Showing posts with label adult. Show all posts
Showing posts with label adult. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Great Divide by Ben Fisher, Adam Markiewicz


Rating: WARTY!

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

This is a post-apocalyptic story that really had no story, let alone a beginning, a middle, and an end! It's set in a world where the trope 'comet hits the Earth and humanity goes haywire' is called upon. The result in this scenario is that when one person touches another, one of them has their head explode and the other gets their memories.

The idea is absurd. If their head explodes, how do the memories, which were just destroyed, get transferred? What memories?! But this wasn't the only issue. It didn't help that even on a decently-sized tablet computer, the text was rather small, and in some instances literally impossible to read even when I swiped the screen to zoom in.

At intervals there was what looked like it was supposed to be an image of a computer screen, but the text was so blurry that it was a nightmare to try and read, and I quickly took to skipping those pages unread. The odd thing was that I didn't feel like I'd missed anything for skipping them. I will welcome the day when graphic novel writers recognize that you cannot continue to short-change the ebook format unless you want to irritate your readers at best, and piss them off so much that they refuse to read any more of your material in future, at worst.

The one who gets the memories is supposed to also get their skill-set, but this isn't explored, and it doesn't work. The trope fails because just knowing how to do something isn't the same as having had the experience of doing it. This is where The Matrix fell down, when Neo said, "I know Kung Fu". You might know the moves in your head, but your body sure as hell doesn't know how to execute them, and your muscles and limbs are simply not up to it without being properly trained. It's what's often referred to as 'muscle memory' although there's actually no such thing.

But that wasn't the problem here. I would have been willing to let that go as I was in The Matrix, but in this case, there was no story! It was one all-but endless road trip punctuated with random stops to pick up random people who themselves made no sense and who contributed nothing to the story which was, despite the road trip, paradoxically going nowhere. It made no coherent sense and the end simply fizzled out with no explanation and no resolution. I cannot recommend this one.


Monday, June 26, 2017

Jilly's Terrible Temper Tantrums by Martha Heineman Pieper, Jo Gershman


Rating: WARTY!

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

This was a confusing effort for me because it appears as though it's a children's book when it really isn't at all. Instead, it's aimed at adults, but it's written like it's for children. It makes me think the author didn't quite known how to approach this topic from a children's perspective and ended-up stuck somewhere in the middle. In some ways it felt like an advertising flyer for the author's textbook on raising children with Smart Love® - and yes, the two words are indeed a registered trademark! I found it particularly odd that someone, particularly a charitable organization, should seek to register smart love as a trade mark.

That said, I don't disagree with the approach championed here, but I have to say that it takes the patience of Job to do that kind of thing when a child is as far gone down the Tantrum Trail as the one depicted here is. Of course it's never too late to try, but I doubt such a child would be brought around in three or four easy lessons as is shown here!

So overall I can't rate this a worthy read, much less as a children's book. It's too muddled, and too simplistic for adults, and as far as entertaining children, it's not really a story. It just a parade of exemplars of how parents should relate to a troublesome child in various circumstances - more like a checklist than a story.

I have to report a problem with this in Bluefire Reader, which is the app I normally use to read ARCs on the iPad. Bluefire Reader typically does a sterling job with illustrated books, but here, it failed completely. The images were broken up, speech balloons were blank, and the text was all over the place, and so enlarged it was illegible. I was about to ditch the book as unreadable when I decided out of curiosity to look at it on the smartphone I have, and there, it was quite legible, so again out of curiosity, I downloaded the epub version to look at on my desktop in Adobe Digital Editions, and it was perfectly fine there, too, so if you're planning on buying this, don't expect to read it in Bluefire reader. You;ll need some other app for once!


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Two Nights by Kathy Reichs


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. I requested this from Net Galley because it sounded interesting. I've never read anything by this author before, so it was also a chance to explore a writer who is not new to writing, but who was new to me.

I have to say up front that I'm not a huge fan of first person voice novels, which automatically puts private investigator stories off limits since pretty much every author in that genre seems obsessed with writing them exactly the same way as every other author. This means of course that once you've read one you've effectively read them all.

These old soft slippers of stories doubtlessly appeal to a certain segment of the population who like to slip them on regularly, but it's like those authors have never considered that it might appeal to a larger audience if they could only find the courage to break the mold. I know it's always easy to play it safe, but I'd have appreciated this one a lot more had it not done so.

I've never read anything by this author before (and seriously doubt I will again), and the blurb made it sound like this might be interesting, assuming I could get past 1PoV. I'm always game for a good story involving a strong female lead, so: an author who might be able to carry a first person story and not make it irritating to read? Potential strong female character? Maybe this wouldn't be so bad? Those were my hopes going in.

Let me begin by saying that I did appreciate that the first person PoV wasn't as annoying as I feared it would be, although it did still kick me out of suspension of disbelief on occasion, and it did still annoy me from time to time. The main reason for that is that 1PoV is always about 'me' (the story-teller) all the time. You cannot get away from 'me': Hey lookit me! Look at what I'm doing now! Pay attention only to me! Now I'm doing something else! Look now! Annoying.

I honestly don't know how people can swallow so much of that. I'm amazed that they can, but herding animals can be habituated to anything, so I guess the same principle applies here. The real problem though is that it's the weakest voice in which to tell any story, let alone a PI adventure, because nothing can happen unless the 'me' is present to witness it! How unlikely is that? The only way to overcome that severe limitation is to have more than one first person voice which is even more annoying, or to have boring info-dumps periodically so the first person narrator can catch up on things which happened when they were not there. Again: annoying.

The amusing thing here was that the author openly admitted what a mistake it was to have limited herself to this voice because she added third person PoV 'mini-chapters' periodically. I quickly took to skipping those because I found them to be thoroughly uninformative and worse, they were nothing more than info-dumps which repeatedly stalled the story while contributing nothing materially to it.

This novel was not quite ready for prime time, which in some ways is understandable since it was an ARC. There was a spelling error of the kind a spellchecker will not find: "reversals that left a bade taste" where evidently 'bad' was required instead of 'bade', and having someone say, “Thus his interested in Baltimore, New York, and Louisville" when the 'his' should have been 'is', or alternately, the 'interested' should have been 'interest'.

There were occasional punctuation issues, such as, for example, a period missing at the end of a sentence, or a question mark (example: "He was taller than Capps, but who wasn’t.") and so on. This could use another read-through before publishing, but we've all been there and all missed something before publication, so these were no big deal for me. Other than that, it was generally well-formatted and in technical terms, well-written. The problem with it for me came from mired-in-the-mud trope and cliché. The farce was strong with this one.

Far from take a road less traveled, the author instead apparently made a checklist of tropes and clichés from the genre which must be included, and she checked off every one:

  • First person voice? Check!
  • Quirky name for female PI? Check! (It's Sunday Night which is too absurd by 100%)
  • Thorny PI or with troubled history or both? Check!
  • PI likes typically male sport (baseball in this case)? Check!
  • Quirky pet? Check!
  • Too much focus on, and detail of, ordinary everyday activities in life of PI? Check!
  • Has relative or close friend for backup? Check!
  • Has previous career in military or police? Check!
  • Has questionable record in previous professional career? Check!
  • Masochistic PI likes to suffer? Check!
  • Drinks beer like a good old boy? Check!
  • Investigation seems to be going one way; then it gets turned around and goes in another way entirely? Check!
So nothing new here then. I was truly sorry to see that.

There were also some writerly issues creeping in, such as having a character say, “Against whom?” No one says that in real life unless they're being very pretentious, or are an English teacher or an old-school actor, but I see writers using it all the time in character speech because they can't stop themselves! Personally I think 'whom' is long past its sell-by date and ought to be tossed out altogether. If writers want to use it in the narration, that's one thing, but to have real people actually say it is entirely another, and this is another problem with first person voice: the narrator is the one actually saying it!

So that's the technical writing portion of the review dealt with. Now onto the story itself! It didn't work for me because it revolved around a kidnapping of a young girl. The problem with this is that there was absolutely no rational whatsoever for kidnapping the girl, and even less to keep her alive. There's some vague hand-waving about using her for leverage, but it fails because there's nothing to leverage.

The bad guys are terrorists, so the kidnap victim is completely irrelevant to them. The terrorist leader is utterly ruthless and has no compunction about killing children, yet the one thing he threatens to do - kill the child - he never does.

