Read Harder 2017

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Book Report: Curses, Inc.

Published May 3, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros

This one didn’t take long, did it?  It’s for Challenge #22, “Read a collection of stories by a woman.”

The theme of the collection is witches, though sometimes the connection is more tenuous than other times.  It also includes a bit at the end where she actually answers every author’s least favorite favorite question:  “where do you get your ideas?”

The stories range from humorous to actually rather frightening, with settings that are equally varied, from unspecified ‘medieval-like’ to very modern indeed.  (And yes, there’s a good reason for the cover image of a witch using a computer, btw.)  Some of them really play with your expectations, too.

As is to be expected from a collection of stories, some of them were more to my taste than others, but there weren’t any of them that I actually disliked.  Overall an entertaining (and fast) read.

…and I seem to suck at reviews today.  (Maybe because I logged on and found out that my post on Monday decided not to post itself even though I had hit publish?  So now my brain’s all scrambled by confused expectations?)

Well, no use forcing it.  I can’t figure out what else I should say, so I’m just gonna leave it here.

Book Report: Girl Mans Up

Published April 30, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros

Now that I’ve finished my class work for the semester (even though class won’t actually end until the 8th), I finally have time to read again.  So I’ve finished the next book for the challenge, though again I’m not sure which challenge to list it for.  It could work for challenge #2, “Read a debut novel,” or challenge #15, “Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+.”  (For people living in other places, it might work for the within 100 miles or the over 5000 miles, but neither of those applies for me.)

This novel is the story of Pen(elope) Oliveira, a girl in high school in the (fictional?) town of Castlehill, Ontario.  She’s dealing with the usual teenage problems:  love, friendship, family, and making important decisions about how to become her own person (or if she even will).  What makes her story stand out from others is that she’s a lesbian, her family are Portuguese immigrants, and she’s always put out such a masculine vibe that people often mistook her for a boy.

From looking at the small blurbs on Goodreads and Amazon, I thought this was about her becoming (or just deciding to become) a transgender man, but that isn’t actually the case.  It’s more about how society’s gender definitions are antiquated and needlessly limiting.  In fact, I think many of the other characters in the story would be more comfortable around Pen if she was trans, because then she’d be conforming to social expectations (sort of), instead of being herself regardless of what everyone else thinks she ought to be.

I marked a couple of passages that really sum up Pen’s gender situation, but I think just the first one will get it across well enough:

Everyone wants something different from me.  It’s like one second, I should be a better dude.  I should stop being such a girly douche, and I should just man up.  Then, it’s the opposite:  I’m too much of a guy, and it’s not right.  I should be a girl, because that’s what I’m supposed to be.

The thing is, I’m not a boy, but I don’t want to be that girl either.  I just want everyone to screw off and let me do my own thing for once.

I should back up a bit on my previous statement.  The book isn’t about how society’s gender definitions are antiquated and needlessly limiting; that’s more the setting, the background against which the action takes place.  The actual subject of the book is…um…hard to describe in a few sentences without just giving a summary of the story.  I guess the best way to sum it up is to say that it’s about relationships — not just romantic ones, mind you, but about all the major types of interpersonal relationships:  family, friendship, and romance.

So, as a teen drama about interpersonal relationships, this is exactly the kind of book I don’t normally read.  Usually, I like to read books where the world needs to be saved, adventures need to be had, tyrants must be stopped, heists have to be perpetrated, et cetera.  (Well, that’s if you’re talking about fiction.  Non-fiction is another matter entirely.)  Therefore, I don’t have much frame of reference here.  But reading outside of your usual zone is one of the points of the Read Harder Challenge, so that’s cool.  And, more importantly, I did enjoy the book.  (In fact, I was sucked in so well it took me half the book or more to consciously notice that it was in the present tense.)

Pen  is very well developed as a character; she feels like a real person, both sure of herself and who she is and also still questing after her own personal identity at the same time.  (She is, after all, a teenager.)  The supporting cast are also well developed, though necessarily not quite as transparent to the reader as Pen, since we only have access to the inside of Pen’s head, and not everyone else’s.  The progression of events feels very natural, and like real life, there are decisions where you wonder what someone was thinking, and others where you feel like characters made a good choice.  Nothing world-shattering happens (not much even life-altering, in fact), just the passage of time and the events that accompany it.  (Though some of the events are naturally more important than others.)

