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

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!


The Sleeping Dictionary by Sujata Massey


Rating: WORTHY!

It's appropriate I should start listening to this audiobook the day after Indian Independence Day (August 15th). It's first person voice, but listenable for once, especially since it was read very well by Sneha Mathan. I could listen to an Indian woman talk until the Brahma bulls come home, their voice is usually so mellifluous.

There was a film released in 2003, which I haven't seen, about this same topic and with the same title. The two aren't connected, and the book is supposedly different and was published in 2013. The story begins in 1930 and is about a girl whose entire family is wiped out in a tsunami, but who then goes on to be a force in the fight for Indian independence. I have to say that I felt let down by the ending, which could have been a lot better, but I'm not going to let that trip up the earlier story which was engaging and captivating.

As far as I know, this is not true, but the term 'sleeping dictionary' is supposed to refer to the mistresses that the English male occupiers of India took to bed with them and from whom they learned some language and some culture. Perhaps many people today do not realize just how many words came to England from Indian back then. Words like Bungalow (for a Bengali style house - single storey with a low roof). Cot is another one. Avatar; bandanna; bangle; calico; cheetah; chintz; chutney; cummerbund; cushy; dinghy; dungarees; gymkhana; guru; jungle; loot; mantra; mogul; nirvana; pajamas; pundit; shampoo; thug; typhoon; veranda.

Juggernaut comes from the Indian god Jagganath and the unstoppable cart upon which the god's effigy was placed for transportation during ceremonies. A word for crazy, known in England, but not in US English is doolally, which refers to Deolai, and Indian town which had a sanatorium. Another English word is pukka, meaning a stand-up guy (or girl!). The Brits often referred to England as Blighty, which is another Indian word, although not one which means Britain. Some Brits refer to jail as chokey; another word by way of India. A Brit might say, "Let's have a dekko" meaning "let's take a look." Again it's an Indian term.

Even the word 'punch' comes from Hindi. Punch has five constituents and in Hindi the count to five goes; ek, do, teen, char, panch. Char is also a word for tea in England, so the English often talk about a cup of char even though in Hindi it's actually chai or chaay, and nothing to do with the word for four, although four o'clock is teatime!

But I digress! This book tells the story of someone whose name we never know, although we have a plethora of pseudonyms. We first meet her as Pom, a young girl who is about to lose her family to a tsunami. From that point onwards, her existence become precarious at best. She manages by accident to secure a place for herself as a janitor at a Catholic school where she's arbitrarily renamed Sarah. Because of the kindness of a teacher, discovers she has a facility with languages. She learns English, and emulates the refined teacher's 'BBC English' pronunciation and accent effortlessly, and she learns to read, write, and type, and starts to pick up a smattering of other languages.

Although despised as an untouchable by other Indians, and bullied by the snobbish English schoolgirls, she is befriended by a fellow Bengali named Vidushi (sp? This was an audiobook! I'd originally thought the name was Bidushi). The two become very close, especially since it is Sarah who actually writes Vidushi's letters to her lawyer fiancé, Pankaj, in Britain. but when Vidushi unexpectedly dies and a necklace goes missing, Sarah is automatically blamed for it.

Knowing she can never find justice, she goes on the run, aided by a Muslim cart driver who worked at the school and whom she has befriended. This means forsaking all the money (a pittance, but a lot to Sarah) she earned at the school, and talk of 'out of the frying pan into the fire', her plan to go to Kolkata (aka Calcutta) to try and link up with Pankaj is derailed when she gets off the train at the wrong stop and cannot afford another ticket.

Sarah is 'befriended' by a young woman named Bonney, who is actually a recruiter for a local brothel. Young and naïve, Sarah, now with a new name Pamela (a misunderstanding of 'Pom'), is slowly sucked into the life and spends the next three or four years there until she is raped and becomes pregnant.

Realizing that her baby, if it's a girl, will be kept in disgusting conditions and raised to be a whore, Pamela flees the place with her newborn, again leaving her accumulated earnings (five hundred rupees - a substantial amount this time), and leaving her child Cabeta (again, sp?), with the Muslim driver, she finally makes it to Kolkata where she's unsuccessful finding work or finding Pankaj.

Now going as Camilla, she happens into a job organizing the substantial personal library of an English government official, Simon, who pays well. Finally she feels like she can settle and put her past behind her. She can send gifts and money to the family taking care of her daughter, and be stress-free. But that's not going to happen! She ends up spying on her employer and reporting back to Indian freedom movements, but she also finds herself falling for him.

And that's enough spoilers! I really enjoyed this book up until the last ten percent or so. The ending felt a little bit too trite in some ways and amateurish in others. Both Camilla and Simon suffer Harry Potter syndrome - failure to talk and share things, even when there was no reason not to. Obviously Camilla had some deep secrets, but there were ways she could have sidled into those if she had been as smart as she was portrayed as being later in the book.

But overall, I consider this a worthy read and commend it for those who enjoy a good historical story that involves romance, yet isn't sappy, and who are sick of endless cookie-cutter stories about the US civil war and the antebellum south and want to branch out - out of the country and into something that feels more real and less derivative.


His Own Way Out by Taylor Saracen


Rating: WARTY!

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

I could not get into this book at all and DNF'd it at around a third of the way through. The characters - three or four kids in high school - were such utter dicks that there wasn't a single one of them that was even likeable, let alone relatable. I read in some other reviews that it's apparently a fictionalized version of a true story. I did not realize that going in, but now I do know it, I have to wonder what the purpose of this treatment of it was supposed to be.

Thinking it was fiction, I was pulled in by the fact that the main character was bisexual. This is rare in a book and the only other such book I've read that immediately comes to mind, I didn't like very much. I'd hoped for a lot more for this one, especially given the positive nature of the title, but it was a fail for me because although the main character was presented as bi, he had no real interest in women at all, aside from his ex-girlfriend. His entire focus seemed to be on men, so while he was technically bi, this story really offered nothing that your typical gay high school story offers, so what was the point?

Again from what I read in other's reviews after I decided to ditch this as a waste of my reading time, the 'way out' is for the main character to go into the porn industry which, while it's entirely his choice to make, is hardly the kind of way out that the high-flying title suggested to me. It's hardly an heroic option, and it's not inventive, or unique or original. I was hoping for a lot more and was sadly disappointed when I learned that this was his 'way out'. After reading those other reviews, I was glad I did not try to read further than I did.

As for my own take on it, I found nothing here to inspire or interest me. The guy was a jerk, unlikeable and with nothing to offer the reader. It was a tedious read. He just bounced around between parties, doing drugs and drinking, with no ideas in mind for any sort of a future. The limited and boxed-in mindset was simply depressing and uninteresting. The guy behaved like a loser and showed no sign of improving. He was boorish and one-track-minded, and I saw no saving graces in him and nothing educational or even original in his thought processes. Whether the reality upon which this was apparently based is different, I can't say, but I can only believe that a biography would have been far more fulfilling than this fiction ever can be. I cannot commend this as a worthy read based on what I experienced of it.


Saturday, August 18, 2018

Day One Before Hiroshima and After by Peter Wyden


Rating: WARTY!

If you love Tom Clancy, then you may well like this: it's full of tedious detail. The book was two-thirds rather boring and one third distressing. I took a long time reading it because I was constantly interrupting it to read library books which unlike my own book, had a return date on them. The most recent time I got back to it, I realized how boring it was with a host of unnecessary detail about people.

