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

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Madame Cat #1 by Nancy Peña


Rating: WARTY!

I went into this not really knowing what it was, but it had seemed appealing. In truth, it wasn't. What it was, was one of the most boring graphic novels I've ever read. Some authors, particularly those of the newspaper cartoon variety seem to think people will find hilarious nothing more than a drawing of an everyday activity. I don't. And that's what this was - the lifeless recounting of the mundane day-to-day experiences of a woman and her cat.

The author's illustrations were simplistic, but not bad, although her two main human charcters (the woman and her boyfriend) seem to have only one expression ever on their faces. It was the dumb stories which were tedious. This cat talks to its owner, and seems hell bent on total destruction of the owner's home, but there are never consequences, and some of the antics are just plain stupid. The biggest problem was that there was nothing funny here: nothing original, nothing new. This was, essentially, a waste of a good tree. I do not comend it and I resent the time I wasted reading it. This book makes a great case for ruthless DNF-ing.


Artemis by Andy Weir


Rating: WORTHY!

This audiobook, written by the author of The Martian and of a short story called The Egg that I read and enjoyed back in March of 2015, turned out to be quite entertaining, but I still feel no compulsion to read The Martian especially not after having seen the movie.

This story, read beautifully by Rosario Dawson, and written quite well until the ending which sort of fizzled a bit for me, still managed to squeak in as a worthy read. It's about Jasmine "Jazz" Bashara who is a smuggler on the eponymous Moon colony. She's hired by billionaire Trond Landvik, who lives on the Moon with his crippled daughter because it's the only place she can be mobile on crutches. Given his billions, this made no sense to me but I let it slide. Landvik, wants Jazz to destroy beyond repair the four moon harvesters used by the corrupt Sanchez Corporation to mine aluminum, the processing of which creates oxygen which is consumed in the city. This will allow him to take over the mining operation.

Why the four huge harvesters are all conveniently in exactly the same place goes unexplained, as does why it is that a constant resupply of O2 is needed. They don't recycle the CO2? Anyway, Jazz manages to cripple only three of them and now she's being hunted by a hitman from O Palacio, the Brazilian crime syndicate which runs Sanchez, and by Rudy, the Artemis 'police chief'. She discovers there's something else going on here and as body count rises, she sets out to solve it, almost wiping out Artemis as she does so.

Throughout this story I had mixed feelings about Jazz who alternately annoyed and amused me. She managed to avoid pissing me off so much that I wanted to ditch the story, although the ending was far too convenient given the major crime that Jazz is responsible for. I can't imagine the movie company that is supposedly turning this book into a movie will actually let the plot stand as is, but I guess we'll see if it ever comes to fruition.

That said I did enjoy this for the most part, so I recommend it as a worthy read, although you are advised that it's best to check parts of your brain at the door before going into it. I think a better story would have been about Landvik's daughter taking over his company when he dies, but that's just me not wanting always to go for the lowest common denominator as too many authors seem to do these days.


Monday, October 8, 2018

Evolution's Shore by Ian McDonald


Rating: WARTY!

Published originally in Britain as Chaga, this novel has too many pages and too little happening in them, and this rang the death knell for it for me. To make it worse, it's merely book one in a dilogy, which means it's a prologue. I so don't do prologues.

The story is supposed to be about an alien invasion after a fashion, whereby the aliens send a conversion process to planets they want to colonize, which spreads unstoppably and converts local organic material to reprocessed organic material. In short, these aliens are evil no matter how benign their aim might seem.

So this meteorite hits Africa and starts changing everything it touches and becoming ever more widespread. Never once do people think of nuking it for reasons which went unexplained in the portion I read - which admittedly wasn't much. If they didn't want to nuke it there are other ways, such as chemical treatments or burning. None of this seems to have been considered, although I did not read far beyond the point where this begins spreading.

From the reviews of others I've read, apparently even the author thought this story was too boring to pursue, so he felt compelled to turn this into a love story. Evidently he needed to validate his female lead, Gaby McAslin, with a man, and so he had her taken in hand by someone with the highly appropriate name of Shepherd! From that point onward, so I understand it became a love story and the spreading contagion was nothing but backstory. Go figure. I'm glad I quit when I did.

I skimmed here and there beyond the point where I quit reading properly and saw nothing about any change to the woman. The book cover artist appears to be as utterly clueless here as book cover artists typically are everywhere, which I why I pay little heed to book covers. There is no transformation which involved a woman growing butterfly wings so why the artist chose that remains a mystery. I saw two different book covers and both featured a female rear elevation. I can only guess this artist (or these artists) love painting women's asses. In each case though, her hair is entirely wrong since the novel informs us it's long: down to the small of her back. So this is yet another case where the artist hasn't even read the book, a situation which is otherwise known as bait and switch for those idiots who buy books to read based purely on their cover.

I cannot recommend this based on the sorry portion of it I read.


Skinny Me by Charlene Carr


Rating: WARTY!

For a novel which is centered on body image, this one sure objectified and dissed other types of body. It’s not just fat-shaming that's a problem, it’s also male objectification which was rife in this novel as it is in far too many books I've read, too many of which are YA stories that have proved as laughable as they are shameful, and I find it hypocritical in the extreme. How can an author write a novel that features a person resolved to take charge of her life - which is this case she conflates with her body, and perhaps understandably so - and so was focused on body image, while abusing the bodies of others?

At one point I read, "She’s plump, but not fat, still attractive. She’s one of those girls who is clearly somewhat overweight" - like there is some point on a sliding scale of weight gain where a woman becomes downright ugly. The fact that this sliding scale is purely skin deep is evidently irrelevant to this character (or this author who is writing the character). That was one of the problems with Jennifer Carpenter, the main character who tells this story. She's so shallow herself and it seems the more weight she loses, the more ugliness in her it reveals, which is quite the contrary to what she thinks she's achieving.

The book had snide comments like that quite often and they seemed to get worse the more weight Jennifer lost. This includes what might be termed thin-shaming, which is just as nasty as fat-shaming, but which gets nowhere near the same attention. There was also appearance shaming, such as when Jennifer refers to an older man's hair: "though his hair is thinning it’s a full head of hair." like losing one's hair is something debilitating and ugly, or something that diminishes a person. Men have far less control over hair loss than women do over weight loss, and yet this is seen as a fair target? It's somehow fine to make bald jokes, but fat jokes are off limits? I don't think you can have this goose and eat the gander too. Hair is seen as a sign of youth and virility, but the truth is that it’s testosterone which contributes to male pattern baldness!

The novel also indulges in precisely the opposite - what might be called Glute Glorification? Beauty Blinging? The number of times Jennifer objectifies her personal trainer, Matt, is laughable. I read things like: "Matt greets me in a black tank that accentuates his perfectly sculpted arms and hints at the pecs." Jennifer's best friend is named Autumn, and she's dating Matt, yet Jennifer has no problem with ogling him and considering him fair game. I read, "I look up at him, he smiles at me and I wonder how happy he and Autumn really are. He seems pretty glad to see me and Autumn doesn’t usually take her relationships very seriously." So her best friend's boyfriend is fair game?

This is made even worse by the fact that Jennifer never tells Autumn that she's training with her boyfriend. This was sad because the author apparently expects us to believe that Matt never mentioned to Autumn that "Hey, guess who I'm training now? Your friend Jennifer!" This was beyond credibility. Neither of them had taken any sort of vow of secrecy to keep this from Autumn (why would they?!), so why expect us to believe Matt never mentioned it?

