Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Seeking Sarah by ReShonda Tate Billingsley


Rating: WARTY!

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

The basic plot of this story is that a young woman, Brooke Hayes, who has just accepted Trent Grant's proposal to marry, learns after her father dies that her mother is not dead. It was her father's deathbed wish that her grandmother tell her that they had been lying to her all these years. Her mother is alive, and as Brooke discovers, is happily married to some other guy and raising a family with him. Rather than seek rapprochement, Brooke seeks revenge, and decides to seduce her mother's husband.

This idea appealed to me as a novel, but I have to report that the execution of it was a fail. I made it about one third the way through this, and that was as far as I could stand to read, because the writing really turned me off the story. The rest of it I skimmed and skipped, and it did not improve.

I had problems with a lack of realism in the story, but mostly the problem was that the main character came off as being a few legs short of a bucket of friend chicken. I used that description advisedly, because there was only one meal depicted in the portion I read, and it was fried chicken! I was thinking, come on, a black family and the one meal you show them eating together is fried chicken? Way to culturally stereotype! If a white writer had written that, they would have been accused of stereotyping if not racism. I know people do eat fried chicken, and some more than others, but would it really have hurt the story to have depicted a different meal? Are writers really so afraid these days of coloring outside the lines? How I wish they were not.

This was a minor problem though compared with others I encountered. The relationship between Trent and Brooke did not strike me as a charmed one, nor as a loving one, and the foreshadowing of the outcome was far too heavy-handed leaving only one surprise: why were these two people even together in the first place? Most of the time they were depicted in this story, they didn't even seem like they had ever dated before!

They had zero in common and no hope for a future. Trent wanted to live his own life and go his own way. He didn't seem to care what Brooke wanted, which begs the question as to why he constantly lied that he was there for her and why Brooke was too dumb to see through the lie. He never was there for her, and he came off more like a pain in the ass brother than ever he did a decent fiancé.

There was this obnoxious dominating quality emanating from him, and he seemed completely out of tune with Brooke. I know this was addressed later, because I skimmed later portions of the story and the ending wasn't one I thought was very good.

In one example of how far apart they were, they were in a restaurant, and Trent got a call. He said, "This is my commander. I've been waiting on this call. Excuse me a minute." So he gets up and leaves her at the table why? Is the call super-secret? This is his fiancée he's sitting with and he's discussing something which affects her, and which she's already aware of; no truly caring partner would have got up to hold a call like that in private.

It made it look more like this was a call from a secret lover than a career call. I know this happens all the time on TV and in the moves - everyone who ever gets a call walks away to talk on the phone, and I think this author just ran with that cookie-cutter piece of writing without expending a single thought on how this would go down in the real world.

If there was something tied to this - like it wasn't his boss but a woman he was having an affair with, that would have at least made some sense. Brooke never even gets suspicious of this behavior. Once again she's portrayed as not having much going on behind a pretty face, Trent is portrayed as callous, and the story sounds like it was written from cue cards rather than form the heart.

The author either doesn't think much of healthcare professionals or she's had little experience of them outside of TV and movies. I read:

Then the nurse frantically rushed us out as I heard someone else yell, "Code Blue!"
Several nurses and the doctor came racing down the hall. They shuttled us out of the room as it turned into a whirlwind of chaos.
Anyone who hasn't been around when a code is called can be forgiven for viewing it this way I suppose, but it's not what happens. Yes, there is urgency of course, but 'whirlwind of chaos' isn't a nice way to describe medical professionals trying to save someone's life. Once a code is called (and it's not by someone yelling "Code Blue!") there are certain people who hurry to the patient, and each has a specific job to do. You can't dismiss it as 'several nurses and one doctor' unless you want to look like an amateur working on bad fan fiction.

The problem with this section isn't that, though, it's that the author describes the people being taken out of the room twice - like the first time they didn't leave? The nurse frantically rushed them out? No, the nurse isn't frantic, she's an expert at what she does. She will ask you to leave and be urgent and firm about it because the professionals need the room to work, but she isn't frantic.

The issue here though is, if the nurse rushed them out, then why do several nurses and a doctor have to shuttle them out immediately afterwards? In point of fact there is likely to be more than one doctor and only the nurses who are required to help out. There will also be a respiratory therapist, and someone (the ward clerk most likely) will probably call a chaplain or someone like that to be with the family.

At the fried chicken dinner, Trent's father selfishly takes the chicken breast every single time and the hell with his kids, and Brooke is so stupid that she thinks this is an ideal family! No wonder Trent has serious issues. At one point his thoughts are: "He didn't want to drag her back. He feared that she'd just leave again" WTF?

Trent honestly thinks he has the right to manhandle Brooke against her will and literally drag her off somewhere? What is he, a caveman? I suspect even a caveman would have had issues trying to drag "his woman" back to his cave if she didn't want to go. I don't see how we can celebrate the end of slavery when some authors quite evidently still see women as the property of Neanderthal men. This book is copyright 2017, but reads like it was published in 1720

This novel came with nine screens (on my phone) of advertising related to other material from this same author, and offering glowing reviews from people I don't know, and whose opinion I have no reason whatsoever to respect. This tells me the publisher thinks I'm as stupid as Brooke is, in that I will be swayed just because a stranger gushes over something. No. The answer is no. One such screen was one too many.

When I request a review copy it's because I've already decided the novel might be worth a look. You don't need to go the whole nine screens to sell it to me. No amount of mindless sound bites form strangers is going to change my mind one way or another because no one else's opinion matters. The only thing that matters is the writing and I am sorry, truly sorry, that the publisher thought that was not enough in this case even though in the end, the publisher was right.

So: published in 2017, and the author still doesn't think it's worth giving a nod to recycling? "...walked back in the kitchen to put the paper towel in the trash". Yep. You know, novels, even this one, will be read by people (evidently impressionable people too!), and just one passing brief mention of recycling might make a difference, but not for this author. Or is she trying to 'spread the word' that African Americans simply don't recycle? Because I don't buy that, and I think it's insulting to suggest otherwise. Any one of these things would be a minor thing not worth a mention, but when the reader is hit repeatedly with one thing after another like this, then it's certainly worth taking issue with it.

We learn that one character "leaned back, crossing her long, sultry legs" Sultry legs? It was this kind of thing cropping up repeatedly: sloppy writing, thoughtless plotting, careless attitude towards creating a novel, that rapidly turned me off reading any further. I got the impression from it, that the author really didn't care about this novel, and perhaps even had the same attitude towards it that Sarah had towards her relationship with her daughter Brooke: little or no interest in it and couldn't be bothered to make the effort, so she left it and walked away.

She hobbles Brooke with what amounts to a worship of her grandmother, cringing like someone might take a switch to her if she disses her 'superior', when this woman has been outright lying to Brooke for years about her mother's fate. Then the hypocritical grandmother has the gall to turn around at one point and "She shot daggers my way. 'Are you calling me a liar?'" Yeah granny. You are a liar and you don't deserve respect, and I felt the same way about this novel. I cannot in good faith recommend it.


Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O'Neill


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was one of the most fun and charming graphic novels I've ever read. It's written I think for middle-graders, but it makes a great story for anyone to read. I loved how detailed it was (including the authors delightful section on the back on different species of tea dragon and their personality traits.

This book is everything that the overly-commercialized 'My Little Pony' garbage ought to have been but failed so dismally to get there. One of the best things about it is how little conflict there is. Everything in this story is about cooperation and understanding, and it made a truly refreshing change, I can tell you. The little dragons are renowned for the tea they produce through leaves which grow on their horns and antlers. Those leaves contain memories which the drinker can share, but they cannot grow without a true bond between the Tea Dragon and its care-giver. And no, you cannot buy that tea commercially!

