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

Saturday, May 4, 2019

The Mouse With the Question Mark Tail by Richard Peck


Rating: WORTHY!

Written in 2013 by an author who died almost exactly a year ago, this was a fun little audiobook which frankly dragged a bit for me towards the end, but given how short the book is and how much fun the first two-thirds of it was, I'm not about to mark it down for that, especially since it wasn't written for my age group!

This mouse not only has a question mark tail, he lacks a real name and is known as Mouse Minor for the most part - and he is minor - small for his age. It seemed so obvious that I don't see it as a spoiler to reveal that this mouse is royalty. He's sent to school but ends up getting in trouble over a caterpillars-in-lunch-boxes incident to which Mouse Minor neither confesses nor denies. He runs away instead and ends up on an adventure in which he's kidnapped by bats and eventually gets an audience with Queen Victoria herself who seems, I have to say, curiously unafraid of mice.

Richard Peck is an American and while he does for the most part get his 'Britishisms' right, there are times when he strays, but most Americans won't notice those, especially not children. Overall though, this was a fun romp and I commend it as a worthy listen, but I should warn you that this is an old style children's novel (Peck was in his late seventies when he wrote it) and so it contains some violent concepts which tend not to appear in children's books written by younger authors. These include a somewhat bloodthirsty discussion of the beheadings in the French revolution, which goes on a little bit too long, and also instances of Mouse Minor contemplating having his brains beaten to jelly by the school bullies - that sort of thing, so be mindful of that.


Friday, May 3, 2019

The Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea by Lynn Rae Perkins


Rating: WORTHY!

Read by Brittany Presley, this audiobook was entertaining. I came to it after having really enjoyed the author's Nuts to You story. This isn't really aimed at males, and certainly not at men of my age, but it's still enjoyable in its sweet innocence, and it's definitely a worthy contender for an age-appropriate audience, female or male. It read (or listened!) more like a vacation diary than an actual story which didn't sound as odd as it might have. There was no 'Dear Dairy' affectation in it, but it still had that sort of a vibe, like maybe the author was recounting events from her own childhood rather than making up the story from scratch.

It was about two sisters, Alix and "Jools" Treffrey, and their week's vacation at the beach with their parents. Told form Alix's PoV, it talks about the long trip there, and the even longer trip home caused by three flat tires in a row, but most of the story is filled by Alix and Jools games, adventures, fanciful scenarios they invent, and their discoveries at the beach. It's sweet, innocent, playful and easy listening, and I commend it as a worthy title.


A Dark Inheritance by Chris D'Lacey


Rating: WARTY!

Read rather oddly by Raphael Corkhill, this was another audiobook which started out really well and then Le Stupide set in big time. I had thought I was going to get through it unscathed, but it was not to be. About two-thirds the way in, it went south with the ducks - and normally I like ducks. Some of my best friends are...not ducks, but anyway, to see them in the southbound lane was still rather sad. Duck asses are not the most engaging of sights.

The initial premise was an interesting one and the story changed up periodically so it did not quickly become boring, but the more I listened, the less the story seemed to have a plan to go anywhere. It wasn't until later that I discovered why. The main character was so passive as to be tedious, as was his momma! Worse than this, I discovered by skipping to the end after I'd given up on it, that this novel is part of a series, of which there is zero indication whatsoever on the book cover, so the publisher is outright lying to readers and I will not countenance that.

This explains why this novel never was interested in going anywhere. The author gave up that motivation when he decided to thinly-stretch material sufficient for one book into a trilogy or more. Michael learns nothing - not even how to control his ability, and he never does learn a damned thing about his father because this is not a novel, it's a prologue.

By accident, this semi-orphan with the uninventive name of Michael Malone discovers that he has the ability to not so much change reality as to be able to switch between realities in a multiverse. He can only do this at first when under stress, which is how he does it the first time. His new reality is always very similar to the old one with some minor changes, but the important thing is that he's supposed to be able to switch to one which conforms to some idea he has of the kind of reality he wants to live in.

Michael is seventeen. A kid of that age ought to be at a point in life where he has some self-motivation and some idea of what he wants out of life, along with a few grown-up thoughts here and there, but none of this is true with Michael who acts more like he's thirteen. He has no excitement or curiosity whatsoever about his magical power and shows no inclination at all to investigate it or to try to use it to put himself into a reality where his father is back with the family, and the villains are out of his life. He'd evidently much rather attend his own self-pity party.

