Sunday, December 10, 2017

Whatever it Takes by Tu-Shonda L Whitaker


Rating: WARTY!

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

This was one of four novellas I got from Net Galley centered around the festive season and relationships. All of them were disappointing, I'm sorry to report. The problem was that they were far less romance than they were soft-core porn, and there really wasn't much porn, so what did that leave? In a two words: very little - and nearly all of that was a disappointment. I wish the authors all the best in their careers. I found these stories most saddening because some of these of these writers can write. I just wish they would have reached higher, instead of going solely for the low-hanging fruit.

Note that this is obviously just my opinion, and I'm not normally one for reading his kind of fiction, but I'm curious about all genres and I like to keep up with what's going on in them. It had seemed to me that this was a great opportunity to take in something new and maybe find a new writer to love. I'm sorry it didn't work out.

There seemed to be a common theme among the novellas: that of being single and feeling unloved, or of being in a dysfunctional relationship that the main character had somehow deluded themselves into thinking was the one - or at least was better than nothing! I know how that goes. But the way they 'fixed' their 'problem' was asinine cowardice, not romance.

In this case, the main character is in her thirties, with a lot of attitude, looking for love, feeling the old bio-clock ticking. I was trying not to be critical - to understand where this kind of a story is coming from and who it's aimed at, but apart from it being first person, this book bothered me because it's seemed like it's all about conspicuous consumption - like this woman has no value if it's not in her rich clothes and lavish lifestyle. I found that offensive.

I don't mind a novel that fills out a character by talking about her clothes and lifestyle to an extent, but every other paragraph has her talking about how well she's doing with her home (leather furniture, double sink - like that's some big upward mobility thing), her car which is a BMW, her shoes which are Gucci. And on and on! The thing is, she's a school teacher, so I'm wondering how she affords all this stuff! Teachers are woefully underpaid for the critical job they do.

Anyway, she meets the son of a friend - a son she knew when he was younger, but hasn't seen for a while. Now he's a college grad working on web design and he wears Prada shows - that's one of the first things we learn about him. I can see with his job how he can shop upscale, but again, is this all he has to offer - his shoes and his height: six feet one? I would have respected the woman more if she'd set her sights on more important things than skin and clothes deep.

This kind of story where it's all about "Hey, look how well-off and well-dressed I am!" really turns me off, because to me it says nothing so loudly as how shallow the character is, and how misplaced their values are. I don't have a problem with a person finding love and getting hot and bothered over a potential partner, but when that's all they have, and all they are, it's boring.

This is a May-December story and it's short, so it's a story where things need to move, but by about twenty percent into the novel, all she's talked about is how desperate she is for a man, and how ancient she is! She's thirty six! That's hardly antique, especially in an era when a lot of people are delaying marrying and having children until later in life. And nothing has happened in the story! The relationship could have been naturally building all this time, but it doesn't even start.

When it does start, the 'relationship' she develops with this young guy is dysfunctional from the off, and it never improves. Too often, he's talking like he owns her, and she takes no offense at anything he does or says. She's skittish all along, and her attitude makes sense, but instead of following her own instincts, and moving a bit more slowly, she lets him maneuver her right into bed and has unprotected sex with him, and later she thinks she might be be pregnant. In short, she's a moron. This is was too fast even for a novella. It throws romance under the bus and makes her look like an irresponsible and oversexed teenager, betraying everything we've learned of her until that point.

There's supposed to be some comic relief in the form of her next-door neighbor, who is a much older guy, but frankly he's offensive too, just like the younger guy. Despite the age disparity between these two men, I could see no difference between them. They were both manipulative and using her, and she was too dumb to see it and put her foot down. I didn't like any of these characters and cannot recommend this novella.


My Boo by Daaimah S Poole


Rating: WARTY!

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

This was one of four novellas I got from Net Galley centered around the festive season and relationships. All of them were disappointing, I'm sorry to report. The problem was that they were far less romance than they were soft-core porn, and there really wasn't much porn, so what did that leave? In a two words: very little - and nearly all of that was a disappointment. I wish the authors all the best in their careers. I found these stories most saddening because some of these of these writers can write. I just wish they would have reached higher, instead of going solely for the low-hanging fruit.

Note that this is obviously just my opinion, and I'm not normally one for reading his kind of fiction, but I'm curious about all genres and I like to keep up with what's going on in them. It had seemed to me that this was a great opportunity to take in something new and maybe find a new writer to love. I'm sorry it didn't work out.

There seemed to be a common theme among the novellas: that of being single and feeling unloved, or of being in a dysfunctional relationship that the main character had somehow deluded themselves into thinking was the one - or at least was better than nothing! I know how that goes. But the way they 'fixed' their 'problem' was asinine cowardice, not romance.

There was a consistent problem in that all of the characters were so shallow: they were all about fancy clothes and designer shoes and hot sex, and in the case of every one of the women, that hot sex had to be with a tall guy who had an overly-large penis. It was sad to read how juvenile and poorly-focused these people were - and also what poor judges of potential partners they were, and how thoroughly shallow and clueless they were. Not one of them actually deserved a decent relationship because none of them had earned one.

In this story, we're told that Gina has it all: "the job, her own house, her own car, and a boyfriend," but she still, we're expected to believe, has a problem in that she's in Philadelphia and he's in DC. Excuse me, but that's less than a three hour drive! So we're expected to accept that this is supposed to be some life-killing issue when it really isn't.

One or the other of them could move, if the distance is such a hassle, but what this told me is that she's too stupid to see that the problem is the relationship, not the distance. Of course, that's the point, and she's having affairs on the side even as she proclaims her deep love for this poor guy. In short, yet again, we have a story about a woman who is a complete jerk and god only knows what STDs she's going to pass on to him the next time they have sex!

Rather than seek ways to fix what she blindly perceives are the problems with her relationship, she takes the sleazy way out and steals her housemates' mate! That's the kind of lowlife she is. Sorry, but no! Who would even want a romance with someone as stupid and dishonest as she is? This book isn't about romance; it's about a woman who is sexually-obsessed and that;s all there is to her. This story wasn't remotely romantic and she's not remotely interesting. It was salacious and unpleasant to read, and I cannot recommend it.


Friday, December 8, 2017

Every New Year by Brenda L Thomas


Rating: WARTY!

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

This was one of four novellas I got from Net Galley centered around the festive season and relationships. All of them were disappointing, I'm sorry to report. The problem was that they were far less romance than they were soft-core porn, and there really wasn't much porn, so what did that leave? In a two words: very little - and nearly all of that was a disappointment. I wish the authors all the best in their careers. I found these stories most saddening because some of these of these writers can write. I just wish they would have reached higher, instead of going solely for the low-hanging fruit.

Note that this is obviously just my opinion, and I'm not normally one for reading his kind of fiction, but I'm curious about all genres and I like to keep up with what's going on in them. It had seemed to me that this was a great opportunity to take in something new and maybe find a new writer to love. I'm sorry it didn't work out.

