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

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Hal by Kate Cudahy


Rating: WARTY!

I was interested in reading this because in some ways it reminded me of my own novel Femarine, but in the end - or more accurately in the middle since I never reached the end, it was quite different. Hal is the abbreviated name of the main character - either that or some computer got a body for itself and is seriously going after Dave, because Hal is a duelist, so we're told. Really she's a prizefighter and gives most of her take to her slave overlord because she's too much of a wimp to go it alone.

She's also an idiot. And a lesbian. All of these preconditions come together to trip her up big time when the daughter of a rich and powerful merchant falls for her, and inexplicably so, because Hal is arrogant and selfish (as their 'love' scenes confirm). I have no idea why either falls for the other, so that wasn't really giving me an authentic story, and what story I got was made worse by Hal's appallingly dumb behavior.

Hall knows perfectly well she's walking on thin ice with this girl, and she also knows she's being spied on, and she's warned repeatedly by two different people that trouble is heading her way, but she stubbornly keeps her blinkers on and walks right into it. It was at this point that I decided I have better things to do with my time than to read any more of this, so I moved on.

The book needs a little work too. At one point, I read, "a large pair of double doors." Is that four large doors? I don't think so! So why write it like it is? 'A large pair of doors' or 'a large double door' is all that's needed. Later I read, "Someone tapped her on the shoulder and she span round" Nope! She spun round! So yeah, work. I can't commend this.


Madame Cat #1 by Nancy Peña


Rating: WARTY!

I went into this not really knowing what it was, but it had seemed appealing. In truth, it wasn't. What it was, was one of the most boring graphic novels I've ever read. Some authors, particularly those of the newspaper cartoon variety seem to think people will find hilarious nothing more than a drawing of an everyday activity. I don't. And that's what this was - the lifeless recounting of the mundane day-to-day experiences of a woman and her cat.

The author's illustrations were simplistic, but not bad, although her two main human charcters (the woman and her boyfriend) seem to have only one expression ever on their faces. It was the dumb stories which were tedious. This cat talks to its owner, and seems hell bent on total destruction of the owner's home, but there are never consequences, and some of the antics are just plain stupid. The biggest problem was that there was nothing funny here: nothing original, nothing new. This was, essentially, a waste of a good tree. I do not comend it and I resent the time I wasted reading it. This book makes a great case for ruthless DNF-ing.


My Amazing Dinosaur by Grimaldi


Rating: WARTY!

Translated by Carol Klio Burrell, this was a kids comic about a cave family's child named Tib and his absurd and anachronistic dinosaur playmate, Tumtum. Playing into the idiotic creationists hands by allowing that humans and dinosaurs co-existed (they did not, by some sixty million years or more) is only acceptable if the story-telling makes it worthwhile by being informative, and/or educational, and/or entertaining, and these stories were none of the preceding.

If I'd known Kirkus had praised this I would have avoided it and thereby saved myself the time it took to read it! The stories were trite, predictable and of the Sunday not-so-funnies quality, which is dismal at best and even more dismal at worst. I'd recommend steering clear of this Tyrannosaurus wreck.


Sun and Moon by Lindsey Yankey


Rating: WARTY!

This tells of the envy of the Moon wanting to have a chance to be the Sun for one day. The sun is harsh though and will only agree to swap if the Moon agrees to make the swap permanent. The Moon has one night to make the decision. Paying extra attention to everything that takes place in the night, the Moon of course realizes that nighttime has many charms, and in the end decides not to swap.

Normally I cut children's books some slack, and let them get away with more than I would a book written for older children or adult audiences, but this one didn't impress me at all. The first problem is that the Moon was a 'he' when the Moon has typically and traditionally been associated with femininity and goddesses. The sun's gender wasn't made clear, so conceivably it could have been female, but I couldn't help but wonder why the Moon was masculinized here.

On top of that, the story suggests how stupid the Moon is - having failed to notice all that beauty which 'he' notices on that one night; the observations lead to the Moon resolving to stay. What bothered me about this was that it suggests that a person should be content to 'stay in one's station in life' and never strive or hope for more. I don't think this is good advice to pass on to children.

Admittedly, this would have been worse had the Moon been given a female gender which would then suggest that the masculine sun was dictating what the feminine Moon should do: stay below that glass ceiling as it were, because it couldn't handle a tough day job. I don't have any idea if the author saw it that way, but it still doesn't change the point about ambition. Too much ambition, or ruthless or blind ambition is a bad thing, but healthy ambition - a desire to improve one's station and an aim be the best one can be at something is a good thing, and this book seemed intent upon slapping that down.

I think this same story could have been much better written: for example as a joint decision by the two to swap for a day/night, and then by mutual agreement decide to return to their original stations, having learned they are both happier where they were. I just did not like the way it was handled here. For this reason, I cannot commend this one as a worthy read.


The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant


Rating: WARTY!

Set during the Renaissance, this book was a pretty much a non-starter for me. I did start reading it, but quickly lost interest because the main protagonist is writing in first person voice and it seemed so utterly inauthentic that I couldn't take it seriously. I quickly took to skimming, hoping things would become more interesting once the author had got the period info-dumping out of her system, but she never did and they never did and all I could think was "Well, I never!"

The novel ought to have been interesting because initially I had thought it was - as far as I could make out (which was nowhere near as far as this woman could make out) - about main character Alessandra Cecchi being the model who posed for Sandro Botticelli's famous Nascita di Venere (Birth of Venus) painting from the mid 1480's, which I parodied in my children's book The Very Fine-Art Rattuses and which is a part of the only series I shall ever write, rest assured. It turns out that it has nothing to do with Botticelli or Venus as far as I could see, which begs the title. It's entirely possible I missed something, but I really didn't miss it in any meaningful sense!

Alessandra is married-off to a much older man who turns out to be the lover of her brother. She has an affair with this nameless young painter her father hires to paint murals and inevitably becomes pregnant, moron that she is and irresponsible jerk that he is. She was lucky a baby was all she caught from him.

