Monday, November 5, 2018

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

There was nothing on Net Galley from whence this came, nor appended to the novel itself to indicate this was volume one in a series. Had there been, I wouldn't have request it. I'm not a series person because I don't buy into the popular idea that the only thing better than one novel is three novels all telling the same bloated story. Publishers buy into it because it makes them money and it's getting to the point these days where it seems that you can't sell a novel - particularly if it's a young adult novel - to a publisher unless you can promise them a tree-slaughtering trilogy. This is why I personally have no truck with Big Publishing™ in terms of selling my own work.

I read this authors A Crown of Wishes over a year ago and had the same problem with that that I ended up having with this - a strong start followed by a slow decline into boredom as the story rambled on too long instead of staying on topic and getting to the point. If I'd known that Kirkus had reviewed this positively, it would have saved me some time. They never met a book they didn't like so their reviews are meaningless. Any time I see them gush about a book, I avoid that book like the plague on principle.

Set in 1889 Paris in an alternative universe where magic exists, and only two of the original four powerful magical houses of France remain, the novel follows the story of wannabe house leader Séverin Montagnet-Alarie and his ragtag band consisting of renowned stage performer Laila, artificer and socially-inept Sofia, botanist Tristan, and pretty boy, the Latin Enrique.

The group are thieves, and Séverin seems to think this will lead him back to greatness, especially when he's approached by Hypnos, an alienated childhood friend, and the enigmatic leader of one of the two remaining houses, who offers Séverin a way back to heading his own house for his help in acquiring something for Hypnos. This kind of story has been done before, but here it was given a glaze of bright paint that was fresh enough to initially render it quite appealing, but the more I read, the more translucent that glaze became, and the underlying mess bled through.

I was truly disappointed, but not altogether surprised, therefore by the ending which wasn't an ending. It was dissipated and rambling all over the place when it should have long before come to a satisfactory conclusion. It never did because this wasn't a novel - it was a book-length prologue and I don't do prologues. It never explained the title, either - or if it did, it went by so fast that I missed it. Yes, the crew wore wolf masks on occasion, but why? I have no idea!

I was truly disappointed in the author, and felt robbed of a good story by her. What we got in place of an ending was a cliffhanger, so this and the rambling story-telling turned the whole book around for me in a very negative way. While I'd liked the beginning, the book was way too wordy and draggy and started losing me in the second half, and that ending was the last straw. This is why I don't like to invest my time I reading long novels! This was nearly four hundred pages and only about half of it was worth the reading. The only thing it was missing was a good editor. I cannot commend it as a worthy read.


Friday, November 2, 2018

My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson


Rating: WORTHY!

Read charmingly and beautifully by Frankie Corzo, this was a very short audiobook (written by the author of Bridge to Terabithia) that I picked up on a whim at the local library. It turned out to be an inspired whim because I really enjoyed it. It tells an interesting story based on actual Cuban history.

Evidently at Ernesto Guevara's suggestion, Fidel Castro launched the Campaña Nacional de Alfabetización en Cuba, known as a year of education, which occupied almost the entire length of 1961. Literacy brigades (the Brigadistas of the title) were trained and then sent out into the countryside to build schools, train new teachers, and teach the illiterate to read and write. The campaign taught almost three-quarters of a million farmers and their families, and succeeded in raising the national literacy rate from around seventy percent to almost one hundred. There's a short documentary titled Maestra about the campaign, but I have not yet seen that.

This novel tells a fictional story of one such teacher named Lora, a girl in her mid-teens, who lived on a small farm while teaching the family and nearby families the alphabet and reading and writing skills. It was at no small risk to her life, since there was an orchestrated campaign against the literacy project because it was viewed as a political effort to indoctrinate those people, and there were attacks on the Brigadistas, including murders.

The story is told very actively, always moving forward, with little time for reflection, but which is nonetheless included in appropriately brief and organic moments. There is tragedy and joy and humor and moving times, and there were times I laughed out loud at the Brigadista's observations particularly towards the end about her friend's poetry (how many times can you write in the same poem that your heart was broken into a million tiny pieces?!). I commend this novel as a worthy, educational, and fun read.


I Don't Want to Eat Bugs by Rachel Branton


Rating: WARTY!

Illustrated rather oddly by Tim Peterson, this book for young children didn't impress me. The story is supposed to be about a young girl curiously-named Lisbon. Maybe she should have been named Lisbon-bon since she's so hungry! Reporting to her mother, the poor child finds no solace there.

Her mother informs her that dinner is almost finished (by which I assume she means it's almost ready), but instead of offering her a small snack though, or advising her to wash her hands and take a seat at the table, and having her maybe eat a little salad or fruit, mom sends Lisbon out to play?

The oddity about this image is that Lisbon looks pregnant, despite being little more than a toddler. I found that a curious illustrative style. Maybe it's part of the eccentricity of the depictions, because Lisbon also looks like she shares a condition of macrocephaly with Joseph Merrick.

When she goes outdoors, Lisbon is offered a bug by a bird and she declines. The illustration of the bird makes it look like it has a trunk. it took me a minute to see that the bird is extending a wing to offer the bug. Next her cat offers her a mouse it has caught. The dog recommends catching a hedgehog, but failing that, offers her some of its dry food. Finally she decides on ice cream which her mom promises her after she eats dinner, which is now, of course, ready. Lisbon doesn't wash her hands.

This book could have been a great opportunity to educate readers. It offers no reason for Lisbon to reject the food other than the mouse is cute, for example, but neither does it explain that there are cultures which do eat bugs, and hedgehogs, and mice, but it was wasted. It didn't really tell a story, and certainly it wasn't educational, to say nothing of unhygienic, so I can't commend this at all.


Agent Colt Classified Pride by A Lynn Wright


Rating: WARTY!

This was an awful, awful, awful CIA operative novel. Latesse Colt (because she's a closet lesbian filly, get it?) is a super-agent for no apparent reason. She blabs secrets to a stranger on a plane only to discover the woman, 'Vaneesa' is to be a partner, replacing sexist pig Isaiah, who is openly inappropriate to Latesse (sounds like latex, doesn't it?), but never once called on it not by Latesse herself, and not even by Latesse's supposedly no-nonsense female boss when he does this stuff right in front of said boss!

