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

Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Oracle Year by Charles Soule

Rating: WARTY!

Read okay if sometimes annoyingly by Charlie Thurston, this audiobook novel started out with an interesting premise, but got lost somewhere along the way and by about two-thirds the way through it, the author had lost me as a supporter by having the story ramble way too much. The blurb describes this debut novel as "clever and witty" but it's neither. And there's no "sharp-witted satire." In the end, what there was, was boredom and I DNF'd it. The writer is a comic book writer, but the novel doesn't read like a comic book; it reads more like a menu. A disjointed, rambling menu advertising yesterday's leftovers.

The premise is that a musician with the bizarre name of Will Dando (have prophecies, will dando?!) gets these predictions spoken to him in his sleep; over a hundred of them. With the usual computer geek friend, he sets up an anonymous website where be begins posting the predictions. The website is unimaginatively referred to as 'The Site' and the predictor is unimaginatively known as 'The Oracle'. There is a predictably ruthless jackass working for the government who wants to track him down and who hires a predictably tame on the surface, but dangerous underneath, older woman known as 'The Coach' to do the dirty. There is a predictably pissed-off religious leader with a predictably Biblical name who also wants him.

The predictions seems random, and will dandos around aimlessly, not knowing what to do with them except post them in batches on his website, but instead of posting them all and then severing all ties to the website, Will dandos on and on stupidly and gets tracked down, of course, because he's a moron. Monkey see, will dando. Yet despite being a whiny-assed moron, he has a "beautiful journalist" fall for him. Why it's important that she's beautiful according to the book blurb, is a mystery, except that only beautiful counts for anything in these novels, doesn't it? A smart woman doesn't work for this kind of story, neither does a capable one or one with loyalty, grit, determination, bravery, integrity, humor, or whatever. No, the only important thing to the misogynist of a book blurb writer is that she's beautiful because in his world, women have no other value, obviously.

Eventually even dandoing around as he does, Will figures out there's something going on here because the predictions, when combined and in hindsight, seemed aimed at orchestrating something. He's just too dumb to figure out what it is, and I simply didn't care what it was. I can't commend this.

Red Dove by Sonia Antaki

Rating: WARTY!

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

Not to be confused with The Red Dove by Gerry Hillier or The Red Dove by Derek Lambert, this Red Dove (illustrated by Andrew Bosley and subtitled "Listen to the Wind") tells the story of a young Lakota Sioux girl named Red Dove, who lives on a reservation in the Dakota Territory in the early 1890s. She is a child of a white Irish father and an American Indian mother. The blurb tells us that food is scarce, yet the opening few paragraphs detail a hunting trip during which the girl and her half-brother Walks Alone are looking at a whole posse of turkeys, one of which Red Dove brings down with an arrow even though women are not supposed to hunt so we're told.

One issue I had with this book was that it is supposed to be about a strong female of the Lakota Sioux, but if felt like an ordinary story, and there were no references anywhere to any other Sioux women except for the main character's mother. There have been scores of strong American Indian women, including tribal leaders, who lived around or before the time this story takes place, yet we hear of none of them. For example, the Battle of the Little Big Horn, where Custer led a bunch of the Seventh cavalry foolishly to their deaths, is mentioned in this story more than once, yet none of the female Lakota who fought in t hat battle get a mention, and there were at least three of them: Minnie Hollow Wood, Moving Robe Woman (a Hunkpapa Sioux who is credited in some accounts with dispatching Custer), or One Who Walks With the Stars (an Oglala Sioux woman). The leader known in the west as 'Crazy Horse' is mentioned, but his wife, Black Shawl, never gets a word. It's like, despite this novel being about a Sioux woman, Indian women are excluded from the story. It made no sense to me.

Note that Lakota women were not the only ones who fought in battles. There were other American Indian women of other tribes who also fought at Little Bighorn or elsewhere. These women were not shrinking violets. They were tough and self sufficient, and very strong. Names that come to mind are Buffalo Calf Road Woman, a Cheyenne woman whose rescue of her brother at the Battle of the Rosebud was instrumental in turning the tide in the Indian's favor. She also fought alongside her husband at Little Bighorn, and is credited with knocking Custer from his horse. Pretty Nose was a female Arapaho war chief who fought at Little Bighorn.

So anyway, there clearly was no scarcity of food if there are so many turkeys to be had, but these two kids are nevertheless sent off with strangers to a Catholic missionary school where they're treated brutally. Now I get that American Indians have been - and in far too many cases still are - treated appallingly, but the problem I had with this book is that it's relentless in its brutality, with no leavening whatsoever, and it's also unrealistic. It's unrealistic in that this girl was of an age which back then would have been considered 'ripe for the plucking' by the unscrupulous and brutal white men with whom she comes into contact, yet she is never once sexually assaulted or even threatened by it.

