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

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Rating: WORTHY!

Grahame was a Scot who grew up with his grandmother and ended up not going to Oxford as he wished, but working in a bank, and doing a good job, but when he retired due to ill health, he pursued an interest he'd had in writing, and out of that came The Wind in the Willows in 1908. The story features Toad of Toad Hall, Ratty (who is actually a vole), Mole, Badger, and Otter, although Otter is only a walk-on; it's the other four who are the main characters. The animals are very anthropomorphized, wearing clothes and in Toad's case driving a "motor car" - albeit badly! They behave very much like humans.

According to Wikipedia, this is what I would characterize as another example of the shameful cluelessness of both critics and of Big Publishing™, which turned down what is now considered a classic with the blinkered and dedicated complacency with which record companies turned down The Beatles. We have no idea how lucky we are that self-publishing (of not only written works, but also of music, movies, and art) is available to us now. According to Wikipedia, The Wind in the Willows was finally published by Methuen and Co after some agitation by Theodore Roosevelt, although how he became involved isn't specified. The moral to that story is: never give up!

At the beginning of the story, Ratty meets mole one day in early spring and invites him onto his boat. They go out for a picnic, and mole ends up in the water. Grahame evidently doesn't know that moles can swim quite well (they spend their time swimming through packed dirt, so water isn't going to be a problem for them! LOL!). Or maybe he conveniently forgot it just for this story. Anyway, the animals meet up with otter and later end-up riding out a snowstorm at badger's place. Later still, they have to try and talk Toad out of buying any more cars. He's evidently crashed seven and is about to take delivery of a new one.

Despite trying to talk him out of it and trying to keep him imprisoned until this driving "poison" works its way out of his system and he gives up, Toad isn't vanquished so easily! In fact, it's readily arguable that their ill-advised intervention precipitates a serious decline in Toad's behavior. Toad escapes their confinement, steals a car, inevitably crashes it, and ends up with a prison sentence which is steep by any standards. Badger and Mole, meanwhile, are enjoying the vacated Toad Hall and living there!

Toad busts out of prison with the help of a jailer's daughter, and goes on the run. Escaping on a train, he's pursued by another train full of police and prison wardens! He disguises himself as a washer woman and gets a ride on a barge only to be outed by his own incompetence, and tossed into the canal! Rustling the horse which pulls the barge, Toad escapes once again, and eventually ends up at Ratty's house where he learns that weasels and stoats have taken over Toad Hall!

The difference between weasels and stoats is simple: a weasel is so weasely distinguished, and stoats are stoatally different! The four friends manage to sneak into Toad hall via a secret tunnel which badger knows of, and retake his home.

This is a delightful story, full of adventure and bravado and not a little craziness. It's not told in the same way modern stories like this are. Which modern author would name such a book "The Wind in the Willows"? It doesn't happen. It's likely to be named after one of the animals - and be a series. And which modern children's writer has animals stealing cars, having crashes, and busting out of "gaol"? Reaching back to 1908 to read this makes for a refreshing story (in my case a refreshing listen to the audiobook, which is very effectively read by Martin Jarvis). I recommend this, especially for any hopeful writers of children's books who are looking to find a fresh take on such stories instead of cloning every other children's author's oeuvre that's out there today.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban

Rating: WORTHY!

Normally I avoid like the plague stories which feature striped socks on the cover - which is almost a genre of its own these days - but once in a while a worthy one comes along, and as it happens, this was a very short audiobook which I loved. Yes, there were bits and pieces which were less than thrilling, but overall, I loved the voice of this ten-year-old girl, Zoe Elias, who dreams big dreams but lacks the motivation to achieve them, as many in her age range doubtlessly do. Plus, she gets very little support from her parents who are bordering on being abusive, not in a 'physically beating their kids' sense, but in the case of her dad, having issues which need medical treatment he's not getting, and in the other case, a mom who works all hours and is almost not even a character in the story because she's so absent. Her dad being a conclusion short of a premise the reason her mother works so many hours, it would seem, since dad is profligate with money on those rare occasions he ventures out. I loved the reading voice of Tia Alexandra Ricci, and the sense of humor which ran through the narrative.

Zoe dreams of playing piano in Carnegie Hall, wearing a tiara no less!), but it's only a wild fantasy, which is squelched when her three-sheets to the wind father comes home with an electric organ instead of the grand piano she unrealistically demanded. But the organ does come with some free in home lessons, and so this is what Zoe has to deal with. That and Wheeler Diggs who is an oddball guy at school who befriends Zoe's dad more than he does Zoe, and consequently hangs at her house routinely after school instead of going straight home. Rightly or wrongly, Wheeler reminded me a bit of Heath Ledger's character in the hilarious movie Ten Things I Hate About You, which itself was loosely based on The Taming of the Shrew.

Zoe's Carnegie Hall moment comes actually in the form of a minor win after entering the annual Perform-O-Rama organ competition sponsored by the makers of the organ she's learning to play. All around, the story was engaging and funny - especially in regard to Zoe's take on life and on people. It was occasionally boring here and there, but overall, a worthy read.

