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

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 clichés 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.


Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Ghost Knight by Cornelia Funke


Rating: WARTY!

I think I'm done reading Cornelia Funke because my results with her tend to be dissatisfactory. This was like the final straw. It's not that I haven't liked anything by her, but the ratio of successes to failures has been very poor for me and I am not a good member of the sunk cost fallacy club!

This novel, aimed at middle-grade, is about this eleven-year-old kid in England who gets sent to boarding school because of a conflict between him and his new stepfather. Way to go, mom - show the kid how much you love him by kicking him out in favor of your new husband!

So he goes off to school and starts fitting in, but at one point he realizes he can see ghosts, and these are not passive ghosts, but ghosts who have been for several centuries now, hunting down his family line and killing them off. I guess they haven't been very successful in their quest, because they still haven't wiped out the line - and how hard could that have been?

The kid recruits a girl who also attends his school and she believes him when he talks about murderous ghosts. At her suggestion, the guy also recruits a knight who died in mysterious circumstances even more centuries ago, and is looking to redeem himself. A ghost sword can kill a ghost right? Well, not if the ghost had an onion skin under his tongue when he was hung, because then he gets to relive his life several times over.

This audiobook got off to a slow start, redeemed itself somewhat, but then went downhill big time, and became utterly boring. I couldn't finish it, and I cannot commend it as a worthy read.


Unbelievable by Katy Tur


Rating: WARTY!

"Unbelievable" was a great title for this book because I could not believe how self-obsessed the author was. It was ostensibly about Trump's 2016 campaign for the White House, but the author (who read this audiobook herself, to her credit) was reporting more about herself than ever she was about Trump. I listened to about 20% of it before I lost patience with her.

She was one of, if not the, first to interview Trump before he ever became a serious candidate in the eyes of the media, and from that point on he took a dislike to her and would occasionally mention her name during his campaign speeches, knowing she would be there in the crowd somewhere, covering him. She felt at risk for her safety on at least one occasion after he'd called her out, and for no good reason other than that he carries a grudge to childish levels and doesn't care who he puts at risk in doing so.

So she pointed out a few of his inconsistencies and some of his dishonesty, double-speak, and disgraceful behavior, but because she made this account personal in a way that in some ways mirrored Trump's absurd habit of making it personal, we never got the objective and devastating coverage of his campaign of misinformation and disinformation that we would have, had more a more disinterested reporter written this. Like I said, I lost patience with her style of coverage, and I cannot commend this as a worthy read.


Saturday, February 2, 2019

Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi


Rating: WARTY!

I'd heard of this author from one source or another but never read anything by her that I can recall until I listened to this audiobook. I made it to slightly over halfway through before I DNF'd it because of the fact that it was by turns irritating and engaging. On the one hand there were parts that were inventive and amusing (it's similar in outlook to Robert Rodriguez's Sharkboy and Lavagirl, although more magical and less action-adventure).

My problem with it was that the two main characters were simply not likeable. Alice is dumb and petulant, and I was willing to put up with this if she started showing improvement, which she did, before having a major relapse. That was it for me. Oliver was completely obnoxious from the start and he never did grow on me. The story is set in a land where magic is used, and Alice of course is the one without magic. Yes, she was Alice Potter in Wonderland. Her father has disappeared and Oliver makes a deal with her to enter a different land where he knows her father is, but he cannot free him without Alice's help, so the two set off.

All rules of logic and normality are out the window in this land, and while that at times was intriguing, the more I heard of it, the more stupid it became. The real problem though, was that Oliver never once prepared Alice for what they faced. Even though he had been there before and knew exactly what to expect, he gave her, if anything at all, the bare minimum of information, and Alice was too dumb even to adhere to that. Oliver was just a jerk, period. For example, one of the few things he did warn Alice about was that she could not eat anything in this land, but he never brought any food along with them. Go figure.