These villains arrive suddenly in the form of a young French woman and an older German man by the name of Klimt. We never learn how they latched on to Michael, but apparently it's through his missing father who evidently had some of the same abilities as Michael does. Klimt wants to use Michael for some purpose of his own and holds the carrot of finding Michael's father and the stick of changing Michael's reality into something horrible. These people are from the "Unicorne" society and Michael at one point discovers he's been inducted into it while he was unconscious after an bike accident. Now he has now has a black Unicorne tattoo, which covers a spot in his skin where he has, he's informed, been injected with a microchip for the purpose of tracking him not only in this reality, but in others, too.

Michael shows zero anger at this, zero curiosity about how he can disable the chip, and no amusement at how pathetic it is that this secret society blatantly advertises its existence with this unusual tattoo. This was my first adverse reaction to the story. If this had been a middle grade novel, then I could probably have countenanced this , but for a young adult novel it was pathetic at best. There are ways to write that do not make your characters look limp, or stupid, and your story amateur, but this author is apparently too lazy or unimaginative to think of them, hence his penchant for writing series with uninventive titles. That coupled with the laziness and lack of imagination inherent in writing a series is enough to avoid this author like the plague from now on. I expect a lot better from a university-educated writer. Or maybe that's the problem.

It got worse when the story began to drag with little-to-nothing happening. At one point Michael is hit by a car when riding his bicycle and ends up in a private hospital where the doctor is of course Klimt, and the nurse is this same French girl. On top of this there are two police detectives investigating the car accident, yet they are literally grilling Michael over matters that are totally irrelevant to what happened and neither Michael nor his mother objects to this line of questioning. That immediately said "Dumbasses" to me, and it's where I quit being interested in this purportedly young adult, but more like middle grade or younger story.

I skimmed to the end, and discovered that the book has no resolution whatsoever, and so is merely a prologue to volume two. I don't do prologues, and I do not accept books like this one. I would have rated this negatively for treating readers like mushrooms (keeping them in the dark and feeding them bullshit) if it hadn't already failed me. The book is poorly written and is a rip-off. I dis-recommend it.


Thursday, May 2, 2019

The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole by Michelle Cuevas


Rating: WORTHY!

And for my 3,000th review on this website in less than six years, I can't think of anything (my own novels and children's series excluded!) better than to give this one the honor!

Read delightfully by Laura Ortiz, this audiobook was a blast. It was sly and humorous, intelligent, but endearingly simple, and fully entertaining. It reminded me a bit of the old Calvin and Hobbes cartoons where the characters have rather more maturity than they would seem to merit at first glance.

Set in the mid-seventies, when Stella Rodriguez was eleven and still very much feeling the loss of her father, she decided during a school holiday to visit NASA and offer a tape recording of her father's laughter that she has. She hopes it will be added to the recording of Earth sounds and images that was included on a gold analog disk that is now flying outbound from the solar system on Voyager 1, which is headed for a rendezvous with the Oort 'cloud' in about 300 years, and will then will spend the next thirty-thousand years transiting that body, which is believed to be a repository for embryonic comets.

The guard at NASA wouldn't let her in, but due to an emergency she manages to sneak inside; then exits quickly followed by what turns out to be a black hole which has become attached to her. She names it Larry. Of course. Why not?

Hiding out in her bedroom, Larry promptly begins consuming assorted objects, including the school's pet hamster, Stinky Stew, which Stella was supposed to be taking care of over the holiday. She doesn't miss Stew very much, but objects when Larry devours a picture of her father, and really loses it when it swallows her new pet puppy, so she launches herself into the hole and begins sailing the Black Hole Sea in an old iron bathtub in search of the dog star...er, puppy star....

While I feel it lost a little momentum when she entered the black hole, the story in general was hilarious, fast-moving for the most part, and full of humorous asides and amusing events. I recommend this completely as a worthy read for any age, but particularly for young readers and listeners.


Criss Cross by Lynn Rae Perkins


Rating: WARTY!

Having had success with two previous LRP novels, I ventured into this audiobook (read adequately by Danielle Ferland) with high hopes which were soon dashed. This novel won the 2006 Newbery Medal for excellence in children's literature, an assessment with which I beg to disagree. I normally void Newberys like the plague because - apart from one or two very rare exceptions, I've been almost consistently bored to tears with them, and this was no exception. It seems to me that Newberys are awarded based on how tediously boring a novel is, and from that perspective this one certainly earned it.

It's called Criss Cross because it's a mess. It makes you cross and then it makes you curse. Worse, it jumps around like a - what was the term that Elvis used in All Shook Up? Oh yeah, like a catfish pole-dancing (or something on those lines, I'm sure, but I;m fishing here...). Actually, the best version I've heard of that song was by Suzie Quatro who really knew which poles on a catfish to hook up to make it jump, and they're all positive. It was written by African-American song-writer Otis Blackwell, who also penned classics such as Fever (yes, that one!), Great Balls of Fire, and Don't be Cruel, which in my amateur opinion was best done by Billy Swan. But I digress.

