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

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.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

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.


Friday, August 11, 2017

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.


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!


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.


Girls & Panzer by Ryohichi Saitaniya


Rating: WORTHY!

Translated by Greg Moore, this was another quirky graphic novel from Japan, which has elements in common with Tank Girl. I couldn't not pick this up from the library shelf with a title like this! Japanese schoolgirls in their sailor outfits driving humongous and obsolete tanks from World War Two?! Competing against other schools in an all-out war? No injuries??

It was weird but oddly compelling. Miho Nishizumi is a new transfer student to Ooarai All-Girls High School. She had departed a previous school where she was involved in "tankery" as this activity is amusingly referred to. She had a falling out with her older sister and left on somewhat bitter terms. She evidently is looking for a quiet academic life, but she's denied it! Her new school is reinstituting its tankery program, and because of her experience, Miho is drafted into putting together a tankery team for an upcoming national contest.

With some oddball teammates, and a limited selection of tanks, Miho has her work cut out for her, but she wins through in the end. The story was amusing, but I'm not sure if I want to pursue it beyond this volume. I think there is only so many tank battles I can stand to watch, especially since it was rather confusing at times. The bulk of this graphic novel was black and white line drawings, and the characters looked very much alike, so there was very little in the way of distinction not only between the two teams but also between the members on the same team, and parts of this were hard to follow, for me at least.

Overall, though, I consider this to be a worthy read. It was fun and feisty, and I will perhaps dip into another volume at some point. What's not to like about girls with tanks?!


A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Oima


Rating: WORTHY!

This is an interesting story about a school bully and a deaf girl. Shoya's problem is boredom, but instead of finding benign ways to deal with it, he resorts to destructive ones - picking on other children and doing dangerous stunts like jumping off bridges. Shoko is a girl who is deaf, and consequently her speech is impaired. She is new to Shoya's school, and she communicates by writing in a notebook, and encouraging others to use it to write questions to her.

Shoya immediately starts picking on her because she is such an easy target for him, especially since she has such an accepting and friendly disposition, and she never retaliates. His behavior is abominable, but the thing is that very few people in the class treat Shoko with respect and consideration, not even other girls. Shoya's behavior is the worst though, and even as his friend start deserting him and abandoning their juvenile practices as they mature and pursue academic interests more studiously, he never does.

Inevitably, Shoya goes too far and Shoko quits the school. Several years later, they meet again. This meeting is where the story begins. All the rest is flashback, and since this is a series, the story is never resolved in this one volume. On the one hand this is why I detest series as a general rule, and why I dislike flashbacks. On the other, this series - at least this introductory volume of it, was not so bad. The art was a bit too manga for my taste, but on the whole, not bad, and the writing was enjoyable, but all this can ever be is a prologue. I detest prologues!

So while I may or may not pursue this series, I did enjoy this one volume despite my reservations about such efforts, so I recommend it, and I may well get into volume two as time and opportunity permit.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Tucker's Apple Dandy Day by Susan Winget


Rating: WORTHY!

I adore this author's name! I've always been fond of 'Susan' and I had to wonder of this one whether or not she might wing it with her writing? If so, it works! This book was the polar opposite of Dinosaur Kisses and exactly what a young children's book should be. A warm fuzzy story with warm fuzzy characters, beautifully illustrated in sweetly warm, fuzzy autumnal colors!

Tucker gets to visit a farm on his school field trip, and they all get the chance to pick their own bag of apples to take home, but Tucker is so busy helping others to get their share that he never has chance to get any for himself. All the people he helped, though, rally around and donate a few of their apples to him so he gets a few for himself after all. It's beautifully told story about the selflessness of helping others without expectation of a reward, and it's delightfully illustrated. I fully recommend this one.


Blue Sky by Audrey Wood


Rating: WORTHY!

Couldn't fail to review a book by a namesake now, could I?! Not that I know this author, or am any relation to her (as far as I know!). This book was about what's in the sky and how beautiful and fulfilling it is to contemplate it in all its facets. The book is very light on text and very heavy on vibrant colors and eye-arresting depictions.