There seemed to be a common theme among the novellas: that of being single and feeling unloved, or of being in a dysfunctional relationship that the main character had somehow deluded themselves into thinking was the one - or at least was better than nothing! I know how that goes. But the way they 'fixed' their 'problem' was asinine cowardice, not romance.

There was a consistent problem in that all of the characters were so shallow: they were all about fancy clothes and designer shoes and hot sex, and in the case of every one of the women, that hot sex had to be with a tall guy who had an overly-large penis. It was sad to read how juvenile and poorly-focused these people were - and also what poor judges of potential partners they were, and how thoroughly shallow and clueless they were. Not one of them actually deserved a decent relationship because none of them had earned one.

I know this one was supposed to be an erotic novella, but seriously? There really wasn't anything erotic in it. It was a bit creepy actually to discover a doctor preying on his patient. It's entirely inappropriate for a doctor to behave toward any patient like either of these doctors did; both of them ought to be struck-off. Additionally, I don't see a future for two people as shiftless and sexually-obsessed as these two were, so where's the romance? The characters were shallow - not only in how they were written, but also in how they were behaving.

The utter improbability of how they were brought together made the story more of a joke than a worthwhile read. The woman is supposed to be a urologist (I guess), but she's really a sex doctor who's not even in denial. She inappropriately gives her supposedly sexually-malfunctioning patient an erection and is pleased with herself for doing so. She's obsessed with penises, which convinced me that her relationship with this new guy will never last. She's utterly clueless and her attitude to her fiancé sucked, which further led me to believe she's not worth having a relationship with.

She's all set to go on a winter cruise around Hawaii when she gets an emergency call: a couple were having sex and the man had taken not one, but two too many Cialis#reg;. How this got him stuck inside the woman he was being unfaithful with is an unexplained joke. If the novel had been written as a parody or for comedic effect that still would have been tedious, but it wasn't supposed to be funny.

Taking more tadalafil doesn't give you a larger penis such that if you take too much it becomes so large it gets stuck. It's very easy to look up symptoms of an overdose online these days. And note that IVs are not the answer to everything! You don't get one free with every hospital visit! Particularly in this case where the problem was supposed to be too much fluid in a certain organ - you hardly want to stock the patient up on even more fluid!

The author doesn't seem to grasp that the ER doctors have probably handled far more of this kind of situation than the main character ever had. There was no reason whatsoever for this doctor to be called in, so once again we have a very contrived situation, and it gets worse: she's unfaithful to her boyfriend, has unprotected sex with a man whose history she doesn't know and doesn't even think about asking (and she's supposed to be a doctor?). After this, she goes right back to getting it on with her boyfriend. Then she ditches her boyfriend and goes back to the doctor. She's a jerk, period.

The doctor is utterly irresponsible. He doesn't know this woman and she has lost her memory, yet when he prepares a special dinner for her, it consists of a "platter that held two large lobster tails." He doesn't know is she has a sea-food allergy! He doesn't know anything about her. He could have killed her. She might be a vegetarian fro all he knew and would have been disgusted that he had fed her dead animals when her memory returned. His conduct is inexcusable on so many levels. It's not romantic at all. it seems that the author was blindly going for the trope romantic evening without spending an iota of thought on how this particular story needed a better plan.

I didn't like either of the doctors, or her boyfriend, but at least he tried to understand her. For this he's rewarded by being screwed, and not in a good way! This was not a nice Christmas/New Year's story, and I cannot recommend it.


Dangerously in Love by Crystal Lacey Winslow


Rating: WARTY!

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

This was one of four novellas I got from Net Galley centered around the festive season and relationships. All of them were disappointing, I'm sorry to report. The problem was that they were far less romance than they were soft-core porn, and there really wasn't much porn, so what did that leave? In a two words: very little - and nearly all of that was a disappointment. I wish the authors all the best in their careers. I found these stories most saddening because some of these of these writers can write. I just wish they would have reached higher, instead of going solely for the low-hanging fruit.

Note that this is obviously just my opinion, and I'm not normally one for reading his kind of fiction, but I'm curious about all genres and I like to keep up with what's going on in them. It had seemed to me that this was a great opportunity to take in something new and maybe find a new writer to love. I'm sorry it didn't work out.

There seemed to be a common theme among the novellas: that of being single and feeling unloved, or of being in a dysfunctional relationship that the main character had somehow deluded themselves into thinking was the one - or at least was better than nothing! I know how that goes. But the way they 'fixed' their 'problem' was asinine cowardice, not romance.

There was a consistent problem in that all of the characters were so shallow: they were all about fancy clothes and designer shoes and hot sex, and in the case of every one of the women, that hot sex had to be with a tall guy who had an overly-large penis. It was sad to read how juvenile and poorly-focused these people were - and also what poor judges of potential partners they were, and how thoroughly shallow and clueless they were. Not one of them actually deserved a decent relationship because none of them had earned one.

In this particular case the story was about a guy who was in a relationship with a girl he thought he loved. The guy, London, is a bodyguard for hire and most recently had been working for a rapper. He was planning on proposing to his girlfriend on New Year's Eve and for some reason had thought it was a good idea to buy an eight-thousand dollar engagement ring the purchase of which left him all-but broke. This told me the guy was an idiot, and was one of the hallmarks of this story: conspicuous consumption. His girlfriend was right to leave someone who evidenced as little forethought and planning as he did, but she was equally short-sighted. Neither of them was worth reading about.

Inevitably, because it's that kind of a story, after the break-up London ends up falling for Jovie which sounds so disturbingly like Juvie that it made me wonder if she was under-age! Anyway, Jovie has an evil twin. I'm not making this up (the author is!) This 'twin thing' has been way overdone, and if you're dead set on employing it in a plot, you need to find something truly new to bring to it. Evil twin doesn't cut it, and certainly not here. The evil twin wants to wreck her sister's relationship with London. The thing is that I'd lost faith in the story by this point, so I really care what evil twin was up to, or what happened to any of them for that matter.

I had very little reason to believe that her motive was smart or justified or valid. I need something better than this: something original, and with life in it. I really wasn't interested in any of these blinkered, shallow and self-obsessed characters at all. I need instead real people who have real feelings and who are clued-in to life. This was more like a fairy take than ever it was a serious story about adult relationships and frankly, I have better things to read with my time. Life is too short - even for a short story like this - and I cannot recommend it.


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen


Rating: WARTY!

Sofonisba Anguissola was a real person who lived during the time of Michelangelo and in fact studied under him for a short time. She was a gifted artist who deserves much better than this author gives her. The prime mover in Sofonisba's life was art yet here, the author reduces her to a love-sick YA character, stupid with anguished love for Tibiero Calcagni, a fictional sculptor she purportedly knew from Michelangelo's studio.

There is an incident with Tiberio, and the book doesn't make clear what happened. Some reviewers believe they had sex, but I am not convinced that they did. Whatever happened, Sofonisba is upset by it and feels shamed, but instead of moving on, she agonizes over this for half the freaking book (which is as far as I could stand to read)! It’s tedious. Tiberio is Michelangelo's boy toy (I'm guessing - I don't know for sure) and you were merely a diversion, Sofi. Move on!