The sole reason for this is of course so the PI can heroically rescue the girl at the end, but this makes the story so unrealistic as to be more of a joke than a thriller. I don't mind somewhat improbable events occurring in a novel if there's some sort of justification for them within the context of the story, but to just randomly have things be 'just-so' for the sole purpose of facilitating the PI cracking the case and saving the day makes the story look poorly written.

It didn't get any better when the PI takes a shot to the shoulder. There is a dumb gunfight in which, like Han Solo in the original film, she doesn't shoot first even though any realistic PI would have done so. She waits out the potential assassin who is in her hotel room. She waits for an ungodly amount of time, and never once thinks to call the police. Dumb. Worse than this, a host of other hotel guests go past her and see she has a gun, yet not a single one of them calls the police either! Double dumb. She's hit in the shoulder and gets a prescription for painkiller, but she never fills it! This doesn't make her look tough. It makes her look stupid.

If there was some valid reason offered for not getting the script filled - like she was in a prolongued chase, or there was no time to get to the pharmacy for some other reason, that would be one thing, but there's nothing! She has lots of time and nothing pressing, and she's out on the streets a lot. It would have been the simplest thing in the world to drop in to a pharmacy, get the script filed, pop a pill, and fix the pain, thereby making her more effective at doing the job she was hired for, but she never does. This doesn't make her look strong, it makes her look dumb or clueless. But not to worry! The entire injury seems to magically go away in short order, and isn't mentioned again - not in the portion I read, anyway.

What killed this novel for me though, was when the 'ruthless' villain kills one of two followers to try and get the PI off his back, but he delivers the other one to her trussed-up as a prisoner. Why didn't he kill that one? It turns out that the only reason he didn't dispatch her as well, is that she had a vital clue to impart which enabled the PI to track down the villain. This was so ridiculous that I quit reading the story right there, at about 75% in. I could not enjoy it when it was written so poorly, and I certainly couldn't take it seriously. I expected a lot better than this from such a seasoned writer. I cannot recommend this novel.


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Mind Virus by Charles Kowalski


Rating: WARTY!
Mind Virus by Charles Kowalski

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. I'm sorry I could not give it a better review, but the pledge is to be honest, so here it is!

There is at least four books titled 'Mind Virus' or something very similar, so the title is not unique, but this one sounded interesting to me. While it started out well enough, the more I read of it, the more it felt like a diatribe about atheists than ever it was a novel telling an engrossing story.

Normally I applaud an author who takes the road less traveled, so I was initially thrilled with the off-the-beaten-track approach, but the story devolved into trope, and in the end, bogged-down in the diatribe, and it really forget to tell us anything interesting, engaging, or worse: actually credible.

Call me warped, but it was amusing to me that I lost faith in a book about faith. It's also sad, because it had been interesting and engaging in the beginning. The plot is too improbable, though. Instead of religious terrorism, the story is about atheist terrorism! Now this is unlikely, but it's possible, and I applaud the author for taking a different tack, but the more I read of the novel, the more it felt like there was an agenda here other than telling a story, with the author not-so-subtly sniping at atheists every few pages. The villain was such an absurd caricature that he was just not credible, and he doesn't talk like any atheist I'm familiar with.

The story begins with a series of terrorist attacks on religious locations using a virus which, despite our being repeatedly told is horrific and deadly, never actually does any real harm because the hero rushes in and inevitably stops the attack at the eleventh hour. It was a bit too much, and tedious in how repetitive it became.

The trope of a retired veteran being recalled to the intelligence services to combat the threat is way overdone in stories these days. If you're going that route, you need to have a very good reason why an outsider has to be brought back in; that is, why the resources they have at the CIA (in this case) are insufficient, yet no real reason was offered here.

The "hero"'s name is Robin Fox, no doubt named after Robin Lane Fox, a well-known atheist and academic, and he almost immediately begins globe-trotting. Instead of keeping authorities informed of the threat and letting them handle it, he abandons all communication at the end, and personally takes charge, actually physically chasing terrorists and bringing them to book, so he was something of a one-trick pony, and it felt far too incredible that he was the only one who could do this: see the threat, spot the interloper, and defuse it at the last minute. Once or twice maybe, but every single time, and single-handed? It didn't work for me because it was so unrealistic.

The method of the attacks in each case was so improbably contrived that it was not only unlikely to succeed, but it was contrived in a way which was tailor-made for Fox to defeat it. He was always in exactly the right place at exactly the right time to foil the attack.

In one case, the method was to use linseed oil to make a garment erupt in flames, and then to have the nearby fire extinguisher 'impregnated' with the virus, so it was spread as someone tried to put out the flames. This was so absurd that I actually laughed. I agree that linseed oil is dangerous in a pile of soaked rags, but to have it in the material of a garment is not likely to have the same effect, and the smell would be highly noticeable. No one would put on a garment which smelled badly of putty!

And why go to all that trouble? Too much can go wrong. If the practice was to use linseed oil (also known as flax seed oil, FYI) to polish the pews, which seemed a bit of a stretch, then why not simply put the virus in that, or spray it from the gallery during the service? It made no sense to me to set it up in such a risky and Heath Robinson fashion, and it made me feel like the author had become so enwrapped in presenting a "cool scenario" that he failed to look critically and objectively at what he was writing. This took me right out of the story.

There was too much trope and stereotyping in the novel, which ultimately defeated the 'off the beaten track' approach which I'd initially admired and rooted for. For example, we get an Irish MI5 officer whose name is Liam Donovan. He had a, wait for it, red beard, and red hair. This could not have been more of a condescending cliché if he'd been named Paddy O'Brien, had worn shoes with curling toes, a green felt hat, and carried a shillelagh.

The atheist terrorists leave a trail of clues to their next attacks like this is a Nancy Drew story. These clues are ones which only Robin Goodfellow can solve of course, and each clue consistently got him there in time to save the day. Why would a terrorist leave clues? There's a halfhearted attempt to explain it as a conceit on the part of the obsessively posing and monologuing terrorist leader, but it failed. I don't have a problem with the good guys doing the footwork and making the breaks for themselves, but to have neat clues laid out, Dan Brown style, and have the hero swoop in and solve them all so effortlessly and in the nick of time, was too much to swallow.

The author has the atheists worshiping at the altar of Charles Darwin, but no atheist does that, and all of the atheists I've encountered understand evolution very well. They would never talk of it as the Nazis did, for example, as winnowing out the weak links to make the race stronger, in the way that the over-the-top villain mindlessly monologues about.

As a point of order, it's the creationists who slander Darwin by misrepresenting what he said and who make endless attempts at character assassination on him, like if they discredit him, then the Theory of Evolution fails. Atheists are not that stupid and never would misrepresent his work. Plus they have better things to do with their time!

Atheism isn't about a belief system or about worshiping at the altar of the sciences; it's simply a lack of belief due to a lack of viable evidence, and that's all there is to it. Yes, there are some atheist campaigners like Richard Dawkins, but most of us don't care about religion enough to waste much time even thinking about it; we're too busy getting on with our lives, content to let religion fail under its own unsupportable weight.

Yes, we find it foolish, and often in equal parts amusing and annoying, but that's about it. Yes, if it tries to encroach on our rights or control our lives we will fight back (but not with bombs or viruses!). Other than that we really don't care if people want to believe in fairy tales. It's their choice.

So this book felt like it misrepresented atheists, but that wasn't the worst fault by any means. I would have bought into the plot of atheist terrorists if they hadn't been so painfully paper-thin and caricatured. That, the boring and poorly plotted story, along with an improbable terrorist and an even more absurd protagonist who was so self-righteous and infallible that it left no possibility of suspense for the reader at all, were what brought this down for me.

I began skimming this novel around page 270 (out of some 330 pages) and I quit at around page 300 when it devolved even more absurdly into secret passageways and booby traps. I wish the author all the best in his career, but I cannot recommend this novel.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Doll Parts by Amanda Lepore, Thomas Flannery


Rating: WARTY!

I bought this out of curiosity, but in the end I should have realized that if a person needs to have their 'memoir' ghost-written by a third party, then it's probably not going to be told from the best perspective. It wasn't. As it turned out, I can honestly say I have never in my life read a more self-obsessed, shallow, vindictive, and clueless memoir as this one. I was truly disappointed at the lost opportunity here to write a meaningful and helpful memoir about a very important topic. Instead of that, the book was wasted in welter narcissistic self-adulation.

