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

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Doctor Who Dark Horizons by Jenny T Colgan


Rating: WARTY!

Doctor Who is always a visual medium for me, and though I've tried other media: graphic novels, ebooks, print books, they're never as good or as satisfying as really good TV ep. This print book was always bordering on failing, but because I'm such a fan of Doctor Who I kept-on plugging away at it, hoping against hope that it would eventually shine, right until the middle of page 192, which was 62% of the way through it. It was there that I read this: "It turned their oceans from teeming with life to devastated in point four of a parsec."

Had anyone else said it, it might have been okay, but this was The Doctor speaking, and there is no way in the Matrix a Timelord would ever make such a grotesque mistake. The 'sec' in parsec is not one sixtieth of a minute, i.e a measure of time, but an arcsecond, i.e. 1/3600 of a degree - in other words, a measure of angle and thereby, distance. Don't get me started on the morons who try to retcon this same blunder in the original Star Wars movie, which was doubled-down on in the ridiculous remake called The Force Awakens.

So I quit reading this dumb-ass book right there and I refuse to recommend it. I also think I'm done reading Doctor Who adventures. As for the plot? What is it with Doctor Who and their obsession with Vikings and Romans? The show was originally, being BBC, intended to have an educational component whereby some history could be taught, but this was soon abandoned and for the good; however, this obsession with sending the Doctor back to the tired old standards needs to end.

If you must go back to Earth's past, then can we not find something new for the Doctor to visit? And can we not find some primitive people who are terrified of the Doctor and his machine instead of jovially accepting it and even learning how to operate it? This book, frankly, sucked. it was poorly written, made out that the Vikings had no word for the color blue since they never saw it. I guess they never looked at the sky? Never looked at a Hepatica flower or a Blueweed flower, both of which are native to Scandinavia?! These kinds of mistakes are pathetic and amateur, and inexcusable, and Jenny Colgan is off my list of authors I'm ever going to consider reading again.<\p>

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Time in Between by María Dueñas


Rating: WARTY!

This was a rather long and long-winded audiobook, set prior to and during World War Two. Zilah Mondoza's too youthful and rather pedantic reading certainly did not help matters. It was written by a Spanish author, and translated into English so I realize I'm getting this second-hand - even third-hand given that I'm listening to a Spanish language novel, translated into English, and then read by a Spanish speaker in English! LOL! In parts it was too tedious and I found myself wondering if the tedious parts were actually more interesting in the original Spanish, but I somehow doubted it!

The author can be way too wordy in her descriptions, going on too long and into far too much detail for some things, while completely glossing over others. I saw no method to this madness. It had enough quite interesting parts to keep me going to begin with, but even this soon felt like it was nowhere near enough. After a third of it, I gave up because I saw no sign of improvement. Even though I would have liked to have read the story which intrigued me, but it was way too flowery and too verbose for me to maintain interest.

This is one reason I tend to steer clear of really long audiobooks. For me this format is experimental - I will listen to something in audio that I probably would not touch were it in print or electronic form, so I don't want to get invested and then find out a quarter the way in that it's not to my taste. Shorter books tend to get to the point faster, so it's easier to see if it's going to appeal to me, whereas with a longer audiobook, a quarter the way through can be the full length of a shorter book! In print, this particular novel would be some 600 pages long, which is twice as long as I normally feel happy with. It probably could have been 200 pages shorter had the author not been quite so prolix.

The main character is Sira Quiroga. She grows up learning to sew alongside her mother and other women, as such women traditionally did back then. Sira is good at it, which comes in useful later. Immediately before the Spanish Civil War, she becomes engaged to a man named Ignacio who has a secure job as a civil servant. Secure, that is, until the war begins, no doubt. When she meets the more dashing Ramiro Arribas, she foolishly ditches Ignacio. This made me dislike her, but she pays the price for this inconstancy.

She and Arribas move to Spanish Morocco. Why wasn't exactly clear to me: perhaps they left simply to avoid the civil war, but why go to Morocco? Who knows? Her beau is a con-man, who robs her of her entire dowry, which her estranged father had unexpectedly bestowed upon her not long before.

Sira is left with a debt of 3,000 pesetas for hotel accommodations, and is arrested, but a kindly police officer sets her up with cheap lodgings so she can pay back what she owes. She has a year to do this, but is struggling to make ends meet by taking in a few sewing jobs. Her landlady, with the exotic name of Candelaria (it means Candlemas), has in the meantime discovered a cache of guns left by a previous tenant who never returned to retrieve them. Her plan is to turn the cache into cash; then she and Sira will go fifty-fifty in a dressmaking shop, Candelaria fronting the money and Sira doing the work.

One big problem came in the telling of her night-time journey to deliver the guns. That hsould have been exciting, right? it wasn't! It was boringly full of extraneous detail. It's not that the story overall was uninteresting, it's just that the interesting parts were so diluted with over-done prose, that it took far too long for anything to happen. This gun delivery should be a fraught and exciting event, but it's made to sound mundane and monontonous because the author so long to tell it. There are many other such instances - situations not quite as potentially dangerous as this one was, but this only means the descriptive prose is that much less acceptable elsehwere.

After a third of the book I gave up on it and I cannot recommend this.


How to Read Nature: An Expert's Guide to Discovering the Outdoors You've Never Noticed by Tristan Gooley


Rating: WARTY!

Note that this is based on an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This book was written by a guy who seems quite dedicated to the outdoors and this book is supposed to communicate his love to the rest of us, but I had a hard time with it.

The author is very widely-traveled, I understand, and he seems to know what he's talking about, but for me this book failed to connect or to inspire, and I think it was because he didn’t approach it the right away. It felt to me like a slapdash approach, with scattered thoughts being tossed in almost at random, like the author was merely dabbling here and there without really coming to grips with things. I think he could have done a better job at bringing newbies into his world. He has other books out there along similar lines, and I found myself wondering if this might be a shorter distillation of one of the earlier works.

I kept asking myself who is this book aimed at? To whom is it supposed to appeal? The obvious answer is 'anyone who is interested in nature', which is why it interested me, but the problem is that it’s too invested in 'wild nature' - being out in the countryside - for it to be relevant to city dwellers. Now it’s true that many city dwellers do like to get out into nature, but it’s not so common for those people to be able to devote the time and frequency to getting out into the countryside that it would require for this book to be of any real and enduring value. I kept thinking that a 'Nature for City Dwellers' book might have been of more utility in this case.

For those who reside in, or spend a lot of time in the country, a lot of what's in here will be preaching to the choir, since they already know many of these things. I acknowledge that there's nearly always something to be learned, but it felt like it would be of limited value to them, too.

Is there a segment of the population in between those two extremes which might benefit? I'm sure there is, but how large it is, is an open question. Additionally, the book is very British in its own nature. It’s not that it doesn’t mention other countries and other cultures, and other wildlife, but it’s essentially British at its core, which may limit its appeal.

There is a group of people like me, who are not blind to nature and always willing to learn more. I live on the edge of a city and take care of my own yard, so there is a connection I have that perhaps too many others do not. I don't notice the detailed things he does, because I don't have that kind of time to spend on this, but I do notice things both in the yard, and at times when I do get a chance to be out in the semi-wilds, and to me they're interesting.

On hikes and rambles in the past, I've pointed things out to my kids, but their interest in those things waned as they grew to have other focuses. Maybe that's a failing of mine, but I remain unconvinced that this book, which tries to do the same thing, is a going to draw in very many people who do not already lead, or seek to lead or in some way emulate the same kind of outdoors life to which the author has access. Most people do not have that option very readily available to them.

