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

Saturday, May 12, 2018

To Siri With Love by Judith Newman

Rating: WARTY!

I was unaware of how controversial a book this had been in the autistic spectrum community when I saw it in a bookstore and learned that it was also at my local library. I am glad I didn't buy it not because of what the spectrum community is railing against, but because the book is bait and switch and I do not appreciate book blurbs which outright lie to draw-in potential readers. I know that's a blurb's job, but usually a blurb bears some vague relationship to the book it represents. This one didn't.

The blurb begins with the following two paragraphs:

It began when Judith Newman's thirteen-year-old autistic son noticed that there was someone who not only would find information on his various obsessions (trains, planes, escalators, and anything related to the weather) but also would actually semi-discuss them with him tirelessly. Her name was Siri and she lived in his mother's iPhone.
Newman's story of her son and his bond with Siri is an unusual tribute to technology. While many worry that our electronic gadgets are dumbing us down, she reveals how they can give voice to others, including children with autism...

This is an outright lie. I came at this hoping to learn more about a fascinating technology, particularly if it's one that can really help people who most need that help. The problem is that there is one chapter and one chapter only on the relationship with Siri. This chapter begins on page 131 of a book which, not counting the introduction (I never read introductions), runs to 216 pages, and it ends ten pages later. That's it. I quit reading the book when I realized that the next chapter was on a different topic and those scant ten pages appeared to be the entirety of the Siri/"electronic gadgets" discussion.

I'm sorry, but if you're going to try to sell (in the broad sense) a book that not only features this topic prominently but also titles the book after that topic, I actually expect to find that topic throughout the book, fool that I am. You lie about it like this book did, you get a 'warty' rating on my blog. The problem for me was that as I went through chapter after chapter with nary a word about the Siri and Gus 'relationship' I began to tire of the endless rambling and I began to skip and skim, dipping into a section here and there that was of interest, until when I actually did reach the section that discussed what the whole book was supposed to be about, it was far too little, and far too late.

While I cannot for the life of me understand why any parent would want to name a child 'Gus', I can understand why a mom would want to ramble on and on about her child. I think some of the harshest criticism was as rambling as this book though, with the authors of it continuing to shoot arrow after angry arrow into a threadbare target. They simply didn't get the author's sense of humor, but that's not to say their criticism was unfounded.

I think reasonable people can agree to disagree on those details so I'm not going to get into that here except to comment briefly that I think that some readers, in particular those who think the author doesn't think Gus has emotions or thinks Gus doesn't think, have flown off the handle at a throw-away comment the author made without realizing it was a 'first impression' kind of a comment that she later actually did throw-away as she and Gus matured together in their relationship and in her education.

Those critics seem to be forgetting that the author began telling this story chronologically when she was completely in the dark about Gus's status for some time after he was born, and got no help in understanding what was going on from anyone, least of all from the very community, some members of which are so virulently criticizing her now! And yes, criticizing her, not the book!

That said, I have to allow that if the very person the book's author praises highly in this book mounts a campaign against the book, then clearly something is fundamentally wrong somewhere, but the way to fix that is to reach out, not to punch out. I think what disturbed me most of all is that autism is a spectrum and not a narrow rut, yet all of the negative reviews were talking as though there is only one kind of autistic person who has only one kind of perception and feeling, which is nonsense, so I think some of the negative perspectives were a little blinkered to say the least.

Regardless of what other failings it may or may not have, this book failed for me because it quite simply did not remotely deliver on what it promised, period, and so I cannot recommend it. There are books which the autism spectrum community recommends. I recommend reading one of those instead.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

Rating: WARTY!

This was my third voyage into the world of Kate Atkinson. As I mentioned twice before(!), I came to her via the TV series Case Histories, and I hoped her novels would be as good as the TV show, but they were not. I could not get Case Histories on audiobook and didn't want to go with the library print book. I have too many print books on my shelf and actively try to avoid procuring any more until I've read-down some of this pile! I live in fear that they will fall off the shelf onto my head when I'm sleeping and I wish to bypass such a rude awakening.

This was the second-in-line in the series, but the problem with it was that it was too rambling. The interesting thing is that in the first novel, Jackson Brodie, the ex-soldier now turned PI inherits a lot of money, but in the TV series he did not have this money. I'm not sure how they will reconcile it if they continue the TV show. I liked how there were several plot threads seemingly unconnected, and which in the end all became woven together, but that was TV. The audiobook was far too sluggish.

I could not get started on the novel. One of the characters was such a limp rag of a man that he was repulsive, yet the author seemed determined to follow him into the most mundane of activities including a writing class he attends (which I think was a flashback but I'm not sure. It's easy to miss bits in an audiobook when driving. At least it is if your focus is on the road where it should be!). The writing class wasn't even interesting, and it seemed like the author was maybe using it to insult people perhaps she had known in a similar writing class which she attended. I don't know. It just felt a bit like that.

The story begins with this limp rag man breaking up a road rage incident, and then it just rambles on and on. Jackson Brodie is nowhere in it and did not show up right up to the point where I couldn't stand to listen any more. It was read pretty decently by Steven Crossley, but that couldn't make up for the material (or lack thereof). I felt bad for him having to read this. Just in case it isn't clear: I cannot recommend this one!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Keep Austin Weird by Mary Jane

Title: Keep Austin Weird
Author: Mary Jane (no website found)
Publisher: Smashwords
Rating: WORTHY!

"He then flawless recited..." should be "He then flawlessly recited..." (note I read this on a smartphone which means that page numbers are useless and locations are pretty much worthless when we can simple do a search).
"when I picked up you backpack" should be "when I picked up your backpack..."
"...once or twice.”“Really, just one our twice..." should be "...once or twice.”“Really, just once or twice..."
"Texas’ capitol building" should be "Texas’s capitol building". Texas isn't a plural so it's apporpriate to add apostrophe 's'.
"...if she was like that when they first meet..." should be "...if she was like that when they first met...".
"knew each other at UT.”They shake hands and exchange pleasantries, Kim mentally trying to place the term, 'know each other..." should be ”They shake hands and exchange pleasantries, Kim mentally trying to place the term, 'knew each other..." (Tense is changed).
"You’re Bitchy Barista reputation" should be "Your Bitchy Barista reputation"
"I’m violating the only philosophical tenant..." should be "I’m violating the only philosophical tenet..."

Mary Jane may be male or female (I am by no means convinced by the Goodreads blurb for this author! Is "Mary Jane" really comedian Lindsay Rousseau? Who knows?) and it doesn't matter, except that this author treasures anonymity so highly that I can't give you an author's website, although you can try here to get a sampling of this author's writing which sports titles such as, "Like Water for Macaroni". The title of this novel is unfortunate because if you enter it as a search term on the web, you're going to get everything but this novel showing up, including an ungodly number of tie-dyed T-shirts! That and a few too many typos aside, it was a fun read.

The story is about Eleanor Cooprider and Kim Park, who are people I would definitely like to know. Having said that I wouldn't want to go to one of their soirées, which I confess struck me as slightly tedious. These two are at their best when it's just these two, and they're talking about any topic. They're playful, smart, interesting, eclectic, off-beat, irreverent, supportive, and very warm people who dearly love each other no matter what.

