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

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Cinders by Cara Malone


Rating: WARTY!

Erratum
“She leaned against the hood and worried at a hangnail on her pointy finger”
Surely she means 'pointer finger'?! This is why I have a problem with that term.

Well I made it almost 60% of the way through this before I had to run from it gagging. It started out pretty decently - a female firefighter, an arsonist, a love interest who wasn't yet a love interest but was quietly in the wings. Even when Marigold and Cynthia aka Cinder, aka Cyn, start to hook up, it still made for an entertaining story, although from that point on it became much more of a YA love story than ever it was an investigation into an arsonist. That I could even handle.

The problem came for me when the story made its nod and a wink to the Cinderella story. Marigold, who always complains about the amount of work she has to do, but all she seems to do is be a socialite, invites Cyn to a social event and Cyn comes dressed up, but gets called away to a fire. She changes shoes while talking to Mari in the parking area (for no apparent reason!), and accidentally leaves one of her loafers behind, which Mari then returns to her at the station house.

That part was fine, but as soon as these two began making out and going into a full blown sex session right there in the bunk room of the station house that was too much for me. It just felt wrong and sordid, and juvenile. If the author had made the fire alarm go off so they were interrupted when they began to make out, that for me would have made for a much more entertaining story! But this author went obvious on me and rather gross and immature as well, and that was far too much for my taste. That's when the romance felt fake and forced, like the author was faking it rather than feeling it, and I lost all interest.

I can't commend this based on the 60% or so that I read.


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Tootle by Gertrude Crampton, Tennant Redbank, Sue DiCiccio


Rating: WARTY!

This story - at one time the third best-selling hardback children's book in the English language - was originally written (in 1945) by Gertrude Crampton and illustrated by Hungarian artist Tibor Gergely. neither get credit here. Those who do get credit get no copyright. The copyright goes to the publisher. Highly suspicious. I'm not sure why Big Publishing™ decided this needed to be adapted by Redbank and re-illustrated by DiCiccio, but while the illustrations were sweet and colorful, I'm not sure about the message this book conveys to modern children. That message is "Most of all? Stay on the rails no matter what!"

That sounds far too much like "stay in your lane." Do we really want kids to be told that they have to follow the same track as everyone else? Maybe back in 1945 there was a culture that saw nothing wrong with offering advice akin to 'children should be seen and not heard', but in the twenty-first century, I don't want my kids to be told they can't go off piste. I never have told them that.

There's a different between going off the rails in a maniacal way, but that's not what's meant here. Tootle is trying to cut his own path - and admittedly he's forgetting his goal for the day, but he's also having fun, and finding out new things that he would never learn were he to rigidly follow those rails. As long as they were re-doing this anyway, a better story would have been to have him complete his task for the day, and then to sneak off the rails after hours and go do his own thing. A book like that, I could have got with.

I know there's a lot been said lately about staying in lanes - a lot of misogynistic crap included - but not all of the commentary on that has been well thought-through. I read an article titled "Gender Norms: The Problem With The 'Stay in Your Lane' Phenemenon," written by by Kourtney Kell where she actually wrote: "Was it because I thought I was going to get hit on? No, I wasn't even wearing makeup." This suggests to me that Kell seems to think she's ugly - or at least unattractive - without make-up. What? Talk about staying in your lane! I quit reading that article right there.

But the bottom line is that while there are certain societal conventions that are broken at one's peril, there is a serious problem with restricting children too much and trying to fit them into a certain box rather than let them choose the box - if any, they'd really like to get into. I know this book was simply intended as a fun young children's book, perhaps even intended as a lesson about following rules, but to me, in this day and age, it's far too contrtricting and I can't commend it as a worthy read.


Sunday, August 11, 2019

Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie


Rating: WARTY!

Here's an example of Christie reusing old material. One the characters is named Bella like the one in her Dumb Witness story, and also we have an instance here of Poirot being summoned to help out someone whose life is on the line and he arrives too late - again, like in the Dumb Witness story. It's also in some ways a case of mistaken identity as in Dumb Witness. The story takes place in Merlinville-sur-Mer in France where Poirot arrives with all Hastings at the Villa Genevieve to discover that mister Renauld was stabbed in the back with a letter opener the previous night, and left in a newly-dug grave by the local golf course.

The worst part of this story for me was the appalling reading by Charles Armstrong, who has no idea how to pronounce French words and repeatedly mangles ones such as Sûreté and Genevieve. When he tries to imitate a female voice his own voice sounds like he's being strangled. It was horrible to listen to and I couldn't stand to hear any more after the first 15 percent or so. I DNF'd this and consider it a warty "read".

I got hold of the DVD for Murder on the Links as well as Dumb Witness. Of the two, the latter departed from the book the most - and by quite a considerable margin, but I enjoyed that filmed story. It was cute and amusing, but Miss Peabody was totally absent, which annoyed me to no end. Murder on the Links, by contrast, was a lousy story which made no sense and in which Hastings was a complete dumb-ass (even more than he usually is) who got rewarded rather than getting his just deserts for actively perverting with the course of justice.

Having DNF's this, I can't comment on whether the book was as bad, but the TV show in regard to this particular episode simply isn't worth watching. Worse than this though was that despite the story taking place almost entirely in France, every single person spoke with a perfect English accent with no trace of actual French marring it whatsoever! Even French words like Genevieve and Sûreté were mangled. It was almost as though it was filmed entirely in England with a complete English cast! Whoah! Trust me, it sucked. I think it's by far the worst Poirot episode I ever saw and I've seen most of them so this one is double-warty!


Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie


Rating: WARTY!

This started out rather well, and was quite well read by Hugh Fraser, who played Poirot's companion Captain Hastings in the David Suchet TV series which covered very nearly all of Poirot's stories. The problem for me was that it descended into predictability and tedium in the last third or so, and the brilliant detective Poirot failed to see clues that even I could see, which tells me this story was badly-written.

I'm not a fna of detective stories which begin by telling us information the detective doesn't have. I much prefer the ones where we come in blind to the crime, just as the detective arrives. This one was not one of the latter, but the former, so we got an overly-lengthy introduction to the crime which to me was uninteresting and removed any suspense and excitement.

That said it wasn't too bad once the story began to move and Poirot arrived, but Hastings was a complete asshat with his endless whining along the lines of 'There's nothing to see here! Let's go home'. I'm truly surprised Poirot didn't slap him or kick him in the balls. I know this business of having a dumb-ass companion was set in stone by Arthur Doyle, but it's really too much.

The story is of the death of Emily Arundell, and aging and somewhat sickly woman of some modest wealth, at whom her relatives are pecking for crumbs before ever she's dead. After a fall down the stairs which she survives, Emily passes away at a later date, and after this, Poirot gets a letter form her which was somehow delayed in posting. It seems rather incoherent, but it does suggest she fears greatly for something. Poirot arrives to discover she died, and rather than turn around and go home, he poses as an interested buyer for a property that belonged to Emily so he can snoop around and ask questions. This part went on too long, too, for my taste.