Yes, these things are interesting, but they’re not critical to most people's everyday life and a lot of the things he talks about are irrelevant or unattainable to most city dwellers. So this begs the question as to why a better connection was not made to the advantages this knowledge would bring, or to the utility it would have or your average person about town (and I mean that quite literally).

A connection with nature is always better - better for the planet if nothing else. If people are made more aware of how critical Earth's health is to us and how delicate aspects of it are, through people being led to feel closer ties to nature, Earth is likely to be better protected, but there are other virtues, mind-expanding ones which, while touched upon here from time to time, felt somewhat glossed over. Which brings me to the photographs included in the book. They are all monochrome, which really divorces them from nature, in its glorious technicolor, so for me they didn’t add anything. More on this anon.

The biggest problem for me though was the apparent random nature of the book. The chapters I thought ought to have been the lead-in: nature's clocks and calendars, all appeared in the second half of the book. This made no sense to me. Starting with the big picture and carefully moving to an ever detailed smaller one would have been the best approach.

To me it would have made more sense to organize the whole book in that way: following the year, and looking at how nature changes during it, with little detours into the other topics he covers as appropriate; in this way, people could jump into the book at whatever season they're in when they get their hands on it, and follow it all the way from there.

Some parts were slightly misleading. For instance, the tale of the Jarawa people who survived the St Stephen's tsunami in 2004 by moving to higher ground before it came. The book implies that they had - not quite, but almost - a sixth sense to read the clues and take action, but the fact is that their folklore told them if there was an earthquake, there often can be a giant wave on its heels. They were merely following word-of-mouth traditions of their people. It was not some magical connection with nature. They would still have moved even if a tsunami had not come, which would have been a waste of their time on that occasion, but still a smart move in the grand scheme of things wherein it’s better to be safe than sorry. Their survival is to be rejoiced and is worth learning of, but it's not worth making it seem like there was something just short of otherworldly going on.

In contrast, other parts of the book were oddly-lacking important details. For example in one section the author makes some observations about how to determine what kind of rock you're likely to find under a piece of land based on the flora that grows on that land. He says pines like acidic soil and beech trees like alkaline, but he doesn't say how to recognize a beech tree! Without that basic piece of knowledge, you’re prevented from anything else in that cascade. That seems like a sorry omission when it would have been just as easy to put it in there. Would a photograph, even a black and white one, of a beech tree have been appropriate here? I think so - or at least a drawing. Such photographs would have made a difference and not at all appeared all-but randomly chosen.

Obviously in these days of Internet searches, you can not only discover what a beech tree looks like, but also feed in a picture of an unknown tree and likely get a result telling you what tree it is, but if you only have the print book to hand, you’re rather stuck! This is part of what I meant when I said this book had a slap-dash feel to it, like a hastily-packed suitcase might be opened at your beach-front hotel to reveal no swim-suit or no sun tan oil! At least most-everyone knows what a beach looks like!

On a more serious note, I do agree that taking a greater interest in nature not only adds to our joy of life, but also helps us become aware of the more important things: that pollution and climate change are real and dangerous. I'm sorry there was essentially nothing about those critical topics in this book. It's a sad omission which brings me to an observation of my own. This book was formatted with very wide margins and a huge amount of white space, and with lines that were not single-spaced. It’s only a hundred-sixty pages but it could have been much shorter, probably a hundred pages or so.

This matters less in the e-version, except in that it still requires energy to transmit all those blank spaces across the Internet. In the print version, however, should this book go to a large print run, it’s an awful waste of trees. I would have thought that someone who boasts a close-connection with nature would have appreciated that and sought to ameliorate it, so this was another disappointment for me.

As was the search engine! At one point I was looking back to the beech tree and alkaline reference to verify I had not misunderstood. When I searched for 'beech', the app (Bluefire Reader) found it with no problem, but a search for 'acidic' crashed the book and brought me back to the screen which contained the list of books in my Bluefire library (which in this case was only this one book). That's not a problem with the writing or book layout, but it is a problem if people want to look up something and the search engine isn’t stable. Again this was an advance review copy, so maybe this problem, whatever it is, will be fixed in the published version. Maybe the problem is with Bluefire reader. I can't say. I can say it was annoying.

There's a practical issue to the book formatting, from a purely reading PoV, which is that the text was very small on the screen of my phone, which is more likely what you'd be carrying on a nature ramble, rather than the book or a large tablet computer. It’s possible to enlarge text on the screen, but then the page will not swipe to the next one (and sometimes it jumps back to the previous one while you're enlarging it, which is another annoyance!).

For each page, you have to enlarge the text to read comfortably, then you must reduce it to its original size in order to swipe to the next page, and finally, you must then enlarge that page to read it. It made for an irritating read. This is a problem with distributing books in PDF format. It’s not e-reader friendly unless you have a large screen. As I mentioned, though, this was an advance review copy, so maybe the actual published version will be in a more e-friendly format.

So in short, while I do believe books like this are of value and it’s important that people read them, I think this one could have done a much better job than it did and as such, I cannot recommend it as a worthy read.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Courage: Daring Poems For Gutsy Girls by Various Authors


Rating: WARTY!

I must say up front that i am not a big poetry fan despite having published a book of poetry and prose (Poem y Granite - the title says it all!) myself. Poetry is like all art forms: a very personal thing, and I'm forced to conclude that it's especially personal to the author of it, and less so to everyone else!

On top of that, this book isn't aimed at me. Well maybe it's aimed at half of me, since I do have one X chromosome, but I suspect it's intended for those carrying at least two such chromosomes. Oh yes, it's possible to have more than two, but it's usually not a good idea. Male chauvinists might take some pleasure in the knowledge that for each extra X you have, your IQ drops by about fifteen points, but this is only in males, so evidently we can't handle the X! When females have an extra X the IQ drops only by ten points, so that ought to set the record straight!

It seems odd to say I was disappointed in this, because I wasn't sure what to expect from it. I got less than I expected, whatever that expectation was though, which meant it was a disappointment for me. I think that my first problem was that these poems didn't feel very much like poetry to me. Most of them were nothing more than prose split arbitrarily into odd line segments. We've all done that: pretentiously split up some (to us) deep-sounding prose and called it a poem, but it doesn't make it one.

And no, I'm not one of these people who believes that if it doesn't have an alternate rhyme scheme like a Hallmark card or a pop song, then it's not a poem. I do like rhyming poems, but I appreciate other kinds of poetry too, if it seems poetic! There are different ways of making a poem. It can be done by rhyming words, or by rhyming ideas or thought, or meaning, or by making the poem rhythmic in some way. It's that old truth: I may not know much about art, but I know what I like, or something along those lines.

Again, it's a personal thing, but to me, most of this stuff was not poetic. Maybe that's on me for not being a woman (or a girl in this case)! Maybe there;s a secret girl code in here that guys just don't get, but whatever it was, I think that accounts for the bulk of my disappointment. I didn't feel elevated or educated by it. I didn't feel I had any insight I had not had before. One poem, for example, bore more resemblance to a shopping list than ever it did to poetry. Others were simply women evidently getting bad stuff out of their system, which is fine. No on says poetry is required to be upbeat and perky (no one who knows anything anyway), but this simply did not feel poetic.

So while others may get different mileage out of this - in fact I hope they do - I didn't get very much out of it at all, so I can't recommend it.


