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.


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Noble Vol 1 by Brandon Thomas, Roger Robinson


Rating: WARTY!

This was a '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 this designation can sometimes mean a novel is not doing well and for good reason, it can also mean a gem is being overlooked. I've many examples of both. This one I am sorry to report, was not a gem.

While I was, on the one hand, pleased to see a graphic novel featuring people of color and a strong female character (Astrid Allen-Powell), I have to say I was really disappointed in this one because it adhered so closely to trope that it really offered nothing new to the genre. The men were magically muscular even if they had not been so before, and the women were absurdly sexualized. I keep hoping for graphic novel illustrators to get real and join the rest of us in the 21st century, but far too few of them seem to be interested in doing that and remain trapped in a perpetual and unhealthy adolescence.

In many ways this novel was reminiscent of the TV series, Extant starring Halle Berry, wherein people come back from space changed in odd ways. This graphic novel has nothing to do with aliens, however. In the end, it's your regular super hero novel, and in that regard it's very similar to the Fantastic Four (the 2005 movie) wherein four people out in space are affected by a phenomenon and given super powers. Here, five people go out into space to prevent an asteroid colliding with Earth, something happens, and at least one of them returns to Earth with powers.

Without wanting to give away spoilers, one problem for me was that the plot assumed everyone was using the same data regarding the asteroid, and this is never the case. There are too many different nations with a vested interest in their own safety for them to rely on one set of numbers without verifying them, so a 'plot twist' late in this volume did not work for me.

That said, there never was any justification for sending out people to tackle this problem in the first place. Missiles could presumably have done the same job - especially set in the future as this was. We already have drones and robots, yet far too few writers factor this into their scenarios. This novel offered no reason for people to go out there, other than that it was necessary for whatever the asteroid would do to wrangle a super hero transformation. It was a bit lacking.

The main character, David Powell, was affected by something, and has developed mental powers which can repulse and otherwise move objects and people, but he is having trouble controlling the power he has. Despite flashbacks which are annoying to me, especially in this story where they served little purpose other than to confuse the story, there is no explanation offered for how he came to be in this state, running loose, using false identities, and hunted by the Foresight Corporation (which seems to be inexplicably lacking policing by any government). All we're told about him is that the guy has lost his memory.

This for me was one of the major problems with this story: it was a confused and disjointed mess, with apparently random scenes tossed in. There were random flashbacks which made little sense and the whole story was in disarray. The flashbacks really did not contribute to the story whereas other flashback (if they must be included) that could have illuminated things were never offered. Everything seems to be under the control of the global Foresight Corporation. Its CEO is Lorena Payan and she is the villain here, but she makes for a pretty poor villain, being pretty and poorly developed. I could not take her seriously.

Overall I did not get any enjoyment out of this, nor any entertainment. It was not really clear at any point what was going on, and this made it boring. I cannot recommend this story.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Antisocial by Heidi Cullinan


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Erratum: "A had on Xander's knee" about 79% in should read, I think, "A Hand on Xander's knee".

This was one of the most engaging and beautifully-written novels I've ever read. I was sucked in from the start and swept along with it effortlessly. There were times that I hated to have to stop reading to get back to real life because this was more interesting! But you know it was better that way because this novel was such a tease in so many ways that by denying myself the chance to read it all in one go, I felt I shared a little something with the two main characters.

Skylar Stone is the proverbial 'born with a silver spoon in his mouth' (except that it's more complex than that), and that spoon was a very cold and uncomfortable one. Nevertheless he pressed on in life and was doing well, being both extremely popular and much sought-after as an escort to various functions by campus coeds, but he's living solely to please his father, the chill, efficient, lawyer who wants Skylar, essentially, to become a clone of him, and join his law firm - after he gets accepted to Yale Law college and graduates, of course. Therein lies the problem, because Skylar isn't scoring well on his LSAT test papers and is being tutored with little good result. His heart just isn't in it, but he's in denial about that so desperate is he to keep his father happy.

The aptly-named Xander Fairchild, on the other hand, or more accurately, on the same hand, since he's also alienated from his parents but for different reasons, is almost the polar opposite of Skylar, because he is the eponymous recluse, cantankerous and unaccommodating. He wants to do the bare minimum when it comes to interacting with others, but he has to put on an art show to graduate. The two meet almost accidentally but not quite and slowly, both come to realize they both need each other to finish their senior year projects.

This need, at first purely utilitarian, and at first resented intensely and predictably by Xander, develops into something much more personal over time as they discover that there is something more going on here than helping each other out. They're also each helping to meet a need in the other, and it;s one that one of them resented and the other barely recognized he had.

This romance comes about as the most teasing and taunting of slow-burns, and it's a real pleasure to read because you're never quite sure what will happen next. I could list more than a few YA writers who need to read this and learn from it about how real relationships begin, develop, and grow to fruition.

Note that while this author likes happy endings, she certainly doesn't like ones loaded with sugar, so if you've been getting force-fed a debilitating diet of too much sugar and fat with your reads lately, this healthy nutritional blend of wholesome writing and fiber-filled characters should please you immensely. It did me. I recommend it unreservedly. I will be looking for more novels by this author (and secretly hoping she might be contemplating writing one about one of the characters featured in this one: Zelda! I just know they have a story to tell!).


Friday, September 15, 2017

Phones Keep Us Connected by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld, Kasia Nowowiejska


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a great little children's book about the history of phones, including how they work, and how they've been developing and changing over time. It's done in a simple (but not too simple!) and colorful way that will allow any child of the appropriate age range to understand it.

It includes simple instructions to make your own phone (the cup and string method!) and ways to experiment with your design to see if your 'improvements' make it perform better or worse. I think this is a pretty darned good book to get your kids interested in science and experimentation as well as educate them about a small, but ubiquitous piece of technological history. The book is diverse and fun, and nicely done. I recommend it.


Emma by Jane Austen


Rating: WARTY!

Emma Woodhouse is a meddling little bitch. I did not like her. This is the second Austen novel where I feel the screen writer (Douglas McGrath) did a better job than did Austen in presenting this story. The 1996 movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow was enjoyable because of that screenplay, but also because of Paltrow's portrayal, which was every bit as exquisite as Jennifer Ehle's 1995 portrayal of Lizzie Bennet in the definitive TV series Pride and Prejudice. This novel was short of that by a long chalk, particularly since the book itself was way too long. Austen needed an editor. I can't help but wonder how many trees have died over the years to keep this book in print. Was it worth those deaths?

