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

Sunday, March 19, 2017

First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen


Rating: WARTY!

I liked my previous foray into Sarah Addison Allen via The Peach keeper, but I literally could not get into this at all. It was an audio book and I listed to about a third of it, but it did not hold my interest. Half the time I honestly couldn't follow what was going on, and what I did manage to assimilate bored the pants off me.

Not literally, fortunately, since I was driving, and that would have been most unfortunate for all concerned, and even many who were totally unconcerned or who just worked at CERN. Seriously, I couldn't believe that this was the same author. It should have told me something that those who did not like The Peach Keeper were saying Allen's earlier work was better. I should have known I would see it the opposite way around!

It probably didn't help that this was book two in a series about the Waverley Family. Series are a no-no for me, generally speaking and this was no exception. It's a story wherein Waverley women are, the blurb tells us, rendered "restless by the whims of their mischievous apple tree." It's a magical tree, which I expected and would have had no problem with, but I honestly don't remember the tree being mentioned at all (it may have been). It seemed like every time I could stay tuned-in to the story, mom was lecturing her daughter, Bay.

Bay? Yes, Bay. Seriously? Yes, seriously. Who names their daughter Bay? What's her middle name? Watch? Does she stock only bikinis in her wardrobe? Does she have sandy hair? Can she be a beach at times? Does she run in slo-mo? Maybe her middle name is Gelding? She has a horsey laugh or a whinnying smile? I'm sorry, but no. I couldn't take that seriously, which is probably what tuned me out so much. So in short, I listened to relatively little, learned nothing, and disliked a lot. Not for me.


Jane Austen's England by Roy Adkins, Lesley Adkins


Rating: WORTHY!

Sometimes fortune favors the depraved, so today I have two books to blog which were pure joy to read. The first is this one, written not about Jane Austen's stories, but about her times - not her life, but the time in which she lived, and what life was like back then. It's reasonably-well documented because people were fond of writing letters and keeping journals, and some of Austen's own letters are quoted from here.

Austen was a contemporary (near enough) of Mary Shelley, although to my knowledge, the two never met. Austen was twenty-two and had completed Lady Susan when Shelly was born. She died by the time Shelley was twenty, the year before the latter published Frankenstein, so while Shelley had undoubtedly heard of Austen, the reverse was never the case. Austen as so prim and proper that the two of them probably would not have got along together even had they known each other! The Brontës were all of this era, but they were all born right around the time Austen died, so they never met either, which was probably just as well. By all accounts, Charlotte was no fan of Austen's.

There were other well-known writers alive in this era, too, such as Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, who published anonymously, Donatien Alphonse François, aka the Marquis de Sade, who died three years before Austen, and Mary Wollstonecraft, Shelley's mother, who died as Shelley was born. There was also Sophia Briscoe, and in terms of better known writers, both Charles Dickens and Mary Ann Evans, better known as George Eliot were born around the time Austen died - to within a few years. Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, better known as George Sand, was around treize when Austen died.

Austen was not the only known and read female writer of that time; Fanny Burney, Maria Edgeworth, Elizabeth Inchbald, and Ann Radcliffe all preceded her very slightly, and she knew of, and liked at least two of these. She disliked Radcliffe. The reason I mention all of these people is that this book surprisingly does not. Despite it being about Jane Austen's England, and despite it quoting many many writers of letters and journals, there are none other of what we might term "professional" writers, even mentioned! We get not a word on their lives or influence during this era. I found that very strange.

That glaring flaw aside, I enjoyed this book every much; it was well written, well-supported by contemporary account, well-referenced, and fascinating in many regards. It was very much another era back then, with different senses and sensibilities, much misplaced pride and prejudice, and a different outlook on life altogether, with death and disease looming at every stage. There was war, off an on, and many injured ex-soldiers had been left on the scrap-heap with little to their name despite their sacrifices. There was a huge gap between rich and poor, as there is now, and very little hope for - or love of - the latter.

This book devotes a chapter to each stage of life, exploring what it was like for rich and for poor, what customs and habits were, and how things fell together. There was an introduction, which I skipped as I do all antiquated prologues, prefaces, forewords and so on; then comes a chapter each devoted to marriage, "breeding", childhood, home, fashion, church, work, leisure, travel, crime, medicine, and death. Some of it is amusing, much disturbing, some very surprising. Nude weddings, for example, were not invented by Star Trek writers!

Aside from the missing writerly references, this is all-in-all a very comprehensive work, and a must-read for anyone who aspires to write a novel as Austen did. I recommend this as a worthy read, although I must confess curiosity as to why Roy gets precedence in the attribution over Lesley. The names are not alphabetical, so was this done because Roy did the most work? Because it was his idea? Or because even in 2013 when this book was published, even in a book dedicated to a woman and her times, the male still takes precedence as he did during Austen's lifetime, and the woman still takes his name?


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Rowan of the Wood by Christine Rose, Ethan Rose


Rating: WARTY!

Today I have three sorry reviews - sorry that I started reading the book in the first place! I read only a few chapters of each and was so disappointed that I DNF'd. Some idiots argue that you can't review a book when you haven't read it all, but they're morons. Yes, you can reject a book if it's garbage and or simply fails to move you anywhere other than irritation.

This is one of a pair of novels I picked up on close-out at a local bookstore. It was written by two fellow Texans, but I don't know the authors and probably would not have much in common with them if I did, they being evidently into to renaissance fairs and fantasy, and me...not so much! The books looked interesting, but when I finally got around to reading the first one, it was so loaded with fantasy trope that it turned me off. Tolkien did it all, so unless you have something really new to bring to the genre, what's the point?

This is my biggest problem with fantasy novels: they are so derivative and in a stagnating rut bordered on one side by the embarrassing lack of imagination prevalent in modern rip-offs, and on the other by a staggering absence of invention. Worse, in the case of this novel, the authors couldn't bring themselves to set the novel in is native Europe. I've seen this repeatedly in books and in so many movies. Gods forbid we should ever create a story set outside the USA. What's the point? There is nowhere else! Right?

So after an antiquated prologue so brief it may as well not exist (which I skipped as usual), we have another prologue in chapter one, which is fine. I advocate putting your prologue, if you must have one, in the first chapter. But then it skipped to the USA! Yes - let's get European fantasy and rather than set it in Europe, let's bring it to the US because really, who cares about anywhere else?>

And this from authors steeped in renaissance? You know there are plenty of third-world countries where people are perforce living lives of the same quality as those renaissance folks 'enjoyed'! Those who want to immerse themselves in that life can always move there if they really want an immersive experience. Yes I know, it's outside the US! Oh god what a quandary! Does even 'a place outside the US' exist in reality?

And do let us forget about the fact that the US has its own fantasy traditions abundant in Native American folklore. No! Those are simply not good enough! They're too primitive. Too childish. No, it must be genuine USDA grade A fantasy imported from Europe to count, but it must be set solidly in the good ole US of A to validate it. Sorry, but no, I don't shop there. The goods are tainted. This is why I quit reading this. There are many other books out there and more than a few of those get it right, I'm not going to waste time on reading any which are so very wrong-headed, and committedly-so right from the second chapter.


Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sword Art Online: Aincrad by Reki Kawahara


Rating: WORTHY!

Sword Art Online: Aincrad, known in Japanese as Sōdo Āto Onrain, which I find hilarious, is a novel which has spawned several sequels and an anime as well as the inevitable video games. I checked out the anime which is available on Netflix (as of this writing) and it wasn't watchable. I can't stand those giant, mournful eyes, and the pointy noses and chins. They look creepy to me, and it's particularly obnoxious when they have physical interactions of an intimate nature because it's like seeing children have sex. No. Just no!

Worse, the thing was subtitled and that's a no for me. Video - as defined by its very name - is a visual art, and you can't focus on that if your eyes are almost one hundred percent glued to the bottom tenth of the image trying to understand what they're saying. Not that there's much action in these minimally animated anime shows. Anime is entirely the wrong name for it; it should be called minime! But if I want to watch it, I don't want to read it at the same time! Duhh! Get a clue movie makers! If I want to read it, I'll get the book, which is what I did in this case.

Dubbed versions are also sometimes laughable because they have these middle-grade kids speaking with gruff adult voices which is beyond ridiculous, and sometimes the female voices are so spastic they make you want to tear your ears off. Suffice to say I don't watch a heck of a lot of anime!

