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

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Fame Thief by Timothy Hallinan


Rating: WARTY!

This is supposed to be the "highly anticipated, laugh-out-loud thrid [yes, thrid! That's how useful the Goodreads librarians are!] installment of the an favorite Junior bender mysteries." I imagine it's a fan favorite because it stunk, and you'd need a fan to remove the stench. Had I known it was part of a series I would have left this audiobook on the library shelf, but since the only indication is some very tiny text hidden on the front cover, I didn't notice until after I checked it out. But that's a mistake that was easily remedied!

The reader was Peter Berkrot, whose voice sounded like it had been fogged by about five thousand cigarettes too many so it did not appeal. What had appealed, until I started listening to it, was the idea that a retired mobster and movie mogul, Irwin Dressler (who I guess has to be a Jew because that's a hard and fast cliche that no writer has the power to change) would hire a burglar, to figure out what had happened to a star if the silver screen form the golden age. It made no sense, so I thought this was either going to be a great idea, or a disaster. It was a disaster of government-planning proportions.

None of the characters was interesting, nothing interesting happened (not in the portion I listened to), and no hilarity ensued. End of story. For me anyway. This DNF'd novel is back on the shelf where it truly belongs, and I'm moving on to the next experimental audiobook I checked out during my latest raid on the library.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Greywalker by Kat Richardson


Rating: WARTY!

There's something like nine volumes of this series and that's nine too many in my opinion after listening to this first one. I could not make it through this book. This is another book which proves my point that if the things start going south in your read, there's no point whatsoever in gamely reading on in hope that it will get better.

It began with the tired premise that a person who has "died" and recovers (! - which actually means that they never died at all) comes back equipped with psychic powers. When is someone going to subvert that trope? So Harper Blane (I should have quit reading as soon as I read that this was the private detective's name - it sounds like a foot disease!) has this experience and finds she can enter the grey zone (seriously this is the best name you can come up with?) which is the zone between life and death, where ghosts and vampires live. Yes, and werewolves Everything was in here including the kitchen sink, which was more of an off-white zone with rust stains than grey, to be perfectly honest.

Harper is given two cases: one to track down a woman's college-student son, who has apparently disappeared, and the other to locate a pipe organ that was sold and went missing some years ago. Mia Barron doesn't do too bad of a job reading this, but her Irish accent was annoying and her voice for the missing student, Cameron, made him sound like Ash Ketchum from the Pokémon anime cartoons. Ash's real name was actually Satoshi, but why would we in the west respect that?!

I never was a fan of the cartoons. I thought the only purpose Pokémon served was to legitimize cruelty to animals, with these unlicensed and unsupervised jerks capturing critters and making them fight each other for their jailer's personal glory. Ash was supposed to be becoming the best trainer in the world, but he never trained anyone! He just made them fight all the time, and he wouldn't even let them fight in their own particular...(sigh) Concorde, "Idiom, sir?" Yes! That's it! Idiom!

In the real world, dog fighting will get you jail time, but in this world, it makes you famous. I have seen some episodes and for me the duo of Jessie and James were heroically amusing, and Misty was a feisty one, but Ash made me nauseous. I understand that team rocket retired in later episodes and were replaced by a limp facsimile, but to me the whole show was a limp facsimile of the real relationship one can have with a pet. To get back to the review, I found Cameron way more hilarious than I ever found him sad or pitiful precisely because he sounded just like Ash.

Event that I could have contended with, but the story just dragged on and on and on, with the author too frequently giving in to an obsessive details which were simply not interesting. I don't require a writer of sci-fi or fantasy to legitimize their story. they don't have to dome up with convincing explanations for why something works or why this is the way it is. Just tell your story and I'll go along with it. Unless of course, you bog it down in endless ruminations about The Grey as this one did. I was bored witless listening to that mindless drivel, and I took to skipping any tracks that dealt with the minutiae of The Grey, and any tracks that featured the Irish Witch. In the end I decided to skip all the rest of it because it was simply not getting ti done. I can't recommend this one.


The Book of Jonas by Stephen Dau


Rating: WARTY!

