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.


The Red Word by Sarah Henstra


Rating: WARTY!

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

I wanted to like this novel and I began by doing so, for about forty percent of it, but then things changed and I really began to dislike it. By seventy-five percent the main character had become so profoundly stupid that I could not bear to read any more about her, so this review is of the first seventy-five percent.

The first problem was first person, or worst person voice as I call it because it's almost never the best choice. Some plots can support it. This one did not because the only thing it achieves here is to trivialize what is a serious problem: rape (aka, in this novel, the red word).

All that the choice of first person did here was to subjugate rape to the personal and often trivial and asinine peccadilloes of what turned out to be a clueless and ineffectual protagonist. Some writers can carry-off first person, but this writer did not. This failure cheapened the topic and did more far more harm than good. I can't forgive that when it's a topic as important as this.

The main character is a college student named Karen Huls. Karen is given certain attributes, but many of them seemed inappropriate and counter-productive to the story. First of all, she's a sophomore. The first part of that word comes (unsurprisingly) from the Greek and refers to wisdom. Karen displayed precious little of that, but on the other hand, the second part of that word comes from the Greek moros which pretty much means moron. That part I could see in her.

I don't mind a main character who starts out dumb and grows, but in this novel Karen showed no sign of ever wanting to leave dumb behind her, at least not up to the point where I quit reading in disgust. Dumb seemed to be her security blanket and she clung to it avidly. Middle-grade girls are more clued in than Karen was.

Karen is a photographer, but her photography played very little part in the story, so I'm not sure why she was tagged with this interest except that, once again, it played into the artsy pretension that was so heavy-handed in this novel that that it effectively trivialized the purported topic, rape. Rape is one of many symptoms of a privileged, patriarchal mindset, and the author did nothing to change this or to even fight against it. On the contrary. The Greek system was shown to be a jolly little institution notwithstanding the fatal flaws depicted here.

I thought there was a great potential to juxtapose the lofty ideals of the ancient Greeks (at least as far as academics goes) with the base culture of the rather more Spartan-like collegiate fraternity system, but there was none of this to be found. The academic discourses on mythology had little or nothing to do with events on campus and felt more like the author was just showing-off.

The problem was that, because of the way it was written, the story seemed designed to whitewash and even exonerate the Greek system and frat boy mentality at the expense of those who have been raped and those who would advocate for them, and I found that quite frankly as nauseating as it was inexcusable.

One oddity about this novel, and this comes from the academic pretension with which it's larded, is the use of Greek words to head each chapter. Given that we start from this ostensibly elevated perch, I found it incomprehensible that the boy's fraternity depicted here is repeatedly referred to as GBC, since that fails to represent the actual Greek. Perhaps had the author been a professor of Greek instead of a professor of English, she would have understood that the Greek is Gamma Beta Chi: ΓΒΧ so TBX would be closer to the name for pure appearance. GBK would be closer to the sound as long as we keep in mind that the K is produced at the back of the tongue, a little bit like clearing the throat. 'GBC' is therefore completely inaccurate, so I didn't get the point of this representation at all, except that it conveniently lends itself as an acronym for taking a cheap shot at the fraternity initials.

The novel deals with the so-called 'rape culture' in society, or in this case on campus at a college which supports fraternities and sororities. The story, for some reason, is set in the nineties rather than in the present day, and worse than this, it's all a flashback. I didn't get this either. And I shall skip over the fact that a college professor doesn't know that it's 'biceps' and not 'bicep' as so many YA writers like to have it. Yes, the biceps brachii does split into two at the top, each a bicep, but the part that we typically refer to: the bulge that it seems, so fascinates YA writers, is the conjoining of the two, and is, therefore the biceps.

Normally the choice of first person seems to be made by authors in an effort to provide immediacy for those writers who are unable to evoke that in third person, but to choose first person and then remove it from any semblance of immediacy by not only setting this in the past, but also by throwing it under the bus of a book-long flashback was a startlingly ill-conceived approach. This method was a failure because it reduced what is a current and ongoing crisis to essentially nothing more than an historical footnote. That's entirely the wrong approach to take when it comes to the university (read universal) sexual assault crisis.

The story begins with Karen, who is pretty much an alcoholic. She wakes up lying on the ground after a night of binge-drinking, near a house occupied by some rather radical feminists, and Karen ends up rooming with them. Initially, these other students interested me far more than ever Karen did, but as the story went on, it became ever more clear that they were all really just placeholders - nothing more than 2-D cardboard stand-in characters, too shallow, caricatured and radical to be real.

I felt the portrayal of these students betrayed both feminism and those students in the real world who are struggling to expose the prevalence and casual attitude towards rape, sexual assault, and harassment across the country in colleges, universities and (particularly as we've seen lately) throughout society, in entertainment and in the very heart of Washington DC.

The whole hands-off tone of this novel is set right from the beginning in how it treats a girl (her name is Susannah) who has undergone a traumatic experience. It's not so much that this girl disappears from the story as it is that she was never really in it. She was just a name to be thrown out in conversation - another placeholder for something real, but which actually never materializes. For me, she was a metaphor for the whole novel.

Her dismissal sets the tone for the rest of this neglectful story's 'remote-viewing' of rape. Karen is supposed to be our proxy for exploring this, but the story is so obsessed with strutting its stuff regarding Greek mythology, and Karen is so very unmotivated, and tediously passive and clueless that the story goes nowhere near the raw exposed nerves of what it purports to address.

Karen is never an actor, she is the audience watching others act and failing to take home anything from their actions. If this had been written as a metaphor for the way many men all-too-often view women: as utilities and entertainment, then it might have made some sense, but that's not what happened here. What we got was indifferent writing which had the effect of rendering Karen into nothing more than a peeping tom, stealing glances at life's more seedy side-shows, and even then she does nothing with what she sees. She simply imbibes it mindlessly, and moves on, evidently not satiated, to the next spectacle.

Her placid acceptance of some quite horrific events which she witnesses, without making any effort to set things right or to report them to someone who can set things right, is shameful. Karen isn't part of the solution, she's part of the problem. Instead of despising the frat boys, she becomes an honorary member of fraternity, dating one of them, flirting foolishly with another whom she ogles and idolizes in ways which would be disgraceful had this same behavior been indulged in by a man towards a woman.

