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

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Man Who Was Thursday : a Nightmare by GK Chesterton


Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook in which I did not progress very far - about thirty three percent. I'd never read anything by Chesterton and decided to give him a try. So from this encounter, I've learned that I can strike him from my list of potentially interesting authors! His writing was rather pompous and overblown, which is I guess how they wrote back in 1908. That doesn't mean I have to like it though! The book's language and style reminded me somewhat of Ian Fleming, who coincidentally was born in the same year this novel was published.

The story is rather allegorical, and the plot seemed like it might be entertaining, with a philosopher joining a secret organization within the police aimed at overthrowing anarchy. Gabriel Syme is recruited to this organization right after he gets an inside track into a secret anarchist society via an acquaintance, Lucian Gregory. In the society, each of the seven leaders is named after a day of the week. The Thursday position is up for election - which struck me as curiously ironical for an anarchic organization! They have elections??? Anyway, after Gabriel informs Lucien that he is a police officer, the latter becomes nervous and flubs his chance of election, and Gabriel is elected himself, only to discover that all of the seven positions are occupied by police spies!

Sorry, but I never made it that far because I could not get past the rather tedious writing style. I can't commend this based on my experience of it and I definitely don't want to read any more GK Chesterton.


Killashandra by Anne McCaffrey


Rating: WARTY!

This is the second volume in a trilogy and exemplifies why I have such a poor track record with series and why I flatly refuse to even think of writing a series myself. The problem is that, with some rare and treasured exceptions, the second volume must of necessity be a repeat of the first, because it's all you have. Yes, you can bring in new characters, but you're still stuck with the same original character you're writing about, who is going to do largely the same things. It's boring, lazy, and uninventive, and I don't feel that ought to be rewarded.

I really enjoyed Crystal Singer, the first volume, which is why I moved on to the second one, but here's where it predictably fell apart. I should have quit after volume 1! Killashandra is a crystal singer - or cutter. She 'mines' crystal by cutting it with a sonic knife on a cliff face, and in the first novel she found herself a nice claim which had a vein of black crystal. So valuable was it that she got to visit another planet and install the crystal in a communications system. Now in order to try and change-up this story for volume two, the author had her do almost exactly the same thing. Instead of black crystal, which had somehow been tragically lost in a planetary storm, she was mining white crystal - and sure enough he had to go off planet to install it in a system. Same old, same old....

This losing of her invaluable black crystal open-face 'mine' made zero sense. Yes, even give that a violent wind storm could wreck her mine face - which is a stretch - this crystal was so valuable and useful that it was unthinkable there would not have been a major effort to uncover that vein again, so premise was fouled right there. But having her repeat the first story - mine the crystal, escort it to another planet and install it? Boring.

The author tried to change this up by having a ridiculously conformist society whereas Killashandra is a bit of a rebel of course, and have an assassination plot. Yes, Killashandra was hit by what had evidently been an intended three-pronged bolt of death come at her, which she escaped with only minor injury.

Later when she snuck off without her escort, she was kidnapped and abandoned on a remote island. Why did this assailant try to kill her and then when he had her in his clutches, simply abandon her on an island instead of killing her as he had originally intended? It made no sense. But it got worse. She managed to escape from this and get back to society, but coincidence of coincidences, she ran right into the very same man who had tried to kill her and then had abducted her. He didn't recognize her - the most famous woman on his planet - because she now had a suntan. What? But it got worse. She got the hots for him - for her attempted killer and kidnapper. I'm sorry but no! Fuck no! This story sucked and I'm done with this author.


Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was an autobiographical comic following the author's long, and evidently ongoing, trek into gender identity. At one point, the author choses to use what are referred to as 'Spivak' pronouns (E, Em, Eir) after Michael Spivak, for reasons which are never made clear. These particular ones were first used in 1975 by Christine Elverson, so I didn't get why they weren't referred to as 'Elverson pronouns', but there it is.

For me, one big problem with these sort of options is that there is maybe half-dozen or more sets of them, all unagreed upon. For me, the worst problem with them is that they're superfluous when we already have they, them, and their which are all-inclusive gender-neutral words. Personally, I find this to be a fatuous and pointless attempt to create a new word group set when a perfectly functional one already exists. I'm for simplicity and clarity, for ease and comfort, so I will use existing, established pronouns in this review.

The journey they undertook in trying to feel comfortable with themselves is a remarkable and moving one, told here unvarnished and raw as it must have felt in making that journey. To feel constantly uncomfortable with your body in a world which has a two-million-year tradition of humans supposedly (if often delusionally) being definitely either male or female has to be traumatizing, and we get the whole feeling of that conveyed in this book. If it makes you feel uncomfortable and brings you along on this journey, then author is doing a fine job. It worked for me.

A person who starts out biologically female, and if the zygote is destined to be a male, certain things need to kick in, and often they do, but quite often they do not, or they kick in part way, and this is how we get a sliding scale, all too often holding people hostage, who feel somewhere adrift, but not exactly sure where.

In this case the author ended-up feeling extremely uncomfortable with breasts, and a vagina that bleeds periodically(!), but not feeling like a male either (even while harboring fantasies about male physiology), they became someone who is interested in friendship and companionship but not in marriage, children, or even sex. "What am I?" is a question they asked themselves frequently - as frequently, probably, as "Where am I going and what will I find when I get there?" which is a scary question for anyone in this position.

The blurb says this book is "a useful and touching guide on gender identity" but I disagree. I think it's more of a guide in lack of identity, and how to cope with that, how to work with it, how to address it and pursue your own path even while surrounded by uncertainty.

