Thursday, July 30, 2015

Sampled Book 9: DC Superhero Girls

DC SuperHero Girls

Move over, Disney princesses, DC Superhero Girls are here. 

In a blatant attempt to draw in young girls, DC has a bunch of their female characters go to Super Hero High, where they have to master the 3 POWs:
  1. Super POWers
  2. Brain POWer
  3. Will POWer
Some of these characters really are heroic: 
  • Wonder Woman (the leader)
  • Supergirl (the New Girl)
  • Bat Girl (techno wizard)
  • Bumblebee (social butterfly)
  • Katana (the edgy artist)
Others aren't, at least in the real comics:
  • Harley Quinn (here she's the class clown)
  • Poison Ivy (garden variety misfit)
I think the whole concept is yucky, just like I think it stinks that Disney makes Belle, the only literate Disney female, into a princess. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Sampled Book 8: My Brother is a Superhero

My Brother is a Superhero, by David Solomons

The moral of this story is pick carefully the time you need to go to the bathroom. The narrator chose unwisely, so he wasn't there when his brother was given super powers. In other words, he lost out big time because he had to pee.

Amusing as that sounds, I probably won't read the book because superheroes kind of bore me.

I confess to being jealous of the people who snagged the full book. I would have read it if I'd gotten one, but I turned down that aisle just as they gave away the last copy. It went to a kid, so I really can't, and shouldn't, complain. 

Book 2015-4: Walk on Earth a Stranger

Walk on Earth a Stranger, Rae Carson

Here's the review submitted by a pal who read this book as soon as she snagged it:

This is one of the rare books that passed my 

Rarely does a book engage me like this one did. A third of the way through it I read the last chapter to assure myself it ends well for the heroine. I didn't understand everything that happened in that last chapter, and I wanted to know who the people in it were so I read more of the book. I probably read the last chapter four or five times as I read further in the book and was introduced to more of the characters. Usually when I skip to the last chapter I find I don't care what happens in between.

Ms Carson's story is strong historical fiction with a slight twist: the heroine. Leah/Lee Westfall, has one special trait that makes her unique and puts her in peril from the one person, other than her parents, that knows she has it. Growing up in a gold-rich part of Georgia (there really was a gold rush to the southern state), she was well prepared to go west when news of gold in California reached her hometown. At least she was prepared for finding gold and hunting for food (she's a crack shot). 

Her best friend, and secret love, wants to join the Gold Rush. Circumstances change suddenly and they both leave home, separately, hoping to meet up in Independence, Missouri. The book records her journey, both geographically and socially. The various people she meets on the trip are each interesting and singular, and reading about them is well worth the time.

It is clear the author has done her research. I liked the way Leah's journey didn't start in Missouri, like most western trek books do. I loved the trip downriver on the flatboat and the description of the Mississippi River made me nostalgic (I'm from near St. Louis). 

According to the jacket, this book is the first in a trilogy that Amazon says is called the "Gold Seer Trilogy." The series name is misleading as Leah does not "see" gold. She couldn't do the things she does in this book if she only "saw" it.

Another quibble. The cover art is wrong. Leah would never wear a dress cut so low. Neither would any other woman in this book. 

I'm going to add Ms Carson to my Amazon watch list because I am interested in the sequel. I've also ordered her book The Girl of Fire and Thorns. I'll post a review if the PALS let me.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Book 2025-5: Understanding Comics

Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud

As official scribe for GHPALS, it's fitting that my first 2015 review covers a book that explains comics.  Rather it examines the art form that is comics, and it does it very well.

I waited almost an hour to get a signed copy of this book. Rumor passed down the line said he was air signing them, but he wasn't. Mr. McCloud was very nice to me and drew a little picture under his signature.

The book was first published in 1993 and it hasn't aged a bit. He examines and analyzes every aspect of the art that is comics, using examples from every art form. Now when I look at a comic book or comic strip  I can better appreciate the artistry that went into making it.

I can't think of a better Comic-Con souvenir.

Book 2015-3: Hook's Revenge

Hook's Revenge, by Heidi Schulz

The PAL reviewing this book picked it up at the Disney Publishing booth.