You can tell it was written by a journalist: always going for the so-called 'human interest' angle, boring the pants off the reader rather than telling the story. Do we really care what kind of a side-arm a general carries or what kind of a drink a scientist likes? I don't, so I skimmed a lot of the middle third. The last third, about the dropping of the bombs and the aftermath, I read thoroughly, but this book could have been less than half its length and told a better story. I feel bad for the trees which gave their lives for this ungainly tome.

Did the book offer anything no other book has offered? Nope. Unless you count the oodles of extraneous personal details. For those interested in the real human interest - what it was like for those how were bombed, it doesn't actually get to that until it's almost over. The descriptions of what happened are horrible to read, but should be required reading. Nagasaki, the almost forgotten bomb victim, is mentioned, but it gets nowhere near the coverage Hiroshima does.

Nagasaki wasn't even a target to begin with. The beautiful Japanese city of Kyoto was a primary target, but was cancelled for religious reasons, and Nagasaki added. In the end, it came down to Kokura and Nagasaki and the weather decided on the latter. They didn't bomb Tokyo because it had been so badly damaged by conventional bombing that it was considered redundant to go after it again.

The military-science complex was interested in how a plutonium bomb would stack up against the uranium bomb they'd just dropped, so this was as much of a consideration as anything else. As it happened, the damage was far less at Nagasaki despite the bomb being more powerful, because there were not the raging fires that Hiroshima had suffered, and the terrain confined the bomb's effects to a limited area which consisted of many waterways.

Conversely, Hiroshima burned fiercely, and the book describes depressingly how hot it was because of the fires, and how people were desperately thirsty. They were also short of food to the extent they would eat dead irradiated fish floating in the river which wasn't wise, but there was very little food to be had. The fact that the bomb had been exploded well above ground (around two thousand feet) meant that the ground was not irradiated to a significant degree, which in turn meant that the city was habitable afterwards, and after the winter was over, plants grew, whereas it would not have been endurable had the bomb exploded significantly lower than it did.

The Hiroshima bomb killed an estimated 80,000 outright. They were the lucky ones. Another 40,000 died subsequently from burns and radiation poisoning. The grand total included an estimated 20,000 Korean slave laborers along with other non-Japanese in lesser numbers. Many survived and lived long lives. These were known as the Hibakusha and included a Navajo who was imprisoned in Nagasaki who was apparently protected by the concrete walls of his cell.

It turns out that there were some 165 people who survived both bombs. The book mentions this group of about nine guys who were in the military and were sent from Nagasaki to Hiroshima to do some work. After the bombing at Hiroshima, they returned to Nagasaki in time for the bombing there. Talk about bad luck, but they survived both bombings! That's pretty impressive, being nuked twice and living! The first of these double-survivors to be recognized was, according to Wikipedia:

Tsutomu Yamaguchi [who] was confirmed to be 3 kilometers from ground zero in Hiroshima on a business trip when the bomb was detonated. He was seriously burned on his left side and spent the night in Hiroshima. He got back to his home city of Nagasaki on August 8, a day before the bomb in Nagasaki was dropped, and he was exposed to residual radiation while searching for his relatives. He was the first officially recognized survivor of both bombings. Tsutomu Yamaguchi died at the age of 93 on January 4, 2010, of stomach cancer.

There were some lucky escapes, too: people who had been disturbingly close to the epicenter, but who happened to have been behind concrete walls or in basements when the bomb detonated. There was a school teacher who was about six hundred yards from the epicenter who survived it because she was in a concrete basement of the school where she taught, She'd gone in early that morning otherwise she would have been killed on the way in as many of her colleagues were.

The thing most people there didn't get about the bomb was that the shockwave traveled faster than sound, so that hit them before the sound of the bomb did, which is why, I guess, many people said they never heard a bomb go off. That's pretty bizarre in itself. The guys in the airplane that dropped the bomb were turning and flying away before it went off because it had a delay of about 45 seconds before it detonated. They felt a double shockwave because after the initial one of the bomb going off, they felt the rebound of the wave that hit the ground and bounced back to them. That's pretty weird to think of, too.

Americans were in denial about the effects of radiation poisoning, but the Japanese doctors, most of whom had no idea what this was, were seeing people die from it daily. It was a long time before many people realized exactly what the bomb had been, and even longer before Americans realized what they had really done. But the bomb ended the war; at least it came a sudden conclusion after Nagasaki bomb.

Was it worth those civilian lives to save allied soldier's lives? Those were the lives they thought it would cost the allies in an invasion of Japan, but was an invasion of Japan necessary? Was it necessary to take every single island one by one on the way to Japan? Would a fleet of warships showing up off Japan's coast have triggered a surrender without the bomb? Would a test of the bomb off the coast of Japan have ended the war without erasing two Japanese cities? These are questions this book doesn't address. Perhaps they never can be addressed.

I cannot commend this book unless you really, really, and I mean really enjoy reading excruciating detail. There are better sources for this material.


Saturday, August 11, 2018

From This Moment on by Shania Twain


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Undaunted: by Zoya Phan, Damien Lewis


Rating: WORTHY!

Subtitled " My Struggle for Freedom and Survival in Burma" and co-written with a British journalist, this book describes the horrific life Zoya Phan led as a member of the Kariang, Kayin, or Yang people usually referred to as Karen in this book. Karen nationalists have been fighting since 1949 for an independent state (which was to have been called Kawthoolei). The Karen National Liberation Army has been in conflict with the Tatmadaw, the well-funded Burmese military all this time.

You will not read this in the book, but three-quarters of the Karen population has never lived inside Karen State, which is in the southeast corner of Burma. Karen is a generic term meaning peoples of the forest, and this is not a homogenous group, nor is there complete agreement among all Karen peoples about objectives. In the Burmese election in 2010, for example, there were three separate Karen political parties.

That said, it doesn't take a single thing away from this author's own personal experience and the horrors she had to endure as a child. The Karen people are one of the most populous ethnic groups, numbering around six million, which makes it startlingly clear how big a problem this is when we understand that some two million people of the many ethnic groups in Burma have been displaced, and another two million are refugees living in squalid conditions across the border in places like Thailand. The bulk of those latter people are Karen.

That story - the one of being attacked in one's own country and forced to flee to become an illegal emigrant, living in a camp and desperately trying to keep family together, and keep track of those family from whom you're separated, and trying to make a decent life for yourself, are what this book is all about. I found it depressing to read, but that did not prevent me from reading it. The most horrifying thing about this is that the author is one of the luckiest ones, yet even her story is soul-destroying.

How much worse then was it for they who did not get to tell their story because they were captured, and raped as children, and tortured and mutilated, and murdered for simply being one of the Karen? That's what people who rated this book negatively simply didn't get and they should be ashamed of themselves, because they focused on grammar and story-telling and completely forgot that this book isn't a story, it's a life, one of millions, and a positive one. Far too many other "stories" were not, and this book exists to speak for them, and to remind us of those people who cannot speak.

The author lived a life of misery and deprivation from the time she was fourteen until even after the time she was able to move to Britain, where she still initially had to suffer some more, but that treatment never once caused her to lose courage, and never once did she stop from speaking out for her people and their suffering. This woman is a hero. A real hero. And her story ought to be required reading. I commend this book for its honesty, bravery, and for the truths it reveals.


