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

Friday, November 2, 2018

My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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


The Losers Club by Andrew Clements


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Phase Two by Chris Wyatt


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Circle by Dave Eggers


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone


Rating: WORTHY!

For a book offering a sort of biography of a woman who was both an outstanding and unassuming code-breaker, Elizebeth Smith, and who was such an important part of solving codes both in wartime and peace time policing operations (such as breaking rum runner's codes for example), I was a little disappointed that the story seemed to defer regularly to the men in her life, as represented by her husband and another man named Fabyan who was a patriarchal and hyper-controlling figure, but who nevertheless saw her potential and first invited her into his group before she ever met her husband-to-be.

Naturally you can't tell her story without including those people, but it seems that in trying to be so many things, the book failed at being the thing it claimed to be: a story of a woman who smashed codes. In view of this, I often found myself wondering, as I read it, if the author had initially written it about the married couple as a team, which they very much were, both professionally and personally, but later tried to change this by purveying it as a story about this one woman. I don't know if he did or not, but looking at it that way seemed to be the only way to make sense of the way it was written. The only other explanation is that he simply didn't get it. If that's the case, at least he can take comfort in the knowledge that our misogynistic jackass of a president would be proud of him.

There are bits in this book which seem irrelevant or hypocritical. The book often goes off at tangents and rambles on as much about those many other things as it does about its 'star'. It's supposed to be championing Elizebeth Smith, as judged by the title, but when this little code-breaking lab run by Fabyan brought in army officers to teach them about these techniques, it mentioned that four of the officers wives also took the course and did well in it. It also highlighted that even while praising them, this guy Fabyan made no mention of them by name, only as the wives of the officers, yet the book commits the very same sin by not telling us who these women were! This was another thing which made me wonder if the subject of the book originally had not been Elizebeth, but 'Mr and Mrs Friedman'.

That said it does tell a strong story about her and I learned a lot from it, so on that basis I am willing to rate this as a worthy read. You can always skips the bits that don't concern her, but I recommend getting this book from the library as I did or buying it used.


Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell


Rating: WARTY!

This was a wildly optimistic audio book experiment given that I'd already tried Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl and DNF'd it because it was an unmitigated disaster. I found myself forced to adopt the same approach here because this was simply not getting it done. Essentially it's a bit of a rip-off of Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan which was published in 2006 and is a much better read.

Rowell seems to be an uninventive writer who loves to tell rather than show, and who seems to think that stereotypes are daring. No, they're really not, but they do win awards evidently, which is probably why I'll never win one. The first problem is that the basic story is antique: a boy and a girl hate each other, but fall in love? Been there done that to death.

The second problem with this is that it's written as dual narratives which suck. The only kind thing I can say about that was that at least it wasn't in first person. The third problem is that the author doesn't even pretend she can write such a novel about modern youth, so she sets this in the eighties so she can write it about her own youth. Yawn.

The chapters are all called either 'Eleanor' or 'Park' and each is read by one of the two readers: Rebecca Lowman and Sunil Malhotra, and they lay out the perspective from the PoV of each main character so the author can tell you rather than show you what's happening. They meet on a school bus which is populated with stereotypes: jocks, cheerleaders, nerds, and so on. It's painfully tedious; there's nothing new, and I cannot commend it. I'm permanently off reading anything further by this author.


Artemis by Andy Weir


Rating: WORTHY!

This audiobook, written by the author of The Martian and of a short story called The Egg that I read and enjoyed back in March of 2015, turned out to be quite entertaining, but I still feel no compulsion to read The Martian especially not after having seen the movie.

This story, read beautifully by Rosario Dawson, and written quite well until the ending which sort of fizzled a bit for me, still managed to squeak in as a worthy read. It's about Jasmine "Jazz" Bashara who is a smuggler on the eponymous Moon colony. She's hired by billionaire Trond Landvik, who lives on the Moon with his crippled daughter because it's the only place she can be mobile on crutches. Given his billions, this made no sense to me but I let it slide. Landvik, wants Jazz to destroy beyond repair the four moon harvesters used by the corrupt Sanchez Corporation to mine aluminum, the processing of which creates oxygen which is consumed in the city. This will allow him to take over the mining operation.

Why the four huge harvesters are all conveniently in exactly the same place goes unexplained, as does why it is that a constant resupply of O2 is needed. They don't recycle the CO2? Anyway, Jazz manages to cripple only three of them and now she's being hunted by a hitman from O Palacio, the Brazilian crime syndicate which runs Sanchez, and by Rudy, the Artemis 'police chief'. She discovers there's something else going on here and as body count rises, she sets out to solve it, almost wiping out Artemis as she does so.