Another delight was Greta, the main female character, who is unapologetically dark-skinned and who works with her mother in a forge, creating swords. Yes, even in this world there are monsters to fight! But her job and her skin color are ordinary and everyday in this world. The remarkable story is the tea-dragon and the friendship Greta forges with Minette, and the learning relationship she has with Hesekiel and Erik, who is wheelchair unbound. By that I mean that the wheelchair is simply there; it's no big deal and it plays no more part in the story than does the table they sit at or the shoes Greta wears, or the horns in her head. It was just nice to see how thoroughly inclusive this story was.

The artwork is gorgeous colorful, detailed, and just plain pleasing to the eye. The overall story is sweet with its steady pace and the idea of a 'changing of the guard' and traditions being kept in play by willing neophytes taking up the challenge. I think it was a wonderful read and I recommend it highly.


Little Pierrot Get the Moon by Alberto Varanda


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a billed as reminiscent of Calvin and Hobbes, and it is in some ways, but it is not as strong or as coherent as that. It's not even a story, but a series of very short sketches, which took some getting used to, yet once I did get used to it, it was a decent read.

Little Pierrot meets a talking snail on the way to school one day, and his life is never the same again. Everything that happens to him after that, every flight of fancy, every incident, the snail is there to wisecrack about it. Sometimes this is amusing, occasionally it's funny, other times it's annoying, but on balance I found it a pleasant read.

I think it would do well as a bathroom book or a waiting-room book, so that when you're detained there you can read a page or two without having to worry abut getting too deeply into the 'story' or about losing your place or losing the thread, since there isn't one!

Illustrated almost in sepia tones, but with some gentle color highlights here and there, the art work was interesting and agreeable. I recommend this.


Taproot by Keezy Young


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is a nicely-colored, well-illustrated and richly-created story about a guy who is into gardening, Hamal, and a ghost, Blue, who haunts him, but in a benign way! Blue and Hamal are friends, and I have to say it took me a while to realize that Blue was a guy and not a girl. I have never read a Keezy Young comic before and did not know she was into queer story-telling! But isn't that what we're after in a truly equal world - where gender doesn't matter, only the story?!

That faux pas aside, the story was great, and the gender was immaterial in the end because it still would have told the same charming story! The only fly in the ointment is that Hamal's boss thinks he's talking to himself and that he's scaring customers, so he has to watch his behavior, and Blue doesn't help, constantly making comments which Hamal has to ignore or respond to only in private.

When customer Chloe show sup and show interest and Hamal doesn't respond as any red-blooded (so the phrase goes) cis guy might, you know the story can get only more interesting from here on in. And Blue isn't the only ghost hanging out in Hamal's corner of the word. Fortunately the ghosts aren't mischievous - much - and things are going pretty well until death appears on the scene, concerned that there's a necromancer talking to ghosts, and Blue himself ends up switching scenery unexpectedly, and increasingly entering an eerie, dead world. Whats going on here - and worse, what; sacrifice is going to be required to fix it?

Well, you;re going to have to read this to find out, and I promise you will not be disappointed. This is yet another example of a writer stepping of the beaten track and making her own story instead of shamelessly cloning someone else's work, and that alone would be a reason to recommend it, but add to that authentic dialog, and the sweet and realistic (within the environment and ethos of a graphic novel!) illustrations, and you have a winner which I recommend.


The Little Red Wolf by Amélie Fléchais


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This book is exactly what I mean when I talk about drifting off the beaten-track and making your own trail. I wish more authors would learn from the example set here by Amélie Fléchais, instead of turning-out tired cloned rip-offs of those who have gone before. In a wonderful twist on the Little Red Riding Hood story, this author has the wolf being the victim and Red Riding Hood the villain - and she makes it work!

Delivering a rabbit to his grandmother's house Little Red Wolf gets side-tracked repeatedly until he's lost! When a sweet and charming young girl offers to help him on his way, he doesn't know she means on his way to the after-life and not to his grandma's house! She's the daughter of a dreaded wolf hunter!

Full of superficially simplistic, but actually detailed and richly-colored drawings, this story follows Little Red Wolf into the gaping jaws of death! I loved its simplicity and depth, and I recommend it.


Water Memory by Valérie Vernay, Mathieu Reynès


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, August 18, 2017

The Indigo Girl by Natasha Boyd


Rating: WARTY!

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

Other than the language being rather too modern, there was nothing overtly wrong with the technical writing of this story other than the usual issues with Amazon's crappy Kindle app mangling the formatting. Publishers need to quit using Kindle format and go with Nook format or with PDF. I detest Microsoft but even Word format is better than Kindle.

My problem with it was the introduction of a farcical and completely fictional relationship with a slave. That sounds racist on the face of it and I certainly do not feel qualified to compete with the President on that score, but this story was set in 1739 in South Carolina (just five hundred miles from the source of presidential shame!), so hopefully you can see the problems arising already.

The problem isn’t even the relationship with the slave per se, but the fact that this story is about a real-life person who had no such relationship. To put it baldly, the author is lying to us about what this woman did. I know, all authors of fiction are liars! It’s at the very heart of what such writers do, but here, there is no reason at all to justify willfully entering this pitfall, and there are clear and valid reasons to avoid it.

Elizabeth Lucas, who went by Eliza, and later by Eliza Lucas Pinckney, was a far-sighted, pioneering, and successful businesswoman who succeeded when it was almost entirely unknown for a woman, and especially not a teenager, to be in charge of not one, but three plantations, let alone flourish in those circumstances.

Eliza did marry someone she loved, yet this author cheapens even that real romance by putting it on the back burner while she turns her main character into a sleazy stalker, chasing a guy named (when she knew him as a child) Benoit Fortune, and then by Ben Cromwell as a grown man. The "relationship" ends not when Eliza starts acting in character, but only when the author kills off Ben (based on a real historical event when a slave drowns after a boat sinks).

This whole affair simply defies credibility not only from what this author herself writes, but from what I’ve read about the real Eliza. To suggest that she would have behaved in this way towards any man - regardless of who he was and whether he was black or white or anywhere in between - is farcical. Way to besmirch an upstanding woman with a storied list of accomplishments!

It beggars belief that a female author would do this to a female character, but it happens all the time in YA literature, and here it is again. In making this grave mistake, the author cheapens a very real life which needs no ornamentation to be outstanding, yet in true tradition amongst young adult authors, we have yet another main female character being hobbled in fiction with the asinine "need" to be validated by a man. Eliza Lucas deserves a far better tribute than to have her entire life wiped out like this and that’s why I do not consider this novel to be a worthy read.

The story is arguably racist too, since of the three people who betray Eliza (yet more fiction it has to be said), two of them are black, and both of those were deliberately invented as far as I could tell, purely for the sake of having them betray Eliza!

The real life Eliza was sixteen when her father (in the British Army and with ambitions of becoming governor) returned to Antigua, where Eliza was born. Since Eliza’s mother was rather sickly (in more ways than one as depicted here), and since he had no older male children, he left the rest of his family behind in South Carolina, with Eliza in charge of his holdings, and she did a sterling job.

When other planters were focused on rice (this was before cotton became a staple - ironically it was the year Eliza died, 1793, that the cotton gin was invented and cotton replaced both rice and indigo as the 'slave crop' of choice), Eliza recalled the indigo plants of her childhood years. Obtaining seeds (and later producing her own seed crop) and experimenting over the next several years, she and her enslaved workers succeeded in showing that indigo could be produced at a profit. From there on out, production and sales sky-rocketed. Until those cotton-pickin' bales killed it all.