I expected to hate this book because I really love James M. Barrie's original play, Peter Pan. Most of the retellings or back stories upset me. Children and adults are different, or at least they are supposed to be. In modern times adults have abrogated their responsibilities when raising children. Kids are naturally selfish and self-centered and adults are supposed to teach them that other people matter. I hated "Hook" and it's message that adults need to embrace their inner child. Adults need to embrace their responsibilities as grown-ups or we won't have any elders, just old people.

I don't know what made me start to read "Hook's Revenge." Maybe it was the first paragraph: "There have always been pirates. Why, even as far back as Eve, on the day she was considering whether or not to eat that apple, a pirate was most certainly planning to sail in and take it from her." I had just finished reading the sampler for "Vanishing Games" so my mind was on pirates.

I loved this book. Jocelyn is Captain Hook's daughter and her maternal grandfather is trying to raise her to be a lady so she'll have good marital prospects. They're already poor because her father is notorious. Her mother finally left her father

A young gentlewoman eloped with Captain Hook, the notorious pirate. She left him to have her baby at her parents' home, only to die leaving her daughter to be raised by her maternal grandfather. He is trying to raise Jocelyn to be a lady so she'll have better marital prospects. It isn't working so he decides to send her to Miss Eliza Crumm-Biddlecomb's Finishing School for Young Ladies.

So far it sounds like a cliché–a story told and retold but never as well as in Francis Hodgson Burnett's "The Little Princess." But it's not because Jocelyn's father is ever-present, though never physically. When a letter from Hook is finally delivered to her, she runs away from school to fulfill his request.

I loved Jocelyn. I loved the Smee as he is portrayed here. I loved all the pirates, and the Indians, and the fairies and mermaids. I loved the whole darned book.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Sampled Book 7: The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones

The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones, by Will Mabbitt

What happens if you commit THE ACT? The one no one does in public, that no one ever admits to doing. The one that, if seen by villainous pirates makes you fair game for bagging.

I won't spoon the book by telling what that act is, but it's one every child does. At least my husband managed to snap a picture of my son doing it when he was very little. A hint. It involves a nose.

While I wouldn't read more of the book, I did love the illustrations by Ross Collins, like this one of the pirate captain. I'm keeping the sampler because of them.

Sampled Book 6: Ratscalibur

Ratscalibur (A Chronicle of the Low Realm), by Josh Lieb

A boy moves to the city. Usually a boy from the city moves to the country. Not in this book.

An uncle gives the kid a rat for a pet, and it talks. How cool a relative is that?

I'd read more and was sorry the sample was so short.

I really like to read a sample of the author's other book: I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President. How cool is that title?

Book 2015-2: Luke Skywalker Can't Read and Other Geeky Truths

Luke Skywalker Can't Read, by Ryan Britt

The PAL who snagged this book is not a Star Wars fan, so the title really appealed to her.

Ryan Britt says Luke Skywalker and most of the characters in Star Wars must be functionally illiterate. "Not once in any of the existing Star Wars movies does a person, droid, or creature pick up a book or newspaper, magazine, literary journal, or chapbook of Wookie poetry. Instead, if something is briefly read by someone in Star Wars, it's like one sentence, read off a screen–and even then, almost certainly being "translated" by R2-D2." It's true. Even the Jedi records are vids or holograms. 

The other essays in this little book are as thought-provoking as this one. I laughed at the one on Jane Fonda's film, Barbarella. I couldn't help adding my own terms to his glossary.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sampled Book 5: Star Wars: Beware the Power of the Dark Side

Star Wars: Beware the Power of the Dark Side, by Tom Angleberger

One rarely reads a book written in first person plural. There's good reasons for that. It's awful to read.

As I read this excerpt I realized I hadn't complained about the snarky tone of all the books in this sampler, so I'm doing it now. I didn't like it. The story should be straight forward. Individual characters can be snarky, but not the narration. Han Solo was cool because he stood out from the pack. If everyone's a wise ass the one who stands out is the serious guy.

