Showing posts with label fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fiction. Show all posts

Sunday, March 18, 2018

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

Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 16, 2018

Gonzo Girl by Cheryl Della Pietra

Rating: WARTY!

I literally could not get beyond the first couple of chapters of this. It entirely rubbed me the wrong way from the start and the prospect of reading the rest of it after that just turned me off. As if the writing wasn't bad enough, the story is told in first person. Apparently it draws heavily on her experience with Hunter Thompson, and I have no respect for him either. If that is the case, then one has to wonder why she wrote this fictional account rather than a real one.

The story is of this fresh college grad Alley Russo (yes, spelled like blind alley!), a girl who wants a chance to work as an assistant to a purportedly renowned writer who is really an arrogant and a self-absorbed dick. This guy was so hard-edged that he was unbelievable as a character - hard-living, hard smoking, hard-drinking, hard to take seriously in fact. He began by humiliating this girl, who has so little self respect that she takes everything that's dished to her.

I picked this up because I thought it would be about the writing, but it really isn't at all; it's about this weak sop of a girl subjugating herself to an immoral slave-driver with the ridiculous name of Walker Reade, and foolishly thinking this is going to help her writing career. The sad fact is that she's willing to do literally anything to further her writing aspirations - except actually sit down and write! I have no respect whatsoever for her and none for this novel.

I was especially turned off it when I read a Kirkus quote. The quote merely said, "Fascinating" which could have meant anything! The Kirkus review could have said "It's fascinating how stupid this story is", but my guess is that it didn't. The problem is that Kirkus never has a bad word to say about a novel so their reviews are completely meaningless. Anyone who quotes them in support of a book is a moron, period.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Harry's Lovely Spring Day by Nathan GK, Janelle Dimmett

Rating: WORTHY!

This is an out-and-out old-fashioned romantic fairy-tale starring Harry the Mouse who lives in a box on a street in what looks a lot like a French town, although the author is British and the artist American! Janelle Dimmett's illustrations are painstakingly detailed, even down to individual leaves drawn on trees!

I enjoyed Harry's Spooky Surprise by NGK, not to be confused with scientist GK Nathan, so it was perhaps to be expected that this one would also pass muster. Harry is helped by passer-by Katie the mouse when his house is blow away in a storm. Those refrigerator boxes are not what they used to be since Trump's steel tariff, are they?! LOL!

Anyway, Katie kindly donates her umbrella top Harry to help him out. She doesn't need it, she claims, because she's off to the country to live where it evidently never rains! She hops on the bus and away she goes (mice can hop really, impressively high!). Harry decides he must find her and thank her and well, romance happens!

Told in simple rhyming couplets, the story is quite charming, and will doubtlessly and endlessly entertain young kids. I read in an author interview about the concept of paying it forward, although Harry actually isn't paying anything forward here, he's really just taking advantage of a kindness - but not in a mean way. He is thankful Katie and that's important too. But for readers and kids, the story doesn't have to end when the book does. Kids and their grown-ups can take the story on, discussing how it might unfold if Harry had donated his newly-acquired umbrella to someone else, and so on!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Tomb of the Golden Bird by Elizabeth Peters

Rating: WARTY!

Set at the time when Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun, this novel is number 18 in the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters aka Barbara Mertz, PhD in Egyptology, but not in writing exciting adventures or thrilling prose. I wasn't aware of this being another in a series I'd already dismissed, since I'd effectively wiped my memory of the previous read!

One of the biggest problems with it was yet another author's inability to grasp that first person voice is worst person voice and should not be used in any novel unless there was a damned good reason for it. Her mistake was revealed here repeatedly by her habit of switching from first person to third person by quoting from some document which was evidently one of the family's other member's record of events. It didn't work and was truly annoying. When will these idiot writers learn to ditch first person altogether unless they can actually justify it and make it work?

This one I stayed with longer than the previous one and found some parts of it interesting and amusing, but ultimately the plot turned out to be as dry as Egyptian sand, and the story went on and on way too long, destroying the warmer feelings I'd harbored for it earlier, and since I found this ultimately to be a tedious read (read; listen!), I shall not be pursuing any more novels by Elizabeth Peters aka Barbara Michaels!

I thought the story might have something to do with the truly amazing discovery of "king Tut's" tomb, but it really didn't. It was to do with some plot to overthrow a government and there were so many red herrings that it stunk of mummified fish, os the thing I was most interested in was merely set decoration. There really was nothing much about the tomb discovery. The rest of the novel was the retarded family rambling on and on about various matters which in part in the beginning was amusing but which became ever more boring the longer the novel went on.

One of the few things which actually made this listenable for me was the reading of Barbara Rosenblatt, who did an amazing job of voice characterization, and of the reading in general. I can see why she's won so many awards for it. Se had equal facility for both male and female voices and did a fine job overall. Sadly, the novel wasn't up to her high standards, and I cannot recommend it!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Vlad the Impaler by Sid Jacobson, Ernie Colón

Rating: WARTY!

This graphic novel purports to tell the history of Vlad Dracula, Vlad III, Vlad Țepeș, or Vlad the Impaler, however you want to think of him. Rather than tell an accurate story, the graphic novel delights instead in purveying endless images of graphic violence, bloodletting, and Vlad as a rapist impaling young women - as often unwilling as willing - with his penis.