This was a long journey, and I traveled every step of the way, and I think this book is an amazing and informative volume, very personal, but universal, very uncomfortable, but comforting, readable, amusing, disturbing and unnerving. I think everyone needs to read this and try to understand it, especially in the political climate we've made for ourselves in the USA right now. I commend this as a worthy read and salute the author and wish them an easier journey in the coming years than it has been at times over the last few.


Monday, December 31, 2018

The Secret Loves of Geek Girls by various authors


Rating: WARTY!

I picked this up knowing it wasn't a graphic novel (although there is some graphic content), but hoping it might tell interesting stories of how various female graphic novel artists and writers got into the business, but it wasn't that at all. It was a rambling collection of disparate autobiographical (after a fashion) stories, only some of which were what I'd hoped for. The rest was a mashup of topics, few of which were of interest to me, and some of which were downright boring, so I gave up on this DNF. To different audience, obviously this will have different meaning, so you can take your chance with it if you wish, but for me, I cannot commend it as a worthy read!


Saturday, December 29, 2018

Miss Don't Touch Me by Hubert, Fabien Vehlmann Kerascoët


Rating: WORTHY!

Set in 1930s Paris, this was a fun "naughty" (but not too naughty) novel about a young girl Blanche, who sees her sister Agatha murdered by the 'Butcher of the Dances'. No one will believe her, and Agatha is written-off as a suicide. Losing her job as a maid, Blanche seeks work at the Pompadour, an elite brothel, and the only place which might take her in. She's almost laughed out of even there, but once taken in, quickly establishes herself as a mistress of untouchability and the virgin dominatrix.

But she hasn't forgotten her sister and slowly begins to unravel the brutal crime, while fending off assaults from patrons, unwelcome attempts at relieving her of her prized virginity, and shifting allegiances among the call-girls. This made for a different and fun read and I commend it.


Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers by Sara Ackerman


Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook experiment which looked superficially good but which turned out to be just another idiot romance in the telling. It’s been only a short while, but the novel is already a vague memory to me. So this woman on Hawaii at the outbreak of WW2, which for the US began on December 7th, two years after everyone else signed up!

This woman whose name I happily have forgot, is supposedly widowed - her husband was at the dock, blood was found, but no body - which typically means he’s still alive, is evidently not that caring about him because she easily falls for a smooth-talking soldier who is stationed on the island and becomes way too familiar with her way too fast. That’s when I ditched this as a waste of my time. I'm guessing the husband is alive and having an affair with some other woman, which gives the main character the freedom to carry on with the soldier. There are better-written and even badly-written yet still more entertaining stories out there which I’m not going to get to if I waste more time than is necessary on one’s like this. Based on about a third of this that I could stand to listen to, I can’t commend it.


Sky Doll by Alessandro Barbucci, Barbara Canepa


Rating: WARTY!

Written and illustrated by both Barbucci and Canepa, this story tells of Noa, a life-like female android, otherwise known as a sky doll, and as such, having no rights. She serves the state, but gets other ideas after encountering two people who aid in her escape after which she begins to learn that there is more to her than meets the thigh.

I was unimpressed by this story and I believe (it was a while back since I read it), that I ditched it DNF. I can't commend it. It had so much potential, but that seemed to be lost under cheap genderist superficiality. You'd think the female contributor would have done a better job.


Rohan at the Louvre by Hirohiko Araki


Rating: WORTHY!

Also known as Toshiyuki Araki, this author's oddball graphic novel tells of a young man's arrival at a boarding house where he encounters a mysterious divorcée, with whom he has an oddball but platonic relationship. Rohan himself wants to be a manganeer of course, dreaming of creating his own comic book. It is this, rather than Rohan himself which attracts the attention of the divorcée, despite her violent treatment of his first effort - because he drew her as a part of it. In a moment they have together, she reveals to him the story of the most evil painting ever put on canvas, and which is kept locked-away in the darkest corner of the Louvre.

A decade later, Rohan discovers that the painting this woman told him of actually exists, and is everything she claimed for it! Beautifully illustrated and artfully told, this was an enjoyable and wistful fantasy tale in more than one way. I commend it as a worthy read.


Saturday, December 1, 2018

March of the Suffragettes by Zach Jack


Rating: WORTHY!

This marks my 2,800 book review! Yeay me!

A century ago this year, in Britain, Parliament granted the right to vote to women, but only if they were homeowners over the age of thirty! This purported enfranchisement still very effectively disenfranchised the majority of women. Thankfully that has changed now, inevitably for the better, but there was a fight on both sides of the Atlantic for a woman's right to have a say in the largely old white male government which dictated how she should live her day-to-day life.

While in Britain the fight got quite brutal, in the US it was rather more gentile, and a leading light in this 'fight' was a woman in her late twenties from a privileged background, who led a march from New York to Albany to present a request to the newly-elected governor in New York state.

Somewhat misleadingly subtitled "Rosalie Gardiner Jones and the March for Voting Rights" this library print book aimed at younger readers, began as a real disappointment because the male author seemed like he was far more interested in talking about press coverage of the march by the male reporters than ever he was about the women enduring the march. Since it seems like he took his entire story from newspaper reports I guess this isn't surprising, but it makes for a disappointingly thin story.

Thankfully this approach seemed to change about halfway through and the story became much more palatable. Even then though, we got to learn very little about the women involved. I am far from a Stephen King fan so I do not demand the entire life history of a character back through three generations. I can do very well without that, but a little bit of background in this case would have been nice.