Eventually Poirot's deception is exposed by Miss Peabody who for me was one of the two most interesting characters, and hands down the most amusing in the book. I really liked her. My other favorite was Theresa Arundell, whose initials, you will note, are TA, which have mirror symmetry. It's this that Poirot fails to grasp for the longest time after he learns that a person was identified by initials on a broach which was glimpsed in a mirror.

The problem though is that Christie fails to give us vital information that would have clearly identified the killer for anyone sharp enough to have picked up on this mirror image, so we're cruelly-robbed of the chance to nail down the actual killer, although some of the red herrings are disposed of with relative ease.

The final insult is Poirot's gathering of all the suspects together for the dénouement, and this is ridiculous for me. I know it's a big thing in these mysteries, but really it's laughable and spoils the story. It's so unrealistic and farcical especially since everyone, including the murderer, blithely agrees to gather for this exposure. How absurd! If the murderer had any sense, he or she would off Poirot before he had chance to expose the culprit, and thereby they would get off scot-free since Poirot is such an arrogant and persnickety old cove that he never reveals to anyone who the murder is until that last minute, thereby giving them ample opportunity to scarper!

I got hold of the DVD for this story from the library and watched it. I also watched Murder on the Links. Of the two, the former departed from the book the most - and by quite a considerable margin, but I enjoyed that filmed story. It was cute and amusing, but Miss Peabody was totally absent, which annoyed me to no end. Murder on the Links, by contrast, was a lousy story which made no sense and in which Hastings was a complete dumb-ass (even more than he usually is) who got rewarded rather than getting his just deserts for actively perverting with the course of justice. I can't comment on whether the book was as bad since I DNF'd it, but the TV show in regard to this particular episode simply isn't worth watching. Worse than all I've mentioned though was that despite the story taking place almost entirely in France, every single person spoke with a perfect English accent with no trace of actual French marring it whatsoever! Even French words like Genevieve and Sûreté were mangled. It was almost as though it was filmed entirely in England with a complete English cast! Whoah! Trust me, it sucked. I think it's by far the worst Poirot episode I ever saw and I've seen most of them.

So while there were some interesting and even fun bits to this audiobook, overall it was tedious, and I cannot commend it as a worthy listen.


Saturday, August 10, 2019

Catch Cat by Claire Grace


Rating: WARTY!

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

This is aimed at providing fun and interesting facts about the world, continent by continent, but it was designed from the ground up as a print book and I got to review only the ebook which was disturbingly low-resolution. The problem was that this very resolution defeated one of the stated challenges in the book - that of finding things in the picture of the continent in question, including the 'Catch Cat' of the title.

The book is laid out in a series of descriptive pages, each of which is followed by a color image of the continent being covered. The challenge is to find those things described in the descriptive page, in the continent image, including the cat. While the descriptive pages seemed fine and even interesting, the continent page was so crowded and of such poor resolution that I couldn't see anything reliable in any of them. It reminded me of those old computer games way back when resolution was poor: blocky and ugly. It certainly wasn't possible to see anything useful let alone pick out things described on the previous page. Even when I looked in the area the cat was supposed to be (there are 'solution' pages at the end of the book which highlight it), I still couldn't pick it out.

That wasn't even the worst problem. Judged by the first continent covered - North America - I can judge fairly confidently that the author is of USA origin, and is white. I've never seen her so I don't know, and I may well be wrong, but I got this impression from the fact that despite being home to nearly forty countries, North America is described by the author as consisting only of Canada, the USA, and Mexico. The 'landmarks' page covers solely things found in the USA, with the lone exception of the Canadian Mounted Police! Disturbingly, there's not a word about Mexico - nor any of the other countries. It's like they don't exist.

I'm used to the USA behaving as though it's the only important country on the planet, and being so insular and provincial as to be laugh-worthy, particularly under this president where hatred toward Mexico is being daily fomented, but even so, this was a bit much. It's put right there front of the line for no good reason. Alphabetically it comes almost last in a listing of continents. It's a USA-produced book, aimed at USA audiences presumably, so I can understand North America coming first, but it was entirely inappropriate to treat North America like it's only the USA and nothing else matters or is of interest. That I can't forgive. And yes, in case you wondered, the book is printed in China! I guess the USA isn't everything after all, huh?!

I would like to assume that the print book is larger format and higher resolution than my iPad, but since I didn't get the print book to review I can review only this one, and based on what I saw here - or more accurately in some regards, what I failed to see - I cannot commend this as a worthy read.


Birds & Butterflies Drawing & Activity Book by Walter Foster Jr Creative Team


Rating: WARTY!

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

I have to say right up front how disappointed I was in this book - designed as a print book but reviewed as an ebook - which purports to teach how to draw birds and butterflies. I felt it didn't do anywhere near enough to teach any art at all. The book offers three methods and cycles through each of them with different pictures alternating between birds and butterflies. The first is simple tracing, and the print version of the book has tracing paper built in, presumably over the top of the image you're expected to trace. Tracing isn't really art in my book.

The second method is drawing using a grid. You copy each square section of the larger image by duplicating the lines in a marked four square wide by six square tall grid. This is a step closer to art, but it's still not really teaching anything. The third method comes closest, but even here there are problems. The third step involves drawing simple shapes initially, to 'map out' the more complex shape of the thing you're drawing. I've seen this method used many times in art books and while I remain unconvinced that it's the best method to teach art, I do acknowledge that it provides a rudimentary means to that end which hopefully anyone who is serious about pursuing art will find ways to circumvent as their personal technique improves.

My problem with this method was that as presented here in this book, it offers not steps, but jumps. The examples shown start with simple clusters of circles and some other shapes for, say, a butterfly, and these are refined in subsequent steps, but suddenly, in five steps, we have a professionally-drawn butterfly and in the sixth, a colored one without any hints, tips, suggestions, or advice about how to get there from step four, which was nothing more than an outline that might as well have been traced.

For me this was a major failing with this book because it assumed way too much, particularly with the coloring. It was a mystery because on the face of it, the book appears to pander more to people who want to idle their time away while on vacation and who are not really that serious about learning to drawn and paint. For an art book this contains a disturbing amount of non-art activities, such as word search, sudoku, spot the differences, and on and on.

Those pages could have been better used to explain the art and suggest ways to work on and improve ones technique. So on the one hand we have these professional insta-art projects which start out looking like amateur step-by-step methods before leaping to a professional finish with no suggestions as to how to get there from here, and on the other, we have completely unrelated activities that contribute nothing to learning about art and seem merely to be mindless time-wasting activities.

Admittedly, it helps to step away from your art now and then, so you can come back to it with a fresh eye, and I know the cover says quite plainly it's an art and activity book, but the way this book is thrown together seemed insulting to anyone who seriously wants to learn how to draw and color, and pointlessly complex to anyone who merely wants to dabble and who really does want some mindless distraction for a vacation. For these reasons I cannot commend this book, with anonymous authors, as a worthy read.


Saturday, August 3, 2019

Swans in Space by Lun Lun Yamamoto


Rating: WARTY!

I suppose I should remind readers up front that I'm not a huge manga fan. Reading backwards isn't my choice, but I can do that if the story is worth it. the problem is that the stories all-too-often aren't worth the effort of reading unnaturally. This was one such.

