Showing posts with label WARTY!. Show all posts
Showing posts with label WARTY!. Show all posts

Friday, September 22, 2017

Kobane Calling by Zerocalcare


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Noble Vol 1 by Brandon Thomas, Roger Robinson


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, September 15, 2017

Emma by Jane Austen


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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


Normal by Warren Ellis


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Mind Games by Kiersten White


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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


A Jot of Blood by Katherine Bayless


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, September 11, 2017

Real Life Super Heroes by Nadia Fezzani


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, September 3, 2017

One for Sorrow by Mary Downing Hahn


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






Saturday, September 2, 2017

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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



Friday, September 1, 2017

Sass and Serendipity by Jennifer Ziegler


Rating: WARTY!

I gave up on this one because first of all it was not remotely connected to Sense and Sensibility. I got the impression that the author had only promoted this 'stretcher' (as Samuel Langhorne Clemens might have couched it), to garner for herself some of Jane Austen's cachet. If the book had been put out honestly, it would likely have sold far fewer copies than however many it did sell by dishonestly using Jane Austen to promote it.

Secondly, the story itself sucked. Daphne (15) and Gabby (17) Rivera live in Texas and get along about as well as the Aggies do with the Longhorns. Actually they get along worse, which is to say not at all. So far we have two sisters, but neither of them is remotely like Marianne and Elinor. The author completely misunderstood where Austen was coming from when she characterized her leading ladies in this travesty.

Daphne is obsessed not with romance as Marianne was, but with marriage. Gabby is not the long-suffering and wiser older sister, but a bitch, period. Neither is remotely interesting nor do either of them have the depth or appeal that Austen's leading characters so reliably do.

These girls are supposed to be Hispanic from their father and Caucasian from their mother, and not the pasty girls the cover artist moronically depicted. Normally I don't talk about covers because unless they self-publish, authors have little to no say in the cover they get stuck with, and once again this was predictably a complete fail from Big Publishing™ with the cover artist not having the first clue of the content of the book as usual. All we got was the girls legs - like there was nothing of any more interest much above that - and the legs looked like they belonged to nine-year-olds, not mid-teens. And they were white enough to be a pair of Swedish girls (au pair?!). They were definitely not Hispanic, not remotely. And why were the girls Hispanic anyway?

I can see the point of it, if they were then presented as sheltered young women, from a traditional Catholic family, thereby mimicking Austen's characters in that they were not very worldly and subject to being taken advantage of, but other than their last name, there was nothing Hispanic about them and they were certainly not remotely sheltered. On the contrary, In the long, sad tradition of YA "literature" these girls were so generic as to be bland to the point of disappearing into their background. I got a third of the way through this, and even that was being way too generous to the author of this insipid pile of crap. I'm done with both this novel and with Ziegler as an author of any interest at all.


Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld


Rating: WORTHY!

I gave up on this Austen rip-off audiobook set in modern Cincinnati, because it was so far removed from Austen that you couldn't even see her from there. The story tracked Pride and Prejudice closely, but the characterizations were completely wrong, so I didn't see the point.

Apparently there's this thing called the Austen Project, where writers create a novel rooted in one of Austen's works. This one was one of these efforts and it wasn't good enough. I get the feeling that if someone had written this who was not an established writer, they would never have found a publisher and rightly so.

The story went off at a tangent very early, about Lizzie's relationship with this guy named Jared who would not commit to a relationship, so even as he and Lizzie were seeing each other as friends (and not even with benefits), he and she were desultorily dating other people.

Original Lizzie of Austen was way too smart and cynical to put up with that, so this felt like a betrayal, and this Lizzie seemed like a wet rag in comparison with the original. And this non-diversion just went on and on. And on. It was tedious. Additionally, a lot of the story was endless exposition, which isn't Austen at all. Gone were the engrossing conversations which are an Austen staple. Not a good read.