Byte by Eric C Anderson


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, August 2, 2018

Aspertools by Harold S Reitman, Pati Fizzano, Rebecca Reitman


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Subtitled "The Practical Guide for Understanding and Embracing Asperger's, Autism Spectrum, and Neurodiversity" this book is aimed at understanding and learning how to deal with these conditions. Asperger syndrome (AS) is named after the Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger who described children with the features 1944. It's thought to affect some forty million people worldwide.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a range of conditions classified as neurodevelopmental disorders. This syndrome includes Asperger's, but this author refers primarily to Aspergers, and makes little mention of Autism. The word itself comes from the Greek word autos, meaning self or same. It's this same root that appears in autobiography, autopilot, and so on.

This book is available in both print and electronic format, but I have to say once again that the Kindle version is a disaster! The PDF version was much more readable, but I read most of this in Kindle because I always have my phone with me and it was more convenient to read it there.

This is a book which was designed for print format, evidently without an ounce of thought being given to how it would appear as an ebook. Amateur reviewers like me do not merit a print version, and it's fine because I'd rather have the trees than the pages, but it does mean that we have to put up with some pretty rough-and unready versions of books from time to time. It's well known that turning a print format book into a Kindle book to be read on Amazon's crappy Kindle app will as likely ruin it as render it readable if great care isn't taken.

I recommend using B&N's Nook or PDF format. Anything but Kindle, which in my experience will destroy any book that isn't formatted in the blandest and most vanilla of manners. Full disclosure: I am an arch enemy of Amazon not only for the fact that they're too big and powerful, but for their business practices (or lack of same) and also from my personal dealings with them on my own projects. I will never do business with them again, and neither will my estate when I;m gone, so if you think I'm biased, you're perfectly correct! That doesn't alter the fact that Kindle is for crap though as I shall hereinafter demonstrate.

Note though that this was an ARC, and one;s hope is that these issues will be fixed before the published e-version is released lest it become an aversion, but how it came to be this way in the first place is something that demands investigation. From page one this book was literally all over the place, with misaligned text, random red text in places whereas the rest of the text was white on my phone. I set my phone this way to save on power drain: white text on a black background uses less energy than the reverse, but switching it to black text on white background made no difference to the issues I'm discussing here.

The contents followed straight on from the book details page with no break, and the word 'contents' was randomly capitalized so that it read: COnTEnTS. The FOREwORd and the ACknOwLEdgmEnTS were just as bad. You can see a trend there: d, g, m, n, w are all lower case. Everything else is upper case. Why? I have no idea, but the Kindle conversion 'process' is well-known to me for this kind of inexplicable mangling of books.

This was followed by a truly poorly formatted contents list in which nothing was aligned. Some of the text was blue, indicating a link, and tapping that took you to the correct page, but there was no way to get back to the contents from that page since it wasn't linked in reverse. The real problem though, was that only a few contents items were actually linked - the rest was plain white text and tapping on it achieved nothing, other than swiping the screen if you tapped too close to the edge, of course!

There were multiple images of snowflakes separating each section of the book because every snowflake is different, right? That's actually not true (there are identical snowflakes!), but this was used as a metaphor for each brain being different, which I do buy. The problem from a formatting point of view was that while these snowflakes looked pretty and elegant in the iPad, in the Kindle version they were a complete disaster.

When you reverse the colors (white text on black background), the blobby snowflakes stand out like a sore thumb. Worse than this, they're all over the place: spread over three or more screens instead of being confined to one dividing screen - again a problem with the formatting for the ebook being ignored completely. Several instances of these snowflakes spread across five screens! That's way too much real estate for a frivolous affectation which ought to have been dispensed with in the ebook version.

I recommend reading the PDF format rather than the sad Amazon format which is all Kindled up - that is unless the actual published version has all these problems fixed. In the iPad, the image of the snowflakes makes sense - it's in the shape of a brain and part of the spinal cord. If this had been one small image instead of apparently being composed of multiple tiles, then it would have looked a lot better on the smart phone than it does in the ARC that I got.

The book has a preface and an introduction, both of which I ignored as is my habit. They almost never contribute anything worth reading in my experience, so I routinely skip them. I prefer my introduction to be chapter one, so that's where I started. Everything else is nothing but pretention and OCD addiction to tradition. The chapters have chapter quotes which are another no-no to me and I skipped those, too. If you have to quote someone else to make your case for you, you're not making your case.

I assume the print version has drop-caps. Frankly I've never seen the point of these even in a print book, but they should have been eliminated for the ebook version because what we got instead was, on the first screen for chapter one: some left over snowflakes, the chapter number and title, a thick line, a quote from Mark Twain - a well-known expert on Autism - not!, another thick line, an anonymous quote, another thick line, a 'helpful hint' which was really just common sense, an apparently random number 7 (which may or may not have been a footnote, and which doesn't work in an ebook - better to have a tap-able link instead), and finally the start of the chapter - at the very bottom of the screen. The start of the chapter was the letter E. That's it. That's all. The next screen contained the rest of the truncated word which was evidently intended to be 'Every'. Drop-caps should be dropped. Literally, but especially so in ebooks.

Throughout the book, people on the autism spectrum were referred to as 'Aspies' which seemed really condescending to me. I don't know if this is considered a term of endearment or otherwise acceptable within that community, but repeatedly reading phrases like "...it might not be true of your Aspie..." just sounded wrong to me - like these people were objects to be owned rather than individuals who needed careful consideration. That's just my feeling on the topic.

The author's daughter (Rebecca Reitman) adds sections here and there with her own thoughts since she has to cope with this condition, and these are listed under the title 'thought from rebecca reitman' - and that's exactly how it's headed in the Kindle version: all lower case, no differentiation with font, which even Amazon's crappy Kindle app can usually handle. It was really hard to see where these sections began and ended.

There was a similar problem with the other contributor, Pati Fizzano, a teacher of autism spectrum kids, whose contributions were fine in the iPad, but which seemed always to be competing among those annoying snowflakes for attention in the Kindle version on my smartphone. Once again, the book was formatted for the printed page and apparently zero thought was given to the experience that ebook users, who might want the convenience of reading on their phone, would be subject to.

Those complaints aside, the book did contain educational and useful content which is well worth knowing. The topics were rather repetitive, and while it never hurts to reinforce ideas, especially with someone who is on the spectrum, as a reader I did find myself wondering from time to time whether the book was actually aimed at those who wished to at least understand (as it was in my case) and help people with these disorders, or whether it was aimed at people who actually had these disorders!

I was reminded several times of assorted things, for example, that Rebecca Reitman had “...twenty-three vascular tumors in her brain," and also had "two life-saving [against all odds] brain surgeries...” While I sympathize and really feel for anyone who is in that kind of situation, telling me something like that once really makes an impact. I wasn't likely to forget it! Repeatedly telling me was more likely to make me honestly wish I'd never heard it! This wasn't the only thing that was repeated.

Anyway, the topics covered were these:

  • Anxiety
  • Hypersenses: Senses on Steroids
  • Observation: Elementary, My Dear Watson
  • The Meltdown
  • The Safe Place
  • Rudeness, Truth Telling, and Manners
  • Transitions
  • Routines
  • Structure and Positive Activities
  • Obsessions and Hyper-Interests
  • Social Awkwardness
  • Limit Choices to Avoid "No!"
  • Instilling Street Smarts
  • Taking Things Literally: "Why Did They Say I'm Not Playing With a Full Deck?"
  • Specifics: Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say
  • Preventing Overwhelm: Breaking Down Big Jobs Into Smaller Tasks
  • Setting Goals
  • Rules, Rewards, and Consequences
  • Checklists: The Indispensable Tool
  • Time management: Tools for getting 139 Your Aspie to Be on Time
  • Overlapping Conditions
  • It's Not About You
  • Love Unconditionally

Note that the '139' in the 'Time Management' section is actually in the contents list - it's a page number that's out of place.

