Showing posts with label audio book. Show all posts
Showing posts with label audio book. Show all posts

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Heart and the Fist by Eric Greitens


Rating: WORTHY!

This was yet another audiobook I picked up on spec from my sterling local library, and while I confess to some disappointment in it, I have to recommend this as a worthy read overall.

The blurb makes much of the author's Navy Seal training and service, but that portion of this story occupied less than a third of the book! This disappointed me, because it was the part in which I was most interested. The rest of the book covers his time in college, which includes some interesting experiences in Rwanda and China, but he also rambled on and on...and on about boxing, which bored the pants off me (fortunately, not literally, which would have been embarrassing), but I skipped this part wholesale.

For me this was the biggest problem with what was otherwise a decent read: the author seemed not to know how to prioritize, which felt to me like an extraordinary flaw in a writer whose professional career must have consisted - as an officer in the Seals - in reliably and ably setting priorities! I guess he wrote about what made most impression on him without wondering if it would have that same impact on the reader.

While his entire story, taken as a whole, was worth listening to, I can't help but think that others might have wished for more about his military experiences too; however, what there was of them was educational and of real interest, and this is the part to which I listened most intently. Once again he reiterates what I've heard from other knowledgeable and competent sources: torture isn't the way to get information out of terrorism suspects. Who knew?!

The book is read by the author and he does a good job. I'm very much in favor of authors reading their own work in audiobooks although it seems to happen infrequently. I don't think anyone can feel their work better than the person who wrote it, and therefore cannot give it the life it deserves like the author can. There were times when this author's diction was less than crystal clear, and he had a habit of starting a sentence five by five (as a military person might say) and then tending somewhat to a wooden two by two as he finished which resulted in an incoherent mumble form time to time, but this was no big deal.

There was one section where he went on at length about a ceremony involved in crossing the equator for the first time, but while I am sure this was memorable and meaningful to him, it was completely lost on me as far as entertaining reading goes, and once again it went on interminably. I lost patience with that and skipped it as I did with his boxing stories. Other than that I found this book to be eminently listenable, moving, and satisfying, and I recommend it.


Friday, April 6, 2018

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo


Rating: WORTHY!

Read with gusto and love by Jenna Lamia, this was an adorable audiobook story. It was literally short and sweet and very amusing. The three main characters were brilliantly-drawn and admirably entertaining. The author's name was so familiar to me that I thought I'd read something by her before, but I can't find any record of it, so this is evidently my first encounter. I plan on it not being the last. This was a pleasant find. I tend to experiment a lot more with audiobooks than other formats, and many of them fail because of that. Once in a while a gem like this comes along and makes all of the unsatisfactory assaults on my ears bearable!

Raymie isn't a Nightingale, she's a Clarke. Nightingale is the book about Florence (of the lamp, not of Tuscany, which is really Firenza) which Raymie was taking to read to a resident of a retirement home (Raymie has to do good deeds). Raymie is missing her father, who ran off with a dental hygienist, and she figures if she wins the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition (which requires good deeds and baton-twirling), her father would see her picture in the paper and be so proud of her, and miss her so much that he would immediately return home and all would be well.

Raymie has a lot to learn about guys.

Also competing in the contest is Louisiana Elefante, daughter of the Flying Elefantes, the famous trapeze artists, now deceased. Louisiana has 'swampy lungs', and is living with her kleptomaniac grandmother. They are so poor that Louisiana is counting on winning the contest to shore-up their finances.

Beverly Tapinski has no intention of winning the contest. She hates these contests so much that she's dedicated to sabotaging this one. The only reason these three girls meet is that they all show up for baton-twirling lessons as taught by the irascible Ida Knee who is the antithesis of long-suffering. The girls don't really get along too well to begin with, but inevitably they get into bizarre and amusing mishaps and scrapes, and are drawn into a tight trio who call themselves The Rancheros (it's Louisiana's idea). That's all I'm going to tell you. Like I said, the story is short and it's fun, so what have you to lose? Very little time if you don't like it. I loved it and I recommend it.


Upside Down magic by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, Emily Jenkins


Rating: WARTY!

Prior to this novel, Sarah Mlynowski was batting a thousand with me after two novels. Emily Jenkins, aka E Lockhart, was batting five hundred after six books, and I'd never read anything by Lauren Myracle. This one has besmirched each of their escutcheons.

To be fair, it's not aimed at me, but it was written so badly I have to say you would have to be a kid with truly low standards to find this limp and frivolous effort entertaining. The main character is simply stupid, and this turned me off her right away. I don't mind a character who starts out stupid and wises up, but when the character remains dumb, and especially if it's a female character, I find the book irksome and want to remove its spine, to put it into 'Drax the Destroyer' terminology.

This is the story of three young kids who fail to get into a prestigious magic academy which is run by the father of one of the characters. Instead they go to the Upside Down magic school and they don't like it. They're incompetent, and it takes them forever to figure out what's wrong. This means that the school has failed them badly and is obviously really, really awful at teaching, but this disturbing proposition is never addressed in the writing.

This novel is a clear case of too many cooks spoiling the broth and I do not recommend it.


Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson


Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook I came at from having seen the excellent TV series starring Jason Isaacs (of Star Trek Discovery - not that I watch that sorry excuse for a Star Trek show - and Harry Potter), Amanda Abbington (late of Sherlock), Zawe Ashton (late of Doctor Who: Into the Dalek), and the charming young Millie Innes - who is a true Scot! The TV show was titled Case Histories after the first novel in a series of (so far) four.

