Showing posts with label humor. Show all posts
Showing posts with label humor. Show all posts

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Mighty Alice Goes Round and Round by Richard Thompson


Rating: WORTHY!

This book had the feel of a compendium of daily and Sunday newspaper cartoons, but it apparently isn't. It is a collection, loosely linked, of cartoon stories of Alice, the four-year-old feisty daughter of the Otterloop family, consisting of mom, dad, and her older brother Petey.

In the same way that Calvin and Hobbes was written more for grown-ups than ever it was for children, this is too, because the language skills and mental processes of the four-year-old crowd Alice hangs with are completely unrealistic, but they are amusing, while the mostly line-drawing artwork (some is in full color) is very rudimentary - very much cartoon style.

In some ways I can see that books like this are pretty pointless because they count completely on you buying into the standard lifestyle of your standard, white, well-to-do, American family, as though the fifties was not a by-gone era. In other ways, taking a look at things from a different perspective is never a bad thing - unless that perspective comes by way of falling off a bridge or high building or something painful like that!

So while I found this amusing, I got the book on clearance. I would never have paid ten dollars for a book like this. I do consider it a worthy read, but I also consider it worthy of borrowing rather than buying unless you can get a discounted copy as I did, or a cheaper electronic version. Good luck with that last option, since the e-version is only about a dollar cheaper than the print version. How that works is that the print version comes from China. You'll have to make up your own mind about whether you want to send your money there.


Saturday, May 13, 2017

Random Illustrated Facts by Mike Lowery


Rating: WARTY!

The facts in this book (an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher) were just a little too random for my taste, and the illustrations are extremely rudimentary (if sometimes amusing), so i cannot recommend this because I see no purpose to it unless you find it amusing to read a mix of true and at best "augmented" or at worst, possibly fictional "facts".

It quite literally does have random facts. The organization of the book is as rudimentary as the printing and illustration, but it does make some vague kind of sense. The facts however, are very short and completely unreferenced so it's hard ot know whether they relaly hard facts without a lot of research. I checked a (random!) few here and there, and most of what I checked seems to be true, but there were some glaring errors that would have been easy to fix has some simple fact-checking been indulged in online. Some, such as the church steeple in Germany which was stuck four times by lightning over several years, each time on April 18th were unverifiable. No, I don't believe that one!

This begs the question as to how some of these 'facts' arose. One I checked on, for example: that it is illegal to fall asleep in a cheese factory in Illinois, while technically true, is misleading. The Illinois statute forbids sleeping in food preparation places http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs3.asp?ActID=1584&ChapAct=410 which is entirely reasonable, and which I imagine is also forbidden in other state laws, so to single out Illinois, and word the "fact" that way isn't exactly honest. I was more surprised that it was Illinois that was chosen rather than say Wisconsin, than I was impressed by this "fact"!

By the same token the California Fish and Game Code over not eating frogs used in jumping contests is a law aimed at preventing people capturing frogs for food (for which they would need a license), by claiming they were going to use them for a jumping contest (for which they would not need a license). In context, it's clear that the law is to protect amphibians from being eaten to extinction and makes perfect sense, and has nothing to do with "eating a frog that died in a jumping contest" per se. So once again, this "random fact" is highly misleading. I'd have liked this book a lot better if it had been vetted more stringently over the facts which appear in it.

The story of the five-year-old-girl mailed to her grandparents in 1914 is equally misleading. It was a four-year-old-girl named Charlotte Pierstorff, who was accompanied on a train by a postal clerk, so she wasn't exactly put into a cardboard box, stamped and dropped into a mailbox as the illustration suggests. So yes, it did happen, but again the random "fact" doesn't tell the whole story. Mailing children back then (right after the post office first introduced parcel post) wasn't exactly a complete rarity. The first child to be so mailed was a ten pound baby! It was unarguably bizarre and abusive in the extreme to modern minds, but innovative to impoverished families back then!

Yes live scorpions can be mailed, but the regs say nothing about live spiders being banned! They specifically permit "Other small, harmless, cold–blooded animals" which would include most spiders, and scorpions have restrictions ("Live scorpions (only under limited circumstances)"). So once again we find a "fact" that is not exactly up-front about what it purports.