Emma claims false credit for getting Miss Taylor and Mr Weston together as the novel begins. She wants all the kudos for it, but they would more than likely have got together anyway, with or without her help. The village was small, so it's not like they would never have met, but this isn't the problem. The problem is that, smug with her 'success', Emma then scouts around for her next project and lights upon poor Harriet Smith. Harriet has her sights on a farmer by the name of Richard Martin, but Emma considers him to be of the yeomanry, and mistakenly elevates Harriet to the gentry in her blinkered vision of Harriet's blighted future.

It was all about snobbery and class back then, and being trapped in one's station. It is shamefully like that today in many ways, but back then it was a rigid code, with penalties for falling afoul of it. Emma is of the highest station - a big fish in a small pond - and her thirty thousand pounds makes Fitzwilliam Darcy look impoverished. Of course, his income was yearly, and Emma's was a one-time settlement, but it was nevertheless all hers from the outset. That amount today would be over two million pounds or over three million dollars. And what did Emma do with it? She occasionally took a basket to the Bates's? What a charity she was!

Everyone who is even mildly interested knows how this story goes. Emma talks Harriet out of marrying Martin, but in the end, she does anyway. Emma tries to palm her off on Elton and then when she thinks that Harriet has set her sights on George Knightley, she becomes peevish. She runs into criticism from Knightley for her meddling, and particularly for her insulting treatment of Miss Bates. In the end, Knightley and Woodhouse form a more perfect union. They were a good match because although Knightley sends the Bates's apples, he really isn't any more giving than is Emma when it comes to charitable works. Neither of them actually does a lick of work, and though Emma is kind to her father, who is a whiny pain in the ass and far more objectionable than ever the talkative Miss Bates is, she could do a lot better with her money and her endless free time.

The characters would have been fine for a work of fiction if the story had not been so rambling and tediously long. I recommend watching the movie, and skipping the book.


Normal by Warren Ellis


Rating: WARTY!

Read decently by John Hodgman this was a slightly pretentious audio novel which I picked up from the library against my better judgment. The best thing about it was that it was very short, but even so I found myself skipping pieces which were boring to me.

The premise is that there is a retreat for people who are on the edge of losing it over their jobs. These people seem to be exclusively foresight strategists, which are "civil futurists who think about geo-engineering and smart cities, and who are paid by "nonprofits and charities", and strategic forecasters which are "spook futurists, who think about geopolitical upheaval and drone warfare" and who are "by global security groups and corporate think tanks."

These people are consigned to Normal Head in Oregon, where they're treated for depression. Normal head seems like it ought to be a great way to cure anyone's depression! Unfortunately the novel didn't cure me need for a god read. I never really got into it, and it was a lot of drivel in places broken only here and there by mildly interesting bits and one or two amusing incidents. I cannot recommend this.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Mind Games by Kiersten White


Rating: WARTY!

I made it through only two chapters of this. I picked it up from the library based indirectly on the recommendation of a Goodreads 'friend'. It's not the book that was recommended, but it is by the same author, so I thought I'd get a preview of her work.

This book was dual first person, which means that it's twice as bad as a regular first person voice book, and both voices: the psychic girl and her blind younger sister who is held in captive, thereby keeping her older sister in servitude, sounded both the same, and neither was remotely interesting.

I simply did not care what they were about or what would happen to them, and so I ditched it. Life is far too short to waste on a poorly written series, or an idiotic YA trilogy, or on any single book which doesn't grip you from the off, when there is so much else to read, all different (hopefully) and amongst which are undoubtedly some gems to treasure!


A Jot of Blood by Katherine Bayless


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. Don't confuse this author's name with that of dancer Katherine Bailess!

If I'd really been paying attention and properly noted that this was the start of a series (The Coventry Years), I probably would not have requested to review it. I am not a fan of series. Once in a while one comes along that is worth pursuing and I had hoped this would be one, but in general series are very derivative, unimaginative, and often tediously and unnecessarily drawn-out, as this was. Plus it's in first person because, as you must know, it's quite illegal in North America to write a YA novel in any other voice....

I was initially curious about this though, which is why I requested it, but my curiosity was squelched at only five percent in, when I wanted to ditch this thing because of the tired YA clichés with which it was larded. By fifteen percent it was honestly nauseating me because I have read this same sad, stupefyingly simplistic story a score of times, and this author had brought nothing new to it.

It's like there is a certain category of YA author which is devoted to cloning every other YA author, and that's not for me. Maybe there are readers who like that kind of thing, but if there are, I feel bad for them for being in such a rut. I look for the authors who prefer the read less traveled, and who try to bring something original and unique to their audience. OTOH, if you want the same old, warmed-over fare you already were force-fed in the last YA novel you picked up, then this might be for you.

The cloning (such as using Vampire Academy's 'strigoi' liberally, for example), the trope, such as the incipient love triangle, the instadore in Lire's pathetic mooning over Cal, and the truly pathetic main character herself really turned me off. I made it to the end of chapter ten, which was 47% in, and could not bear the thought of reading any further, let alone going through a whole series of this.

It's supposed to be about upper high school kids, but it felt like reading a lower middle-grade story, because these people were so immature and petty. The main character - with the highly unlikely name of Clotilde Devon - goes by 'Lire' for reasons I never understood. The nickname is pronounced 'Leer'. I can understand that.

The Goodreads blurb read, in part, "Adolescence is hard enough, but add magic to the mix and things have a way of getting complicated in a hurry. Even at Coventry Academy, one of the best schools in the world for the magically inclined, some 'gifts' mean nothing but trouble." I didn't get how this was supposed to be the best school. There was nothing in the first fifty percent of the story to indicate that.

Quite the contrary; it seemed like any ordinary high school, but with far more bullying than any ordinary high school would have. The oddest thing though, was that it was so ordinary. Unlike at Hogwarts for example, there were no magical lessons taught here - not even how to control or use your particular skill. That seemed extraordinarily strange (and not Stephen Strange!) to me, so where the 'add magic to the mix' came in is a complete mystery. There was none practiced here.

One reviewer who reviewed this negatively said that "Cal wasn't a typical twilight werewolf", but he was. There was literally nothing new here at all. Cal is your typical trope werewolf and Zach is your typical standard-issue buddy (but more obnoxious). Let's call them what they are: Clone-Wolf and Yuk. Neither of them were remotely interesting except in how obnoxious they were, immediately and repeatedly calling Lire 'princess' for no apparent reason, and randomly tugging on her ponytail again and again for no apparent reason. Lire is such a passive, wet rag that she had can find absolutely no objection to this treatment whatsoever.

Of course Cal is obnoxious towards Lire so she immediately falls for him, and from that point onward, quite literally every other page has an observation from Lire on how muscular he is, how attractive he is, or how good he looks in this outfit or that, or how he couldn't possibly be interested in her. Oh my but how attractive is he? How muscular! How cut and ripped and [insert other destructive adjective perversely intended to indicate perfection] he is! Here's an example: "My heart fluttered, and I immediately wanted to kick myself for it. I wasn't a damsel in distress. I could take care of myself." No, she can't. She's proven this repeatedly by this point, so she's not even honest with herself. Maybe her nickname is really 'Liar'?