Eliza married her neighbor Charles Pinckney when his own wife died, not caring that he was several years older than she. This was the real romance, and they raised children together, descendants of whom live on today. That’s the real story and why the author felt that real and true story lacking, to the point where she needed to screw it up 'Mandingo style' remains a mystery. I’d recommend reading a biography rather than this disrespectful, sensationalist, and insulting fiction which I cannot recommend.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Park Bench by Christophe Chabouté


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I had never heard of Christophe Chabouté, but after "reading" Park Bench, I am a fan! I put reading in quotes because there's nothing to read! It's all art, all pictures, no interpretation necessary - a truly international work in some senses (see caveat in penultimate paragraph). Almost all the action takes place around the titular public seat in a park. Just by watching this one locale through the lens that the author provides us, we see a microcosm of life.

We see people who use the bench and we see those who don't even see the bench. We see friendship and antagonism, love and abuse, and a persistent dog which is determined to claim this territory for its own! I particularly loved the scene in the snow where we don't even see the dog - only its footprints.

That's the genius of this. At first, when I started to look through it, I kept wondering if this was it, and then I realized it's not only it; it's everything. Naturally, the first impression is that speech is missing, but that's intentional. The one thing that was truly missing is the sense of the passage of time. I don't know if that was intentional or not.

Yes, we see the occasional season now and then, but do we see years? Are we meant to? That's the only explanation for the remarkable phenomenon which slipped right by me, mesmerized as I was by the images, until the author hit me over the head with it at the end!

I loved this, I thought it was brilliant, amusing, engaging, and really, really well done. The artwork is exquisite and detailed, and evocative. The French cop actually looked so French it rather removed it from its cosmopolitan flavor for those few frames, but everyone else could have been anywhere else - anywhere that's largely white and western that is, because there were few people of color visiting this park. That, I think, was an omission, but no doubt there are parks like this. Donald Trump probably lives near one.

But I am not going to quibble over that when the rest of it was so perfect. Not this time. I recommend this.


Squawk of the Were-Chicken by Richard J Kendrick


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This book was hilarious and I recommend it, although for me it went on a little bit too long to be perfect. It was beautifully written and full of characterization, quirks, fun, amusing asides, and an actual mystery. It was also weird, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It was weird in the sense that it seemed to straddle two completely different time periods simultaneously: the rustic of the Jane Austen, and the modern. For example, while bicycles were apparently new inventions, screenplays were not, so it made for a rather mind-boggling read, the reader never quite knowing what to expect.

As I mentioned, it felt rather long for a book which appears to be aimed at a middle-grade audience. Despite being amused and entertained by it, I have to say I was often wondering why it was taking me so long to get through it! I read it frequently and I'm not a slow reader, but I always seemed to be making awfully slow progress through it which was frankly off-putting. This drag effect was offset by the interesting story.

The relationship between the two main characters, Deidre, who leads us through this tale, and Fyfe, who is her sidekick, is choice and beautifully done. The two of them are an item and either don't know it yet, or are in serious denial, but it was a pleasure to read of their interactions. They were not the only two characters though, and rather than have a pair of startlingly realized actors playing against a backdrop of an otherwise bland ensemble, this world was full of equally engrossing and quite complex people, particularly the eccentric were-chicken investigator.

Even minor characters contributed fruitfully, as in when I read this, which made me laugh out loud despite not being a fan of fart jokes or stories:

Of course, then there'd been tea. And, apparently, the Master Seamstress was just about the only person Deidre had ever met that was completely impervious to Fyfe. In retrospect, maybe Deidre should have figured on that. She had once told Deidre, rather cryptically, to 'never trust a fart, dear.'
That felt so off the wall to me that I really did laugh out loud.

Deidre lives in a quiet village which nevertheless has a thriving market. Almost all of the activity in the village seems to revolve around making and selling things, and most of those things seem to revolve around wheat, chickens, and eggs, but which came first, I can't say. Deidre has no interest in that. Instead, she's focused on inventing, and by that I mean engineering, and she's really focused on that. Her father is supposedly trying to get her the position of smallest cog at the clock shop, a venue she loves, even as she detests its owner.

So she occupies her time inventing things, usually with disastrous consequences, and then trying to figure out how to solve the problem or whether she should move onto something else. The latter option tends to win, because her mind is all over the place. Into this orderly, if messy life, comes a kleptomaniacal were-chicken. Or is it merely someone impersonating a chicken? And whence cometh the bravery if they're impersonating a chicken? That last question may be irrelevant and/or ill-considered, but only Deidre and Fyfe can find the answer - and determined they are to do so.

There was a minor writing issue with this, and since my blog is more about writing than it is about reviewing, I want to add this in, if a bit belatedly. I read:

Deidre trailed after the two men as they trudged across the stricken yard, treading rather more carefully than they did so that she wouldn't trip.
Now you can argue it's fine the way it is, because it's clear what's intended here, and I accept that, but I believe it could have been written better, and thereby have avoided the question of who it was who trod more carefully: the two men or Deidre! How about:
As they trudged across the stricken yard, Deidre trailed after the two men, treading rather more carefully than they did so that she wouldn't trip.
Small change, big difference, No reader in their right mind is going to ditch your novel for one or two infractions of this nature, but suppose you've made a dozen through inattention? This is why reading helps - to clue you in to how other writers tackle it and to what's acceptable and what's nonsensical. It's why re-reading your own work often before publishing is a tedious but worthwhile expenditure of your time!

I really liked this novel and I recommend it although as I said, it may be a bit long (and even a bit mature in reading style) for many middle-grade readers. Although the author has an annoying habit of omitting question marks from clearly interrogative sentences, the writing overall was excellent and appreciated, and even Amazon's crappy Kindle app couldn't ruin it for me!


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Ink in Water by Lacy J Davis, Jim Kettner


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is a long comic, but an easy read. The art is black and white line drawings and gray scale art which has a sweet watercolor texture to it - perhaps because so many images show it raining! Initially I had mixed feelings about it, because it had a 'been there done that' feel to me - not that I've been there and done that, but like I'd read this story before - like it was reiterating. But it's a very personal story, and even if you have read 'it' before, you haven't read this one, and it's an important story which bears repetition, not least because it has such a positive outcome.

Lacy J Davis fell into a destructive eating spiral after a broken relationship, but this was not one where weight went up. Instead, it went precariously down. The story continues in this vein, exploring her life afterwards, in all its ups and downs, advances and set-backs, sparing no details, and hiding no sin. For that alone I commend it as a worthy read.

I'd like to have seen this better illustrated in the artwork, because while some of the art was really engaging, some of it was rather rudimentary, so it felt a bit patchy throughout, and I think this lessened the graphic impact of what happened here: the images for 'before' and 'after' and finally, 'later after' had too much in common to make a really arresting impression.

When you start out with an improbably skinny 'cartoon-like' character in a story about an eating disorder, it's a bit self-defeating. It's really hard to convey the extent of the problem in your illustrations when your character starts out already looking anorexic before the problem begins! I felt that a little more realism in the drawings would have contributed significantly to the impact of the story.

Additionally, I'd like to have known where the roots of that potential to fall were grown and why they went the way they did given the apparent tripwire for the break-up, but that was not shared with us, assuming it was even known. Yes, we know the proximate trigger of this problem, but if there's something falling, that kinetic energy came from somewhere, but this 'somewhere' went unexplored. Given that this was supposed to be a teaching tool inter alia, I felt that this was an omission which should itself have been omitted. It was one of several omissions, and I think the work would have been stronger had these holes been filled.

Another such hole was when a friend died. This person had been an important and ongoing part of the story, but the death was passed over rather quickly, and (unless I missed it) we never did learn what happened other than it resulted in a death. We did see the negative effect of it, but this part of the story was solely about the author. I felt it ought to have been also about the friend as well. This omission felt unkind given how important the person had been.

