Showing posts with label print book. Show all posts
Showing posts with label print book. Show all posts

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Science for Sale by Daniel S Greenberg


Rating: WARTY!

I got this book from the library thinking it might be interesting, but it was as dry as week-old bread that has been overly-toasted and then freeze-dried. That's how dry it was. I expect academic-style tomes to be dry, but I don't usually have the issues with them that I had with this, with its uninspired cover and its academic margins. What's with that?

By academic margins I mean they are unnecessarily wide. I know this is traditional, but do not these bozos in colleges and universities care about trees? It's still possible to format it decently and have it look good, while using more of the page and saving a few trees, but none of them seem to get that. I think from this point on I'm going to automatically rate a book negatively if it looks like they're wantonly slaughtering trees, regardless of the quality of the book.

The margins in this book were an inch at the outside and on the bottom, and three-quarters of an inch at the top and in the gutter. The page was six by nine. That means the print area, even as admirably dense (yet readable) as it was, was occupying only roughly 60% of the paper. With less generous overly-margins, it could have occupied more, and thereby used fewer pages.

There were indented quotes, too, which were identified not only by a slightly smaller font, but also by huge indentations. These could have been adjusted too, so that instead of being a three-quarter inch shift further into the page than even the text was, they could have been a half or even a quarter inch. Whoever designed this book would appear to be either a moron or a tree-hater.

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I cannot recommend this at all unless you're in dire (and I do mean dire) need of something to put you to sleep. If you're an insomniac, this will likely cure you, but in terms of helping a reader to understand what's going on with college finance, it's of no help at all.


Thursday, December 14, 2017

Turkey Monster Thanksgiving by Anne Warren Smith


Rating: WORTHY!

Nine-year-old Katie and school friend Claire, who is also Katie's across-the-street neighbor, both have in common that are short of a mom. Claire's father is, I believe, divorced. Katie's mom selfishly left the family to pursue a singing career in Nashville, although Katie apparently is apparently fine with that.

Claire is a bit uppity, so while Katie is looking forward to their usual Thanksgiving: eating her father's "famous" pizza in their pajamas, and then eating popcorn while watching the football on TV, Claire proudly announces that her family is going to throw a banquet for a score of people. Also her Thanksgiving decorations, which are spilling out onto the porch and the yard, are something else, especially the monster turkey which Claire's father plans to put onto the house roof, and which scares Katie's young brother.

Katie starts to feel like her plans are inadequate, and she begins to compete with Claire by making a list, checking it twice, and,...wait, wrong holiday! She does make a list of things to do, including making decorations and buying a bird ahead of time so it can be thawed and cooked, and also looking up recipes for traditional Thanksgiving dishes to prepare. She starts looking for people to invite to dinner as well, but in the end she can come up with only two, one of whom is a teacher and the other her dad's boss. It doesn't help her situation that she's lied to Claire about what kind of a Thanksgiving her family's will be like.

Now you know things will go astray here and they do (festooning the house with poison oak and setting the sweet potato dish on fire are never good ideas), but Katie stays true to her course even as she realizes and acknowledges that compromises must be made. She is an admirable and strong female character who has dreams, but who also has her feet firmly on the ground. I liked her and thought she was a good role-model for children of her age. I really enjoyed this book, and I recommend it unreservedly.


The Way to Bea by Kat Yeh


Rating: WORTHY!

Being a big fan of well-done plays on words, I loved the title of this book and I also loved the book itself. It was a smart, well-written and beautifully-plotted work, and the main character was a strong female who is a good role model. She's is very withdrawn when the novel starts, but comes out of her shell naturally and admirably as the story grows.

Bea (Beatrix) is a schoolgirl poet of Taiwanese extraction, but she is painfully shy, and sensitive to people noticing her. She tries to be invisible but she also wants to be involved with the school paper for the experience, yet she doesn't want her poetry to appear in it! In short, she is trapped in a strange maze of her own making, and she needs to find her way out. It's fortuitous then, that she starts forming a friendship with an autistic boy (maybe Asperger's) who also works at the paper and whose ambition she learns, is to navigate a private labyrinth.

He likes to keep files to help him categorize things, and he's very precise in all his thoughts and behaviors, so he lectures Bea on the difference between a maze and a labyrinth. Since the labyrinth is private and no one is allowed in there except the family which owns it, he is a bit at a loss as to how to go about it, although very exacting in his plans where he can make them. Bea discovers a secret that will give them an 'in' to the labyrinth, and this is where things begin to unravel and Bea really needs to step-up to save the day. She does not fail.

