Month: July 2024

by Travis Dandro

I feel bad to criticize a book that’s a personal memoir about grief and loss, but well, this one didn’t work for me at all. I pretty much skimmed the whole thing. Only after putting it aside and looking up other opinions online (several agree with mine) did I realize this is a sequel to King of King Court. So that explains why a lot of the characters and the situations they were in went completely unexplained or introduced. But it left this reader completely at a loss. Most of the time I didn’t know who the people were- aside from the main character’s friend, and his grandmother. There wasn’t even any indication of why he was going to her house, or who he had lost- I gathered that from summaries and other reviews, and some hints dropped in more than halfway through this book (it seemed).

What it is: the author’s father passed away after a long spate of drug abuse and incarceration. The author tried to do normal things like attending school, but spent a lot of time with his friends committing petty crimes and talking crap. He had to go stay with his grandmother and take care of her while she was bedridden in her final months from cancer (refusing chemotherapy treatment). It sounds terrible to say that this book left me feeling nothing. But the art style didn’t communicate much to me, the faces lacked expression or individuality and the scenery, while filled with meticulously rendered textures, failed to feel distinctive either. Maybe that was the point? I often couldn’t even tell what was happening, or where one panel ended and the next began (only a single line separating them) which was confusing. I’m sorry, but it was just a big eh for me.

Borrowed from the public library. Skimmed on 7/8/24.

Rating: 1/5
368 pages, 2022

More opinions:ComicAlly
anyone else?

made by Dowdle ~ artist Eric Dowdle ~ 500 pieces

The previous puzzle took me a week to complete, this one- with a smaller piece count- took multiple sittings in just one day. It was easy and fun. I can see why people love Dowdle puzzles. The box and packaging quality is super. It has a picture sleeve around a sturdy hinged box with a velcro clasp flap. The small reference poster has information on the flip side about the image- in this case, it identifies various features in the picture, which I assume are actual shops and places at Bear Lake. It’s a place I heard of many times when I was a college student long ago (in Idaho), but never had the opportunity to go myself. The puzzle did have some surface glare, but otherwise a very nice assembly experience. Nice clear picture with bright colors and interesting details. It’s not my favorite type of picture (so many busy little things) but I liked it well enough.

Two of the progress shots were taken with my flip phone instead of the regular digital camera. I think they came out much better in a pinch this time.

made by Masterpieces ~ artist Bonnie Marris ~ 750 pieces

This puzzle was challenging! Loved all the odd, quirky shapes as usual, but the surface so shiny I had to take off my glasses or the glare was just too much. The indistinct blur of green background, and the very busy but hard-to-differentiate details in the flying water, and the large groups of main color in the horses’ coats, made it all quite hard. I ended up doing the splashing water last,  actually found it easier once that was the only color group left. I think because by that time, my brain had got used to looking mainly for shape, instead of trying to pick out/match color variations. This one took just as long as I usually work a thousand pieces in!

bought used via CList

Borrowed from the public library.

Going Remote: a Teacher’s Journey

by Adam Bessie, illustrated by Peter Glanting

150 pages, 2023

This book just did not hold my interest. I thought I would find it unsettling, because it takes place during, and is largely about the pandemic. Mainly its effects on the student body of a community college, and this professor who has to teach remotely. His wife is also doing remote teaching (for a high school class) and his son is taking his own class- each in a separate space of the home, apart from each other yet attempting to connect elsewhere- and how difficult that was. Especially for the college teacher (whose memoir this is), when he no longer saw his students’ faces, when many of them didn’t respond well online, some he never saw again. He felt he was dealing more with the technical difficulties of keeping them connected online, than the actual teaching. Draws a lot of parallels between the sci-fic literature he was teaching, and their present situation. Especially the stories that had dystopia subjects, machine learning overwhelming humanity. More than that, the narrative keeps discussing social inequalities, and waxing philosophic on everything. And through all this the author was battling cancer, a large part of the story.