She is put into the service of the French wife of the Spanish king as an art tutor. He is in his thirties and she is barely into her teens. That story could have been interesting, but we’re supposed to be getting Sofinisba's story which is also an interesting one. The author seems to have forgotten this and rather than talk about Sofonisba and her art, she depicts the artist as merely an observer, relating the story of the Spanish triangle between Don Juan, the king, and his wife. It’s boring. Most love triangles are, especially in YA literature.

The book blurb is misleading, as usual. It says, "...after a scandal involving one of Michelangelo's students, she flees Rome and fears she has doomed herself and her family," but this greatly exaggerates what happened. The blurb also tells us that "Sofi yearns only to paint," but this is an outright lie since she's rarely shown painting or even thinking about painting. The way the story is told here, the only real yearning Sofi experiences is over Tiberio.

Set in the mid 1500's, the story is superficially about this remarkable and talented painter struggling to make herself known for her art in a very masculine world where women were tightly constrained everywhere. The story could have been equally remarkable, but this author destroyed it. We got no sense of frustration or struggle from Sofonisba and precious little of her art as she's reduced to being a documentarian of the life at the Spanish court.

That life is tediously repetitive. The foppish young men at court are laughable. The main character in the book could have been anyone, including the chamber maid, and the story would have been largely the same. Don't look here for art; there's precious little of it, neither in the narrow sense of Sofinisba's life ambition, nor in the larger sense of the word. Artless is more accurate.

We're told that women are not allowed to paint nudes but there is a nude (Minerva Dressing) painted by artist Lavinia Fontana in 1613. Fontana was influenced by Anguissola, so whether things changed in the fifty years between this novel's setting, and Fontana's painting or the author just got it wrong, I don’t know. Fontana does seem to be the first female artist to paint female nudes, so maybe she was a cutting edge girl, in which case, a well-written story about her would be worth reading, and certainly better than this one! I cannot recommend this novel.


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Curiosity House: The Screaming Statue by Lauren Oliver and HC Chester


Rating: WARTY!

I'm not sure about the HC Chester - whether that's a real person or some sort of fictional device - but I have avoided Lauren Oliver's books since she's never written one which has appealed to me enough to want to read it. Now I know why! This one did appeal until I started reading it; then I found it was definitely not to my taste at all, and I DNF'd it rather quickly. Yes, it's not aimed at me, but I have to wonder if those at whom it is aimed would like it. My own two kids who are broadly in that age range would not give it the time of day, I'm sure.

The book is part two of a series of loosely connected adventures, I believe, featuring the same mystery-solving kids, and I know this is what Big Publishing™ pushes authors into, and authors dream of getting that series sinecure so they don't have to think-up good ideas for stories anymore, but I am not a fan of those authors who chase easy cash, and I don't read series very much for the same reason I tend not to go for overly long novels: I'm very easily bored by a surfeit of sameness, and books like this are all about same-old, same-old: once you get through that introductory portion, whether it be the first twenty chapters or the first volume.

There are exceptions which are rare and treasured, but this was not one of them. I didn't like the charcters or find them interesting. It took way too long to actually find a mystery (I was still unsure what it was when I quit reading, but it seemed like maybe the 'murdered' wife wasn't actually dead at all). Maybe I'm wrong in that guess, but what I do guess right is that I'm done with Lauren Olvier now.


Pie for Chuck by Pat Schories


Rating: WARTY!

This was in some ways quite a charming story about a bunch of small rodents aiming to steal a freshly-baked pie. Do people really sit freshly-baked pies out on the window sill anymore? It's a bit of a trope, and maybe they really did at one time, but I doubt they do now! Most people just buy these sugar-loaded concoctions at the store ready-made, and microwave them! LOL! Anyway, the pie is there and so is Chuck, who daydreams about the flaky pastry and the gooey filling. Chuck has to have it, but he can't get it by himself, so he recruits his friends, and they each try but fail. It's only when they cooperate that they can enjoy the literal fruits of their labors.

Normally I like to cut children's authors some slack and try to find positive things to say about their stories, but in this case, and despite the fun book and the nice illustrations, and the story about cooperation, I have to give this a thumbs down because it's about theft! There are ways to tell a story to children about cooperation, without teaching them that thieving is okay, and even fun and rewarding. I can't rate this positively because of that. The author could just as easily have added a moral to this tale and had the animals get sick because fruit pie is not their natural food! There could have been a health message too for that matter: about eating right, but he author left it at 'thievery brings its own rewards' and to me, that's the wrong idea to pass on to children.


Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi, Betheny Hegedus


Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated impressively by Evan Turk employing a dazzling variety of inventive techniques, this was a fascinating book. How do you ever cope with having a close relative who is as famous and renowned as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, aka Mahatma Gandhi? This is written by Arun Gandhi, son of Manilal, who was Mahatma Gandhi's second child to survive; conditions were harsh back then and still are for many people, and not only in India.

Arun describes an event which obviously must have made an impression on him. It was when he went to visit his father as a young child and was abused on the football (soccer) field. He became very angry at being pushed, and then ashamed that he was unable to emulate his grandfather, but in talks with Gandhi-ji, he learns a few things about how to live his life non-violently and turn his anger into a light, not a thunderous darkness.

If only we could all learn this! All of us struggle with anger and frustration at times. The book might have offered more, but it's aimed at young children and I think it at least lights a candle, so I recommend this book as a beginning for children trying to deal with all of that.


Getting to the Bottom of Global Warming by Terry Collins


Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated well by Cynthia Martin and Bill Anderson, this book teaches young kids about climate change, aka global warming. 'Climate change' is a better term because 'global warming' confuses stupid people, who seem to think it means that everywhere will get dramatically hotter. No, it means climate change.

In general, the planet will warm (and has been warming because of human induced pollution), but not everywhere will warm up and become a tropical paradise. It's more a case of extremes becoming more extreme, so while some areas are becoming hotter, others are seeing serious winter storming. On top of that we're seeing flooding from more extreme rainfall and rising oceans, and we're seeing plant and animal life changing in terms of the areas it's normally found. We're also seeing tropic diseases spreading beyond their historical boundaries. In short, it's a mess.

This book features the novel idea of time-traveler, Isabel Soto who is "an archaeologist and world explorer with the skills to go wherever and whenever she needs to research history, solve a mystery, or rescue colleagues in trouble." One has to wonder why she can't fix climate change if she can go back into the past, but it's a lot to ask one person, so I decided to let that pass! Maybe she tried and no one would listen. We've sure seen way too much of that. Yes, Republicans, I'm looking at you.

We have a president who is obsessed with saving coal-mining jobs when he ought to be proposing retraining programs to find work for all those people in sensible and forward-thinking technologies like solar energy which is the fastest rising portion of the US economy, or in other renewable energy employment which will, given resources and time, solve the energy and pollution crisis. Now there's a case of a man who cannot think out of the box and who is obsessively-compulsively offering knee-jerk non-solutions instead of thinking it through, and looking to the future. That's why books like this are important: so children can learn that they do not have to be hide-bound by tradition and blinkered by the erroneous, selfish, and tunnel-vision thought patterns of yesteryear and politicians who, despite being past their sell-by date have nonetheless sold out to corporate interests.


