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

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, November 2, 2018

Josephine Baker's Last Dance by Sherry Jones


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Ghetto Klown by John Leguizamo, Christa Cassano, Shamus Beyale


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, October 8, 2018

Eugenia Lincoln and the Unexpected Package by Kate DiCamillo


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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


Sunday, October 7, 2018

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


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, October 1, 2018

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by TE Lawrence


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, September 1, 2018

Hild by Nicola Griffith


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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


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.