This story begins at the beginning - they day they met, but then it jumps around a lot, be warned - perhaps a bit too much for some readers, but for me it wasn't too annoying, just a little confusing here and there. The chapters have a sub-heading giving time and place, full of pseudo-self-importance which is always a bad sign, and which assumes that the reader actually remembers the time and place from the previous chapter, which is neither a wise nor is it a safe assumption given how engrossing their story is when it's really good. It's not very flowing either, in addition to being rather non-linear.

I had some issues with the story in general. For example, Kim is 23 but she references Larry Bird. Bird was a Boston Celtics player who had a distinguished career, but he retired in 1992, before Kim was born. It’s not really very likely she would recall him or esteem him as a player. It's possible, but a much more recent reference would have made more sense here. The problem was that the author was so locked into the name that she evidently forgot to check for appropriateness.

The Christmas play they put on as the story gets going is one about Charlie Brown and Christmas. We read, "...actually entitled 'Linus and Lucy'...", but entitled is used wrongly. It should be 'titled'. 'Entitled means something different, although I see more and more authors using it wrongly like this.

If you can handle this however, you're in for a treat. This story follows the two from their first meeting at the school where they teach, until Eleanor retires - and it's quite a short book. Kim is convinced that Eleanor is a super hero because she can detect which career is best for her young school charges, but even super heroes make mistakes. The question is, what will happen to their relationship if Eleanor's "high flying" days come crashing down around the two of them?

I loved this story (mostly!) and recommend it.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Ms Conception by Jen Cumming

Title: Ms Conception
Author: Jen Cumming
Publisher: Colborne Communications
Rating: WARTY!

This novel is not to be confused with Ms Conception by Pamela Power, which I have not read, although that name, wonderful as it is, I think is beaten by 'Jen Cumming', as the author of a novel about pregnancy! This story details (and I do mean details) a woman's desperate (and I do mean desperate) effort to get pregnant.

You would think, with all we hear from our religious overlords, that pregnancy is something that happens as soon as two people from complementary genders look at each other, and especially so if they're teenagers, but the truth is that even a fertile couple has only about a one in five chance of conceiving during any given month (assuming average sexual activity).

Infertility affects about one in ten couples, and it has been rising of late, but this may be due to the fact that more and more couples are choosing to have children later in life, whereas peak fertility occurs between about eighteen and twenty-five. Women over forty have about a one in ten chance of becoming pregnant even with assisted fertility treatments, whereas men are the scalawags who can successfully father children much later in life, but, as Woody Allen remarked, they're too old and frail by then to pick them up....

It turns out that about 40% of cases of infertility are due the male partner and the same for the female, with the final 20% due to both partners equally. It can be devastating, even marriage-wrecking, but that very much depends upon the individuals. The author evidently underwent these treatments, which in turn no doubt provided the raw material for this story, but this doesn't tell us how much of the story she tells is personal to her and her partner as opposed to being completely made-up from scratch.

I hope it wasn't too personal, because I have to say that I neither liked nor warmed-up to either main character in this novel - or to any of the other characters for that matter. I did not like Abigail Nichols or Jack, her husband (yes, another tedious novel with a main character named Jack!). The two of them bordered dangerously on alcoholism and were so one-dimensional that I almost couldn't see them at all. The entire novel is focused on getting pregnant and then being pregnant. It's like this is the only raison d'être for either of these people, and particularly for Abigail. Jack was notably neglectful and even dysfunctional at times. They literally had no life beyond conception, which makes them completely uninteresting as characters or people and rather scary as potential parents.

As I said, I don't know how autobiographical this novel was, if at all, so this may or may not have been what life was like, but it if was at all autobiographical, it's very sad. I don't doubt that there actually are people where the "need" to get pregnant overrides everything else in their life, but this doesn't mean it makes for either an engrossing or an edifying story.

What this actually felt like was the Bill Murray movie Groundhog day, where we kept going through the same things over and over again, with only minor changes, but unlike the movie, this was not amusing, it was simply boring. Instead of being moving or empathy-inducing, Abigail was merely irritating. I kept wanting someone to grab her by the shoulders, look her in the eye and say, "Abby, grow a pair before you fizzle out like a balloon farting around the room until it collapses, shriveled and flat."

It was pretty obvious that pregnancy was going to result sooner or later, so it's no spoiler to say it, but it means that this novel really had nothing new or different to offer, and the fact that Abigail was a chronic whiner was off-putting. I know that people in her position are entitled to some self-pity, but it seemed endless with Abigail, and it didn't help that it was told from her first person PoV, which magnified and amplified this and made it far worse than it could have been.

The book blurb assures us: "One thing she knows for sure: a healthy sense of humor (and the occasional glass of red wine) is the best coping strategy," but this was not true at all. There was nothing healthy about Abigail, and there certainly wasn't "the occasional glass of red wine." There was copious amounts of drink, and times when she and her husband got outright drunk. What is this couple, nineteen years old?The sense of humor was almost completely absent. Once in a while there would be a remark or observation that was actually funny, but for the most part any attempt at humor was washed out by the endless and tedious whining and self-pity. The funniest thing about it was, as another reviewer has pointed out, that the clichéd image on the front cover looks more like someone's butt than ever it does a pregnant abdomen! But random covers are what you get when you don't self publish.

One of the saddest things is that Abigail seriously needed some psychiatric treatment or therapy, and she wasn't getting it, and no one - not even the many medical personnel she encountered - noticed how bad her condition was. Her mental state and her drinking problem were not normal and not healthy. Her work was being affected, although god only knows why she persisted in working in such a hostile and genderist environment. Her place of employment was as politically incorrect and inappropriate as you can get, yet never once was it ever hinted that there was anything wrong here, or that serious change was called for.

In many ways Abigail was her own worst enemy. She never told her employers what she was up to, and so was seen as taking endless, 'frivolous' time off work. Her obsession with getting pregnant was actually interfering with her work because of her repeated absences, and then she has the hypocrisy to complain that the new hire is stealing all her resources? The new hire actually had all the hallmarks of a corporate spy, but since I didn't finish this novel, I can't say if she actually was.

The thing is that Abigail never actually seemed to work. She was all about delegation and the writing made it seem like she spent the bulk of her time doing activities related to getting pregnant and the hell with her work beyond a sporadic catch-up blitz. She tells us how much time she spends waiting around in medical clinics, but instead of taking her laptop and working from where-ever she was, she sat around doing nothing, or she took a book to read. Great work ethic, Abigail. This woman is neither smart nor organized, nor is she a responsible employee.

This wasn't even the worst part of Abigail's behavior. Before she even considered approaching reliable and scientifically-proven medical treatment, she ran around trying all manner of bullshit woo 'remedies', which of course failed. When she did return to reality, she didn't like the medical doctor she had - or at least not his abusive time-keeping, yet she was evidently too timid or lacking in motivation to change and find a better one.

She whined constantly about her mother in law, who was, I confess and royal pain in the ass, but then she also whined about her sister who accidentally became pregnant, and her husband's ex-girlfriend who also became pregnant. I don't know who raised Abigail to think it's all about Abigail, and that there's something wrong with other people having a life independently of hers, but it was really quite sickening to repeatedly read of the lavish pity parties to which she treated herself on these occasions. Abigail was not remotely likable at all.