There is no doubt he was a violent man, but these were very violent times, so the issue is not whether he was violent, but whether he was more violent than those who surrounded him, and I think this is an open question. Was he a rapist? There's no evidence of it to my knowledge, so again, neither better nor worse than his peers.

Impalement, for example, was not his invention! It was common in the Ottoman Empire (right into the 20th century). Vlad was in league with the Ottomans for much of his life and learned all he knew about warfare from them. He knew no other life. This doesn't excuse him, but it does explain him and demonstrate that he was simply continuing well-established, if horrific, traditions rather than creating his own.

While the broad strokes of this story are accurate, the details are pure fiction, and embellished fiction at that. This book contributes nothing either in interesting story-telling or in great imagery. It's really just pornography, and not even in a sexual sense. I cannot recommend it. As an alternative to this I would recommend And I Darken by Kiersten White which tells a story about Vlad's sister Lada and his brother Radu, which isn't a graphic novel, but which is equally fictional, and which does offer a much more interesting story. I reviewed that one favorably in October 2017.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Sunstone Vol 4 by Stjepan Šejić

Rating: WARTY!

I really have very little to say about this! I got both volumes 3 & 4 from the library at the same time, thinking they might be interesting but after I read volume 3 I was so disappointed that I had no real interest in reading this one. In the end, I skimmed the whole thing stopping here and there to read a section, and it was just as uninteresting as the earlier volume.

The art was great as before, although as before the female characters were all the same character with different hair and clothes! There was at least one character of color I noticed, so that was a minor improvement, but the 'story' was simply the same thing over again - shallow, one-note, and uninteresting with the author relying entirely on the sexual and the kinky to focus the reader's interest, and it failed in my case.

I'm not the kind of person who finds a negligée on a store mannequin remotely interesting. Put it on a woman in whom I have no vested interest, and I might find it mildly distracting, but put it on a woman I already find fascinating and who might merely be a choice voice in an audiobook, and it's a different story. The same thing applies here. I need a story. I need to be interested in the women. Putting leather on them doesn't make me interested. Shallowness turns me off. This novel was far too larded with both, and all this author could offer was a gossamer fabric with no body of work underneath it. It's nowhere near enough!

As I mentioned in my review of volume three, this was such a disappointment because I had loved Šejić's work in a volume of Death Vigil and a volume of Rat Queens both of which I reviewed favorably here. I cannot offer the same for this.

Sunstone Vol 3 by Stjepan Šejić

Rating: WARTY!

I picked this up on spec from the local library because it looked interesting and the artwork was awesome, but on closer inspection - and reading - it turned out to be much ado about doting, and BDSM came to mean Boring Detail, Sapping Mindfulness. I wasn't impressed at all. This was a disappointment because I loved Šejić's work on a volume of Death Vigil and a volume of Rat Queens both of which I reviewed favorably here.

I have not read either of the first two of this five volume set, so I can't speak to how those were or what kind of lead-in they were to these two volumes. I can say that this story was not interesting. I think the author is far more in love with the idea of portraying women in kinky clothing than ever he was in telling a story of two lesbian women who happened to share an interest in Bondage, Discipline, Domination, Submission (or sado-masochism if it's okay with you, Mistress Acronym).

The artwork was gorgeous and several leagues ahead of the all-too-common comic book flat color, flat image style. It was nuanced and shaded and had a lot of character, but ironically, having used that word, the big problem was that every single female character looked exactly the same! They were all thin lipped, long nosed, and lithe, willowy and skinny. In contrast the guys depicted in the story (although few and far between), had at least some characteristics to differentiate them, although all of them seemed to sport facial hair. This did make a refreshing change from most other comic books where precious few guys have facial hair, but it was taking the pendulum too far in the opposite direction! Worse, there were absolutely no people of color present whatsoever.

The biggest problem with this volume though, was the complete lack of a story. There's a thing known as the Bechdel-Wallace-Woolf test wherein a story, film, or show is said to fail unless it features at least a couple of women (preferably named characters) who talk to each other about something other than guys. I think there should be a similar test about stories where characters seem to have a problem talking to each other about anything that's not the core topic - in this case BDSM. It should include a component about the level of obsession with the core topic, too.

The two main women in this story were almost tunnel-vision, to the exclusion of pretty much everything else - on the topic in question. In short, they were simply not realistic to say nothing of a total failure in the rounded and interesting people department. Though an outside life was hinted at (one was supposed to be a writer, the other a lawyer, yet none of this was actually depicted), they actually had no life at all outside of their sexual interludes! Worse, they failed to treat even those interactions like they were actually a real part of their lives. Instead, they were disproportionately excited, surprised, drooling and wanting, to a level that was simply idiotic. It made it all fake and far more like cheap pornography than erotica.

In the end this story was not at all about how they were falling in love and building a relationship, but about how much the author-artist loved to draw shallow characters in leather and latex. The problem was that this was all the story was about. This was so clearly a guy's take on this topic that it failed to entertain or engross me at all. I don't mind reading about people's quirks and kinks, whether or a sexual or of any other nature, but when that's all the writer has to offer and there's really no actual story in sight, it's tiresome. I cannot recommend this one at all.

The Crystal Key by Robert William Gronewold

Rating: WARTY!