This is a sign that a writer wants to set a certain train in motion in her story, but is too lazy or thoughtless to do the work to make it seem natural - or at least natural enough that a reader would be ready and willing to let it go. This was the first time this story really pulled me up and told me: hey, you’re reading a story! It was amateurish and unnecessary.

I’d thought it a bit odd that Autumn, as her best friend and also a fitness trainer, wasn't giving Jennifer tips and encouragement in getting fit and losing weight, but maybe Jennifer simply wouldn’t listen? On the other hand, Autumn, even knowing how inexcusably mean Jennifer's brother has been to her, felt no compunction about dictating to Jennifer how she should live her life: "I know you and Billy never got along but he’s still your brother, Jenn. I shouldn’t be the one to tell you this stuff" No, Autumn, you shouldn't! It’s none of your damned business, and you weren't the one her brother shamed and denied and insulted in front of his friends!

I don’t buy into this happy ending and family has to come together horseshit that is so pervasive in novels, movies and TV shows. Families are not always like that and it’s dishonest to pretend otherwise. The author tries to win our sympathy for Billy by having him suffering some malady which goes unspecified for the longest time. It didn't win mine. Billy's behavior was inexcusable and he deserved what he got, whatever it was, for being such a jerk. I’ll bet Autumn never dictated to him that he should reconcile with his sister. Jennifer hasn’t done anything wrong there, yet Autumn is putting it all on her like it’s her fault! Perhaps she deserves Jennifer trying to steal her boyfriend? That doesn't make Jennifer a nice person though.

Most of the writing was technically pretty good, even thought it was worst person voice, but there were some lapses. At one point, after repeatedly hitting the reader with the sixty-two pounds Jennifer had lost, the author refers to the last time Jennifer met these people when she was "almost sixty pounds heavier.” What happened to the sixty-two pounds? Isn’t that over sixty pounds heavier?! But the worst part about it is that Jennifer, who began as an interesting story-teller, seems to be on a downward spiral.

She met this guy Rajeev, who is clearly interested in her - as a friend if nothing else, but when Jennifer goes to a party and meets him for only the second time, he comes over to greet her and she rudely dismisses him as soon as she sees Matt come through the door. At this point I really did not like her at all, which was a one-eighty from how I began this novel in some admiration of her willpower and work ethic in losing weight. It didn’t help that she now, if not before, saw herself only in terms of her worth to a man: "I’ll be worth a guy like him." What a moron!

Her diet doesn't seem to have educated her about food, either. In Chapter nine, I read that she'll "load up my plate with celery, carrots, tomatoes (but only a few—they’re loaded with sugar". Carrots actually have more sugar than tomatoes, if only by a smidgeon. Celery does have very little, but Jennifer is missing the point: these are sugars in whole foods - not like the mounds of sugar added to a cola or to yogurt (which is more sugary in organic form than in other form, believe it or not!).

The point about eating sugar in whole food - like a fresh fruit or a vegetable - is that it’s an integral part of the whole food and your body processes it rather differently from the added mass sugar in all the appallingly bad foods which people eat. It’s not the same threat in other words, so her concern is misplaced at best. You'd think with all the reading she's supposedly done thus far, she'd be a bit better informed. Or the author would be! It took me five minutes to 'research' this. You’d think Jennifer would have bought a good book on the topic and or watched a few documentaries about diet and health, rather than simply rely on Internet sources which can be dubious, but she doesn’t. Neither did the author apparently.

It may well have been that Jennifer improved her outlook later in the story but she was taking so long to wise up that I was sick of her by this point. I couldn't face reading any more about her, and I DNF'd the entire book, glad to be rid of it and have the opportunity to move on to something else. From what I read, the book was awful and I cannot commend it.


Jamilti by Rutu Modan


Rating: WORTHY!

Jamilti was a curious collection of short stories in graphic novel form - sometimes very graphically. Overall I consider this a worthy read, but it's quite patchy, be warned.

The art leaves something to be desired to my taste, but the perspective in the story-telling is interesting. It opens with a violent story of a suicide bomber, and follows with a wide-assortment of tales, including one about an OCD cosmetic surgeon, one about a fortune-teller supposedly blessed with real power, one about a Disney-themed hotel, and one about an Israeli musician who travels abroad hoping for a big break only to discover the whole thing was set up by an obsessive fan.

So like I said, a mixed and very odd bag, but enough to retain my interest. It just squeaked under the wire, and so I commend it as a worthy read.


How to be Happy by Eleanor Davis


Rating: WARTY!

This volume actually made me sad because I was hoping for so much more and got so much less. Not that I was expecting a recipe for happiness; that's not what the book is about as the author herself readily admits, which begs the title, but I thought it might be at least entertaining. It wasn't. Maybe the title is pure sarcasm?

All of the stories felt unfinished and the artwork wasn't great, but I don't demand that, as long as the story is engrossing, so this was a serious fail for me: that the stories were so bad. The stories are short and seemingly unrelated to one another - at least I saw no link between them other than their British authorship. I thought I might find some connection here; it's been a long time since I've lived in Britain, and maybe I'm missing things because of that, but the stories never seemed to go anywhere or even have anywhere to go.

I had the impression that the author was really doing nothing more than revealing her own odd view of her life and environs, which is fine, but if there's nothing for the reader to relate to, it remains obscure personal anecdotage with no appeal to a wider readership. This was a lot of work to convey so little, but others may find more to hook into than I did. As for me I cannot commend this.


Monday, October 1, 2018

Mister Miracle by Tom King, Mitch Gerads


Rating: WARTY!

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

I was truly disappointed in this. I tried to overlook the juvenile naming conventions which were put in place long before this volume was created: the 'super hero' being named Scott Free, and the abysmally brain-dead 'Apokolips', and focused on the story which was supposedly about escape artist 'Mister Miracle' being able to escape anything. The story began with an interview about how he had escaped death and this, despite telling us nothing, was the most coherent part of the story. After that it became a two-hundred page nonsensical drag.

The artwork and coloring was a mixed bag and the story boring, meandering, and directionless. The blurb informed me that there would be no ending (THIS IS AN INCOMPLETE PROOF OF THE BOOK ONLY CONTAINING CHAPTERS 1-10). I'm not sure why they would put it out there with no ending, but I was willing to accept that. I'd never read anything about Mister Miracle or his wife 'Big Barda' before, so I thought it would be interesting to me, but it really wasn't. Other than the fact that the hero is married, there was nothing new or different here. There was oddity which I speculated was explained by his purportedly cheating death, but the artwork which I think was supposed to convey this really wasn't pleasant to look at.

There were parts of it that were blurry with the colors not registering correctly and after a short while I realized this was deliberate, but it wasn't appreciated, and was nauseating to look at. I do not know what sort of effect the creators were going for here but it was a fail with me. There were also panels which appeared to be from a TV transmission, and far from giving us "a new take" here, we got the same ridiculous representation with scan lines on the image - like this was a low-res cathode ray TV and not a modern one. I've never found that appealing, not remotely. It's not even intelligent and it certainly isn't new. Instead, it's trope and it's tired.

I can't tell you what the story was about because despite reading all of it, I couldn't tell myself. I can tell you it was disjointedly all over the place, and it made no sense. There was endless talk of raging battles and frequent scenes of massed people fighting, but these were interspersed with laughably domestic scenes. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Big Barda is so pregnant that the baby is due, and then we got endless pages of the delivery which was tiresome. I have no idea where that came from since there was no lead-in to it.

The leader of the fighting forces for which Mister Miracle and Big Barda fought was a psychotic and the fact the Miracle and wife (who was very much secondary to him) failed to see this, told me they were profoundly stupid; far too stupid to successfully raise a child. The kindest thing I can say about this is that maybe it represents one long dream sequence somehow induced by Miracle's supposedly escaping death (or while he's in process of escaping it), but that trope is so tired it's pathetic, if that's what it was. Even if that's what it was, it lacked any kind of a pretense at coherence and so made for tedious reading.