I'm always interested in transition stories, and it's especially à propo during this month of gay pride (not that this is a gay story, be advised) to review a number of LGBTQIA books, but I couldn't get with this story because even though it is 'true', it didn't feel true-to-life to me. In the end it was far more a story of how much in love the author is with herself than ever it was a story of her migration from a young male to a mature female, although it did tell some of that story, albeit in a blinkered and self-obsessed manner.

In terms of it being a true story, I have to question that, also. Not that I think the author is lying, but we are treated here to a detailed history including verbatim conversations, and short of the handful of people with a true eidetic memory - which can entail other issues, and which this author doesn't claim - there is no way in hell anyone can remember this amount of detail and conversation unless they're making it up base don what have to be somewhat vague and modified memories after all these years (the author is almost fifty). I tried to keep that in mind while reading the three-quarters of this that I could actually stand to read.

The story seems far more devoted to self-worship and self-promotion, and to unhealthy sexual appetites, and talking tediously of "pussy" than ever it is talking from the soul or from the heart, and it felt like a tragic waste. Unless this flimsy veneer actually is her soul, which would be truly disappointing.

There's nothing wrong with a person taking pride in their appearance and feeling good about themselves, but the focus here on beauty and glamor was endless and obsessive, and it felt completely misplaced to me, given how shallow beauty is as a measure of a woman and how unimportant it is in the grand scheme of things when talking about the qualities a human being can or ought to have, and especially in this context, where there are far more important things to talk about.

Some of these things were talked about, but they were very effectively swamped by the shallow tide of self-indulgence which swept relentlessly across this narrative. Most disturbing of these matters was perhaps the abuse the author suffered a the hands of her husband, but this is so lightly and fleetingly dealt with that it loses all force and impact, and nowhere is any advice offered to others about how to get out of abusive relationships, or where to seek help. This was yet another appallingly wasted opportunity. This was especially sad given how often the author expressed a fear of being killed. This is not a joke because transsexuals are killed at an horrific rate for doing nothing more than being who they truly are - in every sense of that phrase.

Here are some resources:
http://www.thecentersd.org/programs/behavioral-health-services/warning-signs.html
https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/11/a-same-sex-domestic-violence-epidemic-is-silent/281131/
https://www.abuseandrelationships.org/Content/Resources/warning_signs.html
http://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/lgbt-abuse/
http://stoprelationshipabuse.org/get-help/resources/
https://helpguide.org/articles/abuse/domestic-violence-and-abuse.htm
http://www.thehotline.org/2013/02/dating-abuse-resources-for-teens/
http://www.loveisrespect.org/resources/dating-violence-statistics/
http://www.loveisrespect.org/is-this-abuse/abusive-lgbtq-relationships/
http://www.teensagainstabuse.org/index.php
http://youth.gov/youth-topics/teen-dating-violence/resources
https://www.roomtobesafe.org/recognizing-unhealthy-relationships/
https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/lgbt/news/2011/06/14/9850/domestic-violence-in-the-lgbt-community/
I urge anyone in an abusive relationship to leave it and get help. It's not easy, but it sure-as-hell isn't going to improve if you stay there. Your abusive partner is not going to miraculously change. You need to protect yourself. There are people who can and will help you.

In terms of the story told here, there was nothing new, which was the biggest disappointment of all, and this repeated self-worship from the author grew old very quickly. At one point we read of her doctor's office, "He liked me. The whole staff did. I was the office pet." Self-congratulate much? The book is larded with pictures of the author, but not a one of them is labeled to give it any context, and every one is a glamor shot or a shot with a celebrity.

We never see the real Amanda Lepore, unless, as I said, she really is all façade and no substance, but if that is so, then what price a memoir which contains nothing of its author? There were of course common elements true to every transgender story: the gender dysphoria appearing early in life, and being not a whim or a fad, but a deeply-rooted conviction that no amount of adversity can overturn, and the over-arching desire to change it, but she was never happy despite repeatedly assuring us she got everything she wanted; it was never enough.

Ultimately, the story became one not of a woman trying to escape a man's body, but something Michael Jackson might have written, which is in the end about turning a perfectly fine human being into a caricature of one. here I refer not to the author's gender reassignment, but to the endless tweaking afterwards, which did nothing to improve on what she started life as a woman with, and in my opinion, ruined it, just as Michael Jackson did. That said it's her body and she can do with it what she will. But in running to the extremes she did, she had better not try to turn around and make absurdist claims like all men love and lust after what she became: Just relax,” Michael said. “You look amazing; you’re every man’s fantasy of the ideal woman" No! Not even remotely.

There was nothing new in her desire to become the woman she was from the start. This is the root of all transgender stories. I was hoping for much more depth than that although that said, maybe it bears repeating, because some people simply don't seem to get how profound it is: that a male to female transgender person is a woman from the start, just as a ftm is a man from the beginning regardless of how they look on the outside.

The problem here seemed to be that all the author achieved was to change one false façade (that she was a male when she clearly was not in any meaningful sense) for another equally false one of glitz, glamor and shallowness. It would have been so nice to have got more of the person and less of this cheap veneer. I can't recommend this one at all, not even remotely.

One of the problems is that the author is not merely focused on herself to the exclusion of all others (her commendable devotion to her mom is the one exception here, but even that slipped as she grew older and ever-more intensely focused on her own life), but she is actively disparaging of others for no good reason.

One shameful example of this is what she says about a brave and generous trailblazer in gender reassignment: "Christine Jorgensen was the most famous case and we talked about her a lot, though I didn't relate to her so much. She wasn't that pretty." How appallingly insulting can you be? Christine Jorgensen was a US Army veteran who began her change in 1951, and fortunately for her health and welfare, became a celebrity in the USA, advocating for transgender people long before anyone else was, and yet this is the epitaph this girl gets from Amanda Lepore: she wasn't that pretty? WTF? How disgustingly shallow can you be?

Another issue is that the author has absolutely no interest in having - let alone promoting - safe sex. Her story opens with a gratuitous snippet about some guy flattering her with compliments and so getting an automatic in to her pants. She's thrilled with him because he has a large penis, but nowhere in any of this is safe sex mentioned. This is a continuing and disgusting theme throughout this book.

Her first boyfriend is Dylan, with whom she has underage sex and she says this about him: "Sex with Dylan was wonderful, but she was right. I knew he was fucking around." Yet again, there is no mention of safe sex. She apparently doesn't care that he's having sex with other people or that he has anal sex with her (this was before her surgery) with no condom. Even if we give her a bye here for being young and stupid to begin with, looking back on that more than thirty years later, she still has no comment to make on how foolish it was?

This same lack of a clue is apparent later, when she has sex with some truck driver who picks her up. She's pissed-off with her husband (and understandably so, it has to be said) so she starts an affair with this guy, having unprotected sex the same night he picks her up for the first time. This is supposed to be a role model?

She frequently talks about having a love relationship but she seems far more interested, if not obsessed with large male genitals than ever she is in a human connection. Here's a sad glimpse into her psyche:

Tina was a world-class tease. Her favorite thing to do was to lead guys on and then give them the boot. "Men are so gullible, they'll believe anything you tell them. They believe you when you tell them you're a girl, right?"
"I am a girl."
"You know what I mean," she said.
Tina had a great idea: we'd go out, find the most straitlaced guy in the bar, and trick him into thinking I was a regular girl. It was a new way for Tina to tease men. I willingly played along, since the prize for the game was a hot guy for me to make out with. When things started to get a little too hot and heavy, I'd tell my date I had my period to throw him off.

Has she never heard of transgender hate crime? Of rape? Obviously she had because she frequently talks about fear of being done harm to or killed. Yet never once does she consider that her behavior might be a contributing factor towards the poor attitude that some men - not all men as she implies here, but some men - have towards women - and that her behavior might serve to help provoke this behavior and make life worse for other women? How selfish can you be? Lest you think this is merely the adoption of an extravagant tone, this is what she says later: "And who the fuck cared about these guys? Tricking them was like paying back all the people who had made fun of me for being so feminine."

She repeatedly makes herself look clueless or ignorant or stupid. Here's one example when she's feeling down and tries to 'commit suicide': "I went into her bathroom, picked up the first bottle of pills I saw, and swallowed them all." Those pills were aspirin! Maybe she had a few shots of tequila afterwards to get over the complete absence of a headache?