This was another experimental audiobook about a young kid who comes to the US from a Muslim country and enters foster care. If he had been adopted, then I could see some point to this, but he was not. It made no sense that he would be ripped from his home and sent miles from it. Maybe there was something in the middle section of this which made sense of it, but I became so bored with the first section that I skipped to the last section and returned the novel to the library the same day I started listening to it. And I know Simon Vance can do a better job of reading than he did here.

The author seemed to take a great delight in endless rambling descriptions which were far more prosaic than prose. He discoursed tediously about the most mundane things. If these had offered some real insights from the perspective of the Muslim kid, that would have been something, but they offered nothing new at all. It was just boring filler and I couldn't stand to listen to it. It would not at all surprise me if this novel had won an award, so trite was it. What haunted me long after the final page was how much time I'd wasted on this.


Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Necromancer's House by Christopher Buehlman


Rating: WARTY!

This was a quick fail for me. I listened to the first part of the audiobook which was read averagely by Todd Haberkorn, and the last part, and neither was remotely appealing, so this one was a speedy return to the library. I really don't know how you can make a novel about necromancy boring, but this was dead boring and I make no excuse for the pun!

It also contains some bad language right up front, and while I have no problem with that normally in a novel, it really stood out here starkly and appeared to be employed for no good purpose, so it just felt like one more bad choice on the part of the author.

The plot sounded interesting, but the execution of it was the death of it. Andrew Blankenship is the necromancer who has "a treasury of Russian magic stolen from the Soviet Union thirty years ago" so we're told, now also has a monster (so-called) from Russian folklore is coming for him. The "monster" is Baba Yaga, and I'm sorry but I simply can not Baby Yack-up seriously. The whole idea of this wicked witch of the forest who lives in a house that sits on chicken legs is so pathetic that it inspires belly-aching laighter and not one iota of terror in me whatsoever, so this was a huge fail. Admittedly I listened to only about third of this, but it felt more like a turd, and that was more than enough to make me dis-recommend it.


Messenger by Lois Lowry


Rating: WARTY!

This is the third in Lois Lowry's "The Giver" quadrilogy. I negatively reviewed the first, The Giver back in April 2016, and now I'm certainly not planning on reading the other two in the group: Gathering Blue, and Son. This one can at least be read as a standalone, but like in The Giver, the world-building here sucks! And monumentally so.

Main character Matty was far too much of a Mary Sue in this novel, and while it started out decently well, it went on too long (despite being a short novel!), and it dwelt so long in the horrific gore of the forest that it was sickening. The end was so predictable that it was even more sickening. Even the puppy lived!

Matty is the adopted son of 'Seer'. Every adult in the village has a really dumb-ass "true name" given to them by "Leader" who is head of the village. Let me just interject at this point that I'm not a fan of this "names have power" bullshit or of the "true name" fallacy. I laugh at stories that follow those tropes. Names do have meaning but that's not the same as saying they have, much less give, power.

Matty wants to be named Messenger, but doesn't get his wish. Instead he gets a predictable and different name. Read pretty decently by actor David Morse, the story's material and plot let it down badly. They were drab and lifeless, and ultimately boring. The village was sad-ass, but we're told - not shown - that it was a happy and comfortable place. As the story takes off, we're being hit over the head with the regularity of a metronome by how much it is changing for the worse. It's as if Donald Trump got elected and the entire country began rejecting huddled masses and becoming very insular and closed-off. Oh wait, that really happened!

Despite all these people having gifts, they're hobbled in a trope way by not really being able to use the gifts to any great advantage. Some of the gifts make no sense. One guy is called Trademaster and is in charge of the villagers trading their personal goods with each other. I'm sorry, but what? What the hell that's all about is a mystery, and I found it laughable. So anyway, Seer doesn't see a whole heck of a lot especially since he's predictably blind. Leader, who is also a seer, can't see very far into the future. Why the author called one of them Seer but gave the power of seeing to a different character is a great mystery!

The village, which is called Village, is surrounded by a dense and increasingly hostile forest which is called Forest. Seriously? Donald Trump clearly took his manifesto from this novel because the villagers have decided to build a wall around the village and not let anyone else in. Why anyone would even want to try and get in, given the nightmarish and brutal forest and the asinine way village life goes on is an unexplained mystery as is everything else in this story. It suggests that the rest of the world is in even more dire straits than is the village, yet when we see another part of this world, there is no problem with it! It's just like Village minus the psychoses and psycho forest.