But back to our book in progress: set in 2022, with the trope of new technology available to totally immerse gamers in virtual reality, sixteen-year-old Kazuto Kirigaya, whose game name is "Kirito", is anxious to try out this new game: Sword Art Online, of which he was a beta tester. He, along with ten thousand other players (all in Japan) is shocked to discover that once the game begins, no one cannot log out.

All of the players have been trapped by psycho game developer Akihiko Kayaba, and the sad thing is even by the end of the novel we're never given any real reason (not even a 'reason' as seen by Kayaba) why this is being done. The only way to get out is to fight your way past super monsters to the one hundredth floor. Anyone who tries to exit by means of having someone remove their telemetry head cage, will have their brain zapped by microwaves. One more thing: if you die in the game, you die in real life.

Players find they have no choice. Some hunker down and do nothing, while others form guilds to try and make their way to the top. One groups forms a huge army. Some players, such as Kirito, go it alone. Time passes and the gamers progress floor by floor. Progress isn't achieved by anything like skill or intelligence - except skill in sword-fighting, but this is what the gaming world has reduced us to: conflict and bravado.

Just like the real world, we could render the virtual worlds into anything we want, but the males in power in both these worlds have decided that testosterone rules: the real world, the gaming world, and the comic book world, and all that's important is stealing and racing cars, fighting with swords, or fighting with guns. This is the world macho men have created for us all.

Large chunks of time are bypassed in this book in the space of a sentence as the novel progresses, and suddenly we've been gaming for two years, although who is keeping track of that isn't mentioned. Maybe it's the game itself, but since they're in a virtual reality, that reality could be lying to them with each passing minute! No one considers this.

There are one or two interludes, during which Kirito meets and partners with a guild member named Asuna Yuuki, the first name of which is pretty much 'anus' backwards, unfortunately. That said, the relationship between the two, while a bit on the precipitous side, isn't too badly done, and given the stress they're under, perhaps isn't even too quick. The end was a bit abrupt and unlikely. No one who has been confined to a hospital bed essentially in a coma for two years, not even with the best and most attentive care, which few of these many thousands of gamers will have had, is going to get out of bed and start walking around five minutes after waking up!

But, despite the weaknesses, I liked the story quite a lot. I consider it a worthy read, and I was thinking I might read volume two just out of curiosity, but then I discovered that volume two consists of Kirito going back into the game (a slightly different game) to rescue Asuna, who is trapped in it! What? How is she trapped in a different game? This is my problem with series - they are by definition derivative and unimaginative, and while some authors can make a go of them, most just make a goo of them. Clearly this author can't hack it, because he's simply telling the first story over again! Except that this time it's worse, because Asuna is a maiden in distress. I'm sorry, but no! You don't get to make her a victim like this and have the guy come in and rescue her like St George saving the maiden from the dragon (exactly like that!), so further reading in this series is definitely out for me.


Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the first of this author's works I've ever encountered and it left a favorable enough impression that I want to read something else by her. I tend to take more risks with audiobooks than other formats, because I'm a captive audience in my car and I'm not fully focused on the audio when in traffic, so I tend to be a bit more tolerant - within limits! - when I'm stuck with this one book until I get back home! In this case the book was easy on the ears as was Karen White, the actor who read this book and who successfully avoided annoying me!

It's set in a fictional North Carolina location called improbably 'Walls of Water' because of the cataracts in the area, but sometimes you have to wonder if the cataracts are on people's eyes rather than cascading down the rocky hills. In this small town lives Willa Jackson, whose family used to be important, but now are just another family, and Paxton Osgood, whose family is still important, from old money, and quite snooty. Paxton's family runs to three generations here, while Willa and her grandmother, who is seriously ill, seem to be the only two of their lineage left.

Each of these two women is crippled in the same way, but for different reasons. They both suffer from chronic inertia, having settled into a rut and being either incapable of, or beyond caring if they ever escape. Willa runs a sporting goods shop, and Paxton despite being thirty, has failed to flee the nest, having made it only as far as the pool house where she currently lives. Neither of these women struck me as being particularly smart, which was a disappointment, although they were not outright dumb, either.

They're the same age and though they were both at the same high school together, they were never friends. Paxton was part of the moneyed crowd, and Willa was the school prankster, although no one knew it was she until the last day of school. The pranks were totally lame, though, so she wasn't much of a prankster. The only thing special about it is that she keeps it a secret for so long, and someone else gets the blame. The person the school thought was the prankster was Colin, Paxton's twin brother, who left town after high school and pretty much never came back until now, and only because he's supervising the landscaping on The Blue Madam - a local landmark building which Paxton is overseeing the restoration of.

It's obvious from the start that Willa and Colin are going to end up together and while this was somewhat boring and had some creepy elements to it, in the end it was a harmless relationship and far better than most YA authors bullshit 'romance' attempts, so I let that slide. Paxton's was a much more interesting relationship.

She's been lifelong friends with Sebastian, but having seen him, back in their high school days, kiss another guy on the mouth, she wrote him off as a prospect (despite having the hots for him), thinking he's gay. While this was a nice pothole to put in her road because it leaves the reader never quite sure if this is going to work or if someone else will come along for one or other of them, it's also the reason why I felt Paxton wasn't too smart. They've been close for some twenty years, yet she never figured out he's not gay, nor has she ever heard of a sexual preference called 'Bi', apparently!

So! Not a brilliant story, nor a disaster, and it did fall off the rails a bit towards the end. The murder mystery part of it is more of a hiccup than an actual plot. If it had been shorter (for example by dispensing with the "mystery" and trimming the drawn-out ending, it would have been better.

I didn't like that Willa was so very easily led by the nose and in effect controlled by Colin. It's never a good sign for a relationship when one party comes into it evidently intent upon changing the other, but as I said, in this case it was relatively harmless, so I let it slide. I recommend this if you like an easy, reasonably well-written, and quite charming story that never reaches great heights, but successfully avoids numbing depths. It has a southern charm and a country living air pervading it and overall, I liked it.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Count Zero by William Gibson


Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook. I'd read and enjoyed Neuromancer a long time ago, and Gibson followed-up with this sequel, the second in his so-called 'sprawl trilogy' but even though I also read this one, I could not remember what happened in it! That ought to have warned me right there. This one started out well enough, but after the first ten percent or so, it devolved into the most tedious rambling imaginable, and I couldn't stand to listening to it any more.

I found myself phasing it out of my consciousness, and focusing on other things instead. Since I typically only listen to audiobooks when driving, I'm used to focusing on other things, namely traffic, but I always come back to the book - it's always there on the periphery even if I'm focused on some traffic situation, but in this case it disappeared and I didn't miss it! It was minutes later that I recalled I was supposed to be listening to it, which is a sure sign the author has lost me as an audience and it's time to return this to the library and let someone else suffer through it!

The sequel to this, and the closing volume of the trilogy is Mona Lisa Overdrive, which is an awesome name for a novel - as good as Neuromancer, so I will give that a try if the library has it. Again, I've read it before, but I barely remember it, so I'm not optimistic about liking that after this experience.

Gibson's problem is that his books now seem awfully dated. They're set in a high-tech future, but now have the same quaintness that those 'predictive' books of the nineteen-fifties had: so optimistic about technology, but so wrong about how it came to be and how it's been applied. Gibson's future is relentlessly negative, which hasn't come to be and most likely will not, unless climate changed brings us down badly. He thought we'd be getting our news by fax instead of through cell phones! His future hasn't heard of personal communication devices or anything like the world wide web.

He has medical science making huge leaps in body repair and enhancement, which is slowly coming to pass, but while he futuristically has people jacking into 'cyberspace' directly, instead of interfacing through keyboards and monitors, he has them completely unprotected against viruses and worms. This isn't credible. Neither is it credible that anyone would put their brain at risk like that unless they were nuts to begin with. On the other side of the coin, he does see corporate globalization as being troublesome, but I think Melissa Scott does a better job of visualizing the future in her Trouble and Her Friends than Gibson does in anything he's written (that I've read).

The story began interestingly enough with a mercenary by the name of Turner, being blown-up and rebuilt. He's recuperating with a fine girlfriend, but he doesn't realize she's been paid to nursemaid him until Conroy shows up. An old colleague, Conroy wants Turner's help in extracting a member of one global corporation and delivering him to work for a rival company. Meanwhile, the standard Gibson style hacker, Bobby Newmark, the Count Zero of the title, almost dies when trying out some new software. He's saved by the daughter of the man who Turner and Conroy are trying to extract. Her name is Angie Mitchell, and she has the ability to "jack in" to cyberspace without a jack.

