Survivalist and sustainable living books are incredibly popular in our culture r Review written for and published by Portland Book Review on June 22nd:
Survivalist and sustainable living books are incredibly popular in our culture right now, which perhaps is tied to the ongoing fascination with dystopian and Armageddon themed films, and other media. People are stocking up on books that will help improve their knowledge on how to handle a possible emergency where they have to rough it, survive the elements, and learn to survive without technology. However, 100 Skills You’ll Need for the End of the World (As We Know It) is not one of those books.
While there are a few specific and somewhat helpful how-to guides – such as how to pitch a simple tent and knots everyone should know – the majority of the book is just a list of skills that people should have but no real guidance on how they should go about obtaining it. The book suggests that things like canning, fletching arrows, weaving, and mending are important skills to have, but you’ll have to look elsewhere to actually get directions. This collection may work as a gift book for someone who has never thought about worst case scenarios, but from a survivalist standpoint 100 Skills You’ll Need to for the End of the World is a complete waste of time....more
Everyone has a bad day once in a while, and as the saying goes, misery loves comReview written for and published by Portland Book Review on June 18th:
Everyone has a bad day once in a while, and as the saying goes, misery loves company. Bad Days in History: A Gleefully Grim Chronicle of Misfortune, Mayhem, and Misery for Every Day of the Year is a history book for those people possessing a darker sense of humor. The book is organized like a calendar, with a grim event for each day of the year, based on the date on which the event originally occurred. Each event ranges from just a few sentences to a page or two, with dates of events that span the majority of recorded human history.
The stories themselves range from benign embarrassments, death and dismemberment, to cultural and societal upheavals. Musicians are blinded, priceless artwork is destroyed, Kings and Queens are beheaded, and presidents are assassinated. People are also punched in the nose, Oprah’s film was a dud, and two million gallons of molasses swept over parts of Boston. There is no theme beyond people having some really terrible days, so the tone jumps around quite a bit, having a more lighthearted historical mention right before a piece on graphic murders. Some of the stories are familiar, but a good portion of the collection in the book is either completely obscure, or contain much less mainstream information.
”Plucked from all eras of history, and from around the globe, the bad days in this book are intended to amuse, tantalize, and enlighten – without being predictable.”
The variety of history included within the book makes Bad Days in History an engaging read, and very difficult to put down despite its varied pacing. While it is definitely not for the faint of heart due to the somewhat graphic and morbid nature involved in many of the stories, there is plenty in this volume to love and readers may be surprised by the amount of history that was left out of their high school and college courses. A perfect gift for the history buff, or that one friend who seems to know the most random facts, Bad Days in History is a wonderful morbid and entertaining collection....more
F*ck You, I’m Irish is a tiny, short informational book that is a crash course tReview written for and published by Portland Book Review on June 10th:
F*ck You, I’m Irish is a tiny, short informational book that is a crash course to the uninformed as to why the Irish are so awesome. The book is somewhat humorous, but is mostly factual. People looking for a less serious, humor focused book might be a bit confused when they find themselves learning historical facts about Ireland and her people rather than a collection of dirty, drinking induced jokes.
The book begins with sections giving general facts about Ireland. It discusses Irish influences in America (largely due to the large influx of refugees during the Irish Potato Famine that began in 1845), and various cultural aspects such as popular drinks, music, language, religion, and mythology. The book lists several types of each category, going into greater detail concerning subtopics such as fairies, the Blarney Stone, and giving example phrases in Gaelic.
The book also goes on to list famous Irish, and Irish American historical figures, including James Buchanan Brady (also known as Diamond Jim), a railroad supplier, businessman, and financier in the late 1800s. There are plenty of famous authors listed, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, and Bram Stoker. It mentions more obscure people like James Hoban – an architect best known for designing the White House – to the extremely popular actor Liam Neeson.
The humor aspect of the book really doesn’t kick in strongly until the final segments concerning Irish stereotypes: red hair, fiery tempers, fighting, sarcastic sense of humor, and drinking. While this last segment is probably what most people assumed the entire book would be about, it’s a little jarring going from the more serious, if lighthearted, historical tidbits that came before.
