Consecrated Phrases by James Bretzke

, 12 Dec 2014

Consecrated phrases is a very approachable and useful dictionary for any student or professional who needs a reliable source to translate or just understand common Latin expressions, formulas and words used in theological and ecclesiastical texts (but not only in those). The book offers a great selection of entries, which are defined accurately but with an approachable and easy to understand language.

The dictionary might appeal to those lay readers who want to learn the original meaning of words that are commonly used in English and have a Latin and/or ecclesiastical origin.

On the other hand, I think the book is not comprehensive, as some common formulas used in titles related to Curia dignitaries, are not mentioned. To mention just one that I find a lot in my texts "in partibus infidelium" (in the land of the infidels). On the other hand, other words that are commonly known and understood by everybody are unnecessarily defined, for example, (singing) "a capella".

Having this sort of dictionary in Kindle format is just very handy, so I am very happy with my purchase. Still, the lack of complete justification of the text makes it look unpolished, and I find that visually annoying. However, the main sin of the Kindle version is the total absence of an alphabetic index in the table of contents (I had to use notes to do that), while the crossed references between entries are not linked either. The book is not cheap for Kindle, so a bit of more thought and consideration for the reader would have been great.

Alone Forever: The Singles Collection by Liz Prince (2014)

, 29 Nov 2014

Alone Forever is a short book containing a selection of auto-biographic self-deprecating comic strips by Liz Prince about her dating life, or lack of, and how she is, lives and relates to people, men (and cats) in general.

Liz is a bit of tomboy in ways of relating, always hanging out with boys, and dresses very boyishly. Despite being taken for a lesbian often, she is very much straight and looking for love. She is a bit neurotic, vengeful, confused, loving, loyal, funny, nerdy, and magnetically attracted to cute bearded guys wearing strange bands T-shirts. The comic strips depict how she relates to the opposite sex, how she flirts, and how she dates. My favourite pages are those devoted to the narration of the dates she got with guys she met through the dating site OK Cupid. 

The drawing style is a bit sketchy, even childish, very charming, very e-zine in a way. Still, some of her images are really beautiful and great.The strips are very short, the longest occupies a page, so the degree in which they engage the reader varies. I found myself reading out loud at some of the strips, or just feeling in love with the version of Liz that Liz has created for the reader.

I recently read Jeff Brown's "Clumsy", and I found that Liz's and Jeff's have very similar books and ways of narrating. Although they are the flip side of the coin and of each other, they share the fact that they are not archetypal man and woman in their romantic relationships.

This is a very entertaining and engaging book, and I read it in a sitting. Once ends loving Liz and wishing her lots of love!

Science Tales: Lies, Hoaxes and Scams by Darryl Cunningham (2014)

, 27 Nov 2014

Take the style of Michael Moore's documentaries and old TV Shows, mix it with the explanatory style that you find in TED Animated Shorts on various scientific subjects, put it in comic form, add some personal graphic style. Voila! You have Science Tales. 

Science Tales is a book on what science does, how it does it, and why it is a reliable method of understanding and explaining the world. It is also a book on what Science is not. More importantly, it is a book on the importance of critical thinking to deal with any scientific or Fringe Science issue. His approach would also be valid for subjects that are not scientific, like History, or TV watching, for example.  

The themes discussed in Science Tales are: Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT), homoeopathy, the case of Andrew Wakefield and the anti-vaccination nonsense, chiropractic, the landing on the moon hoax, fracking, climate change, evolution, and science denial. 

Cunningham  makes two terrific points in his foreword, which will help you to understand the way and passion he invests in explaining the themes discussed in the book:
"What it isn't is a book promoting a scientific elite whom must all follow, sheep-like. It is the scientific process itself in promoting here, not the scientific establishment, who are just as capable of being fraudulent, corrupted by politics and money or just plain wrong as any group of humans engaged in any activity [...] Science isn't a matter of faith or just another point of view. Good science is testable, reproducible, and stands the test of time. What doesn't work in science falls away, and what it remains is the true."

Cunningham is a passionate author and graphic artist and you can feel that when you read Science Tales. He has the virtue of digesting scientific information that can be difficult to understand (all the fracking issue or the way genetic selection works for example) and present it in a visual and textual way that is easy to understand by anybody, a child in high school or your great-grandma.