The villagers have tools and fire. There's no reason they couldn't burn down the whole forest and sow salt on it, but they never think of it. They simply accept it. No explanation is given for this, either.

Maybe some of these things are explained in the previous two volumes, but they sure aren't here. The only thing of any interest at all in this story is Matty's last minute desperate dash through the forest to bring Kira, Seer's daughter, back from outside into the village so he can see her again. How selfish is that? She left the village and though she said she would return, in several years she's made no effort to do so, and now Seer essentially wants her dragged back through a dangerous forest with no warning, for his own selfish ends? What a jerk!

Matty, who has always been able to pass through the forest unharmed, now finds that it's attacking him. Why there is this change is unexplained, Why the forest is alive and hostile is unexplained. This portion of the novel just went on and on with increasingly obnoxious descriptions of pain and torn flesh, and suffering that I could barely stand to listen to it. It contributed nothing to the story, and it was all washed away and undone by Matty's magical power which we'd been told about right from the start, so no surprises there.

If this novel had been a first-time novel by a new writer, it would never have got published. I'm just sorry it ever did.


Saturday, December 17, 2016

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales


Rating: WARTY!

This is yet another let's-give-it-a-try audiobook which turned out to be a mistake. It was read tiresomely by Rebecca Lowman. The first chapter was nothing save non-stop whining told in a nauseating first person voice by this clueless, whiny-ass brat of a girl named Elise Dembowski. She should have been named Dumb-Bitchski. Far from being (as the blurb lies) told in a "refreshingly genuine and laugh-out-loud funny voice," this novel was just the opposite.

The entire first chapter went on and on about how much of a social pariah Elise is, but never are we offered the slightest reason to explain why she's so disliked. After listening to this though, I knew perfectly well why no one liked her. Forget others warning people away from her. I wanted to warn people away from her! She was utterly clueless, insensitive to others, obnoxiously self-centered and self-important, and completely lacking in empathy. I saw no reason why anyone should like her. I sure didn't.

This is yet another in a vomit-inducing long line of first-person voice YA novels, and it was depressingly cookie-cutter. If it hadn't been in first person, that probably wouldn't have improved matters at all, but it might have made her less repellent. This was a DNF for me for several reasons, not least of which was the whining. The extremism in the apparently clueless author's claim that literally everyone in school shunned her was laughable. It simply was not remotely credible.

It was even less credible that she could turn this around and become a renowned and cool DJ - like this is somehow a pinnacle of achievement. Seriously? If she'd gone to Africa and helped AIDs victims, or helped feed starving people in some third world nation, or even handed-out blankets to the homeless one cold night in her own town, that would have been turning things around. That would have been changing who she was since she was so self-centered before, but to cite DJ-ing as some sort of life-altering plateau of achievement and coolness? I'm sorry, but all that induces in me is the idea that the author is as out of touch as her character is.

You know a YA author is not getting it done when her youthful main character has precisely the same musical tastes as the much older author does, but the final insult is that this is yet another YA author who seems to think that teen girls need a guy to validate them, otherwise they're somehow incomplete. Get a clue. Get a life. Think before you write, and quit pulling your plots out of the dumpster for goodness sake. I'm done with this author. This song won't save your life; it will bore you to death.


Between Lovers by Eric Jerome Dickey


Rating: WARTY!

This is an audiobook read decently by Dion Graham, although the material is marginally indecent! When I first began listening to it, I started thinking I wasn't going to like it, especially since it's in first person, which I really do not care for. I had a feeling I knew how this would pan out, but I hoped the author would prove atypical, and surprise me. He didn't.

It also began by being a little too focused on sex and body parts for my taste, but as I listened on, I began to get into it a little bit, so I decided to let it play for a while and see how it went. It went downhill. I started skimming and skipping and by half-way through, I realized this was not for me. The focus seemed to be solely on sex and bodies, and I have to wonder why. Is there nothing else in this guy's life? Apparently there wasn't, and that felt false to me.