Overall F*ck You, I’m Irish is an entertaining, if not laugh out loud funny, and fast read. It packs a surprising amount of history into its small size, and keeps the segments short enough that the less studious person may find himself or herself learning, instead of just being entertained. A great and easy read with surprising depth, F*ck You, I’m Irish would be a perfect gift for friends planning a trip to the Emerald Isle in the near future!...more
In Martin McKenna’s The Octopuppy, young Edgar dreams of having a dog. However, hReview written for and published by Portland Book Review on May 21st:
In Martin McKenna’s The Octopuppy, young Edgar dreams of having a dog. However, he is gifted a pet octopus instead! Edgar is not quite willing to give up on his dream and makes every effort to train Jarvis to behave like a dog. Jarvis is very intelligent, and tends to follow commands in his own unique way, much to Edgar’s chagrin. Eventually deciding he is a failure at being a dog, Jarvis runs away. It takes Jarvis’ absence to strike home to Edgar that Jarvis was not a dog, and Edgar should not have been trying to make him behave like one. Edgar begins searching all over for Jarvis, but will Jarvis hear his heartfelt apology?
The book is colorful, and has very cute illustrations that children and adults will fall in love with. There is some surprisingly morbid humor tucked inside the images as well that children will likely not notice, but may cause a chuckle from adults. For example, when Jarvis runs away he flushes himself down a toilet – something typically reserved for disposing of waste and the occasional fish funeral – and even leaves behind a farewell note. There is also a scene during Edgar’s search for Jarvis where he holds up a missing poster to a butcher standing in front of a pile of fish.
An incredibly quirky children’s book, The Octopuppy teaches children the importance of respecting the uniqueness of others, and that it isn’t always a bad thing to not have your expectations met. If you didn’t think cephalopods were cute before, The Octopuppy may change your mind!...more
All My Stripes depicts a day in the life of the young Zebra, Zane. Zane is autistReview written for and published by Portland Book Review on May 18th:
All My Stripes depicts a day in the life of the young Zebra, Zane. Zane is autistic, and sometimes has difficulties in social settings. The book begins with him talking to his mother about how nobody in school understands him. From not quite understanding social cues, to having hypersensitivity to certain sounds, Zane feels very different from the rest of his classmates. Zane’s mother sits down with him and explains all the ways Zane is wonderful, and how his autism is only one small part of who he is.
The illustrations in the book are colorful, with a soft palette that is soothing, but is bound to keep a child’s attention as they ask questions about Zane’s interactions. The book’s message is simple, but has plenty of room for discussion – creating a great learning opportunity for kids.
While autistic children may relate to Zane, the book is also a great tool for children without the disorder to lean about autism, and the struggles autistic kids have on a daily basis. This is a wonderful children’s book that is geared towards parents as well. At the end of the book is a short informational section that breaks down the autistic symptoms experienced by Zane in the story, and how children on different parts of the spectrum may react in real life. There is also a section listing different signs of autism by age group, followed by suggestions and resources for parents who are looking for guidance and help with their own autistic children.
A wonderful tool to help create understanding and compassion in young children for those who are on the autism spectrum, All My Stripes is a book that belongs on the shelves of every parent and educator....more
Marvel’s the Avengers: Black Widow Strikes is a one-shot graphic novel that lets Black Widow have her own adventure. I found this book to be fun, andMarvel’s the Avengers: Black Widow Strikes is a one-shot graphic novel that lets Black Widow have her own adventure. I found this book to be fun, and it was nice to see some of what Black Widow can do outside the main Avenger team. Granted, I haven’t read many Marvel graphic novels, so I’m definitely not the expert here. It was pretty obvious that this is a tie-in to the film franchise – the character designs are a dead giveaway. Even so, I still found this book to be fun, if not worth keeping in my permanent collection. ...more
I don't exactly consider myself a Star Trek fan, but I have been enjoying the recent films. Countdown to Darkness is a prequel for the film Star TrekI don't exactly consider myself a Star Trek fan, but I have been enjoying the recent films. Countdown to Darkness is a prequel for the film Star Trek Into Darkness (which really needs a colon in the title) and helps set up some of the conflicts seen within the film. I found the graphic novel entertaining, but not terribly engaging. Is it worth reading? Maybe. Was it necessary? Not really.
