Sunday, July 23, 2017

Brittania We Who Are About to Die by Peter Milligan, Juan José Ryp


Rating: WARTY!

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

I got this because the blurb promised an interesting story about a gladiatrix named Achillia. As is often the case, the blurb lied! The story unfortunately featured very little of her, and instead focused far more on the activities of Antonius Axia who is repeatedly described as a 'detectioner' when in fact that isn't how Romans would have described what we know today as a detective. The actual word would have been one we know well: inquisitor. This failure to get simple names right (Achillia is never described as a gladiatrix either) was annoying, but it wasn't the worst problem with this graphic novel.

The worst problem was that there was scarcely a page went by without bared teeth and blood. It was obnoxious and laughable. The blurb describes Juan José Ryp as an "incendiary artist." I never knew that a definition of 'incendiary' was someone obsessed drawing endless mouths full of teeth and graphic depictions of gratuitous blood-letting and violent death. I think Nero the emperor was not once depicted without his teeth bared. It was asinine.

There really were gladiatrices in ancient Roman times, but they were not common. We know of one apparently described as Achillia from a carving found at Halicarnassus, which was the home of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world - the only remaining one of which is the Great Pyramid at Giza. Halicarnassus is in modern day Turkey, and the small carving featured two female gladiatrice. It was labeled Achillia and Amazon, but whether these were intended to be understood as their names is not certain.

This story actually follows Antonius as he tries to figure out why there is so much wanton slaughter going on, of the young men of certain noble families in Rome. His interest in Achillia is really incidental to his investigation, btu she does show up eventually. Unfortunately we never get to know her except in relation to his investigation, so she really isn't the leading female character the blurb led me to believe.

When she does appear, the same illustrator who has zero compunction about depicting endless violent slaughter and blood spatter galore, was evidently squeamish to a fault about illustrating bared female breasts, because Achillia was fully-clothed throughout, which flew in the face of the fact that gladiatrices fought topless, just as gladiators did.

I'm not a fan of splatter-punk in comics or text novels, so this turned me off, but the lack of any real story concerning Achillia was the major downer here. And I have no idea why it was titled 'Brittannia' since all of it took place in Rome. The final insult was that volume four, the last volume of this collection, was completely devoid of text in my ebook copy! It was a picture book only, and as such was utterly useless.

Once I'd ascertained that it was indeed totally bereft of text, I quit reading right there and have to rate this as a thumbs down, not because of the missing text but because of the overall story - or lack of an interesting story to be more precise. When in Rome, all I can do is as the Romans do and offer a Roman warning: legit cave! This has the added advantage of also applying when the words are read as English words! Reader beware as this novel is a legit cave!


Between Gears by Natalie Nourigat


Rating: WARTY!

This one was in my local library and I thought it looked interesting - a graphic novel diary of a senior year in college. I never did a senior year in college so this sounded interesting to me, but in the end it wasn't very interesting at all. It was quite literally a day-to-day dear diary in graphic form, telling of student parties, getting drunk, rather manically feeling the weight of the world on her shoulders and not long after that, feeling life was great.

The problem was that there was nothing in this diary that was unusual. There were some things which were mildly amusing, but mostly not. Overall it was rather boring, like someone you don't know sits next to you on a long train ride and suddenly starts recounting the last year of her life. Yeah, like that.

I think as an artist Natalie Nourigat has real talent, Her black and white line drawings had power and expressiveness, so I'd be interested in reading something else by her (as long as it's not another dear diary!), but this just wasn't to my taste at all.


Stay After Class by AC Rose


Rating: WARTY!

Erratum:
At one point I read, "I tried to not to sound whinny." I think the author meant whiny. This isn't the kind of mistake a spell-checker will catch! Other than that the book was pretty decently-edited and formatted of the crappy Kindle app in which I read it.

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. I'm not a big fan of so-called 'V-card' stories because I've read several and they have been almost universally dumb. This one sounded like it might be a cut above the rest, and I am sorry to have to report that it was not.

AC Rose has been described as "an author of steamy erotic fiction for women." Well they got the fiction part right, but steamy and erotic? Not based on this sample which seemed to me to be languishing far more in the 'pedantic' and 'juvenile' categories than anywhere else.

It should have been titled 'Fifty Shades of Bland' because it really had nothing new to offer, least of all erotica. Far too many authors conflate 'erotic' with 'sexual' and while the two are connected, one might say intimately, they are not the same thing by any means. I'm sorry this author doesn't seem to realize that, because if she had, I think that the the story would have played out differently, and been better for it.

The plot is that senior college student Amanda Slade is a virgin who has decided, for reasons which are never really explained, that she must disrobe herself of this mantle by her twenty-second birthday which is a scant few weeks away. The man she's chosen for this task is her art professor, Jem Nichols. There is no reason whatsoever given for her choice other than the most shallow: he looks studly.

Character naming is important to me, and I had to wonder about the author's choice of name for her main female character: Amanda. It carries within it the word 'man' which is associated with things masculine, but also with other words such as 'mandate' itself a fun word. The name is from the Latin and means 'worthy of love', but Amanda wasn't about love at all, she was solely about sex. This is all she had on her mind all day every day. In short, she came across as mentally ill to me, not as an erotic, sexy, or even interesting character. The professor was effectively no more than a personified penis, so he offered nothing either. There really were no other characters worth mentioning.

I don't doubt there are women as well as men who are as shallow, one-trick, and ultimately boring as Amanda, but I really have zero interest in reading about them. I like a story with my sex! If it's just sex, then it's uninteresting to me, and that was my mistake for thinking this had something else to offer other than rather adolescent ideas about sex, which in the right literary context can be interesting, but which here were flat, monotonous, and uninventive.

The characters never were people, merely placeholders in a sexual game of checkers, wherein the pieces were nudged in a formulaic manner from one fixed square to the next, following a rigid set of moves. This is how the erotic became banished from this story. There was no fluidity and nothing unexpected. The author was simply shoving pieces around a board, employing entirely the wrong kid of rigidity for a something wishing to be a good story about a real sexual relationship!

The lack of realism was rife. The art class where Amanda most commonly encountered her target was an elective, and why she was doing it was unexplained, since she's a business major. If she was serious about her career, there were lots of other classes she could have taken. If something had been written about her wanting to go into advertising, and so was studying art because of that, then that would have been something, but the only conclusion the author left us to draw in this art class was that there was no reason for Amanda to be there other than that it offered talk about bodies and the opportunity to see a nude male, which Amanda has apparently never seen before! This is where the story began to really come apart for me.

Amanda was not remotely a credible character. She came across as juvenile and shallow, which are credible character traits in the right context, but here, she had nothing else to offer. While I don't doubt that there are twenty-one and twenty-two year old virgins, for the author to expect us to believe that Amanda, who was nothing but sexual thoughts, had never even so much as French-kissed a guy (or even a girl) or had any physical experience of men whatsoever is completely absurd. It simply did not fit in with her thought processes.

If she was that obsessed with sex, she would have at least experimented long before she turned twenty-one! Yes, if she'd been raised in some fundamentalist Christian sect or led a truly sheltered life, then maybe I might have bought into her complete lack of experience, but there was no indication whatsoever that she'd had an unusual childhood, and for her to be having constant sexual fantasies, yet to have never done anything to explore even one of them was just the opposite of erotic and not remotely credible!

The author expects us to swallow that Amanda has never even touched herself! If this had been set in the fifties, then I could have bought that assertion, but it was not. It's a thoroughly contemporary story and to suggest that a woman who is so obsessed with sex has never even masturbated is utter bullshit. That was the point I quit reading this story. It was the last straw in a whole bale of such straw.

It's tempting to give the author some kudos for at least touching upon how thoroughly inappropriate it is for a professor to become involved with one of his students. That doesn't even seem to cross the mind of most authors of works like this, but in the context of this story, I got the impression it had only been put in there as a cynical nod to propriety, because it's clear that it never was even a blip on the moral radar of either character. Also, there never was any portion of this story that I read which ever touched upon STDs, which is always a fail for me.

I know that talk of those in a novel claiming to be erotic is rather counter-productive, but I think it should at least get a mention in this day and age, so I tend to automatically fail authors who do not at least mention it, unless there's a very good reason to let it slide.