That was when I quit this asinine and amateur story. Even the writing was amateur as attested to by this run-on sentence I encountered very early in the novel: "Texas wasn't a bad place to be everyone was just so nice." The author needs to change her name to B Lynn Wright because she's not going to be A list writing like this.

Talking of inappropriate, it doesn't extend just to the absurdly caricatured male partner. It also extends to female characters. Latesse's female boss is described thus: "She had given everything for her career. No marriage, no kids, just work." So this female author is evidently convinced that a woman is missing something if she doesn't marry or have kids. Excuse me? How is this author any better than jackass dick Isaiah-the-pig-partner? Far from being apologetic, she doubles down on it soon after by having this character say, "Don't end up like me, close to retirement and no kids or grandkids to spend it with."

So clearly, a woman is useless when she has no kids. Forget about satisfaction with her career; forget about speaking engagements or writing a biography; forget about friends; forget about leading a life of solitude after all she's done, if she so chooses; forget about outside interests she might have, forget about even developing a satisfying romance later in life. Forget all that and a score of other reasons. Just focus on this one thing: if a woman doesn't have kids she's a complete failure. Screw you A Lynn Wright, who evidently doesn't get it right. I'm done with this author permanently.


The Losers Club by Andrew Clements


Rating: WARTY!

Read quite well by Christopher Gebauer, this audiobook was a story about these young kids who are in an after-school book-reading club. The guy who started the club deliberately called it the Loser's Club because he figured few people would want to join such a club, and it would give him the opportunity to sit and read uninterrupted by others, which is all he ever wanted to do. In fact, he'd been getting into trouble for reading and day-dreaming in class, and this was his last chance to show he could apply himself and not screw-up.

This sounds like it ought to be a good idea - a novel about reading, but for me it fell short. Admittedly it's not aimed at me, but not being a twelve-year-old I can't judge it from that perspective. I can reference my own youth, but that's a while ago and probably had little to do with youth today who have so many more distractions than I had. Plus I didn't get into reading seriously until I was around fourteen. This leaves me with my current perspective and I have no problem with that!

I gave up on this because of three things. The first of these was the bullying. The kid - whose name is Alec - has to recruit at least one more person to his club, so his first choice is old friend Dave, who is talked out of it by bully Kent, who used to be a close friend of Alec's way back. Now he's a complete jerk. Here's the thing. This novel was published in 2017. That year, the author was in his late sixties and I am by no means convinced he understands the school system any more, nor did he seem interested in doing any research, apparently. I mean, did bullies in 2017 really call a kid who likes to read 'a bookworm'? I doubt it.

Since this author was in middle school at the beginning of the sixties, there have been great strides taken to eject bullying from schools by means of zero tolerance policies. Schools are not the same as they were when he was in school! This doesn't mean that the policies always work, or that bullying is totally absent by any means, but the type of unrestrained, uncontrolled, rife and overt bullying going on here is completely ridiculous and made the story unbelievable. It was like everything that Bully Kent did was unconstrained and went without notice, much less censure, but everything Alec did, though it wasn't remotely connected with bullying, the teachers came down on him like a ton of mortar. It was too absurd.

The second thing was about the books. Alec is passionately into reading, but the only books he's ever heard of are what are considered (for reasons which all-too-often escape me) as classics. There was nary a truly modern novel mentioned in the entire book. It's like the author considered only his own preferences - either that or he blindly pulled up a list of classics and used that. The name-dropping of the same tired-old titles in novels like this is nauseating - even for a book which is about reading. It's worth noting that none of these books was read on any electronic device - it's like those hadn't been invented in this author's world.

Connected with this was another nauseating habit: that of referencing Star Wars - and not the new garbage, but the old garbage! I grew out of Star Wars a long time ago, and I look upon those tediously uninventive and repetitive movies with distaste these days. I can understand others' enjoyment of it, yet for all the references to it here, Alec had read not a single Star Wars novel (at least as measured by a complete lack of reference to them in this book). Instead Alec was all classics all the time. It made no sense and was entirely unrealistic.

This leads me to the third issue with this so-called reading passion of his: he actually had no reading passion. At least not as would be determined from his devouring of books. Instead, it seemed he re-read the same limited selection over and over and over again. This rather convinced me that he was not a book lover. He merely had a fixation on certain books and he showed no interest in moving on to other stories or in advancing to more mature material. Instead he was stuck inside a reading time-loop of juvenile 'classics'.

Now if Kent had taunted Alec on that, it would have made sense. It would still have been bullying, but not anything a teacher could have really called him on. He would have got away with it and called out Alec realistically. Why the author never thought of that is a mystery to me. I guess his imagination is lacking.

That's not the worst part. Alec can't start his club until he has at least one other person signed on, and he manages to get a girl by the name of Nina. Later another younger girl by the name of Layla joins, but despite his supposed passion for books, Alec quickly abandons all interest in books and begins focusing solely on Nina. What she's thinking, is she attracted to Kent, what's she doing, and on and on. It felt like a complete betrayal of everything the book had supposedly been about up to that point, and there was no lead-in to this at all; it just happened out of the blue.

So overall I consider this book a very amateur attempt to tell a story which could have been written in much better way. I can't commend it for these reasons.


The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris


Rating: WARTY!

Neil Patrick Harris is an actor known for Doogie Howser, MD and How I Met Your Mother neither of which show I ever watched. He's also supposedly a magician, but I've never seen him perform. Maybe that latter interest is what made him write this novel aimed at middle-graders, but for me it wasn't very good. Read by the author, it was full of clichéd stereotypes and average writing as well as nonsensical events - that is, they made no sense even within the context of the novel.

The basic plot is about the adventures of a group of misfit kids who have various talents - like one girl is an escape artist and lock picker, and the main kid is a magician. So while I must give kudos to having a handicapped kid as a main character and having prominent, self-motivated female characters (I particularly liked Ridley), the story never rose above its poor to average roots. The villains, for example, including the main kid's uncle (I forget the names of these characters, but make no apology for that - they were very forgettable) were made villainous not through any real villainy, but by having 'greasy hair' or bad breath, or by being overweight. No. I'm sorry, but no.

