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

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Scavenger Scout: Rock Hound by Shelby Wilde, Yana Popova


Rating: WARTY!

This was a children's book that was available for free in ebook format, so I got hold of it because it had a similar theme to a children's book I'm working on (over three-quarters the way through it!) and I was curious to see how another writer was doing on this topic, and I have to say I was not impressed. This book was rooted in fantasy - mermaids and space travel which is not my thing - not for my book anyway, and while this one started out rhyming, it soon devolved to prose text.

The book opened with a promise that this azurite rock would be on every page to give a child something to search for - make 'em feel part of the adventure, which is fine, but the rock wasn't on every page at all. It wasn't even on every double-page spread, so any kid taking that advice literally was going to be disappointed or frustrated; not a nice thing to do to a child.

That wasn't the worst part though, and I don't know if this is the author's fault or yet another example of Amazon's crappy, Kindle conversion process, so I'll blame both equally: the author for not checking how well or poorly this worked, and Amazon for adding another sick joke to its bloated mega-empire of such jokes. They're unapologetically listening in on you now! Did you know? If you run Alexa, Amazon employees can, without warning or permission, listen in on your conversations in your own home, ostensibly to help Alexa to comprehend you better. This is yet another reason why I will have no truck with Amazon or its publishing business.

But I digress. I typically read books on my phone, and this works great for text books, but for children's picture books, not so well. In the iPad it's better, although still unsatisfactory since most books are still created as print books with little thought given to the electronic format. That's what happened here. The book announces, proudly up front, that it contains "pop-up text" which is a feature that pops up a plain text box with the text in black and white so that on a phone or small tablet for example, you can read it without enlarging the page, which brings its own set of issues. The problem was that once you've triggered the pop-up box - which seemed to happen at the slightest touch of the page - you could not get rid of it, and it blocked the image, not just on that page but on every page after that, too.

There seemed to be no way at all to get rid of it! I tried swiping it away, tapping it away directly on the pop-up, and tapping off the pop-up elsewhere on the screen - which as often as not, swiped the page to the previous one or the next one. I tried a host of other ideas, but nothing worked. This rendered the entire reading experience as an exercise in irritation and aggravation. The only way to get rid of these text boxes that I could find was to go to the contents and tap the next page there, which seemed to remove the pop-up, but as soon as you accidentally tapped on the page again, that blessed sticky text box came right back. I tried spreading the page with a finger and thumb to enlarge the text so I could see it that way instead of having to use those annoying text boxes, but that failed and simply popped-up a text box. It was intensely annoying

That said the fantasy adventure itself wasn't bad, but I had lost interest in this book by that point. The illustrations by Popova were cute and colorful (she can pop-over and illustrate one of my books any time!), but the reading experience sucked. I cannot commend it for that reason.


Friday, May 3, 2019

Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Oima


Rating: WARTY!

This was the second of two manga I looked at recently which featured a person with some sort of disability. In the other it was a person with a wheelchair. In this it was a girl who communicated by sign language. The main male character had been abusive to this girl when he was younger - making fun of her and so on, and now he was older he regretted it and sought to make up for his appalling behavior when he encountered her again, but the problem was that the girl still remained largely mute despite her sign language, and there really was no emotional content here. It was more like a comedy than a moving story and I couldn't stand it.

The girl was completely flat for me, with no emotion, and no fire. She never got annoyed, angry, upset, frustrated or anything. She was like this little magical paragon of Zen and so completely unrealistic that she was a nonentity - a hole in the story instead of a whole story. The guy was no more interesting, so I gave up on it in short order. Now, admittedly I came into this at volume three, but the thought of going back and trying to dig up volumes one and two to catch up was severely disabling for my psyche!

Besides, for a girl who was mute, having increasing volumes seemed painfully paradoxical to me! Certainly, I had no desire to go back and read the earlier volumes in this series when this one in particular had failed to stir me at all. I should say I've never been a fan of that style of Manga which features girls with such ridiculously large eyes, or in which all of the characters look decidedly western rather than Eastern. I do not know why they do this, but I don't like it. So in short I was disappointed in this and cannot commend it.


Real by Takehiko Inoue


Rating: WARTY!

I've not had a lot of success with Manga. Reading a book 'backwards' doesn't come naturally to me(!), but I've made it through one or two that have proven themselves to be worthy reads. This one wasn't. I'd thought it might be interesting given that it features a wheelchair-bound protagonist, but it's not a story about a person with a handicap. It's a story about basketball which happens to feature a person with a handicap. That's not the same thing and the book suffers for it.

Now I know you can argue that it should not be about the handicap - and I agree that far. You can argue that it should be about basketball, and I agree that far, but if you're going to write about basketball and just put one of your characters in a wheelchair and not write about that at all, then what have you done other than to gratuitously include a person with a disability merely for the sake of it? (And that's sayk, not saky! LOL!)

While the wheelchair shouldn't dominate the story unless there's really something weird going on, like a wheelchair version of Stephen King's Christine (which I haven't read), then the wheelchair has to have a role in the story just like any other character because it's either a character or it's a cynical and cheap attempt at diversity without having a thing to say about diversity. Aside from that issue, the story was boring. It didn't offer anything new and worse, it was hard to follow what the hell was actually going on here at times, so I ditched this pretty quickly, especially when skimming through more pages didn't offer me any hope that the story would improve.


Cinderella Screwed Me Over by Cindi Madsen


Rating: WARTY!

I'm not opposed to chick lit and I've read a bit of it myself although it's not my first choice of genre, but quite honestly this was the worst kind of chick lit - arguably anti-#MeToo. I didn't read much of it, but to me it looked like the only connection it had to Cinderella was that the girl met her tediously predictably hunky guy when her stiletto heel got stuck in a crack between floorboards in this restaurant she frequents and in which this guy is part owner.

