphic novel is aimed at grades six through eight, but while I am far from those grades, I was not happy with it. The artwork is indifferent and appears in tiny panels (a rigid and plodding sixteen per page) such that the image is not only tiny, but the text is also small. I had a hard time reading it and an almost impossible time reading the narration, which is in script. There were parts I skipped rather than strain my eyes trying to read it. If the format of the book had been larger this would not have been such a problem, but as it was, it was really irritating to me and overwhelmed the story.

While the book does convey the magnitude of the task which faced a visually-impaired 20-year-old Sullivan trying to teach a willful and spoiled seven-year-old who was impaired in ways much greater than Anne herself was, it fails to make the impact it should because it is so choppy. An early flashback itself dissolves into an earlier flashback and this back-flashing keeps happening as we move back and forth between the 'present' where Anne is teaching Helen, and the past, where Anne had her own trials to go through, which were tough enough. Anne Sullivan was a strong woman.

This story is about Anne as opposed to Helen, which most stories are written about, and such a story is important and needs to be told, but I don't think this book gets it done. The 'Annie' of the title was better known as Anne, although her birth name was Johanna Mansfield Sullivan to which she added a 'Macy' when she married later in life. Her initial interactions with Helen were nightmarish because Helen was so spoiled and had no discipline. Anne was not only fighting her charge, but also Helen's parents who did not understand the huge amount of work which needed to be done to liberate Helen from the prison of her impaired senses.

Much as I'd like to recommend a book like this, I cannot. I've read other books about Helen Keller and the one I commend so far is Helen Keller by Jane Sutcliffe. This might not be quite as appealing as a graphic novel to children in this age range, but it isn't something they could not handle, and I'd prefer it to this graphic novel. However, if this novel gets kids interested enough to read something on this topic that's more grown up and less picture-y, then all well and good, but I have doubts it will do that.


Heavy Vinyl by Carly Usdin, Nina Vakueva


Rating: WORTHY!

This was different and quite fun and fresh, but it doesn't contain a complete story. This features editions one through four, and there is another collection that will either continue or complete it, so I was rather dissatisfied with the lack of a resolution, but that was nowhere near as bad as the wildly inaccurate blurb on the back cover of this graphic novel! Other than that, the book was well-written by Usdin, and beautifully drawn and colored by Vakueva.

The story is of Chris, all excited to start her first day at a vinyl record store. I've frankly never understood this craze for vinyl. We had vinyl and it sucked, which is precisely why we went to other media! You can't win me over by arguing about audio fidelity when the vinyl recording you have is full of noise, and skips and jumps which is the inevitable fate of all vinyl. Nor can you argue that any purported difference matters when you can't listen to vinyl through your iPod or your phone or whatever medium you use outside the home. Whatever you run through those devices is processed in exactly the same way, so you gain no advantage even if there is one to be gained! There may well be people who can tell the difference between a vinyl sound and a CD, or an MP3, or a streamed track, but I cannot, and I suspect most people cannot and are just fooling themselves that they can.

I can accept that there are vinyl snobs and stores catering to them, so I had no problem with the setting for this story, which is called Vinyl Destination (the blurb inaccurately called it "Vinyl Mayhem"). The plays on words through the story were one thing which highly amused me. It's rather a genderist establishment though, given that every employee and the boss are all female. It's also ageist in that they are all in their teens and early twenties, including the boss! You'd think a store like that would want someone with vinyl experience! But I let that slide.

The book isn't set today - it's set in the 1990's for reasons which escaped me. Given that era, some reviewers have complained about the lack of homophobia depicted here, saying it was unrealistic, but there was very little in the way of gay representation in this book at all, so there was nothing for incidental homophobes to react to. It's not like the book was presenting as an LGBTQIA romance. It's not. That's a part of it, but the main thrust is about another topic entirely. It was mainly Chris's innocent and clumsy crush on a fellow employee that was the gay element, and the awkwardness and humor inherent in her inability to determine if her attentions would be reciprocated. I think that was plenty for a book like this, aimed at the younger YA audience as it was, especially when it had other fish to fry. It seemed perfect to me, but I'm coming from a cis background, so your mileage may well differ depending on your own perspective.

But to get back to the lack of homophobia - I think a lot of those reviewers failed to fully grasp that the entire story (very nearly!) takes place in the relatively safe confines of the record store which is entirely populated by young and very open-minded females, all of whom (except for newcomer Chris) were already tightly-bonded by their vigilante background, so the claims that the story was unrealistic in its nineties portrayal seemed shallow to me. Were there no such enclaves in the nineties? I'd call bullshit on that one. And it's not like these girls didn't have other issues to contend with!

It felt like some of these reviews hadn't warmed to the story and went through it looking to find any little scrap which would support what were evidently vague feelings that 'this story was not for me'. Hey, if you don't like it, you don't like it, and if you can't articulate why, that's fine! Personally I prefer reviewers who go into some detail over their likes and dislike because it helps me get a handle on where they're coming from and helps me to make a better decision about whether to read it or not, but I don't demand it of every reviewer in every review! You don't like it and can't put your finger on a good reason? I'm fine with that!