The Forbidden Stone by Tony Abbott

Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook which failed for me. I didn't like the story and the reading by the curiously-named MacLeod Andrews was bad. The story started out just fine for the first chapter or so, but after that it devolved into tedious and stupid activities in which an irresponsible father trails four kids with him to Europe (and elsewhere, evidently) into dangerous situations, and then fails to go to the police, fails to get his kids out of danger, and in general just is a moron. These dimwits contaminate crime scenes and tamper with clues which could have led to a perceived suicide being seen by the police for the murder it was. I quickly decided this was too stupid to live. The fact that it's the start of a series is only one more reason to reject the mercenary heart of it.

It's a ridiculous Dan Brown-style story where some idiot leaves a trail marked by asinine cryptic clues for Becca, Darrel, Lily, and Wade, when all he had to do was make a phone call and tell his friend, or better yet, the police, what the deal was. Failing that, then at least post it on the Internet so the "shadowy" villains have no reason at all to chase your kids threateningly. It was profoundly dumb. I hope middle-graders are smart enough to see how silly this all is, and I feel sorry for those who are not, but of course, without this level of stupidity, there couldn't be a six book series, and neither the author nor the publisher would get rich off the allowances of middle-graders, would they now?

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

Rating: WORTHY!

If I Was Your Girl is a novel about a mtf transgender character, written by a mtf author, and amazingly featuring a mtf cover model, Kira Conley. Now there's a trifecta. Normally I pay little attention to the cover because they're all glitz and no substance, and they have nothing to do with the writing or the author unless she or he self-publishes, but in this case I have to shout-out for the model, and the photographer, and the publisher! Way. To. Go!

The novel tells the story of a teenage boy Andrew's decidedly bumpy transition to a teenage girl coolly named Amanda Hardy. There is a lot of controversy over the author who (as Travis Lee Stroud) was accused of rape and abuse by his partner. I was aware of none of this when reading (actually listening to since this was audio) the novel, and at the time of posting this, I am not aware of any judgment on those charges, so for me the author remains innocent until proven guilty.

Let's not forget either, as many seem to have, that even guilty people can change! The author's note at the end of this book - read in her own voice on the audio book - would seem to suggest she's not as bad as she's been painted in some quarters, and also offers a slightly mitigating perspective if these accusation are true. Besides all that though, my reviews are about writing, and about whether a read is worth my time or not, and based on these precepts, this review goes ahead as planned! To do less would be to refuse to read or review, for example, Mein Kampf because Hitler was a psychopath, or any other such book. The US, it seems, thrives on worshiping books written by bad people while ignoring too many of those written by saints, but since this was a library audiobook, I don't have to worry if my money went to the wrong person!

Amanda is, in true YA trope tradition, the new girl in school. She's nervous, with her transgender secret and having been abused in her/his previous existence, which accounts for a lot of her current personality traits. All she wants to do is get through her senior year quietly, graduate, and get out of the south altogether. She fails in this endeavor (at least by the time the book ends) because she falls for Grant, one of the jocks on the school team. Here's where my first problem came along, and it wasn't because high school romances are largely juvenile and meaningless.

Sometimes a person does end up marrying their "high school sweetheart" but such cases are rare because a person that young can't typically make intelligent choices with something which will so intimately affect their life, and the sad thing is that they do not realize it! No, the problem was that Amanda doesn't appear too smart. She rejects her own best advice about not getting involved, and she welcomes the attention from Grant.

They start dating, despite Grant throwing-out warning signals because of his unexpected and unpredictable coldness at times towards her. Worse than this though, is that she tells him nothing of her history. To me, this was a betrayal of someone she supposedly was developing strong feelings about, but that wasn't the biggest problem. You can argue, for example, that he had a right to know that she cannot have children, but the problem here was not what her history was, but what has the potential to happen if she isn't straight with him from the start. And yes, she's straight, she's not gay! Gender and sexuality have nothing to do with one another! She never seems to think for a minute that this southern boy might react negatively to what she has to reveal or that others might treat him differently when they discover he's dating someone who was not born a biological female. That seemed selfish to me.

The story is written in a way that makes her father out to be a hero, and there are some tear-jerk moments here, but the fact that he hits a kid - a full on punch in the face, too - is what turned me right off him. He didn't even hit the right kid, which would still not have reprieved him, but it was also the circumstances of the punch which made me feel this could have been written better. Amanda was there before it happened and the most natural thing in the world is to yell "Dad, it wasn't him!" but she never does this, and that, to me felt completely unrealistic. This is one reason I didn't quite buy her dad's complete turn-around at the end of the book. It felt false.

But I'm no more judging the book on one or two events in it than I'd judge an author on one negative report no matter how much currency it's garnered for itself, so overall I consider this book a worthy read, and for me one of the best features about it was the audio version read by the talented Samia Mounts (who I understand is also a member of the LGBTQIA community! Quadfecta!). She did a spot-on job of delivering this story and made it all the more listenable. I recommend it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Trans-Sister Radio by Chris Bohjalian

Rating: WARTY!