It was competently read by Cassandra Campbell, but even her voice could not save the lackluster material. It honestly felt like the author was desperate to include everything modern in her story, to distance it from Austen's, so we had a transgender character (Wickham, and I don't care if it's a spoiler because it's so pathetic), an interracial relationship, artificial insemination (I guess that's the only way this author could get a semen airy into the work), and adultery. I'm sure there's a kitchen sink in there somewhere with "all mod cons," but I must have missed it since I DNF'd this one in short order.

'Eligible' is the name of a TV reality (so-called) show, on which Chip Bingley has appeared, looking for a bride. Why any sane person would even remotely consider doing this mystifies me, but I have to admit that it's in character for this character. I was never a fan of Bingley. In the end Bingley refused to choose either one of the two finalists. Now he's moving to Cincinnati and renting a house there. Why? I guess because the author is writing what she knows, which isn't much it would appear when it comes to emulating Austen. Resident in Cincinnati is the Bennet family of course: husband, wife, and five daughters.

I confess I am not sure why authors want to keep repeating Jane Austen's stories, much less why they choose to move them to a modern era and/or shift them out of England. The last one of these I tried was a YA novel which did not at all impress me. Neither did the PD James 'sequel'. This particular one is aimed at an adult audience, and initially I had mixed feelings about it.

Sometimes I wonder if Austen is turning in her grave at this modern plethora of rip-offs of her work. This author repeatedly betrayed the character of Lizzie Bennet, including her career, by having her work for a fashion magazine. Her sister Jane is a yoga instructor! This turned me off the story. I confess I can see Jane as a yoga instructor. She was not one of my favorite characters either, but to fritter away Lizzie's amazing character on fashion is an outright travesty. This is not Austen's Lizzie, not remotely.

It may seem hypocritical for me to criticize others' ripping-off of Austen when I plan on doing the selfsame thing myself, but anyone who has read the kind of stories I write has to know that I plan on doing something completely different with it - and not even a parody! Hah! And they said it couldn't be done! My whole motivation for writing this, as it was with Femarine is to take the story completely off the beaten track. Call me arrogant (I don't care!), but I have to write this if only as a commentary, after a fashion, on what others are so determinedly and so dedicatedly failing to do.

I'd have a lot more respect for a writer who did not rip-off Austen, but who instead chose to emulate her by writing a story set in period, and written with the same grace and skill as Austen herself naturally employed. I cannot respect writers who merely usurp her cachet and apply it as a cheap veneer to cover a trashy, ill-conceived story that could never stand on its own without co-opting Austen's unwilling support. It's pathetic and I think I am done reading such stories now. Time to go back to the one and only originals!


Sayonara, Gangsters by Genichiro Takahashi


Rating: WARTY!

The original Japanese of this book was translated into English by Michael Emmerich, but frankly and honestly, for all the sense it made to me, I may as well have gone with the original language because I got nothing out of it that I could not have got from simply staring at the (to me) incomprehensible Japanese symbols. Actually, I would have been better off! At least the Japanese characters would have been beautiful to look at!

The book provided absolutely no hook, door, access, or invitation whatsoever to get into this story and I'm guessing that's because there was no story. It's like walking through an art gallery which displays only bad paintings, all by different artists, on different subjects and in different styles and periods, and trying to make a coherent story out of them (and by that I mean something other than a history of bad art!). The paintings have no connection whatsoever other than that they're all paintings. Well this was all sentences, but the words had no connection. It was pretentious nonsensical garbage and I ditched it in short order. If this review clues others into the way the wind is blowing, and helps you avoid mining something so unseemly, then the warning from the weather vane to avoid this vein will not have been in vain!


Shopgirl by Steve Martin


Rating: WARTY!

Steve Martin used to work for a living, but now he gets by writing short, very amateur excuses for stories in semi-retirement evidently. Read by the author, this novella was my second disappointment from him. I've liked him in a couple of his movies, but I think he's best in small doses, and I really think he needs to find someone else to read his books on audio, unless of course you might enjoy a book read with all the charm, poise, elegance and monotony of Navin R Johnson.

Normally if I have not liked a novel by an author I tend not to sample them again, but I'd heard good things about this one, which was made into a movie in which Martin inappropriately starred, so I requested it from my library. Mistake! It felt far more like listening a detailed synopsis for a movie than ever it did reading a novel.

