Thursday, June 22, 2017

Mind Virus by Charles Kowalski


Rating: WARTY!
Mind Virus by Charles Kowalski

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. I'm sorry I could not give it a better review, but the pledge is to be honest, so here it is!

There is at least four books titled 'Mind Virus' or something very similar, so the title is not unique, but this one sounded interesting to me. While it started out well enough, the more I read of it, the more it felt like a diatribe about atheists than ever it was a novel telling an engrossing story.

Normally I applaud an author who takes the road less traveled, so I was initially thrilled with the off-the-beaten-track approach, but the story devolved into trope, and in the end, bogged-down in the diatribe, and it really forget to tell us anything interesting, engaging, or worse: actually credible.

Call me warped, but it was amusing to me that I lost faith in a book about faith. It's also sad, because it had been interesting and engaging in the beginning. The plot is too improbable, though. Instead of religious terrorism, the story is about atheist terrorism! Now this is unlikely, but it's possible, and I applaud the author for taking a different tack, but the more I read of the novel, the more it felt like there was an agenda here other than telling a story, with the author not-so-subtly sniping at atheists every few pages. The villain was such an absurd caricature that he was just not credible, and he doesn't talk like any atheist I'm familiar with.

The story begins with a series of terrorist attacks on religious locations using a virus which, despite our being repeatedly told is horrific and deadly, never actually does any real harm because the hero rushes in and inevitably stops the attack at the eleventh hour. It was a bit too much, and tedious in how repetitive it became.

The trope of a retired veteran being recalled to the intelligence services to combat the threat is way overdone in stories these days. If you're going that route, you need to have a very good reason why an outsider has to be brought back in; that is, why the resources they have at the CIA (in this case) are insufficient, yet no real reason was offered here.

The "hero"'s name is Robin Fox, no doubt named after Robin Lane Fox, a well-known atheist and academic, and he almost immediately begins globe-trotting. Instead of keeping authorities informed of the threat and letting them handle it, he abandons all communication at the end, and personally takes charge, actually physically chasing terrorists and bringing them to book, so he was something of a one-trick pony, and it felt far too incredible that he was the only one who could do this: see the threat, spot the interloper, and defuse it at the last minute. Once or twice maybe, but every single time, and single-handed? It didn't work for me because it was so unrealistic.

The method of the attacks in each case was so improbably contrived that it was not only unlikely to succeed, but it was contrived in a way which was tailor-made for Fox to defeat it. He was always in exactly the right place at exactly the right time to foil the attack.

In one case, the method was to use linseed oil to make a garment erupt in flames, and then to have the nearby fire extinguisher 'impregnated' with the virus, so it was spread as someone tried to put out the flames. This was so absurd that I actually laughed. I agree that linseed oil is dangerous in a pile of soaked rags, but to have it in the material of a garment is not likely to have the same effect, and the smell would be highly noticeable. No one would put on a garment which smelled badly of putty!

And why go to all that trouble? Too much can go wrong. If the practice was to use linseed oil (also known as flax seed oil, FYI) to polish the pews, which seemed a bit of a stretch, then why not simply put the virus in that, or spray it from the gallery during the service? It made no sense to me to set it up in such a risky and Heath Robinson fashion, and it made me feel like the author had become so enwrapped in presenting a "cool scenario" that he failed to look critically and objectively at what he was writing. This took me right out of the story.

There was too much trope and stereotyping in the novel, which ultimately defeated the 'off the beaten track' approach which I'd initially admired and rooted for. For example, we get an Irish MI5 officer whose name is Liam Donovan. He had a, wait for it, red beard, and red hair. This could not have been more of a condescending cliché if he'd been named Paddy O'Brien, had worn shoes with curling toes, a green felt hat, and carried a shillelagh.

The atheist terrorists leave a trail of clues to their next attacks like this is a Nancy Drew story. These clues are ones which only Robin Goodfellow can solve of course, and each clue consistently got him there in time to save the day. Why would a terrorist leave clues? There's a halfhearted attempt to explain it as a conceit on the part of the obsessively posing and monologuing terrorist leader, but it failed. I don't have a problem with the good guys doing the footwork and making the breaks for themselves, but to have neat clues laid out, Dan Brown style, and have the hero swoop in and solve them all so effortlessly and in the nick of time, was too much to swallow.

The author has the atheists worshiping at the altar of Charles Darwin, but no atheist does that, and all of the atheists I've encountered understand evolution very well. They would never talk of it as the Nazis did, for example, as winnowing out the weak links to make the race stronger, in the way that the over-the-top villain mindlessly monologues about.

As a point of order, it's the creationists who slander Darwin by misrepresenting what he said and who make endless attempts at character assassination on him, like if they discredit him, then the Theory of Evolution fails. Atheists are not that stupid and never would misrepresent his work. Plus they have better things to do with their time!

Atheism isn't about a belief system or about worshiping at the altar of the sciences; it's simply a lack of belief due to a lack of viable evidence, and that's all there is to it. Yes, there are some atheist campaigners like Richard Dawkins, but most of us don't care about religion enough to waste much time even thinking about it; we're too busy getting on with our lives, content to let religion fail under its own unsupportable weight.

Yes, we find it foolish, and often in equal parts amusing and annoying, but that's about it. Yes, if it tries to encroach on our rights or control our lives we will fight back (but not with bombs or viruses!). Other than that we really don't care if people want to believe in fairy tales. It's their choice.

So this book felt like it misrepresented atheists, but that wasn't the worst fault by any means. I would have bought into the plot of atheist terrorists if they hadn't been so painfully paper-thin and caricatured. That, the boring and poorly plotted story, along with an improbable terrorist and an even more absurd protagonist who was so self-righteous and infallible that it left no possibility of suspense for the reader at all, were what brought this down for me.

I began skimming this novel around page 270 (out of some 330 pages) and I quit at around page 300 when it devolved even more absurdly into secret passageways and booby traps. I wish the author all the best in his career, but I cannot recommend this novel.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Femme by Mette Bach


Rating: WARTY!

After having a somewhat disappointing experience with another volume by this author, which I read in an advance review copy, I decided to try again with a print volume of an earlier novel which I found in my local lovable library. I'm sorry to report that this earlier effort was equally disappointing, so while I still have faith that this author has it in her to write a good story, I haven't seen it yet and I have now lost any interest in going looking for it any more!

The problems with this story were the same as her more recent one, which is not a good sign. Again, the characters were one-dimensional and juvenile, if not outright spastic, for their age. The main character, telling this story in first person unfortunately, was only marginally smarter than the one in the more recent book, which means the main characters are getting dumber, not smarter! This isn’t a good sign.

The story here is that a student named Sofie Nussbaum who we’re told, not shown, is smart (as in like reading poetry equals smart, for example), is head-over heels for her boyfriend Paul, and then inexplicably does a 180 and becomes gay. I am by no means saying that a woman cannot arrive at the knowledge that she's not hetero after all, any more than someone who has been interested in only her own gender cannot end up loving a guy. It's a two-way street full of traffic in both directions. Sexual preference is very fluid and even gender is becoming a lot more so lately now that people are a lot freer to be who they really are.

It was the way this story was presented which made it lack credibility. For the one character, it was telegraphed way too loudly, while for the other, it wasn't demonstrated at all! And I get that this is a sort of special needs book - more of which anon - but that's no excuse to write down to your reader, no matter what reading level they're at.

Much of the story wasn't thought through. The main character was supposedly of limited means, yet she has everything she ever wanted, including clothes galore and so much make-up that it was all-but falling off the shelves. The telling that she was relatively poor and the showing that she had more than anyone who actually was poor would ever have made the story false and the character along with it.

For example, she's not well-off, but can drop everything and take off for a trip to the USA? The story was set in Canada, so it was a only drive over the border, but it's not exactly cost-free to spend several days driving and eating out! And there was no mention of her getting a passport, which she was unlikely to have already had if she were poor with little prospect of leaving the town in which she lived, let alone traveling internationally!

I think the problem here is that the novel was far too short to contain the story the author wanted to tell, which resulted in everything having a sadly cursory treatment instead of being related to the reader intelligently and naturally. It didn’t work. Why the author confines herself to such small books is a mystery to me, but this book is tiny. With dimensions of 4.25" (10.8cm) by 7" (17.8cm), it’s smaller than the usual paperback size, while the margins are quite broad (1/2" -1.3cm- on the long side, and almost one inch -2.5cm- top and bottom) and the text is spaced maybe 1.5 lines.

