Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Sacred Book of the Werewolf by Victor Pelevin


Rating: WORTHY!

Translated by Andrew Bromfield, and read beautifully by Cassandra Campbell, who at least in this novel has one of the most charming and captivating voices I've ever heard, especially when she does the Russian accent. I have a feeling that if I had read this rather than had Cassandra Campbell read it to me, I might not have liked it quite so much, but this audiobook pulled me in almost from the first word even though it's not my usual cup of tea.

I'm not given to reading werewolf (or shapeshifter novels) for one thing, and neither am I a great fan of social commentary novels, and this was both), but I find something very intriguing about a werefox story, and in this particular case, I felt almost like the leading lady had used her magical hypnotic werefox powers successfully on me!

It was not all smooth-riding. Sometimes it felt a bit like the author was a little too pleased with himself, and sometimes it felt like this was a guy writing from a female perspective (which it was of course!), but for me those were so mild that they were never really an issue. Truth be told, I hope authors are pleased with themselves, because writing a novel is a lonely, intensive, and all-too-often thankless pursuit, and it bears a certain amount of self-satisfaction to have completed one, even if it's one not destined for stardom.

I read some negative reviews of this to see if I'd missed anything, but I was more impressed by what those negative (and all other reviews that I read) had evidently missed: the light treatment of a rape scene. No one mentioned that at all, which was truly disturbing.

I think if a woman had written this, we would have had a different sort of novel, but whether it would have made for a better or worse read, I can't say. Here's the rub though: if a man writes and makes the woman too much like him, he's accused of writing about a man and pretending she's a woman (man-with-tits syndrome), whereas if he makes the woman more traditionally feminine, he's accused of making her traditionally feminine! You can't win, so my advice to men writing about women and women writing about men is full speed ahead and damn the slings and arrows of outraged readers. You can't write for everybody, and most of the time you can reliably write only for yourself.

The werefox is named A Hu Li, the pronunciation of which is apparently, in Russian, an insult along the lines of 'go have sex with yourself'. Though she's Chinese, she hasn't lived in China in several hundred years, so I found it a bit short-sighted that this author was accused in one review of being mistaken in putting her last name (Hu Li) last. On the other hand, if she's not human (she's a werefox who looks like a young Chinese woman despite being two millennia old), then why would she look Chinese? This isn't explained in this novel.

Frankly, the Asians annoy me because they tend to look so young when they're really much older(!), so this discrepancy didn't bother me, but this nationality issue is one of several that went unexplored, which annoyed me even more than young-looking-but-really-not-Asians, but because the author explored so many things (and amusingly so for me), I was willing to let other things go unexplained.

Besides, she's a werefox who can change her appearance to some extent. When she becomes foxy, she typically doesn't change her appearance into that of a fox. Her only unchangeable attribute is her tail, which can change impressively, but only in size. It cannot disappear, so she has to keep it well-hidden to pass as a human.

A, who has sisters who all evidently sport names starting with English alphabet vowels (Russian has vowels, and more than in English: а, э, ы, у, о, я, е, ё, ю, и, but we don't see any names prefixed with those). Doubtlessly Chinese has vowels too, but I'm not remotely qualified to get into that. Besides, this is set in Russia where she's lived for at least two centuries, so it's really disingenuous to look outside that nation for explanations or cultural attributes.

Additionally, this was an English translation of the Russian, so maybe the vowels were translated too! We hear about her sisters occasionally, and they're just as interesting as she is, but given the werefoxes apparently cannot reproduce, how they are sisters is another thing which slipped by unexplained. Maybe all werefoxes consider themselves sisters even though they really have no gender. They just look like women; they really aren't women. Or men. But given their lack of reproductive organs, their entire existence is unexplained. They are supernatural creatures though, so I let that go, too.

A is nominally a prostitute living in modern Moscow, and preying on her clients for the energy they release during sex, which is collected in her tail. I thought this was hilarious given that one abusive term for women (at least in English) is 'tail'. This tail is ostensibly a curiously masculine organ, since it become erect (after a fashion: enlarging and 'pluming out'), but given that the penis is really just an enlarged and slightly re-purposed clitoris, it's not masculine at all when you, so to speak, get right down to it.

She uses her tail to send hypnotic suggestions to her client, making him (or her, lesbians apparently love werefoxes) believe they're having sex with her when they're really just masturbating and she's sitting off to one side reading books by Stephen Hawking. So she's paradoxically a prostitute and a virgin. Until she meets a werewolf who rapes her. How can he do this when she has no sexual organs? She has a penis catcher which is an extensible pouch underneath her tail and which is there solely for tricking males into thinking they're had penetrative sex with her. This seemed like an oddity to me, but again, she's a supernatural creature, so I didn't worry about it.

It bothered me more how accepting she was of the rape. Not only did she 'get over it' quickly, but she entered into a continuing sexual relationship with her rapist. Again, supernatural creature, but even so it was hard to read and I had mixed feelings about how that rape was depicted and wondered (as I had several times reading this), how it might have been written by a female author. I also wondered if some form of punishment was coming, and for the longest time it did not, but in the end it did, so this lent a form of justice to the horror, although there really is no meaningful justice for rape.

At the same time I tried to keep in mind that neither one, the rapist nor the one who was raped, was human. They were more animal like than human too boot. On top of this (or beneath this if you will), she had no actual sex organs, merely a flexible bag of skin expressly for containing stray penises (or large clitorises, too, I guess). This did not mitigate the rape, but it did put an unusual spin on it.

The two of them are both human-looking (at least the wolf was until he got her scent when she tried to take him to the cleaners), but they're paranormal. She rarely becomes an actual fox, and he becomes a wolf only when sexually aroused (and that;s when he loses control apparently).

This certainly doesn't make rape permissible; nothing does, but I wondered if these supernatural human-animal hybrids viewed what had taken place in a somewhat different light to we humans. Had a woman written this, I think this would have been explored and the reader would have got a lot more form it, but we were left without any exploration of it, and this was the worst aspect of this novel for me. As it was, all we had was a largely barren thought-exercise on how animals behave in the wild. Is there rape in the animal world? Yes. That much is quite clear. How do the animals view it? That's a lot less clear.

