Showing posts with label 2AABCGHILOPQSTU. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2AABCGHILOPQSTU. Show all posts

Friday, November 2, 2018

Agent Colt Classified Pride by A Lynn Wright


Rating: WARTY!

This was an awful, awful, awful CIA operative novel. Latesse Colt (because she's a closet lesbian filly, get it?) is a super-agent for no apparent reason. She blabs secrets to a stranger on a plane only to discover the woman, 'Vaneesa' is to be a partner, replacing sexist pig Isaiah, who is openly inappropriate to Latesse (sounds like latex, doesn't it?), but never once called on it not by Latesse herself, and not even by Latesse's supposedly no-nonsense female boss when he does this stuff right in front of said boss!

That was when I quit this asinine and amateur story. Even the writing was amateur as attested to by this run-on sentence I encountered very early in the novel: "Texas wasn't a bad place to be everyone was just so nice." The author needs to change her name to B Lynn Wright because she's not going to be A list writing like this.

Talking of inappropriate, it doesn't extend just to the absurdly caricatured male partner. It also extends to female characters. Latesse's female boss is described thus: "She had given everything for her career. No marriage, no kids, just work." So this female author is evidently convinced that a woman is missing something if she doesn't marry or have kids. Excuse me? How is this author any better than jackass dick Isaiah-the-pig-partner? Far from being apologetic, she doubles down on it soon after by having this character say, "Don't end up like me, close to retirement and no kids or grandkids to spend it with."

So clearly, a woman is useless when she has no kids. Forget about satisfaction with her career; forget about speaking engagements or writing a biography; forget about friends; forget about leading a life of solitude after all she's done, if she so chooses; forget about outside interests she might have, forget about even developing a satisfying romance later in life. Forget all that and a score of other reasons. Just focus on this one thing: if a woman doesn't have kids she's a complete failure. Screw you A Lynn Wright, who evidently doesn't get it right. I'm done with this author permanently.


Monday, October 1, 2018

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell, Henry Cole


Rating: WORTHY!

Justin Richardson is a doctor, Peter Parnell a playwright, and Henry Cole an illustrator. How they all came together to create this true story is a mystery to me, but I'm glad they did. There's an ignorant but powerful element out there who believe that same sex relationships are an abomination, and also a choice made by people, although they can never explain why people would make a choice to become victims of the abuse and violence aimed at them by these same vile people who think they somehow have the right to dictate how everyone else should live. Wrong!

And nature itself proves them wrong - very wrong. It's not a human choice, it's a perfectly natural happenstance. Gender isn't binary. It's a sliding scale which can slide one way or another throughout life, and it's not a human thing but an animal thing - and I mean that in a generic sense, not a punitive one. We are all animals, and many animals have LGBTQ members. This book amply demonstrates that by telling the true story of two male penguins who decided they wanted to emulate any reproductive couple.

Roy and Silo (who have their own Wikipedia entry!) are chinstrap penguins who built a nest and tried to hatch a rock. This doesn't work. Rather than have them trying to steal another couple's egg, some inspired and inspiring members of the zoo staff gave them an egg from a cis couple who were not able to hatch two eggs. Roy and Silo successfully hatched the egg and raised 'their' daughter - Tango - successfully. Evidently taking her cue from her parents, Tango herself paired with a female penguin called Tanuzi, although this part of the story doesn't appear in this book.

This book was listed among the top-ten banned books for five years, which is why everyone ought to read it. I commend it. It plays a little bit fast and loose with the true story, but not by much and it's still worth reading even so.


Come Home by HL Logan


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a very short (68 widely spaced pps) which the blurb describes somewhat illiterately as a 25,000 word novella that can be "enjoyed on it's [sic] own"! I found it sad that even this story is largely based, like so many stupid YA novels that have any kind of romance in them, on pure looks. As the blurb puts it: She’s instantly drawn to the gorgeous customer," and how 'gorgeous' or 'beautiful' or 'hot' this girl is comes up often.

The blurb asks, "Could someone so caring, passionate and beautiful really ever want Kalli?" and that at least brings 'caring' into the question, but nothing about decency, smarts, companionability, integrity, reliability, loyalty, or whatever. It made it feel a bit shallow. The feeling I got was that the author had rendered Dana as a social worker as a kind of shorthand for character building, under the assumption that we’d all love her as a decent human being without the author having to do any of the work to get us there.

The two main characters behave more like they're thirteen rather than twenty-three (I assume their age is somewhere around mid-twenties although it’s not specified. I do get that people falling in love can become rather giddy, but a little more self-control would have made for a more realistic story with a greater hope of a relationship that had some legs. Fortunately this wasn't done to a nauseating degree, so I appreciated that.

One thing which struck me though, especially given how much physical lust was broadcast in this story (which was all from Kalli's PoV although fortunately for me, not first person), was the lack of any focus on any particular physical aspect of the other woman. Yeah, Kalli does become focused on Dana's green eyes, but despite a lot of lustful thoughts on behalf of both parties, neither one of them ever seems to attach herself to any specific body part - like lips, hair, breasts, legs, ass, fingers, or something like that. That felt a bit unlikely to me.

There were some gaffs in the text, too: I read at the start of chapter five that “She’d been out that morning to get a new phone, and called Dana immediately" and just a paragraph later, Kalli "...tingled at the thought that Dana called just to talk about nothing”, yet as we read, it was Kalli who called Dana, not the other way around! later I read, “A thin slither of skin was visible.” I think she means that a sliver of skin was visible!

All of that said, I do consider this a worthy read, but not a great read!


Saturday, September 1, 2018

His Own Way Out by Taylor Saracen


Rating: WARTY!

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

I could not get into this book at all and DNF'd it at around a third of the way through. The characters - three or four kids in high school - were such utter dicks that there wasn't a single one of them that was even likeable, let alone relatable. I read in some other reviews that it's apparently a fictionalized version of a true story. I did not realize that going in, but now I do know it, I have to wonder what the purpose of this treatment of it was supposed to be.