As you can see, Gibson's work has heavily influenced what came afterwards, notably, the Matrix trilogy of movies, and the Thirteenth Floor movie which got very little traction, but which is a favorite of mine. The problem with him, for me, is that he's pretty much remained static, with his one-hit wonder, Neuromancer, the only thing to have honestly impressed me of all he's written, and a large part of that was Molly Millions, aka Sally Shears, who makes only the briefest of appearances in this middle volume before playing a larger role in the finale.

I can't recommend this one, though.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson


Rating: WARTY!

In yet another audiobook experiment, I decided to explore a novel by Ibbotson, whom I've never read before, and doubt I will again after this! It began a little shakily (I skipped the prologue, which isn't always easy to do in an audiobook, so I consider myself quite accomplished on that score!), but the book began growing on me. That lasted to twenty-five percent in, but the next ten percent was so boring and unnecessary, and irrelevant to the theme (assuming the theme is to get the countess below the stairs and the earl above them together), that I DNF'd the whole thing.

At first I thought that the young lord of the manor, Rupert, would immediately fall for the Russian countess, who is forced into work as a maid, but he's actually fallen for the nurse, Muriel, who took care of him when he was wounded during the closing overs of World War One. I was convinced that would change, though. The nurse, I decided, would probably end up being a gold-digger. In the end, I became more interested in her, and began to think that this story would have been a vastly-improved romance had it been about Muriel and Rupert, and Anna the countess left out of it altogether. She was tedious.

Why this countess is a maid rather than say, a governess or a lady's companion, or even keeps her title, is conveniently bypassed by the author, presumably the only reason being that it wouldn't work in getting her and the earl into close proximity. Anna is a young Russian Countess forced to flee Russia after the revolution. Now she's impoverished, and inexplicably forced into menial work to get by. The Earl of Westerholme's household takes her on temporarily, and she works hard, determined to do her best. Rupert was not destined to become the next earl until his older brother was killed in the war whence, in line with the British custom of Primogeniture, everything passed to the oldest remaining male.

But rather than take off when Rupert arrived, this story dissipated into endless rambling asides about an odd assortment of characters and the so-called romance never got started - not in the first third, which was all I could stand to hear. I dislike instadore, but this went in completely the opposite direction, offering no reason at all to imagine that these two would get together! On top of that, the author has the countess (as the maid) behaving so inappropriately that she would have been summarily dismissed without references had this really been England in the inter-war years. The author's approach misfires even more than Rupert's aeroplane engine, and that crashed and burned!


Girl Undone by Marla Madison


Rating: WARTY!

Not to be confused with A Girl Undone by Catherine Linka, or Girl, Undone by Kendall Aimee Kennedy, or JJ Girl Undone by the amazingly-named Nicole Crankfield-Hamilton, this is volume three in a series of which I have read neither of the previous volumes, but it seems you do not have to have read those in order to make take-up this one. I was going to phrase that as 'make sense of this one', but decided that was being too generous!

The main characters are TJ Peacock, a security consultant (read private eye wannabe), and Lisa Rayburn, a clinical psychologist. Didn't like the first. Not interested in the second. They're hired by a woman who has a shady mob-related past, and whose niece was kidnapped for three-days and then let go, but who has no recollection of what happened. The only clues are the fact that she was dating an older guy, who then dumped her for his wife, claiming that they were reconciling, and a shady roommate who subsequently disappears.

In addition to this, there is a blogger who is being threatened apparently by a serial killer. Since he's had bad things to say about police competence, the detective who is assigned to his case is not all that enthusiastic about it. This detective is married to TJ. This was a pleasant surprise because it's unusual for a PI (which is what TJ obviously is, despite her career title) to have a relationship worth the name, but other than that, I wasn't moved by this story, and saw no reason to pursue a whole series.

It didn't begin well, with a kidnap victim showing up in a shopping a mall, yet no one thinks to check the security video? She's discovered and identified by a security consultant, who is evidently too stupid to think of doing basic detective work to see if anyone can be tied to this girl. She was wearing a hospital gown, and someone must have seen something out of place somewhere!, but TJ is too stupid to follow up, so the story started off lacking any credibility as a professional work. The problem as that it never improved.

It did pick up for me when I learned that a possible motive for the kidnapping was harvesting eggs, but that wasn't sufficient to turn it around, because it started going downhill after that, and the harvesting rationale was mundane and didn't make a whole heck of a lot of sense. I really didn't like these characters, not TJ, not Lisa very much, and not TJ's husband, nor did I find myself really caring about Kelsey, the kidnapped girl.

One issue was the derisory tone of the writing. I read irksome things like, "Her posture carried her tall frame with nearly military precision although there was nothing remotely masculine about her." Excuse me? You can't be feminine and in the military? What an awful thing for a female author to say about her gender!

It got worse. Later I read, "The man's voice hinted at homosexuality, with a soft lisp that almost sounded deliberate." What? This kind of thing really dropped me out of the story and made me not want to read any more. Note there's a difference between an author's character saying things like those: people are dicks at times, after all. Some people make a full time job of it, but when it's the author including these comments in the narrative, as was done here, then it's highly unlikely I'm going to ever be much of a fan of that author's writing.

Another oddball one was "The inside of the house definitely lacked a woman's touch," which is on oddly genderist thing to say whichever way you look at it: every home needs a woman? Not necessarily! Every home that has a woman ought to evidence a distinctly feminine touch? Again, no!

Some of the police procedural behavior here was laughable, too. I don't mind that, if the author's intent is to show a bad or sloppy cop, but this is TJ's husband investigating this crime, and I assume we're not supposed to consider that he's inept, but he is, and appallingly so.

There's a blogger in the story who is being harassed by someone who appears to be a serial killer. At one point, the killer breaks into the blogger's place when he's not home and steals a couple of his rare potted plants. The blogger discovers the killer left a note for him on his computer. It's never explained how the guy got past the blogger's password, but the problem here isn't so much that, as the fact that there's no talk whatsoever of the machine being fingerprinted! Yes, the intruder probably wore gloves, but here, with the keyboard, and elsewhere, with maybe a hair sample or something, was a chance to potentially get forensic evidence of a killer, and the cop is completely lackadaisical about it.

The killer was in that very room and may have left other evidence, but the cop doesn't care. Later, this same psycho sends the blogger an email, but nothing is done to follow up on it because, we're told, the email was sent from "... a big-box appliance store south of Milwaukee that sold electronics." This detective never once considers going to the store and looking at security video to see if they can identify the killer! Maybe there was no such video, but to not even consider pursuing the possibility is bad writing that makes cops look like idiots. Trust me, they're not. Well, okay, some are, but not a large number! This one, unfortunately, is, which makes him a joke that's not funny, and certainly not someone worth reading about.

The author is using this big-box store as an excuse to not be able to track the guy down via email, but stores don't simply let you use free email. The guy would have had to have accessed some email account in order to send the message, even if he was sending it from a random computer, yet there is no follow up on this, either! This struck me as appallingly bad writing, with the author so focused on pursuing this step-by-step plot she's worked out, that she either didn't care or never noticed that some of it made no logical sense.

All of this was by a only one third of the way through this, so it didn't feel at all promising, I pursued it a bit further, but finally lost patience and DNF'd it once I realized the egg harvest was no real mystery, the young girl was an idiot, and the identity of the serial killer was obvious to everyone except the people looking for the killer! Maybe I'm wrong on that score since I didn't finish the novel, but it seemed to me that for Bart, the blogger, the wolf was in the kitchen.

As I said, I'm usually bad about figuring these things out, so I probably am wrong, but the thing is at that point, I really didn't care who the killer was or what happened next. Life's too short for books that don't grab me by the entrails, and my reading list is long! I can't recommend this based on what I read.


Friday, February 17, 2017

Hollywood Homicide by Kellye Garett


Rating: WARTY!

Erratum:
"After what felt like a millennia" should read either "a millennium" or omit the 'a' altogether. Millennia is plural.
"No I couldn't take let you do that." is confused!