The story is supposed to be set against the backdrop of the Savonarola-Medici struggle, the one side supposed to represent scuro, the other, chiaro, with the rest left to canvas for themselves, but Savonarola really wasn't very active for that many years and he was burned at the stake in 1498, so that felt a bit like it was stuck in there precisely because the rest of the story was so boring. However, since I didn't read the rest of the story, I escaped this pitfall.

While I cannot commend this, I do suggest that the author keeps taking the Medici and calls no one in the morning.


All My Darling Daughters by Fumi Yoshinaga


Rating: WARTY!

The story was supposed to be about this woman, Yukiko, who lives with her mother, who frankly is a bitch, but when her mother marries a guy who is younger than her mature daughter, Yukiko decides to move out. The problem was that while the first chapter laid all that out perfectly well, when I started on the second and third chapters, they seemed to have nothing whatsoever to do with the first chapter!

Then the fourth chapter seemed to pick up with this daughter moving in with a friend, but the next chapter was again way off in left field, so I gave up on this in grave disappointment. I couldn't tell if the odd chapters were supposed to a continuation of a different part of the story or what. It quite literally made no sense to me because nothing in the next two chapters seemed to be remotely related to the first one!

It was one of these deals that you have to read backwards, which is always annoying to me, but with which I can at least cope if the story makes sense. I began to think if I'd read it the usual way around it might actually have made more sense! It also had indifferent artwork. The cover illustration was wonderful, and while you know for a fact that you're not going to get that level of art inside, you do hope it's harbinger of something good. It wasn't.

The art inside felt like it was by a different artist and sometimes it was hard to tell one character from another, especially when it switched in chapter two. If they were they simply acquaintances of the main characters as the blurb suggests, then what the hell did they have to do with the main story? I had no idea whatsoever and no interest in doing the author's work for her. I rate this a fail.


Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart


Rating: WARTY!

I picked up this audiobook because it was based on a true story which I found fascinating. The title comes straight from a newspaper headline about the very character this novel is based on. I didn't realize it was the start of a series since there was absolutely nothing on the audiobook cover to indicate any such thing. Thanks Big Publishing™! We do understand that you don't give a shit about readers, but could you at least show a modicum of kindness by not making your disdain quite so painfully obvious?

The novel interested me to begin with, but the story took so drearily long to go anywhere at all that I became bored and ended up DNF-ing it about halfway through. I honestly couldn't believe that such a fascinating true story could be rendered so horribly boring. Way to go Amy Stewart.

It was read by Christina Moore and I still can't make up my mind whether I found her reading acceptable or not; it was right on the cusp of okay and annoying! What bothered me most though was that the main character, with the highly amusing - but real - name of Constance Kopp, seemed so lackadaisical and retiring. I am guessing she was not at all like that in real life, so it felt like an insult. I don't mind so much if a characters starts out less than prepossessing, but when they show little or no sign of improving, growing, or changing in any way, it irritates me.

The Kopp sisters lived together in an old farmhouse and in this story are constantly quibbling with each other. Sometimes this was annoying, other times amusing, so that was a mixed bag. Just how realistic this was is anyone's guess, but there really were three sisters.

The author encountered their story when researching a different novel. She discovered an article from 1915 which talked about a man named Henry Kaufman who ran his automobile into a buggy being driven by these sisters: Constance, Norma and Fleurette Kopp. He refused to pay and when they pursued him for damages, he began a concerted campaign of harassment against them. Kaufman's family was wealthy and he was privileged and thought he could get away with intimidating them. He couldn't.

A local sheriff armed the three sisters and eventually Kaufman was fined $1,000 (about $24,000 today) and warned-off interfering with the sisters ever again. Constance, who was six feet tall - very tall for 1915, even for a man - then worked as an undersheriff for two years and afterwards disappeared into obscurity. It seems to me the real story of this woman would be far more engrossing than this rather bloated fictionalized version, which I cannot commend.


We Are Not Eaten by Yaks by C Alexander London


Rating: WARTY!

This novel for middle-graders sounded like it might be interesting. It certainly seemed like it promised to be different. Instead of having children chomping at the bit for an adventure with their explorer parents, these children wanted nothing more than to be left alone to watch TV, but somehow end up on adventures anyway.

I discovered after starting reading this one that this isn't the first book in the series, but once again there's is absolutely nothing whatever on the cover to warn the reader that this is a story already in progress. It's like buying a book which has the first five chapters missing. This is why I do not have a lot of time for series or for Big Publishing who quite obviously simply do not care about the reader.

That I might have been willing to overlook had the story been worthwhile, but while it did have its moments, it had far too many boring sections to make it a worthwhile read, and I DNF'd it. The point I did this was when the father and his son and daughter, on an adventure trying to find their missing mother, were expelled from a plane in mid-air (without a single person on board objecting) over a snowy mountain range, and they ripped a page quite literally straight out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, by managing to escape with a life raft. Barf! Let's forget that at thirty thousand feet they would suffocate before they ever landed, so what they had to land in was irrelevant.

I cannot support a novel which when it's not boring is ridiculous and the ridicule is unleavened by plagiarizing a movie for an escape.


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Ghetto Klown by John Leguizamo, Christa Cassano, Shamus Beyale


Rating: WARTY!

Written by Leguizamo based on his earlier one-man stage plays about his life, and illustrated really well by Cassano and Beyale, this graphic novel failed to impress me favorably.

The biggest impression was just the opposite: that the author was arrogant at best and a bit of a jerk at worst, and that he's really learning nothing from his life experiences. I could well be wrong on both those scores, but I can only gauge him by the impression his story leaves me with. It started out quite well, but the more I read, the less I liked the author.