I love Cunningham graphic style. It is very simple and schematic, a bit cubist!, but he has an amazing sense of colour and of aesthetics. Each chapter has a a different scheme colour that goes perfectly with the theme at hand. I always love such visual mindfulness! And some of the vignettes are very humorous as well. One of the things I did not like in the illustrations is when he inserts retouched or filtered digitalised images, which work well visually in some cases but not in others. Cunningham could have perfectly drawn those images himself, and the final result would have been more harmonious visually. 

Cunningham says that the reason why he choose the themes he discuses in his books is they were hot topics on any science blog or podcast when he wrote it. That is, they were mainstream topics of discussion. To me, that is one of the flaws of the book, that there is little that you would learn or have not heard of when reading the book as there are plenty of documentaries, scientifically backed, on some of the issues that Cunningham discusses. Why not focusing on other scientific topics that are less known to the masses? For example, how Statistics and are used to manipulate mass opinion, create false opinions and perceptions of the reality of certain social, cultural or ethnics groups. Or the use of psychology at the stock market to put down whole nations speculating on supposedly scientific mathematical/economical evaluations. What about the use of quantum physics to explain New Age religious stuff? What about magic diets backed up by doctors, which turn to be really damaging? Just giving some ideas, Cunningham!  

Also, using an episode of Mythbusters as a scientific reference defeats his own purpose or being, well, very scientific. Come on, hello hello, can't you see that?!Still, this is a very educative enjoyable book.

I am quite happy with the rendering of the book for Kindle. It is easy to read, the page to move around, zoom in and out. 

The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire (2012)

, 17 Nov 2014

The Underwater Welder is a black and white fiction graphic novel that focus in the strange circumstances surrounding the life of 33y.o. Jack Joseph --an underwater welder who works in a rig--, and her expecting wife Susie. The accidental finding of an old forgotten childhood watch and an accident happened during a rutinary shift will bring Jack to question reality, his present and his past. 

Jack loves working and diving because down there he gets the solitude he craves, he is alienated from his mother and progressively alienated from his wife, whose most basic needs he finds difficult to tend to as the same pace that his mental confusion grows. He is obsessed with the death of his father, who died at his same age, in the night of Halloween, and sees progressively identified and mixed with his father's memory and "ghost". The isolated inhospitable rugged shores of Nova Scotia are a perfect setting for this intriguing novel.

The novel  has many of Lemire's themes and characters archetypes also present in other of his works: the role of memory in your present life, the thin line separating past and present in people's memories and emotions, lonely alienated characters who want to connect emotionally but are progressive frustrated by their lack of success at doing so, the line the separates reality from non reality.

The novel also shows again Lemire's drawing mastery and graphic versatility to convey into images stories and situations that are far from easy or straight forward to depict. Also common to Lemire are his wonderful landscape composition, and the framing and composition of his vignettes.

The novel reads easily and with gusto, and is very intriguing. However, it has a predictable ending that you can sense from half way the novel. Perhaps the tempo of the novel should have been different and some of the information provided at the beginning omitted so the reader would have had less clues to unveil the mystery. Having said so, the story is intriguing enough and odd enough to keep you interested. The characters are well sketched psychologically, especially Jack, although sometimes the reader, or at least me, wanted to know more about Susie.

The undersea images are great, specially having into account that they are drawn in black and white. Also great is the graphic depiction of the progressive mental alienation of Jack and his almost-oneiric and trippy living in his deserted town.
It is amazing how our brains can create all kind of ways of avoiding the truth

 A very enjoyable reading overall.

(Collected) Essex County by Jeff Lemire (2012)

, 15 Nov 2014

Essex County is a critically-acclaimed multi-award graphic novel chosen as one of Top 5 Essential Canadian Novels of the Decade. The Collected Essex County compiles three different separated volumes revolving about the lives, present and past of the same characters living in Essex County (Ontario) Canada: Vince, an ex-hockey player and his brother of Lou Lebeuf, also an ex-hockey player and tram driver who is in a age care asylum; Lester, a weird orphan kid and her uncle farmer Mr Kenny, and nurse Annie Quenneville.

Book 1 (Tales from the Farm), follows the friendship of Lester with Vince and his alienation from his uncle. Book 2 (Ghost Stories) tells the story of demented deaf Lou, who mixes past and present in his head; most of the story is set in Toronto in the 1950s. Book 3 (The Country Nurse) tells us the story of the nurse's grandma, and of the nurse's daily life. The book ends with some bonuses, the graphic story of the Essex Country Boxing Club, the mini-biography of The Sand and Lonely Life of Eddie Elephant-Ears and other scrap drawings.