…hmm.  I feel like maybe I should be saying more than that, but I can’t really think what else to say.  (My brain has yet to recover from that last stretch of class work, apparently…)

I guess really all I need to say is that here’s a book about a really kick-ass girl who faces social adversity on a daily basis, and if that sounds like something you’d like to read about, then you should look into this book.

Book Report: Hedy’s Folly

Published April 6, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros

Sooner than expected, here’s my report on the book I picked for Challenge #13 “Read a nonfiction book about technology.”

Since the text on the image is so small, let me spell out the full title of the book:  Hedy’s Folly:  The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World.  (And yes, that is a torpedo she’s sitting on on the cover.)

I admit that through the first few chapters, I was worried that it might not count as a book “about technology,” as those early chapters were pretty much standard biography of Hedy Lamarr (or rather of Hedwig Kiesler, who would later adopt the stage name of Hedy Lamarr), and her co-inventor George Antheil, a composer and author.  Then it got to the part where they were actually working on their invention, and suddenly it was absolutely all about technology.  In fact, it completely glossed over the rest of Hedy’s life in maybe five or six pages.  (Of her six husbands, the book only named two.  Or was it three?  Yeah, it was three, but still!  It did mention that she had had six, but didn’t see any need to go into details.)

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Book Report: Armageddon 2419 / The Airlords of Han

Published March 30, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros

This time (instead of getting my school work done, ’cause I’m still freakin’ sick and can’t go to the library to research) I ended up reading my choice for Challenge #7, “Read a book published between 1900 and 1950.”  I borrowed this book from my father, having been intrigued by some of what my mother said while she was reading it.

(Image from publisher’s website. Click for link.)

Rather than being a single novel, this is two novellas, first published in 1928 and 1929.  The editor’s introduction (from 1928) is interesting in a few key respects…

HERE, once more, is a real scientifiction story plus.  It is a story which will make the heart of many readers leap with joy.

We have rarely printed a story in this magazine that for scientific interest, as well as suspense, could hold its own with this particular story.  We prophecy that this story will become more valuable as the years go by.  It certainly holds a number of interesting prophecies, of which no doubt, many will come true.  For wealth of science, it will be hard to beat for some time to come.  It is one of those rare stories that will bear reading and re-reading many times.

This story has impressed us so favorably, that we hope the author may be induced to write a sequel to it soon.

The Editor, Amazing Stories

Apparently, “science fiction” as a term hadn’t been coined yet in 1928.  I’ll get back to my other reasons for quoting the whole introduction later in the review, but first let me address what you may (or may not) be able to read in the lower corner of the cover image:  that these novellas are the original origin of Buck Rogers.  (Which certainly makes the editor’s prophecy of the story’s future value ring true, though most likely not in the way the editor intended; he probably didn’t mean financial value for the author.)  This is true, but if you’re familiar with the 1939 serial or the 1979-1981 movie/TV show, you’ll find very little that’s familiar here.  About all that’s the same (other than the 20th century man ending up in the 25th century premise) is the following:

  1. The name “Rogers”
  2. The name “Wilma Deering”
  3. A post-apocalyptic America in which people live almost like animals on the surface (this is less so in the serial)
  4. A few technological gadgets in the serial (like the anti-gravity belt) that didn’t make it into the ’70s and ’80s version.

Pretty much everything else (including the name “Buck”) came into the franchise with the comic strips, beginning in 1929, though (according to the Wikipedia article) most of the plot elements familiar to us came in through the Sunday comic strips that began in 1930, including the characters of Killer Kane, Ardala, and Dr. Huer, and the presence of alien races.

So what is this story about, if it’s not about the beleaguered people of Earth fighting back against the space gangster/Draconian warlord Kane?  Well, you may regret asking.

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Book Report: Phoebe and Her Unicorn

Published March 18, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros

So I’ve finished another challenge much more quickly than expected.  Largely because I needed something to read in the bath and couldn’t take my class reading in there (I refuse to use my iPad or to read a library book in the bath), and I ended up grabbing my selection for Challenge #6 “Read an all-ages comic.”

My original choice for #6 was the latest Asterix book (which I’ve been putting off reading because both original creators passed away some years ago (one more recently than the other), and so it was written and drawn by new hands, making me leery of it, though I’ve been assured it’s actually good), but then I saw this one recommended and compared to Calvin and Hobbes.  So I checked out the more detailed information on Amazon, and saw that the introduction was written by Peter S. Beagle, so of course I had to read it!  (Well, of course they asked him to write an introduction.  While Marigold Heavenly Nostrils’ personality is a bit, um, more comical than that of title character of The Last Unicorn, her appearance is clearly inspired by the animated version.)  While he, also, makes the Calvin comparison, he also compares Phoebe to Charlie Brown, which I think might be the more apt comparison.  But I’ll get back to that in a minute.