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

I'm really sorry to post a negative review on this one because it had some good qualities and I think this writer is one to watch, but for me, this novel simply didn't make the grade. In the interests of full disclosure, this is the start of an intended series, and I am not typically a fan of series, especially not detective series. This one intrigued me, and while it started out interestingly and had some fun characters and a sense of humor, it quickly went downhill as the main character demonstrated an increasing level of stupidity and ineptitude. I don't mind a main character who starts out dumb and wises-up as the story progresses, but when it goes the other way, it's not a good sign.

The problem is that this main character, Dayna is going way above and beyond her initial purview and we're never offered any valid reasons for this. I do get that this is what these amateur detective stories do, and it wouldn't be so bad if we were offered even a half-assed justification for it, but we don't get any here. Her motivation was supposed to be that her father is at grave risk of foreclosure. There's a reward of fifteen thousand dollars for information leading to the arrest of the hit and run driver who killed this girl named Hayley, so Dayna starts thinking about how she can get that money. So far so good. This is perfectly sensible and reasonable, but it neither explains nor validates some of the ridiculous things she does.

Dayna is a little slow on the uptake in realizing that they have the offending vehicle on video, but this is forgivable, given that she was out partying with friends that night and wasn't exactly sober. Once she acquired the video though, she just needed to pass it on to the police and she was done, but she doesn't do this. She doesn't have to become a private detective, yet she does take this on in her own very amateur and bumbling way.

The problem here is that she ends up breaking the law and getting in the way of the investigation rather than helping move it along, blundering into situations where she's very likely to tip-off potential suspects and have them skip town or go into hiding rather than having them end-up being successfully fingered for the crime. This is where Le Stupide set in with a vengeance and I found myself cringing rather than laughing or being excited by the story, and it's where I began to lose interest in this character.

Whenever Dayna gets some information, she routinely fails to pass it on to the police - the very people whom she hopes will facilitate this reward so she can help out her dad. The police get it at best second-hand if at all, and this betrays her, because it makes her look less interested in helping dad than it does in being a busybody and a rubbernecker. She insists on following-up evidence herself without passing it on, or she withholds it from the police because in her very amateur opinion, it's never enough.

Because of this, by about sixty percent through the novel she's pretty much a bigger criminal than the one she's trying to track down - at least in terms of how many laws she's breaking. At one point she and some friends discover a robbery has taken place, and rather than inform the police right away, these idiots go trampling all over the crime scene, destroying any clues that the police might have found to help them track down the thieves.

In short, Dayna is moronic. She obsesses over leaving her prints on a baseball cap she finds, yet spares not a single thought for the entire crime scene she just destroyed, evidence-wise. She's thoroughly incompetent, yet never once did she get chewed-out by the police who in reality would have had this clown arrested for interfering with a crime scene, or perverting the course of justice, which she does repeatedly.

At one point Dayna comes into possession of security video tape which positively identifies one of the house burglars who is linked to the hit and run, yet instead of just passing it on to the police and letting them do their job, she takes off on another tangent on her own, all the time lying to her best friends that she's not pursuing this on her own. It was never explained how it was that these relatively amateur thieves knew there were no alarms at this particular house - which was in a very swanky neighborhood where alarms and high-level security were the norm, not the exception, so this robbery made very little sense to begin with except as a poorly-staged venue for Dayna to get a clue. Which she never really does in any meaningful sense, quite frankly.

Dayna herself was not a likable person, and she looked ever more dumb as the story unfolded. It's not surprising that the murderer targets her (so we;re told. I remain unconvinced, but this was around eighty percent in, when I had honestly lost interest altogether. I DNF'd this at ninety or so when the story, instead of smartly winding-up, devolved into an endless ramble. The novel was about a third too long and moved too slowly.

At that point I was wishing the near-miss traffic accident had not missed her. The driver would have done LA a service by getting this inept fool out of the way of the real police work. There are intelligent ways to write your character into places and situation she should not be -ways that don't make her look like a major buttinsky, but this story seemed bent on going the dingbat route every time, making Dayna look far more like dumbbell than some belle detective. Because this kind of thing was the norm rather than the exception in this novel, in the final analysis, I can't recommend this book as a worthy read and I will definitely not be following this series.


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui


Rating: WARTY!

I can't give you a full review of this one because I grew tired of it so quickly and simply didn't want to read on when I have so many other books calling to me. I read about a tenth of it and I simply couldn't get interested in it. It moved so slowly and was so self-obsessed that it was tedious to read.

The basic plot is that psychiatrists are using a new device to invade dreams to try to help people with mental issues, but are being overtaken by the dreams and driven insane. Well yeah, since dreams are essentially meaningless drivel, it would be a nightmare for even the dreamer to try to unravel them - assuming that's even possible - let alone some stranger try to figure out what it means, so the premise wasn't exactly a charmed one and in the end, it just didn't appeal to me at all.


Friday, February 10, 2017

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly


Rating: WARTY!

I found this best seller to be very disappointing. I listened to the audio-book version which lacked a little something in enthusiasm, but otherwise wasn't too bad of a listen in terms of the reader's voice. The problem was much more with the material, and it got me thinking about what people would be looking for when they pulled this off the shelf at the book store or the library, and whether they would be as disappointed in it as I was. For me, I was looking for what promised to be an interesting and shamefully belated story of the contribution of black women to the US space program. Waht OI got was a rambling family history written by a relative which was more focused on rehashing the shameful black history of the US rather than telling the story of these women.

Though the Russians put a woman into space in 1963 (Valentina Tereshkova), it was really more of a showboat than a space flight, aimed at furthering the embarrassment the Americans, who were continually playing catch-up back then, than ever it was a serious effort to integrate women into the space program. The Americans to their shame, took twenty years to set this right, and it wasn't until a year after the Russians had put a second woman into space, Svetlana Savitskaya.

Sally Ride was a physicist and went into space aboard the shuttle in 1983. It took the bulk of another decade before the first black woman went into space: Mae Jemison, who is an engineer and a physician and went up in 1992, which was a decade after the first black male astronaut, Guion Bluford, had gone up there. Everyone knows Armstrong and Aldrin. They may even know names like Gagarin and Glenn, but few know the names of Bluford and Jemison. No one even remembers the second two men on the Moon (it was Charles Conrad and Alan Bean), so why would they ever hear about black women who helped make it possible for early astronauts to get into space and return safely?

Of course we typically don't hear of the back-room people in these adventures, so this isn't quite as bad as it's painted, but what makes it worse is that white people tend to think that all of those 'unsung heroes' are also white, and so do far too many black people. It's a bad habit that shamefully overdue for correction, so it's a good thing to learn that no, they're not all white! A good many of them are black (and Asians and Hispanics too, for that matter). I just wish the three depicted in this book: Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Dorothy Vaughan, had a better memorial.

The book covers a range of topics and many people, but is primarily about those three women who succeeded despite having to contend with the appalling discrimination which had become so embedded in the nation's psyche so much that it was actually considered normal back then, and in some minds, is still viewed that way today. But let's not mention any recent presidents.

The problem I had is that the book is so intent upon laying the scene that the main characters tend to get subsumed into the scenery, which in my opinion does them a dire disservice. The discerning listener can pick out their dark threads which have been in the dark for far too long before now, finally, being brought into the light, as they run through the story and intertwine, along with other characters, such as the rebellious Miriam Mann, who quietly removed the 'coloreds' sign from the cafeteria table every time a new one appeared until whoever was putting it there finally gave up. A small victory but an important one.

So while I believe books of this nature are important ones, I have to caution potential readers about this one. You should consider what it is you're looking for before you plump for this volume. If it's a book version of the movie you just saw, then this isn't it. This is much longer, and more detailed and in considerably more depth than Hollywood ever likes to go, and more than you (or I) might be prepared for. If you're looking for black abuses revisited, then this will work for you, but if you've been there and done that, and are looking for something a bit different this time like a good real life story that gets under the personal skin of the black female experience, this one might leave you as dissatisfied as it did me.

Hollywood likes it short and snappy, perky and preferably controversial, but shallow and easy and that has its place, but this isn't any of that apart from the controversial bit), and it rambles endlessly and digresses mercilessly, and offers all kinds of details you may not care about or be interested in (such as soap-box derbies).

It doesn't even get to the NASA bit until two-thirds the way through, and then it's a long stretch of John Glenn, a huge leap from there to the Apollo program and the Apollo 1 disaster (from which NASA learned nothing if we're to judge from the subsequent Challenger and Columbia disasters which together robbed us of more than four times as many astronauts as the Apollo One fire did), and then a quick skip to the moon landing and we're done. I confess I skipped tracks increasingly as I plowed through this as the bits that interested me became ever more scarce, but I did want to tackle this before I took on the easy, sugar-coated, and simplified version of the movie. I haven't seen that yet, but even unseen, I'd recommend the movie over this for most people.