The premise was amusing and entertaining enough, but in the end it's the story. I can read a story which has no plot if the author writes well enough. I can't read the perfect plot if the story is written badly, uninventively, or boringly. The premise here is that a young girl is chosen in school by a classmate for testing for what seems to be UPS in space, although it's also space police - or maybe something else? I dunno and that's part of the problem. The scope of their 'duties' is so vague as to be limitless.

What were these people supposed to be doing and why are girls taken out of school to do it? No explanation. Their travel results in time-dilation, so their return is only a minute or two after they left, but they have subjectively experienced the entire time - even if it's many hours - that they spent doing this job, which consists of flying spacecraft. These craft are designed to look like swans for reasons which are unexplained - assuming they even exist.

The girls come back already exhausted and still have the rest of their own school day to finish. It's beyond credibility that something wouldn't go wrong, and it's hardly surprising that this girl who recruits the main character into this life is totally shallow. Her brain is probably fried from the insane hours she's been forced to keep.

Even that might have been manageable if the story itself was worth the reading but it wasn't. It was so bad that just a couple of days later I've completely forgotten it. They didn't really do anything that a decent drone couldn't have done, so again: point? None! If there had been something - anything in the story to give it some oomph, then the rest of this ridiculous situation might have been overlooked. I can even get with whimsy if there's a compelling reason to, but there really was nothing to see here. I can't commend this garbage as a worthy read on any level.


The Time Slip Girl by Elizabeth Andre


Rating: WARTY!

This sounded from the blurb like an interesting novel, reminiscent in some small ways of my own Tears in Time wherein a lesbian girl travels in time. This book was much more straight-forward and simple than mine was though.

Dara, a young woman from 2014, is still suffering from the loss of her Asian fiancé Jenny, who died in a car accident. With Jenny, Dara shared a bucket-list of foreign locales to visit, but she felt she could not go to the next place on the list: China, since that was Jenny's trip. Instead, she visited the next after that: London with her brother, and while touring an Edwardian house, Dara goes off piste in a big way, first entering a dark basement alone, but then falling down the steps and awakening in 1908 in that same basement.

The first person she meets is Agnes, also a lesbian, but neither girl dare reveal her sexual nature to the other for fear of recrimination, repulsion, or derision. Since Agnes lives alone in a 'flat' (apartment) and works a decent job at a local department store, she allows Dara to stay with her until she can find her feet. Agnes slowly comes to accept Dara's story that she's from the future, and is fascinated by her "Butter toffee" skin. Agnes has met no women of color before.

Over the next few weeks Dara starts to settle in, gets a job serving in a disgustingly smokey pub, and meets a man who is studying what he calls 'timeslips' - and through whom she hopes to get back to her own time. In time also, the two young women finally realize they are both the same in terms of their desire for another of their own gender, and this is where the story fell apart for me. There was too much "Darling" this and "Darling" that, and it seemed so utterly unrealistic that it completely kicked me out of suspension of disbelief. It was far too sugary and didn't even sound remotely like anything a young woman of 2014 might say, let alone a woman of 1908, and I couldn't stand to read any more. Plus it was completely inauthentic.

Now I'm not a lesbian - I don't even play one on TV, but my beef isn't with that. It's with Agnes's character. This girl has been portrayed as shy, retiring, reserved, unadventurous, and intimidated by her older, mean, racist drunk of an exploitative brother. He completely disappears from the picture, but the problem for me was that Agnes changes overnight from being this shrinking violet into a sexual tiger in bed, and it seemed so out of character that I could not take it seriously.

If we'd been given some reason to expect this - some inner monolog about how she wants to be more aggressive in bed - that would have been one thing, but this is shortly after her brother is taken out of the story, and while you might think that his absence would liberate her somewhat, it happens so close to that - while she's still in mourning for losing her only living relative, that it fails as a plot device. It comes over instead as a clunky foreshadowing - look, I have no ties left in this life therefore I can come back to the future with you! Like her brother was ever a tie.

Another issue is that Dara is supposedly a computer programmer, so not expected to be dumb, yet never once in the part I read, which was about thirty percent if I recall, did she ever consider that she could maybe find a 'timeslip' to save Jenny from the accident. Perhaps that occurs or even happens later - I can't say, and I had no interest in finding out. I'd completely lost faith in this author's ability to get anywhere interesting or imaginative with this story.

The point was that as mournful of Jenny as she is, it never even crosses her mind, and despite her computer credentials, she never once considers the possibility that she might be able to help this scientist in some way to help herself. No, they had no computers back then - not as we would recognize them anyway, but she did have a logical mindset - you have to have that to be a programmer, yet it never entered her head to see if she could help. So this was a major betrayal of the character's smarts and desires.

So overall, while I was attracted to this story because I like time-travel stories, the execution of it left too much to be desired and I lost interest and DNF'd it. I can't commend it was a worthy read.



Framed by Gender by Cecilia L Ridgeway


Rating: WARTY!

I had high hopes for this book which discusses how women are framed by their own gender when it comes to getting "fair do's" out of society. This is so embedded in our culture that despite several revolutions such as the 'emancipation' of women way back, women becoming 'liberated' in the sixties, and even the #MeToo events of very recent years, women are still not where they logically and rationally ought to be. This author asks why. To me it's right there in 'emancipation'! 'Man' is right up front - 'E MAN', even! It too much like 'He Man', and that needs to change.

But joking aside, the problem I had with the book is that it's far too scholarly for the average reader. It has an index and extensive references, and that's a part of the problem in a sense: it's not written in a popular tone like, say, Richard Dawkins might write a science book, and make it accessible to the masses. I've read a few scholarly publications in my time and this one felt disorganized and meandering, and it was way too dry and academic for most readers, so Ilm not sure who it was written for. I quickly took to skimming the text and focusing on the conclusions, and even that took some effort. I agree with the author's thesis in general terms, but I don't see that she really gets her point across or effectively offers any good ideas for solutions.

Gender ideas are, as she explains, so profoundly embedded in our society that people find it hard to function when gender cannot be used to help categorize a person. The example she employs at one point is that of the 'Pat' sketches which ran in the early 1990's in the Saturday Night Live comedy sketch show, where this character named Pat was completely gender neutral and everyone was trying to categorize Pat as either a male or a female, and when they failed to do so, they could not function adequately and began to panic. But it's not just gender - it's typically gender in the context of some other factor which is what really causes problems for people: again, it's a perception (or lack thereof) problem it would seem.

Scientific studies have shown this to be the case, and likewise shown that people - men and women alike, have inbuilt gender biases that inappropriately favor or disfavor a given gender depending on context. So I think the author's overarching idea is that the reason gender imbalances persist so tenaciously is that we have yet to provide ourselves with the tools to adequately address discrepancies, perceptions, and biases and until and unless we get these, we're never going to get the issues of inequality properly resolved.