The story was unrealistic in that there were opportunities for the kids to get the police involved, yet they never did. Obviously in a story like this you want the kids to resolve things without calling in the adult cavalry to the rescue, but if you're going to do that, you need to do the work to make it happen. You can't just lazily have it happen contrary to all logic and sense. For example, the main scheme in this story was this one guy's attempt to steal this huge diamond which for inexplicable reasons was going to be exhibited at this villain's funfair. There he would replace it with a well-crafted fake and Robert's your aunt's husband.

These kids had two golden opportunities to derail this scheme and they ignored both of them. The first came when they broke into the villain's hotel room and discovered the fake diamond. If they had stolen that, right then and there, his scheme would have been thwarted, but they don't even consider it. This tells me they're profoundly stupid.

The guy's bathtub was full of stolen property - wallets and jewelry, etc. They could have called the police on him there, got him arrested, and thereby saved the diamond, but they failed to do so. This tells me they're profoundly stupid. Later, at the show where the switch is to take place, they were all in attendance and could have called out that the guy had surreptitiously switched the diamond since, as budding magicians, they knew exactly how he'd done it. There were police right there, but never once did they utter a word. This tells me they're profoundly stupid.

The main character is an orphan who runs away from his evil uncle, and he knows hardship and hunger, yet later in the story, these misfits douse the main villain in breakfasts - lots of eggs, syrup and pancakes, I don't know where they got this from, (I guess I tuned-out on that part), but the fact that not one of these kids thought of what a waste this was when there were hungry kids who could have eaten it, turned me off the whole story. If they'd used food that was spoiled and tossed out by some restaurant, that would have fixed this issue, but the author was too thoughtless or careless to make that happen, evidently thinking solely of slapstick instead of how real kids in this situation would have thought or felt.

In short it was really poor, amateur writing, and because of this, I can't commend this one. It's also, I have to say, really annoying that celebrities get a free pass with Big Publishing™ for no other reason than that they're celebrities, even though as writers, they suck. Meanwhile there are perfectly good, well-written, original, inventive, novels from unknowns which are routinely rejected by these same publishers. Clearly they aren't interested in good books, only in fast bucks. That's why I will have no truck with Big Publishing™.


Phase Two by Chris Wyatt


Rating: WORTHY!

This is an audio retelling of the wildly successful movie Guardians of the Galaxy that came out in 2014. Read pretty decently by Chris Patton, it was pretty much a word-for word copy of the script, with some minimal description tossed in, but unlike the movie, it isn't even PG-13 rating - it's more like a Disney animated film rating, so all questionable comments and references are omitted or re-worded. Other than that it's a pleasant listen for anyone interested in the Marvel universe.

I'm not sure there's anyone out there who is even moderately media-aware who doesn't have an idea what this movie was about, but if there is, then briefly, the story is an origin story of the formation of the Guardians, from a rag-tag band of misfits, disaffected revenge seekers, con-artists and thieves, into a genuine family of caring team-mates who don't actually save the galaxy (that comes in volume two!) but who do save a planet and defeat a brutal psychopath known as Ronan the Accuser.

The story starts with the young Peter Quill, so terrified by his mother's impending death that he won't hold her hand. Instead he runs out of the hospital only to be 'beamed up' into a space craft. The story then resumes twenty years later with that same Peter, now a mature (or maybe not) man who calls himself Star Lord, and who is on a mission to recover an artifact, which he tries to sell outside of the outlaw group who captured him all those years ago. His mission fails.

Oh, he gets the artifact, but he's captured when he tries to offload it, and he's tossed into a brutal space prison with three other villains, two of whom are the bounty-hunting team of Rocket and Groot. Groot is an alien species superficially resembling a tree, but who has legs and arms and the ability to speak and regenerate, although all he ever says is "I am Groot" in various tones which represent what he really means. Rocket, created by Marvel writers based on an old Beatles song (Rocky Raccoon) is a genetically-modified talking raccoon, whose experimental test designation was 'Subject: 89P13'. Now he's highly inventive, agile, scheming, and dangerous.

The third party is Gamora, another alien who was adopted by super villain (or is he?!) Thanos, whose self-appointed mission is to wipe out a random half of the universe in order to provide better living conditions for the other half. He adopted Gamora after killing her parents, and she became his trained assassin, but she's now decided to betray him to bring his murderous scheme to a halt.

These four meet the final member of their team in the prison. He's Drax 'the destroyer' (although he looks nothing like a navy ship...) who has a personal vendetta against Thanos and Ronan because they killed his family and he wants to kill Gamora, but Peter talks him out of it and the five of them join up to sell this artifact that Peter recovered, which turns out to be one of the six Infinity Stones which have been in existence from the start of the universe. Thanos wants them to complete his mission, Ronan steals it to pursue his own mission, and the Guardians are the only people who can stop him!

No one ever explained, neither in the movie nor in this novelization, why it is that Thanos isn't smart enough to know that with all six Infinity Stones, he can remake the universe however he wants without killing anyone! I guess he doesn't have the stones.... It's a pity one of these stones wasn't called the Smart Stone - with the ability to make people think critically and rationally.

So, fun stuff and a lot of laughs. The audio doesn't have the same magnetism and charisma of the movie, but it's a decent substitute and I commend it.


The Circle by Dave Eggers


Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook I picked up after seeing the movie of the same name based on this book, and which starred Emma Watson and Tom Hanks. The movie was rather improbable, but close enough to reality to be entertaining. The book, read by Dion Graham, was less than thrilling. It was far too wordy. People often claim the movie isn't as good as the novel for a given story, but I frequently find the opposite: that the novel is sometimes too rambling and the movie script writers have seen this and cut through the author's self-indulgent crap to create a much better story that flows and moves, and doesn't get lost in itself.

This getting lost was the problem here as the author went rambling on and on about things which contributed nothing to the story and which failed to move it, which in turn failed to move me. I DNF'd this in short order. You might argue that if I'd picked this up before the movie, I might have enjoyed it better and disliked the movie, but I really don't think so. A boring novel is objectively a boring novel, and the proof of that pudding lies in the fact that even though I listened this quite recently, I can barely remember any of it now. It made that little of an impression on me. Consequently my advice is to skip this novel and watch the movie instead.