Her enduring cluelessness is clear in this incident which she reports without any kind of analysis at all: "Everything went as planned with the new psychiatrist. I liked the way he described me in his report; he said I was very attractive with feminine features and that I'd make a pretty girl" Seriously? That's his medical diagnosis? That she finds nothing wrong with these inappropriate comments is the sad part. She has such absolute tunnel vision when it comes to anyone complimenting her. She sees nothing wrong in a medical professional talking about her like this.

At one point we learn that her father, who had left the family because of her mother's schizophrenia, had got married to another woman. Never at any point did we hear of a divorce from her mother! I thought that was weird. Presumably there was one, but why did she not mention it? Did it not impact upon her in any way at all? The only saving grace for her in this entire book is that she stood by her mother longer than her father or her brother did, and that might have counted for something if the author could count: "Women never came to our house. Maybe five total that I can think of, if the twins count as two." I guess twins are really the same so there's only one of any pair worth counting.

Her vaginoplasty, purportedly the most important thing to her, is discussed only cursorily. The most disturbing part of it is actually when she visits the surgery the morning of her operation.

I lay on the operating table, ready to go under, I could hear the nurses talking about me.
"This one's really beautiful."
"Her skin's like peaches and cream."
"This might be the prettiest girl we've ever had"
Even here. as you can see, her only thoughts are for her own shallow beauty. Right after I read this, I also read that the assistants were feeling up the patient's breasts as she was succumbing to the anesthesia. If that wasn't yet another self-complimentary fantasy, there was a case there for a lawsuit, but it's never pursued, because she never sees this abuse as a problem, not just for herself but for every patient who goes in there. Again, no thought whatsoever for anyone but herself.

On having sex with her husband for the first time after her vaginoplasty: "Now here I was, with a man on top of me who loved me and was ready to make a woman out of me" Oh? That's all that's required? You have sex, you're a woman? Have sex and you're a man? What a clueless philosophy that is, but she sees nothing wrong with it! Role model my ass.

Neither does she see anything foolish about mixing drugs and alcohol: "I had a few drinks, which I usually never do, and he gave me a Quaalude" This is her husband handing her the 'lude, so it's hardly surprising that later we learn he's having Amanda fake dental issues to get Demerol from the dentist which she then gives to her husband. That dentist should be struck off. Later she says "I don't know when I realized that Michael was addicted to painkillers" - how about the time he asks you to lie to your dentist to get meds to give to him? Again, clueless.

And self-obsessed. Did I mention that? After she's said repeatedly that she has everything she wanted, I read this: "I was too scared to talk to these women. But I took mental notes on what they were getting done, so I could figure out what I needed to have done myself." She has everything she ever wanted, but she still needs work?

Her passive acceptance of her husband's abusive ways is pathetic. Bemoaning her husband's switch-up from mental abuse to physical abuse, she says, "I was grateful, but there was no point in worrying about things I could never change." This is a role model? She can't do anything about a husband beats her, when she already has an offer to stay with someone who cares about her in order to get away from being abused? Clueless.

Her ridiculous side-panels are a sick joke. Here's a small selection of the things she says and you can clearly see how shallow and superficial it makes her look:

  • On women who do not manicure their nails: "This girl will try to come off as low maintenance, but in reality she is just too busy with her career and family to take care of herself. Seriously? If you don't fuss over your nails you're a loser because you're more focused on career and family? You don't want to know my response to that.
  • At another point in the book, her obsession with her nails is made even more clear: "I'd spend hours doing my nails (I've lost several friends who were sick of waiting for me to finish my nails), o plucking hairs, bleaching my pussy hair, or bejeweling a dress. That's all I wanted to do. It still is." How pathetic.
  • In a warning about exposure to the sun she says, "Think of the sun as Kryptonite. Bring a camisole with you everywhere you go."
    Camisole?? Does she mean parasol, maybe?! I really don't think camisole is going to do much to protect against the sun!
  • Along similar lines was this out-of-left-field comment: "Michael...picked up H like sheep jumping off a cliff." Does he mean lemmings maybe? And lemmings don't, as it happens.
  • On meeting Pamela Anderson's husband at the time:
    "Tommy Lee wanted to see my pussy at a party. We went to the bathroom, I sat on the sink, and he got a good look. Pam was pissed. Super jealous. He loved it."
So she has no qualms about possibly wrecking a marriage by stripping for some person she never met before?

Just how irresponsible is she about abusing others? You'd think she'd be sensitive to that after what she went through but no:

He loved to play tricks on people, tripping them on the dance floor, or pissing in a cup and dumping it out a window that overlooked the line of people waiting to get into his party. Other people would yell at him or call him an asshole. I’d just say, “Oh, Michael, you’re too much,” and leave it at that. It wasn’t my place to judge him. I think that’s what he liked about me.
Ri-ight! This woman makes me sick.

It's hardly surprising that this Michael was later arrested in connection with the murder, dismemberment, and disposal of a drug-dealer's body. Here's how she relates this:

They found Angel’s body,” she said. “Michael really did kill him.”
“Oh.” I just stared at her and Larry Tee. They stared right back. I didn’t know what to say. “Poor Michael.” “Yeah.” Sophia hugged me and I started crying.
“And Angel, of course.”
“Of course.”
“Will Michael be arrested now?"
It was at this point that I honestly began to wonder if there actually was no Amanda Lepore and I was reading a very well done and elaborate parody.

How dumb is she?

Just get bigger breasts,” Keni said. “Nobody will even notice a scar on your face if your tits are gigantic.”
Maybe he was kidding but that made a lot of sense to me.
Why isn't that a surprise?! Here's another example:
The Insider had just done a segment on me (they called me “one of the most extreme plastic surgery cases The Insider has ever uncovered”)

Here's how little she cares for those she become involved with: "Ricky didn’t like me going out naked and could be really possessive, like most men." If that's what you think, then you're A clueless, and B meeting entirely the wrong class of men. Try quitting your obsession with big dicks and look for a guy with a big heart instead! Then stay faithful to him and don't go out naked if it upsets him! It's not rocket science.

And what's with the dick obsession? It's so rife in this book that despite myself I couldn't help but wonder if it was some sort of subconscious compensation for giving up her own. I know, that's bad right? But it's not me publishing a book about nothing more than an obsession with her own looks and unsafe sex with big dicks.

One last example of dumb:

One of the logs in the fireplace rolled out onto the carpet, sending thick clouds of smoke into the air. Stoned and unsure of what to do, David and I fumbled our way to the back patio and watched as the room got cloudier and cloudier.
Seriously? Le stupide is strong with this one! She should have kept her mouth shut, dispensed with the book idea, and just looked pretty. That's what she was all about after all. Nothing more than that, but even there she went far too far over the top.

At one point, referring back to her mother's untimely death from cancer, the author says, "Mom had spent her life trapped inside her own mind. I refused to let that happen to me." I'm sorry sweetie, but you were stuck there long before your mother ever was.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Journey to a Woman by Ann Bannon


Rating: WARTY!

Ann Bannon strikes out for me in this, the third of her novels I've read, but the fourth in her opera. The problem with it was that it was the same story I'd already read twice before from this same author in different volumes! Here, in a nutshell, is why I don't read series. There was nothing new or original here. It added nothing to her oeuvre. it read like she had taken a template used in the two other novels of this author's that I've reviewed, shuffled the name cards, and re-dealt the pack, letting those names fall where they may. All she succeeded in doing was to present her main character, Beth, the college love interest of Laura, as one more in in a long line of Beebo Brinker's disposable bitches.

Beth's sitch is that having conveniently disposed of her cake in college, and married Charlie, she now whats to eat said cake. In her frustration, she's pretty much whoring around and abandoning both husband and children. She's supposed to be some sort of heroic figure for this? The sorry fact is that she's a whiny piece of trash.

She has no self-respect and she chases after a dance teacher named Vega, which is exactly what happened in one of the other two volumes (but with the name changed to something equally exotic). Beth lusts after Vega's ethereal beauty until she discovers that Vega is physically scarred from surgery, whereupon Beth can't ditch her fast enough - and this after declaring her undying love for Vega. What a complete jerk.

Failing there, she eventually throws over her husband and goes sniffing after Laura - the woman she rejected in college in favor of Charlie! When she's rejected by Laura, she takes up with - you got it - Beebo - the lesbian garbage pick-up of Greenwich Village. The whole story is insane, pathetic, lousily-written, and a disgrace to lesbian literature.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter? by Heath Fogg Davis


Rating: WORTHY!