No one is perfect, of course. We've all done dumb, regrettable, ill-advised things to one extent or another, and behaved improperly in one way or another. It's part for growing up, testing boundaries, learning rules and figuring out how to fit into a civilized society, but that's where the problem lay for me: in that he seems to learn nothing from his experiences, which are diverse and considerable.

Like Brett Kavanaugh (don't get me started!), he seems to be in a state of complete denial that he's ever done anything wrong. Yes, he had a lousy childhood and this haunted him throughout his life, so I can cut him (Leguizamo, not Kavanaugh!) slack for that. He deserves it, but for him to suggest this book might offer guidelines for others who might be going through what he did is stretching it, because it implies that he has some life lessons to offer, and none were in evidence as far as I could see.

Balanced against that are the amazingly lucky breaks he got that he squandered shamelessly. He's been spoiled, and I'm really tired of this implication that we should somehow idolize if not worship the bad boy made good, like they're some sort of gold standard of achievement. I want to see stories about the good boy making good because he was good, and hard-working, and grateful, and not abusive and intolerant. Why do those guys not get the credit they deserve? Because they're not as arrogant as some others? I think so. I can't recommend this novel.


Charlie Franks is A-OK by Cecily Anne Paterson


Rating: WARTY!

I didn't realize when I began this that it was volume 2 of the 'Coco and Charlie Franks' series, otherwise I probably would have skipped it altogether, but there is, once again, nothing on the cover to indicate to a poor unsuspecting reader that this is part of a series. This book won the CALEB writing prize in 2017 (this is a competition that authors pay to enter) and I can't for the life of me figure out why. I guess the competition was poor?

The book isn't god-awfully bad, and the reason I decided to read it was because I thought it might be different. It's set in Australia for one thing, and doesn't involve an only child or a child who is an orphan or who has only one parent. Aside from that, it hit every trope you can find in a book about girls and horses - the evil girl competitor, the competition you must win no matter what, the girl getting all the credit and the poor horse none; problems with her horse that threaten to derail her overriding ambition, lack of parental support (although both parents are present, they're really absent); resentment of a new addition to the family that becomes unrestrained joy later, trope overreaction to 'necessary' guy to validate the main female character, and so on.

After a year of home-schooling, the twins are going back to public school. Why they were home-schooled and why they're now going back goes unexplained. Maybe it's from something in volume one? It's at school where Coco fits in to the alpha girl pack and of course Charlie doesn't because she's nothing like her twin. Maybe this was something else that was gone into in the first novel, because it's not mentioned here as to whether they're identical or fraternal (can girls be fraternal twins? LOL! Sororal?).

I'm not one who expects identical twins to be exactly alike in behaviors and desires etc. I prefer it if they're not, but that said, they are quite literally clones and therefore have the same genes which often express in the same ways when it comes to preferences, tastes (not testes which is what I first accidentally typed! LOL!), lifestyle, etc. These two showed none of that whatsoever, so the point of twinning them was lost on me.

The worst problem for me though, was that the main character wasn't AOK. She wasn't even likeable. She had a one-track (or maybe in this case one-tack?) mind which revolved solely around her own selfish and self-absorbed desires, and really had no time for anything or anyone else, not even her sister who loaned Charlie her own horse after Charlie's wasn't able to compete. Charlie didn't strike me as having an over-abundance of smarts, either, as this quote indicates:

While I was at school, I put in enough effort to show I was actually present in the class, and at least vaguely interested in most subjects (I think I mostly just looked vague in Ancient History) but as soon as the bell went and I was on the bus, school was forgotten. Horses were the only things that were important....

The only other thing - quite literally - that she had her mind on was this guy with the asinine name of 'Jake' who seemed to have super powers since Charlie literally felt electric shocks when she so much as looked at him. I'm sorry, but no. How shallow can you make her? Well, this author paradoxically plumbed the depths of shallowness.

With regard to the baby her mother was expecting, this is Charlie's Take On it: " I didn't want to say 'she'. That baby was an 'it', forcing its way into our lives, and making my mum sick" Don't sugar-coat it like that, Charlie. Just plan on trampling the 'it' under your horse's hooves why don't you?!

I'm guessing that the author's plan was to turn this around, but by this point it was too late! I was slightly over halfway through, at the end of Chapter 13 (or 13 Chapter 13 as this book insisted on labeling its chapters!) and I was so sick of this character's attitude that I simply didn't care what happened to her. I refused to read about her any more. She was a dick, and you can't turn that around with simple homespun remedies.

Charlie boasts that she's never fallen from her horse, but even if this is what the author has planned, you can't turned around that obnoxious arrogance, and selfishness with a fall from a horse. You can't do it with mom having a miscarriage, because Charlie selfishly hates the baby. You can't change it by her mom having a cute baby because Charlie selfishly hates the baby. You can't do it by winning the championship, because she's already convinced that a win is inevitable. You can't change it by having her lose the championship because she'll simply blame it on having to ride her sister's horse, for the use of which she's never even properly thanked her sister. She's a big jerk, period and I refuse to commend a novel that makes virtues out of vices in one so young and then seeks to fix all these problems with a magical redemption.


Silk Sinister by Robbie Thompson, Stacey Lee, Veronica Fish, Tana Ford, Ian Herring


Rating: WARTY!

Okay, one more and then I'm done with this disaster! This was one more in a trilogy of Silk graphic novels I had from the library and they were universally disappointing.

The story was pathetic and the plot non-existent, but talking of sinister, as in left-handed, the artwork was even worse. It had so many hands all over it that it was itself all over the place from simplistic, but passable art to downright juvenile efforts that a child might have drawn - or at least that you expect to see in children's books, not graphic novels at this level. I don't consider myself to be an artist by any means, but having seen this work I now believe I could do a graphic novel if I chose to and not feel inferior - not to these artists anyway! For someone as critical of me as I am, that's saying something.