If Karen is anything, it's a hypocrite. She sees nothing wrong in any of the fraternity attitudes towards women, or with their drug abuse, since she indulges dangerously herself, or with their lackadaisical work ethic (or lack of any ethic), or with their endless drinking binges and demeaning, objectifying co-ed parties.

This is curious because when a woman is raped, Karen keeps nudging her to report it, but the woman feels she cannot since she was rufied, she remembers nothing of it. The hypocrisy comes in when Karen herself is assaulted twice, the second time badly, although much less than the other girl suffered, and yet despite her advocacy to the other girl, she does nothing about her own assault!

Instead, she just moves on once again, and thereby continues to be a part of the problem. The girl who was gang-raped was given the unfortunate name of Sheri Asselin. How the author could give a rape victim a name which incorporates 'ass' as in 'piece of ass' is a complete mystery. Was it supposed to be some sort of a joke? It wasn't funny.

One really bizarre thing is the author's blog. When I went there to take a look at it, I found it was protected - you cannot get into it unless you both register with Word Press and get the blog owner's permission to access it! I found this to be peculiar. Maybe she has good reasons for it, but if you're an author trying to promote your work, this seems like a completely ineffectual approach to take. That said, it is in keeping with the ineffectual tone of the novel.

So overall, I was really saddened by this novel, not because of what it depicted but because of where it kept failing. It could have been so much more than it was, and as it was, it wasn't anywhere near enough. Now you can argue, if you wish, that I didn't read it to the end and maybe everything turned around in that last 25%, but even if it did, for me it would have been far too little and far too late. Even if it had turned around, it still would not have made me like the main character, who never showed any sign of turning anything around, not even her head to look at what was actually going on right in her presence.

Both she and the novel were a big disappointment and I cannot recommend this as a worthy read. As a great alternative, I recommend viewing the documentary The Hunting Ground, which is available for free on Netflix, and probably in other locations. It's also available on disk. A good reference for help is End Rape on Campus.


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Adventures in Veggieland by Melanie Potock


Rating: WORTHY!

Subtitled "Help Your Kids Learn to Love Vegetables with 101 Easy Activities and Recipes", this was an awesome book. It's beautifully presented, colorful, full of pictures, and it's aimed at persuading kids in the 3 - 8 age range to eat their greens. My feeling is if you follow this and that doesn't succeed, then nothing will! Not that I have three to eight year olds to test it on, but I sure intend to try some of these recipes. The blurb says the book "features 20 vegetables" although some are technically fruits (which the author makes clear in her text, which is full of interesting snippets). The book is divided up by season, so there's going to be something all year to try.

I liked the way she incorporates games into the cooking and offers hints, tips, asides, and advice, always explaining why she suggests this method rather than that method. I found the book to be an engaging read just for those items, regardless of whether you try the recipes, but why wouldn't you try them? They sound great! I loved the way she incorporates suggestions about which part of the food preparation that kids who are younger and kids who are older can help with. Obviously this is common sense, but it doesn't hurt to get a reminder when it comes to kitchen safety and good hygiene practices.

I would not recommend this for the phone! The text is too small to read and if you enlarge it, the page is randomly jumping all over the place forcing you to reselect the area you were reading. It's readable on that device, but a nuisance. Obviously, it's really designed as a print book, but it worked fine on a tablet. I really liked this and I recommend it.

You can never over-estimate the importance of good nutrition for raising healthy adults-to-be, but in doing so, one cannot afford to overlook the element of stress which so few health books address. I'm happy to recommend one that automatically seeks to eliminate stress by making cookery - and eating - fun!


Monday, November 6, 2017

The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken


Rating: WARTY!

Another audiobook experiment that failed. I get a lot of these because I tend to experiment more with audiobooks, but I was a bit surprised to find so many in the last batch I tried from the local library! Hopefully the next lot I pull out of there will have more winners than losers.

The story is that this plague of some kind attacks children and kills many of them, but those who are left find they have some sort of psychic power. The story was supposed to lead to a bunch of these kids being on the run with these powers, chased by the authorities, which sounded interesting to me, but I couldn't stand to listen to it any more and I never got that far.

The problem was that the writing was so awfully bad that I wasn't inclined to listen to any more of this, or anything else by this author for that matter! On top of that, it was in worst person voice - that is first person, which is typically nothing save an irritation to me. In this case the reader, Amy McFadden, wasn't so bad, and I would have been happy to listen to her even in first person if I had to, but not with a novel as poorly thought-out as this one was.

I can get with the plague and the deaths, and the arrival of these psychic powers. That's fine by me. What made zero sense though, was that suddenly, without any preamble or lead-in whatsoever, young children are being hauled off to concentration camps and they're being treated brutally. One young boy gets a rifle butt in his teeth, twice, for complaining he's hungry! This was way out of left field because there was nothing to preface this at all!

I'm like, wait, how did this deteriorate so quickly that this is considered to be the way things are now? Of course, in first person, you can't tell a good story because you can only tell what happens directly to the narrator - either that or you have to lard-up your story with info-dumps from other people, or you have to admit you made a stupid and limiting choice of voice and start trashing the story with other first person voices or with a third person which is what you should have used in the first place!

It was so pathetic and ridiculous that it told me the author was trying to set this vicious conflict in place without wanting to do any of the work to get it up and running sensibly. It's one thing for an author to slowly ramp-up to this kind of a situation, but to have it just precipitate out of nothing without any kind of rationale or overture made no sense at all to me and this is when I gave up caring about this novel.


Real Quanta by Martijn van Calmthout


Rating: WARTY!

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

This book was a disappointment to me, a dark body with little radiation. The first problem, I felt, was that the blurb completely misrepresents it. You can't blame the author for the blurb, unless the author self-publishes, but it's not the blurb that bothered me so much. Blurbs often misrepresent content. It's rather their job. What truly bothered me was the content itself, which was all over the place. There was a great teaching opportunity here, a chance to focus light on some potentially obscure subjects, but instead of a neat rainbow from a prism we got a scattering effect that failed to focus anything. The author is actually a science journalist, so this was doubly disappointing for me.