This is the asinine love triangle we're presented with, even though there's absolutely no reason whatsoever for Clone-Wolf and Yuk to pal up with her. Of course they do, not because it was going to naturally happen, but because the author insists that it has to happen no matter what.

The bullying in this school is so extreme as to be completely absurd If this had been a parody, it would have been funny, but as it his, quite literally everyone in the school (except for newcomers Clone and Yuk of course) detests Lire. I am not kidding you. She's a complete pariah and she lets us know this routinely, and in first person voice! Frankly, I would have shunned her because she was so nauseatingly whiny, Who cares if she's a clairvoyant? Shes actually more like a bifocal-voyant because she can only whine endlessly about her treatment, or drool endlessly over cal. That's it. That's her entire repertoire.

The Net Galley blurb tells us: "The contents of this book include one surly werewolf, a snarky invisible prankster, and enough indelicate language to make a succubus blush." Really? Indelicate language? No there's none, unless you class "fricking" as indelicate. In short, it's totally unrealistic, No kid in this entire school actually swears, which I took as more evidence that it was aimed at a middle-grade audience.

The writing is often as obnoxious as the characters. There's fat-shaming at merely 2% in: "He'd been three years older and a big fat jerk." Maybe that wasn't meant to be literal, but it was also entirely unnecessary. Lire is supposed to be attending an elite academy and this is the best she can to to express herself? That remedial English level of expression was common. Lire was obnoxious in coming up with an abusive name, on the spot, for anyone she did not like, often in the form of a truly juvenile Mr Mcfartypants (that wasn't one but it's of precisely the same mentality - again, it's middle-grade material). Lire even chortles at one point! No, I am not kidding.

The French! Periodically we got a French lesson with the French phrase followed immediately by the English translation (for example: "Bon, tu m'as compris. Alors, tiens, elles sont à toi." Good, you get me. So, here, they are yours). It was tedious, and especially so for those of us who understand enough French to get the sense of the phrase. Even those who do not, do not need it monotonously and literally spelled out every single time. There are better ways of handling this, and this author seriously needs to find them.

The writing was bad in other ways, such as when I read this: "Total invisibility, including their shadow." Seriously? There are different ways of being invisible, of course, but in a paranormal novel lie this, where it quite literally meant that the character was invisible, of course there's no shadow! How can there be a shadow when there's nothing to block the light? Clearly this concept was sorely lacking some thinking-through.

Another example of poor writing was this: "The car rocked as Dad executed a three-point U-turn. What the...frick (to employ an indelicate word from the book!) is a three-point U-turn? It's either a U-turn or it's a three point turn. It's not both.

Oh, and Lire's two paramours can move at super-speed. This is their secret power. She leaves the cafeteria shortly after they do, all-but sprints to her class, and they still get there before her, and early enough to cause trouble before she arrives. Again, it's not thought through.

This was the problem with this whole book when you get down to it. It could have had the makings of a good story but to get there from here, you'd need to make a 3 point U-turn - the three points being to ditch Lire, Clone, and Yuk. And lose the first person voice. Or give it to a character who would be worth listening to, and who was a whole lot less whiny. Amanda, for example. Now there was an interesting character although the author did a lousy job of giving her any rationale for her behavior.

As it is, this novel is not a worthy read and I cannot recommend it.


Monday, September 11, 2017

Real Life Super Heroes by Nadia Fezzani


Rating: WARTY!

I have to confess up front my disappointment in this book: an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. It professes to be written by a professional journalist, but professionalism was exactly what it was lacking. This book felt more like reading something written by a fan-girl or a groupie. Issues which ought to have been pursued were ignored and questions which ought to have been answered were never asked.

Not to be confused with Real Life Super Heroes by Ernest Cooper, or Real Life Super Heroes by Pierre-Élie de Pibrac, or even I Married a Real-Life-Super-Hero by Amity Maree, this book advises us (from the blurb) that they "...dress up at night, fight crime, save people, and some of them even have secret identities. Are they ordinary, mild-mannered citizens, or are they larger-than-life characters, determined to fight crime, risking life and limb to defend victims of violence and injustice? And why do some choose to reveal their true identities, while others prefer to remain anonymous?"

I had several reactions to that, including 'were these the only options?', but I think the most pertinent one is, why do they only go out at night? This was something which wasn't explored, and was emblematic of a flaw in this entire book: things unexplored, and aspects of the story uncovered.

An obvious answer presented itself in that many of them work a regular job during the day, but not all of them do. Another answer is that many of the things they claim to engage with, crime being the obvious one, take place at night, but this isn't strictly or always true. This was one of the things which I felt never got addressed properly in a book which to me failed too many times to take seriously.

So there are apparently people who dress in costumes and go out on city streets to fight crime. Some of them simply do things like hand out food, water, and blankets to the homeless (something which could just as readily be done during the day) or help break-up fights or find drunks a ride home and so on. Others go another step beyond that and try to bring criminals to justice. This is where the facts tended to get skimmed. Frankly I was far more impressed by those who quietly handed-out things to the needy than ever I was by the costumed 'crime fighters'.

The problem is that we got only one side to this story: the side the author clearly favored. She was not interested in reporting anything other than what she was told by the people she was following. Even when she pretended to seek out the horrible 'super villains', it turned out these guys were not even remotely villains. They were more like side-kicks to the heroes. The fact that the author is in a romantic relationship with one of the "villains" clearly reveals the huge bias in her reporting here.

She didn't care to ask the difficult questions, nor did she care to seek opinions from outside this small community. Why, if she really wanted to do a job of journalism, did she not interview police and local community leaders? Why did she no peruse crime prevention stats to see if these 'crime fighters' actually did make a significant difference? Why did she not ask these people why they didn't simply join the police force or a neighborhood watch if they truly wanted to help? All of these questions were brushed aside, if they were ever raised, in favor of fan-girling. It's an insult to real working reporters to call this reporting. It was nothing of the sort.

The biggest question of all: why these people get the name super heroes, was left unasked, let alone answered. What makes them super? How are they any more heroic than people who do what they do but don't wear flamboyant costumes? based on the content of this book, the only answer seemed to be that they roam in gangs wearing cosplay costumes and occasionally tackle crime. The biggest "hero" of them all seemed to be "Phoenix Jones", about whom the author had nothing negative to say, but here's what the book said about him reacting one night to a friend being injured:

"My friend's face was flopped open and was just gushing blood."
"...and I walked up on this guy and he just took off. I chased him, I tackled him, I pulled him, and I hit him a few times. I took the stick and I was going to whoop his ass when the police rolled up on me."