In the extra pages at the back, which feature variant covers and which I normally have little time for because they're so self-indulgent, I was arrested by a portrait done by Woo Dae Shim. It was listed as a 'hip-hop variant' although I didn't get the connection, but it was nothing short of amazing and if that had been the art standard for the entire graphic novel it would have been awesome even as the lackluster writing and the sad plot let it down. And you have to wonder about a comic book that has people work on it by the name of Fish and Herring. Do they work for scale? Just asking!

In this story Silk is working for villain Black Cat, but you know she really isn't, so no surprises there. The thing is that Black Cat really isn't evil here, so no surprises there, either. Of course petty Peter Parker has to poke his prying proboscis into her affairs yet again despite her telling him to leave her alone - and more than once. So, uninventive, unoriginal, and creepy in parts: nothing to see here folks. I DNF'd it and didn't look back. It's more sick than silk and not in a good way.


Silk The Clone Conspiracy by Robbie Thompson, Irene Strychalski, Tana Ford, Ian Herring


Rating: WARTY!

Given what a huge clone Silk is of Spider-Man and all the other spider 'heroes' Marvel has cloned, is this title an in-joke at Marvel?

I've pretty much said all I had to about this trilogy of graphic novels written by Thompson, illustrated by Strychalski and Ford, and colored by a Herring. This particular novel was about people being cloned, so there's nothing new there. I couldn't figure out why it was an issue. I mean I can see how it can be an issue in real life, but I'm talking about why it was so in this comic book world, because the only one whose story was gone into was J Jerk Jackass Jamison, and he was thrilled to have his wife and kid back.

I readily admit that I was not paying sufficient attention because I was bored with the comic, so maybe I missed something, but I finished the comic without feeling like I missed nothing but he time it took me to page through it. It wasn't inventive, fresh or new and it offered nothing to excite the senses. I saw this as another good reason why this series was cancelled. The only Clone Conspiracy here is the cloning of Marvel heroes instead of inventing new ones, and the regurgitating of tired Marvel villains instead of creating new ones.

Silk is Spider-man with tits, period (that too, which never seems to affect female super heroes does it?!), and even then the real Spider-Man is stalking her all over the place. If you're going to give a series to a female hero, then for goodness sake let her have her own series and don't keep pointing out how weak she is by showing how she has to be shored-up, demeaned, and validated by peter parking or the Spastic Four.

And finally, if you're going to draw an Asian, make her look Asian! I have no idea if Silk, aka Cindy Moon, actually is Asian, and the reason for it is that she looks so westernized that the pretense that she's in some ethnic group other than your standard comic book Caucasian super hero, is farcical. The Chinese are a sixth of the Earth's population! The Indians are another sixth. Non-whites are the overwhelming majority of Earth's population! Deal with it Marvel (and DC)!

I do not recommend this series at all. And there's still one more volume to go!


Silk, Volume 0: The Life and Times of Cindy Moon by Robbie Thompson, Stacey Lee, Annapaola Martello, Tana Ford, Ian Herring


Rating: WARTY!

This was a classic example of Marvel's cluelessness in comic books. While building a powerhouse of a movie industry, in their comic books, once a sterling example of inventiveness and original story-telling, they have faltered and slipped, and tripped and fallen. In my opinion, the reason for this is simple, and it's the same problem DC has: that inventiveness and original story-telling has gone. Instead we get the same villains over and over and endlessly over again, matched up against a different super hero to the one they originally danced with, like this is somehow going to make everything new and fresh. No, it really isn't. It doesn't help at all that none of these collections have anything on them to identify in which order they should be read.

Worse, Marvel is introducing ridiculous new characters with no originality whatsoever. Instead of coming up with brand new super heroes, they present clones of existing ones which are warmed over cookie-cutter non-heroes and which offer nothing for the reader that hasn't been done to death already.

Did Marvel's universe really need yet another spider character to add to the half-dozen spider characters already out there? No! Yet regardless, Marvel brings us Silk, which I am happy to report has been cancelled, and deservedly so because it's a classic and shameful example of Marvel's increasingly rampant self-cannibalization. The blurb tells us that writer Thompson "fills this new story with his unique blend of antics and feels" No. He doesn't. He gives us the same warmed-over garbage.

Here's how clueless Marvel is: Marvel's senior vice president of print, sales, and marketing, David Gabriel reportedly said, "We saw the sales of any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up against." Let's not get into his own inability to create intelligent dialog as judged by that mangled sentence, and note that he also said, "That was difficult for us because we had a lot of fresh, new, exciting ideas that we were trying to get out and nothing new really worked." There's a reason for that: the characters are not really new, David, and the stories sure as hell are not! Then he lied: "And let me be clear, our new heroes are not going anywhere!" - except into the trash can as this series has proven!

New? No! Exciting? No! Ideas? No! Silk is Spider-Man with tits and that's all she is. How is she different from Lady-Spider...or SP//dr...or Spider-Girl...or Spider-Girl of Earth-11...or Spider-Gwen...or Spider-Ma'am...or Spider-Woman...or the Jessica Drew's Black Widow spider character? The short answer is that she isn't. So she lived in a bunker for ten years. Was it ten? Who knows! It's hard to say with comic books.

She was bitten by the same Spider that bit Peter Parker. Wait, wasn't he bitten in August 1962? That would put Cindy Moon, aka Silk, in her sixties, but instead, the decade-in-a-bunker seems to have rejuvenated her so she looks like a seventeen year old! But wait, if she's seventeen now, that would have made her seven when she was bitten! How then could she had been on the school field trip with Peter Parker who was in high school? Or is she twenty-seven now? See what I mean? It's an insanely confused world and it contributes nothing to original story-telling or to original super-heroics.

As if that wasn't bad enough, instead of getting a female writer to write this, we get the usual white male writing an ethnic female and IT. DOESN'T. WORK. MARVEL! That's not to say that no white guy can ever write about women of color or vice-versa, it's just to say that having a house rule (which is the only explanation I can think of that fits the facts) that their comics are almost exclusively written by white nerds is a recipe for disaster - a disaster that Marvel is reaping with the failure of titles like this one.