Unfortunately, I just couldn’t feel connected to any of it (ironic, I know). I don’t know if it was the philosophical bent that put me off, or the oddities in the artwork- all the people had perfectly round heads and three-fingered hands with arms a tad too long- I’m sure it was an artistic choice but it added to the unsettled feeling and made it seem too comic, contrasting with the seriousness of the subject matter. I only got halfway through before just getting tired of it.

Photographic: the Life of Graciela Iturbide

by Isabel Quintero, illustrated by Zeke Peña

96 pages, 2018

About a famous Latina photographer, whom I had never heard of. I’m glad that the book included some of her actual photographs among the artwork that tells the story- they really are quite stunning, beautiful, and deeply pensive. She grew up in a very large family, followed tradition and got married young, but then lost her daughter- and after the tragedy immersed herself in photography. Traveled all over Mexico to photograph indigenous cultures, especially their rites and ceremonies- as far as I could tell. This book also failed to hold my attention, but for opposite reasons than the prior. It has very lyrical prose- that holds everything at an abstract distance, or at least so it seemed to me. I felt that I was just glimpsing everything, and barely had any comprehension of what really happened to her, what she was doing or why her artistic vision. I could not grasp it. The images are wonderful, though.

I think partly it is all my state of mind. I need things written very straightforward, still. I attempted these books on 7/7/24.

by Jeffrey Brown

Comic style graphic novel about a family of Neanderthals. The main characters are the kids- particularly Andy, who really wants to join the grownups on a mammoth hunt, resents having to look after his baby brother, and has a crush on a slightly older girl in the small group. Through their daily life adventures, the reader learns more about what it was like in the Stone Age- what Neanderthals probably ate, wore, how they made tools, etc. It’s cute and funny. Andy sneaks after the adults to watch one of the hunts, and is nauseated by seeing the actual mammoth getting killed, and the butchering afterwards. The kids are supposed to watch their baby brother at one point, but he wanders off and then they’re desperate to find him again- before something bad happens. The sister Lucy gets tasked with making clothes from the mammoth skins, and creates a new style that others are reluctant to appreciate. And so on. At the end they encounter a group of humans, some of them are trusting and willing to be friendly, others suspicious if the humans have sinister motives. I thought the part about cave art was pretty amusing- created simply because the kids were bored during a rainy spell (not as some grand symbolism or magic).

In between bits of story are pages showing present-day scientists discussing things, explaining to the reader what the current facts are about Neanderthals, and how much is just speculation. At the end is an even longer section that details more clearly what parts the author made up (Neanderthals would not have had pet cats for example- even though this one is supposed to be a scimitar cat runt). I liked this book a lot more than I expected to. It was engaging and fun, and I learned a bunch of stuff. Not only does it do a good job of dispelling stereotypical ideas about Neanderthals, but it shows how kids back then were just like kids today in many regards- not wanting to do their chores, having trouble getting along, reluctant to try new foods . . . There’s at least one sequel, about how they survive in the winter- I might just look for that.

Rating: 3/5
220 pages, 2016

Guardians of Horsa

by Roan Black

Picked up browsing library shelves, on a whim. My first impression was this must be based off a television cartoon or something, but I could be wrong. I think I had that idea because the horse’s style looks so much like My Little Pony- the small noses, bulgy foreheads and huge eyes, overly large feet. The drawings are very bright and the faces so expressive, but a few times the anatomy seemed weird, even for made-up creatures. Because these aren’t really horses. There’s four groups, in herds that are constantly at odds with each other. Each group embodies an element- so the fire horses have flames for manes and tails, the air or wind ones have misty see-through something for hair, the forest ones it looks like gatherings of leaves. The water one has big dramatic fins. But they all have jewelry, some bits of clothing like cloaks or crowns, and horns as well- the wind horses have thin antler-like horns, the fire ones a single scimitar horn, the forest ones goat-like horns. And of course the air one has wings. I was confused by all that, but went along with it. They just didn’t look much like horses to me, with all that extra stuff.