Lemire's talent shines bright in Essex Country for many reasons. This graphic novel has the masterly of a talented painter, the atmosphere of classic movies,  a good character creation (both in imagery and psychology), engaging narrative and stories, undeniable and genuinely Canadian themes, but also a universal way of depicting the human heart.

There is something in the characters that speaks to all of us, because they are not heroes, not even anti-heroes - just "normal". It is their humanity and loneliness but their  willingness to connect. They are all lonely struggling people, alienated from their families, emotionally depleted or starved, hard working, down to earth. They are not handsome characters, they are tough looking, edged and angular in their bodies and facial features. Real life people, with big noses, small lips, elephant ears, and cracked hands.
The novel offers a post-modern multi-voice inter-connected story set in rural Canada, which will speak to both Canadian and non-Canadian readers. At a narrative level, his multi-voiced approach is far from new or innovative, but it works well for the story.

Lemire's black and white is glorious, his landscape compositions are simple but marvellous, his use of shadows masterly, as well as his depiction of snowy and night landscapes. The framing and POV of the images is very dynamic and cinematic and the pages flow with ease. Lemire's vignettes in this book are not just squared or have the same size or shape, making every page interesting per se, sometimes cosily crowded, sometimes minimal and tidy.

 I love the way Lemire composes some of his rural magical landscape images, sometimes a full-page image, some others a severed or slanted full page that allows the reader to focus on individual elements in the same image, while others the landscapes are semi-fractured images with different elements of action. Lemire can go from minimal composition and drawing, to the extreme detail with which he depicts the urban environment of Toronto in the 50s. His depiction of movement in sports is also fantastic, with the images on hockey playing really full of action and very dynamic visually.

I found most remarkable the way Lemire uses his versatile pen to visually describe how dementia feels in the mind of an elderly person, and how past and present are a fuzzy-line reality at times. Thus, the fully bodied tick black and white ink transforms into light pencil traces and sketched images, which allow the reader to dive into the same fuzzy territory that the  character does. 

The 500+ pages of Essex County are awesome. This is Comic with capitals, the sort of comic that you show to people who say that comics are for kids or freaks. The sort of comic lovers crave for. Lemire's talent and versatility are just wow.

Concise Oxford English Dictionary On CD-Rom by Oxford Dictionaries (2011)

, 3 Nov 2014

The CD Room is great. It is easy to install, runs smoothly, requires little Ram memory and opens and closes at a good speed. I love the choice between standard display (mostly black and white) and the high-contrast one (dark background, coloured text) which is perfect for people with poor sight, and the increase/decrease font size buttons. You can bookmark your favourite entries, listen to the pronunciation of the main words, and copy and/or print the text of any entry.

The Concise is very handy.The entries are basic but clear, right to the point, the phonetic transliteration uses the International system, as well as the etymology (origin) of the word and a list of derivative words.

My main disappointment with this product relies on the fact that, although we expect a concise dictionary to be, well, concise, we also expect something a bit more elaborate and detailed. For example, the derivative words are not in separate entries, the entries do not have any example of contextualized use of the words or derivatives (unless the use is problematic per se), and there is not phonetic transliteration or pronunciation of the derivatives. All of this are shortcomings to me.

With so many online free dictionaries online, some of the Oxford's included, one expects those for sale to supersede the online ones regarding the information and details they provide. Unfortunately, the Concise Oxford on CD-Rom falls a bit short. It is not that is bad, it is that it could be much better.

Still, the Concise is perfect for Secondary School students or for basic consultations and look-ups.

The reference section is available in a PDF format file, and it can be found by pressing the "help & other documents" button.

Advanced Learner’s English Dictionary (Collins Cobuild) by HarperCollins UK (2006)

I have had the Collins Advanced Learners Cobuild CD-Rom 2006 since it was launched. To the date, it is my preferred English Dictionary on CD and the best one for foreigners. I have barely used the hard copy because the CD is so good that it makes it unnecessary. This review is about the CD-Rom, not about the hard copy version.

There are so many reasons why I love the Collins Cobuild. If I had to be short, I would say it runs smoothly, it looks pretty, and the definitions are clear, simple and comprehensive.

The CD-Rom runs smoothly, it is fast and non-invasive in your computer's memory. You won't have the program hanging up or freezing ever. The only times I have re-installed it is when I have changed computer, and that is a lot to say for any software.

