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

Friday, February 15, 2019

Peasprout Chen: Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien


Rating: WARTY!

The title of this audiobook amused the heck out of me and since I've had some success with oddly-titled middle-grade books recently, I thought this might make for a great read - or rather listen. The reader's voice wasn't bad at all, although a bit mature-sounding for the character.

The book started out decently, but rapidly went downhill. It's set in a pseudo-Asian world which is obviously China versus Japan, in which Peasprout Chen is coming in from China (called Shin here) to attend the prestigious Pearl Academy in Japan, where skating is available all year due to the fact that pearl is made from this slippery pearlescent material upon which ice skates work, so everyone skates everywhere, year-round.

That made for some interesting world-building, but even that ultimately fell short, and when the bullying began on day one, it was irritating to me. I stuck with it because I was interested in this martial art of Wu Liu - martial arts on skates! That sounded cool, but the descriptions of it given here aren't very evocative, and the endless competition was boring and absurdly dangerous from the young girls' perspective. It was too much, and had nothing to do with martial arts. It was merely performing ridiculous stunts, so there was little joy to be had there.

Peasprout and her kid brother Cricket - who isn't interested in Wu Liu at all, but in architecture - begin settling in and competing in the various tests they're given. For an academy, there appears to be precious little teaching going on. Everything is wrapped around this series of contests instead, so the story devolved into a series of girls bitching at each other and then competing in bizarre stunts which had nothing to do with learning and practicing martial arts. It was boring.

It was at this point that I began to realize that I really didn't like Peasprout at all. She was shallow and completely insensitive to her kid brother's needs. She was so focused on rivalry between her and other kids that it was pathetic.

At one point she breaks this special shock-absorbing dragon design on one of her skates (which is nowhere to be seen on the idiotic book covers), causing her problems, but despite the fact that she observes other kids tossing their blades into the trash after using then only once, it never occurs to her to grab a pair of those and use them on her own skates to replace the broken blade.

At one point she injures her knee, but instead of taking care of it, she allows herself to be goaded into a show of one-upmanship with some of her rivals and ends up injuring her knee further. In short, Peasprout is a moron. I don't mind if a character starts out dumb and wises up, but when they grow progressively dumber, I'm outta there. I DNF'd this one and cannot commend it as a worthy read.


The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty


Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook aimed at middle graders which didn't appeal to me. It started out well enough, but the more I read, the more I realized the author really didn't have any idea what she was talking about, and the plot was so inconstant as to be irritating. The reader's voice was way too mature for the character, and it was in first person too, which made it sound worse.

Lightning Girl isn't a super hero, although it would be a great name for one. When Lucy Calahan is struck by lightning at age eight, something in her brain is changed, and she suddenly becomes a math whiz. To my knowledge, no one who has been struck by lightning has ever become an autistic savant.

Lightning strikes are second in line behind flooding as causes of death by natural catastrophe, resulting in something like a death per week on average in the US. Survivors, far from having increased mental agility are likely to have it reduced, and math skills impaired. Victims who survive are more likely to experience problems with hearing and vision, and the myelin which sheathes nerves can also be damaged, leading to death long after the strike.

But this is pure fiction, and Lucy miraculous has no adverse physical effects whatsoever except for this math brilliance, but the author seems to confuse autistic savant syndrome with OCD, so Lucy has a series of oddball behaviors - normal for OCD sufferers, but seemingly out of line with the cause of her math skills. It made little sense to me. The outcome is that people perceive her as odd and she cannot make friends. Moving to a new school gives her a chance to hide her math brilliance and try to appear 'normal'.

Her grandmother is called 'Nana' here. Do kids in these books never ever, ever, ever call their grandparents grandpa and grandma? I just started another audiobook where grandfather is Poppy. Seriously? I know there must be some kids who use baby-names for their grandparents, but not everyone does! I guess authors of children's books never got that memo, huh, and kids never grow out of childish habits?

But I digress! Nana fails her granddaughter miserably by not telling anyone at the school about her condition. This results in all kinds of grief for Lucy, which means to me that Nana is guilty of a form of child abuse. The truth is that this book may as well not have adults in it for as little role as they play. Teachers are shown as bullies or uncaring about their kids which is frankly insulting and abusive of teachers, and parents have very little involvement in their kids' lives, evidently, in this author's world.

Far from celebrating her granddaughter's abilities, Nana plays along with hiding them, which is entirely inappropriate. It's one thing to exploit and abuse a gifted child by selfishly promoting them, but it's equally abusive to force, or at least enable, them into pretending they're something they're not.

The book involves a dog, too, which was just sickly sentimental and annoying to me. The dog is doomed, but not one grown-up ever sits down with Lucy and takes the time to explain to her why things are the way they are, which irritated the hell out of me. These adults were morons and abusive to this child. It's at that point that I DNF'd it.

Lucy gets on this team of three doing a school project, and the one girl, named Windy - not Wendy, but Windy - is a blabbermouth, and the boy, Levi, is simply a jerk. The trio were unprepossessing at best and uninteresting and laughable at worst. The story just lost me, and I gave up on it. Consequently I can't commend it as a worthy read.


Saturday, February 9, 2019

Hyacinth by Jacob Sager Weinstein


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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


Woman 99 by Greer Macallister


Rating: WARTY!

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

This story initially sounded interesting, but far from being a thriller as the blurb claims, it was slow-moving and had endless, tedious flashbacks which I took to skipping in short order because they were so boring and pointless. They had, from what I could see before I began skipping them, no bearing on the actual story, and served only to interrupt it with annoying regularity.