I love the way Bea is very physical about her poems - mostly haiku which were fun - writing the words in the air before her as the poem materializes, working through the beats and the rhythm. Unfortunately, this gets her noticed, so she starts writing them in invisible ink and posting them in a hole in a wall in the woods near the school. It's only when someone starts writing back that she is jolted out of her private world. So she is dealing with her shyness, her loss of a dear friend who now seems to be hanging out with a new crowd, and the arrival of new people in her life with whom she does not know how to interact.

I loved the characters in the newspaper office, and how they were very individual and slightly quirky and how they all interfaced with one another. I am glad the book did not say 'quirky' in the blurb because I immediately walk away from books that do and tell them to go jump into Lake Woebegone as I leave, but this was just the right amount of quirk to appeal to me without being idiotic or painful in how hard it was trying. The story was wonderfully-written and well-worth reading.


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen


Rating: WARTY!

Sofonisba Anguissola was a real person who lived during the time of Michelangelo and in fact studied under him for a short time. She was a gifted artist who deserves much better than this author gives her. The prime mover in Sofonisba's life was art yet here, the author reduces her to a love-sick YA character, stupid with anguished love for Tibiero Calcagni, a fictional sculptor she purportedly knew from Michelangelo's studio.

There is an incident with Tiberio, and the book doesn't make clear what happened. Some reviewers believe they had sex, but I am not convinced that they did. Whatever happened, Sofonisba is upset by it and feels shamed, but instead of moving on, she agonizes over this for half the freaking book (which is as far as I could stand to read)! It’s tedious. Tiberio is Michelangelo's boy toy (I'm guessing - I don't know for sure) and you were merely a diversion, Sofi. Move on!

She is put into the service of the French wife of the Spanish king as an art tutor. He is in his thirties and she is barely into her teens. That story could have been interesting, but we’re supposed to be getting Sofinisba's story which is also an interesting one. The author seems to have forgotten this and rather than talk about Sofonisba and her art, she depicts the artist as merely an observer, relating the story of the Spanish triangle between Don Juan, the king, and his wife. It’s boring. Most love triangles are, especially in YA literature.

The book blurb is misleading, as usual. It says, "...after a scandal involving one of Michelangelo's students, she flees Rome and fears she has doomed herself and her family," but this greatly exaggerates what happened. The blurb also tells us that "Sofi yearns only to paint," but this is an outright lie since she's rarely shown painting or even thinking about painting. The way the story is told here, the only real yearning Sofi experiences is over Tiberio.

Set in the mid 1500's, the story is superficially about this remarkable and talented painter struggling to make herself known for her art in a very masculine world where women were tightly constrained everywhere. The story could have been equally remarkable, but this author destroyed it. We got no sense of frustration or struggle from Sofonisba and precious little of her art as she's reduced to being a documentarian of the life at the Spanish court.

That life is tediously repetitive. The foppish young men at court are laughable. The main character in the book could have been anyone, including the chamber maid, and the story would have been largely the same. Don't look here for art; there's precious little of it, neither in the narrow sense of Sofinisba's life ambition, nor in the larger sense of the word. Artless is more accurate.

We're told that women are not allowed to paint nudes but there is a nude (Minerva Dressing) painted by artist Lavinia Fontana in 1613. Fontana was influenced by Anguissola, so whether things changed in the fifty years between this novel's setting, and Fontana's painting or the author just got it wrong, I don’t know. Fontana does seem to be the first female artist to paint female nudes, so maybe she was a cutting edge girl, in which case, a well-written story about her would be worth reading, and certainly better than this one! I cannot recommend this novel.


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Curiosity House: The Screaming Statue by Lauren Oliver and HC Chester


Rating: WARTY!

I'm not sure about the HC Chester - whether that's a real person or some sort of fictional device - but I have avoided Lauren Oliver's books since she's never written one which has appealed to me enough to want to read it. Now I know why! This one did appeal until I started reading it; then I found it was definitely not to my taste at all, and I DNF'd it rather quickly. Yes, it's not aimed at me, but I have to wonder if those at whom it is aimed would like it. My own two kids who are broadly in that age range would not give it the time of day, I'm sure.

The book is part two of a series of loosely connected adventures, I believe, featuring the same mystery-solving kids, and I know this is what Big Publishing™ pushes authors into, and authors dream of getting that series sinecure so they don't have to think-up good ideas for stories anymore, but I am not a fan of those authors who chase easy cash, and I don't read series very much for the same reason I tend not to go for overly long novels: I'm very easily bored by a surfeit of sameness, and books like this are all about same-old, same-old: once you get through that introductory portion, whether it be the first twenty chapters or the first volume.