Throughout this story I had mixed feelings about Jazz who alternately annoyed and amused me. She managed to avoid pissing me off so much that I wanted to ditch the story, although the ending was far too convenient given the major crime that Jazz is responsible for. I can't imagine the movie company that is supposedly turning this book into a movie will actually let the plot stand as is, but I guess we'll see if it ever comes to fruition.

That said I did enjoy this for the most part, so I recommend it as a worthy read, although you are advised that it's best to check parts of your brain at the door before going into it. I think a better story would have been about Landvik's daughter taking over his company when he dies, but that's just me not wanting always to go for the lowest common denominator as too many authors seem to do these days.


Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart


Rating: WARTY!

I picked up this audiobook because it was based on a true story which I found fascinating. The title comes straight from a newspaper headline about the very character this novel is based on. I didn't realize it was the start of a series since there was absolutely nothing on the audiobook cover to indicate any such thing. Thanks Big Publishing™! We do understand that you don't give a shit about readers, but could you at least show a modicum of kindness by not making your disdain quite so painfully obvious?

The novel interested me to begin with, but the story took so drearily long to go anywhere at all that I became bored and ended up DNF-ing it about halfway through. I honestly couldn't believe that such a fascinating true story could be rendered so horribly boring. Way to go Amy Stewart.

It was read by Christina Moore and I still can't make up my mind whether I found her reading acceptable or not; it was right on the cusp of okay and annoying! What bothered me most though was that the main character, with the highly amusing - but real - name of Constance Kopp, seemed so lackadaisical and retiring. I am guessing she was not at all like that in real life, so it felt like an insult. I don't mind so much if a characters starts out less than prepossessing, but when they show little or no sign of improving, growing, or changing in any way, it irritates me.

The Kopp sisters lived together in an old farmhouse and in this story are constantly quibbling with each other. Sometimes this was annoying, other times amusing, so that was a mixed bag. Just how realistic this was is anyone's guess, but there really were three sisters.

The author encountered their story when researching a different novel. She discovered an article from 1915 which talked about a man named Henry Kaufman who ran his automobile into a buggy being driven by these sisters: Constance, Norma and Fleurette Kopp. He refused to pay and when they pursued him for damages, he began a concerted campaign of harassment against them. Kaufman's family was wealthy and he was privileged and thought he could get away with intimidating them. He couldn't.

A local sheriff armed the three sisters and eventually Kaufman was fined $1,000 (about $24,000 today) and warned-off interfering with the sisters ever again. Constance, who was six feet tall - very tall for 1915, even for a man - then worked as an undersheriff for two years and afterwards disappeared into obscurity. It seems to me the real story of this woman would be far more engrossing than this rather bloated fictionalized version, which I cannot commend.


Monday, October 8, 2018

In Prior's Wood by GM Malliet


Rating: WARTY!

I quickly decided to give up on this whodunit audiobook because it was boring and there was no dunnit despite being over a fifth the way through it. The author seems to have spent a lot of time on her character biographies and then decided she didn't want to waste it, and so I'd been getting quite lengthy info-dumps about characters, none of which information seemed remotely relevant to the story. That assumes there was a story and by that point, I hadn't seen one! The title also struck me as odd. Should it be Priory Wood? Or did the place used to be a wood and no longer is? I guess in the end, I don't care!

This is part of a series and is an excellent argument for not reading series. The premise here is that a former MI5 agent (MI5 is Britain's equivalent of the FBI) is now a priest and helps the local cops solve murders. That concept initially intrigued me, but the story was so painfully slow that I rapidly lost interest and became bored. In addition, it's one of these quaint little English village murder mystery stories, but given this this is the seventh instalment in the absurdly-named Max Tudor series, this means that this quaint English village must be the murder capital of the entire country! It's not feasible. Another reason not to pursue a murder mystery series.

As if that wasn't bad enough the guy, Michael Page, who is reading this story had a really strident and grating voice. He reminded me of this British comedy show called Blackadder that I love, and when he's reading it, this guy sounds like Rowan Atkinson's main character from that show. When Rowan Atkinson does the voice, it's amusing, but I'm literally expecting a zinging one-liner every other sentence in the audiobook which of course never comes! As if that wasn't bad enough, there's a character named Owena. I'm not sure of the spelling, but every time he says the name I hear "a wiener" which makes me laugh, so this story wasn't working on so many levels!