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

In a seemingly radical, but ultimately common-sense challenge to status quo, this author asks whether it's ever necessary to require someone to have their gender flagged on something like a birth certificate or a driver's license. He examines four areas where a true unisex environment is called for - not just to not use a binary sex-marker, but to dispense with sex-markers altogether. These areas are (from the blurb): "sex-marked identity documents such as birth certificates, driver's licenses and passports; sex-segregated public restrooms; single-sex colleges; and sex-segregated sports." A section of the book is devoted to each of the four topics.

While I support this agenda as a general principle - there are far too many areas where gender is irrelevant, but where it's made into an issue of one kind or another - I'd take some small issue with the way this argument is presented in some areas. I felt it didn't make as good of a case as it ought to have, and I felt it was a somewhat biased case - there wasn't much of a serious effort to look at the opposite side of the argument or to seek out opposing views and present them - and argue against them.

Yes, there were some objections raised and summarily overruled, but it felt more like the author was trying to steamroll his case through in preference to offering a completely calm and rational approach. Not that he was raving or ranting, but it felt a little bit like a high pressure salesperson, and I have little time for those!

One example of this was in the section where the author is talking about how long a person has to live as a woman before they're considered fully a woman. It's more complicated than that, and you'd have to read the book to get the full scoop on the issues and arguments, but for my purposes, this fell into the gripe I made about too little use of studies to back arguments and more reliance on personal opinion and anecdote than was healthy to make a solid case.

The author says, "...does it matter that some transgender women will have been socialized as boys and/or men for certain periods of their lives?" The problem with this is the inherent assumption it carries that they have indeed been fully socialized as their biological gender as opposed to their desired or self-identified gender.

I could see my argument being irrelevant if a need for a gender-switch was triggered from a head injury or by a sudden whim or need for attention, but this is flatly not the case. One thing I learned early in my reading about transgender people is that they had lived all their life feeling like they were the gender they eventually (hopefully!) were able to migrate to. So why would they honestly be socialized as boys/men or as girls/women necessarily?

It felt presumptive and patronizing to leap to the conclusion that they had or likely had. We had no evidence presented to support (or refute) this - it was just out there like it was self-evident, and this felt like the author had fallen into the same trap he was arguing against: if it's always been this way, why should we change?

Of course we haven't always been this way. Binary gender is just a convenient convention we fell into because historically we were too ignorant and blinkered to think it through. Maybe a biological male who has always felt female might be rather less acclimatized to male patterns of behavior and thinking than we should feel comfortable assuming, and so might a female in inverse circumstances. This is what I mean when I talk about making better arguments.

So one issue I had with the book was that it felt like it relied too much on anecdote - some of which was personal - which left some holes where a wider survey or study would have filled the gap. Some studies are quoted, but the inline references in this book are not actually links, which is a problem in this day and age for an ebook. In a print book you can flip through pages to get to end notes. It's a lot harder in an ebook, which is why actual links would have been a big help.

That said, the anecdotes were engrossing, saddening, disturbing, and downright horrifying at times, and this is the main reason people need to read this book, because the hit is still shitting the fan, even after all these years, and it needs to stop now. If getting rid of sex markers is guaranteed to do that, then I'm pretty well on-board! But I have some qualms about the arguments, mainly because of the area the book did not cover, which is medical care.

You can argue all you want about men and women and everyone between and on both sides being treated equally in areas of sports, rest rooms, college admissions, and state and government documents, but being treated in hospital is another issue because the fundamental fact is that men and women are anatomically and biochemically different and sometimes it genuinely matters what gender you are.

Let me give a simple example:- a traffic accident victim is brought into an ER unconscious, and xrays need to be taken. if this is a man, there's usually no problem, because men never get pregnant, but if this is a woman, the doctors need to be sure they're not harming a fetus.

Often, it's easy (or at least seems easy!) to tell what gender the patient, but also often it's not and it's downright foolish to make assumptions, as this author has pointed out often! If the woman is a mtf individual, then short of religious miracles, there's going to be no fetus, but if the doctors do not know, then there's potentially a problem.

I'd argue this is a case where gender does indeed matter and more importantly, knowing the gender matters, and while this is a simple demonstrative example, it's not the only medical instance where the gender (or sex if you like - I don't like to use that term because it's so loaded with baggage) of the patient matters. Men and women react differently to some medications, so knowing the gender of the patient can be vitally important.

Now you can no doubt press arguments against my simplistic example, and maybe against medical treatment and knowing the birth sex of the patient, but that's just the problem: since this critical topic wasn't covered in this book, none of this was ever addressed. Having a sex-marker on the driver's license could be in some cases, the difference between life and death here. So maybe we should not argue to eliminate the sex-marker at least on driver's licenses or state ID cards, but to make it voluntary? It's just a thought.

I don't typically comment on book covers because my blog is about authoring, not façades and lures, but in this case I have to say that this cover was quite a stunner. The ambiguity and charm in it were remarkable! It's a credit to the book and a pity the publisher rarely sees fit to give some credit to the model.

One curious personal comment I found was when the author volunteered, "For example, my birth mother was white and my birth father African American. I identify as either biracial or black" but he never went on to explain why he doesn't ever identify as white. It seems to me he has an equal case for either or both. It's not a big deal to me, but I just found it interesting and curious that someone with one black and one white parent had to be (at least historically), considered black instead of white!

To me, that's just as screwed-up as the gender issues discussed here, but I guess it's none of my business; however, it was one of several times things were tossed into the mix which I found curious. Another was his reference to the 2013 movie Identity Thief. The author cites this as an exemplar of the inadequacy of sex verification as fraud protection.

I thought it was an inappropriate reference in a book that rightly tries to set a more scholarly tone, but the objection here was that, as the author explains, "...the fact that many people have gender-neutral or 'unisex' names, Sandy being just one of many examples." I get that this is irrelevant when credit card fraud is perpetrated over the phone,or the internet, but it does prevent some abuse in person when a woman might try to use a credit card which clearly has a male name on it. It's not foolproof, especially in these days of fast everything, but it does offer some preventive opportunities! The real question to ask is: is it worth the hassle some people might get for the prevention it offers in other cases?

But that's not the reason I thought the example of the movie was a poor one; it's that, in the movie (which I have not seen I have to say), the man whose identity has been stolen, Sandy, seems like a sad sack of an example to offer since he apparently never thought to report his card stolen and thereby avoid all of the issues he was subject to in the movie! Hollywood is not real life and I think it was a mistake to cite what seems to be a rather slapstick comedy movie in support of a serious topic like this.

That said, I recommend this because it needs to be read - it's that simple. It has important issues in it about an ongoing problem that needs to be cut off summarily at the ankles, and it makes some good arguments, especially in sports, which has long been a pet peeve of my own. Some of the sports anecdotes are truly upsetting, as indeed are the anecdotes in other areas. Read them and weep - seriously. I felt like it after reading what some of these people - including the author - have had to endure.


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Beebo Brinker by Ann Bannon


Rating: WORTHY!

In this, the last of the so-called Beebo Brinker Chronicles (and it's a good thing they were not actually called that, otherwise I would never have read them!), the author ends the series by taking us back to the beginning - to when Beebo first arrives in New York City and runs into another of the regulars in the series: Jackson Mann. After a slightly distrustful start, Jack, who is gay, takes Beebo under his wing and even arranges for her to get a job as a "delivery boy".

Beebo begins to come out of her shell, and to accept herself as a lesbian, but she has two dicks to deal with. One of these is the husband of the woman for whose Italian restaurant Beebo delivers, and the other is Mona, a bisexual woman who is independently wealthy and has nothing to do with her time, but to be abusive to people and even outright vindictive when she feels slighted - as she does with Beebo after an unfortunate misunderstanding.

Beebo is just 18, and fled her small farming-community town in Wisconsin after the gossip about her became too much to bear. Her real name isn't Beebo any more than Ann Bannon is the author's real name. Betty Jean "Beebo" Brinker is outstanding in more than one way, not least of which is that she wears her hair closely-cropped, and refuses to be feminine, wearing trousers and taking a very masculine role. She's also tall and muscular.

Jack conducts her around the local gay scene and at first Beebo is mildly disgusted in a lesbian bar, but she cannot get those images of women dancing together out of her head, and she's finally persuaded to accept her true self. After the badly-mismanaged non-relationship with Mona, Pete, the Italian husband, puts her onto Paula, an ex of Mona's.