I felt that more attention should have been given to medical aspects of this disease, too. Doctors were in and out of the story, but they were always 'walk-on' parts. Nowhere was there any talk of how much the medical profession can help with problems like this. Nowhere was there talk of therapy or psychiatric attention, either to say it couldn't help or to say it could. It was almost as though none of this was ever considered, and I think this was a dangerous omission, cutting out healthcare consultations almost entirely, as though they have nothing to say or contribute.

Being a personal story is both a strength and a weakness for this comic, because we got the author's first-hand PoV, but we also got nothing else. For a book that aims at least in part to be a teaching tool, I think this handicapped it. Maybe it doesn't work for you, but who are you to say it would not work for someone else? I think a great teaching opportunity was missed by not being more expansive and offering possible alternatives to what this writer chose for herself, even when she made poor decisions.

I'm am most definitely not a fan of prologues or epilogues, and I avoid them like the plague. This comic had both, I'm sorry to report and as usual, neither was contributory. Had I skipped both I would have got the same from the comic so my advice is to cut them out and save a few trees. All the prologue did was rehash the 12 step program. I'm not sure there's anyone left on planet Earth who doesn't know what that's all about, so I saw no point to the prologue. Al the epilogue did was show us half-a-dozen pages of the author typing at the computer, or of the same rain we saw in the prologue, so this contributed literally nothing. Once again I rest my case for ripping prologues, prefaces, author's notes, introductions, epilogues, and after-words out by the roots, and save some tree roots.

That all said, overall I did enjoy the story because it was brutally honest, it did not offer an easy, magical solution, and it did not flinch from talking about difficult issues. I'm not convinced the four-letter expletives or the uncensored nudity contributed anything to this particular story, but again, it was honest, so I guess it came with the territory! The best thing about it and what recommends it most, is the positive outcome, which is always a good thing when trying to encourage others to take positive steps to overcome disorders like this. I recommend this as a worthy read.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Kiss Him Not Me by Junko


Rating: WARTY!

In Japanese this manga was called Watashi Ga Motete Dōsunda or, What's the Point of Me Getting Popular?. Superficially it purports to tell the tale of a girl who loses weight and suddenly finds herself popular, but in reality it's just another Shōjo designed as teen female wish-fulfillment and as such it's actually harmful because of the 'fat-shaming' attitude employed in it. There's nothing wrong with having a healthy fantasy life as long as it's kept in check (or untethered in creative writing or other art forms!), but the author went about this entirely the wrong way. There are ways of addressing issues or over- or under-weight in characters and this one was a fail in my opinion.

In the story, Kae Serinuma is a fujoshi - essentially a geek - who is into gaming, and who is also obsessed with male homoeroticism, picturing selected boys she knows, as being in gay romances in her fantasies. Since all the boys look like girls in these drawings that makes for rather interesting pairings! There are four boys in her life: Igarashi, Mutsumoi, Nanshima, and Shinomya, and only one of them might have had any real interest in her when she was overweight. Now they all do for sure, This is pretty shallow and she needs to reject them all with the potential exception of the guy in her gaming club, but she does not, despite the protesting title. She seems not so much enamored of them as she is enamored of their attention.

Where I had the real problem with this though, was after an accident where she's dinged by one of the players in a sport she's watching. Serinuma is knocked to the floor, and goes home after a brief recuperation at school. The next morning (or perhaps some unspecified time later - it was hard to tell), when she wakes up she has lost all her excess weight and then some. Not only that, her eyes have grown to huge proportions, her chin (which though prominent) never was a 'double' chin, has shrunk almost to nothing, her hair has become rich, thick, healthy, long, and shining and healthy, her head has shrunk or her facial features have expended to fill the whole face instead of the tiny center portion, and and her wardrobe has fantastically changed from baggy sweats to short, pleated skirts and tight sweaters.

Moreover, her legs have grown long and slim, and her breasts have miraculously tripled in size. In short, instead of a oval shape, she now has an hourglass figure. These factors combined are not the usual outcome of weight-loss, so one has to wonder if this is an illusion or wishful thinking, but by the end of the novel her appearance had not changed and all four boys desperately wanted to date her.

This sounded far more like wish fulfillment than ever it did an honest attempt to write a realistic, thoughtful, and honestly engaging story. But is this type of manga ever intended to be realistic? Wouldn't that defeat the purpose?! Maybe that's so, but this was all wrong for a host of reasons.

First of all, this shallow 'they like me now I'm anorexic and infantilized' is an awful thing to do to a woman. I expect it form some male authors, especially far too many of those who draw graphic novels, but there are different levels of 'fat' and they have all kinds of 'cute' names with which to euphemize them (BBW, chubby, corpulent, full-figured, matronly, plus-sized, portly, robust, rotund, and so on), but the question is not whether a person is overweight so much as whether they're healthy.

Clearly carrying too much weight, and eating poorly and getting no - or too little - exercise is a recipe for medical disaster, but you can be unhealthy whether you are under-, over-, or even at optimal weight, and you can likewise be healthy even when you might appear overweight to some overly-critical eyes. So the real question is over your health, not your weight per se.

In this novel, neither was the issue. The issue we're presented in (literal) black and white - and without a shred of supportive evidence - is that not only does no one love a 'fat' or 'dumpy' girl, but no one even notices her. As it happens, Serinuma is fine with this because she lives largely in her fantasy world anyway, but when she magically (and that's the only term employable here) morphs into 'a total babe' - as a frat boy would (and evidently these schoolboys do) perceive her - she makes no analysis whatsoever of her situation, and never once (not in the parts I read) harks back to how she was or makes comparisons or even tries to understand what happened. This tells me she is so shallow that it doe snot matter whether she is overweight, or a superficial model agency's dream applicant, or anywhere in between she's not worth knowing because there's nothing worth knowing about her.

I had wondered if, by the end of this volume, she might wake up and find she has dreamed this whole thing, or much better yet, that her knock on the head caused her self-perception to change, and everything that happened afterwards was because of this, not because she had literally physically changed. In my opinion, that would have made for a far better, more intelligent, realistic story, and a worthy read but I guess I shall have to write that one.

Women have hard enough time being blasted perennially with commentary from all manner of sources, most of them not even remotely medical, and most of them ads, telling her that she's ugly, fat, her hair is nasty, her clothes suck, she needs more high-heeled shoes, and she is useless in bed. Every time she passes through a supermarket checkout aisle, she has this blasted at her on the one side from women's magazines written by women it shames us all to report, and on the opposite side of that selfsame aisle, she is blasted by fattening snack foods, candies, and sugar-laden sodas. is this a problem? You bet your ass it is. Literally.

It does not help at all to have a manga written by a woman telling women this same thing. It's Junko food, and women need to stop letting authors like this one feed it to them.


Friday, August 11, 2017

Two Will Come by Kang Kyeong Ok


Rating: WARTY!

Translated by Jennifer Park, this Korean graphic novel (and thus a manwha rather than a manga) was the first in a series. It consists of black and white line drawings, often veering towards the type of illustration I most thoroughly detest: the pointy nose, pointy chin, and giant eyes - in short, characters who look not even remotely Asian.

While we in the west bemoan the lack of diversity in our graphic novels (and other media) - particularly in the poor showing of women and people of color, I have to wonder why are so many comic books written by Asians who are apparently afraid to depict themselves in all their authentic beauty. That said, a lot of the art work was very pleasant, some of it truly captivating. But a lot of poses even on the same page were so similar that they could almost have been photocopied, shrunk and moved over a panel or two.