It was initially quite entertaining, but rapidly drifted into rambling and boring exposition which contributed nothing to the story that could see. I have better things to do with my time than listen to this - even on a commute. For example, the sound of my car's tires on the road sounded highly appealing after Michael Page's droning nasal intonations.


Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff


Rating: WARTY!

This was a middle grade story that was way too young for me. I suspect it may be too young for many in middle grade. It was an audiobook indifferently read by Noah Galvin, and it was far too boring to hold my interest. I can barely remember the story because it made so little impression on me and I listened to so little of it.

The main character is a fifth-grade student named Albin, and goes by Albie. That should tell you the kind of juvenile approach the story takes. It would have been hilarious if the reader had done his voice as a chipmunk. But to be kinder, Albie is evidently learning impaired and no one is getting him the help he needs - except for the 'nanny'.

Alby's problem is that he's never been the best at anything, but rather than have him deal with that, this author seems to think he needs to be the best at something. Well he needs to have better parents, but the author seemed uninterested in addressing that. Albie's best friend is named Erlan, but at least he has a reason for that. Erlan is one of two sets of identical triplets in this one family which is being filmed for a reality TV show.

At this point I gave up on it because nothing is further from reality than a televised show and this felt like one more step into an unforgiving swamp. This is the second Lisa Graff novel that I have thoroughly disliked (the first being Lost in the Sun where she nauseatingly channeled John Green-around-the-gills), so I guess I'm done with her as an author of interest! I cannot commend this based on what I listened to, not even for a middle grade student.


Eugenia Lincoln and the Unexpected Package by Kate DiCamillo


Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook I picked up after enjoying an advance review copy of Dicamillo's Louisiana's Way Home. I loved that novel, but this audiobook was a disaster for me. It was read by a woman with the amazing name of Lorna Raver, but I wasn't much impressed by her reading. It was the story itself that was the worst part, though. The story is very short, so it has that going for it, but it simply wasn't interesting or sensible to me. Maybe it wasn't intended to be sensible, but if that was the case, it wasn't goofy enough to be silly, either.

The story is that Eugenia Lincoln, a staid mature woman who lives with a younger, less-staid sister, is the recipient of this package, which I suspected her sister sent, but I gave up on the story before I ever found out who was the benefactor. The package contains a piano accordion and it incenses Eugenia - who never ordered it. She calls the supplier and demands they pick it up, but they claim they have a no return policy, so Eugenia decides to throw the thing away. As you might guess, that doesn't happen and she ends up liking it.

I honestly didn't see the point of this particular story. It wasn't funny, or entertaining, or educational. It was simply irritating to me, and the main problem was that there were so many interfering busy-bodies in Eugenia's life, all of whom she detested, yet not one of whom she had the wherewithal to dismiss from her premises, let alone her life. If these people had been amusing or downright weird, it might have been entertaining, but it's evidently one of those stories which the blurb typically advertises as 'quirky' and which has 'zany characters' and I normally avoid such stories like the proverbial plague. If you've ever been infected by Proverbialis pestis, you will know exactly what I mean. I can't commend this.


Monday, October 1, 2018

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by TE Lawrence


Rating: WORTHY!

I negatively reviewed a book called The Key to Lawrence many years ago and the idiot author came after me like his being a complete dick and calling me names would somehow change my review of his and his wife's crappy novel! For all I know he's the one who went around adding an anonymous negative two-line non-review to some of my books on line, but unlike him, I write for myself and I don't care what reviewers say. As it happens, I was right about that novel which has since evidently gone out of print. At that point I had never read TE Lawrence's memoir, but I had seen the movie Lawrence of Arabia (and watched it again recently). It was a good movie, but quite inaccurate in many particulars, but that's movies for you - always over-dramatizing. I'd always intended to read the book which underlay it.

So...I recently picked up the audiobook of The Seven Pillars from the library and it wasn't bad. It was hardly a ripping yarn, but was interesting to me because I like to read historical books which were actually written during the time being described. It's really useful if you intended on writing a book set in that period (which I'm not - not yet anyway!). The odd thing about this book is that the seven pillars go completely un-iterated and Wikipedia provides the reason for that.

I discovered that the title of the book apparently came from the Biblical book of Proverbs, and Lawrence was writing a book about seven great cities of the Middle East, but he abandoned that when war broke out, and he destroyed the manuscript afterwards. He wrote a memoir instead, but retained the title because he liked it so much. Wikipedia reports that he had to write the manuscript for it three times, once because he left the original on a train and it disappeared. What would that be worth now if anyone has it?