Thinking it was fiction, I was pulled in by the fact that the main character was bisexual. This is rare in a book and the only other such book I've read that immediately comes to mind, I didn't like very much. I'd hoped for a lot more for this one, especially given the positive nature of the title, but it was a fail for me because although the main character was presented as bi, he had no real interest in women at all, aside from his ex-girlfriend. His entire focus seemed to be on men, so while he was technically bi, this story really offered nothing that your typical gay high school story offers, so what was the point?

Again from what I read in other's reviews after I decided to ditch this as a waste of my reading time, the 'way out' is for the main character to go into the porn industry which, while it's entirely his choice to make, is hardly the kind of way out that the high-flying title suggested to me. It's hardly an heroic option, and it's not inventive, or unique or original. I was hoping for a lot more and was sadly disappointed when I learned that this was his 'way out'. After reading those other reviews, I was glad I did not try to read further than I did.

As for my own take on it, I found nothing here to inspire or interest me. The guy was a jerk, unlikeable and with nothing to offer the reader. It was a tedious read. He just bounced around between parties, doing drugs and drinking, with no ideas in mind for any sort of a future. The limited and boxed-in mindset was simply depressing and uninteresting. The guy behaved like a loser and showed no sign of improving. He was boorish and one-track-minded, and I saw no saving graces in him and nothing educational or even original in his thought processes. Whether the reality upon which this was apparently based is different, I can't say, but I can only believe that a biography would have been far more fulfilling than this fiction ever can be. I cannot commend this as a worthy read based on what I experienced of it.


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

First Year Out by Sabrina Symington


Rating: WORTHY!

This is another graphic novel about transitional experiences. It's completely honest about feelings and experiences from start to finish and it pulls no punches.

Presumably based on the author's on experiences at least to an extent, this is a fictional account of a mtf transgender named Lily. As is typical, she always knew she was a female from a very early age, despite being hampered with a male body. She wasn't gay, and she fought against these 'sissy' feelings by body-building and indulging herself in insensitive traditional masculine behaviors, but of course these were doomed to fail because her body notwithstanding, she was a woman through and through.

The color artwork is fairly rudimentary, but what's most important is the story, which discusses her problems: personal and interpersonal, the troubles in finding a decent date - and keeping him, and the support or lack thereof she got, from her parents' changing perspectives to being denied use of the women's restroom in a restaurant, to the friendships she made and the loving relationship she formed, to the unintentional torture of the final step of sex reassignment surgery.

This is educational, painful, humorous, and thoroughly worth reading. I commend it.


Sunday, July 15, 2018

Love Letters to Jane's World by Paige Braddock


Rating: WARTY!

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

I requested this from Net Galley's 'read now' collection which is always a bit of a hit and miss affair, and this was a miss I'm sorry to report, because I really thought I'd enjoy it. I was thinking that it would be a fun and amusing read, but it was neither.

I became bored with it quite quickly, which surprised me, and I made it only a third of the way through by which time I honestly could not stand to read any more. It's just not my kind of humor I guess: too cheesy and simple for my taste.

Worse than this though was that for a book which claims diversity as one of its qualities, there was one - perhaps two - people of color in the entire thing, which doesn't sound very diverse to me given that most people on the planet are people of color, and a third of them are Asian. But talking of so-called minorities, I guess I'm in the minority in disliking this since it has done well for itself over the years and been somewhat groundbreaking to boot for a comic whose main character is LGBTQIA. For me she was more LGBTMIA, though.

The story is a highly fanciful 'autobiography' it would appear, given that the main character is quite obviously modeled on the author, but I hope the author is smarter than the character depicted here, who comes across as quite stupid and thoughtless. I didn't like her, much less respect her, which didn't help to like the comic strip stories.

The artwork was very much 'Sunday Funnies' style, but in black and white line drawings, so no color diversity here either, and sometimes the text was hard to read because it was also hand drawn and rather scrappily so - something I've never understood about comics. It was large enough to read okay (for the most part) on a tablet computer, but I sure wouldn't want to try reading this on a smart phone or in a badly printed copy.

It's yet another graphic novel which doesn't acknowledge that there are ebooks, and the print book margins made it quite wasteful of trees, too. This is another negative against this comic book since trees are the only entity which is doing anything concrete to fight climate change, and here is another author/publisher seemingly determined to decimate them. And so it goes.

I wish the author all the best in her career, but I cannot recommend this one.


The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding


Rating: WORTHY!

Subtitled "and the best burger in Los Angeles" this book tells the story of Abby, who is working a summer part time internship at a fashion store called Lemonberry not far from where she lives. Normally the store takes on only one intern, but the manager, Maggie, is expecting a busy summer and so takes on two this year, and therein lies the problem - the intern often gets to stay on at the store as a paid employee (how that works given that they;re already staffed isn't gone into), so it means that Abby in in competition with Jordana Perez, on whom she soon discovers, she's crushing.

If you don't like cute, you won't like this because this is a very cute relationship. But that said, it's also quite stereotypical. I've read too many YA novels where there's the girl and the bad boy, and while this is an LGBTQIA story, Jordi is definitely the trope bad boy, short-haitred, dressed in black, in complete contrast to Abby who wears bright colors, often with a fruit motif. It turns out that Jordi isn't as bad as she's painted, so there is an out, but it still seemed a bit been-there-done-that to me: Abby the femme with Jordi the butch. It's right there in the names! it would have been nice had they been named against stereotype, and the fact these these contrasts between them were never really explored was a minor problem for me.

Another contrast is that Abby is overweight and Jordi is far from it. Some reviewers have outright described her as fat, but I don't like to use that word, especially in a case where we never really get an idea of exactly what body type Abby has. Ultimately, it's not important what body a person has if they're healthy and are getting some exercise, but it felt like a bit of a betrayal in that Abby seems far too comfortable in herself for the real world, and we never really get any feeling that she's had a hard time for her body.

It would be nice if that was everyone's case, it really would, but it's not, so this felt a bit unrealistic to me especially set as it was in a teen/high-school environment. Literally everyone accepted her and no one ever had a remark about her? And this is when she's hanging around with jocks because her best friend is dating one? It seemed a bit too sunshine and rainbows, especially in an era of a shameful presidency where crassness and crudity and rampant misogyny, homophobia, and racism is positively encouraged. The book was published only this year, so yes, the author knew, and I was sorry she didn't do more with that.

