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

Saturday, August 11, 2018

From This Moment on by Shania Twain


Rating: WARTY!

Shania Twain was born neither Shania nor Twain. She was Eilleen Edwards. The Shania was an invention (and not an Ojibwa word) and the Twain came from her stepdad. This audiobook is her autobiography. Why she doesn't read it herself, I do not know. She reads the introduction, which I skipped as usual, and the concluding chapter, but the rest is read by Sherie Rene Scott, and she doesn't read it too well for my ears. The book starts with Twain's childhood, but I skipped all of that until it got to the point where the author is starting to get into music, which was the only bit that really interested me.

I have to say up front that I'm not a big country music fan, or even a little one. Once in a while there's a country song that I like, but it's a rarity. However, this singer released a crossover album in 1997 titled Come On Over and has spread her wings a bit since the early days. She came to my attention with That Don't Impress Me Much and ever since that one, I'd had an interest in her, which is how I came to pick up this audiobook.

My interest waned as soon as I heard she said she would have voted for Trump had she been resident in the US. Obviously she's out of touch with reality. She lives in Switzerland. Not that those latter two things are necessarily connected.

She appears to be the clichéd country singer: growing up in a large impoverished family, which seems to be a rite of passage, at least for old school female country stars, but her mother was always indulging her interest in music. This one incident she related was disturbing though. She was eleven and was traveling alone on an overnight train to Toronto, to compete in a talent show. On the train, the conductor looked at her ticket and told her she was on the wrong train heading in the wrong direction!

After she asserted that she simply had to get to Toronto, the conductor said he would make a call. He came back later and said they would stop the train, and she could get off, and a train going in the opposite direction would stop and pick her up. They dropped off this eleven year old girl, her suitcase and her guitar by the side of the track - not at a station, but out in the middle of nowhere (Twain calls it the 'bush'), and after an hour, a train coming in the opposite direction did indeed stop and pick her up! Wow!

The oddest thing about this story though, is that after all that, she said not a word about how she did at the competition! The reader is left only to assume she fared poorly. But to have such a dramatic build-up, true or not, and then say not a word about the result is just wrong.

I honestly don't know whether to believe that story; maybe that kind of thing happens in Canada, maybe it doesn't, but I had a tough time listening to some of this story regardless of its veracity because it was simply ordinary everyday living which contributed nothing to my education! For someone who is big in music, there really wasn't a whole heck of a lot about it. Yes, she referred to it and sometimes told a story about it - such as the train story - but for the most part it really felt like it was tangential to her life instead of central to it.

I gave up on listening to the Shania Twain book after she reached the point where her parents died in a car crash. This is sad, I know, but she'd spent a good part of the story rather dissing her stepdad for not being supportive and for abusing her mother, and then went into weeping mode when they died. It felt a bit disingenuous. I could see how losing her mother, who had been so supportive, would be devastating, but a mean stepfather?

That wasn't what actually turned me off the story. What did that was her rambling on about how her mother had previously been to a fortune teller who had told her that her husband would die prematurely, but who had then refused to tell her anything more, and made her mother leave.

So Twain is going on about how the fortune teller must have foreseen her mother's death. I'm like, check please, I'm outta here. It was just too much. It's a pity that the fortune teller wasn't charged with manslaughter by irresponsibly failing to warn this woman that she was going to die! Not that I believe in any of that crap.

I got this autobiography in the first place because I thought it would be interesting, and I thought I could learn something about how she approached her music, but it was less about that than it was about everyday life, which wasn't that interesting to me.

I can appreciate that she had a rough life and pulled herself out of poverty to become a success, but she didn't really have a very engaging way of telling her story and given that her success was in music, there was really very little about the actual music. Admittedly, she hadn't achieved stardom at the point when I quit listening, and maybe there would have been more about it later, but I didn't have enough faith in the story to stay with it. I should have got Faith Hill's biography instead - that would have offered more faith, right? LOL! Based on what I heard, I can't commend this one. It don't impress me much.


The Ape that Understood the Universe by Steve Stewart-Williams


Rating: WARTY!

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

This is a science book that purports to look at humans from the perspective of how an alien might see them, but in practice, there is very little of this perspective employed. After an initial flurry, aliens are mentioned only spasmodically.

On the one hand this would seem to offer an interesting PoV, but on the other, this kind of thing been done before, and it seems a stretch to begin with. The arrogance of the pretension that we can honestly and objectively look at ourselves as an alien might see us seems antithetical to a scientific approach. By definition an alien is a being not like us, so to suggest we can honestly put ourselves in their shoes is a stretch at best!

We can't even put ourselves reliably into the shoes of animals most like us on Earth let alone some tentacle-sporting Betelgeusian, so it seems to me that there's an inherent insult in taking such a perspective. Such a PoV almost inevitably makes the alien look like a moron.

I really did not like the Star Trek Original series. Actually, these days I've gone off all Star Trek TV shows. I refuse to watch Discovery for its stupidity and lack of imagination, but TOS was the worst. Admittedly it was a product of its time, and in some ways ground-breaking, but it was nonetheless a poorly-written and simplistic show, and it carried the same pretense this book does: that of an alien observing humans.

The alien was Spock, and in trying to show him coping with human culture, it made him look like a complete idiot who, despite having lived among humans for some considerable time, and being half human himself for his entire life, simply didn't get it. That wouldn't have been so bad, but the fact is that he never got it, and was typically at a complete loss, which is what made him moronic. He wasn't a genius. He wasn't brilliant. He wasn't even logical a good portion of the time.

Star Trek has a habit of doing this. In Next Generation, the resident imbecile was Commander Data. In Voyager there wasn't one single dumb-ass. It oscillated between Neelix, Tuvak, and Seven of Nine. The only show I've seen where the Vulcan wasn't made to look moronic was in Enterprise, which actually made her a complex character with a real life. And we all know what happened to that show! Having realistic characters got it cancelled and kept Star Trek off the air for years! Then they rebooted with Discovery, where everyone's a dumbass. Go figure!

This book treats its aliens in the same way, but since that was a minor part of the book, I let the conceit go, hoping the book would win me over. I'm sorry to report that it didn't. A huge portion in the middle of the book is devoted to sex and reproduction and how animals differ (or don't) when compared with humans. How anyone can make a discussion about sex boring, I do not know, but this author did it with the facility of a guy who was trying to pick up a woman in a bar or some such social setting, and insisted in rambling on about sex and intimacy when the woman wasn't even remotely into him.

That's how this affected me. It went on far too long, it was rambling, it really offered nothing particularly engaging, and as with the rest of the book, for me it brought nothing new, nothing amusing, and not even a new perspective on things. Others may find this more educational and entertaining than I.

I'm not a scientist, but I am very well read across multiple sciences from books and other materials by a variety of authors over many years, and so perhaps I have a leg up on the lay reader, but to me it felt as though you would have to know literally nothing about any of these topics to find much here that was very stirring. In short, you'd have to be the idiot alien!

So, some of the approaches taken here just seemed plain wrong to me. For example, at one point the author informs us that "Evolution ain't about the good of the species." Well you can get into some good semantic arguments here, but from my reading, that assertion is plainly wrong in very general terms, because evolution doesn't work on individual animals! Mutation does work on individuals, but for evolution you need a species over time.

That's how it works, that's the origin of species. Mutations can be good, bad, or indifferent, and not all of them get spread, not even if they're good, but often enough, the good ones - that is the ones that give the organisms in the species some reproductive or survival advantage, will tend to outcompete those without such advantages and there it;s good for the species! The mutation(s) will spread through the species and so the species succeeds where others fail, or it may even become a new species over time.