This highlights the weakness of the author's approach because investigative reporting wasn't a thing back then. The old boys reporters club was more interested in pointing out the cute women marchers and the hiccups along the route than in actually doing any real stories on the marchers, and I'm guessing that's why the author offers no background. There was none in the newspaper sources he used and he was too lazy to do any digging of his own.

Another weakness at times was his style. At one point when he was talking about a rousing speech delivered by Jessie Stubbs, he said, "Here was a woman who would not be slowed by excessive baggage or supposed burdens of her sex," but this was right after he had, in two different successive paragraphs, loaded her with precisely that baggage by describing what she was wearing. This is a typical journalistic approach to describing women subjects of a news report, but not when describing men! So please, journalists do not burden your female subjects with this excessive baggage and burden of her sex! Good lord!

Rosalie Gardiner Jones was a remarkable young woman who was influenced by the Pankhursts in Britain (Emmeline nee Goulden, and her daughter Christabel), although the book won't tell you this. In late 1912 when this march took place - just months after the Titanic sank with 1500 people preserved in icepick. Rosalie was just 27 when she led her group of varying size (sometimes it was down to only the three core marchers) over a hundred-fifty miles due north. They walked all the way, blisters and all, through fog, rain, and snow.

Many towns along the way took the opportunity to hold fetes and welcome the visitors. The support they had was surprisingly diverse and commonly to be found. The coverage they got was international. The march really was a game-changer. Sometimes men would march with them. They were kindly treated by police it would seem. Some senior police officials would come out from their towns and walk or ride along with the march as they entered their domain. One factory owner apparently supported the march and allowed his female employees an afternoon off (without pay of course) to march with the group. This was interesting because at the same point in the journey, the marchers were joined by female students from Vassar college who, the author tells us refused to associate with the factory girls, so not all rights were being represented here.

The press coverage though was a part of the problem because in the first half of the book we learned very little about Rosalie and her marching partners Sibyl Wilbur, Ida Craft and the feisty Lavinia Dock who was in her fifties at the time of the march). The even more feisty Inez Craven, who seems to have been lost to history was also on and off the march, somewhat scandalously so at times. She was of the more proactive British origins. Jessie Stubbs was also there from time to time but she commuted back and forth delivering press reports. Jesse made an important speech along the route and was known for urging women to refuse to bear children until war was abolished. She died apparently by suicidal drowning less than a decade after the march and only a year after the nineteenth Amendment was ratified.

Later in the book, we did learn a little about Rosalie's mother. The young marcher spent a part of the trip fearing her wealthy upper-class helicopter mom would come down there and wrench her wayward daughter away from this folly! The author won't tell you this (at least I don't recall reading it), but her mother was a member of the anti-suffrage league! There were a couple of other issues with this author's habit of omitting or worse, inventing information. The first of these is that while the author does reference certain material (references are pretty much always to newspaper articles), he makes up an entire story about how Christmas was spent and offers no references at all.

There's a huge difference between telling a story based on historical fact, and fabricating one, and that latter is what would seem to be happening there. There's also an outright fabrication, when the author mentions suffragette Gretchen Langley rowing away from the sinking Titanic in rough seas! No, she did not. If there is one consistent agreement among all Titanic survivors, it's how mirror-calm the sea was that night. The ocean was like glass, and that's what Langley would have rowed in. The next day as dawn broke and rescue finally seemed a hope, the seas did kick up more roughly, but by then the Titanic was some two thousand fathoms down, and no one was rowing away from it. On the contrary. Through the night and as daylight dawned, they would have been rowing toward one another to secure the lifeboats to each other for safety.

How times have changed, and how times haven't. It was a sixty-year battle to get to the 19th amendment to the US constitution adopted and even then women were far, far from equality. This same battle goes on today albeit in different arenas. I commend this not because it's a great book, but because it does cover, albeit in amateur fashion, an important step on a too-long road to equality, but if you can find something better, then please read that instead.


Prophecy by SJ Parris


Rating: WARTY!

This is one of those bloated historical novels which place important people at the author's beck and call, and which consists of name-dropping and the most sluggish pace imaginable. I was hoping for better. Once again it's a series - the Giordano Bruno mysteries, in which this Catholic monk becomes a detective. Seriously? He's also helping the Elizabethan government stave off encroachment by the Catholic church? No! He was a devout Catholic himself. Why would he help a fight against it? All that crap alone should have warned me off it. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

So, he's in England - which he was at the time this story is set - and a ritualistic murder is committed inside the palace grounds. Sir Francis Walsingham is seeking to solve it and calls on Bruno to help him. No! Someone of Walsingham's ability needs outside help? Not going to happen.

I don't hold authors responsible for book blurbs, which they typically have nothing to do with unless they self-publish, but this one claims "It is the year of the Great Conjunction, when the two most powerful planets, Jupiter and Saturn, align an astrological phenomenon that occurs once every thousand years and heralds the death of one age and the dawn of another." This is patent horseshit. The last such conjunction was in May, 2000, and the next will be around Christmas or New Year's of 2020. My math sucks, but even I can distinguish between 5x22 and 5x200! Elizabeth was queen for some forty years so her lifetime would have seen at least two of these conjunctions.

So it really didn't get me interested which is the first mistake a book can make, but worse than that, it didn't evoke Elizabethan times at all. The author made the common mistake of putting it into first person voice from Bruno's perspective. I typically do not like 1PoV, and in this case it was glaring because Bruno's thought processes were entirely modern. It kept kicking me out of suspension of disbelief pretty much every time he thought something.