This is the second of a disappointing pair of transgender books I'm reviewing today, both written by guys named Chris! This one was an audiobook, which for me is more experimental and therefore more likely to fail. This one sounded really promising, but in the end it turned out to be boring, slow-moving like you wouldn't believe, and with apparently no intention of ever going anywhere.

The attraction of this story for me was of the same variety that moved me to write Tears in Time which I published earlier this year. Is this love lost? If so, can you find it? If you find it will you recognize it? If you recognize it, what will you do about it?

Allison Banks, divorced and in her forties, finds herself attracted to Dana Stevens. The cover blurb says, "develops a crush on" like she's some teen-aged fluff-head, but I don't blame the author for the sheer incompetence and rank stupidity of book blurb writers! Not unless they self-publish! What Allison doesn't know, and doesn't learn right away is that Dana is a transgender male to female, about to start on that painful and lengthy journey. She's attracted to Allison, too, but she can't stay male. When she transitions, what is going to happen to their relationship? I thought this was a choice topic for a novel, but the execution of it failed for me.

One big mistake writers make is laziness. Make a girl a book-reader and she's intelligent. That way you don't have to do the work of showing she's intelligent. Make a person work in a bookstore or in this case, for public radio, and you pigeon-hole that person, telling to avoid having to show. I'm not a fan of epistolary or 'dear diary' novels either, but this was one, in effect.

It featured "transcripts" from a national public radio show about transgender people, and worse than this, it split the story between two perspectives, Allison's and Dana's. It didn't commit the final sin of making those perspectives first person, so I have to commend it for that, but really it was too much. The novel staggered along under all this lard, ponderously crawling, and it was stuffed with horsehair (that's the closest I can get without being foul-mouthed).

Judith Ivey's Boston-accented reading voice failed to help as well. It was awful to listen to, and I found myself tuning it out from time to time, and missing the story. After twenty percent, I gave up on it, so based on the short exposure I had, I can't recommend it. Your frequency may differ!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Memory Maze by Gordon Korman

Rating: WARTY!

Audiobooks are hit and miss with me since I experiment with them more. This was a miss. I got to 20% in and gave up on it. The story was ludicrous, which might have made it an unintentionally funny read, but it was far too boring for that, and the boredom was in no way helped by Ramón de Ocampo's reading, which turned me right off. I would have had a hard time listening to it even if the novel had been thoroughly engrossing. It was far too John Green for my taste and the voices were not rendered well.

The story, which is number two (and felt like it) in a series, is about Jackson Opus, who is a master hypnotist. This was a refreshingly original super power to have, but then the author had to ascribe every single historical event to the use of hypnotism and it became laughable - and not in a fun way. Even Abe Lincoln was dragged into it at one point, and I remember thinking, it didn't help save his life, did it? I don't mind stories like this being woven into history, but when the author starts to tie literally every important event into it, it smacks of sheer amateurism and becomes far too stupid to take seriously, or even jokingly for that matter.

I flatly refuse to read any novel which has a main character named Jack, which is the most tedious go-to action adventure name ever to be over-used in literature. Even if the blurb makes the novel sound interesting, it goes right back on the shelf if one of the main characters is named Jack. I think I'm gong to have to add Jax and Jackson to that banned list now. Rather than take action, these people would much prefer to let others bear the brunt and pay the price while they hide out. They're far happier scratching their heads and whining about how Jax needs to become more powerful, but never have him practice anything. They would rather let the bad guy do whatever he wants without taking any steps to out him, and expose him. They're idiots.

This story had "Jax" and his family hiding out a hundred miles from home, living like paupers just to stay safe from the evil villain. Some hero huh?! He's using the cheesiest name imaginable as a non-disguise. His old name was Opus, so his new name is Magnus? Really? No one is ever going to think it's him. He's supposed to be keeping a low profile, but he enters a chess tournament and wins. This kid is a moron. I don't want to read about morons, not even if it's supposed to be funny. Because it's not! That's for parodies, not for original fiction!

The leader of the good guys has abandoned all his followers to support Jax, and his followers are being bumped-off. All they had to do here was to get on a rooftop with an AK 47 and take out this guy, but of course they can't do the realistic and intelligent thing (in the context of this fictional story in order to save the world from this ruthlessly evil guy). No instead, they have to play fair and it makes the story stilted and artificial and just plain ridiculous.

The big problem here is hypnotism of course, because it can make victims do anything, and then forget they've done it, yet nowhere did I hear of either Jax or his powerful hypnotist guru (who is also hiding) talking or even thinking about how to nullify the hypnotic effect. Jax never gives an ounce of thought to how to beat the guy. Of course as soon as the guy is beaten, that's the end of a cash cow for this author and this publisher, so where's the incentive to tell a realistic story and bring it to a satisfying conclusion? It's far easier to drag this same story out than to come up with something new, original, and inventive. This is another reason why I typically, and with few exceptions, detest series. They're far too derivative, repetitive, vacuous and vapid.