Her shoe comes off of course and he hands it back to her, but instead of leaving it to her to put it on, he puts his hand on her hip - not her arm or shoulder, or offers her his own arm for balance, but uninvited, he puts his hand on her hip 'to steady her', and she gets the wilts and the vapors. I'm immediately thinking, "I'm outta here. This is not my literature!" so I gave up on it. At only a few pages in.

Despite having a professional job in an office, this girl did not come off as very smart to me. She automatically assumed this guy was a liar when he told her he was part owner of the restaurant, like she was an expert on the place just because she eats there often. Neither is she the impoverished stepsister, so what this had to do with Cinderella, I have no idea. All I had actually needed to know is whether it was trespassing on my Cinderella territory or I on its, and the answer to that was a resounding 'no!' The story's nothing like what I'm writing so I fortunately don't need to be concerned with it at all, which is great, because I certainly didn't want to continue reading it.

I don't get why so many female authors so frequently subject their main characters to manhandling by strange men and then instead of becoming annoyed at it, turn to Jell-O. It sucks and it needs to stop. These two 'girls' were in the restaurant at the time of the shoe incident, so it probably wouldn't have been hard for the guy to quickly grab a chair from a nearby table. If they'd done that and she'd sat down and asked him to put the shoe on for her, that might have brought it a bit more in line with Cinderella and certainly been more socially acceptable and even romantic, but this author doesn't get it, and that's a problem. It might have been better yet if the guy had been part owner of a shoe store rather than a restaurant so he'd be naturally helping her to try-on shoes.

I didn't get how being a part owner fo a restaurant made him any kind of a prince either, unless the restaurant was Burger King! LOL! But as it happens, I really don't care because this story was trashy pap and not worth anyone's time. Readers need to demand better. Much better. More original, better written, more intelligent, and with real people instead of antique Barbie and Ken dolls.


A Dark Inheritance by Chris D'Lacey


Rating: WARTY!

Read rather oddly by Raphael Corkhill, this was another audiobook which started out really well and then Le Stupide set in big time. I had thought I was going to get through it unscathed, but it was not to be. About two-thirds the way in, it went south with the ducks - and normally I like ducks. Some of my best friends are...not ducks, but anyway, to see them in the southbound lane was still rather sad. Duck asses are not the most engaging of sights.

The initial premise was an interesting one and the story changed up periodically so it did not quickly become boring, but the more I listened, the less the story seemed to have a plan to go anywhere. It wasn't until later that I discovered why. The main character was so passive as to be tedious, as was his momma! Worse than this, I discovered by skipping to the end after I'd given up on it, that this novel is part of a series, of which there is zero indication whatsoever on the book cover, so the publisher is outright lying to readers and I will not countenance that.

This explains why this novel never was interested in going anywhere. The author gave up that motivation when he decided to thinly-stretch material sufficient for one book into a trilogy or more. Michael learns nothing - not even how to control his ability, and he never does learn a damned thing about his father because this is not a novel, it's a prologue.

By accident, this semi-orphan with the uninventive name of Michael Malone discovers that he has the ability to not so much change reality as to be able to switch between realities in a multiverse. He can only do this at first when under stress, which is how he does it the first time. His new reality is always very similar to the old one with some minor changes, but the important thing is that he's supposed to be able to switch to one which conforms to some idea he has of the kind of reality he wants to live in.

Michael is seventeen. A kid of that age ought to be at a point in life where he has some self-motivation and some idea of what he wants out of life, along with a few grown-up thoughts here and there, but none of this is true with Michael who acts more like he's thirteen. He has no excitement or curiosity whatsoever about his magical power and shows no inclination at all to investigate it or to try to use it to put himself into a reality where his father is back with the family, and the villains are out of his life. He'd evidently much rather attend his own self-pity party.

These villains arrive suddenly in the form of a young French woman and an older German man by the name of Klimt. We never learn how they latched on to Michael, but apparently it's through his missing father who evidently had some of the same abilities as Michael does. Klimt wants to use Michael for some purpose of his own and holds the carrot of finding Michael's father and the stick of changing Michael's reality into something horrible. These people are from the "Unicorne" society and Michael at one point discovers he's been inducted into it while he was unconscious after an bike accident. Now he has now has a black Unicorne tattoo, which covers a spot in his skin where he has, he's informed, been injected with a microchip for the purpose of tracking him not only in this reality, but in others, too.

Michael shows zero anger at this, zero curiosity about how he can disable the chip, and no amusement at how pathetic it is that this secret society blatantly advertises its existence with this unusual tattoo. This was my first adverse reaction to the story. If this had been a middle grade novel, then I could probably have countenanced this , but for a young adult novel it was pathetic at best. There are ways to write that do not make your characters look limp, or stupid, and your story amateur, but this author is apparently too lazy or unimaginative to think of them, hence his penchant for writing series with uninventive titles. That coupled with the laziness and lack of imagination inherent in writing a series is enough to avoid this author like the plague from now on. I expect a lot better from a university-educated writer. Or maybe that's the problem.

It got worse when the story began to drag with little-to-nothing happening. At one point Michael is hit by a car when riding his bicycle and ends up in a private hospital where the doctor is of course Klimt, and the nurse is this same French girl. On top of this there are two police detectives investigating the car accident, yet they are literally grilling Michael over matters that are totally irrelevant to what happened and neither Michael nor his mother objects to this line of questioning. That immediately said "Dumbasses" to me, and it's where I quit being interested in this purportedly young adult, but more like middle grade or younger story.