Monday, December 4, 2017

Luz Makes a Splash by Claudia Dávila


Rating: WORTHY!

This author is a Chilean who now lives in Canada, and this is a great children's story about community activism, pollution, and taking charge. It's evidently the first in a series, which consists (as of this blog post) of two books: this one and a sequel called Luz sees the Light, a title which amuses me because light is the very meaning of Luz! Light is the meaning of Luz, Luz is the meaning of light! And on and on like the Neil Innes Beatles song parody he did for The Rutles (aka All You Need Is Cash).

In this book, Luz becomes concerned when there is a drought and she discovers that the refreshing little natural pool she and her friends used to visit on hots days like these, is all dried up! A nearby corporation is responsible. it's been using the water to manufacture its cola product! So yes, corporate responsibility and malfeasance also get a look in here. Luz learns many things about recycling, preserving and protecting water, and how to organize a protest.

The book is quite long and well-written, and nicely illustrated. It tells a smart and realistic story, and it offers an education along the way. I recommend it.


Imagine a World by Rob Gonsalves


Rating: WORTHY!

This is volume four in a series. I have not seen the others, but if this is anything like the previous three were, then it's an epic series and an awesome book to give to a child. The only problem with it is that it is not very ethnically diverse.

Each page consists of a large double page image, all of them done in the manner of Maurits Escher. If you're familiar with his work, you will know the kind of thing to expect here, but this is aimed at younger set, and will definitely draw children in so much that they might not wonder why a person with a wonderfully diverse name like Rob Gonsalves doesn't incorporate more of it into his illustrations. Among the author's influences were Dali, Escher, and Magritte. I recommend this for the artwork.


The Myth of the Oil Crisis by Robin M Mills


Rating: WARTY!

Subtitled 'Overcoming the Challenges of Depletion, Geopolitics, and Global Warming', this book did not impress me mainly because it failed to address the fact that no matter how much technology we bring to bear, and how much we can squeeze from a rock, the fact is that oil is a pollutant, is causing climate change, and is inevitably going to run out at some point. The more we can wean ourselves off it, the less it's going to bite us in the ass. That's the bottom line, and this author seems to be in denial about that.

We're producing oil at the rate of about 35 billion barrels per year. The total world reserves are optimistically estimated at 1.6 trillion barrels. At that rate, this means the reserves will be used up in less than half a century. So yes, we have passed peak oil.

The author seemed to have a problem with the concept of easy oil, idiotically arguing that no oil is extracted easily. I guess wells never gushed, huh? I know what he means, but the fact is that these are not absolute terms; they're relative, and yes, it's harder work to find new oil now than it used to be. Deal with it. His own discussion of retrieving oil in Kazakhstan belies his claim!

He's also flat-out wrong in other regards. When he published the book, oil may have been at one hundred dollars a barrel, but (as of this blog post) is less than half that. The problem he fails to recognize is not that expensive oil is a problem, but that cheap oil is and has always been a problem. The oil crisis isn't that there isn't enough or that it's expensive, it's just the opposite: there's too much for our own good, and it's selling too cheaply. This needs to stop.

He talks about the so-called 'peak oil theory' being consistently wrong, but fails to address the fact that it was predictably wrong in the past because of poor information and no foreseeable technology. You can't fault someone in 1904 or 1940 for failing to see where the world would be in 2014, but that doesn't mean we can keep mindlessly sucking oil out of the Earth indefinitely and with no consequences. His failure to address this means just what the blurb says: Robin Mills is an oil insider and therefore not trustworthy as a disinterested commentator. Of course he's going to put a gloss on it. I cannot recommend this one.


Friday, December 1, 2017

Ghost in Trouble by Carolyn G Hart


Rating: WARTY!

If I'd known this audiobook was part of a series I would never have picked it up, but as a one-off (as I thought it was) it sounded like it might be worth a listen, and I tend to experiment more with audiobooks than other formats, so I decided to give it a chance. In the end I decided I'd rather hear the sound of synthetic rubber on asphalt than listen to any more of this in the car, before I turned it back in to the library! LOL! The southern belle accent of the reader turned me off as much as the amateurish writing.

The problem with writing supernatural tales is that you really need to come up with some sort of intelligent framework in which to set them. It doesn't have to be cast-iron reality by any means (because it can't be!), but it does have to make some sort of sense. None of this did.

All the author has done is exactly what far too many unimaginative and blinkered authors do when they tell tales like these: they take our real world and simply translate it to a ghostly one, and make no other changes, so Bailey Ruth (this is the Bailey Ruth series volume 3) and her husband Bobby Mac (barf) are still married and leading exactly the same life they led on Earth when they were alive, except that sometimes, while BM is out fishing in his boat, BR goes back to her home town to solve a problem, in her role as a volunteer for the heavenly department of good intentions! Barf. BR is a moron. I'm sorry, but she is. She knows the rules (don't be seen, don't be heard, and so on), yet she continually breaks them not because circumstances call for it, but because she's simply too dumb to follow them.

I don't get her mission, either. In this story she's supposed to be trying to prevent a woman she disliked in life, from being murdered. We're supposed to assume that BR is a decent, likeable person (although she was tedious to me) and therefore if she doesn't like this woman she's supposed to be protecting, then this woman is not likeable, so where is the justification for her mission? Why not leave her to her lot? Besides, can't this god in her heaven not control things with his divine powers? Can he not protect her? Why is BR needed at all?

There's no explanation for this, except that in the Bible, one thing we're shown repeatedly is that god is incompetent and can't get a thing done without a human to help him. Need commandments? Better have Moses hike up the mountain to go get 'em 'cos they can't be delivered any other way. Earth flooding? Better get Noah to build the ark and round up the animal feed because no god is going to lift a finger to help. Need to get everyone right with god? Rape a virgin and sacrifice her son on a cross because the divine mind can't think of any more intelligent way to do it than brutally and bloodily, as his history in the Old Testament proves. You know how the story goes.

Plus, given what happened recently in Las Vegas, are there not more important missions - assuming god is so helpless that missions must be undertaken? Is it not more important to send someone out to prevent a child being abused or kidnapped than to prevent some obnoxious woman from dying? Where was someone like BR when psychos opened up with machine guns and automatic weapons on innocent people out enjoying themselves? It's nonsensical. If abortions are so bad, why not send BR on a mission to get all these unwanted children adopted? I guess her god can't be bothered with that.

This author's concept of daily life in Heaven is not only just as nonsensical, it's antiquated. If you want comedy, Lucille Ball is still doing her shows in heaven! Seriously? Why would she? For the last decade of her life she wasn't doing her show, so why would she restart it when she went to Heaven? And why Lucille Ball? Is the author unaware of the scores of other TV comedies and comedians that have been and gone in the intervening period? Or is she simply too idle to look them up? Would no one want to watch any of those people? It's the same with cooking. Your cookery is taught by Julia Child and the same rationale applies here, too. It's a case of the author going with what she knows, and I know the knee-jerk advice is to write what you know, but in this case it backfires big time.

