Showing posts with label Britain. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Britain. Show all posts

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Hyacinth by Jacob Sager Weinstein

Rating: WARTY!

This audiobook, read decently by Jessica Almasy, was nonetheless not to my taste. I started in on it a bit unsure, grew to like it somewhat, and then got put off by the first person voice and the really annoying lisp these characters had who came into the story a bit later. Plus the story moved a bit too slowly for my taste.

Tapping heavily into clich├ęs about the British, the book weaves a story about London's many underground 'rivers', which used to be above ground, but which have slowly been culverted and then covered over as London grew. They're more like rivulets than rivers, truth be told. The story premise is that these rivers are magical and dangerous if not treated carefully. Even one lone drop of water can cause havoc, which the main character learns when she gets annoyed with the fact that the water coming from the cold faucet is too cold and the water in the hot one is way too hot.

She apparently isn't smart enough to consider running them both into the sink and getting the temperature just right there, so she gets this tool from somewhere and tinkers with the plumbing until the incoming water is mixed. This of course creates a problem since the water was apparently separated for a good reason. I was driving when I was listening to this and missed a bit here and there during this sequence.

The result of her actions is that she has to tool around in the London sewerage system and recover an escaped magical drop of water. This is where the story became tedious for me and I lost interest. While your mileage may well differ, and I would hope it does, I can't commend it based on my experience, although I confess I found Jessica Almasy's accents amusing.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Art of Hiding by Amanda Prowse

Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Bindi Babes by Narinder Dhami

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a highly entertaining novel about three young Indian girls living in England, who lost their mother to severe illness quite recently and are not dealing, although they think they're dealing well, and in some ways they really are. Narinder Dhami is the author of the novelization of the Bend it Like Beckham movie which starred Parminder Nagra, Keira Knightley, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers. I have not read that book, but I saw the movie and really enjoyed it. Hopefully the novelization captured the spirit of the movie.

This volume was the first of at least four in a series with Bollywood Babes, Bhangra Babes, and Superstar Babes succeeding this. It was amusing enough to me that I'd be interested in reading more, although I am not a fan of series since they tend to be repetitive, derivative and ultimately boring. Once in a while though, I do find an exception, and maybe this will be such a one. The author has many other stories out there too, including individual novels and a long-running The Sleepover Club series.

In this tale, three sisters: Geena, Ambajit (Amber, the narrator), and Jasvinder (Jazz) Dhillon are the Bindi Babes. Bindi, in Sanskrit means literally 'a drop' and refers to the red dot (or these days anything!) placed on an Indian woman's forehead at the fictional point of the sixth chakra. These three though, are not traditional Indian women. They're a new generation: a mix of the old and the new, and ostensibly are doing amazingly well after the death of their mother.

All this conceals an largely unacknowledged hole in their life, which their father is failing to fill because he's working all hours to distract himself from the same loss they're feeling. This leaves the bindi babes free to run wild, but the interesting thing is that they're not running wild. They do enjoy more freedom than their peers, and their father is a pushover whenever they want anything new. He has both the lack of interest in their daily activities and the complete absence of a lack of money to buy them whatever they request of him. Curiously, they're actually not spoiled rotten. They are are spoiled, but in many ways their life is the contrary. They're mostly reasonable in what they request, although they do run to excess, but they're also confident, hard-working, self-possessed, and envied by their peers at school for being respectable, fashionable and pretty.

Of course, admirable as all this is, they're still doing it to wall-off their pain of loss and have become so self-obsessed that they're failing their friends. All this starts to change when their father's sister arrives from India to take them in hand. No matter how they try to thwart her plans, she always seems one step ahead of them, and right at the point where they're about to take drastic action, they finally get the vision to see clearly what's going on around them.

In some ways this story is a fake, because these girls are doing fine, and are maturing pretty darned well. Yes, they're spoiled to an extent, and they've failed to grieve over their mother, but not everyone grieves in the same way and this business of 'x' number of steps of grief you 'have to go through' is bullshit, so this 'conflict' between them and their aunt and the resolution of it felt a bit fake to me. On the other hand, their aunt's story interested me, and I could envisage a novel about that rather than about the girls, or at least told from her PoV, doing very well for itself.