I have better things to read!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A January Bride by Deborah Raney

Rating: WARTY!

I got his audio book because it sounded like it might be interesting, but the story was so badly told that it wasn't worth the listening, and I gave up halfway through. This is evidently part of a series "A Year of Weddings". How January got to be number two in that system is a mystery, but this story was definitely number two, trust me.

The plot was farcical. Two people never meet initially, communicating instead through a series of notes, each thinking the other person is older than themselves. The woman, Maddie Houser, is a novelist who is working on a romance novel "A January Bride" (and becomes one? I don't know). The guy is the owner of the inn where she's staying temporarily while renovations are carried out to her house. The artificiality by which the two are kept apart was tedious and served no purpose other than to keep reminding me that this was a badly-written novel.

Plus there were religious overtones to the story which spoiled it for me. I didn't expect to be reading fantasy! These people are putting their faith in a god who robbed one of them of his spouse prematurely, yet they're supposed to believe that it's all for the best? If this god wanted the two of them to get together, why did he not put them together to begin with instead of putting the guy with someone else, and then tearing her away from him? I have no faith in a capricious god like that. A god which would do things like that, to me, is at best juvenile and at worst, an outright evil god.

The best thing I can say about this story is that it was short, but it was so poorly-written, artificial in the extreme, and boring, that I couldn't even stand to listen to all of it even as short as it was. I can't recommend it based on what I listened to because there was no romance here, not in the best tradition of the word.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Last Camel Died at Noon by Elizabeth Peters

Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook I picked up on spec at my delightful local library. I tend to experiment more with audio books taking chances on things I might not be interested in looking at in print or e-format. It turned out that the title was more entertaining than the novel. The Last Camel Died at Noon by Elizabeth Peters, when read as a sentence like that, suggests that at midday, near where Elizabeth was standing, the last camel died! The story itself, which is number six in a mystery series, was not listenable. The prose was entirely too florid for my taste, making it sound far more like the author was more intent upon impressing herself with how well she could portray Victorian characters, than ever she was in getting on with the story. On top of this, I didn’t like the two main characters, and certainly was not interested in listening through a long book about them.

The story is supposedly set in Egypt although the main characters had not arrived there by the time I gave up on this, and actually didn’t even remotely seem like they would ever get there at the rate they were going. It was too ponderous and too pretentious, and I really couldn’t stand it or Barbara Rosenblatt’s narration. Based on what I listened to which was admittedly not much, I can’t recommend this one.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Calling Invisible Women by Jeanne Ray

Rating: WORTHY!

This was an audiobook I picked up on spec from the library and it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable books I've ever encountered. The tone was delicious, the reader, Coleen Marlo, perfect, and the story amazing. It's one of those stories which makes a hopeful writer like me wish I had thought of it first, but I doubt I could have written this particular story as well as Jeanne Ray did. The tone of voice in the story is beautiful: slightly bemused, humorous, and a little bit sarcastic. It's first person, too, which I normally do not like, but it was perfect here. Audiobooks tend to be much more experimental with me because I'm a captive audience when commuting, so I see a lot of fails with these, but those are worth the listening, because one in a while one like this pops up and makes it all worthwhile.

Clover Hobart is a fifty-four year old woman who discovers one morning that she's invisible. Her visibility wavers for a day or two before it becomes, apparently, permanent. The weird thing though is not her visibility, but the fact that no one in her family: not her husband the pediatrician, not her emotional daughter, and not her unemployed son who is living at home see any difference. She's apparently always been invisible to them!

Her best friend Gilda, who lives down the street, notices. At first Clover starts panicking, but as she grows used to it, she realizes there are things she can do. If she takes her clothes off, no one can see her and it's a super power. She discovers there are other such women in her position and that they have a secret society which meets in the Sheraton in a conference room which they don't even have to book to reserve it. No one knows they're using it! Since these women all travel naked, they have to bring a tissue with them so they can raise it when they want to speak. Clover becomes friends with some of them. At first she has a problem with the nudity, but since one property of invisibility is that she doesn't feel heat or cold, she eventually embraces it as they have done.

One day, she accompanies one of her new acquaintances to the school where she lost her job when she became invisible. The two of them ride the school bus and spend the day in the school. No one can see them and they're able to prevent bullying and tackle other issues. This inspires the other woman to think she can get her job back. On another day, Clover foils a bank robbery, but of course gets no credit since no one could see her do anything. They just thought the robber randomly threw his guns away!

I noted that some critics down-rated the story for being unrealistic(!) or vacuous, but to me, the whole point of the story was to be playful and light-hearted, and have fun while exploring a very real issue: the metaphorical invisibility which older women routinely experience, and which they do so far more than older men. I think the author did a fantastic job and I want to read more of her work. I recommend this unreservedly.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

Rating: WORTHY!