So is this for the good of the species? Well it's not designed to be for the good of a species. There's no designer. It's simply a filter - rather like a knock-out game. No one designed France to win the last World Cup, but that's how the filters played out. The France 'species' of soccer team proved to be the fittest; better able to compete. No individual won that world cup, but all members of the 'species', fitter than members of competing 'species' in the contest, contributed to the win.

To use the author's example, sharper teeth may be good for a lion, but if the genes that produce them don't spread across the species, then nothing's going to change! Teeth that are too sharp may end up slicing the lion's mouth, allowing infection in, and killing it off before it can reproduce, and that's an end to it, but if the teeth were just perfect and it left offspring that were more successful than their peers in surviving and reproducing, the teeth would spread, over time, through the pride, and so would benefit the species.

The author admits this when he says that evolution works within species - not within individuals, so I really have no idea what he was trying to argue here, and you can argue that's my fault or you can argue that the author did a poor job of getting his point across. The problem is that this was a repeated issue for me in reading this.

This is a long book with 6,904 locations so making it engaging and interesting was important to me, and it simply wasn't. I hate to invest my valuable time in a long book only to find it's not done anything for me or even worse, not so much as done what it claimed it would in the blurb. Of course, blurbs aren't written by the author (unless they self-publish), so the disconnect between what you're told you will get and what you end up getting can be quite jolting and can make or break a book for me.

Talking of book length, I found this formula online which purportedly converts location to page count. If you divide the location number by 16.69 this gives the page number supposedly. By that method, there are over 413 pages in this book. Another online formula suggests dividing by twenty which would mean this one has 345 pages. It's listed online as having 378 pages which suggests the formula ought really to be in between those two, dividing it by 18.26. But maybe there is no accurate formula for every book. What a world we live in, eh? I blame Amazon!

The point though, is that however many pages it had were too many, so this book could have done with a lot of editing and a serious trim to the discussion on sex which rambled on repetitively, circling round and round, until I completely lost interest in reading any more about it or any more of the rest of the book.

I did skim the altruism pages and found it somewhat disturbing that the author has never apparently heard of cases of altruism between different species of animal. It's like he could not see the trees for the florist, so this tended to rob him of whatever point it was he thought he was making about investing in your own genetic lineage. He seemed to be seriously undervaluing nurture and friendship, especially when it came to humans. But as I said, I skimmed it, so maybe I missed something there.

I wish the author all the best in his career, but I cannot in good faith recommend this particular science book, which is unusual for me. I typically enjoy science books and recommend them, but this one simply did not get there. It was more of a spandrel than a genetic improvement in the species of science books, and definitely not at its fittest.


Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater


Rating: WARTY!

It's my policy never to read books with pretentious words like 'Chronicles' or Cycle' or 'Saga' in their title, but this one slipped under my radar. It wasn't until I was almost finished with the novel that I realized it was part of 'The Raven Cycle'. Yuk! The thing is that while I did initially enjoy this particular volume, it was painfully slow, and when I discovered it was not even going to reach a conclusion, I began losing faith in it.

After I listened to the weak ending, I could no longer support it positively. If the author had moved things along, she could have included the entire four book 'cycle' in one volume, I suspect, made a great story out of it, and saved trees into the bargain.

As for me, I will serve the word! I'm not going to indulge the rip-off attitude of 'why write one novel when you can spin it into three or four?' which seems to pervade the fiction world these days. This is nothing but a conspiracy among publishers to milk money from suckers, and I refuse to be a part of it, which is why I personally will never write a series. Yes, there are one or two series out there which are worth the reading, but in my opinion they are as rare as a series should be. Not everything needs to be a trilogy. And yes, YA authors, I'm talking to you!

This story is about a young woman with the curious name of Blue Sargent, who isn’t a psychic, while her two eccentric aunts and her mother all are. Father is of course absent from her life, because god forbid we should have a YA character who has both parents in the picture and an otherwise normal life!

We meet Blue when she's out by a derelict church (sitting on a ley line of course) watching the ghosts go by. Blue can’t see them, but she has the ability to amplify signals for her psychic mom to pick up. It’s never explained why they need to go there to see these ghosts which technically aren’t ghosts, but premonitions of those people who will die in the coming year.

Blue never sees anything until this year when she sees this one ghostly guy. When she confronts him and asks who he is, he answers "Gansey." Later, of course she meets him and her mother warns her off him. Blue is instructed that he will die if she kisses him! Who knew Blue was really Poison Ivy?!

She meets him later of course, along with his three close friends. They're all students of the prestigious and snobbish Aglionby school. I only know that's spelled right because it's on the back cover. I listened to this on audio read by Will Patton, one of my favorite actors, and who did a great job. On audio though, it sounded like Aglin-B, like Zyclon-B - one of the gases used in the death camps by Nazis in World War Two, so I could not take that name seriously as a school! Sorry! My imagination gets out of hand often which, as a writer, is actually a good thing!

Anyway, the first of these friends is the unimaginatively-named Ronan, who is such a cliché that I did not like his character at all. I am so tired of USA authors writing about Irish characters and Ireland with such a condescending and unimaginative tone. Ronan is a stereotypical Irish boy who fights - physically - with his domineering brother who is unimaginatively named Declan.

Adam is a retiring, impoverished boy who has to work other jobs to finance his time at the school, and whose father is a brutal jerk. Noah is even more retiring than Adam and there's a reason for this, we learn towards the end of the novel. Richard Gansey is obsessed with tracing ley lines, and even more obsessed with finding the body of a Welshman. So why look in Virginia instead of in Cymru?

Owain Glyn Dŵr, often anglicized as Owen Glendower, but pronounced more like Oh-wayne Glin Duhr, was the last Welsh-born Prince of Wales, who came off poorly in his uprising against the English (early 15th century), and spent his twilight years in obscurity. Because of this, legends have grown up around him, including the one that he's not dead but sleeping, like King Arthur, who was actually more of a tribal leader than a king, and who will sleep until his nation needs him, whereupon he will awaken.

Well, that was categorically disproved when Arthur failed to wake up for either of the two World Wars, so I think we can retire that legend! I mean, honestly, of what use will a medieval tribal leader wearing a leather jerkin and carrying a spear be in modern warfare? Will he toss his spear at a Raptor drone?

The asinine conceit of this story is that Glyn Dŵr went to the Americas, despite those not being discovered (or more accurately, rediscovered) until almost a century after he died. Yes, the Vikings knew of the Americas, but it’s unlikely that this information would have found its way to Glyn Dŵr and even if it had, what incentive did he have to abandon his family and move there? None! Although I did develop a theory that Ronan is really Glyn Dŵr in disguise.

This is a problem with readers in the USA: far too many of them are so lamentably and irrevocably provincial that they seem quite loathe to embrace any story that's not set in their homeland. This is why Hollywood lifts so many foreign movies and recasts them in the USA, even if the recasting makes little sense to the story, so this whole Glyn Dŵr angle is nonsensical. You would think someone of Steifvater's stature would have the guts to step away from trope and safety and and set her own course, but I guess she's as unimaginative and chicken as far too many other YA authors.

Anyway, these five (Gansey & co, and Blue) discover a place on a ley line in the forest where time seems mixed up and where a body lies. Here's where the story went downhill because it became obvious all of a sudden who the murder was and what his relationship with the boys and (I believe) also with Blue was. I don't normally catch things like that so it had to be very obvious if even I saw it!

So they story moved slowly, wasn't exactly a mystery, and Blue was a little too subdued and passive for my taste for a female lead. I confess I did enjoy parts of the story as far as it went, but overall, I cannot commend it as a worthy read, and it was certainly not something I'm interested in pursuing into another volume.