I skimmed to the end, and discovered that the book has no resolution whatsoever, and so is merely a prologue to volume two. I don't do prologues, and I do not accept books like this one. I would have rated this negatively for treating readers like mushrooms (keeping them in the dark and feeding them bullshit) if it hadn't already failed me. The book is poorly written and is a rip-off. I dis-recommend it.


Thursday, May 2, 2019

Ella the Slayer by AW Exley


Rating: WARTY!

"Let me give you a leg up then" says the young Duke to Ella at one point after they have just met at the beginning of this story, as she is about to mount her horse. His hands are all over her and her legs are jelly. Hell no! FUCK NO! What the hell is wrong with AW Exley that she thinks this is anything more than pure YA weak protagonist garbage? After the disastrous Nefertiti's Heart, I should have learned my lesson and never picked up another Exley as long as I lived, but there I went and here it goes, into the garbage. I guess I can at least say I got what I paid for, since this was a free offering in a book flyer and I was interested because I've had my own focus on Cinderella recently.

The blurb didn't make this clear, but this book is nothing but a Zombie apocalypse, written in the mold (take that word either way) of books like Jane Slayre and others. Ella, of course, is the femme fatale, and the Duke is the guy whom she needs to validate her because she's nothing but a princess in desperate need of a prince. Barf. It's young adult trash and it's not even worth the free price. Warty to the max. Plus it's not even a novel, it's a prologue to a series. Double barf.


Criss Cross by Lynn Rae Perkins


Rating: WARTY!

Having had success with two previous LRP novels, I ventured into this audiobook (read adequately by Danielle Ferland) with high hopes which were soon dashed. This novel won the 2006 Newbery Medal for excellence in children's literature, an assessment with which I beg to disagree. I normally void Newberys like the plague because - apart from one or two very rare exceptions, I've been almost consistently bored to tears with them, and this was no exception. It seems to me that Newberys are awarded based on how tediously boring a novel is, and from that perspective this one certainly earned it.

It's called Criss Cross because it's a mess. It makes you cross and then it makes you curse. Worse, it jumps around like a - what was the term that Elvis used in All Shook Up? Oh yeah, like a catfish pole-dancing (or something on those lines, I'm sure, but I;m fishing here...). Actually, the best version I've heard of that song was by Suzie Quatro who really knew which poles on a catfish to hook up to make it jump, and they're all positive. It was written by African-American song-writer Otis Blackwell, who also penned classics such as Fever (yes, that one!), Great Balls of Fire, and Don't be Cruel, which in my amateur opinion was best done by Billy Swan. But I digress.

This story jumped around between several characters which is almost, but not quite, guaranteed to annoy me. I like to read about a character I can invest in, but when all you get is julienned character cameos in this kind of a story, you really don't care about them that much - leastways I don't. If I'd known previously that Kirkussed Reviews had described this novel as a "tenderly existential work" I would have skipped it without hesitation. Since Kirkustomarily never has a criss cross word to say about any novel, their assessment is utterly worthless, so when they lard-up a review with this pretentious drivel, it's assuredly garbage.

So, in short, I can't recommend this because I couldn't commend it in the first place.


Hinges Book 1: Clockwork City by Meredith Mclaren


Rating: WARTY!

This graphic novel was a fail for me because it was unintelligible. I had no idea, for the most part, what the hell was going on because there was very little dialog, no narration, and the images while engagingly drawn, were far from crystal clear in terms of what exactly was supposed to be happening in any given frame.

It was supposed to be a clockwork city, but none of these characters ever seemed like they needed winding up. The author seemed more interested in winding up the reader. The characters had visible joints in some images, like they were mechanical, but none in others. This one girl out of the blue is put front and center with no explanation as to who she is, where she came from, or why she's there.

She's told she needs an 'Odd' with no explanation as to what exactly that is or why it's needed. It's a small character like a child's plush toy, but is alive. Why she picks the one she does and why that's a problem isn't explained. Why she even needs a job and why she's so wrong for the jobs available is a mystery. For that matter, everything is a mystery and I quickly lost interest, because the biggest mystery was why the author wasn't interested in telling an engaging story. I had zero investment in the characters or the story, and I ditched it DNF. Life's too short. I can't commend this gray-scale graphic story based on about fifty percent of it that I read.


Goslings by JD Beresford


Rating: WARTY!

Read rather awkwardly by Matthew Brenher, this audiobook was a quick fail. I am not one for these end-of-the-world survivor stories, but this particular one seemed interesting from the blurb, which means only that the blurb did its job in luring me into picking up the thing.

Once I started listening to it though, it was boring. It was really nothing different from any other apocalypse story, and the characters were completely uninteresting to me. The story was too lethargic; I made it through less than ten percent before I ditched it back to the library in favor of something which wouldn't make me fall asleep listening, which would be disastrous when driving a car! I can't commend it based on my admittedly limited experience of it, but life is far too short to waste on books that don't do it for you right out of the gate.


Saturday, April 6, 2019

Dear Haiti, Love Alaine by Maika Moulite, Maritza Moulite


Rating: WARTY!

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

I had looked forward to reading this, but in the end I was very disappointed. There were problems with this novel from the very start and not just with the writing. The most noticeable was that this was evidently created as a print book and no thought whatsoever was given to the conversion to ebook. Submitting it in Amazon Kindle format was the first mistake. Amazon is renowned for trashing books when running them through its crappy kindle conversion process, and this one was a disaster. I've said this many times before and I will never tire of saying it until Amazon fixes it: unless your book is essentially plain vanilla, Amazon will trash it.