The book was 175 pages (of which I gave up after 150 out of sheer disappointment and frustration). If it had been single-spaced and the margins made narrower, and a standard paperback format used, this would have made a much slimmer volume and saved a few trees in the print version. The author unfortunately doesn't have any say in how the book is formatted. That's all on the publisher, which is why I self-publish.

As to the content, it was pretty much the same as the other volume I read by this author, which is to say that there was zero depth to any of it. Characters are undeveloped, and abruptly change their feelings, and in this case, even orientation on a dime and so did not occur naturally, organically, or believably.

All of the main characters were manic depressives, flying off the handle for no reason, changing as abruptly as the wind, and going from loving to vindictive on a whim and it simply wasn't credible. Whereas the main character's change of orientation was telegraphed, the feelings of her love interest, Clea, were completely obscure, so the relationship seemed completely one-sided as it was in the other book I read! It was overdone on the one character and not done at all on the other. There was zero indication from her PoV, which is a dire failing for first person novels, which is one reason why I detest them so, but this bias made Clea's attraction (it's far too early to call it love) for Sofie a complete blank.

Frankly, this book read like it had been written by a pre-teen. I know it's a so-called 'Hi-Lo' novel - one written for younger readers who have low interest in reading and high interest in romance - but this felt like it insulted such people rather than being intent upon seriously drawing them in. It’s like the author is confusing low interest in reading with low IQ, and the two are not the same at all. I wish this author would write a longer book, and take her time with it, establishing solid, believable ordinary characters, and then letting them tell the story instead of dictating to them how it should go and having the whole thing fall apart under its own weight instead of soaring elegantly. You're not going to generate any interest in reading by writing boring or silly books. JK Rowling understood this. Why does this author not?

Again, as with the ARC I read, there was a point at which the book became very choppy and devolved into a series of vignettes rather than facilitating a flowing story which naturally sweeps the reader along with it. I cannot recommend this one.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Doll Parts by Amanda Lepore, Thomas Flannery


Rating: WARTY!

I bought this out of curiosity, but in the end I should have realized that if a person needs to have their 'memoir' ghost-written by a third party, then it's probably not going to be told from the best perspective. It wasn't. As it turned out, I can honestly say I have never in my life read a more self-obsessed, shallow, vindictive, and clueless memoir as this one. I was truly disappointed at the lost opportunity here to write a meaningful and helpful memoir about a very important topic. Instead of that, the book was wasted in welter narcissistic self-adulation.

I'm always interested in transition stories, and it's especially à propo during this month of gay pride (not that this is a gay story, be advised) to review a number of LGBTQIA books, but I couldn't get with this story because even though it is 'true', it didn't feel true-to-life to me. In the end it was far more a story of how much in love the author is with herself than ever it was a story of her migration from a young male to a mature female, although it did tell some of that story, albeit in a blinkered and self-obsessed manner.

In terms of it being a true story, I have to question that, also. Not that I think the author is lying, but we are treated here to a detailed history including verbatim conversations, and short of the handful of people with a true eidetic memory - which can entail other issues, and which this author doesn't claim - there is no way in hell anyone can remember this amount of detail and conversation unless they're making it up base don what have to be somewhat vague and modified memories after all these years (the author is almost fifty). I tried to keep that in mind while reading the three-quarters of this that I could actually stand to read.

The story seems far more devoted to self-worship and self-promotion, and to unhealthy sexual appetites, and talking tediously of "pussy" than ever it is talking from the soul or from the heart, and it felt like a tragic waste. Unless this flimsy veneer actually is her soul, which would be truly disappointing.

There's nothing wrong with a person taking pride in their appearance and feeling good about themselves, but the focus here on beauty and glamor was endless and obsessive, and it felt completely misplaced to me, given how shallow beauty is as a measure of a woman and how unimportant it is in the grand scheme of things when talking about the qualities a human being can or ought to have, and especially in this context, where there are far more important things to talk about.

Some of these things were talked about, but they were very effectively swamped by the shallow tide of self-indulgence which swept relentlessly across this narrative. Most disturbing of these matters was perhaps the abuse the author suffered a the hands of her husband, but this is so lightly and fleetingly dealt with that it loses all force and impact, and nowhere is any advice offered to others about how to get out of abusive relationships, or where to seek help. This was yet another appallingly wasted opportunity. This was especially sad given how often the author expressed a fear of being killed. This is not a joke because transsexuals are killed at an horrific rate for doing nothing more than being who they truly are - in every sense of that phrase.

Here are some resources:
http://www.thecentersd.org/programs/behavioral-health-services/warning-signs.html
https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/11/a-same-sex-domestic-violence-epidemic-is-silent/281131/
https://www.abuseandrelationships.org/Content/Resources/warning_signs.html
http://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/lgbt-abuse/
http://stoprelationshipabuse.org/get-help/resources/
https://helpguide.org/articles/abuse/domestic-violence-and-abuse.htm
http://www.thehotline.org/2013/02/dating-abuse-resources-for-teens/
http://www.loveisrespect.org/resources/dating-violence-statistics/
http://www.loveisrespect.org/is-this-abuse/abusive-lgbtq-relationships/
http://www.teensagainstabuse.org/index.php
http://youth.gov/youth-topics/teen-dating-violence/resources
https://www.roomtobesafe.org/recognizing-unhealthy-relationships/
https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/lgbt/news/2011/06/14/9850/domestic-violence-in-the-lgbt-community/
I urge anyone in an abusive relationship to leave it and get help. It's not easy, but it sure-as-hell isn't going to improve if you stay there. Your abusive partner is not going to miraculously change. You need to protect yourself. There are people who can and will help you.

In terms of the story told here, there was nothing new, which was the biggest disappointment of all, and this repeated self-worship from the author grew old very quickly. At one point we read of her doctor's office, "He liked me. The whole staff did. I was the office pet." Self-congratulate much? The book is larded with pictures of the author, but not a one of them is labeled to give it any context, and every one is a glamor shot or a shot with a celebrity.

We never see the real Amanda Lepore, unless, as I said, she really is all façade and no substance, but if that is so, then what price a memoir which contains nothing of its author? There were of course common elements true to every transgender story: the gender dysphoria appearing early in life, and being not a whim or a fad, but a deeply-rooted conviction that no amount of adversity can overturn, and the over-arching desire to change it, but she was never happy despite repeatedly assuring us she got everything she wanted; it was never enough.

Ultimately, the story became one not of a woman trying to escape a man's body, but something Michael Jackson might have written, which is in the end about turning a perfectly fine human being into a caricature of one. here I refer not to the author's gender reassignment, but to the endless tweaking afterwards, which did nothing to improve on what she started life as a woman with, and in my opinion, ruined it, just as Michael Jackson did. That said it's her body and she can do with it what she will. But in running to the extremes she did, she had better not try to turn around and make absurdist claims like all men love and lust after what she became: Just relax,” Michael said. “You look amazing; you’re every man’s fantasy of the ideal woman" No! Not even remotely.

There was nothing new in her desire to become the woman she was from the start. This is the root of all transgender stories. I was hoping for much more depth than that although that said, maybe it bears repeating, because some people simply don't seem to get how profound it is: that a male to female transgender person is a woman from the start, just as a ftm is a man from the beginning regardless of how they look on the outside.

The problem here seemed to be that all the author achieved was to change one false façade (that she was a male when she clearly was not in any meaningful sense) for another equally false one of glitz, glamor and shallowness. It would have been so nice to have got more of the person and less of this cheap veneer. I can't recommend this one at all, not even remotely.

One of the problems is that the author is not merely focused on herself to the exclusion of all others (her commendable devotion to her mom is the one exception here, but even that slipped as she grew older and ever-more intensely focused on her own life), but she is actively disparaging of others for no good reason.

One shameful example of this is what she says about a brave and generous trailblazer in gender reassignment: "Christine Jorgensen was the most famous case and we talked about her a lot, though I didn't relate to her so much. She wasn't that pretty." How appallingly insulting can you be? Christine Jorgensen was a US Army veteran who began her change in 1951, and fortunately for her health and welfare, became a celebrity in the USA, advocating for transgender people long before anyone else was, and yet this is the epitaph this girl gets from Amanda Lepore: she wasn't that pretty? WTF? How disgustingly shallow can you be?