To me though, the girls were highly entertaining, often in-fighting, but standing firm when attacked from outside their trio, they are always thinking and planning, and they come up with some amusingly interesting schemes to try to root this pernicious Auntie influence from their lives. I'm no more a fan of first person PoV stories than I am of series, but once in a while - and this proved to be that once - an author writes one of these and she carries it. I found Amber (the middle sister's) had a voice I could listen to without becoming nauseated. Maybe this is became I married a middle sister and I've never regretted it! I can see where she;s coming from! LOL! But Amber was an intelligent, incisive, and amusing story-teller, if a bit on the cruel side on occasion. But then she's very young, and her voice did sound authentic to me.

I loved this story completely. It was entertaining and amusing, and it came to a satisfying conclusion. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in stories of Indian culture, stories set in England, or stories about young, feisty, and fiercely loyal sisters.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Diving In by Kate Cann

Title: Diving In
Author: Kate Cann
Publisher: Bolinda Audio Books
Rating: WARTY!

Obnoxiously read by Amanda Hulme

Please note that I found Amanda Hulme's reading voice to reside just south of nauseating, so my review of this novel is undoubtedly colored somewhat by that. I will try not to let that get in the way of reviewing that which was perpetrated by Cann as opposed to that which was strangulated by Hulme. And once again I'm forced to observe that book cover illustrators never read the novels for which they illustrate. Either that or they simply don't care, which is why, for a novel titled Diving In we get an illustration of Swimming Away....

I was attracted to this novel by the fact that it's set in Britain. Since I hail from there originally, I like to read a story set there now and then. This one looked, from the blurb, to be engaging, but we all know how badly blurbs lie, don't we now?

This novel is about Colette, yet another first-person narrating, guy-obsessed teen. Why female authors insist on doing this to their own gender, I do not know. I know even less why so many teens obsessively read so much of this trash. The real problem here is that Colette's only motivation in life is this studly guy she sees at the swimming pool.

Maybe her obsession is augmented, if not entirely engendered (so to speak), by the fact that her clueless mother has insisted that Colette go to a girls-only school because (her mother delusionally believes) segregating girls and boys is the best way to teach them how to appreciate the opposite gender in the best light and to learn appropriate respect for one another. Barf. Actually her mother's only motivation is that she's a flaming misandrist.

It doesn't help that Colette sees this guy only at the swimming pool, which means that the both of them are largely naked during their encounters. Her whole life changes when she accidentally bumps into him and he says four words to her. Now she's spoken to him! OMG!

Seriously, and despite (some might argue because of) its British setting, this novel is all wet. Cann it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Close Call by Stella Rimington

Title: Close Call
Author: Stella Rimington
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Rating: WARTY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

This is a sad DNF for me - and another example of a novel where the author (or the publisher, which ever was responsible!) needed to survey the gazillion other novels with this same title before wisely deciding to choose a different one.

I could not get interested in this at all, and the poor writing only served to make it worse. it read like fanfic, not like a new novel from a professional, published writer. This is supposed to be another novel in the Liz Carlyle series, but in the first 21 chapters (out of ~60), she appeared in only 8, so how it's really supposed to be about her is a bit of a mystery! That's not the biggest problem, however.

You know this is no longer an era where the author hand-writes or typewrites their 'manu'-script and it has to be laboriously set in metal trays and printed by hand to provide review "galleys". This is an era of word processing, and spell-checkers and even grammar checkers (although Microsoft's grammar checker isn't worth spit). But there is no absolutely excuse for putting out a novel of the atrocious quality I found in the Kindle version, not even as an advance review copy, and trying to pretend that it's ready for review. It wasn't. I had more success in the Adobe reader version, but not everyone has that available to them.

I've reviewed well over a hundred 'galley' copies, and this novel was without question the worst I've ever seen in the Kindle format. There were multiple problems in the first few screens, and these were not oddball problems which are difficult to find, but gross spelling errors which any spell-checker would have caught, and sloppy errors which all but the most incompetent of beta readers or book editors would have caught, and yet here we are, expected to try and read this novel and review it?!

In the Adobe version, the first letter of each chapter was set as a drop-cap, an antiquated and nonsensical affectation which needs to be banned. That's the only reason I can think of as to why, in the Kindle, chapter one begins with the capital letter 'T' on line one, and then the rest of the word on line 2: 'he' when all of it should read: 'The' on the first line.

Beginning in paragraph two we had pairs of words running together ("shawarmaof" in place of 'shawarma of' for example, and this was obviously the start of a trend, because it continued to happen from then onwards The fifth sentence in that paragraph began with 'ere' in place of, presumably, 'There' or 'Here'. The last sentence of that paragraph has this phrase: "...of meat o the shawarmalike..." when it clearly should have been 'of meat of the shawarma like'.