Is this what a super hero does? Beats-up people? Personally I think it would have been more heroic to have taken his friend who "was just gushing blood" to a hospital, but this 'hero' abandons his friend and goes after vengeance - not justice but vengeance. This whole thing was reported without any analysis or observation from the author. It was shameful reporting. We never even learn what happened to his friend who was gushing blood.

At one point I read the hypocritical conclusion to another event: "Although they thought the boys' intentions could be seen as good, the RLSHs did not generally accept their actions as positive." Compare and contrast with Phoenix Jones all-but beating-up that guy.

The reporter is so enamored of the heroes that she gushes herself, talking of Purple Reign, an associate of Phoenix Jones: "He was accompanied by a beautiful woman, whom I recognized." Later, I read, "Purple [reign] looked to be in good shape, too, with a shorter frame, a beautiful face" Purple reign was actually one of the few people I read about in this book that I admired for what she does. She was also at one time married to Phoenix Jones. Evidently, they separated in mid-November 2013, but you won't read that in the book.

She's not about show and flash and publicity; she's about helping people in very real ways: people who truly need the help, and she's in a good position to give it, but what does her beauty (or otherwise) have to do with what she does? If she were plain would that make her less super? If she were unattractive altogether, would that make her less heroic? Less effective?

I am so tired of reading this "plain-shaming" from female authors who should know better given the make-up, youth, and 'beauty' culture that drives everything in the west, and who seem to go out of their way to remind their fellow sex that if they aren't beautiful, then fuggeddabout it. It's a disgrace and it needs to stop. There's nothing heroic about behaving in this way. It's bad enough that we routinely see this in comic books about super heroes. We sure as hell do not need it irl.

This gender bias appears elsewhere in the book, as we see when the author is with the super heroes "on patrol" and there's a shooting. Never once did I read of anyone in the group calling the police. Instead, I read this:

Everywhere I looked I could see young women scattering in front of the nearby nightclub, running as fast as they could with their high heels and short skirts. I also noticed that the men, in their sneakers, easily outpaced them. Say what you will about Real Life Super Heroes, but I can't imagine any of them taking off and leaving terrified a women in their wake!

How gallahnt! How St George! So women are helpless victims by definition, and only manly men can save them? We're either equal or we're not. You don't get to have it both ways: fully equal, until that is, you need a man to save you, then you're a maiden in distress? (Or vice versa, until you need a woman to save you).

The wrong-headedness of this writing was appalling, but it gets worse! At one point, the author says, "Oddly enough, during my entire life, only once was I taught what to do in case of a shooting." It's not rocket science! If you are not trained to deal with such a situation, you get your damned head down and if you can, you get away. It's that simple. Oh, and you call the cops, who are trained to deal with it. No wonder she thought all other women were in need of saving.

In another incident that was reported straight from the mouth of the hero without any investigation or analysis, we read of one guy who saw the police chasing after a man and a woman, and he intervened, busting into a police officer, and ending up beaten himself.

This was presented as heroic, but never once did the reporter ask why those people were running. They were presented as victims, but nowhere were any of the cops involved interviewed. She never went back to try to look at footage of the incident (if there was any) to see what actually happened. We got only one biased fan-girl side of the story as thought this was somehow heroic.

I don't know what those people had been doing, but neither did the 'hero'. Maybe they were perfectly innocent, but what if they'd been throwing rocks at the police? We don't know what they had been doing and neither did he, yet he charged in and assaulted a police officer, and this made him a 'hero'? If the pair had been both male would he have done the same thing, or was he charging in merely to help what he saw as a 'maiden in distress'? We don't know because the reporter didn't care to ask.

I am not a huge fan of the police many times, but these people put their lives on the line every day. They are professionally trained and legally empowered to do what they do. And they wear no mask. They hide behind nothing and they are out there doing what they see as the best that can be done in any given situation under often trying and sometimes impossible conditions. They do not randomly and haphazardly wander into situations. Yes, there are bad seeds in there and yes, even the best make mistakes. Yes, there is sometimes corruption, but they have a right to tell their side of the story - unless, that is, it's a super hero book written by this author.

Bad writing was prevalent. At one point I read, "He exuded a genuine demeanour." I think what she meant to say was that he seemed genuine, but why say that when you can make it an order of magnitude harder to grasp on first reading? I also read later, "His team fluctuates in membership, sometimes five, sometimes twelve, but the core is strong: Ghost, Asylum, Foolking, Oni, Professor Midnight, and himself." Unless my math is bad, that core is six, not five, so is it strong or not?!

After chiding an HBO Super Heroes documentary (which I haven't yet seen) for making the heroes out to look like idiots, this author then reports of one of her subjects, "Today he patrols and is writing a book on the manifestation of good, evil, and in between. It's about mental powers and the ability to read minds and control thoughts, all based on metaphysics and subatomic physics." Ri-ight! I am not kidding, this was reported as is without comment!

Another of them had this to say about how humble he was: "You can do anything you want here and get away with it. All you got to do is be that much smarter than anyone else, and it works. I do it great...I think I slept with my entire graduating class, to be honest with you. It was pretty bad and then there was the class before and after. I don't go out on patrol as much to help others really as to help me. It's for me. If people don't like it? Fine. Just try to stop me." That's so humble. Really, truly humble! An again it was reported without any comment.

This book was so poorly written and so gushingly, embarrassingly biased it was a disgrace to reporting, and I do not recommend it. Nothing could be less heroic or less super.


Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the sequel to The Bear and the Nightingale which I read and enjoyed very much. I was thrilled to be offered the chance to read the sequel even though I am not much of a reader of series, because the first book was so good. I am pleased to report that this (an advance review copy, note) was very much up to the standard of the first.

In this story, Vasilisa Petrovna decides she wants to travel rather than be confined in one place, especially since it is a place where she is disliked and at risk of being labeled a witch. The frost prince, Morozko, who effectively created her in the earlier novel, building on the young and gifted child that she was at birth, objects strenuously to her plan, but unwilling to bow to anyone, she forges ahead with it anyway.

On her journey, she encounters a village which has been burned by bandits who have abducted several girls, and Vasya decides that she's going to retrieve them. This in turn leads to her joining the prince's party from Moscow, which is hunting these same village-burners, and she becomes a favorite of the prince. The problem is that he thinks she's a young man, not a girl! And that scandalous situation isn't the worst thing which happens to her by far. And no, this novel is not a romance except in the very old fashioned sense of the word, I am thrilled to report!