This story jumped around between several characters which is almost, but not quite, guaranteed to annoy me. I like to read about a character I can invest in, but when all you get is julienned character cameos in this kind of a story, you really don't care about them that much - leastways I don't. If I'd known previously that Kirkussed Reviews had described this novel as a "tenderly existential work" I would have skipped it without hesitation. Since Kirkustomarily never has a criss cross word to say about any novel, their assessment is utterly worthless, so when they lard-up a review with this pretentious drivel, it's assuredly garbage.

So, in short, I can't recommend this because I couldn't commend it in the first place.


Goslings by JD Beresford


Rating: WARTY!

Read rather awkwardly by Matthew Brenher, this audiobook was a quick fail. I am not one for these end-of-the-world survivor stories, but this particular one seemed interesting from the blurb, which means only that the blurb did its job in luring me into picking up the thing.

Once I started listening to it though, it was boring. It was really nothing different from any other apocalypse story, and the characters were completely uninteresting to me. The story was too lethargic; I made it through less than ten percent before I ditched it back to the library in favor of something which wouldn't make me fall asleep listening, which would be disastrous when driving a car! I can't commend it based on my admittedly limited experience of it, but life is far too short to waste on books that don't do it for you right out of the gate.


Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Nuts to You by Lynne Rae Perkins


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a short and adorable audiobook. The original novel is both written and illustrated by the author who is, I'm sorry to report, a Newbery medal winner. I normally detest stories that have won Newberys and avoid them and their authors like the plague, but this novel is not itself a Newbery winner, and so is totally unpretentious and completely loveable. Inspired by this one, I'm planning on reading more work by this author.

Squirrels are not the most reliable of mammals, so it means a lot to have a friend who will go to great lengths - at least great groves of trees anyway, to save a squirrel who was snatched away by a hawk. When Jed is carried off by the hawk, who ends up dropping him, his best friend TsTs (sutsuh, who is a totally happening squirrel) talks their other friend Chai into going with her to find out what happened to Jed. They end up finding a new community of oddly-speaking red squirrels, and learn of a threat to their home from those evil forest-flaying humans

Nuts to You is actually a well-wishing gesture in squirrel, and this story is full of fun, humor, and squirrel lore. I delighted in it and commend it fully as a worthy read.


The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli


Rating: WORTHY!

Despite my abhorrence of Newbery medal winners, I have read one or two by accident. This is another one, and while most have been awful, I'm forced to conclude that older Newbery winners are infinitely better than the more recent ones in that they're far less pompous and pretentious and therefore make for a better read.

This one, which won in 1950, was short - which helps when it's a Newbery - and educational. Set in the middle ages with a very small cast, it features young Robin, who is expected to become a knight like his dad, but who suffers some sort of debilitating disease which robs him of the use of his legs, and of which he only regains limited re-use over time.

Derailed from his life plan, and ending up at a monastery after scaring away his helper with his unappreciative behavior, Robin eventually finds strength in other pursuits such as reading, swimming, and wood carving, eventually moving on to build a harp.

The language in the book is period, but the wrong period. Most kids won't know the difference, however, and it has to be rendered intelligibly, let's face it! It's read amiably by Roger Rees, and the book is educational, so I consider it a worthy read despite being handicapped with the taint of a Newbery.


Summerlost by Ally Condie


Rating: WARTY!

This is a story of a summer where Cedar Lee grows up and processes long dormant feelings about the death of her father and her younger brother Ben in a car accident. Moving back to the small town of Iron Creek for the summer, Cedar finds work at a local renaissance faire where plays are put on. She works a concession stand and helps with wardrobe. Her new friend Leo made this possible, and as they grow in their friendship, they also share a common interest in local actor who died mysteriously after a hotel-room encounter with her former husband.

I haven't had good experiences with this author. Her Matched was so god-awful I couldn't finish it. It was so delusional that I renamed the author Ally Contrick. The story was "utterly ridiculous, nonsensical and profoundly stupid" (from my own review back in December of 2015). The main character in that book was so juvenile and shallow as to be a joke.

This story was a much better one, but let's face it, it would be truly hard to write one worse than Matched (which frankly ought to be matched, or rather torched, with some tinder and gasoline). The problem with this one was that the story really didn't move. Consequently, it became tedious and I quickly lost interest in it. I cannot commend it and I'm truly done with this author.