Another issue was money. We were told so many things in this novel and shown very little, and one of the worst things was the money question. We were told time and time again how expensive these treatments would be, and how it would have to be put-off because of the cost, and yet suddenly we're doing all these supposedly expensive things and money isn't an object. Her husband magically gets yet another bonus whenever they need cash for something. It was farcical. Never once was any thought spared for the more than forty million Americans who live in poverty, some of whom are no doubt infertile and who have no access to the resources which Abigail did, and no resources to raise a child even if they had one.

Abigail and Jack were both high-end professionals, evidently paid handsomely for their "work" and yet they appeared to appreciate none of it. They had everything they wanted, never went asking for food or clothes (or anything), and yet Abigail still selfishly wallowed in how badly-done-to she was. Anyone is entitled to feel bad about their circumstances once in a while, but Abigail made an art-form out of it. Like I said, she was not a likable person.

Likewise there was hardly a word spoken about adoption. I don't recall seeing where this story was set, but I may have missed that. I assume it was Canada since the author is Canadian, and Canada has some 45,000 orphaned children. The US has over twice that number and a further 400,000 living without permanent families, yet adoption was barely mentioned in this novel. A really good educational opportunity as squandered there.

So, in short, I did not like this novel. I found it obnoxious at times and pitiful (in the wrong way) at other times. There was nothing to get me interested, let alone keep my interest, and it quickly became too tedious to read when there are other authors with better conceptions awaiting. Life's too short and too pregnant with opportunity to live there with your legs in the air waiting for the story to finish anesthetizing you.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Cinderella Fables Are Forever Volume Two by Chris Robertson

Title: Cinderella Fables Are Forever Volume Two
Author: Chris Robertson
Publisher: Warner Bros (DC Comics)
Rating: WORTHY!

Art work: Shawn McManus.
Coloring: Lee Loughridge.
Lettering: Todd Klein.

Writer Chris Robertson has apparently been fired from DC comics after he made some comments about their treatment of story creators! This is what happens when you go with Big Publishing™ This is why self-publishing is the only way to go these days. Maintain complete control over your work. Own it. Do not let it be diluted. The time when you work for the company which also owns the house you live in and the company store where you have to buy all your food and goods are long, LONG gone. So is it time to boycott DC? I think maybe it is.

That said, this comic (which I got from the library, I hasten to add!) was worth a read, but I think it's going to be the last one in this series that I do read. It bordered on being annoyingly repetitive because it was the continuing story of the battle between Cinderella and Dorothy Gale (yes, that Dorothy, who sure as heck is hell isn't in Kansas anymore), but it actually fell short of being annoying.

Evidently Cindy and Dottie have a long a checkered history, all of which is violent. Now Dottie has a powerful grudge against Cindy, and she also has those slippers - not the ruby ones, but the silver ones - which give her some rather startling powers, one of which surprised me delightfully, although when I thought about it at the end of this story, it made no sense!

So this is a story of repeated battles between the two, most of which are in flashback, but it was done well and not irritatingly, and the art work - which is old-style comic book for the nostalgic fans among us - is good and covers the page. Artist Shawn McManus evidently loves trees as much as I do. Note that there's continued violence and exploitative depictions of females throughout - in short, it's a standard comic.

The lettering once again was small, so you really need to read this in print form. In ebook form it would be illegible unless you have a really big screen, or you don't mind enlarging it and then fondling the screen repetitively to see the various blurbs. In short I recommend this, I just don't recommend the publisher which is Vertigo, which is owned by DC, which is owned by Warner Bros. Borrow it from the library like I did!

Batgirl Volume 4 Wanted by Gail Simone and Marguerite Bennett

Title: Batgirl Volume 4 Wanted
Author: Gail Simone and Marguerite Bennett
Publisher: Warner Bros (DC Comics)
Rating: WARTY!

Penciling: Fernando Pasarin.
Inking: Jonathan Glapion.
Coloring: Blond and Brett Smith.

This and the other graphic novel I'm reviewing today are probably the last DC comics I'll be reading and also coincidentally constitute the last of the graphics which I was denied a chance to read in advance review copy form. The publishers can deny you an early look, but they can't prevent you completely from reading and reviewing a book you've set your mind on!

This one beautifully presented and colored, in hardback with glossy pages and really great art work, but that's only a part of a graphic novel. The other part is story, and this one made little sense. Note that in saying that, I'm coming into this at volume four, having not read the previous three, but although this story proceeds out of the previous three volumes, it's not so obscure that you can't get into it and figure out what's been going on. While there are some notable exceptions, comic books after all, are not known for being deep!

Whenever you're reading a super hero story you have to let some things slide by or give up. Obviously there are no "meta-humans" in real life, and no vigilantes in the sense intended here, so you have to take that as a given going in. The problem isn't that per se, it's what's done with that premise which makes or breaks a good graphic story. It's for this reason that I've never been a fan of either Batman or Superman. I give the links in my blog because I think it's hilarious that the two characters are illustrated in wikipedia (as of this writing) in images showing almost exactly the same macho pose, but facing in opposite directions, like they're book-ends or like they're in confrontation depending on how you juxtapose them!

For me, these two characters make little sense at their very root, and while that lack of sense may have managed a passing grade in 1933 and 1939 respectively, it's not nearly adequate in 2015. I loved the Christopher Nolan movie trilogy, which rose above any routine issues I might have with the concept for Batman, but Superman has always failed with me, and comics have consistently failed to dig them out of their holes too.

Coming into this, and having enjoyed the Birds of Prey TV show, which features two of my favorite actors in lead roles, I was hoping for something good and cool - and different from the Batman world - especially given that the writers are female (which itself is something that's scarce in the comic book world). What I got was pretty much standard boilerplate comic book which any guy might have come up with. I was disappointed.

The story begins with The Ventriloquist, which was mildly amusing since I only just got through watching a Hercule Poirot TV show yesterday which featured a ventriloquist as the villain! There is no back-story (in this edition) for this character, and I'm not familiar with her, so while she was intriguing and interesting, she lacked substance, especially since she rapidly disappeared from the story never to be heard from again. Plus her weirdly morphing powers were rather weird to me.

That was like a prologue, I'm not a fan of prologues, but after this, the main body of the story took off with a vengeance, focusing on the angst Batgirl was facing after having taken action to save her mother which resulted in the death of her brother. Note that both Barbara Gordon and her brother are the children of the venerable police commissioner Gordon, but what Gordon doesn't know is that Barbara is Batgirl. She even tries to unveil herself to him, but Gordon, who wants Batgirl dead, turns his back, refusing to learn who she really is.

This is one of the things which made no absolutely no sense, but what makes less sense is that Gordon, who is obviously intimately familiar with his daughter's face, and who is very familiar with Batgirl's face having seen it numerous times, has failed to figure it out for himself. Barbara Gordon has long red hair and so does Batgirl, and her cowl fails to hide her eyes and the lower part of her face. How could he not figure it out?!