I labeled this 'Fifty Shades of Bland' for good reason. Not only was there was nothing about it to distinguish it from a sperm-load of other novels in a way-overcrowded genre, there was also the absurdity of the professor's character. He pompously set himself up as the sex-god teacher of this desperate house-virgin, and it was laughable. He's the only one who can masterfully control her own body and bring her to fruition? How insulting to her is that? I can see a guy writing this stuff, but for a female author to write about a woman like this in 2017 is inexcusable.

The professor's idea of teaching Amanda seemed to be rooted in the dom world of Fifty Shades, where he pedantically makes her wait, and teases and taunts her, but not in any sort of erotic or rational way. It read to me like he was intent upon making her suffer - either that or the author had given little thought to her plot other than artificially and amateurishly delaying dénouement.

If what he'd been doing had been interesting or unusual, that might have been something, but it was amateur and ridiculous and she, sad little submissive that she was, trotted along on his leash like a good little bitch. It was pathetic to read, poorly executed, and insulting to women. I like female characters to have a lot more get up and go than Amanda will ever have, and that's precisely what she should have done: got up and gone. The fact that she didn't made her uninteresting to me.

So in the end this was a fail, and I cannot recommend it as a worthy read. I quit reading it at forty-nine percent because it was quite honestly a tedious read. This is not something you want in a novel that's purported to be 'steamy'! Cold water, not steam, was the order of the day here, and I have better things to do with my time. Frankly I've read far more erotic novels where the author wasn't even trying for erotic, but was simply telling a realistic story. This one was far too focused on sex and not at all on telling a story, which is one reason why it was so bland and such a failure.


Friday, July 21, 2017

Don't Wake Up the Tiger by Britta Teckentrup


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a cute and whimsical tale of several animals in the jungle, sporting a bunch of balloons and heading for a party, when they encounter a rather large tiger sleeping across the path. They dare not wake it and so they have to figure out how to get over it - not in the sense of giving up, but in the sense of bypassing the beast!

They light upon a risky but plausible (in this story anyway!) solution, but can they carry it off? Or can it, more accurately, carry them over? And what happens when the tiger awakens?! I really enjoyed this because it's so wild and crazy, and has such a great ending. And the author has a really awesome name! I recommend it.


Turtle Island by Kevin Sherry


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a great fantasy tale told in brief text and bold simple colors, about a giant turtle and its lonely vigil out in the middle of the ocean.

One day a nearby boat-wreck deposits four young people on the turtle, and they have a great relationship hanging out together while pursuing their own favorite pastimes, but soon the visitors are wanting to go back home. Does this mean it's the end of beautiful friendship for the lonely giant? No! The ending swings it all around in a big way for a big friendly reptile. I recommend this one.


Jangles A Big Fish Story by David Shannon


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a great story told by an older man to a young boy about a really big fish and the attempts by the locals to catch it. This was the original one that got away, and it had the barbed hooks attached to its lower lip to prove it. Well, this man had an interesting encounter with this fish which is harder to believe than any actual tale of the one that got away.

Gorgeously illustrated and with a steady text driving it assuredly through the deep water, this story is definitely one to encourage your children to read. It's full of inventiveness and fantasy and carries a sweet message. I recommend it.


Blue Sky by Audrey Wood


Rating: WORTHY!

Couldn't fail to review a book by a namesake now, could I?! Not that I know this author, or am any relation to her (as far as I know!). This book was about what's in the sky and how beautiful and fulfilling it is to contemplate it in all its facets. The book is very light on text and very heavy on vibrant colors and eye-arresting depictions.

What little text there is though, is quite gripping, because it also illustrates the very idea it conveys: 'cloud sky' is made up of clouds, rather like my own Cloud Fighters (evidently it runs in the Wood family! LOL!), and 'rain sky' is dripping with precipitation, and so on.

You'll want a cold drink and ice cream after seeing 'sun sky'. The book is slightly whimsical and doesn't fail to consider a dream sky towards the end, inviting children to fall asleep and experience it for themselves! Great idea! I loved this book and thoroughly recommend it.


Happy by Pharrell Williams


Rating: WORTHY!

Yes, that Pharrell Williams. This is simply the words to his number one hit song of the same title, which was the best-selling song of 2015 in the USA and sold some fourteen million copied worldwide. Personally, I'm not a fan of it, but you cannot deny his success, not just with this song but with a host of others he released under his own name and which have been recorded by others.

This book takes the lyric and illustrates it with pictures of real kids of diverse ethnicity, having fun against brightly colored backgrounds, so it's an inspiring and fun book with a very light touch and I recommend it for a fun read that can lead to a number of activities, such as dress-up, dancing, and otherwise exercising. I also recommend it because it's not a common thing to have a children's book based on the lyric of an adult-oriented performer, so it's interesting for that, too!


The Bridge of the Golden Wood by Karl Beckstrand, Yaniv Cahoua


Rating: WORTHY!

It's time to review some children's books again! This one was rather an oddball story - a business primer for young children! The story is intended to show how a money-making an opportunity can arise from helping people. I felt it was a mixed message - and a little too pat, but who knows, if it inspires some kids to make a little something for themselves, and help people into the bargain, then maybe it's not so bad, so I'd recommend this as a worthy read.

For some reason it's set in China, in a time before modern. An inventive child who has a reputation for imaginatively recycling and re-purposing, is walking by a creek one day when he encounters a woman he's never seen before. She was bemoaning the fact that there was debris from the trees in the water, blocking the fish from feeding. The woman tells the boy she sees trouble and treasure in one place. The boy locks onto the treasure portion of that, but he doesn't see how clearing the path for the fish can lead to a reward. The book tells how he finds out. This is where the 'pat' comes in: his solution is a little too rewarding and convenient - improbably so, but this is how he begins to make money to support his family.

The book contains a page or so of suggestions and tips about ways a child might make some money for themselves by providing a service. The story is very short (only eight pages overall) and is more illustration than text. From a slightly cynical point of view, it really isn't all that inspiring, but like I said, I'm not about to stand in the way of someone who might get a winning idea from reading this, so I recommend this on that basis!


Dinosaur Kisses by David Ezra Stein


Rating: WARTY!

Didn't like this one at all! It felt way too violent for such a sweet title, depicting a young dinosaur, fresh out of the egg, running around looking to kiss someone...or something? I have no idea where the author cooked up this bizarre idea, but it was a fail for me mostly because it featured this hefty dino barging around invading personal space and assaulting creatures and objects, including squashing one small critter to death? It's entirely the wrong message to send to young children, inviting inappropriate behaviors, and I can't recommend it.


Tucker's Apple Dandy Day by Susan Winget


Rating: WORTHY!

I adore this author's name! I've always been fond of 'Susan' and I had to wonder of this one whether or not she might wing it with her writing? If so, it works! This book was the polar opposite of Dinosaur Kisses and exactly what a young children's book should be. A warm fuzzy story with warm fuzzy characters, beautifully illustrated in sweetly warm, fuzzy autumnal colors!

Tucker gets to visit a farm on his school field trip, and they all get the chance to pick their own bag of apples to take home, but Tucker is so busy helping others to get their share that he never has chance to get any for himself. All the people he helped, though, rally around and donate a few of their apples to him so he gets a few for himself after all. It's beautifully told story about the selflessness of helping others without expectation of a reward, and it's delightfully illustrated. I fully recommend this one.


Quantum by Dean De Servienti


Rating: WARTY!

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

The first problem I encountered with this was that it's the first of a trilogy, which means it's really not a novel, but a prologue. The funny thing about that was that there is an author's note, an introduction, AND a prologue in this volume. Now that is serious and hilarious overkill. I do not read introductions, prefaces, prologues, author's notes, or any of that stuff. If you want me to read it, put it in the main text. Anything else is as antique as it is pretentious.

Despite this being a trilogy overture, I decided to take a chance on it anyway because it sounded interesting, but in keeping with its tripartite roots, it moved too slowly for me and didn't offer me much reward no matter how much I let slide. This is why I so rarely find series of any value. The first volume was boring - at least the fifty percent of it that I read - and it should not have been. I can't see myself being remotely interested in reading three volumes if they're anything like the portion I read of this one.