So the story is somewhat reminiscent of Wings of Fire– a group of young representatives of each race are supposed to fulfill a prophecy and bring peace between all the herds. In this case, the four young horses need to find an unknown yearling, who supposedly has some special magic. (They all talked about this like magic was a new thing to them, but they did some things that seemed magical to me, and acted as if it was totally ordinary. More confusion from the reader). Their goal is openly announced by their parents- who then send them off on the quest without further ado. It seemed quite abrupt. Most of the story is about the four young ones trying to learn to get along- who’s going to carry the special map, who decides where they’re going to look next, and so on. The fire horse has a hot temper, the water one is kind of proud, the flying one a bit standoffish. The earth/nature horse is a goofball who often seems he doesn’t know what he’s doing or talking about, but has the best personality, is really kind at heart and easygoing. It’s actually a good story, just one that felt quite repetitive to me. I bet there’s certain kids who love this though.

Borrowed from the public library. Completed on 7/6/24.

Rating: 2/5
144 pages, 2023

More opinions: Jean Little Library
anyone else?

Horses of the American West

by Chris Duffy

From a graphic novel series called History Comics. Illustrated by Falynn Koch. Really nice images, a bit busy at times- so much going on! Tells (obviously) the story of mustangs in North America- how horses first had their origin here, went extinct, were re-introduced and became an integral part of Native American lives. The part that horses played in warfare, westward expansion, and development. How their importance was shouldered out by vehicles and they were shot by cattlemen who wanting the grazing land. Many rounded up and slaughtered for pet food. And finally, the work of ‘Wild Horse Annie’ to save the mustangs, ending with protections that are currently in place, and how to adopt a mustang. This book is so jam packed with details. Little stories from various parts of history that feature the mustangs. Information about horse physiology and some breeds that were forerunners of the mustangs. How horses were a sign of wealth among many Native tribes, and the heyday of horse stealing. So much that I didn’t know before!

I just failed to appreciate the delivery method. I liked the illustrations, but the entire book (nearly every single page) is presented by three outside characters- two comic figures that look like skinny Gumby with weird hats, and a stick-figure type horse (actually supposed to be a petroglyph I think) that walked out of the background, who converse together to present the stories and facts. The goofy figures are supposed to be funny, the horse is setting them straight with his knowledge. I guess this appeals to kids? I found it annoying and tiresome. So much so that I really only skimmed most of the book, and while a few of the other titles in this series had caught my eye on the back cover (Roanoke, American bison) I now have no interest in reading them.

Borrowed from the public library. Completed on 7/6/24.

Rating: 2/5
134 pages, 2021

by Sid Sharp

Bellwether is a sheep who lives in a cozy little house in the forest. He is afraid of a lot of things- especially wolves. He needs to gather more berries from the forest, but doesn’t want to get eaten by a wolf! Luckily he is very good at sewing and crafting, so he makes himself a wolf suit, certain that he can then traipse about fearlessly, as no one will recognize him. Discouragingly, the wolf suit makes it hard for him to enjoy some of the things he usually does in the forest, but he is able to achieve his main goal- and then encounters his greatest fear. The wolf suit works too well, as the wolves invite him to join them- but will it hold up to closer inspection? He’s so worried that any moment now his ruse will be discovered. What happens next was as much a surprise for the reader as it was for the shocked sheep. The ending, and the underlying message was great. (But the artwork did little for me, though I’m sure it appeals to kids).

Borrowed from the public library. Completed on 7/5/24.