In Serbia, there is a tradition of children tying up their mom on Materice day, but it's as part of Christmas celebrations. On a different day, parents tie up their kids. The idea is to get gifts as a 'ransom' for freeing the hostage. I'm not aware of such a tradition for Mother's Day, but I guess if they do it at Christmas, they might do it then, too. So while, like I said, a lot of what I checked did prove out (at least in part), there were far too many of these misleading ones, or ones which were wrong or uncheckable, so I felt rather disinclined to trust the other facts that I do not have the time spend checking. The book does not strike me as very trustworthy, and there really is no excuse these days for not verifying your 'facts'.

Some of the 'facts' are repeated in slightly different ways on different pages, and overall there are a lot of 'facts'. Some of these are weird and wonderful, others amusing, others not remotely surprising, but overall, I can't recommend it as a worthy read. You may not have these qualms, but for me, in an Internet age where misinformation and blind 'regifting' of trivia through endless, tedious chains of emails is the norm, I think it behooves all of use to not pass on things we don't know to be true, and certainly to not engender materials which are at best suspect.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Starbird Murphy and the World Outside by Karen Finneyfrock


Rating: WORTHY!

This amazingly-named novel, from an author I now intend to read more of, is about a teen-aged girl in a religious cult (not an evil one, just a misguided one as they all ultimately are). Starbird has grown up leading a rather sheltered life, but she gets the chance to go out into the world and this is her story.

All of the characters have bizarre names. Starbird's brother is called Douglas Fir. Apparently the cult went through eras of selecting names from particular inspirational sources, so the founding members are all named after planets in our solar system. The leader is called Earth, and the name is always capitalized, but he's disappeared. He went out on some sabbatical, and no one heard from him since.

Starbird ends-up working with a girl named Venus Lake (daughter of Venus Ocean) in a restaurant owned by the cult. Venus is not a founding member but since her mother, who was a founder, died in childbirth, they gave her name to her daughter. Yes, it's that kind of weird. It was really hard to get into for the first couple of pages, but then it started making sense and I really liked it, which is a good feeling form a new novel by an author I was not familiar with. It's the best part of a novel, right? Before you've become disappointed in it and ditch or, or worse, before you read it avidly and then are disappointed that it's over! LOL! The manic world of novel addicts.

That;s not to say it was perfect. I had a problem with, in the space of 6 pages in chapter 9, meeting two guys and two girls. In each case the guy is described in terms of his hair, while in each case the girl is described in terms of how pretty or attractive she is. Fortunately, this was the only instance of this I encountered, so I let it slide, but this business of typing females by how pretty they are has to stop. I'm getting so tired of it that I'm ready to start rating novels based solely on that, if it's indulged in to absurd lengths, regardless of how well-written or otherwise the novel is.

Women have other qualities and the people who should perhaps most realize this are female writers, yet so many of them sell-out their characters with this genderist bullshit that it's nauseating. As I said, the author went on to show admirably how these women had other qualities and she backed-off on the skin-deep garbage, so I let it slide this time.

I can understand it if a character, in the novel reduces a woman to her looks alone; this happens in real life, but these descriptions came directly from the author, not from one of the characters. In each case the woman is reduced to her looks and in doing this, the author is very much announcing that women who are not considered attractive need not apply, because when it comes to women, looks are all that matter. I don't subscribe to that and I wish that a lot fewer female authors did, particularly in the YA genre.

That caveat aside, and because it was so limited in this novel, I do consider this a worthy read.


The Cute Girl Network by Greg Means, MK Reed, Joe Flood


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the last of three graphic novels I'll be reviewing this weekend. This one ca,me form my excellent local library and I think it's my favorite of the three. The story is of Jane and Jack. It's illustrated with black and white line drawings by Flood. I was a little disappointed that writers Means and Reed didn't go the whole hog and name her Jill, since she introduces herself with a tumble.
It's not down a hill, but nothing is perfect, right?

Skateboarder Jane has been in town for about a month when she wipes out in front of Jack's soup cart. He supplies a free ice tea (in a bottle!) for her to soothe her injured coccyx. As the two interact more, they end up on a date and start liking each other, even though she's feisty as all hell and he is highly-prone to complete disasters.

