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

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Emily's Runaway Imagination by Beverly Cleary


Rating: WORTHY!

Read competently by Christina Moore, this was a pleasant listen - not spectacular, but highly amusing in parts. In other parts it was slow, but overall, I considered it a worthy listen.

Set about four years after the author was born, in the early 20th century, this 1961 novel tells the story of Emily Bartlett, who is the young daughter of a farming couple in the hamlet of Pitchfork Oregon, and she has some peculiar ideas about what to do with her time. She seems to expend a lot of thought on how others will perceive her, and not enough though on whether what she's doing is smart or even makes sense, and she seems to have some sort of learning disability in that she never really learns!

Her biggest dream in life appears to be to read Anna Sewell's 1877 novel Black Beauty and so she enthusiastically helps her mother with a plan to start a local library, which they do in bits and pieces over the course of the novel. I'm not sure if 'runaway imagination' accurately describes Emily. It's not like she's a Walter Mitty character, but she does come up with one odd scheme after another. These are usually cooked up in pursuit of self-aggrandizement, but sometimes they're rooted in thoughts of helping others, such as when she tosses fermenting apples into the pig yard and gets the pigs drunk on the cider in the apples.

There's an arguably racist part near the beginning of the novel where Emily corrects a venerable Chinese gentleman who mispronounces her dog's name with the clichéd 'l' substituted for an 'r'. He greets the dog as 'Plince' rather than 'Prince' and Emily corrects him, so it goes viral (such as it was able in those days) and the dog is known by its new name for the rest of the story.

The dog and pony show really got underway though, when Emily decided to bleach her family's plough horse to make a white beauty in celebration of her cousin's visit. Black Beauty is her cousin's favorite story. My problem with this was that not once was any thought given to what the bleach - which was left on for fifteen minutes, might do to the horse's skin and health. If Emily had had the decency to try the bleach solution on her own skin for fifteen minutes, I'd have had a lot more respect for her, but she didn't have that kind of imagination, unfortunately.

But, given the age of the tale and the humor in it, I decided to let this slide this time and commend this as a worthy read, although I'd recommend some discussion with your child(ren) - after words afterwards (or during, if you read it to them!) about correct conduct and empathy. I would have thought a farm girl like Emily would have had a lot more smarts than she did, but the story wasn't bad, so there it is!


Friday, January 11, 2019

An American Plague by Jim Murphy


Rating: WORTHY!

The attribution of this audiobook is rather misleading in more than one way. Jim Murphy was really the editor, not the writer. I had initially thought that this would be a dramatization, but it was the dry reading (very dry and pedantic delivery by reader Pat Bottino) of a bunch of diary and journal entries, medical reports and newspaper articles (such as they were back then) about the epidemic of Yellow Fever that laid Philadelphia low in 1793. These were strung together with some narrative from the author.

The book was listed in the local library among the children's books, but I cannot imagine for a minute that very many children, especially not younger children, would find this remotely entertaining, or even educational because they wouldn't sit through it, or they would tune it out.

For me it gave me two different ideas which I can use in future novels, and it was interesting. It's a very graphic story which pulls no punches in describing bodily emissions under duress from this nasty disease caused by a virus carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Today we can vaccinate against this, and treat it for those who become infected, but with climate change already rampaging across the globe, this is one of many thoroughly noxious diseases that will doubtlessly spread.

Back in 1793, when Pennsylvania had an appreciable amount of skeeter-breeding swamp, and when the disease process wasn't remotely understood, this thing got out of control and eventually killed one in ten of the original population of the city. That's nowhere near the death toll exacted by the 'Great Plague' of medieval Europe, nor is it even a match for the same plague which struck the USA in 2015 killing one in four victims, although the death toll there was considerably smaller despite the higher rate.

Why Murphy chose to title this 'An American Plague', as though it affects no one else is a mystery smacking of self-importance and pretension. Not everything is about the USA! This book isn't even about the USA as such, it's about one city; although Philly was the seat of government, and relations between it and other cities are mentioned towards the end, including some shameful as well as generous conduct.

In 1793, Washington was president and the government was located in Philly, but heroic George wasted little time vacating the city. He fled so hastily that he left behind essential papers which would have enabled him to do his job. He wasn't so heroic either, when a foreign envoy arrived soliciting his help in siding with France, which had been instrumental in aiding the fledgling USA against Britain. He cold-shouldered the very people who had facilitated the very existence of the USA! He tried to blame this on not having his paperwork with him.

The contribution of African-Americans at least gets its fair due here, which is nice to see. Black nurses were of critical value in a disease-ridden city where everyone was panicking, those who could afford to were leaving in droves. Very few dared come near to others in this highly-religious society for fear of 'contracting' this disease. Germ theory wasn't even a remote twinkle in anyone's eye, and the so-called doctors of the period were obsessed with blood-letting and poisonous purges which did nothing to save lives despite dishonest claims to the contrary. More than likely such dire stratagems actually hastened many a shuffle off this mortal coil. (How is earth a coil? Anyone know? LOL!).