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Happiest Kids in the World by Rina Mae Acosta, Michele Hutchison


Rating: WARTY!

I requested this book because I thought it would be interesting, and in some ways it was, but I evidently expected too much from it because it failed to make a case for me. It's sad, because I felt like I shared some common ground with the authors. I've never been to Holland, but I grew up in England and went to school there, and now I'm seeing my own kids through school in the US, so I share two of the three perspectives presented here, but I have to say that the picture painted by the authors felt narrow, very biased, and worse than this, there was really nothing offered to suggest how a nation which might want to emulate the Dutch could get from here to there.

The fact that we call them Dutch, and they call themselves Nederlanders, and we call the nation Holland is an interesting mix of etymology which has deep roots. The word 'dutch' just means people, and there were mountain dutch and lowland dutch, but the ones we now call Dutch go stuck with the abbreviated version of that title. Holland was just one part of a group of people who settled together into one nation, and the rest of them got stuck with that name! Nothing to do with the book, but just in passing....

I'm open to the notion that the Dutch can teach us some things, but I was neither convinced that they have a world-beating handle on things by this book, nor that what was presented here offered was anything more than what intelligent and common-sense parents are doing anyway. In this regard it was rather insulting because the authors seemed intent upon translating a lot of personal perceptions into a generalized diagnosis of, and prescription for everyone, so that all Dutch were painted the same color - and a very bright one, whereas all Brits and all Americans were each panted their own dull and muddy shade of grey. This struck me as entirely unfair.

In 2013, a Unicef report rated Dutch children as the happiest in the world, so something seems to be working there. Two writers, a Brit named Michele Hutchison who moved to the Netherlands in 2004 with her Dutch husband, and an American, Rina Mae Acosta who is also married to a Dutch guy, are raising their kids in Amsterdam and they explored why it is that Dutch children are so happy. This book is the result. In that same survey, Britain ranked 16th and the USA ranked 26th, which was just above the three poorest countries in the survey, so I can't help, but ask why that is. Why did the Dutch do so well, and the Americans and Brits so poorly? or is it not quite so black and white as is portrayed here?

While I initially felt that I might like this book, and rate it positively and encourage others to read it, the more I read of it, the more disillusioned I became. It is truly important to widen our perspective when it comes to how we live our lives, and in particular, how we relate to and raise our children, but I had serious qualms about the validity of the conclusions the authors were drawing.

The first of and most obvious of these is that the Unicef report was only one survey, and a recent one, so I have to say I'm skeptical about basing any long-range planning on a single narrow study. The study did cover five dimensions: material well-being, health and safety, education, behavior and risks, and housing and environment, but the idea that the Dutch do it best is based on that single snapshot. I'd have to ask: were Dutch kids also the happiest five, ten, fifty years before? If so, then we have something to build on, if not, then what's changed and how reliable is it? We don't know from what we're told here, and that question isn't asked in this book.

There was one part of this book which related how the principal of a school, who liked to greet each child as they came in through the door, mentioned that this was not always the way it was done: kids came piling in chaotically when she first arrived. This is a change she has made herself to this one school. There was no mention of whether this same polite, stress-free organization existed in other schools or whether it was just this one principal's peccadillo. To me this was a failing, and it was one which ran like a thread through the book. There is no grand plan here or any deep survey, just a lot of anecdote and opinion. It's not something I'd want to base my kids' futures on.

This book does cover raising children from conception through schooling, so in that regard, it's comprehensive, but the authors haven't finished putting their kids through high school, and since this is based so much on personal experience, that end of things was a bit bare; however, it was at the beginning of that path of life where I encountered another instance of confusion or conflation. At one point early in the book the authors praise the Dutch for their having babies at home as opposed to in the delivery ward of the nearest hospital, but later we learn that only 25% of Dutch mothers-to-be actually do this.

Now that's higher than in other countries, but I'm unclear what the point was that the authors were trying to make here. If the number of moms (even though it's relatively large) is still in the minority, can we make any valid claim that this materially contributes to anything beyond the personal, much less to kids being happy?

This was further confused later when I read of moms in the US and Britain, who do give birth in hospital, being kicked out after a very short stay. This was mentioned like it was a problem, but If the idea is to have a safe birth and then get mom home as soon as is practicable, how is this problematical as compared with those quarter of Dutch moms who stay home for the birth? I didn't get the point of those portions of the book which were like this.

What bothered me is that the authors clearly are starting out with the conclusion that the Dutch do it better than anyone and the Brits and the Americans do it badly by comparison, yet we never get any questioning of whether this is really true on a widespread basis. The odd survey will only tell you so much, yet the Dutch get endless praise here to the point of it being tedious and irritating. Frankly this praise felt like fan-girling. We never got an unbiased perspective with the same kind of detail on how things are done elsewhere, except for frequent and very negative sniping which was as unfair as it was inaccurate.

Worse than this, we tend to get a lot of personal anecdote from one or other author including a three-page-and-a-half spread about the high-school experiences of one of the authors. While it's sad that anyone should have to go through what she did, the fact remains that it's her personal subjective experience. So far so good, but the thing is that after a revelation like this one, the authors generalize and talk as though their own personal experiences, interviews and opinion apply to everyone equally!

No, they don't. My school experience in Britain was far removed from hers, and my kids' experiences are likewise far removed from the ones depicted here as being representative of the USA. You cannot generalize from the personal or blandly take your own experience and treat it like it speaks for everyone. It was things like this which made me quickly lose all faith in this book's message, turning me from a potential convert to an adverse critic.

The vista over which this book looks is disturbingly narrow. We get a lot of author opinion, and we get second-hand interviews and comments made by Dutch women, but for a book about children's happiness, we get precious little from the kids. We don't get a significant number of kids views, and the few we do get are anecdotal Dutch ones. We almost never hear from other kids in other countries, and the authors make no effort to try to seek out views which might actually oppose theirs, to give some balance to the presentation.

It's this lack of adequate comparison with other countries in a quantifiable way which lets the book down. We hear a lot of opinion, but precious little to back it up. One thing that's mentioned, for example, is suicides in Silicon valley, but if we look national suicide rates in Wikipedia, the Dutch do not come out best! A lot of Middle-East countries are lowest, with the Dutch appear halfway down the list, beating US citizens, but not doing as well as the British. It seems to me if the kids are extraordinarily happy here, this certainly doesn't seem to permeate into adulthood, and the authors never address this or ask why. They simply keeping on pointing to the shiny Dutch way and praising the bright colors of the Dutch lifestyle, conveniently ignoring the fact that it's a rather thin veneer of paint in many places.

One of the odd things which are praised is how tall Dutch men and women are. This point was made over a dozen times in one way or another, but I fail to see how it relates to happy children, unless being happy somehow magically makes a person taller! Dutch men average the tallest in the world at five feet eleven inches in the survey I read, although the authors cite one which quotes them at six feet one inch. Dutch women came second to Latvian women for tallest, but the fact is that eight other nations in the survey I saw were within two centimeters of the Dutch, so I kept asking, "What's your point?" I still don't know! Nor do I know how tall the authors are, talking of perspective. If they're relatively short, then perhaps the Dutch men did seem particularly tall and this is why they kept returning to this. Again, it felt like fan-girling. Other than that I have no explanation for the repeated references to it!

This was one of a many digressions which took us away from the main topic (if we assume from the book title that the main topic is childhood happiness). It's for this and related reasons that I have questions about the approach this book took. If we put aside the Unicef survey for a minute, the entire rest of the book consisted of observations and some interviewing, but there was really nothing offered to support a causal relation between A and B - it was simply assumed.

At one point, for example, the book began talking about biking adding six months to life expectancy. It rambled on about how the Dutch have taken to bikes and how children learn to bike independently to school at an early age, and while I can see that this contributes to children gaining confidence, I don't see how it's any different from other activities pursued by children in other countries which contribute equally to child welfare and confidence. It was just tossed in under the untenable and unsupported assumption that this very Dutch activity was quite different from anything any other nation does and therefore must somehow contribute to this unique Dutch happiness!