One thing which undermined this book in my opinion was that it is completely North America-centric. It's hard to be absolutely sure because the author herself doesn't specify or qualify, but from a reading of the references and the publications they appear in, it felt to me like the studies the author quotes an uses to support her position are almost entirely rooted in north America. I'd have liked to have seen much broader perspective taken. Is this problem just in the US? Is it just in western civilization, or is it world-wide? I know there are cultures and societies in this world which differ widely when it comes to gender roles and perceptions, and a failure to consider those necessarily means a survey like this one is missing something important.

So, while this topic is a critical one that begs for resolution, I can't commend this book as properly addressing the issues, and I can't commend it for cleanly and clearly conveying even the narrow and biased perspective the author does consider, despite largely agreeing with her overall view with regard to how deeply-embedded this is and how constricting it is to any efforts to move forward wisely and effectively.


Sequence by Lori Andrews


Rating: WARTY!

I gave up on this about ten pages from the end because I was so tired of it by then, and I regretted even hoping it would improve. This is yet another novel that convinces me that if the story isn't getting you where you want to be, there is no shame involved if you abandon it, and there is every good and sane reason to drop it and move on to something more fulfilling instead of wasting your life in continuance. To do otherwise is a prime example of the sunk cost fallacy.

The main character, Alex, who is a geneticist working for the government in a military lab who gets dragged into a crime investigation since she can to DNA forensics, was profoundly dumb. There were times when she was not so stupid, and I had hoped that this would be a case where a not-so-smart character shows a steady improvement as the story goes on, but she did not. In fact she actually regressed. For example, despite being a geneticist, she couldn't see what was obvious to me from the off: that if genetic markers are close but not an exact match for a suspect, then perhaps those markers might be those of a relative of the suspect rather than the suspect himself. Once she got on that path, the crime was all-but solved.

Obvious was an issue with this novel because I was way ahead of the investigators several times and that's not often the case with me in this kind of a novel, so I know a story is poorly-written if even I can figure it out so easily. It wasn't so much the obvious as the dumb that got to me though.

Alex leaps directly into bed with someone she barely knows, but of whom she does know he's a player. She has unprotected sex with him without a thought about condoms, which immediately turns me right off a story. Yeah, if the portrayal is of a character who is profoundly stupid and is heading for the wrecker's yard, that's one thing, but for a modern professional and purportedly a smart woman who is a medical doctor to boot, it completely betrays the character. It's especially bad if that same character is pining for a lost but hopeless love, and yet she has no problem simply leaping without even looking. I almost quit reading the story right there. It turns out I should have gone with my first instinct.

So overall this was not too bad of a plot in very general terms, but the writing wasn't where it needed to be to make this a really good story, and to have a female author once again have a female character who needs some sort of validation by having a male magically come into her life and give her everything she needs is too much in this day and age - or any day and age for that matter. I cannot commend this as a worthy read and resent the time I wasted on it! I'm done with the book and the author.


Thursday, August 1, 2019

Best Friends and Other Liars by Heather Balog


Rating: WARTY!

I get that this is "chick lit" as it's termed and isn't aimed at me, but it's a novel and to me there are certain things a novel really ought to do. It ought to be original for one thing, and this one was not, and it ought to be realistic within its own framework which this genre really can't be by definition, so there were two strokes against it right away. I guess you could say it ought to be entertaining too, but with the poor writing it wasn't - not for me. Others may disagree. On the bright side, the author has evidently been on a cruise so there is a certain amount of authenticity except for the part where they got onto the boat with such amazing speed.

Either her cruise ship was really small, or they arrived very late to be able to get through the waiting line to board as quickly and hassle-free as they did. Real cruise lines aren't like that - not if the ship is large. My own experience demonstrated that it took hours - literal hours - to get on board. I'd have been willing to grant that her boat was small, but that's not what the text said, so it lost believability for me on that, and yes, I get that the author may have wanted to move things along, but to skip even mentioning the line was really inexcusable. On the other hand, the massage was pretty accurate! I didn't feel remotely relaxed after mine either. To me it simply was not worth the money.

What turned me off this in the end was the trope male character, because while adherents of this genre might like that idea, the fact of the male always in every single case being muscular with film-star looks is ridiculous. I get why it's done, but to me it's pathetic and I demand much more realism in my stories than this genre - and this author in particular - is evidently capable of delivering. I DNF'd this at about a quarter the way through, right after she literally bumped into the guy - another tired trope which makes me barf. Sorry, but no. This was pathetic. I can't commend it, not remotely. It had a boatload of issues.


Cursed by Thomas Wheeler, Frank Miller


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. The publisher requested that reviews not be released until a month before publication, which is in October 2019, but since Amazon-owned Goodreads already has nearly sixty reviews as of this posting, I don't see any harm in publishing mine and getting it off my lengthy to-do list!

This was written like a movie and it didn't work. A novel needs to be written like a novel, but I understand this was conceived as a multimedia project and I think that was the problem: we really got a sort of a movie script translated into a novel. I understand Netflix has plans to televise this next year, but I won't be watching. I can only hope they do a better job in the writing, because although I was intrigued by the plot and I tried to like this, I couldn't get with it and DNF'd it at just over 25%. Initially, when I'd seen Frank Miller's name attached to it, I'd thought it was a graphic novel, but it isn't. It's a really long book which goes nowhere fast, and Nimue is sadly-lacking in anything to appeal to me in a main character

Having grown up in Britain, I'm familiar with the Arthurian legends, but I'm far from expert in them and I didn't realize, initially, that Nimue is one of several names that are given to the Arthurian Lady of the Lake. The thing is that in this novel, she was such a non-entity that I wasn't impressed with her at all. She's a changeable, inconsistent, weepy little brat of a girl who is all over the place.

Her mother's dying wish is that Nimue take this magical sword to Merlin, who will know what to do with it, but at one point very shortly afterwards, Nimue is considering selling the sword for some cash so she can escape! This is after she supposedly feels really wretched that all of her people are dead, and despite the guilt that she carries over a fight with her mother before her mother died. Shortly after that, when a guy wants to take the sword from her, she suddenly decides she wants to keep it from him and cuts off his hand! Way to keep a low profile Nimue.

What really turned me off this novel though, is how this guy Arthur (yes, that Arthur, apparently), moves in on her, starts stalking her, and suddenly she's getting the wilts and the vapors whenever she's near him. He takes over and Nimue loses all agency, becoming totally dependent upon him in true YA fashion. Barf. That's when I call "Check please, I'm done here." Why even have a female lead if all you're going to do with her is make her subservient to a male? Why even call the male Arthur? Just call him Jack and be done with it. That's the most over-used name in literature for the alpha male, so go with it, and forget about making your story original.

The book - in the portion I read anyway - completely abandons all Arthurian legend, just FYI. I didn't worry too much about that, because it was supposed to be different, but a nod and a wink to it here and there would have been appropriate. And in the end it wasn't different from so many others I've read. It was an Indiana Jones from medieval times: Arthur Jones and the Very Lost Crusade. That said, the whole thing about Arthurian legend is that it's always presented wrongly - with knights in shining armor. The people who gave rise to these legends never were those knights. Arthur was at best a tribal leader, dressed not in chainmail but in a leather jerkin and leggings.