There are exceptions which are rare and treasured, but this was not one of them. I didn't like the charcters or find them interesting. It took way too long to actually find a mystery (I was still unsure what it was when I quit reading, but it seemed like maybe the 'murdered' wife wasn't actually dead at all). Maybe I'm wrong in that guess, but what I do guess right is that I'm done with Lauren Olvier now.


Pie for Chuck by Pat Schories


Rating: WARTY!

This was in some ways quite a charming story about a bunch of small rodents aiming to steal a freshly-baked pie. Do people really sit freshly-baked pies out on the window sill anymore? It's a bit of a trope, and maybe they really did at one time, but I doubt they do now! Most people just buy these sugar-loaded concoctions at the store ready-made, and microwave them! LOL! Anyway, the pie is there and so is Chuck, who daydreams about the flaky pastry and the gooey filling. Chuck has to have it, but he can't get it by himself, so he recruits his friends, and they each try but fail. It's only when they cooperate that they can enjoy the literal fruits of their labors.

Normally I like to cut children's authors some slack and try to find positive things to say about their stories, but in this case, and despite the fun book and the nice illustrations, and the story about cooperation, I have to give this a thumbs down because it's about theft! There are ways to tell a story to children about cooperation, without teaching them that thieving is okay, and even fun and rewarding. I can't rate this positively because of that. The author could just as easily have added a moral to this tale and had the animals get sick because fruit pie is not their natural food! There could have been a health message too for that matter: about eating right, but he author left it at 'thievery brings its own rewards' and to me, that's the wrong idea to pass on to children.


Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi, Betheny Hegedus


Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated impressively by Evan Turk employing a dazzling variety of inventive techniques, this was a fascinating book. How do you ever cope with having a close relative who is as famous and renowned as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, aka Mahatma Gandhi? This is written by Arun Gandhi, son of Manilal, who was Mahatma Gandhi's second child to survive; conditions were harsh back then and still are for many people, and not only in India.

Arun describes an event which obviously must have made an impression on him. It was when he went to visit his father as a young child and was abused on the football (soccer) field. He became very angry at being pushed, and then ashamed that he was unable to emulate his grandfather, but in talks with Gandhi-ji, he learns a few things about how to live his life non-violently and turn his anger into a light, not a thunderous darkness.

If only we could all learn this! All of us struggle with anger and frustration at times. The book might have offered more, but it's aimed at young children and I think it at least lights a candle, so I recommend this book as a beginning for children trying to deal with all of that.


Getting to the Bottom of Global Warming by Terry Collins


Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated well by Cynthia Martin and Bill Anderson, this book teaches young kids about climate change, aka global warming. 'Climate change' is a better term because 'global warming' confuses stupid people, who seem to think it means that everywhere will get dramatically hotter. No, it means climate change.

In general, the planet will warm (and has been warming because of human induced pollution), but not everywhere will warm up and become a tropical paradise. It's more a case of extremes becoming more extreme, so while some areas are becoming hotter, others are seeing serious winter storming. On top of that we're seeing flooding from more extreme rainfall and rising oceans, and we're seeing plant and animal life changing in terms of the areas it's normally found. We're also seeing tropic diseases spreading beyond their historical boundaries. In short, it's a mess.

This book features the novel idea of time-traveler, Isabel Soto who is "an archaeologist and world explorer with the skills to go wherever and whenever she needs to research history, solve a mystery, or rescue colleagues in trouble." One has to wonder why she can't fix climate change if she can go back into the past, but it's a lot to ask one person, so I decided to let that pass! Maybe she tried and no one would listen. We've sure seen way too much of that. Yes, Republicans, I'm looking at you.

We have a president who is obsessed with saving coal-mining jobs when he ought to be proposing retraining programs to find work for all those people in sensible and forward-thinking technologies like solar energy which is the fastest rising portion of the US economy, or in other renewable energy employment which will, given resources and time, solve the energy and pollution crisis. Now there's a case of a man who cannot think out of the box and who is obsessively-compulsively offering knee-jerk non-solutions instead of thinking it through, and looking to the future. That's why books like this are important: so children can learn that they do not have to be hide-bound by tradition and blinkered by the erroneous, selfish, and tunnel-vision thought patterns of yesteryear and politicians who, despite being past their sell-by date have nonetheless sold out to corporate interests.