I love my library, but oddly enough they didn't have the first novel on CD; they had two others, which were the ones I got. This one is the last of the four. After I started listening to the droning audiobook, I regretted my impulsiveness in requesting two books at once. I listened to half of the first disk and skimmed the last disk on my way back to the library to drop it off! They were both tedious and mindlessly rambling, and nauseatingly droning (the reader was Graeme Malcolm and he was awful and served only to exacerbate the problem with the mindlessly meandering material). I hope the other one I got is better. It can hardly be worse!

This is a Stephen King style novel where the author thinks it's more important to go into endless, pointless minutiae instead of actually getting on with the story. The story is purportedly about a retired detective named Tracy Waterhouse. Her sole memory, it seems, is her encounter as a newly-minted police constable in Edinburgh, Scotland. She and her partner found a strangled woman who was very ripe, having been dead for many days, and also locked in a flat (apartment) with a young child. After that we're back in the present, but by then I'd already lost interest. Jackson Brodie is the hero of these novels, but he's focused on an abused dog. This one has not yet made it to a TV version.

The thing I loved about the TV show is how each story sowed three different seeds at the start, and by the end all three had grown into the same plant. The thing I found weird about the TV show is how few Scots actually live in Edinburgh - if it's judged by the casting! All the main characters were almost always English, not Scots! That may not be cultural appropriation, but it's certainly inappropriate. Othher than that I loved the show and would advise everyone to watch that rather than read these sashaying shambles of stories (assuming the others are as bad as this one was).


Monday, March 26, 2018

The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova


Rating: WARTY!

Another soured audiobook experiment. I typically avoid long novels because it means they're full of filler which ruins the story. Before I started blogging books I read this author's The Historian and quite liked it. I went looking for my review of that, to see what I said about it, but I must have read that before I began blogging so it's nowhere to be had! This story was far too rambling.

When I saw Kostova had out The Swan Thieves I took a look at it, but it didn't appeal to me, especially given what a fat tome it was, so I never read it. I thought it would be boring. This one sounded like it might be more interesting despite Kostova proving herself by this time to be a one-note author. I was wrong! It was rambling and boring. I listened to about an eighth of it (an eighth of a one note and I didn't quaver) and while the reader (Barrie Kreinik) was listenable, the story wasn't. Quite literally nothin happened.

I don't want twenty pages about a woman being driven to a monastery unless all of those twenty are relevant to the story, but that's what I got here (at least it felt like it), and in this case none of it was. Kostova takes a whole chapter to write about a drive from A to B, which has nothing whatsoever to do with moving the action forward, In fact it did quite the opposite. It would be like that movie, Dunkirk about the dramatic evacuation of British troops from French beaches at the onset of World War Two, showing five minutes of action on the beach, five minutes of disembarking the boat at Dover in England, and then two hours in between spent in existential angst during the twenty-mile boat ride, or admiring the beautiful ocean, the action of the waves, the blowing wind, the burning of the surf, the engine noise, the diesel fumes, and declaiming upon ocean wildlife.

Or maybe in that famous car chase in the movie Bullitt, instead of simply showing the car chase as they did, the story focused on backstory and admiring window boxes of flowers as he drove, and stopping to gas-up and get a car wash, and slowing to let the chicken cross the road and so on. I am not kidding about the chicken, it quite literally happened in this story. It ruffled my feathers and I decided that was more than enough for me.

In short I cannot recommend this drivel, and I am now completely done considering this author worth wasting any more time on.


Sunday, March 25, 2018

Sashenka by Simon Sebag Montefiore


Rating: WARTY!

Sashenka was another audiobook experiment I tried that failed. I don't normally go for the longer books because my time is valuable and it's a bigger investment of it to put it into a longer book and have that fail. If it works out, it's great, but given that I take more risks with audiobooks, they tend to fail more than other media, so I tend not to go for the longer ones. This one sounded like it might be good if it worked out, but it didn't.

If it had bee about half the length it was, I might have been willing to invest more time in it, but it was endlessly rambling, jumping back and forth, and worse, the author seemed like he was obsessed with showing off his knowledge of the classics instead of telling a succinct and engaging story. He spewed out title after title, some of which I'd even heard of, but it served the story not at all. Writers who do this are among the most pretentious, substituting books for smarts, and book names for knowledge and sophistication.

Despite this focus on showing how intellectual the main character is, the ham-fisted book blurb describes her - sixteen-year-old Sashenka Zeitlin - as "Beautiful and headstrong" like her best trait is her beauty. I detest writers who reduced women to skin-depth, like a woman has nothing else to offer and their character is quite useless except for her 'beauty'. What does it matter where she is on the dangerously sliding scale of beauty to ugliness if she's an interesting character? Is she so boring that the author has to make her beautiful in order for her to have anything at all to offer the reader? Because that doesn't work for me.

It's not just the book blurb writer. The author himself is equally culpable, sexualizing his character very early on in the story when he informs us that she has the "fullest breasts in her class." How is this remotely relevant to anything? If the story were about sex, then I can see how it would be something of import, but it isn't. It's supposed to be about this woman and her life in Tsarist and then revolutionary Russia. Her breasts are really nothing to do with her story unless she goes to work for the communists seducing political enemies, in which case I could see some relevance. if the tit doesn't fit, you mustn't acquit, and I find this author guilty.

I thought it might start to get interesting when Sashenka is thrown into prison as a political offender because of her association with her uncle, but no! The novel is set in 1916, right before the Russian revolution, and I thought this might make it quite gripping, but the author seems to have sterilized it so effectively that the rich soil of a potentially entertaining novel is reduced to unproductive sand.