Most of the writing, while shallow, was serviceable, but some of it was downright bad. We got the trope of the flecks in the eyes, which is so rife in YA that it's nauseating. Usually, it's gold flecks so kudos to the writer for going with green, but it's still flecks! That wasn't even the worst part though. The worst part was when Nimue noticed these: she was, for reasons unexplained, practicing sword-fighting with Arthur. It was night. They were hiding in a copse off the road, to avoid being seen, and at best had a small fire so how, in the virtual pitch dark, is Nimue going to see green flecks - or any kind of flecks - in Arthur's eyes? It doesn't work! Let's quit it with the YA flecks.

Did you know that 'whicker' describes movement? Well that's not surprising - because it doesn't! A horse whickers when it makes soft whinnying noises. It has nothing to do with movement - except movement of the lungs and larynx! Yet this writer has this: "He whickered his horse down the road at a trot." What the hell does that even mean? Did the horse whicker as it trotted down the road? That's not what he's saying here. Maybe he means the horse moved down the lane like the late Alan Whicker, the globe-trotting and much imitated British television presenter? That could work, I guess: "As the Kaleidoscopic Knights ride reverently along the rocky road, we have wonder why the nefarious, nincompoop Nimue isn't with them...."

At one point - during her ever-changing attitude toward the sword - Nimue declares, "I have to bring the sword to Merlin." Actually she has to take the sword to Merlin. I know in modern usage, people say 'bring' and it's bad grammar, but it's what people do. The question is, would this modern parlance have been in use a thousand years ago? I doubt it, and this is emblematic of another problem with the story - the modern lingo. I don't expect the writer to write it in medieval English, but I do expect at least a nod and a wink to cadence and modes of expression back then, yet here, the language is completely modern in every regard. Disbelief is not only not suspended, it's hung, drawn, and quartered, and dead and buried.

This inattention to what was being written sometimes comes back to bite the author such as in, "She realized that whatever was inside her darkness had made her come, had somehow drawn her there," which made me laugh out loud the first time I read it. It was merely bathroom humor I'm afraid, but the real problem was that I had to read this sentence twice more before I properly understood what he was saying.

That's not a good thing, and it wasn't the only time, but fortunately it didn't happen often. The damage was done though and the problem was that the unintended humor in that sentence made me keep thinking of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and having lines like "...if I went around sayin' I was an emperor just because some moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me, they'd put me away!" running through my mind didn't help to take this seriously, especially since I was having trouble taking it seriously to begin with! So while I think the basic idea for this story was a good one, the execution of if left far too much to be desired for my taste. I can't commend it as a worthy read.


A Girl, a Raccoon, and the Midnight Moon by Karen Romano Young


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. This isn't out until January 2020, but again there are reviews appearing on Goodreads already. I refuse to post there since it's Amazon-owned, but I don't feel bad about posting this so early since everyone else apparently is already doing so!

This novel, aimed at middle-grade, was too long for my taste. It began interestingly enough, but after the initially flurry of excitement over the disappearance of the head from a statue in the grounds of an old and barely-used public library in New York City, things seemed to slow to a glacial pace with nothing really happening. There are some four hundred pages all told, but in the first one hundred, this was literally all that happened that had anything to do with the main plot, and I found that while the story wasn't exactly boring, I wasn't looking forward to reading another three hundred pages of this like I ought to have been.

The title and then the blurb is what drew me in because it sounded, fun, oddball, and intriguing, but the story didn't turn out to be any of those things, and the characters seemed so lifeless and uninteresting that I found no one to buoy me up and carry me along. Pearl is the main character. Her mom works at the library as the circulation librarian, but she's neither in charge, nor second-in-charge at the library, so why she's called in when there is an apparent break-in, I have no idea. She nonetheless comes in and drags her daughter, who is too young to be left home alone, at three o'clock on the morning which is just plain irresponsible.

It's weird, too, because the author has some oddball idea that she has to add footnotes every single time she mentions a book or a magazine. The story is set in a library, but really? Even commonly-known books, such as Harry Potter are referenced, like no one ever heard of them. Worse, there are sidebars for no apparent reason. The first sidebar is one which explains what sidebars are. The others have little or nothing to do with the story, but go off at tangents from it. One sidebar is about four times longer than the text on the page. Several more ran to two pages which is way too long for a sidebar. I quickly took to skipping the sidebars.

I did like the idea that raccoons had this secret life and produced their own newspaper, but it took way too long to get that part of the story moving - about a third of the way in, and right at the point where I was seriously thinking I should really let this book go and move on to something which would spark my interest more; however, the story became rather more intriguing after that. I still felt like it was too long and dragging, and I found myself really wishing that the characters would be less docile and a bit more motivated; less lackluster and more go get 'em.

To me they seemed like they were drifting through life letting things happen to them rather than being shakers and movers. This changed, but again it took forever to get there. The main character developed a friendship with this girl she initially found irritating, and those two combined made one interesting character as it were - like they were two halves by themselves - not completely and not wholly engaging, but almost interesting enough as a pair.

The big problem for the library staff wasn't the fact that their statue in the library grounds was missing its head, but that circulation was at an all-time low, and no one seemed interested in coming into the library any more. Bruce, the library branch head, seemed more interested in begging for more money from the city than ever he did in coming up with ideas to actually bring more people into the library. Never once did he say what he would do with this money if he got it (not until right at the end), so why would they give it to him?

I was disappointed in this approach because it quite frankly made the library staff look like idiots who could only bemoan the fact that the library was in grave danger of being closed and the building sold, instead of thinking positively and taking preventative action to thwart the threatened closure by stirring up interest in the library, or in putting on activities to bring people back. I've met one or two librarians who were idiots, but not many. This approach - that the entire library staff is idiotic - was a poor direction in which to drive a story about books.

The result of this was that rather than side with these people who I found tedious, I was starting to get fully on the side of the city who seemed to favor closing the library, because I'd been given no reason at all to root for the librarians. Why would I root for people who had let it all slide to this sorry impasse in the first place? The time to be thinking of solutions was months ago when circulation first showed signs of sinking, not when it had reached a nadir. Why would any city want to support a bunch of people who did nothing to help themselves and simply sat around whining about their sorry status and begging for handouts instead of showing signs that they were actively trying to make improvements in the things they had control over, but had let slip from their lax grasp?

So like I said, I was about ready to let this go, but then it all turned around and the last two or three hundred pages made up a lot for the sluggish writing in the first hundred or so. At that point the story became much more interesting and I became much more engaged, although I have to say the final reveal was a bit much. The early talk about the missing head was that it was solid stone and too much weight for someone to simply walk-off with, but then we see this little kid carrying around this replacement head like it weighs nothing, and this is a granite carving! Granite is one of the densest stones and weighs more for a given size than most other stone does, so it made rather disingenuous all this talk about how limited the pool of potential thieves was ! Had I known a kid could carry the head, it would have been easier to work out who was really behind it. I felt a bit cheated there!

So this review sounds negative because it is. It reflects my strong feelings over the first hundred and some pages, and my disappointment in the sluggish story-telling and poor pacing, and improbable ideas. And I'm not counting literate raccoons, which I enjoyed, as improbable at all. Not for this purpose! The rest of the story let them down though. So overall, I cannot commend this as a worthy read at all.