Monday, December 4, 2017

Luz Makes a Splash by Claudia Dávila


Rating: WORTHY!

This author is a Chilean who now lives in Canada, and this is a great children's story about community activism, pollution, and taking charge. It's evidently the first in a series, which consists (as of this blog post) of two books: this one and a sequel called Luz sees the Light, a title which amuses me because light is the very meaning of Luz! Light is the meaning of Luz, Luz is the meaning of light! And on and on like the Neil Innes Beatles song parody he did for The Rutles (aka All You Need Is Cash).

In this book, Luz becomes concerned when there is a drought and she discovers that the refreshing little natural pool she and her friends used to visit on hots days like these, is all dried up! A nearby corporation is responsible. it's been using the water to manufacture its cola product! So yes, corporate responsibility and malfeasance also get a look in here. Luz learns many things about recycling, preserving and protecting water, and how to organize a protest.

The book is quite long and well-written, and nicely illustrated. It tells a smart and realistic story, and it offers an education along the way. I recommend it.


The Myth of the Oil Crisis by Robin M Mills


Rating: WARTY!

Subtitled 'Overcoming the Challenges of Depletion, Geopolitics, and Global Warming', this book did not impress me mainly because it failed to address the fact that no matter how much technology we bring to bear, and how much we can squeeze from a rock, the fact is that oil is a pollutant, is causing climate change, and is inevitably going to run out at some point. The more we can wean ourselves off it, the less it's going to bite us in the ass. That's the bottom line, and this author seems to be in denial about that.

We're producing oil at the rate of about 35 billion barrels per year. The total world reserves are optimistically estimated at 1.6 trillion barrels. At that rate, this means the reserves will be used up in less than half a century. So yes, we have passed peak oil.

The author seemed to have a problem with the concept of easy oil, idiotically arguing that no oil is extracted easily. I guess wells never gushed, huh? I know what he means, but the fact is that these are not absolute terms; they're relative, and yes, it's harder work to find new oil now than it used to be. Deal with it. His own discussion of retrieving oil in Kazakhstan belies his claim!

He's also flat-out wrong in other regards. When he published the book, oil may have been at one hundred dollars a barrel, but (as of this blog post) is less than half that. The problem he fails to recognize is not that expensive oil is a problem, but that cheap oil is and has always been a problem. The oil crisis isn't that there isn't enough or that it's expensive, it's just the opposite: there's too much for our own good, and it's selling too cheaply. This needs to stop.

He talks about the so-called 'peak oil theory' being consistently wrong, but fails to address the fact that it was predictably wrong in the past because of poor information and no foreseeable technology. You can't fault someone in 1904 or 1940 for failing to see where the world would be in 2014, but that doesn't mean we can keep mindlessly sucking oil out of the Earth indefinitely and with no consequences. His failure to address this means just what the blurb says: Robin Mills is an oil insider and therefore not trustworthy as a disinterested commentator. Of course he's going to put a gloss on it. I cannot recommend this one.


Friday, December 1, 2017

Mila 2.0: Renegade by Debra Driza


Rating: WARTY!

This is book 2 in a series, which was not known to me when I picked it up, otherwise I would have put it right back down. It looked interesting from the blurb (but doesn't it always?): an android on the run. Count me in! Why they don't call the female ones gynoid, I don't know any more than I know how there can be such a thing as a female android - or even a male one for that matter since they are robots and incapable of reproduction (one assumes!). I just did not get along with this novel at all though. The blurb online says it's "Perfect for fans of I Am Number Four and Divergent" which would have turned me off at once had I read that on the back of the book.

So Mila is on the run from General Holland and Vita Obscura, whoever they are. She's hanging with a guy, who to credit the novel where it's due, is not your usual type of studly YA male, although he does sport the ;laughable name of Hunter which is one of the go-to names for YA novels. The two of them are supposed to be looking for a guy named Richard Grady who is evidently someone who can tell her about how she came to be, but neither of them is smart enough to get that he is undoubtedly being watched and she will be captured as soon as she shows up in his neighborhood.

This was the biggest problem. Mila is dumb and she's obsessing on Hunter and none of that made any sense, but the dumb part was what really got me. She's too dumb to know that these people who are trying to track her might be using her own Internet searches to pin down where she is. I can't stand reading novels about dumb girls, and YA is replete with such novels. If she starts out dumb and wises up, that's one thing, but to be dedicatedly dumb is a huge turn-off for me, especially when the novel spends more time focused on how pretty Mila is than anything else.