I have to say this got off to a rather slow start for me. I do not read prologues or introductions or what have you, but the opening chapters felt like one, and I wasn't sure what they contributed to the book, but as soon as we left that part behind and joined Vasilisa as she sets off with her magnificent horse Solovey in the depths of a Russian winter, everything turned around for me, and I was engrossed from that point on. I loved that magical Russian folklore characters pop-up unannounced every now and then, some of them important to the story. They make for a rich and charming read.

Vasya is at her core a particularly strong female character, independent and not tied to any man, nor will she chase any. This feisty independence appeals to someone like me who has read too many trashy YA novels where a woman can't be a woman unless she's validated by a man. There's none of that here: Vasya will not be reigned in by anyone. She's strong, but vulnerable at times. She is almost fearless and she tries to do what she thinks is right, although it is not always the wisest course for her or those around her.

But there is a point where Vasya's gender deception is uncovered. You know it's coming, but even so it's hard to see her fall so fast and so hard, just when her life had been perking up. She's every bit up to the challenge, though she's confronted with some difficult choices and some obnoxious male figures. Despite all this, she remains strong and valiant, and I really loved the way this story went and how she made it through these obstacles without selling out.

This was a gripping and entertaining story about an awesome female character of the kind we see far too few of in novels, so yes despite my aversion to series, I should like to read more of her in the future, but for now this satisfies admirably! It's a worthy read, and I recommend it highly.


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Hot and Badgered by Shelly Laurenston


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I can't honestly review this novel because all we were allowed was the first chapter! Due to a small oversight on my part I did not realize this, but based on that sole chapter, I was interested in reading more. The blurb was misleading though. The interaction between the shape-shifters: a bear (a guy of course) and a honey badger (a girl of course) bore only passing resemblance to what was described in that blurb.

I am not a fan of the vampire/werewolf stories so I normally would not have read this, but the fact that this was expressly not about wolves (which is a genre way-the-hell overdone these days), but about a bear and a badger made it more interesting to me. I'm a big advocate of authors taking that road less-traveled rather than trying to clone some other writer's work, and it pleased me that this author appears to be, too.

I have to say that the idea that a bullet hitting someone in the shoulder or arm could propel them over a balcony is preposterous! If you understand a little physics you know that those absurd gunfights in the movies and on TV, featuring grown men flying backwards after being hit is nonsensical. A bullet is so small and so fast that it will tear right through you barely if at all affecting your stance or your motion. Depending on the circumstances, you might not even notice you've been hit at first.

To paraphrase Golden Earring in their song Twilight Zone, you are likely going to know if the bullet hits a bone. It may break it, and that will cause you problems, but it still won't throw you dramatically backwards or toss you over a balcony, unless you happen to be precariously balancing on the balcony in the first place, in which case you might drop off it.

If you've seen the North Hollywood Bank of America robbery shootout from February 1997, which is admittedly grisly, you can see from it that when shot, the suspects do not go flying anywhere, and when killed, they simply drop to the ground. If you do not want to see that, it's perfectly understandable, in which case, I'd recommend watching the twelfth episode of Ray Donovan in the third season, where Ray has a shoot-out and is hit more than once. His reaction seems far more realistic than ninety percent of actors in standard TV or movie gunfights.

One thing which was a little confusing to me was the time of day that this opening chapter took place. I'd got the impression, rightly or wrongly, that it was very early morning - as in very late at night, but then we find there are school-children on the street, so I was confused, because we'd been told the streets were quiet, so I'd been thinking it was about three AM. Clearly it was not, but if it was late enough in the morning for school-kids to be out and about, how was it that the streets were so quiet, and how come a team of mercenaries could invade a hotel and not be seen and reported? And if the hit squad was specifically after Charlie (the honey-badger) then what were they doing at the grizzly's hotel room? he had no connection with her at that point. The author might want to rethink her setting and action a bit, or explain it better!

That and the irritating shortness of the sample aside, I have to admit the idea of three sisters in serious trouble and trying to figure out what's going on, sounds like a great idea for a story. As long as we don't get the grizzly bear always riding to the rescue of the poor helpless maidens in distress, like these girls can't handle themselves and need a man to validate them, which would simply ruin the story, I'd recommend it, based on the admittedly inadequate portion I had access to.


The Art of Hiding by Amanda Prowse


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Amanda Prose would work well as this author's name too, since this was well-written and flowed so nicely! It told an engaging story and told it well. I am not a fan of novels which carry too much unleavened negativity, but this one avoided that, despite the painful topic it dealt with.

Nina McCarrick is living 'high on the hog' as they say in the USA, in an almost palatial home with her self-employed husband, Finn, and her two fine sons: Connor and Declan, who attend an exclusive private school. She's made her profession that of a full-time housewife and homemaker.

When Finn dies in a car accident, Nina is left alone with the boys, and as if this isn't bad enough, soon her whole world begins to crumble around her as she learns that her husband has run-up eight million pounds in debt on a bad investment in a construction job that his business was trying to negotiate, but which fell through.

Nina had no idea they were stretched so thin, since she was kept entirely in the dark about his business. He always assured her things were fine. Worse than this, as if it could get any worse, their house was tied-up in the company's finances, having been mortgaged to raise funds, and they are going to have to leave. Everywhere she looks, things seem blacker. Their savings are gone, and men show up one day to strip her home of anything saleable. Connor only manages to retain his laptop because it's for his education.

Nina and her kids must leave their home and she cannot think of anywhere she can go. Her family is unable to help and her snotty neighbors do not want to know her any more. Her sister steps up and manages to find her a place that's owned by an uncle, but she still has to pay rent. She figures she has enough to get them though two months, but she desperately needs to find a job - one for which she has zero qualifications or training because she has not worked since she married. Her endless, fruitless job search is heartbreaking to read. It's sad to think that the civilized world end up this way if the Business President™ continues his current insanely reckless course!

The rental place is minuscule compared with what Nina's used to, and it's cold during this winter of Nina's profound discontent, but it's a home of a sort, and Nina is now back in her home town of Southampton, close by where her sister lives - and surprisingly simply compared with what Nina's old life provided.

This is a sister with whom she has barely been in touch over the years. Nina could not shed her background fast enough once she met Finn all those years ago, and she has not looked back since, but now she finds she is having her face rubbed in her failings every time she turns around.

This story follows Nina as she tries to hold not only herself together, but her family and her life. She has to weather some dark times, and deal with her older son's anger and despair at having his comfortable life taken from him so speedily and abruptly. She bounces unpredictably between anger at her husband's betrayal and secrecy, and her pain at losing him, between fear for their future and hope that things will turn around.

I really appreciated that this author is smart enough to make this story about Nina and her strength,golden goose and rescue her from the dragon of disaster that seems constantly looming over her. I really liked this story, it was a fast comfortable read, and had interesting and engaging characters. It was realistic and enjoyable, and I recommend it. I shall look for other novels by this author.