The conceit here is that the author, a Nederlander, is sitting down at a table in a fancy hotel in Brussels and discussing quantum physics with the German, Albert Einstein and the Dane, Neils Bohr, both of whom are dead. The problem with that is that neither Einstein nor Bohrs manage to get a word in edgewise; it's all Calmthout all the way down. And what he has to say was about as gripping an atom of a conducting material is on its electron shell.

According to the blurb, the book is supposed to be a discussion of "the state of quantum mechanics today" but it's far more of a history book than ever it is a modern electronics book, and the history, as I said, is terse and it bounces around so much that it makes it hard to get a clear picture of what was going on when. Unlike electrons which, when they jump, emit light, the text here typically failed to illuminate, hence my dark body allusion.

Additionally, there is a lot of repetition in the text, which is annoying. If this had been a first draft, I could have understood how it might end up like this, but this is supposed to be the publishable copy, or very close to it. In my opinion it needs a rewrite. And it needs properly formatting. This was obviously written with the print world in mind, without a single thought spared for the ebook version which is ironic given the subject matter! In my opinion, it should have been published only as an ebook.

The formatting was atrocious, with the titles of each chapter running into one word with no spacing, so they were unintelligible without some work to disentangle them. The drop-cap at the start of each chapter was predictably normal-sized because Amazon's crappy Kindle app cannot format for squat. Normal-sized, would have been fine had the drop-cap not been on the line above the rest of the text it was supposed to lead off. Also, quite often, when a term employing the indefinite article was employed, the 'a' was tacked onto the next word after it, which I suppose in one small way was an eloquent representation of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle.

But back to the topic: the only way to have a conversation with Einstein or Bohrs is to read something they've written, or in the case of a book set up like this, to tread carefully and quote from them, using their published views as 'answers' to or explanations satisfying, your questions. The author didn't do this. Like I said, he seemed to feel that his own opinion was much more important than that of either of these two legendary and Nobel prize-winning historical figures!

He even puts words into my mouth so I shudder to imagine what he would have done to those two characters had he actually let them speak. For example, he says, "You instinctively wonder how on Earth an electron knows what is up and what is down. Aren’t those concepts a bit too human for a particle that shouldn’t really even be called a particle? That confusion is the core of the quantum mystery," but this is nonsensical, and do rest assured that I have never wondered how an electron knows what is up or down!

I can reveal to you here and now for the first time, that in the real world, electrons honestly don't give a damn. They are what they are. The fact that we project simplifying human 'explanations' onto them in an effort to understand their behavior doesn't mean the electrons care what we think! It's immaterial to an electron which way up it is. I know this because I interviewed a few for this blog and the truth is that electrons do not act alone! They're consummate team players - an example to us all!

The author doesn't seem to get this, and lets himself be dazzled by the reflection of our projections onto electrons, mistaking them for something real emanating from the electron itself! This same flaw is evident in the author's approach to the history of quantum physics: singling out great figures, but never successfully turning them into a refined-prose condensate. I wish this author all the best, but I fear we must await another author to get us a Grand Unified Theory of modern quantum mechanics - at least one that will energize the masses and give us the chain reaction we crave.


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Queen of the Flowers by Kerry Greenwood


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is my third Phryne Fisher and the first I've liked. I loved the TV series, but the books (Cocaine Blues - the first and Murder and Mendelssohn the last - to my knowledge - Fisher mystery). They were less than thrilling, so it suggests to me that the TV writers/adapters can often be rather better than the original writer in capturing the quintessential main character in a series like this!

This is the 14th in the Fisher series so why it was available on Net Galley I have no idea, but I'm glad it was. I'm not a trivia buff, but I have read in some reviews by others who are following the entire series, that there are continuity errors causing them to speculate on who wrote this novel! I'm not one of those, and I haven't been reading the whole series, but continuity errors are not a good thing if you want to keep your regular fans happy. For me, a casual dabbler, it wasn't noticeable.

Also the TV show has Phryne in a relationship of sorts with the police inspector who is unimaginatively named Jack. This never blossoms into romance, but there is always a hint of it. In the books, Jack seems to be more of a bit player, particularly in this one, where he hardly puts in an appearance at all, and Phryne has no feelings for him. I sincerely wish authors would drag themselves out of this deep rut of calling their go-to guy Jack, because it's so tediously over-used that I flatly refuse to read any more novels that have a main character named Jack. Fortunately, this one really didn't!

So, you may have guessed by now that it was only because of my love for the TV show that I went back a third time into the books, but I was rewarded with an entertaining story this time, even if it was predictable and a bit of a slog at times. The Phryne here seemed a lot less engaged than in the TV show; she was less scintillating. At one point one of her two adopted daughters goes missing and Phryne never seems to show any anguish over it whatsoever. She is trying to find her, but there's not a whit of urgency or fear over it.

It's as though she has some secret information that her adopted daughter is just fine - which she was of course - but the problem here is that Phryne did not know any such thing - or if she did, then the author kept it from us. On the other hand, the author did indeed know that Ruth's disappearance was really nothing more than a red herring, if a slightly salty one. What was missing was some restrained panic in Phryne's demeanor. It did not read true. Either that or Phryne is far more sang-froid than is healthy for anyone, and particularly for her daughters' continued well-being. I think if perhaps the author had children of her own (to my knowledge she does not) she might have understood those feelings better and represented them more authentically.

The Goodreads review website predictably got the blurb wrong again. In it we're told that there is "a young woman found drowned at the beach at Elwood" but this is an outright lie! The woman is one of Phryne's flower girls for an upcoming parade, and she isn't drowned at all. Almost-drowned is right. Beaten and half-drowned would be better, but not "drowned." The Amazon-owned Goodreads corporate review web site has killed private review blogs like this one, and due to this and other issues I have both with Amazon and Goodreads, I refuse to post any more reviews at either site. They're too big, too powerful, and are becoming dangerous, so I guess they don't care if they get the blurb right Why would they? What incentive do they have?