It was also odd though in that there were, interspersed with the main panels, miniatures which looked weird since they were in a small and very simplified style - rather reminiscent of how an old and very formal Asian form of writing might be compared with a more modern, casual, and simplified one. it made me wonder why this was a graphic novel rather than simply a novel. If you're not going to push yourself with the illustrations, and make it a magical journey as well as a story, then why not simply tell the tale in words and omit the pretentious pictures? In this case, I have to say that - with a few exceptions which might have merited inclusion in what would otherwise be a pure text book - they graphic part of this novel contributed very little beyond pretension, notwithstanding artistic merit.

The biggest problem with the book though, was that the blurb completely lied! The claim was that it's a story about a family curse, handed-down over generations because of the slaying of a large serpent that was awaiting going to heaven. Just the day before it was due to leave, Jina's ancestors killed it because they thought it was cursing their family. Don't you just hate it when this happens? You're waiting to go to heaven and someone sticks you with spears and chops off your head? If I had a Band-Aid for every time that happened to me....

Once the serpent saw it would was doomed to die it actually did curse the family, and the curse is that one family member in each generation will slay another family member. We get very little by way of explanation as to how this has played out over the centuries, but now in Seoul in 1999, Jina is the one upon whom the curse falls, but the predictors cannot say if she will be the perp or the victim, nor do they know who the other member of this generation's fated but not feted pair is.

The End.

I am not kidding. That's not the end of the volume, but it is the end of the curse story. There is barely a word spoken of it after the first third of the novel. The rest of this volume is nothing but a tediously slow-moving high-school romance between the girls and this guy from the USA - a Korean emigrant, who has returned for a visit. He looks more like a girl than the girls do, and so the girls naturally all fall for him.

Frankly I would rather watch a cowpat dry. Or even fry, as I first ham-fistedly typed it. So while some of the art was great, a lot of it felt xeroxed, and the miniatures were just plain weird. The story had little to do with the blurb's claim for the most part and the interaction between the two main characters was utterly tedious, blank, flat and uninventive.

Plus, as if all that wasn't bad enough, the story moved at a glacial pace. I optimistically borrowed volumes one and two from the library, but I quit reading volume one at about half way and I skimmed the rest, and I sure am not going to even start volume two. I cannot in good faith recommend this. It was bait and switch, and stunk like baited breath so rank you could cut it with a switch-blade.


Superhero Comics by Christopher Gavaler


Rating: WARTY!

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

I have to thank the author for his hard work because Ii think you would have to work really hard to make a book about comics as dry, dense and, in parts, as tedious as this one was. There were some bright spots in it, and while I admit I'm a proponent of inline references, when there are so many, and so densely-packed as to make a reader lose track of what he's reading, that, for me, is a problem. The book was the antithesis of a comic book - dry, verbose, and nary an image in it, but perhaps the worst problem with it was that it told us nothing we did not already know, at least in the general if not the particular. And most of the references were to works of others, so this has already been reported. Little if any of it was original research.

I appreciated that the book covered racism which is still rampant in comic books even today, misogyny which is even more rampant, and homophobia, which arguably is more prevalent than is superhero chauvinism, but I felt the work was very patchy. For example, the overview of World War Two comic books, which was quite well done, constantly referred the reader back to real world events, whereas the entire section covering gender issues by contrast made no almost references to real world events other than the comic book code.

There was one particularly interesting incident when we were referred to an excellent article by by Teresa Jusino, titled "Dear Marvel: Stop Sexualizing Female Teenage Characters Like Riri Williams" which appeared online in The Mary Sue. The article was great, and I realize that the writer of an article in a situation like this it has no control over what ads appear on the page where her article appears, but The Mary Sue sure does. Pot, meet kettle! One ad titillatingly invited people who had finished this article to "check out what Tiger Woods's ex looks like now." Another, which advised us to "do denim different" featured a guy facing the camera and a girl with her butt towards it, posing very much in emulation of the way comic book females are sexually depicted, butt sticking out to the voyeur, and deferring to the masculine guy. Who cares about her face, right, much less her mind!

Due to the flowing nature of ads online these days, the rotation means you may not see these ads when you look at that page, but I can pretty much guarantee you will see something equally hypocritical. When I went back just now, there was a different foot-of-page ad which suggested rather salaciously, "Nancy McKeon gave the crew more than expected." A refresh of the page gave an ad which had nothing to do with clothes or women's accessories or 'how good she looks now'. No, it was about a game you can play that allows you to follow your city through history. No problem, right? Wrong! The problem was that it showed a young girl playing the game wearing what was barely more than a long T-shirt, her thighs exposed.

In short, the problem isn't the comic books, it's society. Comic books are a mere reflection of that, Cure society and the comic book problem will go away, I guarantee it, but you will not exorcise the comic book problem while it's run by adolescent white males (regardless of their chronological age), who embody societal sentiments which are pressed on them from an early age, and the problem in the comics (and in the movies, and on TV, and in non-graphic literature, and in sports, and in the military, and in businesses, and in religion) will continue unabated as long as no one in power is seeking to change the way women and people of color are viewed and treated in society at large.

The problem was made quite clear by the response by the artist who drew the offending cover and who saw nothing wrong with hypersexualizing a fifteen year old girl: J Scott Campbell who I shall personally boycott from this day forward because he is proudly part of the problem. Also part of the problem is that this book reported his response, but made no condemnation of it. I honestly feel that a female author might have had more to say on the subject.

This lack of commentary was even more evident when I read, "Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s 2007 The Boys expands the critique to the genre as a whole, presenting all male superheroes, even a version of Superman, as endemic rapists." There was no comment from the author on this nor evidence presented in support or denial of the claim. It was like the author was simply reporting what others have said, yet was indifferent to what he was reporting. he offered no opinion of his own, not even analysis of others' claims. I don't buy the genderist claim that "all men are closet rapists" bullshit, and I resent the implication.

Whether comic book 'heroes' might be in such a category and what it says about the people who write their stories, is a different kettle of fiction, and an issue which could have been explored to some profit. Personally, I think James Bond as depicted by Ian Fleming was a shoo-in for membership of that club (and take 'club' to mean any variety). Even some of the movies, particularly Goldfinger, were traveling the same shameful path, but this author let it go without a word. This convinced me that he was simply and coldly reporting, and had no wish to get his hands dirty, which begs the obvious question: if he cares so little about what he's writing, then why should I care at all?

So there are abundant articles which complain about the hypersexualization of comic-book female characters, but nothing to suggest where this all comes from. An article by Laura Hudson in Comics Alliance online, makes the same mistake. It's a good article, but it once again misses the point. The Big Sexy Problem with Superheroines and Their 'Liberated Sexuality'. At least this page contained no suggestive ads (not when I read it!), but nearly all of the ads on that page, whether for comic books or other items, featured women. Yes! Woman sell, and this is part of the problem: a problem the size of which Laura Hudson and Comics Alliance have not yet begun to address I'm sorry to report.

The fact that this book did not raise these issues bothered me, but even this was not the biggest problem with it. I would like it to have been, but this was not the book's focus. The focus was on how the comic books have changed though, and been influenced by history, and how they're tied to society (at least during WW2!), and many comic book characters were mentioned, but for a book focused on comic books, there was curiously not one single instance of any one of these characters who were mentioned actually illustrated in the book! A book about graphic novels which contains no graphics?!

Nor was there any sequence showing how characters had been masculinized or sexualized over the history of the comic. There was one chapter of a comic book I had never heard of, depicted in black and white towards the end, and there was an ungodly long spread detailing how comic book panels are laid out - with illustrations! I failed to see the point of that since anyone who has read more than one comic is quite aware of it. There was nothing about the characters themselves in terms of how they looked or how they had changed. I felt this was a sorry omission. Yes, you can find most of them online, but it's a pain to have to stop reading and go look for characters you have never heard of so you call illustrate for yourself the point the author thinks he's making; and good luck finding the exact picture to which he's referring unless you're prepared to make a detailed and lengthy search in many cases.