Another issue is that the author has absolutely no interest in having - let alone promoting - safe sex. Her story opens with a gratuitous snippet about some guy flattering her with compliments and so getting an automatic in to her pants. She's thrilled with him because he has a large penis, but nowhere in any of this is safe sex mentioned. This is a continuing and disgusting theme throughout this book.

Her first boyfriend is Dylan, with whom she has underage sex and she says this about him: "Sex with Dylan was wonderful, but she was right. I knew he was fucking around." Yet again, there is no mention of safe sex. She apparently doesn't care that he's having sex with other people or that he has anal sex with her (this was before her surgery) with no condom. Even if we give her a bye here for being young and stupid to begin with, looking back on that more than thirty years later, she still has no comment to make on how foolish it was?

This same lack of a clue is apparent later, when she has sex with some truck driver who picks her up. She's pissed-off with her husband (and understandably so, it has to be said) so she starts an affair with this guy, having unprotected sex the same night he picks her up for the first time. This is supposed to be a role model?

She frequently talks about having a love relationship but she seems far more interested, if not obsessed with large male genitals than ever she is in a human connection. Here's a sad glimpse into her psyche:

Tina was a world-class tease. Her favorite thing to do was to lead guys on and then give them the boot. "Men are so gullible, they'll believe anything you tell them. They believe you when you tell them you're a girl, right?"
"I am a girl."
"You know what I mean," she said.
Tina had a great idea: we'd go out, find the most straitlaced guy in the bar, and trick him into thinking I was a regular girl. It was a new way for Tina to tease men. I willingly played along, since the prize for the game was a hot guy for me to make out with. When things started to get a little too hot and heavy, I'd tell my date I had my period to throw him off.

Has she never heard of transgender hate crime? Of rape? Obviously she had because she frequently talks about fear of being done harm to or killed. Yet never once does she consider that her behavior might be a contributing factor towards the poor attitude that some men - not all men as she implies here, but some men - have towards women - and that her behavior might serve to help provoke this behavior and make life worse for other women? How selfish can you be? Lest you think this is merely the adoption of an extravagant tone, this is what she says later: "And who the fuck cared about these guys? Tricking them was like paying back all the people who had made fun of me for being so feminine."

She repeatedly makes herself look clueless or ignorant or stupid. Here's one example when she's feeling down and tries to 'commit suicide': "I went into her bathroom, picked up the first bottle of pills I saw, and swallowed them all." Those pills were aspirin! Maybe she had a few shots of tequila afterwards to get over the complete absence of a headache?

Her enduring cluelessness is clear in this incident which she reports without any kind of analysis at all: "Everything went as planned with the new psychiatrist. I liked the way he described me in his report; he said I was very attractive with feminine features and that I'd make a pretty girl" Seriously? That's his medical diagnosis? That she finds nothing wrong with these inappropriate comments is the sad part. She has such absolute tunnel vision when it comes to anyone complimenting her. She sees nothing wrong in a medical professional talking about her like this.

At one point we learn that her father, who had left the family because of her mother's schizophrenia, had got married to another woman. Never at any point did we hear of a divorce from her mother! I thought that was weird. Presumably there was one, but why did she not mention it? Did it not impact upon her in any way at all? The only saving grace for her in this entire book is that she stood by her mother longer than her father or her brother did, and that might have counted for something if the author could count: "Women never came to our house. Maybe five total that I can think of, if the twins count as two." I guess twins are really the same so there's only one of any pair worth counting.

Her vaginoplasty, purportedly the most important thing to her, is discussed only cursorily. The most disturbing part of it is actually when she visits the surgery the morning of her operation.

I lay on the operating table, ready to go under, I could hear the nurses talking about me.
"This one's really beautiful."
"Her skin's like peaches and cream."
"This might be the prettiest girl we've ever had"
Even here. as you can see, her only thoughts are for her own shallow beauty. Right after I read this, I also read that the assistants were feeling up the patient's breasts as she was succumbing to the anesthesia. If that wasn't yet another self-complimentary fantasy, there was a case there for a lawsuit, but it's never pursued, because she never sees this abuse as a problem, not just for herself but for every patient who goes in there. Again, no thought whatsoever for anyone but herself.

On having sex with her husband for the first time after her vaginoplasty: "Now here I was, with a man on top of me who loved me and was ready to make a woman out of me" Oh? That's all that's required? You have sex, you're a woman? Have sex and you're a man? What a clueless philosophy that is, but she sees nothing wrong with it! Role model my ass.

Neither does she see anything foolish about mixing drugs and alcohol: "I had a few drinks, which I usually never do, and he gave me a Quaalude" This is her husband handing her the 'lude, so it's hardly surprising that later we learn he's having Amanda fake dental issues to get Demerol from the dentist which she then gives to her husband. That dentist should be struck off. Later she says "I don't know when I realized that Michael was addicted to painkillers" - how about the time he asks you to lie to your dentist to get meds to give to him? Again, clueless.

And self-obsessed. Did I mention that? After she's said repeatedly that she has everything she wanted, I read this: "I was too scared to talk to these women. But I took mental notes on what they were getting done, so I could figure out what I needed to have done myself." She has everything she ever wanted, but she still needs work?

Her passive acceptance of her husband's abusive ways is pathetic. Bemoaning her husband's switch-up from mental abuse to physical abuse, she says, "I was grateful, but there was no point in worrying about things I could never change." This is a role model? She can't do anything about a husband beats her, when she already has an offer to stay with someone who cares about her in order to get away from being abused? Clueless.

Her ridiculous side-panels are a sick joke. Here's a small selection of the things she says and you can clearly see how shallow and superficial it makes her look:

  • On women who do not manicure their nails: "This girl will try to come off as low maintenance, but in reality she is just too busy with her career and family to take care of herself. Seriously? If you don't fuss over your nails you're a loser because you're more focused on career and family? You don't want to know my response to that.
  • At another point in the book, her obsession with her nails is made even more clear: "I'd spend hours doing my nails (I've lost several friends who were sick of waiting for me to finish my nails), o plucking hairs, bleaching my pussy hair, or bejeweling a dress. That's all I wanted to do. It still is." How pathetic.
  • In a warning about exposure to the sun she says, "Think of the sun as Kryptonite. Bring a camisole with you everywhere you go."
    Camisole?? Does she mean parasol, maybe?! I really don't think camisole is going to do much to protect against the sun!
  • Along similar lines was this out-of-left-field comment: "Michael...picked up H like sheep jumping off a cliff." Does he mean lemmings maybe? And lemmings don't, as it happens.
  • On meeting Pamela Anderson's husband at the time:
    "Tommy Lee wanted to see my pussy at a party. We went to the bathroom, I sat on the sink, and he got a good look. Pam was pissed. Super jealous. He loved it."
So she has no qualms about possibly wrecking a marriage by stripping for some person she never met before?

Just how irresponsible is she about abusing others? You'd think she'd be sensitive to that after what she went through but no:

He loved to play tricks on people, tripping them on the dance floor, or pissing in a cup and dumping it out a window that overlooked the line of people waiting to get into his party. Other people would yell at him or call him an asshole. I’d just say, “Oh, Michael, you’re too much,” and leave it at that. It wasn’t my place to judge him. I think that’s what he liked about me.
Ri-ight! This woman makes me sick.

It's hardly surprising that this Michael was later arrested in connection with the murder, dismemberment, and disposal of a drug-dealer's body. Here's how she relates this:

They found Angel’s body,” she said. “Michael really did kill him.”
“Oh.” I just stared at her and Larry Tee. They stared right back. I didn’t know what to say. “Poor Michael.” “Yeah.” Sophia hugged me and I started crying.
“And Angel, of course.”
“Of course.”
“Will Michael be arrested now?"
It was at this point that I honestly began to wonder if there actually was no Amanda Lepore and I was reading a very well done and elaborate parody.

How dumb is she?