You can get away with bold fonts and italicized text, but the moment you start putting page headers in there, and drop caps, text box inserts, or any sort of special layout or formatting, and Amazon will destroy it, guaranteed. Never put images in it. Despite this being a given, no one evidently ever thinks to check if the resulting ebook is ready for Amazon Prime time. This one was not. I get that this was an advance review copy, but there is no excuse for the shoddy condition it was in. Evidently no one bothered to check it. This is on the authors and the publisher. I'm at the point now where I'm about ready to fail a book in review for something like this regardless of what else it has right or wrong about it, because I'm so very tired of seeing books in this condition having been mauled in the Amazon jungle.

It's not just a matter of the odd bit here and there having an issue. As writers, we all have to suck that up, but when a book is appallingly mashed-up by the conversion process (which is Amazon's forte as judged by the repeated problems with books I read in Kindle format), someone needs to check it and fix it before it goes out. Given that this was an ARC, there is plenty of time to fix it before it's published in September, but this is really no excuse for putting out a book for review that evidently hasn't even been so much as grammar- and spell-checked:

Here's an example: "...Twitter account I reserve for ratchetness and told them where they could shove keep their opinions." There is a spelling error and a grammatical error right there. Right after this there was a whole section turned red - that is to say a red font as opposed to black. I often see red sections in Kindle format books, usually in the end papers at the beginning - which would be the beginning papers, right? These things make me see red because there's no excuse for them. In this book though, there were random red paragraphs all over the book. I have no idea what it is in Amazon's evidently sloppy and substandard conversion process which causes these, but it would have taken only a cursory glance through the book to see that there was a serious quality problem.

Here's a grammar problem that was evidently caused by a sentence being written one way, changed to sound a little different, and then never re-read to make sure it made sense: "I said she could just show up and show out be herself." Say what? Whether this was caused or contributed to by the fact that this novel had two writers, I do not know. I have often thought it would be nice to have a co-writer, because in addition to spurring on your partner, each of you could catch the other's mistakes, but from the evidence here, it doesn't work that way!

Another example is "...they replavced her presentation with a chat about resolving disputes..." which ostensibly is an attempt to mash two words (repaved and replaced) into one! Inventive, but not good English! I rather suspect though that it was a typo, 'V' and 'C' being next-door-neighbors on the keyboard. This is why I believe a final spellcheck/grammar check was never done on this novel before it was submitted to Net Galley for us poor reviewers who merit only the ebook!

Following are a couple of examples of the poor formatting created by Kindle conversion process; in both of them, the page header and number has been meshed with the text of the novel:

The guests included the usual round
DEAR HAITI, LOVE ALAINE 21
table setup plus a congressperson or two.
This next one had both the header mesh and a red section:
"[pause]
BEAUPARLANT: Exactly. So, when the public hears rumors of expensive dinners at Zuma and court
DEAR HAITI, LOVE ALAINE 45
side Miami Heat seats on their dime..."
The portion beginning 'BEAUPARLANT' and ending with 'court' was all in blood red! And these were all in the first fifth of the novel.

In this example, the page header cuts right into the middle of the word!

in my hands, shak
102 MAIKA MOULITE & MARITZA MOULITE
ing my head
Clearly something is wrong here.

When I got to around twenty percent, this red paragraph issue had become more than an aberration; it was so bad that I chose not to continue wrestling with a book that I wasn't even enjoying in the first place. I'm not a fan of experimental fiction and this felt like it. I'm not a fan of stories which are largely texting messages, or chat room exchanges or which incorporate large portions of such. I don't think it's edgy, I think it's tired and lazy writing. This book didn't go in for that so much as it went in for including the full text of emails, school event programs, transcripts, and that kind of thing. I quickly took to skipping these sections entirely and you know, it made no difference to my understanding of what was going on! So why include them? To me it's just lazy writing.

Because, I suspect, of these attempts to be cutting edge, the story became somewhat incoherent in places, and here I'm talking about what took place in the narrative flow of the text, not the parts where there were disruptive intrusions by emails and newspaper articles and so on. Skipping those parts actually made the story more coherent to me, but maybe that's just me.

The plot is about this one high-school girl, Alaine Beauparlant, a name which I thought was a bit much given she wants to be a journalist and her mother is a TV talk show host. Handsome-speaking? Really? Anyway, having been dissed in school by another girl in a very public way, Alaine reacts in kind, and gets punished for her misdemeanor while the other girl gets off scot-free. The other girl's behavior was without question outright bullying, yet she had no disciplinary action imposed on her while Alaine is suspended?! It's not authentic. Either that or Alaine attends a really, really bad school which didn't seem that way from what I read of it.

I never made it as far as Alaine's suspension. This was yet another novel set in a high-school where bullying is rampant and there is no accountability. I don't doubt that there is bullying in schools unfortunately, but reading about it in yet another YA story is getting very old, and it was only one of many tired tropes employed here. I'm also tired of stories where the girl needs to have the handsome beau, like no woman is sufficient on her own; she has to have her prince charming to validate her. This book could have done quite well without "Tati's distractingly cute intern." We need to have a #MeNeither movement to encourage writers to write about women who don't need men to get what they want out of life and get where they want to go. Maybe it should be tagged #MenOptional.

There was another disturbing issue here and this is a small spoiler, so be warned. Alaine's mother starts acting strangely very early in the story and this is apparently due to Alzheimer's. Alzheimer's usually hits late in life. Only about five percent of cases are early-onset, and sufferers don't typically become violent until late stage, and then only in extremis. While there is always room for aberrations, this story felt unrealistic in its approach to Alzheimer's, which didn't help its case with me. Just saying!