The only interesting thing to me was the repeated mention of gendarmes, which I had never heard of in connection with Russia, but these were the political police. It would have made more sense to call them jandarmov, which is how the Russians pronounced it.

The author may be able to write knowledgeable non-ficiton about this era, but he has no clue how to write a gripping novel, a compelling main character, or realistic female characters.


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Wonder Woman Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo


Rating: WARTY!

This is the first book in a series of four novels (not graphic!) based on DC icons. I don't know all of them, but I believe two of the others are Catwoman: Soulstealer by Sarah J. Maas (author of the execrable Throne of Glass which I panned) and Batman: Nightwalker by Marie Lu (author of the execrable Legend which I panned!). The rule here seems to be that if you write a really bad YA romance trilogy, then you can get a contract from DC comics! This is why I favor Marvel!

Leigh Bardugo is of course the author of the execrable Shadow and Bones which I also panned, so why am I reading (read: listening to) this? I admit I thought twice about picking up this volume precisely because of the author, but I was curious to see how she would handle something which wasn't her own creation. She mishandled it badly, making Wonder Woman look like some clueless, air-headed teenager. Wonder Woman Warbringer? Crappy title as well! Not that the 'warbringer' referred to WW.

At this point I am convinced that Bardugo simply cannot create intelligent female characters, but I started out by being honestly curious as to what she would do with such a being (and especially so, now Wonder Woman's profile has been raised so high by the excellent Patty Jenkins movie). This novel came out in 2017 - the same year as the Wonder Woman movie, and what a contrast here is between the two! Bardugo has another disaster on her hands.

This one started out seeming like it was just another origin story, and it completely contradicted the one told in the movie, which as far as I'm concerned is canon at this point - especially since the comic books are always retelling their stories. Seriously? If there's one thing we really do not need more of, it's super hero origin stories!

I don't know how the author came into this: did they hire her and tell her to write this particular story or did they hire her and ask her to write a story about Wonder Woman, leaving the actual choice up to her? Or did she send them a story outline that she wanted to do and they agreed? I don't have those answers, so all I can do is base this review on what I read - or in this case listen to, since this was an audiobook.

Audiobooks are very experimental for me. I listen to them while driving, so my attention is most often on the road, not the book, but I can still follow what's going on. Since I'm a captive audience several times a week, I get through quite a few of these and I also take more risks with what I select to listen to, and therefore run the risk of more failures in finding things which please me, but I also find many gems this way.

The novel was read by Mozhan Marnò who didn't do too bad of a job except that her pronunciation wandered at times. She pronounced Themyscira for example, as thought it were "Them is scarier" which, given Amazons, perhaps isn't too far adrift, but all it did was make me laugh every time she said it. Themyscira (Greek Θεμίσκυρα) was a real place and it's pronounced with a soft 'th' sound as in 'thought' not in 'this'. It should sound a bit like Theh-mees-keer-a, with equal stress on all syllables but maybe a touch more on the 'mees' part - as far as I know. This begs the question as to why they got a woman of Iranian descent to read this rather than one of Greek descent?

This book began with Diana, aka Wonder Woman to be, taking part in a foot race. Normally the princess doesn't do this, but in this case she wants to assert her growing womanhood and take what she believes to be her rightful place as an Amazon woman rather than a cosseted royal. unfortunately, a sinking schooner on the coastline distracts her, and she ends up diving in, pulling out a woman, and saving her life.

This is where the first confusion rose because one of her friends on Themyscira is an Irish woman, yet when she pulls this (almost-) drowning victim from the sea, she talks of her as human. Was the Irish Amazon not human? If she was Amazon and not human, then how is she Irish? This made no sense to me at all. I thought all Amazons were human, except Diana, who was fashioned from clay.

The problems with the writing began here because Diana is in fear now of being punished because of her transgression in saving this woman's life and bringing her onto the island, yet Bardugo forgets that Diana is a princess of royal blood. She has this fellow Amazon bullying her with absolute no blow-back, and she has Diana living in fear of failure and of being punished!

Diana did not read as royal at all, not remotely, let alone heroic! She was just another Bardugo schoolgirl character. This was when I realized that it was Bardugo, not Diana who was out of her depth here. She simply cannot write an engaging story, period, not even when it's handed to her on a plate like this.

The story did not improve, it got worse. Diana had a critical deadline to meet regarding this woman she had rescued, and yet she spent so much time lollygagging on the way until it became a last minute thing. In short, Bardugo made Diana look like a moron, not heroic at all, and I can't forgive her for that. She made Diana into a man with tits instead of telling the story of an amazingly powerful, yet restrained woman. There was no gentility or even femininity here. It was all brawn and power, not compassion and smarts, and the villain was telegraphed right from the start of the story such that even I could recognize them. I'm done with reading anything else by this authors, and I cannot recommend this story.


Monday, March 12, 2018

Tomb of the Golden Bird by Elizabeth Peters


Rating: WARTY!

Set at the time when Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun, this novel is number 18 in the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters aka Barbara Mertz, PhD in Egyptology, but not in writing exciting adventures or thrilling prose. I wasn't aware of this being another in a series I'd already dismissed, since I'd effectively wiped my memory of the previous read!

One of the biggest problems with it was yet another author's inability to grasp that first person voice is worst person voice and should not be used in any novel unless there was a damned good reason for it. Her mistake was revealed here repeatedly by her habit of switching from first person to third person by quoting from some document which was evidently one of the family's other member's record of events. It didn't work and was truly annoying. When will these idiot writers learn to ditch first person altogether unless they can actually justify it and make it work?