That said, I really loved Abby for her humor and wit, and for her observations of life around her and even for being scatterbrained at times. Her relationship with her best friend Maliah was a solid one, and even what she develops with this new guy during the course of the story - one of the jocks, named Jackson, or Jax for short. He was pretty cool despite being a dick on occasion, and be warned there is an ulterior motive!

Abby seems to be fine with how she is, but there seems to be a lot of reference to her body in spite of this. She mentions it quite a lot in contrast to her profession that she's happy with how she is, and this isn't gone into either. Nor is her mother's shameful behavior towards her which seems inexplicable and particularly with regard to the kind of person Abby grew up to be.

Abby got her internship because she is a blogger with a lot to say about fashion for plus-sized women. Jordi got the job because of her photography and it's this which causes some grief later in the story - a plot point I found to be a little on the thin side which is ironic give the subject of the story! Once she and Abby begin dating, Jordi starts takign lots of pictures of Abby, and Abby never objects or questions to what use these might be put, not even when she realizes that Jordi likes to show the world how she sees it, and that she has an upcoming show at a local public display area.

Warning bells should have rung in Abby's head, which is sad, because they don't and this makes her look a lot less astute about trends and signs than she's been shown to be to that point. I'm not usually good at picking these things out, but even I could see exactly what was coming from a mile away.

The blurb tells us that "...when Jordi's photography puts Abby in the spotlight, it feels like a betrayal, rather than a starring role." Yes, Abby is the star of Jordi's show. This is not a spoiler because it's no surprise whatsoever. This is followed by the truly dumb, trademark question that utterly moronic blurb-writers cannot seem to keep themselves from asking: "Can Abby find a way to reconcile her positive yet private sense of self with the image that other people have of her?" Hell no! The world will explode in a nuclear holocaust! Hell no! She's met a hot Internet celeb, and fallen in love, throwing Jordi over. Hell no, Abby is so offended by Jordi's pictorial that she's scared straight and starts dating Jax. Seriously? Of course Abby and Jordi will end up together - it's that kind of story. Duhh!

Book blurb writers must have a truly abyssal view of their readers' intellect to pose imbecilic questions like that. And they're so frequent, especially in chick lit. What does that say about how publishers view their readership?

Abby's reaction to Jordi putting her into the spotlight seemed disingenuous to me, and it completely betrays the relationship far more than Abby whines that Jordi has betrayed her. Grow a pair Abby! Her reaction is far too dramatic and written solely for the purpose of breaking them up so they can have a tearful reunion later, and this smacked of amateurishness to me. It read t this point more like fanfic than ever it did a professionally published novel.

This is the part of the book that I did not like and which seemed much more unrealistic than any other part. Some people have called out Jordi in their reviews, for her behavior, but she's behaving true to character. It's Abby who is willing to betray Jordi and her supposed love for this woman, over a thing like this which could easily have been resolved instead of discussing it with her. This relationship is doomed, trust me!

I think it would have been a better ending to have had Abby realize that she had overreacted, and had her go to reconcile with Jordi only to find that Jordi refuses, because Abby had betrayed her by showing such a ready willingness to completely ditch her and turn her back on her over a simple misunderstanding. That's how I would have ended this one.

I have to say a word about the fashion element too! On the one hand this book shows Abby as being very stylish and dressy, and on a budget too (although Abby never actually seems short of money, Where she gets it all goes unexplained). I have no problem with Abby wanting to be stylish and having an eye for it. She can be anything she wants. Even the anorexic, self-indulgent, fatuous and shallow world of fashion is waking up - begrudgingly and far too slowly - to the fact that people come in other sizes than Bulemic Zero.

But it bothered me that Abby (and the author) had nothing much to say on this topic. Just saying. It's this and the magazines, and Hollywood, and TV which contrive to make women feel ugly and poorly dressed, and unsexy and worthless, and it's shameful. This is why I have no tolerance for the fashion world. Its sole purpose is to make women feel inadequate and out of date, and thereby inveigle them into endlessly dieting and spending money they don't have on the endlessly updating latest fashions, and it's criminal, misogynistic, and disgusting. Women have enough to contend with in the academic ad business worlds without piling this on.

Once again I find myself having to talk about biceps! As in when Amy Spalding wrote: “...wrapped up in Trevor’s bicep.” Seriously, unless you’re an anatomist or a surgeon, there’s no such thing as a bicep. The bulge you see on the inside of the upper arm is the biceps, plural, because there’s more than one which combine to make the visible part. You’d have to deflesh the arm to actually see a bicep. Did Trevor’s girlfriend tear the flesh off her boyfriend’s arm? I doubt it. Does main character Abby have X-ray vision? Not that she tells us. Does yet another YA author not know what she’s talking about? More than probably.

But all of that said, this book was cute and for the most part told a story I really liked and enjoyed. I just think that the predictable break-up was far too predictable and for the most predictable of reasons, and this betrayed the story. Plus I am not a huge fan of predictable! A little bit predictable yes, because it's comforting, and we can use a lot of that under this presidency, but not so glaringly so! That said I commend the novel as a worthy read overall.


Friday, June 1, 2018

Final Draft by Riley Redgate


Rating: WORTHY!

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

“...but the team here are great people...” this was spoken by Mr Madison, an English teacher Seriously?! 'Team' is singular.

Laila Piedra, like me, is very much into writing, but she's better looking! She secretes herself away in her room with her laptop and creates sci-fi worlds of adventure and derring-do. But daring isn't something Laila ever does herself. She'd rather have a quiet life: no partying, no boyfriend, no extra-curricular activities. She's all about writing, and meeting with her high-school senior year English teacher, Mr Madison, on lunchbreaks to discuss her stories. Apparently he has very little of a life too, and you have to wonder why he's misleading Laila so much in his advice. He seems so full of praise, but later a professional author disagrees with him.

Due to an injury, Mr Madison was forced to take time off school and substitute teacher came in. This woman was a Ukrainian ex-pat who had a successful writing career. Even given that she was a friend of the principal's, it seemed a bit of a stretch that someone of her purported stature would step in to teach. This oddity was explained later in the novel, but even accepting that, it made little sense that her approach to teaching was so minimalist that she essentially didn't teach at all. Instead, she merely had her students continue their writing projects and then marked them scathingly.