Just get bigger breasts,” Keni said. “Nobody will even notice a scar on your face if your tits are gigantic.”
Maybe he was kidding but that made a lot of sense to me.
Why isn't that a surprise?! Here's another example:
The Insider had just done a segment on me (they called me “one of the most extreme plastic surgery cases The Insider has ever uncovered”)

Here's how little she cares for those she become involved with: "Ricky didn’t like me going out naked and could be really possessive, like most men." If that's what you think, then you're A clueless, and B meeting entirely the wrong class of men. Try quitting your obsession with big dicks and look for a guy with a big heart instead! Then stay faithful to him and don't go out naked if it upsets him! It's not rocket science.

And what's with the dick obsession? It's so rife in this book that despite myself I couldn't help but wonder if it was some sort of subconscious compensation for giving up her own. I know, that's bad right? But it's not me publishing a book about nothing more than an obsession with her own looks and unsafe sex with big dicks.

One last example of dumb:

One of the logs in the fireplace rolled out onto the carpet, sending thick clouds of smoke into the air. Stoned and unsure of what to do, David and I fumbled our way to the back patio and watched as the room got cloudier and cloudier.
Seriously? Le stupide is strong with this one! She should have kept her mouth shut, dispensed with the book idea, and just looked pretty. That's what she was all about after all. Nothing more than that, but even there she went far too far over the top.

At one point, referring back to her mother's untimely death from cancer, the author says, "Mom had spent her life trapped inside her own mind. I refused to let that happen to me." I'm sorry sweetie, but you were stuck there long before your mother ever was.


Friday, June 16, 2017

The Lightning Thief by Rick Rordan, Robert Venditti, Atilla Futaki


Rating: WARTY!

I failed the original novel because it simply was not entertaining, and this is no better. It's the same as the novel so if you came to this via the movie, be prepared for the two to be nothing alike. The movie was significantly better, even though it was average for a movie - and just as racist as this novel.

There is no Gorgon in the novel, which was sad, nor is there a visit to the faux Parthenon in Nashville, and no fight with a hydra. There is no lightning bolt hidden in a shield here, and no wise-cracking Rosario Dawson playing Hades's wife, which was a real highlight in the movie. The final battle isn't between Luke and Percy, but between the token black guy and Percy. Zeus is dressed in a business suit, and in the one single touch I did appreciate, Poseidon is dressed as a surfer dude!

Grover is white in the graphic novel, so I guess they made him black in the movie for no other reason than the one Hollywood always employs: we must have a token black person in this movie so they can't say we're racist. Well guess what, guys - and let me put this in an 'in a world' scenario so you in Hollywood can grasp it - In a world where the vast majority of people are not white, anything that doesn't fairly represent those proportions is racist, period. Get a fucking clue. Even the US is a quarter non-white, so where was that represented in this book? Yeah, you know it.

Every single person in the entire graphic novel was white except for one token villain, who has daughter who was white! I was done right there. This novel sucked and should be boycotted.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Journey to a Woman by Ann Bannon


Rating: WARTY!

Ann Bannon strikes out for me in this, the third of her novels I've read, but the fourth in her opera. The problem with it was that it was the same story I'd already read twice before from this same author in different volumes! Here, in a nutshell, is why I don't read series. There was nothing new or original here. It added nothing to her oeuvre. it read like she had taken a template used in the two other novels of this author's that I've reviewed, shuffled the name cards, and re-dealt the pack, letting those names fall where they may. All she succeeded in doing was to present her main character, Beth, the college love interest of Laura, as one more in in a long line of Beebo Brinker's disposable bitches.

Beth's sitch is that having conveniently disposed of her cake in college, and married Charlie, she now whats to eat said cake. In her frustration, she's pretty much whoring around and abandoning both husband and children. She's supposed to be some sort of heroic figure for this? The sorry fact is that she's a whiny piece of trash.

She has no self-respect and she chases after a dance teacher named Vega, which is exactly what happened in one of the other two volumes (but with the name changed to something equally exotic). Beth lusts after Vega's ethereal beauty until she discovers that Vega is physically scarred from surgery, whereupon Beth can't ditch her fast enough - and this after declaring her undying love for Vega. What a complete jerk.

Failing there, she eventually throws over her husband and goes sniffing after Laura - the woman she rejected in college in favor of Charlie! When she's rejected by Laura, she takes up with - you got it - Beebo - the lesbian garbage pick-up of Greenwich Village. The whole story is insane, pathetic, lousily-written, and a disgrace to lesbian literature.


Uninvited Ghosts by Penelope Lively


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a very, short story from a collection titled Uninvited Ghosts and Other Stories. It's playful and sweet, and slightly tongue-in-cheek.

Marian and Simon Brown have moved into a new house with their parents, and the family is so worn out they all troop off to bed, which is when the first ghost arrives from out of the chest of drawers. The children order it to leave, but it argues that it's lived there longer than they and so has precedence! The next night, there are two ghosts and the third night, three ghosts along with a ghost dog which has ghost fleas and scares the cat!

The ghosts won't leave. The children get a chance to visit with their well off Uncle who has a beautiful home and a nice TV, and they lure the ghosts into taking a trip with them but the ghosts won't stay. They prefer to be around children, and that wouldn't be so bad if they didn't appear out of nowhere and try to help with homework, or sit on top pf the TV, dangling their legs in front of it, or if one of them didn't suck peppermints and leave the smell lingering so their parents thought the children were sneaking candy into bed!

Fortunately the whole thing is resolved as the ghosts fall in love with a neighbor's noisy newborns, both of which calm down considerably when the ghosts begin paying them attention. eventually, Marian and Simon manage to persuade the ghosts to move a few doors away to the neighbor's house, where the children are pacified and peace and quiet reigns in the Brown house! This story was gorgeous and delightful, and I recommend it.

Penelope Lively has written about thirty children's books and a host of adult novels as well, so no doubt there is much more to mine there.


Perfectly Precious Poohlicious by Mary Elizabeth Jackson, Thornton Cline, Alice Antime


Rating: WARTY!

Written by Jackson, illustrated by Antime, with some song scores by Cline, this book was treasonably-well illustrated, but the 'story' telling was way too sugary for my taste, and wasn't even a story. it was much more like some sort of self-hypnotic mantra about how perfect, and precious, and beautiful, a baby was. I can see maybe a market for giving this as a gift to someone who has a new child in the family, but whether they would actually want this as a gift is another issue. Other than that, it fell completely flat for me. Knowing now what's in it, I would neither want to buy this nor get it as a gift.

I don't get the title, either - poohlicious? It sounds like you're comparing your baby with poop and delighting in the similarity. Pooplicious? There's nothing beautiful, perfect, or precious in a dirty diaper, trust me. The title just doesn't work.

Everyone thinks their own child is precious and perfect and beautiful, and there's nothing wrong in that as long as - when the child grows - beauty is not the criterion by which she's measured, and perfection is not the target she's forced fruitlessly into chasing. There is nothing wrong with striving to be your best, but demanding these things and setting them up as the only things worth living for is absurd. Therein lies insanity, broken dreams, and suicide, and promoting shallow ideals as worthy goals in life, especially in a mindless self-affirmation of a chant like this, is far too self-obsessed for my taste. I cannot recommend this.


Incarceron by Catherine Fisher


Rating: WARTY!

I should have followed my very first instinct which was to put this book back on the shelf. I just could not get into it at all. I got maybe twenty percent in before I gave it up as a bad job. Life's too short. The audiobook reader, Kim Mai Guest (a guest reader?!) was actually pretty good. Except for this one dumb voice she did, which I hope I'll never hear again, I'd listen to a different book read by her, but the story itself was bloated and confused, and the 'big reveal' was telegraphed from the beginning - the prisoner who has lost his memory is, I'm guessing, the prince who supposedly died. Boring!

You know I've often wondered how these readers of the books for the audio version feel about the books they read. Do they hate some of them, but can't say because it might jeopardize their prospects of being hired again? As readers only for our own personal entertainment, we can ditch a book that gets boring, but if you're hired to read a book, you have to stay with it until it's done satisfactorily. That, to me, would be torture!

So the story here is that Incarceron is a living prison. I don't know what that means - where it's actually some kind of living thing, or merely an advanced AI. It would seem to be the latter, and it appears to have taken pity on Finn, the flat and whiney male protagonist, by freeing him from his cell, but all this leads to his imprisonment in a larger and unprotected environment which is still a prison, so how is this doing him a favor? Finn initially wakes (we're told in an info-dump) to find his memory lost and himself incarcerated in a cell that appears to have no door. He gets food handed twice a day through a slot, and his 'waste products' are removed the same way.