Consequently, the best thing about it is that it's very short. I began listening to it on the way home in the car, but after less than fifteen minutes, I was so revolted by it that I preferred the sound of the car's wheels on the asphalt to listening to any more of Steve Martin read Steve Martin.

If it had been written in the fifties, I could understand the attitudes expressed in it, but this was published in 2000. The movie from it evidently died the death too, making only 11 million in the theaters. I might take a look at that out of pure curiosity, but I hold out little hope for it...or for Martin as a writer of novels from here on out.

The writing was all tell and a no-show in terms of intelligence. If it had been penned by an unknown it would never have got published because Martin's amateur writing is awful, as in, "Mirabelle is smart because she reads books." Seriously? This from a professional? The one thing he does actually show is her complete lack of intelligence, evidenced by the very fact that she gloms onto rich man Ray when he's clearly the bigger loser of the two men in her life, neither of which she should have become involved with in the first place!

Or perhaps, if she had decided to check out Jeremy, she might have offered him a few tips towards improving their interactions, instead of taking Martin's antiquated and genderist advice that the guy must know, do, and pay for, everything, and the girl just needs to simper on his arm and look pretty in designer clothes to fulfill her entire life's worth and function.

It irked me that the author (through his character Mirabelle) seems to have some sort of antique delusion that when a couple go on a date, then the guy pays for everything (no doubt opening doors and pulling out seats and so on). I guess females were never emancipated in his world. I can see if the girl is poor and the guy rich, then this is the way it would sensibly work, and vice-versa, but when both of them are not well off, and the girl is apparently better off than the guy, it's entirely wrong, and even immoral, for her to expect him to pay for everything. Martin doesn't get this because he's not remotely strapped for cash, and if he ever has been, he's quite clearly forgotten what it's like.

Porter is supposed to be middle-aged so why they had sixty-year-old Martin play him in the movie is a mystery, especially since it quite obviously didn't do a thing to help the box office! Clare Danes was only in her mid-twenties which would have been, I think, the right age for her character.

Martin definitely needs to find someone to read his books for the audio version, because his reading voice is terrible. It is flat, unentertaining, and it evidences no feel for pace or tone. I felt like I was a young kid in school being read to by a very inexpert teacher. The novel was bad, but his voice made it much worse. The ending, from what others have said, sounds like even the author got bored with himself and just dropped it. I happily grant that on a good day he can (or was able to) write a decent amusing movie, but he cannot write books.

What was so bad about the novel? Well, the plodding, amateur, elitist, pretentious writing to begin with, but then we got onto the part where the narrator talks about Mirabelle Buttersfield who works at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills and it deteriorated.

She works the glove counter which seems like an exaggeration to me, but I don't shop at that kind of store, so I can't comment beyond this point. She leads a very dull life and her only two diversions (apart from her cats) are millionaire Ray Porter, and impoverished Jeremy. She derides Jeremy because of his lack of ambition, but she's exactly the same as he is!

This book was godawful trash, and I refuse to even remotely recommend it. I'm done reading Steve Martin's efforts.


Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure by Emma Campbell Webster


Rating: WARTY!

This was a seriously misguided effort and a reminder that the acronym CYOA not only means Choose Your Own Adventure, it also means Cover Your Own Ass! All the author did was to take Pride and Prejudice, add a Dashwoodhouse of Sense and Sensibility and Emma, and then hobble the reader so that if they actually tried to have their own adventure, they would die. Period. Usually horribly. No exceptions.

I did take exception, especially to her racist abuse of Romany people - who are portrayed as villains in one sad ending. The author has contrived this so that if you stray from the Austen cannon at all, you will fail, one way or another, and usually with extreme prejudice. Only if you know Austen (and associated trivia) by heart, can you 'succeed' and then only by rote, so where is the choice in the "Choose"?

There is none, because if you don't choose her way you're screwed! A more intelligent and enterprising author would have developed Austen-homage endings where you might have ended up with someone unexpected and happily so or by making poor choices remained a "spinster." Where the necrophilia came from is a complete mystery. Just know that this author does not want you to be happy unless you follow her prescribed plan.