Naturally you don't want those horrific details in a middle-grade book, but to not even hint at what a precarious position a girl like her would have been in seemed inauthentic to me when other forms of violence against her were depicted without reserve. The fact is that (according to a 2010 Department of Justice study) over four out of five American Indian and Alaskan Native women have experienced violence, over half have experienced sexual violence and of those, almost all of them experienced it at the hands of a non-tribal member.

The truth is that Native Americans are more than twice as likely to experience sexual assault and rape than any other ethnic group in the United States, and this is today in our supposedly more enlightened times. To avoid this topic in a book set back when there were neither rules nor any sort of moral compass to enlighten and dissuade men from abusing American Indians is a grave failure to face the facts. It's disingenuous and the Sioux women deserve better. The author isn't native American, and while I don't consider that a disqualification by any means, I have to wonder if she perhaps she did not think this idea properly through.

The novel seemed to drag for me, made worse by the never-ending brutality, and while Red Dove is shown as escaping at one point from the Catholic school she fails to get very far before being captured. After that, she suffers the 'white savior' trope in which a white kid helps her out, so she's not really demonstrating "that her greatest power comes from within herself" as the blurb promises.

I think her agency is further diluted by the introduction of a ridiculous level of the supernatural. For me this cheapened Red Dove's story considerably, and made her look like she was mentally unstable. I think a novel without the supernatural, where the girl was shown to have delivered herself from evil as it were, but without need for spirits, and men, including her grandfather, telling her what to do, would have made for a much stronger story. The book also mentions conscription at one point in the narrative, but there was no such thing between the end of the civil war and the start of World War One in the USA to my knowledge.

This book was evidently designed as a print book with no thought given to the ebook version, so the use of drop caps, which I personally do not like, managed to screw-up the layout of the book after it went through Amazon's crappy Kindle conversion process which will mangle your book if it's anything more ambitious than plain vanilla. On more than one occasion, the drop-cap was removed from the start of the first sentence in a chapter and deposited at the start of the second line, so at one point, for example, I read, “he sun sank low behind the hills, the air carried a chill, Tand the sky shimmered from gold to pink.” Here you can see that the 'T' that should gave begun the sentence is appended instead to another word that presumably started the next line in the print version. That line, beginning with ‘Tand’ was a half line below the rest of the text as well.

Many parts of the novel seemed like they had hard 'carriage returns' built into the text, so while some screens had the text run from one side to other as is normal, other screens had the text ending mid-screen and dropping to the next line. It made for a scrappy-looking book and both author and publisher need to take responsibility for checking these things. I personally refuse to publish with Amazon, but if you're going to do that, you need to watch them like a hawk because they will ruin your book's layout if they're not watched like a hawk, as this example proved handsomely in its ugliness.

So all these things together made for a very unsatisfying read for me, and shortly after the white savior came riding to the rescue, I gave up on it. That was around eighty percent, when Red Dove began having out of the body experiences. Sorry but this as not for me and while I wish the author all the best in her career, I cannot commend this as a worthy read.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Enchanted Moments by the Disney Product Marketing Team

Rating: WARTY!

This seemed to me to be a cynical offering from Disney. I have mixed feelings about this mega-corporation. They're way too big for one thing. Worse than that, they insist on churning out Star Bores movies that are so derivative as to be pathetic, and turned me permanently off the whole space opera.

But I do like what their Marvel unit puts out. The problem with Marvel is the same as it is with the 'princess' movies: it's all about the guys even though those princess movies superficially appear to be dedicated to their respective princesses! Most of the time, the stage is occupied by the male characters at least as far as speaking roles go. Apparently the princesses have little to contribute according to Disney. This weekend Marvel makes a major move to redress its deficit. What's its parent going to do?

This book, however, was just too much. It's nothing more than an advertisement for their Disney princess product line which is a part of the three billion dollar Disney product marketing machine. I have zero respect for the princesses despite Disney's limp efforts to retcon these girls into feminine powerhouses.

These days, if not always, Disney is all about retconning, taking public domain properties and turning them into movies and products, and then incestuously and endlessly feeding off of those same products by nothing more inventive or imaginative than repackaging. There's no originality here at all. Just how many times have they remade Cinderella? And now it seems they're embarking on a massive remake of everything. The only fresh thing they've had for years is Frozen, which I had a sneak preview of and enjoyed, but now they're essentially remaking that by adding a limp sequel.