Given that they had some immunity to malaria, it was considered that slaves and free people of color would also be immune to Yellow Fever, but they were not. They died at the same rate as whites, but nonetheless they willingly acted as nurses. So popular were they that people tried to outbid each other for their assistance, and then these same assistants were maliciously accused of callous price-gouging by jackass racists.

It was interesting to read of the problems that people like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Adams encountered in trying to attend to their duties. Government was moved (illegally as it happened!) to Germantown ten miles away and Jefferson could not get a decent room. The other two were forced to sleep on benches in a common area. Of course this was before any of them had become president, although they were each men of high importance even then. Another interesting aside was that Dolley would never have become first lady had not the Yellow Fever taken away her first husband, freeing her to marry James Madison later. The plague made a difference to a lot of things and in ways you might not consider at first blush.

As I said, I have grave doubts about both the suitability and utility of this for children, but I consider it a worthy read.


Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan


Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook that didn't start out well. It was first person which is typically not a good idea, but I would have been willing to put up with that had the story engaged me. It did not. It clearly had no intention of entering into an engagement, and was evidently just leading me on! Again, it wasn't aimed at me, but I've read many middle-grade stories that entertained. My current print book is one aimed at young middle grade and it's completely engaging.

The problem with this book was the complete disconnect between events and the main character's relation of them. Willow Chance (yes, that's her name) is returning from some sort of school trip when she sees a police car in her drive. It transpires that her parents have expired. You would think there would be some sort of an emotional reaction, but if you're expecting one from Willow, you're barking up the wrong tree. She barely reacts.

Instead, she starts rambling mindlessly and tediously about her life history. I had to DNF this book at about ten percent in due to projectile vomiting. Yes, I was vomiting actual projectiles in the form of uncouth language. Robin Miles's reading of the novel didn't help. It wasn't appallingly bad, but it did nothing to contribute to easing the discomfort, either. I cannot commend this based on my experience of the opening few chapters.


Friday, January 4, 2019

Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins


Rating: WARTY!

This was sitting on the library shelves and it was by the author of The Hunger Games, which I loved and favorably reviewed, so it seemed like it might make for an interesting read. If I had known it was part of 'The Underland Chronicles' I would never have picked it up. I make it a policy never to read anything with the word 'chronicles' (or 'cycle' or 'saga') associated with it, but once again the idiot publishers failed to put a warning on the cover that this was part of a series, much less a chronic one! Personally I think they ought to have a warning affixed similar to that one attached to packs of cigarettes, worded o the effect that it was written by an unimaginative, or washed-up, or outright lazy author who can't do original work anymore, but that's just me.

I began listening to it before I knew any of this. It was poorly read by Paul Boehmer and the story was poorly written for my taste, so I quickly gave up on it. It was too young for me. According to Wikipedia, the story begins thus: "Eleven-year-old Gregor is left home alone in his family's New York City apartment to watch his sisters and grandmother. When Gregor's baby sister Boots falls through an old air duct grate in the building's basement, he dives in after her. The two fall miles below into the Underland: a subterranean world home to humans with near-translucent skin; giant sentient bats, rodents, and insects; and an escalating conflict between the human city of Regalia and the rats' King Gorger."

So maybe this will appeal to a younger audience, but based on my admittedly limited experience, I cannot commend it.


Disturbing Ground by Priscilla Masters


Rating: WARTY!

I love the Welsh accent, so this sounded like it might be a good listen for me, and while I could listen to Siriol Jenkins reading in those dulcet tones forever, I can't listen to them when she's reading something like this, which had gone quite literally nowhere by about fifty percent in, except in that this Doctor, Megan Banesto, who is the de facto investigator here in this little mining town of Llancloudy, seems far more interested in trying to make time with someone else's husband than ever she does in finding out who drowned Bianca - a schizophrenic patient of hers who was known to be terrified of water.

I'm sorry but I simply did not like this main character who seemed far more meddling than investigative and who was simply annoying. She walked out on a patient in the middle of a consultation to go meddling when she saw a crowd gathering up the street! What a piece of work she is! I DNF'd this and cannot commend it based on my experience of it.


Her Last Breath by Linda Castillo


Rating: WARTY!

This is evidently one in a series, although gods forbid the publisher would ever tell you that on the cover! I mean, why would they? It might actually be of use to someone! It would sure be a courtesy to those of us who are not into series so we don't pick it up off the shelf thinking it's a one-off novel, or if we are into series, so we don't pick it up off the shelf and end up randomly in the middle of a series that we'd prefer to start at the beginning - and all because the idiot publisher couldn't be bothered to say it was Book X of Series Y. This is why I do not have a lot of respect for Big Publishing™.

This book has a prologue which I normally avoid like the plague, but which I got stuck with since the audiobook doesn't always make it clear it's a prologue and even if it is, often makes it hard to skip because you can't tell where chapter one starts. What made it worse in this case was that the prologue should have been chapter one because that's where the accident occurs where an Amish buggy is crashed into by a hit & run driver. It's the start of the story - why would it be in a prologue? I blame this on the author. Prologues are antique. Quit it with the prologues already.

