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

Friday, June 5, 2015

À la Recherche Du Temps Perdu par Marcel Proust

Title: Remembrance Of Things Past
Author: Marcel Proust
Rating: WARTY!

Adapted and illustrated by Stéphane Heuet
Coloring by Véronique Dorey

Remembrance Of Things Past (French: À la Recherche du Temps Perdu) begins wiht a guy who can't even remember where he is when he wakes up in his own bed. What's his problem? He's obviously been complete mesmerized by the magic lantern showing of the opéra Geneviève de Brabant is an bouffe, or operetta, by Jacques Offenbach whose last name is "Beforeyouexpecthimtobe".

Alas, the little whiny-assed brat's problem is that he's a little whiney-assed brat and his parents are deadbeats. À la recherche du temps perdu technically means "seeking lost time" but is typically rendered as "a remembrance of things past", but having read this, a better rendition, it seems to me, is "a remembrance of things passed" - from the bowels. And there was evidently an obstructive mass of it, because the original ran to seven volumes and over three thousand pages.

This was written over a century ago, and I promise you if the same thing had been written today it would be rightfully trashed, but since it's old, and French, it's now looked upon as romantic and classical. The author seems to have had a very resentful memory of his childhood which he allows to flood his adult thoughts tainting them with the smell of a swamp. His past is the only present he will gift himself with for the future.

One really odd thing about this graphic novel is that many of the image panels were fully occupied by text such that it was only barely possible even to see what the image was. Some entire pages consisted almost entirely if text and the art work was of the most simplistic kind, so sparse it promises to start a post-minimalist movement evidently to be named scarcism.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir

Title: The Six Wives of Henry VIII
Author: Alison Weir
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic
Rating: WORTHY!

This is one of a dozen books with the same or a similar title. I've read only this one and I can recommend it for its great detail and thorough coverage. Indeed, it may be a bit too detailed and too dense for some readers, but it worked for me. The only issue I had with it was with the Kindle ebook version, which I read on a smart phone. The formatting was questionable at times. Words which would normally be hyphenated were often missing the hyphen, but instead of sporting a space in its place, they were run together to make one word. A spell-checker would catch this, but what I suspect happened here was that the original typescript was fine - it was the conversion to kindle format which screwed it up. This is just my guess.

The other Kindle issue I had was that the location tracker, which monitors how much reading you have left to do and displays it as a percentage, was totally screwed-up. When it shows page 396 of 571 at the bottom of the screen on the left, it should then show 69% completed at bottom right. Instead, as you can see in the image on my blog, it shows only 50% completed! That's quite a discrepancy. Now there were end notes and a bibliography, but if this is included in the page count, then the percentage is still wrong. If it's not, then the percentage is reflecting the entire book, not what's left to read. It's misleading at best.

On top of that, sometimes I would start a chapter and the screen would tell me I had a minute left to the end of the chapter, then I swipe to the next screen, and it would adjust to show five minutes or fifteen or whatever. A couple of times I started a new chapter and it would tell me I had an hour's worth of reading, which was never the case, and the estimate would drop precipitously as I swiped the screens as I read. Clearly something was not working properly here!

There were a couple of other minor errors, too, such as misspelling 'curtsies' as "curtsys", and telling us (of Anne Boleyn watching workmen build her death scaffold): "On the green outside her window she could see workmen erecting a high scaffold, for which they would be paid £23. 65. 8d." Given that there were only twenty shillings to the pound, you can't have 65s in the middle like that! The most you could have is 19, and I'm wondering if it should have been either just the 6 or just the 5, but I can't find any on-line account which records this sum. Google doesn't help. It just ignores the pound symbol and returns any result containing 23, for instance, if I run a search for £23 connected with Anne Boleyn.

That said, I enjoyed the book immensely. It was very readable and painted a clear picture of these poor women who had to put up with this ruthless dick-head of a king. That said, a couple of the women were quite as ruthless as Henry himself was, and these were the ones he tended to behead. Katherine of Aragon, or to give her her much more beautiful Spanish name, Catalina de Aragón y Castilla was first in line, and her marriage was needed to cement a relationship with what we now call Spain, as a bulwark against the French. Of course at other times Henry would seek to marry into the French royal family to cement an alliance against Spain.

Katherine was rather aged (by fertile bride standards of the time), being in her mid twenties, and she failed to produce Henry a male heir (at least none that survived more than two months after birth), which of course, back then, was the only heir worth having. This made it quite ironic that Henry's sole male heir from all his marriages died young, and thereby brought two successive queens to the throne (three if you count Jane Grey), one of whom, Elizabeth, presided over what has come to be called England's golden age.

Since Katherine was initially married to Henry's older bother Arthur (until Arthur died young), Henry used this as an excuse to ditch her, claiming the marriage was not legal because the Bible says you can't marry your brother's wife. Throughout her life, Katherine resolutely maintained that the marriage to Arthur had never been consummated, but Henry was hypocritically religious (as far too many people seem to be even today), and though he dissolved the monasteries, this was for no other reason than to fill the royal coffers. He never abandoned the Catholic church and was dead-set against the protestants (although nowhere near as set against them as was his daughter by Katherine, who became known as Bloody Mary when she came to the throne). He had no qualms about using religious excuses to change wives. Katherine was lucky and got off lightly, although she felt robbed and was indeed badly treated both before and after the marriage.

Henry had become enamored of a scheming little vixen, one of the ladies-in-waiting, by the name of Anne Boleyn - who I used to feel sorry for, before I read this. Henry had already bedded Anne's sister Mary, but Anne was not about to be as free with her body as Mary evidently was. She schemed her way onto the throne very expertly, holding her virginity, if indeed she retained it, as a prize, but ironically, she didn't know when to be satisfied, and she continued scheming and running merciless vendettas even as queen. That and her failure to produce a male heir (like Katherine before her, she produced only one daughter, this one named Elizabeth) was what brought her down and meant that there was no one to speak in her favor. Anne was even more 'antique' than Catherine had been when she married Henry, but Henry was so blinded by her charm and enticement, and his own unbridled lust that he really didn't consider whether she could actually produce him an heir.

What I still feel sorry for is how Anne was rail-roaded by Henry before there even were rail-roads. She was sent to the chopping block with trumped-up charges of adultery (which was probably not true and certainly not a capital offense, even then) and treason, which was indeed a capital offense, and probably not true either in this case. Her ladies-in-waiting had to pick up her severed head and drop it and her lifeless body into a basket so it could be carted off like offal.

Henry had of course already set his eyes on his third bride before Anne ever climbed those stairs, and Jane Seymour, only a few years younger than Anne, actually did provide him with a male heir, who was named Edward before going on to have a great acting career (I might have made-up that last bit). The truth was that she died within a week or two of Edward's birth.

Henry perhaps actually loved Jane, and pined for her, but nevertheless he felt compelled to marry again because he had only one male heir and the attrition rate for children (and indeed adults) back then was stupendous. Every year in the summer, Henry and his court absconded from London because of plague outbreaks. They also moved almost continually from one residence to another because each palace became so filthy and stinking after a while, that it had to be aired out and thoroughly cleaned before it was fit to occupy again.