The publisher though, ought to check on these things as they should verify that the Kindle version is formatted sensibly. I read some reviews which complained that it was not. Mine was fine as it happens, but Amazon's crappy kindle app is well-known for mangling texts. I've seen plenty of those. I recommend using PDF format, which can be problematic if trying to read it on a smart phone, or Barnes & Nobles's Nook format, which consistently renders books better than Kindle. B&N has its own problems, particularly a web site which actively gets in the way of your buying books! They need to fire their website designers.

There was a touch of ageism incorporated here. This is something I would hope a mature author would be more sensitive to. I read, "The curvaceous ladies appeared shopworn and over forty." Excuse me, but what's wrong with forty and over? Nothing, I assure you. There were other little things like this, but not quite enough to turn me off the novel. For example, we get the tired cliche of the main character looking at herself in the mirror to give us a self portrait. It's nearly always a woman when this antique MO is employed and it's tedious to read: "She pottered gently through the routine of bathing and dressing and sat brushing her hair in front of her vine-wreathed mirror. The Hon. Miss Phryne Fisher looked at herself.".

All of that said, I enjoyed the pell-mell of this story, which featured something new popping-up regularly: a personal crisis or a parade crisis, or a new development in the story. It kept things moving in general, although at some points it felt a bit of a stretch or worse, a bit of a slog. That notwithstanding, overall I liked it, and I consider it a worthy read.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Tovi the Penguin Goes Trick or Treating by Janina Rossiter


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a bit late for Halloween, but I thought I'd already posted my review. Sorry! This is another in the Tovi series, nearly all of which I've liked (of the ones I've read). I liked this one as well. Not only was it an amusing story which told an interesting tale, and only a wee bit scary, it was also beautifully-drawn and brilliantly-colored by the author herself.

One of the delights is that it was legible on a smart phone so you can access it anywhere, and the double-page spreads, which all-too-often in the non-print version are given short shrift and end-up chopped into individual pages, thereby losing the sweep of the double image, were maintained here, and they looked gorgeous. I fully recommend this, not just for next Halloween, but for any time you want to curl up with your kid and a cup of hot chocolate and enjoy a warm tail!


Goodnight Swampy the Little Monster by Ellie J Woods


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a fun book for young children about the problems Swampy's mom has getting him ready for bed. I liked the twist in the tale (not in Swampy's tail!) in that it's Swampy's older brother who steers him right in this story, not his mom. I didn't like that neither dad nor a second mom were in sight, but there are families in that situation, so I guess it worked on that level intentional or not.

The book is clearly intended as a print book, but it worked well on a tablet, and was even legible on a smart phone, so you can get your child set-up to read (or at least look at the pictures) no matter what. I say its aimed at print because on the tablet, the double pages were all separated into singles thereby losing the impact of the double spread. Sad but true.

That said, I liked the story and I think children will too. I recommend it.



Hollow World by Michael J Sullivan


Rating: WARTY!

Narrated poorly by Jonathan Davis, this was another audiobook fail. Again, to put it in perspective, I tend to experiment more with audiobooks, so they tend to fail more. This one began with a premise that seemed on the face of it to be an interesting one, but which in practice turned out to be essentially a bit of a rip-off of HG Wells's Time Machine, but boring as hell because it read like an episode of Star Trek (the original series), it was that awful: short-sighted, very slow, clueless, cliché-laden and badly-written. It turns out that hollow is the perfect title for a novel like this one.

The man is in an unexciting marriage of many years. The marriage produced only one child who hung himself in his teens in the garage, for reasons which I never found out since I didn't listen that far. The man has now been diagnosed with a terminal illness which he has kept from his wife whom he thinks had an affair. The man is supposed to be almost sixty, but he behaves like a YA character (and from me, that's not a compliment).

He develops a time machine and decides to go to the future to see if he can find a cure for his illness, but he ends up in a world in which he initially thinks he's the last human alive which he considers ironic since he expected to die while everyone else lived on. He discovers there are others eventually, but they are ridiculously pigeon-holed into asinine and amateurish gangs which made the story ridiculously juvenile and short-sighted. No one can be pigeon-holed so neatly, let alone have everyone so pigeon-holed.

I don't know if these bizarre categories were supposed to have come about through evolution or through genetic tinkering, but it as simple stupid, and major evolutionary events don't happen that fast, so if he is blaming that, then the author seriously needs an education in evolutionary biology. And BTW: deleting the Y chromosome doesn't make you genderless, it makes you sick unless you replace it with a second X in which case it makes you female (speaking purely from a bio-genetic PoV). And if these people were genderless, why did they all have male names?

What I did listen to was so pathetically written that it was just stupid. For example, the author wants us to believe that the time traveler would pull so much juice from the power grid for his machine that half the city would black-out, but it ain't gonna happen. They did this same thing int hat limp rebooted Fantastic Four movie. The time-traveler was an engineer so he ought to have known better, but the author is really the one who ought to have done his research. And he apparently funded this on kickstarter. Seriously? Write your novel on your own time and dime like the rest of us! You don't beg others for money and then turn out something as poor as this. That's just rudely taking advantage.

A simple Internet search would have told him that houses have circuit breakers which cut the current at a certain point for safety. The typical domestic home, unless it's been specially-wired, isn't going to pull more than a couple of thousand watts before something gives. There's no way in hell it's going to pull megawatts. Even if you bypass the circuit-breakers, the wiring itself will melt before then and the house will burn down! So it was pathetic. The author could have said the guy installed solar panels and amped-up the output with some gizmo to supply the required wattage, and I would have been fine with that even if it was a bit limp! I don't ask for miracles from authors, although I sometimes get one, but this one was apparently far too lazy to do his homework, and I don't have to reward people who are lazier even than I am!

Worse (if it can get worse at this point), is that he was writing so obscurely when the traveler met the remaining humans that it was simply annoying rather than intriguing and that's the point I gave up on it. I can understand an author wanting to reveal his big idea slowly, but there's a difference between teasing and frustrating as any lovers will know, and this was nothing more than boring.