It's not a great movie and I doubt I'll want to watch it again, but watching it once graphically illustrates the dangers of putting too much personal information out there. The Circle is both the book title and the name of the social media organization that this young woman, Mae Holland, believes is a career high. It's quite clearly F-book - a forum that lets members put out endless personal crap for the world to see, whether it wants to see it or not.

This business of publicizing oneself, which I've never bought into, is taken to extremes here, with The Circle being more of a cult than anything else, and with the advent of this miniature camera system, called See-Change, which can be stuck anywhere, and which transmits sound and picture by some unspecified means (using an unspecified energy source!) in real time to your device would have some positive benefits, but it's also rife for abuse and no one seems to call that out.

The movie diverts from the novel in some places while following it in others, and I think it's to the good that it diverts. I liked the representation of the Annie character in the movie better than the novel, and Mae was a jerk in the novel from what I could tell - not so in the movie, but since I DNF'd this I can't comment more on it than what's here. That said, I didn't like what I heard and cannot commend this based on my experience of it.


A Touch of Gold by Annie Sullivan


Rating: WORTHY!

I got this book from the library, and I'm glad I did because now I just consider it a waste of my time and not a waste of my money! It's about King Midas's daughter. Initially it had sounded interesting to me, but when I began reading it, I wasn't impressed with it and didn't see any point in continuing. The first problem is that it was first person which is far from my favorite and nearly always a grave mistake by an author. The tone was completely off-putting.

The story is based on the Greek legend of King Midas, who supposedly was granted a wish by the god Dionysius, that whatever he touched would turn to gold. The wish was granted, but Midas quickly realized it was a curse. He could not eat food or drink because whatever he touched turned to gold. Midas is said to have had a son, and in some versions of the story a daughter instead, but the old legend says nothing of having a daughter whom he turned to gold or of his being cured.

That part of the story comes from Nathaniel Hawthorne who published it in his A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys in 1852 which included this legend and which Hawthorne augmented by having the King turn his daughter to gold. The King then begged Dionysius to remove this 'gift' and was told to wash in the Pactolus river, which would reverse the curse. This book feeds on that and has the curse be only partially removed from the daughter, leaving her human and of flesh, but having her skin colored gold à La Shirley Eaton as Jill Masterson in Goldfinger. In the part I read, there is little description of her so it's not clear if every bit of her is gold or just her skin and hair (I mean, are her eyes gold? Her tongue?).

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The girl is supposedly considered ugly by suitors, except for the one who meets her at the start of the story, whose title is listed as Duke. I'm sorry? This is ancient Greece and they have Dukes, archdukes and Lords? Where did that come from? Is it merely so there can be an equivalent of Lord Voldemort or Lord Vader? What's this Greek Lord called? Lord V-something no doubt. It was this asinine story-telling which completely spoiled the story for me and I had no desire to read past this point, my opinion of this author rock bottom, as in the bottom of the deepest gold mine in South Africa.

In fact it was at this point that I discovered that the author teaches creative writing, and it all became clear. I have never seen a good story come from someone who teaches creative writing or who has graduated from such a program. I don't know what the problem is with that, but it very effectively kills good story-telling. It was worse than this, though. On the author's web page (at least at the time of writing this review), the author asks the reader why they should preorder her book! The five largely selfish answers she gives are very nearly all about making her money:

  1. Publishers often make decisions about an author getting a second book deal based on preorder numbers.
  2. The more preorders, the more copies of the book they'll typically print, which means they'll then usually increase marketing budgets to sell all those books.
  3. All preorder sales hit on the same day, meaning an author could potentially make lists like the New York Times bestseller list because all those sales count for the same week.
  4. You'll usually get a cheaper price. Preorders are usually discounted the earlier you order.
  5. You'll make an author's day! I can't tell you how happy I was when a friend told me she'd preordered 10 copies of my book!

Could this be any more avaricious and self-serving? Don't buy my book because it's any good: buy it because I'll get richer from increased sales? No thanks! I actively dis-commend this novel and I have less-then-zero respect for this author.


Peter & Ernesto a Tale of Two Sloths by Graham Annable


Rating: WORTHY!

I can see why the publisher didn’t want to let a reviewer like me at this story when I requested it from Net Galley: it wasn’t very good. But they can only delay my review – they can’t silence it! The story, I’m guessing, is aimed at a very young mindset, but even so it really fails to tell any kind of a story. Peter and Ernesto are sloths, and curiously-hued sloths too, given how drab and alike their cookie-cutter compatriots are.

One of them - and I forget which - decides he wants to head on out and see the sky – like he can’t see it from the top of his tree. He wants to see the sky from other parts of the world – for a certain highly constricted values of ‘world’ - so he sets off walking - on two legs - to see what he can see. Curiously everyone he meets is nice and seeks to help him.

He makes a short and seemingly pointless journey - not really looking at the sky or noting how or even if it changes, and then he abruptly turns around and heads back, meeting his pal on the way. That’s it! That’s the entire pointless story. It’s neither entertaining nor educational, and the artwork is childish - perhaps deliberately so, but I see no redeeming value in this story and cannot commend it.


Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a largely well-written and highly amusing take on Pride and Prejudice. In a modern version of this novel, and to stay true to the repressive, controlling atmosphere and public censure women were forced to endure in Austen's time, you would have to set the story in a religiously-strict locale, and in this case it’s Pakistan that was chosen. The story is set in 2000 and 2001, and with a lot of character name changes, largely follows the outline of Austen's story. I found it entertaining, but I have some observations to make on the 'translation' into modern times and exotic locales.

I think in general the novel was very well done, with some good decisions made about how to translate various characters and situations into modern times. If I had one initial complaint that popped out at me during the reading, it would be the rather annoying self-awareness the novel seems to exhibit with regard to it being a riff on an Austen Novel.

Austen's works are mentioned frequently enough that it was bordering on becoming a parody at times, and the pretension in name-dropping of what are too-often considered 'the classics' in novels was irritating to me. There is an endless stream of novel references which, whenever I'm reading a novel that does this, typically feels to me like a tool used amateurishly as a lazy substitute for actually doing the work of showing that your character is intelligent and educated, and I'm never impressed by it.