I’m a captive audience in my car with a commute that’s not overly long, but which isn’t short either, so I listen to audio books and I tend to take more risks and experiment more with this format than any other. Consequently I have more fails with this format than any other, but it’s worth it to find the occasional gem, and one such book was this one. If there’s one thing I detest in writers it’s a sheep mentality. Instead of coming up with something original (or a refreshing take on an older theme as, say, The Hunger Games trilogy or the Harry Potter heptalogy represented), most authors, particularly in YA, jump right on someone else’s band wagon and turn out sorry clones of existing work. barf. I prefer the author who tosses out cliché and trope and takes the road less traveled, as I tried to do in Femarine, and as this author does here, which is yet another variation on the same theme I varied.

Another audio book to review - this time positively. My problem with princess stories - the kind where a prince is essentially holding a lottery for a bride - is several-fold, not least of which is what it says about the prince: he's so vacuous and shallow that he thinks he can get a suitable lifelong partner in such a critical role through this haphazard means? The other side of that coin is what it says about the princess-to-be in that she's so shallow or so desperate that she's willing to sell out for this guy she never met and will be expected to marry before she even knows him. It's truly pathetic.

That doesn't even begin to cover trope and cliché either. These stories tend to be larded with them: that the most humble, plain, and simple girl gets to win, or alternatively that the girl who least cares about or least expects to win gets to win because she's a special snowflake, and the only one who truly understands the prince.

There's also a really pretty girl who everyone expects to win, but who doesn't because it turns out that the plain-jane is prettier somehow! There's the really dumb girl who is the only one who thinks she will win, and there's a really bitchy girl who we all know will never win. There's also the truly sweet girl who becomes the main character's bestie, and who dreams of marrying the prince, but who doesn't honestly believe she will win. She ends up marrying the captain of the guard or the king's younger brother or something like that. It's tedious. It's been done to death, and any author who continues to churn out this kind of story with no variation and no twist and nothing new to offer is the really dumb girl. Any author who thinks he or she can make a trilogy out of this trash is beyond dumb.

So what I look for on the very rare occasion when I read a story like this, is what I tried to provide in Femarine: something significantly different. This audio book was such a story. It impressed me and continued to impress me because it continued to inject new ideas into this trope and thereby stirred it up significantly. There were some bits that were a touch too rambling and boring, but these were few. Most of the time it kept adding the twists to make it entertaining and engrossing.

What I liked about it was that Miri, the main character, was smart, but not particularly special except in that she learned. The value of books was am important part of the story. They actually played a role in the story and in Miri's growth, and were not just lazy short-hand used by the author to say "Hey, look how smart my character is!" Miri was always learning, and this is what made her stand out from far too many spastic princesses in other stories I've read or read about, and who show zero growth or real smarts.

I liked that the girls weren't the usual suspects in these stories, but the daughters of quarriers (and some of the girls were quarry workers themselves) in a pit which produced a special high quality stones used for important buildings in the cities down the mountain. I didn't like the 'us versus them' mentality (mountain people against lowlanders, where the mountain people were considered primitive and dumb and the lowlanders urbane and cultured), but I did like that the girls were not in fixed groups or fixed mentalities. Relationships changes and morphed, and the bitchy girl wasn't always the bitchy girl. The ending was very different from what you might expect and really turned the story again from the course you might expect.

The thing was though, that while I always feared that this story would go straight to hell in a hand-basket, I always had the feeling that it could completely capture me, and this is what it did in the end, so I recommend this for those of you who, like me, are tired of trope and ready to quit with cliché. Yes, it did have some examples still of that kind of mentality - that the girl must end up with the boy for example, but overall it was different enough and enjoyable enough, and above all unpredictable enough that I consider it a very worthy read. Or listen - Laura Credidio does a decent job of rendering the characters, although her voice was a bit annoying at times.

Lastly, one thing I don't get about this is that it's part of a series. Why? This was a great story and it was told well, and it came to a satisfying conclusion. Why did the author feel the need to ruin all that by dragging it unnaturally, kicking and screaming, into a series? Is she so lacking in imagination that she can't think of a new idea to write about? Let it be known that I have no intention of following the series. As far as I'm concerned, this book stops here!

Blood's Pride by Evie Manieri

Rating: WARTY!

If I'd known that Kirkus rated this one as "highly imaginative" I would never have picked it off the library shelf! I don't think Kirkus ever met a book they didn't like which means their reviews are utterly useless. If I'd also known it was the first of a series I would have thought twice about it and definitely would have no interest in a series after listening to a small portion of this.

Bianca Amato has a charming voice and would be a delight to have a conversation with, but in telling a story like this, she sounded ponderous and slow, and the story itself moved at a glacial pace. I couldn't stand to listen to it, but had I the print or e-version, I still wouldn't have been able to stomach it, so I guess this author is not for me, and I am not for her! The only review I can give is this much: that I gave up on it at about 10% in (or slightly less).

One problem with audiobooks is that you can never tell where the prologue ends, so I ended up listening to much of it, and this served once again only to remind me why I so dedicatedly skip all such prefaces, forewords, intros, prologues and whatever. They're tedious and contribute NOTHING to a story. Enough with them already, you authors! Get on with the damned story!