The book describes his experiences fighting against the Turks alongside the Arabs during World War One. It is heartfelt. Lawrence really respected and connected with those people. He spoke the language (he'd learned it long before the war began and traveled extensively in Syria, which the French were claiming as a colony - we know how well that worked out for them in Vietnam) and he learned to dress in Arab garb because it worked! In an amused anecdote (it was amusing to him) at the end of this book, he describes how he was mistaken for an Arab while working to improve conditions in a hospital, and he was abused as an Arab by a complete dick of a British officer who clearly had no idea who he was or what he'd done.

After the war, Lawrence, under an assumed name, applied to join the Royal Air Force, but was rejected when the officer interviewing him deemed he was actually applying under an assumed name! That officer was W. E. Johns, who later went on to write the successful 'Biggles' series of novels about an adventurous aviator. Lawrence was successful in joining the RAF, but his tenure was short. When the air force realized who he really was, they kicked him out and instead he joined the tank corps under another assumed name! Eventually he went back to the RAF under his real name. He really wanted to be a soldier, didn't he?!

It was hardly fitting for such a man, and neither was his death. Lawrence was killed at the age of 46, two months after leaving military service, when he swerved his Brough Superior SS100 motorbike to avoid two boys on bicycles. His head injuries resulted in his death six days later. The doctor who treated him was instrumental in promoting the use of helmets for motorbike riders. The accident is how the movie begins.

With a colleague, Lawrence had prepared fresh maps of the Negev desert in 1914 since it was considered to be of strategic importance in wartime. He joined in many Arab raids against the Ottomans, attacking cities and sabotaging railroads, and at one point the Turks offered a substantial reward for his capture (some two million dollars at today's prices). No Arab betrayed him. The Sharif of Mecca had given him the status (and thereby protection) of a son. It was Lawrence's idea to bring down Aqaba from the landward side rather than seaward, and he was successful. After that he could pretty much do no wrong in Arab or British eyes.

It's a pity we don't have that kind of cooperation and understanding with the peoples of the Middle East today, isn't it? I commend this book as a worthy read especially if you've seen the movie and want to get the real skinny.


Jane Unlimited by Kristin Cashore


Rating: WARTY!

After, Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue, I was a fan of Kristin Cashore, but that didn’t help with this novel, which bored the pants off me. Fortunately not literally. This is her first novel since the end of the Graceling Realm trilogy, and I have to say that, given the time it evidently took to write it, it wasn't worth waiting for. Evidently, it was planned as a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure story, and then morphed into a regular novel with five parallel universes that are Jane's potential directions, but I was turned off this long before that point. And how she's unlimited when there are only five options, I do not know.

Jane's parents are dead and her only living relative, her absurdly named Aunt Magnolia is also apparently dead after she went missing in Antarctica. One thing her aunt bequeathed her niece was the extracted promise that, if ever she received an invitation to visit the mansion named Tu Reviens (French for 'you come back'), she must accept it. Personally, that would persuade me to avoid it like the plague, but not Jane. When her erstwhile school friend, the absurdly-named Kiran Thrash, a bored, rich bitch, reconnects and invites Jane to visit, Jane accepts.

At that point - her arrival and first day at the mansion, this audiobook had become so utterly boring that I quit listening to it, which is unusual in a case like this, because as the blurb informs us, "the house will offer her five choices that could ultimately determine the course of her untethered life." Actually it offers her a choice between five options, but let’s not quibble about that! Normally something like that is really attractive to me - a story about someone's opportunity to change what’s happened - but I never read that far. I was pretty much bored to tears at this point and Rebecca Soler's reading of the audiobook would have made me want to quit even if I had been enjoying the story, so I gave up on it.

Based on the small portion I listened to, I cannot commend this effort. Hopefully Cashore will be back on form with her next effort, but the gods alone know when that will come out.


Saturday, September 1, 2018

Count Karlstein by Philip Pullman


Rating: WARTY!

I've typically liked stories by Philip Pullman with a few exceptions such as Clockwork, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, and Tiger in the Well. I have to add this audiobook to that small group, I'm sorry to report. It wasn't engaging me at all, wasn't interesting, offered nothing of value, and I DNF'd it.