Byte by Eric C Anderson


Rating: WARTY!

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

From the blurb, this book looked like it would interest me, but I knew I was in trouble when I started in on it and it turned out to be first person voice, which is rarely a good choice. That said, I have read some first persons that I enjoyed. I didn't enjoy this one because the first person part narrated by "Roller" was so arrogant and snotty that it turned me off the person, which is hard to do given that she was female, African American, and wheelchair bound. Any one of those, all else being equal, would have interested me. All three together should have been a winner, but having your character insult the reader isn't a winning strategy.

This character was in some ways reminiscent of Odetta/Detta from the Stephen King trilogy that morphed into the endless Dark Tower series which I gave up on, but not as likeable (sarcasm!). You know Stephen King can't write a trilogy without it running to eight volumes. This Roller character couldn't put two sentences together without lecturing the reader on ancient computer history. And some of it was wrong. For example, Stuxnet wasn't given that name by the people who created it but by the people who were deconstructing it to try and discover what it did.

Nor is the British Parliament based "in that temple of democracy, Westminster Abbey." Westminster Abbey is a church, Parliament is in the Houses of Parliament. And "In 2008, when Obama spent $760,000 to win"? No, try $760 million! But anyone can screw up a fact here and there. Normally that wouldn't bother me so much, but the relentless ego of the narrator was annoying at best (especially when coupled with the misstatements). The author realized he had made a mistake when he chose the very limiting first person, and we see this as he resorts to third person to tell two other parts of the story, which made for a really clunky downshift every couple of chapters.

And for a story seemingly rooted in the latest and greatest in high tech hacking, and set in 2025 yet, I was quite surprised to read this:

I've been living here long enough to know bad news only gets dumped on Friday afternoon. Preferably about 5 p.m. Too late for the newspapers to update, and the camera boys are already locking in the nightly news. Yeah, you're right, CNN will carry the latest update, but who watches CNN on a Friday night?

Seriously? In 2025 no one is going to be reading newspapers, which have been in major decline for the last two decades and more, and with the younger generations tied almost exclusively to their smartphones, rightly or wrongly getting their news from social media, no one is going to watch CNN on any night.

I doubt many people are going to care much about newspapers in 2025, let alone plan their news releases around them. I doubt they do now. Nightly news viewership on TV has been falling precipitately and by 2025 it will be similarly irrelevant. This felt particularly clunky for a novel which was at its very core about Internet use (and abuse). The blindness to social media was a real suspension of disbelief breaker.

Those were not even the worst sins though. The worst sin is to be boring, and I made it fifty percent the way through this, growing ever more bored with the complete lack of anything exciting happening. You could barely see things moving, so glacial was the pace, and I lost all interest. I should have quit before fifty percent.

If the main character had been at all likeable, that might have made a difference. If there had been some real action in the third person parts of the story: things happening instead of it feeling like I was watching a chess game in which neither participant had any interest in competing much less completing, that might have made a difference, but as it was, I could not justify reading more of this when I didn't even like the main character, when I found myself much preferring the dark web hacker to the 'good guy' hacker, and found nothing to make me want to swipe to the next screen. I wish the author all the best, but I cannot recommend this one.


Thursday, August 2, 2018

Mother Teresa by Isabel Sánchez Vegara, Natascha Rosenberg


Rating: WARTY!

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

Illustrated in color but very simplistically by Natascha Rosenberg, this book tells the breathless story of Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu who was canonized in 2016 as Mother Teresa for at best, dubious miracles and her work among the suffering in Kolkata (aka Calcutta) in India.

I have to take issue with this book because Mother Teresa had far to many questionable practices to be worshipped as a saint, and this book mentions none of them. Wikipedia has a pretty decent coverage of this topic: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_Mother_Teresa. Information can also be found from other sources.

The problem with this book is that it swallows the hype far too easily and does nothing to mediate it. I cannot commend a book about a woman who actually said, "I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot...I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people." while taking in hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts.


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

30th Century: Revived by Mark Kingston Levin


Rating: WARTY!

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

I'm not a fan of series except for the occasional rare and treasured one, which is why I felt duped when I requested this from Net Galley, because there was nothing there to indicate that it was book two of a trilogy. Hence I felt lost from the start because this one clearly takes off from wherever volume one left off and there's very little context to help the reader. Add to that the complete lack of world-building, the unnaturally stilted conversations, and the truly simplistic nature of the writing overall, and I simply could not get into this at all. I could not finish it and I quit about a fifth of the way though.

An example of how lacking in interest the writing was is this (and note that this was from an advance review copy, so even though this novel was published last April, it could, I suppose, change!):

The reporter continued. “When the engines failed, the parachute, made of ultra-strong carbon nanotube fibers, was deployed, and according to the crew, it saved all the passengers. No one lost their life, but over four hundred thirty-three were injured out of the twelve hundred twenty-two people aboard this Can-Air 999.”
***
After eight months, the news reporter for the Canadian Broadcast Company announced, “The investigation turned up a possible sabotage of this aircraft. The computer system had been infected with a virus or worm. This is an aircraft designed to hover low over the ground so passengers can see and photograph the wildlife, including moose, polar bears, and deer.”

I don't get how a noisy hovering aircraft would permit passengers to see and photograph wildlife - which would have taken off, scared to death with this huge, noisy machine hovering overhead! And it took eight months to discover that the computer system was infected? No. Just no. That was what all of this writing was like - like the author was so enamored of how it sounded to him that he failed to consider how realistic it was.

He's evidently not paid much attention to how people actually speak to one another in real life, nor has he given any thought to the fact that language a thousand years from now will undoubtedly have changed as much as it's changed over the last thousand years, yet the woman from the 30th century speaks exactly like her husband from the current century.

The whole thing was far too simplistic for me, and I honestly could not get into it at all. I wish the author all the best with his career, but cannot commend this book.


Once We Were Sisters by Sheila Kohler


Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook fail. It sounded interesting from the blurb, but don't they all? Well not really, but many of them do! The blurb says (yes in block caps!) that this is "ONE OF PEOPLE MAGAZINE'S BEST NEW BOOKS." It adds that People thinks it's "An intimate illumination of sisterhood and loss." No, it really isn't. I immediately made a mental note never to trust a People magazine rating. The blurb also says that according to the BBC, this is "A searing and intimate memoir about love turned deadly." No, it isn't. It's a rambling recollection of a childhood that was seemingly obsessed by defecation. I kid you not.

The most absurd aspect of the blurb though was when it said, "Kohler evokes the bond between sisters and shows how that bond changes but never breaks, even after death" yet the memoir is titled, "Once We Were Sisters" like that no longer holds. Unbreakable bond? Bullshit. Had it been a truly unbreakable bond, Maxine would never have died so tragically.

So the blurb was at best hypocritical, but unless they self-publish, authors typically don't write their own blurbs. In my experience that chore is typically consigned to the most inept member of the publishing team. The fact that none other than Joyce Carol "Feeling Her" Oates says this is "Highly recommended" ought to tell you all you need to know about how useless these recommendations truly are.

The author got the news that her older sister by two years, the thirty-nine-year-old Maxine, had died when her husband drove them off a road in Johannesburg. The blurb tells us that, "Stunned by the news, she immediately flew back to the country where she was born, determined to find answers and forced to reckon with his history of violence and the lingering effects of their most unusual childhood--one marked by death and the misguided love of their mother."

To me that sounded like it would make for an interesting read, and maybe provide some ideas for a story of my own? Who knows? I'm always open to ideas but that's not my primary motivation for reading anything, especially not something that came off sounding like a detective story, but in the end it wasn't: there was no detecting and there were no answers offered.