Sunday, September 3, 2017

Bunny Drop Vo 2 by Yumi Unita


Rating: WORTHY!

How could I not pick this up at the library when the author's name might sound like 'yummy' and the title is Bunny Drop? It could have been bad, but in the end, although a little bit on the long side (and this was volume 2 in a series), it was an enjoyable read. I have not read volume one but I think I will try to get hold of that.

In volume one, Daikichi Kawachi finds himself the guardian of a six-year-old girl, Rin Kaga, who was living with his grandfather until the old man died. Rin (who has his grandfather's last name) was given up by her mother, and raised by Daikichi's grandfather and a helper who worked for him. Now Daikichi is the 'dad'.

This volume follows their life as Rin becomes ready to start elementary school, and it gives us quite an education on the pressure put on students and parents in Japan, as they have to compete to get into a good elementary school to kick-off their education, and Daikichi has to worry about whether Rin will be victimized because she does not bear the same family name as he has.

The story also works its way towards an interesting encounter with Rin's actual mom, who has her own story to tell which sounds like rather a selfish one to me.

It's amusingly and sensitively written, and beautifully-drawn (black and white line-drawings with some shading), and tells an engaging story, but I think it is a bit overdrawn - not in the art, but in the telling. I think a few trees would have appreciated this if it had been more compact. I sure would, but I am not going to negatively rate it for that. I just hope publishers and authors start to think about the impact of their work on the environment before they start writing their series, and especially their YA trilogy clones that could be told in one volume or better yet, not at all.

As for this, I recommend it.


One for Sorrow by Mary Downing Hahn


Rating: WARTY!

Erratum:
"I didn't want to your friend..." To be or not to be?! That is the question! I think it should have been "to be your friend."

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

I really wanted to like this book but I could not. It was so negatively-written and it went on and on for so very long, with an unremitting aura of sadness and defeat about it, that I do not think it appropriate for the middle-grade audience for which it appears to have been written. It seems more like a young-adult novel, but it's not a good recommendation even for that group. I think if it had been about half- or two-thirds the length, and had some upbeats added here and there to leaven a dour, unremitting funereal drumbeat of poison and tragedy, it would have been much improved. As it was, it made the 1998 movie Heathers look like a Care Bears story, and that is really too much.

There were two main characters: Annie and Elsie, and there was very little to like about either of them. Annie was glommed onto by Elsie when she changed her school. Elsie is thoroughly unlikable from start to finish and her behavior seems to make little sense at times. Se literally had no saving graces whatsoever.

We get hints here and there of a sad past, but this is never shared with the reader, which I think was a mistake since it left us with no choice but to assume that Elsie was simply a liar on top of all her other defects, but even had it been true, and even had it been a thoroughly tragic past, it would have failed to make her any more likable because she was more caricature than character.

Annie was a different kettle of go-fish and was portrayed as the victim (and not in a good way) throughout this whole story. She never learned anything, never changed, never grew, and never improved. She did not make things happen; she had things happen to her and did not even react to them except to let them carry her away in the Elsie tide, and she never even tried to swim against the current. Such a helpless maiden-in-distress was she that she had to be rescued in the end in a way which was telegraphed from way ahead of the event. She was such a limp worthless character that it was impossible to like her either.

The story is one of relentless bullying, brutality and cruelty, and all of this is from the hands of these young girls, who seem wholly out of character for the era in which they are depicted. Rosie and her allies detest Elsie, and it's not unjustified. They start hating Annie because Elsie has 'captured' her first, but when Annie sees how awful Elsie is, she sides with the other girls, and rightly so. I'm sorry, but it's impossible to feel any sort of sympathy for Elsie.

The sad thing is that despite all this abuse going on, not one single adult ever steps up to enforce discipline, not even Annie's parents. The adults are so bland and vaguely constructed that there is no difference between any of them and for all they contribute, they could have been dispensed with completely and the story would have remained largely unchanged.

What happens is that, since this is set in the 1918-1919 era of the flu pandemic, Elsie dies, and comes back to haunt Annie, making her do vengeful things which eventually land her in a home that is one step shy of an asylum. Elsie follows her there, making her situation worse, but no matter what Annie does, Elie's behavior never changes. It makes no sense! Not that Annie really does anything save whine about her lot in life, and since this is written in first person, it makes for a very tedious read. I kept on reading in hopes of a turn-around or at least an improvement, but there was none to be found here.

Annie is a completely unmotivated character who is blown about in Elsie's wind. At the risk of a spoiler, she is not the only one affected by Elsie, but we learn of this only in a passing sentence or two at the end. I think the story would have been immeasurably improved if the other stories had been told, but this monotonous focus on Annie and Elsie, which essentially goes nowhere for three hundred pages, is too much. Everything is resolved in the end, but there is no build up to it. It takes place literally in the space of a half-dozen pages at the end and so is rather abrupt. perhaps the author herself grew tired of how this was dragging itself out?

There was a good story to be told here, but we did no get it. The author found the root of this story in something her own mother, who lived through the pandemic, told her about how she and some friends would 'pay their respects' at wakes (which were held in family homes back then) so they could grab some free drinks and food, but they were scared out of this behavior when they attended one at which they soon learned that the deceased's body was that of a schoolmate of theirs: a girl they did not know had died. There is a different, interesting story right there to tell, but again that's not the one we got.

Everything is spaced out in this book, including the text and margins. If the margins had been smaller, and the lines of print slightly closer together the book could have been maybe fifty or more pages shorter and a few trees saved. Again, that's not what we got. Once more I have to beg a publisher to consider what they are doing to the trees when they format a book as liberally as this. There are better ways. In an ebook, which is what I got for this review, there are no trees harmed, of course, but a longer book still takes more transmission time over the Internet and that requires the use of more energy, so again, a longer book is less kind to the environment.

I wish the author all the best, but I cannot recommend this read.






Saturday, September 2, 2017

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen


Rating: WORTHY!

I think this is the best of Austen's efforts, and I recommend it.

Gutenberg has a free ebook of this novel. This is my second time through it, but this time it was by means of an audiobook I got from my trusty local library. I was less pleased listening to someone else read it, and I confess a bit surprised by how much prose there was between conversations. When one thinks of Austen one thinks of amusing observations and retorts, but sometimes I think I've been spoiled by seeing excellent TV productions of these stories. Austen does include a lot of (sometimes tedious) exposition, but it can also be amusing.