One day a door which had been invisible in the wall opens and he gets out into a seemingly endless, straight, white tubular corridor. He follows it in one direction until he's too tired to walk. When he wakes, there is food right by him, so maybe Incarceron is helping him, but the description which started out quite interestingly, got lost in bad writing, as he whines (endlessly) about his wandering for days unsure if he was even moving

His evacuation of waste products seems to cease at this point, because he could tell if he was back-tracking by finding evidence where he'd previously urinated or defecated, yet none of this is covered, nor does the writer explain how he knew he was going in the same direction every day since he apparently left not even those markers. What if he got turned around in his sleep and went back the next day over the same ground he covered the day before? We'll never know because this author evidently never even considered this.

It was at this point that I quit reading, out of a complete lack of interest in any of the characters. There was the inevitable female counterpart to the male (because gays and transgenders never do end up in dystopian stories for some reason, I guess they're smarter than the cis population....). She was the warden's daughter and she was on some quest or other that I simply could not for the life of me make heads or tails of. There was some mysterious Lord (or course) who was evil evidently because he was overweight. There were robot rats which spied on people, even on the warden's daughter. Why rats? Why not drones? None of this made any sense at all and it feels like such a huge relief that I do not have to follow this story anymore!


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter? by Heath Fogg Davis


Rating: WORTHY!

In a seemingly radical, but ultimately common-sense challenge to status quo, this author asks whether it's ever necessary to require someone to have their gender flagged on something like a birth certificate or a driver's license. He examines four areas where a true unisex environment is called for - not just to not use a binary sex-marker, but to dispense with sex-markers altogether. These areas are (from the blurb): "sex-marked identity documents such as birth certificates, driver's licenses and passports; sex-segregated public restrooms; single-sex colleges; and sex-segregated sports." A section of the book is devoted to each of the four topics.

While I support this agenda as a general principle - there are far too many areas where gender is irrelevant, but where it's made into an issue of one kind or another - I'd take some small issue with the way this argument is presented in some areas. I felt it didn't make as good of a case as it ought to have, and I felt it was a somewhat biased case - there wasn't much of a serious effort to look at the opposite side of the argument or to seek out opposing views and present them - and argue against them.

Yes, there were some objections raised and summarily overruled, but it felt more like the author was trying to steamroll his case through in preference to offering a completely calm and rational approach. Not that he was raving or ranting, but it felt a little bit like a high pressure salesperson, and I have little time for those!

One example of this was in the section where the author is talking about how long a person has to live as a woman before they're considered fully a woman. It's more complicated than that, and you'd have to read the book to get the full scoop on the issues and arguments, but for my purposes, this fell into the gripe I made about too little use of studies to back arguments and more reliance on personal opinion and anecdote than was healthy to make a solid case.

The author says, "...does it matter that some transgender women will have been socialized as boys and/or men for certain periods of their lives?" The problem with this is the inherent assumption it carries that they have indeed been fully socialized as their biological gender as opposed to their desired or self-identified gender.

I could see my argument being irrelevant if a need for a gender-switch was triggered from a head injury or by a sudden whim or need for attention, but this is flatly not the case. One thing I learned early in my reading about transgender people is that they had lived all their life feeling like they were the gender they eventually (hopefully!) were able to migrate to. So why would they honestly be socialized as boys/men or as girls/women necessarily?

It felt presumptive and patronizing to leap to the conclusion that they had or likely had. We had no evidence presented to support (or refute) this - it was just out there like it was self-evident, and this felt like the author had fallen into the same trap he was arguing against: if it's always been this way, why should we change?

Of course we haven't always been this way. Binary gender is just a convenient convention we fell into because historically we were too ignorant and blinkered to think it through. Maybe a biological male who has always felt female might be rather less acclimatized to male patterns of behavior and thinking than we should feel comfortable assuming, and so might a female in inverse circumstances. This is what I mean when I talk about making better arguments.

So one issue I had with the book was that it felt like it relied too much on anecdote - some of which was personal - which left some holes where a wider survey or study would have filled the gap. Some studies are quoted, but the inline references in this book are not actually links, which is a problem in this day and age for an ebook. In a print book you can flip through pages to get to end notes. It's a lot harder in an ebook, which is why actual links would have been a big help.

That said, the anecdotes were engrossing, saddening, disturbing, and downright horrifying at times, and this is the main reason people need to read this book, because the hit is still shitting the fan, even after all these years, and it needs to stop now. If getting rid of sex markers is guaranteed to do that, then I'm pretty well on-board! But I have some qualms about the arguments, mainly because of the area the book did not cover, which is medical care.

You can argue all you want about men and women and everyone between and on both sides being treated equally in areas of sports, rest rooms, college admissions, and state and government documents, but being treated in hospital is another issue because the fundamental fact is that men and women are anatomically and biochemically different and sometimes it genuinely matters what gender you are.

Let me give a simple example:- a traffic accident victim is brought into an ER unconscious, and xrays need to be taken. if this is a man, there's usually no problem, because men never get pregnant, but if this is a woman, the doctors need to be sure they're not harming a fetus.

Often, it's easy (or at least seems easy!) to tell what gender the patient, but also often it's not and it's downright foolish to make assumptions, as this author has pointed out often! If the woman is a mtf individual, then short of religious miracles, there's going to be no fetus, but if the doctors do not know, then there's potentially a problem.

I'd argue this is a case where gender does indeed matter and more importantly, knowing the gender matters, and while this is a simple demonstrative example, it's not the only medical instance where the gender (or sex if you like - I don't like to use that term because it's so loaded with baggage) of the patient matters. Men and women react differently to some medications, so knowing the gender of the patient can be vitally important.

Now you can no doubt press arguments against my simplistic example, and maybe against medical treatment and knowing the birth sex of the patient, but that's just the problem: since this critical topic wasn't covered in this book, none of this was ever addressed. Having a sex-marker on the driver's license could be in some cases, the difference between life and death here. So maybe we should not argue to eliminate the sex-marker at least on driver's licenses or state ID cards, but to make it voluntary? It's just a thought.

I don't typically comment on book covers because my blog is about authoring, not façades and lures, but in this case I have to say that this cover was quite a stunner. The ambiguity and charm in it were remarkable! It's a credit to the book and a pity the publisher rarely sees fit to give some credit to the model.

One curious personal comment I found was when the author volunteered, "For example, my birth mother was white and my birth father African American. I identify as either biracial or black" but he never went on to explain why he doesn't ever identify as white. It seems to me he has an equal case for either or both. It's not a big deal to me, but I just found it interesting and curious that someone with one black and one white parent had to be (at least historically), considered black instead of white!

To me, that's just as screwed-up as the gender issues discussed here, but I guess it's none of my business; however, it was one of several times things were tossed into the mix which I found curious. Another was his reference to the 2013 movie Identity Thief. The author cites this as an exemplar of the inadequacy of sex verification as fraud protection.

I thought it was an inappropriate reference in a book that rightly tries to set a more scholarly tone, but the objection here was that, as the author explains, "...the fact that many people have gender-neutral or 'unisex' names, Sandy being just one of many examples." I get that this is irrelevant when credit card fraud is perpetrated over the phone,or the internet, but it does prevent some abuse in person when a woman might try to use a credit card which clearly has a male name on it. It's not foolproof, especially in these days of fast everything, but it does offer some preventive opportunities! The real question to ask is: is it worth the hassle some people might get for the prevention it offers in other cases?

But that's not the reason I thought the example of the movie was a poor one; it's that, in the movie (which I have not seen I have to say), the man whose identity has been stolen, Sandy, seems like a sad sack of an example to offer since he apparently never thought to report his card stolen and thereby avoid all of the issues he was subject to in the movie! Hollywood is not real life and I think it was a mistake to cite what seems to be a rather slapstick comedy movie in support of a serious topic like this.

That said, I recommend this because it needs to be read - it's that simple. It has important issues in it about an ongoing problem that needs to be cut off summarily at the ankles, and it makes some good arguments, especially in sports, which has long been a pet peeve of my own. Some of the sports anecdotes are truly upsetting, as indeed are the anecdotes in other areas. Read them and weep - seriously. I felt like it after reading what some of these people - including the author - have had to endure.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Love is Love by Mette Bach


Rating: WARTY!