What little text there is though, is quite gripping, because it also illustrates the very idea it conveys: 'cloud sky' is made up of clouds, rather like my own Cloud Fighters (evidently it runs in the Wood family! LOL!), and 'rain sky' is dripping with precipitation, and so on.

You'll want a cold drink and ice cream after seeing 'sun sky'. The book is slightly whimsical and doesn't fail to consider a dream sky towards the end, inviting children to fall asleep and experience it for themselves! Great idea! I loved this book and thoroughly recommend it.


Princess Jellyfish by Akiko Higashimura


Rating: WORTHY!

This title was so bizarre that I pulled it off the shelf in the library and glanced through it, and decided to take it home. I'm always game for a good graphic novel, and this one was so weird it intrigued me. I love the utterly bizarre names the Japanese give to their manga and anime. This delightfully-named author-illustrator is apparently quite accomplished in Japan and this particular book has already been made into a Japanese TV show and a live-action film which I may try to catch if I can.

This girl named Tsukimi Kurashita lives in this apartment block which is for girls only, and several of those who live there are artists for comic books. She is painfully shy and poor at interacting either with men or with what she describes as princesses, which are good-looking and fashionably-dressed girls. The story gives an interesting insight into Japanese culture. How authentic it is, is hard to gauge, but I assume it has at least some roots in reality. Tsukimi believes that there are only two kinds of women: the princesses, and what she calls fujoshi, which literally means 'rotten girl' and is a term used to describe Japanese women who do not want to get married, stay at home, and raise children.

Tsukimi is of course a fujoshi, who is obsessed with jellyfish because that was the last good memory she had of time with her mother before she died. She views some of the jellyfish, in their natural finery, as dressed like princesses, and she starts drawing them and collecting pictures of them. She ends up with a pet jellyfish when she passes a pet store and sees two different species in the same tank which she knows should never be kept together.

She ends up taking the jellyfish home, accompanied by a princess who helps her when the guy at the pet shop is abusive to her. This princess stays with her in her room, and it's only the next morning that she realizes that the princess is actually a guy named Kuranosuke Koibuchi, who cross-dresses to avoid having to deal with the political aspirations of his family.

He's much more interested in getting into the fashion industry than ever he is in pursuing politics. He's adopted by the girls that Tsukimi knows in the apartment, because they don't know he's not really female, and because he brings food from home, which they enjoy. Tsukimi doesn't dare tell anyone she's invited a guy into the house. He ends up giving them all make-overs!

I'm amazed at how bizarre this story is, but I adored how playful and mischievous it was. You have to wonder how writers like this come up with these totally oddball ideas. Both Tsukimi and Kuranosuke were delightful. Other than friendship with an interesting woman, Kuranosuke has no professed attachment to Tsukimi when they first start hanging out, but he suffers distinct pangs of jealousy after he gives Tsukimi a make-over and his older brother - very much a suit - starts showing an interest in her. His bother is the only one who knows that he cross-dresses, and has kept his secret even though he finds it rather objectionable. This relationship was a joy.

Overall this was a delight to read - amusing, entertaining, and fun. I recommend it.


Monday, July 31, 2017

Auma's Long Run by Eucabeth Odhiambo


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This story is set in Kenya, a nation of almost fifty million people, mostly Bantu and Nilote, but an assortment of many others, too. It sits on the east coast, right below the spike that's known as the Horn of Africa. Kenya is home to Turkana Boy, a 1.6-million-year-old Homo erectus fossil. It's also home to the third largest AIDS population in Africa, but it's one that of late, has seen some success in battling this deadly infection.

This was a depressing story about the appalling AIDS epidemic in Africa which hosts about 15% of the world's population, but is home to almost seventy percent of the world's AIDs victims. This story makes that cold statistic real in both mind and heart as it tells of the life of young Auma, a child who was not thought likely to survive birth, but who grew smart, strong, and ambitious. She wants to be a doctor, and sees her performance at track as a ticket to getting the education she needs to follow her dream, but the powers that be want to see her neutered by being married off at fifteen.