Stephen King was a teacher before he became really well-known as a horror writer. He never met a shy schoolgirl who could control objects with her mind. He never saw a vampire, or uncovered an alien spaceship, and he never drove an evil 1958 Plymouth Fury. Should he have confined himself therefore to writing only about teaching? 'Write what you know' is asinine, Write what you want, is my advice. But think about what you're writing or you're going to end-up with crap like this on your hands.

So in short, this was tedious, primitive, poorly thought-out, badly-written and nonsensical, and I cannot recommend it.


Mila 2.0: Renegade by Debra Driza


Rating: WARTY!

This is book 2 in a series, which was not known to me when I picked it up, otherwise I would have put it right back down. It looked interesting from the blurb (but doesn't it always?): an android on the run. Count me in! Why they don't call the female ones gynoid, I don't know any more than I know how there can be such a thing as a female android - or even a male one for that matter since they are robots and incapable of reproduction (one assumes!). I just did not get along with this novel at all though. The blurb online says it's "Perfect for fans of I Am Number Four and Divergent" which would have turned me off at once had I read that on the back of the book.

So Mila is on the run from General Holland and Vita Obscura, whoever they are. She's hanging with a guy, who to credit the novel where it's due, is not your usual type of studly YA male, although he does sport the ;laughable name of Hunter which is one of the go-to names for YA novels. The two of them are supposed to be looking for a guy named Richard Grady who is evidently someone who can tell her about how she came to be, but neither of them is smart enough to get that he is undoubtedly being watched and she will be captured as soon as she shows up in his neighborhood.

This was the biggest problem. Mila is dumb and she's obsessing on Hunter and none of that made any sense, but the dumb part was what really got me. She's too dumb to know that these people who are trying to track her might be using her own Internet searches to pin down where she is. I can't stand reading novels about dumb girls, and YA is replete with such novels. If she starts out dumb and wises up, that's one thing, but to be dedicatedly dumb is a huge turn-off for me, especially when the novel spends more time focused on how pretty Mila is than anything else.

Not for me. Not for me to recommend.


Prime Meridian by Silvia Moreno-Garcia


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is a very short story (56 pages in Bluefire reader on an iPad), and it's less of a sci-fi (notwithstanding the cover which I pay little attention to anyway!) than it is a 'sigh and fie on you!' story, but in the end it was just the right length. Any longer and it would have been padded, and I would not have liked it so much. Any shorter, and it would have been inadequate.

The world this is set (Mexico in the near future) reminded me very much of the kind of world William Gibson created in Neuromancer. This author does it just as well if not better, but here it's nowhere near as hi-tech, so it's more relatable. In this world lives twenty-five-year-old Amelia with the emphasis on old, because that's how she feels. Another two years and she won't be able to make money by selling her blood to old farts who think it will rejuvenate them. Amelia's only dream is of visiting the colony on Mars.

She lives with her sister Marta, who extracts a steep price for her sister's iffy employment prospects by using Amelia very nearly as a full-time baby-sitter and school bus for her kids in lieu of a decent contribution to the rent and food. Other than her blood, Amelia's only utility seems to be through her assignments from the Frienderr app which pairs companions with people in need of one.

Amelia doesn't even do so well at that because she's really not a people person, but she manages to keep a regular gig with an aging B movie actor named Lucía, who likes Amelia to sit with her while they watch her old movies and she talks about them. She's supposedly working on a memoir, but doesn't seem to make much progress.

Things look like they might change for Amelia when her old and wealthy boyfriend Elías shows up, "renting" her company on Frienderr. Amelia feels like she has to go because she really needs the money. It's obvious that her boyfriend wants her back, but you never get the impression that things are going to follow your typical romance novel path, or worse, your typical young-adult author path, especially since when he left before, Elías did so abruptly and without a goodbye.

That's the beauty of this novella, because the author keeps throwing you for a loop as soon as you get comfortable with the way you think this story is going. She never takes the easy path either, and I could see that right from the off, because she wrote it in third person whereas a lesser author (and your typical YA author!) would have gone for worst person voice (aka first person) which would have ruined this story for me, as it has far too many others which I've DNF'd sadly.

You can't enjoy a painting if your nose is pressed to the canvas nor appreciate a posing model by putting their skin under a microscope. There needed to be a certain distance from this character so you could properly enjoy who she was becoming, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia delivered it like an expert sculptor, exposing every graceful curve, chipping steadily down to every artful dimple and shadow with very little waste, nearly every line contributing to the final image of a strong woman, the like of which we see far too little in sci-fi stories.

The sole exception to this, for me was the movie dialog. Some chapters began with a lead-in, in the form of a movie script based on one of the movies Amelia watched with Lucía, but tailored to Amelia's life. I took to skipping these because I felt they took away from the story rather than added to it. If the last one had been left in place, but the rest removed I would have probably ended-up building a santuario religioso to this author! And that's another joy now that I think about it: she's Mexican by birth and uses some Mexican terms in the story without any apology and without a tedious translation en suite. I appreciated that: that she treated her readers like adults, not students who needed to learn a foreign language. It was perfectly done.

I loved this story and I highly recommend it. I shall be looking at other work by this author and I wish her all the best in her future endeavors.


Friday, November 24, 2017

The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin


Rating: WARTY!

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

I have to say right up front that I was very disappointed in this novel which could have offered so much more than it did. It's based loosely on the lives of two very real people: Gladys Louise Smith, known to history as Mary Pickford, legendary star of the silent screen, and Marion Benson Owens, who wrote as 'Frances Marion' and was also one of Hollywood's leading ladies when it came to screen-writing.

One immediate problem was that while Frances Marion was a renowned screen-writer, she wasn't the only one. Between 1911 and 1925, about 50% of all copyrighted films had female screen-writers, but you would never learn that from this novel. Because she fails to give all those others their due, the novel presents Frances Marion as being far more of a lone pioneer than she actually was.

There were scores of female writers, such as Anita Loos and June Mathis, and undoubtedly many others who contributed greatly, but went unsung because they were 'only female writers' or script editors. We don't learn of these, not even in passing, so a chance to champion women writers in general was shockingly squandered here. It was Anita Loos who became a staff scriptwriter for DW Griffith, for example, whereas Marion worked for Lois Weber, who taught her the trade. Loos is mentioned only three times in passing, Mathis not at all, despite the latter being the highest paid female executive in Hollywood at the age of only 35, and dying just five years later.

The single-minded presentation of these two characters in this novel as champions of female power and creativity in the early days of Hollywood robs far too many other, deserving women of credit for their achievements and as such is more of an anti-feminist story - effectively undermining many strong female characters and robbing them of their due. That's soured even more by the fact that it also fails to support even its two main characters, by trivializing and minimizing their struggle to get where they were, and pitting them against each other far too often.