That this was set in a non-English-speaking country. Believe it or not, there are very many such countries, and American writers seem scared to death of choosing any as a setting for their work, so kudos to this author for being as fearless as she is inventive, but given this I found it somewhat annoying in its frequent use of foreign terms and phrases.

I don't mind the phrases in moderation; it’s a pleasant change. What I do mind is the ritualistic compulsion on the part of the author to immediately stick a translation after the foreign phrase. This really trips up the story for me because rather than adding some atmosphere and a bit of color and verisimilitude, it merely suggests to me that the author is trying to sound clever.

Personally, I find it far better to include such words and phrases infrequently, and give them without a translation, allowing the context and your reader's smarts provide an understanding for them. Have a little faith in your readers! As it was, it could have been used less and as such would have been less irritating to me, and less disturbing of my suspension of disbelief.

Maybe it's just me, but a good example of this is where I read (and before you read on, be warned there is some bad language in this novel!), “How many times should I tell you not to not say behen chod, sisterfucker. It’s so insulting to women. Use your own gender and say bhai chod, brotherfucker.” To me it’s insulting that the author would think I cannot extrapolate from this context that the second phrase is masculine, so that she feels she needs to spell it out to me. She really doesn't! There were many instances of a similar nature.

An issue I've seen often with writers is when they're so focused on the text they're producing that they forget that this isn't supposed to be simply words on a page. It’s supposed to be a story of people living their lives, interacting, speaking...and hearing! So unless the main character's mom was routinely reading English newspapers (she may have been but there is nothing in the novel to indicate that she understood a word of English much less could read it), then only way she would know any given English word is from hearing it used, perhaps on TV.

The thing is that if you hear it used, you do not routinely mispronounce it as though you had read it somewhere! Even if you do misunderstand it, the whole process is different when it runs through an auditory process than when it runs through a visual one! So from the nervous nelly of a mom here we got a lot of mispronunciation-cum-malapropism such as "Pinkie, say ‘Tetley’ again. What did I tell you, Goga, ‘Tut-lee!’." We also got, for example, "Prince Chaarless and Lady Dayna." I don't see how you can get that unless you understand English reasonably well and are also dyslexic in English, neither of which applied to Mrs Binat! So, suspension of disbelief issue here!

Another example of this was where one particular character's name was deliberately mispronounced by one of the siblings in this story's equivalent of the Bennet family, so that it became "Fart Bhai." Fart is an English word, not a Pakistani one, so that name would not have sounded insulting or like a young boy's bathroom joke in any Pakistani language. Pakistan doesn't have one main language, but several. There are five which are spoken commonly. In Pashto fart is 'goez', in Urdu it’s 'puskee', and in Punjabi, in which district I assume this action is set, fart is 'garama', as far as I can determine using online resources. None of these sound like the English version of the word, so this joke made little sense.

A similar situation arose when the author had Wikaam (Wickham) set his price for marrying Lady (Lydia). In the Austen original, he doesn't actually set a price, but an amount is bandied around as a minimum, and this is £10,000. In today's money, that would be about £300,000, or almost $400,000 (depending on current exchange rate). So Lady is highly undervalued here! The amount stated in this novel $100,000 which is only about £76,000.

I found this most curious because Pakistani currency isn't dollars; it's rupees, one hundred of which are worth (at the exchange rate when I wrote this), only seventy-five cents. So very, very roughly one rupee equals one cent. An equivalent evaluation for Wickaam, in Pakistani coinage, of taking on Lady would be something like fifty three million rupees!

Perhaps the author thought that sounded far too high to western ears? I don't know. As the author it is of course her choice, but it seemed odd to me to use dollars instead of rupees or pounds (given how often Britain is referenced in the story). This was obviously written for an American audience! I just pass this on to highlight how complex it can be to try 'translating' an old story for modern ears, especially if the setting changes.

And now a writing issue! The author chose the interesting solution of adjusting the character's names to fit what I must assume are Pakistani naming conventions. The De Bourgh family for example became 'dey Bagh', and George Wikham became Jeorgeullah Wikaam. Elizabeth Bennet was Alysba Binat, and Darcy became Darsee. Curiously this rule was not applied to the location in which the story was set!

The original story takes place in and around Meryton, but the story in this book is set in Dilipabad, which is a fictional Pakistani location as far as I know. Dileep is a boy's name meaning 'King of the solar Race', and 'abad' means these days, very roughly, 'city of' so it would translate as the City of the King of the Solar race, but I have no idea what that's supposed to mean! In the Punjab district of Pakistan, there is a town called Multan, a name which sounds similar to Meryton, and which is not far from Lahore. I don't know why the author didn't simply use that, but again, it’s her choice.

The author's technique with names though, had the advantage of helping to keep everyone's straight, although I confess I got lost from time to time. I think if I'd done this, I'd have been tempted to go a different way, but maybe this worked better. I’d have been more inclined to look at what the English name meant and use the local translation of that, so that Lydia, which means 'beautiful one' would translate to Sudara (close enough!), which is actually a pretty cool name, but that means Elizabeth (oath of god) translates to Paramēśura dī sahu which really doesn't work! So maybe this author's choice was the wiser one?!

But enough with the writing issues and criticism. As I said at the beginning, I found this story engrossing and entertaining, and it kept me swiping the screen and tempting me away from my own writing projects too often, so this was definitely a worthy read. It even helped, indirectly, by reminding me of the original story, to clarify and gel some ideas of my own in connection with my upcoming redux of Pride and Prejudice - which I haven't even started yet but which I have now decided is up next after the current project, and which I promise is not set in modern times, nor is it set in Pakistan!

So I am greatful to have read this for that alone, but it was much more than that to me. It offered more than a literary stimulant; it was a good sotry, well told, and made more interesting to me for the very fact that it was so different from the traditional retellings of this which have become multifarious as well as nefarious and are typically boring and uninventive at best, or badly done at worst. I am grateful this wasn't such a story and I fully commend it - and look forward to this author's next offering.