This one I stayed with longer than the previous one and found some parts of it interesting and amusing, but ultimately the plot turned out to be as dry as Egyptian sand, and the story went on and on way too long, destroying the warmer feelings I'd harbored for it earlier, and since I found this ultimately to be a tedious read (read; listen!), I shall not be pursuing any more novels by Elizabeth Peters aka Barbara Michaels!

I thought the story might have something to do with the truly amazing discovery of "king Tut's" tomb, but it really didn't. It was to do with some plot to overthrow a government and there were so many red herrings that it stunk of mummified fish, os the thing I was most interested in was merely set decoration. There really was nothing much about the tomb discovery. The rest of the novel was the retarded family rambling on and on about various matters which in part in the beginning was amusing but which became ever more boring the longer the novel went on.

One of the few things which actually made this listenable for me was the reading of Barbara Rosenblatt, who did an amazing job of voice characterization, and of the reading in general. I can see why she's won so many awards for it. Se had equal facility for both male and female voices and did a fine job overall. Sadly, the novel wasn't up to her high standards, and I cannot recommend it!


Friday, March 2, 2018

A Thousand Never Evers by Shana Burg


Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook which was read really sweetly by Kenya Brome, but while I would listen to her read a different story, I don't think I would want to read another story by this author because I was so very disappointed in this one. I think it had such potential, but the real story, of this young boy Elias on the run from a potential lynch mob, was completely subsumed under this farcical fluff story of a community garden being sabotaged by these rampaging butterbeans, and how this guy named Bump Dawson, and African American, was being blamed for it.

Set in 1963 in Mississippi, the story tells of a racially-divided community with black folk living literally on the wrong side of the tracks, which I felt was a bit much. They are of course criminally subjugated in every way, but things get stirred-up for the worse when the old man of the "Big House" where Bump and Addy (the twelve year old narrator) work, dies of old age. He leaves some land to the community and specifies in his will that it should be shared by whites and "negroes" but of course the white powers that be - the sheriff and mayor - aren't about to let no "uppity" black folk have a share in anything if they can help it.

It's decided that a garden should be planted with vegetables, and the black folk can work it and the vegetables shared. It's not specified whether the non-white community would get anything out of this. What happens though is that someone plants butterbeans all over the garden. There are two kinds of butter beans (or lima beans as they're also known). One type grows as a bush. The type in this story are supposed to be grown on frames. Since these beans were scattered all over the plot and had nothing to climb on, they supposedly grew wild vines which strangled everything else, ruining all the other things that had been planted.

To me, this was a stretch at best, because it assumes that not one single person other than the villain of the piece ever went to look at how the crops were progressing, and no one went to water it or pull weeds. The villain was a white guy who owned a grocery store, and who sabotaged the community garden because he thought it would take business away from his store, but it was Bump Dawson who was put on trial for it. Had this been the whole story and nothing but the story, that would have been one thing, but it wasn't.

Prior to the butter bean fiasco, a pair of white kids, heroes of the local football team, had been bullying Addy, and her older brother had flown off the handle, beaning one of the bullies with a glass jar containing a preserve or something. I forget exactly. That could have killed this kid. Fortunately it didn't, but being as it was - a black kid assaulting a white kid in 1963 Mississippi, there would be a lynching more than likely, so Addy's brother Elias goes on the lam, and the author tries to pretend he drowned, but it's obvious he didn't.

To me, this was the focal point right here, but the author derailed that one completely, ruining what could have been a great story, with this overly melodramatic butter bean garbage. So for me the story failed. It cheapened and trivialized Elias's story which was much more interesting. Yes, he was provoked, but his reaction had been foolishly out of proportion. He could have been charged with attempted murder, and by the end of the story he escaped justice. Not that there was justice to be found for black folks back then, and precious little even today in far too many cases.

I know this story was aimed at middle-grade kids, but it was a very one-dimensional story and racist in some ways in that white people were all lumped together under the banner 'white folk' who all supposedly had the same traits: all white folk do this or all white folk think that. That kind of bigotry was no better than what the African Americans had to deal with on a daily basis, so for these reasons, I cannot rate this as a worthy read.

There are better stories out there than this, and I wish authors wouldn't cheapen the tragedy of an appalling and shamefully racist past and a present that is in many ways still as bad, by churning out bland stories which bring nothing new to the table and worse, which turn people off even reading such stories because of this constant harping on the topic by writers who really need to tell stories that move and motivate instead of putting people to sleep or making their ears glaze over by regurgitating the same old stuff that's already been done to death, without even the courtesy of adding something new.


Thursday, March 1, 2018

Wandmaker by Ed Masessa


Rating: WARTY!

This is very much in the mold of Harry Potter. The main character is Henry Leach and I've decided not to read another young magician novel in which the main character has a first name beginning with H and ending with Y. The wands on the cover look suspiciously like props from the Harry Potter movies, but we can't blame the author for that - except to blame him for trusting Big Publishing™ instead of publishing it himself and making his own cover! This was an audiobook and I wasn't particularly impressed with the reader, but it was really the story which wasn't engaging me at all.

Henry is supposed to hail from a long line of wand-makers on both his parents' sides of the family, so he has special powers, we're led to believe, but he came across as being something of an idiot to me. His mother is not in the picture for reasons which were never gone into in the portion I listened to (which was less than half). The world-building wasn't great, so I felt lost much of the time, but part of this could well be because I became bored and irritated and skipped parts of the story; however, even when I was listening to it sequentially and with interest at the beginning, it still failed to give me a good feel for the world, and how Henry came to be where he was in it.