So, every few screens I would read how this girl would reassert her need to focus on finding her sister Phoebe and rescuing her from the asylum, but then she would predictably meander back to the la-la land of asylum minutiae, behaviors, and politics, rather than focus on how to find which ward Phoebe was in so she could contact her. When she wasn't lost in that, she was lost in the past. It quickly became tediously repetitive. Had Yoda been a doctor there he would have diagnosed her as "Never her mind on where she was; what she was doing."

Flashbacks, in my experience, are rarely contributory. I just think they represent poor writing and they also unnecessarily interrupt the story. There are better ways of referencing past events than simply stopping the story and irritating the reader with yet another info dump, especially if it's irrelevant which, in this case, was consistently true. The flashbacks did not relate to the current story at all. All they 'contributed' was to tell an irrelevant backstory of this girl's relationship with her sister and her fiancé and this other guy she had the hots for, so clichéd love triangle. Barf. And this wasn't the story that was advertised! It was certainly not the story I wanted to read.

Sometimes it began to sound like this girl was herself an unreliable narrator because in the current story she was dissing her fiancé, whereas in the backstory she seemed less antagonistic, but it was b-o-r-i-n-g, which is why I quit reading them. I never felt like I needed to go back and read any of the flashbacks to understand what was happening in the present so what was the point? The current story and the flashbacks seemed to be completely separate stories, and at no time in the current story did she ever refer back to anything that happened in the past.

In another instance of her schizophrenia, I read that on the one hand that "If I confessed the whole truth, I’d be sent back to my parents quick as a wink," and on the other, a mere few lines later she claims, "And if I didn’t do something drastic, all my days would be like this, for all the time to come." I'm sorry? Either she can get out of the asylum by confessing or she's stuck there no matter what! It can't simultaneously be both. The fact that she thinks it can be calls her own sanity into question!

There was another point where I began to think she truly was insane and this story about her going there to rescue her sister was something she made up to 'rationalize' her presence in the asylum. It crossed my mind is that her understanding of why her older sister was there was in error - that her sister had been put there because her fiancé had been having a relationship with her or something. But I honestly didn't care enough at that point about either of these possibilities to continue reading, and I DNF'd it at around the fifty percent mark.

The reason for this was that the current story wasn't much better than the flashbacks, quite honestly. When she found the room her sister was supposedly in, and snuck in to visit, the woman in there was not her sister, but some Russian woman who was using her sister's name. After an agonizing few pages with flashbacks, she finally figured out that her sister and this woman had swapped places. Then - and how she made this insane leap I do not know - she decided this woman had to be one of the Romanov family, so the story further descended into inanity and I gave up on it, having zero confidence that it would ever go anywhere interesting.

I wish the author all the best in her career, but I cannot in good faith commend this one based on the fifty percent of it I could stand to read. And BTW, the Romanovs are all accounted for: they all died in the end.


A Love Haunting by Suzi Albracht


Rating: WARTY!

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

I thought this might make for an interesting read, but I could not get into it at all. The haunting husband came off to me as a very selfish person, stalking his wife for his own needs and not expending an ounce of thought for her, and the writing style felt juvenile to me, like the kind of thing I would have written in my teens. It did not appeal to me at all.

The story is of Jordan, who is in a deadly car accident with his wife Emily, who was pregnant. Jordan is a doctor. Emily was planning on being a nurse. Jordan discovers he is still 'alive' after the accident and he doesn't present as being too smart at this point because it takes him forever to discover he's a ghost. From that point on, the story goes downhill. Everyone and their uncle can apparently see ghosts in this world, yet it takes an age before Jordan himself actually sees another ghost. When Luke comes along, he's unbearable. At least he was for me.

Luke is a skateboarder and his language simply nauseated me. Here's how Luke addresses Jordan when the two have barely met: "Jords, my man, the world is our oyster." No! Just no. That was when I quit reading this because I simply could not bear the thought of reading another word of Luke's dialog at all. Luke reminded me of that idiot guy Harry Ellis in the movie Die Hard who snorts coke and tries to negotiate with the terrorists - and is summarily shot by Hans Gruber. I was simultaneously wondering if this is how Luke met his end and begging for Gruber's ghost to show up and shoot Luke. He was obnoxious.

I'd been turned off the story prior to that though. Authors routinely dis nurses in stories where hospitals are featured as part of the story because it's all about the doctor, isn't it? As it happens, this appears to be the very theme of this story: Jordan's needs. So this novel went down that sewer when I read this grotesque insult: "I wanted to convince Allie to shoot bigger and become a doctor." Yes! The take-home message here is that nurses are substandard and contribute nothing compared with the doctor gods! Barf.

So I am sorry. I started out hoping for the best, but was more and more turned off by the story the further I read, and in the end I DNF'd it. I can't commend it as a worthy read based on my experience.


Manners and Mutiny by Gail Carriger


Rating: WARTY!

I read all four of this series and liked only the first two. I thought I was going to like this one until it became such a clichéd bore of a werewolf romance story that it made me want to vomit. I have no time for bullshit werewolf or vampire romances. This one promised not to be such a novel when it began. It was steampunk. Why authors feel the need to include vampires and werewolves in their steampunk tales is a complete and utter mystery to me, because it never works. The story always wants to be one or the other and is ruined by trying to make it both.

Sophronia is at a girls' finishing school based on an airship, but it's really a finishing school for female spies. That part was all well and good, but of course the author had to throw in a forbidden romance because no YA female main character is complete unless she has a demanding and pushy bad boy after her.