The author also demands that you keep elaborate track of your scoring in several areas of (so-called) achievement (and for no apparent reason other than that she likes to make her readers suffer and waste their time). The only purpose she apparently has for this demand is to kick you in the shins at every opportunity by dunning you for your hard-earned points every time you turn around.

The book was a mean-spirited take on Austen and arguably a form of mental abuse. It completely lacks literary merit, since there's essentially nothing in it other than the all-but block quotes taken directly from Austen. There's nothing fresh, original, imaginative, or even inventive on offer here, just a cynical rip-off of Jane Austen. That itself is nothing new. The bookshelves of the world are replete with those.


Sunday, August 27, 2017

But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure


Rating: WARTY!

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

This book was a complete fail for me. It was not even a hot mess - it was a cold and poorly congealed mess which had no plot. The blurb tells us that "Eden is the only person who can get through to Jasmine, but is she brave enough to face a world that’s bigger and more magical than she ever would have allowed?"

I hate blurbs that ask the question which everyone in the entire universe, even non-sentient species, already knows the answer to: will she succeed in reclaiming her love? Of course she will. Will he get his man? Of course he will. Can the kid escape the evil villain's clutches? Of course the kid can. Why ask such dumb questions? Publishers in general just don't seem to get it: they continue to insult potential readers with lousy covers that have nothing to do with the story and with dumb questions in the blurbs. The flowers were not even roses. Publishers need to insist that the cover designer actually reads the freaking book before they start work. Please, publishers: treat us with some respect. We do not have to read your book. There are literally millions out there to read, so please be honest about the book, use a cover that actually has something to do with the story, and don't ask ridiculously juvenile questions in the blurb. It's tiresome, and we deserve better than that.

Questions like that tell me that whoever wrote the blurb thinks that potential readers of this story are gullible at best, and complete dumb-asses at worst. This is the very last book I shall ever request that has such a question in the blurb; I don't care how attractive a read it sounds. I shall avoid such books on pure principle in future, but funnily enough, that wasn't even the biggest problem with this blurb!

This book is the second in a loosely-connected series. I did not know this at the time I requested it, otherwise I would have bypassed it completely. I am not a series fan, but fortunately this read as a stand-alone. The only reason I went against my better judgment and requested it is that I discounted the "Hey dumb-ass listen to this!" blurb because I thought there would be a worthwhile underlying story: 17-year-old Eden Jones, herself fresh out of a short coma, is the only hope of reaching Jasmine, aka Jaz, aka Vasquez, as Eden names her, after the kick-ass woman in the Aliens movie.

I though it would make for a great story to have one ex-coma victim trying to reach another even if there were some supernatural elements, but the author all-but completely abandoned that idea in the pointless pursuit of yet another juvenile YA absurdist "love" story. Eden could have been such a strong character, but instead of that we got, once again, a female author of a YA story turning her lead female into a limp wet rag of a love-struck juvenile chasing Joe, Jasmin's best friend, like a bitch in heat. I've seen this exact same story a score of times before and it always makes me nauseous and it make me ditch the novel immediately as I did this one. Can YA authors not find anything original to say? If not, quit writing.

The saddest thing about this is that no one actually cared about Jasmin, a character who had been built up in Eden's mind at least, to be heroic, bad-ass, and worth learning more about. The more we learned about her the more interested I became, but Eden and Joe abandoned her in short order, so they could flirt and kiss, and smoke cigarettes. Yeah. Smoking In a YA novel. Smoking is bad for you and for those around you, and I know people do it in real life, but that does not mean that we, as writers, need to give it cachet.

And while all this was going on, Jasmin was about to have the plug pulled on her, yet nowhere do we see any sense or compassion or urgency from Eden or worse, from Joe. They came across as shallow and selfish. He refuses to let them pull the plug, but he seems completely unmotivated when it comes to even exploring, let alone finding a way out of this for Jasmin. She was completely subjugated to their own juvenile "romance".