Paula turns out to be exactly what Beebo wants and needs, but it's not plain sailing because Beebo once again proves as vacillating here as she had in Women in the Shadows - or as she would later be in that volume! Once she's made a pizza delivery to the New York home of a Hollywood star, Beebo cannot get "Venus" out of her head, and when Venus tempts her with an offer of employment on her trip to Hollywood to film a new TV show, Beebo drops everything, including Paula, and takes off like a bitch in heat.

The story was great until this point, but it goes downhill somewhat once Beebo gets to California, with rather unbelievable stories of the press's great interest in Venus's private life. It seemed entirely incredible to me. Yes, the press is shamefully like that now, but it wasn't anywhere near as bad in the late fifties and early sixties.

This doesn't mean there were no scandals and it doesn't mean that no-one's career was ruined, but it felt too much to take seriously, especially since Venus wasn't exactly a premier A-list star, and there was nothing at all to lead the press to believe that anything 'untoward' (as they would deem it), was going on. This is the early sixties, after all, and while the US was (and still is) extraordinarily conservative, this "scandal" seemed too much to believe.

None of the entertainment media had even seen Beebo, much less knew she was a woman, much less knew she was having an affair with Venus. The only thing they had was a rumor from some unknown gossips in New York City (Obviously, Pete and Mona) about an affair. There wasn't anything to get the rumor rolling! It was not credible that this would happen as fast as it did and to the extent that it did.

But it does happen and the upshot is that Beebo comes running home to Paula, who of course accepts her and takes her back! It's all lovey-dovey, but clearly it means nothing given Beebo's later history, so it's really hard to understand what Bannon thought she was doing with this story. It's especially hard to understand, given that this is really exactly the same story that was told in Women in the Shadows, where Jack plays the role of Paula, and Beebo becomes both Mona, and Venus! That said, however, the early part of the story was told well and with great feeling if a little over the top here and there, so I recommend it as of historical interest.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Women in the Shadows by Ann Bannon


Rating: WORTHY!

Funny - I thought The Shadows was an all-male band! (That's a Brit joke). Frankly this novel came close to being a warty read, but in the end, it saved itself and I consider, while the main character is not likeable - not to me anyway - her story is worth reading, if only from an historical perspective.

I'd also like to note that while these stories have been praised for their realism, this realism extends only so far. Sexual promiscuity, whether hetero- or homo-, carries with it potential health costs, which were just as much of a problem in the sixties (even though AIDs had not reared its ugly head yet) as they have been in every other decade. This novel, though, is very much a summer of love novel (lots of sex and zero consequences), even though the summer of love was a long way in the future when these were written.

So for me, the strength of the novel was not in the realism per se, but in the graphic depiction of relationship problems as being precisely the same for the queer population as they are for everyone else. I think this was Bannon's real strength, showing that gays and lesbians (and everyone in between) are no different from anyone else, and this was in an era where they were widely (and legally) considered deviants and predators by the population at large.

Worse than this, and something these novels also show, is that anyone else doesn't have to deal with also being shamed and made into pariahs for who they love. This is a grotesque fear which has not been dispensed with even now, as we approach the diamond jubilee of these novels. That's the saddest thing about all of this.

There is one more thing: in an era where appallingly misnamed 'honor' killings are still the things which need to be killed-off, but which, instead of dying out as they must, are threatening to spread along with all those who are immature, insecure, and clueless enough to consider women to be property at best and inconveniences at worst, this novel unashamedly shows an interracial relationship exactly as it ought to be shown: where it's about the relationship, and not the skin color of those who are involved in the relationship.

In celebration of Gay Pride Month (which may be June or July - no one seems to agree on it!), I'm reviewing several LGBTQIA novels, of which this is one of three Ann Bannon books I got from my local - and very excellent! - library. Excellent as they are, though, they did not have the first three of her hexalogy, only three of the last four: Women in the Shadows, Journey to a Woman, and Beebo Brinker. The other books are Odd Girl Out, I Am a Woman, and The Marriage.

Ann Weldy, who wrote as Ann Bannon, completed the so-called 'Beebo Brinker Chronicles' in the late fifties and early sixties as a means of giving vent to lesbian feelings which she felt constrained from letting loose in any other way. Like this way wasn't brave enough?! Good god! She was married to a guy who didn't approve of these 'sordid little tales', and yet she went ahead and did it anyway and the novels were very well received for their realism in a world of sadly cheap 'pulp' sex novels. She had no idea of how influential these books had been until twenty years later when she separated from a husband with whom she had had two children in a marriage that must otherwise have been barely endurable for her.

Laura first appeared as a student in the very first book, where she was involved in a lesbian relationship with another student - mirroring a somewhat similar but unrequited relationship Ann knew of in real life. In this book, Laura is coming to the end of a two year-long relationship with Betty Jean "Beebo" Brinker - a classical butch lesbian. The relationship is diseased and co-dependent, and it's highly destructive, but Laura doesn't seem to have the strength to get out of it, and Beebo doesn't want to get out of it. She claims to love Laura, but in reality, she's a jealous, manipulative, rather psychotic alcoholic, who will do almost literally anything to hold on to Laura.

Laura goes from one bad relationship to another because she doesn't seem capable of recognizing it when she gets a good one. She starts an affair with a woman who calls herself Tris, but who uses Laura just as cruelly as Beebo does. Eventually, and feeling rejected by Tris and fearful of Beebo, Laura agrees to marry Jack, who is gay, but who is tired of "chasing boys" as the author unfortunately describes it. No, he's not a pedophile, but he calls young men boys and he's sworn off them.

In many ways, Jack and Laura are mirror images. He's had it just as bad as she has. He's also an alcoholic, but in order to get over being dumped by Terry, his young stud of a lover, he proposes to Laura who eventually feels weak enough to accept it, and they marry and move in together, and Jack quits the booze. Theirs is a loving but asexual relationship since neither finds the other sexually attractive, although they are quite affectionate.

Laura becomes pregnant through artificial insemination with sperm from Jack, who is a sweet guy when he's not bemoaning Terry or getting drunk. Actually he's even sweet when he's drunk, but can Laura see what a good thing she has going? Not really. The problem is that Terry isn't done with Jack and Laura isn't done with Beebo, so things get bad for a while, but the ending turns it around enough for me to rate this a worthy read despite Laura's pathetic, limp rag character. It does tell an interesting story although some readers might be put off by the rather twisted actions, particularly those engineered by Beebo, during some of it.


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey by Nick Bertozzi


Rating: WORTHY!

While I enjoyed this graphic novel and consider it well-done, and a worthy read, I have to object to the blurb extolling Ernest Shackleton as "one of the last great Antarctic explorers." He really explored nothing. His only goal was to strive for the pole, at attempt at which he failed. Thereafter, he went back with the intention of crossing the continent via the pole, yet this expedition was a complete disaster, and even bigger failure than his attempt to reach the pole. Never once did he consider the smart move of turning back and perhaps trying later. If none of his expeditions had ever taken place, how would the world be one iota worse off? it would not. The guy was a self-centered moron.

He was an insensitive clown who wasted his life in money-losing pursuits, and then in ridiculous 'exploratory' pursuits, essentially abandoning his wife and three children for years on end. Who took care of them? Emily barely gets a mention in Wikipedia, but Shackleton's blind blundering on Antarctica is detailed endlessly! What did he achieve? He didn't discover the pole - it was already known to be there!

There was nothing there when he got there, not even a pole! Not that he ever did get there. There were no new medicines came out of this. No great survival or sailing techniques. No life-altering discoveries. No educational material. There wasn't even any exploring - just a desperate drive to get to one place after another, all of which failed. He achieved literally nothing, and contributed nothing to the advancement of humankind. And for being benighted, he was knighted?

That's nothing to do with this graphic novel which only tells his story, and does it well as it happens, but all this does so well is to highlight what a thoughtless and ill-prepared fool Shackleton was! I found it amusing, and truly, very sad. But it does make for an entertaining read.


Monday, June 5, 2017

Bad Heir Day by Wendy Holden


Rating: WARTY!

This was a lousy story I got because it was discounted (now I know why!) at a local bookstore (aka the mother ship) and because the blurb outright lied! To whit: it made it sound like a to woo, when it was actually twaddle! I'm done reading anything by Wendy Holden.