Two of Jane's vampire romance-obsessed roommates freak-out when they learn she's dating Jack. Actually the vampire romance thing is pretty much a story all in itself, and I appreciated that; however, suddenly Jane finds herself introduced to the Cute Girls Network (not to be confused with the cukegirls network) - a loose alliance of women who dish out the skinny on guys you should avoid like the plague. Jane hears several embarrassingly gauche stories of Jack's history of bad conduct, but despite these dire warnings, she decides to stay the course.

The story is cutely illustrated and amusingly written, and it tells a fascinating and unusual story. I really liked the character Jane. She was definitely my kind of fictional girl. Jack was hilarious, as were the various roommates of both main characters. This was an excellent read, and I highly recommend it.


Friday, April 7, 2017

The Woman Who Wouldn't Die by Colin Cotterill


Rating: WARTY!

Here's yet another in a long line of experimental audiobooks - experimental for me that is since I tend to spread my wings (such as they are) more with audio than with other media, and once in a while it works and I find a gem, but more often, sorry to report, I'm disappointed. This falls into that latter category. It sounded good on paper (LOL), and started out quite strongly, but the middle third fell to pieces and I DNF'd it. Life's too short.

This one is set in Laos, refreshingly, yet it began by being annoying not because of the writing, but because the guy who reads it, with the appropriate name of Clive Chafer, ends every clause and every sentence by putting emphasis on the last word. It was really, really, really irritating and was the first and last nail in the coffin. The middle nails were all the author's fault, but I have to say that I can't for the life of me understand why any sane author would voluntarily give up control of their novel like this and allow some random person with a duff reading voice to have at it for the audio book.

You have to wonder how authors feel when they learn that their novel is going to be read by someone else. They have little control over this - I'm guessing - when they go with Big Publishing™ because it's really out of their hands. Of course, if you try and do it yourself, you get oddball noise in the background: traffic passing, someone coming in, your kids banging around the house, music from next door! LOL! You can't win!

But Chafer's voice chafed. Honestly. Listening to a metronome would actually have offered more variety and been more entertaining than this Chinese (or Laotian) voice torture. When he was doing the spoken word, he far less pedantic, but there he found a different way to foul out. Why the hell he thought it appropriate, when reading of people in Laos, to do some of them with a Scots accent or with a south-west England accent is a complete mystery to me, but he did. And his portrayal of the guy with Down's Syndrome was positively abusive. The audiobook should be rejected for that alone.

As for the story itself it has some great moments of humor. Some of the names were entertaining, intentionally or not. There was a Madame Ho and a Major Ly, for example, but the humor was too thin on the ground to make a difference. The novel was supposed to be about ghosts and missing army majors and psychics, and I cannot explain how an author can make such a story boring, but this one achieved it. It fell into a rut in the middle third, and it never looked like it was interested in getting out. It was tedious and I have much better things to do with my time.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Ivy + Bean by Annie Barrows


Rating: WORTHY!

This book was a true delight from start to finish. The wonderfully feisty and mischievous Bean (short for Bernice - somehow), is a little tyke, which is why she's not interested in making friends with Ivy, the quite evidently boring girl across the street who just moved into the neighborhood.

Fortunately for history (and literature), fate has other plans and the two are thrown together as Bean has to make a hasty escape from her older and rather peeved sister Nancy. Ivy is teaching herself to be a witch, and suddenly Bean is very intrigued. The two set off on an amusing adventure (which never leaves their's and their neighbors back yards, and I loved it.

This may be written for seven years and up, and aimed at readers who are past the beginning reading stage, but not yet on to more strenuous novels, but it kept me entertained quite readily! Sadly, it's a quick read which left me wanting more. It's only a hundred or so pages, with copious and amusing illustrations by Australian artist Sophie Blackall. Does that make them illustralians? I think so. Anyway, I recommend this.


Saturday, March 4, 2017

Emily the Strange: Dark Times written by Rob Reger, illustrated by Rob Reger and Buzz Parker


Rating: WORTHY!

After having fallen in love with Emily The Strange from a graphic novel I serendipitously happened upon at the worshipful local library, I discovered that there was a series of four novels on this same charming deviant, and I requested all four.