This particular book consists of five thick cardboard pages, each starring a 'princess':

  • Cinderella, not really a princess, but certainly the girl with the smallest shoe size on the planet, yet whose movie stands alone in the Disney canon by actually giving her close parity with the male characters in terms of exposure, but the truth is that Cinderella really did nothing for herself. She had it all handed to her by her fairy godmother and her animal slaves.
  • Ariel was disobedient from the start, putting herself first and foremost in everything, and completely disregarding her father and the rest of her family in pursuit of her own selfish ambition.
  • Belle's actual name was Beauty in the original (contrary to Lady Gaga's dilemma, early Disney movies were all about the Shallow). Again, she wasn't a princess, and she curiously seemed to favor the beast in his animal form, but her worst trait is that she despises everyone else in her village!
  • Snow White was demoted from princess by the queen, and I've heard that she was Hitler's favorite Disney character. Perhaps the limpest of all princesses, she needed not one guy, but seven to validate her. And all she had ambition to do was clean house.
  • Aurora slept (and didn't even walk) her way through life until some dude kissed her without her permission - which admittedly would have been hard to give. She has the least to say of any major Disney character.

I find none of these inspiring and cannot rate this as a worthy read. It's really just a marketing tool

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Politically Correct Bedtime Stories by James Finn Garner

Rating: WARTY!

I didn't like this at all. I got interested in it because it sounds like the kind of thing I might write, but the story changes were such obvious ones that it didn't feel inventive or ambitious at all, and so after reading a couple of pages of the first one, I started skimming others and after two or three of those, and seeing that they were much the same, I was done with this book. Maybe it will amuse you more than it did me. The three little pigs was mildly amusing, but I couldn't rouse much interest in it, and none at all in any of the other stories. I can't commend it based on what I saw of it.

The stories the author covers are as follows FYI. The book is only a very short book so each story is really short:

  • Little Red Riding Hood
  • The Emperor's New Clothes
  • The Three Little Pigs
  • Rumpelstiltskin
  • The Three Codependent Goats Gruff
  • Rapunzel
  • Cinderella
  • Goldilocks
  • Snow White
  • Chicken Little
  • The Frog Prince
  • Jack and the Beanstalk
  • The Pied Piper of Hamelin

Tidewater by Libbie Hawker

Rating: WARTY!

You know I should just swear off any novel about Jamestown which features the name Pocahontas on the cover. Even though that was not strictly speaking, her name, but a descriptive term, the author uses this name exclusively for the main character (at least in the part I listened to which honestly wasn't very much).

The American Indians speak in modern English idiom, and while I certainly didn't expect that their words would have been spoken in their own language in this audiobook, I thought some effort might have been made to render their exchanges a little more authentically. It felt so fake.

On top of that, The Pocahontas, who was well-known amongst her own people, was refused entrance to a meeting to which she had been instructed to bring food by her father. The guards on the door didn't recognize her? There were guards on the door? It felt so completely unrealistic that I couldn't hear it. It felt like the author had no clue whatsoever as to how these people lived back then, and simply translated everything into modern western European terms and was happy with what she'd done. The truly disturbing thing is that believe it or not, this wasn't the worst part of it for me!

The story was narrated by three people, and the woman who narrated the Powhatan portions was Angela Dawe, an actor who isn't native American and whose voice was one of the most harsh and strident I have ever heard. It was quite literally painful on my ears. I began listening to this on the drive home from the library after I picked it up. That drive is very short, but even so, I couldn't stand to listen to her voice for the entire journey home. I turned it off and almost looped the car around to return the book that same afternoon! LOL. It was awful. The voice was completely wrong in every measure. It was hard to listen to because of the tone, and cadence and pacing. Every single thing was off about it, and it made my stomach turn to listen to it.

So based on an admittedly tiny portion of this, I can't commend it.

The Affliction by Beth Gutcheon

Rating: WARTY!

This audiobooks started out well enough, but it moved so slowly that I was truly tired of it by the time I was about forty percent the way through it. I gave up on it shortly after that. The narration by Hillary Huber wasn't bad, it was just a poor story.

It's apparently part of a series, but once again the publisher has failed to identify this on the cover. What are they afraid of? All it said was that it was by the author of Death at Breakfast a singularly uninspiring title which it turns out is the first in the series. This is the second, but it can be read as a standalone if you don't mind occasional references to a prior history between the two main protagonists, Maggie Detweiler and Hope Babbin.