That aside, the rest of the story was entertaining and quite fascinating, The werefox was completely entrancing and I enjoyed listening to her and learning about her. The werewolf was pretty much what I expected from a werewolf, and is why I do not find their stories interesting. On the contrary: they're boring, and telling endless more stories about them brings nothing to the table at all. Werewolf story writers need to get out of the fathomless rut they're in, and you can interpret that in any way you like. But I recommend this for the easy story-telling, the fascinating werefox, and the ever-present but very subtle humor.


How We Eat with Our Eyes and Think with Our Stomachs by Melanie Mühl, Diana von Kopp


Rating: WORTHY!

Subtitled "Learn to See the Hidden Influences That Shape Your Eating Habits" this was a great book about how we see food both with our eyes and with our minds (it's not necessarily the same thing!). Even knowing as much as your average amateur can about how easily the mind can have the wool pulled over it, I was surprised by some of the revelations here. You may think you know how deceptive advertising can be, but what if the advertising is the food itself? What if we're already weakened and susceptible because everyone has to eat, and nature itself has predisposed us to give in to the very things which the six-hundred-billion dollar military-food complex is trying to foist upon us?

Just kidding about the military-food complex (although not about the six-hundred-billion dollars), but food is making an impressive assault on us, and it's showing on our waistlines. Maybe it should be referred to as the militating food complex?! The fact is that it's in our nature from when we were all hunter-gatherers to seek fats and sugars, and now they're so readily available to us, we have a hard time saying no. But it's not even that simple, because food sneaks in under the radar, and we can be manipulated so easily not just by it, but by those who are trying to purvey it to us.

The authors (journalist Melanie Mühl and psychologist Diana von Kopp) pull research and references from fields such as behavioral psychology, biology, neuroscience, and pop culture and make it available in short, pithy, topical chapters which make reading this so easy I got through it long before I expected to. They ask an assortment of questions and answer them: Why do we like certain foods so much? Is raw food healthier than cooked? Why do people overeat? And a lot more. They talk about real world studies and research and come up with some quite amazing trivia about our eating habits, which turns out to be not so trivial at all.

You may know that if you get a smaller plate at an all-you-can-eat buffet, you're likely to eat less than if you start with a larger plate, but did you know that if you sit facing the buffet, you're more likely to eat more than if you face away from it? Ot that if you get a red plate and tableware, you're likely to eat less as well? I guess that last one doesn't apply so much at Christmas, when we often see red plates, but over-eat anyway! But Christmas is of then the exception to many rules.

If you're interested in how humans behave, in food and diet, or are looking to maybe lose a couple of pounds and want to find ways to psych yourself into it, this is a great book to read. It's not a diet book by any means, but it does clue you in to both diet and weakness, and knowledge is a powerful weapon. Even as a book about food and perception, which is what this is, it was fun, interesting, surprising, engaging, and well-worth the read. I recommend it.


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 redressed 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!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

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, so 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 India woman who offered to help Addie, but who singularly fails.

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 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 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 and becomes 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' and justice is never served on that dick, but John is just as bad save for being more subtle in his prejudices and dick-ness and he gets no comeuppance either so I guess that's fair. The story is a mess and not eve a hot mess since it's set in winter. I think it stunk, and I cannot recommend it.






Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë


Rating: WORTHY!

Ti was a long listen on audiobook, and some parts of it were frankly tedious, but overall the majority of it was a very worthy read (or listen in this case). The novel runs to some 400 pages and was originally published as three volumes, which was the done thing at the time it was written. I really enjoyed the movie starring Charlotte Gainsbourg and William Hurt, and the reader of this novel, Josephine Bailey, did a first class job, actually sounding rather like Gainsbourg, which for me made it perfect.

The basic story is no doubt well-known, but briefly: Jane Eyre is an orphan who is sent to live with her uncle on her mother's side after both her parents die. Her uncle dies, her aunt is mean and treats Jane like dirt. Considered to be a problematic child and a liar, she's passed off to Lowood school lorded over by a tyrannical clergyman, but Jane excels there and eventually becomes a teacher.

When her mentor and favorite teacher dies, Jane elects to move into the role of a governess for the daughter, Adela, of Edward Fairfax Rochester. The two grow fond of each other and eventually plan on marrying, but Jane discovers that Rochester has a wife - who is insane, but kept at the house (and not very securely evidently). Jane leaves Rochester and briefly falls on hard times, but eventually discovers she has inherited money from an uncle she knew nothing about for the longest time. She is now financially independent, and learning that Rochester's home has suffered a fire, and he has fallen on hard times, she returns to him and the two of them live out their lives together.

I have to say that Jane has way more forgiveness in her than is healthy for her. Rochester's behavior was inexcusable. He outright lied to her after she had showed him nothing but consideration, kindness, and love. He treated her with hardly more regard than did Lowood school when she first arrived. It made no sense that she went back to him, but this was a nineteenth century novel and this is the way they were written.

That said I liked the story overall, although some parts were hard to listen to because of the cruelty, but Josephine bailey;s voice really did a wonderful job and kept me engaged even when the writing became a bit bogged-down in what was evidently Brontë's idea of romantic banter. I recommend this as a worthy listen!


Tuesday, October 10, 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 whom 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. 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.

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.

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


Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu


Rating: WORTHY!

Rachel Walker is a seventeen-year-old who has been raised all her life in a Christian cult. I'd argue that all religions are cults, but some are far worse than others. The author apparently rooted this story in what is known as the "Quiver-Full" cult which is merely, from what I can tell, a religious movement that sees children as a blessing from their god and so wants 'their women' to have as many children as possible to the forfeiture of everything else in life.

Whether there are any of the coercive/oppressive elements in that cult that are depicted here, I can't say since I know very little about it, but since (as I understand it) the author did work with some escapees from the cult, then I'm quite willing to take her word for it, knowing how oppressive religion can truly be when it gets its way, and goes unchallenged and unregulated.

Rachel's family is very large, and her mother just had a miscarriage and is not handling it well, feeling like she's a failure for not increasing the tally of her offspring. She retreats to her bed for some considerable time, leaving Rachel, as the oldest unmarried daughter, to step in and assume mom's role in raising her siblings, cooking, cleaning, helping her father run his tree-trimming business, and helping her younger brothers and sisters with their schooling. This starts to wear on her and make her a bit resentful even as she tries to put it into the perspective in which she's been raised: that she's a woman and this is her duty.