At that point I began skimming the book to see if the blurb had lied completely and it pretty much had. It was once again bait and switch, because I skimmed a whole bunch more pages after the halfway point, and all the two of them did was talk about contacting Jasmin, visit a psychic, smoke cigarettes, and flirt and kiss. No. Just no. These people were boring and simply not worth reading about. There was nothing new here, nothing different, nothing worth pursuing. I cannot recommend it.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Seeking Sarah by ReShonda Tate Billingsley


Rating: WARTY!

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

The basic plot of this story is that a young woman, Brooke Hayes, who has just accepted Trent Grant's proposal to marry, learns after her father dies that her mother is not dead. It was her father's deathbed wish that her grandmother tell her that they had been lying to her all these years. Her mother is alive, and as Brooke discovers, is happily married to some other guy and raising a family with him. Rather than seek rapprochement, Brooke seeks revenge, and decides to seduce her mother's husband.

This idea appealed to me as a novel, but I have to report that the execution of it was a fail. I made it about one third the way through this, and that was as far as I could stand to read, because the writing really turned me off the story. The rest of it I skimmed and skipped, and it did not improve.

I had problems with a lack of realism in the story, but mostly the problem was that the main character came off as being a few legs short of a bucket of friend chicken. I used that description advisedly, because there was only one meal depicted in the portion I read, and it was fried chicken! I was thinking, come on, a black family and the one meal you show them eating together is fried chicken? Way to culturally stereotype! If a white writer had written that, they would have been accused of stereotyping if not racism. I know people do eat fried chicken, and some more than others, but would it really have hurt the story to have depicted a different meal? Are writers really so afraid these days of coloring outside the lines? How I wish they were not.

This was a minor problem though compared with others I encountered. The relationship between Trent and Brooke did not strike me as a charmed one, nor as a loving one, and the foreshadowing of the outcome was far too heavy-handed leaving only one surprise: why were these two people even together in the first place? Most of the time they were depicted in this story, they didn't even seem like they had ever dated before!

They had zero in common and no hope for a future. Trent wanted to live his own life and go his own way. He didn't seem to care what Brooke wanted, which begs the question as to why he constantly lied that he was there for her and why Brooke was too dumb to see through the lie. He never was there for her, and he came off more like a pain in the ass brother than ever he did a decent fiancé.

There was this obnoxious dominating quality emanating from him, and he seemed completely out of tune with Brooke. I know this was addressed later, because I skimmed later portions of the story and the ending wasn't one I thought was very good.

In one example of how far apart they were, they were in a restaurant, and Trent got a call. He said, "This is my commander. I've been waiting on this call. Excuse me a minute." So he gets up and leaves her at the table why? Is the call super-secret? This is his fiancée he's sitting with and he's discussing something which affects her, and which she's already aware of; no truly caring partner would have got up to hold a call like that in private.

It made it look more like this was a call from a secret lover than a career call. I know this happens all the time on TV and in the moves - everyone who ever gets a call walks away to talk on the phone, and I think this author just ran with that cookie-cutter piece of writing without expending a single thought on how this would go down in the real world.

If there was something tied to this - like it wasn't his boss but a woman he was having an affair with, that would have at least made some sense. Brooke never even gets suspicious of this behavior. Once again she's portrayed as not having much going on behind a pretty face, Trent is portrayed as callous, and the story sounds like it was written from cue cards rather than form the heart.

The author either doesn't think much of healthcare professionals or she's had little experience of them outside of TV and movies. I read:

Then the nurse frantically rushed us out as I heard someone else yell, "Code Blue!"
Several nurses and the doctor came racing down the hall. They shuttled us out of the room as it turned into a whirlwind of chaos.
Anyone who hasn't been around when a code is called can be forgiven for viewing it this way I suppose, but it's not what happens. Yes, there is urgency of course, but 'whirlwind of chaos' isn't a nice way to describe medical professionals trying to save someone's life. Once a code is called (and it's not by someone yelling "Code Blue!") there are certain people who hurry to the patient, and each has a specific job to do. You can't dismiss it as 'several nurses and one doctor' unless you want to look like an amateur working on bad fan fiction.