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

This book was overall decently well-written from a technical perspective and it started out quite engaging, but as I read on, I found it more and more slipping into the worn-out mold of young adult fiction: the perky best friend who is either gay or a female. In this case it was a female named Margo who was obsessed, of course, with fashion. There was the trope of the girl (in this case the oddly-named Felicity Bough) finding her new and great magical power and then being thrown into the threat or clutches of evil. There was the tiresome love-triangle with the reliable trustworthy boy-next-door versus the so-gritty-he's-really-animated-sandpaper bad boy who rescues her. That's what actually turned me off the story. Not so much the ultra-predictable bad boy as the fact that this girl who was initially shown to be so strong, was rescued and thereby was rendered into nothing more than a simpering acolyte of the thoroughly nauseating bad boy.

Evidently like other reviewers, I initially thought this was a graphic novel. It is not. It's a ~400 page tome of pure text, which is way too long. The story revolves around a world which is evidently ours but projected into a future where evil has become so pervasive that even the sun has gone out. What keeps the planet alive are these inexplicable well-springs of light which fountain-up from various places on the planet, But, just like in The Never-Ending Story movie, the dark is encroaching upon the planet piece-by-piece and no one seems to be interested in doing anything about it.

This world is predictably exactly like the USA, except for the magic and the asinine transportation, which seems (for no reason I was given in the fifty percent of this novel that I read) to be based on animals. Cars are tigers and stallions, buses are bears, cargo transportation is elephants, and so on. I was rather surprised not to see the cat bus from the anime Totoro. These are not real animals, but machines named after them and which apparently have some animal traits, but the description was so vague as to leave these things a mystery. They do evidently have wheels, so I didn't get the animal reference at all. None of this made any sense to me; it wasn't entertaining or amusing. Quite the opposite: it increasingly became an irritant in short order.

Someone at Chapterhouse Publishing needed to read this because there were multiple problems with the text. In general it was not awful by any means, and spelling and grammar were fine as a general rule, but there were some bizarre oddities which ought to have been caught by an editor if not by the author himself. For example, on page 48 I read "...then is shot down and dived...." I assume the author meant, 'then it shot down'. A little later I encountered, "...verdant shade of green" on page 73. Verdant actually means green, so this is a tautology. On page 117, I read "...plain stone brick wall...." It's either brick or it's stone; the two are not the same. This is maybe a case where the author started out using one and changed to the other, but forgot to delete the one they were trading out for the other. We've all done that!

On page 128 there was a mistake of using clamored instead of clambered as in "...clamored over the old blocks....' Clamor is to make a noise, whereas clamber is to climb over. I suppose one could say that clambering over the rocks was causing a clamor, but it really doesn't make a lot of sense to do that. On the next page I read, "...who knew what something bigger could do." which ended in a period instead of a question mark. I encountered a common error on page 134, where I read "She tread quietly...." The past tense of tread is 'trod', not tread, and certainly not 'treaded' which I've actually read in more than one novel.

On page 153, I read, "...two large trees that created the top of the hill" I don't get what that's supposed to mean. The trees don't create the top of the hill; they might sit atop it or surmount it. They might even furnish it, but they don't create it. In a part of the novel where Felicity is sitting in a machine I read "...two throttles sat upright ready for steering." Nope! Throttles control speed. They don't control steering, unless the direction is also controlled by the thrust, but since this was a land vehicle, not a water or space vessel, that seemed unlikely, especially since Felicity didn't know how to drive it. Finally on page 156, I read, "I'm hungry too," this speech was followed by the word 'returned' I think it was intended to be 'he returned', as in he spoke back to her. I'm guessing by how often I was discovering these that they didn't end on that page, but that's what I found in as far as I wanted to read in this novel.

In terms of overall formatting, I once again find myself having to beg authors and publishers to have some consideration for trees. This book had very wide margins on all four edges, constituting, by my rough estimate, some twenty-five percent of the page. If the book is issued only in electronic format, this isn't such an issue (although longer novels eat up more energy to transmit over the Internet), but for a book that might go to a long print run, serious consideration needs to be given to how many trees you're going to slaughter in this era of runaway climate change. No one wants to read a novel where the text is jammed together over the entire page, but if the margins had been even slightly less generous, the book would have been shorter and eaten up less paper.

Chapter one didn't actually begin until page fifteen and it ended on page 400. Some of those fifteen pages could have been also dispensed with, instead of rigidly and blindly conforming to antiquated publishing rules created when no one gave a damn about trees and climate change. I found it ironic that the encroaching evil upon which this author discourses is actually upon us (albeit in a different form from the one he writes of), and yet publishers and authors perpetuate their blithe (or blithering) blindness to it.

If these story had been shorter, less 'maiden in distress', and the bad boy third leg of the tired love triangle been dispensed with, this would have been a lot better. In faith, methinks it too low for a high praise, too long for a short praise and too little inventive for an imaginative praise. Only this commendation I can afford it: that were it other than it is, it is unhandsome; and being no other but as it is, I cannot recommend it.

Friday, March 2, 2018

A Thousand Never Evers by Shana Burg

Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook which was read really sweetly by Kenya Brome, but while I would listen to her read a different story, I don't think I would want to read another story by this author because I was so very disappointed in this one. I think it had such potential, but the real story, of this young boy Elias on the run from a potential lynch mob, was completely subsumed under this farcical fluff story of a community garden being sabotaged by these rampaging butterbeans, and how this guy named Bump Dawson, and African American, was being blamed for it.