This is another short "love" story in a similar vein to Same Love which I reviewed positively a day or so ago, but I was not able to give this the same rating for a variety of reasons. I liked the idea behind the story, and I appreciated the diversity it exhibited, but it felt far too trite, simplistic and shallow, and the characters far too caricatured for me to rate it as a worthy read.

I'm not a cover-lover, so I normally don't talk about book covers because they have nothing to do with the book's content and my reviews are about writing, not about bells and whistles, or glitz, or bait and switch. That said, I have a couple of observations about this cover. The first is that the person depicted in the cover image is gorgeous in the ambiguity and androgyny they represent, and I loved it for that. I'd like to read a story about that character, fictional or otherwise! The second observation is actually the problem: this cover has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with anybody or anything in this entire book! So why was this cover used?!

I know that authors (unless they self-publish) have no say in the cover they get stuck with. I'm truly sorry about that, but this is a price you pay when you go the traditional publishing route, so this cover problem isn't a factor in my review. This is just an observation. I don't know how publishers can get it so wrong so often, and I'm forced to speculate on motive here, because whatever that is, it's certainly nothing to do with what the author is saying or trying to do with what they wrote!

I just wish publishers were more sensitive to a book's content than they all-too-often prove themselves to be when they slap a random cover on it. I know some people, particularly YA fans, get orgasmic over covers, but mature readers (and by that I don't mean old, nor do I exclude YA readers) do not. While many of them may appreciate a well-done cover, the bottom line there is that they're all about content. I'd rather have a lousy cover with a brilliant story than ever I would a gorgeous cover with a poor story. Reference The Beatles 'white album' (so-called) for sustaining argument!

As far as content is concerned, I was frequently disappointed in the story-telling, and this is where the real problems lay with this work. It was too simplistic, and the main character, Emmy, was not a likeable one (nor did she look anything like the character on the cover, so no match there). She wasn't strong, nor did she become strong. She showed zero growth, which is sad because she was sickeningly immature. Instead of a girl turning into a young woman with purpose and drive, all we got was an unchanging, needy, whiny, and self-pitying mess.

The worst part about all of this was that she knew exactly what her problems were, but never once did she exhibit the strength to try changing herself, or even evince signs of some development of a will to change. She was a weak and uninteresting character who did not remotely deserve the reward she got. There was no justice in this book, and this was a problem.

I don't typically care about genre any more than I care about gender. A person is a person, and a main character is a main character, but what this book most reminded me of is a genre of novels that I do detest, which is the one where the woman runs away from a bad relationship back to her home town where she meets the love of her life. I despise that kind of a story, and while this novel was not quite that bad, it had a lot of the hallmarks of such a story.

Emmy is so desperate to be popular that we meet her blowing the school hot guy, Ty, in some disgusting stairwell one night, just in hopes that from this she will become popular. How that thinking ever made sense is a mystery. All it told me was that she was profoundly stupid. I didn't mind that. I can work with that, because my hope was that she would wise-up and grow a pair, but she never did.

Emmy is 'overweight'. That's never actually defined, but that's not necessarily a problem, especially not in a society where anorexic actors and models are perversely considered the standard of beauty. 'Overweight' is not a problem unless you're unhealthy with it, and Emmy is, because she's overweight from binging on junk food for emotional comfort.

She knows this perfectly well, but never once does she even consider stopping the rot. Instead, she hangs around like a maiden trussed to a tree, awaiting her shining knight to come shield her from the dragon of life. This is why I did not like her. Throughout this whole story she never initiated a single thing; she was never the actor, always the one acted upon, and her inertia, passivity and complete lack of metaphorical balls was sickening to read about.

The Saint George in this story is Jude the somewhat obscure, the artist formerly known as Judy, who is a guy who was unfortunately born in a woman's body. Again, he looked nothing like the character on the cover, so no match there, either. Other than that, we never really get to know him.

Jude is living as a guy but has had no surgery yet. He's trying to save money for it, but is of limited means, so it's taking a while. He's a barista, and Emmy meets him when she visits his establishment with her cousin, Paige, whose parents Emmy is now staying with in Vancouver, having fled Winnipeg fit to be Ty-ed. Paige also looks nothing like the character on the cover, and she's such a caricature and a non-entity, it made me wonder why she was even in the story at all.

The story-telling effectively ends here, and instead of a flowing tale, what we get is a series of vignettes from this point onward. Emmy, who writes poetry that we never get to read, is all but forced onto the stage at the coffee shop on poetry night. She's laughed off the stage, but we never learn if the laughter was at her, or in enjoyment of the poem she read. We're left to surmise it was at her, but this incident never goes anywhere else. She never comes roaring back. Instead, her poetry drops out of sight after this. In the same vein, she starts cycling, but paradoxically goes nowhere. The poetry felt like it ought to have been an overture to her regaining some confidence, and the cycling a lead-in to her getting fit, but the cycling disappears as well!

Another vanishing act is her father's notebooks. Her father is dead and her mother has married a guy Emmy doesn't like. Those issues are never resolved either, but in staying with her uncle, she discovers that he has one or two of her dad's notebooks from when he was Emmy's age. She takes possession of them, but she never reads them - or if she does, we're not party to it, so it's yet another dead end street. Her stay in Vancouver seems full of them.

Emmy begins fantasizing about Jude, gazing at him simperingly whenever he's around, and the attraction seems to be entirely physical - at least that's the most common part that's shared with us: that he looks like he ought to be on stage or on the big screen.

Although some token attempts to broaden his appeal are made, they're too few and too shallow to be believable. Consequently, the elephant in the room here is not Emmy despite her lackluster attempts to convince us otherwise. The problem is the complete lack of any viable reason why Jude is interested in Emmy, because we're never offered a glimpse of any such reason. He just falls into line with her fantasies and is won effortlessly. She doesn't deserve him and we're never given any reason why she should.

I could see a great story here, but it's not the one we got, and the title was wrong. This was far too fast to be love. 'Infatuation is Lust' might have been a better title. I found myself more interested in Jude's sweet-hearted friend, Clarisse. A story about her might have been a lot more engrossing than this one was. I wish this author all the best; her heart is in the right place, but this particular story is one I can't get behind at all, and I'm sorry for that.


Monday, June 12, 2017

Black Star, Bright Dawn by Scott O'Dell


Rating: WARTY!

This is one of the most misguided, patronizing novels I've ever not read - which is to say I listened to it on audiobook, and DNF'd it two-thirds the way through because it was awful. The author consistently refers to the people as Eskimo, which some Alaskans do not mind, but it would have been much better to have actually made the characters a specific people. Eskimo is insulting because it blankets a variety of peoples like snow, classing them as all the same and employing a potentially insulting term to do so.

Bright Dawn is the main character. Black Star is her dog. Yes we get the English names, never the native language names - not for her or for anything in this entire story except this annoying and patronized stereotype of primitive superstition called Oleg.

The characters are shown raping and pillaging for a living - helping themselves to nature like they not only own it, but it's also an endless supply, and not even giving thanks for it. They're portrayed pretty much like this is all that all of them know. it's insulting, and the callous disregard for animals, including the dogs who get no reward when their human owners "win" the race - which the dogs have actually done. I can see working dogs being used in daily life, but to force them to run over a thousand miles at risk of injury and death for no reason other than human ego is pathetic.

There are moose attacks in the Iditarod. Moose are solitary and not 'bad tempered' - they're just very territorial and defensive. They're not human. They don't have human behaviors or motives. They're deer and they weight up to 1,800 pounds, not merely 700). The attack on Bright Dawn is ridiculous. That's when I quit reading it. The lack of respect for the natural world, and the portrayal of the dogs savaging the moose without a word of sorrow on its behalf was inexcusable. They were invading its territory, it was not invading theirs.

This story was about as pathetic as you can get, and while Jessica Almasy did a decent job reading it, the material was the problem here, not the reading.


Same Love by Tony Correia


Rating: WORTHY!

Set in Canada, this was a short but sweet story that I fell in love with just from the blurb. The idea is that a young Christian guy, Adam Lethbridge, with religiously strict parents, is suspected of being homosexual - it's true, but the condemnation is based on the flimsiest of evidence - he was seen shopping in the mall with a "known gay"! Clearly this 'raving pooftah' needs to be saved from Hell, so he's promptly dispatched to a Christian summer camp to be 'deprogrammed', aka saved by Baby Jesu, but there he meets another guy, a Korean-Canadian named Paul, who is questioning his own sexuality, and the two fall for each other!