Getting the same old guys to write the stories means we get the same old stories. Getting new writers with new perspectives and original ideas means better stories - we would hope. It would certainly mean more original stories. You can't judge by looks admittedly, but Robbie Thompson, the writer here, I have to say looks exactly like a stereotypical comic book geek! At least the artists were women so that helped avoid hyper-sexualized female characters. Instead we just got sexualized ones.

And the story was tired. We got old villains in this series (yes, Doc Ock, I'm looking at you, when I'm not looking at Black Cat), and Peter Parker poking his peck of pickled perspectives in every few pages which stunk of stalking. Can you not let the girl be? Oh, and how original, new and exciting this is: it's set in New York City! Where all the other Marvel heroes are.

I have to ask, seriously, how can there possibly be any crime at all in NYC, home of Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, the Fantastic Four, Hellcat, Sam Wilson, She-Hulk, Captain America, Wasp, Cloak and Dagger, Misty Knight, Moon Knight, Hawkeye, Silk, Punisher, Daredevil, Iron Fist (I'm surprised Deadpool hasn't weighed in on that name), Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, et al? Even Howard the Quack lives there. It has more super heroes than ordinary people. There can be no hope for a villain there. Why are all the villains not going to Miami or Chicago where there are no super heroes whatsoever?

What's that I hear? It sounds like crickets, Marvel. Now there's an idea! Cricket Girl! She lives in Tucson and is an Eskimo woman. Her Nemesis is Termite Tomboy and she hails from South Africa. No, wait, a cricket versus eusocial insect story was already done in A Bug's Life....

I can't recommend an unoriginal story like this. Unfortunately, I got three of these volumes from the library so I still have two more to plow through. Wish me luck!


I Am a Bear by Ben Bailey Smith, Sav Akyüz


Rating: WARTY!

The blurb lies once again. It tells us that "Bear fills his day with food, funny jokes, tricks on his friends" and frankly that latter is all bear does. He zips on his fur coat before heading out - a violaceous fur coat - and spends his day pulling mean pranks on people (animals mostly, but in one case, an actual police officer). Written by first-time-and-it-shows children's author Smith, and illustrated just so-so by Akyüz, this book tells children how to go through life being a dick - and how to swallow a live squirrel whole, in case you wondered. It's not funny; it's not educational, and it's not entertaining. I do not remotely commend this.


Monday, October 8, 2018

Evolution's Shore by Ian McDonald


Rating: WARTY!

Published originally in Britain as Chaga, this novel has too many pages and too little happening in them, and this rang the death knell for it for me. To make it worse, it's merely book one in a dilogy, which means it's a prologue. I so don't do prologues.

The story is supposed to be about an alien invasion after a fashion, whereby the aliens send a conversion process to planets they want to colonize, which spreads unstoppably and converts local organic material to reprocessed organic material. In short, these aliens are evil no matter how benign their aim might seem.

So this meteorite hits Africa and starts changing everything it touches and becoming ever more widespread. Never once do people think of nuking it for reasons which went unexplained in the portion I read - which admittedly wasn't much. If they didn't want to nuke it there are other ways, such as chemical treatments or burning. None of this seems to have been considered, although I did not read far beyond the point where this begins spreading.

From the reviews of others I've read, apparently even the author thought this story was too boring to pursue, so he felt compelled to turn this into a love story. Evidently he needed to validate his female lead, Gaby McAslin, with a man, and so he had her taken in hand by someone with the highly appropriate name of Shepherd! From that point onward, so I understand it became a love story and the spreading contagion was nothing but backstory. Go figure. I'm glad I quit when I did.

I skimmed here and there beyond the point where I quit reading properly and saw nothing about any change to the woman. The book cover artist appears to be as utterly clueless here as book cover artists typically are everywhere, which I why I pay little heed to book covers. There is no transformation which involved a woman growing butterfly wings so why the artist chose that remains a mystery. I saw two different book covers and both featured a female rear elevation. I can only guess this artist (or these artists) love painting women's asses. In each case though, her hair is entirely wrong since the novel informs us it's long: down to the small of her back. So this is yet another case where the artist hasn't even read the book, a situation which is otherwise known as bait and switch for those idiots who buy books to read based purely on their cover.

I cannot recommend this based on the sorry portion of it I read.


Well Witched by Frances Hardinge


Rating: WARTY!

I became a fan of this author after reading the excellent A Face Like Glass, and I've had this volume on my shelf for some time, but only just got to it. My reading list is long and oft interrupted - what can I say? I'm sorry therefore to have to report that I quit reading Well Witched because it was moving so slowly and not in interesting directions. It was nowhere near interesting enough to justify some four hundred pages of this stuff and after DNF-ing it, I now consider it well ditched.

The story is about three middle-graders who, stuck for bus fare one night, raid a wishing well. The wishing well is of course cursed, and they discover uncomfortable changes in their lives and eventually come to the realization that since they took the money, it's now incumbent upon them to grant the wishes. This is on the face of it absurd, even within its own framework, because it wasn't like these wishes were made just the minute before these kids took the money! Obviously the wishes had been made over many weeks or even years, so why do they suddenly need to grant wishes? Who's to say these people even want those wishes anymore, and if they do, then why hasn't the spirit of the well or whatever, granted them? If she, he, or it couldn't or wouldn't, then why do these kids have to?

I was willing to overlook that to begin with, but when I saw how ponderously the story was moving, I lost patience with it. I don't see any reason to make a middle grade novel four hundred pages long. That strikes me as evidence of a chronic inability on the writer's part to self-edit! Just sayin'! I can't commend this based on the quarter of it that I read.


Skinny Me by Charlene Carr


Rating: WARTY!