Anyway, I checked it out of the library I adore and started listening to it right away, and I noted the first problem: it's written exceedingly sparsely. It's more like a set of notes for a memoir rather than a finished work. It's read pretty well - if somewhat quirkily on occasion - by the author, but the story itself really isn't anything special or very engrossing. Apart from the excrement fetish, it's nothing more than the usual childhood recollections that any family of similar circumstances might relate. Why all this stuff and nothing about finding answers? I'm guessing this is because there were neither answers sought nor found. I have my own theory about why this memoir was written which I shall go into shortly.

It's obviously set in South Africa, but you really wouldn't know it from the writing. Apart from an occasional reference here and there, this memoir could have been of any wealthy, slightly dysfunctional family, living anywhere, which had rather more tragedy than any family ought. There really was very little to anchor it to South Africa and the story jumped around too much between early childhood and later life, so we have the author talking about an eight year old in one paragraph, having babies (which seemed to excite her quite a lot) in the next, and then back to relating how she, as a child, had urinated through the wicker chair on the porch. Really? As a listener, I wasn't prepared for the jumping between different ages, let alone for the entirely unnecessary revelation about urination.

I don't do prologues (or prefaces, introductions, author's notes, and so on). To me they're misplaced at best, and fatuous at worst, but it's often hard to avoid them in an audiobook. I managed it here, but not without hearing the opening sentence to the prologue, which said, "This is a story about South Africa" No, wrong again! I was truly sorry because I'd wished it was, but it wasn't. The truth is, it seemed to me, that this was about the author: her childhood, her love of babies ...and defecation, her spoiled-rotten life and oh yes, I think there might have been a few mentions of this beloved sister.

The saddest thing is that even when she told us of this life of hers, it was always superficial. There were never any real insights into living in the depths (and I do mean depths) of apartheid or even anything insightful in her relationship with her sister. It was always about the author, and only the shallowest recollections even of that. This is why the story felt so bland and generic rather than richly-hued and personal.

These sisters thought nothing about jet-setting and going on ritzy vacations and fashion-buying trips to Europe, leaving their children behind. Neither did they have a problem taking lovers, yet they would not leave abusive husbands? The most powerful thing that this author conveyed to me is not so much how utterly clueless she is (or was: maybe she wised-up) about real life, but how thoroughly shallow, self-centered, and superficial she is. I detected no sign of any love here for anything but her own comfort.

Ultimately the saddest part of this is that it would seem that the author knew her sister's marriage was a bad one: that her husband was physically abusive to his wife and their children and yet no one did a thing about it. They just let it run its unnatural course and so it seems that her sister's untimely and violent death was an inevitable outcome, and that the blame for it really needs to be placed elsewhere than on this psychotic husband's shoulders. Her mother forgave her son in law. Sheila never pushed for an investigation regardless of what the blurb says.

When Maxine had indicated there were problems, she was never offered any assistance by her family, so we're forced to conclude from this memoir. Where was the love? Where was the bond? It felt like her mother and sister had said to Maxine: you made your bed; now you must die in it. In her own words, Sheila pretty much told her sister to stay in the marriage for the sake of her children, thereby ultimately condemning her to death. And it's unclear whether Maxine's husband drove the car off the road or whether Maxine took hold of the steering wheel to end it all, or whether it was simply an accident. He was wearing a seatbelt. She wasn't. Still, today in South Africa only about six in ten drivers use a seatbelt.

Had the memoir been written differently, I may have experienced it differently and now been able to view it differently, but I could only review what the author offered, and what this felt like was less of a loving memoir, or an attempt to find some truth, as it was a determined effort assuage a tortured soul: to seek absolution for the author's inexcusable inaction in light of her sister;s suffering.

In the end, it was really nothing more than an attempt to turn a hard, harsh marble sculpture of a life into a soft, pretty, pastel watercolor, and in that light, it was quite sickening to listen to. It's a very short memoir, which is just as well, because if it had been any longer I would not have stayed with it to the end, As it was, I found myself skipping parts here and there. I cannot commend this at all. It doesn't remotely feel to me like it's a fitting memorial for the tragic life of a prematurely deceased sister.


The End of Summer by Tillie Walden


Rating: WARTY!

This was a nonsensical graphic novel which I did not enjoy because I had no clue what was going on despite wasting my time reading right to the end!

The story is of this extended family which lives in a palatial home in some location where the winters last three years. How that works is an unexplained mystery. Usually the winter (or the summer) is a function of axial tilt and orbit. If the axis of the planet isn't parallel to the axis of the star, then for half the year one hemisphere will be more or less inclined towards its star, the other half of the year inclined away.

This is how the seasons work, so aside from bizarre orbital systems or multiple stars, the only way a three year winter is going to work is if the planet takes six years to orbit its star, which means it would be so far away from the star that winter would be all year! The planet could have a highly elliptical orbit, bringing it closer to the star in summer and further away in winter, but this would be a one year winter from a subjective perspective. It makes no sense to talk about a three year winter, but we're expected to accept this, and that the winter requires that the people have to lock themselves inside the house for three years.

Fine, let's accept that and move on; next up is this giant cat. It's exactly like a cat, but it's the size of a horse. There's no explanation for this - it just is! They don't even turn the cat outdoors for the night! Anyway the house is shutting up and then what? I have no idea what. The story is vague to the point of non-existence. It shows the family eating, playing games, relaxing, sauntering around, riding the cat, but suddenly it's like a kid is missing and no one knows what's going on. Is someone dead? I have no idea. Is there a killer on the loose? You got me.

The artwork was so scrappily bad that it was truly hard to distinguish one character from another, and they were all so uninteresting that I gave up trying. I read the early part and then read and skimmed to the end without having a clue what was going on or how it panned out. That's how blandly bad this was. I cannot commend it, not even slightly. It's nothing but a long, drawn-out winter of discontent for the reader.


The Clockwork Witch by Michelle D Sonnier


Rating: WARTY!

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

Errata:
"...she watched as her family prepare to leave the house." This really needed to have used 'prepared' rather than 'prepare'.
"When do you think they'll finally drag you into the family business, brother dear?" Arabella smiled. "Oh, I think not." John barked with laughter." The second speech doesn't follow from the first! If the 'when' was omitted from the first speech, it would make more sense.
"We've combed the library and its' not inconsiderable resources" no apostrophe is required on 'its'

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

I am not a huge fan of steampunk, but then this really isn't a steampunk story even though it superficially professes to be a mashup of witchcraft and steampunk. That juxtaposition is what interested me in the novel as it happens, but I had too many writing issues with it to love it, despite it starting out very strongly for me.

My blog is more about the writing of novels than the reading of them, but I explore writing through discussing my reading experiences and assessing the book accordingly, and this one felt very much like a book feels when an American writer tries to write a Victorian novel without really knowing the Victorian period very well - at least as it was experienced in Britain. An example of such an Americanism was "She'll be furious is what she'll be." That's a common format - repeating the same person and verb at the end as you've used at the start, but I don't see a well-bred Victorian family employing it in Britain!

I don't profess to be an expert by any means, but since there exist very many books from that period, fiction and otherwise, my advice to writers is to read a lot of them so you get a feel for the vernacular in use back then. That aside, I did enjoy reading this to start with. Unfortunately, it had too many issues, by far the worst of which was the disturbingly weak and bland female main character.

I adore books with strong females - and by that I do not mean they can arm-wrestle a guy to the ground (although that could be a trait they have!). No, I mean women who are self-possessed and self-motivated and who do not wilt every other paragraph. I don't care if they start out weak and grow strong or if they're strong from the off. I do care if they never grow, and never change no matter what provocation or incentive they have, and that was this character's problem.