I thought that was hilarious, but the story isn't a romantic comedy by any means. There is humor in it, but it's a story which is told seriously and thoughtfully. I really enjoyed it.

There's nothing explicit in it - nothing more than a kiss and holding hands - so it's a safe read for anyone who is bothered by a lot of overt physical affection. The funniest thing about it was highlighted by controversial comedian Lenny Bruce many years ago: how do you punish homosexuals for breaking the law? Lock 'em up with a bunch of guys! The same thing happens here, and the lack of straight-thinking behind that kind of philosophy boggles the mind.

Of course this seems like it was always worse for men because the white male authorities behind this asinine approach to relationships were not only horrified by, but scared of homosexual men, while they never took homosexual women seriously. As queen Victoria was supposed to have said, "women simply don't do that sport of thing!" That doesn't mean women had it so much easier, by any means. In some ways they had it worse.

I confess I had a bit of a time getting into this at first because the story seemed so full of conversational prose and very little descriptive prose, but after Adam arrived at camp, the reading became very easy and comfortable. He's bunking with three other guys including Paul: a depressed guy named Martin, and a weirdo named Randall. The dynamic between these four was fascinating. Adam also meets Rhonda on the bus up to the mountain retreat. She's being sent to the camp to be have the 'slu't removed from her - and she and Adam bond quickly.

I loved that the author pointed out the hypocrisy and cluelessness in these approaches, although I would have loved it more had there been a complete deconstruction of Biblical teachings, but the thrust of this novel was not in that direction, so that was fine. The point was clearly made that there's a difference - and sometimes a huge one - between what's in the Bible and what people claim is in the Bible. I loved that bit!

Speaking of which, as is often the case in novel for me, one of the more minor characters was the most interesting. Rhonda intrigued me and was the outstanding character. I loved how feisty, confident, and outspoken she was, and would have liked to have read more about her, especially taking the camp religious teachers to task over their poor understanding of the bible, but of course the focus was on Adam and Paul, and his other roommates.

If there was a weak spot, for me it was Randall, who didn't quite ring true at times, but other than that, the story was great, well-written, instructive, and it had a beautiful ending. I recommend this one.


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Beebo Brinker by Ann Bannon


Rating: WORTHY!

In this, the last of the so-called Beebo Brinker Chronicles (and it's a good thing they were not actually called that, otherwise I would never have read them!), the author ends the series by taking us back to the beginning - to when Beebo first arrives in New York City and runs into another of the regulars in the series: Jackson Mann. After a slightly distrustful start, Jack, who is gay, takes Beebo under his wing and even arranges for her to get a job as a "delivery boy".

Beebo begins to come out of her shell, and to accept herself as a lesbian, but she has two dicks to deal with. One of these is the husband of the woman for whose Italian restaurant Beebo delivers, and the other is Mona, a bisexual woman who is independently wealthy and has nothing to do with her time, but to be abusive to people and even outright vindictive when she feels slighted - as she does with Beebo after an unfortunate misunderstanding.

Beebo is just 18, and fled her small farming-community town in Wisconsin after the gossip about her became too much to bear. Her real name isn't Beebo any more than Ann Bannon is the author's real name. Betty Jean "Beebo" Brinker is outstanding in more than one way, not least of which is that she wears her hair closely-cropped, and refuses to be feminine, wearing trousers and taking a very masculine role. She's also tall and muscular.

Jack conducts her around the local gay scene and at first Beebo is mildly disgusted in a lesbian bar, but she cannot get those images of women dancing together out of her head, and she's finally persuaded to accept her true self. After the badly-mismanaged non-relationship with Mona, Pete, the Italian husband, puts her onto Paula, an ex of Mona's.

Paula turns out to be exactly what Beebo wants and needs, but it's not plain sailing because Beebo once again proves as vacillating here as she had in Women in the Shadows - or as she would later be in that volume! Once she's made a pizza delivery to the New York home of a Hollywood star, Beebo cannot get "Venus" out of her head, and when Venus tempts her with an offer of employment on her trip to Hollywood to film a new TV show, Beebo drops everything, including Paula, and takes off like a bitch in heat.

The story was great until this point, but it goes downhill somewhat once Beebo gets to California, with rather unbelievable stories of the press's great interest in Venus's private life. It seemed entirely incredible to me. Yes, the press is shamefully like that now, but it wasn't anywhere near as bad in the late fifties and early sixties.

This doesn't mean there were no scandals and it doesn't mean that no-one's career was ruined, but it felt too much to take seriously, especially since Venus wasn't exactly a premier A-list star, and there was nothing at all to lead the press to believe that anything 'untoward' (as they would deem it), was going on. This is the early sixties, after all, and while the US was (and still is) extraordinarily conservative, this "scandal" seemed too much to believe.

None of the entertainment media had even seen Beebo, much less knew she was a woman, much less knew she was having an affair with Venus. The only thing they had was a rumor from some unknown gossips in New York City (Obviously, Pete and Mona) about an affair. There wasn't anything to get the rumor rolling! It was not credible that this would happen as fast as it did and to the extent that it did.

But it does happen and the upshot is that Beebo comes running home to Paula, who of course accepts her and takes her back! It's all lovey-dovey, but clearly it means nothing given Beebo's later history, so it's really hard to understand what Bannon thought she was doing with this story. It's especially hard to understand, given that this is really exactly the same story that was told in Women in the Shadows, where Jack plays the role of Paula, and Beebo becomes both Mona, and Venus! That said, however, the early part of the story was told well and with great feeling if a little over the top here and there, so I recommend it as of historical interest.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Women in the Shadows by Ann Bannon


Rating: WORTHY!

Funny - I thought The Shadows was an all-male band! (That's a Brit joke). Frankly this novel came close to being a warty read, but in the end, it saved itself and I consider, while the main character is not likeable - not to me anyway - her story is worth reading, if only from an historical perspective.

I'd also like to note that while these stories have been praised for their realism, this realism extends only so far. Sexual promiscuity, whether hetero- or homo-, carries with it potential health costs, which were just as much of a problem in the sixties (even though AIDs had not reared its ugly head yet) as they have been in every other decade. This novel, though, is very much a summer of love novel (lots of sex and zero consequences), even though the summer of love was a long way in the future when these were written.

So for me, the strength of the novel was not in the realism per se, but in the graphic depiction of relationship problems as being precisely the same for the queer population as they are for everyone else. I think this was Bannon's real strength, showing that gays and lesbians (and everyone in between) are no different from anyone else, and this was in an era where they were widely (and legally) considered deviants and predators by the population at large.

Worse than this, and something these novels also show, is that anyone else doesn't have to deal with also being shamed and made into pariahs for who they love. This is a grotesque fear which has not been dispensed with even now, as we approach the diamond jubilee of these novels. That's the saddest thing about all of this.

There is one more thing: in an era where appallingly misnamed 'honor' killings are still the things which need to be killed-off, but which, instead of dying out as they must, are threatening to spread along with all those who are immature, insecure, and clueless enough to consider women to be property at best and inconveniences at worst, this novel unashamedly shows an interracial relationship exactly as it ought to be shown: where it's about the relationship, and not the skin color of those who are involved in the relationship.

In celebration of Gay Pride Month (which may be June or July - no one seems to agree on it!), I'm reviewing several LGBTQIA novels, of which this is one of three Ann Bannon books I got from my local - and very excellent! - library. Excellent as they are, though, they did not have the first three of her hexalogy, only three of the last four: Women in the Shadows, Journey to a Woman, and Beebo Brinker. The other books are Odd Girl Out, I Am a Woman, and The Marriage.

Ann Weldy, who wrote as Ann Bannon, completed the so-called 'Beebo Brinker Chronicles' in the late fifties and early sixties as a means of giving vent to lesbian feelings which she felt constrained from letting loose in any other way. Like this way wasn't brave enough?! Good god! She was married to a guy who didn't approve of these 'sordid little tales', and yet she went ahead and did it anyway and the novels were very well received for their realism in a world of sadly cheap 'pulp' sex novels. She had no idea of how influential these books had been until twenty years later when she separated from a husband with whom she had had two children in a marriage that must otherwise have been barely endurable for her.