The second problem is that there are far too many characters introduced far too quickly. All this means is that we never get to know a single one of them in any depth, and so we have no one with whom to identify or for whom to root. This is another problem for me. I am not a fan of novels which jump around like this, especially when it's after as little as a single paragraph as often happens here. It moves so rapidly from one person to another, and one locale to another that it's likely to induce whiplash in many readers! It also pretentiously announces each paragraph with a dateline, like this is somehow crucial information. It's not, so why the pretension? Who reads datelines anyway?

This is translated from the Italian (as far as I know), so I readily admit something may have been lost in translation, but I doubt so much could have been lost that a brilliant novel in the native language would have been rendered so uninteresting in English. What bugged me most about this though, is that it was set in the USA. Italy has so much to offer - why betray that and set your novel in the US? Was it to avariciously pander to an insular US audience which evidently can't stand to read a novel unless it's native? And I don't mean Native American! I felt it would have been more interesting had it been set elsewhere, and Italy would have been a fine place to set this.

The most amusing thing was that Kindle's crappy app on my phone, which is the medium I read most of this in (and the formatting was, for once, fine) told me on page one that there were six minutes left in the book! Right, Amazon! Seriously, you still need to do some work on your crappy Kindle app. You're pulling down enough profit from your massive global conglomerate, so I know it's not that you can't afford to hire top line programmers; is it just that you're too cheap to hire them? Or are you purposefully trying to force people to buy a Kindle device?

The story opened amusingly: "Rome was beautiful in spite of the annoying wind that had been buffeting the city for the past couple of days." How might wind make it unattractive? Was Rome farting?! I liked Rome when I visited, but felt it was rather dirty - more-so than London is typically asserted to be, but that was a while ago. I don't know what it's like now, but I promise you the wind cannot make it ugly, so this struck me as a truly odd way of expressing a sentiment. Another translation problem? I can't say.

There were other such issues. One of them was that the artifact they found was six inches in diameter, yet it's referred to as a cane and a walking stick?! Again, this might have been a problem with translation, but with that repetition, it didn't seem so. I think it's funny that the artifact is described as sparkling, yet one guy assumes it's made from gold. Again, a problem with the translation? I don't know.

The truly bizarre thing is that I read, "Whatever metal it's made of isn't known to us." I'm sorry, but this is bullshit. We know all the metals in the universe. They're in the periodic table, and scientists can reliably project what others may be found. There are almost none beyond Uranium that are remotely stable. They can be created in the lab, but are so loosely wrapped that they exist for only minuscule fractions of a second, so this 'unknown metal' which often appears in sci-fi, is nonsensical.

The author would have made more sense and impressed me more if he'd talked about an unknown alloy instead of an unknown metal. I would have been more impressed still if he'd gone for one of the unstable metals and reported that it had somehow been rendered stable in this artifact (but then it might still have been radioactive), or if he had gone with one of the projected stable metals which are way off the end of the current periodic table. There's supposed to be one somewhere in the vicinity of Unbinilium. It hasn't been found yet and may not exist, but something like that would have been sweet to read about instead of this amateurish 'unknown metal'.

The story itself made no sense. The idea is that medical volunteers in the Sudan find a metallic cylinder, which was evidently embedded in rocks a quarter billion years old. Instead of asking permission from the powers-that-be in the country, they simply assert white man's privilege and steal the thing, transporting it to the west like the Sudanese have no business with it at all, and no say in the matter. They're black and African so why would any white scientists care at all? That can and has happened, but the fact that there isn't one single voice of dissension recording how utterly wrong that is bothered me intensely, and spoiled this right from the beginning.

The next absurdity is that the three major monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) cease all disputes and come together as one, Israel sending the Mossad after this object. why? There is no reason whatsoever given for this intense religious interest, and for why it is only those three, like there are no other important religions on the planet! Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Shinto, Falun Gong, and Sikhism are all larger than Judaism, so this seemed like an utterly arbitrary choice.

Anyway, all of the scientists contact their families and tell them not to try to contact them (!), and then they disappear. They're accompanied by and protected by a guy named Yoshi, who has a really interesting and overly intimate (but not sexual) relationship with his sister. Those two intrigued me more than anything else in this story, though they 'skeeved out' at least one reviewer I read, but they were switched-out with other characters almost interchangeably, so we never even got to learn why those two were like they were, although this may have been revealed in the second half of this first volume which I did not read. Life is too short!

So overall, based on the half of the volume I read, I cannot recommend this. It's too dissipated: all over the place and completely unrealistic, and it offered nothing to hold my interest.


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves


Rating: WARTY!

Read by (I kid you not) someone named Ann Dover, and written by Anne Cleeves, this was another experimental audiobook and though it initially intrigued me, it quickly failed. In fact, it was quite simply one of the most tedious books I've ever had to listen to.

It took so long for quite literally nothing to happen, and it was so larded with endless, irrelevant, boring-as-watching-a-cowpat-dry, extraneous detail about everything and anything, that I couldn't stand to listen to it and returned it quickly to the library so someone else would have to deal with it instead of me!

It was all my fault! I had thought, when I first picked it out, that it was one of the books that had given rise to the TV show Shetland, which I've watched and enjoyed despite the high improbability of so many murders occurring in such a small and sleepy Scots village!

This wasn't any such thing! It's part of a different series, which also (and inexplicably in this case) made it to TV, and which is known as the Vera Stanhope series. Now I shall never get the book for the Shetland series because this was too poor of an experience of this author. I do not want to read any more of her work, especially since I have too much else to read to bother with her again.

For those who are interested, the story begins not with a murder, but with a suicide. Rachael is the team leader of a trio of women who are studying the potential environmental impact that a proposed quarry will have on a national park and a friend of hers hangs herself. Later, somewhere in the tedium there actually is a murder. It's the plot! Done to death by the author! No, I'm kidding. There is a murder and Vera is on the case. Yawn. That's it! I cannot recommend this based on the limited sample that was all I could stand to listen to.


The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding A Fiendish Arrangement by Alexandra Bracken


Rating: WARTY!

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

I wavered on this book from liking parts to disliking other parts, and back and forth, and in the end, it was the end which decided me, because it was there that the novel hit the sourest note, because there is no ending! In the final analysis, all this book is, is the prologue for a series. I can't abide that and I cannot support it. "Dreadful Tale" is an appropriate title for this, it turns out.

I know that series are lucrative for publishers and writers if they can lure a reading public into becoming OCD over one, but I do not play that game. It's one of the reasons I detest series as a general rule, and for an author to cynically say "Here's an entire book," and then to end it on a cliffhanger so you "have" to buy the next to find out what happens is inexcusable. Do not read this in the belief that you will get a complete and full story here. You will not.

This is book one of a "The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding" series, and if I'd known that, I would never have requested to review this one, but there was no hint whatsoever on net Galley that it was not a self-contained story. Shame on you Net Galley and on Disney Hyperion for not being honest and up front with readers and for demanding nigh on eleven dollars for an incomplete story. And what's with the ebook costing exactly the same as the print version?! What trees are worth nothing these days? That's a truly sad and sorry way to look at Earth.

For me series are too easy, unimaginative, derivative, and abusive of the reader. I'd rather follow a road less traveled than feel like I'm covering the same ground I already visited.

The other thing this author got away with is first person. I'm even less of a fan of first person than I am of series, if for no other reasons than that it's such a selfish, self-absorbed, self-obsessed voice, and it's so limiting in that nothing can happen in the story unless the narrator is present, which often results in absurdly artificial, unlikely, and clunky events occurring in order to get the narrator on the scene.

I don't know why authors are so obsessed with limiting themselves in this fashion. It was not such a nauseating voice here, so I appreciated the author for that, but even she admits she made the wrong choice of voice because she has to devote several chapters to third person voice to detail activities where Prosper is not the main actor, and they clunked down jarringly. They were so bad that I skimmed and skipped those. They contributed nothing to an overly long story and would have made for a more intelligent read had they been omitted altogether.

The story is of Prosperity Redding, your usual trope boy raised in ignorance of his true value to the story, and without parents (he has parents, they're just not on the scene), and raised by apparently cruel relatives, although I have to grant that those clichéd cruel relatives don't usually want to stab the main character with an iron knife as they do here!

"Uncle" Barnabas comes to the rescue, spiriting Prosper, as he prefers to be called, away just before that iron knife strikes, to hide out in a haunted house. Yes, it's haunted both for real, and as a funhouse - a scary one, for tourists - and it's here that Prosper learns the truth - or part of it at least.