I know it was set in Victorian times when women were all-too-often deemed weak and delicate, and some actually were, just as some are today, but there were some amazing women who lived in that era (the queen for one example) and who made their mark: such as Ada Lovelace, Annie Besant, Eleanor Coade, Elizabeth Blackwell, Elizabeth Gaskell, Emmeline Pankhurst, Florence Nightingale, Isabella Bird, Marianne North, Millicent Fawcett. Dido Belle was another although she came long before the Victorian era. Radclyffe Hall was another although she came later.

The novel began strongly, but then slowly and inexorably went downhill. The main character was so weepy and showed no sign of growing a backbone, so around seventy percent in I couldn't stand to read about her any more. I did a search for the word 'sobbed' in this novel, and it showed up ten different times and each time it was the main character who was doing the sobbing! This was throughout the novel. I don't mind a girl (or a guy for that matter) breaking down once in a while, but this girl was doing it habitually, at the drop of a hat. It was nauseating to keep reading it. Parts of the novel were really great, but she was such a lackluster and limp woman who had showed no sign of ever growing, and I lost all interest in her and her story.

People have on occasion chided me for DNF-ing a novel, but I see no point in forcing oneself to read something that simply doesn't get the job done. Life is far too short. Their argument that maybe things will turn around is weak and I've disproven it repeatedly. If the novel isn't getting it done by the time you're twenty percent in, you should quit right then. I almost quit around the half-way point, but decided to struggle on in hopes that it would improve because there had been parts I really enjoyed, but it did not improve. It steadily grew worse, and meanwhile I'd wasted more of my time pursuing it! I do not subscribe to the sunk cost fallacy; quitting is a smarter move than continuing to invest effort in something not worthy of your time.

The story is of the Sortileges, the leading witch family in Britain, and one which is highly-regarded beyond the immediate shores of the so-called Sceptered Isle. The Family is a large one - seven daughters and two sons. In this world, the daughters take precedence, because they are witches, and men take a back seat, contrary to 'mundane' society (read: muggles!) where it is of course the reverse, as real life history shows.

The main character is Arabella, a name I can't think of without being reminded of the rather catchy song from the old Peter Sellers movie based on a stage play: There's a Girl in My Soup (which I recommend for light-hearted fun and a few witty remarks, but you have to be something of an anglophile to get the best from it). The song runs along the lines of: "Arabella, Cinderella, what did she do? She turned into a pumpkin at the stroke of two! You know she should have done it way back at midnight. Why, oh why, can she never get it right!"

The biggest problem with Arabella, the trope seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, is that she wept constantly and never once stood up for herself. It was too much. Once in a while under stress, or from a major setback perhaps, it would have been fine, but it was every few pages and for the slightest of reasons.

That song I mentioned is particularly appropriate here, because Arabella can't get it right. She's a squib, to put it in Harry Potter terms. This is trope for this kind of story: the magical person with no magic who in the end turns out to be especially magical. It's a bit tired, and this particular story - the initially undiscovered mastery machinery - has been done before in The Star Thief by Lindsey Becker, a story which I really did enjoy.

The family is invited to a demonstration of a new calculating machine along the lines of Babbage's difference engine, but whereas his machine was a small one controlled by turning a crank the requisite number of times to do the calculation, Mr Westerfield's machine is quite the behemoth and runs on steam. Note that Babbage never built his final machine - only a smaller model of it because the government lost patience with him and stopped funding it.

The reason we know it works is that the machine was actually built in the 1980's in Australia using Babbage's original drawings and the machining techniques available in Babbage's time. The engine worked as specified. The name of Westerfield's machine looked like it was simply chosen because it had some superficial resonance with 'difference engine' but Babbage chose his name for a valid reason. I didn't get the impression that 'distinction engine' had any rationale behind it at all, so it stood out as an odd choice.

During the demo, Arabella discovers she can literally see the work in progress in the form of a glow in the machine's mechanisms, and she discovers that she can operate it using only thought. This is how she learns she actually does have a power, and it's also what brings her into conflict with Westerfield, although his antagonistic reaction to her is way over the top and her weasel reaction to him is, honestly, pathetic.

There was one part of the machine which Arabella cannot see any glow in, and it seemed obvious why this was so. Unfortunately, it made Arabella look a bit on the dumb side that she did not figure this out quickly, but the reason I mention this event is that there were a couple of writing issues with it.

The first of these is when the dignitaries are addressed to call the meeting to order and the guy says, "Ladies and gentlemen, members of Parliament, and noble witches," but he has the order wrong. If the witches are indeed as important as they're portrayed in this story, then they ought to addressed first. This is still the way it's done - prejudiced as it may be - with the monarchy, peerage, and nobility coming first, as in "My Lords, ladies, and gentlemen," for example.

It seems to me the witches would have been insulted to have been placed last, but no one says a word about it! This issue is further highlighted later in the story when Arabella's older brother John comes to tea and I read, "Arabella served tea and inquired after their father's health." Wait - in a witch family, the female serves tea? Shouldn't it be the other way around? I think the author means that she poured the tea, not served it, which a maid would have done, but even so, it undermined the earlier statements to the effect that women in witch families always took precedence.

The other issue I had in this section of the book was with the naming of the leading witch's daughters. One of the sons is called John, the other, Henry, both of which were very popular names back then and fitted right into the story, but not a single one of the daughters was given a name anywhere close to the usual names for girls in that time! Now you can argue that this is a different world, and these are witches, but if this is so, then how come the author doesn't mention it?

If one had been named Morgan, as in Morgan le Fay, or Jennet, as in Jennet Preston, or Mary, as in Mary Trembles, that would have worked, but none of the girls' names here invoked what you might consider to be a suitable name for a witch based on the names of those who were (of course insanely) deemed to be witches historically. Just FYI, the girls were named: Vivienne, Rowena, Jessamine, Josephine, Arabella, Amelia, and Elizabeth.

Apart from that latter one, these are quite simply not names that Victorian parents gave to their daughters, so this stood out like a sore thumb. Maybe the author chose them for a reason. To me, names matter a lot, and I always try to give my main characters meaningful names, such as Janine Majeski in Seasoning or Cora Graigh in Saurus. Cora's name pretty much told her entire story, if you knew what to look for, but if that wasn't the case in this novel, and they were merely names that sounded good to the author, then this rather betrayed the deeper story. At least that's how I felt about it!

The timeline of the novel is a little off. As set by the date of the great exhibition at Crystal Palace, the story takes place in 1851, but it conflates two periods of history which never coincided. The Irish potato famine was largely over by 1851, and the suffragette movement set English society alight toward the end of the nineteenth and into the early twentieth century, but it was barely an ember in 1851. Crystal palace is now better known as a soccer team than an exhibition, but that's the only part of this story's background that did take place in 1851!

The novel seems to be intended as a steampunk story - which is by definition an obfuscation of the timeline - so perhaps this conflation can be covered under that, but in another such conflation, at one point the author has the sisters playing croquet. The earliest record of croquet is 1856. That doesn't mean it could not have been around earlier, but it didn't become popular until the 1860s a decade after this story is set, so it seems hardly like this mundane game would have been played by Arabella's witch family in 1851, especially since the family snobbishly had no truck with the 'common people' (and Arabella saw no problem with this - another reason not to like her). In short, everything just felt off.

At one point I read John saying, "Arabella Helene Sortilege, I'm surprised to hear you lecturing me about respect when you've obviously snuck out of the house..." I had two issues with this. First of all 'snuck' is an Americanism, and while it may be used in Britain today (a lot of Americanisms are) it would never have left the lips of a person of breeding in 1851! Additionally, an older brother in England back then was hardly likely to use her full name. He would be much more likely to use a pet name - something from their childhood. There were other such lapses, such as "John leaned his elbows on the table" - no! Not in a well-bred family he didn't!