This book did have less exposition than the other books, but I hated the annoying footnotes on C3PO.

I repeat, show your kids the movies and give them the same joy of discovery that you had when you first watched them.

Sampled Book 4: Star Wars: So You Want to Be a Jedi

Star Wars: So You Want to Be a Jedi, by Adam Gidwitz

The annoying second person voice in the Luke chapters made me cringe. Just like "The Princess, the Scoundrel & the Farm Boy," this book is all exposition. Lost is the joy of discovery as the story unfolds. 

The voice changes to third person in the Han chapters. That's just wrong.

There are annoying cultural references, like comparing C3PO to a golden Tin Man, that have no place in the Star Wars universe.

There are redeeming aspects. The lessons are fun.

Book 2015-1: Reawakened

Reawakened, by Colleen Houck

The first book we're reviewing this year is one that several PALS have read now. One snagged a copy on Preview Night and had finished it by Friday. She lent it to another PAL and stood in line to get another copy, this one signed by the author. She's hoarding that copy but the other one is circulating among society members.

It begins in a museum (our first PAL reader was a docent for years, so she loved this opening setting). A teenager has been accepted by several colleges and has to decide on one. Will it be one from the list of schools she really wants to attend, or one from the list of elite schools her parents prefer? She goes to the museum for peace and quiet, and is allowed to sneak into a gallery where an exhibit of Egyptian artifacts is being assembled. Our docent PAL really got a kick out of this because exhibits-under-construction can be really creepy when the workers aren't there, and really loud when they are.

A mummy is awakened, or rather reawakened since he comes to life every thousand years, and needs help because his canopic jars were damaged. He isn't complete with out the organs stored in them.

Soon picking a college becomes that last thing on Lilliana Young's mind, and the journey she takes with this revived Egyptian is exciting and fun. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Samplers 3: Star Wars: The Princess, the Scoundrel & the Farm Boy

Star Wars: The Princess, the Scoundrel & the Farm Boy, by Alexandra Bracken

The third review. This person read all three of the Star Wars samplers right away because she is a big fan of the original movies. The original originals, not the revised versions Lucas foisted on us.

This book is a retelling of the first Star Wars movie, A New Hope. The approach it takes takes all the fun out of the story as you don't discover who the characters are as the story unfolds. It tells you right up front who Princess Leia is, how she was raised and what she was trying to do. The movies emphasize the story, and that's what makes them so good.

There are spoilers. When Leia is recording the message R2D2 is to carry to Obi-Wan Kenobi, the book says Kenobi is a legendary Jedi knight who'd gone into secret exile. It was much more interesting Kenobi's mysterious nature be slowly revealed as it was in the movies.

Don't let this book be your kid's first introduction to Star Wars. Show them the movie.

Sampler Book 2: Calamity

Calamity, by Brandon Sanderson

The second review:

I read this while I was waiting in line for Naomi Novik's signing. It was a fast read because it isn't long.

Calamity is the third book in a series. The sampler makes it clear the setting is someplace you won't understand unless you read the whole book, or the ones that came before it. That doesn't suck you in. You don't get a sense of each character and since I couldn't relate to the setting I didn't want to read more of this book, much less the first two.

Since it says "San Diego Comic-Con 2015 Exclusive" on the cover, I wonder if I can sell it on E-Bay.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Sampled Book 1: Vanishing Games

Vanishing Games, by Roger Hobbs

Here's the first review:

A perfect sampler. It tells a tale from start to finish, like a Saturday serial episode that ends in a cliff hanger. You learn how sapphires are smuggled out of Burma/Myanmar and how pirates operate in the South China Seas. Every character is unique, even the ones who barely matter. You feel like you know them though you sure hope you never run into them.

I want to read the rest of this book and have added it to my to do list, though I couldn't help wonder why boats carrying fortunes aren't protected by helicopters or seaplanes? Or in this day and age, armed drones. For that matter, why isn't the cargo carried by aircraft instead of small boats?