We're told in the blurb that Mister Miracle "even caught the attention of the Justice League, who has counted him among its ranks." That's not only poor grammar, it's irrelevant to this story in which (or should I say in who?!) I saw no redeeming feature at all. Miracle's costume makes him look reminiscent of Iron Man, and since the latter precedes the former by almost a decade, some serious thought ought to be devoted to giving Mister Miracle a makeover. That would have made this story at least a little bit different. As it was, all it was, was more of the same and that's not good enough. I can't rate this positively.


Sunday, July 1, 2018

Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li


Rating: WARTY!

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

This sounded quite interesting from the blurb, but the actual book turned out to be a real disappointment, the main problem being that there was no one to root for and the story wasn't particularly interesting. I made it to halfway through with an ever-increasing drumbeat telling me that I could be reading something else - something that intrigued, or engaged, or fulfilled, or delighted me. This novel did none of those things. The characters were unlikeable, with no redeeming virtues. They were not even deliciously evil - just mean-spirited, argumentative, unsavory and uninteresting. I had no compelling reason to read on at all.

The writing itself wasn't awful, but there were oddities in it here and there, such as when I read “not even the vein in her forehead seemed to pulse.” There really isn't a vein in the forehead that might pulse noticeably. There are veins between the eyebrows, but these are usually rather hidden by the musculature. The only place around the forehead where you might normally see a vein pulsing would be at the temples where there are noticeable veins and the skin is thin enough to see them pulse, but this 'throbbing vein' motif is overdone in books these days, even for calling attention to its absence.

At another point I read, “He could not discern if she was beautiful. He knew her too well” Once again we have the emphasis on beauty, and put there by a female writer, like if a woman doesn't have that, she has nothing. Why do women do this to themselves? Are we really so shallow? This especially doesn't work in this context, because a person who has feelings for someone, even of "mere" friendship, would more than likely see them as more appealing than others did, even to their looks, so this writing was doubly problematical. Fortunately most of the book was not like that. Unfortunately, it was not well-written for other reasons, most notably, that it was a huge tell with little show, and it felt like I was being lectured to a lot of the time.

There were large paragraphs of telling us of people's feelings and actions, and those felt heavy and sluggish. They made for unattractive reading. Worse than this though were the endless flashbacks. I am not a fan of flashbacks at all; they bring a story to a screeching halt, and all moment and compulsion on the part of the reader is lost. I took to skipping these rather quickly, but it was hard to do so because it was hard to tell where a flashback was starting, so this was annoying.

The plot is about a bunch of old farts who have grown old together in a Chinese restaurant. Where the 'number one' came in I have no idea unless there was a reveal in the second half of the novel. There was no allusion to it in the first half that I saw. I had to wonder if it was an attempt to borrow some cachet from Alexander McCall Smith's The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency which I read and was not impressed with either. But anyway, these employees ought to constitute some sort of a family, and as such, family members might argue and not always get along, but it was way overdone here and left a sorry taste in the mouth. I did not want to read a whole novel about these people, especially given that the plot wasn't really very interesting either.

I wish this author all the best in her career, but I cannot recommend this novel as a worthy read unless you want to have that dangerous mutant vein pulse in your forehead until it bursts!


Friday, May 18, 2018

Black Panther Doomwar by Jonathan Maberry


Rating: WARTY!

Drawn and colored by an assortment of evidently uninspired and certainly unimaginative artists, this was several volumes in one compendium and I wasn't impressed. I picked it up at the library because I'd loved the Black Panther movie and the wealth of strong female characters. When I saw that this book was about Shuri - the Black Panther's kid sister, who was now filling the role of the Panther after her brother had been injured, I thought it would be well-worth reading, but written and drawn by largely, if perhaps not exclusively male writers and artists, it turned out to be yet another disturbing and lackluster venture into boring objectification of female super heroes.

The villain is Doctor Doom. How utterly tedious! Can they not find a new villain? If not, then could they not at least find a villain from Black Panther's own history to resurrect? One of the biggest problems with comic books and a good reason why we see them tailing off is the total inability of their creators to bring something truly new to the table. They keep resurrecting - often literally - vanquished villains from ancient history, and it would be laughable were it not so tiresome.

Worse than this (and don't even get me started on the kitchen sink cameos from other 'heroes' of the Marvel stable), Shuri's form-fitting black costume makes her - a black woman - look like she's naked, and her unnatural postures in far too many frames seemed drawn by adolescent boys for no other purpose than to titillate rather than inform or impress.

It is truly and honestly tiresome to see this kind of unhip-dysplasic and scoliosis-ridden posing from female characters affecting stances that would be downright painful to strike were a real person to attempt them, with hips and asses thrust out unnaturally, and deliberately provocatively. When we see nothing remotely like those poses from the male super heroes, you know this is pure objectification. It's outright genderist and it's to be shunned and boycotted in my opinion. I dis-recommend this entire series.


Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer


Rating: WARTY!

This was a short audiobook that I did not enjoy at all because it made no sense, and the narrator, Carolyn McCormick, reading in a first person voice which I typically do not like anyway, did not help the book's case, because her reading felt false, stilted, and ultimately unrealistic.

The premise is that four women are entering 'area X' (great imagination used in the description there huh?! I'm surprised it wasn't designated Unobtania'...) to investigate a bizarre locale in which humans do not seem to have fared well and nature seems 'off'. A dozen previous teams have disappeared or gone insane, or had other negative outcomes, yet these four female volunteers are sent in alone, with small arms, but with no armed escort, to try to find out what's going on in there, and not a one of them is allowed to carry any communications or electronics? There are no drones or robots to help out? This made zero sense and wasn't explained in the 30% or so of this story I could stand to listen to. How the hell are they going to learn anything on the outside if those on the inside cannot pass word out as to what is happening? It's stupid from the outset.

The girls find what the narrator stubbornly insists upon calling a tower even though it's buried in the ground just like an underground silo. It has the weird fungus growing on the wall which spells words, and the narrator naturally gets 'infected' with spores while examining it. That's as far as I listened because the narration was annoying, the story nonsensical, and my reasons for pursuing it beyond this point non-existent.

None of these women had a name, merely a profession, so one was the biologist, one the psychologist, one the linguist, and so on. This was asinine! Even if they'd been issued some sort of instruction not to use names they inevitably would have, because who on the outside would even know? This felt completely inauthentic and felt like what it was: a guy writing about women without really understanding how they think or work together. It was merely one more reason not to take this seriously. Based on what I heard, I cannot recommend this at all.


Saturday, April 21, 2018

Life After Life By Kate Atkinson


Rating: WARTY!

This was another attempt at Kate Atkinson via audiobook. It failed.

I came to her as an author via Case Histories on TV, which I really enjoyed, but my foray into her novel about the same characters was boring. I had the same experience here, but I confess it did take me longer to get bored! Normally when an author has failed me I don't go back to that same author. I had the same policy on dating when I was single! LOL! I don't see the point in revisiting a disappointment so I've never done it with dating and very rarely with authors. I only went back to this author because I got three of her novels from the library at the same time and wanted to at least give them all a try as long as I had them.

This one had sounded really interesting. In some ways it was reminiscent of my own Tears in Time, although that was sci-fi and didn't involve the character dying. This novel was a bit more like the movie Groundhog Day except that instead of the main character falling asleep and reliving the same day over, the main character here dies and then somehow continues on as though nothing has happened. There's no information as to how this works: whether it actually is a redux or whether this is a trip through parallel universes. Perhaps by the end of the novel this is made clear, but I only made it to just under halfway through.