The book didn’t offer anything particularly new to the franchise, and it really felt like one more money grab attempt. Again, there’s nothing particularly wrong with the book, but probably only die-hard fans will find reading it worthwhile....more
Earth Flight is the final book in Janet Edwards’s smart science fiction series,Review written for and published by Portland Book Review on June 16th:
Earth Flight is the final book in Janet Edwards’s smart science fiction series, Earth Girl. Following the events of Earth Star, Jarra Tell Morrath and her boyfriend Fian Andrej Eklund are back with their class studying Earth history, but due to their involvement with the Alien Contact programme, their celebrity status is both a blessing and a curse. Jarra has become the poster girl for the Handicapped – humans born with the inability to survive on planets other than Earth – but this has also made her a target for bigoted humans who see the Handicapped as sub-human. Amidst the political frenzy caused by her pending clan acknowledgement and betrothal to Fain – a non clan member – the Alien Contact programme has discovered that the alien probe circling earth contained a map of the alien solar system, and they believe they have located it! More problems arise when it is discovered that due to a strange technicality of alien biology, Jarra and Fian themselves have to be present to activate the sequence in person on the planet’s moon. Jarra must find some way to leave Earth, without dying, in order to unlock the secrets and potentially save humanity from an alien threat.
Earth Flight is an amazing followup to Earth Star, and packs much more than a teenage love story between its covers. The book deals with complicated topics such as self-esteem issues, bullying, and typical young adult problems of figuring out your place in the world. However, the issue that the Earth Girl series deals with most strongly, and most effectively, is the issue of racism. In the world of Earth Girl, the year is 2789 (at least it is at the end of the series), and humanity has done away with racism in the sense of judging people by the color of their skin. It is implied that Humanity suffered two societal collapses, nearly destroying us as a species of both occasions. After an event that drastic, racism based on skin color or ethnic background disappeared because there was so much more focus on humanity surviving as a whole, rather than by ethnic groups. However, since then, humanity has continued to grow and new sense of racism developed focused on those humans who could not survive outside of Earth’s atmosphere. By putting the reader into the head of Jarra, Janet Edwards was effectively able to show that there was zero difference between the Handicapped and the Norms, other than their inability to leave Earth. Science fiction has often been a way for authors to hold a mirror up to society to reflect back its flaws, and the Earth Girl books do this with racism in a powerful and affecting manner. Is it sometimes difficult to read? Certainly. Should books like this be read anyway? Definitely.
The Earth Girl series is much more complex than the average run-of-the-mill YA adventure/romance, both due to its handling of mature societal issues and the amount of focus the book gives to the politics of the book’s universe. While some people might cringe with the idea of delving into a series that is steeped in politics, the books handle this in a wonderfully organic manner. The enjoyably well-rounded characters that populate the pages help ease the reader into this complex and fascinating world as readers will immediately find themselves caring about the character’s plights.
It is also nice to see a Young Adult book where the female protagonist is an agent of her own actions. While some of what happens in the world at large is beyond Jarra’s control – her inability to directly control the outcome of the political voting regarding treatment of the Handicapped – she is a constant and active participant in things that she can control. Rather than drifting along at the whim of fate or those in power, Jarra makes her own decisions and is not afraid to step up and speak out when she believes she needs to be heard.
While it might not be necessary to start the trilogy from book one, as books two and three adequately cover the plot, I’d highly recommend picking up Earth Star before delving into Earth Flight, due to how intrinsic the events of the previous book are to Earth Flight. Overall, this is a fantastic Young Adult trilogy that science fiction readers should add to their reading list, but is also a series full of heart that less genre specific readers will also enjoy....more
Three of Hearts is a collection of erotic short stories, all revolving around theReview written for and published by Portland Book Review on May 12th:
Three of Hearts is a collection of erotic short stories, all revolving around the premise of threesomes. Each of the stories involve groupings of one woman and two men or two women and one man, which caters primarily to straight women and those with a bisexual leaning.
The stories cover quite a range, both with the relationships themselves and the sexual encounters. Relationship wise, some of the threesomes are one night stands, some are with at least two of the three being in a previous relationship, and in others all three members are in a committed and loving relationship. The sexual encounters themselves run from vanilla – or as vanilla as you can get in a threesome – to BDSM. The stories include hikers lost in the woods, business partners stuck sharing a hotel room, and a loving couple falling for the husband’s sexy Executive Producer to name a few.
As with all collections, it is likely that not every story will appeal to everyone’s tastes, but with 16 short stories readers are bound to find quite a few that tickle their fancy. While certainly not for everyone, Three of Hearts is a strong collection for readers interested in elevating their heart rate with something a little more exotic than your standard one-on-one erotica novel. ...more
Memento Mori: The Dead Among Us is a hardcover coffee table book that takes a looReview written for and published by Portland Book Review on May 11th:
Memento Mori: The Dead Among Us is a hardcover coffee table book that takes a look at how people through history and various parts of the world handle the concept of death, as well as different treatments of human remains. Author Paul Koudounaris points out how death in the Western world has become removed, clinical, and something to be feared. Where in the past, families spent time with the corpse for several days and dressed and cleaned the body themselves, now most of the time bodies are bagged, tagged, sorted, dressed, presented, and buried by professionals in the medical and/or mortuary professions. In the Western world death is no longer part of our everyday existence. However, this was not the case in the past, nor is it still the case in different countries.