It turns out that Prosper has a demon inside him and if it cannot be got out before his thirteenth birthday, two weeks hence, it will ruin his entire family. This demon is the price his family paid for the prosperity (yes!) it has enjoyed over the years - centuries even, and all would have been well had some great grandpa not reneged on the deal. Now Prosper's relatives (all except Barnabas, and "cousin" Nell who predictably happens to be Prosper's age and equally predictably doesn't like him), believe the only way to fix - or at least defer - the disaster, is to kill Prosper before he turns thirteen, so he believes. Meanwhile, Alastor the demon (not his real name, hint hint) is inside Prosper and growing stronger by the day.

There were one or two writing issues (other than cliffhangers and first person!) which took away some of the little joy of this I did have. These are very possibly things the intended age range might not notice (unless they're my kids, of course! I think they would notice these things, but then they grew up with me, and they're also edging out of middle-grade at this point).

"Told whom?" was the first clunker I read. Writers seem to think they have to inject correct English into their stories and 'whom' is such a big offender that it's become a pet peeve of mine. This is what Prosper says to correct Nell when she says, "For who?" Quite frankly I think this word is antiquated and pretentious, and needs to be dropped from the language altogether, but that's just me.

The truth is though, that no one actually uses it in conversation, especially not kids, so in the context of this story, this bit clanged like the liberty bell. It's highly unlikely any middle-grade kid, even one from a rich family, would correct someone on the use of 'whom', especially when that kid has not been set up a priori as an English language fanatic, so this was a fail: an example of an author lecturing her readers through her character instead of letting the character be themselves.

Here's another: "Her skin was a warm bronze, a shade or two lighter than her black hair." This made for an odd read. I think I see what the author is trying to say here, but strictly speaking, a shade or two lighter than black would mean that she has gray skin! Shade relates to how much black in is a color I think this could have been worded better - maybe describing the skin as a dark bronze or something like that, but I don't think you can describe hair in terms of skin color or vice-versa when one is black and the other is bronze, which is a distinctly brown color. If she'd had brown hair that would be a different thing.

Another one was: "Uncle Barnabas's face with pink around the edges at that." This sounds like it should read "...went pink around the edges." The last one I can recall noting was: "The spines were all shades of leather, brown, black, blue, and soft from being handled so much" this felt like it needed a colon after 'shades of leather'.

The demon is introduced as being evil and bent upon revenge, yet he behaves like a naughty friend to Prosper, chiding him on one hand and then rather benignly helping him to do something on the other. This was a complete contradiction given that the demon feeds on Prosper's discomfort and sadness. Why would he help prosper to do something that would make him feel better? It made no sense to me! It seemed obvious that eventually Alastor and Prosper would become friends, or at least partners, although given that this is merely a prologue, I can't say for sure if that's what will happen.

Neither did it make any sense as to why none of this family knew that to control a demon, you need its real name! That's so out there in folklore that everyone knows it, even in the real world where demons are pure fiction, so people who have been dealing with a demonic threat all their lives, and who have libraries of books about demons, had no excuse for not knowing it.

But Alastor was a fail. He was such a pompous and prolix punk that that he was far more of a joke than ever he was a demonic presence. To me, Alastor never came across as being anywhere near as evil and vengeful as he was supposed to be. This was a problem with the plotting. Maybe middle graders won't concern themselves with it, but I know my kids would find him as much of a joke as I did.

There was also the issue in any magic story which is: why are there any restrictions and rules? We're told that in order to get the demon out, certain materials need to be gathered, yet despite Nell being a quite accomplished witch she isn't able to magic up the ingredients?

Admittedly, one requirement is a bit out of the ordinary. She needs toes; real human toes, but it's never clear until the end if it's the actual toe, or just the toe bone. This apparently needed to be ordered abroad? That made no sense. Why not just magic them out of a grave - or go dig them up?

I've encountered this problem repeatedly in books where magic is part of the world: there's either no explanation offered as to why something can't be 'magicked', or there's some arbitrary rule "explaining" why the magic won't work. At least in this story we got a cute explanation as to why the spells always rhymed: they were easier to remember that way! That was a bit of a cheat since they were so simple that you'd have to be a moron not to remember them, but it was a cute idea, and I liked the cheekiness of it even though it evoked the schlockiness of the Charmed TV series which I actually couldn't stand.

I really liked Nell as a character. I find I often do this: prefer the side-kick or the friend to the main character. Nell would be worth reading about, but I wasn't keen at all on Prosper or Alastor. maybe middle-graders will like this, but I can't rate it positively when there were so many problems with it.

Note that there were some formatting issues with the ebook, with the text not filling the whole screen in some parts - like there were hard carriage returns in it, but this was an ARC, co perhaps those issues have been resolved in the actual published version

Friday, July 14, 2017

Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire


Rating: WORTHY!

This was another audiobook experiment, and a successful one for a change. The weird thing is that I'm not sure exactly why I liked it. I think a part of it is the reading voice of Amy Landon who did the audiobook, which is really pleasant on the ear, but the story itself is engaging. It's well-written and has a charmingly innocent feel to it. I guess it just captured my mood. Not that I'm innocent by any stretch of the imagination, but it was truly easy listening, both the way the story was written, and the way it was told. The Perfect Calm.

It is described as 'Ghost Stories #1', and I am not a fan of series, so while I enjoyed this particular one, especially after I understood why it was written the way it was, I don't think this is a series I will follow because the way this was written has made it somewhat disjointed and repetitive, and there's very little in the way of narrative thrust in any particular direction, or indeed of any urgency at all! if the next book in the series (if there is to ever be one) is written as a whole coherent tale, rather than as a series of installments, then maybe!

The book was apparently originally published over a period of a year in monthly episodes, with each section being a self-contained story. When they were combined, no additional editing was done, so the story begins to sound rather repetitive after you've been through several segments. That didn't bother me as much as the fact that Rose, the ghost who is telling her story (and in first person too, although in this book it didn't feel totally nauseating), seems to have no direction in life...er, death. She's just ghosting along, relating events in her life, with lots of flashbacks. Normally these annoy me too, but in this case they were not bad, and understandable in context, since Rose died in 1952, and has been a ghost for about four times longer than she actually lived.

Her stated goal is to bring to justice the guy who ran her off the road, but we get no explanation as to why it's taking her so damned long to get there. In the meantime, we get some interesting stories of Rose escorting people to the other side - her self-appointed duty - or actually, in some cases, saving the lives of people who otherwise would have died in a traffic accident. She always tries, but mostly she fails. At one point she's able to lead a lost child back to her parents. On another occasion, Rose herself is hunted by a...should I say dispirited...girl who doesn't understand why her dead boyfriend never came back to say farewell.

The author seems to have borrowed heavily from the work of Jan Brunvand a collector of urban legend. Once a good friend (thanks Aimee!) had pointed me in his direction and I looked him up, I recognized many elements from this novel. The author also adds in other things, such as Rose's ability to take on physical form if she wears something from a living person. This enables her to touch people, to eat food, feel pain, and even have sex! How she manages to grasp the object to wear it in the first place is a bit of a mystery.

Overall, the story was well written and interesting, even amusing in places and intriguing in others, and I liked it, but I have to say some readers will find it a bit repetitive. It could have used some editing to remove the repetitive introductions, but I'm not sure what could be done about the increasingly common element wherein Rose Marshall, who is the ghost, keeps getting kidnapped by people! That happened a bit too often. Each time it was different, but it was beginning to feel a bit tedious, and she never seemed to learn from it.

One particularly amusing segment was where Rose somehow managed to get herself assigned to a team of ghost hunters who were actually hunting Rose herself. The team of college students met her in corporeal form, because she can become solid if she dons a jacket or something like that, so they had no idea who she really was. In real death, Rose was a legend - the prom date, the hitchhiking girl. She had several names and many more stories than she had names. All of them were different, and while some were close to the truth, others were wild fantasy. Rose accepts them with aplomb. It was her easy-going and accepting manner which made her a delight to read about. She was written beautifully, and created magically by the author.