The story is further weakened by the author's mistake of choosing first person voice. She admits her mistake by alternating between first person when Marion is telling her story and third person when we read of Pickford's story. I could hear a loud clunk every time I moved to the next chapter. What this does is make Marion look spoiled and self-centered and Pickford look like an afterthought. The story is told as one huge flashback, which makes it worse because the start of the flashback is already historical, so we have it further removed from the reader, and then within the flashback we get yet more flashback to Pickford's childhood!

The sad thing about this is that we don't get anywhere near enough of her growth and formative years, so we really don't have a handle on who she is 'today' - that is in the most recent flashback. The same problem applies with Marion. Its as though the author is embarrassed by Pickford's history, or is in far too much of a rush to get back to the original flashback where we can fan-girl over Marion again. Frankly, it's a mess. There was a certain sloppiness to it too, such as at one point where I read that Mary Pickford's mom's name was Charlotte Pickford! No, Mary Pickford’s mom had Mary Pickford’s real name: Charlotte Smith! Sheesh!

I know this is not a biography, but it reads more like a biography than ever it does a novel, so there is no drama on the one hand, while there is little to stir positive emotions and much to stir negative ones on the other. I found myself wishing it was a biography so I could at least feel comfortable with what I was reading. The impression I had from all this, rightly or wrongly, was that the author had relied heavily on Marion's memoir, and very little on pure novel-writing and other research.

I found it rather curious that in a story purportedly about two women in Hollywood, who were interested in establishing themselves, and who had things to say and obstacles to surmount, we bypass those obstacles with startling ease. Problematic childhood? Grow up fast! Bad marriages? Dissolved with a slash of the pen! Anti-female sentiments in Hollywood, skirt them!

Nowhere, for example, does the author really address the fact that neither woman could be herself. Both of them changed their name. In Marion's case we're told that this is a conscious and personal choice, but it felt too easy, and she says not a word about Pickford's feelings on changing hers. We know that a stage producer made her change it during her brief stint on Broadway in one of his plays, but not why she evidently chose not to change it back afterwards. It felt like who they really were didn't matter to the author, so why should it matter to me?

My overall view of this story was that there was more missing from it than there was in it, and that's never a good feeling to have. This is why I gave up reading this at about fifty percent in. It simply was not engaging enough or powerful enough to keep me interested. I'm going to read a biography instead, and I'd recommend doing that before I'd recommend reading this. Frances Marion wrote Off With Their Heads: A Serio-Comic Tale of Hollywood, a memoir, and Cari Beauchamp wrote Without Lying Down, a biography of Frances Marion. Peggy Dymond Leavey wrote Mary Pickford: Canada's Silent Siren, America's Sweetheart, and Ben Walker wrote The Life & Death of Mary Pickford. There are also bios at wikipedia and IMDB.


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Batwoman vol 1 the many Arms of Death by Marguerite Bennett, James Tynion IV, Steve Epting, Stephanie Hans, Renato Arlem


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. This review was embargoed by the publisher until today's date of publication

While I enjoy the Marvel and DC comics super hero movies, I have a harder time with the comic books which originated these same heroes. Part of that problem is in the way the female characters are hyper-sexualized. I don't believe this is productive and it certainly isn't appreciated. The movies do great without it, so why do the comic books cling to it so desperately? It's not remotely necessary.

Batgirl (as Bat-girl) has been around since 1961, and Batwoman appeared even earlier, in 1956. It's a shame then that neither of these has made it to the big screen, a brief appearance in the old Batman TV show notwithstanding. I was thrilled to learn that Joss Whedon will write, direct and produce a Batgirl film and even more thrilled that it will be based on Gail Simone's comic book work. Unfortunately there's nothing on the roster for a Batgirl movie the DC Extended Universe before 2021 at least so, although schedules can change, it looks like we have to wait a while for that!

This is one reason why I was pleased to read this graphic novel with writing by Marguerite Bennett and James Tynion IV, and art by Steve Epting, Stephanie Hans, and Renato Arlem, so we have at least one female writer and a female artist involved, and it shows. I was hoping for something a bit better than your usual fare and thankfully, I got it with this.

With the roaring success of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, which had some strong female characters, I was hoping for female super heroes from that world to arrive in its wake. Batwoman would have seemed like an obvious follow-up, but instead DC seems to have opted for more Batman movies instead. Until we get Batman's female counterpart on the screen, we have the graphic novels, and that's why I think it's critical that we get more like this one.

In a very small way, this is an origin story, but the origin is conveyed in a series of touching single frame images with a palette as red as Kate Kane's hair: Kate at age nine, shooting a bow, at twenty in the military, and at twenty-seven crashing into the frame as Batwoman. But something is missing, and this crashes into the story on the next pages. A car is rammed by a truck, parents and a child are kidnapped, a mom dead. Next, Kate is depicted in unarmed combat at West Point. It's all disjointed, as is Kate.

Because of this disjunction, I had, I confess, a bit of a hard time getting into the story, but it found its footing quickly - or I did, one or the other! There is a new drug on the street: Monster Venom - and it can literally do what its name says: turn people into monsters. In order to fight it, Batwoman finds that she has to revisit one of her own points of origin: the island of Coryana in the Mediterranean. Here she confronts more than just her past.

This novel contains not only the expected - and hoped for - action scenes, it also carries with it a journey into memory and pain, disillusionment and determination. And Batwoman proves equal to what's asked of her, even to the female villain who is like a breath of fresh air as villains go. I'd like to see more of her.

It's reassuring to know there's someone we can count on, especially since Batwoman seems to have her head together more than Batman does despite her traumatic history and self-doubt. I liked this story and I recommend it. The story not only works, it's intelligent and has depth, and the art and coloring, by Jeromy Cox and Adriano Lucas not only complement the story all the way, they bring it to visual life. I look forward to more stories like this one. Hopefully we won't have to wait on Joss Whedon to get them!


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Why Cats Paint by Heather Busch, Burton Silver


Rating: WORTHY!

I'm not a big cat fan, that is, I am not a big fan of cats, but when I saw this book I had to take a look at it. My conclusion is that either these two authors are either high amongst the most tongue-in-cheek authors ever, or they're dangerously delusional. I shall be charitable and go with the first of those options, mainly because I share their evident opinion that the art world is just as bad as the fashion world for being puffed-up, vacuous, and ridiculous.

Seen in that light, this book, subtitled "A theory of feline aesthetics" is brilliant, and I salute the authors. The tone is pitch perfect, the images gorgeous, and the overall effect hilarious. Cats are not the only animals that paint. By 'paint' I mean daub a surface with color. Chimpanzees and elephants do it, rhinos and meerkats (Google's idiot spell checker wanted to change that latter to 'marketeers' LOL!), raccoons and pigs, goats and lemurs, parrots, and even seals, and not just at Easter (or estrus)!

Employing the word 'paint' suggests a purpose. Do they have a purpose? Clearly it attracts them, but what exactly is going on in their sub-human brains remains to be seen. Something does however compel animals to daub the paint, yet no one can possibly know what's going on in the animals' mind, except, of course, these two authors who deliberate over it and quote references, and have a high old time extolling both art and artist!