The blue, white and red interface is really elegant, pleasant, crisp and clear, and it can be customised by adjusting the font type an font size to your liking.
The definitions are clear, comprehensive, with different meanings and syntactic functions clearly shown and structured. Each definition or sub-definition comes with an example of use; if you need more, you press the WorldBank button and can find plenty of contextualised examples extracted from literary and non-literary texts. Moreover, British and American spellings and preferences are clearly shown, and many times the word comes with a synonym or antonym to better show the meaning. Each word comes with a native voice's pronunciation of the same (singular/plural and difference verb tenses), which is great for foreign students.

Extra features that I love are:
+ Copy and paste are available between the program and your Text or Word program.
+ You can create a personalised dictionary, yes! by adding words that are not in it. This is extremely helpful when you work with specific semantic fields with very specific vocabulary that you won't usually find in a general dictionary. Say, for example, mechanics, ecclesiastical terminology, sartorial language, etc. 
+ You can switch on/off the automatic pronunciation of each word.
+ You can choose whether you want the phonetics of the word shown or not.
+ You can record your own pronunciation of the word and compare it to the original. This is perfect for foreigners learning the language or just to have your best (native) friend pronouncing the words for you!

Things that I don't specially like are:
- The pop up feature, actually a reduction of the search area to a mini-window; you cannot switch to full display from there and have to close and reopen the program. Bummer!
- I don't like the phonetic transliteration system used as it is not the International phonetic system.

I use this CD-Rom all the time for personal and professional purposes and, eight years later I am still in love with it

Diccionario de la Lengua Española on CD-Rom by Real Academia de la Lengua Española (2003)

This is the wholee-guacamole of the Spanish dictionaries out there - to me.

The Real Academia de la Lengua Española (usually called RAE) is a pan-Hispanic institution of linguists, academics and writers that have been creating, modifying, enlarging, and updating this dictionary since the 19th century. Their dictionaries are "The" manual for anybody who makes of the use of Spanish their  profession, but also a must reference book in any household. This is not an "urban dictionary" or a "slang dictionary" so do not look for that sort of vocabulary here, but this your dictionary is you are an educated person, University person, teacher, linguist, translator, or a lover of the Spanish language.

Throughout the years, I have used many Spanish dictionaries, but I always come back to this one, because it gives me answers, it gives me an exhaustive collection of words, from those archaic or not much in use nowadays, to those just used in some regions of Spain, or in some countries in the Americas, to those I use in my daily life. I love the simple and understandable way the words are defined and put into context,  that the dictionary is pan-Hispanic, the top-notch etymology!

Having said so, this edition was launched more than 10 years ago, so one sees deficiencies and limited explanations of more modern words. However, the main deficiency is the CD-Rom's archaic software, which is really old and odd. Moreover, given the fact that the RAE's website offers consultation of the dictionary for free, one wonders why the pricing of the CD-Rom is so exorbitant?!

The good things about the CD version are:
> Fast opening and closing down,
> Easy to use interface.
> You can cut, paste and print without any hustle.
> The dictionary offers basic search (consulta básica), which is the one I usually use, but also a complex advanced research (consulta avanzada) that allows you to search for specific phonemes, morphemes or even backwards, among other options, which is perfect for linguists.

Among the deficiencies of the CD version, bear with me, the installation program is 10+ years old, so it is very rudimentary for modern standards. To start with, it does not self-install on insertion, you have to locate the install program and launch it. The visual design of the dictionary is bland and boring, with limited visual contrast. Moreover, many display options are not clearly visible, but only accessible via the settings like, for example,  the size and colouring of the text. On the other hand, you cannot change the display font, something that I always love. 

Let's rejoice, the new edition of the dictionary has been launched mid October 2014. We can only hope that the updated version of the dictionary and the CD will be as good as ever regarding contents,  but with an user-friendly up-to-date software CD-Rom.

Lonely Planet Bhutan (Travel Guide) by Lindsay Brown & Bradley Mayhew (2014)

, 27 Oct 2014

I travelled to Bhutan just after the release of this guide. Lucky me! This being so, all the practical information and advice was fresh and reliable, up to date, which is what any person purchasing a travel guide wants.

I found this travel guide very useful and practical, clearly written, well researched, well structured and nicely illustrated. Although most people travel to Bhutan in small-group locally-organised tours, it is possible to visit the country independently -a legal permit is necessary and a previous lengthy detailed application is needed- or semi-dependently by telling the local travel agent the places you want to go and visit and stay to make your own trip. This being the case, I consider the guide a good tool for all sort of travellers, not just the majority using guided tours.