Mrs Bennet is perennially trying to find husbands for her five daughters, from oldest to youngest: Jane, Elizabeth (Lizzie), Mary, Catherine (Kitty), and Lydia. The story is special in that it is 200 years old and so is quite different from modern novels in outlook, and different again from American novels since it's British. It is an historical novel written contemporarily and therefore is as authentic as it gets! A lot of modern writers, especially in the YA field, could learn a lot from reading it - and internalizing the lessons here. 'Tis a pity that more do not.

I have to reiterate that Austen fanatics tend to forget what a life of privilege most characters in her stories lead. They are rich even though they often plead poverty (Bennets, I'm looking at you!). They are spoiled by having servants run around after them. They live in better homes than most people have even today, and they lead a life of the idle rich. In short, it's snobbery and privilege, and we're supposed to overlook all of that and enjoy the romance!

For me the romance is soiled by the grotesque inequality and entitlement. Would not Fitzwilliam Darcy have been that much more heroic had he been shown to do far more for the impoverished and needy than ever he was inclined to do here? Yes, he rescued Lizzie's family from the scandal brought on it by Wickham, but he did it for selfish reasons. He would have been more heroic had he challenged Wickham to a duel after the SoB tried to seduce his sister, and shot the jerk. His behavior seems almost cowardly here, and Wickham never does get a come-uppance.

That said, I did enjoy this story as it was, for what it was and for when it was (quite literally) penned. Austen often has a (perhaps unintentional) turn of humor that I find delightful, as in chapter 17 where she has Jane and Elizabeth secretly discussing Wickham's revelations regarding Darcy, from which they're disturbed by Bingley's arrival with an invitation to the ball which he had promised Lydia he should hold:

The two young ladies were summoned from the shrubbery, where this conversation passed, by the arrival of the very persons of whom they had been speaking;
Austen seems overly enamored of shrubbery in this story!

Austen also seems inconsistent in how she uses the indefinite article before an aspirate. She writes 'a husband', but 'an hope'. This may be less interesting to others than it is to me, because to me it's yet another reason to take interest in more antiquated writing styles, especially when found in the form of fiction. This antiquity of style is one of the charms of such novels. I almost end up feeling as though I'm a better person, and certainly I feel that I'm better equipped as a writer for having an acquaintanceship with such work.

The novel suggests a closer friendship between Jane and Bingley's two sisters than either the 1995 movie or the 2005 movie would have you believe. The novel also indicates that Elizabeth's first two dances with Collins were much more embarrassing than they were depicted as being in the 1995 movie ('mortification' is the term Austen uses, followed by 'ecstasy' as the dances are over and Elizabeth is released!). The 2005 movie shows no problem there at all.

This novel was not originally intended to have the title 'Pride and Prejudice', it was to have been titled 'First Impressions', but two other works with that title had been published quite recently as Austen was revising her work, so she changed it to what is in my opinion a far better title. It's hard to see this novel under it's original name!

one of the reasons I enjoy this novel is that I am familiar with many of the places mentioned, not only from having been there but also from having lived here! On her trip with the Gardiners to Derbyshire, a county in which I was born and raised Mrs Gardiner's home village of Lambton is mentioned. There is at least two Lambtons in England but neither is in Derbyshire.

One of them is famous for being the home of the Lambton Worm, an ancient legend from which Bram Stoker took his inspiration for his The Lair of the White Worm. Wikipedia informs us that the home of Fitzwilliam Darcy was modeled on Chatsworth House, a beautiful place not far from my home town. It was this very house which was used (for exteriors only) in the 2005 movie.

Austen also has Lizzie refer to other places with which I'm very familiar: Dovedale to which I've also been several times, the Peak District, and finally, my own home town, Matlock (yes, just like the TV show, but we had it first!) which is part of the Peak District.

I think of the two movies, the better one for this portion is the 2005 version, even though it strays way beyond the bounds of canon. In it, a scene was added where Lizzie is looking at some truly amazing sculptures, one of which is a bust of Darcy. Yes, Virginia, men had busts back then, and proud of them they were, too! A non-canonical scene was also added where Lizzie is attracted by some beautiful piano-playing and finds herself watching Georgiana, without knowing who she is. Darcy suddenly walks into he scene and hugs her. He sees Lizzie, who runs, evidently thinking this is Darcy's girlfriend!

There is no scene where Darcy takes a swim in this book, FYI! And there was far more detail than ever I was interested in hearing at the end of this novel, so while I still recommend reading this or another of Austen's works for their authentic period detail, and for Austen's occasional humorous and charming turn of phrases, I have to say that I'm not overwhelmed by her overall talent as a writer. But, overall, I'm quite prepared to declare it a worthy read!


Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen


Rating: WARTY!

In which Emma Thompson proves to be a better writer than Jane Austen!

I was disappointed in this. Donada Peters reading voice did not help, but it was the story itself which did not hold my interest.

When Henry Dashwood dies, Norland Park devolves upon his son John, meaning that his new wife, and their three daughters, Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret, are homeless. Henry had requested that John would take care of his second wife and their family, but he and his wife Fanny soon talk themselves out of giving them anything worth the name.

Fortunately, Elinor's frantic letter-writing campaign scores them a nice home: Barton Cottage, although ti is significant come-down from Norland, it is still a better home than most people can have even today! It's close by the coast in Devonshire, and is loaned to them by their cousin, Sir John Middleton, who with his wife, prove to be jovial, slightly meddlesome, but good-hearted benefactors.

Austen fanatics tend to forget what a life of privilege most characters in her stories lead. They are rich even though they often plead poverty. They are spoiled by having servants run around after them. They live in better homes than most people have even today, and they lead a life of the idle rich. In short, it's snobbery and privilege, and we're supposed to overlook all of that and enjoy the romance! For me the romance is soiled by the grotesque inequality and entitlement.

The Dashwood family is invited to dine with the Middletons often. Through this acquaintanceship, they meet the solid Colonel Brandon, who develops a soft spot for Marianne though she is literally half his age, but her incipient affections are soon lost to Brandon when John Willoughby, a rake and a cad, and dash it all, a bounder, I tell you!, comes into her life, the raffish hero after her sprained ankle.

The couple's conduct is barely this side of scandalous, and the two elder females in the Dashwood household soon suspect that there is a secret engagement in play until Willoughby is forced to leave the district suddenly, and from that point on seems to have forgotten Marianne's very existence.

Into Elinor's life comes Edward Ferrars, bound, it would seem, for the church. She develops a friendship and feelings for him only to have those dashed when Anne and Lucy Steele, cousins of Lady Middleton, arrive, and Lucy confides in Elinor of a secret engagement to Edward. Once again, hopes are dashed (come on, it's about the Dashwoods! what did you expect?) and the man disappears from the woman's life.