I gave up on it because it was becoming tedious and repetitive. It wasn't so much that it went over the same story again and again, although it did to begin with. In this story we did slowly move forward and the character did progressively grow older as the story went on, from infant-hood to childhood to teen years and older, and even into a marriage which didn't work out. I lost interest because the tedium of her life remained the same, the relationships remained the same, and the kind of events that befell her remained the same. Nothing really different happened, so while she was growing, the story was not!

On top of that, Ursula, the main character, simply wasn't that interesting. She was so passive and she didn't do anything! Instead, things happened to her, and this never changed. She was far too passive: even a rape and a subsequent botched abortion did not impinge upon her significantly. You'd think that repeatedly dying and then finding out they had survived the death and had a second (and a third, fourth, etc) opportunity, would actually change a person and have a profound effect on them, and that this effect would become increasingly powerful as it was repeated, but this wasn't the case here at all. Ursula was Teflon™ coated! Nothing affected her. Nothing left a mark! It was entirely unrealistic, and this story simply wasn't for me. I do not recommend it. I'd much rather have read about Ursula's aunt Isabella, who sounded far more interesting than ever Ursula could be.


Friday, May 22, 2015

Moby-Dick graphic novel by Herman Melville


Title: Moby-Dick graphic novel
Author: Herman Melville
Publisher: Marvel
Rating: WORTHY!

Adapted by Roy Thomas.

I can't imagine myself sitting down and reading Moby-Dick (yes the title had a hyphen, but curiously not the text!) in the original six hundred page novel, although I confess that I am tempted now to try the audio book version just out of curiosity, but this graphic novel version was pretty darned good and I'm rating it positively. The text is largely faithful to the original as far as is possible, so I understand, but obviously they had to excise a significant amount of that tome to fit it into a graphic format. Evidently the original novel is larded-up with long chapters taken from the author's own experiences at sea, and from his own extensive reading about whaling. He never was a whaler, but he had seen service in the navy. The novel bombed during his own lifetime. Now it's considered a classic. Go figure.

Everyone thinks they know this story, which Melville dedicated to Nathaniel Hawthorne, a one-time neighbor and friend who lured him into writing as a career, but I found it quite eye-opening to read even the graphic novel. I was struck by how similar it is to the Steven Spielberg movie Jaws - or more accurately by how similar Jaws is to this. I think I watched the Moby-Dick movie once - the one with Gregory Peck, where he sails off lashed to the whale, his arm waving as though he's beckoning others to follow him in his fruitless quest, but that's not what happens in the novel.

The story famously begins "Call me Ishmael", and this character is the one who tells the story as the only survivor of the ill-fated expedition, but it isn't an irritating first person story at all, refreshingly enough. Ishmael befriends Queequeg, evidently a Polynesian prince. Queequeg, along with Tashtego, a native American, and Daggoo, from somewhere unspecified in Africa, are the three harpoon exerts who sail on this voyage almost around the world wailing on whales. The crew of the boat is refreshingly cosmopolitan. The final showdown takes place not in the North Atlantic, but on the equator out in the Pacific.

Believe it or not, the story is evidently rooted in some real life events. Mocha Dick is clearly the source for Moby-Dick. A ship, the Essex out of Nantucket was sunk in 1820 after being head-butted by a so-called sperm whale. A second mate from a ship named Nantucket was drowned in the same way as Ahab is depicted as dying in the novel.

So in short, I highly recommend this particular graphic novel version of Herman Melville's best known work. I can't speak for any other such versions, but this is definitely worth your time if you're at all interested in this story, and it will serve you better than a dry Cliff's or Spark- notes précis. The artwork is really wonderfully done, and the story is told impeccably, and dramatically whilst adhering to the author's original work as far as is reasonably possible.

I don't normally read prologues, introductions, prefaces and so on, but in this case it was worth it to discover what had been done to the original (and the glossary at the end is useful to). The final showdown with the whale is only three chapters long in Melville's original, but it occupies a third of the graphic novel, and I think that was a smart decision. Go read it, and see what you think. The library probably has a copy if you don't want to immediately lay out cash for it. The original is available free on-line from Gutenberg.


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Off and Running by Philip Reed


Title: Off and Running
Author: Philip Reed
Publisher: Brash books
Rating: WORTHY!
Erratum:
"...heart trouble run in the family." should be "...heart trouble runs in the family."

Set towards the end of 1999 (for reasons unclear to me), this novel began with a very short prologue which I skipped as I always do. The first problem I ran into was that there was a character named Jack - the most clichéd of all character names. I took a vow a while back never to read another novel which has a main character named Jack (in this case, Jack Dillon, can you believe?!) and that vow is the most pathetic one I ever made, because I have somehow managed to saddle myself with several such novels since then. This one looked interesting from the blurb, so once again I swallowed my pride, integrity, and commitment, and decided to try it out. I sincerely hoped that this author wouldn't make me regret it! He didn't.

Jack is undertaking (I may be employing that term advisedly given Walt's age!) to write a bio for a renowned comedian of yester-year, Walt Stuckey. Nobody does this kind of show any more, but Walt had a well-regarded TV comedy and variety show running from 1967 to 1973, when it was abruptly and mysteriously canceled.

Jack begins meeting with Walt regularly, and the two of them get along like pants on fire until Walt is stricken by a stroke and his eldest son Garrett (which in this story is evidently an acronym for Gloating, Arrogant, Ridiculously Retarded, Expletive-Terminated Twat), muscles in and takes over. He's a officious little jerk who happens to be the executor of Walt's will, and who rapidly pisses everyone off, including Walt's girlfriend, Mary, who has no power in this situation because Walt never married her, so she would inherit nothing if Walt dies. He also fires Walt's nurse.

It's at this point that Jack starts drawing close to Mary, which is rather a surprise, because up to this point we've been given no idea whatsoever that anything is wrong with Jack's marriage, and now it seems like there are issues galore with it. That seemed way too jarring because no hint had been given of this to begin with.

What this felt like to me was that Mary was manipulating Jack somehow for some purpose of her own, or perhaps in collaboration with Garret. I certainly didn't trust her, but jack throws his lot in with Mary after Garret fires him from the book-writing project and they end up kidnapping Walt! That's all the story I'm going to give you.

One thing which seemed a bit anachronistic, even for 1999, was the use of tapes by Jack to record his interviews with Walt. Maybe he was old fashioned, but even in 1999 it was becoming hard to find recording tape, which was antiquated by then, even in digital form! There were several issues of this nature which others may or may not notice let alone find irksome, but fortunately, the overall story was compelling enough that I decided to overlook them as reasons to reject he story.

It was a bit of a kick in the pants to see Garret muscling in on Jack's turf as soon as Walt was disabled, but Jack's agent evidently screwed him. This is why we self publish, folks! It would have been nice to have had a few more details earlier so we understood this when it happened, but when Jack fully grasps how poor of a grasp on this biography he really has, and that he doesn't even have ownership of his own tapes, this certainly gives him (he believes) a good reason to kidnap Walt so they can finish the book, although given that Walt is largely incoherent at that point, I don't see what advantage this gives him.

So Jack, Mary, and Walt head off to Mount Whitney. Let's hope Whitney's up for it.. That was a Walt Stuckey style joke. One thing the local police do not understand is the California Penal Code section 207(a)! The police chief claims it depends on how far the victim is taken, but it really doesn't:

Every person who forcibly, or by any other means of instilling fear, steals or takes, or holds, detains, or arrests any person in this state, and carries the person into another country, state, or county, or into another part of the same county, is guilty of kidnapping.