Clean Enough by Katzie Guy-Hamilton


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Clean Enough from someone with the most intriguing author name I've seen in a while, promises to get you back to basics and still leave room for desert, and I think it achieves its aim. It's equally divided into two parts, the first titled 'Clean'. I'll let you guess what the second is titled! Clean is comprised of several sections, the first of which is Drink to your Health, featuring drinks to get you up and moving in one way or another, and including Designer Cashew Milk, Runner's Juice, and the Indiana Jones-sounding Holy Coconut Matcha Elixir.

Next up is Harmony Bowls, comprised of suggestions for breakfast which consist mostly of granola, eggs and oatmeal concoctions. There's a section on augmenting a common breakfast item by adding healthful foods such as avocado, mushrooms, tomatoes, and such to toast to taste! This idea works with the oatmeal too: start with something simple and basic and augment it to your own personal taste. After this comes a very full section on salads including some items you may not think of when you think of a salad. This is followed by prepared veggies including broccolini, onion, green bean, carrot, and eggplant, even though some of those aren't really vegetables.

Following this is a section on 'good starch' which covers rice, sweet potatoes, lentils, and quinoa, which I personally think we should call kwin-o-ah. Who can seriously get with keenwah? Really?! Keenwah sounds like a karate punch that will make you howl. I do not want that in my stomach. LOL! Remember starches (aka carbohydrates) are a required food for your body to function. It's not actually eating them that's the problem. Like everything else in your diet, it's the overeating of the wrong stuff that causes problems! After this section comes a short one on soups, which offers squash, tomato, beet, and coconut. The 'Clean' section finishes up with some suggestions for sauces and dressings.

The 'Enough' part covers a shocking array of desert items that will put weight on you just from looking through the pages. It features cookies (chocolate, molasses, raisin, coconut), cakes (the banana whiskey torte sounded really interesting!) and pies. That latter includes a Wimbledon pie which I'd never heard of, and which yes, contains strawberries, and which looks disgustingly irresistible from the photograph, although I cannot claim I've tried this!

Does anyone else find the name Wimbledon amusing? Okay, just me then. I asked around about this pie and it's not a racquet! It turns out that you get four servings and if you ace them all, you win.... The silk road custard tart looked scrumptious to me. It reminded me of such tarts I enjoyed when I lived in Britain (and no you are not allowed to double-entendre that!). Not that these deserts are Britain-based by any means. What you'll find yourself needing to remember in this section is that wholesome isn't the same thing as calorie-free!

Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to what one eats and some of those preferences are decidedly unhealthy. Eating whole foods rather than processed foods is healthier because those kinds of foods are what our bodies have evolved to digest healthily. Our problem is that we've been primed to gobble down fatty, salty, and sweet foods from when such things were scarce, but our bodies, which naturally sought out these things for perfectly healthy reasons in prehistory, cannot cope with this stuff now it's so very easy to come by.

Any eating plan (let's not talk about diets which rarely work) that gets you partaking healthily of good food, and which you can stick with is the plan to adopt for you, and while this book may not appeal to everyone, no book can! That's why my recommendation is to check it out and see if it fits your lifestyle if it does, you're on the gravy train! Or something like that.... I commend this as a worthy title.


Josephine Baker's Last Dance by Sherry Jones


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I was disappointed in this novel and ended up skimming the last two thirds hoping it would improve. For me it did not. Josephine Baker was a pioneer in so many ways and such a positive thinker. I felt none of this came out in the story I read, which was so dreary and depressing in the beginning that the writer left me wondering why Josephine hadn't simply killed herself. Thankfully in real life she did not. There had to have been things, or at least a thing which kept her going, and this was never brought out that I could see. On top of that, a lot of conversation was added which can only be speculative.

Make no mistake: her life was miserable as a child because her family was poor, she had a poor relationship with her mother, and she never did know who her father was. She did have her hands scalded by a bitch of an employer, but this was for using too much detergent in the laundry, not from breaking a plate as is told here. The way it was depicted in this fictional version made little sense, and there was no reason to change it from what really happened. She did cohabit with a much older guy when in her mid-teens, but the way it was depicted here was that it was forced on her, not her own choice, however problematic that choice may have been for her.

To me it felt as though the story had been deliberately loaded in as negative a way as possible - which was so unnecessary - that it felt like it cheapened the real story while at the same time, nothing was added to leaven the tale and balance it out, so it was nothing but a depressing read for me for as far as I went.

It was at this point that I began to skim in the hope of finding something of the optimistic, positive, perky and bouncy Josephine I knew was supposed to come, but I never found anything. Naturally, I may have missed some of this, but if it had been there in full, I cannot possible have missed it all, so where was it? I should never have had to search for it in the first place. Josephine should have been right there, and she was not.

On that basis, I cannot commend this as a worthy read.


Collage Workshop for Kids by Shannon Merenstein


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Not to be confused with College Workshop for kids (which I just made up), this is collage workshop aimed at a young audience! Kids love to do this kind of thing and it was interesting to me because I've been toying with an idea of doing a collage episode of my Little Rattuses series (which I'll then of course have to photograph since I'm not going to create a score of original collage books to sell! LOL! So while you never always know where you'll get good ideas and tips - which is why it's a good idea to read lots and keep your eyes open, you do now, because this book is full of them!

The book contains everything you need to know - the supplies you'll have to bring yourself! But once you have them, this book will tell you - and your kids - in easy, illustrated steps how to turn them into some pretty cool collages that any young child would be thrilled by and proud of. You can create anything in collage, and make it look pretty darned real by choosing the right materials, and once you get the bug, you can move on to creating your own entirely original collages. I commend this book as a fun adventure which will teach kids to be creative and leave them with some nice art skills and a wealth of confidence. Plus who knows - maybe a new hobby, too? Or even a career!


Build Your Own Chain Reaction Machines by Paul Long


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Subtitled "How to Make Crazy Contraptions Using Everyday Stuff--Creative Kid-Powered Projects!" this book is ideal for the kid who loves to tinker and invent. Using cardboard, mostly, with a few other items, some tools, a bit of glue, and the ability to measure, cut, and follow instructions closely, your boy or girl can build some amusing, entertaining and educational toys, and more than likely come up with their own future inventions using the skills learned here.

The book opens with a section on the essential tools, techniques, and mechanisms you will need or need to know in order to embark upon these projects. Three subsections cover basic tools, DIY tools, and basic techniques. This is only ten pages and filled with photographs, so no worries there. Once through that, you get to start your projects.