Rachel has led a very sheltered existence, although she was not sheltered from the appalling mental abuse. She knows little of the real world, having been taught only that it's a godless, sinful place, so she is very naïve and backward when it comes to life outside her claustrophobic community, even as she shows herself to be a smart and curious young woman.

She's a believer though, and she tries to meet all the expectations put upon her by the Calvary Christian Church: thinking pure thoughts, dressing modestly, obeying parents, being always cheerful, praying, Bible reading, and on and on. The more she feels put upon though, the less she feels like this is what she wants in life, and it scares her that very soon she's going to be married-off to someone and expected to churn out children.

Her only respite from this oppression is her access to her father's computer, ostensibly so she can help him with his accounts, his work schedule, and maintain his website, but really so she can also look up things to educate herself. This is where her 'downfall' begins, because she's aware of a young woman named Lauren who left the community, and is now shunned by it, yet Lauren came back to this small town where Rachel lives. She did not rejoin the religious community however, and Rachel is curious about her.

She starts to focus on Lauren more and more, wondering what happened to her, and why she came back yet did not come back to the fold, and pondering if she might have answers to Rachel's ever-growing list of questions about her own life. Rachel discovers that Lauren has a web site and begins reading her story, eventually emailing her and beginning a hesitant dialog.

Despite her academic smarts, Rachel isn't that smart in other things, and eventually she's found out. Threatened with the horrifying prospect of being sent to the brutal 'Journey of Faith' brainwashing isolation camp, Rachel decides to leave the community, and her escape is made possible by Lauren who immediately comes to her aid. Lauren puts Rachel up in her modest apartment - sleeping on the couch - and Rachel tries to get her life in order.

I did not like the debut novel this author wrote, so I was a bit skeptical of this one, but it sounded interesting. Even as I began reading it, I wasn't sure I would finish it, but it drew me in, and I ended up liking it, despite some issues with it so overall, I recommend it as a worthy read.


Friday, October 6, 2017

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 and Bergman was working for Hollywood studios again. Just four year 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 form current day (that is current day int he story) bookends. I do no 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 form 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.


Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Polar Adventures of a Rich American Dame: A Life of Louise Arner Boyd by Joanna Kafarowski


Rating: WARTY!

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

I requested this thinking it would be engrossing and entertaining, as well as educational, but I had too many issues with it to classify it as a worthy read. Some of the problems were with the formatting, but most were in the writing.

While on the one hand I can appreciate a story of a woman who flouted the accepted conventions of her day and organized her own voyages, this book didn't really focus on anything she discovered or opened up so much as it told a story of a spoiled rich girl spending her money on personal interests. It made her sound completely unappealing to me, and the science was not really well-represented. Indeed, it was well described by one observation about a passenger on one of Boyd's voyages, and one which was quoted without comment from the author: "I'll wager she will see more than any of your scientists with their noses to the ground." This rather sums up the scientific perspective of this entire book.

Yes, she collected botanical specimens, but she apparently did a poor job of that, at least to begin with, and yes, she photographed her travels extensively and also filmed some of it, which was new for the time period, but I did not get any sense from this book of Louise Boyd really achieving anything significant (other than being a woman doing things women were not well-known for back then - and there's a caveat to that, as I shall discuss shortly). On top of this she did things which to me personally were obnoxious, such as mass slaughtering of polar bears, which are a vulnerable species at high risk of becoming endangered today, as well as wantonly killing other animals. I know mind-sets were different back then, and I know that explorers were known for hunting to replenish rations, but the delight this author seems to take in describing the endless slaughter of Polar bears frankly made me sick.

I read at one point, "The Ribadavias were amazed by the courage Louise had displayed and the vigour with which she participated in hunting the polar bear. She may have been a sophisticated socialite, but she was no shrinking violet." Seriously? There really was no hunting. They would see some wild bear roaming the ice or swimming in the ocean, and stand there and shoot it. There was nothing difficult about it. Nothing heroic, nothing brave. It was cruel. The first bear she shot took three bullets to kill (assuming it actually was killed at that point) and then it was dragged back to the boat and hung up with a rope around its neck so this brave and intrepid explorer could have her picture taken next to the bear, its tongue lolling out of its slack mouth. It was disgusting. There was nothing heroic here, only that which was cowardly and shameful.

The relish with which these 'hunts' were described, and described repeatedly by this author, was honestly sickening. I read, "hunting parties were a favourite pastime" and "Louise and the Count and Countess were enlivened by the prospect of sport and more mighty polar bears fell to their guns" and "Miss Boyd returned with the pelts of twenty-nine polar bears, six of which she shot in one day." This is something to be proud of? Wantonly slaughtering 29 bears when one was far more than enough?

The only suffering the author describes is that of the people. I read at one point, "Every year, seal hunters ... get trapped in the ice. Some are able to free themselves, but many are lost. If the crew is able to free the ship, it is only after great effort and much terrible suffering." Yeah? Well you know, that's what they get for hunting seals! I have no sympathy for them. The animals suffered too.

Some of the writing seemed amateurish, such as when I read, "After the tragic death of her husband." All deaths are tragic! Even someone who dies on death row was a child at one point who might have had a different life (and death) from the one they ended with. It's tragic that they didn't, but it's also asinine to describe it as a 'tragic death'. 'Death' by itself is sufficient, or at least come up with a new adjective, instead of parroting the one every media outlet trots out mindlessly when describing a death.

Another thing which detracted strongly from Boyd's achievements, such as they were, was when it came to hiring people for the voyages. Everyone she hired was a man! The only women who came along - and those were few and far between - were the wives of the men who came along!

I understand that there were few women back then in the kinds of professions which were sought-after for these expeditions, but even when Boyd had a chance to hire one (a female botanist who wrote to Boyd and said she would be thrilled to join her on a future expedition), she went for a man instead. This hardly recommends her as a champion of female emancipation. Indeed, it makes her a hypocrite. I understand that the author had no influence over Boyd's choices by any means, but the fact that this author never even raised this as an issue is inexcusable.