The guy's absurd name was Soap and he was a grease monkey on the airship - so, forbidden. Then the author evidently thought she had to up the ante, and she had Sophronia save Soap's life by begging the werewolves to bite him. Now Soap is a werewolf and even more forbidden, and far from being pissed at her for interfering in his life (or death), he now sees her action as a declaration of her love for him, and bizarrely thinks he owns her. Never once does Sophronia set limits or boundaries, because he pulls all sorts of entirely inappropriate behaviors on her and she gulps it down like a bitch in heat.

In short, the whole thing reeked. The author might have rescued it if she'd had anything going on other than the romance, but there was literally nothing happening that was worth the telling in the fifty percent of this that I could stand to read, and the romance was all this book had to offer. That was certainly not worth the telling. It's been done countless times before. Please, bring me an author with an imagination and some originality. I'm done with this one. I ditched it and moved on to something hopefully better, and which I felt certain couldn't possibly be any worse.


Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Ghost Knight by Cornelia Funke


Rating: WARTY!

I think I'm done reading Cornelia Funke because my results with her tend to be dissatisfactory. This was like the final straw. It's not that I haven't liked anything by her, but the ratio of successes to failures has been very poor for me and I am not a good member of the sunk cost fallacy club!

This novel, aimed at middle-grade, is about this eleven-year-old kid in England who gets sent to boarding school because of a conflict between him and his new stepfather. Way to go, mom - show the kid how much you love him by kicking him out in favor of your new husband!

So he goes off to school and starts fitting in, but at one point he realizes he can see ghosts, and these are not passive ghosts, but ghosts who have been for several centuries now, hunting down his family line and killing them off. I guess they haven't been very successful in their quest, because they still haven't wiped out the line - and how hard could that have been?

The kid recruits a girl who also attends his school and she believes him when he talks about murderous ghosts. At her suggestion, the guy also recruits a knight who died in mysterious circumstances even more centuries ago, and is looking to redeem himself. A ghost sword can kill a ghost right? Well, not if the ghost had an onion skin under his tongue when he was hung, because then he gets to relive his life several times over.

This audiobook got off to a slow start, redeemed itself somewhat, but then went downhill big time, and became utterly boring. I couldn't finish it, and I cannot commend it as a worthy read.


Unbelievable by Katy Tur


Rating: WARTY!

"Unbelievable" was a great title for this book because I could not believe how self-obsessed the author was. It was ostensibly about Trump's 2016 campaign for the White House, but the author (who read this audiobook herself, to her credit) was reporting more about herself than ever she was about Trump. I listened to about 20% of it before I lost patience with her.

She was one of, if not the, first to interview Trump before he ever became a serious candidate in the eyes of the media, and from that point on he took a dislike to her and would occasionally mention her name during his campaign speeches, knowing she would be there in the crowd somewhere, covering him. She felt at risk for her safety on at least one occasion after he'd called her out, and for no good reason other than that he carries a grudge to childish levels and doesn't care who he puts at risk in doing so.

So she pointed out a few of his inconsistencies and some of his dishonesty, double-speak, and disgraceful behavior, but because she made this account personal in a way that in some ways mirrored Trump's absurd habit of making it personal, we never got the objective and devastating coverage of his campaign of misinformation and disinformation that we would have, had more a more disinterested reporter written this. Like I said, I lost patience with her style of coverage, and I cannot commend this as a worthy read.


Sunday, February 3, 2019

Super Scientists by Anne Blanchard


Rating: WARTY!

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

This was a very confusing book because Net Galley has it listed as "by Anne Blanchard," as does the cover (with illustrations by "Tito") but the book itself internally lists it as "by Hervé Guilleminot & Jérôme Masi." Those latter two have written at least one book in this series, and I wonder if their names somehow got in there by mistake? It's very confused and one of many problems I ran into.

This initially seemed to me to be a neat and useful book giving brief details about well-known (at least to me!) and some lesser-known scientists, but the more I read of it, the less enamored I became. I was pleased by the inclusion of several female scientists, less pleased by the lack of scientists of color. I think that the problem is that the book focuses more on scientists of yesteryear, and less on more modern scientists. Carl Sagan is excluded, but Neil deGrasse Tyson is included, and I got the impression this was done solely to include a lone African-American scientist in the list (Brahmagupta is included and is a person of color, note, but he's Indian).

There were also multiple problems of errors in spellings or grammar in the text on the pages covering Darwin, Mendeleev,
Hawking, Tyson, and some others. On the Tyson page, for example, the text mentions gravity, but that refers to a movie title, so it should have an initial capital: Gravity. Strictly speaking, Einstein did not invent E=mc2, BTW, nor did he discover it. In fact he never used it in any of the papers which made him famous! He only made the formula famous by association.

To my knowledge it was first used by JJ Thomson around 1881, when he derived it inaccurately as E = 4/3mc2. Olinto De Pretto, an Italian, also derived it independently and equally inaccurately, but used 'v' instead of 'c' for the speed of light. It was used (although again with an error in it) by Friedrich Hasenöhrl before Einstein, and these people derived their work from earlier discoveries by such as Max Abraham, Oliver Heaviside, and Henri Poincaré.

There are confusing errors too, such as having Thales be the first to determine that the Moon merely reflected the sun's light, and then five or so pages later, having a different scientist, Zhang Heng, be credited with this primacy. This book definitely needs a serious effort at editing and correction. Some of the wording, such as that on Darwin's page is nonsensical. This may be because of translation errors or may be just sloppiness. Either way there is no excuse for it.