Anyway...there is something odd going on at the store and it doesn't take long for Chris to start feeling excluded, but it soon becomes clear that the store employees aren't in a secret band. The blurb claims that they are "endlessly trying to form a band" but this is a lie. They're not! Not until the end of this volume anyway. Whoever wrote the clueless blurb should be the one kicked out of the store! Some reviewers had an issue with that, too, but they seemed to be taking the story too seriously to my mind. It's a light and fun romp. Relax and enjoy that ride, I say!

Chris is finally invited to stay over with the rest of the staff one day after work, and she feels accepted at last, but is unsure if she wants to be when she discovers that the girls are all a part of a teen girl vigilante group (not a "fight club" as the blurb inaccurately claims). They do fight each other, but only as practice for their vigilante-ism, which is actually going through some slack times until their pop idol, Rosie Riot, goes missing, and certain zombie-like, or perhaps more accurately, robotic-like behaviors are noted in some members of visiting bands.

No, this isn't a zombie story. I would never have picked it up if it were. It's more of a sci-fi mystery/thriller, and it works pretty well. I liked the characters and I would read the next volume if I could get my hands on it, so while I was disappointed that the story ended so quickly and abruptly, I liked it well enough that I consider it a worthy read.


Friday, January 4, 2019

Lumberjanes Unicron Power by Mariko Tamaki


Rating: WORTHY!

My sometimes stretched love affair with Mariko Tamaki remains intact after this audiobook version of what was initially purely a graphic novel.

Despite this being aimed at a much younger age group than ever I can claim membership of, it was highly amusing, very cute, entertaining, and told a good solid story. It turns out that unicorns aren't what you thought they were. They never were what I thought they were, not after reading (and positively reviewing) Rampant by Diana Peterfreund back in 2013, but here they're altogether different again.

Lumberjanes are a topic over which I evidently have mixed feelings. I love the idea of them, but the graphic novel (Lumberjanes Vol 2 by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Brooke Allen, Maarta Laiho) I picked up and negatively reviewed back in 2016 did not impress me at all. I found it boring and DNF'd it, so perhaps it's testimony to Mariko Tamaki's writing skills that I enjoyed this one so much. One small problem I had with that earlier work was that I could not understand how the title came about. These girls are not the female equivalent of Lumberjacks, not even remotely, so the name is misleading in many regards, but it is amusing.

The title just refers to a series of girl-centric comics, and is set in a summer camp (Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady Types if you must know). In process of enjoying a field trip, the girls encounter the unicorns and also get stuck on a cloud mountain later. The camp hands out badges, rather like the scouts do, but other than that, nothing much seems to happen except when the girls end up in trouble in one way or another from their own various activities, not all of which are camp sanctioned.

FYI, the Lumberjanes are:

  • Jo, a transgender girl who tends to be a leader and who has the most badges
  • April who is the princess of puns and who takes notes. She's very strong despite her apparently small frame.
  • Molly is an archer of Katniss skills, and is a great puzzle-solver. She wears a pet raccoon named Bubbles as a hat and is right behind Jo in number of badges earned.
  • Mal looks like some rebel girl, but isn't actually like that. She's a great maker of plans.
  • Ripley is young and fearless
On the camp staff are Rosie, the camp master, and Jen, who is the leader of Roanoke cabin, which is the lumberjane's cabin

I enjoyed this listen very much and I commend it as a great introduction to the lumberjanes even though it's not the first story in line.


Saturday, December 29, 2018

Becoming Unbecoming by Una


Rating: WORTHY!

Most people outside of Britain have never heard of the Yorkshire Ripper aka Peter Sutcliffe, who attacked women over the decade from 1969 to 1980. He was stopped only when arrested for using false license plates on his car. The entire inquiry was a farce of incompetent British policing. Sutcliffe had been interviewed some nine times during the lengthy inquiry and not once actually suspected of being the perp. Even after his arrest, he was able to slip away from police and hide incriminating evidence under pretence of having to take a leak!

The fact that many of his victims were prostitutes meant that police did not give this murderer the attention required to catch him. This is all disturbing, but not nearly as disturbing as the fact that he somehow got to be that way in the first place. Unfortunately, that critical factor is not explored in this story - not for him, nor for the perps who assaulted the author.

This autobiographic novel is set in 1977 after Sutcliffe had assaulted several women and murdered at least two, and yet was still several years away from being caught. The author was twelve and became herself the victim of assaults. Though fortunately not fatal, they nevertheless left an indelible mark. These parallel stories build slowly, and sometimes the reading was frankly boring. Other times it was highly disturbing in a way that complacent people need to be disturbed if this continuing abuse of women is to be stopped, so this is an uncomfortable read, as it ought to be, but one that also ought to be required reading. I commend it.


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Fire and Heist by Sarah Beth Durst


Rating: WORTHY!

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

THIS BOOK WAS FREAKING AWESOME!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, July 5, 2018

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Emily Carroll


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, July 4, 2018

City of Saints &Thieves by Natalie C Anderson


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

I loved this story, and I recommend it highly.


Sunday, July 1, 2018

Strong is the New Pretty by Kate T Parker


Rating: WORTHY!

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

The sections include:

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

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