The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman


Rating: WARTY!

Read okay by Emily Janice Card, the problem with this 'Da Vinci Code' wannabe audiobook was that it was, once again, first person, which made for a tedious listen, since it's all about the main character all the time - hey look at me! Hey, see what I'm doing now! Hey check out my obsession with cute guys! With first person voice you are trapped inside this character and nothing at all can happen in your story unless she's present to witness it. Or unless we get an even more tedious info-dump from someone else about what happened when our narrator wasn't present. Frankly I would have preferred it if this story had not had her present at all.

The problem with doing this is that if you're going to write a mystery or a thriller about some ancient cipher, then you really need to focus on that and stop taking frequent detours through this girl's obsession with guys and endless whining about her broken family. It sucked and that's why I ditched this novel. It was a tedious story to have to wade through, even when all I was doing was listening. The "Lumen Dei" society was straight out of Dan Brown, and just as dumb. This book could have been half the size and told the same story. Pages went by with nothing of interest taking place. Where was the editor?! This just goes to prove that going the Big Publishing™ route doesn't guarantee you a readable book.

The Voynich manuscript is a real document dating to the early fifteenth century. It's a 240-some page volume written in a code which no-one has been able to decipher. This suggests, of course, that it's really a hoax, like the Turin Shroud, but it's a document ripe for having fiction worked around it.

In this fiction, the main character is drafted in to help translate Latin letters written by a young woman who is connected, somehow, with the manuscript. The fact that it was highly unlikely many young women would be able to even speak Latin, much less write it back then doesn't get in the way of the story. I can readily accept that there were special and talented women back then as there are in any age, but in this case you really need to make me feel there's a reason why this particular juvenile was so exceptional, and this story did not. Having said that, I did DNF it, so maybe this was addressed later and I missed it.

So the translation begins, but at one point the main character whose name I've blessedly forgotten, purloins one of the letters which is particularly intriguing to her. That same night, her professor is found unconscious, the safe open, and all of the papers they were working on stolen! How convenient. There's no explanation as to why the villains - who had easy access to the documents - did not steal them earlier.

Obviously the one the MC stole herself is the key to everything, but rather than ponder that, or anything else, she takes us away from the intrigue to once again focus on the boys in her life. La-di-dah, fiddle-di-dee. Her voice was so boring and off-track that I could not bring myself to pursue this story any further. I can't recommend this, based on the part I could stand to listen to.


The Iron Thorn by Caitlin Kittredge


Rating: WARTY!

This is a steampunk wannabe with far more punk than steam. It was read fairly decently by Katie MacNichol, but this is another audiobook experiment of mine that failed. I made it about a third the way through it, but when it became clear there was a tediously trope triangle forming. The main character, Aoife (it's pronounced Efa which sounds too much like heifer which didn't help in this context) is a girl linked to two guys: her faithful friend Cal and bad boy Dean. I felt so nauseated that I could not continue. The embarrassing lack of imagination exhibited by YA authors in creating relationships is truly stunning. It's the only real viral threat in this novel!

Almost worse than that, this is book one of a series. There's nothing on the cover to indicate that. Personally I think there should be a large warning on the front - like on cigarette packs. This one looked like a stand-alone, and this is irritating. If I'd known it was a series I would more than likely have skipped it. As it was, I wasted time listening to this when I could have been listening to other things!

Nor was it steampunk. It was like the author couldn't decide what the hell she wanted to write and threw everything in. It could as easily have been set in regular Victorian age and been exactly the same story, so the steampunk contributed nothing at all. I felt like it was added in a rather desperate attempt to attract more readers. But there is very little steampunk here.

I've read some good steampunk books, but in the end they all fail if examined too closely because their world doesn't work. Clockwork can only continue for so long without being rewound. Who is going around doing all the winding? LOL! No one ever addresses this. In my experience most steampunk writers are enamored of the genre but have no idea how to write a compelling or engaging story in it. This is why we do not actually live in a steampunk world, because steam and clockwork shrunk into the shadows thrown by the brilliant light of electricity.

In the unintentional humor department, more than once, the author wrote "Cal sighed" evidently in ignorance of the fact that there's an educational institution, the California Institute of Science, which is routinely referred to as Cal-Sci. This is very likely just me, but this made me laugh out loud every time I heard it, given that this was supposed to be a novel about Aoife and her dedication to science.

This novel is set in a city, unimaginatively named Lovecraft, where we have your usual trope dystopian ridiculous societal rules that would never have arisen naturally. There are people named Proctors who are in charge and who are absurdly and inexplicably draconian in their rule. They use clockwork ravens to spy on people, which to me was so laughable, I could never take it seriously. I know how an electric eye works. How does a clockwork one work? How does a steam one work? How do the ravens navigate and find their way back to their owners?

Clearly the author realized that steampunk wasn't going to cut it by itself, since we also have witchcraft and sorcery, and as well, there is a virus loose named necrovirus, which people believe is responsible for a pandemic of insanity which inexplicably and nonsensically attacks people at age sixteen and turns them into some sort of a flesh-eating animal. There is evidently neither police force nor military in Lovecraft to fight off these beasts, hwih makes zero sense. Aoife, of course comes from a family with a history of insanity and she is, of course about to turn sixteen. Yawn.

There is nothing about the age of sixteen which makes any significant changes in a person's body - not like puberty makes changes, for example, and puberty isn't tied to a specific birthday. This made the virus a joke to me, too. Even if I offer my immediate conviction: that this 'virus' didn't actually exist and that this was witchcraft at play here, sending a message to people to get them to rebel against the Proctors (but failing for some reason), it still didn't explain why sixteen was the chosen age. My guess was that Aoife would be the first to understand this message, but it's only a guess, and I really didn't care enough about her or anyone else in this novel to bother reading on to find out. I can't recommend this based on what I listened to.


Marrow by Preston Norton


Rating: WARTY!

This is yet another in a long line of sorry-ass first person voice novels. I loathe that voice. Once in a while I've found an author who can carry it, but for the most part it's far too limited, self-serving and self-obsessed, and it turns me right off. I'm at the point now where I'm not even going to read a book, no matter how interesting the blurb makes it sound, if it's in worst person. There are lots of other books out there that are far less annoying!

The story is about this 14-yer-old boy who has the super power to change his bone density. How that works without his changing his muscles to cope with the weight, is left completely unexplained. So we have yet another example of a writer simply not thinking his story through so we have magical powers here! Worse though, is that this super hero story is far too derivative of every other super hero story, particularly of the DC comics canon, of the 2005 movie Sky High, and of the lesser-known movie Super Capers.

The center of this story is Marrow, also known derisively (and accurately), as Bonehead because he is an obnoxious bonehead. I did not like him at all, so I'm not about to continue read his story. He barely manages to get through his graduation test (who graduates at fourteen?!), because he has anger management issues which are simply not addressed!

Instead of him being paired with a capable mentor who can help him, he's blindly paired with Flex, a rip-off of Hancock, for no other reason than that the author evidently is blindly following a rigid plot here, which pairs opposites and has them become wonderful friends and super effective. Barf. At least I'm guessing that's what happens, and Flex probably dies, too. But I wasn't interested. I ditched this right after Flex appeared. I think if he'd started with more original characters and allowed them room to grow, and move and 'have their being', this could have been a much better story.