Bhutan History is complex, and historical facts, myth and religion mix in ways that are difficult to separate at times. The authors make a terrific job at condensing and distilling it for the foreign reader in ways that are understandable and entertaining, and surprisingly unbiased at times (read for example the pages devoted to English interventionism).

I also loved the approach to Buthanese Buddhist customs and ways of living, and all the info about Buddhism in Bhutan (Mahayana Buddhism is so complicated!) which are very important to put into practice to show respect and get respect back from the locals, and to understand what is going on in a country that breathes Buddhism. I also found the book very good to find out on matters that some of the guides found embarrassing or inappropriate to comment upon or reply to because they relate to "odd" practices or monks' behaviour, etc., so the guide will tell you what some local guides won't.

The Kindle edition is truly useful, easy to carry around, with linked cross-references that make the book easy to move back and forth, clearly indexed, survivor-kit links, and everything so well structured that using the book is very easy. My only complain is about the formatting of the book using left justification instead of full justification of the text (very early 20th century!), which makes the book look amateurish and unpolished.

The selection of photographs and illustrations is very good, as you can expect from any Lonely Planet guide.

Blue Is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh (2013)

, 26 Oct 2014

I had many expectations about this book after learning that the movie based on it had won the Palm D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. As  usually happens, high expectations aren't always matched.

"Le bleu est une couleur chaude" (Blue is a Warm Colour, funnily translated as Blue is the Warmest Colour) is the first major work by French graphic artist Julie Maroh. The book narrates the sexual awakening of Clementine, her coming to terms with being a lesbian, and her relationship with Emma. This is a posthumus story, as the book starts from the ending with a flashback narration of the love story as told by Clementine herself in her blue diary.

The artwork is wonderful. The use of colour is just another character in the story, if that can be said, because it gives the book its melancholic mood. Sepia tones are used in the flashback, only highlighted by Clementine's blue diary and Emma's haircut.  The story told in the present is painted in a mix of pastel blues, greens and ochres. Maroh has a great eye for detail and her depiction of the city's streets, parks and skyline, as well as the beach scenes, are truly beautiful.  She uses a mix of watercolour, pencil and mixed media to create precious images. 

I found the narrative simple, realistic and believable, but also a bit over-melodramatic at times. I think the story reflects well the hurdles that gay people find when they discover they are gay, first, and when they come out of the closet, then, having to deal with their not-always-accepting friends and families. I think the book also succeeds at depicting gay people as individuals, not as bunch of people who act or think the same, or who reacts to their own sexuality in the same way. As the character says:
 "For Emma, her sexuality is something that draws her to others, a social end political thing. For me, it's the most intimate thing there is". p. 131.
I have gay friends, and all of them fall on Clem's side. On the other hand, the book is unbalanced, because most of the story focuses in Cleme's teens years, while her adult life with Emma is barely sketched. This being the case, the ending feels hurried as we don't know why Clementine is feeling alienated from Emma, what is going on in her head for her to be deluded and act the way she acts.  

The book has explicit sex scenes.

Queen's Day by Leela Corman (1999, Reedition 214)

Queen's Day was released in 1999, published after being listed in the September selection of the Xeric Foundation's comic awards. I have read it in Kindle format, as it has been released in electronic format this year by Alternative Comics.

This is more a booklet than a book, with just 69 pages. It contains three separate unconnected stories, some of Corman's early works, and as such they have to be appreciated. 

The stories are  drawn in a glorious black and white, with a predominance of a bright black and greys over white. The style is very expressionist (the cover really doesn't reflect the style of the comic), with angular characters. The texts are reduced to a minimum.

In "The Baba Yaga". An old Russian "witch" rescues a little girl that has fallen asleep in a freezing cold river. In "The Myth of Never Being Sick a Day in Your Life", a young lady visits her grandma and the mountain area where her brother lost her life. In  "Koninginnendag", a girl living in Holland is cheered up by a friend.

Despite the sobriety and brevity of the whole, the stories are engaging. There is something non-explicit that gives them a melancholic mysterious tone and blends them together, especially the first two. The elements that I personally see commonly reflected in all them are:
> gloominess.
> The forest, the mountain, and the power of Nature.
>  Ascension.
>  Support and care.

If you love rare non-mainstream comics, this is one of those. 