I read at one point of a cover where a female character towered over two main male characters and I could not find that one, but I found many comic book covers where one cover character towers over others and so in this case, I failed to see the point the author was trying to make because there apparently was not one!

So overall, a disappointing read and not at all what I had hoped for, much less expected. I think I shall in future avoid pseudo-scholarly commentaries on comics and simply read the comics! As long as they're not illustrated by J Scott Campbell or others like him! I wish the author all the best, but I cannot recommend this one.


SHIELD Perfect Bullets by Mark Waid and various artists


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a graphic novel I saw in the library and decided, though I wasn't convinced I'd like it, to take a chance, and it paid off because I did like it! It seemed a bit patchy in places, but I think it was a good idea to do a series of stories like this, because we're never going to see most of the 'extras' featured here in the TV show, so this was a way to expand on the idea of SHIELD and the interactions it had with Marvel super-heroes.

There were several stories and they were varied in both good ways and not so good, and the artwork too, was a bit variable, but overall it hung well together and was enjoyable. I think my least favorite story was one featuring The Scarlett Witch. I like the character in the movies, but despite that, I haven't really warmed to her in the way I have to other characters because I don't feel I know her yet.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, my favorite story was the one which 'guest-starred' Ms Marvel whom I really did warm to in her own comic book series. There was just something about the way she was written and drawn, and I could see those same sentiments brought into play here and it was really nice, like meeting an old friend. I really hope they can bring her to the screen, big or small, and maintain her character in the transition.

Characters like this - people of color and from a different background to the standard WASP characters we've been too-often delivered. It seems like Marvel is slowly getting the message, but CDC is slacking on this score, although the expendables, aka Suicide Squad, did take a step in that direction. I'm not a Will Smith fan, though, so this was a bitter-sweet win for me!

So the graphic novel! Before I rant on about rather unrelated topics! There were six stories:

  1. Perfect Bullets was drawn by Carlos Pacheco and focused on the head of Shield (as he is in the novel), Phil Coulson, who is one of my favorite characters in the movie universe although I liked him a bit less in the TV Series. The graphic novel depicts him fanboi-ing in his youth and hanging out with his team and also assorted major Marvel characters in both i private and professional life, but this story wasn't really engrossing to me. It felt much more like they simply wanted to flood the pages with every major Marvel character there had ever been (as well as a host of lesser ones) in a huge fight, and this didn't appeal to me very much at all because it meant the characters were were far more like sacrificial pawns than they were people, and so the 'story' such as it was, was flat.
  2. Humberto Ramos drew The Animator which featured Ms Marvel. This was a fun story where Kamala Khan is in class being taught by substitute teacher Jemma Simmons. The problem with this was that the Simmons was drawn in this story looked nothing like the one drawn in the previous one, so I didn't make the connection right away. The class is interrupted by the arrival of some misbehaving super-heroic objects (which are apparently being trafficked by some students). Kamala does what she does, bu keeps running into and being hampered by Coulson and crew. It's funny and fresh, and authentic (within the universe). This was amusing but more realistically it was shameful how much Ms Marvel has done and yet she's still not taken seriously by Shield. Big mistake, and poor writing I think, but overall this was the best story and yes, it does include Kamala's signature run!
  3. Home Invasion, drawn by Alan Davis is a Spider-man story. This was okay but nothgin special.
  4. Fuel, drawn by Chris Sprouse was fascinating to me because it featured Susan "Sue" Storm separate (and secretly so) from her Fantastic Four buddies, and working on an assignment from Coulson. I liked this idea and I liked how she was drawn and portrayed. There seemed like there was a lot more to her here than I've seen of her before, but then I'm not exactly an avid reader of graphics, and even when I am, they tend to be one-offs and oddball stuff outside of the DC and Marvel universes. Most of my exposure to her had been from the movies, and I did not like the one in the rebooted Fantastic Four.
  5. Magic Bullets, drawn by Mike Choi paired Scarlett Witch and Doctor Strange, which seems like a charmed idea, but he was hardly in it and I wasn't impressed by this character in this story at all. She was flat and uninteresting. I do have to commend this writer, though, for bringing out so many female characters even as I condemn him for offering no characters of color their own story in this collection.
  6. Dark Dimensions, drawn by Paul Reno brought yet another female to the fore - one of my favorites, Maria Hill, whom I know only from the amazingly-named Cobie Smulders's portrayal in the movies. Here she was drawn rather oddly (especially in her stance in that first panel which made her left leg look huge, but then this entire story wasn't well done in my opinion. It also featured a truly odd character with an owl's head, and this struck me as peculiar as it would have had Howard The Duck been included, so despite Maria's presence, this story was also a poor one for me.

Overall, though, the graphic novel was a worthy read and I'm glad I found it. Personally, I should like to see Maria Hill, Sharon Carter, and Natasha Romanoff in their own movie. Marvel needs to get on it, or something like it, and soon!


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Jamie Ford's novel ought to be required reading for any YA author who is thinking (god forbid) of including a love triangle in their story. This is a tour-de-force of how to do it right if you must do it! Not that this is a YA novel by any means. This is a novel for grown-ups who appreciate intelligent and beautifully-written stories.

It was a charming historical story of an immigrant to North America, coming from a tragically impoverished background in China. It begins in about as depressing a manner as is possible, with a wretchedly poor and starving Chinese mother forced to suffocate her baby daughter and leave her son, appropriately named Yung (although in Chinese the name means brave or perpetual, both appropriate to the character), in a cemetery, for pick-up by an "importer" who transports Chinese children to the US and delivers them into servitude.

The story is told from two alternating perspectives, book-ended by world fairs, Both perspectives are held by the same person, who goes by Ernest despite this not being remotely like his Chinese name, which he takes as his surname, modifying it to Young. The 1902-1911 portion covers his early days traveling to the US and settling in Seattle, and the 1962 portion covers his twilight years where the love of his life is suffering senile dementia evidently brought on by a misspent youth. Here he is married with two intriguing daughters who are leading their own full lives. One of them is a reporter who is interested in his story, and it is this link which keeps us tied to his origins in the US.

I kept reading in reviews written by others that this is based on a true story, but no one goes into any detail as to exactly what it is that's true, so it felt like these reviews were merely parroting what others had written! Here, for the first time, it can be publicly revealed! The truth is that I can find no reference to the truth or consequences of this story on the author's blog which is, I am sorry to report, far more interested in promoting the book than in conveying anything of interest about its historicity, nor is there anything in the book itself to indicate what might have inspired it.

According to http://old.seattletimes.com/html/television/2010080063_kcts17.html there actually was a baby exhibition and one infant, apparently named Ernest, was offered in a raffle, but no one claimed the winning ticket, so the story of an eleven-year-old being raffled to a whore-house while very loosely rooted in real events, seems to be pure fiction.

The 'Author's Note' (which I typically never read anyway) in my ebook copy was blank, so it was of no use in illuminating the 'based on a true story angle'. This web page https://www.seattlemet.com/articles/2010/1/29/red-light-history-0210" reveals some details of Seattle's intriguing red light history, but in it, the Tenderloin seems to be the name of a district rather than the name of a specific house as is depicted in the book.

So my best guess (and this is only a guess) is that the truth of the story lies in that it depicts real events (such as world fairs and morality battles), but that none of the details of the Tenderloin (as a bordello), or Ernest, or Fahn or Maisie are true in the sense that they tell any real and specific person's story.

They are true in that god-awful things happened to people in those neighborhoods, but quite honestly this story rather whitewashes the sordid side of a working girl's life in depicting the elegant and refined 'House of Flora' while sweeping under the carpet the bleeding raw open nerveiendings of most imported children's truth in the prostitution business (and it was, and still is, a big business). It also makes no mention either, focused as it is on the Asian-American experience, of the American Indians who were also there.