When Bruno was in England, he was writing a bunch of stuff that he couldn't get done in Europe for persecution by the idiot church. All he was trying to do was tell the truth, but brain-dead church dogma wouldn't let him. This is why we must never let blind faith control our lives again; it is universally disastrous. But the point here is that given how busy he was, he would hardly have had the time to swan around solving murders and spying for the protestants, so the very basis of this novel is nonsensical prima facie, and the author never gave me writing of sufficient quality to make me willing to overlook these shortcomings for the sake of the story. For these reasons, I can't commend it.


Saturday, November 24, 2018

Soar, Adam, Soar by Rick Prashaw


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is a very personal account of a family event that has much wider implications. I'd like to say it was told well, but I can't, because it was disjointed and disorganized and sometimes hard to keep track of where we were at, but even so I consider it a worthy read because it's an important story. It's also a very tragic story, and while all deaths like this are heart-breaking, it's hard to become emotionally involved when it's not someone with whom I am personally familiar. I can become emotionally moved by the greater story though, of endless people who are persecuted and brutalized for their perceived 'non-conformance' to so-called 'norms' of one sort or another, in this case, gender.

Adam Prashaw was not brutalized, as some have been, with violence and rejection by peers or parents, but he was knocked around by two things: the system, which does not make it easy for a person born in the wrong body to correct that situation, and by the fact that Adam also suffered from epilepsy, and it was this which killed him at an appallingly young age by dint of the fact that he drowned in a hot tub in the few minutes while his friends were absent, succumbing to a seizure which everyone thought and hoped had been cured by brain surgery only a few months before.

Obviously there are lessons to be learned here, such as that epilepsy, like alcoholism, is never really cured and we must be vigilant over those who have it to prevent accidents like this one from happening, but the lesson that's taught here is that of making the most of your life, even if that life is destined to be short - something none of us can know except in the hindsight of those we leave behind.

There are teaching opportunities which I felt were missed in this book, and this was one issue I had with it. One of them was the tragic accident at the hot tub. Another, for example was where at one point we were introduced to two women who would help Adam through this transition: "Pivotal this year are his first meetings with his counsellor, Nichelle Bradley, and his doctor, Jennifer Douek." These are both females and I felt it would have been nice to know more about how such people become attached to these cases, and whether gender plays any part, and if so, why?

If Adam were transitioning from male to female (the opposite of what he was actually doing) would these have been men, or is the gender simply random - this is just how the counsellor and doctor happened to be? Does it matter? A little talk about that would have been interesting to me, because I think it could matter if these particular two professions are overwhelmingly populated with gender-bias. On the other hand, if it makes no difference, it would have been nice to hear that.

I have to note again that this is a very personal account, so perhaps it's expecting too much, but to me such things are interesting and I felt that a little more commentary would have enriched the reading, but this wasn't the only thing which caught my attention. The book is far more about feelings and relationships, and a father's experiences than ever it is about the practical trials and experiences of a person going through gender reassignment, so perhaps we shouldn't expect a tutorial. It's also about how little time Adam got to enjoy the new him. Being a parent myself, I don't ever want to know what it's like to lose a child, so I can appreciate what this parent/author went through. I just wish it had been easier to follow and that Amazon's crappy Kindle conversion process had not mangled the text as it reliably does.

The book was available for review in PDF format which was not mangled at all, but which was too small to read on my phone, which is where I read most of my ebook material. I don't fault an author for that except in that it cannot be repeated often enough that if you're going to publish a Kindle ebook, you cannot have anything fancy in the text at all - not even italics, because sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, Amazon will frag your text. Italics generally do fine except that the last character, if it's something like a lowercase 'd' or an exclamation point, will be beheaded by the non-italic text following it. Guaranteed every time. An author needs to check for how much Amazon has screwed-up their text in the ebook version, because I have seen this repeatedly in Amazon books, and not just in advance review copies. Errors are rife in Kindle format, which is one reason I refuse to publish through Amazon.

In this particular case, text inserts/boxes were rendered part of the text, cutting into the middle of sentences in the main body of the book, so those are a complete non-no, as are drop-caps and other fancy additions. Images can be problematical. Amazon made a jigsaw out of the front cover image in this book and I've seen that before, but the images inside the book were generally fine except that they did not always merge into the text properly, leaving a largely blank screen here and there, either preceding the picture or in its wake.

Here's a quote that illustrates this text julienne à la Amazon: "The doctors wanted to completely remove the piece, which Bekkaa October 22, 2012 "The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience." -Eleanor Roosevelt appeared to be triggering..." Good luck making sense of that. It incorporates the page header and a text box (I believe) all in one. Never use page headers or page numbering for an Amazon ebook. I've never seen this kind of mangling in any reading app other than Amazon's crappy Kindle app.

Here's a footnote in the middle of a sentence: "There were mood 1. Now known as a 'focal impaired awareness seizures,' these start in one area of the brain and negatively affect sensory perception. Other symptoms may include automatic behaviour. Such seizures generally last between one and two minutes. swings, too..." Here's another example of the garbling: "a work colleague, and her partner, David White, a United ChurchAdam minister; they happened to be visiting at the time.July 25, 2015 The chaplain prays for Adam with us. He touchThunderstorm!!! es my son." It's character coleslaw, and Amazon does it best.

The author is quite religious and it's commendable he had such an open attitude towards Adam's predicament. Far too many believers are entirely reprehensible in their position, but not this one. I didn't find his references to religion annoying though, being an unbeliever myself. At one point I read, "Adam is surrounded by love, God's and ours. This is all good." This was shortly before he was declared dead without ever recovering consciousness after his drowning. Clearly, as Al Pacino's character declares in Devil's Advocate 'God is an absentee landlord'.

