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

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.


Butterfly Palace by Colleen Coble


Rating: WARTY!

Colleen is such a sweet name isn't it? I picked this audiobook up because it purported to be a murder mystery set in Austin, Texas, in the early 1900's, where a serial killer is offing blonde servant girls who each seem to get a butterfly in a glass sphere as a present before they go under the knife as it were. So in some ways it seemed to offer itself as a cross between Silence of the Lambs, and Angels and Insects which was an intriguing mash-up to me. The problem with it was that the first quarter of the novel had nothing to do with tracking down murderers. Instead it was a dumb romance. Even when the murderer showed up, the novel gave him only a few pages and then went back to discussing chenille and tea services. In short, it sucked and I proudly DNF'd it.

Main character, Lily Donaldson, has suffered a degradation of her circumstances. In a prologue, her family farm burns down in Larsen, Texas, and she's forced to move to Austin to seek employment as a maid. I normally skip prologues, but sometimes they're hard to detect in audio books and hearing this one only served to reinforced my already strong feelings about them: they are a complete waste of time, and in print form, a waste of trees. The farm burning, instead of being offered as a boring and overly melodramatic opener, could have been included in chapter one as a two-sentence back-story and achieved the same end. I don't get this obsession which writers have with prologues and epilogues. Cut it out! Cut to the chase instead!

So this book could have saved trees (or in the audio book, fossil fuels in the form of the plastic in the CDs). Shame on the author. Anyway, Lily works for the Marshall family as a maid and has impressed her employer so well that she's assigned as a ladies maid to the bitch daughter of the family, who happens to have set her sights on Lily's ex-boyfriend, Andy, a jerk who abandoned Lily in Larsen and is now living in Austin in much elevated circumstances, and lo and behold! happens to run into lily on day one - or near enough. What are the odds? Well, in romance novels, quite obviously they're better than one to one raised to the power of trite.

So all suspense is lost. We already knew the serial killer would be caught, but at least we had to look forward to him being tracked down and caught, yet the story is less focused on him than it is on Lily's pining for Andy, and her being bullied by her mistress, who finds any contact between her maid and Andy to be objectionable, and on silk skirts and fine hats. This author needs to get her priorities straight. Meanwhile, Andy is apparently investigating the murders, and is leaning on Lily for help, thereby causing her trouble. In short, he's still a selfish jerk, yet she's still pining for him. I have no respect for a character like that.

Clearly the story is going to get these two back together, and make his obnoxious behavior all okay, but to me it isn't, and if I already know exactly how this story is going to pan out, where is my incentive to continue reading it, let alone recommend it, which I certainly do not?


Friday, January 27, 2017

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Doyle


Rating: WARTY!

Published originally between July, 1891 and June, 1892 in The Strand magazine as serials, these stories were gathered together into one volume shortly after the last was published. It is this version, in a form recorded in the early 1990s for BBC radio, that I listened to. The stories are listed below with a brief commentary on each.

While I recommend the Holmes stories, particularly for any writer who aspires to write detective fiction themselves, I cannot recommend this particular audiobook version at all. It would not have been so bad were it not for the whining violins which periodically inject themselves and for the ridiculous "acting" if one can call it that, by the lead. The reading is a full-cast one, with a guy named Clive Merrison, who is amusingly a welsh actor playing the quintessentially English Sherlock Holmes, and Michael Williams who, until he died in 2001, was married to actor Judi Dench, playing Watson.

The problem with these two is that Merrison is way-the-hell over the top, cackling like a mad scientist at times, and his voice is brassy and jarring, whereas William's voice is understated and quiet, so I'm constantly adjusting the volume when listening to one or the other. I thought (more than once) of just giving up and returning this to the library, but it served my purpose to stay with it and see it through, to refresh my memory on some of these stories and on Doyle's writing style in particular, about which I'll have a few comments.