There's an afterword, which I also skipped as I do all afterwords, epilogues, etc. There are three appendices chock full of resources and references.

Despite all of the formatting issues and the repetitiveness in parts, I really enjoyed reading this. it was interesting, educational, and sometimes heartbreaking, and I commend it as a worthy read. This isn't the first book I've read on this topic, so much of it I already knew, but it was nice to be remind! Much of it is actually nothing more than common sense when you learn a few things about people with these conditions, and there's the rub: it's not like they have a sign, or they're in a wheelchair, or have a certain 'look' about them.

It's not like they're missing a limb, or are carrying a white stick, or wearing a hearing aid, but it would behoove everyone to give anyone who is behaving - to our routine eyes - slightly oddly, because it may well be someone like this who needs our concern and compassion, not our Trump-mentality, knee-jerk condemnation. I enjoyed the comments by the authors daughter, even though they usually echoed what I'd read in the preceding chapter. They were delightfully blunt and to the point, and I would definitely read a biography if she wrote one. I think it would be interesting. In the absence of that, this book does an excellent job of opening eyes and hearts to people who need our understanding and support.


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Fight Like a Girl by Kate Germano


Rating: WORTHY!

Not to be confused with Fight like a Girl by Clemetine Ford, or Fight like a Girl by Roz Clarke, or Fight like a Girl by Megan Seely, or Fight like a Girl by Lisa Bevere, or Fight Like a Girl by April Steenburgh, this book tells the story of LtCol Kate Germano's turmoil-ridden experience in commanding the Fourth Recruit Training Battalion at Parris island - the Marine training unit which is the only one of the major branches of the military which segregates women from men in basic training. That ought to tell you all you need to know about the attitude of the Marine Corps when it comes to integrating women into the service.

I liked this book and consider it a worthy read, but the biggest weakness of it was the fact that it lacked a good editor. Given that it was co-written by a journalist who also had a military background, this prolixity and repetitiveness in the text was strange to say the least, and it made the whole book come off as a bit on the whiney side. If the repetition had been cut back, the book could have been about two hundred pages instead of almost three hundred and it would have been better for it. Neither was the glossary necessary since each item in it was explained in-line in the text and made for a better read that way. And it was hardly rocket science!

That said, I enjoyed the book because it pulled no punches and made sense to any rational person reading it. LtCol Germano made an irrefutable case that there is institutionalized resistance to fully including women in the Marines and worse, that the training is set up to deliberately cause women to fail in a self-fulfilling prophecy: they can't hack basic training and therefore don't deserve to be 'real Marines', when everything from recruitment to basic training is set up with a lack of planning and a deliberate lack of caring about what happens to recruits who go through it. It's no wonder they come out the other end looking bad.

LtCol Germano set about fixing this from day one and her success is a matter of record, but her superiors and some of her inferiors were against her all the way, undermining her attempts to do her job and as she explained, thereby sabotaging half the population so that they appear inferior when compared with the other half. in the end she was forced out and the situation in that battalion is unlikely to improve until they get someone else with the integrity, standards, and determination exhibited by this officer - and the full support of the Marine Corps behind her.

This book will probably hold no surprises for far too many women, I'm sorry to admit, but I recommend it as a worthy and important read.


30th Century: Revived by Mark Kingston Levin


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Behind Every Great Man by Marlene Wagman-Geller


Rating: WORTHY!

I did not expect great things from this book because of the nature of its construction: potted 'biographies' of women 'behind' much better known men (or behind a slightly better known woman in one instance), so I can honestly say it met my expectations. I felt it was worth reading though because whenever I read something I always have in mind whether it can be employed in some way to enhance my own writing, and histories and insights like the ones contained here are wonderful for that kind of thing - making characters more real and filling them out somewhat, or even for giving you an idea about a character you could make a novel out of.

Most of the forty stories here were interesting in their own right though, despite being so very brief, but I have to take issue with the word 'great' as used in the title. Some of these people weren't what any rational person would call great. Infamous was a better term when it came to historical characters like Hitler, the Rosenbergs, or Wagner (the racist German composer, not the actor).

The list was, as usual, heavily biased towards white couples (90%) and heterosexual couples (nearly 100%). On the other hand, these people are historical and many of the famous people that are typically recalled from history were white and cis, so maybe the problem was the available and already biased selection rather than selection bias.

Less understandable was the heavy bias toward the arts. Fifty five percent of these 'great men' were from such career pursuits as film, literature, stage, music, etc., with the vast bulk even of those from literature and to a lesser extent, music. Does this mean that those couples are more likely to have weird relationships or just that it was easier to dig dirt on those people without working too hard?

It certainly seemed like digging dirt was a major criterion for including a couple, since most were quite scandalous in various ways (although not by today's standards). Only two of these 'great' men were scientists and none engineers. There were no mathematicians, monarchy, biologists, inventors, astronomers, explorers, gymnasts, and only one each from the military, sports (surprisingly!), and from architecture. There were almost no really historical couples (most were from the last hundred years or so), and fifteen percent were in politics in one way or another.

The book didn't seem to have any sort of organization to it; it simply listed them out in apparently random order. Predictably, almost half of them were American, suggesting that half the great men in the world are necessarily born in the USA. I disagree. The next biggest chunk was from the UK, and the bulk of the rest European. This was a truly sorry bias.

The wives/partners covered were those of:

  • Karl Marx
  • Richard Wagner
  • Oscar Wilde
  • Mohandas Gandhi
  • Albert Einstein
  • Gertrude Stein
  • Bill Wilson
  • Alfred Hitchcock
  • Simon Wiesenthal
  • Frank Lloyd Wright
  • Oskar Schindler
  • Salvador Dali
  • Adolf Hitler
  • Douglas McArthur
  • Julius Rosenberg
  • Ian Fleming
  • F Scott Fitzgerald
  • Billy Graham
  • Jackie Robinson
  • Charlie Chaplin
  • Pablo Picasso
  • Gerald Ford
  • Aldous Huxley
  • CS Lewis
  • Stephen Hawking
  • Bernie Madoff
  • Jim Henson
  • Malcolm X
  • Samuel Beckett
  • Nelson Mandela
  • Frank Sinatra
  • Arthur Miller
  • Timothy Leary
  • Jerry Garcia
  • Jim Morrison
  • Lech Walesa
  • Larry Flynt
  • Stieg Larsen
  • Gordon Sumner
  • Robin Gibb

Some of these men were truly despicable - and I am not necessarily referring to Hitler. Yes, Einstein, Hitchcock, Wagner, Wilson, and so on, I'm looking at you! Their wives put up with hell in many cases, although not in all. The story of Simon Wiesenthal and his wife was one of going through hell, but had a happy ending. Some of the other stories were equally fascinating. Some were boring, some a dismal mess. I only considered it a worthy read because I got it from the library. I wouldn't recommend buying it since you can probably get the same information from Wikipedia or elsewhere online if you wish to find it, but if you're interested in this sort of thing, it's worth a read.


Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen Minor Works


Rating: WORTHY!

As I mentioned in the previous review, I checked this out of the library at the same time as the other, only to discover that they pretty much contain the same material, so you takes your library card and you pays your respects, I guess. These can probably be found online these days so maybe a trip to the bookstore or library isn't necessary.

This volume contains very much the same thing the other did, but in a different order, this one being more chronological, and largely in reverse order of the other, strangely enough. Up front is young Jane's 'juvenilia' so-called, which consists of literary efforts preserved (and thankfully so) from her childhood which are amusing and very interesting for Austen fans. This is followed by Lady Susan a very short epistolary story which may have been written as early as the mid 1790's when Jane wasn't even in her twenties, but which wasn't actually published until almost a century later. Lady Susan is quite different from her other work.

There is also The Watsons (rather a prototype of Pride and Prejudice) and Sanditon, aka The Brothers, which was uncompleted at the time of her death. This book also contains quite a few poems written by Austen which make for interesting reading. I recommend this as a worthy read.


Sanditon and Other Stories by Jane Austen


Rating: WORTHY!

I got this from my local library out of curiosity. I got a companion volume to it also, but both volumes contain pretty much the same thing: the Jane Austen works that didn't quite make it big!

This volume contains what is commonly called Sanditon, which was the novel Austen was working on when she died. Her own title for it was The Brothers. Many people have pretentiously tried to 'continue' this novel since it was incomplete, but unsurprisingly, it has never taken off as her other major works did.

It contains Lady Susan, about a very aggressive and self-possessed older woman, which Austen finished right before she began work on "Elinor and Marianne" which came to be known as Sense and Sensibility, and following which she began her second full-length novel, "First Impressions" which is known today as Pride and Prejudice.

It also contains The Watsons - the story of Sherlock Holmes's famous companion before the two of them met. Just kidding! Seriously, The Watsons is about an invalid and impoverished clergyman and his four unmarried daughters. Sounds remarkably like Pride and Prejudice, doesn't it?!

Additionally this collection contains what's come to be called "Juvenilia" which is material Austen composed when she was a juvenile. Some of this is really quite amusing. It also contains Austen's tongue-in-cheek 'plan of a novel' and opinions she evidently collected, expressed by friends over her (then) recently published work such as Mansfield Park and Emma.

I recommend this for real fans of Jane Austen.


Friday, June 1, 2018

Summit Vol 1: The Long Way Home by Amy Chu, Jan Duursema


Rating: WORTHY!

Errata:
Aeropsace on p13 Misspelled.

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

There was an event in which an asteroid nearly hit Earth. The planet was supposedly saved by Lorena Payan, which no doubt is pronounced 'pain'. Some people developed superpowers from this event, but curiously, the event seemed to have a preference mostly for white American adults.

The stories of these mutants are covered in various editions by various writers and artists. This one is the story of one of those white Americans who happened to be actually on the mission: Valentina "Val" Resnick-Baker who rescues and protects a young kid. Can anyone say Aliens 2 Redux?

Frankly this story it was a bit bland, repetitive, and disjointed, but overall it was better than the other two I read in this batch of stories. While I am happy to rate this one as a worthy read, I think I'm done with this whole series which really isn't moving, shaking, or breaking new ground. It's petty much broken and crumbled like the asteroid was at this point.


KINO Vol. 1: Escape from the Abyss by Joe Casey, Jefte Paolo


Rating: WARTY!

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

KINO stands for Kinetic Impulse Neoterrestrial Operative which is one of the most bland and meaningless phrases I've ever read, but it was appropriate for a story that made no sense whatsoever. I've been following this X-Men knock-off world for some time and initially I was enjoying it, but lately I've become more and more disappointed in it with every new volume I read, and I feel like I'm about ready to drop it after this one. Nothing happens and nothing moves the story, and by that measure, this book is looking like a microcosm for the entire series at this point.

The backstory is that a "meteor" was heading towards Earth, and this powerful Latin woman orchestrated an assault on it by a half-dozen international astronauts all of whom supposedly died. It turns out she was more sinisterly involved than anyone knows, but now she's a celebrity because she "saved" Earth. The offshoot of this near-miss heavenly body was that some people garnered for themselves super powers. How that worked isn't explained, but whatever explanation it turns out to be has to be better than a dumb-ass "X gene" for sure.

This story (one of many told by different authors and illustrated by different artists) focuses on Major Alistair Meath of the Royal Airforce, so kudos for at least acknowledging - unlike DC and Marvel - that there are places outside the USA. It's believed Major Meath, aka KINO, is dead, but in fact he's been kept in some sort of suspended animation by the Latin girl. The British somehow find out about this and send in a covert team to extract the major's body, but they themselves are hijacked and the body ends up in the lab of Aturo Assante, a stereotypical mad scientist. So far so good.

This is where the story goes seriously downhill because from then on the story itself goes into suspended animation. Assante seems to think that by programming the Major's mind with various challenges - fighting-off super powered bad guys - he can turn KINO into precisely the super hero he requires (for what purpose goes unexplained). So they have Meath suspended from wires, an idea taken directly from Robin Cook's novel Coma. The purpose of this in Cook's novel is so that the patient doesn't get bedsores from lying in one position on a bed, but as I recall Cook doesn't really address the various medical issues raised by this system, the first of which is infection.

The suspension wires go right through the skin into the bone, so unless there is fastidious sterility in the environment which even in a hospital there never is, then the patient is going to get all manner of infections. Just as important is the lack of exercise. Muscles atrophy when not used, as astronauts know only too well, so there's no point in mentally creating a super hero (even if it were possible) if the body isn't also brought up speed. This is why competent nurses turn their coma patients in the bed, and stretch and bend limbs to keep muscles active.

The story consists of repeated rounds of the Brit agent searching for Meath, the Latinx woman searching for Meath, Assante issuing bullshit demands of his programming team, and Meath having a rough and tumble inner life. It's boring. For example, at one point Assante (or someone in his lab, I forget) talks about "cortextual" - there's no such word. He's confusing the 'tex' in 'cortex' with 'text' and getting 'textual' from that, presumably. The correct term is 'cortical'. A real doctor (and a real spellchecker!) would know that.

But the problem is that if these guys have the technology to program scenarios into a living person's mind, then they can also read out of that mind what's going on, but they repeatedly claim that they have no idea what's going on in this guy's brain, yet even so, they know it's bad? Even without feedback they keep feeding things in? It makes no sense. Add to that indifferent and oddly angular artwork by Jefte Paolo and the story doesn't even make up in eye-candy for what it loses in the 'textual' aspects! I didn't like this, and I cannot recommend it.


Queen of Kenosha by Howard Shapiro


Rating: WARTY!

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

This is the third - and last as far as I'm concerned! - in a loose collection of comics telling supposedly positive and life-affirming stories. I was not impressed by any of them and the artwork was a bit odd to say the least, particularly in this one. there really was a Queen of Kenosha - Dorothy J Queen, who died in 2012!

In previous comics this author had depicted male characters who looked quite feminine for no apparent reason, but in this one we get the opposite: the female characters look rather masculine. I don;t know if this is a deliberate gender-bending effort or simply accidental, but it didn't work. I don't mind feminine-looking men or masculine-looking women, but if you're going to put them into a graphic novel and you don't want your reader to be continually distracted by them, then there really ought to be some sort of reason for it. There was none here that I could see.