He became a major irritant to me, and at one point Alice seemed to be wising-up to his major failings, but she never took him to task over his miserly dissemination of information and worse, she failed repeatedly to heed it, despite witnessing first-hand the consequences of ignoring it. She was stupid. Around the halfway mark I decided I could not stand to read any more about this couple, and that was that. I cannot commend it based on the fifty percent of it that I experienced.


The Men Who Would be King by Nicole LaPorte


Rating: WORTHY!

Playing on the title The Man Who Would Be King which was published by Rudyard Kipling in 1888 and made into a movie starring Sean Connery and Michael Caine in 1975, this audiobook was curiously read by Stephen Hoye. I say curiously because it was written by a woman, so why did the audiobook company choose a man to read it?

Nicole LaPorte is a former reporter for Variety who is well familiar with Hollywood, and if she didn't want to read it, or wasn't able, could they not have found another woman to read this? What, did Tantor Audio buy into the Hollywood paradigm where women and minorities can't carry it, so white men (in this case Stephen Hoye) must be called upon? Well guess what? His reading sucked. It was annoying, and the only reason I stayed with this book (I skipped very little of it, surprisingly!) was because of LaPorte's largely engaging writing.

The book tells the inside story (as reported by insiders to the author) of the 'SKG' of the movie studio Dreamworks SKG. These people are legendary in their own spheres, and the S: Steven Spielberg, is widely known outside of them. Jeffrey Katzenberg is known best as the magician who shepherded several highly-successful Disney animations to success, including The Lion King which I personally thought was laughable, but which was a huge success at the box office.

David Geffen made himself a billionaire in the music industry. The book is mainly about Katzenberg who, fired from Disney and with a grudge over his not-so-golden parachute (and yes, there was a lawsuit - which he won), wanted his own studio. He pulled onboard Spielberg and Geffen, and with backing from ex-Microsoft founder, billionaire Paul Allen, the company launched with great fanfare, proud claims, extravagant promises, and much cash on hand, and began to fritter it away as fast as it could.

DreamWorks was the launch-pad for movies such as "American Beauty," "Saving Private Ryan,", and "Shrek," and began life very boldly, but eventually through mismanagement resulting in an inability to get successful movies out the door in volume, kept on tripping and stumbling. The company slowly crumbled from its lofty perch into broken pieces, with the remainder of it eventually being sold to Paramount, which didn't really want it either in the end, and who themselves sold it off.

The thing which came across most powerfully to me in listening to this was how greedy and arrogant these three men are. Too much is never enough. Spielberg was earning hundreds of millions from the deals he made to direct movies such as Jurassic Park. In that particular case, he agreed to no money up front, but to take fifteen percent of the first dollar - and no, that's not just the fifteen cents! The first dollar is everything the movie earns up front before anyone else gets their hands on it, and Spielberg got fifteen cents from each and every one of those dollars: $300 million in all.

The thing is that we've heard of the successes of these legends, but no one dwells on their many failures, and there were lots of them at Dreamworks, This book does not shy away from that. From Katzenberg's inability to turn out a successful animation until the internally overlooked and neglected Shrek finally came to the screen - and took off big time. Spielberg's failures with multiple movies while having only a few successes, and his penchant for directing movies for any studio except Dreamworks are also examined.

I kind of liked Spielberg before I listened to this book. Now I don't. I had no feeling either way for the other two, but now consider them to be people I would not like if I met them (which is highly unlikely I am happy to report!). Katzenberg seems to come out of these tales with the least tarnish, although his finicky and meddling ways must have been annoying to anyone who worked under him, and while he did have flashes of brilliance in dictating how a movie should look and feel, his successes came few and far between several embarrassing disasters.

Overall I consider this book to be very informative, and full of trade information. It's especially useful if you're looking to get a feel for Hollywood with a view to maybe, somewhere down the line, writing a novel about it! I commend it for interesting and informative reporting.


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.