Memento Mori is part history lesson, and part documentary. The book guides readers through the practice of charnel houses and ossuaries that were once a common part of Catholic religion – a place for people to go to contemplate their own mortality, as well as to connect with the past generations. There is a chapter on burial caves throughout Asia, the enshrining of victims bodies to commemorate genocides and other mass senseless deaths, churches decorated with bones in strangely lovely artistic ways, and the use of mummies in various religions in the past through current times. The book discusses the ñatitas, skulls that are enshrined in homes in Bolivia and are treated as family members and esteemed friends, as well as the jewel encrusted martyrs of the Old Catholic faith.
The book is peppered with images, most of them photographs taken by the author on his travels around the world. The images are tasteful and surprisingly loving, despite the Western world’s general aversion to images of bones and corpses. You won’t find any blood and guts here, just the final resting places of the long dead.
This is a fascinating book that points out the evolution of the perception of death and the dead in various cultures. While probably not the best book for the squeamish, Memento Mori is perfect for those interested in learning a bit more about historical changes regarding death and the treatment of bodies, and those with an interest in the macabre....more
The Robot Scientist’s Daughter is a poetry book for the non-traditionalists. BorrReview written for and published by Portland Book Review on May 14th:
The Robot Scientist’s Daughter is a poetry book for the non-traditionalists. Borrowing from her life experiences growing up in Tennessee just a few miles away from Oak Ridge National Laboratories, author Jeannine Hall Gailey crafts a narrative about a young girl growing up in a land that poisoned the very food she ate. A slightly unsettling narrative unfolds with the beauty and wonder of nature polluted down to the subatomic level, and its insidious if unintentional effects on the girl and her childhood.
The poems in the book are realistic, but with a touch of science fiction. In some poems the girl is herself a robot her father created, or a cyborg due to the detrimental effects of the nuclear radiation falling upon her during her formative years. The language is both simple, everyday language, while also including jargon more common to the scientific community and technical papers. Even so, Jeannine manages to make the poems both smart and accessible to the layman. The poetry itself is written in free verse, there is no obvious rhyme scheme holding the stanzas together. Instead, there is often a rhythm buried within the lines, which while uneven, is part of the charm.
The poems in this book are biographical, but with just the right degree of science fiction to entice a different readership. A hauntingly beautiful and somewhat melancholy collection, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter is the perfect book for the poetry enthusiast with an interest in science, and its potential side effects. ...more
I have a bit of a soft spot for this book, as my parents bought me a copy of the original printing after the Reading Rainbow episode aired. Pretty surI have a bit of a soft spot for this book, as my parents bought me a copy of the original printing after the Reading Rainbow episode aired. Pretty sure I read it until the binding fell apart. Nostalgia is a powerful force.
Humphrey the Lost Whale is a classic children’s book, that is both educational and fun – it also featured in an original episode of Reading Rainbow. A reprinting of the original 1992 publication and based on a true story, the book depicts the adventures of a whale that got turned around in the San Francisco Bay. Instead of heading back out to sea, Humphrey headed up the Sacramento River where the fresh water was making him sick. After several false starts, and poor Humphrey getting stuck under a bridge, he is able to head back in the right direction thanks to some very dedicated volunteers.
The book begins with a map of the San Francisco Bay, and a smaller map of the whole US continent to give children some context as to where events took place. The watercolor illustrations are lovely, and render Humphrey the whale incredibly expressive. At the end of the book there is a page that gives more detail about Humphrey, his multiple sightings in the area, as well as two other Humpback whales that traveled the wrong way up the Sacramento River back in 2007. Humphrey the Lost Whale is a perfect gift for animal loving children. It may also be wonderfully nostalgic for adults who remember Humphrey’s trial itself, or who grew up reading the original printing of the book....more
Videogames are incredibly popular in our culture. Currently one of the most popReview written for and published by Portland Book Review on April 20th:
Videogames are incredibly popular in our culture. Currently one of the most popular games is Minecraft, a game that lets you build almost anything in the world you desire. The game is particularly quirky due to its highly pixilated and blocky style, reminiscent of much older games. That’s where Minecraft: Blockopedia comes in. Since there are so many different materials you can collect to build a myriad of items and so many of the blocks look similar to one another, this book acts as a colorful reference book for people looking for more detailed information.