In this, the third volume, which was the first I read in order, Emily perfects her Time Out Machine and is able to travel back to 1790 to investigate the demise of a distant relative, Lily, who apparently dies at the tender age of thirteen, at the hands of a 'Dark Girl'. Emily herself is a Dark Girl as was Lily, and so Emily is rather curious as to why one of them would kill one of her own, and wondering if she can somehow change history by preventing the death, and whether such a change would backfire and change Emily's own future so much that she would regret this intervention.

Once again she runs into her nemesis in the form of one of his ancestors, who are just as designing as he is in Emily's own time. She has to figure out why the supply of Black Rock (curiously the name of a location near my home town!) has dried up, and how it can be be set free again. Meanwhile the villain is holding Emily's ancestors prisoner to force them to confess the secret of the Black Rock so they can take it over. Apparently this fight for control of the substance takes place every thirteen generations - which happens to be Emily's favorite number.

And once again Emily is victorious. Those primitive 1790's locks cannot hold her in! Despite a few hair-raising scrapes which actually don't raise Emily's thick, dark locks, and despite at one point thinking she is trapped in the past, she wins through and all is well. A great story!


Emily the Strange: Stranger and Stranger written by Rob Reger and Jessica Gruner, illustrated by Rob Reger and Buzz Parker


Rating: WORTHY!

After having fallen in love with Emily The Strange from a graphic novel I serendipitously happened upon at the worshipful local library, I discovered that there was a series of four novels on this same charming deviant, and I requested all four, which was the maximum I could, given that I had one request pending already for something else. I wasn't sure what order the novels followed at first, so I ended-up reading this, the second book, first, before the first one was seconded.

In this book, Emily is bemoaning the need to move to yet another new town. The reason(s) for this move is or are obscure, but the cause is evidently tied to Emily's strange and often anti-social behavior eventually pissing-off the citizenry to the point where mobs and pitchforks might be called for. The first big clue to this is Emily's dire need to prank the whole town before she leaves. In her new home, Emily wastes no time in exploring everywhere, particular dumpsters and sewers, both of which figure large in her legend, and already considering a prank plan.

At one point early in the novel, Emily accidentally duplicates herself, and then discovers that her other self is actually the evil side of her, so it's really a riff on Jekyll and Hide, but is also hilarious as the two Emilys try to get along, and then slowly set about trying to sabotage each other. In the end, they have become mortal enemies, the only solution to which problem, seems to be Emily having to sew their bodies together, and then try to re-integrate their minds. In the end she succeeds, leaving only an empty husk of her alter ego, like a dried-up snakeskin, but the journey there is the real story.

The slow-burn of this perfectly titled adventure, filled with fear, suspicion, doubt, and paranoia, was magnificent to experience, and I highly recommend it.


Emily the Strange: The Lost Days written by Rob Reger and Jessica Gruner, illustrated by Rob Reger and Buzz Parker


Rating: WORTHY!

After having fallen in love with Emily The Strange from a graphic novel which I serendipitously happened upon at the worshipful local library, I discovered that there was a series of four novels on this same charming deviant, and I requested all four, which was the maximum I could, given that I had one request pending already for something else. I wasn't sure what order the novels followed at first, so I ended-up reading this, the first book out of those I requested, second, and the second one first.

This first one is about Emily giving herself amnesia because she has to go back to her ancestral town of Blackrock and fix a problem with her family arch-enemy, so it starts with her waking up on a park bench on this tiny town, and she has no idea who she is or how she got there. Always a great way to start a story if you can follow through, and this one certainly did. In some ways it was spoiled for me because I'd read the graphic novel first, which gave away secrets I would not have known had I read this without any introduction, but it was still a mystery and a great read, filled with fascinating characters and characteristically bizarre behaviors.

Emily is only thirteen, so her story is highly improbable, but it is funny. The scrapes she gets into and the thoughts and ideas she has running through her transom are deliciously warped. At some point prior to this story she had constructed what she refers to as a golem, but which is more like a Frankensteinian creature-cum-cyborg. Golems are Judaic mythical creatures, which are animated from clay figures. This character is flesh (with some electronics), and Emily put the finishing touch to her with the heart of a dying raven, so the golem is called Raven and can talk to birds. She's very strong and very pretty, but isn't very smart or communicative. She often answers with "Iono" which I found peculiarly endearing. She tends to take instructions very literally, so Emily has to be careful what she asks of Raven.