It brings together a brief assessment of the progress of science and the scientists who enabled it over the years:

  1. Thales
  2. Pythagoras
  3. Aristotle
  4. Euclid
  5. Archimedes
  6. Zhang Heng
  7. Hypatia
  8. Brahmagupta
  9. Avicenna
  10. Alhayzen
  11. Roger Bacon
  12. Nicolas Copernicus
  13. Galileo Galilei
  14. Johannes Kepler
  15. Isaac Newton
  16. William Harvey
  17. Rene Descartes
  18. Antoine Lavoisier
  19. Mary Anning
  20. Michael Faraday
  21. James Clerk Maxwell
  22. Charles Darwin
  23. Gregor Mendel
  24. Louis Pasteur
  25. Dmitri Mendeleev
  26. Ada Lovelace
  27. David Hilbert
  28. Marie Curie
  29. Ernest Rutherford
  30. Albert Einstein
  31. Neils Bohr
  32. Alfred Wegener
  33. Alan Turing
  34. Rosalind Franklin
  35. Vera Rubin
  36. Franchise Barre-sinuossi
  37. Tim Berners-Lee
  38. Stephen Hawking
  39. Neil deGrasse Tyson

I confess I am not sure what order the list is in exactly! Yes, it's chronological, but Tim Berners-Lee, who codified the World Wide Web, was born over decade after theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, yet he precedes him in the text, so maybe some chronology other than birth order is employed. That's a minor issue. You will notice that there is only 39 names in the list. This is because the fortieth is, inexplicably, the human genome project!<\p>

The single name most closely associated with that is Craig Venter, but evidently because he was running a private genome scan in competition with the public one, he gets no credit here. There are a lot of scientists who do not, including many of color who have made major contributions to science. Women are represented, but could be more so. Emmy Noether gets a mention, but not a page to herself, and Lise Meitner gets no mention at all, for example.

While as of this writing, no black scientist has won a Nobel prize (although many people of color have won one for endeavors outside of science) there are women and people of color who could have been mentioned for their contributions such as Samia Al-Amoudi, Alice Ball, Benjamin Banneker, Satyendra Nath Bose, George Washington Carver, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, Charles Drew, Joycelyn Elders, Ernest Everett, Sunetra Gupta, Indira Hinduja, Manahel Thabet, and so on.

I think this book could have done a lot better in its selection, and it certainly could have been a lot better edited. Given it is what it is, I cannot commend it as a worthy read.


Saturday, February 2, 2019

Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi


Rating: WARTY!

I'd heard of this author from one source or another but never read anything by her that I can recall until I listened to this audiobook. I made it to slightly over halfway through before I DNF'd it because of the fact that it was by turns irritating and engaging. On the one hand there were parts that were inventive and amusing (it's similar in outlook to Robert Rodriguez's Sharkboy and Lavagirl, although more magical and less action-adventure).

My problem with it was that the two main characters were simply not likeable. Alice is dumb and petulant, and I was willing to put up with this if she started showing improvement, which she did, before having a major relapse. That was it for me. Oliver was completely obnoxious from the start and he never did grow on me. The story is set in a land where magic is used, and Alice of course is the one without magic. Yes, she was Alice Potter in Wonderland. Her father has disappeared and Oliver makes a deal with her to enter a different land where he knows her father is, but he cannot free him without Alice's help, so the two set off.

All rules of logic and normality are out the window in this land, and while that at times was intriguing, the more I heard of it, the more stupid it became. The real problem though, was that Oliver never once prepared Alice for what they faced. Even though he had been there before and knew exactly what to expect, he gave her, if anything at all, the bare minimum of information, and Alice was too dumb even to adhere to that. Oliver was just a jerk, period. For example, one of the few things he did warn Alice about was that she could not eat anything in this land, but he never brought any food along with them. Go figure.

He became a major irritant to me, and at one point Alice seemed to be wising-up to his major failings, but she never took him to task over his miserly dissemination of information and worse, she failed repeatedly to heed it, despite witnessing first-hand the consequences of ignoring it. She was stupid. Around the halfway mark I decided I could not stand to read any more about this couple, and that was that. I cannot commend it based on the fifty percent of it that I experienced.


The Speed of Light by Amber Kizer


Rating: WARTY!

This is the third volume in the 'Meridian' trilogy which began with Meridian in 2009, and was followed by Wildcat Fireflies in 2011, and this one a year later. Despite liking the first, and not so much the second, both of which I read before I started blogging books, I could not get into this third volume at all. Maybe I left it too long before moving on to read this one? But that said it didn't ought to have affected my perception of it to this extent.

This is why I typically despise trilogies because far more often than not, the author takes a great idea and ruins it by dragging it out way past its natural life cycle. This is what happened here. Each volume was less than the previous, and this particular one was a bloated tome. One of the reasons for that was the appalling waste of trees involved in its production. There were massive margins, and the widely-spaced text did not start until halfway down the page on new chapters. How many trees could you have saved, Ms Kizer if you had formatted your book a little more wisely? Maybe she doesn't care. Maybe she hates trees. No one wants to see a book that's all text and no white space not even me(!), but come on! I think I'm going to start negatively-reviewing any print book that's so disrespectful of our environment.

Anyway I think I am done with this author after this experience. But briefly, the book is about Meridian Sozu, who is known as a Fenestra, that is, a human who has been, dare I say it, touched by an angel, and who is supposed to help transition souls into the next world. Why such a person would ever be needed goes unexplained. It implies that the resident god is incompetent and needs help shoring-up the defective system he created!