Later there was another quote along these lines: "Everything that led to the day that Adam died and the day that John received his heart were destined to be, whether I like that or not ... It was meant to be." And the author adds, "I agree. A divine plan." I don't see anything divine in killing a young man so others can have his body parts. If God really wanted to do his job, he would not have let Adam drown, and he would have miraculously cured the heart and kidneys of those whose lives were improved through Adam's premature death and commendable organ donation. Otherwise what's the point of having a god if he does nothing to help, prayers are not answered, and evil all-too-often prevails? I personally have no time for a worthless god like that.

The authors comments were at times hard to understand. I read at one point, "AS ADAM'S GENDER transition and epilepsy collide full force toward the end of 2015, there is a remarkable change in him. An adult is emerging, a guy with a stronger voice." Well, he's 22 years old at this point, so I am not sure what was going through the author's mind. I know there's that old sawhorse that a child is always a child to a parent no matter how old the 'child' actually is, but I have never felt that way with regard to my own offspring. I see nor reason for that attitude. At some point they grow up and it's insulting to keep reducing them to kids when they're teenagers or young adults. The author wrote later, that he did "hug a few kids whom I recognize. They are all 'kids' to me, although most, like Adam, are now adults." This was after fussing over getting Adam's name right - the male name not the female name he was assigned at birth along with the wrong body. It felt hypocritical to me.

But in context of the overall story, these felt like relatively minor beefs, and not that important in the grand scheme of the story the author was trying to convey, so I was willing to let that slide, and all in all I commend this as a worthy read and an important book even though I have to add that I've read clearer and more educational accounts of a gender transition than this one.


Friday, November 16, 2018

More Than Bones by Craig David Singer


Rating: WARTY!

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

Emily is a med school graduate embarking on her internship. She was lured into working at a Catholic hospital in Baltimore to be near her fiancée, and manages to find a room in a nicely-appointed house run by a usually sweet, but very temperamental guy whose first name, Norton, is the same as Emily's last name. On day one Emily is given a gift by an old man named Frank who lives next door to Norton. Emily tries to refuse it, but he's so insistent that she accepts just to be nice, and she hangs it on this skeleton - a real skeleton that Norton put in her room as a weird sort of housewarming gift for the surgeon intern.

The amulet is supposed to bring her good luck, and Frank is insistent that she wear it, but she doesn't and sure enough, a host of bad luck comes her way. She's late on her first day because of car trouble; later, her fiancée dumps her; Norton becomes seriously pissed-off with her over a remark she makes about him being gay - which he either isn't or is in serious denial of; a fellow female doctor, Mondra, with whom Emily was bonding also becomes angry with her, and an important guy from the local community files a formal complaint against her over her medical conduct when she treated his son - a patient she was tricked into taking by two other senior doctors who didn't want to deal with this kid's abusive dick of a father! After Frank dies unexpectedly and fails to impart some last words to Emily, a private detective shows up asking about his will, which seems to be missing.

The author has an interesting style, repeatedly tricking the reader into thinking one thing while revealing later how wrong you were to think as you did, but that grew rather old after a while as did the story-telling. Emily is neither an interesting nor a likable character and reading this story from her PoV was neither pleasant not engaging. First person voice is rarely the best one for telling a story, especially one like this, and did the main character no fav ors.

I made it only two-thirds the way through this novel before I quit because I could not stand to read about this whiny little self-absorbed ditz any more. At one point, for example, Mondra approaches Emily in the parking lot asking for help, and Emily just leaves her there and coldly drives away. I already didn't like Emily prior to this point, but that killed-off any hope of me growing to like her. At that point I was thinking Mondra's story would have been far more interesting than Emily's was - but not if it was written the same way this one was!

In the end I could not stand to read any more about her, so I DNF'd this. The mystery was boring and taking far too long to go anywhere for my taste. I cannot commend this as a worthy read.


Monday, November 5, 2018

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi


Rating: WARTY!

Errata:
"The guard held open the door. Enrique walks inside. Tristan was waiting for him" - seems to be a mix of verb tenses.
"clove of tins" - that's the round way wrong!
"A man from the Italian faction raised his fan. "500,000 to Monsieur Monserro." The Italian faction has a Monsieur?! Not a Signor?
"Enrique pulled a Forged spherical detection device -one of her own inventions -from his pocket. His or hers? Whose invention?
"...there are ways for the Sia formulation to act like a honing mechanism." Homing?
"a triplicate bee goddesses" wrong article.
"Am I pronouncing that correctly, Laila?" "It's Bruh-mah-ree" - these two lines are run together without a carriage return.

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

There was nothing on Net Galley from whence this came, nor appended to the novel itself to indicate this was volume one in a series. Had there been, I wouldn't have request it. I'm not a series person because I don't buy into the popular idea that the only thing better than one novel is three novels all telling the same bloated story. Publishers buy into it because it makes them money and it's getting to the point these days where it seems that you can't sell a novel - particularly if it's a young adult novel - to a publisher unless you can promise them a tree-slaughtering trilogy. This is why I personally have no truck with Big Publishing™ in terms of selling my own work.

I read this authors A Crown of Wishes over a year ago and had the same problem with that that I ended up having with this - a strong start followed by a slow decline into boredom as the story rambled on too long instead of staying on topic and getting to the point. If I'd known that Kirkus had reviewed this positively, it would have saved me some time. They never met a book they didn't like so their reviews are meaningless. Any time I see them gush about a book, I avoid that book like the plague on principle.