Maggie is a retired school principal. How that qualifies her to solve murders is more of a mystery than the murder mystery itself is. Hope Babbin is a bon viveur as far as I can tell - wealthy and no clue what to do with herself. She's happy, in this story, to abandon her book club, which begs the question as to why she's in it in the first place. Maybe it's lazy author shorthand for her being smart? It doesn't work. It never does.

Maggie is supposed to be part of an assessment group that's inspecting a private and formerly elite, but now down-at-heel, girls school which is under threat of closure. None of this has anything to do with the murder, but it gets Maggie in the door. When one of the teachers is found in the swimming pool - on the bottom as opposed to swimming - Maggie is asked to stay on to help guide the relatively new and young current school principal through the crisis, but Maggie spends absolutely zero time advising the principal on anything, and instead immediately launches herself and her friend Hope whom she recruits for this purpose, into a serious investigation of the crime.

Never once does it cross her mind that she might screw things up for the police. Never once do the police advise her to keep out of the investigation. Never once do any of the people she interviews tell her to get lost and quit meddling, or that it's none of her business. Never once do they refuse to answer any of her questions - at least not in the part I listened to. Never once do these two share anything they have learned with the police, and never once do the police start suspecting them of being involved or covering-up anything. It's just too frigging perfect!

The whole thing was so inauthentic that it really made for an increasing lack of suspension of disbelief the more I listened to this. The feeling that grew on me was that here were two interfering busybodies who evidently had nothing better to do with their time than to get into other people's business with no concerns whatsoever for what they might mess-up. That's not my kind of story and this one wasn't even written well, so I can't commend it for anything other than wasting my time quite effectively.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Humiliations of Pipi McGee by Beth Vrabel

Rating: WARTY!

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

I started out really liking this book, but it developed two major strikes against it. The first was that the ending really went downhill into complete unbelievability for me, so the last twenty percent or so was an unpleasant read. That wasn't the worst part though. The worst was that the main Character Penelope McGee, never ever seemed to learn!

I don't mind reading about a dumb female character if she turns herself around, or if she has some other qualities that come to light, but "Pipi" never changed. As the story went on, she proved herself to be actually worse than anyone she had a vendetta against, and on top of that she proved weak, unassertive, and just completely lackluster, willing to betray friends, family, anyone, to get what she wanted. She was not a nice person and had little thought for the consequences of the poor choices and decisions she persisted in making.

The basis story is that in her last year of middle school, she unilaterally decides she can wipe her slate clean and start high school with a fresh outlook. She determines, against the better advice of her friends to whom she pays little heed, that the only way to do this is to seek vengeance on everyone who wronged her, and try to wipe out her humiliations. She talks like this will be redemption, but she really doesn't act like any of it is. It felt like a real shame to me because some parts of the story were really good, and there was this one nose-piercing scene which mede me laugh out loud, but such meager leavening in a book that is otherwise sinking does far too little to improve matters.

On top of this, her story is presented against the backdrop of what has to be the worst middle school in the entire country. There is no discipline there, the teachers are all either bullies or idiots, and there is absolutely zero parental involvement whatsoever. It's not surprising then that there was open and unchecked bullying going on in this school, which the teachers never did a thing about.

One of the teachers openly bullied the girls, yet there never were any repercussions, for example with parents making complaints about her. The principal of the school was female and all this was going on under her watch, so what message does this send about female competency? It was a disgrace. It was so unrealistic as to be more of a caricature than anything that felt real.

Pipi herself was also a caricature in practice, because everything presented in this story was either stark black or it was glaring white. there was no subtlety here; no shades of gray. On top of that, Pipi had to be one of the most self-centered and ignorant characters I've ever encountered. It was pretty obvious that one of the main characters was gay and Pipi never figured this out at all. She was so self-focussed and self-obsessed that it never occurred to her that other people might be real people with feelings and secrets and problems and worries.

On a technical level, this book was not helped by submitting it to Amazon's crappy Kindle conversion process. Personally I refuse to have any truck at all with Amazon for a variety of reasons, but one repeated problem I see with review books that come to me in Kindle format is that they have evidently been submitted to Amazon with far too many expectations for the end result, and the ebook comes back looking like a mess. If the publisher or author doesn't vet the resulting ebook for quality, the review ebook gets sent out to reviewers looking like a disaster.

I see this a lot with a variety of books. In this particular instance, there were page headers and page numbers blended into the body of the text. There was random bolding of text here and there, and all of the images at the start of the book were sliced, diced, and julienned. Kindle does this routinely. You cannot submit a book to Kindle for conversion unless it is the plainest of vanilla - nothing fancy, no images, no text boxes, no page headings or numberings, no tables, charts, or anything remotely fancy. Essentially it must be just plain vanilla text, otherwise Amazon will completely mangle it for you.