The secondary characters were singularly unimpressive. His kid sister Brianna was such a dedicated brat that she was entirely unlikeable, as was his father, who seemed to have an evil streak in him. Apparently he goes missing later in the story so this is a good thing. Henry's mentor, Coralis (which name sounds like some sort of software app) was simply tedious, although this may have had a lot to do with the reader of the audiobook.

In short I could not get into this and have absolutely no desire to follow a series about this character. I cannot recommend it based on what I listened to, but this is par for the course for many audiobooks since I tend to experiment more with them.


Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson


Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook experiment. The blurb sounded wonderful, but the story, not so much. Read pretty decently by Kirsten Porter, the story was supposed to be a sequel to Hattie Big Sky about little orphan Hattie who inherits a homestead. I never read the original, but in this sequel, we learn of Hattie Inez Brooks that "Nothing can squash her desire to write for a big city newspaper." Except the author, who never lets her near a story. Hattie never reports on anything (at least not in the portions that I listened to). She claims she wants to report; she moves to San Francisco purportedly to pursue her desire; she reads newspapers, but nowhere did she ever pursue a story. It was pathetic.

This is one good reason why I rarely like series! The story falls apart! I can't speak for the first volume, but I understand it told the story of sixteen-year-old Hattie taking over a homestead that was bequeathed to her, and making a go of it. It sounds like a Mary Sue prequel, but given that opening story, how she changed from fighting for that, to completely abandoning both it and her love so easily is a complete mystery.

I didn't even realize this was a sequel at first, and if I had known there was a volume one and it had won a Newbery, I would have avoided it and this one like the plague. This second volume was pretty pathetic and exactly what I would expect from a Newbery author. Newbery is a stamp of approval for bland and tedious. I would feel insulted if I were ever offered one and I would turn it down.

So, I listened to two of the five disks, skimmed the third, and then listened to portions of the last one, so I think I got a pretty fair sampling of it, and nothing changed. The story should have been titled 'Flaccid Ever After', or 'Mary Sue Goes to Washington...er San Francisco' since everything she dreams of seems to fall into her lap without her having to strive for a single thing. And this is after she callously ditches her love for her career. Kirby Larson is known for her children's books. I positively reviewed one of these, titled Dash in September of 2017, but listening to this, it was easy to see why she's known for writing for children and not for adults.

I got the impression that the author had done a lot of research, but instead of using that as background for her story, she was so thrilled with herself over how much she knew about the era that she wanted to lecture the reader about it, and so instead of actually telling Hattie's story, the author spent almost the entire time showing off her research. Instead of a story, we got a series of info dumps, and the whole thing was a sorry mess. I cannot recommend this based on my experience of it.


Saturday, February 24, 2018

A Crack in the Sea by HM Bouwman


Rating: WARTY!

This audiobook was a sorry mess. It seemed like it might be a fun children's fantasy, but it turned out to be a lecture about slavery. Slavery was horrible, period. It should never have happened, but Christian people perpetrated these crimes on innocent Africans (the Bible supports slavery - or at the very least doesn't condemn it), and these obnoxious criminals set in motion issues we're still dealing with today, particularly in the USA.

The problem with a book like this is that slavery has been so done that there's nowhere else to go with it unless you offer a viable new perspective as the Black Panther movie did for example, and this novel did not. Just to harp on it again as this story does is a serious mistake in my opinion because all it does is make people's ears glaze over. The story is lost on the audience. It becomes background noise and it fails to shock or motivate as it should. That's not acceptable, and I think it would have been more à propos if the novel had dealt with modern ongoing issues, which admittedly are rooted in the slave trade, but which have much more relevance and currency today.

While there were some amusing parts and some interesting parts, overall this novel in the end was just a jumble of disconnected and ill-fitting parts which really spoiled the story for me. I grew bored with it quickly and started skimming, then I simply jumped to the end and listened to it for a little while, but I became bored even with it, and gave up on it. The basic story is that there are two worlds, and some slaves who either jumped overboard or were tossed overboard because they were sick, are rescued by magical characters and who walk line-astern, holding hands, on the seabed until they arrive in the second world. I think slaves deserved a better memorial than this.

In this second world there are islanders and rafters, and the Raft King wants to take his people back to the original world and repatriate them. In order to do this he kidnaps Pip, and adoptee child, who can talk to fish and whom the king believes can open the portal to the first world. Why he'd ever want to go back to such a cruel, brutal, and racist world is a complete mystery that isn't unraveled in any of the parts I listened to.

So once Pip is gone, his adoptee sister, Kinchen, wants to go after him. She's aided in this by a girl the Raft King left behind in an "exchange" for Pip. This story might have been fine had the author not continually derailed it by having some old dude tell stories which were frankly boring, about two other kids, Swimmer and the "Water Drinker who will become Venus" (or words to that effect). If I heard that last name once I heard it a gazillion times. It was mind-numbing. Apparently there were also two other siblings, refugees from Vietnam, Thanh and his sister Sang, but I never got to that part and frankly I am glad I didn't because it seems to me the author had no faith in her original story and felt she had to lard it up with two other stories. Bad idea, especially in a children's story.

I cannot recommend this mess.


Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King


Rating: WARTY!

I don't think Ive ever had a month quite as bad as this for finding one read after another to be disappointing. Only one out of sixteen reads so far?! To be fair a lot of those were audiobooks in which I take a lot more risk than I do with other formats, so I tend to see more failures there than anywhere. This one was no better. I'm expecting things to pick up int eh next few reviews, however, so hang in there!