The formatting of the book was as expected in Amazon's crappy Kindle app. In addition to text not being formatted as well as it ought, which I expect from Amazon, their crappy Kindle app literally shredded the pictures. I saw this on my phone, where I read most of this book, but I also checked it out on an iPad, and it was just as bad there, too, with the images fractured in the same way. The larger ones were sliced into several pieces and in some very odd shapes.

I have no idea what algorithm Amazon uses to do this but it needs to fix it. At least on the iPad I could enlarge the pictures. The same app on my phone, where the ability to enlarge pictures would have been far more useful, did not permit it. The picture captions were so poorly done that it was hard to separate them from the text of the book. I highly recommend not issuing books in Kindle format if you want the integrity of the book to be preserved.

Amazon is rolling in money and has had years to fix these issues,yet we still get garbage. The chapter index did not work: for example, you could not tap on a chapter in the contents, and go to the chapter, which made a contents list thoroughly pointless. The funny thing is that the link to the prologue worked. I tapped on it and it went to an index in the back of the book! LOL! it was a good thing too - I never read prologues! They're antiquated.

Why it should be the case in an ebook that links are non-existent or do not work, I don't know. I had the impression that this was written as a print book and no one really cared about the e-version of it, although as I said, this was an advance review copy so maybe these issues will all be fixed by the time it's published....

Overall, I cannot recommend this book as a worthy read. There were too many problems with it of one sort or another and it did the subject few favors. But then perhaps she deserves few.


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Lido Girls by Allie Burns


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This novel was a delight. Rooted in real history, it takes a slightly whimsical and largely fictional turn, pursuing two women to the fictional English resort of St Darlestone, where they try to figure out what to do with their lives. Each has their own cross to bear and they each deal with it in different ways. You can read an interesting mini-biography of the real Prunella Stack here. It's as brief as the shorts these girls wore, but it moves just like the shorts: actively and with purpose! Prunella is a bit like the tornado in Wizard of Oz. She doesn't have a lot to do with the bulk of this story, but without her, the story would not have happened in the first place!

On the fictional side of things, Natalie Flacker seems a bit rebellious and lackadaisical to be a vice principal in a prestigious girls' school, but it seems she was sheltered by the principal. Now that her mentor is retiring die to ill-health, Natalie's future seems a bit uncertain. It becomes downright lost when she's photographed attending a women's physical fitness convention - and one which is frowned upon by the male-dominated society in which Natalie moves. She is soon out of a job, and for want of something better to do, she decides to summer at St Darlestone with her dearest friend Delphi.

Their prime goal is to secure useful employment, which might be a bit hard to come by since Natalie can't exactly ask for a glowing reference from her last employer. Delphi is game, but suffers from some sort of catatonia or fatigue, and is often invalided by it. Fortunately Delphi's brother Jack is at the resort, working at the Lido swimming pool where one of the summer highlights is a beauty pageant.

I know, I took a vow never to read another novel with a main character named Jack in it because it's the most over-used go-to name in the entire history of literature, and I'm sick of it. I'm sick of authors over-using the name, hence my vow, yet here I am reading one! In my own defense, I didn't know this one would be hi-Jack-ed until I started it. On top of that, a beauty pageant? Fortunately, that's not the most important thing going on here! There's a much better story being told of friendship and perseverance, and this made all the difference for me.

Natalie's life seems to be falling apart at the seams at first, with Delphi growing increasingly distant and her own hopes of employment seemingly limited, but she perseveres and makes friends and eventually manages to earn a decent living, but even as she does so and grows closer to Jack, Delphi seems to be growing ever further from her.

The best thing about this novel is that it was warm and sweet, and completely unpredictable; just when you thought it would go one way it went another and this was the main reason I enjoyed it so much because it did exactly what I love authors for doing: it wandered off the beaten track into new territory, and I was happy to follow because that made it so much more interesting. I have no time for cookie cutter novels with everyone jumping on the successful author's bandwagon and trying to clone her or his best seller. I much prefer authors who carve their own path, and this one did exactly that, and it was the better for it.

This was an advance review copy as I mentioned so there were some minor issues with it, which I imagine will be fixed before the finished version this the shelves (or whatever the e-version of shelves is!). At one point I read, "with curls as luscious as Ginger Rogers'..." This should have read "Rogers's" since her name isn't a plural! Another one was a minor pet peeve of mine: " the poisonous snake at her feet." Snakes tend not to be poisonous - you can eat one with no ill effect, but they can be venomous!

Since my blog is more about writing than anything else, I have to point out that there were some unintentional writing issues such as where I read, "...swimming alone might be a reckless thing to do, but the pull was too strong." I think that could have been better worded (the attraction was too strong, maybe), since 'the pull was too strong" might be conflated with an undertow or a riptide in the water. Again, it's a minor issue but these things are worth expending some thought on if you're all about your writing.

There were also some formatting issues as usual with the crappy Kindle App that Amazon uses. Sometimes the next line would not be indented, particularly if it was a single line, and at one point I read "The redhead was busy devouring..." but the word 'The' was on the next line, superimposed over the first word on that line! This has nothing to do with authorship or writing, just with Amazon having a substandard format for ebooks.

But these were minor issue and inconsequential given that the book itself was so good, so I fully recommend this as a worthy read.


And I Darken by Kiersten White


Rating: WORTHY!

Errata:
P89 "...staunch the flow..."! No, it's stanch the flow.
p100 "There was more silk and gold in this single room than in the whole caste at Tigoviste." I think she meant castle!

This book plays rather fast and loose with history but tells a thoroughly engaging story about two children of Vlad Dracul. One of them was a real historical son named Radu the Fair, in this novel known only as Radu, although he is described as being very appealing to women. Vlad also had a daughter named Alexandra. In 1442, he was required by the Sultan to leave two sons as hostages. in this story however, Vlad leaves one son - Radu - and his daughter, who is renamed Lada Dragwlya here.

Radu is gay and resentful of his father for neglecting and diminishing him. He ends up befriending the sultan's heir, Mehmed, and falling in love with him, although Mehmed is clueless as to Radu's feelings and certainly gives no indication that he shares any of them. Mehmed himself starts falling for Lada, but while Lada befriends the young heir, unlike Radu, she has no interest in living in the country she's held hostage by, or in adopting it's Islamic religion. Radu on the other hand embraces it all and is devoted to his religion and to Mehmed.