Not for me. Not for me to recommend.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Why Cats Paint by Heather Busch, Burton Silver


Rating: WORTHY!

I'm not a big cat fan, that is, I am not a big fan of cats, but when I saw this book I had to take a look at it. My conclusion is that either these two authors are either high amongst the most tongue-in-cheek authors ever, or they're dangerously delusional. I shall be charitable and go with the first of those options, mainly because I share their evident opinion that the art world is just as bad as the fashion world for being puffed-up, vacuous, and ridiculous.

Seen in that light, this book, subtitled "A theory of feline aesthetics" is brilliant, and I salute the authors. The tone is pitch perfect, the images gorgeous, and the overall effect hilarious. Cats are not the only animals that paint. By 'paint' I mean daub a surface with color. Chimpanzees and elephants do it, rhinos and meerkats (Google's idiot spell checker wanted to change that latter to 'marketeers' LOL!), raccoons and pigs, goats and lemurs, parrots, and even seals, and not just at Easter (or estrus)!

Employing the word 'paint' suggests a purpose. Do they have a purpose? Clearly it attracts them, but what exactly is going on in their sub-human brains remains to be seen. Something does however compel animals to daub the paint, yet no one can possibly know what's going on in the animals' mind, except, of course, these two authors who deliberate over it and quote references, and have a high old time extolling both art and artist!

I recommend this not only because it's intriguing that animals do this, but because of the images of the artists, which are charming and adorable, and also the art itself, which is inspiring for anyone who, like me, who all to often thinks he can neither paint nor draw. I recommend the book as a coffee table book, a reading book and a guaranteed conversation-starter.


Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Facts of Life by Paula Knight


Rating: WORTHY!

This was another library book. The author, Paula Knight, changed her name to Polly in the book as she changed everyone else's name too, so it wasn't too personal, but it is in fact a very personal story told by a graduate (BA in Graphic Design form Bristol Polytechnic in England about her pursuit of a pregnancy and her grappling with a fatigue syndrome.

Paula/Polly grew up an only child and tells an interesting and moving, and humorous story about her life beginning with hanging out with her best friend, learning about sex, and spending more and more time as she matured, wondering if she ever wanted to have children. In the end she discovered she had ME/CFS, which is myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, a very disabling illness which an come back and bite you often. It resulted in her losing all her energy at times, and feeling like everything was real struggle.

When she finally found the partner she wanted to be with, she was in her mid thirties and starting to feel a 'now or never' imperative to having a child of her own. When they began to seriously try, however, she and her partner repeatedly got the reward of very brief pregnancies ending in miscarriage, After trying IVF, she and her partner gave up. It was only then that she began to notice how pervasive 'pronatalism' - the idea that a family consists of mom, dad, and one or more children - truly is in society.

Illustrated by the author in simple gray-scale line drawings, this novel is well imagined and well executed, and (be warned!) takes a no holds barred approach to telling her story of sexuality, of growing up in Britain in the seventies and eighties, of learning, of struggling, of disappointment, and finally of coming through it all with a new perspective on life. I really liked the story and I recommend it.


The Astonishing Ant-Man Everybody Loves Team-Ups by Nick Spencer, Brent Schoonover, Ramon Rosanas, Jordan Boyd


Rating: WARTY!

This was the polar opposite of the previous volume I read. I know I'm more than likely reading these out of sequence, but I don't think that matters in this case since it was so disjointed!

Whilst the previous one at least held my interest, even if it did not inspire me to read more, when I moved on to this second volume (which I'd already checked out of the library), I found it was not at all to my taste. The artwork was of the same standard as the previous book I read, but the story here was nonsensical and choppy, and simply did not draw-in my interest let alone hold it.

Worse than this, I ran into the same comic book issues that I've seen in all-too-many comic books. These were muted somewhat in the previous volume but put out on full exhibition here. One major reason I do not favor reading very many comic books is the genderist portrayals of male heroes versus female heroes. The men are all wearing these simple or functional costumes. The women are not.

The Giant, for example wears an old-style Flash costume: one piece, skin-hugging, bright red and black, with a cowl incorporated into the costume. He how would even get into such a costume, let alone feel comfortable wearing, is a question I long ago gave up asking, but note one important thing: his junk is not on view! Indeed, he looks like a castrated angel because he has no bulge whatsoever in his crotch! Maybe Pym particles shrink the penis and testicles? So why don't those particles also shrink the secondary sex organs (so-called) of the female heroes instead of projecting them fantastically outwards?