The recording quality is shamefully poor for the BBC. It sounds loud and brassy in parts, and awfully tinny in others, especially when we're forced to listen to an obnoxiously maudlin violin screeching at random intervals. The sound effects were more irritating than illuminating. There were also changes made to the stories in the name of "dramatization' which were overly melodramatic and quite frankly annoying. If you went to listen to this I recommend finding one where it's read, not acted, and avoid this particular edition like the plague.

  • A Scandal in Bohemia

The most remarkable thing about the Sherlock Holmes stories is how John Hamish Watson always seems to be conveniently arriving at 221B Baker Street just in time for Holmes's next adventure! Watson is supposed to be a doctor, but he never practices because he's always putting off his patients in order to take-off with Holmes. In short, he's a truly lousy and unreliable doctor, and it's rather surprising that he even has a practice. In this adventure, he shows up on spec and happens upon the beginning of the Irene Adler case.

The curious thing about Holmes, given his reputation, is how little of his famed 'brilliant observational deduction' he engages in, and how little of that is relevant to the case. Most of the deductive work for which he's famous is done at the beginning of the story, where Holmes first meets whichever person it is who will launch him on his case. In this particular example, he sets his sights on the "King of Bohemia," and it's fairly easy to see how he figures out who the guy is. This early display of 'brilliance' typifies the Holmes stories, leaving the rest of the story to simple detective work, with precious few flashes of the vaunted deductive excellence that are typically associated with Holmes in popular culture.

The king has a problem with Irene Adler, an American opera singer and actor, and ex-lover of his. Doyle introduces quite a few American characters in his stories, and seems to be rather an aficionado of the country. At one point, in one of these stories, Doyle has Holmes spout some absurd nonsense about the US and Britain reuniting, which felt to me like it was a clueless Doyle speaking through his character.

Adler has a compromising photograph of herself and the King, and she will not give it up. The King's agents have been unable to discover where she keeps it hidden. At 5½ by 4 inches, it's claimed to be too large for her to keep on her person (and evidently they don't consider that she might have cut it down a little), but it simply isn't the case that it's "too large." An eight by ten, yeah, but five by four? No! This is merely a contrivance of Doyle's to have the photo hidden in a fixed location somewhere, and therefore readily accessible for Holmes to discover.

If Adler were really as smart as she's popularly claimed, she would carry it with her just to thwart those who did think it not portable! Then I don't subscribe to this fiction that Adler was Holmes's match - that she was a brilliant tactician who outsmarted "the great detective." Yes, she did outsmart him, but to claim that the way she did it was genius is the same thing as saying that most women are idiots. She acted only in her highly-motivated self-interest, employing nothing more than commonsense in the process. There was no genius or brilliance involved. it was no great feat or her to disguise herself with make-up (having been an actress) and follow Holmes.

If Holmes were smarter he would have asked Adler why she wanted to keep the photo, but neither he nor the king seem to have considered for a minute that Adler had a reason other than blackmailing the king or spoiling his impending marriage. Holmes did not deduce this - he found it out purely by accident whilst spying on Adler. Prior to this, Holmes had simply taken the king's word for it that Adler is in love with him, so there's a heck of a lot of blind gullibility going on here which is hardly a hallmark of brilliance on the part of Holmes.

  • The Red-headed League

It would be hard to write some of the Holmes stories today because so many of them revolve around quirks and foibles of yesteryear, such as this one. One can imagine there would be a redheaded league a hundred years ago, and even more so that it was a fake one, but it's a lot harder to see that flying today.

In this adventure, a red-headed man visits Holmes about this 'occupation' he was hired for, purely because of his red hair. His job was to transcribe the Encyclopædia Britannica, for which he's paid handsomely, but after two months went by, the 'work' evaporated. When he showed up for it as usual one morning, he was told there was no more job!

Holmes is intrigued and investigates, and it turns out that the purpose of the job was simply to get the man away from his pawnbroker business so that thieves could use his basement to tunnel through to a nearby bank and rob it. There really was no great deduction going on here once you realized that the mystery was not the job, but why someone would want the red-headed Mr Wilson out of his shop for so long.

  • A Case of Identity

This is another story wherein the perp probably wouldn't get away with it today, since people are less trusting and less gullible in broad, general terms, educated no doubt by the plethora of detective stories which flood the market today in print and via video media.