You'd think a police chief would be more up on the codes than that, but this is a small town. That said, the chief actually doesn't know whether Walt consented to go or not, so he's a bit limited in what he can do without more information, and he is a lot sharper than that idiot Garret credits him for.

The story dragged a bit - it ought to have been shorter I felt, and for a while I went back and forth on whether this was a worthy read, because some of it made little sense (for example, where did Slade manage to find himself a camper trailer on the mountain - in a national park?! He didn't have one earlier), and some of the motivation seemed off, but overall I liked the story and the characters. It made me want to read to the end even as I skipped a bit here and there, so it was really that which made me decide this was indeed a worthy read, and I'd recommend it with the above-mentioned caveats in mind.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall


Title: A Crown for Cold Silver
Author: Alex Marshall (no website found)
Publisher: Hachette Book Group
Rating: WARTY!


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!

Erratum:
Page 26 (in ADE - no page numbers in the book itself!) "...bad at that road is" Should be "...bad as that road is"

This is your standard fantasy, and it runs to some six hundred pages of very dense text, so I was prepared for a hard slog, but in Adobe Digital Reader although it shows itself to be 606 pages, when I clicked from one page to another, for example from page 290, the next page showed as page 293, so I have no idea what's going on there. Clearly it's not six hundred pages. It just feels like it is.

The novel is written rather oddly. It starts ought as though it's an eastern fable, with Chinese or Korean or Japanese influences (it's hard to tell from the wild mix of names used), but these are also mixed in with more western names, so it's a bit of a mess, like the author couldn't decide which fictional culture he wished to be influenced by which real culture, or maybe he wanted it mixed on purpose, but it was too jarring for my taste.

Also some of the phrasing he used was odd, such as "more princesses at the ceremony than stars in the sky". This made no sense since the number of stars in the sky is traditionally used to indicate a massive number. Clearly there were not that many princesses. Obviously the author is trying to indicate a very large number, but this felt like a really poor choice of metaphor and flies in the face of traditional usage. Sometimes it's good to break a mold or two, but in this case it simply did not fit with the culture we were supposed to be in.

The story was very rambling, and I couldn't get into it. It went off at tangents, and it jumped around from one thing to another, and one character to another before you ever get a real chance to get to know them, and to understand or empathize with them. Consequently they all remained strangers to me, and I had no real interest in what they were trying to do, what they thought or felt, or what became of them.

Some chapters, like chapter four, for example, begin as though they're written in first person, whereas they're not. In this case, the chapter began:

Goatsdamn, but grandfather was a pain in the arse. Or rather, the small of the back.

Instead of beginning:

"Goatsdamn, but grandfather was a pain in the arse. Or rather, the small of the back," thought Sullen.

This didn't help me to feel comfortable with the novel, and the apparent random use of terms made for confusion about what the writer was trying to do, or say. In the example just given, you see the use of the English word "arse', whereas in and earlier phrase, the term "ass-end" was employed rather than "arse-end", and also the phrase "punk-ass' which seemed completely out of place, as did the phrase "in cahoots" used elsewhere. This kind of thing made little sense to me, and contributed to my sense of this novel being a mess.

This problem went further than that though, because although while it appeared to be set in a country reminiscent of one of Earth's Far East nations, the language, terminology and speech patterns were very much western, so they failed to fit the ethos. This was jarring and kept reminding me that I was reading a story. I could never become immersed in it because of this.

I gave up on the novel at chapter five, where in rapid succession I got the names Duchess Din, Maroto, Purna, Cobalt, Diggleby, Hassan, and Zosia. It felt more like United Nations than ever it did ancient culture and I couldn't take it seriously any more. I cannot recommend this novel.


Saturday, February 28, 2015

Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood


Rating: WORTHY!


I first met Phryne Fisher on Netflix where two seasons can be found as of this writing, both of which I've seen. there will be a third series and perhaps more, since this is a real money-spinner for ABC (that's the Australian ABC, not the US ABC!) and deservedly so. I fell in love with Phryne from the first episode. Essie Davis is magical in the title rôle, and the whole show is smart, fast-paced, daring, socially conscious, and majorly fun. Note that the name is pronounced Fry-Knee - which is why the TV series came to be titled "The Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries" - no one wanted to have to teach everyone they spoke to how to pronounce the name!

The problem is that when you're hit like that and become so on-board (with a movie or a show), it's a tough decision as to whether to go to the book, just as it is in moving the other way. Books and movies/shows are very different entities, and the trick when you wish to migrate one to the other is to capture the essence if not the letter. In this case, it worked, because now having read the first in the series of books which kicked-off the shows, I can come down very favorably for both outlets, although be warned, the two are quite different in many respects.

The basic plot is the same. Phryne Fisher is (or rather becomes during this introductory edition) a very feisty, plucky, and successful Lady Detective. She's of independent means, so she never charges for her services, and her cases frequently lean towards supporting the downtrodden. Having successfully and very speedily solved a jewel theft at a soirée she was attending in London, Phryne is asked if she would travel to Australia to uncover who might be poisoning. The TV shows starts with the Honorable Phryne Fisher arriving in Australia and taking up residence in a charming house. The book begins with the jewelery theft and then has Phryne travel to Melbourne, where her roots lie, and where she installs herself at the exclusive Windsor Hotel.

Phryne was originally of exceptionally humble means, and came into money (that story deserves telling, but it hasn't yet been told, to my knowledge), so while she thoroughly appreciates (indeed, luxuriates in) the amenities which money can bring, she has not lost sight of where she came from. Phryne knows Doctor Elizabeth MacMillan, an ex-pat Scot who dresses like a man and is as good as any one of them. She's a physician in a women's hospital and this is how Phryne learns of an abortionist (abortion was sadly illegal back then, even in Australia) known as the Mad Butcher, who like to rape his pregnant victims before he virtually kills them performing his 'surgery'.

Cec and Bert, two Aussie blokes who each have a share in a run-down taxi-cab, find themselves with a girl named Alice, post op and tossed into their cab, bleeding onto the seats. They rush her to the hospital, thereby saving Alice's life - just.

Meanwhile Phryne begins to socialize with a view to becoming intimately acquainted with Lydia Andrews, the poisoning victim. As if these two events are not enough, there's also the King of Snow - the cocaine dealer who has taken up residence in Melbourne with a view to making a killing in an untapped market.

Both the show and the novel have all these ingredients, and the end results are largely the same, but the details are different. In the show, Phryne ends up buying Bert and Cec a new cab to replace their cranky aging vehicle - on the understanding that they'll give her priority when she needs them, but she also, in the show, owns the gorgeous Hispano-Suiza that she drives, rather than just leases it for a week. Dot, her maid in the novel becomes a companion in the TV show.

Detective Inspector Jack Robinson is a much more important figure in the shows than ever he is in this novel, but perhaps, as the series progresses, his prominence will increase. Constable Hugh Collins is a non-entity in the first book, and Dot, his girl-friend, is unacquainted with him. Also Dot isn't the one who pretends she's looking for an abortion. This rôle is taken in the book, by WPC Jones, a female police officer. This is interesting because in the second series TV show Phryne mentions to jack that there are no female officers on force, a rôle which she fulfills independently!

To cut a great story short, I recommend both this and the TV show! My biggest complaint about these books is that you can't find them in the book store! I did find a couple in the local library and I am sure they're available on-line.


Monday, February 2, 2015

Hades by Candice Fox


Title: Hades
Author: Candice Fox
Publisher: Kensington Books
Rating: WARTY!


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!