The book includes the various minerals and plants (sand, gold, grass, etc.) that can be found in the game, as well as recipes to create items out of these simpler elements. Typically, the left-hand page is the image of what the particular block in question looks like within the game. On the facing right-hand page is where readers will find information about the block such as its location, function, properties, essential information, and trivia. Certain blocks will have a following set of pages with even more information.
The book itself is sold within a black viewing box and is shaped as a hexagon to resemble the blocks that build the game. While cute and certainly thematic, the design makes the stability of the binding much weaker than if the book had been printed in the traditional square format. Overall, the book would made a great gift for the hardcore Minecraft fan, but may end up as more a novelty item than a functional guide due to the ease and convenience of the already plentiful and easy to search internet guides....more
Danny is a colorful children’s book about a potbellied hippopotamus named DannyReview written for and published by Portland Book Review on April 13th:
Danny is a colorful children’s book about a potbellied hippopotamus named Danny. Danny suddenly develops an insecurity about the way he talks after overhearing some cleaner fish surmise that he must have a lisp due to the gap between his teeth. Checking with some of his friends, it is confirmed that he does speak strangely. Danny immediately rushes off to find a dentist in the human city to fit him with braces. Upon his triumphant return to the marsh Danny shows off his new braces to his friends, and a nearby crocodile. The crocodile immediately heads off to visit the dentist too…and then eats him by accident. Left with a line of people waiting to have their teeth checked, the crocodile takes the dentist’s place.
The irony in the book is that Danny is not the character with a lisp – his friends are. While this might be worth a chuckle at the swap, the reason for Danny’s quest to acquire braces is slightly disconcerting. Rather than being a story exposing kids to braces to relieve anxiety about the process, Danny’s motivation to get braces to “fix” his teeth is done with a drive to fit in. In essence, Danny caves to peer pressure – not exactly the best message to give to children.
The crocodile’s “accidental” consumption of the dentist – and the occasional random patient once he became a dentist himself – is also slightly upsetting, particularly as the story brushes it off as part of the crocodile’s nature. On the one hand the character is after all a crocodile so the behavior isn’t unexpected. On the other hand, the book is exonerating the crocodile of its crimes because “it couldn’t help it.” Once again, this is probably not the best message to give to children.
On the surface this book is rather cute. The drawings are simple, and reminiscent of the style of children’s books most commonly available 20+ years ago. The book is a solidly bound hardcover, and should easily survive many readings. Children are bound to find it funny, and will almost certainly laugh at the idea of a crocodile becoming a dentist for humans. Danny succeeds s a quick read purely for entertainment value. However, people looking for a book with morals, lessons, or educational material will need to look elsewhere....more
Continuing the riveting historical fiction tale that began in Resisting the EneReview written for and published by Portland Book Review on April 10th:
Continuing the riveting historical fiction tale that began in Resisting the Enemy, the sequel, In Mortal Danger, has readers once again following the dangerous escapades of young Valentine de Vaillant in German occupied France during World War II. As the war drags on the Nazis begin cracking down on the French resistance, setting up unpredictable checkpoints, unscheduled raids, and paying particularly close attention to even the most innocent looking young women. Despite her best attempts to cover them up as business trips related to her job at a bookstore, Valli’s fairly frequent outings have been noticed by the German officer living in her Grandmother’s Villa. Colonel Maximilian von Stahlmann is fairly certain that Valli’s outings are resistance in nature, but hasn’t yet decided what to do with this knowledge. When Valli’s best friend Marguerite is discovered as being a Jew that failed to register she must make a desperate gamble to smuggle Marguerite and her two adopted children out of the country. However, the Gestapo is closing in, and the Colonel may be their only hope.
In Mortal Danger is nearly impossible to put down once started. Valli is an incredibly engaging character, being well read and incredibly intelligent. This leads to some very thought provoking discussions between Valli and Maximilian, who despite being on opposite sides of the war enjoy having someone to discuss things – from their favorite composers and books, to philosophical debates on human nature. Despite multiple reminders from both parties that they are in fact enemies, the chemistry between the two is palpable and the seeds of romance that were reluctantly sown in Resisting the Enemy begin to grow in earnest. The rest of the cast, while not being as central to the narrative are developed and fully fleshed out, making even the smallest bit-player memorable.