A Supernatural Comic-Con Mad Lib

Two years ago Penguin produced and passed out its first Comic-Con Mad Libs. Last year Version 2 was something all the PALS enjoyed (see Book 7 in our reviews). This year they passed out Comic-Con Mad Libs III.

We PALS have never made a secret of our love of the show Supernatural. We all traded whatever Warner Bros. bag we got at registration for a Supernatural one even though this year's design was inferior to last year's (though at least one of us was torn between it and the really cool one for The Originals).

So imagine our delight when we were doing the Mad-Libs on our drive home and found the third story is all about our favorite show!

We know the scan will be hard to read, so we're retyping it here. Please don't cut and paste it without proper attribution to the publishers.

You know how Mad Libs work-replace the underlined words with ones you pick BEFORE YOU READ THE STORY. You need to pick:

  • adjective
  • verb
  • adjective
  • color
  • verb ending in "ing"
  • plural noun
  • part of the body (plural)
  • adjective
  • plural noun
  • adjective

My Car Has a Talent Agent!

Here's an (adjective) story that we heard might be true…verb on and decide for yourself!

Stefany wanted to do something adjective at Comic-Con this year. Her favorite part about the show Supernatural was the brothers' car, "Baby," a/an color 1967 Chevy Impala. Ever since Stefany watched the first episode, she had dreamed of owning her own "Baby." What would be cooler than verb ending in "ing" her own demon-hunting muscle car to Comic-Con? She searched used-car plural noun online and found an old junker. Then she got her part of the body (plural) dirty working under the hood. Soon, her work was complete, and Stefany had a/an adjective ride. She parked in front of the convention center. Fans swarmed, wanting to pose for plural noun with the car. A woman in a suit, looking very adjective, approached Stefany and invited the car to appear on an actual episode of Supernatural! Now "Baby" has her own talent agent! Thanks, Comic-Con

Monday, July 20, 2015

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Our scribe always stops by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund booth at Comic-Con and usually goes to at least one of their panels. This organization does good work and deserves all the support it can get.

The CBLDF now publishers a quarterly magazine (comic book size, of course) to keep us all updated on their activities. I picked up the latest issue at their booth and an exciting read it was.

It's nice to know anyone can call them whenever there's an attempt to censor the books available at a library. Sometimes all it takes to quash censorship efforts is a letter from the CBLDF.

At panels I've heard stories of the aid given to individuals who run afoul of law enforcement. Like the guy who was arrested for bringing pornography into the country after an inspector found manga in his luggage. Who else can someone in this situation turn to for help?

At the end of the magazine the CBLDF thanks its major donors. As I stared at it I noticed a big player was missing. Where was MARVEL COMICS? I wandered back to the CBLDF booth and asked. Marvel wasn't listed because they've haven't sent the CBLDF any money.

Personally I never liked Marvel Comics (I've always hated angst heroes), but now I have an ethics-based reason for not supporting them. 

Kudos to all those companies who back the CBLDF's defense of our First Amendment rights when they seem to be under attack on several fronts. Extra kudos to Neil Gaiman, whose foundation donated $60,000 to the CBLDF's education fund.

 Why don't you support them? Just go to to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and join.

Our Comic-Con 2015 Book Project

We're back from Comic-Con 2015. Wow, what a blast and what a mob scene.

Our members did not discuss plans for books prior to going.

When we met afterwards we found each of us had vowed not to bring home books. Amazingly, none of us told anyone else of our resolve. Guess we really were sick of reading.

Though we'd all gone past the publishers' booths on Preview Night, no one went to one on Thursday. Every member had spent the day in panels or on the south end of the exhibit hall.

That resolve weakened on Friday though, as the panel options were less appealing. We all acquired a book or two that day.

By Saturday we were all back in full collection mode, though we each passed up books that didn't look interesting. Some of us even went to publisher booths at 4:30 on Sunday, when the publishers were clearing out their booths. One PAL claims her best swag was the cold can of Diet Coke one booth passed out as it cleared out the refreshments it had stocked for its staff.

At our first meeting after the Con we shared the books we'd acquired. Among us we'd acquired copies of Red Rising and Her Majesty's Dragon signed by their authors, books we'd reviewed last year. Several of us had already read some of their swag books, and we readily agreed they should write reviews of them.