Friday, July 26, 2019

Beautiful Blue World by Suzanne la Fleur


Rating: WARTY!

Read indifferently by Christy Carlson Romano, this short novel started out slowly, but with intrigue, and it made me interested in what would happen, but then it seemed to hit a roadblock with the story-telling and it quickly backslid into boring.

Mathilde is a young girl who lives with her mother and father, and younger sister, and who attends school with her super-smart best friend Meg. The country, named Sofirende (spelling might be off, because audio!) is at war. I have to say I had a problem with the names of places in this novel.

I don't know how the name of the enemy country is spelled, but it was read like it was "Tease Ya" which sounded like a poor choice of name for a violent enemy, but even that wasn't as bad as the name of the city where Mathilde lives. The audiobook reader had about three different pronunciations for the city, and one of these sounded as though she were saying "Like a lick." The other pronunciation sounded like "Lick a Leg" neither of which was particularly appealing, especially not for a book for younger children.

When you bring children into an adventure, you need a legit reason to have them there - why they're exposed to this rather than grown-ups or trained professionals, and this author never did the work. There was a test, which was entirely predictable, because I knew as soon as I heard about the test that Mathilde and Megs would take it and the 'smarter' Megs would fail and the 'dumber' Mathilde would pass because this was never going to be a regular school test.

So off waltzes Mathilde (this is starting to sound like an Australian bush song, isn't it?) and finally we get to the worst part of the novel which is that when Mathilde arrives at this military intelligence place, From day one, she's never once given any orientation to what they're doing or how she can help. This place is the most lackadaisical, haphazard place you can possibly imagine with the kids just running wild and doing whatever they want whenever. Some of the kids seem to have a regular job trying to predict where ships are moving or where enemy planes will bomb next, but they're really not very good at it, and ultimately what they're doing is a waste of time, but some adult direction and some hints and tips would sure have helped, yet there were none. It was pure bullshit.

Worse, it failed to rationalize the kids being there. There was quite literally nothing that they were doing that an adult could not have done better - or a computer. But there's the rub! Were there even computers in this world? We have no idea because it was completely fictitious with no guide as to in what period of parallel Earth history this was taking place. There were airplanes, trains, phones, but that merely places it anywhere between somewhere around World War Two and the present.

There were other random elements in the story, too. At some point a prisoner is brought into the compound and Mathilde is tasked with talking to him, but she's told nothing about him or given any idea of how to approach this or what they want from him, and even had she been given this information it would have been worthless because this guy was almost as young as Mathilde - clearly a very low-level soldier who had no more clue what was going on in the "Tease Ya" military than Mathilde did herself. Maybe tease ya was right after all.

Continuing with the randomness theme, suddenly Meg shows up out of the blue without warning and with no apparent reason, and shortly after, and without whispering a word of early warning to the residents, the order to evacuate the camp is given and Mathilde is heading out to catch a train with the others, gets separated, and misses the train. Best friend Megs is nowhere to be seen and doesn't even wait for Mathilde. I guess that friendship's blown!

Mathilde manages to make it to the port and depart for safer shores - but not once does she think about her family whom she's supposedly been missing the entire time she's been in the intelligence compound! Never once does she have a thought for how they're doing or what will happen to them if Tease Ya wins this war. So in the end the Intelligence gathering was a joke because there was zero intelligence in this story! It sucked. I dis-commend it fiercely. It was garbage.


Princess Ugg by Ted Naifeh, Warren Wucinich


Rating: WARTY!

PU turns out to be apt initials for this graphic novel. I came to this via Naifeh's Courtney Crumrin books that I really enjoyed, but this one on a new subject, despite being in glorious color (from Wucinich), standard graphic novel page size, and well-illustrated, left me feeling deprived of a good story. This is a fish-out-of-water story, which is the kind of thing I don't normally go for because they can be tedious and predictable if not done right, and that's exactly what happened here.

So Princess Ülga is supposed to be some sort of Viking warlord's daughter used to living rough, buff body, not remotely afraid to tackle barbarians with a battle axe. Curiously she speaks with a Scots accent. For reason which were not exactly clear to me, she's sent to a school for princesses, and of course all of the current students there are finely-mannered and even more finely-dressed, and they take exception to Princess "Ugg" as they call her, to even being there, let alone wanting to better herself.

You know things are going to be resolved, but this isn't a stand-alone so while there is some sort of resolution, the story isn't really ever over in a series. I really didn't like Princess Ugg despite becoming rather fond of Ülga. You never see women like this in the movies because they're far from what Hollywood considers to be a female ideal - and don't think for a minute that "diversity" is going to improve that narrow, blinkered perspective. It's still Hollywood.

I can't commend this as a worthy read although I do commend the creators for offering up a different perspective on what a female main character can be. She just deserved a lot better story than to be plonked down in the middle of a bunch of boilerplate Disney princesses with a wish upon a star that something fun would come from it. I recommend reading Kurtis Weibe's Rat Queens instead - it has a much more diverse set of main characters, and is an fun and interesting story as well.


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Jem and The Holograms Dark Jem by Kelly Thompson, Sophie Campbell, M Victoria Robado


Rating: WARTY!

Back in mid-September of 2015, I favorably reviewed the debut graphic novel in this series by the same author, Kelly Thompson who also wrote a Marvel Jessica Jones graphic novel that I favorably reviewed this very month, but I can't do the same for this one which was confusingly written and told a really scrappy story. The artwork, drawn by Campbell and brilliantly colored by Robado was fine, but the story let it all down.

The story was what attracted me - how can you not want to read one titled 'Dark Jem'? really? The basis of this goes back to when Jerrica's father programmed Synergy - a device which could project animated holograms onto people to disguise their features, and this gave the confidence-lacking Jerrica the courage to appear on stage and brought her this great success. The problem is - we learn here - that there was a flaw in that programming which their dad could not get out, and now that issue has come back to bug them as it were, as the program itself projects a new version of the holograms - a goth metal band which can infect listeners with some sort of ear-worm turning them into mindless zombies.

Jerrica and the crew figure this out of course, but they also have to figure out how to beat it. Unfortunately, the story fell apart at around this same point and never got it back together, not even having a real ending. There was an interesting transgender character who came to audition for the band early in the story when lead (and only!) singer "Pizz" (that sounded too much like 'piss' for my taste!) partially lost her voice after an accident, but she disappeared without any fanfare about two-thirds the way through the story and Mz Pizz magically reappeared with the same lack of fanfare, and story just fizzled out at that point. It was nowhere near a patch on the original I read and was very unsatisfactory. I can't commend this as a worthy read.


Scarlet Hood by Mark Evans, Isobel Lundie


Rating: WARTY!

No success with this graphic novel either. I don't have anything to say about Isobel Lundie's artwork except that it was gray-scale and scrappy. And the writing was simple, pedantic, and uninventive.