The author pairs her up with a guy, of course, who is naturally her soul-mate and protector. Why the author couldn't have changed this up a bit instead of taking the road most traveled, I do not know. She could have made the two antagonists, or made the protector a lesbian who wants Meridian, but whose love is not requited, or something else, but no, let's stick with traditional weak women who desperately needs a guy to validate her, young adult crap.

In volume one, this wasn't so bad as it happened, but it got worse. In this volume there's a battle to save this girl Julia who will do almost anything to find her parents, and who is siding with the idiotically named 'nocti' - the forces of dark who try to steal souls from people like Meridian. Plus there's a disaster awaiting at the Indianapolis 500, which some would argue is already a disaster, but still. Sorry, but no - not interested! The author has done insufficient work to create this world, and consequently it doesn't hang together at all well.


The Mozart Girl by Barbara Nickel


Rating: WARTY!

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

Set in 1763, this is a middle grade (not middle-grave as I initially typed! That's a whole different genre! LOL!) novel that I originally thought was based on a diary, but no such diary exists. In fact we have almost nothing of Maria Anna Walburga Ignatia Mozart (who was a contemporary of Jane Austen), that doesn't come to us via a third party. There is a notebook that was created by her father, and which contains compositions that she played, but the only reason that survives, I suspect, is that it also contains compositions that her kid brother, the renowned Wolfgang Amadè Mozart, added to the book of his own accord.

I was disappointed to discover that the diary entries are spurious. That removed this novel further into fiction, and that became a problem for me because other than the general outline of the story - a tour which actually did take place - this book is pretty much all fiction, and for me it was way over-done. I had thought the over-wrought tone of the novel was taking its complexion from the diary, but that's obviously not the case if there is no diary.

Additionally, some of the history is a bit off and the modern language seems inappropriate. Naturally you don't want a novel of this nature to sound archaic, but a little less modern slang would have improved the tone. It's also historically inaccurate. At one point, the author is talking about wax candles when in that era, tallow was the norm, and she mentions gelatin, when aspic was the norm back then.

She frequently refers to financial woes when in fact, the Mozarts did very well for themselves in this tour, at least until both children became ill and things slowed down quite a bit, but no such illness is mentioned for "Nannerl" (Marianne), only for "Wolferl" (Mozart). I have to say that though it is historically accurate, these endless '-erl' nicknames made me want to hurl. I shall refer to the sister as Marianne which was what she went by when pet names were not used.

The worst faux pas was getting the main character's birthday wrong! Marianne turned 12 on 30 July 1763 when the family was in the middle of a three year tour of Europe, but in this novel, she turns twelve before the tour begins, and the author has her birthday in June!

At each stop during the tour, the author has her taking second place to Wolfgang whereas in reality, she was, at least initially, the star performer, but clearly this changed as Mozart the younger began to flourish, and maybe that's what the author is trying to reflect here. I don't know. I was quite confused by this point!

Another faux pas the author makes is the discussion of money. She makes the father sounds like some sort of avaricious beggar. As I said, they did well for themselves on this tour earning substantial amounts, but the author always has them sounding impoverished. That's not as bad as this one section when they visited an important family - that of Baron Kerpen and his musically talented children - and the Mozart father says at one point: “How wonderful to have such a fine orchestra, all in one family...Do you ever play in public, for money?”

That would have been an unconscionable impertinence back then. It really stood-out like a sore thumb to me, and continued a process of turning me off this story even more than I already had been. If the novel had not been so short, and I was not already over halfway through it by then, I would have DNF'd right there. As it was I made it only to eighty percent before I could not stand to read any more when the author was making a fuss about Christmas, which back in Mozart's time, was not the big event it is today. Yes, it was celebrated, but the bigger event was Saint Nicholas's Day which was early in December.

I understand this is fiction, and little is known about Marianne, particularly how she thought and felt, and that some dramatic license is permissible in a novel like this, but the portrayal of her in this story felt wrong, inauthentic, and frankly, disrespectful of such a talented young woman. It may well have been that she had the same musical yearnings as her brother, and even the same skills, but we will never know because nothing of hers survives to compare with Mozart's own work.

What does seem likely is that her facility with music was what inspired such a passion for it in her kid brother. He watched as her father taught her to play. She was an accomplished musician, but that doesn't necessarily mean it was all she ever had on her mind as is implied here.

Rightly or wrongly - obviously wrongly by our modern expectations - there were different pressures and constraints on girls back then, and certain behaviors that now are considered restrictive and even abusive, were the norm and accepted as the way things are. Precious few people saw life differently. To present her in a modern light as though she had beliefs and lofty, but frustrated ambitions that she may well not have had is an imposition and is dangerous ground for writers to traverse with such abandon.

Perhaps Marianne was exactly as she was as depicted here, but we don't know, and it seems to me to be more likely that she simply enjoyed playing, and had no other ambition. It may well be that she chose to set aside music later in life in favor of other priorities, and had no grand plans, frustrated or otherwise, that she longed to pursue.

It may have been just the opposite. The fact is that we do not know. What we do know is that women had certain expectations both for themselves, and also that were set upon them by others, particularly their parents and husbands, and we do not know exactly where her own views lay, so to present her as this thwarted, frustrated genius felt like a grave imposition to me and one which is not supported by history.

It's true that there is much debate about her talent, not so much about her playing ability, which is a given, but about her compositional skills, but as I mentioned, of those we have nothing by which to judge. She composed music, that we do know, but none of it has survived. The only real 'evidence' we have of its quality is the complimentary comments of both her father and her brother, and while I'm sure these were genuine, we do not know if father was praising a talented daughter and brother was praising a fellow prodigy, or if both were simply bolstering a beloved daughter/sibling with great praise where average praise may have been more objectively appropriate. It’s a great shame that we do not know, but the fact remains that we do not.