Not that she knows this, in this particular story, or that Raven is the one who drove her to the town in the first place prior to getting a job working as a barista at the podunk town's only café. For herself, Emily has to work out who she is and why she's there. In process of this, she encounters a host of locals, most of whom seem to spend inordinate amounts of time in the café when they're not working for the town's only real business - the junk mail factory. The totally corrupt police are a trip (Emily racks up $243 in fines without even trying, due to the local wacky bye-laws), as is the visiting circus of the weird, which seems to be spending an inordinate amount of time camped outside a town this small.

The map of the town which Emily conveniently draws for us in her diary (which is suspiciously missing pages) shows the junk mail factory issuing flames, but this never happens in the story (unless I missed it, I did read parts of it late at night!), so what that was all about, Iono. The story was awesome, fascinating, and lovable, as was Emily. There was an intriguing character named Molly who could almost be a clone of Emily's, but was not, and there were four cats which seemed much more intelligent than you'd normally expect. All in all, a great story which made me want only to read more about Emily.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Emily and the Strangers Vol 1 by Rob Reger, Mariah Huehner, Emily Ivie


Rating: WARTY!

I must have slept through the nineties because I had never heard of "Emily The Strange" until I saw this graphic novel in my ever-adored local library. It called to me, but now I'm left lamenting what else is out there that I might never happen upon.

Emily, as represented in this short graphic novel, is completely lovable, from her 'tude, to the way she's drawn and colored. She's a perfect mix of Goth and Steamed-punk. I love her positive, if aggressive, attitude, her never-defeatist approach to life, and her very inventive G-Rated cussing, which was hilarious.

From reading around (yeah, I'm a shameless book slut!) Rob Reger's friend Nathan Carrico designed Emily in 1991 for a skateboard company(!). Reger created the designs, and he and Matt Reed brought them into the fashion world on T-shirts featuring this girl and 4 black cats (one of which no doubt had a ring-tailed lemur tail). Those cats have bred, because there are many in this story, and they're exquisitely depicted. I don't know anything about Emily Ivie, the evidently very talented artist, but co-writer (with Reger) Mariah (that's mar-eye-uh, not mar-ee-uh) Huehner describes herself as a "big old geeky nerd who loves talking about stories and storytelling." She lied! Her face isn't old and her eyes are very young which is probably why she can get inside Emily The Strange's head so readily.

This volume combines the first three issues of the Emily (and) the Strange(rs) mini-series in which her idol Professa Kraken dies, and she has the chance to win his octopod-inspired guitar - which is also conveniently haunted by his spirit. The story here is that Emily strives to win the guitar, and just as she is convinced she missed her chance, fate (and cats) conspire to put her in front. The odd thing, which I really didn't get, is that even though she won it, there's a condition attached to it: that in order to keep it, she must win the battle of the bands, for which the anti-social (if not sociopathic) Emily must put together an actual band.

The story then moralizes somewhat about team-work and 'can't we all just get along', so for me it lost some momentum at that point, but it was still enjoyable. I'd dispute that this is a young-adult story! It felt much more like middle-grade to me, but it was fun. The other characters in the band were interesting. There was the guy who factored into Emily's success in the guitar contest; I don't know what his angle is and I wasn't too fond of him. He's a fan, if not a stalker of Emily's, and he rather creepily named himself Evan Stranger (Even Stranger), but other than his weird addiction to Emily, he isn't strange at all.

There was also Winston and Willow, who are fraternal twins, but otherwise complete opposites, and there is Raven, who is a girl-bot which was made and then lost track of by Emily, and who is now working in a vinyl, record store where Emily encounters her again. She fascinated me, but got very little air-time. This band doesn't work until the final member turns up, the very orange Trilogy, and then they're winners all the way.

Now I'm interested in Emily. I'd like to read the story of her creating Raven, and also about her earlier history. I recommend this one.


Thursday, February 2, 2017

Doctor Kangaroo by Gerald Hawksley


Rating: WORTHY!