Despite Laila's skill and the endless positive, evidently criticism-free encouragement of Mr Madison, Laila's first score from Nadiya Nazarenko was a 32%. Everyone else scored less, and no one was given any real advice about what was wrong or how to improve it. No-one read their work in class either, so it felt unnaturally like a super-secret, under-the-table event; like everyone was ashamed of what they wrote, or their work was too scandalous to ever see the light of day. Worse, Laila never questioned Mr Madison's bona fides given that he was all 100% and the Nazarenko consistently less. That rang hollowly - that Laila never questioned anything.

Frankly she was a bit too passive for my taste, but then I seem condemned to prefer the side-kick characters in young adult and even middle-grade novels rather than the main one. Her sidekick is Hannah, and Hannah fascinated me.

Laila's desperate desire to impress the substitute flings the young writer into dangerous territory, visiting bars with a fake ID, and risking arrest by the police at a fight. Never once does she consider she's being foolish in pursuit of a ridiculous goal. It felt odd, too, that when a school hottie guy befriended her, she didn't try to talk him out of fighting her own friend, a guy who was dating his ex. That was an interesting little story.

The novel could have easily gone downhill several times for me, it didn't, fortunately for this review! It kept me hanging in there, sometimes by a slim thread, and even as I wondered about some of the writing choices the author was making. What made it worthwhile in the end was Laila's outcome, which I had seen coming for a while but was never quite sure if the author would actually take me there - despite having a pretty awesome name for an author: Riley Redgate! I mean come on! That's almost as good as Teenage Negasonic Warhead. You know Riley Redgate's middle name is Negasonic, right? Well, it might be!

Meanwhile, back in Realityville, I have to say that it was such a nice gift that she did do this, that I felt a bit miffed when there wasn't more of it. The novel ended somewhat abruptly with Laila's future seemingly left rather hanging. I don't know if this was a conscious choice or if the author plans on continuing this story in a second volume. It's difficult to see where that would go given the powerful ending this one had (before the abrupt bit!), but I might be tempted to read such a sequel even though I'm not a fan of series, trilogies, and the like. As for this particular volume, I consider overall, that it's a worthy read, and I recommend it.


Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Red As Blue by Ji Strangeway, Juan Fleites


Rating: WARTY!

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

I was very disappointed in this. I knew it was experimental going into it, but I did not realize it would be more mental than experi-. I don't know if the contributor's names are real or made up, but Strangeway definitely describes how this story is told, and the illustrations are minimal, so do not go into this thinking it's a graphic novel in any way; it isn't.

It has some some illustrated pages sprinkled through it, but they don't really tell a story in the way a graphic novel does, and they appear only about every half-dozen pages or so. That said they were, for me, the best part, since they were well done - black and white line drawings though they were. They were full page illustrations, some with panels in them, but the downside of these was that on my iPad in Bluefire Reader, they sometimes took seemingly forever to open up. Worse: they simply retell the story in pictures and tend to precede the text which tells us the same thing the illustration just did. It seemed superfluous if not also pretentious to include them.

As far as the writing went, it was literally like reading a play. No, not like, was - it was a play. I DNF'd this, but I also skimmed through a goodly portion of what I did not read, and the format was the same all the way through as far as I could see. On nearly every page there was a conversation which consisted of a character's name in block caps in the center of the page, their speech centered below it, then the next character's name the same way, rinse and repeat except the rinse was more like a gargle.

The descriptive prose was minimal, which isn't a bad thing necessarily, but here it ran into jargon issues. So much of this is used that there's a glossary at the start of the novel to clue people in to what's obviously an unnatural system. This kind of thing doesn't work for me.

Even that might have been readable if the main character wasn't so unlikeable. She came across as a complete halfwit, constantly having to be told what relatively common, and fairly simple words mean. I can stand to read a good novel about someone who might uncharitably be described as a halfwit, but I can't read about someone who seems to have an unacknowledged learning impairment with which the author has saddled her for no apparent reason.

So for an experimental novel there was precious little experimentation, since it was pretty much a play with some pictures. It didn't strike me as being inventive or imaginative, but as lazy and pandering to a seriously niche audience rather than to a much larger audience of people who would genuinely like to enjoy a well-written LGBTQIA novel based on the author's own experiences.

Writing this my have been cathartic for an author who has grown up in a conservative small town with no role models and prejudice galore, but 270 pages is much to long of a novel to experiment with in this fashion. When I see a book like this, I have to wonder whether the author really just doesn't like trees.


Monday, March 26, 2018

Double Exposure by Bridget Birdsall


Rating: WARTY!

Errata:
This novel was as bad as it was illiterate:
p75: "She's the youngest of six boys."? She is the youngest of six boys? How about "She's the youngest of seven; the other six are boys"?
"Fifty frames a minute and the shudder speed’s unbelievable" p174 Shudder speed? Maybe fifty frames a minute is what makes the shutter shudder?
P180 use of ‘you’re’ where ‘your’ should have been employed. This author teaches writing? No, she relies on auto-correct. Creative auto-correct!
P232 “His bicep bulges” That last 's' is in the wrong place! Once again YA authors the word is biceps Unless you are specifically referring to a single one of the attachments to the upper arm, one of which is the short head, the other of which is the long head, then what you're talking about - what we normally called the muscle that bulges when the arm is flexed as in strong-man posing - is the friggin' biceps, you ill-educated morons. But maybe she was writing creatively?
"Su rounding" p243 As in Su rounded by idiots? Okay I've given up on the author, but did this book not have any editors? Bueller? Anyone? There were enough people mentioned in the acknowledgements. What the hell did any of them do? Did none of them read it? Were they all so gushing that it was a LGBTQIA story that might have a chance of selling that no one cared if it was any good or even spelled correctly? Even a piece of lard like Microsoft Word will catch many of these things. Or was it creatively-written by hand and typeset ye olde fashioned way? It's leaden enough that it could be such a piece of fool's cap sheet.
The author can't do math. We learn that the team is averaging 2 games per week, but after three weeks they’re 10-0? Does the author teach creative writing or creative math! Creative writing! LOL! All writing is creative if it's done right!