The story isn't aimed at me, yet while I've enjoyed many middle-grade stories, I found this one tedious and the character names trite. For a parody, they might have been amusing, but for a story like this, they seemed a bit like profiling! Arturo Snivelwurst? Signor Rolipolio? Really? If I'd known that Kirkus Reviews (who apparently never met a novel they didn't like) had boasted of its "whirlwind plotting, manipulated into a pulsing tale of darkened hearts, treachery, and at long last, redemption" I would have avoided it like the plague. If all of your reviews are positive, then what's the point?

The story is of two young girls (Lucy and Charlotte) whom their evil eponymous uncle is going to offer up as sacrifices to appease Zamiel, the Demon Huntsman, who has granted Karlstein his riches. How exactly that worked remains unexplored - at least in the bits I listened to. Set in Switzerland in 1816, the story relates how the count's scheme is derailed by the actions of Hildi Kelmar, a servant at the castle where the count lives.

Hildi helps Lucy and Charlotte escape (at least temporarily), and later becomes attached to an amusing shyster named Doctor Cadaverezzi, an illusionist. The ending (part of which I listened to, the rest of which I read of in Wikipedia) is so irrepressibly happy that it's nauseating. I advise having insulin on standby if you plan to read the ending.

The book featured an ensemble cast featuring three of the four Strallen sisters: Zizi, Saskia, and Scarlett. I assume it was recorded in winter because Summer didn't take part.... There was also someone by the name of Schrapnell! The reading of the various parts which wasn't too bad, it has to be said. I loved the English accents (despite these girls supposedly being Swiss!), but was bemused by the differing accents among other characters, and also by some of the pronunciations.

In German, 'stein' for reasons which escape me, who speaks no German to speak of, is pronounced like 'schtine', but with less spittle than you might expect(orate!), yet the pronunciations of Karlstein's name were all over the place and actually seemed out of place given that most accents were English! It's a pity the content of the book wasn't as entertaining as the accents, so all I can do is paraphrase Much Ado About Noting's Benedick, even if it means being a dick: in faith, I consider it too low for a high praise, too simple for an intricate praise, and too little for a long praise; only this commendation I can afford it: that were it other than it is, it were unappealing, and being no other but as it is, I do not like it.


Fishtale by Hans Bauer, Catherine Masciola


Rating: WARTY!

Read acceptably by Adam Verner, this turned out to be a boring audiobook that had initially sounded interesting. The story is of this oddball family whose mother loses her wedding ring to a particularly hungry fish, which has bitten her finger and won't let go. Before it could be caught and made to barf up the ring, the little fish is eaten by a cormorant which in turn, while chasing another fish, is eaten by a much larger catfish in the shady water. It's rather like a nesting doll or maybe like the layers of an onion, but this doesn't mean the missing valuable is an onion ring!

The main character (maybe - I really couldn't tell from the story) is Sawyer Brown, whose Mississippi family has a catfish farm. After his mom is bitten by this ring-hungry fish, she gets sick, and sawyer decides that this is connected with her ruing the ring. Naturally he has to go on a quest to get it back. It was at this point that I lost interest in the story. It may well appeal to a younger audience, but I've read many stories aimed and younger audiences and enjoyed them. This one just piscined me off. There really wasn't anything in it to pull me in (the big fish notwithstanding!), even when I tried to see it through younger eyes than mine.

I can't therefore recommend it based on the 25% or so I listened to. One problem I had was keeping all the characters clearly defined in my mind. This may have been because I was driving while listening, and when I drive my primary focus is on the road, but the morning drive is usually quiet and uneventful and I don't usually have this problem, so I can't help but think this was because my mind was wandering for no other reason than that the story simply wasn't engaging it.


The Sleeping Dictionary by Sujata Massey


Rating: WORTHY!

It's appropriate I should start listening to this audiobook the day after Indian Independence Day (August 15th). It's first person voice, but listenable for once, especially since it was read very well by Sneha Mathan. I could listen to an Indian woman talk until the Brahma bulls come home, their voice is usually so mellifluous.

There was a film released in 2003, which I haven't seen, about this same topic and with the same title. The two aren't connected, and the book is supposedly different and was published in 2013. The story begins in 1930 and is about a girl whose entire family is wiped out in a tsunami, but who then goes on to be a force in the fight for Indian independence. I have to say that I felt let down by the ending, which could have been a lot better, but I'm not going to let that trip up the earlier story which was engaging and captivating.