Enter Anna von Kleve, better known as Anne of Cleves. She came from what is now Germany and was once again chosen to cement an alliance, but Henry, having received her sight unseen (apart from an evidently over-flattering portrait), rejected her from the off, although he could not be seen to openly reject her because of the alliance. He claimed she smelled funny, which is hypocritical at best, because by this time Henry was suffering a weeping wound in his leg which plagued him for the rest of his life, gave him a nasty temper at times, and smelled something awful by all accounts. Anna went easiest of all, the marriage being annulled and she being treated and addressed as the King's sister, and living in comfort the rest of her life. She was not the longest lived of Henry's wives (that being Catalina), but she was the last to die.

Catherine Howard and Anne Boleyn were first cousins, which makes it darkly interesting that these were the two he accused of of adultery and treason, and beheaded. Catherine failed to produce an heir, and really was (more than likely) guilty of adultery. The treason charge was simple trumped-up so they could behead her. An act of parliament made it a treasonable offense for a new queen to fail to disclose to the king, within twenty days of the marriage, a previous affair, and evidently this was retroactive. Catherine was nineteen when she was beheaded.

Finally there arrived a queen who out-lived Henry while she was still queen. Catherine Parr was almost twice her predecessor's age and Henry was, at this point, perhaps marrying for comfort having given up on everything else. Catherine also married almost as many times as Henry did - four in all, including her last one in secret, just six months after Henry died. Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.

After Henry's death, Edward 6th, his son by Jane Seymour, came to the throne at the age of nine, but he died in his mid-teens, the very kind of thing of which Henry had been afraid, having had only one male heir. Edward nominated Lady Jane Grey - the well known actor (just kidding again) as his heir. She was Henry 7th's granddaughter and was "queen" for nine days, but was overthrown by Mary, Henry 8th's daughter, and beheaded at the Tower of London. Mary became queen and slaughtered a protestant a week until she died, whereupon Elizabeth came to the throne, the third of Henry's children to rule England legitimately.

I recommend this book. it;s full of fascinating detail about Tudor life and court intrigue, and disturbing detail about how cheaply life was held five hundred years ago.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

From Hell by Alan Moore

Title: From Hell
Author: Alan Moore
Publisher: Top Shelf
Rating: WARTY!

Art work: Eddie Campbell and Pete Mullins

This is the graphic novel from which the Johnny Depp movie of the same title was derived. I'd recommend the movie as an entertaining bit of nonsense, but I cannot recommend this rambling miasma of absurdity and boredom, which is really no more than a graphic realization of a Jack the Ripper Masonic conspiracy pulled directly from the 1976 book Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution.

The conceit here is that Jack the Ripper was really a doctor to Queen Victoria's royal family, William Gull, who was charged with covering up an indiscretion by an immediate member of the royal family. This is a nonsensical conspiracy theory hasn't a grain of truth to it and is in effect a scandalous libel of Doctor Gull.

The story pretends that Prince Albert Victor one of Victoria's children, secretly married "a commoner" named Annie Crook, with whom he had a child. Annie supposedly had no idea who he really was. When Queen Vic learns of it, she locks up Annie in an institution for the insane, and when she learns that a handful of prostitutes know the truth, she tasks William Gull with covering it up. Gull is supposedly a Mason, and ritually kills the girls for purposes of his own.

The daughter sired by the prince and damned by all is inexplicably not slaughtered, but left with a painter by the name of Walter Sickert (a real person who has also been named as the Ripper by a assortment of writers!).

The story lacks life and luster, and it became so boring when Moore decided to spend page after page after endless page taking us on a tour of London and trying to tie everything into a Massive Masonic Mystery Tour. I felt bad for Eddie Campbell and Pete Mullins having to draw all that crap. I expected Beatles music, which I didn't even get to offset the pictorial disaster. I noticed, also, that Moore is yet another writer who doesn't understand that there's a difference between stanch and staunch (page seven). I can't recommend this one at all.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Adapted by Jerry Kramsky

Title: Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Author: Jerry Kramsky (no website found)
Publisher: NBM Publishing
Rating: WORTHY!

Art work by Lorenzo Mattotti.

I have no idea what the heck Barnes and Noble thinks they're doing with this novel, but they have author Jerry Kramsky listed as himself and as the fictitious Jerry Kransky, and they have no artist listed! I wonder if the entry was written by the same guy who wrote the script for the movie My Cousin Vinny. Maybe we should call Jerry Callo and ask! or is it Gallo?

This is a large format graphic novel, about the size of two regular comic books laid side-by-side and rotated 90 degrees. There's nothing wrong with that, of course. Authors are entitled to present their titles (now that's how those two words should be used!) in whatever form they wish - especially in this age of ebooks, web comics, and self-publishing, so that wasn't a problem. It does explain why my blog doesn't have any full page samples like I normally include. The few panels I show are all that would fit the scanner window!

My problem with this work is that it simply wasn't appealing to me. The artwork is interesting in how it's done, but I didn't like it. I don't know what it was about it in particular. It was very colorful, but the style just turned me right off.

The story-telling wasn't very inspired, either. I mean it was the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as told in the 1886 novella written by Robert Louis Stevenson, but here it was uninspiring and the images often seemed at odds with the text.

I can't recommend this graphic novel. I feel I did a better take on it in the short story included in my own Poem y Granite.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

All Clear by Connie Willis

Title: All Clear
Author: Connie Willis
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Rating: WARTY!

Read shrilly by Katherine Kellgren.

This was awful! I can't believe how bad this was. I think it's very possibly the most irritating and boring novel I've ever not read - I listened to it. Or to as much of it as I could stand anyway. I got only 10% of the way through it before I threw it away. Not literally, I dutifully and promptly returned it to the library.

It’s book 2 in what’s at least a dilogy, something which I didn’t know, going in. Not that it really matters that much. Connie Willis herself warns at the beginning that you really ought to read book one before you start on this, but what’s the point, honestly, of issuing that warning when you’re sitting there driving down the highway (or even up the low-way) listening to it already? What I’m saying is that it’s a bit late at that point!

I got this from the library and there was nothing in the description on the library's website to warn me that I should read book one first – or even to say this was book two! Here’s the library’s blurb:

Nebula and Hugo Award-winning author Connie Willis returns with a stunning, enormously entertaining novel of time travel, war, and the deeds, great and small, of ordinary people who shape history.

“Connie Willis returns” tells me this isn’t her debut novel. It doesn’t tell me this is book two of a series! Shame on you librarians who evidently just lifted a blurb from somewhere and thought no more about it! (I love them really!) The reader was Katherine Kellgren, and her voice was appropriate to the era, but this merely meant that it was high pitched and shrill, which was really, and I mean really, off-putting. If you must read this, I recommend that you actually read it, and avoid the audio book version.

As for the story itself, I didn’t see the point. This is supposed to be sci-fi time-travel. To me there’s nothing more exciting, which makes me wonder why so many writers use that frame as nothing more than a bait-and-switch tactic to lure their readers into what is, in the end, merely an historical fiction, or worse, an historical romance. Seriously?

If all you’re going to do with your time-travel story is trap your main character in some historical setting, then I’m sorry but you’re really nothing more than a con-artist mis-representing your story! I will resent your tactics and read no more of your oeuvre. For me, there actually has to be some real sci-fi in a sci-fi story!

In this case, a team of time-travelers, who were evidently studying history (you’d have to have read book one to really understand what they were doing or why it even - supposedly - made sense), were somehow trapped in World War two London in 1940 during the blitz, of course, and were in complete disarray. For the first two disks they were obsessed with a store by the name of Padgett's and with whether three people or five people had died there. It went on and on - for two disks. God it was boring!