Ant-man wears a similar red and black outfit with a utility belt and a helmet the purpose of which I have still to grasp. Its sole purpose seems to be to give his head a vague ant-like appearance. Whatever it is, he's evidently so enamored of it that he even wears it when he takes a woman to bed with him.... Captain America, who is the token black guy in this comic, has this bizarre high collar on his outfit, which comes up over his ears, and he wears goggles. Since the original Cap had none of that, I can only assume that its only purpose is to hide as much black skin as possible so's not to offend readers that an Africa American has been uppity enough to trespass upon their pristine WASP comic book.

Compare and contrast this with the female heroes, none of whom are black. They all wear high heels, even in costume, and they all have low-cut tops so that even if no flesh is actually exposed, it's suggestive of it. In a flashback, one of them commendably wears a costume which is an exact duplicate of her male counterpart (no high heels!), but then that's completely subsumed under a Thing costume, so she never gets to be herself.

The outfit that takes the cake though, is when a super villain named Beetle appears. Her costume, while exposing no flesh (she wears a black onesie) is topped with thigh-high boots (with the inevitable heels), and she also wears a bustier with thin straps over her shoulders and a sharp V-cut at her crotch to make it clear that's where her V-shaped pubic mound is for anyone who might have got lost as their eyes climbed those boots leading up to 'Heaven'. Seriously? Why?

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This book is garbage and I dis-recommend it for anyone who has any integrity, decency, and self-respect.


Friday, November 17, 2017

The Astonishing Ant-Man Small Time Criminal by Nick Spencer, Ramon Rosanas, Annapoala Martello, Brent Schoonover


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a graphic novel I got from my wonderful local library on spec. I loved the Marvel movie, but my love doesn't necessarily translate to a love of the associated comic books. In this case it almost didn't, but in the end I liked this enough to consider it a worthy read, even though it was hardly brilliant. It certainly wasn't as funny as the Ant-man movie.

In a small way, this was an origin story although it really didn't give the entire story. That was more of a reminiscence. In it, Scott Lang is separated from his family (as in the movie) and is bothered and bewildered by what's going on around him. In the comic book, the Pym Particles are things which can be carried and handed around almost like drugs. Some of them found their way to Lang's daughter, Cassie, who is more grown-up than in the movie.

She has been a Young Avenger, but somehow lost her powers and now feels their absence painfully. This is why she throws her lot in with a villain who works at an organization called 'Hench'. Why the police would not be interested in a man who claims to be able to turn people into super-villains goes completely unexplored here, and this is one problem I have with both movies and comic books: the stories completely neglect existing law-enforcement and the larger world, such as with fire-fighters and national guard, the FBI, the CIA, and so on. It's like those people don't exist in Super World™!

Cassie thinks she can get her powers back (or get some powers anyway) by infiltrating Hench under the premise that she wants to become a super villain. When she gets her powers she will turn on them, The villain figures out her motives, but he agrees on a deal with her: if she will retrieve something that was taken from him, he will grant her powers and they can go their separate ways, no hard feelings. Scott doesn't realize this of course - he just learns his daughter is working with super villains and has to deal with that shocker.

A friend of Scott's becomes Giant Man by employing his share of Pym Particles, but he does so much damage due to his size that the people of San Francisco detest him, so Scott takes him to a Lego village and has him practice being a gentle giant. This is mildly amusing, but more amusing, and why I rated this worthy, are the super-villains. They're more clownish than villainous and I grew to like them and sympathize with them as Cassie works with them to complete her task and earn her powers.

So overall a worthy read but not something that made me want to rush out and grab the next issue (although I do have one more issue to review!).


Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane


Rating: WORTHY!

Set in 1954, the story begins with two US Marshals setting out for Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane which is housed in an old fort on Shutter Island. On the ferry to the island where the story opens, Teddy Daniels has a new partner named Chuck Aule with whom he has never worked. Teddy is throwing up in the bathroom.

They are sent to investigate the disappearance of a female inmate named Rachel Solando, who evidently murdered her own three children, so the story has all the hallmarks of a locked room mystery. I saw the film made from this novel some time ago and barely remembered it, so my impression was that I didn't like it very much, but I decided to give the novel a go anyway since I'd liked this author's novel Mystic River. After I read this I watched the movie again and liked it, but was not overwhelmed by it.