So, what is Phoebe and Her Unicorn about?  (Um, apart from the obvious.)  This collection of comic strips (apparently web comics, rather than newspaper comics) starts with fourth grader Phoebe meeting the unicorn Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, and being given a single wish.  Like any fourth grader at the bottom of her class’s social ladder, Phoebe wishes (after some false starts) for Marigold to be her best friend, and her wish is granted.  Their adventures together tend to be quiet ones, riding through the forests, and just generally talking to let their different-yet-similar personalities create the humor.  (Though there are also the occasional highly imaginative adventures as well.)  There’s also a lot about Phoebe’s trouble with her classmates, who look down on her as a weird loser.

The Calvin and Hobbes comparison seems obvious, right?  A boy and his imaginary/stuffed tiger, a girl and her unicorn; they seem like they’re on the same page.  And to a certain extent they are.  Phoebe does have quite an imagination for crazy adventures (and, to be honest, Calvin’s adventures often were quiet things like sledding or walking in the woods, having deep conversations with Hobbes).  But the really big difference is that to everyone else in the world, Hobbes is just a stuffed animal, whereas everyone else in Phoebe’s world can see Marigold.  It’s just that they don’t pay much attention to Marigold because she has the Shield of Boringness to deflect their awe.  (Technically, that ought to be in a Gothic font, but I don’t know how to change the font on here.)  Said shield rather reminds me of the “Somebody Else’s Problem Field” from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  (Not sure which part of it; it may have only been in season two of the radio series.)  Something similar was also introduced in the new series Doctor Who as well, though I don’t remember exactly what it was called — a “perception filter” or something, maybe.  (I think that was in “The Lodger,” but the way the new series is structured, it’s really awkward watching just one episode instead of all (or most of) a season at a single go, so…yeah, not gonna check.  I don’t have time to start marathoning vast quantities of Doctor Who right now.)  That gives Marigold a very different presence as Phoebe’s constant companion than Hobbes had as Calvin’s.

That brings me back to the other comparison, to Peanuts and Charlie Brown.  I’m very fond of the really early Peanuts strips, from the late ’50s and early ’60s, and there are definitely similarities.  Phoebe is entirely modern, of course (smart phone and all), but she has the same kind of insecurities, and the same desire to be accepted by her classmates.  She has all her own ways of approaching things, but she has a basic interest in accepting and being accepted that’s very like Charlie Brown’s.  (Unlike Calvin, who really doesn’t seem to want to have anything to do with the majority of the other kids at school.  And given what most of his classmates are like, it’s hard to blame him, really.)

Bottom line, this is a very endearing little book.  It’s funny, intelligent and charmingly drawn.  Despite the sparkly pink cover (and the unicorn), it’s not “Calvin and Hobbes for girls”; this book is its own thing, and (just like Calvin and Hobbes) should be equally able to entertain girls and boys both, as well as adults.

Book Report: No Rainbow

Published March 14, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros

I told you this one would go up today.  This time, I tackled challenge #21, “Read a book published by a micropress.”  Probably one of the most difficult challenges to meet, simply because so many people (most of us, perhaps) had never even heard of the idea of a micropress, let alone know where to find one’s books.  Fortunately, Book Riot provided an article discussing what micropresses are, and giving links to a few of them.  In that article, there was a list of some of the qualities of a micropress, the first two of which are


  • The main criteria is that the books are published in limited releases – no more than 300 copies for handmade chapbooks and 500 for spine bound (glued).

  • They are run by one-two people, usually out of their homes

Which definitely explains why you don’t see micropress products in your big chain bookstores!

Anyway, so I followed one of the links Book Riot’s article provided, and went to Greying Ghost to find a book for this challenge.  Can’t vouch for the number of people assembling the books, but the one I got was in an edition size of 50, and handmade, so I think it definitely meets the criteria.

(Image from Greying Ghost website. Click for link.)