I've long given up on Stephen King, but a friend recommended this one and I decided to try it since it was so short (at least as compared with King's standard overblown, massively-bloated tomes), but once again he failed to move me. This was an audiobook read quite delightfully by Anne Heche as it happens. I'm a fan of hers, but even she could not overcome the improbable material. The main character is nine years old, but she's written as a far more mature character than that and it simply didn't ring true, so I lost suspension of disbelief right from the off. Worse: the story was rambling and uninteresting, and overcooked with artificial ingredients that will make you sick. It did me anyway.

The story is that Trisha gets lost on the Appalachian trail when she wanders off the track to take a leak. Her lousy mom is so busy childishly arguing with her petulant older brother that neither of them notices that she's gone. Trisha inevitably gets lost, and instead of working logically (as her far too mature brain ought to have) she makes things ever worse for herself by wandering further and further from the track, never once considering backtracking, until she blunders accidentally back onto a main road where a hunter fortunately doesn't shoot her but gets her to safety. And in one of the most sickly endings ever, estranged mom and dad magically get back together again. Barf.

This could have been a decent story in better hands, but it's all been done before. King could have chosen to write it a little differently, but you know he can't write a story that doesn't involve bogey men, so there is one chasing Trisha that's entirely a product of her own mind, which admittedly isn't absurdly mature, but it is tiresomely childish. We're expected to believe that her vast passion for baseball (not actually hers as it happens, but King's - yawn) is what saves her and keeps her going. Ho hum.

It's a tedious, tedious, asinine, and thoroughly unrealistic story that you know is coming from the brain of a man in his fifties which isn;t remotely like the brain of a nine-year-old girl. I'd expect a story like this from a first time amateur who was out of good ideas for a novel, but not from a seasoned writer. I'd even go so far as to say if this had been submitted as a first novel by an unknown, it would, rightly or wrongly, never have been published.

After the first sixth of the novel I began skimming and it didn't improve. This one had these utterly pointless and asinine drum and cymbal riffs at the start of each chapter for no evident reason. Why audiobook publishers feel an utterly braindead need to inject music into a story I have no idea, but it pisses me off. The author never wrote this music! What is it doing here? I hate it when they add music to novels which the author never had anything to do with. If an author of King's power and influence cannot keep it out of one of his novels, then what hope is there for any of us except to avoid Big Publishing™ like the plague?

If the sound disaffects had been baseball calls and cheers or something like that, I could have at least understood it even as I detested it, but drum riffs? cowbells? Cymbal zings? It made zero sense to me. Please, audiobook publishers, get a clue! It's about the writer and what they've written, not about your dumbass audiobook producer's frustration with his or her complete lack of musical talent. It's an insult to try to tart up a good story with irritating bells and whistles, and it makes a tiresome story like this one so much more obnoxious. In the end it was one more Big Fail by Big Publishing™ and I flatly refuse to recommend this disaster.


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Before I Met You by Lisa Jewell


Rating: WARTY!

Read beautifully by Jane Collingwood, this audiobook still failed to impress me. It began well enough, but it's one of those books which tells parallel stories, one in the present, the other in the past. Normally I do not go for this type of story but this one sounded like it might be interesting and after my first exposure to this author, I was eager for more and requested two more of her books on audio from the library. I was not excited by either one as it happened.

The story was interesting to begin with, but quickly moved from the main character's childhood to her adulthood, where it became significantly less interesting. There were one or two times when the historical portion was most interesting, and an occasion or two when it paled in comparison with the present, but in the end, both two stories became tedious and predictable, and were quite literally going nowhere.

I was also turned off by the amount of drinking and smoking going on in this book. It was disgusting and turned me off the characters. I sincerely hope that Britain isn't the chimney fire depicted here. It was gross. In the end my distaste applies to the whole book it was not entertaining, and it could have been. I felt it was a waste of my time and worse, a waste of a novel. It's a pity we can't bill the authors for the time we waste reading novels that don't truly transport us, isn't it? It would lead to a much better quality of novel than we all too often get, I assure you!


Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell


Rating: WARTY!

Another experimental audiobook, but this time slightly less experimental (at least that's what I hoped!), since I really liked the first novel I encountered from this author, The Girls in the Garden, which actually had been an experiment. While that novel was fresh and entertaining, with interesting characters and a plot that moved, this novel just bored the pants off me from the very start from its very tone. Part of the blame for that has to be laid at the door of Karina Fernandez, the reader, whose voice was rather annoying to listen to, but she couldn't have managed that without the author's contribution! I could have managed to cope with her voice had what she been reading been more interesting.

The book isn't even like a novel, it's like being trapped on a bus or on the subway by someone choosing you to sit next to, and who then insists upon you hearing their entire life story and doesn't care that you were trying to read something infinitely more interesting than anything they had to say to you!

Sometimes a character like that can be interesting, especially for a writer to listen to, but that wasn't the case here. It was an endless tedious rant about family and kids and who had how many and who was born first and who did what and thought what and none of it was remotely entertaining or intriguing. I cannot recommend this. Lisa Jewell has one more chance with me. I'll let you know how that goes; hopefully it will be later rather than sooner.


Lovers at the Chameleon Club by Francine Prose


Rating: WARTY!

This is the last thing by Francine Prose I will ever read. I think three audiobooks was enough to give her more than a fair shot at proving she knew what she was talking about in her Reading for Writers book of advice about how to write novels by combing the so-called classics for clues. I wasn't impressed with that, but I decided to try out some of her own fiction to see how well she follows her own advice. She actually doesn't. At all! She writes caricatures and stereotypes; she writes flat uninteresting characters in dreary prose; she writes boring, and tedious and depressing. The book - the parts I could stand to read - felt more like fluff than a story.