There are other rip-off heroes here too: Zero is merely Frozone from The Incredibles. Sapphire is Jean Grey from the X-men. Fantom is Superman. For some reason, I immediately felt suspicious from the start that Fantom might be some sort of villain in disguise. The super-powers these guys have - all derived form a comet impact - don't make any sense - but then super powers never do. The X-men super powers made no sense either, but at leas there was a deeper story there, one engaging, and attractive. This one was not.

The super villain Arachnis is essentially the Empress of the Racnoss from the Doctor Who Christmas episode The Runaway Bride. She's tediously quoting lines spoken by The Goblin from the original Spider-Man movie: 'itsy-bitsy spider. Yawn. I won't insult you by recommending this book. I'll do you the favor of warning you away from it.


Diary of a Dancing Drama Queen by Louise Lintvelt


Rating: WARTY!

I've had mixed success with books by this author, but until this one the balance was slightly favoring the positive. This one brings down the batting average to a .500 I think.

This was a short novel aimed, it would seem, at middle grade readers (or even younger, based on the writing) but despite the youthful voice, it was written with a very adult tone and referenced a lot of things in which children in that age range probably have little or no interest at all even assuming they had knowledge of it.

The title indicates that dancing is going to be involved, and the main character is an extremely reluctant dancer - in that she has a really poor self-image and has no interest in disporting herself in such a manner, yet she mentions the TV show Dancing with the Stars as though she's really familiar with it, which begs the question: why would a kid who hates dancing be watching such a show in the first place? This was one of several things in this story which made little sense.

Clearly this book is heavily influenced by the author's own experiences either directly or vicariously, and it really doesn't work because of the age difference. The first problem is the constant whining. This kid is negative about everything, and she's especially down on herself. It really makes for a sorry story that's not at all a pleasure to read.

It would also help if the author knew what she was talking about. She mentions a 1973 Volkswagen bug car which belongs to the kid's mom, and says, "My dad says he spends more time fixing the thing than she does driving it. I can confirm this - I can think of more than one time when we got stuck on the side of the road with the hood in the air and steam hissing from the engine," but the Volkswagen was an air-cooled vehicle so there would be no steam hissing from anywhere - or if there was, then you have some serious issues with your vehicle!

Naturally a kid would not know this, and any kid reading this would likely not notice this, so I guess it’s a lot easier to get it wrong than to get it right unless you actually care about your writing. For me it was sloppy. It would have been just as easy to have mentioned a different vehicle, but again there's this anachronistic "hippie" vibe running through this story which doesn't sit well, because it reminds us once again we’re reading a story that wasn't written by the girl who claims to be telling it. Which twelve-year-old would say, "She has straight brown hair, cut into a perfect bob" or who would know the name of Gwyneth Paltrow's daughter? If there had been some prior suggestion that the kid watched the Marvel movies, then I could see her knowing who Paltrow is, but there wasn't, and I know Paltrow has made many other movies, but none of those seem like anything this kid would have seen.

On top of this there's the sexism in having the mom be the one with the cute car, yet unable to fix it, and the dad being the one with the sensible vehicle, and having to come to the rescue of the helpless maiden in distress. I had hoped we might have moved beyond this by now, but evidently this author has not. I quit this at less than halfway through even though it was only seventy-some pages because it simply wasn't appropriate, and it wasn't an entertaining read. I can’t recommend it, not for any age group.


Amish Country Treasure by Ruth Price


Rating: WARTY!

You can't put a price on good Amish stories - not when the price is this author. Chapter one begins with these words: "If you are reading this without having read the others in the series, please be aware that this series is complete and there is a boxed collection HERE. This will help keep a few more Sheckles in your pocket..."

Stop right there!

The author starts chapter one by advertising her 'boxed' collection? And she doesn't know how to spell Shekels? This is hilarious given that the author's name is Price! Well I got this for free just out of curiosity, and I'm not about to go shelling out for a series where the story begins with an author's pitch for me to buy a whole series when I haven't even been allowed the chance to read this first one before she gets in my face with her 'series'?

I dislike the term 'boxed set' which is meaningless drivel in the first place when it comes to ebooks. The only boxing required is that to the ears of the idiot who decided this was a good term to use in the electronic book world! This is one more reason to detest series and authors who are so addicted to them, so congratulations, you just talked me right out of even reading your 61 page episode. I'm not interested.

Could you not even let me read sixty pages before you start your pitch? I'm sorry, and I know it's a competitive world out there, but this is unacceptable. If your only interest is money and you're so obsessed with it that you're right up there in my face with it on page one, then you are definitely not the author for me. I will not recommend this book - and yes it's based solely on this, and I am done with this author, and that's entirely based on this attitude she flaunts. Amish? Pish.


Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry


Rating: WARTY!

This one was not really my cup of tea! I tried to listen to it through child's ears and see it through 1947 eyes, but it wasn't easy at all. It was only three disks, so I pushed on through to the other side as they say. Fortunately it was not a Newbery winner, just a runner-up, otherwise I would have flatly refused to read it on that basis alone.

In a prologue which the author wisely includes in chapter one, otherwise I would never have read it, a Spanish galleon wrecks on the shoals of Assateague Island (speaking personally, I'd change that name!) off the coast of Virginia, the horses magically escape and swim ashore, where they adapt and take to life there. This goes to prove how thoroughly worthless and antiquated prologues are, since the same story is perfectly adequately (and with more drama) conveyed in a few sentences in a story told by Paul Beebe, a youngster who is on the island (centuries later) with his sister Maureen.

They're interested in a mare named Phantom, which is a legendary horse they set their sights on owning. For me, this was a big problem with this book. I know sensibilities have changed since 1947, but the avarice displayed in this story is scary - that people can rape and pillage nature without a second thought, taking whatever they want with no consideration for others, or for the consequences of what they're doing - consequences for which we're now paying in spades.

The kids are on the island with their grandfather, who is the pilot of a boat which brought over some guy who is doing some sort of survey on the island. His grandchildren are the aforementioned Maureen and Paul. I thought the grandfather was way-the-hell over the top. He sounds more like a pirate than ever he does a grandfather, and he has all the sensibilities of one, to boot. This is where the two kids set their sights on owning the Phantom, like this wild horse merits ownership and confinement.

The grandfather irritated me to no end. I know there probably are people who speak like him, yet in several years in Virginia I never met one. But that wasn't his worst fault. He talks of people tracing their ancestry back to Jamestown, like they were the first to inhabit these shores, but he has a better idea. No, it's not American Indians - it's the horses!

He says those were the first to live here, and in this he insultingly downgrades American Indians to a lower status than horses. I found the insensitivity displayed here, appalling. Besides, by the time the Spanish were coming here with horses, other Europeans were already resident, so this spiel from gramps is ill-advised whichever way you look at it. He says the first person to tame the horses was a white person, ignoring centuries of relationships between the natives and horses.

It was this kind of thing which made me decide that I cannot rate this positively, regardless of the ending. And it is this kind of stupidity which is what makes me so despise the Neuteredbery Award. It needs to be renamed Get-a-Clue-Bery. I cannot recommend this story and I have no desire to read anything else by this author.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Hatchet Women by Nick Sconce


Rating: WARTY!

If this was an attempt to make the insurance industry exciting or edgy, it failed. For me it failed as a novel because it was far too focused on the minutiae of the insurance industry practices and hiring and firing that it forgot to actually tell an engaging story or to bring to life interesting people. I made it 40% in, to the end of chapter twelve, and I am sorry but I could not face the prospect of reading another two-hundred and thirty pages of this stuff. I really couldn't.