This is on par with no one grasping that Superman and Clark Kent are the same when the only "difference" between then is a pair of eyeglasses and a comma of hair. It's utterly nonsensical. But that's not as nonsensical as the flat refusal on the part of both Batman and Superman, to actually help the police. Both these guys, and particularly Batman, have access to technology and methods which could really aid police investigations and crime prevention if the so-called heroes were willing to share the technology and train the police, but neither of them ever does. instead they selfishly keep it to themselves, arrogantly assuming that they're the only ones fit to use it! This could be viewed as obstruction of justice!

Obviously other heroes do this same thing - for example, Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four comes readily to mind - and if they did this they'd be a lot less special in many regards - particularly Batman whose entire existence is predicated upon his superior training and technology, since he has no super powers. Again this is one of the things you must let slide if you want to enjoy the comic.

There were issues with this issue, such as the stereotypical hooligans in the mall who harass Barbara when she's out shopping (for shoes), because clearly all guys who wear spiked hair are closet rapists! There's a lot of gore and blood splatter. There's way too much angst, but that's stock-in-trade for comics books. In one instance this is hilarious because it looks like Barbara is crying ink - her tears are black! At first I thought this was some horrible seepage from her eyes caused by something which some super-villain had done to her, but it was just tears and artistic license.

The closing scenes when she and Daddy Gordon are running from super-villains (does Batman ever run from villains? I'm not in a position to comment, but it seemed odd), were simply not credible given what had come before. The interactions between them made both characters look like idiots and the whole failed "Hey dad, it's me, Barbara!" dénouement made Batgirl look weak, clueless and totally ineffectual. So overall, I can't recommend this. Aside from the art work, which was remarkable, there really was nothing heroic about this story. Marguerite Bennett's contribution was a really odd story at the end which had nothing to do with anything that had gone before. It wasn't entertaining to me.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Egg by Andy Weir

Title: The Egg
Author: Andy Weir
Publisher: Audible Studios
Rating: WORTHY!

This is a really short story available free on-line, and also in audio form. I recommend it. It's rather hard to review though, without telling the whole story, because it is so short.

I'm not even remotely religious, so I have no skin in the game of who has the best religion; they're all clueless, and that's the joy of this story because it makes more sense than any of the other religions out there! Not that that makes it true. It's fiction after all.

The basic plot is that a guy dies and meets god, and gets an education as to how life and death really works! Of course, ultimately the story still makes no sense, but it's original and fun, and it's a quick easy read, so what's not to like?

I think those who reviewed this negatively either have a religious axe to grind or they're taking fiction way too seriously! It's just a story and a short one at that. I recommend it. Even if you hate it, you've lost only five minutes of your life and you have something new to think about to boot. If you don't like it, go ahead and write a parody of it and have some fun!

The Australian by Lesley Young

Title: The Australian
Author: Lesley Young
Publisher: LAY Books (no website found)
Rating: WARTY!

Not to be confused with The Australian by Diana Palmer (BN has 494 pages of books with 'Australian' in the title!), this is one of a series titled "The ". Another one is "The Frenchman" and appears to feature the same guy in the cover! It's a romance novel and I need to warn you right up front that I was hoping for more than merely a romance novel because romance novels to me are unappealing. They really have nothing to do with romance and everything to do with some wiltingly weak female with little self control (or self respect for that matter) being overpowered by Mr Macho. To me, that's not a story, it's author wish-fulfillment and/or pure fantasy. I can neither like nor respect any novel which depicts women as nothing more than men's toys.

I thought and hoped that this one would be different because of the undercover (and not under those covers!) aspects of it, but in the end it turned out to be precisely what I feared it would be. In the story, Charlie Sykes is a young American woman who flees Florida in the wake of her mother's death from drugs, and heads to Australia on a whim. She seems to have had an inexplicably easy time in moving there and finding herself eligible for work. In the European Union you can jump from one country to another job-hunting as though you never left your home nation, but moving from one nation to another where there are no such international ties is not usually as easy as it's depicted here!

Charlie is looking for work and unexpectedly finds a $50,000 (Australian dollars = approximately $37,000 US) job dropped into her lap. She accepts this job despite being ogled and inappropriately treated by the boss, a international hotelier who is grossly misnamed as Mr Knight. His behavior is far from chivalrous, which makes me question Charlie's mentality when she accepts. Yes, she's desperate for a job, but seriously? She does lay down the law, but the very fact that she has to, ought to tell any self-respecting woman who has any integrity at all that this is not the place she needs to be working. It certainly isn't a romantic first meeting. But I was willing, for the sake of a good story, to let that one slide.

I love reading novels set in Australia. I've read some bad ones, but mostly my experience with Australian writers/stories has been positive. Unfortunately I was also a bit dissuaded from this novel by the fact that it was first person PoV, which is the worst voice for a novel, and by the trope romantic male depicted in Jace Knight. Yes, Jace. He was tall, manly, chiseled, etc, etc. Yawn. At least he didn't have blue eyes with gold flecks in them, but that was about the only trope button which wasn't pressed here.

I found myself asking, once again, why romance writers seem so utterly and irremediably incapable of breaking away from the herd and coming up with something new, and out of the ordinary? Do they really think so little of their female readership that they believe those readers are sheep, incapable of traversing new terrain, unable to follow that road less traveled? I hope the readers aren't like that. I hope the writers do not view their readers with such disdain.

What initially kept me reading was that I was intrigued by Charlie. She's not your usual romantic female in one regard at least. She's slightly dysfunctional and socially inept - borderline Asperger’s or something, so I warmed to her quickly, but my empathy for her which had been built-up in the first chapter began to wane significantly when Charlie started in on the wilting violet routine as soon as she was in Jace's presence. This did not augur well for a really good story. It did augur well if you like uninventive clichéd romances.

I had been hoping for something better this time. I had dared to hope for a real story. Would I get one? Only reading-on would tell. I don't have a problem with romance, but when the entire story consists of nothing more than blushing, and attacks of the wilts and the vapors, there is no story. There is only one more limp female character and they are of no interest whatsoever to me. I like strong female characters: women who are smart, self-motivated, independent, and who can take men or leave them. Such women rarely appear in romance novels. It amazes me that they're still of interest to anyone in 2015. This isn't an historical romance, which would make antiquated 'rules' a little bit more acceptable; it's a modern story in a modern country, and my feeling is that we deserve better.

I don't have a problem with attraction between people, with a heart-beat speeding up, and bit of fluster here, and a blush there once in a while, with a few furtive glances. What I do have a problem with is when women are consistently represented as being the ones to whom this happens while the male characters are all macho and studly, and apparently feel nothing like that in return. I have a problem with women being depicted as inferior, lesser, and weaker.

I have a problem with stories which indicate that it's fine for women to be attracted to men who clearly have no respect for them, or who neglect, abuse or otherwise ill-treat them. I have a problem with novels depicting men as consistently strong and alpha, and women as weak and slavish. We all of us - men and women - deserve a whole hell of a lot better than that in 2015 and I hoped, by the time chapter three began, that this wouldn't be a novel like that. I wanted to like it, not despise it.

That said, there were also other issues. For instance, I don't get Charlie's obsession with how hot it was. She's from New York state which has a comparable temperature range with Sydney in the summer. Obviously they are in the opposite end of the year from we in the northern hemisphere, so if the transition took place in a New York winter it would be noticeable, but unless Sydney was suffering a major heat wave, it wouldn't be anything dramatically outside of the range Charlie was used to.