You can’t really read the cover very well in the photo, so I’ll just add here that it’s called No Rainbow and it’s by Judson Hamilton.  (That circle around the woman’s head seems to have been added in Photoshop, because it’s not on the actual book.)  This is very short — the pages are unnumbered, but I think there are about 30 of them — which makes it rather hard to find a way to review it as such.

This story (for lack of a more apt term to use) is very much the kind of thing you might expect to see in a literary magazine.  A bit experimental around the edges, sometimes with poetry-style line breaks, and definitely feeling heavy with meaning.  You’re not given all the details of the situation surrounding events — events being a few conversations over the course of a day or two — or even a full description of the characters, but by the end you have a pretty firm grasp on the situation.

Given the brief nature of the text, I don’t really want to go into it further, so to expand the review a little, I guess I’ll talk about the more technical aspects of the book.  It’s printed on very high quality, heavy paper, and seems to have been printed with a more-or-less ordinary printer, given that there were a few lines on one page that had a printer line smudge thing going on.  (Happens to everyone…)  My biggest complaint would be that right on the very last page, the author used “there” instead of “their”, which is one of my especial pet peeves.  (Maybe it was intentional, but it’s still jarring to my former English major self…)

So, this is me halfway done with the Read Harder 2017 challenge.

Not sure which individual challenge I’ll go after next.  Like I said last time, I already have the books for almost all of them, so I have lots of options.  But I have a massive take-home test due the 1oth (which I haven’t started on due to being sick) and a research PowerPoint (yeah, in graduate school) due on the 24, so I should probably focus my reading on class work for the next month and a half.  Much as I dislike that idea…

Book Report: Quidditch Through the Ages

Published March 12, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros

See, I said it wouldn’t be long before I got to the next one.  Because it was super-short.  Challenge #1 is “Read a book about sports.”  So, fine and dandy for those who like sports, but…I was thinking “am I gonna hafta re-read a volume of Ranma 1/2 or Bamboo Blade for this?”  I didn’t want to have to use manga for any of the categories, since there’s not a whole lot of actual reading involved there.  (Well, okay, I wouldn’t have minded using it for the two comic book/graphic novel challenges.  Though it turns out I won’t be using manga for either of them.)  Then I had a look at the Goodreads discussion of this challenge, and saw someone say they were going to use Quidditch Through the Ages, because the challenge didn’t say the sport couldn’t be a fictional one.  And I was like “yes, I think I’ll do that, too.”  (I knew I could easily get my hands on a copy, because my mother is a serious Potter fan, and bought the two volume set of Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them when it came out.  I don’t think she’s read this one, but I know she read Fantastic Beasts, because after we all went to see the movie, she got out the book and showed us the illustrations of some of the beasts that made it into the movie.)

It’s hard to know how to “review” a book like this, though.  Unlike my mother, I’m not a huge Harry Potter fan, so I couldn’t remember exactly how much of this was culled from details sprinkled here and there in the books, and how much was invented for this little book.  (Though I’m pretty sure I do remember that Draco Malfoy committed almost all the listed ‘common’ fouls, all against Harry…)

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Book Report: The Girl from Everywhere

Published March 10, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros

Well, this is a first.  I’m not sure which challenge to list for this one.

So this was one of many books I found on one of Book Riot’s list of YA/MG books by authors who identify as LGBTQ+.  (And in tracking down that list again to add a link to it, I just added several more to my TBR list…)  So that means I could use it for challenge #15…but I think I’d rather use a book that actually dealt with LGBTQ+ issues for that challenge.  (Which leaves me a lot of choices still.  Actually I kind of want to use The Gentlemen’s Guide to Vice and Virtue for that one, not just because it sounds good, but also because the guy pictured on the cover makes me think of Brian Slade.  (Yeah, I know, don’t judge a book by its cover…but at least it’s the good, wanting-to-read-it kind of judging!)  But that one’s not coming out until late June, so…)

I noticed the sequel to this book on Book Riot’s list of books that only have people of color for their POV characters, which is why I moved this up my list to the “next read” position.  But this one is a first person narrative, so I don’t feel like it quite matches challenge #24.  But I know a lot of other people were saying that a single POV novel works, so…well, we’ll just see what happens with challenge #24.