Here's an example. At one point I read the following:
Ricky glanced around, nodding at me, then sat (this part was bold. The text line ended here)
next to Tasha. (this was on the next line and was regular text)
Tasha even wore makeup today—something she rarely did—her lipstick and eyeliner a bright turquoise blue. When I asked her about it, she (this was the next couple of lines, all bolded)
said Eliza showed her how to do it. (this, the next line, was back to regular text).

On another page (evidently page 107!) I read this:
It’s just how I pictured Freya.” 1 07 Tasha grinned.
There were also random examples of a bold lower case letter 'f' appearing in the middle of the text like so:
"The dots disappeared.
I called Sarah over and over,"
I have no idea what that was all about.

So technical issues aside, I cannot commend this as a worthy read when it has such a limp and misguided main character who never seems to learn her lesson and yet for whom everything magically works out in the end? No. Sorry but no! That's way too much fiction for my taste!

Friday, March 1, 2019

The Telomere Effect by Elizabeth Blackburn, Elissa Epel

Rating: WARTY!

I'm always suspicious of books where the author adds some sort of lettered credential after their name. You never see authors like Richard Dawkins, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Stephen Hawking doing that. They just list their name. Usually when the author's name is followed by a raft of letters, it's some fringe or new-age publication full of woo medicine and nonsense.

In this case, I picked this one up because I'd already heard about telomeres and cell longevity, so I knew this wasn't rooted in pseudoscience at least. My interest was whether the authors could really deliver what the book cover promised: "A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer." The short answer is no, they cannot, because there is nothing on offer here that's revolutionary. It's nothing that a score of other books have not offered before, so the cover blurb is a lie. The only difference here is the telomere angle.

I've read before about telomeres, which are like the twist ties on the end of your DNA. They start out very long, but shorten quite disturbingly rapidly as you age, and once the length is down to a nub, the cell ceases to divide and is essentially useless. The idea behind the book is that if you take care of your telomeres, they will take care of you, helping to keep your cells healthy and viable, but it's really not very useful in offering advice about how to do this except to give the same advice all other health books do: reduce stress, get exercise, think positively, and eat healthily, so it begs the question as to what is the point of this book, when even coming from a genetics and science angle, all it can tell us is what we know already?

There is no magic shot you can get, like Botox, to tighten up your DNA. There is no 'Telox'! There is telomerase, which helps maintain and repair telomeres, but you can't get a shot of that and have it fix your short telomeres. On top of that, and for a science-based book, this felt a bit elitist. There seems to be a connection between a healthy diet and a stress-free life and the length of your telomeres, and there is a lot of talk here about stress affecting your biochemistry, and this in turn affecting your telomeres. There seems to be evidence supporting that, but it still all seemed a bit vague to me, and not everyone can avail themselves of some of the things they discuss.

The authors soon got on to talking about how to reduce stress, and this led into talking about meditation and mindfulness and all that. One of the things they were talking about was going easy on yourself, and avoiding ruminating over perceived failures or worrying overmuch about potentially bad things that have not happened yet, but they're talking like every person has complete control over every aspect of their lives, and very many people do not, especially if they're in a lousy job or they're living from paycheck to paycheck. In one case they talked about being less of a critic of yourself, and they likened it to you being an office manager and learning to take input from the busybody assistant and filter it appropriately, but not everyone is an office manager! In fact, most people are not!

This was where the elitism was rife. I became concerned that their perceived audience felt like it was a certain kind of person in a certain sort of socio-economic group, and how their approach might be perceived by someone reading this book who worked in a factory or who was a janitor, or a miner or car mechanic - something less academic than they were. Maybe a lot of those people would never read a book like this. I don't know, but the authors' attitude seemed like it didn't even know such people existed, let alone care about how this book might apply to them or how they might benefit from it.

Everyone experiences stress to some level or another, but there's a lot more stress on poorly-paid people at the lower end of the social scale than there is on those who are comfortably well-off and not worrying about how they're going to pay rent or buy food or medicine, or who don't live in dangerous neighborhoods.

It's not that wealthy people automatically have no stress, but I'd have liked to have seen the results of one of their telomere surveys in comparing financially secure people to poor people, and maybe homeless people to a more secure group of people. They don't seem to have done that, and they don't seem to have a plan for how these people can benefit from this knowledge, apart from telling themselves 'don't worry, be happy!' which is really all this book seems to be advising. You know what? That doesn't always work, and even if it does, it's nothing we haven't heard before, so what does this book really contribute? Nothing! That's why I can't commend it as a worthy read.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Bright Start - Feel Better Daddy by Nancy Loewen; Hazel Michelle Quintanilla

Rating: WARTY!