Thor Ragnarok by Jim McCann


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a Disney-style audiobook based on the Marvel Movie of the same name. While I detest Disney's all-powerful mega-corporation status, and their lack of credit for the work people do on books like this, I do confess I'm a fan of the Marvel movies, and I was curious as to what they had done with this story which was aimed at younger children. In this case, the rewrite of the movie script was credited - to comic book author Jim McCann and the reading to narrator MacLeod Andrews who did a fine job.

It tells the story of Thor's battle against the Ragnarok beast, thinking he's won when he hasn't, of his return to Asgard to discover his mischievous stepbrother Loki has been impersonating Odin, and Odin's death, which permits the imprisoned sister Hela (whom Thor never knew he had) back into the world, and of her fight to take over Asgard and Thor's resistance to it - after he escapes confinement on a planet where the 'owner' captures tough visitors to make them fight one another for entertainment. It features the Hulk, and Valkyrie - an estimable addition to the Marvel pantheon of heroic women.

Apart from being tamed appropriately (and having some portions changed more than seemed necessary) it stuck to the story in the movie so it would make a decent read for young children who for whatever reason are not allowed to see the movie. So I commend this as a worthy listen.


The Man Who Was Thursday : a Nightmare by GK Chesterton


Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook in which I did not progress very far - about thirty three percent. I'd never read anything by Chesterton and decided to give him a try. So from this encounter, I've learned that I can strike him from my list of potentially interesting authors! His writing was rather pompous and overblown, which is I guess how they wrote back in 1908. That doesn't mean I have to like it though! The book's language and style reminded me somewhat of Ian Fleming, who coincidentally was born in the same year this novel was published.

The story is rather allegorical, and the plot seemed like it might be entertaining, with a philosopher joining a secret organization within the police aimed at overthrowing anarchy. Gabriel Syme is recruited to this organization right after he gets an inside track into a secret anarchist society via an acquaintance, Lucian Gregory. In the society, each of the seven leaders is named after a day of the week. The Thursday position is up for election - which struck me as curiously ironical for an anarchic organization! They have elections??? Anyway, after Gabriel informs Lucien that he is a police officer, the latter becomes nervous and flubs his chance of election, and Gabriel is elected himself, only to discover that all of the seven positions are occupied by police spies!

Sorry, but I never made it that far because I could not get past the rather tedious writing style. I can't commend this based on my experience of it and I definitely don't want to read any more GK Chesterton.


Eloise by Kay Thompson


Rating: WARTY!

I saw an Eloise movie a while back and it was passably enjoyable, but nothing spectacular. Now having listened to most of these three short stories on this audiobook: Eloise first published in 1955, Eloise at Christmastime (1958), and Eloise in Moscow (1959), I am not impressed at all.

Why the collection did not include the fourth one, Eloise in Paris from 1957 I do not know, but it undoubtedly would have been as bad as the others, so no big loss. As it was, this was more than enough to bore me, which was unexpected since I had enjoyed the movie and the stories were read by Bernadette Peters who I loved as an actor. The problem with that was that Bernadette was in her late sixties when she read these and sounded like it, so it made the first person Eloise stories totally unbelievable.

The first story was tediously repetitive and juvenile in its approach. It made Eloise look like she was four instead of the more mature girl she supposedly was. The Christmas story was written in verse and was boring. The Moscow story was another short story that had Eloise sneaking into people’s rooms at night. I gave up on it at that point. No. Just no. I cannot commend this because it was simply awful: written poorly, read by an inappropriate reader for the character, and the stories had nothing interesting to offer.


Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Oracle Year by Charles Soule


Rating: WARTY!

Read okay if sometimes annoyingly by Charlie Thurston, this audiobook novel started out with an interesting premise, but got lost somewhere along the way and by about two-thirds the way through it, the author had lost me as a supporter by having the story ramble way too much. The blurb describes this debut novel as "clever and witty" but it's neither. And there's no "sharp-witted satire." In the end, what there was, was boredom and I DNF'd it. The writer is a comic book writer, but the novel doesn't read like a comic book; it reads more like a menu. A disjointed, rambling menu advertising yesterday's leftovers.

The premise is that a musician with the bizarre name of Will Dando (have prophecies, will dando?!) gets these predictions spoken to him in his sleep; over a hundred of them. With the usual computer geek friend, he sets up an anonymous website where be begins posting the predictions. The website is unimaginatively referred to as 'The Site' and the predictor is unimaginatively known as 'The Oracle'. There is a predictably ruthless jackass working for the government who wants to track him down and who hires a predictably tame on the surface, but dangerous underneath, older woman known as 'The Coach' to do the dirty. There is a predictably pissed-off religious leader with a predictably Biblical name who also wants him.