You may think it's hard to kidnap a ghost, but it happens to Rose all the time! One time she was abducted to meet the queen of the route witches. She had no problem with this woman, so why there was a need to kidnap her rather than simply invite her to visit is an unexplained mystery. The route witch thing never really was explained to me. Ironically, I listened to this whilst commuting to work, so stories about route witches were highly appropriate, but when I'm diving, I'm primarily focused on driving with the story playing second fiddle, so I may have missed something. Of course, when you're driving, it's actually a good idea to miss things.... Maybe the explanation came during one of these time, but it meant that it remained a mystery to me. A route witch isn't an actual witch, but some sort of specialized ghost, and it appears that Rose was one, but it took forever for the story to reveal that.

Overall though I really enjoyed this, and I recommend it to anyone who likes to listen while driving - or at any other time for that matter.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Teddy's Camp by Peter Liptak, Pascal


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a fun and entertaining, and brightly colored rhyming tale of Teddy's adventures in campland, with striking artwork by Pascal, the famous French inventor, mathematician, physicist, writer, and Catholic theologian. No I'm kidding, that was a different Pascal. I think.

Teddy heads off to camp where he meets a bunch of new friends and has endless days of fun riding horses, paddling canoes (and definitely no canoodling with paddles in case you're worried), swimming, exploring, arts, crafts, and sailing. I'm ready for my nap now! I recommend this as a fun read, and it looks just as good on a smart phone as it does on a tablet computer, so you're covered no matter what you have to hand, if your kid gets a hankering for some camp entertainment. Wait, that didn't come out right....


The Adventures of Juice Box and Shame by Liv Hadden


Rating: WORTHY!

Errata:
“At least it seemed I’d peaked Cassie’s interest.” should be piqued, not peaked!
“I was just wearing black skinny jeans, white converse” Converse is a registered trade-mark, and while I don't think an author needs to add the little symbol (®) I do think Converse needs to be capitalized!

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

This book is evidently part of a series, and generally speaking, I'm not a fan of series. I know they can be lucrative for both publishers and authors if they take off, but for me series are boring; they're derivative and un-challenging for both author and reader, so I have less respect for them. I’d rather read three different books than three variations on a theme! I didn’t realize this was a series when I took it on, but I am going to treat it as a standalone for the purpose of this review.

Liv Hadden is a fellow Austinite - kind of, since neither of us technically lives in Austin! - but I've never met her. I didn’t know she was a local when I was asked if I’d like to review this, so it's all above-board! I said yes, because it sounded interesting and fun, but I confess that initially I had the impression that this was maybe a graphic novel or a children's story because of the mention of Mo Malone as Illustrator, and it turned out not to be neither! Since there were absolutely no illustrating whatsoever going on in my copy of this book (excluding the cover), I can't speak to what Mo The Illustrator brought to the table! Maybe the print version has the illustrations. We amateur reviewers only get an ebook!

The book also turned out to be a bit of a confusing read for me to begin with, because it felt like I was reading a middle grade story, and then it got all serious, with blood and bullets. I also thought I was reading a story told by a young woman about her friendship with another young woman only to quickly realize that neither was a female!

So, it was quite a mind-trip going from the one perception to the other, times two! It took me a while to really get into the story because I had no idea what was going on. For many pages, I was wondering if it was a play these kids were in and suddenly we’d be back in the schoolroom, but no! Was it a bad dream? No! It took me a while to understand that this was for real and not a trick or some sort of illusion. I don’t know if that's what the author intended.

The lingo was distracting at first, because I was wondering if it was authentic, and if so, how the author knew it so well. I'm not one of these people who thinks authors should "write what they know" If we confined ourselves to that, it would be a very dull reading world, wouldn't it now?! No doubt John Grisham has been inside a courtroom, but I promise you Stephen King never was in a parallel world, and I guarantee you Suzanne Collins never fought for her life in a sudden death tournament. So I have no problem with authors writing what they don’t know as long as they make it believable. This author did.

I warmed to this as I read on, though! It’s a very short sixty-nine pages, but a lot happens. Li Nguyen, the guy who narrates the story, is known as Juice Box. His best friend is known as Shame. Juice narrates the story in first person which is not my favorite voice or anywhere near. It's far too limiting a voice to write in for one thing, and it gives only one perspective, and one which means that he narrator has got to be present no matter in what kind of a contrived manner, in order to tell the story! I think the voice contributed to my being slow to get into this, because I did not warm to Juice for the longest time, but eventually he got my interest.

I felt the story was a bit too short to explain some of the things in it: such as why Juice felt he was so tight with Shame, and why Shame was in so much trouble, and why Juice stood by him so sterlingly! There was a lot of conversation (and Converse Asians! LOL!), but very little world-building, although I did learn it was set in Baltimore!

On the other hand, it was really refreshing in many ways, which is one of the reasons I liked it. it was new and fresh and it was really nice to read about a Vietnamese crew instead of the usual African Americans we get stuck with in stories like these - like African Americans universally do nothing with their lives other than run in gangs!

So overall I recommend this for a different kind of a read and for a fresh voice. It's nice to know there are still writers out there who take the path less trodden! And especially that they're from the Austin area! Yes, now it can be told! We're going to outdo the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and become a major group in the Creative Writer's and Author's Paradise of the South! Or a bunch of CWAP for short....

Links for author an illustrator:
Liv Hadden:
Official Website: http://livhadden.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/livhadden
Twitter: https://twitter.com/livhadden
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/livhadden/
Virtual Tour Page: http://www.rogercharlie.com/juiceboxvbt

Mo Malone:
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mo__malone/


Nasty Women by Various Authors


Rating: WORTHY!

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

It was a feast. Not quite everything I'd hoped for, but most of it, and even from the articles I was not keen on, there was always something to learn.

It's by an assortment of authors, only one of whom I'd heard of before, and every one a women. It's about women and women's issues, and it ought to be required reading regardless of your race, gender, or orientation. The women are of different backgrounds and circumstances and with different perspectives, which in a way is what makes it powerful since they do tend to speak with a common voice. That's not to say that once you've read one of these essays, you've read them all. Far from it.

Since it was written by a variety though, it's a bit patchy and uneven, and there were a few issues I had with it, so while I enjoyed it, I felt it did not make for the strongest voice it could have had. One issue is that it's quite insular in some respects - it's very much a Scots thing. Fortunately, I love Scotland, and have been there more than once.

That said, the voices came from women of a variety of backgrounds and even a variety of nationalities, but it made it seem quite provincial for so many voices to hail from Edinburgh and very few other places. Additionally, the cross-section of society they represented was rather narrow at least in the regard that these women were all writers, so we got only that perspective (although one was a writer interviewing a musician).

They were mostly white, and mostly young, and giving only their own personal opinion of their own experience, which is fine, but we need to keep that in mind as we read their words. The ones who wrote about the musical world - which were well-worth reading, please note - were seemingly all from the punk segment of what is a vast musical world, so even there it must be noted (pun intended!) we got a slim cross-section.

So overall it bears keeping in mind that this did not come off as a representative sample, but one facet rooted in intense personal experience. That doesn't invalidate it. Far from it. It makes it very personal and for me it was enough. Here are my thoughts on the articles.

  • Independence Day by Katie Muriel is a perfectly understandable opining as to why the US elected a misogynist president. For me as a US resident, it made perfect, if nauseating, sense that he was elected. I was not at all surprised by it, but with regard to this essay, I felt it lacked a vital component, especially for a feminist perspective. Muriel's essay completely ignored Trump's opponent, who was a woman! Why Muriel didn't feel any need to explore this is a mystery to me.

    I know this essay was focused largely on her own personal perspective vis-à-vis her family, all of whom supported Trump (who won not on a popular majority vote but upon an electoral majority vote, let it be noted). I have to ask why Muriel didn't want to explore the fact that Trump's opponent was Hilary Clinton or why four million voters, who could have kept Trump out of office, failed to "man" up on the day.

    Was the country so afraid of Hilary Clinton that they would rather have a misogynist than her? If so, why? Are they merely afraid of any Clinton? Or any "liberal"? While I appreciate that this was an up-close-and-personal story for the author, there is so much more to be said here, and so many more questions to ask. I enjoyed the essay, but felt it lacked some teeth.

  • Why I'm No Longer a Punk Rock 'Cool Girl' by Kristy Diaz was an exploration of musical addiction and pigeonholes, and how women are treated in the punk world. It felt a bit juvenile to me because it is such a juvenile thing to try to classify a person by musical genre. It can't be honestly done, but music is such a huge part of young people that this fact tends to be overlooked. There is nothing more shallow than introducing yourself to another person by asking them what kind of music they're into, as though that's all they are or can be, and nothing else matters!