One thing which became annoying was Charlie's inability to employ contractions. For example, she would say "I hope you are right" Instead of saying, "I hope you're right". This seemed odd at first and became annoying quite quickly. She reminded me of Commander Data from the Star Trek: Next Generation TV series, and it made her seem far more robotic than ever it did human-but-dysfunctional. I would have liked her better without that.

At the point right before Charlie learns of the true identity of the improbably-named Sullivan Blaise, she panics over his behavior, thinking he's a psycho killer or something, and tries to flee her apartment, but he manhandles her to the bed, and the way this is described isn't done horrifically, which is how it would have been, but rather sexually. I didn't think that this was appropriate at all and I didn't appreciate the way it was described. I am not a fan of sanitizing violence in this way, much less of trying to make it titillating.

Obviously, I can't speak for women (I don't even play one on TV!), but my best guess is that most of them would not at all appreciate being grabbed, their mouth covered, and thrown face down on the bed under the weight of an attacker who towers a foot over their head. Even if they'd been role-playing it would be scary, but that's not what was going on here. It was at this point I really started to wonder if this author would win me back over to enjoying this novel and how, exactly, she planned on doing it.

Charlie requests more than once that Blaise leave, but he refuses. When she threatens to call the police he claims he owns the police. When she stands up he orders her to sit down. This guy is a complete jerk. Then he asks this woman (who has worked for Jace for a day or so) what she knows about him! You know, if he wanted her to spy, all he had to do was to meet with her professionally. This business of lying to her to get into her apartment and then physically restraining her is hardly the best way to go about recruiting someone who is inexplicably, but evidently vital to your operation, so he's not only a jerk, he's also an idiot!

She does have the presence of mind to demand he prove his identity to her, but all he does is show her a business card. That's hardly proof given that anyone can have a business card printed up showing anything they want on it. This jerk tells her: "Here's the thing, Charlie. I don't need your buy-in. And I don't give a shit about Interpol. You just need to do what I ask, when I ask. This is my show." Seriously? From the minute he man-handled Charlie I took a dislike to this guy. He then proceeds to blackmail her, threatening to throw her out of the country if she refuses to help.

The Charlie that I met in chapter one would have gone right ahead and said, "Go ahead and throw me out, and see if I care!", but this one cowers under the threat and gives in. I don't know this Charlie, and I don't like her either. Obviously she has to give in, in order for the story to proceed, but it seems to me the author might have gone about this in a better way - one which doesn't leave her main character looking weak and easily manipulated.

So without checking-up on Blaise to independently verify his story, Charlie takes him completely at face value, and agrees to do this spying job. She concludes, "It was fairly evident that Sullivan was who he said he was...." That's not a smart conclusion and again it seemed out of character given what we'd been told of Charlie so far.

The inevitable trope of getting any two of our three main characters undressed occurs when Jace offers Charlie an opportunity to learn how to swim. Apparently her school never taught this activity, but it does require a state of semi undress and physical proximity, so it will do. I figured that this was also where the requisite trope 'accidental' falling of female into male's arms would take place. And it did, exactly as I predicted.

Charlie gives us a detailed description of Jace's penis, ensconced as it was inside his swim trunks. She also describes herself. Again. Not only does she have an hourglass figure, she also has unusually smooth skin, lean legs, a flat stomach, and above average sized breasts. At this point I realized that Charlie really ought to have been named Mary Sue and asked myself yet again why it appears not even remotely possible to get a good story about regular people? Must they all be outstandingly beautiful, or studly, or curvaceous, or chiseled? Seriously? This is when despair set in.

Er no, Virginia - sorry, Charlie - hot water doesn't freeze more quickly than cold (not in that bald and simply-stated fashion at least). This is called the Mpemba effect. Water that has been boiled may well freeze quicker than un-boiled water (which has more air in it), but consider this: in order to reach freezing point, the hot water has to first cool down to the same temperature as the cooler water before it can then further cool down to freeze. How is it going to freeze more quickly when it first has to catch up? In some circumstances, it can, but there's a lot of issues and disagreements here so the bald claim is wrong. And no, water has neither memory nor consciousness. Now I not only dislike Charlie, I have zero respect for her intellect. I guess that just leaves the body, which is fine isn't it, because the body on the cover will match that perfectly? I mean, who needs a head (with a mind) when you can have any body?

The swimming lesson puts Charlie in her place finally - the subservient, submissive woman. Which man wouldn't want one of these toys in the closet, so they can pull it (not her) out, and play with it whenever they choose? It's said that men do not play with dolls, but they do. Those dolls are women like Charlie. Chapter six ends with the telling phrase, "...and his word was my command." It was at this point that I quit reading this novel. I cannot stand to read another novel which turns women into slaves and toys and dolls. I expected better from this and it was not delivering. I cannot in good faith recommend this novel. The liberation of women evidently still has a heck of a long way to go, I'm sorry to report.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Girl Who Played With Fire Adapted by Denise Mina

Title: The Girl Who Played With Fire
Author: Denise Mina
Publisher: DC Comics (Warner Bros)
Rating: WORTHY!

Art by Andrea Mutti, Antonio Fuso, and Leonardo Manco.
Colors by Giulia Brusco and Patricia Mulvihill, and Lee Loughridge.
Letters by Steve Wands.

I already reviewed this novel so what's up here? Well I originally read this in print book form. Later, I listened to it in audio book form, so now it's only right that I check out the graphic novel too, right?! That's why this review is shorter than I normally write. I'm not going into any details of the plot since I've been there and done that, and you can get those from my original review. This review is all about the graphic side of things.

The graphic novel again relates Steig Larsson's original story faithfully and while there's just as much violence in this volume, there's no sex at all worth the mention. I don't know why, but the art work here didn't grab me like it did in the first two volumes. I was nowhere near as fond of the rendering of Lisbeth here as I was in the previous outing, but the art was very workman-like and got a complex job done. It just didn't leave quite the same pleasant taste the previous material did. One notable exception (illustrated on my blog) was the full page rendition of Lisbeth's dragon tattoo, which I thought was really good.

The lettering felt better in this one than in the previous volumes, and it seemed a better reading experience to me for that. Maybe I was just more used to it this time after reading two previous volumes? On this topic, I was amused where we saw one frame of a report which was actually information about a software license, but imaged with the lettering backwards! Later we get a news report, but if you look at it. It consists of the same paragraph repeated over and over again.

We do get to meet a member of the Evil Fingers punk band which is mentioned in the book, and which is now a group of female friends who are close - as close, that is, as Lisbeth would ever let anyone get. Lisbeth was never in the band since she's tone deaf, but she was part of the post-band gatherings. It doesn't specify the name of the band member who is interviewed. We know it's not lead singer Cilla Norén, unless she's changed her hair completely and lost a lot of weight, yet that's the band member whom officer Faste interviewed in the novel.

So, to sum up, I didn't like this quite as much as I liked the first book (which was in two parts), but I still think it's a worthy contribution to the canon. I am looking forward to, and hoping for, the third volume to be completed.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Part 2 Adapted by Denise Mina

Title: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Part 2
Author: Denise Mina
Publisher: DC Comics (Warner Bros)
Rating: WORTHY!