I wish the authors all the best with their career, but I could not get with, and cannot commend, this novel. It wasn't where it needed to be for my taste. If it had started with Alaine arriving in Haiti, cutting out all the high school BS that came before, it might have been be an improvement, but for me it wasn't working at all, and I chose to move on to something more engaging and more realistic.


Thursday, April 4, 2019

Malinche, Pocahontas, and Sacagawea by Rebecca K Jager


Rating: WARTY!

Subtitled "Indian Women as Cultural Intermediaries and National Symbols," this book turned out to be completely wrong for my purposes and from the little I read of it, it felt to me to be completely wrong when it came to the purpose the author evidently intended it to serve. It seemed abusive to me in a way, in ascribing two, three, or four hundred years on, motives to women whose motives were never considered important at the time, so we have no idea what moved them to do the things they did, and we most certainly no grounds to ascribe high-flying reasons for their behavior.

The book does talk about the mythology that has built-up around these woman and discusses the roots and aims of that in some detail, but that aspect of their story as viewed today seems to me to be so painfully obvious as to be a fruitless exercise in pursuing it more. People have used these women for their own ends whether those ends were supposedly noble or malign. Of that there is no doubt, but the book seems like it wants to go beyond all that to view them in hindsight as cross-cultural ambassadors and I don't agree that's what they were. They were certainly not at the time, and ascribing such a role to them in hindsight seems pointless to me. It seems like it's just as abusive to them as people were in their own lifetime by disrespecting and using them in much the same way that people have done ever since.

The simplest solution to me is that these women acted in their own best interest, and in the interest of the foreigners for whom they may have developed feelings of affection, respect, or love. It's a perfectly human motive, and it's not superhuman. Malinche, who aided Hernán Cortés during the Spanish take-over of central America in the sixteenth century had been treated shabbily by her own people and was respected by the Spanish, so it's entirely unsurprising that she had switched loyalty and wanted to help those who had treated her better than her own people had. There is no overriding nationalist motive here, anti or otherwise. These women had no great plan. They had none of the hindsight we have today, to see where this was going. They were merely doing what they saw as best in their circumstances at the time.

The same 'motive' applies to Matoaka (aka Pocahontas) and Sakakawia (aka Sacagawea). Matoaka was a child and came to the Jamestown village because it was exciting and new, and there were new playmates to interest her. She was not a princess. She did not represent her father. She had no great diplomatic aspirations. Yes, she came often with gifts of food, but there's nothing recorded to show that this was her idea as opposed, say, to her father's idea. Maybe she talked her father into it, maybe not. We don't know! Maybe she was no more than a spy for her father, infiltrating the English camp and reporting all she saw back to dad. We don't know!

The great life-saving story that John Smith belatedly related was in my opinion pure fiction, and there's an end to it. He'd used the same story before in a different context. And Disney ought to be ashamed of themselves for dishonestly portraying it as a love story, but since when have they cared about historical accuracy, or about integrity in retelling ancient fairytales?

Sakakawia started out in very much the same as Malinche, being kidnapped at a young age and sold or traded off. Her life followed a somewhat less abusive trail than did Malinche's but they were both torn from their roots and were sharp enough women to make it work for them. My own personal feeling about Sakakawia isn't that she saw herself as a great diplomat either, but that she enjoyed new adventures and may well have talked her way into being the one wife of Charbonneau who went on this excursion merely because she relaly wanted to go. She had no great ambition to be a bridge between peoples and to pretend now that she was is farcical!

So I can't take a so-called 'scholarly work' like this seriously, I really can't, and I certainly cannot commend it as a worthy read.


Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Summerlost by Ally Condie


Rating: WARTY!

This is a story of a summer where Cedar Lee grows up and processes long dormant feelings about the death of her father and her younger brother Ben in a car accident. Moving back to the small town of Iron Creek for the summer, Cedar finds work at a local renaissance faire where plays are put on. She works a concession stand and helps with wardrobe. Her new friend Leo made this possible, and as they grow in their friendship, they also share a common interest in local actor who died mysteriously after a hotel-room encounter with her former husband.

I haven't had good experiences with this author. Her Matched was so god-awful I couldn't finish it. It was so delusional that I renamed the author Ally Contrick. The story was "utterly ridiculous, nonsensical and profoundly stupid" (from my own review back in December of 2015). The main character in that book was so juvenile and shallow as to be a joke.

This story was a much better one, but let's face it, it would be truly hard to write one worse than Matched (which frankly ought to be matched, or rather torched, with some tinder and gasoline). The problem with this one was that the story really didn't move. Consequently, it became tedious and I quickly lost interest in it. I cannot commend it and I'm truly done with this author.


The Man Who Was Thursday : a Nightmare by GK Chesterton


Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook in which I did not progress very far - about thirty three percent. I'd never read anything by Chesterton and decided to give him a try. So from this encounter, I've learned that I can strike him from my list of potentially interesting authors! His writing was rather pompous and overblown, which is I guess how they wrote back in 1908. That doesn't mean I have to like it though! The book's language and style reminded me somewhat of Ian Fleming, who coincidentally was born in the same year this novel was published.

The story is rather allegorical, and the plot seemed like it might be entertaining, with a philosopher joining a secret organization within the police aimed at overthrowing anarchy. Gabriel Syme is recruited to this organization right after he gets an inside track into a secret anarchist society via an acquaintance, Lucian Gregory. In the society, each of the seven leaders is named after a day of the week. The Thursday position is up for election - which struck me as curiously ironical for an anarchic organization! They have elections??? Anyway, after Gabriel informs Lucien that he is a police officer, the latter becomes nervous and flubs his chance of election, and Gabriel is elected himself, only to discover that all of the seven positions are occupied by police spies!