The first section of these is titled 'machines for your Room' such as a door knocker, a door opener, and a light-switcher. There are three more such sections covering machines for around the house (water your plants? Squeeze your toothpaste?), machines for fun and nonsense (launch a marble? make music?), and machines for food (vending machine, candy dispenser), so there's a lot of different projects you can undertake - assuming you have enough cardboard...and the determination to get it done!

I thought this was a fun, safe, and relatively cheap way to provide educational entertainment for your kid and I commend this book.


ABC for Me: ABC What Can She Be? by Jessie Ford


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a sweet and fun (and full of color in more ways than one) book for young children about a girl dreaming of what profession she might follow when she grows up, and unlike for far too many women of older generations, everything is open to her, but it's curiously in alphabetical order! So two ways to teach!

She imagines one thing after another and appropriately she doesn't shun traditional feminine occupations, but neither is she afraid of exploring professions where women have been scarce or absent in times thankfully past. This is entirely how it should be because in the end, it is her choice what to do with her life! That's the whole point: she can be anything she chooses. She's not afraid to take charge of that choice, and no one has any right to condemn or even judge her for what she chooses.

This is a great book for young girls who might appreciate having some cool ideas put into their heads and any possibly perceived limitations shredded. I commend it as a worthy read.


STEAM Stories: Robot Repairs (Technology) by Jonathan Litton, Magalí Mansilla


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

These stories are aimed at introducing kids to concepts of physics and engineering in a light, entertaining, yet instructive way. If there's one thing this world needs, apart from a total absence of inflammatory so-called leaders of the free world, it's more girls looking towards a career in the sciences, technology, engineering, and math. Girls may feel they don't need those subjects, but those professions definitely need girls' minds, ethics, sensibilities, and team-work skills.

That's why I thought this was a fun and useful book, again by the team of writer Jonathan Litton, artist Magalí Mansilla to introduce young people to these professions, and why it was good to show a female character being proactive and sharing equally in a project.

The story is simple - this old robot falls apart and a boy and a girl decide to use their smarts to see if they can put it back together again and make it work. Of course they do, but they have to think about what they're doing and make smart choices to get it right. This is a positive thing for young children to be exposed to, and I commend this book as a worthy read.


STEAM Stories: The Great Go-Kart Race (Science) by Jonathan Litton, Magalí Mansilla


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Written simply by Jonathan Litton, and colorfully illustrated by Magalí Mansilla, this is another in a series aimed at promoting young people's interest in the sciences, technology, engineering, and math, and this one takes an engineering and a problem-solving approach, teaching a little physics and intelligent thinking along the way. Girls are sadly underrepresented in these fields and the professions suffer from that, so anything that serves to promote an interest in these subjects as a path to a profession, is to be welcomed.

It's the big go-kart race and our diverse boy-girl team are competing, but it's not simply a matter of steering the vehicle around a track! There are unexpected problems along the way and some very inventive and thoughtful efforts at solving them are required. Our boy and girl are equal though, and equal to the challenge, both of them contributing to the solutions. It's this team work, even in the midst of this highly-competitive race, that pays off, as it always will. I commend this as a worthy read for young children of both genders and all shades.


Around The World in Every Vehicle by Amber Stewart, Duncan Beedie


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Written well by Amber Stewart, and illustrated equally well by Duncan Beedie (both good Scots names I have to say!) this short story picture book was a fun romp across the globe employing an assortment of vehicles to make the trip.

It's educational as to geography as well as to different habits across the world when it comes to transportation, as we follow the rather foxy-looking Van Go family on a trip that's a trip! They set off from home on their bicycles and consult their map with seven major destinations marked all across the globe. They take an open-topped tour bus (see, it's not always raining in London!) past a hoard of traditional and distinctive-looking London taxis, and Freddie Van Go is moved to consult a book (yeay Freddie!) to discover what other kinds of buses there are.

This sets the tone for the other pages of the book, many of which are double-page spreads, so I wouldn't rely on your smartphone to read this in ebook form (Unless your kid is just looking at the pictures). You'll need a tablet - and a preferably regular-sized one rather than mini to read the small text.

I'm not sure it quite covered every vehicle (I saw no tank in there, for example!), but it sure covers a host of them: sea, air, land - and under the land! Yes, there is a trip through the Chunnel! It made for a colorful, varied, educational and fun read for young children. I commend it as a worthy read.


Animosaics: Can You Find It? by Surya Sajnani


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I'm currently working on a children's book that contains puzzles, so I've been idly noting what's out there for a while, and I was curious about this one. The puzzles here are nothing like those I'm using though, so it was interesting to see another approach. It's all in color here, and though I'm not sure how it would work for anyone who is color-blind, the puzzles are not as easy as you might think, even for someone with all his opsins in a row!

The pages are each a single color - very bright and rainbow colors to be sure, but only a single color per puzzle. Hidden in the color and disguised by a mess of shapes and patterns are certain specific items you must find, different on each page. Some of them were a pain to uncover! Not that I'm especially great at puzzles, but unless you're a puzzle solver of Olympic proportions, this will certainly occupy your time pleasurably and satisfyingly, assuming you enjoy puzzles to begin with, and perhaps even if you haven't found your kind of puzzle yet! I commend this book as a satisfying and colorful brain exercise!


How to Think Like an Absolute Genius by Philippe Brasseur, Virginie Berthemetv


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I have to say up front that I wasn't impressed by this book. For one reason it was overwhelmingly white male - as though there are so few examples of other genders and ethnicities that the author couldn't find them. I call bullshit on that. He simply didn't look, and instead of finding a diversity of modern cutting-edge exemplars, it seems he took the lazy route and fell back on historical figures.

The book is divided into three sections, the first, 'Be Curious', is all white males. The second, 'Be Imaginative', is all white males. The third, 'Be Determined', is all white males save two token people: Martin Luther King and Agatha Christie, but what is the point of being determined if authors determinedly exclude you in books like this? Each individual section had up to half-a-dozen 'also-ran' names listed, but again these were overwhelmingly white men - around sixty of them, and white women - around forty, with a literal handful men and women of color. This book needs to be shunned on that basis alone. I'm surprised the publisher allowed it to be published like this in this day and age.