I've enjoyed several of these crazy Hawksley books. They're not much for being educational, but not every book your kid reads has to teach something. Sometimes silliness is a valuable lesson to learn. In this story, Doctor Kangaroo's patented treatment is to send every patient to bed with a bandage round their head no matter what their complaint.

What I liked about this story is that it didn't know when to stop. Even after the Kangaroo story it plunged into yet more silliness, which felt like getting a couple of bonus books. I recommend this one for the fun and general all-around goofiness. The artwork is rudimentary but no one in need of a book like this is going to care about that.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

What This Story Needs Is a Munch and a Crunch by Emma J Virjan


Rating: WORTHY!

I don't know if Emma, a fellow Texan, whom I've never met, was a Virjan before she got married or became one afterwards, or has been one all her life, but do doubt her name has contributed to her sense of humor because this book for young children is hilarious. The author also illustrates it and the idea of a pig in a wig is genius. (And yes, I know it's probably pronounced veer-yan. I'm just larking about!).

The colorful drawings are simple and funny, very easy for young children to take in, and the rhyming text is likewise. I thought this book was inspired, and if your child likes this one, then there are many others to choose from: What This Story Needs is a Pig in a Wig, What This Story Needs is a Hush and a Shush, What This Story Needs is a Munch and a Crunch, What This Story Needs is a Bang and a Clang, and What This Story Needs is a Vroom and a Zoom. You get the pigture. Or is it a porktrait?

In this particular adventure, there is a picnic in the offing, and it sure enough gets offed by the unexpected thunderstorm, but that's only the outdoor part. The indoor part continues with the Pig in a Wig's animal friends, so all is not lost. I recommend this one.


Saturday, December 31, 2016

Miss Kane's Christmas by Caroline Mickelson


Rating: WORTHY!

Closing out the year on a nice positive note, This is a typical Christmas "need to change your outlook" kind of a story as exemplified in books such as A Christmas Carol, and in movies such as It's a Wonderful Life which I took delight in parodying last year, and Miracle on 34th Street, of which I think the original was better than the remake. It involves a couple falling in love in only two or three days, and a very pushy woman winning over a determinedly anti-Christmas single dad. So why did I like this one, and reject the other one I'm reviewing today? It's a matter of perspective. The other one put a completely unrealistic plot into a real life situation, and this one put a perfectly plausible plot (in the story context) into a fantasy. The latter works. The former never will unless you're writing an absurdist comedy and not a romance.

It's the very fact that this is a ridiculous fantasy that means you don't take it too seriously, which is why I don't get some of the negative comments I've read about this. It's like complaining that Cinderella would have been far too uncomfortable in glass slippers (when they were, in the original story, fur anyway!), or that wolves can't even talk, much less huff and puff, and blow down a house. You can't judge it seriously, and like a children's story, you need to accept it within its own frame of reference, not in some adult reality frame of your own invention. It feels rather like these critics are trying to argue that you can't change a young suicidal person's mind, so leave 'em alone and let 'em get on with it!

No, you don't let an otherwise perfectly healthy young suicidal person get on with it even if they really want to, and in a world where Santa is not only real, but has a family, you can't let a guy rob his kids of the fun of Christmas. You have to hold an intervention! This is why I can like this story and reject the other one, because within its fantasy world, this story was plausible and fun. Yes, Santa's daughter was pushy, but she didn't want to be there in the first place, and was focused solely on getting this task done and moving on. She never expected to be won over by this single dad's love for his kids or his level of patience with her. It wasn't great literature. It wasn't authentic reality. It was a fairy tale, and it was cute and fun and funny, and I liked it. That's all there is to it.


Monday, December 19, 2016

The Invisible Man by Arthur Yorinks


Rating: WORTHY!

Alas! Poor Yorinks! I knew him Horatio; a man of infinite jest, and here's another one: this guy, a fruit-seller in a market, finds himself becoming invisible, not metaphorically like in Jeanne Ray's Calling Invisible Women which I positively reviewed (yes I'm positive!) back in November 2016, but for reals.

He slowly starts disappearing, and his cat isn't at all happy with it. Despite visiting the doctor for advice, and pursing other ideas, he can't find a cure until something really rather miraculous happens! I liked the humorous idea, and the way it was written and presented, and I recommend this for a fun read with your kids.


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Manga Claus by Nathaniel Marunas, Erik Craddock


Rating: WORTHY!