What Lada is interested in is being self-sufficient and reliant on no one. She eventually manages to ingratiate herself with the Janissaries, the mercenaries the Sultanate employs to guard the Sultan and fight the Sultan's battles. They were Europe's first standing army since the Romans. Lada trains hard and becomes a fearless and skilled fighter who few can outmatch. She is, while detesting her captivity and virtual imprisonment, fiercely loyal to Mehmed herself and saves his life more than once. This makes for an interesting triangle, and the complexity and ever-shifting boundaries and perspectives is a lesson to all young adult writers in how to write a realistic triangle (if you must do a triangle).

I noticed some reviewers did not like Radu or Lada. I guess Radu wasn't manly enough for them, and they disliked Lada in particular because she was so fierce and vicious. I recommend these people read about Vlad Tepid instead of Vlad Tepes and family, because clearly a strong female character isn't what they're interested in. Me, I loved Lada warts and all, because I understood exactly where she was coming from. And you know what, there were real life female warriors throughout history who were like her more or less, so she isn't unrealistic at all. I'd sorry such readers want a truly tamed, neutered, domesticated, and lifeless Barbie doll to stand in for a woman, but that's not the kind of woman I want to read about - or to write about!

The book is quite long (some 470 pages) and I normally have no interest in reading books this long about this sort of period in history, yet this one drew me in from the start, and made for an engrossing and entertaining read. I do not know if I want to continue reading it though. By that I mean that this is the first volume of The Conqueror's Saga. I typically do not like series and I flatly refuse to read books which are part of a series described by the words 'saga', 'chronicle', 'cycle' and the like. I only read this because I thought it was a stand-alone, so while I may continue this series, I am not sure I want to at this point. I was satisfied by this first volume, and my fear is that reading another will sour it for me!

That said, this particular volume was a worthy read and I recommend it. I do plan on writing a sequel to it which I shall call And I Coordination....


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks


Rating: WORTHY!

This comic was available online for a short time while it was being created, but now you can only get it from a store or as I did, from my excellent local library. I saw it on the shelf recently, and was immediately attracted to it.

The title was what drew me in. I think it was great and when I looked inside, the story looked pretty entertaining, and it turned out to be exactly that: pretty to look at, and entertaining. It was a fast and fun read, and although there were some issues with the execution, I consider this a worthy read.

Main character Maggie is about to start high school after being home-schooled all her life to this point. Her mom, who schooled her, has up and left the family. This was one issue with the story - there didn't seem to be any real explanation as to why mom left - she just left, everyone accepted it, and no one seems to have any ongoing problem with it. That was weird and underdeveloped, and it made for a noticeable hole in this story. It was one of several. Maggie's dad is the local police chief in this small town (which begs the question as to how it manages to support a large high school!), and his only real involvement in the story is that he has to get his hair cut for his new job.

Taking of weird though, I read one negative review which seemed to be based solely on the odd questions asked of Maggie when she started high school by someone who had no idea what home schooling was all about and so was asking really dumb and ignorant questions. Having been home-schooled herself, this reviewer then made the same mistake the fictional character made, but approaching the issue ignorantly. She took this personally and ranted on and on about it! She simply did not get is that this was fictional - that it was not a prescription for behavior, or a how-to manual! It's simply a fictional tale which feature, briefly, some dumb kid asking dumb questions.

What the reviewer didn't get was that there are, in real life, dumb people who ask dumb questions, or ignorant people who ask inappropriate questions in their ignorance - people whose mind isn't broad enough to encompass something outside of the cozy rut they are in. In downgrading a novel for depicting real life, this reviewer showed that she, too, is in the same kind of blinkered rut that the fictional character had occupied. I found this amusing and those criticisms invalid.

Maggie has several brothers, two of which are twins who seem to be fighting with each other more than ever before, since one of them seems to be seeking some sort of independence or differentiation from his twin, whereas the other seems fine with the way things are. She has an older brother who keeps a watchful eye on her, but in general, her brothers leave her to find her own way through high school, just as they had to when they started school.

Maggie's biggest problem though, is that she's led a very sheltered life and knows no one at this school except for her brothers, whom she now sees have all kinds of friends, including many female ones. She soon partners up with a female friend of her own named Lucy who has a partially-shaven head (for fashion, not from some medical condition). Lucy has a brother, Alastair, and the two are very close (and very close shaven), but Alastair seems not to be liked by Maggie's own brothers. This is made out to be rooted in some big bad secret: that Alastair is a bad person, but this was another plot problem: when the reveal comes, it's really nothing at all, so this set-up fell flat.

The third issue was the ghost. Maggie sees this ghost of a woman in the cemetery, and the ghost comes and looks at her face to face, but it never says a thing to her no matter what she says to it. Maggie cannot figure out what it wants, and that's how the story ends: the ghost drifts off down a cemetery pathway and disappears, and we never do find out what it wanted or why it was haunting Maggie. This was a disaster.

That aside though, the story itself was fun overall, and interesting, and it featured a lot of idiosyncratic activity and events which amused me greatly. So overall, and despite three big issues, this writer/illustrator of this black and white line-drawing comic still managed to make me rate this as a worthy read! See? It can be done!


Mis(h)adra by Iasmin Omar Ata


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Based on her own experiences as someone who endures epilepsy, this graphic novel tells the story of Isaac, an Arab-American student struggling with trying to get a college education while coping with the disruptive effect of epilepsy in his life. He's not doing very well, but he has an underlying current of hope, which keeps him moving towards a brighter future - and not one that's made bright merely from a pre-seizure aura.

The story is intriguingly done through the use of visual metaphor (as well as in the text), and often in the very graphic form of scimitars all directed at poor Isaac. The despair and exhaustion he suffers from constantly being at risk of a seizure, and from his inability to get even his own father to believe him when he talks about his problem, is palpable in this story. It's almost despairing and exhausting to read it.

At times you want to shake him out of his lethargy and inertia, but at the same time you realize this is such a knee-jerk response that you want to slap yourself. It's at that crux that you realize how debilitating this is; it's not that Isaac is stupid, or lazy, or incompetent, it's that this illness has such a crippling hold on him that he's all-but paralyzed by it.