Set in 1889 Paris in an alternative universe where magic exists, and only two of the original four powerful magical houses of France remain, the novel follows the story of wannabe house leader Séverin Montagnet-Alarie and his ragtag band consisting of renowned stage performer Laila, artificer and socially-inept Sofia, botanist Tristan, and pretty boy, the Latin Enrique.

The group are thieves, and Séverin seems to think this will lead him back to greatness, especially when he's approached by Hypnos, an alienated childhood friend, and the enigmatic leader of one of the two remaining houses, who offers Séverin a way back to heading his own house for his help in acquiring something for Hypnos. This kind of story has been done before, but here it was given a glaze of bright paint that was fresh enough to initially render it quite appealing, but the more I read, the more translucent that glaze became, and the underlying mess bled through.

I was truly disappointed, but not altogether surprised, therefore by the ending which wasn't an ending. It was dissipated and rambling all over the place when it should have long before come to a satisfactory conclusion. It never did because this wasn't a novel - it was a book-length prologue and I don't do prologues. It never explained the title, either - or if it did, it went by so fast that I missed it. Yes, the crew wore wolf masks on occasion, but why? I have no idea!

I was truly disappointed in the author, and felt robbed of a good story by her. What we got in place of an ending was a cliffhanger, so this and the rambling story-telling turned the whole book around for me in a very negative way. While I'd liked the beginning, the book was way too wordy and draggy and started losing me in the second half, and that ending was the last straw. This is why I don't like to invest my time I reading long novels! This was nearly four hundred pages and only about half of it was worth the reading. The only thing it was missing was a good editor. I cannot commend it as a worthy read.


Friday, November 2, 2018

Josephine Baker's Last Dance by Sherry Jones


Rating: WARTY!

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

I was disappointed in this novel and ended up skimming the last two thirds hoping it would improve. For me it did not. Josephine Baker was a pioneer in so many ways and such a positive thinker. I felt none of this came out in the story I read, which was so dreary and depressing in the beginning that the writer left me wondering why Josephine hadn't simply killed herself. Thankfully in real life she did not. There had to have been things, or at least a thing which kept her going, and this was never brought out that I could see. On top of that, a lot of conversation was added which can only be speculative.

Make no mistake: her life was miserable as a child because her family was poor, she had a poor relationship with her mother, and she never did know who her father was. She did have her hands scalded by a bitch of an employer, but this was for using too much detergent in the laundry, not from breaking a plate as is told here. The way it was depicted in this fictional version made little sense, and there was no reason to change it from what really happened. She did cohabit with a much older guy when in her mid-teens, but the way it was depicted here was that it was forced on her, not her own choice, however problematic that choice may have been for her.

To me it felt as though the story had been deliberately loaded in as negative a way as possible - which was so unnecessary - that it felt like it cheapened the real story while at the same time, nothing was added to leaven the tale and balance it out, so it was nothing but a depressing read for me for as far as I went.

It was at this point that I began to skim in the hope of finding something of the optimistic, positive, perky and bouncy Josephine I knew was supposed to come, but I never found anything. Naturally, I may have missed some of this, but if it had been there in full, I cannot possible have missed it all, so where was it? I should never have had to search for it in the first place. Josephine should have been right there, and she was not.

On that basis, I cannot commend this as a worthy read.


Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant


Rating: WARTY!

Set during the Renaissance, this book was a pretty much a non-starter for me. I did start reading it, but quickly lost interest because the main protagonist is writing in first person voice and it seemed so utterly inauthentic that I couldn't take it seriously. I quickly took to skimming, hoping things would become more interesting once the author had got the period info-dumping out of her system, but she never did and they never did and all I could think was "Well, I never!"

The novel ought to have been interesting because initially I had thought it was - as far as I could make out (which was nowhere near as far as this woman could make out) - about main character Alessandra Cecchi being the model who posed for Sandro Botticelli's famous Nascita di Venere (Birth of Venus) painting from the mid 1480's, which I parodied in my children's book The Very Fine-Art Rattuses and which is a part of the only series I shall ever write, rest assured. It turns out that it has nothing to do with Botticelli or Venus as far as I could see, which begs the title. It's entirely possible I missed something, but I really didn't miss it in any meaningful sense!

Alessandra is married-off to a much older man who turns out to be the lover of her brother. She has an affair with this nameless young painter her father hires to paint murals and inevitably becomes pregnant, moron that she is and irresponsible jerk that he is. She was lucky a baby was all she caught from him.

The story is supposed to be set against the backdrop of the Savonarola-Medici struggle, the one side supposed to represent scuro, the other, chiaro, with the rest left to canvas for themselves, but Savonarola really wasn't very active for that many years and he was burned at the stake in 1498, so that felt a bit like it was stuck in there precisely because the rest of the story was so boring. However, since I didn't read the rest of the story, I escaped this pitfall.

While I cannot commend this, I do suggest that the author keeps taking the Medici and calls no one in the morning.


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Ghetto Klown by John Leguizamo, Christa Cassano, Shamus Beyale


Rating: WARTY!

Written by Leguizamo based on his earlier one-man stage plays about his life, and illustrated really well by Cassano and Beyale, this graphic novel failed to impress me favorably.

The biggest impression was just the opposite: that the author was arrogant at best and a bit of a jerk at worst, and that he's really learning nothing from his life experiences. I could well be wrong on both those scores, but I can only gauge him by the impression his story leaves me with. It started out quite well, but the more I read, the less I liked the author.