I have to say I wasn't too thrilled with the Kindle advance review copy of this novel. It wasn't even remotely correctly formatted for the Kindle. The page headers - such as the author's name and the novel title - appeared in the middle of the text because they weren't removed when the text was converted for the Kindle. In addition to that, there were random gaps and new lines in the text, mid-word and mid-sentence. The Adobe Digital Editions and the iPad versions seemed fine.

I know this was an ARC, and so not everything can be perfect, but frankly in this age of e-publishing, there really isn't any excuse for formatting issues of this nature. Hopefully this will not be the status of this novel in the final version. There were also one or two grammatical and similar issues which were a bit more understandable if regrettable, such as at location 547 (sorry, no page numbers in the Kindle - I don't know how much use a location number actually is (especially if you're not reading the ebook!), but the phrase was "cold, calculated businessman" and it really should have been something like "coldly calculating businessman" to make any sense. Unless, of course, they were talking about the corpse of a businessman which they'd designed, in which case it could well have been cold and calculated...!

This novel is really Dexter does Australia (it pretty much says so right on the cover). It's a first person PoV novel, which I normally rail against, but which in this case was one of the rare few which was not nauseating for that reason. It was told in an interesting way, because the narrator is not the main character. He's a cop who is telling the story, and it’s mostly about his interactions with an observations of his new partner, a seasoned cop by the name of Eden. She's a respected, tough and experienced cop who works on the force with her brother, Eric, but with whom she's never partnered for various reasons.

Frank, the narrator, is teamed with her after his own partner kills himself. Eden's partner was killed in the line of duty, we're told. Eden's brother Eric doesn’t take to Frank, looking through his personal stuff and generally irritating him as well as blabbing Frank's secrets (his drug use, his one-time punching of his ex wife, his DWI on his way to work. Despite all these violations, Frank is inexplicably still on the force. He and Eden get along, although she's made it clear she's not interested in becoming bosom buddies with him.

The two are thrown into a serial murder investigation immediately, with a score of bodies having been found after they had been dumped into the ocean in metal boxes. The most outstanding thing about he bodies is that various assorted organs have been surgically removed, so it looks like someone is harvesting the organs for wealthy (and none too picky) clients. The curious thing about this book is that, interspersed with these chapters, is an italicized insert here and there, talking about a character called Hades, who finds two lost and injured children whom he raises as his own despite not legally being entitled to do so. How that fits into the story isn't immediately clear, but when we learn that the children are named Eden and Eric, things start becoming more clear - or do they?

I have to interject a complaint here, and if you follow my reviews you knew this was coming! It concerns wasted trees. In an ebook, which is what I read in this case, this isn't a problem (although a larger file size does mean more energy is required to transmit and maintain it), but if a book goes to a print run, then the more white space you have on your page, the more trees are going to die in order to feed your book. It’s not a smart move to be contributing to bringing down trees en masse in an era of all-but-runaway climate change.

I'm not suggesting that writers and publishers cram every square millimeter of white space with text by any means, but as you can see from the sample image on my blog, the chapter title page is about 85% white space and the regular pages are not much better. At first I thought this was an issue only when viewed as an ebook or in Adobe Digital Editions, but when I took advantage of the "look inside" feature on-line, it appeared to be exactly the same, so I have no reason to believe the print book will be any different. I understand that there are aesthetic, practical, and artistic considerations in play here, I do. All I ask is that writers and publishers not forget the big picture. Every one of us can make a difference.

That said, I started out linking this book, but soon found that the shifting perspectives became irritating at first and then outright annoying before very long. This is the problem with limiting yourself by employing first person PoV. It’s not a voice that you should use unless you really know what you want to do with it, and it failed sadly in this instance. The severe handicap of 1PoV is that you can't show anything that's not directly witnessed by the narrator, which is an awful limitation to impose upon your story telling unless you really have a first class, iron-clad reason for it - and most authors do not.

If you've stuck yourself with this limitation and then discover that you haven't planned too-well and need to add a larger perspective, you're stuck with a clunky info-dump from a third party, or you have to go the even more clunky route of adding third person narration. This latter is what happened here, and it didn’t work. We kept having third person flashbacks to Eric and Eden's childhood, which proved to be a major spoiler, and then this was interleaved with the main narrator's first person, and with third person from the perspective of more than one other character! This made the novel seem badly organized and cluttered, and it really detracted from the story for me.

On top of that, the story was too dissipated, with focus being repeatedly dragged away from the case to the first person narrator's stalker-ish obsession with his new partner which was sick at best. The narrator wasn't a nice person which made me suspicious of his veracity to begin with, which in turn certainly did not help me to either like or trust this story. I can see why the author did it (can you say sequels?!), but the problem was that this was telegraphed, and this meant that there really was no mystery or intrigue here.

The narrator, and his interaction with Eden made the narrator seem like a lowlife to me, and he wasn't too smart, either. I had neither empathy for, nor interest in, him. I didn’t like Eric because he was just scum from the start: a caricature with villain garishly painted all over him, and I didn’t like Eden because although she was rather intriguing at first, she never grew and was never developed. She was more like a symbol, and not even a sex symbol, so what was she? What’s to keep me interested in a story where neither of the two main characters is remotely appealing?!

Almost worse than that, we'd get a bit of a cliff-hanger in the murder investigation at the end of a chapter, but then have to wait a chapter or two while the narrative wandered off to someone else's viewpoint before we could get back to the story which I was interested in! I found myself becoming more and more annoyed, and then skipping the dead zones, which in turn meant I wasn't always getting the whole story (although frankly I wasn't evidently missing much). By this time I already knew where this was going and had done for a while, so there really were no surprises in store and at about 90%, I just gave up on it. I'd lost all interest in it and really didn’t care exactly how it ended. I have no interest in being made to work this hard to get a good story out of a novel!

I can’t honestly recommend this one. The idea isn't exactly fresh, and the execution left a lot to be desired. Also, I really like trees and hate to see them so badly used! I think this author has a future, but not with this novel.


Sunday, February 1, 2015

One Among Us by Paige Dearth


Title: One Among Us
Author: Paige Dearth
Publisher: Amazon
Rating: WARTY!


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!

This is my second review of a Paige Dearth novel today. I wish I had better news to report because she writes about important topics, but I can't recommend this one either, and for many of the same reasons that I couldn't recommend her debut novel, I'm sorry to report. This is her third novel, and it looked to me like there was no change in her writing style between the first and this one.

This novel is even longer than the first one. I wasn't able to make myself read 400 pages of the first one after reading the first seventy or so because of the dry, matter-of-fact writing, and since this one was much the same tone, I wasn't going to make any attempt to read even seventy pages in a novel which runs to almost six hundred pages of dire straits, gratuitous abuse, and bad language when there was not a thing to lighten the load. It's far, far too much.

The writing is this was, as I said, like the first - more like a police report than a novel. The men were universally lowlife mean-as-a-junkyard-dog rapists without a nuance to share between them, which I find personally insulting. Yes, there are men like that - and there are boys like that - too many, in fact, but not every single man and boy is like that and I think the author does her stories a serious disservice by adopting this approach in her writing. I can read a novel where character X is a rapist or an abuser, but when the novel is effectively telling me that I'm a rapist or an abuser by dint of my gender, I draw the line!

The dialog didn't feel realistic to me, and main character Maggie was just a shade too good to be true or even realistic, and the characters weren't much better. All of them seemed more like cardboard cut-outs than real people.