They're from the future, but were evidently and inexplicably completely bereft of any kind communication devices, and the entirety of the first two disks consisted of some time-traveler woman whining shrilly about her own personal circumstances amidst the destruction, death, and din of London. That was two disks too much ‘whining and dinning’ for me. I can’t recommend this.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Complete Raffles Volume One by EW Hornung

Title: The Complete Raffles Volume One
Author: EW Hornung
Publisher: Leonaur
Rating: WARTY!

I have to say that the title of this amused me – I mean how is it in any way complete it if it’s only volume one? And yes, I do know what they mean, but it’s still amusing to me.

I ended up with this from the library having failed to get my hands any Sexton Blake – which I had decided I wanted to read after having heard it mentioned several times in a Phryne Fisher story. I found that I liked this, but only in small parts. A lot of it was uninspired and uninspiring. The thefts weren't really very thrilling, and nothing like as complex as the misdeeds in your average Sherlock Holmes story - from which era these stories also hale, so be warned it’s not everyone’s taste. If you’re into this kind of story (adult historical which was actually adult contemporary when it was written), then you might like this.

EW Hornung was rather a prolific writer, and Arthur J Raffles, described as a gentleman cracksman – that is a thief - was perhaps his best known creation. How gentlemanly a thief could ever actually be is a matter for debate, but I guess Raffles fills the bill for some definitions at least. We meet him, as we meet Sherlock Holmes (to whom raffles came second in popularity in his own time), through the agency of his chronicler – a public school friend of his, who goes by the highly unlikely name of Bunny – which was no doubt quite likely in those days. His real name is Harry Manders.

Note that in Britain, a public school is actually a private school such as Eton or Winchester, which is where Bunny “fagged” for him. Note that a fag in this context represents a sort of servant (or more accurately, a slave!) who would run errands and perform other chores for this superior, such as cleaning his shoes and even doing his homework for him. It has nothing to do with homosexuality, although in some cases it could have, I suppose!

Raffles has other things in common with Holmes. At one point, he and Bunny are caught red-handed whilst committing a theft aboard a ship. That story is included in this volume. Raffles dives overboard to escape apprehension, and is presumed lost at sea, but after Bunny finishes his prison sentence, he discovers that Raffles is alive and well, and the second, and somewhat modified phase of their joint career is launched. That takes place almost literally half-way through this volume. At the end of this volume, Raffles is killed in the Boer war in South Africa, so god only knows what's included in volume two! raffles ghost stories?!

The best stories for me were Nine Points of the Law, which was very much in the mold of a Sherlock Holmes story, although from the PoV of the thief of course, and the one which followed it, The Return Match. Both of these were rather different from the stories which came before, which all seemed to be centered on jewel thievery. In both of these stories, Raffles was acting to help someone, although what he was doing wasn’t really legal in each case! In the latter case, he wasn’t even getting paid for his actions, although he did feel he was repaying a debt, if not being blackmailed.

One very much appreciated aspect of the stories is that Raffles doesn’t always get the job done, but despite that and some other bits and pieces I liked, overall these stories were tame and boring. They included very little atmosphere setting,and very little descriptive prose in terms of setting the scene. Most of it was simple conversations, in which Raffles is usually unnecessarily and tediously mysterious, and in describing, but in nowhere near enough detail, his exploits, so it was rather unsatisfactory all around for me. I can't recommend it.

Roughly half the book takes us to where Raffles literally jumps ship. The second half takes up form where raffles disappears until he's killed in the Boer wars. What's in volume 2 I have no idea!

One thing which both amazed and horrified me was how profligate these two villains were with their money. They have stolen jewels that they sold on for literally hundreds if not thousands of pounds. They stole other things too, and they retrieved a painting which netted them two thousand pounds each, yet they're always on their uppers, looking for the next opportunity to steal money? Where did it all go?!

Two thousand pounds is a significant amount (for most of us!) in 2015. In 1915, one pound was worth roughly five dollars, so we're talking about ten thousand dollars, but that fails to address the buying power of money then as compared with now. According to Measuring Worth two thousand pounds in 1915 would be worth somewhere between 140,000 and a million today depending upon how it's calculated. Even if we take the lower of those two, it's still an inconceivable amount of money to wade through, especially back then - maybe five million dollars?!

According to US News, In 1915, you could buy a house for three thousand dollars (=six hundred pounds). A car cost almost as much as a house! A decently-paid (by 1915 standards) woman would earn sixty pounds a year. A loaf of bread cost 7 cents, a dozen eggs 34 cents, a gallon of milk about the same as the eggs, and a pound of steak 26 cents (using the US News values) . What the heck were these guys doing with all their money?! And why should we feel any kinship with people who are so appalling wasteful and who actually help no one, especially not the common people. These guys were no Robin Hoods, let's face it!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Murder and Mendelssohn by Kerry Greenwood

Title: Murder and Mendelssohn
Author: Kerry Greenwood
Publisher: Bolinda Audio
Rating: WARTY!

Read impeccably by Stephanie Daniel.

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 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.

It pains me therefore to have to rate this, the latest volume negatively, but I have to! While I happily admit that there were parts of this novel which were the Phryne Fisher quality I’ve come to expect – blasts of sweet humor, highly amusing observations, delightful turns of phrase, amusing character foibles - the story was, unfortunately, also padded way beyond passing interest-level with endless rambling digressions into the activities of the choristers, which was – ultimately – irrelevant to the mystery, and quite frankly boring the pants off me (not literally, I’m happy to report, which would have been decidedly awkward at 65 mph down the highway). There were endless quotes of the lines they were singing, endless digressions into the politics of the group, endless descriptions of their activities, and it was, frankly, tedious and boring after the first one or two.

I don’t know if Kerry Greenwood was involved in, or has taken up, choral singing herself, but to paraphrase Sherlock Holmes (from A Study in Scarlet), and no matter how much you love your hobby, it is a capital mistake to theorize that everyone else will share your deep joy of your personal interests. It biases the judgment. This novel could have been lighter by many pages and the healthier for it had all this been omitted.

Another example of padding was the affair between Phryne and John and Rupert. Phryne’s purpose is, of course to achieve what she did indeed achieve in the end: the conjoining of the two men in a far more romantic and physical manner than they’d enjoyed hitherto. Admirable as that might have been, it had nothing whatsoever to do with the mystery and it annoyed me because I really didn’t like either character to begin with. If it had been dealt with peripherally and briefly, it would have been great, but it wasn’t. There was more than excessive meandering into this relationship which should have been in some other genre of novel the way it was written, and the supposed pinnacle of this story arc was more like a sinking pinnace.

From reading reviews others have written, the Wilson-Sheffield relationship was evidently Greenwood’s interpretation of the Watson-Holmes relationship, which is bullshit. This was not apparent in the audio book which lacked end notes and author commentary, but of which I have to say that the reader, Stephanie Daniel, was awesome, and way better than the material she had to read. Another thing some reviewers have commented on is the, in their evident view, impossibility of a homosexual guy having any sexual interest in a female. This is completely wrong-headed.