For a novel which is centered on body image, this one sure objectified and dissed other types of body. It’s not just fat-shaming that's a problem, it’s also male objectification which was rife in this novel as it is in far too many books I've read, too many of which are YA stories that have proved as laughable as they are shameful, and I find it hypocritical in the extreme. How can an author write a novel that features a person resolved to take charge of her life - which is this case she conflates with her body, and perhaps understandably so - and so was focused on body image, while abusing the bodies of others?

At one point I read, "She’s plump, but not fat, still attractive. She’s one of those girls who is clearly somewhat overweight" - like there is some point on a sliding scale of weight gain where a woman becomes downright ugly. The fact that this sliding scale is purely skin deep is evidently irrelevant to this character (or this author who is writing the character). That was one of the problems with Jennifer Carpenter, the main character who tells this story. She's so shallow herself and it seems the more weight she loses, the more ugliness in her it reveals, which is quite the contrary to what she thinks she's achieving.

The book had snide comments like that quite often and they seemed to get worse the more weight Jennifer lost. This includes what might be termed thin-shaming, which is just as nasty as fat-shaming, but which gets nowhere near the same attention. There was also appearance shaming, such as when Jennifer refers to an older man's hair: "though his hair is thinning it’s a full head of hair." like losing one's hair is something debilitating and ugly, or something that diminishes a person. Men have far less control over hair loss than women do over weight loss, and yet this is seen as a fair target? It's somehow fine to make bald jokes, but fat jokes are off limits? I don't think you can have this goose and eat the gander too. Hair is seen as a sign of youth and virility, but the truth is that it’s testosterone which contributes to male pattern baldness!

The novel also indulges in precisely the opposite - what might be called Glute Glorification? Beauty Blinging? The number of times Jennifer objectifies her personal trainer, Matt, is laughable. I read things like: "Matt greets me in a black tank that accentuates his perfectly sculpted arms and hints at the pecs." Jennifer's best friend is named Autumn, and she's dating Matt, yet Jennifer has no problem with ogling him and considering him fair game. I read, "I look up at him, he smiles at me and I wonder how happy he and Autumn really are. He seems pretty glad to see me and Autumn doesn’t usually take her relationships very seriously." So her best friend's boyfriend is fair game?

This is made even worse by the fact that Jennifer never tells Autumn that she's training with her boyfriend. This was sad because the author apparently expects us to believe that Matt never mentioned to Autumn that "Hey, guess who I'm training now? Your friend Jennifer!" This was beyond credibility. Neither of them had taken any sort of vow of secrecy to keep this from Autumn (why would they?!), so why expect us to believe Matt never mentioned it?

This is a sign that a writer wants to set a certain train in motion in her story, but is too lazy or thoughtless to do the work to make it seem natural - or at least natural enough that a reader would be ready and willing to let it go. This was the first time this story really pulled me up and told me: hey, you’re reading a story! It was amateurish and unnecessary.

I’d thought it a bit odd that Autumn, as her best friend and also a fitness trainer, wasn't giving Jennifer tips and encouragement in getting fit and losing weight, but maybe Jennifer simply wouldn’t listen? On the other hand, Autumn, even knowing how inexcusably mean Jennifer's brother has been to her, felt no compunction about dictating to Jennifer how she should live her life: "I know you and Billy never got along but he’s still your brother, Jenn. I shouldn’t be the one to tell you this stuff" No, Autumn, you shouldn't! It’s none of your damned business, and you weren't the one her brother shamed and denied and insulted in front of his friends!

I don’t buy into this happy ending and family has to come together horseshit that is so pervasive in novels, movies and TV shows. Families are not always like that and it’s dishonest to pretend otherwise. The author tries to win our sympathy for Billy by having him suffering some malady which goes unspecified for the longest time. It didn't win mine. Billy's behavior was inexcusable and he deserved what he got, whatever it was, for being such a jerk. I’ll bet Autumn never dictated to him that he should reconcile with his sister. Jennifer hasn’t done anything wrong there, yet Autumn is putting it all on her like it’s her fault! Perhaps she deserves Jennifer trying to steal her boyfriend? That doesn't make Jennifer a nice person though.

Most of the writing was technically pretty good, even thought it was worst person voice, but there were some lapses. At one point, after repeatedly hitting the reader with the sixty-two pounds Jennifer had lost, the author refers to the last time Jennifer met these people when she was "almost sixty pounds heavier.” What happened to the sixty-two pounds? Isn’t that over sixty pounds heavier?! But the worst part about it is that Jennifer, who began as an interesting story-teller, seems to be on a downward spiral.

She met this guy Rajeev, who is clearly interested in her - as a friend if nothing else, but when Jennifer goes to a party and meets him for only the second time, he comes over to greet her and she rudely dismisses him as soon as she sees Matt come through the door. At this point I really did not like her at all, which was a one-eighty from how I began this novel in some admiration of her willpower and work ethic in losing weight. It didn’t help that she now, if not before, saw herself only in terms of her worth to a man: "I’ll be worth a guy like him." What a moron!

Her diet doesn't seem to have educated her about food, either. In Chapter nine, I read that she'll "load up my plate with celery, carrots, tomatoes (but only a few—they’re loaded with sugar". Carrots actually have more sugar than tomatoes, if only by a smidgeon. Celery does have very little, but Jennifer is missing the point: these are sugars in whole foods - not like the mounds of sugar added to a cola or to yogurt (which is more sugary in organic form than in other form, believe it or not!).

The point about eating sugar in whole food - like a fresh fruit or a vegetable - is that it’s an integral part of the whole food and your body processes it rather differently from the added mass sugar in all the appallingly bad foods which people eat. It’s not the same threat in other words, so her concern is misplaced at best. You'd think with all the reading she's supposedly done thus far, she'd be a bit better informed. Or the author would be! It took me five minutes to 'research' this. You’d think Jennifer would have bought a good book on the topic and or watched a few documentaries about diet and health, rather than simply rely on Internet sources which can be dubious, but she doesn’t. Neither did the author apparently.