Worse than this, he began waxing philosophical about meaning of life and the religious experience and I'm like "Check please!" at that point. This was supposed to be a novel about time-travel, but all the author did was to bookend it with that, and then forget about the sci-fi, and instead, lard-up the middle with a high-school-level agenda. Don't lie to me that this is a sci-fi novel if you're just going to blather on about boring philosophical stuff in place of some actual sci-fi! I refuse to recommend something as bad as this was. There's better-written fan-fic out there.


Thursday, November 2, 2017

What are the Odds by Tim Glynne-Jones


Rating: WORTHY!

There's nothing in this book that you can't readily find on the Internet, and some parts in it were hardly more accurate than the average quality of information that's available on the Internet, but there's something to be said for having something like this in the bathroom for visitors to read!

The leaps of faith we see on occasion are a bit scary. For example at one point the author asserts that drug abuse is prevalent in men because 4 out of 5 deaths are men. Wile the result is likely, to my mind, to be true given that men take more risks than women, the conclusion the author draws, if it's based solely on this statistic doesn't necessarily follow the premise. Of course, one can quibble about what one means when one uses the term 'abuser', but perhaps men and women are equally prevalent abusers of drugs, whereas men tend to be more risky in their chosen dosage than women? Things like this made me skeptical about other claims the author made.

Some things were amusingly wrong like, for example, the section on the odds of being left-handed being illustrated by an image of a right hand. Other things were just plan wrong, such as when the author claims that the ratio boys to girls is 1.05 to 1 which means that 1000 girls there is 1005 boys! Nope! My math sucks but even I can see the flaw there. The author himself admits to this mistake three paragraphs later when he correctly translates similar ratio to numbers.

the book talks solely - and briefly in each section - about the odds of things happening and covers a wide variety of topics, mostly related to human health, adventures, experiences, stupidity, and welfare. There's an introduction (which I never read), followed by sections on: Life and Death, Sport, Money, Achievement, Crime, Health, History, Man v. Beast, and A Higher Power. There's nothing that's truly surprising to anyone who is reasonably widely read, but there are nonetheless things which make a reader stop and think, and for that reason I consider it a worthy read.


The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman


Rating: WARTY!

This is the last Neil Gaiman that I'm going to read. Ive tried several of his mostly with little success. The way this started, I was unsure; then I thought I was going to like it, but in the end it became bogged down with extraneous detail. Props to Gaiman for reading his own work. He didn't do brilliantly for me, but he did okay to begin with.

More authors need to do this, but in the end, even this proved a negative influence in this novel because Gaiman sounded to me rather like a soft version of Professor Snape. His voice has tones of Alan Rickman in it, and in the end I could neither take it seriously, nor enjoy listening to it even as am amusement since, Like Rickman, but far less captivating, his voice had odd pauses in it and strange inflections (and not because it was British!). It certainly did not help that it was in first person, the weakest and least credible voice for a writer to choose.

It didn't help, either, that the story is one long flashback, another tedious conceit for me. Set in the county of Sussex in England, an older man revisits his childhood home and recalls a supernatural incident from when he was much younger. In short, it's an old fashioned wicked witch story, but it was boring when it should most certainly not have been. The problem begins right there, because no one has that kind of verbatim recollection, so credibility for me was lost from the off.

The story is of the guy crossing into another world holding the hand of his childhood friend, Lettie Hempstock, and I don't thing Gaiman ever uses her name without using it in full like that, which was another source of tedium. She has this in common with the villain of the piece, the melodramatic Ursula Monckton, a wicked witch which the boy brings back accidentally from this other land. i was rooting for Ursula.

We're supposed to believe that this man who is recalling every vivid detail of this event from almost a half century before accurately and relating entire conversations word for word, hasn't thought of this girl with whom he shared this adventure "in decades!" It makes no sense, and neither did this story. I cannot recommend it.


Counter-Clock World by Philip K Dick


Rating: WARTY!

I've decided I like Phillip Dick better when his works are translated to the screen than I do in the original. I don't think I've read one of his books that entertained me, so this is the last of his that I'll be reading. It didn't help that it was read by Patrick Lawlor, one of my least favorite readers.

We're told that "the world has entered the Hobart Phase–a vast sidereal process in which time moves in reverse. As a result, libraries are busy eradicating books, copulation signifies the end of pregnancy, people greet with, 'Good-bye,' and part with, 'Hello,' and underneath the world’s tombstones, the dead are coming back to life." This is a lie.

If time were truly reversed, then people wouldn't come back to life in their grave, not unless they'd been buried alive. Nope. The grave would un-fill, a service would be held, the coffin would be un-lowered from the grave and carried (with cars driving in reverse) to the funeral home where it would lie in state until the body was carried back to the hospital where it would come back to life (assuming it died of old age or of some accident). There it would improve its condition until it was able to return home, or maybe back to a motor vehicle accident which would un-happen. People wouldn't greet each other with "Good-bye," but with "olleh" and they'd part with, "eybdoog." But at least climate change would have a viable solution to look forward to, as would pollution.

Actually I was quite willing to let Dick get away with that for an interesting story, but there the problem lay: it wasn't interesting. In the end he has some good ideas, but as a writer he's really rather poor. It turns out Dick is just another of these pedantic authors who comes up with a wacky idea that might just work, and then spoils it completely by weighing it down with leaden philosophy and juvenile religious claptrap. Yawn. Check please, I'm done here.


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.


Wednesday, November 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.


Daughter of Winter by Pat Lowery Collins


Rating: WARTY!

This book might appeal to the intended age range, but for me it was poorly done, and makes American Indians look like antiquated idiots. That said, it was set in 1849, when everyone by today's standards seems antiquated, but the story itself simply made no sense.

Addie is twelve, and lives in Essex, Massachusetts, where shipbuilding is the line of work every boy wants to get into. Girls have no choice about their lives, and this never changes for Addie. Her father took off to join the California gold rush and almost as soon as he's gone, her mother and infant brother take sick with "the flux" and both die. This is where we join the story.

With Anna fearful of being sent into servitude, she conceals her family's death and steals a coffin for burying them, from the local undertaker. This is the first problem because this is not an insubstantial theft, and had it been investigated, which it undoubtedly would have been, it would have led directly to the girl who dragged the pine box to her home, yet she gets away with it!