My problem with it came right there, with the police chief in Amish country arriving right on the tail of the accident, when a witness was still alive and yet not asking him a word about whether he saw or can recall anything that might help track down the murdering driver. I decided this cop is a moron and after listening on a little further, I decided I did not like the way this book was written at all. There was too little police and far too much whiny drama, and it wasn't engaging me, so I DNF'd it.

The blurb tells more, like the discovery human bones in an abandoned grain elevator which have a connection to Katie's past, Katie being the chief of police, and I am surprised I missed that when I looked at this, but I guess I was too distracted by the idea of an Amish murder mystery! I am so tired of these series where everything ties to the investigator's past be it a PI or a police officer. It is tedious and it has been done to death. Get a new shtick! Good lord what kind of a person was this anyway, to have so much death and misery following them around everywhere?! LOL! Give me something fresh and new for goodness sake.


Love Ruby Lavender by Deborah Wiles


Rating: WARTY!

Read obnoxiously by Judith Ivey, this book was a fail from the off.

This audiobook sounded like fun from the blurb: Ruby Lavender and Miss End User License Agreement, aka Miss Eula, rescue chickens which are destined for the slaughterhouse in Halleluia, Mississippi. We're informed that they (Ruby and Eula, not the chickens) live in a house painted pink, although I fail to see how that makes them special, and they "operate their own personal secret-letter post office." Ruby is depressed by Miss Eula's impeding visit to Hawaii to see her grand-baby.

I never made it that far because the entire first quarter or so of this novel was obsessively and endlessly going on about chickens laying eggs and it was read in such an awful, nausea-inducing southern voice that I honestly couldn't stand to listen to it - not the voice nor the tediously harping story, so I ditched it and felt great relief at doing so. Obviously it's not aimed at me, but I cannot commend it based on what I suffered through. I would definitely not want a child to have to relive this!


Lumberjanes Unicron Power by Mariko Tamaki


Rating: WORTHY!

My sometimes stretched love affair with Mariko Tamaki remains intact after this audiobook version of what was initially purely a graphic novel.

Despite this being aimed at a much younger age group than ever I can claim membership of, it was highly amusing, very cute, entertaining, and told a good solid story. It turns out that unicorns aren't what you thought they were. They never were what I thought they were, not after reading (and positively reviewing) Rampant by Diana Peterfreund back in 2013, but here they're altogether different again.

Lumberjanes are a topic over which I evidently have mixed feelings. I love the idea of them, but the graphic novel (Lumberjanes Vol 2 by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Brooke Allen, Maarta Laiho) I picked up and negatively reviewed back in 2016 did not impress me at all. I found it boring and DNF'd it, so perhaps it's testimony to Mariko Tamaki's writing skills that I enjoyed this one so much. One small problem I had with that earlier work was that I could not understand how the title came about. These girls are not the female equivalent of Lumberjacks, not even remotely, so the name is misleading in many regards, but it is amusing.

The title just refers to a series of girl-centric comics, and is set in a summer camp (Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady Types if you must know). In process of enjoying a field trip, the girls encounter the unicorns and also get stuck on a cloud mountain later. The camp hands out badges, rather like the scouts do, but other than that, nothing much seems to happen except when the girls end up in trouble in one way or another from their own various activities, not all of which are camp sanctioned.

FYI, the Lumberjanes are:

  • Jo, a transgender girl who tends to be a leader and who has the most badges
  • April who is the princess of puns and who takes notes. She's very strong despite her apparently small frame.
  • Molly is an archer of Katniss skills, and is a great puzzle-solver. She wears a pet raccoon named Bubbles as a hat and is right behind Jo in number of badges earned.
  • Mal looks like some rebel girl, but isn't actually like that. She's a great maker of plans.
  • Ripley is young and fearless
On the camp staff are Rosie, the camp master, and Jen, who is the leader of Roanoke cabin, which is the lumberjane's cabin

I enjoyed this listen very much and I commend it as a great introduction to the lumberjanes even though it's not the first story in line.


Saturday, December 29, 2018

Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi


Rating: WARTY!

I negatively reviewed The Gilded Wolves by this same author in early November 2018 after starting out really liking that one. It was badly let down by the ending. I didn't have to wait that long in this audiobook by the same author, but aimed at a middle-grade rather than an adult, audience to have the same feelign engendered fortunately.

The story is about an irresponsible young girl whose mother works for a museum of Indian artefacts. The girl, Aru Shah, stops time by giving in to a bitchy dare from a rival schoolgirl, and then has to fix it. The plot idea isn't a bad one, but the execution sucked. Once the story started bringing in huffy pets (supposedly Indian gods in animal form), it lost all hope of retaining my affection. I'm so tired of cutesy animals in these stories, especially ones which exhibit a 'tude. I DNF'd this after about a quarter of it, and I can safely say I'm done with this author now.


Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers by Sara Ackerman


Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook experiment which looked superficially good but which turned out to be just another idiot romance in the telling. It’s been only a short while, but the novel is already a vague memory to me. So this woman on Hawaii at the outbreak of WW2, which for the US began on December 7th, two years after everyone else signed up!

This woman whose name I happily have forgot, is supposedly widowed - her husband was at the dock, blood was found, but no body - which typically means he’s still alive, is evidently not that caring about him because she easily falls for a smooth-talking soldier who is stationed on the island and becomes way too familiar with her way too fast. That’s when I ditched this as a waste of my time. I'm guessing the husband is alive and having an affair with some other woman, which gives the main character the freedom to carry on with the soldier. There are better-written and even badly-written yet still more entertaining stories out there which I’m not going to get to if I waste more time than is necessary on one’s like this. Based on about a third of this that I could stand to listen to, I can’t commend it.


Saturday, December 1, 2018

Garden Princess by Kristin Kladstrup


Rating: a warty reading experience! See below:

I can't rate this entire thing because I couldn't really listen to it. I got it from the library on CDs, and when I tried to play it, the first five tracks didn't work, so that was chapter one unlistenable. Consequently I started at chapter two. The next two disks I barely heard because I was driving in pain-in-the-butt traffic and was more focused on that than on the disk. The fourth disk I had under perfect listening conditions, but it was also defective, so I decided to give up on this and maybe revisit it in print!

I couldn't see anything wrong with disk four except a minor scratch which didn't seem to account for the problems it had. I'd suspect that the lens on the player is dirty, but it played two and three without problems. It turned out that the first disk wouldn't play because there was what appeared to be a melted section of the disk - like it'd had a magnifying glass focusing sunlight on it in this one spot about a half inch in dimeter, which appeared very slightly bubbled. Just bad all around. Like I said, I may get back to this later in some other format!

The story, very briefly, is that Princess Adela who admirably wants to live a life before she settles down to marriage, and who is so interested in nature that she can't keep Botany at Bay! She notes that something seems amiss in Lady Hortensia's garden. Let's not get into how amusing the Lady's name is. It's actually not hard to see the issue: every flower is in bloom even though it's October. And no, the garden isn't in Texas! It's not that warm there in October. "Is it possible that Hortensia is a witch and the magpie an enchanted prince?" the blurb asks. Well I'm guessing the cover artist didn't read the blurb since he/she illustrated a Blackbird, not a Magpie. Ahem!

This is a peril of reading - so many formats, so little reliability! Ebooks can have formatting screwed-up (Amazon Kindle I'm looking at you), downloads can get garbled, print books can have torn and misprinted pages, disks can be damaged. Will there ever be a perfect reading medium that doesn't destroy trees, lard up the environment with plastics and other pollutants, or require boatloads of energy? I doubt it. Everything costs something. But you can mitigate effects by for example, using your phone to read ebooks instead of buying a dedicated reader such as a Nook or a Kindle, or by buying used print books - aka recycling! And recycle your own new print books to a library, a school, or to a place like Goodwill that can resell them.


Code of Honor by Alan Gratz


Rating: WARTY!

Kamran Smith is American-born, but his mother is from Iran. He gets into trouble when his older brother, in the US Army, is suspected of carrying out a terrorist attack. The plot sounded interesting, but the writing was juvenile, so this was another failed audiobook experiment. I knew this was likely to go south when it began with music, devolved into first person (aka worst-person) voice, and then the main character turned out to be a violent, self-centered whiny little bitch. So three strikes against it to begin with.

Seriously, what's with putting this pointless music on audiobooks? Did the original author write the music? No! Does the music have anything - anything at all - to do with the story? No! So what's the purpose of it other than to annoy people who want to get right to the story? You buy an ebook, or a print book, you don't get music and you can skip straight to chapter one. But audiobooks want to lard you up with music, all manner of spoken introductions and prologues that you can't easily skip, and on and on, it's annoying. Publishers, stop it! Stop it now! I'm looking at you, not-so Brilliance Audio, and you, too Audible, and you, Harpy Audio, and many others. Quit irritating your readers!

Anyway, the blurb tells us that this boy can't wait to enlist in the army like his big brother, Darius, and this is no surprise given how belligerent he is. I didn't like the guy. I didn't like the voice and I quickly lost interest in what happened to him. I further lost interest when the story absurdly went into a raid on this kid's home because his brother was suspected of terrorism - his brother who'd been accepted into the US military and been away from home for some time. What? They don't even come and question the family or put them under surveillance, but launch straight into a raid their home and tip them off that they're suspects? I can see that happening under this administration which is the most racist administration we've ever had, but even given that, it was too absurd to take seriously. Based on the portion I could stand to listen to, I cannot commend this at all.


Polaris by Michael Northrop


Rating: WARTY!