God Is Disappointed In You by Mark Russell & Shannon Wheeler (2013))

, 25 Oct 2014

I have to say that this book has brought more laugh to my life that anything or anybody else this year. Laughing out loud continuously while reading anything is a gift that one has to appreciate for its rarity.

God is not Disappointed in You summarises and condensates all the texts amd books contained in the Bible in 220 pages, writing the story in a contemporary "dude-whats-up?" sort of language.

Russell has an amazing wit, a a daring sense of irreverence, a profane humour, and a great insight into the incongruence of the historical figures and events the Bible presents us with. It reminds me, in a way, of the way Monty Python approached Biblical facts in their unforgettable film "The Life of Brian". However, Russell does not deform or twists the stories and behaviours or laws contained in the Bible no matter how nonsensical or farcical they might appear. We have to remind ourselves that these stories were written and compiled thousands of years ago. In the introduction, Russell says:
"It is not my intention to mock the Bible with this book, nor to endorse it, but merely to present it on its own terms in a way that is accessible and which relays the same sense of fascination I had when I truly discovered the Bible for the first time. If you want to reject the Bible as ancient superstition or digest it as the holy word of God, that’s up to you. I just thought you might like to know what’s actually in the hot dog."
Russell's approach to the Bible is not historical or contextual, but I would have been bored to death if he had tried to do that. That is not his job or intention. "God is Disappointed..." is not an exegesis of the Bible, just a funny book on the Bible's texts.

You might think that reading anything Biblical is too serious, uninteresting, or religious. You might adduce that you aren't a believer, or a Christian. It doesn't matter. Russell's book is almost better than the original, forgive my enthusiasm. The  book will especially appeal to agnostics, atheists and lax Christians and Jews with a sense of humour. I guarantee, that you will still find yourself laughing out loud. To those who are practising believers, you might be irritated by the tone of some of the language used, but you won't find anything you haven't heard before in more dramatic formal terms if you go to Mass every Sunday and listen (i.e. with full attention) to the readings.

This not a book for everybody, though, because it touches on divine matters, and that is always a sensitive pruritus to scratch. Zealots, bigots, fundamentalists and any other -ish people who take religion to the letter might be angry, upset and even deprecatory. Knowing that, please dear bigot don't make a ziggurat of an issue about the authors' enterprise if you decide to go ahead and read it. You've been warned. You are very welcome.   

The books that I found funnier and more enjoyable were, in the Old Testament, the Books of Nehemiah and Esther and the Songs of Songs; I also loved the Book of Ecclesiastes because Russell really likes it (how not to?) and condensates it quite well and with less mock than the rest. In the New Testament, I thought all the Gospels were lovely, but the wittiest to me was the Gospel of Luke.

Just three samples for your to taste, they will give you an indication if you can stomach the book or not:
 <Deuteronomy> If you’re a soldier and you have a wet dream, you’ve got to leave camp for one whole day before you come back. Also, when you’re in camp, be sure to shit discreetly in a hole. Remember, God walks among you, and the last thing you want is for him to be stepping in your shit.
 <The 1st Book of Samuel > The whole ancient world was a bag of dicks. Even God was a bit of a dick.
<The Gospel of Mark>  Jesus rolled his eyes, and said, “People aren’t defiled half as much by what goes in their mouths as by the shit which comes out.” Then he went back to eating his sandwich. The Pharisees decided they’d had just about enough of this smartass.

I was a bit disappointed with Wheeler's illustrations. I like his drawing technique and character creation, and his illustrations are funny, some of them matching Russell's inspiration perfectly. However, many of the illustrations are just OK, and are overshadowed by Russell's tsunami-like wit. The cover of the book is fantastic, very simple, stylish and expressive.

The book is for adults as it contains swearing words, obscenity, profanity, sex references and other godly but sinful events happened thousands of years ago. Blame it on History; Russell is just making you laugh.

The adjective that most describe the book is hilarious. It made it to my top five of the year, and the happy-o-meter marked very high in the Treschaud's Scale of hilariousness.


Clumsy by Jeffrey Brown (2003)

, 21 Oct 2014

This is the first book by Brown I read, and the first book in the "Girlfriends Trilogy". 

Clumsy is a glimpsed window to Brown's personal love life and her long-distance relationship with Theresa.  A memoir structured in short episodes of his daily life that tell us about meeting, dating and falling in love with Theresa, but also the day to day elements that make a relationship grow despite how mundane: from hugging, to farting, sex tons of sex, condoms, insecurities, discussions, moments of indescribable happiness and others of tension. Life as you live it when you relate to somebody. A depiction of intimacy in its beauty and rawness.