Greenwood wasn’t asserting the inverse of that clueless macho trope (as featured in Ian Fleming’s GoldFinger for example) that all a lesbian needs is a masculine guy to “cure” her. Greenwood was merely revealing a fact: that sexuality isn’t a binary thing. It’s not yes or no, on or off, plus or minus. It’s a sliding scale, and not only from female to male, but also within any individual. Just because a guy is preferentially homosexual (and I use preferentially not to indicate a choice, but an orientation) doesn’t preclude that in certain circumstances he might be attracted to a female. To say otherwise is to deny the existence of bisexuals – many if not most of whom doubtlessly have a preferential leaning towards one gender or the other, but this doesn’t preclude them from finding their ‘less-favored’ gender appealing!

What made this novel worse for me is that all of the three main characters in this story: Phryne, John, and Rupert, were complete Mary Sues (in the original sense). Admittedly, Rupert was endowed with a rudeness which gave him a token flaw, but it was such a caricature that it failed for me (and failed to evoke Sherlock Holmes, to boot!). This undiverting diversion was only exacerbated by Phryne and John’s endless perfection and rectitude, and by their endlessly unimpeachable character referencing, and so on. For goodness sakes! I could have done without that. I love Phryne, but the more I’m told how comprehensively wonderful, heroically selfless, unutterably perfect, and endlessly skilled she is, the less attraction I feel to her.

So in the end, I couldn’t finish this story. I got to within two or three disks of the end of the audio book and gave up on it. I honestly couldn’t stand to hear one more choral line quoted! I cannot recommend this, and I think I may have to take a break from the written Phryne for a while and succor myself on the small-screen version again to get over this particular novel.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Fade Out by Ed Brubaker

Title: The Fade Out
Author: Ed Brubaker
Publisher: Image Comics
Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated by Sean Phillips.
Colored by Elizabeth Breitweiser.

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 favorably reviewed Fatale Book 4 by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Elizabeth Breitweiser a year ago, and so I was pleased to have the chance to review this one, which I also found to be a worthy read. This one is a very different story from that earlier volume. Set in 1948, with World War Two a very fresh memory, and phobia related to the rise of communism turning the powers-that-be completely paranoid, this novel revolves around the people working at with a Hollywood studio. The studio is struggling and is in the middle of making a film with a very bankable female lead, Valeria Sommers, when she's found dead by one of the writers on the movie.

Not wanting to get involved, especially since he was drunk as a skunk and remembers nothing of the night before, the cowardly writer, Charlie Parish, cleans up all evidence of his presence in Valeria's house and sneaks off to the nearby studio as though nothing has happened. Later, he discovers that the studio has "spun" a completely false story around events. Now, instead of being found on the floor strangled to death, there's a picture in the local rag showing that she hung herself!

Conveniently, the actor who lost the role to the dead star, Maya Silver, is still around and ready to take over her dead rival's part in the movie. Curiously enough, she wants to befriend Charlie, who initially found the body. His fleeing a crime scene isn't his only transgression, as it happens, although his other one is much more noble. Because of the communist pogrom, he's actually only taking dictation from the real writer, Gil Mason, who's been blackballed as a communist. Why they never called that "red-balled' I don't know!

Charlie's doing this because he needs the work, and also because he's a good friend of the other writer's wife, Melba. He wants to help her and the children, since the man of the house is pretty much a no-good drunk at this point. The problem is that he happens to let slip that he knows that Valeria's death has been covered up. Gil is infuriated by the cover-up. And that's just the set-up!

I recommend this story - the beginning of a series, because it's so very well done. The writing is high quality - as I've come to expect from Brubaker from my admittedly limited acquaintanceship with his work. Breitweiser's coloring and Phillips's artwork are excellent - again, as I've come to expect. If you like film noir, you'll like this, as indeed you will if you like a comic well done.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Tulku by Peter Dickinson

Title: Tulku
Author: Peter Dickinson
Publisher: Open Road Media
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!

Set amidst the so-called "Boxer Rebellion" in China, over a century ago (around the turn of the nineteenth century), this is a story of Theodore, Lung, and Mrs. Jones, which starts out really well, but fades into rambling incoherence in the second half. Theo is a young man whose father is killed by the Boxers. These insurgents are trying to throw out the Imperialist occupiers of China who were milking money from the nation, and telling the Chinese their religions were useless and they really ought to migrate to Christianity!

Many nations formed a coalition against this rebellion and really stuck it to the Chinese, sending in an eight-nation army of some fifty thousand troops, occupying Peking, arranging the whole-sale slaughter of those involved, and fining the Chinese government millions of taels of silver in reparations (which was an astronomical fine even by modern standards).

The coalition was remarkable to modern eyes, rather reminiscent of the one which formed against Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait in the nineties. In this case it consisted of: Austria-Hungary, the Empire of Japan, the French Third Republic, the German Empire, the Kingdom of Italy, the Russian Empire, the United Kingdom, and the United States. This story discusses none of that. Instead, it wanders away into the hills and honestly? It gets lost.

I'm not a fan of organized religion, so I had no skin in this pissing contest between the Chinese religions, the Tibetan, and the Christian. I think all of them are silly, and in this case especially this nonsensical business of thinking that the Tulku reincarnates and can be found as a child. In some ways the story is very reminiscent of the 1993 Bertolucci movie Little_Buddha which was eminently forgettable despite its rather stellar cast - but it was better than this story!

The day after his father is killed by the Boxers, and his mission village is destroyed, Theo runs into Mrs Jones, her right-hand man (and lover) who is named Lung, and some pack horses. Jones insists he accompany them to the next mission. In the end, they give up on that plan and head for Tibet, where Jones, who is on voluntary exile from England for ten years - financed by a wealthy family to keep her away from their son - hopes to find flowers which have never been described before by science. In the end, they give up on that and retire to a monastery.

This novel, as I indicated, started out strongly and drew me in, but as soon as the three travelers meet the monks, it dissolves with disturbing rapidity into a vague and rambling tale of ceremony, sitting around, more ceremony, more sitting around and a fizzle of an 'ending. It creates expectations which are never met and became truly tiresome. I can't recommend this.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Ruined Abbey by Anne Emery

Title: Ruined Abbey
Author: Anne Emery
Publisher: ECW Press
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 a prequel to the Collins-Burke mystery series. I don't do series unless they're especially enticing and they rarely are, so this was a good one for me to review since it's not in the middle of anything and can be viewed as a kind of stand-alone. My conclusion having read 33% of it is that I'm definitely not interested in following this series. It's a bit frustrating, because I've had good success with at least one other volume from Entertainment Culture Writing Press.

The story is set in 1989, and starts out rather dramatically with father Brennan Burke, in New York City, receiving a call from his sister Molly, who's in jail in London. She's accused of being a member of a terrorist organization. He gets onto the first flight he can, and miraculously (he is a priest!) manages to get into the prison to see her first thing the next morning. She's soon sprung from jail. Her crime, evidently, was her obsessive-compulsive disorder vis-à-vis Oliver Cromwell. I kid you not. In short, this was all a stinking huge red herring which I actually didn't appreciate.

So right from the off, this novel made little sense. There's no reason a woman would be connected to terrorist organization just because she delivered a lecture complaining about Cromwell's behavior half a millennium before, in Eire. A police detective was also shot in his car that day, too, but although this is mentioned several times, the author never makes any attempt to show how this could possibly be connected with what happened to Molly (not in the portion of this book I read, at any rate. In short, it’s another red herring, and I have no idea why the author chose to juxtapose these two events.