This sounds like a sci-fi novel from the title, but it isn't. It's a middle-grade scare novel a la Goosebumps, but not. I picked it up because I thought it was sci-fi, but even when I realized it wasn't, it still sounded like an interesting premise when I first looked at it at the library: "The proud sailing ship Polaris is on a mission to explore new lands, and its crew is eager to bring their discoveries back home. But when half the landing party fails to return from the Amazon jungle, the tensions lead to a bloody mutiny. The remaining adults abandon ship, leaving behind a cabin boy, a botanist's assistant, and a handful of deckhands -- none of them older than twelve."

I think as a writer you need to bring your reader in pretty quickly (of course this rule doesn't apply to established writers how seem to think they can ramble on endlessly and still keep all their readers entranced. Stephen King I'm looking at you...). The problem is that for different readers this type of entrance means different things. It's hard to write a generic opening that will draw everyone in, and in this case, the writing just did not welcome me at all. Right from when I first started listening to it, I couldn't get into it at all and I DNF'd it pretty quickly.

I think the problem was the mesmerizingly rapid, if not rabid switch of viewpoints as the story opened so I wasn't ever quite sure where the hell I was. Maybe if I'd been sitting in a room listening to this it would have been different, but I listen to audiobooks pretty much exclusively when I'm driving, and when I am driving, I'm all about driving, and will ditch attention to a novel rapidly if something demands extra attention on the other side of the windshield. That's not to say I ignore traffic if a story is really engrossing, by any means, but I know that if my mind is wandering onto other matters - such as my own writing, then the audiobook just ain't cutting it. So, other than that, I don't have anything to add about this except that based on my experience I can't commend it.


The Ark by Patrick S Tomlinson


Rating: WARTY!

This is purportedly a sci-fi novel, but it’s really just a detective story which takes place on a generation ship carrying the last fifty thousand humans to some planet out Tau Ceti way. Why there in particular goes unexplained. How they even knew there were habitable planets there is a mystery, but maybe they figured it out from the extra-solar planetary search. Tau Ceti is the closest single G class star to our own sun (which is G class), and it does have two planets in the 'habitable zone', but there's nothing known yet to indicate they might be anything like Earth or habitable at all. The bigger problem though is that the system is young and is awash with debris, so impacts of meteors on those planets would be huge. It would be an extremely dangerous place to live.

Two weeks out from the planet, a research lab operative goes missing, which is highly unusual since everyone has an implant which allows them to be tracked. There is a 'cop' on board who is assigned to investigate the disappearance, but the guy isn’t actually a police officer. He used to be a zero gravity sports star. How this remotely qualifies him to investigate crime in his retirement years is a mystery. Was he the only applicant when the position became vacant? Why did he even retire? The game was played in zero G so there's no major physical requirement like there would be on Earth for a sport. You need to be agile of body and mind, but how can you get too old for a sport like that when you’re still young isn’t explained here.

That I could live with, but when the guy ends up being a complete moron, I can’t read about him. The obvious place to get rid of a body in space is to flush it out the airlock, but that's the last place this brilliant detective thinks to look. The fact that they discover the body out there is complete luck. No alarm sounded when someone opened an airlock in space? Instead of sending a robot out to get the body, the detective, who has zero experience in space, demands to go get it himself. The spacecraft is inexplicably a single-seater, so he's literally by himself. He fouls up completely (turning off the com is his first arrogant and stupid mistake). He almost loses the body and he almost dies. Despite being in trouble, the crew explicably did not send out another spacecraft to rescue him despite having many of them on hand.

The thing is that when you flush something out of an airlock, the object is catapulted with some force because of the escaping air. It’s rather like firing a BB gun. The body would move away from the spacecraft with some significant speed, and if it were gone for a couple of days, it would be so far out and so dark, that it wouldn't be visible. Given how dirty space was this close to the planet, it would more than likely be undetectable by any means from the spacecraft, being yet one more cold, dark object among many. Yet they find it close to the craft and largely undamaged.

In the hospital, his female doctor is inappropriate with him, but that's just fine because he's being inappropriate with a subordinate colleague so everything balances out, right? No. When he wants to leave, he asks the doctor where his clothes were and she says, “We had to cut them off.” Why? If he'd been injured in a serious accident, then yeah - swelling and the need to get to him quickly and fix wounds would necessitate cutting off clothes, but all he did was pass out. What, they had to remove his clothes to put an oxygen mask on his face? No! They didn't have to strip him at all, yet this doctor did. I assume because the author is male. And that wasn't the only way she was inappropriate. Who knows, maybe his doctor used to be a car mechanic before her current gig. For them it’s routine to strip things down so they can charge you more for labor....

It was after the incident with the doctor that I quit reading this garbage. The story was poor and amateurish before then, but this was nonsense, and I had no intention of reading on at that point, much less of reading any more volumes in the lame series that this was intended to become. I can’t commend it at all.


Unhappy Medium by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel


Rating: WARTY!