This one was far too tedious to stay with. Life is short and books like this are too long and too common! Move along! This is not the adventure you're looking for!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord

Rating: WARTY!

I think there are good stories to be told from roots in African folklore and mythology, but this one disappointed me by not being one of them. It began unpromisingly; then it picked up and got me interested, but too soon after that, it went downhill into tedium, confusion, and blandness. On top of that, it was a bit too whimsical for my taste.

The story is of Paama (Pah-ma) and her glutton husband Asige (Ass -ee-gay, whose name I had thought was Asike from listening only to the narration). The two are living apart, and Asige comes to join Paama in the community where she now resides. He proceeds to embarrass her endlessly with his constant need for food and the bizarre circumstances he gets himself into in the pursuit of one more mouthful. It turns out that there's a reason for this gluttony in the end, but that comes only after a long tedious separation between these two again. It was this part (the disorderly eater) which had started to recoup my interest, but it was a bit too silly and was over before I really started to think I might enjoy it.

I really didn't get this constant separation of Paama and Asige, although I could understand why she wouldn't want to be around him. I was like, "Get a divorce already!" The biggest problem for me was that when Paama wasn't looking stupid, she was looking like a doormat or a coward, running away instead of taking charge and dealing with these issues. There were African "bad spirits" taking human form and interfering with people. Paama was given a magic pestle and then some spirit came after her seeking to recover it, and the whole thing dissolved into a hot mess, and I lost all interest. In the end I found I was skimming more and more of it just to get to the end and see if anything happened. It really didn't, so I can't recommend this one at all. Robin Miles's reading and characterizations were so-so, some good and some annoying, so that didn't help. Audio books tend to be a more experimental form of reading for me than other formats, so I expect more of them to fail to capture my interest. This one was one of the failures, and I can't recommend it as a worthy read.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

Rating: WARTY!

This one sounded from the blurb like it might make for an interesting read, but all that ultimately means is that the blurb writer did their job. It doesn't mean that the writer did! This was a fail for me. It started out gamely enough as a steampunk story, but then it did a sidestep into high fantasy with gnomes, dwarfs, and trolls, and I was wondering if I'd entered some other universe. Apparently I had, This is Terry Pratchett's 40th Discworld novel, and I now have zero interest in learning any more about Discworld!

It came back to the steam punk story after too long of a while, but by the time it did, I'd lost all interest in pursuing this. I don't mind mixing up genres, but I have no time for trolls and dwarfs, I really don't. On top of this, the novel reminded me very much of Douglas Adams. I like Adams, but I don't like his fiction! I never knew him personally, but I did go to one of his talks one time and I enjoyed it. I also enjoyed, and favorably reviewed his non-fiction book, Last Chance to See about endangered species, but if there's one thing I can't stand, it's a Brit writer babbling on and on humorously and in an annoyingly self-satisfied manner. It reminds me too much of my own inane parodies!

No one in their right mind should take those seriously, and I honestly could not take this seriously. I certainly can't recommend it based on the ten percent I could stand to listen to. There's no point in stoically plodding on to the bitter end in a novel that quite simply doesn't get your heart beating, when you can ditch it and be off and running with the next one that will get your pulse up. Life's too short!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Shadow World by Andrew Feinstein

Rating: WARTY!

Here's another non-fiction I didn't like. Again I came to this through a TV documentary and it really highlighted the problems with documentaries versus the problems with books. TV documentaries are way too much fluff. They show the same images over and over and over, and ask hoards of questions, but give very few in-depth or satisfying answers. Often they outright lie, as I discovered when watching the documentary Pump about the inexcusable stranglehold oil has on society in the USA.

The problem with this audiobook is that it had way too much detail, going onto things in far more depth than I was interested in listening to! By the time the guy rather breathlessly finished his details, I had forgotten what the heck he'd been talking about earlier! This went on for page after page (or in this case disk after disk, and there were a lot of disks). In the end I simply gave up on it. Yes, a lot of people have got rich off arms sales, including US corporations and politicians. Yes it's obnoxious, but after listening to this I was almost ready to say, "Good for them!" I didn't, but I can't recommend this.

If you're interested in excruciating detail, much of which is out of date, and you can get the ebook or print book and read it quietly, focusing on it 100%, it might be the book for you, but it's not something you want to try to get anything out of when driving in traffic because it requires too much attention to detail!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Way of the Knife by Mark Mazzetti

Rating: WARTY!

Unfortunately this is what you get when a reporter writes a book and doesn't realize he's writing a book and not a newspaper column. He's so focused on making the subject seem real that he goes way overboard. Did I really want to know that Mr A smokes Benson & Hedges? Seriously, no!

It's true, as the blurb says, that "America has pursued its enemies with killer drones and special operations troops; trained privateers for assassination missions and used them to set up clandestine spying networks; and relied on mercurial dictators, untrustworthy foreign intelligence services, and proxy armies." How a writer can make that boring is a mystery to me, but this one did.