The predictions seems random, and will dandos around aimlessly, not knowing what to do with them except post them in batches on his website, but instead of posting them all and then severing all ties to the website, Will dandos on and on stupidly and gets tracked down, of course, because he's a moron. Monkey see, will dando. Yet despite being a whiny-assed moron, he has a "beautiful journalist" fall for him. Why it's important that she's beautiful according to the book blurb, is a mystery, except that only beautiful counts for anything in these novels, doesn't it? A smart woman doesn't work for this kind of story, neither does a capable one or one with loyalty, grit, determination, bravery, integrity, humor, or whatever. No, the only important thing to the misogynist of a book blurb writer is that she's beautiful because in his world, women have no other value, obviously.

Eventually even dandoing around as he does, Will figures out there's something going on here because the predictions, when combined and in hindsight, seemed aimed at orchestrating something. He's just too dumb to figure out what it is, and I simply didn't care what it was. I can't commend this.



Thursday, March 7, 2019

Tidewater by Libbie Hawker


Rating: WARTY!

You know I should just swear off any novel about Jamestown which features the name Pocahontas on the cover. Even though that was not strictly speaking, her name, but a descriptive term, the author uses this name exclusively for the main character (at least in the part I listened to which honestly wasn't very much).

The American Indians speak in modern English idiom, and while I certainly didn't expect that their words would have been spoken in their own language in this audiobook, I thought some effort might have been made to render their exchanges a little more authentically. It felt so fake.

On top of that, The Pocahontas, who was well-known amongst her own people, was refused entrance to a meeting to which she had been instructed to bring food by her father. The guards on the door didn't recognize her? There were guards on the door? It felt so completely unrealistic that I couldn't hear it. It felt like the author had no clue whatsoever as to how these people lived back then, and simply translated everything into modern western European terms and was happy with what she'd done. The truly disturbing thing is that believe it or not, this wasn't the worst part of it for me!

The story was narrated by three people, and the woman who narrated the Powhatan portions was Angela Dawe, an actor who isn't native American and whose voice was one of the most harsh and strident I have ever heard. It was quite literally painful on my ears. I began listening to this on the drive home from the library after I picked it up. That drive is very short, but even so, I couldn't stand to listen to her voice for the entire journey home. I turned it off and almost looped the car around to return the book that same afternoon! LOL. It was awful. The voice was completely wrong in every measure. It was hard to listen to because of the tone, and cadence and pacing. Every single thing was off about it, and it made my stomach turn to listen to it.

So based on an admittedly tiny portion of this, I can't commend it.


The Affliction by Beth Gutcheon


Rating: WARTY!

This audiobooks started out well enough, but it moved so slowly that I was truly tired of it by the time I was about forty percent the way through it. I gave up on it shortly after that. The narration by Hillary Huber wasn't bad, it was just a poor story.

It's apparently part of a series, but once again the publisher has failed to identify this on the cover. What are they afraid of? All it said was that it was by the author of Death at Breakfast a singularly uninspiring title which it turns out is the first in the series. This is the second, but it can be read as a standalone if you don't mind occasional references to a prior history between the two main protagonists, Maggie Detweiler and Hope Babbin.

Maggie is a retired school principal. How that qualifies her to solve murders is more of a mystery than the murder mystery itself is. Hope Babbin is a bon viveur as far as I can tell - wealthy and no clue what to do with herself. She's happy, in this story, to abandon her book club, which begs the question as to why she's in it in the first place. Maybe it's lazy author shorthand for her being smart? It doesn't work. It never does.

Maggie is supposed to be part of an assessment group that's inspecting a private and formerly elite, but now down-at-heel, girls school which is under threat of closure. None of this has anything to do with the murder, but it gets Maggie in the door. When one of the teachers is found in the swimming pool - on the bottom as opposed to swimming - Maggie is asked to stay on to help guide the relatively new and young current school principal through the crisis, but Maggie spends absolutely zero time advising the principal on anything, and instead immediately launches herself and her friend Hope whom she recruits for this purpose, into a serious investigation of the crime.

Never once does it cross her mind that she might screw things up for the police. Never once do the police advise her to keep out of the investigation. Never once do any of the people she interviews tell her to get lost and quit meddling, or that it's none of her business. Never once do they refuse to answer any of her questions - at least not in the part I listened to. Never once do these two share anything they have learned with the police, and never once do the police start suspecting them of being involved or covering-up anything. It's just too frigging perfect!