Evidently part of a "Suddenly Supernatural" series, this audiobook was a disaster from my perspective. First of all it's number three in an ongoing series, which I couldn't tell from the book cover because Big Publishing™ seems to be in an orchestrated campaign to consistently deny this knowledge to readers. Why they would want this, I do not know, but it's yet another reason I have no time for Big Publishing™. Consequently it was a story in progress before I ever got there. This might have been manageable if other things hadn't tripped it up.

Worse than joining it in the middle as it were, it's worst-person voice, aka first-person voice. Worse than that even, the main character Kat Roberts appears to be a complete moron. Why female authors make their female main characters idiots so often remains a mystery to me. I don't mind if they start out somewhat dumb and wise up during the course of the story but to portray your female as an idiot doesn't do anyone any good. Women have enough to contend with from men without their own gender turning on them like this.

On top of that, the reader, Allyson Ryan, seemed like she wanted to make Kat's best friend as irritating as possible. Typically I find I like the side-kick better than I like the main character in far too many novels of this nature, but here the reader makes "Jac's" voice nauseatingly scratchy (she sounded like that clown from the Simpsons cartoons). She was so bad she almost made the main character seem worth my time. Almost. But I honestly couldn't stand to listen to it. This and the fact that the story was written so badly it was uninteresting to me, made me ditch this DNF. I can't commend it.


Friday, November 2, 2018

My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson


Rating: WORTHY!

Read charmingly and beautifully by Frankie Corzo, this was a very short audiobook (written by the author of Bridge to Terabithia) that I picked up on a whim at the local library. It turned out to be an inspired whim because I really enjoyed it. It tells an interesting story based on actual Cuban history.

Evidently at Ernesto Guevara's suggestion, Fidel Castro launched the Campaña Nacional de Alfabetización en Cuba, known as a year of education, which occupied almost the entire length of 1961. Literacy brigades (the Brigadistas of the title) were trained and then sent out into the countryside to build schools, train new teachers, and teach the illiterate to read and write. The campaign taught almost three-quarters of a million farmers and their families, and succeeded in raising the national literacy rate from around seventy percent to almost one hundred. There's a short documentary titled Maestra about the campaign, but I have not yet seen that.

This novel tells a fictional story of one such teacher named Lora, a girl in her mid-teens, who lived on a small farm while teaching the family and nearby families the alphabet and reading and writing skills. It was at no small risk to her life, since there was an orchestrated campaign against the literacy project because it was viewed as a political effort to indoctrinate those people, and there were attacks on the Brigadistas, including murders.

The story is told very actively, always moving forward, with little time for reflection, but which is nonetheless included in appropriately brief and organic moments. There is tragedy and joy and humor and moving times, and there were times I laughed out loud at the Brigadista's observations particularly towards the end about her friend's poetry (how many times can you write in the same poem that your heart was broken into a million tiny pieces?!). I commend this novel as a worthy, educational, and fun read.


The Losers Club by Andrew Clements


Rating: WARTY!

Read quite well by Christopher Gebauer, this audiobook was a story about these young kids who are in an after-school book-reading club. The guy who started the club deliberately called it the Loser's Club because he figured few people would want to join such a club, and it would give him the opportunity to sit and read uninterrupted by others, which is all he ever wanted to do. In fact, he'd been getting into trouble for reading and day-dreaming in class, and this was his last chance to show he could apply himself and not screw-up.

This sounds like it ought to be a good idea - a novel about reading, but for me it fell short. Admittedly it's not aimed at me, but not being a twelve-year-old I can't judge it from that perspective. I can reference my own youth, but that's a while ago and probably had little to do with youth today who have so many more distractions than I had. Plus I didn't get into reading seriously until I was around fourteen. This leaves me with my current perspective and I have no problem with that!

I gave up on this because of three things. The first of these was the bullying. The kid - whose name is Alec - has to recruit at least one more person to his club, so his first choice is old friend Dave, who is talked out of it by bully Kent, who used to be a close friend of Alec's way back. Now he's a complete jerk. Here's the thing. This novel was published in 2017. That year, the author was in his late sixties and I am by no means convinced he understands the school system any more, nor did he seem interested in doing any research, apparently. I mean, did bullies in 2017 really call a kid who likes to read 'a bookworm'? I doubt it.

Since this author was in middle school at the beginning of the sixties, there have been great strides taken to eject bullying from schools by means of zero tolerance policies. Schools are not the same as they were when he was in school! This doesn't mean that the policies always work, or that bullying is totally absent by any means, but the type of unrestrained, uncontrolled, rife and overt bullying going on here is completely ridiculous and made the story unbelievable. It was like everything that Bully Kent did was unconstrained and went without notice, much less censure, but everything Alec did, though it wasn't remotely connected with bullying, the teachers came down on him like a ton of mortar. It was too absurd.

The second thing was about the books. Alec is passionately into reading, but the only books he's ever heard of are what are considered (for reasons which all-too-often escape me) as classics. There was nary a truly modern novel mentioned in the entire book. It's like the author considered only his own preferences - either that or he blindly pulled up a list of classics and used that. The name-dropping of the same tired-old titles in novels like this is nauseating - even for a book which is about reading. It's worth noting that none of these books was read on any electronic device - it's like those hadn't been invented in this author's world.