This book, which I came to via a TV documentary I watched recently, had some really interesting bits, but most of it is now out of date and the bulk of it is boring. Overall it was a tedious listen. I found myself skipping tracks more and more, and then I skipped the entire rest of the book. I can't recommend it.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Timescape by Gregory Benford

Rating: WARTY!

I'm a sucker for a good time-travel story, Unfortunately, this wasn't! It sucked big time. It was tediously slow-moving and could have been about half the length it was if all the fluff had been vacuumed out of the corners. Seriously, do I really want to know that someone is taller than someone else but the other person is only five feet six anyway? No, not unless it's important to the story or an important part of a character's make-up!

Do I really need another story which rambles on about someone's obsession with coffee? No! Do I really need to read a whole chapter about some ruffian harassing an old woman because he has nothing and she's reasonably well-to-do? No! Not when you already told me the situation was dire. Please, dispense with this and get on with the sci-fi story I wanted to listen to in the first place!

Yes, this was another experimental audiobook, and the experiment failed, as many of these do. The readers voices, Simon Prebble and Pete Bradbury were not great, but not dire. The story was the problem, and it felt like listening to Professor Benford giving an insufferably rambling lecture on astrophysics at the University of California. Yuk! I feel bad for his students - assuming he still has any!

I didn't finish this because I don't waste time on stories which don't grip me. Life is far too short and books are way too many! That doesn't mean I don't owe an explanation as to why I didn't finish it, and the reason was as indicated. The story was ponderously slow. It took many chapters before anything happened. The novel needed to start at the point where contact was first made - hazy as it was - between 1998 and 1962. I didn't need a multi-chapter prologue which was tiresome at best. I cannot recommend this one.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Seventh Element by Wendy Mass

Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook I tried as an experiment and it failed. These things happen more frequently with audio than other media because I take more risks on audio. The story was poor even for the juveniles at which it was aimed. I assumed from the behavior and language level of the characters that it was aimed at middle-graders, but it was juvenile even for them. My kids are just edging out of that zone and they would have had no interest whatsoever in this.

It didn't help that this was book sixth in a series, I admit. Things were definitely missing, so you cannot read any one of these, I'd guess, as a stand-alone, but that wasn't why I failed this one. I didn't realize it was a series when I grabbed it in haste (obviously!) off the library shelf. This because I don't judge a book by its cover, given that authors have very little to nothing whatsoever to do with designing their cover unless they self-publish, so I do not linger on it and missed the tiny '6' up there under the massive series title. I really must start paying more attention before I flip the book for the back cover blurb! I don't normally read series for the very reasons exemplified here. Judged by the amount of fluff in this book, all six volumes could have been contained within one volume and it would have remained rather slim!

The novel had poor science, and it was silly and ill-conceived, and it was simply not worth my time. The title says it all. It was volume six, but it was the seventh element? Not well-planned!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Solace of the Road by Siobhan Dowd

Rating: WARTY!

Audiobooks for me are a lot more experimental than print or ebooks, because I am a captive audience for an hour each day when commuting, so I tend to try a lot more risky or uncertain material, and sometimes this pays off with a gem here and there (mostly there), but more often I find I don't like the book, and I can't stand to listen to it all the way through. Fortunately, these are all library books, so I haven't wasted any money. There are assorted reasons for my dislike, and this one had two of the major three (first person voice, poor writing, and bad narrator).

This one started out on the wrong foot by being first person PoV which I typically cannot stand. I know a lot of people like this voice, but I'm not one of them. If I see it in a print book at a library or a bookstore, I immediately put it back on the shelf no matter how interesting the blurb made it sound, because I know it's far more likely to piss me off or repulse me in some other way, than ever it is to please me. It's a lot harder to reject such books when they're ebooks (unless they happen to offer a sneak preview), and it's impossible to determine this with an audiobook unless you listen to it, or can find a print or e-version you can sneak a peek at.

The first person voice is wa-ay overused, especially in YA novels, and is rarely used without imbuing a feeling of fakery to me, and in this case simultaneously invoking severe nausea. The reader here, who has the charming name of Sile Bermingham (which if pronounced phonetically and sloppily, actually sounds a little bit like the way people who live in Birmingham, England, say it: Buhrminum - wasn't unpleasant, but the tedious, endless first person was boring as hell given that she wasn't narrating anything of interest and obsessed with trivial details instead of larger pictures. The story started out well enough with the main character fleeing her foster home, which actually didn't sound at all bad, purportedly heading back to Ireland, but she somehow never got there - not in the portion I could stand to listen to - and the story became lost somewhere along that convoluted road.