Set in 1963 in Mississippi, the story tells of a racially-divided community with black folk living literally on the wrong side of the tracks, which I felt was a bit much. They are of course criminally subjugated in every way, but things get stirred-up for the worse when the old man of the "Big House" where Bump and Addy (the twelve year old narrator) work, dies of old age. He leaves some land to the community and specifies in his will that it should be shared by whites and "negroes" but of course the white powers that be - the sheriff and mayor - aren't about to let no "uppity" black folk have a share in anything if they can help it.

It's decided that a garden should be planted with vegetables, and the black folk can work it and the vegetables shared. It's not specified whether the non-white community would get anything out of this. What happens though is that someone plants butterbeans all over the garden. There are two kinds of butter beans (or lima beans as they're also known). One type grows as a bush. The type in this story are supposed to be grown on frames. Since these beans were scattered all over the plot and had nothing to climb on, they supposedly grew wild vines which strangled everything else, ruining all the other things that had been planted.

To me, this was a stretch at best, because it assumes that not one single person other than the villain of the piece ever went to look at how the crops were progressing, and no one went to water it or pull weeds. The villain was a white guy who owned a grocery store, and who sabotaged the community garden because he thought it would take business away from his store, but it was Bump Dawson who was put on trial for it. Had this been the whole story and nothing but the story, that would have been one thing, but it wasn't.

Prior to the butter bean fiasco, a pair of white kids, heroes of the local football team, had been bullying Addy, and her older brother had flown off the handle, beaning one of the bullies with a glass jar containing a preserve or something. I forget exactly. That could have killed this kid. Fortunately it didn't, but being as it was - a black kid assaulting a white kid in 1963 Mississippi, there would be a lynching more than likely, so Addy's brother Elias goes on the lam, and the author tries to pretend he drowned, but it's obvious he didn't.

To me, this was the focal point right here, but the author derailed that one completely, ruining what could have been a great story, with this overly melodramatic butter bean garbage. So for me the story failed. It cheapened and trivialized Elias's story which was much more interesting. Yes, he was provoked, but his reaction had been foolishly out of proportion. He could have been charged with attempted murder, and by the end of the story he escaped justice. Not that there was justice to be found for black folks back then, and precious little even today in far too many cases.

I know this story was aimed at middle-grade kids, but it was a very one-dimensional story and racist in some ways in that white people were all lumped together under the banner 'white folk' who all supposedly had the same traits: all white folk do this or all white folk think that. That kind of bigotry was no better than what the African Americans had to deal with on a daily basis, so for these reasons, I cannot rate this as a worthy read.

There are better stories out there than this, and I wish authors wouldn't cheapen the tragedy of an appalling and shamefully racist past and a present that is in many ways still as bad, by churning out bland stories which bring nothing new to the table and worse, which turn people off even reading such stories because of this constant harping on the topic by writers who really need to tell stories that move and motivate instead of putting people to sleep or making their ears glaze over by regurgitating the same old stuff that's already been done to death, without even the courtesy of adding something new.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson

Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook experiment. The blurb sounded wonderful, but the story, not so much. Read pretty decently by Kirsten Porter, the story was supposed to be a sequel to Hattie Big Sky about little orphan Hattie who inherits a homestead. I never read the original, but in this sequel, we learn of Hattie Inez Brooks that "Nothing can squash her desire to write for a big city newspaper." Except the author, who never lets her near a story. Hattie never reports on anything (at least not in the portions that I listened to). She claims she wants to report; she moves to San Francisco purportedly to pursue her desire; she reads newspapers, but nowhere did she ever pursue a story. It was pathetic.

This is one good reason why I rarely like series! The story falls apart! I can't speak for the first volume, but I understand it told the story of sixteen-year-old Hattie taking over a homestead that was bequeathed to her, and making a go of it. It sounds like a Mary Sue prequel, but given that opening story, how she changed from fighting for that, to completely abandoning both it and her love so easily is a complete mystery.

I didn't even realize this was a sequel at first, and if I had known there was a volume one and it had won a Newbery, I would have avoided it and this one like the plague. This second volume was pretty pathetic and exactly what I would expect from a Newbery author. Newbery is a stamp of approval for bland and tedious. I would feel insulted if I were ever offered one and I would turn it down.

So, I listened to two of the five disks, skimmed the third, and then listened to portions of the last one, so I think I got a pretty fair sampling of it, and nothing changed. The story should have been titled 'Flaccid Ever After', or 'Mary Sue Goes to San Francisco' since everything she dreams of seems to fall into her lap without her having to strive for a single thing. And this is after she callously ditches her love for her career. Kirby Larson is known for her children's books. I positively reviewed one of these, titled Dash in September of 2017, but listening to this, it was easy to see why she's known for writing for children and not for adults.

I got the impression that the author had done a lot of research, but instead of using that as background for her story, she was so thrilled with herself over how much she knew about the era that she wanted to lecture the reader about it, and so instead of actually telling Hattie's story, the author spent almost the entire time showing off her research. Instead of a story, we got a series of info dumps, and the whole thing was a sorry mess. I cannot recommend this based on my experience of it.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

Rating: WORTHY!

This book was a bunch of bull - young bulls growing up with the idea of fighting in the bullring in Spain - except for Ferdinand that is, who much preferred to sit in the shade under a tree, enjoying the flowers. I must confess I was truly curious to see where the author took this and so I read on!

When the ring managers showed up to pick fresh young bulls to go up against the toreadors and matadors, all the bulls except Ferdinand played their game and were ready to run and fight. Ferdinand was under his tree, that is until something seriously disturbed him, and then the managers were very interested in how feisty he was, and took them with him. But in the ring, all Ferdinand wanted to do was to sit and enjoy the flowers tossed down into the ring by the spectators.