I mentioned in my other review that a more seasoned author would have leavened the mix with a pinch of beauty or an ounce of hope. It's quite simply depressing to read and to try to keep reading a novel, no matter how well-intentioned, no matter how important the topic, which is nothing but one horrible thing after another with nothing to offer any kind of hope. Though this is rooted in real life, it's still fiction, and therefore does not need to detail a real life down to the nth degree of depression. Consequently, the writing here kept on reminding me with almost metronomic frequency that this was fiction, and I wasn't allowed to forget it and become completely immersed in this story. I couldn't get beyond page fifty and I can't recommend this novel.


Believe Like a Child by Paige Dearth


Title: Believe Like a Child
Author: Paige Dearth
Publisher: Amazon
Rating: WARTY!


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!

Today is Paige Dearth Day on my blog - I'm reviewing two books by this author and I wish I had better news to deliver than I do.

This novel, in some ways, is autobiographical. According to her bio in the book, the author was raped by a live-in uncle when she was very young, and this is an exploration of how that might have panned-out had things gone differently from how they did unfold in the author's own life. As far as that goes, it's admirable. There is nothing worse than violating a child's trust and confidence, especially in such an abhorrent manner, but this novel was so front-loaded with abuse, and pain and torment that it was for me, unreadable. I made it to page 74 and I knew I didn't want to being regaled with a non-stop story of endless and unremitting pain for another 360 or so pages.

The problem for me was that it didn't read like a novel. It read like a police report, and it was consequently unappealing. The text was dry as a bone and did nothing to draw me in or make me feel like I could empathize with the main character Alessa, who herself wasn't exactly the smartest Smarty in the Smarty box.

On top of that I had issues with Alessa's inability to report this abuse and the poor advice she was given by someone in whom she confided. I know people who are abused typically have problems in revealing what's happened to them either through shame or through fear, or because they don't even realize that what's happening to them isn't appropriate, but the way it was written here wasn't convincing.

Instead to going with her to the police, Zoe, the mom of Alessa's best friend, set up Alessa with sufficient money to run away, where she got ripped off by a seedy landlady for a piece-of-trash apartment in a lousy part of town. I knew exactly what was going to happen next, because it was telegraphed way in advance. All the mystery was removed and I was left looking at yet more abuse piled onto what had already happened. Zoe in effect, became just another abuser.

One major problem is that there were no shades of gray here. In some ways it's understandable since this is a debut novel, but it doesn't make it a better read. For example, in the portion that I read, men were presented universally as rapists waiting to happen, which is bullshit and insulting.

A more seasoned author would have found a way to leaven writing of this horrific nature with something lighter. They would have put a dash of hope in there instead of repeatedly dashing hope. They would have found a way to add a sprinkle of beauty somewhere, somehow, to bring something better into this world of unrelenting awfulness, but this author did nothing of the sort. It became, therefore, a dire litany of abuse, bad decisions, and poor advice, and it wasn't entertaining or engrossing to read, it was just depressing and despite the fact that these things actually do happen to children, the writing paradoxically made this novel feel unrealistic. I couldn't get beyond chapter nine and I can't recommend this novel.

I know it was lousy what the author went through, and I admire her attempt to put this into fictional form and get the word out to people, but she failed to convince me that this was the best-advised way to do that.


Monday, September 15, 2014

The Face Transplant by R Arundel


Title: The Face Transplant
Author: R Arundel
Publisher: Publisher unspecified
Rating: WARTY!


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 novel is reward aplenty!

I had the hardest time ever getting into this. From the first paragraph on page one, it made no sense. Indeed, it really began with the title which indicates one special event, but in this novel, face transplantation was pretty much production-line. Inside, I found the text to be extraordinarily dense and uninformative, which was paradoxical because there was virtually no conversation, only huge amounts of info-dump. Despite this, and after many pages, I hadn't the first clue what was going on here or what this novel was actually about.

Yeah, it was about face transplants being performed under guard, about identities and conspiracies. It was about a face being stolen in a canister, but apart from this loss of face, what was happening here? I have no idea. Whose face was it? I had no idea. Was it the president's face? A celebrity's? An important politician's or a leader of industry or a criminal's? I had no idea.

Why were face transplants being routinely performed? I had no idea. I kept trying to focus on what the text was saying, but it kept blowing me off, and while I'm sure I missed something in that thicket of prose, I have no idea what it was, and I really don't care.

Why was it so critical that this particular face was missing? I had no idea, and worse? I didn't care about that either. I didn't care about any of the characters or about what was going on, and I had no interest in reading on through this dense undergrowth of wild text to find out. I just wasn't interested in these confused and confusing, running, frantic people or in their problems.

This was bad, bad writing if it can't command my attention even for a few chapters. There was one paragraph which went on unbroken for the span of four screens on my Kindle, and I have no idea what it was supposed to be telling me! Take a look at the blurb, which is of the same nature - one long uninterrupted paragraph.

I gave up on the novel after about ten percent because this was all work, with no reward. If I want to work this hard for my entertainment, I'll play a sport. You should not have to work-up a sweat to be pleased by a novel - not a good one anyway - and life is too short to waste on a story which refuses to give you a thing, or which only begrudgingly gives, in return for your willingness to try reading it.

In some ways, this novel borrows heavily from the movie Face Off, and it makes the same mistakes that movie made: it's a lot harder to combat rejection and graft versus host disease than the stories pretend, and it's not just the face. It's arguably much more the bone structure underlying the face which gives the face its appearance than ever it is the face alone. You can't just slap person A's face onto person B and have B look and act exactly like A did, and have the face look normal and work perfectly from the off! Nor would having a robot helping you do the work have any effect on the biology and micro-chemistry of the transplant.

So why did I pick this up? Well, I liked the movie Face Off which obviously inspired this novel, and I actually knew a health-care-giver named Sarah Larssonn (the one I knew was a different spelling, and she wasn't an anesthesiologist; she was a nurse who married one!), so I was interested despite the density of the blurb. I didn't realize that the novel would be written exactly like the blurb, or that it would give so little in return for my reading it. I can't recommend this one.

Update one year later!

This is a weird one. I first got this as an advance review copy from Net Galley, and reviewed it negatively back in May 2015. Then I completely forgot all about it. It was worked on some more by the author and I picked it up for free on Amazon, not realizing I had already read this! Net Galley says it's been completely re-written and if we liked the earlier version, we will love this. I'm sorry but that "logic" simply doesn't work! I did read it, coming into it like it was a new novel (since I'd forgotten it), and I had just as many problems this time as last time. It's still not a worthy read!

One of my initial problems was the info dump, which has gone, but now the novel is completely stripped bare of virtually all description - it's largely a series of conversations, often long enough that you lose track of who is saying what. Moreover, the plot isn't any better. This business of face transplanting (for the purpose of having people become unrecognizable spies) still makes zero sense. Unless they have a DNA transplant, they're still the same person, will still need the same anti-rejection meds, and a simple sampling of facial and body DNA will reveal the ruse.

On top of this there were numerous formatting issues in the Kindle app version of this novel on my phone. Lines ended midway across the screen and continued on the next line - or the next line but one. Speech from different characters was mixed on the same line as is evident in these examples cut and pasted directly from the Kindle app version:

Matthew looks at Liam's smooth narrow face. "You have my vote.""You don't have a vote. You're not on university council.""Well, you know what I mean."

"ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease. I just can't believe it. Look at you. Beautiful, strong . . . I can't believe it." Sarah, "I don't look like a person with a progressive neuro-muscular disease.""Exactly.""I don't feel like one either, not at this point." Liam finally speaks.

"Dr. Tom Grabowski, one of the best research surgeons of his era, has died of a heart attack.""Where?"

The voice is that of a young woman. It is calm, confident, and reassuring. Without skipping a beat, Matthew says, "Hi, what should I call you?""I am Alice.""Hi, Alice." Kofi says, "I did all the computer programming. Alice has some facial recognition and voice commands."