The basic story is that four women (who we're told in the blurb are 'brazen', but of which I saw no evidence) are the terminators - they investigate malfeasance (such as an executive reinstating lapsed insurance policies for his family members when no premiums are being paid), pull together the evidence, and pursue the firing of the employee. Maybe this is how it's done in the insurance industry, I don't know, but for women who are, it's implied, coldly callous in their pursuit of justice for the company, this process seems remarkably gentle and prolonged. In the case I mentioned, it's plainly theft, and most corporations would simply fire the employee on the spot. It made little sense to me that there would be a team of people dedicated to doing this or that they would have a hearing over it. Maybe things are different in the executive suite. I can't speak to that.

Why these four women did this rather than someone in the individual corporate offices in the three states they covered went unexplained, and it made little sense to me. It made less sense that these women would be "hidden" in the 'event planning department' and forced to dye their hair blonde so they blended in. If this was supposed to be funny, it was lost on me. Once these women fired their first executive, everyone would know who they were, so their disguise would have been meaningless at that point. Talking of corporate malfeasance, why didn't even one of these women have a problem with being required to dye their hair? I know women are expected not only to earn 20% less, but also required to dress up more than ever men are. Why was nothing mentioned about that?

The story offered here is that of unexplained deaths, perhaps murders to avoid paying out insurance, which seems like a pretty thin plot if that's all there is to it. Why would a company do this especially since the "savings" from this are likely to be little or nothing. It made no sense, but I didn't get far enough to read much about that - only the overture to it, so I can't comment on how the story dealt with it. Based on what I read though, I can't recommend this. Forty percent in is way too far for the main story not to have begun. For me the novel was not at all engrossing, and I was given no good reason to care about any of these four women or what they were doing.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown


Rating: WARTY!

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

This novel did not work for me. It had some real potential, but it felt far too dissipated - like it was trying to drive in so many different directions at once that it went nowhere - and it took its sweet time doing it, too! I had to give up reading it about eighty percent in because it had become such a chore to read. It was far too dismal and never even seemed like it was interested in going anywhere. In the end I really didn't care what had happened to the mother and wife of this family. I really didn't.

The novel starts at almost a year from the point where "Billie" Flanagan went hiking and was never seen again - unless you count one lone hiking boot as a sighting. Her daughter, Olive and her husband, Jonathan, are barely holding it together. Olive starts seeing visions of her mother and after the first of these is so convinced her mom is right there, that she runs into a wall trying to get to her, and all but knocks herself out. I started pretty quickly hoping she would do it again and end up in a coma so I didn't have to deal with her any more.

Jonathan was no better. He never saw his daughter when mom was alive because he worked all hours. This begs the question as to who was raising Olive since mom was evidently always gone as well. Once mom was gone for good, Jonathan quit his job to spend time with Olive, but then he had no money, so they were living hand to mouth.

He got an advance to write a memoir of Billie, but we were never given a single reason why anyone would want to read it or why any publishing company would be remotely interested in a memoir about a woman who was very effectively a non-entity. The advance has been spent, and there's no prospect of more until the memoir is finished, but he's never depicted as actually working on it. In short, he's a truly lousy dad.

The story chapters are interspersed with "excerpts" from this memoir, but I have zero interest in story-halting flashbacks, because well, they halt the story, so I read none of the excerpts. I can't say I ever felt like I needed to go back and read them, which begs the obvious question as to why they were even there in the first place.

Olive's visions were so unrevealing of anything of value that the point of them was a mystery to me. They were all so vague and useless that they became simply annoying in short order. Any sympathy I had for her over her lousy parents was quickly smothered by her endless needy self-importance and habit of constantly and tediously regurgitating her situation for everyone and anyone who would listen.

There's talk that she might have a brain lesion which could explain the visions; then there's talk that maybe that's not the case; then there's talk that the pills she's given are stopping the visions, so maybe they were caused by the lesion, but one of these visions came before she hit her head. Seriously? Which is it? It was never explained and I couldn't stand to keep reading this stuff in the hope that maybe some straight-talk would come out of this story in the last twenty percent when there's been zero evidence of it in the first eighty!

I honestly did not care about any of these people at all, and I really could not have cared less about what had happened to Billie. The blurb (and I know this isn't on the writer, but the publisher) says of Billie that she's "a beautiful, charismatic Berkeley mom" and I have to ask yet again, what the fuck her 'beauty' has to do with anything? Would it have been somehow less of a tragedy had she been plain or even ugly? Would this family's loss have been easier? "Yeah, mom's vanished without a trace, but she was an ugly bitch, so who cares? Let's move on!" No, I don't think so.

Seriously, I am so tired of women being reduced to 'a pretty skin', like they haven't a damned thing to offer other than their beauty or lack of it. That sexist blurb writer should be fired for that blurb. If the novel had been about a man who disappeared, would the blurb have harped on how handsome he was? No! You're damned right it wouldn't. 2017 and we're still mired in this swamp: that a woman better equal beauty or she equals nothing.

I left this observation until last because it has nothing to do with my judgment of this novel. Normally, I pay little attention to the covers because they have nothing to do with the writer, unless the writer self-publishes. It's what's between those covers which interests me, yet you can't ignore the blurb because this is our lead-in to whether a particular novel might be of interest.

That said, I also have to bring the writer to book on this same score, because she also reduces women - particularly Billie - to skin-depth on far too many occasions:

  • "Billie was beautiful..."
  • "...Billie's mother would have been beautiful too..."
  • ...her mom was the most beautiful, most creative, the most interesting..." - note how beauty is listed first since it's quite evidently the most important thing about her!
  • "...being beautiful and strong..." - being a beautiful woman is more important than being a strong woman!
  • "...being married to a beautiful woman is that other people are going to notice that she is beautiful..."
  • "And while Billie was more beautiful..."
  • "You're a beautiful woman."
  • "...His beautiful wife.."
  • "...Olive's beautiful mother..."
  • "Billie, tanned, glowing, and beautiful..."
  • "This beautiful girl from nowhere..."
So maybe the blurb writer took their cue from the interior after all? Not that they shouldn't have known better. What's just as bad though, is that Olive is compared with this ridiculous standard, and negatively so: "...she's not beautiful, like her mother...", and "She is not conventionally beautiful...." This is sick. I'm sorry, but it is.

If the novel had been about runway models or women competing for a role in a movie or a TV show, then I could see how beauty would play into it. It would still be wrong, but it's the way Hollywood is; however, that doesn't mean that writers have to buy into it so readily. It's diseased writing to keep harping on this for page after page. It's a form of abuse. People who do this have no idea how much damage they do to women the world over by repeating this insane mantra that all that's important is looks, and if you ain't got 'em you ain't got nothin' worth having. Bullshit.

This novel ought really to be condemned on that alone, but sick as this world is, negatively reviewing a book for that would fall on deaf ears. As it was, this novel condemned itself in too many other ways.


Monday, April 10, 2017

The Prankster by James Polster


Rating: WARTY!

This is a sci-fi novella on three disks (I think it's about ninety pages long). I found I wasn't as impressed with it as I thought I would be when I read the blurb!

There's supposed to be this galactic TV show, and the aliens' idea of entertainment is to watch this one celebrity named Pom Trager messing with things on our side of the universe. The guy claims he's tinkered with every president since Nixon, bringing hassles into their life, although why he's so obsessed with US presidents goes unexplained other than that the author is American, which is pretty pathetic and thoroughly uninventive. Why the universe is so interested in Earth is another unexplained mystery (other than that the author is from Earth). I find these conceits to be provincial and annoying.