This was a fun and colorful book with a great ending, and a positive message. It's okay not to ask "How high?" when someone orders you to jump! It's okay to stop and smell the roses! I recommend it.

Red Car Green Car by Mara van der Meer, Penny Worms, Amy Oliver, Adria Meserve

Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated in fine young-child fashion with bright primary colors, and beautifully created and worded, this book looked to me like a great and fun book for very young children. There are things to pull on that change the color of the car you're looking at, and lots of sturdy pages to chew to turn happily. The book looked well-made and seems to me like it will occupy a kid for some time. It kept me occupied anyway! Certainly it will take long enough to grab a quick break and a soothing cup of tea. I recommend it!

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Elephant's Child by Rudyard Kipling, Karen Baiker, Davin Cheng

Rating: WORTHY!

This is a Rudyard Kipling story adapted by Karen Baiker, and illustrated nicely by Davin Cheng. I reviewed Kipling's Just So Stories a long time ago on this blog, and this one was included in that book under the title How the Elephant Got His Trunk which is the subtitle of the present story. As this newer author and illustrator have shown here, there is probably a rich and free vein of children's stories to be mined there now that Kipling is out of copyright. I'm going to get on it right away. Kidding! I have too much on my plate as it is.

The story is that of an annoyingly curious young elephant who, as all elephants did back then of course, had a snub nose. He was constantly asking questions of his older relatives: the baboon (who is shown incongruously hanging from a tree for which baboons are not really well-known!), the giraffe, the hippo, but none of them can spare him any time, so he takes the advice of a very possibly maliciously-inclined bird, who advises him that his last question, 'what do crocodiles eat?', could best be answered by hiking over to the Limpopo river and asking a croc directly.

The elephant in his innocence thinks this is a brill idea and heads off forthwith. The croc advises him that he will not only be happy to tell him, he will show him what he's going to eat for dinner and snaps at the elephant. This was very probably the first sound bite. Or perhaps more likely, an unsound bite since the croc only manages to grab the elephant's nose. In the ensuing tug of war, the nose is stretched and stretched of course (you knew this was coming, didn't you?!).

Unlike his elders, the young elephant is happy to take the time to relate his story of how his nose grew so long. And there you have it! So while this isn't an original story, it is nicely told and beautifully illustrated, and it's in a nice, so I recommend it.

A Crack in the Sea by HM Bouwman

Rating: WARTY!

This audiobook was a sorry mess. It seemed like it might be a fun children's fantasy, but it turned out to be a lecture about slavery. Slavery was horrible, period. It should never have happened, but Christian people perpetrated these crimes on innocent Africans (the Bible supports slavery - or at the very least doesn't condemn it), and these obnoxious criminals set in motion issues we're still dealing with today, particularly in the USA.

The problem with a book like this is that slavery has been so done that there's nowhere else to go with it unless you offer a viable new perspective as the Black Panther movie did for example, and this novel did not. Just to harp on it again as this story does is a serious mistake in my opinion because all it does is make people's ears glaze over. The story is lost on the audience. It becomes background noise and it fails to shock or motivate as it should. That's not acceptable, and I think it would have been more à propos if the novel had dealt with modern ongoing issues, which admittedly are rooted in the slave trade, but which have much more relevance and currency today.

While there were some amusing parts and some interesting parts, overall this novel in the end was just a jumble of disconnected and ill-fitting parts which really spoiled the story for me. I grew bored with it quickly and started skimming, then I simply jumped to the end and listened to it for a little while, but I became bored even with it, and gave up on it. The basic story is that there are two worlds, and some slaves who either jumped overboard or were tossed overboard because they were sick, are rescued by magical characters and who walk line-astern, holding hands, on the seabed until they arrive in the second world. I think slaves deserved a better memorial than this.

In this second world there are islanders and rafters, and the Raft King wants to take his people back to the original world and repatriate them. In order to do this he kidnaps Pip, and adoptee child, who can talk to fish and whom the king believes can open the portal to the first world. Why he'd ever want to go back to such a cruel, brutal, and racist world is a complete mystery that isn't unraveled in any of the parts I listened to.

So once Pip is gone, his adoptee sister, Kinchen, wants to go after him. She's aided in this by a girl the Raft King left behind in an "exchange" for Pip. This story might have been fine had the author not continually derailed it by having some old dude tell stories which were frankly boring, about two other kids, Swimmer and the "Water Drinker who will become Venus" (or words to that effect). If I heard that last name once I heard it a gazillion times. It was mind-numbing. Apparently there were also two other siblings, refugees from Vietnam, Thanh and his sister Sang, but I never got to that part and frankly I am glad I didn't because it seems to me the author had no faith in her original story and felt she had to lard it up with two other stories. Bad idea, especially in a children's story.

I cannot recommend this mess.

Great Polar Bear by Carolyn Lesser

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a beautifully-rendered (using elegantly torn paper) and charmingly-written novel for young children about the hard life of a polar bear. If I had a criticism I would say it was that climate change, while referenced in a note at the end of the book (which can be used as a talking-point with your child of course), wasn't really factored into the story. I felt it should have been because despite the liars who nay-say it, climate change is real, it's affecting people's lives now as well as the very existence of hundreds of species of plant and animal. It's already affecting Polar bears.