Art by Andrea Mutti and Leonardo Manco.
Colors by Giulia Brusco and Patricia Mulvihill.
Letters by Steve Wands and Lee Bermejo.

I already reviewed this novel so what's up here? Well I originally read this in print book form. Later, I listened to it in audio book form, so now it's only right that I check out the graphic novel too, right?! That's why this review is shorter than I normally write. I'm not going into any details of the plot since I've been there and done that, and you can get those from my original review. This review is all about the graphic side of things.

Again, as with volume one, I was impressed with this. Denise Mina's writing covered everything of import, but also kept the pace tight. Steve Wands's and Lee Bermejo's lettering was nothing spectacular, and a bit on the small side. Obviously you can't hide the image under large blocks of text, but for me, and especially in this era of e-comics, lettering is nearly always a too small. I was glad I read this in print form as opposed to on an e-pad. What impressed me were Giulia Brusco's and Patricia Mulvihill's colors and Andrea Mutti's and Leonardo Manco's art work which continued the same standard set in volume one. The covers were excellent in quality, but as I mentioned in the review of volume 1 thought that the cover for part 2 didn't capture Lisbeth Salander. The face was wrong, somehow. The interior artwork captured her magically.

The hilariously squeamish depictions of nudity continued. I found it curious that there were no-holds-barred when it came to violence, but that genitalia were deemed too horrific to show! One of the most important scenes - the rape of Lisbeth Salander, was glossed over a little too conveniently. We get the full gloory of the headless cat, with its bloody entrails all over, yet a central event of the brutal rape of a woman is deemed inappropriate?

Nothing overt was depicted except blood and strongly implied violence. A sheet strategically covered her butt crack afterwards. Seriously? If you're going to show the violence, then show it, don't blow it. If all you feel you can show is blood spatter, then don't show anything. This part made no sense because it robbed Lisbeth of the full horror of her torture. I didn't get the point of a graphic novel that's inconsistently graphic! Why the artist would baulk at that, and not at blood spray and cat entrails is weird to me.

That gripe aside, I really liked this overall, and I recommend it. I'm certainly going to buy it if I get a chance.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Part 1 Adapted by Denise Mina

Title: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Part 1
Author: Denise Mina
Publisher: DC Comics (Warner Bros)
Rating: WORTHY!

Art by Andrea Mutti and Leonardo Manco.
Colors by Giulia Brusco and Patricia Mulvihill.
Letters by Steve Wands and Lee Bermejo.

I already reviewed this novel so what's up here? Well I originally read this in print book form. Later, I listened to it in audio book form, so now it's only right that I check out the graphic novel too, right?! That's why this review is shorter than I normally write. I'm not going into any details of the plot since I've been there and done that, and you can get those from my original review. This review is all about the graphic side of things.

So I was very impressed with this work. It's been somewhat updated from the original novel to include smart phones, for example, but otherwise is faithful to it. Denise Mina's adaptation was sparse but covered everything that was important, and kept the story moving at a clip. Steve Wands's and Lee Bermejo's lettering was pretty much boiler-plate comic book, so there was nothing there to praise. On the downside, lettering is nearly always a little too small for my taste, especially if you're trying to read it on a screen, such as an iPad. I'm glad I read this in actual print form. It would have been annoying on a pad. What impressed me were Giulia Brusco's and Patricia Mulvihill's colors and Andrea Mutti's and Leonardo Manco's art work. Both were excellent for my taste and really brought the story to life. The covers were excellent in quality, but I thought that the part 2 cover really didn't capture Lisbeth Salander. The face was wrong, somehow. The interior artwork captured her magically.

I was amused by the depictions of nudity (and almost every eligible female gets nude in this graphic novel, even young Harriet, whereas only one guy does). The amusement came from the apparent squeamishness of the artists to depict genitals and butt cracks! I've never understood this, especially when violence is depicted without a single thought to covering it up! Are we to understand from this that our society believes that looking at something sensuous and beautiful is verboten, whereas violence is cool?>/p>

To me breasts are far more out there, provocative and 3D, than ever female genitals are, so what's with the shyness? We got mammaries a-go-go, but whenever there was any danger of a vulva heaving into view, there was always something in the way: panties, or a judiciously draped sheet reminiscent of the wispy gauze which inexplicably floated around in classical paintings of nudes. The same applies to male genitalia.

So, overall, I highly recommend this - especially if you haven't read the original. It's a great introduction to the first novel of the trilogy, but the cost, I have to say is pretty steep. It's forty dollars for both of the volumes which make up the first novel, so you might want to get this from your library before you decide to buy, or look for it used. I would definitely like to buy these two.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Pam of Babylon by Suzanne Jenkins

Title: Pam of Babylon
Author: Suzanne Jenkins
Publisher: Amazon
Rating: WARTY!

This is the start of a series, believe it or not, of which the second volume has already been released. Curiously, I’m actually starting with the first volume for a change, but I don’t plan of reading any more of this series. I;m not a series fan unless it's exceptional and this isn't.

Pam Smith is spoiled rotten, so I guess it’s hardly surprising that she’s the most placid mammal in existence. She thinks her husband is having an affair, but would rather not drop that stone into the mirror-surface of her little pond of joy. She’s rolling in money to the point where she doesn’t have to work. Indeed, she doesn’t choose to work, living a fifties house-wife existence in a luxurious beach-front house on Long Island.

Her Husband, the bread winner, is a complete slut. After he dies, apparently of a heart attack on the train traveling out to visit his wife for the weekend (she lives like a kept woman in her snazzy isolation while he travels into "the city" and do the work during the week), he apparently is robbed, yet the thieves inexplicably take everything but his phone. It’s this phone which leads to an unraveling of Pam’s life, because the last person Jack (yes, he’s another jack-ass) called on it was his mistress. Which mistress? The young one – not the kept woman who is his wife or any other of his mistresses.

I honestly cannot believe a hospital would be either so stupid or so insensitive to blindly assume that the last person a person calls has to be an immediate relative! Rather than leave it to the police or try to find contact info on the phone, what we get here is the hospital calling Sandra the Mistress, not Pam the wife, yet somehow Pam manages to show up at the hospital at the same time as Sandra and the two meet. Instead of fighting, Pam hugs Sandra and the two embark upon a friendship.

The children of Pam and Jack are evidently in college, and Pam is insensitive enough to deliver the news that dad is dead over the phone rather than get off her idle ass and go pick them up and deliver the news in person. The novel is so vague (on some things and inexplicably running into endless detail on others) that it didn’t say where the kids were, but unless they were across the country (which isn’t the impression I got), this seemed cold if not callous. From that point on I didn’t like her, and that wasn’t the only thing about her which was objectionable.

One thing which bothered me was what seemed to be Pam’s consistent 1950’s take on life. She was the stay-at-home domesticated mom who didn’t seem to have a life or any real interest in having one. She didn’t work, she didn’t seem like she was involved in any trusts, or foundations or charities, and she didn’t seem like she had ever been involved in any of the financial dealings pertinent to home-ownership and paying bills.

Her worst betrayal of feminism however, was when she sets off for the funeral and we read that her son Brent is driving the car. That was fine, but Pam’s observation about Brent was: “He was the man of the family now.” What? Pam is the adult, and she has a daughter, too, but Brent is the man of the house? Neither female need apply for any position of responsibility?