As usual the hyperbolic book blurb completely misrepresents the novel. It's actually not a story. Instead it's related through news items, diary entries, letters, and so on, which really turns me off a book. I detest the dear diary parts in particular because they're never, ever, ever written like a real person would write a diary entry. If you're not going to do it that way, then write the damned thing as a story because that's what you're doing anyway, moron, so why the pretentious pretense? This book was racist, celebrates white privilege, and favored the Nazi PoV, which is never a good thing. I have no idea what the writer thought she was doing, but whatever it is, it isn't anything I'm interested in reading, and I am now completely done with this author, permanently


Mister Monkey by Francine Prose


Rating: WARTY!

This was one of the most tedious and clueless books I've ever not read - by that I mean I listened to as much of the audiobook as I could stomach and ditched it pretty quickly. I got into this after reading a book written by this author and titled "Reading for Writers" which purported to teach a writer how to write by paying attention to the so-called classics as though all those authors literally agonized over every word they typed, so I decided to try out her own novels and see how well she does. I wasn't impressed. Not at all.

I'm sure some of those writers did agonize, and perhaps some modern writers still do, but agony doth not a great writer make. My gut feeling is that most of those antique writers simply wrote, correcting now and then of course, but otherwise never giving the writing process very much thought. The reason they did this is that they had a real story to tell about real (if fictional) people who genuinely moved these authors to write, so it required little agony to put it down on paper and little soul-searching. They were all about the story, not about analyzing it to death as we do today, and thereby destroying it in the process. And more than likely they did not dwell on it anally in hindsight like so-called professors of literature do. We could learn a lot from them, but it's not the education that this author thinks we should be getting in my opinion.

I'm not a huge fan of the classics. Do people care about the classics because they're really that great, or because we're force-fed these things in schools and colleges and by pretentious, bombastic critics until they can't think for themselves? There is a massive gulf between the writers who make money from their writing by producing novels which sell well, and the classic emulators who win awards, but about whom no one really cares that much unless they're forced to by college courses and school teachers, and by pretentious "must-read" or "Top 25" lists that try to brow-beat people into reading this book instead of that one for no other reason than that the creator of the list thinks their own opinion is akin to divine guidance.

If you're teaching people who actually want to write modern novels, then you need to read modern novels, not antique and obsolete ones, and you need to consider why it is that people buy this one and not that one. You need to ask why must we be forced to study the work of authors who made little to nothing on what they wrote and who are now being taken advantage of not because they were necessarily brilliant, but merely because they're no longer due any copyright fees, when each and every writer really does not want to be the next classic writer, but the first 'themselves'. They want to write. They need to write, and for my money what they should do is read lots and lots of the genre(s) in which they're interested, and then - in their own voice and using their own characters and plots - write something in that vein. Forget dusty professors who make a comfortable living not from their writing, but from a sinecure. They're not to be trusted.

For the sake of argument, let's pretend the classics do have miraculous things to teach us. This now begs the question: if that method is so great, why does the author of that how-to book not take her own advice? This novel was poorly-written, and it was filled with abusive stereotypes. This seems to be the author's MO, and it was insulting to everything from the chimpanzee (which it constantly and ignorantly referred to as a monkey) to the reader, whom it insults by this novel's very existence.

The author bewails the fact the game hunters shot the chimpanzee's parents, but she describes the locale as a paradoxically-named game preserve, not a wildlife conservation park! That doesn't make it right that the chimps were shot, but neither is it surprising when it's a game preserve that animals die unnecessarily. And no, chimps don't have cute little family units with mom, dad, and 2.2 children like humans do, so why did it matter that mom and dad ape were shot? Mom, yes! Dad? Not so much in a chimp's world. For all her blather about choosing your words, she completely failed here to choose her words wisely.

The title describes a play which is being put on by a bunch of appallingly cardboard and stereotypical actors. It's told from several rather confusing perspectives, and none of them were interesting to me. And blurb-writer? No, the narrative isn't madcap, it's boring. Get that much right, please. I cannot recommend this.



My New American Life by Francine Prose


Rating: WARTY!

Having read (or more accurately, listened to) as much as I could bear of Francine Prose's "Reading for Writers" which purports to teach people to write through fawning over the so-called classic writers, I decided to try some of this author's own fiction and see how she stacked-up against her own advice, and she was so far from it that I found it amusing. I got three of her audiobooks from the library and found all three to be let me say, less than satisfying. I tried to come into the first one neutrally, intending to give it a fair shot (maybe this author writes a lot better than she teaches?), but she quickly disabused me of any such notion.

This author seems like she cannot write about everyday lives and make them interesting. It's like she lacks confidence in her own writing and so has to call on the melodramatic fringe to perk it up a bit. The problem is that she seems able only to trade in stereotypes and caricatures and even about those, it seems she can tell only the most uninteresting stories in the most boring prose. Her writing style is that of poor fan fiction: he said, she said, he said, she said, ad nauseam. It's like that for paragraph after paragraph, unvaried. It is horrible writing.

That an author like this gets to be a professor who purports to teach others to write is a travesty. She doesn't seem to realize there are words other than 'said' which can be employed when ascribing speech to someone, or better yet, that there are many times when you don't actually have to specify who is speaking! Or you can indicate who is speaking by adding an action here and there. Has she not even learned that much from the classics? I mean, I wouldn't abuse this non-ascription as much as Jane Austen did because it can be confusing, but please, no endless 'he said, she said' tedium! Change it up a bit for pity's sake!