“The thing is, we can no longer separate the two – the war and the methods being used to wage it. They’ve become inextricably entwined, haven’t they? And no matter how hard we try, no matter how much we protest, we can’t distance ourselves from the atrocities being committed by the SS, the SD and the Gestapo.”
The story itself is equal parts spy thriller and romance novel, and is surprisingly well balanced. The book manages to weave deftly between these two sides of the story at a measured pace, which ensures that the plot is never too fast, nor too cumbersome. Where Resisting the Enemy was told entirely from Valli’s perspective, In Mortal Danger allows the reader to see things from Maximilian’s point of view as well. This adds a whole new level to the story as suddenly a German officer is given a personality rather than just being a cog in the war machine. Maximilian is just as human a character as Valli, and despite his loyalty to the German nation as a whole – a sense of national pride that every person feels for their country to one degree or another – he recoiled from the atrocities being committed by the SS after his discovery while deployed in Russia. Maximilian’s character adds a whole new dynamic that is not often seen in Young Adult (and even New Adult) literature, particularly when Nazis are such an easy target when writers need a convenient villain. What makes In Mortal Danger so special in this aspect is that Maximilian is just one of several German characters in the book that are shown to have that aspect of humanity that makes them break the mold of “German = Bad Guy” trope so common to World War II themed novels. Lorraine Campbell even reminds readers that it wasn’t just the Nazis that did terrible things in the war by showing multiple French characters that acted as informants and snitches, right down to the French soldiers who showed no mercy to the corralled Jews, even going so far as to enjoy their suffering and abuse.
In Mortal Danger is an absolutely wonderful book, and a great ending to the story begun in Resisting the Enemy. Where Resisting the Enemy was a solid Young Adult title, In Mortal Danger is for slightly more mature readers and belongs more solidly in the New Adult category. The book is sure to be loved and devoured by historical fiction fans. Lorraine Campbell managed to create a beautifully complex novel, as complicated as the human psyche discussed in fleeting moments by Valli and Maximilian. A World War II novel that discusses everything from music, literature, romance, intrigue, war, and the complexities of human choice and decision making, In Mortal Danger is a worthy addition to any reader’s collection....more
Juliana’s Bananas: Where Do Your Bananas Come From? is an educational childrReview written for and published by Portland Book Review on February 27th:
Juliana’s Bananas: Where Do Your Bananas Come From? is an educational children’s book about the life cycle of the banana plant. Follow Juliana and her children Bertha and Billy who live on a small banana farm in the Windward Islands. The book goes through the typical lifecycle of the banana plant from planting to harvest, but also showcases some of the problems banana farmers may face: a hurricane that may ruin an entire crop, or diseases that can kill off individual plants. The book points out how important banana farming is to the community, and how important ethical farming (supporting small individual farms over company plantations) is to the local population.
Juliana’s Bananas shines as an educational book, particularly as a tool to introduce children to different cultures. The end of the book also includes two banana-based recipes. The almond and banana smoothie and the banana fritter recipe will almost certainly require adult supervision to attempt. The illustrations are functional, but not anything special, the majority appearing to be Photoshop collage cut and paste of stock photos. However, the illustrations do get the point across.
While some readers may find Juliana’s Bananas to be a bit of an obvious Fair trade advertisement, the book does a good job of introducing kids to where bananas come from, and what goes into getting them to their kitchen table....more
The Festival of Bones / El Festival de las Calaveras is a colorful bilingualReview written for and published by Portland Book Review on February 24th:
The Festival of Bones / El Festival de las Calaveras is a colorful bilingual children’s book dealing with the subject matter of the Day of the Dead. The book is illustrated with happy looking skeletons as they gather together in preparation for the festival. The general tone of the book is one of excitement and expectation, although what is shown in the book is preparation for the gathering, not the actual gathering itself. The narrative itself is a little discordant and hard to follow, which might be the result of the lyrical poetry being translated from Spanish into English. If you’re looking for a plot heavy narrative, you won’t find it here.
After the story in the back of the book there is a section explaining what exactly the Day of the Dead is, and how it is traditionally celebrated. This section is clearly educational and appears geared towards parents in order to help explain this cultural holiday. The book also includes directions on how to build an altar to deceased ancestors, and recipes for Pan de Muerto (Day of the Dead bread) and sugar skulls – all traditional aspects to properly celebrating the Day of the Dead, but definitely something most children will need adult supervision in putting together.