We learn of her harsh schooling, and her living conditions which are primitive to us, but sadly all-too-normal for too many African children. Auma never loses her way, though. She is determined and steadfast, even when AIDS, which the locals euphemistically and with rather gallows humor label 'Slim', comes calling at her door, first taking her father and then seeing her mother fall ill.

It's good that Auma has the stamina of an athlete, because this isn't a US TV show where everything is wonderfully wrapped-up in thirty minutes, and all familial spats are resolved with joyful outcomes. This is Africa - a terra incognita to us spoiled-rotten westerners, and Auma's story is about the real world, not about the cozy fictional one with which we proudly cosset our so-called civilized selves.

I noted that some other reviewers have set this story in the 1980's, but (and I admit I may have missed it) I got no sense of when this took place at all from the actual writing. There are no temporal markers in the small village of Koromo: neither cell-phone nor landline, neither flat-screen TV nor any sort of TV or radio. There's no electricity, no running water, unless you count running down to the river and then boiling the water you bring back. There is no sense of an outside world because the world was the village to these people and very few left it.

They did talk about AIDS and HIV though, and those names did not come into use until the mid-1980s, and would doubtlessly not have been in common use in Africa until later, despite HIV first arising there. So saying this was set in the 1980's seemed to place it a bit too early to me, especially since there are, in Auma's story, medications available even in Kenya, to help combat the effects of AIDs.

The amazingly-named author, who is an associate professor at Shippensburg University (she has a doctorate from Tennessee State) grew up in Kenya, and she talks of paying for school education. Since 2003, education in public schools in Kenya has been free and compulsory, so it would seem that the story takes place sometime in the nineties at a rough guess, but in the end it really doesn't matter, because the problem is the same regardless of when the story actually takes place.

In terms of the presentation, this was another ARC provided via Amazon's crappy Kindle format, which is probably the worst medium (aside from mailing a hand-written copy! LOL!) for presenting a review copy, I urge publishers not to use Kindle format, but instead to go with PDF or with Nook format, both of which are significantly superior to Amazon's sub-standard system.

Overall, the layout of the book was good, but true to form, Kindle screwed-up the image which was used as a section divider in this novel. Instead of it being a small rectangle between sections of text, it occupied a whole screen on my phone. It did better in the Kindle app on an iPad, although why there is a difference between the two, I cannot say - except that they are both using the same crappy Kindle app!

The other instance of Kindle's poor formatting was where I read this: "Good morning, Class Seven," Mrs. Okumu greeted us." The children responded, "Good morning," but the one 'Good morning' was superimposed atop the other instead of being on the next line! I've never seen that before. I have no idea how it even happened. But like I said, these are not problems with the writing or the plot, so they weren't an insurmountable chore to deal with (and certainly not in comparison with what Auma had to go through!). It was a reminder of how Kindle simply isn't up to handling graphics of any kind and in some instances, plain text! That's not on the writer or on the story though, so it doesn't affect this review.

The only writing issue I encountered was a trivial one, but it did stand out to me. At one point I read "My legs burst forward, dashing to save Mama from Akuku. I sped ahead, my heels kicking up fresh dirt." The problem with this is that your heels don't touch the dirt when you're sprinting! Like I said, trivial, but everything is worth expending some thought on when you're a writer. Overall though, this is a worthy read and (I have to say this!) I urge everyone to read it and weep.

I liked this story and recommend it as essential reading. We can't forget about this. We can't forget that while we wallow in pampered luxury, there are others - far too many others - who struggle every day. Even without the disease, Auma's existence was precarious and heart-breaking. The disease was like a bully playing cruelly on an already deprived life, yet Auma never broke under the weight of this brutal burden she carried. This story is well-worth reading and ought to be required reading.