The second biggest problem was that having got me all interested in the escape, the author then harshly slammed on the brakes (gimme a break!) and went into endless flashbacks about the character's previous life, which is a big no-no for me. By all means slip in a detail here and there, but to info-dumpo the whole thing when it was largely irrelevant (except as a trigger) to what she was currently doing, brought the story-crashing down and was an insult to the reader. From that point on, I was frankly never quite sure if I was listening to the flashback portion or the current story portion. Worse than this, all the flashbacks achieved was to convince me that the main character, the self-titled 'Solace' was a whiny, brattish, unpleasant person who deserved nothing better than she got. if the flashback portion of her life is that interesting (which it wasn't) then why is the author telling that story instead of bouncing back and forth like a pinball? I quickly gave up on this one, and now you know why. Based on what I listened to (and then skimmed through), I can't on good faith recommend this at all.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Rivalry: Mystery at the Army-Navy Game by John Feinstein

Rating: WARTY!

This is a classic example of why I don't read series, and worse, this book is a complete lie if judged by the blurb. I know authors don't get to write their own blurbs unless they self publish, but the outright lie is a bit much even by blurb standards. I didn't realize this was number five in the "The Sports Beat" series. It read more like number two. If I'd known it was part of a series, I would never have read it - or in this case listened to the pedantic voice of the narrator (who was the author himself, so it's hardly a surprise that the reading was as bad as the writing).

I know it's not aimed at my age group, but the blurb outright lied about it: "John Feinstein has been praised as 'the best writer of sports books in America today' (The Boston Globe), and he proves it again in this fast-paced novel." If that's the case, if he's the best, there must be some lousy, lousy sports books out there. Either that or the Boston Globe is full of shift, to use a football term. No, this novel is anything but fast-paced. It begins with two flashbacks, so it's actually negatively paced! It's supposed to be about events during the Army Navy football game, but that game does not start until the final twenty percent of the novel! In the first third of it, literally nothing happened except that I got teed off (and not in a golfing capacity) by the incessant use of "Susan Carol" which is the first and middle name of one of the main characters. Seriously? No one ever calls her Susan or Sue? She should sue!

She's a fourteen-year-old female sports reporter for a big Washington newspaper. I'm not even going to get into the improbability of a teen female sports report in a major newspaper reporting on mens' sports - not that a fourteen-year-old female couldn't do it in theory, but that she would never be allowed to do it in practice in an adult men's world, and if she did do it she'd be jeered, insulted and abused incessantly by dickhead males. It happens all the time for a lot less than a female presuming to "trespass on male Astro-Turf."

As I mentioned, this story revolves around the annual Army and Navy game which is attended by the president and so Stevie and "Susan Carol" are following a Secret Service agent around. I get that this story is aimed at sports fans, but it's all sport (including the two flashbacks) and no mystery, no thrill, no cut to the chase, no fast-pace, and no thing to hold interest. You would get more thrills from reading a sports almanac or a stats book. I skimmed this one and missed the mystery - that's how pathetic it was, and I refuse to say anything good about a novel this badly written and this boring.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Girl, Stolen by April Henry

Rating: WORTHY!

Nicely read by Kate Rudd, I felt that this novel exemplified my problem with first person voice precisely because this was not written in first person! It would have been obnoxious to me if it had been first person because there was a bit too much info-dumping and lessons on being blind, and these were told rather than shown. It was written for a younger audience than I represent, but sometimes it felt like it had been written for a middle-grade audience than a YA one.

That said, and the occasional annoyances aside, for me it was eminently listenable as a third person story. I applaud April Henry for that! It started out very strongly and really drew me in. Then a bit later towards the end, it started going slightly south and I remember thinking, "Oh no! Here we go again!" but it rallied and came back strongly at the very end, so I'm very grateful to the author for that too, and happy to rate this as a worthy read (or listen!)!

The main characters are sixteen-year-old Cheyenne Wilder, the daughter of a Nike executive, and Griffin, the boy who kidnaps her inadvertently when he steals the Cadillac in which she's sleeping when Cheyenne's step-mom goes into the pharmacy to pick up her antibiotic prescription.

Griffin is heading out of the mall parking lot when Cheyenne makes her presence known, but he's not about to stop and let her go so she can report him and describe him to the cops. It's then that he learns she's blind. Still he doesn't stop, but he assures Cheyenne that he will return her to a safe place for pick-up by her folks when it gets dark. Unfortunately his dad and two jerks who work for his dad discover that she's actually the daughter of a rich man, and decide to hold out for a ransom. As the negotiations go on, Cheyenne realizes that she needs to escape or she'll end up dead, and although she's grown a relationship with Griffin, she doesn't feel she can trust him to help her. She must go it alone.

There were some issues (as other reviewers have pointed out) such as the question of why money seemed so important to a family which seemed to be doing pretty decently from their chop-shop business, but I didn't let that bother me. Avarice is the only motivation some people need! The biggest issue for me was the story coming to a screeching, jarring halt near the end, when the author decided inexplicably to give us a couple of chapters of Griffin's history! She'd had the entire novel in which to do this during conversations between Griffin and Cheyenne, yet she halted the whole story just when it was getting really exciting and dumped it all right there. I skipped it and didn't miss it. The ending was good enough however, for me to forgive that and recommend this story overall, as a very worthy read.