Subtitled The Blade of Kringle, this isn't a manga, it's a regular graphic novel, but it's about ninjas, including ninja teddy-bears and a ninja Santa! Erik Craddock's art is great, and the story by Nathaniel Marunas is hilarious.

An aggrieved elf uses a bit of illegal magic to amp up a ninja toy, ordering it to go wreck the toy-building area of Santa's Workshop (a map is included!). The elf plans to come in later and conveniently save the day. Unfortunately, the ninja starts doing his job too well and somehow unleashes a hoard of ninja bears, who go on a wild rampage through the workshop. Only ninja Santa can save the day. Or can he?

This story reminded me very much of My New Fighting Technique is Unstoppable by David Rees, but without the bad language and with better art! I'm thinking mainly of the humor here because it had that same kind of off-the-wall snap to it that made you laugh out loud. I recommend this highly.


Saturday, December 3, 2016

Penny Arcade Attack of the Bacon Robots by Jerry Holkins, Mike Krahulik


Rating: WORTHY!

This is an amusing retrospective of comic strips done by these guys who obsess over video games. I'm not a video gamer: I get much more fun out of a good novel (writing or reading) than ever I have had from any number of dumb video games, but I understand the culture, and besides, this isn't a video game! It's a commentary of a host of them over several years, and it's really amusing, even if you're not familiar with the games, which I found to be a curious phenomenon. Some of the games I did have a passing familiarity with, others I could guess at, some I'd never heard of. I've played none of the ones mentioned here except Pac-Man, but I still enjoyed the attitude and observations. These guys have a great sense of humor and it shines through their work. Yes, some of the strips fell flat for me, but most of them - and sometimes surprisingly - did not.

I think to get the most out of this you have to be of a certain culture and a certain era, but I do recommend it one for anyone who knows a little about gaming culture, or who has geek blood, and I would particularly recommend it for for those who are immersed in the culture and consider themselves trivia buffs on the topic, but note that these comic strips are from the period 1998 through 2000, so they have nothing to say about modern games. They're exclusively about obsolete games, which might well be beloved by potential readers. I found it a worthy read, anyway. Besides, I loved the title!


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga by Koji Aihara, Kentaro Takemura


Rating: WORTHY!

This was educational (somewhat), humorous (particularly in the bathroom humor department, be warned), and entertaining, but it's really much more of a satire on manga than ever it is a how-to manual, although it does offer a surprising number of tips and suggestions.

Under the guise of explaining how easy it is to draw manga, the two authors/artists offer a commentary on the state of Japanese manga, what motivates it, and which trends are hot and cold, taking potshots at everything out there, including themselves. The line-drawing artwork is pretty decent and quite varied, and some of the stories they tell are pretty amusing. There is a distinct tendency towards bathroom humor and there is some quite explicit nudity depicted, so this isn't the book you want to give young children who may be displaying a flare for, or an interest in, comic book illustration.

That said I found it amusing and interesting and I'd recommend it for anyone who has a broad mind and is interested in manga.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban


Rating: WORTHY!

Normally I avoid like the plague stories which feature striped socks on the cover - which is almost a genre of its own these days - but once in a while a worthy one comes along, and as it happens, this was a very short audiobook which I loved. Yes, there were bits and pieces which were less than thrilling, but overall, I loved the voice of this ten-year-old girl, Zoe Elias, who dreams big dreams but lacks the motivation to achieve them, as many in her age range doubtlessly do. Plus, she gets very little support from her parents who are bordering on being abusive, not in a 'physically beating their kids' sense, but in the case of her dad, having issues which need medical treatment he's not getting, and in the other case, a mom who works all hours and is almost not even a character in the story because she's so absent. Her dad being a conclusion short of a premise the reason her mother works so many hours, it would seem, since dad is profligate with money on those rare occasions he ventures out. I loved the reading voice of Tia Alexandra Ricci, and the sense of humor which ran through the narrative.