Rating: 3/5
128 pages, 2022

by Avi

Poppy, mouse heroine from previous book, travels in the company of her grumpy porcupine friend to find her deceased boyfriend’s family. She wants to inform them what happened to him. She finds the family in great distress. They’ve lived for years peacefully by a small brook, but now a group of beavers has moved in, built a dam and flooded the area. The golden mouse family moved uphill to live under a rock, but it’s crowded and damp and they very much resent what the beavers have done. Being confronted, the beavers spout a bunch of aphorisms about progress and basically ignore the fact that they’ve inconvenienced and displaced a bunch of other animals. The mice are despondent, don’t know what they can do. Poppy arrives with the bad news of the oldest brother’s death. She meets Rye, the next-oldest brother, who looks a lot like her prior boyfriend, but is much more sensitive and thoughtful. They feel an instant attraction (they both love to dance) but also feel emotional turmoil- Poppy feels weird about liking Rye, having so recently lost his brother. Rye for his part, had for many years resented the way the deceased mouse treated him, and was jealous of him as well, so he feels relieved he’s gone, but guilty about that. Quite a complicated thing. But they have to put all this aside to face their immediate problems with the beavers. The mice are so small the beavers just laugh and think they can shove them out, but Poppy is quite brave and resourceful. When Rye goes by himself to talk to the beavers and gets into trouble, she goes to rescue him. Failing that, she comes back and pleads with the family for help. She’s appalled when it becomes clear that they intend to just give up and move away. Only a few of the younger mice agree to join her efforts in returning to free Rye. Their bravery puts the parent mice to shame, who come up with a plan that will use the group strength of some forty mice (all their children, granchildren, etc) to resist the beavers. It looks like all this will fail too, but then at the very last moment guess who shows up to save the day. That grumpy porcupine, who had been sulking in the woods because he thought Poppy forgot about him, and reluctantly admits that he considers her a friend after all.

I was actually quite impressed that this book for kids dealt with such topics- the troublesome feelings of loosing someone you both loved and resented, jealousy within the family, apathy in the face of big problems, the blustering aggressive techniques of the beavers, their disregarding anyone they could bully to just do what they wanted, altering the environment all around. It was admirable that the mice finally stood up to the beavers with their united strength, but also turned the last few chapters of the story into a battle of sorts, which was less interesting to me. It shouldn’t feel more unrealistic than talking animals and mice who wield porcupine quills as swords, but it did stretch things a bit for me. I’m sure the excitement of the battle would appeal to the younger readers though.

Borrowed from the public library. Completed on 5/7/24.

Rating: 3/5
210 pages, 1998

More opinions: MuggleNet
anyone else?

by Avi

I’m confused about the order of books in this series, because I have two with different titles and they both say ‘book three of the Poppy series’ on the front cover. I think some were written after the series started, as prequels and then they were all reordered? Regardless, I started with this one, and didn’t feel like I was missing much even though maybe it was the middle of the larger story arc.

It’s about a little deer mouse (named Poppy) who is part of a huge family. Her father leads them all- and reading between the lines he’s something of a pompous fool, but they follow along. This father mouse has them all in fear of an owl who demands they follow his rules, eats some of them on a regular basis, and restricts their movements. But their population has grown beyond the food supply, so Poppy and her father go beseeching the owl to let half of them move to a new house they know has been built on the other side of the dark forest. He says NO, but also seems nervous about something. This makes Poppy very intrigued. She’s all upset because right before this proposal to move, her boyfriend had been killed by the owl- who now blames that mouse’s blatant refusal to follow the owl’s rules, for his refusal to let the mice move. Poppy feels this isn’t fair and decides- in spite of her many fears- to travel to the new house and see what’s there.

She bravely ventures across open spaces, narrowly avoids the owl, and traverses the dark forest. Only pleasantly surprised to find it isn’t as gloomy and dangerous as she’d supposed. It’s quite beautiful in a different way. She meets a porcupine, and has more surprises- having been taught a bunch of nonsense about these prickly animals. The porcupine is short of temper, but helps her reach the new house in exchange for some salt he craves. The reader was just as surprised as the mouse to find out why the owl didn’t want them to go to the new house- and I laughed out loud. All these revelations challenging things Poppy had always assumed to be true, change her remarkably. She arms herself with one of the porcupine’s dropped quills, faces her worst enemy, and heads back for home with news that will shake up the entire mouse family. Bravo, Poppy!

This was really well-written, told in a lively and engaging fashion. Even though I had my doubts at the beginning (I found the mouse-boyfriend’s slang and backtalk a bit awkward, but maybe that was done so on purpose). I liked the interactions of the mice with the nasty owl, and the grumpy but well-meaning porcupine. I’m looking forward to reading more in this series.

Borrowed from the public library. Completed on 7/3/24.

Rating: 3/5
162 pages, 1995

More opinions:
Luminous Libro
MuggleNet

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All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it

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