In the story, Mary Sutherland is engaged to someone with the oddball name of Hosmer Angel. Where Doyle came up with these names is a mystery worth a Sherlock Holmes style exploration in my opinion, but this character is actually Mary's stepfather in disguise, and he's trying to make her so miserable over a ruined engagement caused by his last minute 'disappearance' that she will never look at another man again and in this way, he can keep his sticky fingers on her inheritance, which she would get were she to marry. Curiously, Holmes fails his client when he fails to tell her the truth about what happened, meaning the stepfather will get away with his plan. It's neither a very good nor a satisfactory story.

  • The Boscombe Valley Mystery

This one involves Inspector Lestrade who essentially fulfills the role of clown. The police are routinely and rather insultingly rendered as idiots in the Holmes stories. The crime here is the murder of Charles McCarthy and the "open and shut case' against his son, James. Of course, Holmes proves this wrong. I found this story boring and rather lacking in the brilliance these stories are supposed to exhibit.

  • The Five Orange Pips

This story is nonsensical from the beginning to the end. The five pips from an orange are purportedly a warning from the Ku Klux Klan, but Doyle proves himself profoundly ignorant of this petty, amateur racist movement which never has had a large following and which was dead as a dodo when Doyle wrote this story. The KKK name comes not from the sound of cocking a rifle as Doyle writes, but from the Greek word for circle: kyklos, with the alliterative "Klan" added for effect.

It makes no sense whatsoever for them to send the warning, and especially not of a pathetic five orange pips. Why did they not simply visit the man who had the damning written evidence and demand it from him, or kill him and burn his home to the ground if they were that desperate? The whole story is absurd and is essentially nothing more than a variation on the Irene Adler story.

  • The Man with the Twisted Lip

This one is equally stupid. A man who falls into debt discovers that he can make more money begging on the street than he can by actually working, so he kits himself out with an ugly disguise which rather than disguise him draws more attention to him such that he's very well known to the police. Hardly much of a disguise if we deem a disguise to mean something to prevent him being noticed. despite the police attention, no one has ever noticed his disguise!

One day his wife happens to be in the neighborhood of his lodgings. Why he needed those is never satisfactorily explained, especialyl givne how expensive they are to maintain. Why the man's respectable wife even be in such a lowlife area of London is even less explicable, but sees him in a window. By the time she can get up there with the police, he's donned his disguise, Literally thrown his coat across the street and into the Thames on the other side (which is impossible if "Swandam Lane" is anything like its real life counterpart, Swan Lane), and even his own wife doesn't recognize him? Absurd! This is really the Hosmer Angel story over again with a few plot points changed.

Unintentional humor is rife in these stories, such as in this one, where Watson says "...a sudden ejaculation caused me to wake up..." LOL! Wet dreams in Holmes stories! There is rather a lot of ejaculation going on in this book. Of course I'm sure Doyle didn't mean what a prurient mind twists it to mean, but this particular mention of it was perfect!

  • The Blue Carbuncle

Blue carbuncle is just another name for a blue garnet, but 'carbuncle' is wrong because it refers to a red gemstone, not to a blue one. This story is almost literally a wild goose chase, and involves no brilliant deductions on Holmes part, merely an understanding of avarice and a trick to try and lure in the villain who "hid" his stolen gem in the goose by forcing the poor doomed creature to swallow it.

It makes no sense that, having successfully made it all the way home with the stolen gem in his pocket, he would then risk losing track of it by depositing it in a goose which is likely to abruptly disappear since it's Christmas season; then the guy evidently isn't too smart, so maybe he would. This was not a very satisfactory story.

  • The Speckled Band

According to Wikipedia, Doyle considered this to be his best Holmes story, but I have to say I think it's the worst. It makes zero sense from start to finish. The speckled band is a snake. Who in their right mind ever refers to a snake as a band, speckled or otherwise? The very premise is nonsensical, yet the entire 'mystery' depends upon it.