This idea in particular is problematic, because it's like the author wants to criticize the US but doesn't have the guts to do it directly, so he puts the observations into the mouths of aliens, like he knows what aliens are thinking, but it turns out that the aliens' minds work exactly like human minds, so it's not only unimaginative, it's also boring and it makes the aliens look like morons. It's really no different than what Star Trek did with Commander Spock in the original series, Commander Data in the Next Generation, Neelix (whom I couldn't stand) in Voyager, and full circle back to the resident Vulcan, in the form of Commander T'Pol in Enterprise. Yawn. And Yuk. Star Trek Discovery will no doubt be exactly the same.

In this take on it, Trager falls through the divider between his world and ours, and ends up in the Rio Grande about a half hour out of Santa Fe. There's a reason things go wrong and it's so trite as to be worthy of a high-school story writer. Trager has to make it to San Francisco to catch a portal back to his own world otherwise he'll be trapped here in our world and that's your story. The handling of it was amateur and painful, and in the final analysis, it's not even remotely about aliens, it's about us - again. It just felt like a poor idea for a story. The length of it is just right for a movie, and given Polster's professional history, this is probably what was intended. So it failed as a screenplay, and now the author is trying to unload it on us as a novella? No thanks!


Perennials by Mandy Berman


Rating: WARTY!

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

This novel didn't work for me. The blurb did, which is to say that it did its job and lured me in, but it was, as usual, misleading. If I'd known Kirkus had praised it, I would have definitely skipped it, because Kirkus pretty much praises everything, which means their reviews are completely worthless, but I didn't and the blurb sounded good, so I bought into it. The story is presented as a summer camp story, but in fact this particular story could have been set in a variety of other venues and still been essentially the same story, so I never saw the advantage of the camp setting except maybe as a nostalgia lure for readers. There really was nothing about the camp which was essential to the story being told, and the camp suffered by being merely one more "character" which became lost in the mass of people ambling among the pages.

This is also presented as a story of two people meeting as young adults after knowing each other as children. There's a giant jump from their early teens when they are at camp, to their life after their college freshman year, but it's misleading, because the two have never been apart in any meaningful sense, so there really was no drama to it, and no sense of anything changing or fulminating. I think it would have made for a better story to have followed them through their first year in college. Largely the same kind of events could have transpired in such a story, and it would have felt more organic and more real.

Even as it was, the story would have been a more entertaining if we could have focused on the relationship between these two girls, but they were quickly pushed very much into the background by the plethora of other characters who were quickly ushered in and out. Instead of a coherent story we got a potpourri of people, and this messy patchwork never let the reader get to know a single one of them properly. It was like looking at snapshots in a photo album at an orphanage. You know there's a bunch of stories there worth the telling, but you can't grasp any one of them from the narrow, static glimpses you get into these lives. The collage overwhelms the power of the story, which gets lost: all the actors became minor characters, and there are so many of them that it's impossible to actually care about anyone.

So the story is that Rachel Rivkin and Fiona Larkin used to meet every summer at Camp Marigold. That's the extended prologue, although it isn't called a prologue. For me it could have been dispensed with altogether. The main story begins when both girls come back to Marigold, but this time as counselors. We're told that their relationship is more complicated, but I saw no evidence of this. The bottom line is that Rachel is a jerk and Fiona is a whiner. For these "sins", both are punished towards the end of the story, but the 'punishment' didn't match the 'crime', so that was a fail for me, and neither of these people was entertaining or interesting, or had anything new or worthwhile to offer. Yes, there are two tragic events. I guess the blurb writer doesn't count drunken rape as tragic. I'd have to disagree on that one. Either that or the blurb-writer never actually read the story before describing it to us.

I never went to summer camp, which is why I have found several such stories to be interesting, but this one was not, and at least one aspect of it struck me as highly improbable. The camp Fiona and Rachel attend is not that spectacular. It's supposed to cater to rich kids, but it's a rather shabby and resource-lacking little concern, so this made very little sense to me. It also lacked credibility in that for reasons unexplained, the camp seemed to be a huge magnet for international camp counselors! I found that hard to believe. Like I said, I've never attended a camps, so maybe camps really are like this. I have no problem accepting that foreign counselors might want to come to US camps. What I found beyond credibility was that so many of them would want to come to this particular one!

So overall, not a worthy read for me. I can't recommend this one.


Friday, April 7, 2017

The Woman Who Wouldn't Die by Colin Cotterill


Rating: WARTY!

Here's yet another in a long line of experimental audiobooks - experimental for me that is since I tend to spread my wings (such as they are) more with audio than with other media, and once in a while it works and I find a gem, but more often, sorry to report, I'm disappointed. This falls into that latter category. It sounded good on paper (LOL), and started out quite strongly, but the middle third fell to pieces and I DNF'd it. Life's too short.

This one is set in Laos, refreshingly, yet it began by being annoying not because of the writing, but because the guy who reads it, with the appropriate name of Clive Chafer, ends every clause and every sentence by putting emphasis on the last word. It was really, really, really irritating and was the first and last nail in the coffin. The middle nails were all the author's fault, but I have to say that I can't for the life of me understand why any sane author would voluntarily give up control of their novel like this and allow some random person with a duff reading voice to have at it for the audio book.

You have to wonder how authors feel when they learn that their novel is going to be read by someone else. They have little control over this - I'm guessing - when they go with Big Publishing™ because it's really out of their hands. Of course, if you try and do it yourself, you get oddball noise in the background: traffic passing, someone coming in, your kids banging around the house, music from next door! LOL! You can't win!

But Chafer's voice chafed. Honestly. Listening to a metronome would actually have offered more variety and been more entertaining than this Chinese (or Laotian) voice torture. When he was doing the spoken word, he far less pedantic, but there he found a different way to foul out. Why the hell he thought it appropriate, when reading of people in Laos, to do some of them with a Scots accent or with a south-west England accent is a complete mystery to me, but he did. And his portrayal of the guy with Down's Syndrome was positively abusive. The audiobook should be rejected for that alone.

As for the story itself it has some great moments of humor. Some of the names were entertaining, intentionally or not. There was a Madame Ho and a Major Ly, for example, but the humor was too thin on the ground to make a difference. The novel was supposed to be about ghosts and missing army majors and psychics, and I cannot explain how an author can make such a story boring, but this one achieved it. It fell into a rut in the middle third, and it never looked like it was interested in getting out. It was tedious and I have much better things to do with my time.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown


Rating: WARTY!

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

'A hanging' ought to be the collective noun for witches. It would remind us of what has happened to so many women who were not even witches. This book could have set that right at least a little, but in the end it was a disappointment. The very title is an issue since it's in the form of "The 's Sister/Daughter/Wife." I admit that such titles are provocative, but when you get right down to it, all they really achieve is the reduction of a woman to a mere male appendage of some kind, and it's appallingly insulting when you think about it. I think this is the last novel with such a title that I shall read, no matter how interesting the blurb might make it.

I think there was a story to be told here about a fictional sister of a real historical person, but the telling of it in this way did not work for me. Others might draw different conclusions, and in the interests of full disclosure, let me confess here (you don't even need to torture me!) that I am not a fan of first person voice stories at all. They're decidedly unrealistic and I cannot for the life of me understand why authors, particularly female and particularly in the YA genre, are so addicted to them.