The impression I got from the first few chapters of the novel, in fact, was that of some heavy-duty Brit-bashing going on, although this seemed to assuage after a while. It was weird to read it, especially since those events - the era of IRA terrorism in Ireland, and in cities like Birmingham and London in England - are now history. Maybe in some people's minds, they're still current?

I didn't get all this obsession with Cromwell. There is no doubt that he was a brutal man, but no more so than your average military commander in similar circumstances in what was a brutal era. The invasion led by Cromwell was preceded by the Irish rebellion of 1641, where the Catholics did the same things which Cromwell did, but to English and Scots protestants. The Irish Catholics and royalists also launched another attack right before Cromwell arrived. It's not like Cromwell & co just randomly decided to wander over there and Kilkenny.

Wexford was a different matter. Against Cromwell's wishes (he was trying to negotiate a surrender), his troops let loose of their own accord. Even then, the majority of those who died were military troops. Prior to these events there was, no doubt, something done to the Protestants by the Catholics, and prior to that, something done vice-versa, and so on ad infinitum.

Ultimately, this has nothing whatsoever to do with Cromwell or the English, or the Irish per se, as history has shown. I don't know why those who continue their pointless feud with Cromwell's dead body don't have the same antagonism towards Charles the Second, who betrayed his Irish Catholic allies by discarding the alliance in favor of a new one with the Scots Covenanters. It wasn't royalism, it was business!

The truth is that it was an ongoing religious war and even though, thankfully, the bloody violence is over for now, the religious war has not gone away nor will it, as long as there are religion-blinded factions which ignore their own Bible's injunction to turn the other cheek. In the end it had far less to do with Cromwell and royalists than it did with the Catholicism which Henry the Eighth rejected, and the Protestantism which was sucked into the vacuum that was left, because religion abhors a vacuum.

That said, the biggest issue I had in the first few chapters was in the chronic stereotyping of the Irish characters, making it look like all they were interested in was guzzling alcohol. It was like a page wouldn't pass by without one or other of them referencing alcohol, or planning on going to a pub, or drinking something alcoholic, even if it was only communion wine. Of course, that wasn't alcohol, it was blood. Seriously, this made me pity the characters, and view them with some disdain rather than identify with them. Is this what the author wanted?

The story was really rambling, too, like the author was so proud of the notes she'd compiled on character, plot, and location that she was really loathe to leave anything out. Based on the part I read, this novel could, without losing a single thing, have been edited down from almost four-hundred pages to two or three hundred and lost nothing in the process. In the end, what it did lose was my interest because of the tediously slow pace. I made it to the end of chapter 11, about one third the way through, and decided it was not for me. I'd started skimming paragraphs here and there even before that, because the ironically sober detail was leaving my glass more than half empty. Quite literally nothing was happening other than repeated visits to bars.

The main thrust of the story wasn't Molly's arrest, but her cousin Conn's arrest, and that didn't happen until almost a third of the way in. The novel could have actually begun there, but even when that event happened, nothing changed! I'd hoped at that point that things would finally start moving, but the pace did not pick up! The writing did not become more taut or exciting, and nothing significant transpired! A aged family member expired, but that was it. The entire story continued to plod on in the same old way, but I refused to plod with it. Life is too short, especially when there are huddled masses of potentially exciting novels invading my shore, clamoring to be heard.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Lady Chatterley's Lover by DH Lawrence

Title: Lady Chatterley's Lover
Author: DH Lawrence
Publisher: Tipografia Giuntina
Rating: WORTHY!

Read impeccably by Margaret Hilton.

This novel was surprising. Coming into it knowing nothing more about it than what gossip, reputation, and rumor would have you believe, it was quite an eye-opener, but not in the way you might think! The setting is pretty much where I grew up, in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, so in some ways it felt very familiar to me (my home town, Matlock, is mentioned!). Of course, I wasn't around when this novel was written - not even as a twinkle in someone's eye!

Lady Chatterley's Lover is a study in duality: upper class versus lower, human society vs. nature, healthy v. sick, decency v. vulgarity, mind v. body, male v. female, Clifford's wealth v. his impotence, Lady Chatterley's in-two-minds view of life, the gamekeeper's apparent inability to decide which language dialect he wants to speak, but it’s also about similarity. Both of the main protagonists, Connie Chatterley and Oliver Mellors, are married unhappily, although it takes Connie a lot longer to figure this out, and both want the same thing.

While being mindful that it was written and published in the 1920's, in a different era, the story is very ordinary and conventional, particularly by modern standards. It’s about a real love affair between a woman and a man who is of what was then considered a markedly lower social class, but it’s not rife with debauchery and carnality. Far from it. Most of it is ordinary social interaction - which is of course the problem for Lady Constance Chatterley.

And most of it has not seen the sight of four-letter words. On the contrary: it's beautifully written, even in the parts which do contain such words. I honestly don’t care if bad language is used in a novel, if it fits with the story and the characters. Bad things, bad language, bad events, and bad people occur in real life so there's no reason at all why they cannot be realistically depicted in fiction if you have a good story to tell about them.

My biggest problem with this novel was that parts of it were downright boring! It was too long. A good editor would have seriously cropped the sections where Lawrence rambles pointlessly on about social mores and philosophical issues. They don't move the story nor do they contribute to it. The sexual parts of the novel were few and far between, and very tame, especially by modern standards. The philosophical parts were at best mildly interesting, at worse, tedious. On the other hand, there was a lot of humor in the novel, which quite surprised me.

The story itself is about Constance Reid who marries Clifford Chatterley, a man who is a rung or two above her on the social ladder. He is soon called to war (1914-18) and comes back paralyzed from the waist down, having to move himself around in a motorized wheelchair, and needing his wife's assistance with dressing and some other activities.

Connie frequently has contradictory views of her life: feeling that she's in the right place and the wrong place, feeling that things are comfortable and that they're ridiculous, feeling at ease and on edge, feeling that she's happy with her husband, and that she's not. She takes a lover but is ultimately dissatisfied with him. At one point, Clifford suggests that it would be fine with him if she became pregnant by another man, and then the two of them would raise the child as their own, giving Clifford an heir, but Connie cannot think of anyone in their social circle with whom she would wish to make a baby.

The last thing Mrs Chatterley expects is to fall in love with the gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors. He's also a war veteran, having risen above his own class status to the rank of lieutenant. Separated from his wayward wife, he's hired as a gamekeeper for Clifford's estate - one through which Connie is in the habit of walking daily. It’s many months before she first encounters him, and a while longer before they end up in bed together. When it does happen it’s almost like a rape. There is no violence or force involved, and Connie does not refuse or struggle, but neither does she enter into it with any animation at all - she simply lies there, almost in a state of catatonia letting it happen to her. Later though, she determines that she wants more, and becomes a very willing, even proactive participant.

Connie comes to fully realize that there are two sides to her life - the mental and the physical, and the latter has withered, bringing down the mental along with it. She realizes that she needs the physical even as she acknowledges the ridiculousness of the act of physical love. Indeed, her observations on it, both as it happens and in retrospect, are quite entertaining.