Sorry, but I never made it that far because I could not get past the rather tedious writing style. I can't commend this based on my experience of it and I definitely don't want to read any more GK Chesterton.


The Replacement by Brenna Yanoff


Rating: WARTY!

This was my first and last Brenna Yanoff. The story started out sounding like it was heading somewhere, but it never did! At least it had not by halfway through which is where I abandoned it out of boredom. Main character Mackie Doyle is some sort of elf or fairy who was left in the crib of the real Mackie years before. Mackie knows he isn't human. He suffers daily and reacts badly to iron, so the entire first half of the novel is him whining about how bad his life is.

I kept thinking that something was going to happen - something had to happen - to change or bring change, but it never did. The closest it came is when someone in the know told him that he was dying, but even that didn't seem to be the kick in the pants this story needed badly, and that was where I quit it. At that point I would have been happy had he died, since I have better things to do with my time than listen to a main character whine almost non-stop about his life. Maybe if he had died, a more interesting person would have stepped up and told their story, but I didn't care by then. This book sucked. Period.


Eloise by Kay Thompson


Rating: WARTY!

I saw an Eloise movie a while back and it was passably enjoyable, but nothing spectacular. Now having listened to most of these three short stories on this audiobook: Eloise first published in 1955, Eloise at Christmastime (1958), and Eloise in Moscow (1959), I am not impressed at all.

Why the collection did not include the fourth one, Eloise in Paris from 1957 I do not know, but it undoubtedly would have been as bad as the others, so no big loss. As it was, this was more than enough to bore me, which was unexpected since I had enjoyed the movie and the stories were read by Bernadette Peters who I loved as an actor. The problem with that was that Bernadette was in her late sixties when she read these and sounded like it, so it made the first person Eloise stories totally unbelievable.

The first story was tediously repetitive and juvenile in its approach. It made Eloise look like she was four instead of the more mature girl she supposedly was. The Christmas story was written in verse and was boring. The Moscow story was another short story that had Eloise sneaking into people’s rooms at night. I gave up on it at that point. No. Just no. I cannot commend this because it was simply awful: written poorly, read by an inappropriate reader for the character, and the stories had nothing interesting to offer.


Prism by Austin Bay


Rating: WARTY!

I could not get into this at all and I DNF'd it quite quickly. The problem for me is that this story was all over the place and it never seemed to be going anywhere. I could not get interested in any of the characters or the plot, and despite pressing on past my point of disappointment, I couldn't find anything to draw me in. I began skimming and reading at various points to see if things improved or if I could find something to hook me, but it didn't happen, so I gave up on it.

Purportedly set in the near future, the world has progressed to "mental warfare." To me this ought to have signaled major changes in the world, but judged from the first few chapters, the world seemed to be going on much as it is today, and the shtick of calling in a retired expert to solve a problem is very old and very tired. If you're going that route you really need to bring something new to the pot and this did not. Even the names of the characters seemed worn-out, and not the least bit inventive. The villain is Coleman Oswald Mosley? Really? The main character is Wes Hardin? Honestly? Not for me and I can't commend it based on what I saw of it.


Killashandra by Anne McCaffrey


Rating: WARTY!

This is the second volume in a trilogy and exemplifies why I have such a poor track record with series and why I flatly refuse to even think of writing a series myself. The problem is that, with some rare and treasured exceptions, the second volume must of necessity be a repeat of the first, because it's all you have. Yes, you can bring in new characters, but you're still stuck with the same original character you're writing about, who is going to do largely the same things. It's boring, lazy, and uninventive, and I don't feel that ought to be rewarded.

I really enjoyed Crystal Singer, the first volume, which is why I moved on to the second one, but here's where it predictably fell apart. I should have quit after volume 1! Killashandra is a crystal singer - or cutter. She 'mines' crystal by cutting it with a sonic knife on a cliff face, and in the first novel she found herself a nice claim which had a vein of black crystal. So valuable was it that she got to visit another planet and install the crystal in a communications system. Now in order to try and change-up this story for volume two, the author had her do almost exactly the same thing. Instead of black crystal, which had somehow been tragically lost in a planetary storm, she was mining white crystal - and sure enough he had to go off planet to install it in a system. Same old, same old....

This losing of her invaluable black crystal open-face 'mine' made zero sense. Yes, even give that a violent wind storm could wreck her mine face - which is a stretch - this crystal was so valuable and useful that it was unthinkable there would not have been a major effort to uncover that vein again, so premise was fouled right there. But having her repeat the first story - mine the crystal, escort it to another planet and install it? Boring.

The author tried to change this up by having a ridiculously conformist society whereas Killashandra is a bit of a rebel of course, and have an assassination plot. Yes, Killashandra was hit by what had evidently been an intended three-pronged bolt of death come at her, which she escaped with only minor injury.

Later when she snuck off without her escort, she was kidnapped and abandoned on a remote island. Why did this assailant try to kill her and then when he had her in his clutches, simply abandon her on an island instead of killing her as he had originally intended? It made no sense. But it got worse. She managed to escape from this and get back to society, but coincidence of coincidences, she ran right into the very same man who had tried to kill her and then had abducted her. He didn't recognize her - the most famous woman on his planet - because she now had a suntan. What? But it got worse. She got the hots for him - for her attempted killer and kidnapper. I'm sorry but no! Fuck no! This story sucked and I'm done with this author.


Strangers in Paradise vol 1 by Terry Moore


Rating: WARTY!