I think it awfully sad that female authors are implying, by so dedicatedly employing this method, that women have so little confidence and feel so unheard in novels that they have to make their stories "all about me" just to get anyone to pay them any attention. As an avid reader, I certainly don't believe that and yet I've encountered very few first person voice novels that were satisfying. First person is far too self-centered, and it typically makes me dislike the narrator because it’s all, "Hey focus on me! See what I'm doing now! It's time for some more about me! Lookit me! It’s all about Meeee!" and I honestly cannot can't stand it, with very few exceptions.

Once in a while an author can carry it, but here it did not work. In terms of realism, it’s highly unlikely that a young girl growing up in a large family of boys, even one as relatively well-off as this one was, would be well-enough educated to be able to write, and especially not a story like this (which is supposed to be her diary or journal, but which reads nothing like one).

Girls did not get much of an education if any, not even in the nobility, and the Hopkins family was hardly nobility. It was deemed that an education would be harmful to a girl's marriage prospects, so it was neglected (beyond the basic housekeeping, sewing, etc.). Because of this, Alice's literacy was hard to swallow. It was inauthentic. On top of this, her voice did not suggest the mid-seventeenth century at all. The mentality was far too modern, and no one has that kind of recollection of events down to detailed conversations, so it just felt wrong from the start, and kept throwing me out of suspension of disbelief.

There's another problem with this voice and the author illustrates this one handsomely for us here. When you trap yourself in first person, your character has to be there and everywhere - otherwise how can she tell us what’s happening? Almost the only alternative to this is the info dump, where she learns what’s going on by having someone tell her in a story-halting binge, or where she reads something which feels so fake, because the only purpose it serves is to clue us in to what she's missed.

The equally clunky alternative to this is to have the character end-up in a position to listen in on something she's not meant to hear. Typically this is far too convenient or contrived, and it feels fake and thoroughly unnatural. In this case, at a meeting of men, we get Alice dragged in there for no good reason, and it felt so obvious and so fake that it really kicked me out of suspension of disbelief. Again. These kinds of men certainly would not want a woman in on their meetings. They had no use for women whatsoever.

Did Matthew Hopkins have a sister? It’s unlikely. His father had six children, but we know the names only of the four eldest. The author argues that at least one of the other two could have been a girl, and uses the lack of mention as evidence: since girls were not counted for anything back then other than as housekeepers and baby mills (an argument which, of course, undermines her entire sister story!). But if the two youngest had died, then they also would have merited no mention even had they been boys. It's unlikely in a family of six that all of them survived infancy in that era. Mortality was appalling.

But fine, if you want to say one was a girl, then let's go with that and ask how she got her name. The name 'Alice' for the main character is chosen for a reason, and it would be a spoiler to reveal it, but it doesn’t work. The Hopkins boys were all named after apostles, the other three (older) brothers being called James, John, and Thomas. Where then would this family come up with a non-Biblical name like Alice? It stands out like a sore thumb, and for me wasn't worth the ending which is too cute by far to be taken seriously.

For a story which promises witchcraft and horror, this one kills the thrills by moving achingly slowly, with rambling reminiscences and flashbacks. These are not to my taste at all. For me, all a flashback does is bring the story to a screeching halt, and I never appreciate that, especially not when it's a reminder that a writer seems to be trying to hit plot points and a story outline, rather than relate a realistic and organic tale of a person's experiences (fictional as they are) as they happened.

Flashbacks have such an amateur feel to them that they ruin suspension of disbelief. No one in real life sits lost in pages flashback or reminiscence (unless they're mentally ill) - not for as long as characters all-too-often do in such stories. It's an amateur conceit really ruined the pace for me. I took to skipping all the flashbacks because they contributed nothing to the story and actually impeded it as far as I could see.

It was a third of the way through the story before we ever got to what Hopkins was doing! Up until that point it was all about Alice, and she was not an appealing character at all. She was tedious, and in very short order, I had lost all interest in her and in what she was thinking or doing. For some reason she became obsessed with a list of witch's names and we had to go through that list over and over again. I took to skipping those passages, too, because they were simply annoying and led nowhere. I had read some reviews that said the story picked up around the halfway point, but I didn't find this to be the case. For me, it continued to be lackluster the entire length of the novel.

Of course not a one of these women was a witch, neither in the pagan sense nor in the absurd evil caster-of-spells sense. They were simply tragic victims of Hopkins's religious fanaticism, and the worst thing about this novel is that we got nothing of that from this story. Just as with his sister, Matthew was completely bland and unmemorable. He's presented as a simple, flat character who offers nothing original or entertaining. He has no emotional depth.

He ought to be a firebrand and a dynamo, but he's a limp rag, and it made for a boring story. He was larded with far too dramatic a past and it completely overshadowed his present whilst contributing nothing materially to it, so instead of an emotional story about the horrible slaying of scores of innocent women, we got a bland family melodrama, and I found it insulting to the memory of those women who were slaughtered on the altar of religious psychosis.

Matthew Hopkins was a real person about whom we know very little, and would probably know next-to-nothing were it not for the eighteen months or so when he became Britain's most prolific serial killer, hiding his vindictive blood-lust beneath the guise of a Christian witch-finder as he acted on the clear Biblical injunction, which fortunately everyone outside of Africa ignores today - of not suffering a witch to live.

He terrorized East Anglia - that butt rump of a bulge on Britain's south eastern shore - running from village to village, and being paid by the local parishes to cleanse their territory of witches. The Bible has a lot to answer for, doesn’t it? It’s the most execrable terrorist manifesto ever written, and we could have had all of this in this novel: the empty message of a god's unconditional love contrasted with the brutal Biblical injunctions to kill, slaughter and eradicate, but we got none of that. For me that was the saddest aspect of all.

On top if this there were portions of the story which seemed to start up dramatically, like an avocado pit on a plant pot, only to die inexplicably without going anywhere. There was a suggestion of the supernatural quite early in the book which never went anywhere, as though the author forgot about it, or had second thoughts. Alice's pregnancy (a left-over from her deceased husband) was an obsession for much of the start of the book and then it fizzled out. At one point I was starting to suspect that Matthew had had Alice's husband killed. I admit that if this suspicion turned out to be true, then I missed the revelation because I was, I confess, skimming the last forty percent of the novel just to get it over with.

As I said, so little is known of Hopkins's life that you can make up pretty much any story you want about him and get away with it. The saddest thing about this novel was not a hanging of witches, which ought to have been front and center, but of a tragically wasted opportunity - one squandered on unimportant trivia in the life of a fictional women when there were so many very real women, all of them murdered by Hopkins, who are begging to have their story told, and yet were denied that opportunity by this author. I cannot recommend this at novel all.


Monday, April 3, 2017

Blowback by Valerie Plame, Sarah Lovett


Rating: WARTY!

I think this novel may have been misrepresented, because the smaller name on the cover did most of the writing, but that's just a hunch. Or maybe, given the novel's title, it's a hunchback? Valerie Plame's claim to fame, for shame is that she was framed by the lame Bush administration in revenge for her putting a kink in their lie that Iraq had nuclear weapons. Now she's turning to novel writing, but rather than trust her to do it on her own, Big Publishing&trade, in its usual inept fashion, paired her with established writer, Sarah Lovett, whom I've never heard of. I rather suspect that latter one did most of the writing, if not all, because the story looks like it was painted by numbers. There's not an ounce of originality, inventiveness, creativity or even life in it.