I recommend this not only because it's intriguing that animals do this, but because of the images of the artists, which are charming and adorable, and also the art itself, which is inspiring for anyone who, like me, who all to often thinks he can neither paint nor draw. I recommend the book as a coffee table book, a reading book and a guaranteed conversation-starter.


Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Facts of Life by Paula Knight


Rating: WORTHY!

This was another library book. The author, Paula Knight, changed her name to Polly in the book as she changed everyone else's name too, so it wasn't too personal, but it is in fact a very personal story told by a graduate (BA in Graphic Design form Bristol Polytechnic in England about her pursuit of a pregnancy and her grappling with a fatigue syndrome.

Paula/Polly grew up an only child and tells an interesting and moving, and humorous story about her life beginning with hanging out with her best friend, learning about sex, and spending more and more time as she matured, wondering if she ever wanted to have children. In the end she discovered she had ME/CFS, which is myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, a very disabling illness which an come back and bite you often. It resulted in her losing all her energy at times, and feeling like everything was real struggle.

When she finally found the partner she wanted to be with, she was in her mid thirties and starting to feel a 'now or never' imperative to having a child of her own. When they began to seriously try, however, she and her partner repeatedly got the reward of very brief pregnancies ending in miscarriage, After trying IVF, she and her partner gave up. It was only then that she began to notice how pervasive 'pronatalism' - the idea that a family consists of mom, dad, and one or more children - truly is in society.

Illustrated by the author in simple gray-scale line drawings, this novel is well imagined and well executed, and (be warned!) takes a no holds barred approach to telling her story of sexuality, of growing up in Britain in the seventies and eighties, of learning, of struggling, of disappointment, and finally of coming through it all with a new perspective on life. I really liked the story and I recommend it.


Scan by Walter Jury, Sarah Fine


Rating: WARTY!

This was another failed experiment in trying new audiobooks. It failed because the main character is a whiny, self-obsessed, foul-mouthed little jerk who lost my interest in the first few paragraphs. Why anyone would want to read about him, let alone root for him is a mystery to me. The book's narrator, Luke Daniels, was completely utterly wrong for the character. I don't care if he's won a dozen awards, his reading was atrociously wooden. If you've ever seen one of those old Chinese Boxer movies with the impossibly deep, gruff and mature voice in the English dub given to the graceful young male lead, or seen an anime with a little almost feminine male character given the deepest, most commanding voice, then you'll have an idea of how this sounded: WRONG! No, just no.

I don't know exactly what this authorial collaboration is all about but Jury is out. He's a Hollywood insider who seems more interested in writing a screenplay thinly-disguised as a novel than he is in writing an actual novel. Not so Fine is a psychologist who ought to know better. I have no interest in reading anything else from either of these authors. Be warned that Scan isn't a novel, it's an overture to a series which means it doesn't have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It's all beginning and there's no end to it. None of this is apparent from the book cover.

It's your tired done-to-death story where the child is being trained up to be a special snowflake, but the idiotic and inevitably single parent(in this case dad plays Sarah Conner) is a clueless jerk, always on his son's case without offering a word of encouragement or rationale, so when he predictably and inevitably gets killed, Tait is completely in the dark.

The reader isn't, however because the author hammers us over the head with painfully obvious foreshadowing. The story is that aliens have been slowly integrating into human society and replacing us for four hundred years - and they still didn't get the job done. That's how incompetent they are. Tait is human, but his girlfriend is an alien. That's no spoiler because it is so obvious to the reader that it serves only to make Tait look like a complete moron that he hasn't figured it out despite all of his training. I guess dad failed.

I gave up on this about a third the way in because it was simply horribly written. Tait is foul-mouthed for no reason at all. I don't care about swearing in a novel if it feels like it's part of the character or the story in general, but in this case, it felt like it was tacked on as a poor place-holder for Tait being bad-ass. Tait couldn't find bad ass with both hands tied behind his back, and his cussing contributed nothing. It felt like it was done by a two-year-old who had heard a bad word, and was repeating it for shock value. It didn't work.

The thing that reveals Christina's alien heritage is a scanner devised by Tait's dad, who evidently has not heard of DNA testing. The story reads like this scanner is crucial because it can distinguish between human and alien, but who cares? Really? If you're going to have a MacGuffin, then please don't insult your readers' intelligence with it! Find one that makes sense and is actually critical.

And on that topic, No, just no to the bad science depicted here! The closest species on Earth to humans is the chimpanzee and the Bonobo, but neither of these can interbreed with humans. How in hell is an alien species from a different planet where it underwent a completely different origin and evolutionary path ever, I mean EVER, even if they look just like us, going to interbreed with humans?

It's fundamentally nonsensical and someone with scientific credentials like Fine, ought to know this, It's basic biology. If two organisms can interbreed, they are not human and alien, but the same species, period. I truly detest ignorant writers who think they can write science fiction, yet don't even have the most basic grasp of the sciences. So no, a huge NO to this novel.


The Astonishing Ant-Man Everybody Loves Team-Ups by Nick Spencer, Brent Schoonover, Ramon Rosanas, Jordan Boyd


Rating: WARTY!

This was the polar opposite of the previous volume I read. I know I'm more than likely reading these out of sequence, but I don't think that matters in this case since it was so disjointed!

Whilst the previous one at least held my interest, even if it did not inspire me to read more, when I moved on to this second volume (which I'd already checked out of the library), I found it was not at all to my taste. The artwork was of the same standard as the previous book I read, but the story here was nonsensical and choppy, and simply did not draw-in my interest let alone hold it.

Worse than this, I ran into the same comic book issues that I've seen in all-too-many comic books. These were muted somewhat in the previous volume but put out on full exhibition here. One major reason I do not favor reading very many comic books is the genderist portrayals of male heroes versus female heroes. The men are all wearing these simple or functional costumes. The women are not.

The Giant, for example wears an old-style Flash costume: one piece, skin-hugging, bright red and black, with a cowl incorporated into the costume. He how would even get into such a costume, let alone feel comfortable wearing, is a question I long ago gave up asking, but note one important thing: his junk is not on view! Indeed, he looks like a castrated angel because he has no bulge whatsoever in his crotch! Maybe Pym particles shrink the penis and testicles? So why don't those particles also shrink the secondary sex organs (so-called) of the female heroes instead of projecting them fantastically outwards?

Ant-man wears a similar red and black outfit with a utility belt and a helmet the purpose of which I have still to grasp. Its sole purpose seems to be to give his head a vague ant-like appearance. Whatever it is, he's evidently so enamored of it that he even wears it when he takes a woman to bed with him.... Captain America, who is the token black guy in this comic, has this bizarre high collar on his outfit, which comes up over his ears, and he wears goggles. Since the original Cap had none of that, I can only assume that its only purpose is to hide as much black skin as possible so's not to offend readers that an Africa American has been uppity enough to trespass upon their pristine WASP comic book.

Compare and contrast this with the female heroes, none of whom are black. They all wear high heels, even in costume, and they all have low-cut tops so that even if no flesh is actually exposed, it's suggestive of it. In a flashback, one of them commendably wears a costume which is an exact duplicate of her male counterpart (no high heels!), but then that's completely subsumed under a Thing costume, so she never gets to be herself.