As far as I know, this is not true, but the term 'sleeping dictionary' is supposed to refer to the mistresses that the English male occupiers of India took to bed with them and from whom they learned some language and some culture. Perhaps many people today do not realize just how many words came to England from Indian back then. Words like Bungalow (for a Bengali style house - single storey with a low roof). Cot is another one. Avatar; bandanna; bangle; calico; cheetah; chintz; chutney; cummerbund; cushy; dinghy; dungarees; gymkhana; guru; jungle; loot; mantra; mogul; nirvana; pajamas; pundit; shampoo; thug; typhoon; veranda.

Juggernaut comes from the Indian god Jagganath and the unstoppable cart upon which the god's effigy was placed for transportation during ceremonies. A word for crazy, known in England, but not in US English is doolally, which refers to Deolai, and Indian town which had a sanatorium. Another English word is pukka, meaning a stand-up guy (or girl!). The Brits often referred to England as Blighty, which is another Indian word, although not one which means Britain. Some Brits refer to jail as chokey; another word by way of India. A Brit might say, "Let's have a dekko" meaning "let's take a look." Again it's an Indian term.

Even the word 'punch' comes from Hindi. Punch has five constituents and in Hindi the count to five goes; ek, do, teen, char, panch. Char is also a word for tea in England, so the English often talk about a cup of char even though in Hindi it's actually chai or chaay, and nothing to do with the word for four, although four o'clock is teatime!

But I digress! This book tells the story of someone whose name we never know, although we have a plethora of pseudonyms. We first meet her as Pom, a young girl who is about to lose her family to a tsunami. From that point onwards, her existence become precarious at best. She manages by accident to secure a place for herself as a janitor at a Catholic school where she's arbitrarily renamed Sarah. Because of the kindness of a teacher, discovers she has a facility with languages. She learns English, and emulates the refined teacher's 'BBC English' pronunciation and accent effortlessly, and she learns to read, write, and type, and starts to pick up a smattering of other languages.

Although despised as an untouchable by other Indians, and bullied by the snobbish English schoolgirls, she is befriended by a fellow Bengali named Vidushi (sp? This was an audiobook! I'd originally thought the name was Bidushi). The two become very close, especially since it is Sarah who actually writes Vidushi's letters to her lawyer fiancé, Pankaj, in Britain. but when Vidushi unexpectedly dies and a necklace goes missing, Sarah is automatically blamed for it.

Knowing she can never find justice, she goes on the run, aided by a Muslim cart driver who worked at the school and whom she has befriended. This means forsaking all the money (a pittance, but a lot to Sarah) she earned at the school, and talk of 'out of the frying pan into the fire', her plan to go to Kolkata (aka Calcutta) to try and link up with Pankaj is derailed when she gets off the train at the wrong stop and cannot afford another ticket.

Sarah is 'befriended' by a young woman named Bonney, who is actually a recruiter for a local brothel. Young and naïve, Sarah, now with a new name Pamela (a misunderstanding of 'Pom'), is slowly sucked into the life and spends the next three or four years there until she is raped and becomes pregnant.

Realizing that her baby, if it's a girl, will be kept in disgusting conditions and raised to be a whore, Pamela flees the place with her newborn, again leaving her accumulated earnings (five hundred rupees - a substantial amount this time), and leaving her child Cabeta (again, sp?), with the Muslim driver, she finally makes it to Kolkata where she's unsuccessful finding work or finding Pankaj.

Now going as Camilla, she happens into a job organizing the substantial personal library of an English government official, Simon, who pays well. Finally she feels like she can settle and put her past behind her. She can send gifts and money to the family taking care of her daughter, and be stress-free. But that's not going to happen! She ends up spying on her employer and reporting back to Indian freedom movements, but she also finds herself falling for him.

And that's enough spoilers! I really enjoyed this book up until the last ten percent or so. The ending felt a little bit too trite in some ways and amateurish in others. Both Camilla and Simon suffer Harry Potter syndrome - failure to talk and share things, even when there was no reason not to. Obviously Camilla had some deep secrets, but there were ways she could have sidled into those if she had been as smart as she was portrayed as being later in the book.

But overall, I consider this a worthy read and commend it for those who enjoy a good historical story that involves romance, yet isn't sappy, and who are sick of endless cookie-cutter stories about the US civil war and the antebellum south and want to branch out - out of the country and into something that feels more real and less derivative.


Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo


Rating: WARTY!