The main character has the same initials as Plame, and is in the same job. All that's missing to make it a truly wacky joke is a middle initial to make it VIP. The character is a flawed CIA officer (because you can't have one without some serious flaws, right - that's the writer's code. Well, they're more like guidelines really). True to form, the guy is square-jawed, but has a crooked tooth and a scar - not from his job with the CIA, but from childhood (like Indiana Jones), and is very boyish in appearance. Barf me a fricking cow. Seriously? I was completely turned off this novel at that point, and trying to read on a bit more didn't help.

The real problem with this (I'm sure there are many, but I DNF'd it) is that here we have an actual CIA operative who has been there and done that and has some impressive credentials, yet the story we get (supposedly) from her is exactly the same as every other story we've ever had about CIA operatives, with very few exceptions. In fact I reviewed one not all that long ago which had almost the exact same opening sequence as this one does: an assassination in Europe of a contact who was meeting a female operative?

My point is that if a legit CIA agent cannot write something fresh and original, then what is the point? What is the point if all she can give us is exactly the type of story we've been getting from non-CIA personnel for years? I don't see any point, and I'm not about to waste any of my time reading this when there are other more imaginative and more engrossing novels out there just begging to be read.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

Across the Universe by Beth Revis


Rating: WARTY!

This was yet another take-a-chance audiobook from the library. It sounded good from the blurb, but was less than satisfactory when I got into it. It's the start of a series, because why write one book when you can drag it out and bilk your readers for a trilogy or more? It was also first person voice, which is a voice I'm growing to thoroughly detest, especially in YA novels. It's so unrealistic and whiny, and self-obsessed. This was made worse by the author admitting she made a huge mistake in choosing first person, because has then has to tell it in two different first person voices, which is laughable to me. The first voice was this young girl Amy (how young wasn't specified but she seemed like she was a very juvenile sixteen maybe?). She and her parents are being cryogenically frozen for a three-hundred-year trip.

Apparently the crew which is putting them under has never heard of sedatives, so the procedure is brutal, but what really bothers Amy is that she overhears one of the crew mention that it's 301 years instead of the original 300, and Amy all but freaks out over this. She idiotically seems to think this extra year in journey time means she could have spent another year on Earth with her boyfriend. how she gets that from learning that the journey itself - not the start of the journey, but the journey itself - is being extended by a year is completely out of left field. She's quite obviously a moron, so I lost all interest in her.

This was farcical, but not as sad as the fact that the author is evidently quite clueless as to how big the universe actually is. Three hundred years, even if you could go at the speed of light, which you absolutely cannot, wouldn't even get you out of our galaxy, let alone 'across the universe'. Three hundred years gets you three-thousands of one percent the way across our galaxy. That's how huge it is. Across the universe, my asteroid.

From other reviews I've read, science is not the author's strong point. I'm not saying you have to be a scientist to write a sci-fi book! In fact I prefer it if you're not, but you can't write dumb things and not expect those with even a modicum of basic science not to be kicked out of suspension of disbelief by them.

Even my kids know that an object in space keeps moving in the same direction and at the same velocity as it began with unless it gets caught in some planet's or star's gravitational field, or hit by another object. Things don't slow down just because their engine is turned off. This author needs to learn that as much as she needs to learn that (with few exceptions) one gene doesn't equal one trait. Gene groups or networks are what give us our traits and they are often complex and interact with and affect one another, so if she's going to continue this series I recommend some basic physics and genetics courses. Or at least read a good non-fiction book on each topic.

The idea is of course that these people going out there to populate a different planet. The girl is put under and apparently doesn't lose consciousness. She spends her time dreaming of her left-behind boyfriend Justin. That's how vacuous she is. And no, if you're frozen, you don't dream, which depends on biochemical reactions in your brain, which wouldn't be happening if you're deep frozen. The other guy, known only by the absurdly juvenile title of 'Elder' is some kid who sounds like he's ten years old. He's training under Eldest (I kid you not) to run this vessel (which is of course the spacecraft that Amy is on). Obviously the two meet, save each other and fall deeply in love in record time. Barf.

The Elder portion of the novel was so ridiculous and puerile that I took to skipping it and listening only to Amy's chapters, but as I said, she's a vacuous moron and I quickly lost interest in her. It seemed obvious that this journey was going to be a complete lie, and only Elder and Amy were going to be able to save the world (or spacecraft, in this case), so where's the suspense? In the cliff-hanger ending to this first volume? I can live without it. How you're going to stretch this tedious drivel to a series is the only mystery here, but why would the author or publisher care, as long as they can find suckers tu buy it?


Goodnight Campsite by Loretta Sponsler, Olga Shevchenko


Rating: WARTY!

This little book crashed my Kindle app on my smartphone - twice! The Kindle app always was crappy, but this is a precedent. I don't know what happened. When I first read it, it was fine. It was when I was trying to leaf through it for this review that I ran into trouble. The book opened at the end, which was where I'd left it, but I couldn't summon the slide bar at the bottom of the screen to go back to the start, nor would the pages swipe. The Kindle eventually popped up a message saying the app had crashed (but not in those words! LOL!).

I removed it from the device and re-downloaded it, and instead of tapping the screen to get the slide bar, I swiped back through the pages, and it worked fine the third time. Just FYI. I know it's unlikely your kid is going to be reading from the phone, but it could happen! It seems to be connected with the slide bar. If you don't use that for navigation, you should be fine.

I also tested it on an iPad and it seemed fine there, even though I was using the same Kindle app. The book looked very different on the tablet though. How Amazon explains that, other than they they have a shoddy and inconsistent app, I don't know, but based on this experience I'm not rating this as a worthy read, because it took several attempts and forever to get it to download to the pad in the first place! I recommend assuming you insist upon reading this, the print version even though it means killing a tree or two.

The title is slightly misleading - it's not one of your usual "Goodnight..." books, and I was glad of this. Instead it begins with a map of the campsite, and then lets you follow various campers, with poetic descriptions of their activities from Loretta Sponsler, - from biking to hiking, from picnics to quick dips, from fishing to swishing golf clubs, and so on. It's very colorful and nicely drawn by Olga Shevchenko (what a pair of delicious names to pay with there, huh?).

There are "bingo" sheets at the end which you can print out and have your kids check-off items as they encounter various things reading through the book. There's also a very nosy squirrel to see if you can find in each picture. So while I thought the book was ok, the poor experience I had with the e-version makes me dis-recommend it.


What Light by Jay Asher


Rating: WARTY!

This was another experimental audiobook (experimental for me, that is, probably not for the author or the audiobook reader!) about this girl who spends two months each year in California selling Christmas trees with her family, and the rest of the year growing the trees back in her home state of Oregon. That idea of a divided life intrigued me, and I was curious to know how it affected her, but the answer is not at all, because the novel had really nothing to say about living two separate lives except in a distant, tangential sort of way. It was essentially nothing more than a juvenile romance story and as I began listening to this, I found myself increasingly thinking: what a waste of a good novel idea.

The writing is so young in terms of how it describes these kids and their behavior. I know sixteen-year-olds are very young, but at first I thought this girl was something like thirteen-years-old. It turns out she's sixteen or something like that. You wouldn't know it from the writing, or from the reader's voice. Apparently all she has on her mind is guys, despite denying interest in them earlier. This makes her far too shallow and uninteresting for me to care about. Then she meets this guy and it's instadore, and I'm outta there. Check please! Gotta go! I can't recommend this based on the small amount of it that I could stomach.