The novel was good though, and I found that the reader quickly learns that not everything is as it seems here. People appear to be keeping secrets. There are hints that perhaps some radical experimentation is taking place on the island on some of the patients. It doesn't help that real clues are hard to come by, that many of the potential witnesses are literally insane, that Teddy is suffering migraines, and that a hurricane is coming down hard on the island. Worse than this, Teddy has an agenda - to find the guy who he thinks burned down his home and thereby killed his wife, and he thinks Andrew Laeddis is somewhere in Ashecliffe.

It became apparent at a point early in the story that someone was deluding themselves, but I could never tell whether it was going to take the predictable route or if there really was something else going on. It took the predictable route, but that didn't make it any less of a worthy read for me. I enjoyed it and I recommend it.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Daughter of Winter by Pat Lowery Collins


Rating: WARTY!

This book might appeal to the intended age range, but for me it was poorly done, and makes American Indians look like antiquated idiots. That said, it was set in 1849, when everyone by today's standards seems antiquated, but the story itself simply made no sense.

Addie is twelve, and lives in Essex, Massachusetts, where shipbuilding is the line of work every boy wants to get into. Girls have no choice about their lives, and this never changes for Addie. Her father took off to join the California gold rush and almost as soon as he's gone, her mother and infant brother take sick with "the flux" and both die. This is where we join the story.

With Anna fearful of being sent into servitude, she conceals her family's death and steals a coffin for burying them, from the local undertaker. This is the first problem because this is not an insubstantial theft, and had it been investigated, which it undoubtedly would have been, it would have led directly to the girl who dragged the pine box to her home, yet she gets away with it!

Unfortunately, her continued rejection of the town's people's offers to come visit her mother eventually reveals the truth. Rather than stick around, Addie flees into the woods, looking for 'Nokummus' (the Wampanoag word for grandmother, aka Nokomes), an American Indian woman who offered to help Addie, but who singularly fails to do so.

As it turns out, Nokummus is quite literally Addie's grandmother, but we have to wade through countless tedious pages as Addie flees home in mid-winter, camps out in a lean-to near a shipyard, and all but freezes and starves despite her supposedly having experience of camping with her father. I can't help but ask, since Nokummus was known in Essex and several people knew she was Addie's grandmother, what the hell was the whole story about? Why did this woman not come and live with Addie when her father left town, so everything was okay?

Rather than help her granddaughter, this clueless, selfish, dangerous woman left Addie to her own devices until she was almost dead, then "rescued" her and took her off to a deserted island just off shore, apparently for no other reason than to have Addie find her daughter's grave. Nokummus had thirteen years to find that grave! What the hell was she doing in all that time? Sitting on her idle ass, doubtlessly.

She takes Addie in (and I mean that in every conceivable sense), and poisons her by feeding her some bark gruel so Addie vomits profusely, then hallucinates, and finally and wakes up after a two-day bender, deludedly thinking she's communed with the spirits. After this, Nokummus finally lets Addie return home, and moves in with her! The selfish bitch couldn't have done this in the first place and gone on this grave-search next summer? What a bunch of pinto dung!

Nothing is resolved. Addie never moves to the Wampanoag tribal lands to become their powwaw. Her father doesn't even return by the end of the novel so all the 'waiting, hoping. crying' for him is a complete red herring. Her best friend John proves himself as big of a jackass as the school bully who picks on Addie because she's a 'halfbreed'. Justice is never served on that dick, but John is just as bad save for being more subtle in his prejudices and dickishness, and he gets no comeuppance either so I guess that's fair. The story is a mess and not even a hot mess since it's set in winter. I think it stunk and I think it's insulting to and belittling of American Indians, and I cannot recommend it.


The Moonlit Road and Other Ghost and Horror Stories by Ambrose Bierce


Rating: WARTY!

This was a very slim and very uninteresting volume. I am sure it would have been quite the ticket in the later eighteen hundreds, when Bierce was at his most prolific (not that these particular stories were published in Bierce's lifetime, but by today's standards, they leave a lot to be desired and I cannot recommend them.

I didn't read them all because they were not interesting to me, but the ones I did read all seemed to be the same story re-dressed with a few changed details and trotted out as something new. One trick pony describes it well, I think.

There were too many of them which were rooted in darkness and icy chills blowing hither and thither, and on purportedly scary footsteps, strange marital discord, vague descriptions of bad things happening, and one line conclusions. It really became too tedious to read them after the first three or so.

I found myself skimming a couple more and gave up on it as a bad job about half way through. Maybe other readers will have a different experience, but this was definitely not for me, despite my liking An Occurrence at Owl Creek, which was why I picked this up in the first place. Ambrose Bierce disappeared in Mexico in 1914 whilst covering the revolution there, and was never seen or heard from again. I think his own story told as fiction would be a lot more interesting than this collection was!