    I think the essay might have benefited from the perspective of the US, where everything is micro-labeled and rigidly pigeon-holed, most probably, in the final analysis, for purely commercial purposes. I haven't lived in the UK for a long time, so this author's perspective was interesting to me, but when I did live there, it was one chart, and that was it. All music failed or succeeded in competition with all other music, and the variety was magnificent.

    The essay was also interesting for me because as a teen and a young man I never was - nor felt- categorized by my musical taste, probably because I didn't have one specific kind of music I was interested in. Music was music - not some genre or other, and I liked it or I didn't like it not because it was 'my genre' or 'my band', but because it appealed or it didn't on its own merit.

    It was engaging to read about Diaz's experience, though. In some ways I felt bad not that she was labeled for her clothing and appearance, which is an awful thing to do to anyone, but because in some ways she seemed to be limiting herself when there is so much more to be had. but it takes all kinds and I enjoyed her story and learned from it. That's never a bad thing.

  • Black Feminism Online: Claiming Digital Space by Claire L. Heuchan really reached me. It was a light touch which carried a heavy weight, and it was a joy to read. You can't properly understand what these events in a person's life are like unless you've lived them, but you can get an inkling from reading a well-written essay like this one. The only sour note for me was when I read this: "Samantha Asumadu, a Black woman, is the founding editor of Media Diversified - a news site with content written entirely by people of colour."

    In an essay about racism, that appalled me. It really struck sour note that a business named Media Diversified employs only people of color. How racist is that? Racism isn't something that's just done to black people by white folk. It's any skin color lording it over any other skin color, and for the author to write something like that uncritically, and apparently not see the hypocrisy in it was quite shocking.

    You can't fix a pendulum in society that's swung too far in one direction by ramming it just as far in the other. You have to halt it in the middle and never let it move again. That said, the rest of the essay spoke volumes to me - and in a much better way than that one sentence did.

  • Lament: Living with the Consequences of Contraception by Jen McGregor was a heart-breaking history of one woman's ill-fated exploration of contraception. This is one more thing that guys expend little time upon, but which in all its ramifications, occupies a large part of every woman's life, if only through problems with the monthly red tide.

    In this case, Jen McGregor's co-dependent relationship (as it seems she's describing it!) with Depo-Provera is told in an informative and very engaging way, and it makes for a sad, sad reading experience not because it's written badly, but because it's written only too well. This author is a very creative writer.

  • These Shadows, These Ghosts by Laura Lam was an oddity because I didn't see how this was specifically about women's issues. Yes, the story she told was about a female relative of yesteryear, but the things which happened to her grandmother are not things which are specific to women. They can affect men, too, and spousal abuse isn't solely something that's done to a woman by a man, so I'm not sure what this contributed except in that it was written by a woman about women.

    I guess you can slap the label 'Nasty Woman' on a woman who purposefully shoots her husband (and this author had two relatives, both of whom did this: one merely shot him in the leg, but the other woman shot her husband to death and ended up in a psychiatric institution (She got better!). The story was interesting, but it's hardly something you can generalize to all women! I guess you can in a vague way, but this seemed not of the same hue as the previous essays I'd read to this point.

  • The Nastiness of Survival by Mel Reeve was a hard one to read, but it has to be read and understood. And probably more than once. Horrors like this one (although they're all individual) are the reason I wrote Bass Metal. You can't put a label on this and neatly file it away in an appropriate category. It doesn't work like that and anyone who thinks it does or that it should isn't getting the message. I can't speak for anyone but me, but as I see it, the message is that unless you have a clear, positive, unambiguous, willing, sober, mentally competent, age legal, un-coerced, un-bribed, unforced consent, the answer is a resounding "NO!" It's that simple, and everyone needs to fully internalize this.

  • Against Stereotypes: Working Class Girls and Working Class Art by Laura Waddell was a great article with some interesting and observant things to say. I've never been big into paintings or sculptures, but this author has a way of writing that engages the reader and brings her point home. I liked and appreciated this.
  • Go Home by Sim Bajwa

    Errata: I had probably wouldn't have had access to the opportunities that I've taken for granted." One too many words here! I suspect it's the second one in that sentence.

    This sentence caught my eye: "I'm scared and grieving for anyone in the US who isn't white, straight, cis, male, and able-bodied. The terror is bone deep." While I probably live in an area which is more liberal (even if in a more conservative state), I have to say that there isn't any terror here, despite this state being home to the third highest number of hate groups in the nation. That doesn't mean it isn't happening at all, just that Bajwa's sentece is a bit panicked. Hateful crime - mostly graffiti, but including threats - has increased since Trump's election, but to make a wild blanket statement like this is inflammatory and scaremongering.

    Here's another sentence I take issue with: "He said very clearly that he would ban Muslims and refugees from entering the United States. With the Executive Order he signed in January 2017, he did just that. People's lives, security, and families snatched away, for no other crime than being an immigrant."

    This is a blanket statement which unfortunately mixes crackdowns on illegal immigrants with legal immigrants and residents, thereby muddying the water, with ridiculous suggestions that all people of color are being turfed out! This kind of wild accusation helps nothing, least of all the case this author is trying to make. Is the author arguing that that illegal immigrants should not be deported? I've noticed this 'reverse' viewpoint often in this kind of rhetoric - where the illegality of what's been going on is never addressed. You cannot trust an author who writes so indiscriminately, so the power which this article might have had was lost for me.

  • Love in a Time of Melancholia by Becca Inglis

    This is the name of a song by Prolyphic, but here it's a paean to Courtney Love, who has never been a love of mine, so this fell completely flat for me! If a person wants to write about someone who helped them, that's fine, but it;s also a very personal thing. As for me, I'm frankly tired of reading stories about people who somehow fell off one wagon or another, and later reformed (whether permanently or not) and then having praise heaped upon them. Where are the stories about people who never fell off the wagon and helped someone? I think those people show greater heroism, and for that they are sadly under-served, so this story really just rubbed me the wrong way. But it's not my story and maybe others will see things in it I did not, so I have nothing else to say about it. You either like ti or you don't - or worse, you're indifferent to it!

  • Choices by Rowan C. Clarke is a great story about her unhappy childhood, her constant 'at odds' status with regard to the utterly absurd and downright evil 'standard' of beauty we as a society forcibly impose upon women almost right from birth. This is another reason I wrote Bass Metal. It's also the reason I wrote Femarine.

    You cannot go into supermarket without being paradoxically bombarded on the one side of the checkout aisle with fattening candy, and on the other side of that same aisle with magazines aimed at women, every one of which obsessively-compulsive tells women they are fat, ugly, and useless in bed and they'd better get with the program or they never will get a man (the LGBTIAQ-crew don't count for squat in any of these magazines, please note).

    I'm not a woman, I don't even play one on TV, but half my genes are female, so I think that gives me some sort of a voice, and that voice has to say that those magazines - the ones available in open public sale, and visible to children, are far more pernicious and abusive to woman than any amount of porn if only because they are out there, insidious and so very "innocent" aren't they?

    So I was with this author all the way from "You can distill a life..." to "...my story was just one of them."

  • 'Touch Me Again and I Will Fucking Kill You' by Ren Aldridge

    This author argues that "...we're not brought up to feel that we're entitled to other people's bodies.", but this is exactly what advertising does - to make people feel that the body you see in the ad, and by extension, the body you see on the modelling runway, on TV, and in the movies, is that one you ought to have instead of the one you're stuck with, and if you only spend enough money on our products, you can have it. Really.

    This pressure, from birth very nearly, forces far too many women to chase after a dream which may or may not, in any individual case, be attainable, and people chase this without questioning whether it's realistic, or even a sensible thing to do. This plays into the culture where unless a woman is thin and pale and dressed like she's ready to get it on, she's not worth shit.

    This is pounded into our heads, men and women alike, and even into children's malleable minds on a daily basis. This in turn plays into the idea of male privilege - that these are the women who need to be available to men, and if they fall short of the standard, there's something wrong not with the men, but with the women who fall short of what men think they should be.

    If you want to take the wider perspective - and several of these writers have argued that - then you need to really take in the bigger picture, not just focus on a few tiny jigsaw pieces, mistakenly thinking that in this microcosm, you have it all. You don't. I'm not sure I agree that there's a rape culture out there, but there's most assuredly a male privilege ethos, and perhaps a part of this can be described as rape culture.