This was at odds with Pam’s protestation, earlier, that she wanted to be in charge of her destiny and that what she chose to do - and whom she chose to befriend - was none of anyone else’s business. It didn’t make any sense. It seemed like a complete reversal to me.

It wasn't he only thing which didn't make sense. Take this sentence: "She remembered her grandmother’s perfume, Cashmere Bouquet. The smell of it was so dry it brought tears to her eyes." The smell was so dry? I'm not even going to try to work that one out.

In short, this novel was tedious and not even remotely interesting. I couldn't finish it and I certainly cannot recommend the parts I did read.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Dying to Get Published by Judy Fitzwater

Title: Dying to Get Published
Author: Judy Fitzwater
Publisher: Judy Fitzwater
Rating: WARTY!

This novel sounded really intriguing from the blurb - which means the blurb did its job, I guess! The problem was that what started out as a really grabbing premise - a writer concocted a plot for a murder mystery, and is now in prison accused of the very murder she plotted. Yes, it’s been done before, most notably in the movie, Basic Instinct, but it’s always a good idea if you can put a twist or two on it.

The problem with this, for me, was that the author's idea of a twist seemed to be adding a trope romance. That might even have worked except that the murder mystery was forgotten about as we abruptly flashed-back to her romance. Even that might have worked had the new guy in her life been the villain. This brings me to the second problem - the real villain here is the main character. She's pissed off with an agent who wasn't very nice to her (but then she wasn't nice in return, either), and for no good reason decides to start sending her threatening letters. She's plotting her death and it’s not at all clear whether she's really intending to do this, or if she's just playing with ideas for a novel, if playing a little too authentically.

The romance wouldn’t have been so bad had it something original to offer, but it was so clichéd as to be pathetic. The male is tall, so the female can be rendered into a little girl rather than a woman. He has hair falling into his eyes, he's muscular, he has 'startlingly blue eyes', because brown eyes look like…well, not chocolate (so this style of authorship evidently thinks). And he's going to fix her because she's broken, and you know that every girl needs a guy to both fix and validate her. In short, it went quickly down the toilet.

This is one of a series (of seven as of this review), but detective series are really nothing more than a rehash of the original story when you get right down to it, with a few tweaks to the template in order to try and make the next story sound original when it really isn't. I have no time for writers who milk money out of readers like that while eschewing any efforts towards inventiveness or creativity. Some writers can make a series work, and they are to be treasured, but when a series gets off to a boring and clichéd start like this one, I can neither subscribe to nor recommend it.

There was some nice humor here and there, particularly in the writing group that the "detective" attended, and the novel was relatively short, but that's the best I can say for it. One wonderfully and, I assume, unintentional piece of humor was that at one point the protagonist agrees, right at the end of chapter ten, to meet someone at eleven! I loved that, but to put this in relationship terms, this book was simply not there for me when I needed it.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Daughter of the Sword by Steve Bein

Title: Daughter of the Sword
Author: Steve Bein
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Rating: WORTHY!

We have a new strong female character in town: Mariko Oshiro – and I love her! This is the start of a series, of which Year of the Demon is the sequel. I'm not a fan of series, but of this one, I could become one based on volume one. Series, too me, seem like a lazy and convenient way of milking money out of readers by offering nothing more than retreaded stories, bypassing any real creativity. Whether this series will end up that way remains to be seen.

Mariko is a Japanese detective – the only one in her elite police unit, and her life isn’t easy. Since only about 10% of the Japanese police force is female (officers and civilians) this is entirely credible. She doesn’t automatically command respect as a man would in her position, and her boss really doesn’t like her. Nor does he believe she belongs there, but there's a reason for this other than mere chauvinism. He will not cut her a break, but she gets a break in disguise when she’s moved against her will from the narcotics squad to take on the investigation of an attempted theft of a sword.

There are three known Inazuma swords extant in the world, and these are named: Tiger on the Mountain, Glorious Unsought Victory, and Beautiful Singer. One of these is owned by Professor Yasuo Yamada, an aging and almost blind scholar, and a master swordsman. Mariko isn’t thrilled by the investigation or by Yamada, but he grows on her as she learns more about him and the sword. It seems that an ex pupil of Yamada’s, known as Fuchida Shūzō, works for the 8-9-3, which is what ya-ku-za means (based on the worst hand you can get in a card game). This criminal organization works hand-in-hand with the police, the latter turning a blind eye to some of its business activities as long as the organization does not let, hard drugs like Cocaine into the country. Fuchida has other ideas and believes he can trade a deadly and valuable ancient Inazuma Samurai sword for a cocaine shipment, and launch himself into a criminal career of his own.

What Mariko doesn’t grasp to begin with - and only reluctantly comes to accept - is that there are three swords in play and each of them not only has a name, but magical qualities associated with it. She sings to him when he draws her and she wants to control him. She will not tolerate rivals. Fuchida is literally in love with her. He refers to his sword as a female and sleeps with it in his bed at night. When the drug dealers under his oversight become a bit too loose-tongued about Fuchida’s plans, the city of Tokyo starts seeing a body here and there which has evidently run through by a sword, and Mariko begins to realize there’s more going on here than a simple sword theft.

There are some technical problems with the writing. I saw "straitened" instead of "straightened" at one point, and a phrase like "Mariko’s re-read the same paragraph" which made no sense, but in general the writing was good. Also I had issues with the flashbacks. There are several of them and the first one really annoyed me. I wanted the story here and now, but the author insisted upon retreating multiple times into various points in Japanese history to tell stories of these swords.

These really brought the story to a grinding halt, and were not nearly as interesting to me as the story told in the present. It was annoying to get repeatedly torn out of a story I was really into and flung back into the past for tens of pages. After the first flashback, the others were not nearly so annoying, but rest assured you can skip them and not miss anything - with the exception of the last of the flashbacks, set in World War Two, which is important if you want to fully understand the main story's conclusion. That said, the flashbacks were intrusive and too long.

Another annoyance was the goze - a blind female "seer" - whose "predictions" were - just as with modern charlatan psychics - so useless as to be a parody. I don't mind psychics in stories where they fit (as she does here), in a fantasy story, but it's such a ridiculous cliché that they can never actually say anything clearly, that they're usually more annoying than they are beneficial from my PoV, and are practically worthless.

Those quibbles aside, I very much enjoyed the story overall, and really I liked the main character Mariko who seemed totally realistic to me. I loved the way the ending was written, so in the end, I fully recommend this novel.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Woman in the Movie Star Dress by Praveen Asthana

Title: The Woman in the Movie Star Dress
Author: Praveen Asthana (no website found)
Publisher: Doublewood Press (no website found)
Rating: WORTHY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

Page 31 “Sachem Littlefeather” should be “Sacheen Littlefeather” née Marie Louise Cruz.
Page 46 “…dishy Kennedy’s…” should be “dishy Kennedys” (it’s a plural, not a possessive).
Page 164 “It’s OK darling” needs speech quotes around it.
Page 174 “…two young women in skirts so short she could tell one was a natural blonde and the other favored dilapidation…” I got a real laugh out of that! I assume the author meant “…two young women in skirts so short she could tell one was a natural blonde and the other favored depilation…”. Of course, I could be wrong and this could actually have been intended as a joke!
Page 179 Genevieve knows who Alla Nazimova is, on page 200, a day later, she does not!