The main character is not only one of the most weak and limp and dish-rag characters I've ever read about, I think she actually is the most weak and limp and dish-rag character I've ever read of. She cannot for the life of her stand on her own two feet, being in constant and dire need of a man, even one who treats her like crap, or a female "friend" who tells her what to do all the time because this girl is too brain-dead to figure anything out for herself. her friend then rewards herself for directing the film au revoir of this character's sorry life by making off with her fiancé! Yes, she purloined the love of her friend's loins.

I'm sorry but this novel sucked, period. It was unrelentingly lousy and unapologetically unrealistic. The girl (whose name isn't important because she isn't important) wants to write a novel, but instead of actually writing a frigging novel which is what an actual writer would do, she goes to work for a bitch of a woman who is actually a complete caricature (as are pretty much all the characters in this story come to think of it) more à propos to a Disney animation than a novel that purports to be telling an credible story. That is to say that Cruella would have been a more realistic name than Cassandra. It needles to say that the novel never gets written. But then these novels that novelists perennially write about never do, do they?


Sunday, June 4, 2017

Mighty Alice Goes Round and Round by Richard Thompson


Rating: WORTHY!

This book had the feel of a compendium of daily and Sunday newspaper cartoons, but it apparently isn't. It is a collection, loosely linked, of cartoon stories of Alice, the four-year-old feisty daughter of the Otterloop family, consisting of mom, dad, and her older brother Petey.

In the same way that Calvin and Hobbes was written more for grown-ups than ever it was for children, this is too, because the language skills and mental processes of the four-year-old crowd Alice hangs with are completely unrealistic, but they are amusing, while the mostly line-drawing artwork (some is in full color) is very rudimentary - very much cartoon style.

In some ways I can see that books like this are pretty pointless because they count completely on you buying into the standard lifestyle of your standard, white, well-to-do, American family, as though the fifties was not a by-gone era. In other ways, taking a look at things from a different perspective is never a bad thing - unless that perspective comes by way of falling off a bridge or high building or something painful like that!

So while I found this amusing, I got the book on clearance. I would never have paid ten dollars for a book like this. I do consider it a worthy read, but I also consider it worthy of borrowing rather than buying unless you can get a discounted copy as I did, or a cheaper electronic version. Good luck with that last option, since the e-version is only about a dollar cheaper than the print version. How that works is that the print version comes from China. You'll have to make up your own mind about whether you want to send your money there.


Saturday, June 3, 2017

Backstrap by Johnnie Dun


Rating: WARTY!

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

This novel started out quite interestingly, but by the fifty percent mark I was bored, and it never showed any sign of improving. The problem was that the novel had hit the doldrums and for fully the middle fifty percent of it, it moved not an inch forwards nor looked like it was interested in doing so. I had to quit it at about 72% because I was getting nothing from it, and life is far too short to 'stick it out' with a novel that simply isn't thrilling you.

The plot here is that Callie Byrne, a US Army veteran, having served in the military police in Iraq, is moved to visit Guatemala, in search of an army buddy named Rachel, who has gone down there on behalf of a drug dealer named Tony. Tony is Callie's old drug dealer, before she started trying hard to go straight for the sake of her son Dillon, who is currently in custody of her strait-laced and well-to-do sister.

So far, so good, but once Callie gets into Guatemala, the story becomes gelled in aspic and quite literally nothing moves. The Iraq vet is also a trope that's being way overdone these days - along with the endless ex-special forces thrillers, and ex-marine thrillers we're seeing far, far too much of these days. Normally I won't read a story like this, but the blurb made this one sound like it might offer something more, when it fact if offered a lot less than even those stories do.

It's truly sad that authors in the count so much on US foreign aggression to help them create interesting characters for their novels. I mean thank the gods for the Middle East wars, because Vietnam was becoming far too long in the tooth. Now we have the same problem, but instead of everyone being a Vietnam vet, everyone has to be an Iraq vet (evidently no one fought in Afghanistan). But even Iraq is too far back in the past now o have young characters being Iraq vets.

We left Iraq in 2011, so even if there had been some eighteen-year-old serving on 2010, they'd be in their mid-twenties now at the very least. That doesn't leave them much time to have a child, garner an addiction, and then a recovery. Let's hope for a new war soon because god knows what we will do if can't call on a recent one! Seriously - why can a person not be simply an armed forces vet without having to have been in a war somewhere? Isn't that enough any more? It's just a little tiresome reading the same background for every character in a story like this.

The biggest problem with this story, though, is that there wasn't a character in it that I liked or felt moved to root for. There was no action at all, and certainly no point when I felt like Callie or her buddy Angus might be in danger or at risk. Frankly, and apart from the opening couple of chapters, Callie never actually felt real to me. It started out well enough, but then she became as bland as the plot, and the more the story went on the less she seemed like a recovering drug addict, and the less she seemed like an army veteran, and the less she seems like a mom concerned about or evne missing her son.

One reason it made for a sad and tedious read was that instead of being the actor, she became the actee - things were being done to Callie. She was not the one doing the things: she was being controlled and moved around; she wasn't acting on her own volition and making things happen, and it made for a very mundane character and a story which didn't particularly make me want to turn the pages.

On a technical note, the novel needs another read-through before it's ready for prime time, because I found several errors in it, none of which were the kind that a spell-checker would find (although a grammar-check might pick up one or two of them. I read, for example, "Was Tony set Rachel up?" which presumably should have read "Was it Tony who set Rachel up?" or "Did Tony set Rachel up?" I also read, "They put up with me because they have too" (too many 'o's in the 'to'. And finally, "Had he really helped cared for Ixchel" (One of those verbs is too tense!).

Then there was this one small section where I think the middle speaker (starting at 'excuse me') should have been someone other than Slinger, because the reading makes no sense if it's all Slinger:

Slinger scowled at Angus. Callie thought Slinger might just shoot Angus right there.
“Excuse me.” Slinger took a soft plantain out of his mouth and crushed it into the floor. Then he sat back and took a drink of coffee. “Bad fruit,” he said.
Slinger didn’t look up, scribbling again in his journal

But aside from those, the writing wasn't technically bad, it just wasn't appealing to me and I can't recommend this novel, although I wish the author all the best with his career.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Shérazade by Leïla Sebbar


Rating: WARTY!

The blurb tells us that 17-year-old Shérazade has moved from Algeria to Paris - like the two are equivalent; as though Algeria, with its forty million people somehow matches the forty square miles of Paris, or its two million square kilometers matches Paris's two million people. I guess the blurb writer doesn't realize there are cities and villages in Algeria where people come from. They don't simply rise up out of the sand like heat haze. Haze is what this story has though, but no heat.

Shérazade is supposed to be finding herself, which is hilarious, because she becomes irretrievably lost in the nondescript and disturbingly bland pages of this book which spends very little time on her - or at least it did in the first twenty-five percent, which is all I could stand to read of what is a very antiquated and utterly boring novel.

It's translated from the French, so the thing which is lost other than Shérazade is no doubt some meaning in the translation, but this doesn't excuse the terribly flat story-telling, which despite the leading lady's involvement with anarchists, terrorists, revolutionaries, and morons, never raises the pulse, not even by an extra beat per minute.

It's all exposition and no story. Some may consider it art, no doubt with a silent 'f' at the beginning. Rather than explode like a bomb in a car, the ending is lost like a comb in a bar, and that's it. Please do yourself a favor and do not read this garbage.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Sisters Chase by Sarah Healy


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a charming story from start to finish, keeping my interest and proving to be a very fast read with a sudden ending that took me by surprise, since I hadn't realized I was so close to the end of the novel. This is the price of an ebook: you get no tactile feel for the dwindling pages! But it definitely took my breath away in more than one way.

If I had any real complaint, it was about the flashbacks. Other readers may appreciate these, but I am no more a fan of flashbacks than I am of prologues. Maybe some writers think they're cool, or edgy, or 'the thing to do', but for me flashbacks bring the story to screeching halt when all I want to do is keep abreast of what's happening now, not what took place a decade before. To me they're irritating at best, and antagonizing at worst. I rather quickly took to skipping over these and they did not - as far as I can tell - reduce my enjoyment or understanding of the story one iota. So I rest my case!