No one is perfect, of course. We've all done dumb, regrettable, ill-advised things to one extent or another, and behaved improperly in one way or another. It's part for growing up, testing boundaries, learning rules and figuring out how to fit into a civilized society, but that's where the problem lay for me: in that he seems to learn nothing from his experiences, which are diverse and considerable.

Like Brett Kavanaugh (don't get me started!), he seems to be in a state of complete denial that he's ever done anything wrong. Yes, he had a lousy childhood and this haunted him throughout his life, so I can cut him (Leguizamo, not Kavanaugh!) slack for that. He deserves it, but for him to suggest this book might offer guidelines for others who might be going through what he did is stretching it, because it implies that he has some life lessons to offer, and none were in evidence as far as I could see.

Balanced against that are the amazingly lucky breaks he got that he squandered shamelessly. He's been spoiled, and I'm really tired of this implication that we should somehow idolize if not worship the bad boy made good, like they're some sort of gold standard of achievement. I want to see stories about the good boy making good because he was good, and hard-working, and grateful, and not abusive and intolerant. Why do those guys not get the credit they deserve? Because they're not as arrogant as some others? I think so. I can't recommend this novel.


Monday, October 8, 2018

Eugenia Lincoln and the Unexpected Package by Kate DiCamillo


Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook I picked up after enjoying an advance review copy of Dicamillo's Louisiana's Way Home. I loved that novel, but this audiobook was a disaster for me. It was read by a woman with the amazing name of Lorna Raver, but I wasn't much impressed by her reading. It was the story itself that was the worst part, though. The story is very short, so it has that going for it, but it simply wasn't interesting or sensible to me. Maybe it wasn't intended to be sensible, but if that was the case, it wasn't goofy enough to be silly, either.

The story is that Eugenia Lincoln, a staid mature woman who lives with a younger, less-staid sister, is the recipient of this package, which I suspected her sister sent, but I gave up on the story before I ever found out who was the benefactor. The package contains a piano accordion and it incenses Eugenia - who never ordered it. She calls the supplier and demands they pick it up, but they claim they have a no return policy, so Eugenia decides to throw the thing away. As you might guess, that doesn't happen and she ends up liking it.

I honestly didn't see the point of this particular story. It wasn't funny, or entertaining, or educational. It was simply irritating to me, and the main problem was that there were so many interfering busy-bodies in Eugenia's life, all of whom she detested, yet not one of whom she had the wherewithal to dismiss from her premises, let alone her life. If these people had been amusing or downright weird, it might have been entertaining, but it's evidently one of those stories which the blurb typically advertises as 'quirky' and which has 'zany characters' and I normally avoid such stories like the proverbial plague. If you've ever been infected by Proverbialis pestis, you will know exactly what I mean. I can't commend this.


Sunday, October 7, 2018

The Answer is Yes the Art and Making of The Sorcerer's Apprentice by Michael Singer


Rating: WARTY!

This was a large format hard cover print book purportedly about the making of Disney's 2010 film. I enjoyed the film, but I found the book to be boring. It was far less about the actual making of the movie than it was a tedious and fluffy puff-piece for the actors, idolizing the main cast which consisted of Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina, Teresa Palmer, Monica Bellucci, Omar Benson Miller, and Toby Kebbell.

I think the idea was to make a sequel to it, but it apparently didn't do well enough to go that far, which is sad because despite having some issues with it, I liked it overall. One of my main issues was that this movie is centered in a feud dating back to Merlin, with Cage's character Balthazar being the good guy and Molina's character Horvath being the bad guy. Let's forget for a movie that neither of those names has anything to do with Dark Ages Britain, and let's step right over the question as to why Horvath wants to destroy the entire planet. What's in it for him?! You kind of have to check your brain at the door for movies like this. Just enjoy the spectacle and hope it's not so bad that you wished you'd checked yourself at the door!

Because this is an American production, it cannot possibly take place in Britain - home of Merlin. Nope! It has to be brought to the USA, just like the treasures in National Treasure and its sequel - also Bruckheimer production starring Cage - had to end up in the USA. It's pretty pathetic that nowhere in the world is important enough to have its own history and events playing out. It's got be in the Homeland, doesn't it? How charmingly blinkered and provincial. Maybe when enough of these movies lose money, they producer will start to realize that hey, it's not the end of the world to stage a movie in another country - even one about the end of the world!

If you've never heard of a number of these actors listed above, it's because the writer outright lied about what sterling and up-and-coming stars-to-be they are. I'm not a huge fan of Cage - liking him in some pieces, not keen on him in others. The writer talked about what a huge range he has, but he's really Nic Cage in whatever movie he's in. I've never been a big fan of Jay Baruchel either, but he's ok. All he's really done since this is How to Train Your Dragon.

Alfred Molina is okay, but nothing fantastic. Who is Teresa Palmer again? Because this is the only move I've seen her in, and although she's made other movies since then, she's hardly become the breakout star the writer predicted. She plays a character named Becky Barnes! Is that like a female Bucky Barnes? Excluding her character entirely from the movie would have changed nothing significant in the story. It's no more appropriate to require a guy to be validated by a girl in a story than it is vice-versa. I really liked Monica Bellucci as Persephone in The Matrix trilogy, but other than that she's hardly shone in other outings. Alice Krige was in the movie briefly, and I like her, but her role here was so limited that it hardly did her any favors.

None of this prevented the author from singing lavish praises so I guess he had the right name for it. These actors listed in my opening paragraph are, according to the author, the foremost paragons of the acting world: the most generous; the most easy-going; the most hard-working; the most talented; etc., et-freaking-cetera. Barf. Is there any actor about whom these things are not routinely said in similar puff-pieces? Were I an actor I would be embarrassed by this crap and maybe these actors are, for all I know. Maybe none of them ever read this book.