Most of us tend to associate seizures with flashing lights as depicted in the Michael Crichton novel The Andromeda Strain but this is an ignorant view which completely neglects the serious role that less specific preconditions such as tiredness and stress, inter alia, play in triggering a seizure - and the danger of harboring a narrow definition of 'seizure' is also brought to light. A friend of Isaac's lectures him about letting his friends help instead of shutting them out, and this straight-talk marks a turning point in his life.

This was a moving story, a fiction, but based on real truths, and it was illustrated with startling colors and bold depictions. I liked it and I recommend it, and I would definitely look for future novels from this author.


Future War by Robert H Latiff


Rating: WARTY!

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

I have to say right up front that I was disappointed in this. It seemed disorganized and rushed, and the text was so dense that it was hard to read, while at the same time so lacking in any breath that it felt like I was skimming the text even as I read every word!

I know this may sound strange coming from a fanatic like me who is always railing on authors and publishers to consider how many trees are being killed-off when setting up the formatting of their books, but I never expected to be advocating for a book to use more space than it did! This one went too far in compacting the text. The lines were so closely-spaced that it was hard to read, and then there was the usual 'academic-style' one-inch margin around the text! It felt so contradictory that it actually amused me. Smaller margins and slightly more widely-spaced text would have made it more appealing and a lot easier on the eye.

Even so, the way the book was put together was not appealing to me at all. Subtitled "Preparing for the New Global Battlefield," I felt it was so rushed and so shallow that it left me with very little useful information about how things might really be whether actually on a battlefield or in cyberspace. There are parts that were eye-opening and interesting, but the majority of this felt more like a largely-speculative work, rather than something which derived its prognostications from existing technology and predictable future directions.

On top of all this, the coverage of any one topic was so cursory that it really didn't get covered at all. One of the organizational problems was that there was very little in the way of hierarchical structure to the text, or by way of labeling subsections to make reading easier and to serve clarity. Consequently, it felt more like a stream-of-consciousness approach, and this didn't serve the subject matter well at all. The book was paradoxically only a step or two away from an outline list, yet nowhere did it actually have an outline list to make comprehension easier either in regard to what you had just read or were about to read in the upcoming chapter.

This book is very short and is a fast read, and if you want the vague 'ten-thousand foot' view or the whirlwind tour of future battlefield trends and technology, then this will give you a start, but it was really lacking far too much in depth and detail for me. It left me notably dissatisfied, and I cannot recommend it.


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Scarecrow Princess by Federico Rossi Edrighi


Rating: WORTHY!

This was another winner from Net Galley's 'Read now' offerings, where you can find some real gems if you look carefully. This therefore is an advance review copy, for which I thank the publisher.

In this graphic novel, Morrigan Moore is dragged along to yet another new town, behind her older brother and mother, who are co-authors of a series of novels based on assorted local folk-tales and legends. They're about to start a new novel, and are here for research.

Morrigan isn't happy, but is trying to make the best of a bad job. As mom and bro start to investigate the local legend of the voracious and predatory 'King of Crows' and his foe, 'The Scarecrow Prince' Morrigan finds herself not researching the legend, but living it, as she gets the mantle of The Prince thrust upon her, and discovers that it's she who must stand and defy the King of Crows - and not in some fictional work, but for real.

Morrigan grows into her role and starts making her own rules as the story careers to its uncertain conclusion. I really enjoyed this graphic novel for the feistiness of its main character: a strong female to be sure, and for the originality of the story and the excellence of the artwork. It's well-worth reading and will give you something to crow about!


The Ghost Of Gaudí by El Torres, Jesús Alonso Iglesias


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a Net Galley offering which was in the 'Read Now' category. That Category can be a mixed bag, but I have found some real gems there, and this was another one - an award winning comic which seems to have been sadly under-served primarily because it was not an American comic. Or maybe people simply have not heard of Antoni Gaudí, architect of the Sagrada Família, the most-visited monument in Spain?

So what was refreshing about this was that it was not set in the USA. Sometimes I think writers in the USA forget there is an entire planet out there, most of which isn't USA. This was set in Barcelona, so not only did we get to visit somewhere that was well off the beaten path (in terms of story settings we commonly see in graphic novels in the US), but also which told an engaging and intriguing story.

In Barcelona, murder victims begin showing up and a problematic investigator is having trouble convincing people that the murders are somehow tied to the architectural creations of Gaudí. As he tries his best to track down the perp on his side, a woman who saves an old man from being hit by a vehicle in the street and becomes injured herself, finds she is somehow now involved in these crimes. Did she save Gaudí's ghost? Is there even a ghost? If not, what was her experience all about, and who is committing these crimes - and why?

The story is just the right length, with just the right amount of freakishness and normality to blend into a great story set in a beautiful-looking city. The artwork is wonderful, and I really enjoyed this. I recommend it as a worthy read.


You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins


Rating: WARTY!

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

This started out great, but slowly fell apart the further I got into it. The blurb announced that it's "Told in alternating teen voices across three generations," but I did not expect from this that we would actually fast-forward through all three generations, and eventually be moving so rapidly that it was all-but impossible to keep track of who was who.

I'd thought it would be about the interactions between three generations all existing together! I did not expect to be flung summarily and unexpectedly into the future as those new generations arrived on the scene. The story lost so much in those jumps that it was ruined for me.

The huge, unbridged chasms between different parts of the novel were destructive, and really spoiled the story which had begun at a really good pace and allowed the reader to honestly get to know this family. I would have been quite content to follow the first two girls, Sonia and Tara, through the whole book, and see how their lives panned out. Unfortunately, I was robbed of that in this author's hell-bent, breakneck sprint to get to the grandchildren.

I felt Sonia and Tara were torn from me and diminished into becoming distant and vague memories as the new generation swept in. We learned nothing of their adult lives except what we were told in summary. It was like riding an elevator, and the car coming down at a comfortable pace, then something goes wrong and suddenly you're plunging the last few floors in free-fall. There was no warning; nothing to indicate that the comfortable pace of the early story was suddenly going to change to a rough ride.

Even that might have worked, but the story moved far too fast and spent so little time on the youngest generation that we never got to know them. They were brought in so quickly, and were danced around so capriciously that they were never more than two-dimensional shadow puppets, and not real people at all. I could not connect with them.