Helen Stoner (the name probably explains a lot!) visits Holmes because two years before, her twin sister had died under odd circumstances while in her bedroom, and now Helen is forced to sleep in the very room where her sister died because of unnecessary modifications to the house. The clues are a bed fixed to the floor, a bell-pull that doesn't work and which hangs from a vent in the ceiling right over the bed.

The idea is that a 'swamp adder' is controlled by a whistling sound and on activation, it descends the bell-pull and bites the sleeping victim, retreating back up the pull afterwards. Since there is no such thing as a swamp adder and no venomous snake which could climb or descend something as insubstantial as a bell-pull, and since snakes are effectively deaf (they can detect sounds if their jaw is in contact with the ground, and perhaps some low frequency airborne sounds, but nothing else), then whistling to control one, even if such fine control of a snake were possible, is absurd. If you want a snake that can climb, why invent a swamp adder? Why not a 'tree' adder or a 'vine' adder? And which snake, exactly, drinks milk? Doyle clearly knew nothing about snakes.

This really wasn't very inventive on Doyle's part, and to me it's a poorly thought-out story which contains very little of Holmes's highly praised deductive skills. There's nothing he does here that any person of average intelligence and an inquiring mind could not have done. And why does Stoner come only when her own life is in danger? Did she not care enough about her twin to pursue inquiries into how she died? I thought this a weak and amateur effort.

  • The Engineer's Thumb

Victor Hatherley comes to Watson's attention having suffered a severed thumb and blood loss. After treatment, Watson refers him to Holmes. The engineer had been contracted for five times his asking price to consult on a malfunctioning hydraulic press. When he gets too inquisitive, his employer comes after him with an ax, and he escapes through a window, losing his thumb to the ax in the process. Holmes uses some simple deduction to figure out where the engineer was transported in secrecy late at night, only to find the house burned down and the perp escaped. It's hardly a case of brilliant deduction, and certainly not one in which Holmes "gets his man".

  • The Noble Bachelor

Lord Robert St Simon marries an American woman only to have her scarper immediately after the wedding. Holmes, with Lestrade's help(!) discovers that Hatty Doran was married to Francis Moulton, who was reported to have been killed by Apaches in New Mexico. Doyle does get it right that this is Apache territory, but New Mexico wasn't a state until after this story was written. It was however, a very large territory. Hatty had married Frank and when she thought he was dead, she felt free to marry Lord Robert, but Frank showed up at the wedding and rather than raise objections, snuck away with the bride. Again, the story made no sense, because it was Frank who wanted to tell Lord Robert the truth, so why did he not raise an objection at the wedding? Again no brilliant insights here, only 'elementary' deduction my dear Holmes.

  • The Beryl Coronet

In this story, in another unintentionally funny sentence, Holmes, talking about shoes, says he disguised himself as a loafer (vagrant or slacker)! LOL!

A banker discovers his son holding a damaged coronet. Like a moron, Arthur refuses to give an account of himself and like an even bigger moron, his dad immediately leaps to the conclusion that his son has stolen the piece of the coronet which was broken off. There is no brilliant deduction here either, Holmes merely following a trail of footprints and surmising that Arthur's cousin conspired with an outside agent to steal.

  • The Copper Beeches

Violet Hunter is unknowingly hired (and overpaid) for the purpose of impersonating a woman who is being held captive at that same location, Violet's role is to impersonate the woman so an outside interested party is fooled into thinking that she's there of her own free will and is enjoying her time. Holmes figures it out, but there is no great deduction involved. This story is really an amalgamation of three others, because it incorporates elements of The Engineer's Thumb (someone is hired for a ridiculous fee), The Redheaded League (hired for a particular look, and to occupy a certain place on certain occasions), and The Adventure of the Yellow Face, which is not included in this collection, but was with m The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, and in which a woman in disguise is required to be visible in a window.

So, like I said, skip this and find a different version. I can't recommend it.