It may well have been that Jennifer improved her outlook later in the story but she was taking so long to wise up that I was sick of her by this point. I couldn't face reading any more about her, and I DNF'd the entire book, glad to be rid of it and have the opportunity to move on to something else. From what I read, the book was awful and I cannot commend it.


Bump in the Night by Edward Hemingway


Rating: WARTY!

This was one of my local library's commendable "Banned Books" which are on display right in the entrance - books that have been banned or challenged in the US. I've reviewed several of them over the last few weeks.

This is one aimed at children and dealing with the fear of the dark and monsters under the bed. I don't know if this author is related to Ernest Hemingway, but with a name like E Hemingway on the cover, I expected more, even though I'm not remotely a fan of Hemingway. I did a parody of his hilarious Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber in my Poem y Granite book of poetry and short stories, the e-version of which is going to be available for free at Barnes and Noble, but other than that I have no interest in him.

As far as this book is concerned, I didn't like it. That's no reason to ban it of course, but for the life of me I could see no reason why anyone would challenge a book like this. Because it's wrong-headed maybe?! I dunno! I can't commend it because I think it took entirely the wrong approach. Rather than let kids know there's no reason to fear the dark (and explaining why people fear the dark), and assuring that there are no monsters under the bed, this book embraces them and pretends that yes, there really are monsters, but some of them are friendly...?

So I really didn't get what it hoped to achieve. It's obvious that a fear like this is irrational (even though in our evolutionary history it was perfectly rational!), but there are rational ways of dealing with such fears, and I think this book took the wrong approach is all.


Nefertiti's Heart by AW Exley


Rating: WARTY!

Since the author announces her first chapter as taking place on Sunday, June 23rd, and later reveals it's a quarter century after Queen Victoria's ascension to the throne, then this novel has to be set in 1860, not 1861 as the idiot blurb in Goodreads states. But that's Amazon-owned Goodreads for you.

Cara Devon is a Victorian woman supposedly living in a steampunk world, but the author seems not to understand steampunk, and features very little of that genre. The story seems to have more in common with Fifty Shades of Grey than ever it does with streampunk, but given that I haven't read (and have no intention of reading) that latter novel, I'd have to say it's a grey area...!

Anyway, that's what I gathered from it from my reading of just under a fifth of it before I felt unable to stomach any more. It's set in an alternate reality which not only bears little resemblance to steam-punk, but also bears little resemblance to Victorian London! There were too many anachronisms and they began to grate in short order.

The character's name alone seems suspect. She is the daughter of Lord Devon, but historically, someone elevated to the peerage didn't simply add Duke or Earl or Lord to his last name. He took the name of the locale over which he was actually the lord (at least historically), so Lord Devon might have been named so because he has or had land holdings in the county of Devonshire. That doesn't necessarily follow especially not these days, and doesn't mean he necessarily lived in Devon either.

The current Earl of Devon isn't named Devon, but Courtenay. In 1860, Viscount Palmerston was 'prime minister', but his name was Temple, not Palmerston. With regard to the government he oversaw, the Lord Chancellor was Lord Campbell and that was his last name as it happens, but the president of the council was Lord Granville, whose actual name was Leveson-Gower. The Duke of Argyle was also John Campbell - a different John Campbell! The Duke of Newcastle was named Pelham-Clinton. The Duke of Somerset was named Seymour, and Lord Elgin was James Bruce. So yeah, it's possible a Lord would have his last named in his title, but it wasn't common then, not like it is now because of the life peerages that have been added.

And that's just the last name. Cara was not a common name. An author can choose whatever name they want of course, but to me names mean something, and Cara wasn't remotely on the radar of names in and around the 1840s which was, I assume, roughly when Cara would have been born. Popular names tended to be queen's names such as Mary, Ann, Elizabeth and so on. Cara wasn't even in the top 100 popular names for a kid.

Maybe the parents wanted to give her an unpopular name, but Cara means beloved. That hardly sounds like a name an abusive father would give a girl he detested - and remember it was the men who ran everything and owned everything back then - often not for better but for worse, so this name felt like something the author had coined because she felt it sounded cool rather than a name which had any real thought given to it or which fitted the milieu in which this character was so precipitously deposited.

Anyway, this author has her hero Cara Devon carrying a pair of Smith & Wesson revolvers in 1860 in England. Given that the company wasn't even founded until 1852 in the USA and that it manufactured (when that word literally meant 'by hand') rifles to begin with, it's unlikely she would have a pair of these revolvers (and ammunition to keep them filled) in England so soon afterwards!

Given that this is an English hero, why not give her a Beaumont-Adams revolver, which has the two names she could have used in place of Smith and Wesson in her slightly tired joke. This was a sidearm in use in the British army from 1856 onward. It took me five minutes to 'research' this. Anita Exley isn't an American author as far as I know. She's evidently from New Zealand, so her choice of weapon is a mystery and her evident laziness was a little off-putting.

There are a lot of modern phrases used in this book which detracted from the Victorian setting, and it wasn't just phrases. There were anachronous behaviors, too. In terms of phrases, for example, I read at one point, "She knew leaving the house unattended would be an invite to every questionable person in London" whereas a Victorian would have used 'invitation', not a shortened version which would have been considered unconscionable slang back then, as would ' Union Jack flag' - it was only a 'jack' when used on a ship, otherwise it was just the Union Flag and in Victorian times probably just the British flag. This flag - in one form or another - dates back to James's accession to the throne after Elizabeth died without (recognized!) issue.

Another instance was in one of Cara's thoughts that are shared with us about a visitor to her house: "Cute, for a copper. Shame he's wearing the coat. I can't check out the rear view." which is hardly what a Victorian woman of breeding would think. And even if she had thought it she would not use the modernism 'check out' which is also an Americanism and would not have been in use in London back then. Nor would she have used a phrase like, "the sooner I can get the hell out of London." This was all in the first few pages. "I guess they are a necessary evil" was another phrase that wouldn't have been uttered. Substitute 'suppose' or 'imagine' for 'guess' and you're in business. This is not rocket science.