Nina Overstreet used to be in a duo with her cousin and now her cousin is no longer is part of it, for reasons which go unexplained, but is still Nina's 'manager'. One night, an odd event happens which brings Nina to the attention of a secret government agency and for no real reason whatsoever they recruit her, while still demeaning her as a female.

This is particularly odd because their idea is purportedly that a female can offer distraction and an intro into areas where a man might stand out, but the author drew Nina as very masculine-looking, so it begs the question as to why these guys are hiring her as a female distraction when she looks just like one of the guys! It made zero sense.

Add to this the fact that one of the two guys is a complete jerk, while the other is an obvious love interest, who also acts like a jerk at times, and you have a very predictable story at best and at worst, a disaster in the making. Nina is supposed to be a strong female character, but she really isn't. She wasn't impressive and the story was boring. It was set in 1963 and they're talking about Nazi sympathizers and a network of underground Nazi spies? If it had been Soviets instead of Nazis, I might have maybe bought that, but like this it was a joke and it read like a really bad fifties B movie. I cannot recommend it.


The Showrunner by Kim Moritsugu


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I read one review of this novel which said the author (who has a totally cool name!) "...has the uncanny knack of creating stories you can't put down, featuring characters you'd love to be, who say things you wish you could say," but I definitely would not want to be one of these characters or say the things they say. Only one of them is not potentially psychotic! That doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it however. The author did create three strong and well-defined characters, although one of them (Ann) seemed rather over the top to me.

I would have preferred a straight-forward story rather than interspersing the Stacey (main protagonist) story with entries from the journal of another (Ann). Those did not work for me because they seemed not only inauthentic, but also not something this particular character would do. It took me out of suspension of disbelief. I really dislike first person voice because it is so inauthentic, and I also dislike diary and journal entries, so this was a double negative for me. The other two perspectives, Stacey's and Jenna's, were much more realistic and readable. While I wouldn't describe it as 'un-put-downable' it definitely did make me want to keep reading.

Another joy was that, just when I feared it would go all chick-lit when Stacey started zeroing in on a guy, the author was smart enough to keep that low-key and focus on the main drama, which I appreciated, as indeed I did the fact that (apart from Ann's journal) this was not first person voice. Finally - an author who gets how weak and annoying that voice is! U shakll build a Moritsugu Shrine! yes! That's what I shall do! Mwahaha!

Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, the story is about a TV production company called Two Women Walking, the two women being veteran Ann Dalloni, and up-and-comer Stacey McCreedy, who was the creator of this new show that has become such a success and for which Ann has usurped the credit. The story repeatedly describes the two women as partners and the company as a partnership, but the story is told consistently as though Ann in the boss and Stacey her employee, which made little sense to me, but starting from this resentment, there builds a festering and smoldering mutual antagonism between the aging Ann and the vibrant Stacey which mounts towards what seems to be an inevitable butting-of-heads if not worse.

Each is trying to undermine the other, and it does not help that Ann, without consulting Stacey, has brought on board a young actor, Jenna, who is currently in a slump, and who is happy to work with a veteran like Ann to learn the producing ropes and maybe get back into the acting game through a back door. The story doesn't explain why Ann did not already have an assistant like Stacey does, which was a bit of a plot hole, but no big deal. Jenna finds herself playing piggy-in-the-middle and running thankless and trivial errands for Ann, but she swallows it all down because she has her own agenda.

Frankly I didn't like any of these three woman and would certainly not want to know them in real life (much less be them!), but they made for fascinating characters and a very readable story. The ending was in some ways predictable and in others a surprise, but I can't go into it without giving away spoilers!

The book wasn't all joy though; there were some issues, one of which is a common one in my experience. At one point I read, "...the bottom half of his left bicep was visible..." Unless his skin and muscle is torn and one of the ligaments is hanging out, I doubt that his bicep was visible. I don't doubt that his biceps was if he's quite muscular. 'Bicep' relates to one or other of the muscle attachments to the humerus, and isn't very impressive. The actual bulge in the upper arm is the biceps.

Another issue wasn't a writing problem, but a formatting problem caused by Amazon's crappy Kindle app. I really am not a fan of it (or Amazon in general for that matter), because unlike B&N's Nook app or a PDF file, it will mangle anything that's not plain vanilla text. In this case, the novel was clearly formatted for print, with page headers (book title and author name on alternating pages) which to me is pointless if not pretentious, but it's what publishers do.

Unfortunately, when Amazon gets it hands on this stuff, it can't handle it, and it incorporates the page headers directly into the text! Consequently, I read at one point, "And have KIM MORITSUGU nerves of steel." Hey, I want 'Kim Moritsugu nerves of steel'! Where can I buy them?! This happened quite often and was annoying, I hope it's fixed before the final ebook version becomes available.

There were other issues of improper formatting or poorly written sentences, but not too many, fortunately. At one point I read, "What had Stacey called her when she strolled up to the entrance, looking stylish..." here it wasn't immediately clear who's being stylish, but this is a minor issue. In another section, I read, "...and I know you're in an difficult position" 'An' needs to drop the 'n'. At a different point there was, "Which made feel Jenna victorious." Jenna and feel need to switch places. Also, in a slightly different issue, several weeks pass between chapters 18 and 24 without any real indication of such a huge time, which was a bit confusing!

Finally for me, there was a bit of a problem with how things were resolved at the end. I can't detail it without giving spoilers, but it seemed like the participants were indulging in unnecessary overkill when they could have simply told the truth about what happened, which was all they needed to do. I didn't get why they had to cook up a story. It felt to me like maybe the ending had been changed from what it originally was, an ending that might have needed such a story, but having made the change, the author either didn't realize there was a problem or couldn't think of an easy way out of it, when there actually was really a simple one: tell the unvarnished truth!

But these were relatively minor issues in what was overall a worthy and engrossing story, which I recommend.


Please Don't Grab My P#$$y by Julia Young, Matt Harkins


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was an amusing and very short book of poetry and paintings (which are indirectly tied to the poem) designed to teach certain presidents who are a disgusting stain on any civilized and self-respecting society, some lessons they badly need to learn, but are apparently unwilling to do so and/or incapable of doing so. There is something fundamentally wrong with a nation which will elect a boorish, sexist, racist, misogynist, outright lying person into public office, especially when he's three million votes shy of having won an actual majority in the election, but this passes for democracy these days.

While I did not feel the poetry was at its best, the book contains a bemusing variety of euphemisms for a woman's private parts some of which I had not heard before. I think my favorite is panty hamster now, replacing nappy dugout, which itself wasn't included in this collection, but I'm sure many readers could find one that was missing. I believe Mary Shelley's term of choice was 'pretty notch' but that was also, and I suppose unsurprisingly, missing from the collection.

That said, this was a worthwhile effort because I support anyone who does something rather than nothing, even if they don't have the courage to put 'pussy' on the cover (although that may be a Publisher Advisory), which is why I recommend this.


Formerly Known as Food by Kristin Lawless


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Erratum:
"...so information flow constantly back and forth between the gut and the brain....” should read "flows"?

Subtitled "How the Industrial Food System Is Changing Our Minds, Bodies, and Culture," this book is a tour-de-force of information on how our diet had changed over the last few generations to a point where it bears little relation to what our grandparents and great-grandparents ate. This may not seem like a problem: active change is pretty much the definition of life, when you think about it, but just like the ocean surface reveals very little about what’s going on underneath, so our dietary changes and the way food is grown, processed and packaged are having a significant, and in many cases dangerous, impact on our bodies and minds.