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

After the bad experience I had with a companion book in the "Bright Start" series, I really thought this one was misnamed. Bright start is exactly the opposite of what I had, and this volume was no better: there was an appallingly long opening time for the book to even come up on the screen at all, and then a comprehensive inability to swipe from the cover to page one. As before, this was this was on a new iPad using Adobe's Digital Editions reader.

I'd beee looking forward to this having been sick myself a couple of weekends ago, but after my experience with the companion volume, I was not about to waste any time on this, so after trying to swipe to page one several times with no effect, I DNF'd this one just as I had done with the companion volume. I cannot commend a book, clearly designed for a print version, and to which zero thought has quite evidently been given for the electronic version. It's impossible to read, much less enjoy as an ebook.

Bright Start - A Thank You Walk by Nancy Loewen,Hazel Michelle Quintanilla

Rating: WARTY!

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

I am sorry to report that this book was a disaster. I could not get it to open past the double-spread cover illustration. No amount of swiping would bring up the first page, and this was after I had waited for nearly twenty seconds for the thing to open at all. And this was on a new iPad.

Clearly this is yet another print book designed without an ounce of thought given to the electronic version. Amateur reviewer that I am, I do not merit the print version of books, so the e-version is all I can comment on and my comment here is: avoid this like the plague. I rarely have problems with ebooks, even ones consisting entirely of images, but this one was a doozy. When I killed the application (Adobe Digital Editions reader) and reopened it, I was able - after the statutory wait of twenty seconds for it to open so I could to swipe to page one - after multiple tries, but then it locked again, and I killed it again, since it would not let me recover or return to the library.

On the third try, when it took even longer to open (close to a minute). I managed to get to page two, whereupon it locked up again. I gave up on it at that point. I cannot commend a book that is so badly-designed that it won't let you actually read it!

The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods

Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook and while it might work for the intended audience which is younger than I am, it was too slow-moving for my taste, too religiously-oriented, and not well-written, so I can't commend it.

The story was about a biracial child coming into her own and while the approach that it seemed to want to take was commendable, the actual path it did take was less than advisable in my opinion, and the tale came off more as a lecture hitting on a list of bullet points the author had prepared than it did a real story.

It felt like a political campaign in many regards, and while no one in their right mind should countenance the execrable treatment of people of color in the past (and still ongoing in too many facets of life), a book like this is in danger of trying to swing the pendulum back too far and instead of settling it in an amicable middle, and risks running into its own racism by pushing it too aggressively in the other direction. I think this book managed to avoid that extreme, but everything in it seemed colored by race in a way that people of color have far too often experienced in everyday life, and this seemed to me to be the wrong way to go about redressing that imbalance.

If that had been the only problem I think I might have been inclined to let it slide, history being what it isn't, but there were several other issues, not least of which is the mistake too many writers make, and not just in children's books, of using the lazy substitution that a person who reads books equals a person who is smart, instead of actually doing the work to make them read as a smart character. While a person who reads books can be smart, such a person can instead be dumb, and a person who doesn't read much can be smart, so the two things are not equivalent. Just because Violet can recite things from books, such as which countries in Africa speak Swahili, does not mean she is smart. It just means she's a parrot. And an annoying one at that. More on Swahili anon.

As I mentioned the story moved very slowly and even though it was not a long story, I grew bored with it taking forever to get anywhere. I also found this use of juvenile names for grandparents to be obnoxious. This girl Violet is not four years old, yet her grandparents are 'Poppy' and 'Gam'. Given that her name was Violet and her sister's name was Daisy, having a grandfather referred to as Poppy was way the hell too much. Can we not have a children's book where the grandparents are called grandma and grandpa? Seriously? I don't doubt that there are kids who use idiotic names for their grandparents, but I sure don't have to read about them!

Later there was another grandparent in the story who insisted on being called Bibi, which on the face of it is just as bad, but it turns out that Bibi is the Swahili name for grandmother. Now you might be willing to grant that a bye, but I wasn't because what's up with that? Where did this Swahili come from out of the blue? It had never been mentioned before. It wasn't like we'd learned that Violet's father was a native born African from one of the nations there which boasts Swahili as its native tongue. So WTF?! Given what I'd already been through it with the asinine names for grandparents, adding Bibi to the mix, out of the blue was once again ill-advised. This is what I mean about poorly written.