Brown is good at telling a story with honesty and in a way that appeals to the reader disregarding the gender. Being a woman, I especially appreciate how Brown tells his love story, so very different from any woman's way of telling it and living it. I am sure that if Theresa had written or drawn her version, the tone of the story, the elements and moments selected would have been very different. The book, for obvious reasons, is appealing to men, especially those who, like Brown, are a bit clumsy, weird, sensitive and a bit needy, the post-modern male if you want.

However, what makes the book appealing is not only the approach to the memoir genre, and the way the story is built by decomposing it in micro-pieces, but also the fact that Brown puts his heart in there.  The result is a very charming naughty and tender love story.

Visually speaking, the book is drawn in a "rudimentary" sort of style. Like a comic strip in a newspaper. The pages are filled with six vignettes, drawn in a clear black and white, with lots of white space, very clean and clear, with little elements of distraction. Despite the simplicity and the lack of shadow work, the images are very well composed and framed, and Brown does a terrific job at creating complex expressive intimate images with very few strokes. I especially love his use of horizontal and vertical lines to create perspective and depth in images that, otherwise, would be flat. I love the way he draws nudity, the way he depicts body hair, and the facial expression of the characters.  All very cute.

I like the economy of Brown's text. Very effective, and right to the point. They perfectly complement his drawing style and his graphic narrative.

The book is for adults, adult themes, sex, nudity and all the goodies that we want to find in comic and graphic goods. If you don't, well, back off.

I have to confess, that this book's cover is one of the most boring ugliest cover I have ever seen on any book. A major sin and put down, taking into account that the author is a graphic artist! Hellooooo. 

Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan (2008)

, 11 Oct 2014

Tales from Outer Suburbia is perhaps the most Australian of Tan's books, and definitely very Western Australian. Tan is native from the northern suburbs of Perth WA, and the landscapes, urban furniture and fauna he depicts are just part of Perth's visual idiosyncrasy.

This book is atypical, in two ways. Firstly, Tan, usually very concise in the wording of his books and in the use of words in them, writes a lot in here, and the text is as important as the images. This is so, because this is a semi-memoir of Tan's childhood, and the stories part of his emotional memory growing up in Perth. Secondly, visually speaking, this book is eclectic in styles, because he he uses very different illustration and painting techniques and styles to accompany the different stories, which remind the reader of the ones used in his previous books. In that regard, the book is less congruent visually than his previous ones.

What is still typical of Tan is his mastery at drawing, its ability to create magic realism from the quotidian, to create visually appealing almost-touchable images, absurd meaningful scenes, and quirky funny adorable characters. I love the way he uses his images to create mock newspapers news, mock Post envelopes, mock wall-collages, how he incorporate the credits and acknowledgements in a borrowing slip library card or an envelop, his mock postage stamps, the quirky funny magical sketches that cover the inner front and back covers of the book.  

Some of his usual themes are also here, especially the concepts of foreign (how foreigners see us, how we see foreigners, what  foreign is) and of how our childhood memories never fade out in our hearts, no matter how mundane they were, because the way we lived and perceived them. 

The stories or chapters in the book are:
>> The Water Buffalo.
>> Eric (this is one of my favourite in drawing style and message -very similar to the Arrival- and because Eric is just the bomb!)
>> Broken Toys.
>> Undertow.
>> Grandpa's Story (Another favourite because of the narrative, and how Tan turns a real story into something really magical).
>> The other country (Because it depicts his contact with the Mediterranean culture and the magic in it. The painting is also very Mediterranean!)
>> Stick Figures (I love the visuals of this one because it depicts Perth summer landscape very well).
>> The Nameless Holiday.
>> Alert but not alarmed
>> Wake.
>> Make your Own Pet.
>> Our Expedition.
>> Night of the Turtle Rescue

To be honest, every story is wonderful.
This is a melancholic book about Tan's emotional landscapes, so it has to be read as such.

The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss

The Cat in the Hat is one of those books that little children and adults enjoy reading because it is fun, it is naughty, it is educative, and the cat in the hat is just a quirky cat! Adults can see the value of the embedded message, and kids learn that behaving and being orderly will benefit them, not just their mothers. This is a classic of world children literature, and so enjoyable that you want to buy for yourself, to remember your childhood, or to make it part of your children's childhood. Like all Dr Seuss' book, this book is shrinkingly simple in its imagery, with a very 60s pop-culture sort of colouring and style, which gives the book a sense of surrealism that makes the whole acceptable for children. 