On a trip to London, Marianne improperly begins importuning Willoughy with a series of letters, but he ignores all her missives until finally he sends her a curt note returning her lock of hair. An accidental meeting at a ball reveals why: he is engaged to be married to a woman of wealth and substance. He took money over love. As is the wont in these stories, this is all it takes for Marianne to become deathly ill! Clearly the rejection virus has taken her by storm. Cytokine storm no doubt!

The redoubtable Brandon once again mans-up to expose Willoughby's unsavory character (his aunt has disinherited him after the discovery that he had impregnated and then abandoned Miss Williams, Brandon's teen ward). Meanwhile, the idiot Edward will not break-off his engagement to Lucy Steel even under threat of disinheritance and is consequently disinherited. His brother Robert takes his money and his fiancee, and so Edward is left free to be with Elinor. Marianne conveniently falls in love with Brandon, and all is well.

Yeah, it was like that. I think this one is the worst of Austen's efforts, so I cannot recommend it.


Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Book One by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Robert Hack


Rating: WARTY!

Hack is an appropriate name for one of the creators of this, but it would have been more appropriate had he been the writer instead of the artist, although the artwork was kind of meh and muddy.

The story is of Sabrina the teen witch (Sabrina Spellman? Really?)as far as I can tell, but really, who knows? it actually wasn't about her but about Madame Satan (Really?), so bait and switch right there. It begins with a prologue which I skipped as I do all prologues.

The author included it in chapter one, but labeled it a prologue! Since it was part and parcel of the chapter there was no quick way to tell when it ended, I skipped the whole chapter. That wasn't enough for this writer though, because he then went into another prologue in chapter 2 and larded the story with endless flashbacks. I quit reading it about half-way through because it was so tedious, so larded with trope, and so uninteresting that it was a waste of my valuable time.

We have this woman who supposedly hails from 'Gehenna, capital city of hell', yet she's draw so pathetically that she is a joke. When she's not a joke she's so quaintly cute and cuddly that she completely belies the told-not-shown origin story. There was nothing chilling about this volume except in how many tropes were hauled out of the farcical Catholic church playbook. And Salem was tiredly tossed in there, too, like there wasn't enough cliché already.

This author needs to save up some money so he can get a clue at some point. There was so much exposition that this should have been a regular book instead of a graphic novel and then it should have run to only one copy to test out a new printer and discarded into the recycling immediately afterwards. It should never have been published.

You know there was a time when a person obsessed with drawing naked or semi-naked young woman and liberally spraying the scene with blood for the sake of it, would have rightly been consigned to an institution, for some much-needed medical treatment. Those days are long gone, but that's no excuse for this adolescent bullshit portrayal of endless exposed female curves, as though this is all women have to offer, at the expense of actually illustrating a story, so I guess Hack is appropriate after all.

Even after reading half the book I still had no good handle on what the hell this un-hellish, non-hellion was supposed to be doing other than vaguely pursuing revenge, so there really was no story to follow despite the panel after panel of expository yellow boxes. And once again the text was so small it was at times hard to read. Fire Jack Morelli and simply use print for the text for goodness sake! What is this, the 1930's?

The artist seems to think that 'chilling' means drawing amateurish juvenile faces on the main character with skulls for 'eyes' and bared teeth under transparent lips. This is a woman whom we have seen initially only naked and from the rear, and who seems to have been modeled on Anna Nicole Smith. If he had modeled her on Anna Nicole Smith as she must now be - skeletal - it would have been more chilling than this laughable effort.

Both of these guys need to get that an actual story requires more than a buxom woman posed provocatively in every panel in which she appears. This is just puerile and exploitative and needs urgent recycling.



All-New Ultimates Power for Power by Michel Fiffle, Amilcar Pinna


Rating: WARTY!

If you enjoy indifferently-drawn and badly-posed superheroes doing quite literally nothing but fighting on nearly every single page in the entire book, then this is for you. It's not for me. It was laughable in parts and tedious throughout. And once again the text was so small and badly done that it was at times hard to read. Fire Clayton Cowles and simply use print for the text for goodness sake! What is this, the 1930's?

I like a story with my super hero characters. There was none to be had here. The author seems to believe that if he puts Black Widow, Bombshell, Cloak and Dagger, Kitty Pryde, Spider-Man, and Spider-Girl (not woman, girl) together, than a story inevitably must happen, but no. No. No.

This was nothing but a monotonously long, continuous battle embellished with asinine overlaid words like 'KRANCHKT' and 'FWSHK', old TV show Batman-style, and there was no story. What there was, was so bland and boring that I have to ask why it was ever divided into sections in the first place. The obvious answer to that is that it was originally released as single soft-cover editions and this is the combination of several of them, but since every story is almost exactly the same, then why was more than one ever released?

The story was beneath the level of superhero. If the police are so incompetent they can't handle a simple street gang pushing drugs, there is something seriously, and I mean seriously wrong with society. What is the point of being a super-hero if all you are is a cop in spandex? This is one to recycle - and into the recycle bin, not to the used comic book store.



Friday, September 1, 2017

Dash by Kirby Larson


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a pretty decent read for a younger reader, but perhaps a bit immature and bland for a middle-grader or older. There's very little in it for the adult reader, but since it's not aimed at an adult audience I can't fault it for that, so I consider it a worthy read for the intended audience.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941, a date which will live in infamy according to then president Roosevelt, he signed an exec order which brought infamy to the US, and shamefully so. The order eventually resulted in over a hundred thousand Japanese Americans being forced into internment camps. Curiously, in Hawaii, where many more Japanese Americans lived, little more than a tenth of those people were also interned. The man who was charged with accomplishing this, John DeWitt, the Army general in command of the coast, is portrayed as a decent person in this story but in reality, his inflammatory racist view was "A Jap's a Jap. They are a dangerous element, whether loyal or not."

The fact that this was indeed pure racism is proved by the fact that there was no large-scale wholesale incarceration of residents of German or Italian ancestry. It was America once again over-reacting to a bad and embarrassing defeat, taking the ball and going home. Meanwhile, in Japan there were over 2,000 civilians of allied nations. These people were also interned and very little (to my knowledge) has been written about them and very little is ever heard of their experiences. Bernice Archer has written a book about it, The Internment of Western Civilians Under the Japanese published in 2004. The Japanese treated Japanese Americans as Japanese Nationals, although American citizens of Japanese ancestry were urged to return to the US.

In this story, young Mitsi Kashino and her family are transported to an isolated camp, but she must leave behind her pet dog, Dash. The story, as I said, is a bit tame and bland, which given the audience for which it was written is understandable in some ways, but not in others, since this was written as recently as 2014. I think kids can handle more truth than the author does, evidently. It fails in that it does not give any real feeling of the horror or even of the foul injustice of these events, which is why I think it's suitable for a younger audience. I think older children will need more than this offers, but I consider it a worthy read for the young.