There's one more such incident. Amelia's boyfriend Harlan (again not a name likely to be found in 1850's Britain) says to Amelia: "join the Sisterhood today, chickadee...." No! Just no! The chickadee is a North American bird. It's unknown in Britain and unlikely to have even been heard of by most Brits back then. The closest thing to it is a tit, but he could hardly have described Amelia as 'my little tit' - although that would have been amusing had the guy been set up as socially inept. But no! A better choice would have been linnet. This is a British bird and was used as an endearment when talking of young women, back then. That was something I could let go, but then for inexplicable reasons, Arabella's mom starts referring to her using the same term, and honestly? It just sounded stupid.

Technically, the book is well-written in terms of grammar, spelling and such, but the formatting is odd. There is an extra carriage return between paragraphs which is a no-no for professional publishing and means that the book takes up far more space if it runs to a print edition than it would otherwise. My advice is to save a few trees in your print version using a thing called paragraph spacing (along with a smaller font and narrower margins). In the ebook, this doesn't matter so much except that a longer book uses more energy to transmit, so it's always wiser to keep it shorter if you can.

So for this large variety of reasons, I cannot rate this novel as a worthy read, but I am interested in this writer. I think she has imagination and talent, and I would definitely read the next thing she writes - assuming it's a genre that I have an interest in of course! I have zero interest in reading a Harlequin-style romance by any author for example, no matter how much I love them! So even though I cannot commend this one, I wish the author success in her endeavors. We need fresh young voices and she's in an excellent position to become one of them.


Saturday, July 21, 2018

Hocus & Pocus by Manuro Gorobei


Rating: WARTY!

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

The subtitle: "The Legend of Grimm's Woods The Comic Book You Can Play" is misleading. Yes, if it's a print copy, then I'm pretty sure you could, and maybe it's entertaining for young kids. Unfortunately, I'm the sort of reviewer who only gets the ebook version to look at, which is fine by me, because I love trees, but you can't do with the ebook what you can presumably do quite readily with the print version, and no one has bothered to create the same effect in the ebook - which is eminently possible these days, so it felt a bit like switch and bait.

It's the old style book where you read a section, make your choice, and based on that choice, you're directed to page this or page that to pursue your course of action. The only twist here seems to be that you have a choice of choices in that if you're playing as Hocus, you choose one option, or as Pocus, you choose the other. In addition to this, the book requires players to use sheets to track and calculate progress and success. These are useless in the ebook, so you technically cannot play the game properly, and since there are only five sheets, you're going to be doing a lot of Xeroxing if you want to play more than five times.

The adventure was a bit uninspiring for me and the colors were a bit too neon for my taste, but again I'm not the intended audience. I went back and forth on this trying to decide how to rate it and in the end, the truth is that all I can do is rate the version I was sent, and I cannot commend buying the ebook version because it's a fail when it comes to trying to do what the book says you can do.

In this case it was not a matter of turning to a page, which would have been relatively easy, but to finding a comic panel - which was a nightmare in an ebook, when a simple link to tap on could have solved that problem. How hard would it have been to have had a small image of Hocus and one of Pocus, so you could tap the relevant image to go to the panel you wanted? Not putting in links is not only lazy, it's downright abusive and so I cannot commend such a book. It would be at best a disappointment for children and at worst, an irritation. It's not a good idea to irritate children! Even in the print version, I can't imagine younger children being able to play the game and I can't imagine older children being very interested in it.


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Marvel Ant-Man Look and Find


Rating: WARTY!

I'm a fan of the Marvel movie universe, and I've seen Ant-Man and The Wasp twice in the theater, and watched the original Ant-Man on Blu-Ray countless times after loving that in the theater too. They're both great movies, and funny as hell, but I have to draw the line at a book aimed at young children which features a muscular Ant-Man in close-up on the cover ready to punch someone's lights out. No. Just no. Look and find something better for young kids, Marvel.


Give Please a Chance by Bill O'Reilly, James Patterson


Rating: WARTY!

Not a fan of O'Reilly or Patterson, especially not now I see the two have colluded on writing a children's book! After all the news we've had about O'Reilly and harassment allegations and multi-million dollar hush money, I don't see where he gets the chutzpah to write a book advising kids to say please. Seriously?

Several artists illustrated this, but I don't know which one of them got a juvenile into her underwear for this book. Talk about bad taste. I'm not for banning books as a general rule, but this one ought to be, based on hypocrisy alone. I don't care if they're both donating proceeds to charity. It's still not right. The guy's last contract with Fox was for what - $25 mill per year? Let him give some of that to charity and stay away from writing children's books. And let's boycott Fox for continuing to employ people like this, and Henry Holt publishers for publishing books by people like this. Some people just have no shame.

The book doesn't even do a decent job of sending the message it claims to send. The message it does send seems to be that you can bribe people to do what you want - in this case by saying please. I guess it works with simpletons on the extreme right.


The Nightmare Before Christmas by Tim Burton


Rating: WARTY!

This was another in a set of children's books written by celebrities that I'm reviewing and they're a sorry bag, I'm saddened to say.

I loved Tim Burton's Beetlejuice which I thought was inspired, and also his original Batman, both starring Michael Keaton, curiously! In my opinion, Micheal Keaton is underrated as much as Johnny Depp is overrated. That said, I did enjoy Burton's Ed Wood (no relation!) starring Depp.

I did like the movie of Nightmare. It was fun to watch once, but unlike Batman or Beetlejuice it doesn't compel me to go back to it. I'm acquainted, slightly, with one of the animators who worked on 3D clay sculptures for it, and I reviewed her book Lily Pond favorably very recently, and that work on this movie was exquisite, but I cannot say the same thing about Burton's book, both written and illustrated by him.

The illustrations, while perfectly competent, simply don't capture the presence of the characters in the movie. If your child adores the film and really, really, really wants the book then I guess they will not be so very disappointed in this, but for me it failed to capture the essence of the movie. It simply didn't have the weight and charm, and so I have to wonder why it was ever created in the way it was. As it is, I cannot commend it.


Naughty Mabel Sees it All by Nathan Lane, Devlin Elliot, Dan Krall


Rating: WARTY!

This was another in a set of children's books written by celebrities that I'm reviewing and they're a sorry bag, I'm saddened to say.

I'm a fan of Nathan Lane. I love him as an actor, but not as a writer of children's books. No idea who the other two guys are. Krall is an illustrator, but why it took two guys to write this I have no idea. That might explain though, why this book has a tone of burlesque about it which seemed to me to be thoroughly out of place in a children's book. Even the title sounds inappropriately risqué. This is one of those books that causes me to wonder, had it been submitted by a complete unknown instead of a celebrity, would it ever have got a toe in the door at Simon and Schuster? Somehow, I rather doubt it.

The story is that Mabel goes for a sleepover at her best friends' house - that of Smarty Cat and Scaredy Cat. Of course they're visited by monsters. I've seen some very cute efforts, but I have yet to really see a children's book that can deal with the bizarre subject of monsters in a truly original way.

Too many of them seem more likely to scare kids than to reassure them. And where the hell does the assumption come from that kids are scared of monsters? By that, I mean, who puts the idea of monsters into their heads in the first place that they need to reassure them in the second place? My kids never were scared of monsters under the bed, although once in a while they liked the light left on, but it went out as soon as they did and they soon grew out of that stage because they were raised rationally and objectively, and they're perfectly fine. They never needed to be reassured about monsters because they never were led to believe monsters were around or a threat. That's not to say they don't have wild and crazy imaginations now though!