This was, thankfully a book I did not pay money for, but borrowed from my excellent library. It began well enough, but at the time I didn't realize how bad it would become because I did not know that the author taught (guffaw) creative writing. Anyone who teaches creative writing or who has passed through a college creative writing course is guaranteed to write god-awful novels in my experience.

The first cliché was the bullying. Barf. I skipped that. Notice that I didn't say 'inexcusable cliché' because bullying of LGBTQIAs is rife, and that's what's inexcusable and needs to be stamped-out ruthlessly along with all other forms of bullying. But turning it into a trope high-school bullying story is not going to help because it cheapens the problem by making it blatantly, painfully (I'm talking about the reader, not the character) obvious. Like there's no other kind. Ever. And as if once were insufficient, our main character gets bullied twice, in two different states! Two for the price of one! Limited Offal! Buy into it now! Yawn. Barf.

Next up is the inexcusably clichéd fiery green-eyed (JEALOUS, get it?) redhead. Yawn. Barf squared. Wait, what is it you teach, Bridget Birdsall? I forget - was it clichéd writing or creative writing? There is a difference, you know.

Taught writing isn't taut writing; it's trope writing, which brings me to the trope boyfriend being telegraphed from twenty-thousand light years away. Barf. Yawn. Clichéd or creative? Clichéd or creative? Anyone?

Next up is the sport, because your student has to be sports or arts. You know there's nothing else in the entire school curriculum worth writing about, in "creative" writing, right? Sports includes the clichéd dancer, and arts includes the clichéd image maker. Oh, wait, we have both! The main character is a basketball player and her love interest is a photographer! But all Alyx wants to do is be a girl.

But wait - how can she be a girl? Yeah she's quite literally intersex, having one testicle and one ovary, and one penis and one vulva, but that's not the issue here. The issue is that, never having been a girl before - always living as a boy, despite feeling like a girl, Alyx, who happens to have a magically unisex name complete with totally weird spelling (this in a family which boasts an 'uncle grizzly'), magically transforms into perfectly ordinary girl in the short space of time it takes to travel from California to Milwaukee!

I-80 sure is educational isn't it? God Bless President Eisenhowitzer! Ike 80 provided her with a cute feminine wardrobe too, so she felt completely at ease among girls from day one at her new high-school! She has no issues or problems learning to be a girl among girls. She has only issues with PTSD from the bullying in her old school. Hmm!

It might not have been so bad had Alyx been likeable, but she was so self-obsessed and so selfish that she simply wasn't likeable. She was annoying at best. At one point, at a party, her fellow newbie and possibly best friend Roslyn is so out of it that it scares Alyx, but rather than watch over her friend or take her home to make sure she's not abused, Alyx is quite ready to abandon her and run home? Friends don't let friends get friendly drunk.

At Christmas, Alyx gets gets a brand new smartphone replacing the one which was damaged when she was beaten up in Cali-floor-ya. Almost immediately, she purposefully kicks it off her bed onto the floor because she doesn't have any friends! That's what a shrewish ingrate she is. Likeable she is not. This is called creative unfriending, in case you wondered.

I don't mind a weak female character who learns to be strong, but Alyx never does. She's a weak-assed wuss to the very end, caving again even in the last few pages to make a magical ending in which her mortal enemy who treated her like shit for the entire novel, and screwed her over every chance she got, is forgiven by means of Alyx rolling over one more time for a certifiably Disney-esque ending. And I do mean certifiable. Was the author embarrassed by this ending? Is that why it was flash-Frozen-over?

I'm sorry, but this story SUCKED. It was awful and was exactly what I would expect from a creative writing pogrom. Some might argue that this is better than nothing, but the intersex community deserves so much better than this creative nothing.


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Sunstone Vol 4 by Stjepan Šejić


Rating: WARTY!

I really have very little to say about this! I got both volumes 3 & 4 from the library at the same time, thinking they might be interesting but after I read volume 3 I was so disappointed that I had no real interest in reading this one. In the end, I skimmed the whole thing stopping here and there to read a section, and it was just as uninteresting as the earlier volume.

The art was great as before, although as before the female characters were all the same character with different hair and clothes! There was at least one character of color I noticed, so that was a minor improvement, but the 'story' was simply the same thing over again - shallow, one-note, and uninteresting with the author relying entirely on the sexual and the kinky to focus the reader's interest, and it failed in my case.

I'm not the kind of person who finds a negligée on a store mannequin remotely interesting. Put it on a woman in whom I have no vested interest, and I might find it mildly distracting, but put it on a woman I already find fascinating and who might merely be a choice voice in an audiobook, and it's a different story. The same thing applies here. I need a story. I need to be interested in the women. Putting leather on them doesn't make me interested. Shallowness turns me off. This novel was far too larded with both, and all this author could offer was a gossamer fabric with no body of work underneath it. It's nowhere near enough!

As I mentioned in my review of volume three, this was such a disappointment because I had loved Šejić's work in a volume of Death Vigil and a volume of Rat Queens both of which I reviewed favorably here. I cannot offer the same for this.


Sunstone Vol 3 by Stjepan Šejić


Rating: WARTY!

I picked this up on spec from the local library because it looked interesting and the artwork was awesome, but on closer inspection - and reading - it turned out to be much ado about doting, and BDSM came to mean Boring Detail, Sapping Mindfulness. I wasn't impressed at all. This was a disappointment because I loved Šejić's work on a volume of Death Vigil and a volume of Rat Queens both of which I reviewed favorably here.

I have not read either of the first two of this five volume set, so I can't speak to how those were or what kind of lead-in they were to these two volumes. I can say that this story was not interesting. I think the author is far more in love with the idea of portraying women in kinky clothing than ever he was in telling a story of two lesbian women who happened to share an interest in Bondage, Discipline, Domination, Submission (or sado-masochism if it's okay with you, Mistress Acronym).