Unfortunately, her continued rejection of the town's people's offers to come visit her mother eventually reveals the truth. Rather than stick around, Addie flees into the woods, looking for 'Nokummus' (the Wampanoag word for grandmother, aka Nokomes), an American Indian woman who offered to help Addie, but who singularly fails to do so.

As it turns out, Nokummus is quite literally Addie's grandmother, but we have to wade through countless tedious pages as Addie flees home in mid-winter, camps out in a lean-to near a shipyard, and all but freezes and starves despite her supposedly having experience of camping with her father. I can't help but ask, since Nokummus was known in Essex and several people knew she was Addie's grandmother, what the hell was the whole story about? Why did this woman not come and live with Addie when her father left town, so everything was okay?

Rather than help her granddaughter, this clueless, selfish, dangerous woman left Addie to her own devices until she was almost dead, then "rescued" her and took her off to a deserted island just off shore, apparently for no other reason than to have Addie find her daughter's grave. Nokummus had thirteen years to find that grave! What the hell was she doing in all that time? Sitting on her idle ass, doubtlessly.

She takes Addie in (and I mean that in every conceivable sense), and poisons her by feeding her some bark gruel so Addie vomits profusely, then hallucinates, and finally and wakes up after a two-day bender, deludedly thinking she's communed with the spirits. After this, Nokummus finally lets Addie return home, and moves in with her! The selfish bitch couldn't have done this in the first place and gone on this grave-search next summer? What a bunch of pinto dung!

Nothing is resolved. Addie never moves to the Wampanoag tribal lands to become their powwaw. Her father doesn't even return by the end of the novel so all the 'waiting, hoping. crying' for him is a complete red herring. Her best friend John proves himself as big of a jackass as the school bully who picks on Addie because she's a 'halfbreed'. Justice is never served on that dick, but John is just as bad save for being more subtle in his prejudices and dickishness, and he gets no comeuppance either so I guess that's fair. The story is a mess and not even a hot mess since it's set in winter. I think it stunk and I think it's insulting to and belittling of American Indians, and I cannot recommend it.


Life of Pi by Yann Martel


Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook experimental fail! In this case, it began as though it was going to be a fun listen, but like too many other such audiobooks, it ended-up becoming too boring for me to continue with. A certain previous US president is a moron if he really thinks this novel is "an elegant proof of God." It's proof of nothing more than how a writer can ramble pretentiously if neither he nor his editor curbs it.

The author says it was inspired by Max and the Cats, a novella published in 1991 by Moacyr Scliar, and Martel almost got sued for it, but you can't copyright an idea, only a written work, and I understand that the two stories are rather different, although the basic premise of each is essentially the same. Having listened to this one, I suspect the other story will be better, but I have not read it.

The entire book is a flashback, which I do not like at all, and it's in first person, which is another reason not to like it. As it happened, it began entertainingly, the most fun part of the story being in the beginning, when Pi (whose full name is Piscine Molitor Patel) lived as a child in Pondicherry, a city in southeast India, south of Chennai. His family owns a zoo, and that story was interesting and amusing, but then Pi's father suddenly decides to move the family to Canada, and a few days out of the port, the ship sinks.

Nearly everyone dies, and Pi finds himself stranded on a lifeboat with a tiger, a hyena, a zebra, and an orangutan. The hyena eats everything except the tiger; then the tiger eats the hyena. Pi and the tiger seem to agree to avoid each other from then on, but a sailor shows up and apparently has the intention of eating Pi. Fortunately for Pi, the interloper is summarily dispatched by the tiger.

The boat reaches an island which is inhospitable, so Pi and the tiger set sail once more, finally beaching in Mexico, whereupon the tiger takes off for the wilds leaving Pi feeling bereft. Pi is interviewed about the shipwreck, and tells the truth, but the interviewers don't believe him so he makes up a lie involving no animal activity, and he offers that as an alternative, whereupon they choose the believe the animal story rather than the alternative. everyone seems to be an idiot in this story.

The take-home text from the novel appears to be that anything can be reality, which is plain stupid. It's been repeatedly shown that humans are the most unreliable witnesses imaginable, routinely mis-remembering and misinterpreting things, and augmenting their 'reality' with pure fiction, and changing their stories to match those which others are spouting, so the asinine pretense that an internal 'religious' experience can be a valid reality is as nonsensical as it is hysterical.

Yes, it may make your blinkered life different, but it's meaningless to everyone else. Science is the only sure way to find out about reality. Religion might be fine on a personal level, but in the big picture, it creates monsters like David Koresh, Marshall Applewhite and Jim Jones. Just because such people say it's so doesn't mean they have any better handle on 'reality' than your typical hallucinating or delusional inmate confined in a psychiatric hospital.

I can't rate this as a worthy read.


The Hollywood Daughter by Kate Alcott


Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook experiment. It sounded interesting from the blurb: a girl who idolizes Ingrid Bergman growing up in the era of McCarthyism, and from a cloying Catholic background, discovers, hey, guess what? No body is perfect!

Things start coming apart in her perfect life when her idiot parents decide she's subject to bad influences at her prestigious Hollywood school and hypocritically send her to a Catholic girl's school where she's going to be brainwashed that there's a loving, long-suffering god who quite cheerfully condemns people who piss him off to hellish suffering for all eternity. Yep.

Her father is a Hollywood publicist who happens to be in charge of Bergman's account, so when it comes to light that she's having an affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini, and later is having a child by him, the witch-hunt starts, aided and abetted by this same Catholic church which on the one had teaches people to love their neighbor and turn the other cheek, but on the other slaps people it dislikes in the face with a tirade of abuse, recrimination, and rejection. They still do this today. Hypocrites.

The truth is that this 'scandal' lasted only four years before Bergman was working for Hollywood studios again. Just four years after that she was presenting an academy award in Hollywood, so this 'end of the world' scenario in which Jessica - the first person narrator - is wallowing is a bit overdone.

Worse than that, it makes Jessica look like a moron that she is so slow to see consequences of actions and how things will play out, despite spending some considerable time with her new best friend at the Catholic school, who knows precisely how things will pan out and spends their friendship trying to educate Jessica, who never seems to learn to shed her blinkers.