So in short I wasn't impressed with this one either, and I cannot commend it.


Touch the Earth by Julian Lennon, Bart Davis, Smiljana Coh


Rating: WARTY!

Now it's time to review some children's books written by celebrities and we have a sorry bag, I'm saddened to say.

This one is by that Julian Lennon, son of John. This is a short but colorful book illustrated by Smiljana Coh, and co-written by Bart Davis. That's the first bit that I didn't get. Not to be confused with North Concord/Martinez, which is the closest BART station to Davis, or with the politician, this guy is an author who hasn't, prior to this (and to my knowledge) ever written a children's book. Lennon is a composer of some skill, so why did he need a co-writer/ghost writer, whatever this guy's job was? It made no sense to me. In fact, this entire book made no sense.

The idea of the book is to promote awareness in children of what their parents are unthinkingly doing to the environment, but if their parents don't give a damn about the environment, they're sure as hell not going to buy this book for their kids. If they do care, then they'll be educating their kids accordingly, regardless of what books are out there, and sending their money, if they have any to spare, to organizations that are going to use all of it - not 'a portion' to help the environment, instead of it going to publishers and book creators who root up trees, pulp them, and print books on them that talk about saving the environment!

The book is weird because the text tells the reader to tilt and turn it and to press (printed) "buttons" to do various things which magically - and with zero effort - fix the depredations of unrestrained capitalism, but unless your child can already read, this isn't going to work if you're holding the book to read to your child, because they can't do all these things while you're holding the book! It especially doesn't work if you want to read it to group of kids.

Lennon founded an organization called White Feather and the book advises that "a portion" of the profit will go to benefit it. it doesn't say 'all profits' or anything like that, so what this tells me is that most of what this book earns is going into the pockets of the creators and publisher and only a portion goes to the charity. I don't see any other rational way to interpret that, so what's the point of the book? To me it seems, at best, to be misguided. Why not just send the list price ($12 for the hardback) to the charity or to any charity of your choice and skip the book altogether? I can't in good faith commend this at all.


The Tiger in the Well by Philip Pullman


Rating: WARTY!

Published in 1990, for me this was the weakest book in the quadrilogy so far (I have one more volume still to read). Frederick is dead. Sally has had his child from their one brief dalliance right before he died, and it's this child, Harriet, who is at the heart of this story. Sally's closest friends and associates: Frederick's brother Webster Garland, Jim, and Charles are off in South America on a photo expedition.

What Sally doesn't know, but finds out very quickly, is that her foe from the first novel in the series has very carefully, sadistically, and expertly been putting in place her downfall, as she learns when divorce papers are served on her by a man named Arthur Parrish. This is a surprise to Sally because she has never even heard of Parrish, has never met him and has certainly never been married to him or to anyone else.

As she digs into the claims and accusations, Sally realizes that she has been set up in a way which will be very hard to fight, and especially so for a woman in that era. This situation is exacerbated, sadly, by the fact that the tough and capable Sally Lockhart from the previous two volumes is also dead. She has been replaced by a replica, exact in every detail except resolve and fortitude. This new Sally has the constitution of a wet biscuit, which is inexplicable. Why Pullman chose to do this to her is a mystery and a serious mistake.

The original Sally was not perfect by any means, but she did not let the fact that she was treated as a second class citizen (being a woman in Victorian times) get in the way of turning her life around in the first volume, or of taking down a dangerous and advantaged foe in the second. I know that here we have a child to consider, but to me this should have made Sally even more formidable, not less. That's not what we get.

The Sally here is weepy, lackluster, hesitant, nervous, distracted, aimless, clueless, and is pushed around by everyone she meets. It's sad to see a completely different person from the one we have loved in two successive volumes. Rather than stand up and fight, this sally effectively runs. Yes, she engages a solicitor, who in turn briefs a barrister to represent Sally in court, but both of these men, and particularly the barrister, are complete jerks. They aren't even willing to consider that the marriage never took place, and they treat her like a whore (the common term for a single mom in those days) and a victim.

Sally never once stands up to them much less fires them. Instead, she simply fails to turn up at her own trial, and of course loses - something she pretty much knew her barrister was going to do beforehand. She goes on the run with Harriet, which is ill-advised at best. In that era women, regardless of what they had or who they were before the marriage, became effectively the property of their husband once married, and he took possession of everything they owned and all of their children. They had no rights. Sally, therefore, as a now 'proven' wayward wife, lost everything. She knew this was coming yet took not a single step to counter it. She's not your Ruby in the Smoke sally, sorry to report.

Just as in the first novel, she's now penniless and on the street, this time with a very young child in tow. She could have transferred her ownership of her home and her business interests, and although that would have been challenged, it would have been something - a delaying tactic at least. What she could certainly have done is remove every penny from her back account, but she failed to even consider this, much less actually do it. Now her "husband' has everything and she has nothing.

Once again a man comes to her aid. He's a Jewish agitator who is also up against Parrish for his exploitation of Jewish immigrants. His associates give her shelter and hide her and Harriet from the police and Parrish. One of these, a man named Dan Goldberg, reveals to Sally that Parrish is a criminal who is running frauds and scams all over London, including houses of prostitution and exploitation of minorities. She learns from him that the man behind Parrish is known as Tzaddik, and it's he who is really doing all this to Sally, but Sally doesn't make the connection to a man named Lee with whom she had a run-in - and shot, but not fatally - back in book one, the events of which took place many years before those occurring in this volume.

Tzaddik is outright evil and to bring him down Sally takes a job in his house as a maid. he doesn't know what she looks like, and it all works out in the end, including Sally magically forgetting about the terrific romance she'd had with Frederick and having no problem shacking up with a different guy that she hardly knows. It's not a great story, and I cannot recommend it. The only thing which made me want to read volume four is that it's really a different story altogether, otherwise I would have quit right here.


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach


Rating: WARTY!

I came to this by way of the Netflix TV show of the same name which derived from it, and I have to say the TV show is significantly better in my opinion. I honestly could not for the life of me figure out why 11 publishers would bid for this novel (which is what The Guardian says happened).

I know it's very likely a debut author's dream to have that kind of demand for her work, but I'd be embarrassed to have anyone bid for this novel had I written it. I'd be more likely to post it for free on my website or in some fan fiction site. On the other hand I would never have written this. If that means I'll never have a bidding war, or a TV show made from one of my books, or a best-seller, it's fine with me. I don't work that way. I want to be proud of what I've written, not embarrassed by it a few years hence.

The problem was that the book simply wasn't interesting and was poorly written. Main character Leila discovers a chat board (how quaintly antique!) called Red Pill - named after the pill scene from The Matrix. She is groomed by the site's owner, Adrian, and then offered a job of impersonating Tess, who evidently wants to kill herself, but also to have her life continued by another person for a while before being slowly faded to black so that no one knows what happened to her.

None of this makes any sense given Tess's spastic, manic, random, scatterbrained personality. I assume it's because of that very personality that she cannot do this for herself, but to be told that someone with that same personality is planning this happening, stretched credibility too far. When did she ever plan anything? Why would she care if her life ended suddenly or was faded out? From what we learn of her, she wouldn't! The TV show scenario made far more sense.

Leila pretty much immediately volunteers for this role, and starts interacting with Tess for the purpose of learning her life. Never once does dumb-ass Leila think for a second that Adrian might be setting her up. Again the TV show did it better, and certainly better than the idiotic back-cover blurb writer who makes the brain-dead claim that this is an "ingeniously plotted novel of stolen identity."