The most amusing thing to me about this whole story of children biking to school was that the author complained of how busy the bike lanes were, yet the school was only a half mile away! Why were the children not walking, and getting their exercise and building their confidence that way? It was one more confusing episode that made no sense at all.

Meanwhile, the dangers of cycling were swept under the rug. A report discussed at DutchNews.nl (April 2016) shows that 25% of those who die in a road accident in the Netherlands are cyclists, compared with a European average of 8%. Denmark and Hungary are next on the unsafe cycling list; in both countries, 16% of the people who die in road accidents are cyclists, so to pretend there is no problem with cycling safety or that dangers are low and controlled is simply dishonest.

With regard to child mortality, it's the same in the Netherlands as it is in the U.K., with the US being about twice that. other numbers do not put the Netherlands out there as a shining and unique exemplar. This is not to run the Dutch down but to put things into a perspective which the authors of this book seemed somewhat loathe to embrace in their gushing prose. There's a report online which numbers 2,375 children as victims of human trafficking in the EU in 2013 and 2014, and most come from Bulgaria, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, and Romania. This did not fill me with confidence that the Dutch system is so much better or safer. These are just a couple of examples which I found quickly and which are glossed over or ignored here.

I'd have been a lot happier if their survey of childhood happiness had gone wider and crossed a greater range of social classes. This is why I had questions about whether the authors of this book are correctly diagnosing the situation. Perhaps they are. Perhaps everything they have discussed is measurably a contributor to their conclusion and explains why Dutch children are happier, but I never felt convinced of it by what I read. It was all too loosely wrapped, too rambling, too repetitive and disorganized.

The authors offer a lot of suggestions, but nowhere was there any discussion about whether or not other parents in other countries were already doing these things despite not being Dutch, or whether it was even practical to advocate 'the Dutch way' when so much of it is inextricably tied to Dutch culture and Dutch laws, and government and national attitudes. You can't simply move those things to another country, and even if you could, you can't expect them to work as they do at home. Also conspicuous by its absence was any survey of Dutch ex-pats, who are living in other countries, but adhering to the Dutch method. Does it even work abroad? How do their kids fare? The book is silent on this perspective.

There was some talk of stress. One the one hand we're told that the Dutch lifestyle avoids stress and this is a contributor to happiness, but then the authors turn right around and tell me that there's a special world in Dutch, Faalangst, which is exactly what it sounds like: fail angst. The very fact that such a concept exists and has a special word for it presupposes that there's stress and attendant measurement of it, which are the very things we're told don't exist! This evident hypocrisy was not an isolated incident.

One section of the book covers bullying, and Britain and the US are given a poor commentary here, yet a quick look online again reveals that this is not a fair picture. World Atlas doesn't show Britain or the US in the worst 10. Even in this older study more UK students (42%) said they were happier in school most of the time than on average in the rest of Europe (33%). Most of the bullying seemed to be tied to racism and religion, and nothing to do with pressure of school work. This study reports the Netherlands and the UK almost neck-and-neck with the US not far behind, so there appears not to be a huge discrepancy.

Google really screwed me over yesterday when I began writing this! I must have hit some oddball key combination while typing, and my entire blog edit screen went blank! I'd never encountered this before, nothing I did would bring it back, and my last save had a half-hour before because I was so focused on writing this! Google doesn't do backups or undo in its blogger environment.

More fool me for trusting Google, whose motto is "don't be evil"! Thanks Google. That's a half hour of my life I can't get back! I decided to quit for the night because I'd spent so long on this. The rest of my review, below, is more of a summary so I don't end up spending a large portion of yet another evening on this when I need to be doing other things!

So let's get going. On another tangent, the book delved into antibiotic use, and yes, the Netherlands does commendably have the lowest human antibiotic consumption rate in Europe, but what this book doesn't reveal is that between 2005 and 2009 The Netherlands also was among those nations with the highest sales of antibiotics for veterinary use of 10 European countries investigated! It's the antibiotic use in animals which is really the issue in the form of germs building resistance to the drugs, and which is becoming a chronic and dangerous problem, so once again we had a biased perspective which favored the Dutch.

Anecdotal stories of kids being too tied up with "building up their resumes" instead of playing outside that were related here neither described my childhood in England, nor that of my own kids' childhood here in the US. I'm guessing they don't represent a whole host of other kids either, judged from what I see in my neighborhood, so once again we had a personal perspective being generalized and applied as though everyone else was the same. It's not the case, and it's misleading.

At one point the authors gush about how Dutch moms never get depressed, but dutchdailynews.com reports that "The Netherlands, U.S. Have Highest Depression Rates in World"! Another web site, iamexpat.nl, agrees: "... new study has found that the Dutch have very high rates of depressive disorders compared to the rest of Europe." The nltimes.nl website agrees: "Eight percent of the Dutch population aged 12 years and older admitted to suffering from depression in 2014. That is more than 1 million people."

So once again we get a different view outside of the book to the one we got inside it, and the one inside both favors the Dutch and appears not to have been well-considered. The more of these instances I encountered, the less confidence I had that this book was being fair or was telling it how it really is!

One of the things mentioned more than once was the Dutch habit of making a "breakfast" out of chocolate sprinkles on a slice of bread and butter. That sounds yukky to me, but apparently it's quite popular; however, as dutchfood.about.com explains, it's not the only thing they have for breakfast and I think it's misleading to go on about it like it is.

This lack of a reliable and comprehensive coverage of the facts was disturbing to me, and I found it over and over again. For example, the chapter on PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) fails to mention how close most results are, giving a false impression. It does show that the Netherlands is in the lead (except in science, where the U.K. came ahead, but the book mentions only the ranking, without recognizing that the rankings can be misleading. Look for yourself, here.

In this chart, for reading, the Netherlands is placed 11th, the UK comes 27th, and the US a "shocking" 41st! But if you look at the actual scores, the Netherlands gets a 512, the UK a 492, and the US a 470. This is a less than a 10 percent difference. So yes, the Netherlands is ahead, and yes, the UK and the US need to do more, but the actual difference is smaller than we're led to believe when we're told only the rankings. This same mis-perception applies to reading, where Netherlands scored 503, the UK 498, and the US 497. That's a one percent difference, but to hear only the ranking, we learn that the Netherlands came fifteenth, while the UK and US were 22nd and 24th. That makes it sound so much worse and it's misleading. This also applies to the science scores, where there's only a two percent difference.

So yes, the authors made their point about the Netherlands having a decent education system, but need that have been done at the expense of unnecessarily dissing the US and the UK? No, it needn't, and worse than this is the studied ignoring of all those nations which appeared above the Netherlands in the scoring, such as for example, Norway, which scored well in PISA and also did well in the happiest kids ranking, as did Finland (except in science!), Germany, Switzerland, and Belgium to name five. None of these other countries come under the microscope in order to determine what it is they're doing right and whether or not it compares or contrasts with the Dutch system. Again, I found this lack of a wider perspective to be glaring and regrettable.

There was a chapter on discipline which showed a Dutch bias too: even as we're told Dutch kids are badly behaved (as in running around in restaurants, and so on), we're expected to accept that and not find any real fault with it. Again we're given no comparative examples except for one anecdote of quiet French kids on beach! These quiet kids were taken as representative of the entire French nation and contrasted with the Dutch kids who were exploring and so on.

For all we knew, the French kids had been exploring, and were tired and wanted to rest. Maybe they'd been to that beach many times and were bored. Maybe they'd been brought to the beach against their will and resented it because they'd rather be doing something else. The fact is that we don't know, and even if we did know, it was entirely wrong and completely unfair to make a comparison like that and generalize from it. These two chapters were really the final straw for me, and they lost whatever remaining goodwill I'd harbored for this book, because this type generalization was rife: taking a few stories, or an interview or two, or a personal opinion, and extrapolating it into a grand argument favoring the Dutch way.

In the final analysis, we have only a narrow viewpoint from two writers who are apparently quite comfortably-off as judged from the text (occupations, lifestyle, friends, etc.). One of the things they discuss is owning cargo bikes and tandem bikes which can cost several thousand dollars, but my point here is that their perspective is not necessarily representative of everyone, and I didn't see any serious effort to expand their viewpoint beyond their circle of friends and acquaintances or to seek out contrary points of view for the sake of presenting a balanced argument. It seemed like the only things they were reporting were those which upheld their preconceived conclusion, and they were downplaying or ignoring anything which might sabotage that apple cart.