The idolatry was about three-fifths of the book. Other than that, there were all-too-brief sections on various aspects of making the movie effects, but not really about making the movie, and that was it. If you like reading pieces which idolize and worship actors and tell you next-to-nothing about the process of making the movie, then this is certainly the book for you. It's not the book for me, and I dis-recommend it. In fact I'd go further than that and say I just dis it. You'll learn just as much from reading the wikipedia article about this movie.


Monday, October 1, 2018

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by TE Lawrence


Rating: WORTHY!

I negatively reviewed a book called The Key to Lawrence many years ago and the idiot author came after me like his being a complete dick and calling me names would somehow change my review of his and his wife's crappy novel! For all I know he's the one who went around adding an anonymous negative two-line non-review to some of my books on line, but unlike him, I write for myself and I don't care what reviewers say. As it happens, I was right about that novel which has since evidently gone out of print. At that point I had never read TE Lawrence's memoir, but I had seen the movie Lawrence of Arabia (and watched it again recently). It was a good movie, but quite inaccurate in many particulars, but that's movies for you - always over-dramatizing. I'd always intended to read the book which underlay it.

So...I recently picked up the audiobook of The Seven Pillars from the library and it wasn't bad. It was hardly a ripping yarn, but was interesting to me because I like to read historical books which were actually written during the time being described. It's really useful if you intended on writing a book set in that period (which I'm not - not yet anyway!). The odd thing about this book is that the seven pillars go completely un-iterated and Wikipedia provides the reason for that.

I discovered that the title of the book apparently came from the Biblical book of Proverbs, and Lawrence was writing a book about seven great cities of the Middle East, but he abandoned that when war broke out, and he destroyed the manuscript afterwards. He wrote a memoir instead, but retained the title because he liked it so much. Wikipedia reports that he had to write the manuscript for it three times, once because he left the original on a train and it disappeared. What would that be worth now if anyone has it?

The book describes his experiences fighting against the Turks alongside the Arabs during World War One. It is heartfelt. Lawrence really respected and connected with those people. He spoke the language (he'd learned it long before the war began and traveled extensively in Syria, which the French were claiming as a colony - we know how well that worked out for them in Vietnam) and he learned to dress in Arab garb because it worked! In an amused anecdote (it was amusing to him) at the end of this book, he describes how he was mistaken for an Arab while working to improve conditions in a hospital, and he was abused as an Arab by a complete dick of a British officer who clearly had no idea who he was or what he'd done.

After the war, Lawrence, under an assumed name, applied to join the Royal Air Force, but was rejected when the officer interviewing him deemed he was actually applying under an assumed name! That officer was W. E. Johns, who later went on to write the successful 'Biggles' series of novels about an adventurous aviator. Lawrence was successful in joining the RAF, but his tenure was short. When the air force realized who he really was, they kicked him out and instead he joined the tank corps under another assumed name! Eventually he went back to the RAF under his real name. He really wanted to be a soldier, didn't he?!

It was hardly fitting for such a man, and neither was his death. Lawrence was killed at the age of 46, two months after leaving military service, when he swerved his Brough Superior SS100 motorbike to avoid two boys on bicycles. His head injuries resulted in his death six days later. The doctor who treated him was instrumental in promoting the use of helmets for motorbike riders. The accident is how the movie begins.

With a colleague, Lawrence had prepared fresh maps of the Negev desert in 1914 since it was considered to be of strategic importance in wartime. He joined in many Arab raids against the Ottomans, attacking cities and sabotaging railroads, and at one point the Turks offered a substantial reward for his capture (some two million dollars at today's prices). No Arab betrayed him. The Sharif of Mecca had given him the status (and thereby protection) of a son. It was Lawrence's idea to bring down Aqaba from the landward side rather than seaward, and he was successful. After that he could pretty much do no wrong in Arab or British eyes.

It's a pity we don't have that kind of cooperation and understanding with the peoples of the Middle East today, isn't it? I commend this book as a worthy read especially if you've seen the movie and want to get the real skinny.


Saturday, September 1, 2018

Hild by Nicola Griffith


Rating: WARTY!

This is a tome! A five-hundred page novel which I normally avoid like the plague for the very reasons which led me to DNF-ing this one.

I normally do not trust a book by its cover, because covers are so misleading. Experience has taught me that they're all too often created by someone who has no idea what's in the book, and so the cover has nothing to do either with the author or the novel. This is why I laugh out loud when I learn of some idiot author hosting a big "cover reveal" like it's some spectacular event. I ahve no time for that. I'm much more interested in what you wrote, not how pretty your cover is.

The cover of this novel shows a young woman in armor à la Jeanne d'Arc, and it;s entirely misleading. The woman in the novel - at least as far as I read - is no warrior woman; she's a mystic. Even that would have been fine by me if the novel had gone anywhere, but it never did - not through the first thirds or so of it, which is when I gave up on it because it was becoming tedious to read and literally nothing was happening.

If I had wanted to learn about the dark ages, I would have read a scholarly book about it instead of this one. I don't mind some atmospheric scene setting, but when it hampers the story, it's too much. I don't want to spend my reading time learning how much research the author did! I want to spend it seeing the characters do interesting things, have meaningful interactions, and go to fascinating places. There was none of that here. This character, Hild, was one of the most passive and tedious characters I've ever read of in a book. I'm sorry but no!