Monday, January 23, 2017

Gangster Women by Susan McNicoll


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a book about the women who hung out with the infamous mobsters and gangsters, mostly during their heyday in the early thirties, but also covering one from the fifties. it tells an unflinching tale of the ruthlessness and brutality, and of the love and loyalty. The book begins by covering the quartet of Billie Frechette, Marie Comforti, Jean Delaney Crompton, and Helen Gillis. Frechette was John Dillinger's girlfriend, and Delaney was one of three sisters, all of whom took up with gangsters. Helen Gillis was the wife of Lester "Baby-Face" Nelson, who died in her arms with nine bullets in his body after an insane shootout on a back country lane in late November 1934.

That turned out to be a banner year for renowned gangsters flaming out. It saw the deaths of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow in May, Marie Curie and John Dillinger in July (one of those might not be an outlaw), and Charles "Pretty Boy" Floyd in October. Ma and Fred Barker only just escaped that watershed year by 16 days, dying in a gunfight with police in mid-January 1935. There were lesser names, too, such as Ford Bradshaw, Robert Brady, Tommy Carroll who was an associate of Dillinger's and who was the boyfriend of Jean Crompton, Aussie Elliott, an associate of Floyd's, Fred "Shotgun" Goetz, of Valentine's Day Massacre fame, Joseph Moran, an associate of the Barker gang, and last but not least, Wilbur "Mad Dog" Underhill. Also on the list are five more associates of John Dillinger: Eddie Green, John Hamilton, Charles Makley, Harry Pierpont, and Homer Van Meter. Clearly it wasn't safe to be a member of the Dillinger crew!

The book covers Bonnie and Clyde, of course, and Clyde's brother Marvin Barrow aka Buck, who was wounded with his wife Blanche and died in July 1933. Blanche lived to a ripe old age. Bonnie and Clyde's career seemed like ti was laways on the downhill slope. They were petty thieves and violently resisted arrest. Their spree lasted only two years, all of it spent on the run, and often wounded. Bonnie was injured severely in a car accident and never recovered, spending the last year of her life in pain form an injured leg. They both die din their mid-twenties.

The last story in the book is of Bugsy Siegel's abused girlfriend Virginia Hill, who looked like a movie star and who evidently was a petulant and avaricious girl. She was apparently murdered in the mid-sixties, but she outlived a girl who as a kid, resolved to emulate her, and who ended up 'collateral damage' in a hit job on the guy she was traveling with, Little Augie Pisano. Janice Drake left behind a thirteen year old son.

It had to be infatuation. No one who wasn't blinded by love of some variety or another would be seen dead with these people. Or maybe they would....


Saturday, January 21, 2017

Witch Hunt by Annie Bellet


Rating: WORTHY!

This is yet another in a series of short stories by Annie Bellet that I've been reviewing lately. These stories are available for free on Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, and Smashwords, although I have to say Apple and Kobo seem much more interested in getting in your face than in getting you to your reads.

You can get a sneak preview of most books before you buy them these days, but all you get is the beginning, and while this does clue you in to how the author is going to approach a story (and happily allows you to reject stories which are first person voice as I habitually do!), this gives you no sense of how an author can carry a whole story, or bring it to a satisfactory conclusion, so it seems to me to be a valid approach for an author to put out short stories for free. Karin Slaughter, I'm looking at you!

It's better yet if those stories are somehow tied to an author's main works, so you also get a sense of the entire world in which the main story takes place and might well be more willing to buy one of the other books in that world. I'm not a huge fan of short stories in general. I've written one or two myself (contained in my Poem y Granite collection), and I've read and reviewed a few that were worth the time, but that's it.

I have none that lead into my main novels, and although several of my novels take place in the same world, rest assured I shall never write a series unless it be a young children's series, which I consider more of a theme than a series per se. I have better things to do with my valuable and always dwindling time than to waste it on a repetitive and derivative series, so I have no 'worlds' I've created in terms of fantasy, or sci-fi. In the unlikely event that I decided to take time out from other writing projects, and create short stories set in the same world as existing, full-length novels, I don't think you're going to see this approach from me, vlaid and useful as it is!