That said, it does tell a fine tale of how some things might have been for those who got lucky. Ernest is raffled off from his orphanage and ends up at Madam Flora's Tenderloin house of pleasure, where heartbreakingly young prostitutes, most of whom we never get to know, are taught refinement and who 'come out' on their sixteenth birthday, their virginity sold to the highest bidder, whereinafter they take their place as a regular "Gibson Girl" purveying their skills to whichever rich and influential men select them for the night. There may well have been houses of this nature, but my guess is they were few and far between if they existed at all, and most of them were like the one we hear all-too-briefly about from one of the female characters.

But for this novel, that's not the point. The story is about one such fictional house where Ernest, for the first time in his life, paradoxically finds happiness and a family in the good-natured people who live and work there. He makes two close friends: the tomboyish Maisie, and the exotic Fahn, neither of whom is yet 'out'.

The trio bond charmingly, and despite the immorality pervading their every waking moment, they remain innocent between themselves, with nothing more than a stolen first kiss to count as a sin. Since we know from the 1962 portion of the story, that Ernest ends up with one of them, the question, and the author hides it well (or at least he did from me!), is which one, and what happens to the other one. I normally dislike flashbacks, but here they worked perfectly, and were integrated exceedingly-well with what I considered to be the main story set back at the turn of the century.

Since my blog is primarily about writing, I have to say that the writing in general here was very good - well-done and engrossing. There were some parts where it seemed to bog down a little, but overall it was great. I noticed only one or two writing oddities. The first was this phrase: "decked out in a dark black suit" I guess dark black is really black! LOL! "Decked out in a dark gray suit" would have sounded better, but that's a very minor quibble. The only other thing was that author seemed too enamored of this word form, because there were two other instances which felt wrong to me, where the word 'deckled' put in an appearance.

This actually is a word. A deckle is a book press used in hand-made books, and by association has come to describe the rough edge of the open side of the book. I hate those, as it happens because it makes it hard to turn the pages, but the author uses this word in the form of something being 'deckled' with lights and this seemed entirely wrong to me. Decked would have made more sense, or if he'd used deckled to describe the rough ocean surface rather than the lights on the boats floating on it, it would have made more sense. He uses the same word again when he writes, "fairy lights that deckled the storefronts." I think this was wrong, too, and arguably more wrong than the boat lights, but like I said, it's a minor quibble that reasonable people can disagree on if they wish!

That aside, I really liked this book - the way it was written, the pacing, the story, the relationships and the characters. No book is perfect by any means (especially not my own), but you really can't expect a better read than this, told elegantly, paced well, organized beautifully, and with a bitter-sweet tale to tell of a world where women are commodities and rich men can buy pretty much anything they want and it's considered normal, but sometimes if you want something enough, and you are willing to truly love it and bide your time, perhaps you can get it without your acquisition being sordid and demeaning and with it bringing you the Earth instead of costing it to you. I recommend it as a highly worthy read.


Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James


Rating: WARTY!

Written as a rather presumptuous sequel to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (which originally had the title "First Impressions"), this audiobook fell flat for me. I was not too keen on the reader, Rosalyn Landor's voice. Although it wasn't awful, it just never felt right, but much worse than this is that this novel felt nothing like an Austen novel.

Perhaps James never intended it to emulate Austen at all, but even so, it felt like she wasn't really trying. It felt like she had this idea for a crime set in nine-teeth century England and, realizing it wasn't very good, decided to usurp Austen's cachet to sell it. She certainly didn' usurp anything else of Austen's. Virtually the entire book was tedious exposition, There was none of Austen's wit and humor, none of her trenchant observation oe social commentary, and wher were her conversations? Nowhere! I don't believe Darcy and Darcy (nee Bennet) had more than half a dozen words to exchange with each other in any conversation. And what about sex? Austen's works were filled with naked, rampant, explicit, life-shattering, illicit passion, but here there was not a whit of it!

One of those assertions in that last paragraph might be a gross exaggeration. But then so was this entire novel.

I guess marriage really changed Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam, because they were nothing like the characters Austen created. In 1803, they have two sons (of course - why would we ever want to see the kind of daughter Elizabeth's genes could produce and her nurturing raise?). The Darcy's are readying for their annual ball when Wickham and Lydia show up for no rational reason since they're never welcome at Pemberley although they do visit Jane and Charles who live next door (in an English country gentleman sense, that is). This seems to have changed from when Charles chose to live near to Meryton. If there was an explanation for this, I missed it.

James evidently thinks Austen fans are morons because she pads her novel hugely with infodumps taken bodily from Pride and Prejudice - and curiously form other Austen novels. She also seems to think her readers need a crash course in nineteenth century English law, because we get more of these dull and lifeless areas of knowledge than ever we do of interactions between Lizzie and Fitzie, which is what I assume most readers were looking for. No one cares about Wickham and only a moron would believe he is the guilty party in a story like this.

The plot has Lydia arriving in hysterics declaring her beloved Wickham, now a national war hero having excelled himself at shooting the Irish, but unable to hold down a job upon being demobbed, to be dead! It's a lie! A damnable lie, madam, and a slanderous one at that! George isn't dead, but his army buddy is, and George, in most un-George-like fashion, seems to have implicated himself in the crime. The rest of the book takes an unconscionably long time to actually deliberate over the crime, although perhaps deliberate is an appropriate word to describe the plodding tone.

The ridiculous book blurb on Goodreads (and such are one reason I no-longer post reviews there) claims: "Conjuring the world of Elizabeth Bennet and Mark Darcy." Who the frack is Mark Darcy?! The librarians (so-called) on Goodreads are utterly useless and should be summarily fired. Wickham would do a better job, believe me. The blurb also claims that it is "combining the trappings of Regency British society" Hello? The Regency period was when the Prince Regent (who would become George 4th) took over from his addled dad, which was from about 1811 until 1820 when Geo 3.0 died. 1803 was squarely in the Georgian period, morons. Fire those libelousarians!

I am done with this warty novel. It SUCKED, and will never read anything else by PD James. As one review of the TV series put it, the only crime here was one against decent literature! Oh, and Will Bidwell did it. If James had had the courage to have Lydia commit the crime, then I might have rated this a worthy story despite its flaws, but James is quite clearly not a good enough writer to attempt something like that. Do yourself a favor and watch the TV show instead. It will not, I guarantee, be as good as the classic Ehle-Firth masterpiece, but it might give you the fix you crave. I haven't seen it but I've heard better things about it than I have about the novel which inspired it.


The Princess in My Teacup by Sally Huss


Rating: WORTHY!

Sally Huss has almost consistently turned out, in my experience, works of originality, upbeat attitudes, educational in equal measure with colorful and bright, and with fun rhymes to boot. Thus one merely continues her proud tradition.

One could argue here that this is aimed at white female audiences, and plays heavily into the Disney Princess syndrome, which are negatives, but we cannot have every book flooded with every type of person and every kind of wish for our children. There simply isn't room. One simple theme, well-presented with one simple message is fine, and it's up to parents and guardians to seek and pursue diversity by buying (or checking out of the library) a diversity of books! It's really not rocket science! Please don't always expect all options to be covered in one short children's book!

This little girl begins seeing a princess in reflected surfaces: a cup of tea, a bowl of soup, a filled bathtub, and so on. The princess always wants her to do something. The things she wants her to do are always aimed at helping other people: befriending them, being nice to them and thoughtful of them, and each time she does this, the girl helps and thinks she's seen the last of the princess, but the princess never leaves her. I think perhaps you know why. This was delightful, short and easy read, and I recommend it.