We all agreed the staff at the publishers booths had been phenomenal. Patient and polite every one. The line formation and management was better this year than last. There were tan-vested volunteers to help keep things under control and the aisles clear. They did a good job too.

Particularly noticed was the arcade game developed to publicize Armada, by Ernest Cline. Not only could you play the game, but some lucky person won it. The publisher pays the shipping. We were all sad no one snagged an ARC of this book.

DK Publishing earned praise because they had a table and chairs, with Legos, crayons and coloring pages. Children could color and build things while their parents watched, giving all of them a break from the chaos of the exhibit floor. This was a great use of booth space.

After much discussion, wrangling, whining and arguing, we agreed we did not want to waste time on books we really didn't want to read. To that end, each of us will bring to the next meeting any and all books he/she acquired but does not want to read. Other PALS can go through them and take any he/she wants to read, with the understanding that any book so taken must be reviewed. We won't tackle 85 books that way, but we'll cover some.

Because we are so grateful to the publishers who generously distributed these books, we agreed we would read every sampler we picked up and write a post about each one. We all remembered how excited we were with the sampler for Naomi Novik's Uprooted, a book we all loved after we read the whole book.

Reviews are already trickling in, so watch the blog for new posts.

Comic-Con 2015

GHPALS are back from San Diego and have recovered from the 5-day party. Actually, for us it lasts 6 days because traffic between the OC and down south is so bad on after-Con Sunday that the smart PALS stayed over 'til Monday morning.

None of us camped out for Hall H–why do that when the panels are posted on the web almost immediately after they end? Some of us were in Hall H a few years ago when the scuffle over a chair resulted in a pen in an eye. Who needs those kinds of crowds?

There were so many interesting panels covering every aspect of Popular Arts. Most have nothing to do with television or movies. So many authors. So many artists. So many wonderful people to talk to about everything under the sun.

Best swag? The Vikings drinking horn.

Best panel? The one where an author described her non-traditional self-medication experiment in dealing with her allergies after she read that research seems to indicate people with parasites have less allergy problems. She swallowed a tapeworm and lived with Timmy inside her for 18 months, until a doctor told her she had to get rid of it. She named it Timmy and said she could feel him moving at times.

Best preview? Suicide Squad

Best surprise? The Always Keep Fighting tea lights in the Supernatural panel. Jared Padalecki really appreciated them.

And as always, Bruce Campbell is an m-f'ing god.

Reviewing 85 Books: A Summary and A Big Thank You

The GHPALS reviewed all 85 books we picked up free at Comic-Con 2014 and did it before Comic-Con 2015 started. We are so proud of ourselves and we celebrated big time on Preview Day night, after roaming the exhibit hall and picking up a few new books.

What did we learn? That it was a bigger undertaking than we'd thought when we started. It wasn't just the sheer number of books. It was having to read books one really wasn't interested in when there were other books one would rather be reading. Forcing oneself to read does a disservice to the book and the reader.

We discovered new authors and bought books they wrote. We calculated 53 books were bought that would not have been if we hadn't taken this project on.

We reaffirmed the importance of editors, and bemoan the scarcity of them. The newly published Harper Lee book appears to back that up–her original editor gave her excellent advice after reading her first effort. The result was a masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird. The publication of that original work proves the editor was right. Too bad they are a disappearing profession because many books we read would have benefited greatly from a good one.

Everyone wanted their favorite listed in this summary, so here's the ones we really, really liked:

  • Confessions, by Kinae Minato. The one book every member read. No one could put it down once he/she started reading it.
  • The Warded Man, by Peter V. Brett. None of us wanted to read the sequel though, after we read about it on Amazon.
  • Dead Witch Walking, by Kim Harrison. A wonderful series we all enjoyed, and it ended perfectly.
  • On Her Majesty's Behalf, by Joseph Nassise. Zombies and World War One. A great combination.
  • Greywalker, by Kat Richardson. We bought all the rest of the books in this other series that ended well.
  • Green Rider, by Kristen Britain. The most recent book in the series lost its way when it went to the future, but once it went back to the normal time it was as enjoyable as the first book. We look forward to the next one.
  • His Majesty's Dragon, by Naomi Novik. Dragons in the Napoleonic War. How great is that?!
  • Uprooted, by Naomi Novik. We know, we didn't get the book, just the sampler. But that was enough. Everyone loved the book, so it goes on this list.
Thank you, publishers, for giving us these books and for publishing so many fine writers. Please, please  continue doing both, and hire more editors. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Book 85: Fool's Assassin

Fool's Assassin, by Robin Hobb

There's a reason people like Robin Hobb's books. They are exciting and the characters capture your imagination. The machinations and scheming of the Farseers is interesting and the books are well written. It has been a joy returning to the Six Duchies as I read this book.

Except for her naming convention. I don't like the way they are named after a human quality or character trait, like Shrewd, Chivalry, Desire, Revel, Vigilant, etc. I found it really annoying. Better to have made up names.

I'll be looking for her at Comic-Con next week.

Book 84: The Last Ship

The Last Ship, by William Brinkley

This book begins with a wonderful chapter that explains the real role of a ship's captain: king or the little world that is his ship. As a military brat I could understand it and totally agree with it. It was the perfect set up for the story told in this book.

I thought Mr. Brinkley had to be a career naval officer. I was surprised to read he served in the navy in World War 2 but became a journalist afterwards. He makes you understand what live aboard ship is like and the various personalities and talents of the people (men and women) who crew her.

I know, it's dystopian, and I've said many times I don't do dystopian fiction. But this one is so different. It's about the human spirit. About humanity.

It's also old. Originally published in 1988 but re-released because a TV show is now based on it.

The book is much better than the TV show, starting with the reason the world ended. Pandemics have been overdone, TV. The book's reason is much better.

Book 83: Storm Siren

Storm Siren, by Mary Weber

This book starts out in a slave auction, where an arrogant young woman is being sold for the 14th time. Her merchant buyer immediately puts her up for resale after talking to her, but before the sale is complete her true talents are revealed and he's punished for his treatment of a young girl he's just purchased. And our heroine is bought by a very rich woman. 

I enjoyed this book because it is well written and the heroine is interesting. So are the other characters. It is much better than the typical "warring kingdoms, girl who might save us" books.

The cover art is better than average as well. It captures the essence of the main character and is interesting to look at. 

Friday, July 3, 2015

Book 82: Vault of Dreamers

The Vault of Dreamers, by Caragh M. O'Brien

The school is a reality show. When the book opens the cast of students will soon be reduced by 50, and the narrator heroine does not want to be cut. To this set up add the kids take a pill every night that makes them sleep 12 hours to enhance their creativity. 

Sounds harmless. But of course it isn't. Something sinister is going on and Rosie figures it out. Good for her.

Book 81: The Young World

The Young World, by Chris Weitz

I've said many times we don't do post-apocalyptic novels. I particularly hate post-apocalyptic novels where the adults die. It reminds us of the dumbest movie I ever saw, Wild in the Streets, starring Hal Holbrook, Shelley Winters and Christopher Jones. The song Fourteen or Fight still plays in my mind whenever I vote. 

But I digress. In this book, set in New York, no one lives past the age of 18. Gangs of youngsters are scavenging throughout the city, each having staked out a home turf. There's medical experimentation. To us it was boring. It has a happy ending though. At least I think it's happy.

Books 79: Falling Kingdoms and Book 80: Gathering Darkness

Falling Kingdoms and Gathering Darkness, by Morgan Rhodes

We scored the first and third books in the Falling Kingdom series for young adults and have enjoyed them. The characters are complex and unique. People do not do what you expect them to do, from the very first chapter, when two sisters with magical abilities kidnap a baby. The frivolous young aristocrats visiting a wine shop starts another sequence of events with far-reaching consequences.

In other words, we liked these books and are glad Ms Rhodes signed our copies.

The fourth book in the series comes out in December. We hope we snag an ARC at Comic-Con 2015.