That said, this story tells, in gorgeously-written prose and pulling no punches, of the tough existence of this bear in the frozen north, sleeping in wind-sheltering snowdrifts for warmth, and hunting seals. It describes some of the means by which Polar bears stay warm, including the hollow hairs on their pelt. I think it might have gone more into the fact that it's getting harder for bears to find sufficient food as climate changes, but it does tell a stirring story and if it gets childrens' interest warmed to this icy, precarious life, then it will have served Polar bears well.

In the USA, as I write this, there is a movement - finally - to protect our schools from deranged people with automatic weapons. This is long overdue and shames our politicians that they love the NRA more than they do the lives of young children, but as many lives as are sacrificed to political self-interest and inertia, those lives, awfully tragic and irreplaceable as they are, are a tiny portion of what will be lost if climate change is not addressed. It is the most critical crisis facing humanity today, but selfish business interests are literally buying-off right-wing politicians and these callous, cynical low-lifes are sacrificing our children's future for short-term personal profit. They are also sacrificing nature, Polar bears along with it.

I would like to have seen climate changed addressed more directly here because Polar bears are utterly dependent on the ice-floes which are fast disappearing. While these magnificent animals are technically not considered endangered, they are rated as vulnerable and as the North Pole warms (it's thought that it will be ice-free by mid-century at the present rate of warming), their territory shrinks. If the North Pole melts, since it is already floating on the ocean, it will contribute little to sea-rise, but it will rob Polar bears of a major hunting ground. Because the Greenland ice sheet is all on land, if it melts, it will raise sea levels by over twenty feet. Coasts will be inundated and Polar bears will be left with nowhere to go.

If this book does anything to educate people, especially youngsters, about this crisis, then it will have served us well. I liked the book, loved the prose, found the images quite entrancing, and I highly recommend it.

Daughters of the Storm by Kim Wilkins

Rating: WARTY!

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

I requested to review this novel because I was truly intrigued by the premise. I have to report that it got off to a bit of a rocky start with me, then I began to get into it, then it hit a slack patch before taking off again, so it was a bit of a roller-caster ride, but when you're a writer, you have to go with what your gut tells you (or your editor if you don't self-publish! LOL!) so each to her own, I guess. In the end though, I found myself becoming more and more disappointed in it and I can't recommend this.

People say you can't really review a novel if you don't read it all, but I think that's nonsense. Several times I considered DNF-ing this because I was so disappointed in it and did not consider it worth continuing. Instead I read on, hoping it would turn around. It didn't. If I had quit at thirty percent or fifty percent, or seventy five percent, my gut instinct about it would still have been right, yet once again I plugged along to the end only to discover that nothing changed for the better, especially not my mindset. This novel is apparently the start of a series and I have zero interest in following it. Let me tell you why.

To begin with, I have to report that this is one of the most overused novel titles. There are many other novels with this same or with a very similar title including: Daughter of the Storm by Jeanne Williams, Daughters of the Storm by Aola Vandergriff, Daughters of the Storm by Elizabeth Buchan, Daughters of The Summer Storm by Frances Patton Statham, Daughter of Air and Storm by Sherryl King-Wilds, Daughter of Storms by Louise Cooper, The Daughter of the Stormed by Catherine Cuomo, and so on. I recommend authors finding truly original titles for their novels even if the title they end up with isn't their first choice.

The book is volume one in the "Blood and Gold" series, and I should confess I'm not a fan of series books. I like novels that have an ending and "book ones" tend to be nothing more than a prologue to a chain of books that can be so derivative and unimaginative that they're simply boring. I avoid prologues, introductions, forewords, and prefaces like the plague, so it took some thinking before I elected to take a look at this. Like I said, the blurb was compelling, but I have a love-hate relationship with blurbs at best, and I really dislike novels that have no kind of end point at all.

I was not a fan of the blood and guts (or gold!) opening, but the story took-off after that in a more pleasing fashion at least for a while, introducing the five sisters. In some ways it felt like this was a fantasy rewrite of Pride and Prejudice. We have the five sisters and a somewhat ineffectual father (in this case because he's taken ill). There's no real mother interfering. For Elizabeth Bennet, we have Bluebell (all the daughters are named after angiosperms), but Bluebell is nowhere near as perspicacious as Lizzie Bennet. Nor as amusing.

In this story, she's the feisty elder daughter, renowned and feared for her blade (rather than her wit as was the case in P&P), but it would seem that this warrior rep, thinking only of killing and sword-fighting is literally all she has going for her. She was very one-note and this began to gall in short order. She was next in line for the throne, but she certainly was not monarch material at all, not even in a blood-thirsty world like this. Nor was she military material, proving herself a poor strategist and a very average warrior.

It wouldn't have been so bad had she merited her renown, but she did not. She was stupid and incompetent. In two fights she had after the opening - fights when she was alone facing four attackers - she gave a really poor account of herself and had to be rescued by her magical sister both times. So no, she was not even a great warrior, and I had to ask how on Earth did she ever get this reputation that we were reminded of repeatedly, when she was so bad at what she did?

Next came the Jane Bennet of the family, known in this story as Rose. She has been married-off to Wengest, king of Nettlechester to secure an alliance. This author likes to name countries with names which sound like English cities, for some reason. The author is Australian and I am predisposed to look favorably on Australiana, but I wasn't fond of these names. The seemed unrealistic. Rose was once enamored of Wengest, but now is in love (so she claims) with his nephew Heath, and she pursues him like a love-sick teenager instead of behaving like a mature monarch. She was truly sickening in her stupidity and her selfish bitch-in-heat behavior. This did not come off as a great and tragic love story as perhaps the author intended, but as hack high-school love-triangle nonsense.