    I'm a male who has never been raped, never been ogled or fondled. Well once I was fondled, in Israel, and by a man! And when I was a lot younger! Does that give me any idea of what it's like to live with this day in, day out? No, it doesn't, which is why I need to read articles like this one, even if I don't get it all or don't always agree with viewpoints. We don't need to read these until we agree with all viewpoints. It would be a sad world if we all always agreed on everything, but we do need to read these articles until we get some real understanding of what it's like, and put our asses in gear to end this evil ethos which is all around us.

    The author argues that, "What needs to be fought for, is survivors' rights to define and position our own experiences on this continuum." I don't think anyone in their right mind is seeking to deny that, but this statement confuses two different needs: the absolute right of a person who has suffered to define it in their own terms, and the need to define it in legal terms for the sake of not only prosecuting the law but of identifying and reporting the problem. It's a mistake to conflate these two things in my opinion.

    I get where this is coming from: "They don't try to prescribe what sexual harassment, assault or any other form of gendered violence is, but leave it open to the survivor to define their own experience," but that doesn't help to make this a thing that's illegal and/or unacceptable, nor does it make it something that can be taught to others to be on guard against, and to cease perpetrating. It has to be objectively defined for those purposes, but that doesn't mean a person upon whom this violence was perpetrated cannot define it in their own terms as well! But this was a great personal testimony.

  • On Naming by Nadine Aisha Jassat was one of the few essays in the collection which fell a bit flat for me. On the one hand I can see where the writer is coming from, but on the other, it felt like a baseless rant in many respects.

    The author writes, "I look at my signature and sigh, enjoy the full sight of it next to the name of my organisation making clear who I am, what I do, and what I stand for. I feel a certainty that I will not accept anything less going ahead. People need to know who they are dealing with." Having read this, I have to say that I do fully empathize with the author. I'm one of the white males who are railed at so often in these articles, that the writing itself comes off as racist at times, but I get Ian (ee-an) pronounced as "eye-an" often, and I also get 'Wood' with an extra 's' added on the end, like there's more than one of me, and I live with it. You know why? It's because I am not defined by my name. My name isn't all that I am. Realistically speaking, it's an insignificant part of me when you get right down to it.

    It's not even my name. I didn't choose it. I didn't have any say in it, and that last name came from my father, not my mother. I had no say in that either, and if I had been a girl, I would have lost my mom's name! But wait, it wasn't her name, it was her father's! That's why I find it so hilarious that so many women chose to keep their "maiden" name given that it's far from a maiden name - it's a male patriarch's name! This is why I read this article with a certain amount of wonderment at this author's rather strident protestations.

    While I do believe anyone is entitled to be called whatever they want to be called, and certainly they're perfectly within their rights to protect that name from mispronunciation, I'd advise keeping in mind this fact: it's a serious mistake to confine yourself in a box where your name is all you are.

    Now that may well be the wrong impression, but it is a distinct impression I kept getting from this essay, and I think that's a bigger insult to yourself than any mispronunciation of a name could offer you. You are more than your name and while you're obsessing over that, you're missing so much else in life. So yes, please do make a point of correcting people who get it wrong, but remember there's more to life than it, and you make yourself seem very small when you focus so tightly on that one thing.

    I found it curious that this author wrote: "Even now as I write at my computer, a red line zigzags under Uzoamaka, whilst Tchaikovsky goes unchecked. A subtle reminder, programmed in, of who the system works for and who is out of place."

    I'm sorry, but I found this to be entirely wrong-headed! If Uzoamaka had been a famous composer (or artist, or sports personality or movie star), then you can bet it would be in the spell-checker, but no word processor can possibly accommodate every variation of every spelling of every person's name out of seven or eight billion on Earth! I'm sorry, but that's quite simply an idiotic expectation! It truly rendered this into a juvenile rant rather than a reasonable argument, and for me it didn't help her cause one bit.

    I invite this author try a few more names before she counts her sampling complete. How about Sacajawea? That get red-lined? I thought not. What about Basquiat? Nope? Aung San Suu Kyi? No red-line there, either (not in Word, but Google can;t handle it as I write this! How about Uhuru? None there! Malala Yousafzai? Not an inkling of red ink. Imran Khan? Nope! Whoopi Goldberg gets in even under her original name: Caryn Johnson! Even Li Nguyen made it past the red-line and that's a fictional character in another review I wrote.

    So no, I think the issue here is whether the name is one likely to be used - just like it is with every other word in your word processor dictionary! Try English spellings of words in Microsoft Word when it's set for American usage, and see how many red-lines you get! It's not racism. It's not bias. It's not misogyny. It's not an attempt by da man (that didn't get red-lined!) to keep you down. It's just a matter of what's practical and what isn't.

    As I write this, neither Nadine nor Aisha is underlined, only 'Jassat', but that gets no praise from this author that two out of three ain't bad! Seriously, The final joke of this essay was that never once in this entire rant does Nadine Aisha Jassat actually tell us how her name is pronounced, so for me this essay was one of the very few complete fails in this whole collection.


  • Laura Jane Grace in conversation with Sasha de Buyl-Pisco

    This was an interview with a mtf transgendered musician. I found it curious that the author had nothing to say about a couple of articles I read in the British newspaper The Guardian which indicate on the one hand cluelessness on the part of the subject of the interview, and on the other, cluelessness on the part of the guardian writer!

    Here's the first:

    ...[Laura Jane Grace's] fear that she wouldn't be able to cope with raising a son ("knowing I wouldn't be able to be the proper male role model he would need")"
    - because no child can possibly grow up healthily without a male role model? That's an appalling thing to say!

    Here's the other:

    Grace doesn't look like a woman, but then she only began taking hormones a month ago. There's a subtle feminity [sic] in her posture, though, and in the way her features soften as she talks.
    Excuse me? She doesn't look like a woman? What does "a woman" look like, exactly, Decca Aitkenhead? In my expert opinion (as a man!), Laura Jane Grace looks just as much woman as Aitkenhead does, so does she consider herself not looking much like a woman? That aside, what a lousy thing for a journalist to write. Tell it like it is my ass. You have to have a decidedly warped sense of what a woman is to write something like that, and from a woman writer too?

    That rant aside, I have nothing to add to this. I have never heard of this band (which is quite a successful one), and there really was nothing new here except in how public Laura Jane's 'coming out' was, so the article really didn't deliver much to me.




  • Adventures of a Half-Black Yank in America by Elise Hines was less of a woman's issue than it was of a race issue: of finding oneself in a very insular, and lets call it what it is, downright racist culture after having grown up in a much more accepting community. It was another one that will make you (hopefully) uncomfortable (if you're white), or sadly make you nod your head familiarly (if you're not). It needs to be read. And we need to ask why people are forced to consider themselves half-black instead of half-white. Aren't both terms equally applicable? If not, why not?




  • Foraging and Feminism: Hedge-witchcraft in the 21st Century by Alice Tarbuck

    This is the only author I've heard of out of this collection, which is sad because this article fell flat for me. I've never been interested in foraging, and it can be downright dangerous unless you know what exactly what you're doing. While I do love nature, I've never been a fan of immersing myself in it, especially not in the USA where there is so much that can sting, bite, poison, or eat you. Finding a scorpion in the bathtub one night was closer than I ever honestly want to be, and personally, I think it needs to be left alone as much as possible. Enjoy it, but please don't mess with it! We have no entitlement to rape and pillage no matter how great we think we are.




  • Fat in Every Language by Jonatha Kottler is in some ways tied-in with Ren Aldridge's essay which touches on appearance and judgment. This author writes, "I have weighed between 140 pounds to 267 pounds" which tells us little without knowing the author's height! Maybe that was intentional! That is a wide range, but really it's not helpful without any reference to the author's lifestyle because for me, it's less about appearance than health, which is the only sensible way to look at it, and this author tells us nothing about her eating habits or exercise or general well-being, so she deliberately makes it all about skin-depth, which I think was a mistake.

    Out of curiosity, I looked up this author to see how she looks and she doesn't look fat to me - or any of the euphemisms we employ to avoid the three-letter word: corpulent, plump, curvy, rounded, or whatever. She looks fine. It's a pity that we live in a society which calculatedly makes people see themselves in the worst light for the sake of our advertisers unloading some product on them.