I was left not caring about them because they were strangers. I was left wondering why I had read that far instead of DNF-ing this novel as soon as Sonia and Tara were forced to take a back seat. It felt like the author had lost interest in the story and wanted to get it over with as soon as she could, so that she might move on to another project, and so she just summarized, or maybe simply published her outline instead of turning it into an actual story.

Perhaps I should have figured out how it would end when we met the first two girls with their story already in progress. After the briefest flash-in-the-pan memory of life in Ghana, which I had thought might be relevant later, but which was not, we meet the girls already on a plane from London to New York, so London is not even a memory in the author's desperation to get these teens onto American soil - like no other soil really matters, not even for Indian girls.

We did get a very brief time in India, which was delightful, but that was quickly over, and then the future was already banging on the door, demanding entrance, and people were married and having children before any courtship had seriously begun. It was too fast, too furious, to borrow the name of a movie, and like the movie, it was all fumes and madcap rushing from that point onwards. It was very unsatisfying.

This had the potential to be a great story and I wish the author had had enough faith in her two girls to let their story shine, but she evidently didn't, and it obviously didn't, and I felt robbed. I cannot recommend this as a worthy read.


A Dangerous Woman from Nowhere by Kris Radish


Rating: WARTY!

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

I was very disappointed in this book. A 'dangerous woman' Briar Logan was not, unless you count being in danger of putting me to sleep with endless flashbacks and rambling descriptions. She always sounded like she might be going to be dangerous, but she never was. Right at the point where she could prove herself to be dangerous, she gets hit on the head by one of the bad guys, and is invalided for some considerable time after that, so where exactly was the danger she posed? Maybe it popped up at the very end, but I gave up all hope of it and never made it that far.

Plus one of the main characters was named Jack. That's a huge no-no for me. I detest novels in which one of the main characters is named using the most over-used 'go-to-guy' name in the history of literature. If I'd known there was going to be a Jack in this novel I would honestly never have requested to read it on that basis alone, so tired am I of seeing the trope 'Jack' in any sort of action-adventure story.

The rambling parts would not have been bad had the story been a rambling kind of story. Had the woman been on a road trip or was 'finding herself' or something along those lines, the diversionary descriptions would have maybe felt more appropriate, but when the story starts out with a sense of urgency - Briar Logan's desperate need to follow her husband who's been kidnapped by desperadoes - and yet the entire tale lapses into a sedentary, drifting, teetering, slow-paced meander, it fails for me because the main character seemed more like she was out on a nature ramble than ever she was interested in pursuing her husband. I simply could not get into this story no matter how far I read, and the author didn't offer any help.

The wandering sentences were of the nature of: "Even with the seriousness of the mission, it is impossible to watch the dew slip from the tops of the trees and cascade through the canopy of leaves that are on the brink of turning into the bold colors of fall without thinking how beautiful it is this time of day and year."

And you know, even in those circumstances, had the descriptions been related to the pursuer's state of mind, they might have worked, but they felt like they had been lifted from a travelogue rather than from a story where this woman's mind should have been, if we were to believe her attachment to her husband, worried sick about him and providing her only with a tunnel vision getting to him as fast as she could. I did not feel form her any sense of worry or fear, or of losing hope or losing heart, or of desperation, or of anger, or anything associated with what she ought to have been feeling! Consequently, it rang false throughout.

There were also oddly contradictory passages. For instance, at one point, and during a section which I initially thought was a flashback because it seemed so out of place, Briar is talking about gleefully strangling chickens, and then right after that, I read, "...been determined to treat him, and all the animals on the ranch, with a kindness she has come to realize is deserved by every living creature."

This was so completely contradictory of what had gone only just before that it brought me right out of suspension of disbelief. That's not to say that people can't have conflicting views, but this one came totally out of left field and for no reason at all. There was nothing to trigger it, and it was one of many passages I read that that made me think the author was more focused on turning a phrase than ever she was in actually telling a realistic story.

It wasn't only rambling, florid descriptions which tripped up this tale; it seemed like everyone and their uncle had a flashback, and if they had one, then they had a dozen. Every time one popped-up, it robbed the story of momentum and immediacy. I soon began thinking that if this woman really doesn't care about reaching her husband any time soon, why should I care if she reaches him at all? I gave up on it about eighty percent in because it simply held no interest for me at all. I cannot recommend this one.


Friday, September 22, 2017

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.


Teen Boat! by Dave Roman, John Green


Rating: WORTHY!

There seem to be an awful lot of reviewers (even positive ones) who simply didn't get this book. It was a parody, and on top of that, it was gorgeously illustrated and on top of that, it was funny.

The stories were off the wall, but were also played for serious effect even as humor came squeezing through at every tack. Frankly, this is something and I might have launched in all seriousness to get my kids going and make them think their dad is really losing it - as they accuse me of so often (especially after I released Baker Street), but these guys (Dave Roman writer, John Green - not the John Green who makes me barf - artist) actually produced it. It's about this teenage guy who can turn into a boat! It was pretty funny, and consistently so through every story.

This foreign exchange student comes to the school and her name is Nina Pinta Santa Maria. Teen Boat (his actual name) falls for her, but she only has eyes for the school jock, who is a jerk of course. Teen has a best friend, a girl named Joey, whom he takes completely for granted. He is so oblivious of her that it's truly funny rather than annoying, although it does make me wonder why she puts up with him.

But then Joey has a secret of her own which isn't revealed in this volume. One of my sons, who seems to have inherited my wife's power to divine these things long before I ever do, thinks she's secretly an iceberg, and I'm on board with that. She's definitely a cool character.

Teen Boat runs for class president, falls in love with a Gondola, crashes into a gas tanker on his driving test, and has a run in with pirates, and therein a sequel lies! One which I shall track down ASAP and hopefully find it on sail..... If not, I may well end-up on the dock before the judge and be propelled with a stern warning into the brig for failing to bow! If looks could keel!


The ABC Animal Picnic by Janina Rossiter


Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this is an advance review copy. In honor of full disclosure, I should say that I while I am not a personal friend of the author's, I was asked by her if I would review this one, and I freely confess that I was happy to do so having had on balance, such a good experience with her books in the past.