Finally, I have to say a few words about the technical aspects of reading this book. The advance review copy, for which I thank the publisher, was available only as a PDF, and it felt to me like it was written for the print edition, with no thought given to reading it as an ebook. If you can read it on a tablet or a desktop or laptop, and see it pretty much full size, then it makes for a decent read.

I read most of it on my phone, because it was more convenient for me, but it made for a very annoying read! The screen on my phone is larger than most, but if I tried the read the book as single pages, the text was annoyingly small. I could turn the phone sideways and read the text in a larger format, but then I had to contend with sliding the page up and down to read all of it. This would not have been so bad had it not been for the tendency of the app (BlueFire Reader) to get confused. Often when I tried to slide the page down or up, the screen would switch to the previous page or to the next page, There didn't seem to be any reliable way to swipe the page up or down without triggering a page change and it really was annoying. In the end I put up with the tiny text and read it as single pages. Just FYI!

Here are one or two more brief notes that I missed yesterday(!), in this and the next two paragraphs. A paper on Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) noted that "The incidence of STI-consultations and diagnoses increased substantially in recent years, both at GPs and STI centers" so again, not everything is as perfect as it might seem with Holland's child-rearing practices. A reason for this STI increase might be that Dutch do not employ condoms as frequently as some other countries in Europe, such as France, for instance. Maybe those French kids on the beach were soberly contemplating that?!

On this same sexual score, the incidence of teen pregnancy in Holland is almost the same as in Germany, and HIV infections and abortion rates are higher in the Netherlands than in Germany, so here we have another case of another country doing equally well, without a hint of recognition from the authors, or any hint of questioning whether the Germans do things the same, or differently, and what that means in either case. Again it's biased reporting.

There's a comment at one point on the wearing of school uniforms, which isn't the practice in Holland. The problem with this is once again that the authors don't look at the other side of that coin, either. School uniform is not just about identity and belonging, it's also about not being singled-out for one reason or another, and one of those reasons is that poor families, who cannot afford to dress their kids the way wealthier families can, do not stand out in an adverse way from everyone else who might be wearing designer clothing and the latest fashions otherwise. This is another example of where this book failed in not seeking out a broader sample base than merely the authors' own opinions, or the personal acquaintances of the authors.

So to conclude quickly, while I'm by no means trying to say that there's nothing we can learn from the Dutch, I have reiterate that this book failed to convince me that there's any more we can learn from them that smart and caring parents haven't been doing all along. Much of what's advocated here is simply common sense, and it's insulting to continually suggest that parents elsewhere, particularly in the UK and the US are not doing these things or are clueless about them.

Worse than this, though, is that their conclusion, grandly titled "Let's Start a Revolution" offered no way to start this revolution! Yes, individuals can adopt best practices, but a lot of what was discussed here was dependent upon the Dutch government, Dutch laws, Dutch culture, and so on. You can't pick that up and drop it into another country and expect it to be accepted or to work.

The authors' failure here, was in their offering absolutely no suggestions as to how other countries, even assuming they buy the authors' Dutch is best philosophy, could go about embracing the Dutch way, and if it's not possible, then what was the point of discussing all of those things? The book too often felt that it was much more interested criticizing British and American child-rearing than ever it was in trying to offer suggestions as to exactly how those societies might facilitate changes which could bring these supposed benefits of the Dutch way into those other countries, and for these reasons I cannot recommend this as a worthy read.


Saturday, February 4, 2017

Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare, Matt Wiegle


Rating: WARTY!

No Fear Shakespeare is a collection of "translated" Shakespeare texts - in other words, delivered in modern English instead of in the antique lingo with which Shakespeare was familiar. A PDF of Romeo and Juliet done in this way with the original English alongside it can be read online here. I reviewed Hamlet done this ways back in January 2017, and liked that one. This one just didn't get there for me, but it is a simpler introduction to Shakespeare if you want to try to get a handle on him.

Everyone knows the story to one extent or another, but to me this story has always been a really bad YA love story. In fact, in a way, if we include Rosalind, who despite being a no-show here, is an important player in the story, it's a bad love triangle. If John Green had written it (barf!), it would have had a truly pretentious title like, "The Absence of Rosalind" or some such trivial drivel.

Yes, Shakespeare does turn out a nice phrase here and there, but this is sadly canceled out for me by the sick bawdiness and the un-pc attitudes of every male character in the entire story, because they're omnipresent with their puerile attitude, and thoroughly out of place here. Yes, I get that this is what audiences wanted back in Shakespeare's day, but that's no reason to worship him today (or even toady). This is often praised as the love story to outdo all love stories, but it's not a love story at all. There's no love here, only a deranged lust and foolishness, shallowness and cluelessness. It's ultimately a story of the brain-dead and the vacuous, a Dick and Shame story, and if we can blame violence in society on video-games, TV, and movies, then we sure as hell can blame relationships gone wrong on Shakespeare's juvenile view of them.

I ask not "wherefore art thou Romeo?" but why Romeo & Juliet instead of Juliet & Romeo? The answer to that is that this isn't actually a story of a love, true and deep, between two people, it's about a mentally disturbed dickhead and his wasted life. Juliet is thirteen years old, and is nothing more than collateral damage here, not really a character at all, but merely a narcissistic mirror in which Romeo reflects himself in all his vainglory. Not that she has any more clue than Romeo, but he doesn't love her, he wants her only as an emollient for his rough and rudimentary lust and need.

Look how the story begins - with Romeo pining for Rosalind! He's all Rosalind all the time, and there never can be another until the instant - not after several weeks of growing to know her, but the very instant - he sets his reality-challenged eyes on Juliet. From that moment, Rosalind is out, passé, forgotten, so five minutes ago, and nothing but a flimsy fantasy. Now it's all Juliet. I call bullshit on that one!

Is this really how Shakespeare viewed love? Very likely. He married at eighteen a woman eight years his senior for no other evident reason than that he got her pregnant, so he was just as irresponsible as Romeo. Worse, he then turned into a deadbeat dad, and abandoned his family to head south to live a Hollywood life - or what passed for it back then. While he may have visited, he didn't actually return to Stratford until he grew old and retired. What did he know of true love? Nothing.

And what of positive influences in Romeo's life? There are apparently none. It seems that all he has known is violence, never love. He never talks to his parents nor they to him. He takes his advice (not that he really listens) only from kinsmen and "friends" who never once try to set him on an even keel, because they're just as shallow, belligerent, and moronic as he is!

There are no responsible women in his life, and no one at all in Juliet's - not close male family, nor female friends. She's completely isolated and essentially imprisoned, having to beg permission even to go to church and confess! What the hell sins does she have to confess? She never goes anywhere to commit any, and does nothing with her short life. She's thirteen for goodness sake, ripe for taking advantage of!

And what of their affair? They meet one evening and marry almost immediately. Instead of looking to how he can make his wife happy and how they can be together, he lets his temper get the better of him and without a thought for any consequences or for his wife, he kills someone from Juliet's own family - the very man he had sworn love and kinship to not an hour or two before! When Juliet says, "O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon" she should have used Romeo, not the Moon. The Moon is actually extremely constant, but Romeo is far from it.

For murdering Tybalt, Romeo is lucky enough to be banished, not killed, but even then he can't get his act together! At the same time as he's banished, Juliet's father pretty much threatens to banish her, so here's the perfect opportunity for the two of them to hit the road and start a new life somewhere, but neither has the smarts to see it! Instead, they both take the easy route out. In short, this story is a badly written one which could have been much improved. Not only did Romeo murder Tybalt, he also murders Paris. His behavior is one of constantly slithering away from taking responsibility for his actions. He won't own-up publicly to being Juliet's husband! paradoxically, he won't avoid a fight, yet he won't fight for his marriage. He's a train wreck not even waiting to happen and in the end the world is better off without him. The real tragedy here is that he derailed Juliet from her life, too. So much for love; try selfishness instead.

As for the graphic novel version, I can't recommend it any more highly. It does tell the full story - including the parts which the movies, even the definitive Baz Luhrman version, routinely avoid, but the artwork isn't very good, and apart from simplifying the story and making it somewhat more accessible, if that's important to you, it really doesn't bring anything new to the table.


As You Like it by William Shakespeare, Richard Appignanesi, Chie Kutsuwada


Rating: WARTY!