I came to this by way of reading another graphic novel, Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe, which I had enjoyed. They liked this series a lot, but we'll have to disagree on it, because I found it unappealing and unoriginal. This black and white line-drawing affair (illustrated decently by the author) is about the tangled relationship between Francine and Katchoo, who are roommates, David, who is interested in Katchoo (who appears only interested in Francine), and Casey, who married and then divorced Francine's ex, and later became interested in both David and Katchoo.

It felt like the TV show Friends, only rather desperately fortified with sex, and I never was a fan of Friends, which bored the pants off me, and not even literally. I felt that was one of the most stupid and fake TV shows I've ever had the misfortune to accidentally see a part of. I read most of the first volume of this graphic series, and found it completely uninteresting, with nothing new, funny, entertaining, or engaging to offer. That's all I have to say about this particular graphic novel.


Art Makers: Polymer Clay for Beginners by Emily Chen


Rating: WARTY!

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

I'd never heard of polymer clay and I don't consider myself an artist, but art interests me and has done more so since I started this childrens' picture book series of mine, so anything out of my experience zone tends to attract my attention.

For the most part, this book was well-written and very informative, colorfully illustrated and explained in detail where necessary. This 'clay' is made from polyvinyl chloride or PVC. The water that comes into your house and the waste you flush away more than likely runs through PVC pipes, and the electricity you use more than likely runs through cables insulated with PVC. Polymer clay is treated in various ways with 'plasticizers' to render it into modeling clay. You will need to work it to get it soft and ready to mold into whatever shapes you want, but once it's 'loosened up' it's just like clay. When heat-treated though, instead of melting or drooping, it hardens and retains its shape; it's rather like baking ceramic or pottery. It also retains its color. This makes it perfect for making items you want to keep and even use, such as jewelry. You could make buttons for your clothes and other useful items such as, for example, the pieces for a chess game - and even the chessboard itself!

The author shows many techniques and steps the reader through making a variety of items, some of which look good enough to eat - such as fake chocolate chip cookies and a fruit flan that, when done properly, looks very realistic. Polymer clay comes in a variety of bright colors and it mixes readily with other colors to blend shades. There are also varieties you can get which make for a semi-translucent or a pearlescent finish. You can, as the author explains, add other materials to the clay to change appearance, and make a more matte finish to your project. The clay remains workable until 'cured' by heating at relatively low temperatures in an ordinary oven, but perhaps a dedicated oven might be a better bet, or an alternate heating technique. Here's why.

The author doesn't mention this, which for me was a big no-no, but there are certain health risks associated with long-term use of certain types of polymer clay - specifically those which contain more than 0.1% of any of a half-dozen specific chemicals known as phthalates. This is why polymer clay isn't a good material for making children's toys or for making items which might be used as food containers. I understand that the manufacturers of this clay have sought to remove such plasticizers from the clay since 2008, but it's always a good idea to be fully aware of what it is you're working with and what the risks are, which is why I would have preferred at least a mention of this in the book.

I found this an inexcusable omission in that this was not mentioned at all. I also understand from reading around on the topic, that the clay doesn't necessarily need to be baked - it can be heat treated with a hair dryer, dryer for example, or put into very hot water and left for a time to harden that way. Given that some formulations of polymer clay could exude hydrogen chloride gas when heated, the water idea seems like a safer bet to me, but maybe more modern formulations of the clay do not have this problem.

The fact is that I don't know, and the author made no mention of this in this book. I think this was a serious omission and which is why I am not recommending this book. The author also neglected to mention pricing, which can vary and change over time, I know, but a rough price-range would have been nice as a guide. A dedicated oven (an old toaster oven will do) might cost around $70. The clay itself costs about a dollar an ounce, or perhaps more from a brief survey I did, and a hand pasta roller - which you can use to work the clay and make it malleable prior to modeling, will be around $30, although you can work it by hand or even with a rolling pin, I guess; then you would not want to use that rolling pin for food, so a dedicated roller is also wise.

So while this book did offer hints, tips and advice about getting started, the lack of any sort of pricing or safety warnings made it a fail for me, and I cannot commend it. It may well be that safety concerns have been reduced with newer formulations of this material, but still a note of caution would have been wise I felt, especially if (for all I know) there may be 'cut price' older formulations of this material out there. Hopefully there are not!


Friend or Fiction by Abby Cooper


Rating: WARTY!

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

This is an odd and lethargically moving story about young Jade whose father is in remission from cancer, and who is so lonely and at a loss in life that she invents a friend for herself through writing down all the pertinent details in her notebook, unfortunately not many details are pertinent to Jade, and she never seems to grasp the import of this. Consequently I grew a strong dislike of Jade the more I read of this and by eighty percent in, I could not stand to read any more of her and I quit the novel.

In writing in her precious notebook, Jade creates a best friend named Zoe, who is so close to her that the two can almost read each other's thoughts. They get along famously, and have the best times together; then Zoe appears in real life, moving into the house across the street, just like in Jade's original story. Jade discovers that whatever she writes in the book happens in her life with Zoe.

The biggest problem with this book for me is that it never went anywhere. Jade did the same kind of things every day even after Zoe showed up. She went through the same motions, and never seemed to grow; never seemed to change. It was Zoe who began to change, going beyond what Jade had written for her. And that was part of my problem with Jade. She was so annoyingly self-centered and focused on her own needs. I kept thinking, hoping, she would start to see the light, but she never did and by eighty percent it had grown super tiresome reading the same story over and over again.

Everything was about Jade and despite getting multiple signs that things were wrong with her relationship with, and control of Zoe, Jade was too dumb to figure it out. Zoe has only what things Jade has written - nothing more, nothing less, and even when Jade learns this she makes no effort whatsoever to set things right. Zoe herself never seems to think there’s anything wrong with this relationship. This held true way past the halfway point in the novel and by then this repetitive pattern was mind-numbingly tedious.