There's no table of contents in the front of this book. It's in the back! Whether there will be changed in the published print copy I can’t say. it was clickable back and forth - something which i see little value in. Imagine my amazement then to discover that the references - it was a very referenced effort - did not work at all!! So when it came to checking the copious references the author includes in her text, the lack of clickability (or tappability these days - if these were not words, they are now!) was a nuisance because it made it really hard to find the actual reference. In this book there are no footnotes and no chapter-end notes. There is a long set of references at the end of the book, but you can’t click to them or click back from them.

This isn't a problem with the writing quality or the book topic, but it bothers me how primitive this is in an era of common and very pervasive ebooks. These days it ought to be possible to reference something in your book and be able to tap that reference to have it pop up right there on the page without having to swipe to the back of the book to find it and hope you're looking at the right one! In a semi-scholarly work like this one, it ought to be possible to tap the reference and have it open your browser and go to the study or paper the book is referring to so you can see it right there and then. Evidently we're still a long way from that.

I know Amazon's crappy Kindle app is probably the worst in the business as compared with other formats such as PDF or the Nook, for example, for facilitating a good reader experience. Kindle is another way of saying 'mangle' in my experience, and we all know what 'kindling' is good for, but publishers are powerful entities. Some would argue they're too powerful, but that's not quite so true in this era of self-publishing as it used to be. That said, why are they not using that power to pressure the makers of reading apps to make books like this much more user-friendly? Pet peeve! Moving on!

I recommend this book because it carries an important message and not only that, it also marshals an impressive array of evidence. There are caveats to that though, which I shall delve into shortly, but that aside, this is, overall, a good effort. The author is not a scientist. She's a Certified Nutrition Educator, but she makes smart arguments and puts together a good basic case.

My problems with this book ran to referenced supportive material. References are often only tangentially supportive of the assertions made by the author, and they are not 'clickable' - once in a while there is one that is highlighted in blue and if you can tap it with your finger, will take you to a reference, but this applies only to rare end of chapter notes, not to book notes. It was often difficult to tap those references and get there, especially if it was at the top of a screen, because instead of going to the link, Kindle would drop down the little margin at the top of their screen which contains the time and settings icons! I actually tapped one link only by pure accident after I was ready to give up an trying to tap it! Annoying!

The lack of tappable links for the references though, made it a nightmare trying to verify the author's statements connected with the link because I had to jump to the back of the book and wade through the large number of references jammed together there, to try and find the one I needed. I think instead of starting numbering the references over for each chapter, they should have been continually numbered so a reader can be sure they have the correct one: was I in chapter two or chapter three? Which reference '1' out of several back there do I need to look at? I did not try to look at every reference, just a few. While noting that this was an advance review copy and therefore subject to change before publishing, what follows is what I found with regard to some of them.

At one point I read, "...the current generation of children is expected to have a shorter life span than their parents." yet when I followed the link and looked at the reference, the paper was by S. Jay Olshansky, et al, and the title was “A Potential Decline in Life Expectancy in the United States Note the word 'potential'! There is a big difference between an expectation of, and a potential for something happening! Things like this harm a book's message because they make the author look more sensationalist than sensational.

At another point I read "GMOs were not introduced to the American food supply until the 1990s, so we don’t know a lot about their long-term safety or healthfulness. Even organic corn is likely contaminated with GMOs." I have yet to see what the harm is in GMOs. My position is that some are probably a bad idea, others are fine. I, like the author evidently, do have reservations about the activities of a very powerful company like Monsanto, yet while keeping that caveat in mind, the fact is that nature mixes genes between plants all the time, and the human race goes on! I don't think the jury is in yet on the benefits or otherwise of GMO's in general, so I have to ask why the negative connotation added by the author and carried in that one word: contaminated? Like this is necessarily an evil thing? So again, the wording was overly dramatic.

After talking about how food monitoring agencies are funded by agribusiness, the author extolls a report by Monell Chemical Senses Center which is funded from a variety of sources including, according to Wikipedia, “unrestricted corporate sponsorships”! Pot meet kettle!

I read, “My grandmother...was always skeptical of the benefits of organic foods. She thought it a marketing ploy to get people to spend more money,” but in my understanding,there is no real regulation or inspection of organic foods, so I've never been a big fan. But let;s not get overly dramatic about them. I read, “The review stated that pesticide residues were found in only 7 percent of organics but 38 percent of conventional foods,” and while that's far from ideal, it's certainly not the massive contamination that's been suggested! Two third of non-oganic food is also fine! And some organic food is actually 'contaminated'!

The author mentions “Horizon Organic milk, with its bright red label and happy cow on the container, gives the impression of a bucolic standard” After buying a carton of Horizon milk that, when opened, smelled of fish one time, and complaining to Horizon only to be brushed off, I have never bought another thing with their name on it. I won't touch Horizon products, so I was onboard with the comments made about how big and blended they were! I am not a fan of mega-corporations.

The author says, “Some of that common sense wisdom that farmers speak of is being replicated in the lab with findings that the fruits and vegetables we eat today are far less nutrient dense than those our grandparents ate,” and she cites “a study” but gives no reference! This made me suspicious, as did a claim in an article that was quoted uncritically which said, “...the recipe for mother's milk is one that female bodies have been developing for 300 million years,” but the earliest known mammal is barely over 200 million years old! I'm not sure where the author of the article gets this ancient date from!

There's a section of this book which bemoans the increase of C-section births, antibiotics, and lack of breastfeeding, but https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4350908/ published online in October 2014 makes no mention of the disappearance of Bifidobacterium longum subspecies infantis from our gut. In fact, I couldn't find anything online which did talk about the disappearance of this group of bacteria even as I found mention after mention of its benefits.

The paper referenced by me above says, "The colonization of the fetal gut begins in utero with swallowing of amniotic fluid" so it's not entirely dependent on vaginal delivery. I do agree though that antibiotics and C-Section pose threats of one sort or another, but the author fails to mention that while C-sections have risen alarmingly, so that they now comprise about a third of births in the western world, it's still only a third, and only in the last two to three decades. Allergies and other issues began rising long before that. It's the rather alarmist parts of this book which bothered me, even as I considered it a worthy read for the important information it does convey. A more measured tone would have been wiser.

Breastfeeding is also not a rarity. In Australia for example, almost all mothers start out breastfeeding. It's the lack of continuation of it that's a potential problem, because by the age of one year less than a third are still doing it. I guess they feel they need to wean children asap because breastfeeding is time-consuming and they're poorly educated with regard to the importance of continuing it. Prevalence of breastfeeding was the lowest in the United Kingdom, the United States, and France, but even in these countries, the prevalence was 70%, 69.5%, and 62.6% according to this study in 2012.

So it's misleading for this author to imply that Caesarian section has risen to such dramatic heights or that breastfeeding has plummeted so precipitously that it's affecting children's health and contributing massively to opportunistic disease, allergies, and conditions. I do allow that she has a point about antibiotics, but while we can suggest natural birth as much as possible, as an antidote to C-Sections, and a lengthy breastfeeding as an alternative to formula, what is the use of antibiotics going to be replaced with? Crossed fingers and a hope that infection doesn't set in?