So when we're reviewing a graphic novel adaptation of a Shakespeare play, do we review the original work? This isn't the original work. It's an adaptation by Richard Appignanesi. So do we review the adaptive work? Well it's not original, so we can't ignore that from which it was adapted. So what about the graphic portion of it by Chie Kutsuwada? That's the only part of this work that's truly original, but even so it's still derived from Shakespeare's. Aye, there's the rub!

So, in fact, we have to review all three simultaneously. All of Shakespeare's a stage, and all the writers and artists merely players. They have their successes and their failures, and each play in its time fulfills many roles. There are seven stages. First there is the writing of the original, then comes the acting of it on the stage by the original players, then the adaptation by many other actors. Next the catch-phrases enter the lingo, and works of art take the field depicting renowned scenes form the play. Movies then come along in their various forms necessarily shedding much of the original work in order to conform to a silver screen chronology. After this come the novelizations, and the death of the play wrought by crappy YA adaptations which pay little heed to the original and, let's face it, less heed to intelligent story telling.

I have to say if I were reviewing only the Shakespeare portion of this particular story, I would have to rate it warty. The reason for this is the same reason I've rated so many YA novels negatively, because of instadore. Some reviewers call it insta-love, but the fact is that it's not love. Love is a lot more rational than writers give it credit, even as it might seem completely out of control, but what was depicted here not once, but four times, was insanity.

The truth is that what's irrational is this falling in lust (which I call instadore) and stupidly mistaking it for love. Instadore is shallow and far to fast to be meaningful. You'd have to be a moron to trust that. It doesn't mean it cannot grow into love, but the overwhelming chances are that it won't, yet endless YA authors insist otherwise. Fie on them, say I! And fie on Shakespeare's crappy, meandering, confused, and ultimately meaningless of usurpers and exiles and forest foolishness.

What I did like here was the artwork and the adaptation. Both were well done. The art in particular, which was gray-scale line drawings, was very well done, integrated with the text well, and went beyond mere panels depicting the text. It truly was worth reading. If you want to get a handle on Shakespeare and not get enmeshed in his absurd endless punning, and his clueless idea of love, his thoroughly un-pc attitude, and his boorish male characters pandering to the lowest common denominator in his audience, then starting with something like this isn't at all a bad idea. I recommend this one.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Red Angel by CR Daems


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an interesting novel, and the start of a series which I'm not sure I want to follow even though I liked this volume. I'm not a huge fan of series. Once in a while I find one I like, but more often than not, series seem to me to be lazy, derivative, and unimaginative, essentially traveling over the same ground that's already been trampled free of all character. I prefer stories that take the road less traveled, which is impossible with a series, by its very nature. I'm especially not enamored of trilogies which everyone and their uncle seems intent upon writing, particularly in the YA world.

This novel had some issues. It could have used a good editor, because parts of it were repetitive, saying the same thing over that had just been said a couple of paragraphs before, but that didn't happen often. Additionally, the story had a juvenile feel to it - like fan fiction, but for me that wasn't really a problem. I'll forgive a writer a lot if they tell me a good story, and this was a good and original story.

Main character Anna has an interesting companion. Her entire family was dying of the Cacao virus when she was four, but this krait, a type of snake, latched onto her and bit her, and the venom held the virus at bay. It did not cure her, nor did it kill her. The rest of her family died, and had the snake left her, Anna would have died too, but for reasons unknown, the snake stayed with her into adulthood, living wrapped around her neck or on her arm or leg, biting her once in a while to feed on her blood, but keeping her alive in the process, so she learns to live with it and eventually considers it to be a friend and a pet. The friendship aspect is covered a lot more than the biting and blood-sucking aspect!

The snake is repeatedly described by the author as poisonous, but snakes tend not to be poisonous: you can eat them without dying! What the writer means is that the snake is venomous, and the venom in this case is usually deadly except to Anna. People avoid these kraits like they would avoid someone who has the virus, but once it gets known that this red-headed krait can 'cure' the virus, Anna becomes a target of desperate people who also want this 'cure', so it's hard to find her a secure location with a foster family.

After a bullying incident at a boarding school, Anna comes to the attention of a navy magistrate who ends up adopting her, and thus Anna is trained at a naval academy, and there she thrives. When she's eighteen, she's offered a job with an investigative division in the Navy and she accepts. The team begins to investigate a wide-spread smuggling operation and Anna is instrumental in the pursuit. It's never quite clear what they're smuggling, although drugs are mentioned a lot.

The only problem I have with this is my generic one with these space operas. Space is far too large and habitable planets too few and very far between to make any kind of commerce financially viable unless the products are considered extremely valuable. Why would anyone pay for something to be shipped from many light years away when the can fabricate the same thing on the planet where they need it? Most sci-fi writers gloss over this, and pretend it's not a problem, but it distracts me from the story, so unless the story is really very good, I can't take it seriously.

Other than that, the story wasn't bad at all. it moved quickly and was engaging. Once in a while it was annoying. For example, Anna was, we were repeatedly told, a very mature young woman, but she presented as a rather immature one most of the time. Fortunately this was not a killer for me. Neither was the occasional grammatical or spelling gaff. For example at one point I read, "he'll made admiral some day" when obviously it should have been 'make', not 'made' (and you can also argue that 'some day' should be rendered as a single word if you like), but I'm willing to forgive these too, if the story is a good one, so this one passes and I recommend it. I might even read volume two of the series should I ever come across it, but I don't feel compelled to rush out find it.


Love Muffin And Chai Latte by Anya Wylde


Rating: WARTY!

Tabitha Lee Timmons is a thirty-something American living in England. Why she is there is never explained. I guess it's just to appeal to American audiences. For the last year, Tabby has had a loose relationship with a guy named Chris, but that's not his real name since he's Indian. He just uses that name because us idiot westerners can't handle Indian names. His real name is Chandramohan Mansukhani which isn't that hard of a name to grasp, and neither is his family pet name, Chintu.

At the start of the story, "Chris" proposes to Tabby, and she promptly swallows the engagement ring which he had stupidly hidden in the muffin her gave her. 'Love Muffin' is her nickname for him. Fortunately it isn't used often. Chai latte is her favorite drink. I really enjoyed the first third of this book, but then it started to go downhill for me, big time. This was curiously right at the point where I thought it would take off, because this was when she went on a trip to India which was one of the main reasons I picked up this novel.

I never had understood why Tabby was with Chris in the first place, because far more often than not, he acts like a major dick and a jerk, treating his fiancée like she's an annoying a piece of furniture he's forced to live with, yet this seems to impinge upon her consciousness not a whit, let alone make a negative impression on her, or issue a warning that she's with the wrong guy. The two do not live together and have apparently never had sex. He's painfully self-centered and she's tragically ignorant of this fact. His response to her question, "Do you love me" is along the lines of "I guess." That ought to tell her right there, but she's too dumb to see it.

Normally I would be out of there at the first sign of that in a novel. I don't like stories about idiot women - unless there's some sign down the highway that we're just a few miles (or in this case, kilometers) from wise-up-ville. What kept my interest was the quirky humor which ran through the story and which was, I admit, silly in places, but it amused me.

I very much enjoyed that, but it became harder to use that as an excuse to continue reading, when Dev showed up. Dev is right out of trope casting: a muscular hunk of a guy, good looking, mysterious, a bad boy. The problem is that he's also a dick and a jerk, yet Tabby gets the hots for him like she's a fifteen-year-old watching a music video. It's pathetic. I lost all respect for, and interest in, Tabby at this point, and I quit reading this novel about forty percent in.

I have no time for love triangles because they always make the one in the middle - in this case Tabby - look like a dithering idiot. Either commit or get out of the bedroom! I also dislike the idea of this trope hunk. Maybe there is a portion of the female gender who respond to this. I know it's a biological urge and there is obviously a market for it with these novels, but my feminine side doesn't reach that far and frankly, I much prefer the road less traveled, especially in a story like this.

I respect women who are smart enough to know the difference between an idle feeling of lust, and a real attraction on a level deeper than skin goes. That doesn't mean you can't have both, but if you're going to do that, then you'd better give me a real reason as to why this relationship actually is both, and it had better not be you just telling me it's an enduring love while all you're showing me is nothing but the shallowest and most juvenile of lusts.

While there are welcome exceptions (I've read one or two), this kind of romance is all too often that shallow and I have no time for it. It doesn't help to lard up Dev with good deeds which are told rather than shown to Tabby, and this had especially better not be when the author has already portrayed him as a complete jerk in his previous interactions with her.

I cannot recommend this one at all.