Perhaps the worst thing about Jade though was that she was so selfish that she never thought of using her magical writing ability to help her family. Her kid bother has some issue which is clear from the endless drawings he does of fighting a nameless 'bad guy'. The odd thing is that no one ever thinks this is odd, and Jade shows no interest in that or in helping him by adding something to her magical notebook to ease his concerns. Neither does she once think of helping her father, who admittedly is in remission from his cancer (presumably the 'bad guy' the boy is fighting in his pictures), but who is far from free and clear. It never even crosses Jade's mind that maybe she could fix this - she doesn't even experiment just to see. It's really deadening to read about someone whose mind simply doesn't function intelligently.

Another thing which bothered me is that Jade's English teacher, who commendably encourages Jade to write, actually read one of her stories about Zoe - and this was after Zoe had appeared in real life. Her comment was, "I think it’s so clever how you incorporated our new student into your story," but never once does she ask Jade if Jade had asked permission to write about Zoe. Not only was it really not clever incorporating a real living school friend in a fictional work, it was disturbing that the teacher never even offered so much as a cautionary note about incorporating classmates into your fiction without permission. It’s not like Jade was six years old. She was beginning the pathway to maturity and definitely needed some guidelines about what’s permissible and the importance of choosing the liberty not taken.

Jade is not a very proactive girl. She's very much passive, even when it comes to writing things that she thinks will help her relationship with Zoe. She came across as very shallow and not capable of standing up for herself, even when this really creepy guy at school steals her notebook and refuses to give it back to her for a whole weekend. She simply lets him have it, and never complains to anyone about it. He gives it back to her after the weekend, but she has to ask for it. Her passivity here was disturbing.

If this guy had been her best friend, that would be one thing - there would have been some level of implicit trust, and I could see then that she might let him get away with it, but she didn't even like this guy - in fact, she actively disliked him, yet she let him walk all over her. That's not the kind of girl I like to read about. I don't mind if a character starts out this way in a novel but I expect to see something happen - some change start taking place and when there is literally none in four-fifths of a novel a reader is highly justified in considering DNF-ing the book. I resented the fact that I had trusted the writer to make things happen and so kept reading. I will never get that wasted time back.

There were the usual technical issues with the kindle version of this novel caused by Amazon's crappy Kindle conversion process which will, I guarantee you, mangle your book if it has any pretentions beyond being plain vanilla in format and layout. This was obviously another book aimed at the print market without a single thought given to the ebook version, and it showed.

Admittedly it was an ARC which hopefully will improve before publication, but this ebook had multiple issues. A common one is that text lines would randomly end before they reached the right side of the screen and then resume on the next line while other lines go the whole way across the screen as you would expect, and I'm not talking about naturally short single lines, I'm talking about lines in the middle of a paragraph ending prematurely like they have a hard carriage return in the line.

Additionally, there were random letter V's in the middle of the text. I ahve no idea what that was all about but it's typically what will happen when your print version has page headers (such as book title on one side and author name on the other for example). Kindle will put these right into the text, because Amazon doesn’t care. Never has, never will. Why the book would have a single letter 'V' as a header, I do not know, but this frequently appeared in the middle of the text on a line on its own, breaking up the flow of the test, such as:

V
needed a little more time. Maybe you couldn’t rush real happy feelings.
But maybe you couldn’t write them into happen
ing, either. ≈
"I’d like to make a toast,"

Don't ask me what that 'almost equal to' math symbol (the wavy equals sign) is doing there! That was a common occurrence, and I can only assume it’s a section marker where the author used ≈ instead of the more technically correct §. Authors use all kinds of things to denote a break in the text, but Kindle didn't respect this here and it rarely does, so instead of appearing on its own line in the center of the line as it ought, it appeared as you see it above along with the random bolding of that penultimate line!

If Kindle can screw up your ebook, trust me, they will. This process also mangled chapter headings. You cannot use drop caps and expect Kindle to know what to do with them. Amazon will mangle them with relish. So, for example, chapter three was titled 'More Than Zero', and it began with the word 'The' but the 'T' was a drop-cap, so this is what Kindle did to it:

More Than
Z
3
ero
He lunch-is-over bell rang. Still clutching my
T
notebook,

Now that there is some seriously professional mangling. You have to hate literature to design a conversion process that will trash-up a chapter heading/beginning as badly as that. And no one does it better than the Amazon juggernaut. Again, DO NOT submit a novel to Amazon for conversion to ebook format unless it is pure plain vanilla text. Anything more than that, Amazon will destroy it because Amazon hates anything that looks individual or artistic. This is why they have their own format instead of using the standard format. It's because they want to control and homogenize everything, even how your novel looks. Barnes and Noble have their own issues, believe me, but at least they don’t predictably trash your writing. Yet Amazon rules. Go figure!

The Kindle conversion process also likes to randomly bold text as I mentioned, and even turn it red for reasons I cannot explain. The red text in this book appeared right before chapter one began. The random bolding appeared throughout the text as in the example above, where "ing, either. ≈" was bolded for no good reason.

Note that these are technical issues and nothing to do with the story itself, but I think a publisher and an author ought to take it upon themselves to give the ebook version a once-over to see if Amazon has ruined their novel, because Amazon does this routinely in my experience. This is one of several reasons why I personally will have no truck with Amazon publishing my work.

But judged on the story alone I cannot commend this as a worthy read. It was too slow and showed no sign of going anywhere by 80%, and that's when I decided I'd read mroe than enough to give this one a fair chance.