This novel I nearly didn't read. I do not like first person novels, of which this was one, although in this case, the author carried it pretty well, so it wasn't nauseating. it did not, however, make any sense since the person narrating the story neither spoke nor wrote, which begs the question as to how the story got told in the first place! But I let that slide! Strike one avoided.

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I am not a fan of series unless they're especially good and for me, fantasy rarely falls into that category, but sicne this wasn;t the series but a glimpse into it, that was strike two avoided! Strike three was what brought this down in terms of my having any desire to go on and read further. I flatly refuse to read any novel which has any of the following words in the novel or series title: 'chronicle', 'cycle', 'saga'. There are probably other trigger words, too, but these are the ones which first come to mind. This one was of The Gryphonpike Chronicles, so that kills it right there!

It began with the usual trope characters - elves, pixies, goblins, ogres, humans and so on, a tired cliché which typically makes me laugh. Annie Bellet writes well though, so I'm willing to grant her more leeway than I would many other authors. Except at one point she writes one character saying, "Makha and I consulted maps. We have solution" and I had to wonder about the juxtaposition of the correct grammar in employing 'Makha and I', followed by the pigeon English! It really jumped out at me and reminded me that I was reading a story. This was a minor issue lost in the large problem I have with fantasy, so I let that one get a free pass.

The story revolves around a group of misfits who are trying to earn a living by solving people's problems as roving trouble-shooters, but they've dilly-dallied too long on their journey, and now need to get to a guild city soon to pay their dues or they'll be in trouble. What that's about went unexplained, but they end-up going to a small city which evidently has a witch problem - as Sherlock Holmes might describe it, it was in fact a three-witch problem.

The band battles the witches, wins, and is heavily worn out and wounded but none of them die. That's it! Like I said, this kind of thing is just a bit too silly for me to want to read a full-length novel (let alone a whole 'chronicle' about it, but in terms of carrying a story, and in terms of laying out a glimpse of a world that others might want to pursue, I consider this a decent job and a worthy read.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Last Dance by Salvatore Albert Lombino aka Ed McBain


Rating: WARTY!

Salvatore Albert Lombino legally became Evan Hunter in 1952, but wrote most of his novels as Ed McBain. He wrote under several other names, too, such as John Abbott, Curt Cannon, Hunt Collins, Ezra Hannon, and Richard Marsten. The only name related to him that he never wrote under was his original name! The Last Dance was written in 2000, just five years before McBain died, and was part of his 87th Precinct series.

I'm not a series fan, but out of curiosity, I'd picked up a book of his that the library was selling off, and which contained three stories. I hadn't yet got to it when I saw this one on the shelf and decided to give myself a sneak preview. If I liked it, all well and good, but if I didn't, I'd save myself the trouble of getting into the print book, and I could take it off my overburdened shelf!

Because of an unwisely situated library bar code sticker on the case, what I didn't realize until about half-way through the audiobook was that it's actually read by McBain himself. For me, this made it more interesting, because he has an odd way of reading. He reads it like it's a list or something, not like it's a novel, and I wonder how much of what I hear from him informs as to how he wrote his books.

He puts inflection into the speech he reads, but sometimes he carries the same inflection over to the text outside the quotes, like it's inflected the same way the speech was! It sounds a bit weird. His voice sounds very New York and eh has no idea how a Cockney sounds. McBain grew up in East Harlem and the Bronx from what I've read about him. He doesn't do too bad of a job - just an odd job. I'm a big proponent of authors reading their own novels for the audiobook version, assuming they're not awful at it, so I'm not going to complain about this! Except for one thing: like too many Americans, McBain conflates Cockney with Londoner. The two are not synonymous.

The oddest thing about this novel for me though, was that these detectives, who are the main characters, had been in two gunfights by the halfway stage, yet in neither fight did any cop fire even one round. I find that completely incredible. I know this is fiction, and I know that novels (and TV shows and movies) often have too much gun-play, but to have a detective meet an informant in a public place, and have two assassins come in to the restaurant and gun-down the informant, and the detective who's with him not return a single shot and worse, to not follow the guys out into the street when they left so he could maybe get a license plate from their getaway car or something, was ridiculous.