Overall, The Festival of Bones / El Festival de las Calaveras is a decent attempt to share and educate an aspect of Mexican culture with children. While the story in the book falls short, the illustrations are stylistically lovely, and the educational material in the back of the book is informative and interesting....more
Batwoman, Vol. 1: Hydrology introduces Kate Kane as Batwoman in DC Comics New 52. First off, I'm going to admit that this was my very first exposure tBatwoman, Vol. 1: Hydrology introduces Kate Kane as Batwoman in DC Comics New 52. First off, I'm going to admit that this was my very first exposure to the character of Batwoman. In all my years of Batman fandom, I had never read/watched/researched anything regarding her, so take my review in that light.
Visually, I found this graphic novel to be absolutely stunning. A number of the page layouts were so incredibly intense and busy that I was somewhat overwhelmed, but decided that I loved how different it is to other graphic novels in the Batman family. The main thing that had me quirking an eyebrow with the illustration aspect was on the decision to make Kate Kane so white. I'm talking brilliantly ghost pale. It was interesting and distracting at the same time, and I'd love to know the decision process behind that particular choice.
I greatly enjoyed how the graphic novel began, with Batman trying to unravel the mystery of who Batwoman was and if she was worth bringing into the fold. That did however raise the question in my mind as to why she chose Batwoman as her superhero persona rather than something else, as she wasn't originally affiliated with the Bat family (and apparently had no desire to join said family). After that initial introduction I felt that the story began to flag. Partly this was due to the fact that I felt a bit lost in her story. Kate Kane was in a severe depression over a recent (?) skirmish with her brainwashed (?) sister who perished and Kate was unable to save. You only got what amounts to the bare bones of that expedition through flashback sequences, and from what I can tell, this book (supposedly Vol. 1) can be seen as a followup to Batwoman: Elegy which was published in 2011 and is not considered part of the new 52 universe as far as I can tell (which is somewhat confusing considering the close connection between the two volumes). So if I really want to know the details of what happened, I'll have to add that to my to-read list as well.
Backstory/origin story aside, Batwoman's primary conflict revolved around a haunting, which while interesting, wasn't a particularly strong villain. This left me feeling rather unimpressed as far as the plot in this volume went. The redeeming plot point was in Kate Kane's conflict with her cousin Flamebird, as she struggled with her desire to help her cousin train to become better at crime fighting or chase her away to protect her.
Kate Kane's relationship with Detective Sawyer added just a humanizing element to Kate that the character would otherwise have been lacking. It saved Kate from being an overwhelmingly angry and closed off character, and allowed her to be more sympathetic by allowing her moments to unburden herself, if in a somewhat oblique manner as Detective Sawyer is actively hunting Kate's alter ego.
Overall, I enjoyed learning a bit more about Batwoman, even if the story segments felt a bit lacking. I will probably continue reading the Batwoman series for a few more volumes to see how things develop....more
The Little Parrot and the Angel’s Tears is an illustrated children’s picture boReview written for and published by Portland Book Review on March 17th:
The Little Parrot and the Angel’s Tears is an illustrated children’s picture book that tells the story of a brave little green parrot. The parrot in the story lives in the jungle with his animal friends, although he bemoans the fact that he is so small and weak compared to them. When a fire suddenly breaks out in the forest he at first runs away before remembering his friends can’t fly like he can! The parrot begins to try putting out the fire on his own, to the great amusement of the local Devta – divine spirits that roam the earth. However, one young Devta is moved by the devotion the little parrot shows to his friends despite the overwhelming odds.
Anu Narasimhan includes a short forward to the book, explaining that The Little Parrot and the Angel’s Tears was a story that she had grown up hearing from her grandmother. The book definitely has the quality of a short, bedtime story with a charming rhyming quality to the writing and a positive, feel-good message. The illustrations are simple and engaging, and were done with black ink and Faber-Castell Pitt markers. The bright colors, particularly the bright green parrot and stylized blazing fire, are an attractive draw for young eyes. The book’s message – how it is possible for someone to do great things even if they are small, or believe themselves to be so – is a lesson every child should be exposed to at a young age. The underlying tone of selfless sacrifice might go over younger children’s heads, but older children may pick up the double message....more
This book was received through a goodreads.com giveaway
I was really excited to read Half-Resurrection Blues, but my excitement rapidly turned to disapThis book was received through a goodreads.com giveaway
I was really excited to read Half-Resurrection Blues, but my excitement rapidly turned to disappointment upon reading. As an avid fan of urban fantasy, I’m always looking for a new series with a different twist, and had high expectations for this book’s ghostly premise. However, the book had several glaring shortcomings that ruined my experience.