The artwork was gorgeous and several leagues ahead of the all-too-common comic book flat color, flat image style. It was nuanced and shaded and had a lot of character, but ironically, having used that word, the big problem was that every single female character looked exactly the same! They were all thin lipped, long nosed, and lithe, willowy and skinny. In contrast the guys depicted in the story (although few and far between), had at least some characteristics to differentiate them, although all of them seemed to sport facial hair. This did make a refreshing change from most other comic books where precious few guys have facial hair, but it was taking the pendulum too far in the opposite direction! Worse, there were absolutely no people of color present whatsoever.

The biggest problem with this volume though, was the complete lack of a story. There's a thing known as the Bechdel-Wallace-Woolf test wherein a story, film, or show is said to fail unless it features at least a couple of women (preferably named characters) who talk to each other about something other than guys. I think there should be a similar test about stories where characters seem to have a problem talking to each other about anything that's not the core topic - in this case BDSM. It should include a component about the level of obsession with the core topic, too.

The two main women in this story were almost tunnel-vision, to the exclusion of pretty much everything else - on the topic in question. In short, they were simply not realistic to say nothing of a total failure in the rounded and interesting people department. Though an outside life was hinted at (one was supposed to be a writer, the other a lawyer, yet none of this was actually depicted), they actually had no life at all outside of their sexual interludes! Worse, they failed to treat even those interactions like they were actually a real part of their lives. Instead, they were disproportionately excited, surprised, drooling and wanting, to a level that was simply idiotic. It made it all fake and far more like cheap pornography than erotica.

In the end this story was not at all about how they were falling in love and building a relationship, but about how much the author-artist loved to draw shallow characters in leather and latex. The problem was that this was all the story was about. This was so clearly a guy's take on this topic that it failed to entertain or engross me at all. I don't mind reading about people's quirks and kinks, whether or a sexual or of any other nature, but when that's all the writer has to offer and there's really no actual story in sight, it's tiresome. I cannot recommend this one at all.


Sunday, February 4, 2018

Fresh Ink by various authors


Rating: WARTY!

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

This was an anthology put together by Lamar Giles under the Random House Children's Crown Books for Young Readers imprint, but the themes here seemed rather adult, so I'm wondering if young adult might have been better than 'young children's' - to me that's misleading. Worse than this there are os many books out there titled "Fresh Ink" that it's a bit sad the publisher could not have come up with something better and less over-used.

Overall I was not impressed by this. Out of thirteen stories only two were really enjoyable and one was a maybe, but the rest were not interesting, and overall the stories belied the anthology title - there really wasn't anything fresh here at all. Maybe the stories were newly-written, but that doesn't mean they're fresh, and most of the themes featured here have already been done to death. They need really fresh ink to keep these themes alive, and sadly, this wasn't it.

The range of authors was in one way commendably diverse, but the problem with that is that all of these authors are USA authors! Only Melissa de la Cruz and Nicola Yoon were not born here and they apparently got here as soon as they could, and every story was set in the USA, like no other country in the world matters. I found this to be a big indictment of the 'fresh' claim: it really was very much same old, same old, and this made me sad. There's little point in talking about diversity and inclusiveness, and "#ownvoices" when it's all USA all the time, like there is nowhere else in the world worth writing about or setting stories in. It makes the whole enterprise hypocritical.

The blurb on Goodreads and on Net Galley says, "Careful--you are holding fresh ink. And not hot-off-the-press, still-drying-in-your-hands ink. Instead, you are holding twelve stories with endings that are still being written--whose next chapters are up to you." but this is disingenuous bullshit! All of these stories are copyrighted to their authors. You start writing 'chapter two' of any one of these and you will be sued.

The story titles are listed below with my comments on each. I'd heard of only three of these authors before through reading their work, so this felt like a good opportunity to 'meet' the others and see what they can do.