If the kids names, Daisy and Violet, had been derived from Swahili, and the family had a historical connection with the language, that would be one thing, but Daisy is from an old English phrase meaning 'day's eye', and Violet is from the Latin word for violet, which is believe it or not, Viola. No connection here. And the author can't spell Ahmed. She gets the M and H the wrong way around! I don't know if that was intentional but it looked sloppy.

This is why it's important for authors to really think about what they're writing. Names are important. If the girls had been named Nyasi and Ua, for example, the Swahili words for grass and flower, or some similarly-derived name, then that would have given a lead directly to Bibi, but there was nothing, and for the author to pull this straight out of her ass, smelled of desperation and poor choices to put it politely. It sure didn't smell of violets and daisies. I can't commend lazy writing like that. I made it a little over halfway through this book before I gave up on it. I cannot commend it as a worthy read.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Captain Marvel Down by various contributors

Rating: WARTY!

The last, thankfully, of the four Captain marvel graphic novels I foolishly thought to read. All four were DNFs, and as of this one I am off Marvel comics altogether until and unless they offer me a seriously good reason why I should read even one more. DC isn't any better, just FYI. This one at least wasn't set on a dumb space station, but it was still as bad.

In the airless vacuum of space, Captain Marvel apparently has no trouble breathing or at least holding her breath, and no trouble speaking out loud - and being heard by others! Yet in this story, set under water, she needs a breathing apparatus? WTF???

So, underwater and of course she has to be set upon by sharks which as you know are hungry 100% of the time and always for humans. Barf. The artist needs to learn to draw shark teeth.

On that topic, the artwork was, as usual indifferent, that is until chapter two when it went seriously down the crapper. I never used to think I was artist enough to do a graphic novel, but now I'm of the opinion that anyone can do one if this level of "artistry' is acceptable. This was written by Kelly Sue Deconnick and Christopher Sebela, and illustrated by Dexter Soy and Filipe Andrade, and none of it was up to snuff.

The plot was a tired, retreaded Bermuda Triangle story with bizarre robots (which were absent on the space station you may recall), now resurrecting themselves and which of course required Captain Marvel to turn all Dwayne Johnson (barf) instead of being Captain Marvel. It sucked royally. Captain Marvel is rendered repeatedly by these female writers into a pair of fists, no brain required. No woman required either, since there is nothing in these stories that would have to be changed if the female were erased and a male character substituted in her stead.

I don't normally do covers because the author typically has nothing to do with the cover unless they self-publish, but in this case I have to ask, if this is set in the ocean, why does the cover show Captain Marvel in space??? This had to be one of the poorest, dumbest comics I have ever partially red, and I refuse to remotely commend it.

It was awful, as were the other three of this quartet I happily didn't pay for, since I had them from my excellent local library for a preview of Captain marvel. Fortunately, I have more faith in the artists who write and otherwise create Marvel movies, otherwise I would have been turned-off the Marvel Cinematic Universe permanently by this trash. If I might borrow the words of Blue October: into the ocean end it all, into the ocean end it all, into the ocean end...all, good bye! Captain Marvel deserves better.

Captain Marvel Rise of Alpha Flight by various contributors

Rating: WARTY!

Well at this point I think I am done reading Marvel graphic novels. They are nowhere near as entertaining as the movies, in fact not well written at all and illustrated accordingly. I was very disappointed. The first problem being that Earth's Mightiest Her" is onfined to commanding a space station. WHY??? It's like having your prize race horse pulling a plow, or your best performing race car working for Uber.

I thought that with these four graphic novels being written, at least in part, by female authors (in this case, Tara Butters, along with Michele Fazekas, with art by Kris Anka), they might have something new and different to offer, but these were no better than the male ones. Again, a grave disappointment.

Despite being set in the future, there isn't a sign of robotics or AI in sight. What happened? Was there a technology apocalypse? Evidently not since these people are on an advanced space station - one shaped like a spinning top. Why people show stations designed like that in books and movies escapes me since there's no explanation offered for why it had to be designed this way!

I almost forgot what this one was about, but then, unfortunately, I remembered. There is an alien workforce on the station, taking charge of waste management. Why? Did we forget how to recycle? We've known that since Apollo days! And if there needs to be waste management, why are aliens from scores of light years away doing it instead of robots or humans on this station in close Earth orbit? Any why did an alien race which is starkly divided (as we later learn) into alphas and slaves, get hired in the first place? Did no one do due diligence? If Marvel had been doing her job as station commander instead of getting her fingers into every pie she could, maybe she would have noted this and prevented all that came later.<.p>

I'm sorry, but stupid characters, dumb-ass plots and indifferent artwork do not a great story make. This is garbage, manage that! I'm done reading Marvel superhero comic books until and unless I feel a huge compulsion to pick up another one.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The Mighty Captain Marvel Band of Sisters by various contributors

Rating: WARTY!