We could ask that antibiotics only be used as needed and not routinely, but that's a medical decision and I think most doctors know this, but there's the ever-present danger, particularly in litigation-happy USA, of a lawsuit if something is omitted and there are consequences. What we can do is have children fed a dose of the good bacteria after they're born, and after any series of antibiotics has ended, in order to keep their gut in good shape, but the author never raised this option as far as I recall.

Instead, I read, “Because traveling down the birth canal is the critical means for acquiring your microbiota, those who miss out on this process face lifelong health consequences,“ yet the reference in this case was useless with regard to supporting the author's thesis and was really hard to get to to boot!

part of the problem with this book that I had was what was not covered. It seems to be largely US-based, like the USA is the only country int hew world worth considering. it;s nit. What I kept wondering, but was kept in the dark about, was how other countries fare. Yes, there was an occasional reference here and there that strayed outside the borders, but always it was back to the USASAP. I felt there was a lot that could have been learned by taking a more global view. For example, obesity is rare in Japan, so what is it they're doing that we're not? This book was silent on such things.

I read quite a bit about the Hadza bush people in Africa. The idea is that since they lead an existence far more akin to what all humans did before farming became prevalent in our culture, maybe we can learn things from them and their microbiota. A putative dissenting voice was addressed so: “The argument usually goes something like, 'Well, we live far longer than those populations so we must be doing something right'.” The response was along the lines of "But that argument falls flat with just a little bit of scrutiny. In hunter-gatherer societies most mortality occurs within the first five years of life because their sanitation isn’t on par with ours, thereby increasing the risk for infections. In addition, they don’t have access to antibiotics for true life-threatening infections, or access to vaccinations, so it is understandable that infant mortality rates are high.“

Isn't this a refutation of precisely the argument the author is making with regard to natural birth and eating whole, unadulterated food, which these people do exclusively? Never once did this author ask why infant mortality was so high. And yes, the Hadza do have a comparable life-span to the rest of us if they survive the first five years, after that, but this is one society. Why look only at one that supports your thesis and ignore others which do not - such as, for example, ancient Egyptians, who had a relatively stress-free life and very pure foods compared with ours, and yet who lived only into their thirties for the most part? It would have been nice to have seen the author play devil's advocate instead of harping only on her own theme.

The author references a 2016 paper regarding an experiment by Erica D. Sonnenburg et al with two sets of mice, each of which was artificially infested with the same specific set of gut microorganisms. One set of mice was fed a diet rich in fiber whereas the other was poor in fiber. The results over four generations showed that gut bacteria diversity was adversely impacted by the low fiber diet. I don't have a problem accepting this at all, but the author's report made no mention of the mice's health! Was thatadversely impacted or were both groups equally healthy? In which case, what did this study show that was relevant to her thesis?

I couldn't read the study itself, because it's hidden behind Nature journal's paywall. It may well be that health was impacted (or would be), but to present a study like this which does not directly support the author's thesis is confusing a best, and misleading in that it implies such a thing when it actually makes no such claim. Another example of this was when I read that “It’s important to remember that you first must have microbes that are capable of feeding on the short-chain fatty acids. The findings of German and his colleagues and the Sonnenburgs and their colleagues remind us that many strains of these beneficial bacteria have probably disappeared from the guts of those of us living in Western world.“ Probably? The reference for this was hard to find in the end notes, but seems to refer to insulin growth factor which isn't relevant here! i read a similar thing when I read, “The discovery that many of the chemicals we are consuming every day are EDCs, and are probably changing our bodies” Again, note key word 'probably'! That may well be true, but it’s not a strong argument!

Interestingly, while searching for the article to which the author referred, I came across one which explicitly says that "Human populations with a diet enriched in complex carbohydrates, such as the Hadza hunter gatherers from Tanzania, have increased diversity of the gut microbiota (Schnorr et al., 2014). In contrast, long-term intake of high-fat and high-sucrose diet can lead to the extinction of several taxa of the gut microbiota." This one would seem to fly in the face of earlier suggestions in this book that we should reduce carbohydrates and increase fats! It only goes to show that this is a very complex topic, and the welter of information flying around can be confusing to the lay person (which includes me!). The author sort of touches on this aspect of the problem without going into much of an exploration of it and how it can be counteracted. Even such a simple thing as defining terms can help.

I read of one man who had lived with the Hadza and followed their way of life for a while and he discovered: "The results showed clear differences between my starting sample and after three days of my forager diet. The good news was my gut microbial diversity increased a stunning 20%, including some totally novel African microbes, such as those of the phylum Synergistetes." note that this isn't a study and the plural of anecdote, as scientists ay, is not data But though it is just an anecdote of one man's experience, it does suggest, as a counter to some of the author's assertions, that all is not lost and a change in diet can increase diversity.

Note that this article: https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2017/08/hunter-gatherers-seasonal-gut-microbe-diversity-loss.html
suggests that there are few Hadza and fewer still who pursue traditional lifestyle. Additionally, their diet is extremely restricted: "The Hadza number just over 1,000 people, fewer than 200 of whom adhere to the traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle, which includes a diet composed mainly of five items: meat, berries, baobab (a fruit), tubers and honey." This isn't clear from what the author writes so again this book was misleading as to sample size, and dietary variation.

The article also says, "A 2016 study, published in Nature and led by Sonnenburg and senior research scientist Erica Sonnenburg, PhD, showed that while depriving mice of dietary fiber greatly reduced their gut-microbial species diversity, this diversity was restored when the dietary-fiber restriction was lifted. But if this fiber deprivation was maintained for four generations, microbial species that had initially bounced back robustly became permanently lost." This isn't exactly clear from the book, which talks only of diversity being lost over several generations, and doesn't emphasize that while we cannot replace what has truly been completely lost - not through ordinary means - we can repair what we have by a change in our diet.

It would have been nice in this book to have had less a tsunami of facts and references and more of a coherent story as to what the problem is, what the real connection is to diet and micro biota, and what we can do, realistically and practically to fix it. The author does get into that towards the end of the book and that made for impressive reading. It just takes a while to get there! I think that's one of the weaknesses of the book in that it makes for very dense reading and I cannot see this taking off popularly, which is really what a book like this needs to do, and if it doesn't, that will be a shame.

Another issue was the conflation of correlation with causation! I read, “As I mentioned, this also points to why colon and rectal cancers are now on the rise in people in their twenties and thirties in the Western world...” but just because two things happen at the same time doesn't mean they're connected. I encountered this error several times; perhaps the author has arguments and data to support such assertions, but these were either not made or not well made.

What really shone in this book for me was chapter nine where the author launches a polemic as breathtaking as it is depressing about the devaluation and even oppression of women over the last hundred years by confining them to the house and effectively enslaving them - because that's what unpaid labor is and that's what far too many women have been reduced to doing for far too many years as "housewives' stuck between the kitchen and a vacuum cleaner. This chapter is excellent, well-written, forceful, and really quite beautiful to read. It certainly won back a lot of my good grace (as well as "Goodness Gracious!") after some of the issues I'd had earlier.

So, overall, and with the caveat that this book takes some reading, I recommend it as a worthy read because it makes some really good arguments and is an important contribution to our understanding of an increasing lack of wellness in society and of possible counter-measures we - as individuals - can undertake - and the hell with government and agribusiness who, let's face it, aren't going to do a damned thing to help as long as they can keep on minting money on the backs of the sick people they;re promoting. And you can read that last clause however you like!