Even with the white folks, the author talked only about the positive, like every one of these people was a paragon. He never brought up anything negative about his heroes, such as that Einstein made a major blunder in his calculations precisely because he did not have the courage of his convictions, or about Charlie Chaplin's predilection for juvenile females, or America's darling Edison (barf), who cruelly electrocuted animals for no other reason than to try to 'prove' that his rival Tesla's AC power transmission system was dangerous and Edison's own limp DC current was the only intelligent way to go. Guess who won?

Edison was not a genius. A genius does not blindly try out hundreds of filaments to figure out how to make a light work. In fact Edison wasn't actually the one who tried all those - he had his more than likely underpaid workforce do all the work. Maybe that was his genius: getting others to labor for him while he took all the credit? But the real genius was the guy who invented the light bulb before Edison 'did': Sir Joseph Wilson Swan. Can we not find better inspiration and better, more diverse people to seek to emulate than these? I refuse to believe we cannot.

The short response to this title is: No, you can't teach someone to be a genius. The problem is that part of it is nature, which is really hard to change unless you become the scientist who does figure out how to change that. The other part though, is nurture and it's highly malleable, especially in young children.

In short you can encourage people to think in ways that might lead to important insights and inventions, but just as with a horse being led to water, you can only do so much. That doesn't mean you can't be inspired by those who have gone before, but it's a lot easier to be inspired by someone who is in some way like you, and the majority of people on this planet are not white males - they're half female and largely non-white! I cannot commend this book at all. It's entirely wrong-headed, unless the author really only wants white male children to be moved by it.


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Hal by Kate Cudahy


Rating: WARTY!

I was interested in reading this because in some ways it reminded me of my own novel Femarine, but in the end - or more accurately in the middle since I never reached the end, it was quite different. Hal is the abbreviated name of the main character - either that or some computer got a body for itself and is seriously going after Dave, because Hal is a duelist, so we're told. Really she's a prizefighter and gives most of her take to her slave overlord because she's too much of a wimp to go it alone.

She's also an idiot. And a lesbian. All of these preconditions come together to trip her up big time when the daughter of a rich and powerful merchant falls for her, and inexplicably so, because Hal is arrogant and selfish (as their 'love' scenes confirm). I have no idea why either falls for the other, so that wasn't really giving me an authentic story, and what story I got was made worse by Hal's appallingly dumb behavior.

Hall knows perfectly well she's walking on thin ice with this girl, and she also knows she's being spied on, and she's warned repeatedly by two different people that trouble is heading her way, but she stubbornly keeps her blinkers on and walks right into it. It was at this point that I decided I have better things to do with my time than to read any more of this, so I moved on.

The book needs a little work too. At one point, I read, "a large pair of double doors." Is that four large doors? I don't think so! So why write it like it is? 'A large pair of doors' or 'a large double door' is all that's needed. Later I read, "Someone tapped her on the shoulder and she span round" Nope! She spun round! So yeah, work. I can't commend this.


Peep by Maria von Lieshout


Rating: WORTHY!

This is another in what appears to be a series of confidence-building books by this author. I have no idea how many there are in the series. I know there are at least three and this author, who is Dutch by birth, has published over a dozen children's books on various empowering themes. I just happened on them by accident in my local library while checking out a display of kid's books the librarians had set up. Unlike the Goodreads 'librarians' for example, who don't appear to do a damned thing, the librarians in my local libraries are fun and inventive and hard-working, and their efforts pay off.

This one concerns a young chicken name Peep, who is following her brothers and sisters, who are in turn following mom, line-astern, on an outing, but when they reach the curb it seems to be so very high for a little Peep who wouldn't say Bo to a sheep. Mom and the siblings seem to have no trouble with it, but Peep can't handle this at all. However, with encouragement, pluck and determination, Peep makes the leap and does not regret it - that is until she reaches the other curb and has to figure out what to do next - which is delightfully where this tale ends.

I really liked this story. Just like the previous volume I read by this author, this one is also colorful, simply but competently drawn, amusing, and playful. I liked the humor and the lesson, and I commend it as a worthy read for young children.


Splash by Maria von Lieshout


Rating: WORTHY!

This playful and amusing little book for young children tells the story of a seal who can't seem to do much and feels very disappointed in itself until one day the sun falls into the ocean and it's up to the seal to replace it. The seal discovers that it can do things when those things are very important to it, and this leads to reconnecting with its friends. Fortunately for small and delicate flippers, the sun is only the size of a small beach ball and not too hot (it was cooled off by the ocean no doubt!), so this task isn't too arduous.

This is a colorful book (not all the seals are navy, for example...) and proved inventive and quite entertaining. The author appears to have a series of these, and I shall be reviewing one other like it by the same author. I commend this one as a worthy read.


Pelé the King of Soccer by Eddy Simon, Vincent Brascaglia, Joe Johnson


Rating: WORTHY!

Written by Eddy Simon and translated by Joe Johnson, with illustrations by Vincent Brascaglia, this was an enjoyable graphic novel about the remarkable career of Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known to the world as Pelé, who was an outstanding Brazilian professional soccer player.

He played for a club team at the tender age of fifteen and for his national team at the age of sixteen; at seventeen, he put in a sterling performance at the 1958 World Cup, the first of three in which Brazil won with him on the team. He's the only player to have been on three world cup winning teams, and he scored 77 goals in 92 games during those competitions. He averaged almost a goal a game throughout his career, scoring some 650 in 694 professional club appearances.

There was a less stellar side to his life in his multiple marriages and multiple affairs outside of those marriages, some of which brought offspring. The story doesn't delve very much into those or his son's conviction for money laundering. It keeps the focus mostly on soccer, recounting his career almost game by game.

This graphic novel tells the story well, with lively, colorful, and well-crafted illustrations, from his barefoot, ball-made-of-rags street soccer days of his early age, to this triumphs as a professional (in soccer boots and with a real ball!). His hero was his father who was also a professional player until he got a bad leg injury and could play no more, but he encouraged his son to excel and Pelé did not let him down. I commend this novel as a worthy read and a piece of sports history that's well-worth learning.