The whole thing was so inauthentic that it really made for an increasing lack of suspension of disbelief the more I listened to this. The feeling that grew on me was that here were two interfering busybodies who evidently had nothing better to do with their time than to get into other people's business with no concerns whatsoever for what they might mess-up. That's not my kind of story and this one wasn't even written well, so I can't commend it for anything other than wasting my time quite effectively.


Friday, March 1, 2019

The Telomere Effect by Elizabeth Blackburn, Elissa Epel


Rating: WARTY!

I'm always suspicious of books where the author adds some sort of lettered credential after their name. You never see authors like Richard Dawkins, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Stephen Hawking doing that. They just list their name. Usually when the author's name is followed by a raft of letters, it's some fringe or new-age publication full of woo medicine and nonsense.

In this case, I picked this one up because I'd already heard about telomeres and cell longevity, so I knew this wasn't rooted in pseudoscience at least. My interest was whether the authors could really deliver what the book cover promised: "A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer." The short answer is no, they cannot, because there is nothing on offer here that's revolutionary. It's nothing that a score of other books have not offered before, so the cover blurb is a lie. The only difference here is the telomere angle.

I've read before about telomeres, which are like the twist ties on the end of your DNA. They start out very long, but shorten quite disturbingly rapidly as you age, and once the length is down to a nub, the cell ceases to divide and is essentially useless. The idea behind the book is that if you take care of your telomeres, they will take care of you, helping to keep your cells healthy and viable, but it's really not very useful in offering advice about how to do this except to give the same advice all other health books do: reduce stress, get exercise, think positively, and eat healthily, so it begs the question as to what is the point of this book, when even coming from a genetics and science angle, all it can tell us is what we know already?

There is no magic shot you can get, like Botox, to tighten up your DNA. There is no 'Telox'! There is telomerase, which helps maintain and repair telomeres, but you can't get a shot of that and have it fix your short telomeres. On top of that, and for a science-based book, this felt a bit elitist. There seems to be a connection between a healthy diet and a stress-free life and the length of your telomeres, and there is a lot of talk here about stress affecting your biochemistry, and this in turn affecting your telomeres. There seems to be evidence supporting that, but it still all seemed a bit vague to me, and not everyone can avail themselves of some of the things they discuss.

The authors soon got on to talking about how to reduce stress, and this led into talking about meditation and mindfulness and all that. One of the things they were talking about was going easy on yourself, and avoiding ruminating over perceived failures or worrying overmuch about potentially bad things that have not happened yet, but they're talking like every person has complete control over every aspect of their lives, and very many people do not, especially if they're in a lousy job or they're living from paycheck to paycheck. In one case they talked about being less of a critic of yourself, and they likened it to you being an office manager and learning to take input from the busybody assistant and filter it appropriately, but not everyone is an office manager! In fact, most people are not!

This was where the elitism was rife. I became concerned that their perceived audience felt like it was a certain kind of person in a certain sort of socio-economic group, and how their approach might be perceived by someone reading this book who worked in a factory or who was a janitor, or a miner or car mechanic - something less academic than they were. Maybe a lot of those people would never read a book like this. I don't know, but the authors' attitude seemed like it didn't even know such people existed, let alone care about how this book might apply to them or how they might benefit from it.

Everyone experiences stress to some level or another, but there's a lot more stress on poorly-paid people at the lower end of the social scale than there is on those who are comfortably well-off and not worrying about how they're going to pay rent or buy food or medicine, or who don't live in dangerous neighborhoods.

It's not that wealthy people automatically have no stress, but I'd have liked to have seen the results of one of their telomere surveys in comparing financially secure people to poor people, and maybe homeless people to a more secure group of people. They don't seem to have done that, and they don't seem to have a plan for how these people can benefit from this knowledge, apart from telling themselves 'don't worry, be happy!' which is really all this book seems to be advising. You know what? That doesn't always work, and even if it does, it's nothing we haven't heard before, so what does this book really contribute? Nothing! That's why I can't commend it as a worthy read.


Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods


Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook and while it might work for the intended audience which is younger than I am, it was too slow-moving for my taste, too religiously-oriented, and not well-written, so I can't commend it.

The story was about a biracial child coming into her own and while the approach that it seemed to want to take was commendable, the actual path it did take was less than advisable in my opinion, and the tale came off more as a lecture hitting on a list of bullet points the author had prepared than it did a real story.

It felt like a political campaign in many regards, and while no one in their right mind should countenance the execrable treatment of people of color in the past (and still ongoing in too many facets of life), a book like this is in danger of trying to swing the pendulum back too far and instead of settling it in an amicable middle, and risks running into its own racism by pushing it too aggressively in the other direction. I think this book managed to avoid that extreme, but everything in it seemed colored by race in a way that people of color have far too often experienced in everyday life, and this seemed to me to be the wrong way to go about redressing that imbalance.