It would be easy to favor this one for the sake of past positive perspective (get used to the alliteration - it's in the book!), but I honestly believe she would not appreciate it if I did so on that basis, and I certainly would not rate a book positively were it one I had not felt was worth reading. Fortunately for both of us, she made it very easy for me to not only really like this one, but to feel sure it was a worthy read in terms of educational value for children.

It was gorgeously-illustrated to begin with, which engendered positive feelings about it before I had begun really getting into it. The illustrations - by the author - truly are remarkable. I know a few graphic novel artists who could take a page of out Janina Rossiter's artbook! I wish I had her talent.

Whereas many children's artists are content to draw simplistic pictures, these line drawings of assorted animals, and they were very assorted, were very realistic. Usually you get only mammals in a book like this but while fish and amphibians were not present, the often neglected insects were represented, as well as one from the even more often neglected, yet crucially important Annelida phylum. We also got molluscs and even Cnidaria! Try saying that when you have an allergy going on! These drawings honestly would not have looked out of place in a Victorian-era natural history book, although they were rather more playful here, than you'd find in a book like that!

The book is aimed at helping children with their ABCs, so each four-word sentence alliterates on the key letter. The first, for example, is Andy Ant Adores Apples. I don't normally do this, but I'm going to give a huge spoiler here: the last letter is Z! There I did it! Can you guess which animal that is? I also loved the British spelling of Yoghurt, although I am sure she didn't put that in there for my benefit!

Each illustration is set in a brightly-colored background that looks like water-color, and it makes the image even more striking. There are commonly-known animals and much lesser-known ones which was appreciated, and they were not all tied to mammals, although those were prevalent. To be honest, I'm quite sure that one of them is mythical, although I am equally sure that many of us wish it were not!

So overall I am happy to rate this as a worthy read and recommend it: buy it for the educational value, Keep it for the artwork. If you can interest your kids in learning to draw like this, then you will definitely kit them out to have a career as a children's book illustrator, graphic novel artist or whatever they want! The sky isn't even the limit - and isn't that what we all want for our children?


The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel You Know It's True by Ryan North, Erica Henderson


Rating: WARTY!

I picked this up at the library thinking it might be playful and fun, but it turned out to be another waste of perfectly good trees.

Squirrel Girl is someone I never heard of before much less know her origin, so I thought this might teach me something about her. All it taught was how dull of a character she is. In the end it was really just silly and the artwork indifferent. I've seen other Marvel comic books like this which put a minor character out there and draft in major Marvel super heroes to give it some cachet, but I have to say this was the most cynical of those and has pretty much cured me of wanting to read any more comics about minor Marvel characters!

It begins with some people trapped in the head of the Statue of Liberty surrounded by robot dinosaurs, which the Avengers are fighting. Inside the people make up nonsensical stories about Squirrel Girl which were boring. That story just fizzles out with no resolution (at least not one that showed up during the fifty percent of the book that I could stand to read) and we're suddenly into several other stories, none of which are related, with bizarre new characters appearing and disappearing.

I decided this was probably heading for the trope ending where Squirrel Girl wakes up after a dream, having eaten a betel leaf or something, and I honestly had no interest in learning any more about her. Based on the fifty percent or so that I read, I cannot recommend this.


Kobane Calling by Zerocalcare


Rating: WARTY!

This was another 'Read Now' graphic novel that I requested from Net Galley, and for which I thank the publisher. I like to look at the 'Read Now' because while material in this category can sometimes mean a novel is not doing well and for good reason, it can also mean that something worth reading is being overlooked. I've seen many examples of both, and I am sorry to have to report that this one, for me, was not a worthy read.

There was a prologue. I never read prologues because they're tedious and antiquated. My advice is that if you must have one, then include it in chapter one or somewhere in the story, preferably not as a flashback. I routinely skip all prologues, prefaces, introductions, forewords, and so on.

In this case this created a problem because there was no obvious beginning to the story itself, so I skipped past page after page looking for a start or a chapter one, anything, and there was nothing to indicate where the actual story began!

This lack of organization was rife, and the total lack of respect for trees irked me. I don't think comic book writers in general ever consider how many trees they're going to destroy if their story takes off as a print edition. I wish they would. In this case, this book had a title page (which may have been a place-holder for the cover we don't get in the review copy), followed by a blank page, followed by another title page, followed by a credits page, followed by a small print page, followed by an extravagant two-page map, followed by a blank page.

This was followed by yet another title page - like we don't already know the freaking title of this work by now? Seriously? How many title pages do we need? Does the publisher think we're that stupid, that we can't remember the title page? Maybe so - because I did have to swipe past page after page, after endless page to get to the story, so it's entirely possible, by by the time I've waded through all these extraneous pages, that I could well have forgotten the title!

That was followed by a black page and then the story began, but this was not the prologue! This was the pre-prologue! Fool that I was, I read this thinking that the actual story had started, but no! After two pages, then began the prologue! I am not sure where the prologue ended. We got some more titles, but they were so odd and random that it was never clear if the story had started or if this author was totally enamored of prologuing.

I know there are in-a-rut publishers who are mesmerized by the library of Congress 'rules and regulations', but I say screw them. When did Congress ever care about trees unless it's how much money can be made and profits taxed from cutting them down? This wasn't even an American publication: it was, I think, but am not sure, Italian, and was revamped and translated for English speakers, so there's even less reason to concern ourselves about antiquated Congressional ideas about publishing.

I read seventy-eight pages of a tree-slaughtering 288, and I decided I had better things to do with my time. At no point did the author actually explain why this guy had decided to go to a kill zone. From the story it looked like all he did was it around staring at the fighting going on over the border, and then once in a while put together food packages. The packages, it seemed to me, could have been put together somewhere a whole lot safer and simply shipped to where they were needed instead of shipping the raw materials there. Why this was not done wasn't even addressed, let alone explained.

For a story that I requested because it sounded interesting, it was not. It was tedious. The writer seemed much more in love with how wonderful he was to go somewhere dangerous, than ever he was in explaining anything about why he went, why things were how they were, or how it really felt to be there. The story made the whole experience (at least as far as I could stand to read) out to be a joke and it seemed to me not a joking matter at all. The story therefor was neither engaging nor educational much less entertaining, and I gave up on it because life is too short to waste on something as dull as this. I cannot recommend it.