Laura first appeared as a student in the very first book, where she was involved in a lesbian relationship with another student - mirroring a somewhat similar but unrequited relationship Ann knew of in real life. In this book, Laura is coming to the end of a two year-long relationship with Betty Jean "Beebo" Brinker - a classical butch lesbian. The relationship is diseased and co-dependent, and it's highly destructive, but Laura doesn't seem to have the strength to get out of it, and Beebo doesn't want to get out of it. She claims to love Laura, but in reality, she's a jealous, manipulative, rather psychotic alcoholic, who will do almost literally anything to hold on to Laura.

Laura goes from one bad relationship to another because she doesn't seem capable of recognizing it when she gets a good one. She starts an affair with a woman who calls herself Tris, but who uses Laura just as cruelly as Beebo does. Eventually, and feeling rejected by Tris and fearful of Beebo, Laura agrees to marry Jack, who is gay, but who is tired of "chasing boys" as the author unfortunately describes it. No, he's not a pedophile, but he calls young men boys and he's sworn off them.

In many ways, Jack and Laura are mirror images. He's had it just as bad as she has. He's also an alcoholic, but in order to get over being dumped by Terry, his young stud of a lover, he proposes to Laura who eventually feels weak enough to accept it, and they marry and move in together, and Jack quits the booze. Theirs is a loving but asexual relationship since neither finds the other sexually attractive, although they are quite affectionate.

Laura becomes pregnant through artificial insemination with sperm from Jack, who is a sweet guy when he's not bemoaning Terry or getting drunk. Actually he's even sweet when he's drunk, but can Laura see what a good thing she has going? Not really. The problem is that Terry isn't done with Jack and Laura isn't done with Beebo, so things get bad for a while, but the ending turns it around enough for me to rate this a worthy read despite Laura's pathetic, limp rag character. It does tell an interesting story although some readers might be put off by the rather twisted actions, particularly those engineered by Beebo, during some of it.


Friday, June 9, 2017

Transphobia by J Wallace Skelton, Nick Johnson


Rating: WARTY!

Note that this is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I would have really liked to have given a passing grade to a book with the aims this one has, but the presentation was inexcusably lousy and the book was literally unreadable on my phone, and practically unreadable on a tablet computer, which is to say that it was useless in two of the three media on which I tried it.

The reason for this once again seems to be, ironically, discrimination! The book was designed as a print book and yet it goes out to reviewers as a Kindle format ebook! The problem with that is the crappy Kindle app cannot handle a book presented and formatted like this one is, and the book should either have been thoroughly reformatted for Kindle and Kindle apps, or not offered in this format at all, which would severely restrict the distribution it can enjoy. It's poor attention to quality on the part of the publisher, and worse, no-one seems to have been bothered with actually looking at the resulting ebook. If they had, they'd see it was unacceptable.

For a book about inclusivity, the print-book snobbery here is laughable. The fact that this book is actively excluding various common reading formats would have been hilarious if it were not so hypocritical. The only format in which the ebook was readable was PDF format on my desktop computer, but even there, some of the print was so small that it was hard to read, and any medium with a smaller screen - even a tablet - would have made parts of it pretty nigh illegible.

In terms of content, the book doesn't do too bad of a job, but it's really not offering anything that will win converts to the side of tolerance and acceptance unless those 'converts' are largely converted already. In terms of offering help to those who need it, it doesn't do too bad of a job, but it was hard for me to determine what kind of an audience it was aiming for in terms of age and maturity.

But overall, I cannot recommend a book which so single-mindedly disrecommends itself. And if the publisher and authors evidently don't care about this, why should I? I had further confirmation of this after I submitted the review. The publisher contacted me and offered a print version, but never once did they take responsibility for the fact that neither they nor the author had taken a look at this book in various formats to see how (or even whether!) it worked! They tried to blame me, they tried to blame the applications, but never once did they say they screwed-up by failing to verify that the output was readable in the most common formats and devices reviewers (and more importantly, end-users) might read it in! I rest my case!


Things I Should Have Known by Claire Lazebnik


Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was an awesome book by an author with a mouth-twisting last name - which happens to be the Arabic word (zebnik) for zebra as far as I know (but that's only as far as I know)! It's also a book where things could have gone sadly and badly wrong, but the author picked her way carefully through this maze and the result was amaze! For me she put a foot wrong on only a couple of occasions, missteps which I was happy to let slide because the rest of the novel was totally awesome.

Having read so many (far too many, in fact) YA novels which have timidly, like a lamb, followed the rest of the herd along the path most traveled (usually into bland oblivion or itchy annoyance), I live for novels like this, which strike out on their own path, tell their own story, and make it real.

The differences are clear from the start. Contrary to far too many YA novels, instead of starting out as the outcast and the underdog, Chloe Mitchell is a popular girl who is well-liked and dating the school's hottest guy (so she says), so that's a welcome reversal of the usual YA trope right there. In another departure, Chloe's sister, Ivy, is autistic, quite highly functioning, but nonetheless decidedly on the spectrum. What Chloe doesn't know to begin with though, is that the guy she most detests in school, David, also has an autistic sibling, Ethan, and he attends the same school Ivy does.

Chloe is truly torn between wanting to have a life for herself, and feeling responsible for Ivy, and facilitating her having a life, and she manages it well despite feeling put-upon and abused at times. It comes to pass that when Ivy expresses some interest in Ethan, Chloe decides maybe the two could date. Despite being four years younger than her sister, Chloe is very much the older sibling in this relationship, and she nudges Ivy along and arranges for them to meet at a yogurt shop downtown.

When she and Ivy show up, there is Ethan, and with him most unexpectedly, is David. Chloe is confused and annoyed at his presence until she discovers David is Ethan's brother, and has the same relationship with him that Chloe does with Ivy. Suddenly she not only has something in common with the guy she detests, but it's also something of vital importance.

A lesser author might have left it at that, but this author doesn't. She keeps on ramping it up. Ivy, while enjoying, in her own way, her visits with Ethan. has much more interest in a girl at her school named Diana, and rather belatedly, Chloe realizes her sister is gay.

Here was the first misstep in the writing, for me, which is that Chloe then refocuses on finding Ivy a "young, gay woman with autism" which is wrong-headed. Ivy's partner needs to be someone who can be with Ivy and appreciate her for who she is. The partner is required to be neither 'young' nor autistic herself!

Chloe makes a lot of mistakes and typically learns from them, but she never seemed to learn from this one. That she was so wrong about Ivy's sexuality ought to have taught her that she should be more cautious in who she tried to "line up" for her sister in future.

Of course it's obvious what was going to happen, because this novel still has the trope of the girl falling for the guy she initially hates, but here's it's done sensitively and not at all like a Meg Ryan romantic comedy, which was very much appreciated.

The relationship between David and Chloe grows naturally and organically, and there's no miraculous transformation. The relationship is troubled and thorny, because David is, but it's easy to see how the two of them are learning to accommodate to each other's ofttimes uncomfortable shape and demeanor as they grow to know each other. That kind of maturity in a relationship is rare in YA novels which are all-too-often puke-inducing, instadore-laden disasters.

This brings me to the second misstep, which is that David, at one point, is described by Chloe as having yellow flecks in his eyes. This is the biggest, most annoying cliche in all of YA-dom. Usually it's gold flecks, but yellow is hardly any better. I despair of YA writers who employ this because I have read it so often it's nauseating, and it smacks of a complete lack of imagination and inventiveness on the part of the YA author.

In the unintentional humor department, I have to quote the opening few words from chapter six which are: "A little before seven" which I thought was hilarious because chapter six is indeed a little before seven. But that's just my truly, hopelessly warped mind. In the intentional humor department, of which there were many sly instances, this line was a standout: "The indoor tables are all occupied by unshaven guys writing movie dialogue on their MacBook Airs, so we sit outside." The novel takes place in LA, so this was perfect and made me LOL.

My two minor gripes aside, I truly loved this novel and I fully recommend it. It was a welcome breath of life in a YA world which has become glutted with the rotting corpses of an endless parade of YA clone novels marching lock-step towards oblivion. The formatting of the ebook needs some work, but I assume that will be taken care of before it's released. In case it isn't, this needs to be fixed: "wish she could stay in in high school forever." (An 'in' too many!). But other than that, this book was about as near to perfect as you can humanly get it.