If that had been the only problem I think I might have been inclined to let it slide, history being what it isn't, but there were several other issues, not least of which is the mistake too many writers make, and not just in children's books, of using the lazy substitution that a person who reads books equals a person who is smart, instead of actually doing the work to make them read as a smart character. While a person who reads books can be smart, such a person can instead be dumb, and a person who doesn't read much can be smart, so the two things are not equivalent. Just because Violet can recite things from books, such as which countries in Africa speak Swahili, does not mean she is smart. It just means she's a parrot. And an annoying one at that. More on Swahili anon.

As I mentioned the story moved very slowly and even though it was not a long story, I grew bored with it taking forever to get anywhere. I also found this use of juvenile names for grandparents to be obnoxious. This girl Violet is not four years old, yet her grandparents are 'Poppy' and 'Gam'. Given that her name was Violet and her sister's name was Daisy, having a grandfather referred to as Poppy was way the hell too much. Can we not have a children's book where the grandparents are called grandma and grandpa? Seriously? I don't doubt that there are kids who use idiotic names for their grandparents, but I sure don't have to read about them!

Later there was another grandparent in the story who insisted on being called Bibi, which on the face of it is just as bad, but it turns out that Bibi is the Swahili name for grandmother. Now you might be willing to grant that a bye, but I wasn't because what's up with that? Where did this Swahili come from out of the blue? It had never been mentioned before. It wasn't like we'd learned that Violet's father was a native born African from one of the nations there which boasts Swahili as its native tongue. So WTF?! Given what I'd already been through it with the asinine names for grandparents, adding Bibi to the mix, out of the blue was once again ill-advised. This is what I mean about poorly written.

If the kids names, Daisy and Violet, had been derived from Swahili, and the family had a historical connection with the language, that would be one thing, but Daisy is from an old English phrase meaning 'day's eye', and Violet is from the Latin word for violet, which is believe it or not, Viola. No connection here. And the author can't spell Ahmed. She gets the M and H the wrong way around! I don't know if that was intentional but it looked sloppy.

This is why it's important for authors to really think about what they're writing. Names are important. If the girls had been named Nyasi and Ua, for example, the Swahili words for grass and flower, or some similarly-derived name, then that would have given a lead directly to Bibi, but there was nothing, and for the author to pull this straight out of her ass, smelled of desperation and poor choices to put it politely. It sure didn't smell of violets and daisies. I can't commend lazy writing like that. I made it a little over halfway through this book before I gave up on it. I cannot commend it as a worthy read.



Friday, February 15, 2019

Peasprout Chen: Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien


Rating: WARTY!

The title of this audiobook amused the heck out of me and since I've had some success with oddly-titled middle-grade books recently, I thought this might make for a great read - or rather listen. The reader's voice wasn't bad at all, although a bit mature-sounding for the character.

The book started out decently, but rapidly went downhill. It's set in a pseudo-Asian world which is obviously China versus Japan, in which Peasprout Chen is coming in from China (called Shin here) to attend the prestigious Pearl Academy in Japan, where skating is available all year due to the fact that pearl is made from this slippery pearlescent material upon which ice skates work, so everyone skates everywhere, year-round.

That made for some interesting world-building, but even that ultimately fell short, and when the bullying began on day one, it was irritating to me. I stuck with it because I was interested in this martial art of Wu Liu - martial arts on skates! That sounded cool, but the descriptions of it given here aren't very evocative, and the endless competition was boring and absurdly dangerous from the young girls' perspective. It was too much, and had nothing to do with martial arts. It was merely performing ridiculous stunts, so there was little joy to be had there.

Peasprout and her kid brother Cricket - who isn't interested in Wu Liu at all, but in architecture - begin settling in and competing in the various tests they're given. For an academy, there appears to be precious little teaching going on. Everything is wrapped around this series of contests instead, so the story devolved into a series of girls bitching at each other and then competing in bizarre stunts which had nothing to do with learning and practicing martial arts. It was boring.

It was at this point that I began to realize that I really didn't like Peasprout at all. She was shallow and completely insensitive to her kid brother's needs. She was so focused on rivalry between her and other kids that it was pathetic.

At one point she breaks this special shock-absorbing dragon design on one of her skates (which is nowhere to be seen on the idiotic book covers), causing her problems, but despite the fact that she observes other kids tossing their blades into the trash after using then only once, it never occurs to her to grab a pair of those and use them on her own skates to replace the broken blade.