Connected with this was another nauseating habit: that of referencing Star Wars - and not the new garbage, but the old garbage! I grew out of Star Wars a long time ago, and I look upon those tediously uninventive and repetitive movies with distaste these days. I can understand others' enjoyment of it, yet for all the references to it here, Alec had read not a single Star Wars novel (at least as measured by a complete lack of reference to them in this book). Instead Alec was all classics all the time. It made no sense and was entirely unrealistic.

This leads me to the third issue with this so-called reading passion of his: he actually had no reading passion. At least not as would be determined from his devouring of books. Instead, it seemed he re-read the same limited selection over and over and over again. This rather convinced me that he was not a book lover. He merely had a fixation on certain books and he showed no interest in moving on to other stories or in advancing to more mature material. Instead he was stuck inside a reading time-loop of juvenile 'classics'.

Now if Kent had taunted Alec on that, it would have made sense. It would still have been bullying, but not anything a teacher could have really called him on. He would have got away with it and called out Alec realistically. Why the author never thought of that is a mystery to me. I guess his imagination is lacking.

That's not the worst part. Alec can't start his club until he has at least one other person signed on, and he manages to get a girl by the name of Nina. Later another younger girl by the name of Layla joins, but despite his supposed passion for books, Alec quickly abandons all interest in books and begins focusing solely on Nina. What she's thinking, is she attracted to Kent, what's she doing, and on and on. It felt like a complete betrayal of everything the book had supposedly been about up to that point, and there was no lead-in to this at all; it just happened out of the blue.

So overall I consider this book a very amateur attempt to tell a story which could have been written in much better way. I can't commend it for these reasons.


The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris


Rating: WARTY!

Neil Patrick Harris is an actor known for Doogie Howser, MD and How I Met Your Mother neither of which show I ever watched. He's also supposedly a magician, but I've never seen him perform. Maybe that latter interest is what made him write this novel aimed at middle-graders, but for me it wasn't very good. Read by the author, it was full of clichéd stereotypes and average writing as well as nonsensical events - that is, they made no sense even within the context of the novel.

The basic plot is about the adventures of a group of misfit kids who have various talents - like one girl is an escape artist and lock picker, and the main kid is a magician. So while I must give kudos to having a handicapped kid as a main character and having prominent, self-motivated female characters (I particularly liked Ridley), the story never rose above its poor to average roots. The villains, for example, including the main kid's uncle (I forget the names of these characters, but make no apology for that - they were very forgettable) were made villainous not through any real villainy, but by having 'greasy hair' or bad breath, or by being overweight. No. I'm sorry, but no.

The story was unrealistic in that there were opportunities for the kids to get the police involved, yet they never did. Obviously in a story like this you want the kids to resolve things without calling in the adult cavalry to the rescue, but if you're going to do that, you need to do the work to make it happen. You can't just lazily have it happen contrary to all logic and sense. For example, the main scheme in this story was this one guy's attempt to steal this huge diamond which for inexplicable reasons was going to be exhibited at this villain's funfair. There he would replace it with a well-crafted fake and Robert's your aunt's husband.

These kids had two golden opportunities to derail this scheme and they ignored both of them. The first came when they broke into the villain's hotel room and discovered the fake diamond. If they had stolen that, right then and there, his scheme would have been thwarted, but they don't even consider it. This tells me they're profoundly stupid.

The guy's bathtub was full of stolen property - wallets and jewelry, etc. They could have called the police on him there, got him arrested, and thereby saved the diamond, but they failed to do so. This tells me they're profoundly stupid. Later, at the show where the switch is to take place, they were all in attendance and could have called out that the guy had surreptitiously switched the diamond since, as budding magicians, they knew exactly how he'd done it. There were police right there, but never once did they utter a word. This tells me they're profoundly stupid.

The main character is an orphan who runs away from his evil uncle, and he knows hardship and hunger, yet later in the story, these misfits douse the main villain in breakfasts - lots of eggs, syrup and pancakes, I don't know where they got this from, (I guess I tuned-out on that part), but the fact that not one of these kids thought of what a waste this was when there were hungry kids who could have eaten it, turned me off the whole story. If they'd used food that was spoiled and tossed out by some restaurant, that would have fixed this issue, but the author was too thoughtless or careless to make that happen, evidently thinking solely of slapstick instead of how real kids in this situation would have thought or felt.

In short it was really poor, amateur writing, and because of this, I can't commend this one. It's also, I have to say, really annoying that celebrities get a free pass with Big Publishing™ for no other reason than that they're celebrities, even though as writers, they suck. Meanwhile there are perfectly good, well-written, original, inventive, novels from unknowns which are routinely rejected by these same publishers. Clearly they aren't interested in good books, only in fast bucks. That's why I will have no truck with Big Publishing™.


Phase Two by Chris Wyatt


Rating: WORTHY!