As I was reading it, I thought I’d hit on the perfect challenge to list The Girl from Everywhere for, in that I thought Hawaii (where the majority of the book takes place) was more than 5000 miles from here, but then I checked a site that calculates things like that, and it turns out it isn’t.  (Looked more like 4500 miles…)  So I can’t use it for #11.  (But it just occurred to me that one of my Christmas books was about ancient Egypt, and that’s more than 5000 miles from here…so I should probably read that one for #11.  Actually, I think Greece was more than 5000 miles from here, too, and I got that big, beautiful book about Mycenae, too…)

can easily use it for #2, “Read a debut novel,” or #12, “Read a fantasy novel,” so it’s not like I’ll have to bend any rules to make it fit the list.  I just have to pick where I want to put it; or rather I have to see what else I find that I want to read to fill in the other holes on the list.

Well, all that fiddling about aside, on to the review!

Our narrator/heroine, Nix Song, is the daughter of the captain of the ship Temptation.  This ship — or rather her captain — has an unusual ability:  rather than sailing the seas like an ordinary ship, the Temptation sails maps, going right off the edge of one and onto another, crossing time and space, and sometimes even leaving reality to visit fictional or mythical places.  The problem in Nix’s life is both simple and complicated at the same time.  Her mother died soon after she was born — while her father was off on a journey — and her father is obsessed with finding the right map to the right time in order to save her mother’s life.  But if he does that, will Nix still exist, or will the life she’s led be erased by the paradox?

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Book Report: Dred Scott’s Advocate

Published February 28, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros


It’s taken me a long time, due to various things (mostly class-related), but I’ve finally gotten through Challenge #10 “Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your location.”


Yeah, that’s the biggest file size Goodreads had for the cover image.  (Not a well-traversed page.)  Since the image is so small, I’ll spell out that it reads Dred Scott’s Advocate:  A Biography of Roswell M. Field, by Kenneth C. Kaufman.

Obscure choice, yes.  But I’m doing my final project this semester on the Dred Scott case, and this makes for an interesting perspective.  And although it’s twenty years old (1996, so technically 21), it’s still much more recent than the book my professor recommended, which is from 1978.  (Because that’s obviously at the forefront of the most recent research…)

Anyway, Roswell Field is one of the several lawyers who represented Dred and Harriet Scott in their freedom suit, an unnecessarily complicated process that took eleven years and ultimately failed.  (Normally, freedom cases like the Scotts’ were an open and shut affair, and they should have been released after their first court date. )  Field is often — and certainly within this book — credited with coming up with many, if not most or all, of the later approaches that took the case all the way to the US Supreme Court, and as such, it’s interesting to see how his background and earlier life may have led into the way he handled the case.

But to back up a minute, you may be wondering why not read a biography of Dred Scott himself?

The short answer is that we don’t really know all that much about him.

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Book Review: Flaming Iguanas

Published February 17, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros

OMG, I started writing this post on Tuesday.  WTF happened?


My choice for challenge #19, “Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey,” is untraditional in a number of ways.


Flaming Iguanas:  An Illustrated All-Girl Road Novel Thing has a casual, comical narrative style, interspersed with the occasional clip-art style illustration, often humorous (and sometimes a bit racy.)  It also doesn’t fit most traditional definitions of a “spiritual journey,” but I think Tomato’s journey does count as spiritual.  It also has what I call “Internet formatting,” wherein the paragraphs aren’t indented, and have a blank line between them.  That normally drives me batty on paper.  (Which sounds odd, when you think about how many blogs I follow…)  Between the formatting and the fact that Tomato Rodriguez begins her journey by accidentally running over someone’s cat, it’s surprising I was able to get more than a few pages in.

Once I got past the distressing kitty death (which was also distressing for Tomato, of course), it didn’t take long for the text to carry me away despite the Internet formatting.  Tomato Rodriguez (yes, Tomato is what she calls herself, and no, it’s not her real name) is an unusual narrator, in that she’s entirely honest — perhaps sometimes too honest — but also a fairly standard narrator of the tale of a journey, because she’s not really sure who or what she properly is.  She has a long section, early on, describing all the ways she doesn’t really feel like she fits into any of the categories everyone else does (not white, not black, not Puerto Rican, not straight, not gay) and that passage was I think the first part where I was like “you are totally speaking my language.”  (Though I’m less unsure of where I fit on some of those points…)

Allegedly, the reason Tomato starts her motorcycle trip across the country is because her father is dying of cancer in California, and she wants to go be with him, or say goodbye anyway.  But mostly she’s trying to discover herself.  Admittedly, that’s one of the cliches of the “road trip” genre, but I feel like Tomato’s self-discovery is different enough from the (usually very macho) standard that there’s nothing cliched here.

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