Next is Ash, who is the equivalent of Mary Bennet. She joins us as a resident in a type of convent, but she soon leaves to go home when she learns her father is ill. She has some sort of magical gift which evolves somewhat as the story unfolds. I enjoyed that to begin with, but in the end it also became tedious, because it really went nowhere. Ash constantly whined about this gift and where she felt it might lead. She meets an undermagician who tells her she is also an undermagician, but at no point was it ever really explained what an undermagician is or how one might differ from an actual magician. She and Bluebell were by far the most interesting characters to me, so it was sad that both of them became ever more annoying and dislikable the further I got into the story.

After Ash come of course, the troublesome twosome: Ivy and Willow. They're the equivalent of Kitty and Lydia, with Ivy being the ridiculously promiscuous Lydia, and Willow the dissatisfied, complaining Kitty. Ivy pretty much wants to jump the bones of anything in pants. She was a caricature of Rose who at least was only idiotically fixated on one guy. Willow is secretly an adherent of an anti-feminist religion, for reasons which are never actually revealed. She's hoping to convert her father so if he dies he can enter the sunlit afterlife instead of the dark place. Or something along those lines. Neither of these girls seemed remotely realistic.

There are two villains, Hakon, a rival warlord, and Wylm, the stepbrother of the girls. Both of these felt like caricatures at best and jokes at worst. Fearing what will happen if the king dies and Bluebell becomes queen, Wylm sets off on a quest to find Hakon at the same time as Bluebell orders her father moved away from home to seek help for the supernatural illness which she believes is killing him, so we have two parallel road trips in place. Here is where thing really fell apart and suspension of disbelief with it. Bluebell precipitately takes her father, along with two other soldiers, and all of her sisters on this trip. We've already been told how dangerous the countryside is, with raiders (who always seem to find Bluebell), yet we have only herself and two soldiers protecting a sick king and four other women? And no one is left in charge at the palace? It made zero sense.

It made less sense, having brought them along, to let the sisters split-up later, dividing the party. Bluebell sends Ivy, of all people, to return Rose's daughter to her father. She sends one of her two soldiers with Ivy. That soldier then disappears and we never hear of him again. Where did he go? Why did he never return to Bluebell? And why not send Rose, the child's mother, with the child? It made absolutely no sense whatsoever, except to keep the adulterous Rose with her lover and send the promiscuous Ivy to Rose's husband. There were realistic, organic ways in which this could have been achieved, but they were not employed. In short it made no sense whatsoever, especially since Rose later leaves - alone - to follow her child. Wait, isn't the countryside dangerous? Aren't there roving bands of raiders that the kings army never seems to be interested in hunting down? Yet Rose is going to make a journey of several days alone? Again, suspension of disbelief collapsed.

There was no reason at all to have these girls all go on the trip. There was no reason not to take a garrison of soldiers from the castle along with them. There was no organic reason for Rose to go with Ash and Bluebell to find this "undermagician" who might be able to help their father, as opposed to her taking her daughter back home, so this part of the story felt so stage-managed that it really turned me off the writing. It was such an artificial attempt to keep Rose near Heath and send Ivy to Wengest that it was really laughable. It was very poorly-plotted.

Bluebell is depicted as being with a group of soldiers at the very start of the story, and these guys also disappear from the story. They never follow Bluebell back to the castle despite the country being in a crisis because of the sick king. What happened to them? Where were they when Bluebell needed them? The original departure of Rose from her husband with her daughter made as little sense. It made sense that Rose would want to visit her ailing father and perhaps that she would take her daughter with her, but we're told that "There are bandits on these roads. Violent bandits." and we've already seen them, so why is King Wengest trusting his wife and only offspring to an escort of only one soldier?

Again, it's because that one soldier was Heath, her lover! It made no practical sense to let his wife and her daughter, his only immediate offspring, and also his nephew, his only heir to the throne, travel with absolutely no armed guard. Again it failed to suspend disbelief. The author seemed so intent upon following a rigid course in relating this tale - in this case because it would bring these two together - that she never seems to have thought about the absurdity of such a situation in the context of her own story, and authenticity was sacrificed again.

On a technical note, drop caps aren't a favorite of mine and they usually don't work well in Amazon's crappy Kindle app. They were better on the iPad than on my android phone, and not so bad on an iPhone, but Kindle usually mangles any attempt at fancy text or fancy formatting, so it's best avoided. Here it wasn't too bad, but there were odd-looking chapter beginnings, such as when the 'T' in "The sun rose..." was dropped and enlarged, and sat squarely against the 'W' that began the next line so it looked like it read, "He sun in the Twest." It was amusing, but it should never have happened. It's an issue of which authors and publishers need to be aware when publishing ebooks and trying to make them look like their print versions. It simply doesn't work in the lousy Kindle app. It just doesn't! Keep the text simple for Kindle; it's all it can handle.