Sayonara, Gangsters by Genichiro Takahashi


Rating: WARTY!

The original Japanese of this book was translated into English by Michael Emmerich, but frankly and honestly, for all the sense it made to me, I may as well have gone with the original language because I got nothing out of it that I could not have got from simply staring at the (to me) incomprehensible Japanese symbols. Actually, I would have been better off! At least the Japanese characters would have been beautiful to look at!

The book provided absolutely no hook, door, access, or invitation whatsoever to get into this story and I'm guessing that's because there was no story. It's like walking through an art gallery which displays only bad paintings, all by different artists, on different subjects and in different styles and periods, and trying to make a coherent story out of them (and by that I mean something other than a history of bad art!).

The paintings have no connection whatsoever other than that they're all paintings. Well this was all sentences, but the words had no connection. It was pretentious nonsensical garbage and I ditched it in short order. If this review clues others into the way the wind is blowing, and helps you avoid mining something so unseemly, then the warning from the weather vane to avoid this vein will not have been in vain!


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Secrets From the Eating Lab by Traci Mann


Rating: WORTHY!

I have to say that I'm a little suspicious when I see a book about dieting or health and the author has a string of letters after their name. You never see highly-regarded science authors like Stephen Gould, or Carl Sagan, or Richard Dawkins doing that. In this case, it's just PhD which all too often in these situations seems to stand for PinheaD judged by some of the crap I've seen published accompanied by initials, but in this case, Traci Mann is not only completely legit, she's smart, perspicacious, interesting, and full of useful information and ideas.

She's the leader of the Mann lab at the University of Minnesota, which despite some slightly less than PhD English ("We are a psychology laboratory, under the direction of Dr. Traci Mann, that focues [sic] on how people control their health behaviors" is a going concern, testing out why people behave the way they do vis-à-vis food and dieting and fads.

This book is subtitled "The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again" and though I've been fortunate enough never to have felt like I had to go on a diet, it's convinced me that I now never will because diets are useless and pointless, serving only to enrich the fat wallets of those fatheads who devise these idiotic and ultimately fruitless schemes.

Why don't diets work? They do in the short term, but with very rare exceptions, people always put the weight back on, and sometimes more than they shed, because your body is predisposed to keep you within a certain weight range, usually of thirty pounds wide, and no matter what you do, you will have a hell of a time in trying to nudge it out of that zone. Biology, advertising, evolution, and other factors are all against you.

That sounds depressing, but the author also offers a better reason not to diet: you are not necessarily unhealthy even if you are deemed 'overweight'. If you're eating healthily and exercising, it doesn't matter what your weight is, because your overall health and life expectancy is going to be the same as those skinny people you seek to emulate so much.

One thing I (and evidently other reviewers) had an issue with is that on the one hand, the author says we have this weight range we tend to stay within which is why dieting is pointless, but on the other hand, there has been a steady increase in average weight among Americans over the last few decades. How is this possible if we have this natural weight baseline that makes it just as hard for us to seriously overeat as it does to shed weight?

The author doesn't seem interested in trying to reconcile this discrepancy in her reporting. Is her 'weight range' shifting upwards, and if so how did this happen and doesn't it overturn her claim that we have an immutable range for our weight, within which we're stuck? Is this weight range very large, which means there is hope for people who do want to try to shed many pounds? Genes do not change this fast, so is there an epigenetic factor in play here? Or is there something wrong with her whole philosophy? It would have been nice to have seen this addressed if not resolved.

The book is in four parts with several subsections: 'Why Diets Fail You', 'Why You Are Better Off Without the Battle', 'How to reach Your Leanest Livable Weight', and 'Your Weight is Really Not the Point'! You can't argue with the science or the clear information and suggestions laid out here. I recommend this book not only because it offers sound advice, but as an interesting read about weight, health, and dieting, and also about psychology and societal pressures.

The book isn't perfect by any means, but it takes a rational approach, and offers simple and scientific advice on what works and what doesn't, and tips on how to make what works, work for you. I've seen a lot of negative reviews of this book complaining about how it talks about your leanest livable weight but never tells you how to calculate it. These reviewers completely missed what had been said earlier! You don't have to calculate anything, because you're already in your weight range. It's your baseline! You can lose a few pounds within your range by eating healthily and exercising, and you're there. No calculation required!