There is a character named 'Az' introduced here, but apart from that first time, his name is rendered with a space between the two letters. I learned from the Adobe version that it's supposed to be Afiz. The next paragraph has "indierent" in place of 'indifferent', and on and on it goes. This is nothing but gross incompetence and is insulting to readers, whether they be beta or review. I quit reading this at that point and resolved to try and get through it in the Adobe Reader version, determining that if that didn't look a lot better, this was going to be one-starred after three paragraphs and done with!

So I switched to Adobe Reader and it looked technically much better. I saw none of the problems with it that I had seen in the Kindle version, so I can only assume that some automated conversion process was responsible for the problems. This means of course, that the real problem was that no one checked to make sure the conversion worked for the Kindle! But the reprieve was short-lived because switching to a readable version served only to highlight a whole new set of problems! Once I could focus on reading the novel without becoming annoyed, I could focus on the quality of the story, and it didn't start out at all well!

The first few pages are an account of this character in a souk in Syria (this novel is very tardily rooted in the so-called 'Arab Spring' which was actually over long ago), and he's attacked by a knife-wielding assailant. Why this assailant would carry out this attack in public in broad daylight is unexplained, but that's not the worst part. The worst part is that the subject disarms the assailant and hurries away, finally finding himself in a different part of the souk where, we're told, no one is paying any attention to him, but immediately after that, we're told that his hand is covered in blood, and it's dripping! In fact, he's lost so much blood that he starts feeling faint and has to be bundled into a taxi to go to the hospital. So I'm thinking: no one is paying any attention to a guy who is copiously dripping blood everywhere he goes? How likely is that? It just didn't work.

There were many grammatical errors. Some of these you can accuse me of being picky about, but they're there nonetheless. On page six, I read, "...the countries who support them." when it should really read, "...the countries which support them." or "...those people who support them." Countries are not people! On page sixteen I read, "...what is the sources of those weapons..." when it really should be "...what are the sources..." or "what is the source...". So again, it's still not ready for prime time, even in the Adobe version.

We meet the main character, Liz Carlyle in chapter 2. She's just returned from vacation, but instead of catching-up with her deputy (or whatever he/she is called), who was presumably in charge of her section in her absence, she gossips instead with her "research assistant" to get up to speed! I found that to be completely absurd.

I hit a problem two chapters later, because it seems like there is a two-chapter flashback in chapters 4 & 5 or 5 & 6, but there's no indication whatsoever in the test that we're in a flashback! I found myself wondering what the heck had gone wrong with the timeline!

The fact that Liz had apparently only been working at MI5 for eighteen months and was still on probation, yet was leading a counter-terrorism section and taking three-week long vacations made zero sense! As a flashback it did make a kind of sense, but I was unaware of this while reading it! I have no idea why the flashback was even there, because it contributed nothing whatsoever to the story.

So my problem at that point was that, if she'd been working at MI5 since she graduated from university, and it's been only 18 months, then how was she ever involved in the Northern Ireland peace process which was resolved years before? If she's running a counter-terrorism section, then how is she going to find the time to go on secondment to the Merseyside (Liverpool) police for training? Worse than this, we're told she had her vacation with a French security agent and then a few pages later we're told that the last boyfriend she had was a guitar player from Bristol! So is this a flashback or not? I was forced to assume it was.

I have to add that I found the depiction of the "sexual harassment" she supposedly received at the Merseyside police department to be amateurish at best and childish at worst. I frankly cannot believe that it went immediately to the level the author portrays it any more than I could believe there was none at all. To portray it so baldly and so obviously serves no purpose other than to negate the effect the author is trying so ham-fistedly to achieve. Frankly, it read like a poor rip-off of the TV show Prime Suspect featuring Helen Mirren.

At this point I decided this novel was not worth my time. I have no idea what happened to the book editor or beta readers on this novel, so I can only assume there were none. I know this is an advance review copy, but to put one out which is so appalling is just asking for trouble, and in this electronic age there is no excuse for putting out an ARC that's as shabby as this one is.

Even had it been in pristine condition, that would not have improved the disturbingly amateur quality of the story - a story which was all over the place, had no coherence, and read like poorly-written fan-fiction. This novel was lousy and I cannot recommend it.