Friday, August 4, 2017

My Dead Girlfriend: Vol 1 by Eric Wight


Rating: WORTHY!

Another graphic novel with a weird-ass title! How could I not?!

In this one, Finney Bleak's outlook on life is...well...bleak. All of his relatives died unusual deaths and usually early ones, so he feels he has nothing to look forward to, especially when he's abandoned by mom in a cemetery of all places. He's raised by ghosts who already have ghost daughters named April, May, and June, and of course he attends high-ghoul. While surviving Salamander Mugwart (one of the local witches named Glindas), and growing healthily with the aid of ghost mom & dad, Finney eventually falls for a girl named Jenny Wraith, but she fails to show up for their second date!

Finney thinks she didn't like him. He doesn't learn that she was on her way to see him when she fell down a well and died. He discovers this much later when ghost Jenny shows up at his cemetery, announcing she has been his guardian angel for some time. Now wants to resume their relationship rather than see him take off with another girl!

Initially, he thinks there can be nothing between a body and his incorporeal love, but when she leads him in (cor!) real love, he gets with the program! Great story, interesting graphics, and a fun read. I recommend it. Note that despite being titled Volume 1 A Tryst of Fate, there are no other volumes - kind of like Mel Brooks's History of the World, Pt 1.




Bear and Squirrel by Elsa Takaoka, Catherine Toennisson


Rating: WORTHY!

This team of writer (Takaoka )/illustrator (Toennisson) had a .75 batting average with me, and that's now gone up to .80 with this one, so it's a pretty good record, although in the interests of full disclosure, I tend to be a lot more lenient with young children's books than I do when rating more grown up material.

I love squirrels; not so keen on bears, but this one was a fun story about a squirrel who was industriously working on building a swing, and a bear who was obsessed with collecting things - including the swing - while squirrel was out looking for that final piece for her creation. Squirrel tries everything to get the la-la-land bear's attention, and finally hits on a winning strategy only to have the outcome skew in an unexpected way! The book was fun and quirky, and colorful, and I enjoyed it. I arrogantly assume young children will too, since I often look at life the same way they do! I recommend this as a fun read.


Three! by Tia Perkin


Rating: WORTHY!

This felt more like it was written for parents than ever it was for three-year-olds, so I'm not convinced that this approach made sense, but each to her own! The author, who has a really perky name and who illustrates her own books quite colorfully and competently, has at least one other book out of this nature, titled Two!" (reviewed by me in March 2017).

While I thought the approach slightly odd and noted that two pages (the getting stuck in his pajamas, and getting dressed by himself) were in the wrong order in my crappy Kindle app from Amazon, the rest of the book was fine. It's very much into chanting and rhyming, and if this is your thing - or more to the point, your child's thing - then I think this book would be a worthy read. It's very short, so whether you deem that a good thing or not is up to you of course. With these caveats in mind, and at the risk of this book giving your child some mischievous ideas you may wish she or he had not been exposed to, I deem this to be a worthy read!


The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan


Rating: WARTY!

This fiftieth anniversary edition was not impressive to me. It was larded with prologue and afterword and introduction, all of which I ignored as usual. I had heard of Anna Quindlen, but not of Gail Collins. They're both journalists just like Friedan, so this was hardly a broad spectrum we got on it anyway.

I prefer to focus on the actual body of the text, and that was rather too verbose. I had to keep reminding myself that this was fifty years out of date and things have changed dramatically, but even with that in mind, it was hard to find very many diamonds in the slag. Friedan seemed not content to raise an issue and cite a few examples and let it go; she had to keep slamming the reader with stories which sounded, after the first couple, to be very much the same thing over and over again - which in itself validates what she was saying, but quickly became tedious with all those repetitive details!

I readily admit that my frustration with much of this book may well be that we are, at least theoretically, much more enlightened now than we were then, and so it felt like flogging a dead horse, but that horse is still a nightmare for far too many women, so this is about the only remaining reason I can think of for reading this - that we do not forget how bad things were, and in not forgetting, we ensure they never happen again. That and its historical value. These beefs with the text are not to say that Friedan did not have a point. She did, but I found her text dense and obscure - more like a litany of complaint (if valid complaint) than anything which offered hope of a real solution, but that said, a solution can only arise after the problem has been identified.

The worst part about this book for me though, was that it was so appallingly elitist. Friedan seems only to care about middle and upper class women like herself, and the 'great unwashed' be damned. Their experience - poor people who no doubt had both spouses working perforce - were largely ignored. Although I cannot pretend to speak for them (or I could but it would be fraudulent!), I rather suspect that spouses of color back in the fifties and sixties had little or nothing in their experience which they could employ to relate to the women on whom Friedan was so tightly focused, and this was despite Friedan frequently mentioning civil rights!

The book blurb, with laughable hyperbole, describes it as "Landmark, groundbreaking, classic" and no, it wasn't. It goes on to add, "these adjectives barely do justice to the pioneering vision and lasting impact of The Feminine Mystique. Published in 1963, it gave a pitch-perfect description of 'the problem that has no name'." I was surprised it did not mention the name Friedan gave it, but it's probably better that it didn't, since Friedan's title makes absolutely no sense. I remain unconvinced that she even knows what 'mystique' means (and no, it's not an X-Men character!). Her sobriquet made no sense to me and she never actually defined it, leaving it to the reader to distill some meaning from reading this five hundred page tome. Good luck with that.

Another group that Friedan ostracizes are those women who can both afford to and choose to stay home. This is a perfectly valid option, yet Friedan would rob women of it, becoming part of the problem by trying to dictate women's choices in the same way she was complaining men and society were doing! What a hypocrite. I read about half of this book and gave up on it. I can't recommend it because there are better books out there than this one, which in my opinion does not deserve the street cred it seems to have garnered for itself, and which I think it has accreted only because it was an early one and a high profile one, and not because it honestly left the home, got a job, an earned its status!



Thursday, August 3, 2017

Hell Hath No Fury: True Stories of Women at War from Antiquity to Iraq by Rosalind Miles, Robin Cross


Rating: WORTHY!

YA authors an graphic novel writers could learn a lot from an awesome book like this, about depicting strong female characters. Full of detail, it relates the stories of scores of women who were warriors, most of them in times when women were not considered capable or emotionally up to it, let alone being strong, independent and fierce.

Even with the detail it offers, it also includes references for further reading. The book is divided into sections for different types of female "soldier" in the broadest sense. It offers war leaders such as Cleopatra, Elizabeth I, and Margaret Thatcher, actual combatants such as Molly Pitcher, Lily Litvak, and Tammy Duckworth, spies like Belle Boyd, Virginia Hall, and Noor Inayat Khan, and reporters and propagandists such as Martha Gellhorn, Tokyo Rose, Anna Politkovskaya. It also has a section on women whom we in the west could not consider heroic: women suicide bombers, and despite the success (for their cause) of female suicide bombers, women in the Middle East are still in a fight for equality, respect, and fair treatment.

The accounts are a mix of general overarching stories supported by very many detailed accounts of individual women. There is a bias towards white western women, but then this is where the best documentation resides, and even there, some of it was biased against women or largely erased or considered not noteworthy! Women can't win no matter what color they are, but hopefully that's undergoing what will become a permanent change now.

Despite this there are many women of color included as well as rather obscure women where documentation could be found, and the stories cover ancient history (Greek and Roman) through modern (Iraq War). The authors are not afraid to tell it how it is even if it does not make the woman in question look exactly pristine. While there seems to be something of a bias in World War Two accounts to British and American women, and in more recent wars to American soldiers, there is something for everyone here, and it all goes to prove beyond any question that women are every bit the equal of men, no excuses, no qualifications, no more lies and bullshit.