It’s the physical which she gets from Mellors, becoming slowly appreciative and then addicted to it after starting out indifferently. Eventually, when she's on vacation with her close and supportive older sister, Hilda, and her father, she realizes two things: that she is in love with Oliver, and that she is pregnant by him. It’s their attempts to find out how they can be together and how they can navigate society's hypocritical and contradictory perspectives on their situation which drives the closing act.

This novel is far from perfect (then which novel is?!), but overall I enjoyed it a lot, found it entertaining and rewarding, and was glad (for once!) that I chose to add this to my reviews of classics. It helped significantly that Margaret Hilton the reader of the audio book version, seemed perfectly suited to reading this. I recommend it.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Pleasure Dial by Jeremy Edwards

Title: The Pleasure Dial
Author: Jeremy Edwards
Publisher: 1001 Nights Press
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.

p118 "bicep" - it's biceps. And triceps.

I'm not a big fan of erotic literature per se. I'd much rather indulge in it than sit and read about it, but done the right way, in the right context - that of a real story rather than inauthentic titillation for mere titillation's sake - I'm perfectly happy with it. What I find truly sad is that we live in a very effective theocracy under the dictates of which, children are at liberty to read or to watch endless scenes of people being mean and brutal towards one another, but must be "protected" fiercely from anything which depicts people enjoying and loving one another in physical ways.

How sad is it that the church, an 'authority' which is itself rooted in the absurdest of fictions, insists that intimacy is so evil, even in fiction, that not even adults ought to be exposed to it no matter how educationally, fleetingly, cursorily, or tangentially. The United States of America is one of the most fundamentalist societies on the planet, giving feared places like Iran a run for its mullah. Is it any surprise that in such a closeted society, people end-up hobbled by the worst sex-education it's possible to get?

Is it any surprise that in such a society people who 'deviate' from "the norm" however slightly, however naturally, however much in the privacy of their own homes still run a grave risk of being (metaphorically if not literally) pilloried? Is it any surprise that as a direct result of allowing such a blinkered society to propagate and fester, that same society then pays a hefty price in unwanted pregnancy and sexual inappropriateness which runs the huge gamut from annoying, through abusive, to outright criminal? Not to me it isn't.

I do enjoy a well-written comedy, which explains why I was actually interested in this novel: it's a humorous story which neither flinches nor baulks at following people into the bedroom (or wherever!) rather than shyly panning over to a roaring fire which ineffectually seeks to simulate sexual passion whilst stimulating nothing but laughter.

This story is set in the 1930's when radio listener-ship more than doubled to almost 30 million people in the US. Radio shows were for several decades directly sponsored - indeed, effectively owned - by corporations which advertised freely throughout the show, and for which the show's stars became spokes-people. This comedy of erogenous follows the machinations and lubrications of various characters as they duel and fool with each other to reach their assorted and diverse goals.

Artie Plask is a comedy writer, newly arrived in LA to join the team for Sydney Heffernan's radio show. Under the name Syd Heffy, this guy acts himself: a buffoon who barely has a competent grasp of the nuances of the English language, but who is nonetheless considered to be one of the best and biggest comedians in the country. Artie's immediate problem is that after one day on the job he discovers that the entire writing team has been fired as 'Syd Heffy' decides to abandon comedy, and relaunch himself in serious drama show.

This writing team is exclusively white of course, because writers nearly always were back then, and it's almost exclusively male for the same reason, but it's actually headed by a woman, Mariel Fenton, who also writes for the show. Here's where I first became honestly impressed. Jeremy Edwards knows how to write strong female characters, and this one saves the show - literally.

Mariel is a self-possessed, self-made woman, who holds her own (in whatever way she feels like) quite effortlessly in a man's world, and who is not only a genuinely funny person, which makes her perfect for this gig, but who is also extremely smart and astute. And of course, as required by the novel's very tone, gorgeous. Indeed, she's the real mover and shaker here, with Artie really just along for the ride (whether the ride be sexual or not!).

I have no idea who the girl on the cover of this novel is, either in real life or as representative of a character. She could be generic or she could be intended as Elyse Heffernan, Syd Heffy's pan-sexual and nympho-maniacal daughter. She certainly isn't Mariel, and she really doesn't appear to be Elyse, either, but the photograph is undeniably erotic. The feet seem a little bit large for the image to be perfect, but that may just be a perspective distortion (or my bias towards smaller feet!).

That said, I have to admit that this near-perfect picture is what initially caught my eye with this novel. I would never have launched into reading it on that cover image though, no matter how exciting it may be. The novel could have actually had any cover, because it was the novel's premise which sold it to me, recalling screwball comedies of the forties, and madcap comedies of the fifties. But kudos to the cover designer and photographer(s). For once in a blue moon, they really, er, nailed it.

If you think the cover model is Elyse, then you really need to read the novel, because you simply don't get her at all. Elyse is the second powerful female character in this novel. Her liberal sexuality is misleading, for there's a strength to this young woman which far-too-many young-adult writers, for example - even female ones - fail to understand, much less employ in a world where the main female lead, after being sold to us as strong, independent, and capable, is all-too-often immediately subjugated to an even stronger male.

Neither of these women is subject to anyone. Artie's first introduction to Elyse is when he sees her naked at the swimming pool at her father's house (what daddy doesn't know...well, she can get away with, including having sex with every one of the writers except the gay one). The patio is where all the writing gets done, and Elyse gets wet from just being around these creative, smart, and funny people before she ever enters the pool. His second introduction to her is in bed shortly afterwards, but it's just that one time, because once Artie and Mariel start becoming better acquainted, they become much better acquainted and indeed, inseparable - often quite literally.

The thing which really turns Artie on most about Mariel is, quite appropriately, a woman's most overwhelming sex organ: her mind. He gets off on her thoughts, and she returns the appreciation in equal measure. This is what makes this organ of entertainment, as the rabbi said after the circumcision, a cut above the rest. I just wish more female writers - especially writers of so-called romance novels and YA novels - would get this fact as well as Jeremy Edwards does in his own genre.

This novel follows a host of amusing twists, turns, and delectable diversions. The dialog is snappy, entertaining, and more often than not, rib-ticklingly funny. I'd love to meet someone like Mariel just to have that kind of mind to interact with, or better yet to co-write with - and the hell with the sex! It wasn't all smooth surfing for me, but the only real issue I had with this is the author's descriptions of the many supposedly erotic encounters. To me there's a marked difference between eroticism and crudity, and this novel strayed over the line once in a while.

Note that the language is ribald at best and in the gutter at worst when it comes to depicting the intimate encounters here, so please do not venture into this if you're readily offended. Personally I don't care what language is used as long as it's appropriate to the story or to the character, and there's the, er, rub! Edwards was a bit too fond of using a certain four-letter word to describe a certain defining part of the feminine anatomy, but in this context - one of eroticism - it seemed too abusive to me to find a home here.

I can see it showing up in a novel about abuse or in one relating a story of BDSM even, but in erotica? To me erotica tells a different and very special story, and this jarred too much. Usually, the erotic scenes were deliciously erotic, but unfortunately often they kicked me out of suspension of disbelief because it felt like the author was trying much too hard to use every word he could conjure up to describe events and anatomy. You may have a different crudity scale from me, of course, and consequently your denier may differ.

That aside, I loved this novel and I recommend it erotically! Personally I'm going ot be looking for more by this author.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Secret Supper by Javier Sierra

Title: The Secret Supper
Author: Javier Sierra
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Rating: WARTY!