Now admittedly I ditched this halfway through and had some suspicions of my own about what was happening, but up to the point where I quit reading, there was nothing stolen here! Tess voluntarily gave up her identity to Leila because she wanted this. The blurb outright lies as blurbs all-too-often do. Shame on blurb writers!

It occurred to me that Adrian might be behind this whole thing: that Tess had no intention of dying, and that Adrian planned on killing her, and while the exchange was confined to email and IM chat, this would have worked, because he could have readily impersonated her, but then Leila was having face-to-face skypes with Tess, so unless Adrian had access to some really good emulation software, this impersonation idea seemed a stretch, but maybe that's how it went.

Or perhaps Tess didn't plan on dying, just on disappearing, and had no idea Adrian planned on killing her, so this is why this seemed to work. Either way there was no identity stolen! I don't know what the plan was or how it actually played out, or even if Tess was dead at all, but by halfway through I wasn't even remotely interested, because the story had become such a drudge to read that I couldn't have cared less, and not one of the characters appealed to me.

The story actually wasn't too bad until Leila went to Spain trying to track Tess down. At that point, the entire thing came to a screeching halt and boredom set in like chilled molasses. The story was all over the place to begin with - not linear at all - so it was at times hard to follow. Here it was easy to follow but completely lacking in anything remotely interesting. The story literally did not move a millimeter. Leila constantly complained about the heat in Spain (which stays mainly in the plain), but when she had a chance to go to town and could spend some money, did she buy a cola, or ice water, or lemonade? Nope. She bought a bag of salty potato chips. Not realistic - unless of course my theory that Leila is a moron is correct.

This pointless bumbling around at this 'hippie' commune camp in Spain was a major turn-off. It went on endlessly and it was tedious in the extreme. I mourn the trees which were sacrificed because of this author's evident inability to self-edit or to know when enough is enough. It should be needless to say that I lost all interest and I quit reading. I cannot commend this book.


Sunday, July 15, 2018

Love Letters to Jane's World by Paige Braddock


Rating: WARTY!

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

I requested this from Net Galley's 'read now' collection which is always a bit of a hit and miss affair, and this was a miss I'm sorry to report, because I really thought I'd enjoy it. I was thinking that it would be a fun and amusing read, but it was neither.

I became bored with it quite quickly, which surprised me, and I made it only a third of the way through by which time I honestly could not stand to read any more. It's just not my kind of humor I guess: too cheesy and simple for my taste.

Worse than this though was that for a book which claims diversity as one of its qualities, there was one - perhaps two - people of color in the entire thing, which doesn't sound very diverse to me given that most people on the planet are people of color, and a third of them are Asian. But talking of so-called minorities, I guess I'm in the minority in disliking this since it has done well for itself over the years and been somewhat groundbreaking to boot for a comic whose main character is LGBTQIA. For me she was more LGBTMIA, though.

The story is a highly fanciful 'autobiography' it would appear, given that the main character is quite obviously modeled on the author, but I hope the author is smarter than the character depicted here, who comes across as quite stupid and thoughtless. I didn't like her, much less respect her, which didn't help to like the comic strip stories.

The artwork was very much 'Sunday Funnies' style, but in black and white line drawings, so no color diversity here either, and sometimes the text was hard to read because it was also hand drawn and rather scrappily so - something I've never understood about comics. It was large enough to read okay (for the most part) on a tablet computer, but I sure wouldn't want to try reading this on a smart phone or in a badly printed copy.

It's yet another graphic novel which doesn't acknowledge that there are ebooks, and the print book margins made it quite wasteful of trees, too. This is another negative against this comic book since trees are the only entity which is doing anything concrete to fight climate change, and here is another author/publisher seemingly determined to decimate them. And so it goes.

I wish the author all the best in her career, but I cannot recommend this one.


Bad Feminist Roxane Gay


Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook I requested after becoming interested in the author from my reading of World of Wakanda by Roxane Gay and Ta-Nehisi Coates. The problem is that unlike the graphic novel, which I loved, this book was self-obsessed and boring.

Let's get one thing clarified right up front: it has nothing whatsoever to do with any brand of feminism, good, bad, or indifferent (and however you might foolishly try to define those!), so the title is completely wrong and disgustingly bait and switch. This is evidently one of those books where the author puts together a collection of essays and takes the title of the collection from one of its constituents. I always have a problem with that precisely because it is too often misleading.

In this case it was especially misleading because this is far more 'Bad Memoir' (assuming there are really good ones, which I confess I sometimes doubt) than ever it is anything else. The essays are just god-awfully rambling, self-serving recollections from her life, and not even ones that offer anything new, or insightful, or any great wisdom. I'm neither black nor gay and this book revealed nothing to me about either quality which told me anything I had not heard or read before, or thought of myself. So what was the point?

After listening to some essays and skimming some others, I quit this and went to look at some reviews to see if it was just me who felt this way about it, and no, it wasn't. Others had come independently to the same conclusion, and this is where I discovered that there's barely a thing in here about feminism. So maybe after all, the title is right and it's bad feminist because it contains so little about the topic in the title? Maybe? LGBTQED?

Anyway after reading those reviews, I felt no compulsion whatsoever to go back in here and listen to any more. All I can say is that I'm disappointed, sadly disappointed, and I cannot recommend this, especially since I'm unwilling to commend it in the first place!


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

A Little Piece of Her by Zidrou, Raphaël Beuchot


Rating: WARTY!

This is NOT from an advance review copy for which I DO NOT thank the publisher.

I have to rate this negatively because of the shabby way the publisher treats people who ask to review it. The graphic novel was not downloadable as ebooks typically are, but set up in some ass-backward "copy protection" system that means you cannot load it, read a part of it, and get back to it later to finish it. You have to constantly download it. What this meant is that the book was locked away ("archived" they call it) before I could finish reading it, and that shabby treatment of a reviewer, I consider WARTY in the extreme.

I don't get paid for this work, except in that I get to read books! But I'd be read books anyway and thanks to Amazon's deliberate and calculated sabotaging of book prices, I could get all the free books I want from them if I didn't refuse to do business with Amazon.

Jeff Bezos in now the richest man ever, BTW. Ahead of Bill Gates. Ahead of Mark Zuckerberg. Ahead of Warren Buffett, and to my knowledge, and unlike those latter three, he hasn't signed on to the pledge to give away at least half his fortune. Yet the authors who publish with him are lucky to get a fraction of the ninety-nine cents he has very effectively forced many people to charge for their hard work. Ninety-nine cents! That's less than the old pulp writers used to get paid! It would be nice if he gave some of his fortune to help out the struggling authors who've helped make him a multi-billionaire, wouldn't it?!

No, I do this because I love books and I feel people have a right to a chance at being read and getting some exposure, but this publisher seems hell bent on sabotaging that process. The format had purportedly extra protection built into it such that it was not possible to download it - a reviewer like me, who can only get the ebook (which is fine - it saves a tree here and there!), has to read this one on a web page or some fly-by-night temporary platform. If you close the page, you then have to go through the laborious process of accessing it all over again.

Worse, there is no means of conveniently navigating from one page to another on my tablet, except by sliding each individual page up or down the screen. If you want to go back and check something at the start, it's a long chore in a two hundred page comic.

The idea behind this is purportedly to protect the work by specifically assigning it to a person's email address, and I can fully understand the need for protection of copyrighted work, but in practice, this method offers no protection whatsoever, since anyone who can read something like this on their screen can take a screen-shot and copy it very effectively and quite anonymously that way. So to me it made no sense, and all it offered in practice was an inconvenience and annoyance to honest reviewers who would never abuse the privilege we have of getting an advance review copy of a work. As I said, I will not be recommending this, and neither will I be requesting anything to review from this publisher (Europe Comics) ever again.