This is an audio retelling of the wildly successful movie Guardians of the Galaxy that came out in 2014. Read pretty decently by Chris Patton, it was pretty much a word-for word copy of the script, with some minimal description tossed in, but unlike the movie, it isn't even PG-13 rating - it's more like a Disney animated film rating, so all questionable comments and references are omitted or re-worded. Other than that it's a pleasant listen for anyone interested in the Marvel universe.

I'm not sure there's anyone out there who is even moderately media-aware who doesn't have an idea what this movie was about, but if there is, then briefly, the story is an origin story of the formation of the Guardians, from a rag-tag band of misfits, disaffected revenge seekers, con-artists and thieves, into a genuine family of caring team-mates who don't actually save the galaxy (that comes in volume two!) but who do save a planet and defeat a brutal psychopath known as Ronan the Accuser.

The story starts with the young Peter Quill, so terrified by his mother's impending death that he won't hold her hand. Instead he runs out of the hospital only to be 'beamed up' into a space craft. The story then resumes twenty years later with that same Peter, now a mature (or maybe not) man who calls himself Star Lord, and who is on a mission to recover an artifact, which he tries to sell outside of the outlaw group who captured him all those years ago. His mission fails.

Oh, he gets the artifact, but he's captured when he tries to offload it, and he's tossed into a brutal space prison with three other villains, two of whom are the bounty-hunting team of Rocket and Groot. Groot is an alien species superficially resembling a tree, but who has legs and arms and the ability to speak and regenerate, although all he ever says is "I am Groot" in various tones which represent what he really means. Rocket, created by Marvel writers based on an old Beatles song (Rocky Raccoon) is a genetically-modified talking raccoon, whose experimental test designation was 'Subject: 89P13'. Now he's highly inventive, agile, scheming, and dangerous.

The third party is Gamora, another alien who was adopted by super villain (or is he?!) Thanos, whose self-appointed mission is to wipe out a random half of the universe in order to provide better living conditions for the other half. He adopted Gamora after killing her parents, and she became his trained assassin, but she's now decided to betray him to bring his murderous scheme to a halt.

These four meet the final member of their team in the prison. He's Drax 'the destroyer' (although he looks nothing like a navy ship...) who has a personal vendetta against Thanos and Ronan because they killed his family and he wants to kill Gamora, but Peter talks him out of it and the five of them join up to sell this artifact that Peter recovered, which turns out to be one of the six Infinity Stones which have been in existence from the start of the universe. Thanos wants them to complete his mission, Ronan steals it to pursue his own mission, and the Guardians are the only people who can stop him!

No one ever explained, neither in the movie nor in this novelization, why it is that Thanos isn't smart enough to know that with all six Infinity Stones, he can remake the universe however he wants without killing anyone! I guess he doesn't have the stones.... It's a pity one of these stones wasn't called the Smart Stone - with the ability to make people think critically and rationally.

So, fun stuff and a lot of laughs. The audio doesn't have the same magnetism and charisma of the movie, but it's a decent substitute and I commend it.


The Circle by Dave Eggers


Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook I picked up after seeing the movie of the same name based on this book, and which starred Emma Watson and Tom Hanks. The movie was rather improbable, but close enough to reality to be entertaining. The book, read by Dion Graham, was less than thrilling. It was far too wordy. People often claim the movie isn't as good as the novel for a given story, but I frequently find the opposite: that the novel is sometimes too rambling and the movie script writers have seen this and cut through the author's self-indulgent crap to create a much better story that flows and moves, and doesn't get lost in itself.

This getting lost was the problem here as the author went rambling on and on about things which contributed nothing to the story and which failed to move it, which in turn failed to move me. I DNF'd this in short order. You might argue that if I'd picked this up before the movie, I might have enjoyed it better and disliked the movie, but I really don't think so. A boring novel is objectively a boring novel, and the proof of that pudding lies in the fact that even though I listened this quite recently, I can barely remember any of it now. It made that little of an impression on me. Consequently my advice is to skip this novel and watch the movie instead.

It's not a great movie and I doubt I'll want to watch it again, but watching it once graphically illustrates the dangers of putting too much personal information out there. The Circle is both the book title and the name of the social media organization that this young woman, Mae Holland, believes is a career high. It's quite clearly F-book - a forum that lets members put out endless personal crap for the world to see, whether it wants to see it or not.

This business of publicizing oneself, which I've never bought into, is taken to extremes here, with The Circle being more of a cult than anything else, and with the advent of this miniature camera system, called See-Change, which can be stuck anywhere, and which transmits sound and picture by some unspecified means (using an unspecified energy source!) in real time to your device would have some positive benefits, but it's also rife for abuse and no one seems to call that out.

The movie diverts from the novel in some places while following it in others, and I think it's to the good that it diverts. I liked the representation of the Annie character in the movie better than the novel, and Mae was a jerk in the novel from what I could tell - not so in the movie, but since I DNF'd this I can't comment more on it than what's here. That said, I didn't like what I heard and cannot commend this based on my experience of it.