But poor formatting, especially when it's as mild as this was, can be overlooked if the story is engaging, This one was not. The silly sisters were tiresome, annoying, predictable, and not in the least bit credible as characters. None of them appealed to me as characters. I had no one to root for, and I honestly didn't remotely care what happened to any character in this story. They were all one dimensional, and therefore just not interesting. The author needs to kill off Willow, Ivy, and Rose, give some depth to Ash and Bluebell, and also keep the story tighter, more realistic, and shorter, and maybe it will work, but I have no faith in this series at all after reading this prologue. While I wish the author a fair dinkum career, because I think she has the makings of a good novelist, I can't say 'good on ya sheila!' for this novel, and I cannot recommend it.

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a fat tome of a graphic novel and it's the author's debut. It grew out of a single comic strip posted on the web for the woefully misnamed Ada Lovelace day, and then morphed into a webcomic and finally a print version which is what I read.

The author did an awesome job in both in the drawings (line drawings black on white with some shading) and in the text. It was highly educational, and highly amusing. Be warned that since this story is rooted in reality (if given to soaring flights of fantasy once the real historical details have been established), there are extensive footnotes on almost every page. I thought these might be really annoying, but they were not, and I simply skipped the ones which didn't interest me, so it was fine. I found myself skipping very few as it happened. There are also chapter end notes, and two appendices.

It tells the story of Ada King, née Byron, daughter of Lord Byron, and Charles Babbage. Ada is best known as Lady Lovelace; she was actually the Countess of Lovelace, which was a title derived from her marriage. 'Lovelace' was never her last name. She is also known as the world's first computer programmer and as a sterling mathematician. She died of cancer at age 36, curiously the same age as her father was when he died.

The book tells the story of the childhood and formative years of these two people, of their meeting, and of their collaboration working on Babbage's Difference Engine (a mechanical calculating machine) and his Analytical Engine - a next generation machine. The amusing thing is that Babbage never built either of his engines despite getting some seventeen thousand pounds in government grants for his work on it. This equates to very roughly one and a half millions dollars today!

He did have a small working portion of the Difference Engine, and extensively detailed plans for building the whole thing. He seems to have lost interest in it when he conceived of the Analytical Engine and in that instance, he seems to have spent so much time on refining it, that he never got around to building it! The difference Engine at least, actually worked, We know this because one was built based on Babbage's plans and drawings, and was completed in 1991. A second was built in 2016.

Babbage wished to automate the laborious process of creating tables of numbers which were in common use for a variety of functions. His plans proved that he succeeded - at least in planning such a machine! Ada, Countess Lovelace collaborated with him extensively. This story tells those factual details at the beginning, but then moves into a parallel universe where the story takes on a turn for the fantastical and pretends that they actually built Babbage's machine and used it to fight crime.

If you have any ambition at all to write a steampunk novel, I highly recommend this book to get you in the right frame of mind, and to help you appreciate the wealth of talent in Britain over this time period. One of the most thrilling things about their era is that it was loaded with people who are household names today. Scientists such as Michael Faraday and Charles Darwin, for example, writers such as Charles Dickens. Lewis Carroll, Mary Shelley, Charlotte Bronte, and Mary Evans better known to us as George Eliot, and engineers such as Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It's quite stunning to think that all of these people - and very many more - were alive over the early to middle years of the nineteenth century, and that Countess Lovelace and Charles Babbage met and knew very many of them.

I recommend this book

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Scarlett by Brian Michael Bendis, Alex Maleev

Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Before I Met You by Lisa Jewell

Rating: WARTY!

Read beautifully by Jane Collingwood, this audiobook still failed to impress me. It began well enough, but it's one of those books which tells parallel stories, one in the present, the other in the past. Normally I do not go for this type of story but this one sounded like it might be interesting and after my first exposure to this author, I was eager for more and requested two more of her books on audio from the library. I was not excited by either one as it happened.

The story was interesting to begin with, but quickly moved from the main character's childhood to her adulthood, where it became significantly less interesting. There were one or two times when the historical portion was most interesting, and an occasion or two when it paled in comparison with the present, but in the end, both two stories became tedious and predictable, and were quite literally going nowhere.

I was also turned off by the amount of drinking and smoking going on in this book. It was disgusting and turned me off the characters. I sincerely hope that Britain isn't the chimney fire depicted here. It was gross. In the end my distaste applies to the whole book it was not entertaining, and it could have been. I felt it was a waste of my time and worse, a waste of a novel. It's a pity we can't bill the authors for the time we waste reading novels that don't truly transport us, isn't it? It would lead to a much better quality of novel than we all too often get, I assure you!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

Rating: WARTY!

Another experimental audiobook, but this time slightly less experimental (at least that's what I hoped!), since I really liked the first novel I encountered from this author, The Girls in the Garden, which actually had been an experiment. While that novel was fresh and entertaining, with interesting characters and a plot that moved, this novel just bored the pants off me from the very start from its very tone. Part of the blame for that has to be laid at the door of Karina Fernandez, the reader, whose voice was rather annoying to listen to, but she couldn't have managed that without the author's contribution! I could have managed to cope with her voice had what she been reading been more interesting.

The book isn't even like a novel, it's like being trapped on a bus or on the subway by someone choosing you to sit next to, and who then insists upon you hearing their entire life story and doesn't care that you were trying to read something infinitely more interesting than anything they had to say to you!

Sometimes a character like that can be interesting, especially for a writer to listen to, but that wasn't the case here. It was an endless tedious rant about family and kids and who had how many and who was born first and who did what and thought what and none of it was remotely entertaining or intriguing. I cannot recommend this. Lisa Jewell has one more chance with me. I'll let you know how that goes; hopefully it will be later rather than sooner.