When I picked this up and glanced through it briefly, I thought maybe it was a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, but it was not. It looked superficially interesting, but it was not. Greta the Cruel sounded like a fun villain, but she was not. It was just a story of school bullying and a magical remedy and it was very, very short.

Scarlet treks through the forest to grandma's house, doesn't get eaten by a wolf; grandma isn't impersonated by a wolf, and all grandma does is give to Scarlett a red hoodie which she claims will help her granddaughter. She says nothing about it delivering the poor girl to a dragon! Thanks grandma.

But Scarlet ends up befriending the dragon as she ends up befriending the school bully, who never pays for her previous acts, and no-one in the entire school seems to have any issue with the bullying. The best thing I can say about this, is that it's short. I can't commend it in any way.


Shuri Volume 1 The Search for Black Panther by Nnedi Okorafor, Leonardo Romero, Jordie Bellaire


Rating: WARTY!

It's no wonder I'm reading that TV and movies have taken over the SDCC, because comics just aren't cutting it any more, es evidenced by this one, and many others I've read of late.

The only thing I'd previously read by Okorafor, the writer of this graphic novel, was Street Magicks which was a collection of short stories by assorted authors, and hers was one I did not like. So perhaps it's not surprising that in the end, I did not like this comic, with art by Romero, and colors by Bellaire. The story is ostensibly about Shuri, the younger sister of King T'Challa of Wakanda, aka the Black Panther. It started very strongly, but then sort of faded into mediocrity. I hate it when that happens.

When T'Challa, as the Black Panther, was out of commission in the past, his sister Shuri had stepped up and took over the role, but when he disappears this time (flying a warp spacecraft of Shuri's design!), she feels very reluctant to replace him again, and instead of exploring that, or showing her determined efforts to find out what happened to him, the novel goes off in two or three different tangents which have nothing to do with her ambivalence or her brother's disappearance. It's never even explained why T-Challa has to fly this craft. Evidently T'Challa is from the Star Trek world, where he can't delegate and has to go on every single mission himself, which is utterly nonsensical, but it seems to be the way things are done in fiction!

The story just felt way too dissipated and disingenuous to be an engaging one, and the artwork was not appealing to me. There was a huge gulf between the cover art and the occasional full page image of similarly striking quality, and the very angular and rather simplistic artwork in the actual story where Shuri looked nothing like she did in those individual images. I had a hard time reconciling the one with the other because those full-page pictures really showed-up the mediocrity of the regular and very utilitarian work in the panels.

But while the art is a large part of the graphic novel and can help to make or break it, for me the story is always the most important part and if the story sucks, no amount of brilliant art can save it. But unfortunately, here the art wasn't brilliant and the story sadly betrayed the agency of Shuri because it put her constantly in need of others helping her and thius robbed her of any power. It felt like a sellout - like she couldn't handle things on her own with her macho bro out of the picture, so she needed others to come rescue her including the white savor at the end, in the form of Tony Stark. I was disgusted by that.

To me there's a difference between an ensemble story like the Avengers, and an individual story about one of Marvel's characters, and I don't mind if there's some interaction between one super hero and another in an individual story, but it seems like every Marvel comic I've taken a look at recently insists upon dragging into the story the entire Marvel stable. Enough already! If you want to do that, then make it an Avengers (or whatever team) story. Don't proclaim on the front cover that this is a Shuri story and then proceed to portray her as a maiden in distress requiring periodic rescue by other characters. When these other Marvel heroes flock into the story for no apparent reason and worse, serve no useful purpose, then you have to really wonder if the writer knows what she's doing.

The first of these was another female 'goddess' (so we're told). I'd never heard of her, but then I'm not steeped in Wakandan lore. The problem is that this goddess disappears and contributes zero to the story. She could, were she actually a goddess, have helped Shuri on her mission, but no! Why do go that route? So Shuri is sent into space in spiritual form and completely flies by the place where she's supposed to go - her brother's spacecraft.

No reason is offered for that failure and it makes no sense since it's her brother she's focused on, not the two guys she ends up with! She then finds herself battling a ludicrous 'space insect' which is sucking power from Rocket and Groot's spacecraft. What? Why would she go there? No logical reason - except that the writer evidently decided to include those two in the story to serve no purpose whatsoever! Shuri inhabits Groot's body - again for no reason - and starts chanting "I am Shuri" in complete disregard of the fact that such a phrase would be meaningless in Groot's language since the phrase, 'I am Groot' is actually not Groot's way of introducing himself!

The insect follows them back to Wakanda (of course, because why not?!) despite there being no reason at all why it would. It evidently feeds on electricity, and let's not even get started on how such a creature would even evolve in space before the advent of machines using electricity. This insect is evidently a direct rip-off of the Mynocks from Star Wars. Yawn. And since there's no air in space, why does it have wings? Again, no reason at all. It's possible to have fantasy and magic in a story and have it make sense within its own framework, but this author simply doesn't care, so then why should I? This was a poor story, indifferently illustrated and an outright insult to the Shuri character. I dis-commend it.


Monday, July 15, 2019

Wildwood by Colin Meloy, Carson Ellis


Rating: WARTY!

Written by songwriter Meloy this ebook is very long and very slow-moving unfortunately. The 540-some page print version is illustrated by his wife, Ellis, but I saw none of that in the audio version, which was read by Amanda Plummer in such a sweet voice that I think I kept it going longer because of that. Had the voice been less pleasing, I would have ditched it a lot earlier than I did.

This book exemplifies one reason I don't like longer books: too many of them seem to take forever to get anywhere. When I was about a quarter the way through it, nothing had really happened other than that this girl saw her toddler brother carried away by crows into this wild wooded area, and she went into it to get the kid back and discovered that it was home to a bunch of weird characters including a regiment of military coyotes.

So it was a charming idea, but it was moving like a slug. It had moved along quite quickly to begin with, but once Prue, the main female character had got into the Wildwood area, everything seemed to have the brakes slammed on and it really started to drag. I kept going until about a third the way in and lost patience with it.

There was a battle described between the coyotes and the bandits in the forest, and it was so gory that I couldn't believe I was reading a book written for young children. While I get that children see this kind of thing more often in video games, movies, and on TV these days than their counterparts used to, this still struck me as a lot of unnecessary detail. It's possible in a children's book to describe death without going into into loving detail. Again this is a problem with an overly long book - too much time on the author's hands.

The only amusing thing, to me, about this is that it was at this point that I chose to skip to the last few tracks and despite the skip, I came back into it to discover equally gory detail! I couldn't believe it. We have enough violence in schools these days without needing to extoll it in literature. It was like I was still listening to the same part of the book. On top of this was a baby sacrifice, and I decided this book wasn't worth spending any more time on, and quit listening.

I can't commend something like this as a worthy read or a listen, not even with Amanda Plummer's voice.


Saturday, July 13, 2019

Saving the Team by Alex Morgan, Full Fathom Five


Rating: WARTY!

If I'd known beforehand that this was a Full Fathom Five product, I would never have picked it off the library shelf, but I didn't learn this until later. I expected better from someone of Alex Morgan's Stature.