The Main Character: Carlos Delacruz is one of the most boring generic characters I’ve ever had the misfortune to read about - seeing as he’s the main character of the book, that’s hugely unfortunate. Carlos has zero personality. Part of this might stem from the fact that he has no memory of who he was before his half-resurrection left him skirting the world of the living and the dead. Despite the author’s attempt at giving him some sort of depth by slapping him with a limp and a (potentially as he has no memory and there is no way of telling) Puerto Rican heritage, neither of these things actually added anything to the character.
At first I was hopeful, particularly for the limp as that isn’t something you see terribly often, but there was absolutely no story as to why he limped. He just did. Even if Carlos had no memory of the actual incident leading to having such a limp, he should have had some natural curiosity about it, after all I certainly was burning with curiosity! Was it a birth defect? Was one leg shorter than the other? Did it stem from the hip, knee, or ankle? Was it an injury of some sort (most severe trauma leading to a limping injury would leave a scar either from the trauma itself or the surgery required to fix it)? Unfortunately Daniel Older didn’t ever bother to expound upon the limp, dropping a huge opportunity to help develop the character.
Carlos had no depth, no personality, and no curiosity. Near the end of the book you learn that he’s been half-dead for over 3 years, and apparently never cared about how he came to be in such a state until the story demanded he lean. For three years he was a yes-man and only a hot girl stirred anything other than apathy. BORING.
The Cast: The rest of the cast was as equally 2D and boring as poor Carlos. The author apparently tried to flesh out his characters by giving them a name, and an ethnicity before moving on to the next. While I appreciate a book that has a cast filled with more than just white dudes and ladies, this was the opposite extreme of ridiculous. For example, one of the characters (whose name I never learned) was an Indian who could pass as White. This lead to a serious head-scratching moment where I tried to mentally figure out what that looked like. Then during the really awful exposition between Carlos and this character the guy said something to the effect of growing up on the rez, whereupon I immediately yelled “NATIVE AMERICAN! ” The author’s use of the classification of Indian had me thinking of a completely different ethnicity. Whoops?
As a whole the characters left so little impression on me that when they showed up later on I kept having moments of “Wait, is this a new character or did we already meet this person?” To be quite honest I didn’t care enough to bother flipping back and finding out. You know that the author failed at his job when there is a character death (or more than one in this case) and you just don’t care. It was impossible for me to feel any emotional attachment when the main protagonist didn’t seem to feel anything himself.
Setting: Despite the word “Brooklyn” thrown out multiple times in the first chapter - and throughout the entire book - my brain kept trying to place this story in New Orleans. Now, this is most likely entirely my fault. I’ve never been to Brooklyn, so the author very well may have done an excellent job describing the place. However, for me the setting was so strongly reminiscent of New Orleans that my brain repeatedly ignored the name of city.
World Building: The world building in this book was horribly shoddy. If there were rules to why things happened the way they did they weren’t explained until the bumbling protagonist needed to know. Very little was even implied through the story itself, which is often the way things of this nature are handled. Carlos had a sword that killed ghosts permanently, and never wondered why they gave it to him, or why it worked. Despite being in this weird half state for three years Carlos had apparently never been given training as to the workings of the world of the dead, and instead he (and myself as the reader) was given a really abrupt crash courses every few minutes from the apparently eternally patient Riley (?). Ugh.
Plot: The plot of Half-Resurrection Blues took forever to get going. To be honest, due to the above mentioned plethora of problems things didn’t really start getting interesting until the last 60 pages of the book. The characters were still 2D and I still couldn’t bring myself to really care about their plight, but the concept of what could occur if they failed was intriguing enough to up my enjoyment factor slightly.
Overall, I would not recommend this book to any of my friends. I realize there are certainly some merits to the book. For example, some people have commented on the nearly lyrical nature of some passages in the books. I agree that there were on occasion passages that almost “sounded” like music due to their rhythmical quality. However, I was so pissed off and irritated by the multitude of previously mentioned issues that I paid very little attention to these passages. I really wish I had enjoyed the book, as there are so few paranormal themed books that deal strictly with ghosts. Unfortunately, Half-Resurrection Blues didn’t do it for me and I’ll be staying far away from any further installments in this series. ...more