With few exceptions, I normally avoid books which sport a favorable review from Jerk-Us Reviews on the cover. Since those guys rarely negatively review, their "reviews" are completely without value. This one I had requested not knowing Jerkus liked it, and it was just as well, since I liked it too! How weird is that?!

Having favorably reviewed Diana Mclellan’s non-fiction Sappho Goes to Hollywood in December 2014, this seemed like an interesting novel to me. This novelist does almost everything right. The prologue is chapter one, which I read (I wouldn’t have, had it actually been a prologue!), and I learned of Margaret Brooks who buys (from a guy named Mel - I have no idea if that delightful juxtaposition was purposeful not!) a dress worn by Marilyn Monroe in the movie Niagara which I haven’t seen, but which has to have one of the most boring plots imaginable fro what I read here. Margaret wants to be a femme fatale, and she already has a gun. She buys the dress.

Abruptly we’re in chapter two and it’s sixty years later, making the year around 2013 (Niagara came out in 1953), and we meet Genevieve (not her real name!) Nightcloud, who now works in the same store (but now in a different location) that Mel founded all those years ago with a dress he got from Joan Crawford. The author titles the chapters mostly after actors: Joan Crawford, Humphrey Bogart, Natalie Wood, Ava Gardner, and so on and adds a quote supposedly said by the actor.

Genvie grew-up watching old Paramount movies because her dad was one of the janitors at the studio and parked his kids in the screening room watching old movies while he worked. Genvie feels like she’s caught in the middle of too many things to be anything of one thing: she’s halfway between “plain and pretty, white and brown, sassy and shy” and she’s also stuck between being a modern girl and loving those old movies.

One day, right after a new consignment of clothes arrives, which contains that red dress, a woman comes into the store hauling a kid along with her – and she buys the dress. She wants to stand out at an event, she says, because her husband has a wandering eye….

Before the three girls in the store know it, a guy shows up asking about that very consignment, claiming he’s a relative and wants to retrieve a family heirloom, but the fierce Gretchen says all those things were sold, and she refuses to divulge any information about who may have bought what despite a large monetary inducement. Good for her! This doesn’t, however, prevent Genvie from taking a growing interest in that dress, and the woman who wore it: Margaret Brooks.

One serious complaint I would make if I took book blurbs seriously, is how utterly inaccurate this one is! We all know that book blurbs are hardly the most reliable source of information about a given novel, and that the author typically has nothing whatsoever to do with the particular one which their novel is saddle, but that said, the one for this novel is about as misleading as you can get! It begins:

“A young woman comes to Hollywood to escape her past.”

No, she’s already in Hollywood (near enough)! Has been since she was a kid!

“She finds work in a vintage clothing store that sells clothes used in the movies.”

No, her father finds her the job!

“One day she discovers a way to transfer human character through these vintage clothes, and she uses this ability to transform from a lonely, insecure young woman to a glamorous heart-breaker.”

No, she notices her character changing when she inappropriately ‘borrows’ various dresses from the store, and later surmises what is happening and takes advantage of it.

“But she also discovers that with the good comes the bad as character flaws are transferred too. She begins to worry: what if one of the vintage clothes she has sold to some unsuspecting customer had been previously worn by a deeply troubled soul? One day her fears become crystallized—intrigued by a man who comes asking about a beautiful scarlet dress she has recently sold, she looks into its history and discovers a secret that terrifies her.”

No. That latter part all takes place before she starts wondering why her clothes hang her…!
(Get it? Wire clothes hanger? Joan Crawford? Never mind!)

“So begins a quest to find the scarlet dress complicated by a budding romance and the threads of her past, which intervene like trip wires. Emotions run high, and in the background the quickening drumbeat of the race to find the scarlet dress, potent as a loose, loaded weapon.”

This last bit is the only part which is accurate, if a bit melodramatic!

I have to say that despite my liking of this story, I am really not at all fond of the main character. Genvie is way too focused on (you might say obsessed with) getting herself a man – like this will solve all her problems. There is no doubt that having a reliable partner is definitely a boon (yes, I shall have it no other way, I tell you!) to a person; indeed, fans of actuarial charts (if there be such a beast) will say it’s a life-saver, but such a wish should never make itself the be-all and end-all of your life. You’re not going to be of much use to anyone else if you’re not comfortable with yourself. Clearly Genvie doesn’t get this.

She also has no qualms about borrowing expensive outfits from the store without permission and going partying in them. These are not simply expensive dresses. They're used, but they were ‘used’ by movie legends such as Marlene Dietrich, Ava Gardner, Marilyn Monroe, Barbara Stanwyck, Elizabeth Taylor, and so on. Some of these dresses are pretty much what would be described as priceless (not that I’d hold them in such regard), but to Genvie, they’re simply tools to get what she wants, as is the peyote she stole from her dad, and she has no qualms, no guilt, no nothing about using them to get whatever she wants.

There’s a guy she meets in the story who makes a living out of murder memorabilia – objects and clothes owned by a murder victim or by the perp, especially if it was someone famous, or a famous crime. Genvie is very critical of this guy, yet she’s so very much like him, using what she calls the ‘chi’ of these clothes to get what she wants.

Worse than this is her profligacy when it comes to sex. I didn’t have a problem with her jumping into bed with a variety of partners, especially since (she thinks) it’s the outfits she wears which make her do these things. I did have a serious problem with her complete lack of birth control and disease prevention smarts.

Even if we assume that she’s on the pill or something (and nothing in this book actually even suggests that), while this would more than likely prevent pregnancy, it will do nothing to shield her from any sexual diseases. She’s actually not a very smart woman at all, and more often than not, she comes off as needy, scheming, and frankly, a royal bitch a lot of the time. On top of that she’s rather hypocritical. Not that she doesn’t have enough to contend with – a bitchy boss, a drunk father, and a violent brother.

I wouldn’t like Genvie were she a real person. Indeed, the only character I actually liked in it was Genvie’s colleague in the store: Gretchen. This business with the ‘chi’ and ‘transference’ of a person’s emotions, behaviors, and foibles via their clothing is absurd, of course. In a note at the beginning (which I almost didn't read, not being given to indulging in prefaces, introductions, etc.), the author mentions the Shroud of Turin at the start of the book – as though it’s real. It isn’t. It’s a demonstrated fake.

That said, this idea for the infusion of personality into old clothes makes a really great premise for a story. I had an idea of a somewhat similar nature for a children's story a while ago, although mine was not like this one in any of the details. I very much enjoyed the ambiguity which pervades this story, how some things are left open (is Genvie deluding herself about what's happening to her?), or which begin ambiguously, but later resolve in ways you don't necessarily expect.

So, to cut a long story (review) short, I highly recommend this novel. It’s very entertaining, well written and amusing. It’s also a bit scary, and rather gripping and unnerving even though you feel you know what’s coming (you don't!). The ending for me was a bit of a mess (like it was rushed to meet a deadline or the author wasn't sure how to tie off loose ends), but that said, it ended the right way when all was said and done.