  • Eraser Tattoo by Jason Reynolds
    This story was a poor lead-in for me because it led me nowhere. I'd never heard of this author, so I was interested to see if I liked the story, but it turned out to be a maudlin meandering tale of a young couple who were going to be separated by distance. It felt like fluff to me - like nothing. People split up all the time, so if you're going to relate a story about it, you'd better bring something new to the table: a twist, a new angle, something. There was nothing new revealed here, nothing fresh. I guess there could have been, but a story like this needs to be handled better than it was. I found it boring. The title sounds almost sci-fi, but the eraser tattoo is quite literally a tattoo made from rubbing an eraser on your skin - and painfully so. I have no idea why anyone would want to do that, so from the off these two people struck me as morons and they never changed that opinion. I honestly wondered if this one had been included only because the title of the anthology suggests tattooing, and this is the only story which features it? If I'd known that the author had won the 2016 Kirkus Prize, for As Brave As You I might have skipped this story altogether. Kirkus never met a story they didn't like, which means their reviews are utterly worthless except in their utility in warning me off books I will not like.
  • Meet Cute by Malinda Lo
    After reading Ash and Huntress Malinda Lo was way up there in my esteem, and I was looking forward to reading this more than any other story here. Once again she came through for me with a sweet, gentle easy story about two girls who happily meet by accident at a comic con. While I do recognize the story potential inherent in such scenarios, I'm not a fan of comic cons or of that culture, so for her to bring a story out of that which impressed and pleased me was even more commendable. When I say the story was easy, I mean it was easy on the mind. The story itself was layered and complex with delicious subtle undercurrents. I always felt the ending had to be a happy one, but the author kept it up in the air naturally enough that it made me feel a small sense of panic that it would not. The two girls will not forget that particular comic con in a hurry.
  • Don’t Pass Me By by Eric Gansworth
    This was a story about the American Indian experience which has been an appalling one, and which is still going on far too long, but I didn't think that this was a very good way to relate it. It did make a point about how schools are designed for white folk, as evidenced in the predominantly white (or worse, pink!) appearance of characters in biology books, but aside from that it could have been a story about anyone undergoing acceptance problems, yet it wasn't! By that I mean I think this story would have popped a lot more if there had been two people enduring the same passive bullying and rejection, one of which was American Indian, the other of which was differentiated in some other way. As it was, it was just so-so and I'm not convinced it will achieve its aim which makes me sad to report.
  • Be Cool for Once by Aminah Mae Safi
    This story was ostensibly about a Muslim experience, as exhibited in this case by Shirin, but the story really could have been about anyone in her position Muslim or not, so it failed to make a good impression on me as such a story, and the writing never rose above your standard YA girl main character story. It seemed to have no focus, being much more of a generic story about two girls going to a concert and one of them having a crush on a boy than ever it did about what it felt like to be Muslim, and maybe isolated and different. You could have quite literally put any person in the place of Shirin, anyone who had some sort of issue, male or female, and pretty much told the same story word for word. It's been done! There's nothing fresh here. Because of this, it actually rendered Shirin more 'the same' than ever it did different, and I don't mean that in any positive way. I mean it was not a fresh story, and it didn't cut to the real chase, but instead meandered into some sort of ersatz chase that stood in for and thereby negated the real story that could have been told here.
  • Tags by Walter Dean Myers
    I did not like this one at all. It was written lazily, like it was a movie script, but with speech only, and no scene setting or 'stage' directions at all, and was so boring that I quit reading after a couple of pages. Big fail.
  • Why I Learned to Cook By Sara Farizan
    This was about a girl, Yasaman, who is Persian and a lesbian. She's come out to her family, but not to her grandmother because she doesn't know how grandma will take this news, but she eventually gets around to inviting Hannah, her girlfriend, over to grandmas and it worked out of course. This story I did not find objectionable, but that was the best I could say about it because it really was nothing I haven't read before. If you're going to do a coming out story you need a fresher edge than this one offered. If the story had been set in Iran, that would have made a difference, but the author played it safe. You're not going to hit any balls out of the stadium if you're afraid to really swing that bat.
  • A Stranger at the Bochinche by Daniel José Older
    This oen was really short and so rambling that I honestly glazed-over and could not take in the story assuming there was one to be had. I'm not sure what it was trying to say, but whatever it was, if anything, was lost on me.
  • A Boy’s Duty by Sharon G Flake
    I've read three novels by Sharon Flake and liked two of them, so she was batting a .666 coming into this, but now she's down to .500 because I did not like this one. It was about racism in World War Two, and an idiot kid who seemed to delight in pissing people off. There was nothing here to interest or impress me.
  • One Voice: A Something in Between Story by Melissa de la Cruz
    While I really liked the TV version of this author's Witches of East End, I did not like her original novel, nor did I like one other novel of hers (Frozen) that I read, so I was not expecting to like this, and my expectations were met. This story was like a dear diary with somewhat disconnected episodes in this girl's life. The message was about racism, but if the message is the medium, then the medium was tedium not freedom. It was so boring that the message was blurred beyond recognition which is truly sad.
  • Paladin Samurai by Gene Luen Yang, Illustrations by Thien Pham
    This was a graphic novel which was poorly illustrated (and even more poorly exhibited in Amazon's crappy Kindle app). It wasn't well told at all, which is why I gave up on it after reading two or three pages. I really didn't care about these characters or what happened to them.
  • Catch, Pull, Drive by Schuyler Bailar
    Schuyler (pronounced like Skyler) Bailar is a ftm transgender athlete, and this story felt like a memoir, because he's a swimmer who has been through this change, but it also felt dishonest because it did not reflect what he went through. While a change like this always brings difficulties, he seems to have had the support of coaches and teammates. This story is just the opposite and that doesn't mean there aren't people who suffer through this process; I'm sure there are because we are a long way from where we need to be, but for someone who has come through this change relatively unscathed, this story felt disingenuous. If he'd told his own story, even fictionalized as this was, it would have resonated far more with me, because not every story is negative and because we need an honest balance.
  • Super Human by Nicola Yoon
    This one actually did feel like fresh ink because it took an old problem and one which is still with us, and it needed a new twist. This did the trick, which is why I liked it. The story is of Syrita, who has been chosen to talk with a super hero known only as X, who has been stellar in the past but who is now not willing to be heroic any more. It wasn't clear from the story whether he was planning on simply retiring and letting the world go to hell by simply withholding his help, or if he would actually go over to the dark side and start wreaking revenge on a society he feels (with some reason) is chronically unjust. In the end, the real super hero here is Syrita, who proves to have a lot more faith in him than he does in society! The only flaw in this story was “And those dark black eyes” which is nonsensical. Either one would work, but black is dark do you don't need both!

So I was not impressed overall, and I can't recommend this collection. There are one or two gems in it and if it's worth it to you to buy this load of crude ore in the hope of finding a gem or two in it, then you may like it, but I definitely wouldn't like to buy this, only to find that most of the stories don't really offer what the title suggests they will.


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Trenton Makes by Tadzio Koelb


Rating: WARTY!

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

If I had known that author was a graduate from a writing program, I would not have requested to read this novel, because whenever I have read such novels in the past, they've universally been sterile, poorly-written, and boring with thoroughly uninteresting characters. The authors of such novels seem to be so tightly focused on the writing that they completely forget that the story is where it's at, not the technical writing of it.

I'd much rather have an indifferently-written, or even poorly-written, novel that tells a really good story than one which is exquisitely written, yet tells a less than mediocre tale. The blurb did its job and made it sound interesting: "...a woman who carves out her share of the American Dream by living as a man." but whereas the blurb was all sound and fury, the actual novel signified nothing. The main character was thoroughly unlikeable and had no saving graces.

How you can make such a story boring is a mystery to me, but this author managed it. I gave up at forty percent in because my mind was going numb. The blurb describes this as "A vivid, brutal, razor-sharp debut..." but none of that is true. Instead, what we get is clinical (have you ever tried to read a doctor's handwriting?!) and unappealing tale which meanders and mumbles and which offered me nothing whatsoever. A lot of it was confusing. To continue the clinical metaphor, I always felt like I was in an operating room after the operation was over. The most interesting part of the process was already long gone, leaving nothing but a messy OR in dire need of sterilization.

It's set in 1946 in Trenton, New Jersey, and Mrs Kunstler kills her husband and assumes his identity. I'd forgotten about this by the time I got around to reading this novel, so it was like coming into it completely blind, and I have to tell you there was nothing in that first forty percent to really clarify exactly what the hell was going on. If I'd wanted a detective story, with me as the detective, I'd have written one myself!