The problem with this section isn't that, though, it's that the author describes the people being taken out of the room twice - like the first time they didn't leave? The nurse frantically rushed them out? No, the nurse isn't frantic, she's an expert at what she does. She will ask you to leave and be urgent and firm about it because the professionals need the room to work, but she isn't frantic.

The issue here though is, if the nurse rushed them out, then why do several nurses and a doctor have to shuttle them out immediately afterwards? In point of fact there is likely to be more than one doctor and only the nurses who are required to help out. There will also be a respiratory therapist, and someone (the ward clerk most likely) will probably call a chaplain or someone like that to be with the family.

At the fried chicken dinner, Trent's father selfishly takes the chicken breast every single time and the hell with his kids, and Brooke is so stupid that she thinks this is an ideal family! No wonder Trent has serious issues. At one point his thoughts are: "He didn't want to drag her back. He feared that she'd just leave again" WTF?

Trent honestly thinks he has the right to manhandle Brooke against her will and literally drag her off somewhere? What is he, a caveman? I suspect even a caveman would have had issues trying to drag "his woman" back to his cave if she didn't want to go. I don't see how we can celebrate the end of slavery when some authors quite evidently still see women as the property of Neanderthal men. This book is copyright 2017, but reads like it was published in 1720

This novel came with nine screens (on my phone) of advertising related to other material from this same author, and offering glowing reviews from people I don't know, and whose opinion I have no reason whatsoever to respect. This tells me the publisher thinks I'm as stupid as Brooke is, in that I will be swayed just because a stranger gushes over something. No. The answer is no. One such screen was one too many.

When I request a review copy it's because I've already decided the novel might be worth a look. You don't need to go the whole nine screens to sell it to me. No amount of mindless sound bites form strangers is going to change my mind one way or another because no one else's opinion matters. The only thing that matters is the writing and I am sorry, truly sorry, that the publisher thought that was not enough in this case even though in the end, the publisher was right.

So: published in 2017, and the author still doesn't think it's worth giving a nod to recycling? "...walked back in the kitchen to put the paper towel in the trash". Yep. You know, novels, even this one, will be read by people (evidently impressionable people too!), and just one passing brief mention of recycling might make a difference, but not for this author. Or is she trying to 'spread the word' that African Americans simply don't recycle? Because I don't buy that, and I think it's insulting to suggest otherwise. Any one of these things would be a minor thing not worth a mention, but when the reader is hit repeatedly with one thing after another like this, then it's certainly worth taking issue with it.

We learn that one character "leaned back, crossing her long, sultry legs" Sultry legs? It was this kind of thing cropping up repeatedly: sloppy writing, thoughtless plotting, careless attitude towards creating a novel, that rapidly turned me off reading any further. I got the impression from it, that the author really didn't care about this novel, and perhaps even had the same attitude towards it that Sarah had towards her relationship with her daughter Brooke: little or no interest in it and couldn't be bothered to make the effort, so she left it and walked away.

She hobbles Brooke with what amounts to a worship of her grandmother, cringing like someone might take a switch to her if she disses her 'superior', when this woman has been outright lying to Brooke for years about her mother's fate. Then the hypocritical grandmother has the gall to turn around at one point and "She shot daggers my way. 'Are you calling me a liar?'" Yeah granny. You are a liar and you don't deserve respect, and I felt the same way about this novel. I cannot in good faith recommend it.


Friday, August 18, 2017

The Indigo Girl by Natasha Boyd


Rating: WARTY!

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

Other than the language being rather too modern, there was nothing overtly wrong with the technical writing of this story other than the usual issues with Amazon's crappy Kindle app mangling the formatting. Publishers need to quit using Kindle format and go with Nook format or with PDF. I detest Microsoft but even Word format is better than Kindle.

My problem with it was the introduction of a farcical and completely fictional relationship with a slave. That sounds racist on the face of it and I certainly do not feel qualified to compete with the President on that score, but this story was set in 1739 in South Carolina (just five hundred miles from the source of presidential shame!), so hopefully you can see the problems arising already.