Where this book did well was in highlighting her playing ability, but everything else is pure speculation and I felt it serves a woman like Marianne badly to puff her up for talent (in composition) that we know nothing of, while underserving the talent she had that we can certainly attest to, based on historical records. I cannot commend this as a worthy read therefore.


Monday, January 28, 2019

Carnival in a Fix by Philip Reeve, Sarah McIntyre


Rating: WARTY!

This is the first Philip Reeve book I've read that I did not consider a worthy read. Note that its not aimed at me, but at a much younger audience, and for them it may well be good, but there were too many cliches and tropes here for my taste and even for a children's book I can't condone that kind of lazy writing.

Whether it would be discernible to its intended audience, I don't know, but it was blatantly obvious from he start what was going on here. Emily lives at an interplanetary unfair situated on a moon somewhere, and visited by aliens of all stripes (and dots and heliotrope!). On the day the story starts, she bids goodbye to her parental units - an odd couple - only to discover that a unfair inspector has arrived and is a nasty piece of work. She sets off to inform her guardians.

What's obvious is that this is no fun-fair inspector. He's an unfair inspector - some dude who is sabotaging the fair by use of little spiky spidery type critters while pretending to fail everything because of poor maintenance and so on. No one sees this, or even suspects it. This tells me that everyone at the fair, and in particular Emily, is really rather stupid. I do not appreciate stories about stupid people (unless the author is planning on taking it somewhere interesting) and especially not about stupid female characters.

My other problem with this was the aliens. Like far too many sci-fi stories, the aliens were caricatures. And yes, it's a kids book, but multiple eyes on stalks? If only sci-fi authors had paid attention during the evolution module in school they would come up with far more engaging aliens. Most of this is on McIntyre since she was the artist, but the author doubtlessly could have nixed these drawings had he wanted.

That wasn't the biggest problem though. That problem was Emily. She was purportedly alien (there's no word about where she came from or how she ended up there) but she looks exactly like a human - except for a tail tacked on to her. It would have been nice had Emily been shown as alien, so kids understand there are interesting stories to be told about people who are not like the reader.

So all told, I DNF'd this and cannot commend it as a worthy read.


Thursday, January 24, 2019

Cowl Vol 2 The Greater Good by Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel, Rod Reis


Rating: WARTY!

I didn’t like this. It was too much of a rip-off of Watchmen: set in earlier times in the 20th century, a death of a super hero, an investigation. That might have been fine, but the problem was that it did not have the characters that watchmen had. The super heroes here had no life to them. They were boring. If I had read volume 1, I might have found more investment in it, but I doubt it. The story by Higgins and Siegel was dragging, and there was nothing of interest (to me) happening, especially since the super heroes were out on strike(!) and so there was no super hero-ing going on to speak of. It seemed stuck in a rut, and the Reis‘s artwork was nothing special either. I cannot commend it based on this experience and I have no interest in pursuing this series at all.

And what a trite title! Cowl? Could they not have come up with something a bit better and more original?


Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Lost City of Solomon and Sheba by Robin Brown-Lowe


Rating: WARTY!

I picked this up because I thought it might have something interesting to say about the very enigmatic Queen of Sheba, which might perhaps lead to an idea for a future novel, but no! It had almost nothing to say about her because almost nothing is known about her. Solomon gets short shrift. It's tempting to say that the main thrust of the book is as its title suggests - the lost city of Ophir, but I can't say that because there is no thrust, and the names of Solomon and Sheba were obviously just tossed into the title merely to draw potential readers' interest. Well, shame on me!

This endlessly rambling book does recount a lot of history, but it's disjointed and disconnected and sways back and forth between time periods without ever making its case. The main problem with it is that, in the same manner employed by those morons who write books about Earth being visited by aliens from outer space, it builds tissue-thin claims upon non-existent foundations, with the author, who is not an archeologist but a journalist, making huge speculative leaps based on the flimsiest of 'evidence'.

Thus we have him categorically setting Ophir in Zimbabwe, based on the Great Zimbabwe, a beautiful monument which racists have traditionally tried to deny was built by native Africans. The author seems to be doing the same thing. His chapter titles are sensationalist: To Ophir Direct, Ophir Revealed, Ophir Spinning, and closing with Ophir Writ Large (there are many other chapters) yet not once does he fulfill the promise of the title by laying down a solid case for The Great Zimbabwe being Ophir. Nor doe she explain

He defeats his own claims because while the book does contain some photographs, none of them support the text our the claims he makes in it. In fact, some refute his claims. One of these claims is that bird effigies were found at Zimbabwe which had a design around their neck like a necklace or perhaps, it occurs to me, a pattern or tattoo, yet though he shows several pictures of the birds, not one of them has any of the features he claims for them. This alone defeats he 'thesis'.

Of these birds, wikipedia says, "They are unique to Great Zimbabwe; nothing like them has been discovered elsewhere." - something which the author seeks to muddy at best, and never once does he mention that certain birds were sacred to the people, more than adequately explaining why they would want to sculpt images of them. So once again we see a native culture being denigrated by a white writer, as though no native African could ever have an advanced thought in their head, and none could create or build anything beautiful. I call bullshit on that.