Newbery award winners have been such consistent disappointments that I refuse to read them anymore. This was an exception only in the sense that it became one by dint of the fact that I'd read some DiCamillo books recently and enjoyed them. I decided against my better judgment to give this one a try, but all it did was serve to prove my case! The book was not helped by the fact (and I didn't realize this when I requested it at the library) that the original print version is illustrated. The 'The Illuminated Adventures' part is very tiny on the audiobook cover, and I'd thought 'illuminated' was merely metaphor anyway, so the important question here is: why on Earth was this book turned into an audio book? Shame on the publisher.

The story is about Flora Buckman who vacuums up a squirrel named Ulysses. I tell ya, if I had a dime for every time I've done that! What is it with squirrels and vacuum cleaners for goodness sakes? Just 'cause it's called a Dyson Ball doesn't mean there's dancing, you squirrels! The Kenmore Elite Pet friendly doesn't involve any petting! The shark navigator doesn't actually guarantee safe passage through shark-infested carpets! That's more of a pest control issue, quite frankly. And a side-defect of buying deep carpets I might add....

Anyway, the squirrel magically develops super powers and Flora becomes the side-kick. And no - this isn't the most bizarre plot I've ever read - or thought of for that matter! The blurb calls this "a laugh-out-loud story filled with eccentric, endearing characters," but we all know 'back cover blurb' is another term for outright lying. It almost made me yell out loud for crying out loud. That right there should have warned me off it. I avoid books where the blurb says it hosts 'wacky' or 'zany' or 'eccentric' characters. Again I mistakenly made an exception! More fool me!

I gave up on this after listening to only a few minutes of Tara Sands reading this. This marks the fourth audiobook I've listened to which she also read, and only one of those four have I actually liked. This was not that one and I cannot commend it at all. No more books with the initials FU!


Saturday, August 18, 2018

Ice wolves by Amie Kaufman


Rating: WORTHY!

I'm not a fan of series, with few exceptions, but once again I find myself with the first book of a trilogy (the second of the "Elementals" series is due next year and the third the year after) which had nothing up front to indicate that this actually was the first in a series. That kind of thing really annoys me, and publishers really ought to be ashamed of this deceptive practice, but why would they care when readers keep supporting them? When they can lure someone in with a novel and later reveal it to be only a prologue? My advantage is that I picked this audiobook up on spec at the Blessed Library of Our Lady of the Sneak Previews, so it cost me nothing!

One of the big problems with a trilogy is that the first book is necessarily a prologue. This leads to the second problem which is that despite the pretense of this being a novel, it really isn't because there is a beginning, but no middle or ending to it!

I avoid prologues like the plague, but I ended up reading this novel because I wasn't informed ahead of time what it was. As it happened I quite liked it, but whether I will go on to read any more in this series is still an open question. I certainly am not going to read another until both the remaining two volumes are out, but by that time I'll probably have forgotten about this one!

If I'd known ahead of time and decided maybe this series might be worth a read, I could have waited until all three were out so I could read them one after another. This business of waiting a year between reads is frustrating, because by the time volume two comes out, you've forgotten a lot of what happened in volume one, and I sure don't have the time to go back and re-read it.

Anyway, that beef aside, this story is of an apparently medieval people who live on the island of Vallen, in the main city of Halbard (sp? This was an audiobook!). In the past, scorch dragons and ice wolves lived together in peace and cooperation, but something caused a rift. Now the dragons live who knows where, and the wolves live in the city. For some reason, periodically dragons attack the city, burning things and stealing children. So we're led to believe! I had a few suspicions about the real authors of these incursions.

Resident in the city are orphan twins Anders and Rayna, who eke out a living on the street. Rayna is the dominant partner. Anders is a bit of a wuss and definitely a follower rather than a leader. While trying to pick a few pockets during the monthly ceremony to find new ice wolves, the two of them discover something extraordinarily disturbing.

In the ceremony, children are offered the chance to touch the magical staff and see if they will transform into a wolf, which would allow them to join the Ulfar Academy and begin an apprenticeship with the ice wolf guard who protect the city from dragons, but this month, they're having a sorry time finding anyone who can transform.

Nothing happens until, during a fracas, both Rayna and Anders end up touching the staff in turn. Rayna immediately transforms into a dragon! Hounded, she takes off and disappears. When Anders touches it, he transforms into a wolf! He can't believe it. Twins should both be the same. How can his sister become a dragon and he become a wolf? Alone for the first time in his life, Anders joins the wolf guard and starts learning how to be a solider.

While trying to hide his street origins, Anders makes friends, particularly with Lisabet who has a secret of her own. He learns to become a wolf, but he can't produce their signature ice spears. Even so he finds a family with the pack, but all he can think of is finding his sister, whom he thinks has been kidnapped by dragons. With Lisabet's help, he learns of a way he might get to her.