I started out not being sure, then starting to like it, then going off it, then warming to it, then completely going off it at about the halfway point when it became clear that Jessica was an idiot and showed no sign of improvement. It's yet another first person fail, and worse than this, the story is framed as a flashback so the entire story is a flashback apart from current day (that is current day in the story) bookends. I do not like first person, and I do not like flashbacks, so this was a double fail for me, although Erin Spencer did a decent job reading it.

There were some serious writing issues for a seasoned author or a professional editor to let slip by. I read at one point that Jessica was perusing an "Article entitled..." No! There was no entitlement here. The article was titled not entitled! At another point she wrote: "verdant green lawn." Since 'verdant' means green grass, it's tautologous and a good author should know this. 'Verdant lawn' works, as does 'green lawn', but not both! The part of the story where Jessica is required to see Sister Theresa, the head of her school, is larded with heavy-handed foreshadowing. I expect better from an experienced writer.

Jessica wasn't really a likeable person. I read at one point: "he was a year younger and an inch shorter" which made her sound arrogant, elitist, and bigoted. How appalling is it that she should think like this? Too appalling for me. I didn't want to read any more about her, because I didn't care how her life turned out.


The Moonlit Road and Other Ghost and Horror Stories by Ambrose Bierce


Rating: WARTY!

This was a very slim and very uninteresting volume. I am sure it would have been quite the ticket in the later eighteen hundreds, when Bierce was at his most prolific (not that these particular stories were published in Bierce's lifetime, but by today's standards, they leave a lot to be desired and I cannot recommend them.

I didn't read them all because they were not interesting to me, but the ones I did read all seemed to be the same story re-dressed with a few changed details and trotted out as something new. One trick pony describes it well, I think.

There were too many of them which were rooted in darkness and icy chills blowing hither and thither, and on purportedly scary footsteps, strange marital discord, vague descriptions of bad things happening, and one line conclusions. It really became too tedious to read them after the first three or so.

I found myself skimming a couple more and gave up on it as a bad job about half way through. Maybe other readers will have a different experience, but this was definitely not for me, despite my liking An Occurrence at Owl Creek, which was why I picked this up in the first place. Ambrose Bierce disappeared in Mexico in 1914 whilst covering the revolution there, and was never seen or heard from again. I think his own story told as fiction would be a lot more interesting than this collection was!


Sayonara, Gangsters by Genichiro Takahashi


Rating: WARTY!

The original Japanese of this book was translated into English by Michael Emmerich, but frankly and honestly, for all the sense it made to me, I may as well have gone with the original language because I got nothing out of it that I could not have got from simply staring at the (to me) incomprehensible Japanese symbols. Actually, I would have been better off! At least the Japanese characters would have been beautiful to look at!

The book provided absolutely no hook, door, access, or invitation whatsoever to get into this story and I'm guessing that's because there was no story. It's like walking through an art gallery which displays only bad paintings, all by different artists, on different subjects and in different styles and periods, and trying to make a coherent story out of them (and by that I mean something other than a history of bad art!).

The paintings have no connection whatsoever other than that they're all paintings. Well this was all sentences, but the words had no connection. It was pretentious nonsensical garbage and I ditched it in short order. If this review clues others into the way the wind is blowing, and helps you avoid mining something so unseemly, then the warning from the weather vane to avoid this vein will not have been in vain!


Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen


Rating: WORTHY!

Jane Austen is batting a .6 with me at this stage. I really liked Pride and Prejudice, not so much Emma or Sense and Sensibility, but then I enjoyed Lady Susan and I loved Northanger Abbey! What a lot of people do not seem to get about this novel is that Jane wrote it when she was just 28, and still very much a playful youngster in many ways. It was her first real novel that we know of, but it was put aside as she worked on others. Though she began re-writing it later in life when she was more than a decade older, she died before she could finish it.

The story revolves around Catherine Morland, in her late teens, and fortunate enough to be invited on a trip to Bath (evidently one of Austen's favorite locales) by the Allen family. It's there that she meets two men, the thoroughly detestable James Thorpe, and the delightful Henry Tilney. While Thorpe pursues the naïvely oblivious Catherine, she finds herself very interested in Henry and his sister Eleanor.

In parallel, James has a sister Isabella. They are the children of Mrs Allen's school friend Mrs Thorpe, and Catherine feels quite happy to be befriended by Isabella who seems to be interested in Catherine's brother John - that is until she discovers he has no money when she, like Lucy Steele in Sense and Sensibility, transfers her affection to the older brother - in this case, of Henry Tilney. Captain Tilney, not to be confused with his father, General Tilney, is only interested in bedding Isabella, who is in the final analysis every bit the ingénue that Catherine is. Once he's had his wicked way with the girl, she is of no further interest to him whatsoever.

Meanwhile, Catherine manages to get an invitation to Northanger, the Tilney residence. Catherine is a huge fan of Gothic novels, and Ann Radcliffe's potboiler, The Mysteries of Udolpho is mentioned often. Arriving at Northanger, she is expecting a haunted castle with secret passages, but everything turns out to be mundane - the locked chest contains nothing more exciting than a shopping list, and General Tilney did not murder his wife.

Henry Tilney is a lot less miffed with Catherine in the book than he was depicted as being in the 2007 movie starring the exquisite Felicity Jones and the exemplary JJ Feild, but as also in the movie, the novel depicts a lighter, happier time with General Tilney absent, but when he returns, he makes Eleanor kick Catherine out the next morning to travel home the seventy miles alone, which was shocking and even scandalous for the time, but by this time Catherine has matured enough that she's equal to the burden.

It turns out that the thoroughly James Thorpe (much roe so in the novel than in the movie), who had been unreasonably assuming Catherine would marry him, only to be set straight by her, has lied to General Tilney about her, and whereas the latter had been led initially to believe that she was all-but an heiress, he now believes her to be pretty much a pauper and a liar.

Henry bless him, defies his father and makes sure that Catherine knows (as does Darcy with Lizzie!), that his affections have not changed which (as was the case with Lizzie). This pleases Catherine immensely. Despite initially cutting-off his son, General Tilney later relents, especially when he realizes that Catherine has been misrepresented by Thorpe.