So after plodding through most of the book vainly searching for his supporting evidence, and skimming other repetitive areas, I concluded the guy doesn't know what he's talking about. As wikipedia puts it, "The majority of scholars believe that it was built by members of the Gokomere culture, who were ancestors of modern Shona in Zimbabwe." And the site is dated as originating In the Iron Age, long after Solomon. The stone structures were built in the eleventh century. It was half millennium after that before any white person came anywhere near them. QED.

The author is not wrong in asserting that there is a genetic link between the male line of the peoples known as Mwenye, and people of ancient Jewish descent, but he fails to mention that they could also be of South Arabian descent too. This is dishonest, in reporting only the evidence that can be deemed to support his claims and withholding that which might defeat or dilute them. Just because a lineage has certain DNA doesn't make the author's case at all. DNA is so dissipated around the world these days that no one group is really isolated from another, and we're talking many hundreds of years ago. One trader passing on his DNA to a local woman all that time ago could easily lead to a tribe later in history, and there were no doubt many traders. This doesn't prove the author's thesis though, especially not with the lack of evidence he has.

I disrecommend this book.


Saturday, January 19, 2019

Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller by Joseph Lambert


Rating: WARTY!
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I believe in giving credit where credit is due, but aside from the focus on Sullivan rather than Keller - and lets face it, without Sullivan there would be no Keller as we know her today - there really is very little due here.

This graphic novel is aimed at grades six through eight, but while I am far from those grades, I was not happy with it. The artwork is indifferent and appears in tiny panels (a rigid and plodding sixteen per page) such that the image is not only tiny, but the text is also small. I had a hard time reading it and an almost impossible time reading the narration, which is in script. There were parts I skipped rather than strain my eyes trying to read it. If the format of the book had been larger this would not have been such a problem, but as it was, it was really irritating to me and overwhelmed the story.

While the book does convey the magnitude of the task which faced a visually-impaired 20-year-old Sullivan trying to teach a willful and spoiled seven-year-old who was impaired in ways much greater than Anne herself was, it fails to make the impact it should because it is so choppy. An early flashback itself dissolves into an earlier flashback and this back-flashing keeps happening as we move back and forth between the 'present' where Anne is teaching Helen, and the past, where Anne had her own trials to go through, which were tough enough. Anne Sullivan was a strong woman.

This story is about Anne as opposed to Helen, which most stories are written about, and such a story is important and needs to be told, but I don't think this book gets it done. The 'Annie' of the title was better known as Anne, although her birth name was Johanna Mansfield Sullivan to which she added a 'Macy' when she married later in life. Her initial interactions with Helen were nightmarish because Helen was so spoiled and had no discipline. Anne was not only fighting her charge, but also Helen's parents who did not understand the huge amount of work which needed to be done to liberate Helen from the prison of her impaired senses.

Much as I'd like to recommend a book like this, I cannot. I've read other books about Helen Keller and the one I commend so far is Helen Keller by Jane Sutcliffe. This might not be quite as appealing as a graphic novel to children in this age range, but it isn't something they could not handle, and I'd prefer it to this graphic novel. However, if this novel gets kids interested enough to read something on this topic that's more grown up and less picture-y, then all well and good, but I have doubts it will do that.


HP Lovecraft He Who Wrote in the Darkness by Alex Nikolavitch, Gervasio, Carlos Aon, Lara Lee


Rating: WARTY!

I'm always interested in reading about other writers if they have anything interesting to say but for me, this graphic novel about Lovecraft was a fail. He wrote over sixty stories - most of them short stories, during his short lifetime (he died at 46 from cancer), but this didn't really delve into many of them or even keep track of his writing them, which seemed very odd to me for a book about a writer.

It did highlight some of his quirks and made a passing mention of his racism, but it seemed more focused on his inabilities rather than his abilities - his inability to live with his wife (a curiosity for someone whose name is love craft!) and his inability to focus on writing stories while effortlessly penning thousands of long letters - than it ever did in discussing his work or even mentioning it.

That said it is a graphic novel, not a biography, so some things inevitably get left out. It just felt to me that writer Nikolavitch left out the wrong things, and the art by Gervasio, Aon, and Lee was average at best, so I cannot commend this as a worthy read.


Songs of Our Ancestors Vol 2 by Patrick Atangan


Rating: WARTY!

Subtitled "The Silk Tapestry and Other Chinese Folktales", this is the volume two I wondered about when I positively reviewed volume one back in October of 2018. This one was less than enthralling for me, so while it did hold the charm of the original to a certain extent, the stories seemed a lot less engaging, and I left the book feeling dissatisfied with it, so I cannot commend it.

The first story was of an old woman and her longsuffering daughter. The woman meets a water spirit one day at the river and is inspired to create a tapestry, based on vivid dreams that she has, of living a life as courtesan, but the story rambles on a bit too much, and then seems to completely fizzle out at the end so I wasn't at all sure what exactly happened. I didn't like it.

The next story went to the opposite end of the scale, featuring young, not old, and male, not female, and was about a boy who could paint pictures that took on a life of their own, rather reminiscent of Harold and the Purple Crayon. This story was entertaining, and the artwork was good, but it never really seemed like it wanted to go anywhere. The third one is a creation story bearing a lot of resemblance to the Biblical story (or vice-versa), and featuring a lonely god who separates waters from waters and creates things. It was boring.

So overall, I was not impressed and unlike after reading the first volume, I do not feel inclined to pursue this series any further.


You Can Do It, Squirrel by Kate Breuer


Rating: WARTY!