  • Afterbirth by Chitra Ramaswamy is about pregnancy and birth. Every man should read this or something like it if they haven't already - and even if they have, let's face it, it's worth going through again since it's nowhere near the journey every pregnant woman takes. Don't be a baby! I think I can say without fear of contraception that this is definitely a women's issue, and it was nice to read something educational and real - and entertaining - about pregnancy and childbirth when all Americans seem to be fed is the ridiculous caricature that seems to pervade every American sitcom - usually written by men - that I've ever seen where a woman is giving birth. This was so refreshingly different and welcome.




  • Hard Dumplings for Visitorsby Christina Neuwirth was a very personal story about an assortment of incidents from her life. While I found it interesting, it didn't really have a huge impact on me in the way some of the other stories here did. I'm not a fan of memoirs and this felt rather like one. Perhaps that's why it didn't really resonate with me.



  • Resisting by Existing: Carving Out Accessible Spaces by Belle Owen was great. It was about accessible space for people who are not your 'standard' human being which is all society seems interested in catering to. naturally they can't cater to everyone, but in this day and age of technology, there is no reason extraordinary lengths cannot be gone to. Her story of her being bodily ejected from a concert because they couldn't cope with a woman in a wheelchair has to be read to be believed. While, on the one hand coming from a company which has a tight focus on safety, it also has a tight focus on security, so while I can (if I squint) see their point of view, there was no excuse whatsoever for their behavior and attitude. This is why this essay is so important to read. Put yourself in someone else's wheels for once.



  • The Difficulty in Being Good by Zeba Talkhani


  • he thought it would be funny to joke about how I will no longer be allowed to enter America (while it was already quite disturbing then, it hurt even more following the January 2017 order to temporarily ban citizens from predominantly Muslim countries from entering America).
    This is another case of misleading writing and why this essay didn't impress me. Trump's executive order, while execrable and ridiculous, banned individuals from seven majority-Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, and for 90 days following the signing of the order on Friday 27 January. This is seven countries out of almost fifty which are predominantly Muslim, so the statement made by this author is simplistic at best and downright dishonest at worst. It took away from a much more important message that she touched on only tangentially. I think that was a sad waste of an opportunity.
  • The Rest is Drag by Kaite Welsh while ostensibly about butch and femme lesbians felt to me more like an article about fashion, which has never been an interest of mine. I liked her message and found her writing interesting, but I wanted more that she seemed prepared to give on this topic. I would have liked her to get into it over why fashion is such a hassle for women - what is it about society that dumps this trip on us all, male or female, and why so few of us realize what's been done to us? One thing she didn't get into, which seemed like an obvious route to explore was how easy it was for her to be free to adopt a variety of clothes - or costumes, or disguises, however you might classify it, and so hard for men to do the same. A woman wearing trousers isn't anything these days, especially if those trousers are jeans, but a man wearing a dress? There was so much more to be said here and I missed not having it.
  • The Dark Girl's Enlightenment by the amazingly-named Joelle A. Owusu was a sad way to end this fascinating display of essays, but it was a necessary one in many ways because again it went into how being not only black, but female, gives a woman a whole different perspective on life. This was a strong way to end this collection because it was so sad and so anger-inducing.

While some bits were less than thrilling for me, and the whole was a bit uneven, Overall this was an awesome collection and worth reading - even the patchy bits. I recommend this to anyone and everyone.


Friday, July 7, 2017

Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula by Andi Watson


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an awesome graphic novel about a princess whose father is the biggest slacker in the kingdom, laying around in bed all day feigning illness, leaving his daughter to do all the work, which she handles with aplomb, and industriousness and she takes charge of the various castle staff of mummies, and ghosts, ghouls and zombies, and receives werewolf guests, and so on.

When the cook quits and she hires Count Spatula, who is an awesome cook and a very supportive friend to her, there's trouble in the castle. The king's spy reports back to him and he insists Dee fire the guy, but it all works out in the end, when Dee puts her foot down, and the king learns he must reform.

I though this was slyly hilarious and I recommend it. I will be on the lookout for other work by this author.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Iron-Hearted Violet by Kelly Burnhill


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a truly great fairy-tale which did precisely what I always advocate - take the road less traveled. There's nothing worse than a cookie-cutter novel which tells you the same story and in the same way you already heard it a thousand times before. Kelly Burnhill gets this.

In a mirror world, which was a bit annoying because it wasn't explained until the end of the story, lives Princess Violet, who is not beautiful - not at a shallow skin depth anyway, but who is gorgeous inside, with her mom and dad. She's a tomboy and a tear-away, and feels not quite like a 'real' princess because she's been shamed by all those fairy-tales which have a princess who is typically defined to skin-depth and has nothing else to offer but her heart to whichever wandering jackass claims it. Yes, Disney, I'm looking at you! Although even Disney seems to be getting the message of late.

When Violet and her buddy Demetrius discover a sinister painting hidden in the depths of the castle, and her mom dies shortly after yet another stillborn baby, while her dad is off hunting dragons, things start going south badly. The kingdom is suddenly at war, and The Nybbas in the painting promises Violet she can be beautiful and have everything she wants if only she will listen to him. Dad returns with the dragon he captured for studying, but everything seems to be falling irreparably apart!

The story did start dragging a bit in the last third. At over four hundred pages, it was about 25% too long, and should have been edited better, but that aside, this was an awesome story and I fully recommend it. The only real problem I had was with Iacopo Bruno's illustrations, which once again bore little relationship to the text of the story.

How an artist can be so blind and disrespectful to an author, or how an author can be so uncritical is a mystery. Maybe she had no choice and was saddled with this by the publisher. I don't know, but if that was the case then the question becomes that of how a publisher can be so utterly clueless! This kind of complete disconnect is why I flatly refuse to go with Big Publishing™.

Let me detail a few of the problems with the illustrations. We're quite clearly told that Violet has mismatched eyes, not just in that one is a different color to the other, but that her eyes are literally different sizes. She also has wiry hair and bad skin. None of this is visible in any of the illustrations. She looks ultra cute in all of them with fine hair, great skin and tediously ordinary eyes!

After Violet is transformed, she's essentially exactly thew same as she was before the transformation! So where is the contrast? There was none. Yes, her hair is longer, but the artist even screwed that up. The author makes it quite clear in the text that Violet's feet have shrunk and her hair grown to Rapunzel proportions. Not a single one of the illustrations shows these changes. To me, this means the artist is quite simply stupid or incompetent. I'm sorry, but what other conclusion is there? That he's a lousy coward maybe, and doesn't have the courage to illustrate this the way the author wrote it, thereby undermining the very message the author is trying to send? Or did the author chicken out? There really is no excuse for sabotaging the writing like this and whoever is responsible should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

On a related topic, there was one part of the text where Violet and Demetrius crawled through a small gap in a wall. The text makes it quite clear that they're reduced to crawling, yet the illustration shows them walking through the gap like it's a regular doorway! In another instance, the text says a door handle made a mark in the plaster when it was thrown open angrily, but illustration shows the door with rope handles! Rope is hardly likely to make a mark in the plaster! So I score a zero for the illustrations.

Even the map which is included inside the front and back covers makes little sense, not only in relation to the story, but also with regard to the map itself. I mean why does a trade route not visit any cities, for example?! Given this, why even mark it when it has nothing to do with the story?

There were writing issues, too. I mean, did this castle really have plaster for the door handle not to make a mark in? Such a thing is highly doubtful given the context of the story and the state of the castle in general, but it's a relatively minor issue. More problematic is a description of a horse being "So black he was nearly blue." Excuse me? So dark blue he was nearly black makes sense, but it's idiotic to put it this way.

Also problematic is that at one point we're told that the king has only two days to get ready for a war, and then nothing happens, but later, there is a bustle of activity aimed at this very readiness, none of which had a remote chance of being completed in two days! And yeah, all the "my loves" and "darlings', especially those from the story-teller, were frankly creepy.

So yes, there were some writing issues that the author really needed to have nailed down. These are somewhat less important in children's stories since they tend to be less exacting, but some children might notice things like that. Do such children deserve less because they're children? Not in my books!

That said, I really liked this novel and consider it a very worthy read, so I recommend it to adults and children alike, and particularly to writers who want to break the mold, as this author has done so definitively here.