In the second gunfight, there was about a half-dozen cops going to bring in this assassin. They were armed and wearing vests, and expecting trouble, but they had to go through this single door into an apartment. The guy inside had to get from his bed to a drawer, pull out the gun and start shooting, and he did this without any cop shooting back at him. The assassin, so-called, hit only one cop, and that was in the leg. He shot all his rounds, then dropped the gun and surrendered! No cop fired back. I'm sorry, but it's simply not credible. Even in real life, and in both of those situations, the cops would have been firing back. I don't get it at all.

That said, the story overall wasn't too bad to begin with, just a bit annoying and odd. It even had some humor here and there, but by about halfway through it, I was beginning to tire of both the reader and the story, and towards the end I was skipping tracks just to get it over with. it was a short book, but too long for my patience, so I can't recommend this at all. As far as the print book is concerned, I'll give that a try to see if it sounds better when I'm reading than it does when I'm simply listening, but I hold out less hope for it now than I did before I listened to this book!


Winter's Bite by Annie Bellet


Rating: WORTHY!

Winter's Bite is a beautifully titled, good old story. It's short and bittersweet, and it has an ending that really isn't an ending, but this worked well, as it happened. This is another free short story by Annie Bellet available through book outlets and one that presumably introduces us to another one of her fictional worlds. I've had consistently goods results with this author.

Ysabon is a retired warrior woman, living on the outskirts of a village in a fantasy land, running a forge and helping raise two girls and a boy with her brother. She's hardly antiquated, and is still physically active, but she feels the weight of her years and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune from her adventuring days, and old wounds. When a party skis by (the story takes place in in dead winter), heading off to the nearby garrison, to report the forays of a pack of Widowhulks, which are some sort of intelligent, hairy hexapod with a thirst for blood, they ask Ysabon, who is known for her military past, to accompany them, but she refuses, saying she's too old.

Instead, her nephew volunteers to go. She resents it, but can't stop him since he's a grown lad. It's not long before he comes back, reporting that their party was set upon by the widowhulks and he can't be sure anyone got through to the garrison. Ysabon now realizes that it's up to her, because if no one goes, then the widowhulks will simply keep on laying waste to the villagers until no one is left. She cleans her old sword and sets out with her nephew, and along the way they encounter a wounded survivor of the previous party. The story ends with her nephew heading off across the river to the safety of the garrison while Ysabon and the survivor turn to face-down the widowhulks, and hold them off at least long enough for her nephew to report the village's predicament.

I liked this story and the ending, but I had some issues with it from a writing perspective. The major one was the widowhulks. Authors often make a mistake when writing about predatory animals, making them endlessly hungry and bloodthirsty. It's rarely realistic. Predators rarely prey. When they do, they prey only on what they need to eat, and then they back off and idle their time away until they're hungry again. To portray them as endlessly bloodthirsty and dedicatedly hunting down humans is ridiculous on the face of it.

Yes, they do sometimes hunt humans, and sick animals sometimes go off the reservation, but we're not the natural prey of any animal, and it's rare for them to attack humans, especially just for the hell of it rather than for a needed meal. That said, these are not your usual predators that we're familiar with from Earth. Maybe they are more human than animal, in which case they may well have a legitimate agenda in harassing the human population. There isn't enough in this story to determine what's going on, so I was willing to let it go, but it would have been nice if the author had addressed this, however briefly or in passing.

The only other complaint would be the incomprehensible sentence I found on page five. Ysabon is advising the initial ski party on how to avoid this dangerous pack of widowhulks and she says: "Your best hope is speed. Safety might come with numbers, but with that many widowhulks out there, the only chance to reach the garrison before the hunting group finds you." The sentence looks like it needed to end with two more word: is speed. Either that or that last clause ought to have begun "speed is the only chance" or "it's the only chance," but I can forgive a mangled sentence here and there. We all do it. It's harder to forgive if there are many such mangles in one short story, but this author has not proven herself prone to that kind of sloppiness.

In short I liked this and the world where it was set sounded interesting.