The application format works well with Dr Seuss' books and with this one, turn it in a sort of semi-animated mini-movie. You select the way you want to read the book, by yourself, by the narrator, or you just to leave it on auto-play and the pages and voice will move at their own pace. The app automatically rotates your screen, and uses the original illustrations of the book, closing up and down on them to match the action and speeches of the characters. Background noises have been added, but they are very cute and not invasive at all; still, you can mutate them if you want. You can browse the pages on your own by using your fingers and the pages flip as if they were those of a real book.

The narrator's interpretation and reading is great. The reading comes handy if you have children and want them to read and not to watch TV, but do not have the time to seat and read to them. Genius!

A few things that I would have liked to have available in this app are: 1/ Option of female and male voice. 2/ All the objects in the screen being interactive. Some of the main elements in each image show the name when you click on them, but some of them not, like the curtains or doors or walls, or the floor, or many of the secondary elements in the image. It would have costed nothing adding those extra words!

This is a perfect app not only for English speakers, but also for for foreign children learning English, as the interactivity of the app make learning new words fun and easy.

Mr Brown Can Moo! Can You? by Dr Seuss

Dr Seuss are not just fun, are strikingly pop in their imagery, they are very educative and ridiculously funny. This is the case of Mr Brown Can Moo, which is addressed to very small children, those who are learning the name and sound of different things, that is onomatopoeia formation, This is is one of my least favourite stories by Dr Seuss, because there is no story. Although I recognise its pedagogic value.

The application is fantastic, as all of the Seuss stories that Oceanhouse has turned into electronic interactive format. The app is interactive if you choose the read yourself option; you can click on any image on the page and the word will pop up on your screen and will be pronounced. From the main menu, you select the way you want to read the book, on your own, using the narrator's voice, or auto-play. The app automatically uses the landscape setting and rotates your screen, and uses the original illustrations of the book, closing up and down to focus on the action and speeches of the characters. Background noises and musical notes have been added to enhance the experience, but it can be mutated if you want. You can browse the pages on your own using your fingers and the pages flip as if they were the ones in a real book.

Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan & Niko Henrichon (2008)

, 10 Oct 2014

Pride of Baghdad is a beautiful allegory of the events happened in Iraq after the fall of the Hassam Hussein's Regime. It is based on a true event occurred in April 2003: the accidental release of a big group of wild animals from the Baghdad Zoo after a bomb destroyed part of the premises. The book focuses on the wanderings of a group of four lions, two female (Safa and Noor), a male (Zill) and a cub (Ali) throughout the city after their escape.

The story exemplifies the questions that the world was making after the international intervention and occupation of Iraq, and the problems that the liberation and freeing of the Iraqies meant, de facto, for the Iraqies. The book uses the characters and the script to question the real meaning of freedom and living in peace. The book succeeds at presenting, in very simple but very effective terms, dual concepts for further thinking: civilised vs uncivilised, freedom vs oppression, instinct vs reason, wild vs tamed nature.

I would have liked Vaughan giving a step forward and creating something more profound and universal, which is impossible because the story is set in Iraq. For an allegory to be successful, the less time-place references, the better. That is why "Animal Farm" by Orwell is still a classic, understood and meaningful to people all over the world, decades after it was written. While Reading Pride of Baghdad, I thought that the book was very good, but it could have been brilliant, but it never got there because the dialogues and part of the story needed of further developing.

"There were other casualties as well". I loved that!

I absolutely love the artwork. Without Niko Henrichon's vision the book would had been way less effective and enjoyable. Henrichon's drawing technique, composition, colouring and use of lights and shadows are masterful; he is able to create stunning crispy-clear expressive images without crowding the page with too many vignettes, just the right amount. The book has an overall warm golden-orange tone that I absolutely love, with the sporadic presence of luscious bright green natural elements and dark-blue/green interiors and night scenes. One of the things I love more about Henrichon's drawing in this book is the use of sun shadows, I mean light shadows that are not dark, something he does with a wow easiness. The book is visually impacting because of the darkness of the story is rendered in bright yummy colours and aesthetically pleasing images. I always love that.

I thought the rendition for Kindle was pretty good!

A must have for lovers of graphic books lovers. Not for small kids. I think it is great for mid teenagers under supervision.