Zoe dreams of playing piano in Carnegie Hall, wearing a tiara no less!), but it's only a wild fantasy, which is squelched when her three-sheets to the wind father comes home with an electric organ instead of the grand piano she unrealistically demanded. But the organ does come with some free in home lessons, and so this is what Zoe has to deal with. That and Wheeler Diggs who is an oddball guy at school who befriends Zoe's dad more than he does Zoe, and consequently hangs at her house routinely after school instead of going straight home. Rightly or wrongly, Wheeler reminded me a bit of Heath Ledger's character in the hilarious movie Ten Things I Hate About You, which itself was loosely based on The Taming of the Shrew.

Zoe's Carnegie Hall moment comes actually in the form of a minor win after entering the annual Perform-O-Rama organ competition sponsored by the makers of the organ she's learning to play. All around, the story was engaging and funny - especially in regard to Zoe's take on life and on people. It was occasionally boring here and there, but overall, a worthy read.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Bunnicula Strikes Again by James Howe


Rating: WARTY!

I never read the original Bunnicula, and I never will! This was evidently, thinks I, volume two, but in fact turned out to be volume six! I made it about half way through before giving up on it. All is not lost though, because this print book will go to a local library which has limited funds, so others will benefit from it! I hope!

The joke here is that the rabbit is a vampire, but not for blood - for veggie juice, sucking vegetables dry. It's hilarious - as far as the concept goes, and I can't speak for the entertainment value of volume one, but this felt like five volumes too many, and is a major reason why I don't typically like series! They're boring, and by nature are derivative and repetitive. That doesn't work for me. In this case, this one didn't go anywhere. I read fifty percent of this and quite literally nothing happened. It was a tedious diary of a kid and his dog lying around, running downstairs, running upstairs, spying on the cat, and lying around. Yawn. A good portion of it was references to, and recapping of, volume one, which is just cheating in my book, but it is a hallmark of series.

Based on fifty percent of this, I can't recommend it. It wasn't in the least bit entertaining.


Monday, November 14, 2016

Bad Machinery the Case of the Team Spirit by John Allison


Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this review is based on an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Bad Machinery is exactly what it says! It's totally bad-ass and hugely hilarious. But let's not confuse the case of team spirit with a case of liquor! These kids are only middle grade after all. This book, one of a series, is set in a Grammar school in England, and it's a locale with which I am intimately familiar having attended one myself. The story is set in Yorkshire, where my parents were born and raised, and I grew up next door, in Derbyshire. Non-Brits may need some remedial assistance on the lingo, but most of it isn't hard to understand. The graphic novel is evidently composed of webcomic dailies.

I adored this story. Every one of the characters is one I wish I had known at my own school, but alas and a lack of them was what plagued me there. Charlotte Grote, Jack Finch, Linton Baxter, Mildred Haversham, Shauna Wickle, and Sonny Craven are the weird, whacky, and charming students dealing with assorted life crises in their own peculiar ways. Sometimes their agendas conflict and other times they align.

The big deal is that a Russian owner of the local soccer club is trying to demolish houses to build a new stadium in their place, but this Russky seems to have pissed-off the mother of all bad luck, as becomes apparent when a satellite crashes onto the football pitch in the middle of a game, and assorted other disasters befall him. Plus Mrs Biscuits is also Russian, but not interested in rushing anywhere. She refuses to move from her home which sits, of course, right in the way of the Russian's plans to raze the land and raise a stadium. Two of the girls decide to make her the subject of a school project.

Each character has their own cross to bear. Shauna's, for example, is her slightly dysfunctional younger brother whose favorite non-word is BORB. Linton is plagued by his overly attentive mother and his fear that the beautiful new soccer stadium may never materialize. Sonny's father misses his own brutal grammar school days which appear to have been the inspiration for Michael Palin's Ripping Yarns, specifically the episode titled Tomkinson's Schooldays. Jack suffers an older sister who attends the same school and dispenses remarkable advice like, "It's a good idea to shave off your eyebrows" and "be sure to wear eye-shadow for gym." I fell in love with Charlotte though, disgusting as that is, since I'm old enough to be her father, but her sense of humor completely slayed me. She is the queen of bizarre observations and off-the-wall comments such as when she wants to discuss the procedure for extracting mothballs from moths.

The story meanders delightfully and abstrusely towards a satisfying conclusion. The art isn't spectacular, but it's serviceable and it got the job done for me. I haven't read any others in this series, but I fully intend to correct that oversight, first chance I get!