At one point she injures her knee, but instead of taking care of it, she allows herself to be goaded into a show of one-upmanship with some of her rivals and ends up injuring her knee further. In short, Peasprout is a moron. I don't mind if a character starts out dumb and wises up, but when they grow progressively dumber, I'm outta there. I DNF'd this one and cannot commend it as a worthy read.


The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty


Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook aimed at middle graders which didn't appeal to me. It started out well enough, but the more I read, the more I realized the author really didn't have any idea what she was talking about, and the plot was so inconstant as to be irritating. The reader's voice was way too mature for the character, and it was in first person too, which made it sound worse.

Lightning Girl isn't a super hero, although it would be a great name for one. When Lucy Calahan is struck by lightning at age eight, something in her brain is changed, and she suddenly becomes a math whiz. To my knowledge, no one who has been struck by lightning has ever become an autistic savant.

Lightning strikes are second in line behind flooding as causes of death by natural catastrophe, resulting in something like a death per week on average in the US. Survivors, far from having increased mental agility are likely to have it reduced, and math skills impaired. Victims who survive are more likely to experience problems with hearing and vision, and the myelin which sheathes nerves can also be damaged, leading to death long after the strike.

But this is pure fiction, and Lucy miraculous has no adverse physical effects whatsoever except for this math brilliance, but the author seems to confuse autistic savant syndrome with OCD, so Lucy has a series of oddball behaviors - normal for OCD sufferers, but seemingly out of line with the cause of her math skills. It made little sense to me. The outcome is that people perceive her as odd and she cannot make friends. Moving to a new school gives her a chance to hide her math brilliance and try to appear 'normal'.

Her grandmother is called 'Nana' here. Do kids in these books never ever, ever, ever call their grandparents grandpa and grandma? I just started another audiobook where grandfather is Poppy. Seriously? I know there must be some kids who use baby-names for their grandparents, but not everyone does! I guess authors of children's books never got that memo, huh, and kids never grow out of childish habits?

But I digress! Nana fails her granddaughter miserably by not telling anyone at the school about her condition. This results in all kinds of grief for Lucy, which means to me that Nana is guilty of a form of child abuse. The truth is that this book may as well not have adults in it for as little role as they play. Teachers are shown as bullies or uncaring about their kids which is frankly insulting and abusive of teachers, and parents have very little involvement in their kids' lives, evidently, in this author's world.

Far from celebrating her granddaughter's abilities, Nana plays along with hiding them, which is entirely inappropriate. It's one thing to exploit and abuse a gifted child by selfishly promoting them, but it's equally abusive to force, or at least enable, them into pretending they're something they're not.

The book involves a dog, too, which was just sickly sentimental and annoying to me. The dog is doomed, but not one grown-up ever sits down with Lucy and takes the time to explain to her why things are the way they are, which irritated the hell out of me. These adults were morons and abusive to this child. It's at that point that I DNF'd it.

Lucy gets on this team of three doing a school project, and the one girl, named Windy - not Wendy, but Windy - is a blabbermouth, and the boy, Levi, is simply a jerk. The trio were unprepossessing at best and uninteresting and laughable at worst. The story just lost me, and I gave up on it. Consequently I can't commend it as a worthy read.


Saturday, February 9, 2019

Hyacinth by Jacob Sager Weinstein


Rating: WARTY!

This audiobook, read decently by Jessica Almasy, was nonetheless not to my taste. I started in on it a bit unsure, grew to like it somewhat, and then got put off by the first person voice and the really annoying lisp these characters had who came into the story a bit later. Plus the story moved a bit too slowly for my taste.

Tapping heavily into clich├ęs about the British, the book weaves a story about London's many underground 'rivers', which used to be above ground, but which have slowly been culverted and then covered over as London grew. They're more like rivulets than rivers, truth be told. The story premise is that these rivers are magical and dangerous if not treated carefully. Even one lone drop of water can cause havoc, which the main character learns when she gets annoyed with the fact that the water coming from the cold faucet is too cold and the water in the hot one is way too hot.

She apparently isn't smart enough to consider running them both into the sink and getting the temperature just right there, so she gets this tool from somewhere and tinkers with the plumbing until the incoming water is mixed. This of course creates a problem since the water was apparently separated for a good reason. I was driving when I was listening to this and missed a bit here and there during this sequence.

The result of her actions is that she has to tool around in the London sewerage system and recover an escaped magical drop of water. This is where the story became tedious for me and I lost interest. While your mileage may well differ, and I would hope it does, I can't commend it based on my experience, although I confess I found Jessica Almasy's accents amusing.