Despite feeling 'tricked' into starting a middle-grade/YA trilogy, I ended up liking this story. It started out strongly; then it faded annoyingly at the start of Anders's apprenticeship, but it picked up again later when Anders began to man up and form his alliance with Lisabet, who was herself harboring grave suspicions about what they were being taught about wolves and dragons being mortal enemies. I really liked Lisabet, who was a strong female character with a mind of her own.

I commend this story as a worthy read.


Saturday, August 11, 2018

From This Moment on by Shania Twain


Rating: WARTY!

Shania Twain was born neither Shania nor Twain. She was Eilleen Edwards. The Shania was an invention (and not an Ojibwa word) and the Twain came from her stepdad. This audiobook is her autobiography. Why she doesn't read it herself, I do not know. She reads the introduction, which I skipped as usual, and the concluding chapter, but the rest is read by Sherie Rene Scott, and she doesn't read it too well for my ears. The book starts with Twain's childhood, but I skipped all of that until it got to the point where the author is starting to get into music, which was the only bit that really interested me.

I have to say up front that I'm not a big country music fan, or even a little one. Once in a while there's a country song that I like, but it's a rarity. However, this singer released a crossover album in 1997 titled Come On Over and has spread her wings a bit since the early days. She came to my attention with That Don't Impress Me Much and ever since that one, I'd had an interest in her, which is how I came to pick up this audiobook.

My interest waned as soon as I heard she said she would have voted for Trump had she been resident in the US. Obviously she's out of touch with reality. She lives in Switzerland. Not that those latter two things are necessarily connected.

She appears to be the clichéd country singer: growing up in a large impoverished family, which seems to be a rite of passage, at least for old school female country stars, but her mother was always indulging her interest in music. This one incident she related was disturbing though. She was eleven and was traveling alone on an overnight train to Toronto, to compete in a talent show. On the train, the conductor looked at her ticket and told her she was on the wrong train heading in the wrong direction!

After she asserted that she simply had to get to Toronto, the conductor said he would make a call. He came back later and said they would stop the train, and she could get off, and a train going in the opposite direction would stop and pick her up. They dropped off this eleven year old girl, her suitcase and her guitar by the side of the track - not at a station, but out in the middle of nowhere (Twain calls it the 'bush'), and after an hour, a train coming in the opposite direction did indeed stop and pick her up! Wow!

The oddest thing about this story though, is that after all that, she said not a word about how she did at the competition! The reader is left only to assume she fared poorly. But to have such a dramatic build-up, true or not, and then say not a word about the result is just wrong.

I honestly don't know whether to believe that story; maybe that kind of thing happens in Canada, maybe it doesn't, but I had a tough time listening to some of this story regardless of its veracity because it was simply ordinary everyday living which contributed nothing to my education! For someone who is big in music, there really wasn't a whole heck of a lot about it. Yes, she referred to it and sometimes told a story about it - such as the train story - but for the most part it really felt like it was tangential to her life instead of central to it.

I gave up on listening to the Shania Twain book after she reached the point where her parents died in a car crash. This is sad, I know, but she'd spent a good part of the story rather dissing her stepdad for not being supportive and for abusing her mother, and then went into weeping mode when they died. It felt a bit disingenuous. I could see how losing her mother, who had been so supportive, would be devastating, but a mean stepfather?

That wasn't what actually turned me off the story. What did that was her rambling on about how her mother had previously been to a fortune teller who had told her that her husband would die prematurely, but who had then refused to tell her anything more, and made her mother leave.

So Twain is going on about how the fortune teller must have foreseen her mother's death. I'm like, check please, I'm outta here. It was just too much. It's a pity that the fortune teller wasn't charged with manslaughter by irresponsibly failing to warn this woman that she was going to die! Not that I believe in any of that crap.

I got this autobiography in the first place because I thought it would be interesting, and I thought I could learn something about how she approached her music, but it was less about that than it was about everyday life, which wasn't that interesting to me.

I can appreciate that she had a rough life and pulled herself out of poverty to become a success, but she didn't really have a very engaging way of telling her story and given that her success was in music, there was really very little about the actual music. Admittedly, she hadn't achieved stardom at the point when I quit listening, and maybe there would have been more about it later, but I didn't have enough faith in the story to stay with it. I should have got Faith Hill's biography instead - that would have offered more faith, right? LOL! Based on what I heard, I can't commend this one. It don't impress me much.