The outfit that takes the cake though, is when a super villain named Beetle appears. Her costume, while exposing no flesh (she wears a black onesie) is topped with thigh-high boots (with the inevitable heels), and she also wears a bustier with thin straps over her shoulders and a sharp V-cut at her crotch to make it clear that's where her V-shaped pubic mound is for anyone who might have got lost as their eyes climbed those boots leading up to 'Heaven'. Seriously? Why?

'
This book is garbage and I dis-recommend it for anyone who has any integrity, decency, and self-respect.


Friday, November 17, 2017

The Astonishing Ant-Man Small Time Criminal by Nick Spencer, Ramon Rosanas, Annapoala Martello, Brent Schoonover


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a graphic novel I got from my wonderful local library on spec. I loved the Marvel movie, but my love doesn't necessarily translate to a love of the associated comic books. In this case it almost didn't, but in the end I liked this enough to consider it a worthy read, even though it was hardly brilliant. It certainly wasn't as funny as the Ant-man movie.

In a small way, this was an origin story although it really didn't give the entire story. That was more of a reminiscence. In it, Scott Lang is separated from his family (as in the movie) and is bothered and bewildered by what's going on around him. In the comic book, the Pym Particles are things which can be carried and handed around almost like drugs. Some of them found their way to Lang's daughter, Cassie, who is more grown-up than in the movie.

She has been a Young Avenger, but somehow lost her powers and now feels their absence painfully. This is why she throws her lot in with a villain who works at an organization called 'Hench'. Why the police would not be interested in a man who claims to be able to turn people into super-villains goes completely unexplored here, and this is one problem I have with both movies and comic books: the stories completely neglect existing law-enforcement and the larger world, such as with fire-fighters and national guard, the FBI, the CIA, and so on. It's like those people don't exist in Super World™!

Cassie thinks she can get her powers back (or get some powers anyway) by infiltrating Hench under the premise that she wants to become a super villain. When she gets her powers she will turn on them, The villain figures out her motives, but he agrees on a deal with her: if she will retrieve something that was taken from him, he will grant her powers and they can go their separate ways, no hard feelings. Scott doesn't realize this of course - he just learns his daughter is working with super villains and has to deal with that shocker.

A friend of Scott's becomes Giant Man by employing his share of Pym Particles, but he does so much damage due to his size that the people of San Francisco detest him, so Scott takes him to a Lego village and has him practice being a gentle giant. This is mildly amusing, but more amusing, and why I rated this worthy, are the super-villains. They're more clownish than villainous and I grew to like them and sympathize with them as Cassie works with them to complete her task and earn her powers.

So overall a worthy read but not something that made me want to rush out and grab the next issue (although I do have one more issue to review!).


Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane


Rating: WORTHY!

Set in 1954, the story begins with two US Marshals setting out for Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane which is housed in an old fort on Shutter Island. On the ferry to the island where the story opens, Teddy Daniels has a new partner named Chuck Aule with whom he has never worked. Teddy is throwing up in the bathroom.

They are sent to investigate the disappearance of a female inmate named Rachel Solando, who evidently murdered her own three children, so the story has all the hallmarks of a locked room mystery. I saw the film made from this novel some time ago and barely remembered it, so my impression was that I didn't like it very much, but I decided to give the novel a go anyway since I'd liked this author's novel Mystic River. After I read this I watched the movie again and liked it, but was not overwhelmed by it.

The novel was good though, and I found that the reader quickly learns that not everything is as it seems here. People appear to be keeping secrets. There are hints that perhaps some radical experimentation is taking place on the island on some of the patients. It doesn't help that real clues are hard to come by, that many of the potential witnesses are literally insane, that Teddy is suffering migraines, and that a hurricane is coming down hard on the island. Worse than this, Teddy has an agenda - to find the guy who he thinks burned down his home and thereby killed his wife, and he thinks Andrew Laeddis is somewhere in Ashecliffe.

It became apparent at a point early in the story that someone was deluding themselves, but I could never tell whether it was going to take the predictable route or if there really was something else going on. It took the predictable route, but that didn't make it any less of a worthy read for me. I enjoyed it and I recommend it.


Theatrics by Neil Gibson, Leonardo Gonzalez, Jan Wijngaard


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Set in the 1920's in New York City, this graphic novel by Neil Gibson tells the story of Rudy Burns who is a playboy of an actor who one night is mugged behind a bar and ends up not looking pretty any more. Out of hospital at last, he arrogantly turns own a paltry role that's offered to him, and quickly finds himself out of work and unsought-after for his looks any more. Even his well-to-do girlfriend has found someone else, although her rejection has nothing to do with his appearance. Shades of Mickey Rourke, for want of employment elsewhere, Rudy takes up boxing.

I am not a series fan and I'm frankly not sure where a series based on this premise could successfully take itself, but for this first installment, I found that I liked the novel for the story. It turned an unlikable protagonist into a pitiable one and brought my interest in. I also liked it for the free-flowing graphic content by Leonardo Gonzalez and for the vibrant colors by Jan Wijngaard.


Team Fugee by Dirk McLean


Rating: WARTY!

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

This was a short book aimed at middle grade readers, but I'm not sure how well it will be received. Obviously I'm not in that age group, but I can still appreciate a good novel and this one did not feel that way. It was too choppy, the story being told more in a series of cameos than in a flowing style. Problems in the plot seemed to arise from out of nowhere, and to be resolved with little difficulty.

The soccer descriptions were not very good. I got the impression that the author knew little about soccer and had done some reading, but still hadn’t quite grasped it. For example, at one point there's a description of a penalty kick, but what the author describes is not a penalty kick - it’s a free kick, with players standing by each of the goal posts and a wall of five boys in front of the goal. No! That's not a penalty kick! With a penalty, it's just the kicker and the goalkeeper! That's it! There's no one else. This as a big fail, and will be noticed by any kid who knows anything about soccer.

At another point the author describes some kids "struggling to pump their ball." This confused me at first until I realized they were trying to inflate the ball, with a pump that didn't work properly. I'm not Canadian and for all I know maybe Canadians describe inflating the ball like that, but it seemed odd and won't play well to an international audience. It’s a minor thing, but these things count, especially when there are lots of them.

The story involved two soccer teams which formed of their own accord at the school, one comprised of Syrian refugees, the other Nigerian refugees. That's where the title of the novel comes from: reFUGEE. I didn't realize that the title should be pronounced with a soft G, so the title made no sense at all until I read the novel. Because of this, the story was in a sense rather racist. Essentially the only people who were depicted as important here were the Syrians and the Nigerians. No Canadians (or anyone else) need apply. I found that insulting and counterproductive, because the essence of the story was supposed to be about cooperation and collaboration. How could this be if the team was exclusively Nigerian and Syrian?

So while I wish the author all the best, I cannot recommend this as a worthy read. The story didn't feel like a story. it felt like notes for a story or at best a rough draft.