Seriously, for me the story would have been better served had the flashbacks been incorporated into a 'part one', or better yet, as long as you want to put in some remembrances of things past as it were, I'd rather read them in-line with the story as an occasional thought here and there, and I know this author is quite capable of that, because she writes beautifully. I look forward to her next opus with anticipation!

The other issue is relatively minor, and relates to this being an ARC, and not yet quite ready for prime time. The formatting in the Kindle app on my phone was a bit ragged here and there, with a line ending mid-screen and being continued on the line below, or a paragraph offset from the body of text when it was not supposed to be.

There was also the occasional wrong word in the wrong place, which no spell-checker will catch, such as "the thrown secure" when it should be presumably, 'the throne secure', and "Where'd you here that?" when it should clearly have been 'Where'd you hear that'. The price of auto-correct! If you're a writer, turn the damned thing off!

But let's talk about the joy of this novel, because this is far more important than anything else. As I indicated, it was passionately and beautifully written, evocative as hell, and it told a truly realistic and gripping story of two half-sisters, aptly named Chase, since the whole time we're reading this, they're chasing something. Unfortunately it's not the same thing they're chasing, but this only becomes apparent as they mature.

The story flows wonderfully. The girls age about a decade as the book follows its course, and the author does this so well that you do not notice any gaps - not as gaps anyway! Major Kudos for that. Mary is a decade older than her stepsister, and the odd thing is that both girls' parentage is hazy. They know for sure who their mom is, but dad is a less well-defined concept. The thing is though, that Mary, after an initial ambivalence, becomes fiercely devoted to Hannah, whom she calls 'Bunny' due to an event we learn nothing of until the very end of the story. Hannah never seems to resent this name even when she's in her teens.

It's a name that's also evocative of a life running from one place to another, just as Mary's nickname, 'Mare', is evocative of 'nightmare', which is what her life feels like at times, as she struggles to keep the two of them together, ahead of trouble and creditors, and fed and clothed. Initially Bunny goes along with Mary's travel plans because Mary is very skilled at what she does - not only at lifting a few dollars here and there from the wallets of guests at the hotels she finds work in, but also in spinning a fairy-tale of two princess struggling to avoid evil, which Hannah eats up as a child.

Just when Mary thinks she's found her prince charming, her past rises-up to set the sisters chasing again along the highways of the US, trying to get away from their nemesis and keep it together. It's only as Hannah begins to mature herself, that it becomes clear to the reader that these girls are as different as their fathers were, each having their own conflicting goals. You'll discover the power of this novel for yourself, and I promise you'll be upset, but not disappointed. I recommend this unreservedly.


Monday, May 29, 2017

The Goodbye Witch by Heather Blake


Rating: WARTY!

I made the mistake of getting this at the same time as I got its predecessor, which I didn't like. I read the same number of pages of this as I did of that before ditching it DNF. I should have known from the blurb that this one was doomed. One of the characters is named Starla. One early dumb-ass sentence read, "I felt the warmth of his body heat."

I'm sorry but I cannot read novels that badly written. They make me physically ill. If I could stand to do it, I would write a novel composed solely and entirely of bad sentences like that from other novels, strung together. The effort would probably kill me or drive me insane, though.

Starla's evil ex, Kyle, is back in town and everyone is in a panic. The sad thing is that the main character in this novel is a witch who is a wish-granter. If someone wishes something, she can grant it. All someone had to do is wish Kyle dead - or at least in jail for life - and the problem was solved, but in the first twenty or so pages, which is all I could stand to read, no one even brings this up.

The rest of the novel hangs solely on the rank stupidity of these people in forgetting there is wish-granting witch at hand. This is the problem with writing a novel about magic. You have to think it through and the author is evidently more interested in writing nonsense than in thinking. That's when I decided this novel was far too stupid to live.


Saturday, May 27, 2017

It Takes a Witch by Heather Blake


Rating: WARTY!

I quit this one at twenty pages in as soon as I read: "Unfortunately, I latched onto him. Gripping his shirt, I could feel his muscled chest beneath my hands. His heartbeat, too. It was strong and steady, pulsing under my fingertips."

If I'd wanted to read shit like that, I'd have got a Harlequin romance. My mistake was obviously in thinking that this book was about a pair of interesting and strong sisters who had magical abilities, and who were trying to exonerate a friend from a murder charge. I just can't understand how I I failed to divine from that blurb that the story was, instead, a pathetic little brain-dead, YA-style story about a air-headed bitch-in-heat who has (she lies to us) 'sworn off men altogether'.

More fool me, for trusting a blurb, huh?! This story sucked. I suppose I should take heart from the fact that I instinctively knew it when I was only 6% in, so I didn't waste any more of a finite life on it.


Friday, May 26, 2017

White Horses by Alice Hoffman


Rating: WARTY!

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

I had to wonder why an author of Alice Hoffman's stature found herself in the position of having to put a novel out on Net Galley to garner some reviews, and now I know - it's really not very good. I've never read anything by this author before, but I've always been curious, so I requested to review it and it was, surprisingly, granted! Now I know I don't need to read anything else by her!

The book started out intriguingly enough, went down hill a bit, came back strong, but then began a slow decline to the point where, at just past ninety percent in, I couldn't stand to read it any more because it was such an ungodly mess. I'm not going to go on about the spelling errors which were quite common, and not the kind a spell-checker would find - such as the word 'wont' (and no, it's not missing an apostrophe) where the word 'worst' was required. Only a serious read-through would find that kind of error. I just want to talk about the chaotic story and how poorly done it was.

The blurb advises dramatically (employing the tired - and way overdone - "In a world" format): "In a dangerous world, Teresa must rescue herself and rewrite her family mythology before it ruins her life." I'm sorry but Teresa is so robotic, useless, and inept that you know for a fact she's never going to get it done. She is one of the most cardboard-thin, vacuous, and utterly uninteresting characters I've ever encountered. And her world isn't dangerous. Not remotely. Her brother's is, but he was never actually in any danger!

For that matter, not one of the characters in this book was painted realistically, much less appealingly. They were all caricatures dipped in the most washed-out of watercolors, mostly in shades of gray. It's a book of stains in the place of where real characters ought to have appeared. It's like they were there, but have faded so badly, all that's left is a vague and faint imprint. Teresa, the main character, about whom the story ebbs and...ebbs, is the most gossamer and unlikable of them all. There was not a single person here that I liked in the entire book, which had people come and go as though the novel itself were just a revolving door with a neon sign flashing, 'now look at this one!'.

Note that there is an incestuous relationship running through the book which no doubt many reviewers will find disturbing - like this is something that never happens in real life so writers must never write about it! Or like this is the most reprehensible thing they can think of. Yes, it is reprehensible. It's a form of rape and abuse of authority, but there are lots of other horrible things people do to each other, and what really bothers me is that reviewers don't seem to be anywhere near as repulsed by these other crimes as they are by incest.

That's worth expending some thought on. Are we so thick-skinned now that this is the only remaining "sin" which can shock us? Personally, I don't care that authors write about incest. It's just as fair game as is rape, murder, robbery, drug abuse, road-rage or whatever you care to mention. What I care about is that there is some organic reason for it being included. Here it felt like it was only in the book because the author deemed it was necessary to give some pep to a novel that was otherwise lacking anything to recommend it. In this book, there was no motivation offered for it and ironically, the most disturbing thing about it is that the author mistakenly romanticizes it without offering any other commentary.

Unless everything was resolved in that last nine percent which I didn't read, there were plot threads set-up which went nowhere, illnesses which went unexplained, threats which were never honestly pursued, and issues which were woefully unexplored. It was like one long tease, which is a way was perfect because that described Teresa to a 'T'. The other annoying thing (aside from pointless, meandering, story-crashing flashbacks), is that the author has the story make huge leaps in time, by-passing months or even years of history and takes up the story like it's the next day, and nothing and no-one has changed. It simply was not credible.

Up to about half-way through, i had hopes for this, but after that I was wondering when something was going to happen. It felt as though there was always a possibility that something would happen, but nothing really ever did. It's like a day where dark clouds build up, the heat is weighing on you, the air gets muggier and more oppressive, but then no fresh, chill wind comes racing in, no rain pelts down, no thunder rolls and rules the heavens, and no lightning breaks. It was that dissatisfying.

In the end, this stiflingly still air was biggest failing of the whole book. Maybe it all came together in those last few pages, but I was so bored and irritated by then, that I honestly just did not care what happened next. Life is too short for novels like this, and I cannot recommend it at all.