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

This sounded like a fun picture book for young kids according to the blurb but unfortunately, Amazon's renowned crappy Kindle conversion process destroyed the book. I downloaded it twice, once to my phone and once to my iPad, and in both cases, the book delivered a cover and nothing else. Every one of the seventeen pages was a black screen, so there was on book to read. Not that I'm racist! I enjoy a mix - black text and white background, or vice versa. Either color on its own is a fail! We have to stand together on this!

This is therefore more a review of Amazon's pathetic process and its lousy, destructive, abusive Kindle conversion process than it is of this novel. It sucks. I urge all publishers and authors to abandon Amazon and their pathetic process altogether. We're just handing them more and more power and they do not deserve it. They haven't earned it and don't even try. Please use a process that works and that does not shred, spindle, and mutilate your book. Use something that works, such as PDF, Barnes's and Nobles's Nook system or something else. Anything but Kindle.

I can't commend a book that has quite literally been gutted by Amazon.


Friday, January 11, 2019

Despicable Deadpool Bucket List by Gerry Duggan, Matteo Lolli, Christian Dalla Vecchia, Scott Koblish, Ruth Redmond


Rating: WARTY!

I'm a fan of the movie universes created by Marvel and DC - if you can call that latter a universe - so obviously more of a fan of Marvel than DC, but Wonder Woman is still the most kick-ass female hero so far in those movie worlds. Comic books have never been my thing. Even as a kid I was not a great fan, although I read quite a few. Since I left that phase of my life, they've mostly felt too juvenile for me, although I've read a few recently which transcended that problem. Comic books in general still have some big fish to gut before they can fry them, sexualisation of females being the prime one.

But that wasn't the problem here. The thing here is that there's nothing more asinine than two people locked in a supposed life-or-death struggle and exchanging quips throughout the fight. It's utterly ridiculous, but it's de rigueur in comic book hero fights. It occurs twice on the early pages here, once between Deadpool and Rogue, and once between the merc with a smirk and a villain who was too laughable to take seriously. And whose name didn't even register.

Not that there ever is an actual life-or-death struggle in comic books because no matter how "final" a demise is, the character always comes back whether they're good or evil. It doesn't matter, so the story itself didn't matter when you get right down to it. It's a farce and not even amusing in the best tradition of British farce.

Comic books are a Buddhist's worst nightmare - trapped on the eternally cycling wheel of suffering, and while a good Buddhist would never espouse this, the only solution is to kill off the villain! Don't lock them up in the same prison they already escaped from fifty times before. Slay them! Burn their bodies to ash! Seal the ash in lead, put that urn on a rocket, and fire it into the heart of the sun! End of story. Invent a new and different villain for next time instead of resurrecting the zombie villains of yesteryear. Quit taking the lazy way out.

Frankly, it really is boring to have the same hero battle the same villain over and over again, or if not the villain, then the villain's evil daughter - or some other relative. These writers need a new shtick. The Joker is a joke. The Mandarin is as toxic as Agent Orange. Find fresh villains for goodness sake! It's reached a point now where one universe isn't enough for the comic book writers and they have to bring in other universes/parallel worlds for no other reason than that they can lazily repeat the same stories, but with non-different characters.

By that I mean the character is supposedly different, but not really, and so we get the same stories warmed over with a different color palette. Winsome repeat is all they seem to have. This is why I quit watching The Flash TV show because every season was an exact repeat of the previous season: a "new" villain just like the one from last season - evil and faster than The Flash - and Flash had to defeat him, and always did. It was tedious.

The most annoying thing about this particular volume is one that seems to be common in Marvel's arena: writers cannot produce a comic about a super hero these days that doesn't grandfather-in a host of other heroes and villains from the Marvel stable. So we have Deadpool, who I love in the movies, supposedly going through a bucket list of items, each of which is apparently a cameo appearance of other notables from the Marvel world. Although I confess I did find Stevil Rogers amusing.

Deadpool cannot die. This is a given, so at least they're owning that fact of comic book super hero life up front, but why he thinks he's in a position necessitating a bucket list is a mystery. This was volume 2 and I didn't read volume 1 because celestials forbid that a publisher should actually inform the reader right there on the cover of which volume in what series this is! So maybe it was explained, but let's run with it, ready or not.

So anyway Deadpool starts out fighting Rogue, who he evidently had a thing with in a previous volume. Rather than sit down and talk, they start smashing the hell out of each other. That's a great plan for a relationship isn't it? Never once did she consider bringing along a collar from the Ice Box and snapping that on him to take him down. Nope! They smash-up everything around them and take no responsibility for it. It's like Sokovia never happened. And given comic book penchant for redux up the wazoo, maybe it didn't in this particular universe.

So the story is that a male writer has a female hero take the brute force approach rather than an intellectual or cooperative one. You know, someone did a study of comic-book violence in terms of who perpetrates it, and it turns out that the super heroes are more violent than the super villains. How did that come about? It's reported at https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-11/aaop-gi102218.php. But I digress.

Rogue has apparently acquired many powers, including the power to fly and hover, as well as to recover from what would otherwise be debilitating - if not death-dealing - injuries. Good for her. After Deadpool escapes her, he takes on a complete nonentity and has Marvel guest star The Collector pick him (or her) up and cart them away; then it's Marvel Guest Star Captain America putting in an appearance to star in a redux of the Deadpool origin story where he gets pinned to the cement by a large, shaft of steel. Who says male super heroes aren't sexualized?!

After that we get a visit from Colossus and Kitty Pryde, which frankly sounds like the name of a cat toilet product. I'm sorry, but there really was no story here. It was all one long and tired cliché, and I refuse to commend something as unimaginative as this.