Anyway, after enjoying this year's women's world cup I discovered that one of the US team's leading scorers, Alex Morgan, had written a middle-grade series about girls' soccer. At least I can only assume she wrote it. It is Full Fathom Five after all, so who knows? Since I'd written my own YA novel about a girl who gets to play soccer in the English men's professional league, I was curious as to how a professional player would write a soccer story, so I checked this out of the library.

I have to say I was disappointed in it in several ways, not just in the story telling. I can't speak for middle-grade girls, but this wasn't quite what I was expecting and the story was a bit too black and white, traditional, and safe for my taste: the inattentive adults, the evil bully girl, the oh-so-wonderful instant friends, the 'problems' that are not really problems. To me it felt a bit young and simplistic for today's middle graders.

The basic plot is that Devin moves from the west coast to the east coast meaning it's the trope 'new girl in school' garbage that's already been done to death. Could Morgan not have added a bit of an original twist here? Aren't strikers supposed to be inventive? I guess she really wasn't very inventive in the world cup. Yes, she admirably took the goals as the chances presented themselves, scoring five of hers in that first easy game, but she really didn't have to work for any of them, did she? She certainly didn't make them with inventive and incisive runs through the defense; for the most part she simply stood there and then took advantage of the opening when the ball came right to her. She's no Marta Vieira da Silva, that's for sure.

You know there's a lot been said about the US behavior in that first game - about scoring so many goals against Thailand, but I never had a problem with that. You get the chance, you score. It's almost a knee-jerk reaction, and no one can complain about the confidence-building and experience credits it brings to a player, especially in an opening game. No, my problem was that the US's extravagant celebration of each goal was way out of proportion to the effort it took to get it. They were humiliating poor Thailand and reveling in it. That's cold. That's callous. I expect better of a women's team. Morgan herself writes on p85 of this very novel, "There's a mercy rule in soccer, right?" as Devin's team is being roundly beaten. How hypocritical that was.

If they'd faced a tough, seasoned, team (as they did each game once they were into the knock-out rounds where their scoring dropped precipitously from that first game and came to rely more than once on penalty goals), then celebrating like that after a score is entirely appropriate, because it's hard work scoring against a team like those, and players deserve that kind of celebratory release, but shaming a poorer team which doesn't have the resources the US team had and which isn't going to get paid the third of a million dollars that each of the US players will end up with (and that excludes any endorsements they may get) is disgraceful in my opinion and far beneath the conduct I'd expect of a team which has the status and power that the US team enjoys. It was white players beating down the brown players and loving it, and that's never a good thing.

Equality isn't only about pay (which the US women's team definitely deserves having earned actually more than the US men's team has over the last few years). It's about everyone having an equal chance. The Thai team is new to the cup and had nowhere near the experience and resources the US team had. The Argentinian team had to fight bigotry and prejudice and a complete lack of support in their struggle to have a national women's team. The US deserves equal pay and no one in their right mind would argue otherwise, but that said, the US also enjoys privilege and status which many other women's teams are still fighting desperately for. We'd be fools to forget that this is bigger than the US team. Much bigger.

But I digress! As usual! So what's with this Alex Morgan obsession with California - like it's some exotic foreign country that Devin can't get over? Could it be that Morgan herself is from California and perhaps now has a thoroughly warped view about how super-human the soccer players are and how they dress far in advance of the rest of the country? Yeah, five of the US 23-member team were native Californians, but three hailed from Georgia and two each from Arizona, New Jersey, and New York state, so whence this outlandish praise for California soccer? Bias - again! Remember this is where players were born, not necessarily where they blossomed and learned how to became the world-class players they are today.

It's nice that the cover of this novel depicted such a diversity of people: Asian, Black, and white, but if you look at photos of the USWNT, it's almost entirely white. There were only three black players on the team of 23 - and not a single Asian or Latinx player. Yes, of course they have to pick the best players, but what does it say about us if we can find the best only among white players? Whence equality there? Where is our melting pot of diversity and opportunity?

That said, the book cover doesn't remotely reflect the characters in the novel - and pink boots? Really? And the art is by a female artist who once again evidently never read the novel. The only pink mentioned in the novel is of a headband and a top. Never boots. How about a picture of real live girls - real soccer players on the cover - not models, not cartoon characters? Is that too much to ask? I guess it is from what's been roundly touted as a book mill, but more on that later.

Morgan has Devin stupidly following along with these Californians like a bleating lamb. "Mom, I must have flip-flops!" (or words to that effect) she cries after their team tryout! (Disclosure - I am biased against flip-flops. I think they're stupid, cheap, and nasty, but then I'm not the one writing a novel advocating about them! Although now, I think maybe I'll put in a couple of words about them in this novel I'm currently working on! LOL!). My point here is that once again Morgan could have made Devin stand out by making her an individual instead of a lamb, but no. She doesn't want that. Maybe she thinks individuals have no place in team sports, but if that's so I'd have to ask her "Did Megan Rapinoe get to be the figure she is today by blending in?" Hell no! Learn something from your teammates, Morgan!

There was at least one grammar issue that I recall, where Morgan apparently doesn't understand the difference between criteria and criterion (p8). The former is plural, the latter singular, and Morgan uses the wrong one. Now you can argue that this was written in first person by a twelve-year-old, so maybe it was the youngster who got it wrong and not the university-educated author who is more than twice her age, but this comes back to how you want your main character to appear, doesn't it?

Do do you want her to sound illiterate and dumb? I guess that's the choice the author of this novel leaned into. It's one of many problems with first person voice stories which is why I rail against them. Do you really want to write the novel in a way that makes it as dumb as your character might be? Because that doesn't make for great reading in my book. On the other hand, if you have a dumb character and write her in first person, but write literately, then do you betray that character and your entire story? This is why third person is nearly always the wisest choice. First person doesn't bring immediacy, it brings a complete lack of realism and dearth of suspense which overwhelms your rather desperate substitution of first person for immediacy.

So by now you must know that I did not like this story. It felt wrong, too fluffy, inauthentic, too easy, and far too predictable. Yes, they do beat their bedeviling team at the end, and it's no spoiler to say that, but that victory comes out of nothing - no sweat, no tears and certainly no blood (which is probably a good thing!). Maybe middle-grade girls will like this story, but if they do, I feel sorry for them that they settle for so little when they could have so much more. Surely this, right now, in the midst of the afterglow from the US women's victory on a world stage, is when we ought to be strongly-pushing for more and better for our girls?

All of that aside, the biggest reason for avoiding this series like the plague is that it's copyright not to Alex Morgan, but to Alex Morgan and "Full Fathom Five" which is the book mill run by businessman James Frey, which begs the question as to whether Morgan even wrote it at all. In January 2006, The Smoking Gun published an article online titled: "A Million Little Lies: Exposing James Frey's Fiction Addiction" alleging that James Frey simply made up large parts of his memoirs. The next month, Frey apologized for these fabrications. Full Fathom Five was the subject of an article in New York magazine: "James Frey's Fiction Factory" (November 2010) which is still available online as of this posting date. You should read it: http://nymag.com/arts/books/features/69474/. For me, I would advise avoiding this series like the plague. I feel it does a disservice to women's soccer and women in general for that matter.