Originally published as La Cena Secreta, I read the English translation of this novel some time ago, before I began blogging. I came across the audio book version of it in the library, so I decided to give it a listen so I could blog it here. The problem was that once I started listening, I also started wondering how in hell I'd managed to not only read this book, but also think it was worth retaining the book in my collection with a view to possibly re-reading it at some point down the road.

Clearly I'd found something in it the first time around that was just as clearly absent this time. Has my perspective on novels changed so much? It wasn't that long ago that I read this - maybe two years? Have I become so much more critical - so much less forgiving? I guess!

The novel is set around 1520 when Leonardo da Vinci was painting The Last Supper fresco. The conceit here is that it's the recorded words of Agostino Leyre, a chief inquisitor in the Catholic church. He's supposed to be putting this story on paper (or parchment or whatever) in his old age while living as a hermit, but no one actually writes like that in those circumstances! That struck me as false.

If you are writing a diary, you might record a conversation, but even then you wouldn't record it like you do in a novel. If your conversation went like this, for example:

Jane entered the room with an aura of frustrated anger covering her imposing form.

"That's it!" she said with an explosion of air that had evidently been tightly constrained by her lungs for far too long.

Mesmerized slightly by the rain of dust motes caught in the brilliant afternoon sunshine filtered by the trees outside and by the dirty windows of her apartment, it took me a minute to register the full force of her presence and her declaration, let alone figure out what was upsetting her.

Is something wrong?" I asked superfluously, trying to gain myself some time and perhaps elicit further information before I was forced to commit to a response and perhaps to yet another exercise in frustration with her.

"Have you not been listening?" she asked in sheer disbelief.

This engendered in me a sour feeling of further reduced assurance than I was already harboring. What was I, some sort of NSA operation that I listened in on her every communication?! "I try not to listen to people on the phone," I said, slightly nervously. The truth was that I'd tuned her out completely, and dissolved into a rather soporific day-dream, the memory of lunch still heavy on my stomach as it was.

Jane gave me one of her 'what do I have to do with you' looks and took a deep breath. "Dick no longer wants to run with me. He says I'm too slow for his pace and he's found a new partner. This is the guy I got back on his feet, and now I'm back to running alone. In these streets." She paused and I suddenly got the feeling that this was all about to come back on me. It always does. I hadn't even begun to get my head-shake in motion before her face took on a look like it was the dawn of a new age and she asked, "Why the hell don't you go running?"

Seeing that look on her face, I must admit I suddenly felt like it.

©Ian Wood 2014

Now let's consider that same event as written in the 'victim's' diary:

So I had lunch with Jane this afternoon, and we ended up back at her place, which is still a mess, and Dick the dick calls her out of the blue to say he's ditching her as a running partner. Now she expects me to saddle up. That ain't gonna happen. OTOH, I'm not about to let her start running these streets again on her own.
©Ian Wood 2014

See the difference? Obviously no one writes a diary the same way as everyone else, so your idea of a diary entry will differ from mine, but I guarantee you no one writes a diary like the first example, either; that's how it's written when it's not actually a diary but is actually a novel outright lying that it's a diary. In the same vein, no one writing a real reminiscence writes like Agostino Leyre is supposed to be doing here, so from the off, this thing shouted fake to me (but this kind of falsehood will win you medals and 'literary' prizes!). How did I get past that last time? I honestly don't know.

One thing I became really tired of hearing was multiple repetitions of "Santa Maria delle Grazie". This is simply a church name: Holy Mary of Grace. What I didn't get is why these names are never translated in novels? Why is everything else translated (for example, we might get Rome, not Roma in a novel or Florence in place of Firenze), but then we get Santa Maria delle Grazie? It makes no sense. Nor did it make sense to keep repeating this instead of simply referring to it as "the church" or "the cathedral" or some other variation. Just a pet peeve!

So the story is about Da Vinci hiding secrets in his paintings, and an anonymous "Soothsayer" making prophecies, and Leyre's investigation into this. I honestly don't recall the ending (or most of the plot). I just remember that I once liked this, but now apparently don't! So I can't recommend it!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Very Long Engagement by Sébastien Japrisot

Title: A Very Long Engagement
Author: Sébastien Japrisot
Publisher: Simply Audio Books
Rating: WARTY!

This review is one of a brace of forays into World War fiction which I undertook this month. The other is Anne Frank's Tales from the Secret Annex which I have to say right now blew this one completely away. Anne Frank can write. This guy cannot, but I'll bet he's won more pretentious and snotty medals and acclaim than Anne ever will. Sébastien Japrisot is an anagram of the author's real name: Jean-Baptiste Rossi. I don't know why, but there it is. Consequently, all of my future novels will be penned by Waid Ono. Look for them on a loose bookshelf near you!

This novel is about a woman who wastes a significant portion of her life chasing a guy who isn't to be found because he's someone else and too stupid to grasp it. It's one of the most tediously pedantic novels I have ever not read. It should be neither seen nor heard. I picked it up thinking it looked really interesting. It isn't. Not even a little bit. It's tiresome and plodding, and as dense as a plate of day-old spaghetti. Don't start this novel unless you have a toolkit to hand for extricating deeply-embedded components, and preferably one of those fire department jaws-of-life devices for prying open the impacted and inscrutable.

The premise is that of a World War 1 widow/fiancée named Mathilde (aka Mary Sue) Donnay, disbelieving that her husband/fiancé, Jean Etchevery, aka Manech, is dead, and tracking him down after the war. She can afford this as a war widow/fiancée in 1919 because she is the spoiled brat of rich family. No word on how she ended up with that particular husband or why her family didn't cut her off because of him! No word either on Spanish flu, which was rampaging across Europe back then, but which didn't exist according to Sébastien Jean-Baptiste Rossi-Japrisot.

A lot of the novel's tediousness comes from two sources, both of which happen to be the author. The first of these is his verbal diarrhea in compulsively describing every last detail of everybody who is even tangentially involved in the story whether those details have any bearing on the plot or not. Stephen King would be proud of this writer. The other is in the abysmally artificial use of correspondence.

You that know that when novelist falls back upon quoting letters (or diary entries, for that matter, or newspaper articles) in the novel they're there for two reasons: first of all the novelist is just plain lazy; secondly, they're stupid if they imagine for a minute that they will fool us by adding a letter that miraculously (and in detail, yet!) moves the plot precisely to where it needs to go next. No one writes letters (or diaries or newspaper articles) like that, not even in 1919.

After the first disk on this audio CD, I had no interest at all in the five men who disappeared, one of whom was the woman's paramour. First it became immaterial to me whether they were ever found, and then I actively began wishing that they would be gone forever. Please interpret that how you wish. Mathilde does find pain-in-the-Manech in the end: he's lost his memory and the jerk-off was too incurious about his past to go looking, so she wisely ditches him and heads home. The end.

I rate this novel trench-mouth warty.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Pride and Prejudice (manga) by Jane Austen

Rating: WORTHY!

Edited by Stacy King
Illustrated by Po Tse

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.

p232 " what's the different?" should be " what's the difference?"
p369 'devaintArt' should be 'DeviantArt'

Since I adore Pride and Prejudice, this is really just a review of this manga presentation of it, not of the novel itself (which I also reviewed on this blog), and as far as that went, it went very far.