There are a lot of parallels in this book with the later-written Pride and Prejudice. You can see them in the dissolute soldier (Captain Tiney v. Wickham), the rich suitor (Tilney v Darcy), the break and remake between the two lovers, the frivolous young girls (Isabella v. Lydia) and so on. Maybe Northanger Abbey is, in a way, a dry-run for the later and better loved novel, but I think that Northanger Abbey stands on its own. I liked it because it seems to reveal a younger and more delightfully playful author than do her later works. I dearly wish there had been more novels from Austen from this era. She could have shown today's YA authors a thing or two, but I shall be content with this on treasure.


The Helmet of Horror by Viktor Pelevin


Rating: WARTY!

Having listened to, and enjoyed, The Sacred Book of the Werewolf by this same author, I turned to this short story and was severely disappointed, It was trite, boring, poorly read by a cast, and tedious. I have now been turned off looking for anything else by this author.

While I appreciated this unusual take on the myth of Theseus, where people are locked in rooms and have access to the outside only via computer screen and a device which translates their spoken words into texts on screen that others in a 'chat room' can see (call it 'Theseus and the Monitor'), it was simply uninteresting.

These people were able to talk and see their speech and see responses in real time on screen, but the system X'd out any personal details they gave. Their screen names were preassigned and seemed to make no sense, but the story wasn't remotely engaging. I had no interest in their Internet or in any of the characters, and I simply didn't care who they were, why they were there, or what would happen to them. The parts were so poorly read that I gave up on it despite it being so short, because life is also short! Far too short to waste on something which doesn't grab and hold you from the off. I can't recommend this based on the half to two-thirds that I struggled to get through.


Apes and Angels by Ben Bova


Rating: WARTY!

This is the second disappointing novel from this author for me, so I am quite done with him as a source of entertaining reading from this point onward. This is described as the second in a trilogy, but the first in the 'trilogy' is also described as a sequel to a previous novel so how this works as a trilogy rather than a quadrilogy or even a series is a mystery.

I made it almost half-way through, and while I was initially interested in how the story would pan out, the writing was so bad that it felt like I was reading some middle-grade school essay. Add to that the fact that it was read by Stefan Rudnicki (again), a reader whose voice just grates on me and it was not an appealing listen.

In my review of Bova's Transhuman I said that Stefan Rudnicki reminded me of the kid in the Home Alone trilogy, who in one movie records his own voice on a tape recorder, then slows the tape down to make it sound adult. Stefan Rudnicki sounds exactly like that, and it was really hard to ignore that and focus on the story. Nothing's changed in this outing.

Had this novel been written in the forties or fifties, I can see how it ended up as it did, containing genderism and racism and other isms, but it was released in 2016, so there's no excuse for this kind of juvenile, clueless writing, especially not from a supposedly seasoned and respected name in the genre. Note that there is a difference between this and in having a racist or genderist character in a story who makes inappropriate comments. There are people like that, so it's fair game to portray them in novels, but for the writer himself in his narrative to do the same thing is unacceptable.

Women were routinely reduced to eye-candy in this story, with not a one of them having an important role to play, and the senior female crew are portrayed as shrill harridans. One of the main characters was an Australian aborigine, and Bova never let us forget how short, round and black he was despite the fact that the average height of such people is about five foot six, which is not exactly pygmy-sized. The only amusing thing in this was that the reader, in trying to pull off an Australian accent, made this guy (whose name, believe it or not, was Littlejohn) sound like he was South African.

Those issues were enough to can this novel, but the problems did not stop there. This novel was purportedly hard science fiction, but the science failed, being completely fictional. According to the inane blurb, "A wave of death is spreading through the Milky Way galaxy, an expanding sphere of lethal gamma radiation that erupted from the galaxy's core twenty-eight thousand years ago." Humans are supposed to be spreading-out to aid other planets with intelligent life to avoid being wiped out. Given that our planet is only 25,000 light years from the galactic center, the radiation has already passed Earth, so how humans hoped to get ahead of it when it's moving at the speed of light is a mystery. I assume they have some sort of faster-than-light travel available to them, but very little was said about that.

They are apparently putting up some sort of shield which will save the planets. There's no reason they could not simply do this and move on, but instead, they've spend a year 'studying' the Mithra system and its three life-supporting planets. There's no explanation given for this lollygagging. three planets here support life, but it's significantly below the human level of advancement, and one species lives entirely underwater, so it would not have been hard to have installed the protective devices and gone unnoticed, without any contact with the inhabitants, yet here they are dicking around! It makes no sense. Since about 14 feet of water can stop gamma radiation, the underwater inhabitants are perfectly safe, so what gives?

More damningly, this radiation has been expanding in a sphere for almost thirty thousand years. According to the inverse square law, the density of the radiation, and therefore the danger it represents, has to be so low now that its impact on planets would be considerably reduced, if not negligible at this point. Bova never tackles this. Neither does he seem to understand the difference between philology, the study of written language, of which there is none to be found in this solar system, and linguistics, which is the study of language. Nor does he grasp the distinction between anthropology and sociology.

Worse yet, the main character, Brad, is such a special snowflake as to be thoroughly nauseating. He's credited with coming up with 'brilliant' ideas which are in practice nothing more than common sense and certainly something many others would have thought of, yet he's portrayed as being almost magical to think these things up! There's this dumb-ass computer which has all manner of useful information but which apparently was never programmed to volunteer information - although it actually does do so all the time. It's the dumbest AI ever, and the humans around it even dumber in not knowing what questions to ask it. Except for Brilliant Brad, of course.

Additionally, two of the planets in this system they're studying are in eccentric orbits and this author expects me to believe that they pass so close to each other that their atmospheres mix, yet while he talks about storms and tidal waves, he says not a word about the inevitable cataclysmic, life-destroying earthquakes which would occur if they were really that close! In short, Bova is in way over his head here and needs some serious schooling in physics, biology, evolution, linguistics and sociology before he ever writes another sci-fi story along these lines. I'm done with him.