The problem isn’t even the relationship with the slave per se, but the fact that this story is about a real-life person who had no such relationship. To put it baldly, the author is lying to us about what this woman did. I know, all authors of fiction are liars! It’s at the very heart of what such writers do, but here, there is no reason at all to justify willfully entering this pitfall, and there are clear and valid reasons to avoid it.

Elizabeth Lucas, who went by Eliza, and later by Eliza Lucas Pinckney, was a far-sighted, pioneering, and successful businesswoman who succeeded when it was almost entirely unknown for a woman, and especially not a teenager, to be in charge of not one, but three plantations, let alone flourish in those circumstances.

Eliza did marry someone she loved, yet this author cheapens even that real romance by putting it on the back burner while she turns her main character into a sleazy stalker, chasing a guy named (when she knew him as a child) Benoit Fortune, and then by Ben Cromwell as a grown man. The "relationship" ends not when Eliza starts acting in character, but only when the author kills off Ben (based on a real historical event when a slave drowns after a boat sinks).

This whole affair simply defies credibility not only from what this author herself writes, but from what I’ve read about the real Eliza. To suggest that she would have behaved in this way towards any man - regardless of who he was and whether he was black or white or anywhere in between - is farcical. Way to besmirch an upstanding woman with a storied list of accomplishments!

It beggars belief that a female author would do this to a female character, but it happens all the time in YA literature, and here it is again. In making this grave mistake, the author cheapens a very real life which needs no ornamentation to be outstanding, yet in true tradition amongst young adult authors, we have yet another main female character being hobbled in fiction with the asinine "need" to be validated by a man. Eliza Lucas deserves a far better tribute than to have her entire life wiped out like this and that’s why I do not consider this novel to be a worthy read.

The story is arguably racist too, since of the three people who betray Eliza (yet more fiction it has to be said), two of them are black, and both of those were deliberately invented as far as I could tell, purely for the sake of having them betray Eliza!

The real life Eliza was sixteen when her father (in the British Army and with ambitions of becoming governor) returned to Antigua, where Eliza was born. Since Eliza’s mother was rather sickly (in more ways than one as depicted here), and since he had no older male children, he left the rest of his family behind in South Carolina, with Eliza in charge of his holdings, and she did a sterling job.

When other planters were focused on rice (this was before cotton became a staple - ironically it was the year Eliza died, 1793, that the cotton gin was invented and cotton replaced both rice and indigo as the 'slave crop' of choice), Eliza recalled the indigo plants of her childhood years. Obtaining seeds (and later producing her own seed crop) and experimenting over the next several years, she and her enslaved workers succeeded in showing that indigo could be produced at a profit. From there on out, production and sales sky-rocketed. Until those cotton-pickin' bales killed it all.

Eliza married her neighbor Charles Pinckney when his own wife died, not caring that he was several years older than she. This was the real romance, and they raised children together, descendants of whom live on today. That’s the real story and why the author felt that real and true story lacking, to the point where she needed to screw it up 'Mandingo style' remains a mystery. I’d recommend reading a biography rather than this disrespectful, sensationalist, and insulting fiction which I cannot recommend.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Kiss Him Not Me by Junko


Rating: WARTY!

In Japanese this manga was called Watashi Ga Motete Dōsunda or, What's the Point of Me Getting Popular?. Superficially it purports to tell the tale of a girl who loses weight and suddenly finds herself popular, but in reality it's just another Shōjo designed as teen female wish-fulfillment and as such it's actually harmful because of the 'fat-shaming' attitude employed in it. There's nothing wrong with having a healthy fantasy life as long as it's kept in check (or untethered in creative writing or other art forms!), but the author went about this entirely the wrong way. There are ways of addressing issues or over- or under-weight in characters and this one was a fail in my opinion.