I confess that I was rather surprised that I got this opportunity to review another volume from UDON Entertainment after I didn't like their classic manga Les Misérables earlier this month, but I'm glad they took a chance on me again so I can offer the other side of the coin in this case. Hopefully this will serve as a thank you! And kudos to UDON!

Perhaps this is my shameless bias showing through, but I loved this one from the start (or the end - yes, I still have issues with reading backwards in an English language graphic novel!). The text was very well written, expertly précis'd down from Austen's original, but not losing an iota of meaning or import. Stacy King did a magnificent job with that, and Po Tse was every bit her equal in conveying the images to compliment and augment the text.

The novel had a light, airy feel to it, yet it didn't fail to tell the story with power and gravity (and some laughs). I particularly enjoyed the scene where Elizabeth refuses Darcy's proposal.

Of course, in my terribly biased book, nothing can supersede the performances of Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth in the BBC's 1995 TV series, but this manga I would rank second only to that - it's that good.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Title: Ink Exchange
Author: Nathaniel Hawthorne
Publisher: Recorded books
Rating: WARTY!

I didn't have to read this - I had it read to me by Flo Gibson on CD. Flo reads it appropriately. For a while, I thought it was Prynne, in her old age, recording her true confession, but it isn't. It's really Flo.

Nathanial Hathorne was born July 4th. He later changed his name to the commonly used spelling, because he didn't want to be associated with John Hathorne, a relative who was the only judge at the Salem witch trials to never acknowledge his murderous guilt in condemning so many innocent women to death in the name of the supposedly Holy Bible. The novel is an historical romance by two means: it was written going on for two hundred years ago, but it's set some two hundred years prior to that, in Puritan Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

Most people think of The Scarlet Letter as being a novel about one woman's dignity in the aftermath of what was then (and still is by all-too-many) believed to be a grave sin: adultery (by extension, sex between two children is infantry…). This novel isn’t about that at all. It’s about the complete and utter failure of organized religion. This novel is fiction, but it illustrates all-too-starkly how religion has failed: failed in and of itself, and predictably failed the people who invented it out of their blind ignorance and weak desperation.

It shows how Christians are hypocritical to their roots, and while you may rail at that, claiming that this is fiction, not a documentary, the fact remains that there isn’t a single thing depicted in this novel which has not actually happened in real life - and which continues to happen even today. Indeed, Hawthorne based this story on what he knew of several people from the era in which his novel is set. Prynne seems to have been named after Hester Craford and William Prynne.

Salem resident Hester Craford was convicted of adultery in 1668 by Judge William Hathorne, who was the very ancestor from whom Hawthorne sought to distance himself by adding a 'w' to his name! Another source for Hawthorne was undoubtedly Boston resident Elizabeth_Pain, who was buried in the same graveyard in which Hawthorne depicts Prynne being buried. All three of these people lived during the same period (early to mid-17th century) in New England.

One of the central tenets of Christianity is forgiveness, yet we rarely see it, so it's hardly surprising that no one was willing to forgive or forget in this novel! Why is Christianity so lasciviously in bed with hypocrisy? This is a religion which claims to follow Jesus Christ. Not that Jesus or Christ were ever his name. There's no evidence that there ever really was such as person as is depicted in the New Testament: a miracle-working son of a god. But Yeshua (Joshua - the real name we should be dealing with), was a very common name at that time (as were Mary - Miriam - and Joseph - Yusef), and it would be foolish to assert that there were no rabbis ever carrying that name. But while one or more such rabbis may have had an influence upon their followers and kick-started the delusion, I promise you that not a one of them was crucified, died and then came back from the dead two or three days later.

But even if we grant the Christians all of that: everything they claim for their founder, they're still hypocrites, because their founder was not a Christian! He was a Jew who practiced Judaism, not Christianity. Any so-called Christian who is not practicing Judaism is not a follower of this Yeshua, and even those westerners (or easterners) who might be such practitioners are still clueless, because the 'Jesus' they worship specifically stated that he had not come for the Gentiles, but only for the 'House of Israel' - so if your mother isn’t Jewish, you're not eligible! Modern Christians are not followers of Jesus anyway; they're followers of Saul, the snake in the tree who very effectively derailed this fledgling religion (as was his purpose all along!). Jesus lost, Paul won, and all his followers are hypocrites. Those self-same "puritans" who fled persecution in England, then turned right around and persecuted others!

The novel begins in 1642 when Hester Prynne is publicly condemned and humiliated as one of the original scarlet woman, for an adulterous relationship she had after her husband, who intended upon following her to Boston, was lost at sea, and presumed dead. In reality he was living amongst the natives where he no doubt learned his alternative medicine. Why Prynne was condemned so strenuously whilst no effort at all was expended upon seeking out her deflowerer is at the feet, again, of the Christian church, which has been down on women ever since Miriam the Magdalene was fictitiously turned into a prostitute at the behest of a dumb-ass pope (and you know the Pope is infallible right? Ri-ight!

Prynne is condemned to wear a scarlet letter 'A' visible on her person at all times. Any woman with the virtues with which Prynne is typically invested would have worn it on her ass. Prynne wears it on her breast as if to say, "Thanks for the mammaries". For reasons which are never revealed, she refuses to name her despoiler. It turns out, no surprises here, to be one of the local clergy, Arthur Dimmesdale, who only 'fesses up when he's dying.

By amazing coincidence, when Prynne is up on the scaffold, doing the first part of her penance, her husband shows up, but such a lowlife is he that he pretends to be an itinerant physician, takes the name of Roger Chillingworth, and never acknowledges that Prynne is his wife. He takes up residence in the town, obsessed in finding out who the father of Prynne's child is, rather than striving to support his wife.

At one point, the local governor tells Prynne that he's considering taking her child away from her to have young Pearl raised in a home which has a mom who is not a 'loose woman', but Prynne swears that she will never give up her child. Dimmesdale at least, sides with her on this and talks the governor out of taking Pearl away; then he toddles off home to flagellate himself and re-ink the scarlet 'A' which he has tattooed secretly on his own chest. Way to man up!

Prynne settles in a cottage upon her release from jail, although how she affords it, and even makes a living selling her needle-point is a mystery. At that time, the population of Boston was minuscule. The city had been founded only a decade before this novel is set. It's a bigger mystery why no god came through for her with his long-suffering forgiveness and helped her out by asking everyone "Who wants to throw the first stone?" So now Prynne has paid three penalties for this same 'crime': confessing and standing for three hours on the town scaffold, time in jail, and the permanent wearing o' the A. Wanna go for triple jeopardy?!

Eventually, Dimmesdale (no explanation is offered as to why he never married Prynne) dies in her arms after finally 'fessing up; then Chillingworth magically dies. Prynne and Pearl travel to Europe, where Pearl stays and marries, but Prynne for reasons unknown, returns to her cottage in Boston and lives out her years still wearing the 'A' instead of creating a new life for herself in Europe. What a moron!

I honestly can't recommend this novel at all. The first part (the 'Introductory') is the most tedious, monotonously dissipated pile of crap you will ever hear (or read). Some parts of what followed got almost interesting, but there was way too much of Hawthorne's endless rambling, self-congratulatory diversions to hold actual interest. I can, however, see why this is considered a classic: it's a classic pile of crap and is one of the very few books that I would actually support being banned from schools! Reading this did, however, give me an idea for a novel of my own, so it wasn't a complete loss for me!