The medical knowledge is still poor and too deus ex machina to be believable. At one point, when a legitimate partial face transplant patient has tissue dying because of poor circulation, the doctor says, "I'm not sure it will survive. I'll start antibiotics." If the tissue is all but dead from poor circulation, what's the point of antibiotics which are way over-used anyway? There has been no suggestion that there's an infection, just that the tissue is dying! Antibiotics are not going to help, and are contra-indicated if there is no evidence that infection is playing a part. If the dying tissue is to be excised, then perhaps we can allow that the doctor started prophylactic antibiotics in prep for surgery, but this isn't what's implied in the context of this statement.

The novel is written in the present third person tense which makes it sound weird to me, but that's okay. The problem was that the author sometimes forgot, and used past tense, such as around 10% in, where there was a bit of a flashback, but when we come back to the present, the past tense was still briefly employed.

One last problem is a pet peeve of mine - that every female character is described as beautiful (or as some variant of that word). We get, "Celerie is stunning." (yes, there's a character named Celerie). Another example is, " She is thirty-four, but doesn't look a day over thirty". I found this kind of thing uncomfortably often. It's a form of objectification - as though a women who isn't explicitly beautiful is an ugly hag and not worth our time. I resent that approach and I see it disturbingly often from writers - even from female writers. It needs to stop.

Unless the character's beauty (and indeed physical appearance in general) plays an important part in the story, it's really irrelevant what he or she looks like. Naturally writers put in a description for the benefit of readers, but if you think about it, it's really not necessary. Readers can and ought to be allowed to make up their own mind about how a given character looks. A smart writer will put in a hint or two and leave the rest to the reader. Anything more is a form of telling rather than showing, and I'm surprised that more reviewers don't pick up on it. There's nothing wrong with offering some sort of a description if you feel you must, but I think it's better to be vague. At least, let's agree to cut it out with the 'stunning' and 'beautiful' crap.

In short, I still don't consider this novel to be a worthy read.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Princess: More Tears to Cry by Jean Sasson


Title: Princess: More Tears to Cry
Author: Jean Sasson
Publisher: Doubleday
Rating: WARTY!


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.

It's interesting to note that this is not copyrighted to Jean Sasson per se, but to the "Sasson Corporation". I think that's noteworthy. OTOH, if a corporation is like a person in the USA, and corporations get tax-breaks and low utility charges, then why don't we all incorporate ourselves? I'm for it!

This book is sold as non-fiction, but there are too many reasons - all taken from the way this is written, and the things it says and doesn't say - for me to believe that it's anything other than fiction, so from this point onwards I will refer to it as a novel until and unless I'm given good reason - in the form of independent supportive evidence - to think otherwise.

I have no smoking gun to prove that it's fiction, but neither do I have anything compelling me to believe that it isn't, so what follows is my own personal opinion derived from no other source than simply reading this book - or at least as much of it as I could stomach.

I have seen, and tried to get into reading, at least two other books in this series, and I could never take them seriously, so this was my last shot at looking at this, and I gave it the best one I could manage, but ultimately, this novel remained boring when it wasn't laughable, which is a sad thing to say about material that's supposedly true and daring as this is claimed to be. That was the first problem with it, for me: the material read too much like fiction and was far too sensationalized to be taken seriously.

This is one reason to down-grade it even if it is true, because if true, this material deserves considerably better treatment than it gets here. Written in the way it is, this book does more to sabotage the very thing it's supposedly trying to alleviate than ever it would if it were written more responsibly and a lot less like a tabloid front page in a supermarket check-out line.

One thought I had immediately was: if these things were true, and I wanted to cover them up and discredit assertions that they were true, what's the best way I could go about achieving that aim?

The obvious answer is, to write a book about it and make the book so bizarre and absurd that the book itself, claiming to be true, turns the whole thing into a joke, and then no one else is every going to make any headway because everything on this topic will forever be suspect at that point. In that direction, the author has done outstanding work for my money. For all practical purposes, it's the same tactic which Republicans use routinely to try to discredit Democrat presidential hopefuls! Throw enough volume and variety of mud (or in this case, fluff) and eventually some of it will stick.

This tale of Arabian 'mights' has all the elements of American daytime soap operas, and no one takes those seriously, so why would anyone take this seriously? That's perhaps the biggest indictment against it, but it's not the only one. The second, arguably equally large, if not larger, is: how could this even get written? If it were true, how could a woman who is now so well-known, continue to be in touch with a real princess and get this information to continue writing these books?

How could this purported 'princess' not have been identified by now? It's beyond credibility. Even if everything in her story was changed - the names, the family history, birth dates, events, to protect the source, how could people not have figured out by now who this is, and how could the source have escaped retribution if the society in which she lives is as awful as we're lectured it is here? It's not possible. It defies credibility.

I am not at all religious. While I do not care what religion people follow as long as they're not hurting others (or sacrificing animals), I do detest and despise organized religion. It is the most pernicious and corrupting influence upon people which was ever invented, and the most appalling and concerted attempt to enslave - or at the very least subjugate - women which has ever been devised by men.

Neither do I believe that any one organized religion is materially better or worse than any other. They all have their faults. They have all fallen short of the glory of the god they claim to serve. They all have blood on their hands way beyond anything which can in any way be justified, even in the wildest flights of fancy.

Yes, Christianity doesn't - normally - subjugate women in the way that Islam does, but it was not always that way. Islam is doing nothing worse today than Christianity and Judaism have done in the past, and which some sects of both continue to do today. None of them is without sin, but can you imagine the outrage if someone did this same sort of exposé on the orthodox Judaists, or on the Amish or the Mormons, or a similar sect? Put it in that perspective and stand back and breathe a little.

One of the most obnoxious things about his novel is that it vilifies all Muslims equally, and that is unacceptable. I simply do not believe that kind of assertion because it is so juvenile and so black and white as to completely lack credibility.

Yes there are awful Muslims, but there are also saintly Muslims, but the bigger truth is that the vast majority of Muslims are your regular everyday people just like you and I, who only want to have a decent life and to be allowed to get on with it in peace, just like the Judaists do, just like the Christians do, and just like those of other, rather less fraught and freighted, religions do. To tar them all uniformly with the thick indiscriminate brush with which this author writes is absurd and cannot in good conscience be viewed as anything other than fictional.

Another problem I had with this book is one that I also have with first person PoV books: no one can recall that much detail, not even when writing it later in a diary. No one can recall exact events in exact order, with every nuance, and every inflected conversation, every little detail, every utterance, every frown, every exclamation.

Even if these purported events were true at their root, there's an inescapable element of fictionalization in recalling them. The human mind works that way, and it's unavoidable. Everyone knows - or should know - that eye-witness is the most unreliable of all evidence which can be brought into a case, yet such witnesses are paradoxically the most compelling, as we see with these novels.

The big problem here is that the 'evidence' isn't corroborated by anything. All we have is the author's word, and I'm sorry, but given the poor and sensationalist quality of the writing here, that word isn't anywhere near good enough to convince me.

Yes, I know that women are abused appallingly by the crushing yoke of religion, especially in orthodox Judaism, Islam, and many sects of many other religions, including Christianity. This needs to be stopped, but guess what? The first of these 'princess' books came out well over a decade ago and I see nothing changing in Saudi Arabia. OTOH, I do see many of these books being sold. You may wish to draw your own conclusions as to who is really benefiting from them.

I cannot recommend a book this poorly written, and one which is arguably doing such a disservice to the cause of liberating those women in the Middle East who wish for it.