My next foray into the world of Captain Marvel should have been a good one since it was both written and drawn by women, but this made no difference to the asinine portrayal of a female character, to her sexploitation in the form of improbable hourglass physiques, open crotch shots and leading with the breasts shots, and to the moronic storyline. What the hell is wrong with these female comic book creators??? If a renaissance in how women are portrayed in graphic novels isn't going to start with them when and where the hell will it start?

Margaret Stohl (lousy writing) and Michele Bandini (sexploitative art) are the guilty parties here. The story is nothing but one long fight - and in space, where a startling number of super heroes are able to breathe unaided. There's no reason a woman shouldn't be able to kick ass, but if all you're going to do with your female super heroes is have them behave exactly like the male super heroes traditionally do, then what the hell is the point in fussing about whether females are represented in comics or on the silver screen???!!! They're just men with tits! And thereby hangs a tale!

The hilarious thing about being in space wasn't the fact that they could breathe as though there is air out there. It was the fact that there was no physics out there. At one point Captain Marvel punches this villainous dude and he shoots off backwards, but she remains in place, unmoving. Apparently one of her super powers is to suspend Newton's third law of motion. That's fine, but what I had a hard time trying to figure out was how Captain Marvel managed to maneuver in space where gravity isn't a fact in free-fall, friction is essentially non-existent, and she has no rocket assistance! Then I figured it out! The answer was revelatory!

There are no page numbers of course - it's a graphic novel after all so why would anyone want to reference a page? But counting each leaf as one page, this scene took place after page nineteen. There was a full page spread on the left and on the lower right, a full breast spread as Captain Marvel's Mammaries took pride of place in the center of the panel. They were huge. Now turn that leaf and six more, and on the left there's another full-page spread, but this time Captain Marvel has no mammaries at all! Do you see? She is really flat chested, and her 'boobs' carry compressed air, which is how she maneuvers in space! The air shoots out through her nipples allowing her to jet around, Clearly that second frame caught her when she was in need of a refill! Now it all made sense to me!


So hopefully it's needless to say, even if it needles to say, that I was out of there. Captain Marvel DNF'd again. I have two more to go through, and I am hoping - but have little faith - that they will offer me something to marvel at. This one is warty, period.

Captain Marvel Civil War II by various contributors

Rating: WARTY!

Because of the impending advent of Captain Marvel on the silver screen, to which I'm very much looking forward despite its shamefully long-overdue portrayal of a lead female Marvel superhero, I decided to pick up some graphic novels on the subject from the library to read ahead (after a fashion!)! I was sorely disappointed. I got four of them and the first two were complete duds. I'm glad I didn't read the Marvel graphic novels before I saw any of the movies because I would never have gone to see the movies had I imagined they would be as roundly dissatisfying asa the novels.

This one was a series following Captain Marvel's involvement in Civil War from which she was omitted completely in Phase 3 of the Marvel movie universe. Unfortunately it wasn't the first in the series, but that doesn't matter because I'm judging it only on the quality of this particular volume, not the whole series, and the quality sucked. It was poorly written by Ruth Fletcher Gage, Christos Gage, and the average to indifferent art was by Kris Anka, Marco Failla, Thony Silas, and Andy Owens, which might explain the patchy quality.

Apparently Carol Danvers was romantically involved with Colonel Rhodes of Iron Man associations, and he's either dead or severely wounded. it was hard to tell with the poor writing. Captain Marvel - billed as Earth's mightiest hero - is somehow under the thumb of a bunch of asshole guys dictating to her - to Captain Marvel - what to do. Never once did she flare up at these condescending and patronizing jackasses. The story was only this all the way through - and the occasional fight. It was boring as hell, and a waste of my time. I should bill Marvel for my reading time since I took no pleasure in it.

Queen Bee by Chynna Clugston

Rating: WARTY!

Why a female author would want to denigrate women by creating a graphic novel about two high-school girls being outright bitches to one another is an utter mystery to me. I thought there might be some wising-up and resolution here, but the only resolution was to continue this garbage into a second volume. Even the teachers are painted clueless which is an outright insult to teachers. It's stinking trash. My opinion and advice is to treat it as such. I'm done with this author.

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.