I actually had to go back and read the blurb to figure out why I'd even requested this novel to review in the first place! That's how bad it was. I know authors don't get to write their own blurbs unless they self-publish, but when the story is told in the blurb, you gain noting by being all coy about it in the novel itself. I know that's ass-backwards, but it's the way the professional publishing business actually is: you write your story and then the publisher turns it into something else in the blurb and you get a dissatisfied readership as a result.

If "stylized prose" means tedious, then yeah, the blurb got it right. If by "gripping narrative" the blurb-writer meant that you grip the novel ever tighter out of sheer frustration and annoyance, then yeah, they got that right, too. But no, it was not remotely provocative. No, it was nothing like incisive. The hyperbole of the burb was laughable, but there was nothing funny about a novel that promises so much and then utterly fails to deliver even a semblance of a decent story. I cannot recommend this one at all when the same patient in better hands would have survived the surgery handsomely.


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Invisible life by E Lynn Harris


Rating: WARTY!

Read very averagely by Mirron Willis, this was another audiobook fail and it was arguably a book about, in part, homophobia, written by a gay man, which was itself rather homophbic!

Written in the early nineties, this is a story of Raymond Tyler, who can't seem to make up his mind. Ray is a confirmed hetero until he's not. He's not exactly raped, but he is pushed into a sexual relationship with the appropriately named Kelvin (since he's so hot, get it?) who is a rather formidable-looking athlete, and then he willingly continues it, but very quietly. He's really a jerk because he's dating a woman named Sela at the time and he doesn't have the decency to break-up with her or tell her he's having sex with someone else. This is an incontrovertibly dick move, especially since he's now putting his partner at risk of picking up an STD. What bothered me is how easily they fell into bed without a second thought for possible consequences.

That said, I DNF'd this because it was boring, especially since Ray does exactly the same thing again, but to his new girlfriend, Nicole. There was this huge jump in time that came right out of left field, and then he magically meets this guy again, which is when Nicole is kicked into the back seat. What is wrong with this guy? I know there really are people like this, but I don't care to read about people being jerks especially when the story is boring, predictable, badly-written and appears to be going nowhere interesting. I can't recommend this.


We Are Okay by Nina LaCour


Rating: WARTY!

If I'd known that this was a Kirkus starred review I would have avoided it like Ebola. Kirkus never met a novel they didn't like, which of course means their reviews are utterly useless, and I take a Kirkus seal of approval as a definite sign that I should bypass reading the novel, so those reviews are quite useful really! This was more of a snivel than a novel.

It's an LGBTQIA novel which is read uninterestingly by Jorjeana Marie, and it was a disastrous audiobook experiment. I listened to it (part of it!) a while back and I almost forgot I ever had it cross my radar. I was avoiding it rather like the main character avoids her issues, which amuses me, but the bottom line is that it was mind-numbingly boring. You know I often wish I could delete some of my less than thrilling memories, but it's not yet possible to do that outside of sci-fi. The more something irritates or depresses you, the harder it is to let it go, but this book very nearly was completely deleted from my mind which gives me hope! In theory at least, it has to be possible to forget things even worse than this!

If the author's intention in writing this was that we care about Marin, then it was a massive fail. She went about this in entirely the wrong manner. There are huge looming issues in her life, and yet all we get for page after page is tedious minutiae of everyday existence down to brushing teeth and washing dishes. Seriously? It was, at the basement level, the kind of laughable novel where a woman has a disaster in her life in the big city and little wuss that she is, runs back to her small home town where she miraculously finds he love of her life - except that this book didn't even offer that. I avoid novels of that pathetic genre.

Worse than this are the endless flashbacks which even I, who detests them, admit have their uses, but in a novel like this they are a true death knell. The novel is about mental illness and can probably cause the very thing it prattles on about. Depressingly enough begins with Marin, the main character, stuck in her dorm at college over winter break. She's all alone, we're supposed to believe - not a single other person anywhere around. She supposedly has a best friend with the unlikely name of Mabel, who is visiting over the break, and the blurb tells us that "Marin will be forced to face everything that's been left unsaid" but she does everything but that. It's unlikely that she would say nothing about any of this to someone who was indeed her best friend. I suppose she does talk eventually, but the story was such a waste of my time that I never reached that point. I had more rewarding things to do with my time.

I cannot recommend this based on what I listened to - which made so little impression on me that I immediately forgot most of it! And bno, she;s not okay, and neither is this novel. KO'd more like.


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!).


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Taproot by Keezy Young


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is a nicely-colored, well-illustrated and richly-created story about a guy who is into gardening, Hamal, and a ghost, Blue, who haunts him, but in a benign way! Blue and Hamal are friends, and I have to say it took me a while to realize that Blue was a guy and not a girl. I have never read a Keezy Young comic before and did not know she was into queer story-telling! But isn't that what we're after in a truly equal world - where gender doesn't matter, only the story?!

That faux pas aside, the story was great, and the gender was immaterial in the end because it still would have told the same charming story! The only fly in the ointment is that Hamal's boss thinks he's talking to himself and that he's scaring customers, so he has to watch his behavior, and Blue doesn't help, constantly making comments which Hamal has to ignore or respond to only in private.

When customer Chloe show sup and show interest and Hamal doesn't respond as any red-blooded (so the phrase goes) cis guy might, you know the story can get only more interesting from here on in. And Blue isn't the only ghost hanging out in Hamal's corner of the word. Fortunately the ghosts aren't mischievous - much - and things are going pretty well until death appears on the scene, concerned that there's a necromancer talking to ghosts, and Blue himself ends up switching scenery unexpectedly, and increasingly entering an eerie, dead world. Whats going on here - and worse, what; sacrifice is going to be required to fix it?

Well, you;re going to have to read this to find out, and I promise you will not be disappointed. This is yet another example of a writer stepping of the beaten track and making her own story instead of shamelessly cloning someone else's work, and that alone would be a reason to recommend it, but add to that authentic dialog, and the sweet and realistic (within the environment and ethos of a graphic novel!) illustrations, and you have a winner which I recommend.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

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.