In a scene in a lawyer's office I read: "Tea, please, Miss Wilson." He directed his comment to the efficient secretary.... No - they would never have had a female secretary back then. Such a thing was very rare and the solicitor's office did not seem very much inclined to support women's emancipation. At one point I read, "The flow of cards through her mail slot was unrelenting" but it was highly unlikely that a door would have had a mail slot in the 1860s, nor would there have been a "pissing contest" back then. These anachronisms began to jar in short order.

Now you can argue that Cara is not your usual gentile Victorian, but the author tells us Cara was abused. It turns out she was beaten by her brutal father, and also was used as payment for a debt by being loaned out as a whore to the creditor for a week during which she was frequently raped. After that kind of treatment at men's hands, I have serious doubts that she would be 'checking out' men's asses. It seemed more likely she would detest and despise them thoroughly, especially in light of her nervous and retiring behavior exhibited later in the story. This felt like a betrayal of what she had been through and was not appreciated, especially in light of what followed.

At one point the author has her hero going out into the street wearing jodhpurs, which is bad enough, and a corset over her outfit. Bullshit. Women didn't even wear jodhpurs for riding back then, and no one wore a corset over their clothes. This was really a poor choice. Methinks the author was far too influenced by what modern steam-punkers seem to favor and paid no attention at all to convention and culture as it was actually in Victorian times. Again, I know this is an alternate reality, but why even claim it's set in Victorian times if you're going to completely flout all conventions?

The emphasis on youth and beauty in this is disgusting, especially from a female author. I thought that perhaps we were starting to get beyond that, but YA writers don't seem to get it for some reason. Thus we have a victim of a murder mentioned early in the story and the only quality she seems to have had is beauty (and youth). Or was it youth (and beauty)? I read, "The death of a young and beautiful aristocrat." This woman is described in a newspaper headline as a "beautiful debutante" No! Victorian newspapers did not go in for that sort of thing! Later I read that someone couldn't imagine anyone wanting to harm her because she was "so beautiful." "Her face was heart-shaped and would have been beautiful [when she was alive]." later, "...on a beautiful young woman?"

No, no, no! Why is it that YA authors are so insistent upon betraying their gender by declaring so categorically that if you're not beautiful you have nothing to recommend you? Had this murder victim been rather plain would that have made her death far less tragic? It would seem so according to this author, who evidently thinks that all a woman has to offer is the shallow depth of her skin.

If the whole point of the story hinged on a woman's looks - like she was a model or an actor or something, then I can see some attention being paid to superficiality, but when her looks are irrelevant, could the author find nothing else to day about a woman? Perhaps that she was loved? Talented? Had her whole life ahead of her? That she did charity work? That she was brilliant? That she was a wonderful friend? That she was an only child? Anything? Bueller? I detest authors who demean and cheapen women like this.

The worst sin is that this author seems to be setting up the bad boy to win Cara's cold and isolated heart. As I said, Cara was raped repeatedly as a child, yet she accepts the villain's offer to go to his home - unescorted - and have dinner with him. When she gets there, the villain insists she take a bath and put on a dress he has for her and she meekly acquiesces. This supposedly feisty hero of the novel essentially lays down and exposes her belly and throat to the alpha dog. This is the rape victim. This is the woman who was abused. This is the woman who supposedly would die before letting anything like this happen to her again, and she rolls over and comes to heel at this guy's bidding? What a pile of horseshit.

That's when I quit reading this garbage; when the villain went into his bedroom - where Cara was taking a bath, and he spies on her through the slightly open bathroom door, and then while she's still in the bathroom and could exit at any time, he begins himself to change for dinner - and without taking a bath. Later Cara decides of this pervert, "He doesn't look villainous, he looks devilish...or delicious." Barf.

Did #MeToo never make it as far as New Zealand? I find it hard to believe. Maybe Anita Exley is simply clueless. Whatever the reason, this novel is garbage.


In Prior's Wood by GM Malliet


Rating: WARTY!

I quickly decided to give up on this whodunit audiobook because it was boring and there was no dunnit despite being over a fifth the way through it. The author seems to have spent a lot of time on her character biographies and then decided she didn't want to waste it, and so I'd been getting quite lengthy info-dumps about characters, none of which information seemed remotely relevant to the story. That assumes there was a story and by that point, I hadn't seen one! The title also struck me as odd. Should it be Priory Wood? Or did the place used to be a wood and no longer is? I guess in the end, I don't care!

This is part of a series and is an excellent argument for not reading series. The premise here is that a former MI5 agent (MI5 is Britain's equivalent of the FBI) is now a priest and helps the local cops solve murders. That concept initially intrigued me, but the story was so painfully slow that I rapidly lost interest and became bored. In addition, it's one of these quaint little English village murder mystery stories, but given this this is the seventh instalment in the absurdly-named Max Tudor series, this means that this quaint English village must be the murder capital of the entire country! It's not feasible. Another reason not to pursue a murder mystery series.

As if that wasn't bad enough the guy, Michael Page, who is reading this story had a really strident and grating voice. He reminded me of this British comedy show called Blackadder that I love, and when he's reading it, this guy sounds like Rowan Atkinson's main character from that show. When Rowan Atkinson does the voice, it's amusing, but I'm literally expecting a zinging one-liner every other sentence in the audiobook which of course never comes! As if that wasn't bad enough, there's a character named Owena. I'm not sure of the spelling, but every time he says the name I hear "a wiener" which makes me laugh, so this story wasn't working on so many levels!

It was initially quite entertaining, but rapidly drifted into rambling and boring exposition which contributed nothing to the story that could see. I have better things to do with my time than listen to this - even on a commute. For example, the sound of my car's tires on the road sounded highly appealing after Michael Page's droning nasal intonations.