In the story, Kae Serinuma is a fujoshi - essentially a geek - who is into gaming, and who is also obsessed with male homoeroticism, picturing selected boys she knows, as being in gay romances in her fantasies. Since all the boys look like girls in these drawings that makes for rather interesting pairings! There are four boys in her life: Igarashi, Mutsumoi, Nanshima, and Shinomya, and only one of them might have had any real interest in her when she was overweight. Now they all do for sure, This is pretty shallow and she needs to reject them all with the potential exception of the guy in her gaming club, but she does not, despite the protesting title. She seems not so much enamored of them as she is enamored of their attention.

Where I had the real problem with this though, was after an accident where she's dinged by one of the players in a sport she's watching. Serinuma is knocked to the floor, and goes home after a brief recuperation at school. The next morning (or perhaps some unspecified time later - it was hard to tell), when she wakes up she has lost all her excess weight and then some. Not only that, her eyes have grown to huge proportions, her chin (which though prominent) never was a 'double' chin, has shrunk almost to nothing, her hair has become rich, thick, healthy, long, and shining and healthy, her head has shrunk or her facial features have expended to fill the whole face instead of the tiny center portion, and and her wardrobe has fantastically changed from baggy sweats to short, pleated skirts and tight sweaters.

Moreover, her legs have grown long and slim, and her breasts have miraculously tripled in size. In short, instead of a oval shape, she now has an hourglass figure. These factors combined are not the usual outcome of weight-loss, so one has to wonder if this is an illusion or wishful thinking, but by the end of the novel her appearance had not changed and all four boys desperately wanted to date her.

This sounded far more like wish fulfillment than ever it did an honest attempt to write a realistic, thoughtful, and honestly engaging story. But is this type of manga ever intended to be realistic? Wouldn't that defeat the purpose?! Maybe that's so, but this was all wrong for a host of reasons.

First of all, this shallow 'they like me now I'm anorexic and infantilized' is an awful thing to do to a woman. I expect it form some male authors, especially far too many of those who draw graphic novels, but there are different levels of 'fat' and they have all kinds of 'cute' names with which to euphemize them (BBW, chubby, corpulent, full-figured, matronly, plus-sized, portly, robust, rotund, and so on), but the question is not whether a person is overweight so much as whether they're healthy.

Clearly carrying too much weight, and eating poorly and getting no - or too little - exercise is a recipe for medical disaster, but you can be unhealthy whether you are under-, over-, or even at optimal weight, and you can likewise be healthy even when you might appear overweight to some overly-critical eyes. So the real question is over your health, not your weight per se.

In this novel, neither was the issue. The issue we're presented in (literal) black and white - and without a shred of supportive evidence - is that not only does no one love a 'fat' or 'dumpy' girl, but no one even notices her. As it happens, Serinuma is fine with this because she lives largely in her fantasy world anyway, but when she magically (and that's the only term employable here) morphs into 'a total babe' - as a frat boy would (and evidently these schoolboys do) perceive her - she makes no analysis whatsoever of her situation, and never once (not in the parts I read) harks back to how she was or makes comparisons or even tries to understand what happened. This tells me she is so shallow that it doe snot matter whether she is overweight, or a superficial model agency's dream applicant, or anywhere in between she's not worth knowing because there's nothing worth knowing about her.

I had wondered if, by the end of this volume, she might wake up and find she has dreamed this whole thing, or much better yet, that her knock on the head caused her self-perception to change, and everything that happened afterwards was because of this, not because she had literally physically changed. In my opinion, that would have made for a far better, more intelligent, realistic story, and a worthy read but I guess I shall have to write that one.

Women have hard enough time being blasted perennially with commentary from all manner of sources, most of them not even remotely medical, and most of them ads, telling her that she's ugly, fat, her hair is nasty, her clothes suck, she needs more high-heeled shoes, and she is useless in bed. Every time she passes through a supermarket checkout aisle, she has this blasted at her on the one side from women's magazines written by women it shames us all to report, and on the opposite side of that selfsame aisle, she is blasted by fattening snack foods, candies, and sugar-laden sodas. is this a problem? You bet your ass it is. Literally.

It does not help at all to have a manga written by a woman telling women this same thing. It's Junko food, and women need to stop letting authors like this one feed it to them.