This story purports to relate "what it means to be American" but it has nothing to do with being American. Instead, like too many other such stories about the 'huddled masses', this one is all about creating insulting ethnic stereotypes, in this case aimed at the Albanians. This is a derogatory and condescending view of what it means to be an Albanian. According to this author all Albanians are the same: they think the same, dress the same, eat the same, behave the same, and a good many of them are gangsters, if we're to believe this Prose.

A disturbing number of these stories, and this one is no different, seem to be about illegal immigrants. Lula is one such person. She's a mid-twenties Albanian who is involved with gangsters she calls her brothers or cousins, but who aren't related to her. She tries to help one of them who is an out-and-out jerk, and she's too stupid to see how wrong this is and how much she could jeopardize her own future by dishonestly misrepresenting him. In the end she gets rewards she has not earned. Immigrants like Lula, no country needs.

This story was boring, and had no redeeming features. The cast was unlikable and tedious to read about. I cannot recommend this story, and I cannot understand how anyone who writes like this can profess to be a teacher of how to write novels or even someone who can tell good literature from trash.


Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell


Rating: WORTHY!

Also known as "The Girls" this novel should not be confused with The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair, The Girl in the Garden by Melanie Wallace, or The Girl From the Garden by Parnaz Foroutan, none of which I've read, but I am intrigued that two of these have authors with rather exotic names! Shades of The Perfumed Garden (but not fifty shades)! Anyway this novel was another audiobook experiment I picked up from the library.

Getting these books for me is like buying a lottery ticket. You take a risk when you buy one of those, because most of them aren't winners, but you hope at least the money you paid is going to a good cause. With audiobooks you take a similar risk. This one was a winner. I really liked it. I liked the writing voice, and I also liked the reader, Colleen Prendergast. If either of those two elements is off in an audiobook it can spoil it even if the other is spot on, but in this case they worked well together, and in this case I did find a good story, so I requested more work by this author from my library in hopes that her other novels will be as good as this one was.

The story is of some dysfunctional families: three in particular. Clare Wild is effectively a single mum. She has two daughters, one who is just twelve, the other a year older. Their father, Chris, is a documentary maker, but recently he was in a psychiatric hospital after burning down their house to get rid of the alien rats which he was convinced were living there. Claire has had enough of him and wants nothing to do with him. He's been released from the hospital, but Claire has not informed her daughters, Pip (short for Pipsqueak - obviously not her real name) and Grace, that he's out.

She lives in London in a home that borders on a private communal park named Virginia, which is supposed to be a shared garden used by all the homes bordering it. Children run free and unsupervised in this park, and are in and out of each other's homes. It's a bit like a commune, but not quite, and everyone except Claire who moved there only recently, has known each other for some time, although that doesn't mean they know each other.

Another such home is where Pip and Grace's friend Tyler lives. Tyler's mom is single, having divorced her husband who was mean and violent. Now she's off dating a new guy and Tyler is pretty much left to her own devices, which are more vice than devious, but that latter element plays a part in this story. Closer to home is Adele and Leo Howes, a seemingly well-balanced couple who home-school their three daughters who are all named after trees. They treat them with worthless homeopathic remedies when they get sick rather than with proven medical aid. I wasn't too keen on the Howes.

On the night of their midsummer party, Claire's daughter Grace is found unconscious with her clothes rucked up as though she was sexually assaulted, and the book then focuses on finding who the perp is. It seems we're meant to wonder if this was perhaps Chris, the schizophrenic absentee father or Leo, who had a technically inappropriate 'relationship' with a 13-year-old girl when he was only eighteen. A month or two before his birthday, everything would have been fine, we're supposed to believe, but a month or two afterwards, and it's an unforgivable crime? Laws are made to serve the lowest common denominator, let's face it, but they are the law. Calling it a 'relationship' though, is a bit of a stretch. Thoughtless misadventure might be a better term.

The thing is that Grace was found in almost exactly the same place that, many years before, 15-year-old Phoebe Rednough was found dead. Phoebe was the sister of Tyler's mum. Has her killer resurfaced? Or was hers merely a suicide and nothing to do with Grace's case?

Be warned that this story moves somewhat ponderously. It's not your usual whodunit, but it was nonetheless interesting to me, and I really enjoyed it.


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Marvel's Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl


Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook fail that I found at the library. It was not what I hoped for at all. Black Widow is very much a comic book character, but she was really brought to life for my by Scarlett Johansson in the Marvel movies. She's going to have appeared in more of them than Samuel Jackson by the time she's done! The problem is that this novel isn't really about Black Widow. Instead, it's Ava Orlova (which you might find funny when you realize that reader Julia Whelan pronounces that last name as 'all over'!). It's about her and Alex Manor, not about Natasha. She appears, but pretty much as a minor character, so the book is rather a bait and switch deal and it's really not well written for someone who is supposed to be a best-selling author.

We're promised in the blurb that we're getting "the untold story of Black Widow for the very first time," but blurbs lie! In an introductory portion, Natalia Romanova goes to assassinate her mentor Ivan Somodorov, and ends up rescuing Ana. She unaccountably promises to be there for Ana, but then avoids her for a decade. Meanwhile Ana seems to have been doped with something right before she was rescued, so maybe she has super powers, maybe not.

Ana begins falling for Alex, who she meets by accident, but feels drawn to since she'd dreamed of him without knowing who he was. Inevitably Ana and Natalia come into contact again, but by this time I was so tired of this limp story that I quit listening, and I returned it to the library to make someone else suffer it instead of me! Mwahaha! Ivan Somodorov has nothing on me when to comes to torture!

So everything I loved about the movie Black Widow was missing from this book. The action scenes were perfunctory and unimaginative, and the story was pretty pathetic. I can't recommend it.