One of the main reasons I picked this up from the library was that one of the main characters - the narrator - was a writer, yet his character doesn't read like he's a writer at all, and his internal monologue didn't vibe like he was a writer, either. He came across as any regular guy instead. His job could literally have been anything, so why make him a writer except as a thoroughly dishonest attempt to lure readers like me in?

It may sound paradoxical to say this, but there is no writing element to this novel - not in the first fifty percent at any rate. His focus isn't on his next novel, which is where his primary should be, if he really is a writer. He should be thinking about it - from time to time at least - even if he isn't writing, yet his entire focus is on his sex life, on his girlfriend's body, and on "checking out sistas." I refuse to believe that this is all that African Americans think about, but according to this writer, it is! I found that to be so sad and blinkered, and rather racist, if that's the implication. He mentions Nicole's intelligence once, but that's seriously diluted by the observations he makes about her body in the same thought.

The other element which interested me, and I confess it's one that usually turns me off a novel, is the love triangle angle! The main character (whose name I don't think appears in this novel, or if it does, I missed it) is involved with Nicole, but when he thought they were ready to head to the altar, she left. Now she's back in his life, but she comes with a girlfriend. She wants both her girlfriend and her boyfriend in her life, and she wants he and she to get along. They refuse to until a predictable tragedy forces them.

Given how obsessed the narrator was with sex, you would think he would jump at this idea of two women, but he doesn't! This made no sense in the context we'd been offered here: far from being enthusiastic about the potential to have two women in his life, he's completely negative about it, seeing Ayyana in the same light as he would have viewed a male rival. This sounded false to me given what we'd been told about the narrator. But it's first person, so maybe he's lying to us all this time? I don't know. I'm even less of a fan of dishonest narrators than I am of first person stories.

The novel is set in and around Oakland and San Francisco, the latter being a place I had the pleasure of visiting some months ago, and really liked, so for me that was the best part about it, but the locale was only a backdrop, not part of the story. The story could have taken place anywhere so why San Francisco? I don't know!

Like the narrator's occupation, the locale impinged little on the story, which was solely about this guy's anguish over his girlfriend. In the end I started really disliking the guy and becoming bored with his obsession. He literally had no other thoughts than Nicole and her girlfriend, and it was tedious to keep going back over the same ground. Even as he's griping endlessly about her girlfriend, he's checking out every girl who passes across his visual field, so he's both hypocritical and lacking in integrity.

In the end I wanted to get in his face and tell him to either accept her heat for what it was, or get out of the bitchin'! He either has to allow that she's making up her own mind about her life and he wants to be in it, or he wants to be out of it, and let this thing go. It was tiresome to be forced to watch him wallow in his own self-importance and self-pity. Maybe a third person narration would have made this more palatable, but I doubt it would have made sufficient difference to keep me on-board. As it is, I can't recommend this one at all.


Friday, December 9, 2016

Witches on the Road Tonight by Sheri Holman


Rating: WARTY!

As I've mentioned before, audiobooks are much more experimental for me than print, so they tend to fail more often, and this one was such a case. Frankly, it was awful! I'm honestly not even sure what possessed me to experiment with this one on the first place! maybe I'd been thinking it was actually about witches? It isn't. It' s one of those tedious cross-generational stories, and it's read by two different people. Dick Hill sounded like Gomer Pyle, and I have no interest at all in listening to his story, so this voice just grated on my nerves, and I took to skipping and skimming. About a third the way in, the other reader, Christina Traister took over. She was a lot easier on the ear, but her story, which started out sounding like it might be more interesting, eventually devolved into irritating obsession with minutiae instead of getting on with the story. It was at this point that I gave up. This isn't much of a review I know, but then it wasn't much of a book, either. It left me wondering if the author really thinks that all people from the Appalachians are clichéd stereotypes?


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Lost World by Arthur Doyle


Rating: WARTY!

Although it was read reasonably by Paul Hecht, this one ultimately disappointed. It was another audiobook experiment from my local library, but it's also available for free from LibriVox. This book was a DNF because it was taking so ponderously long to go anywhere that I lost patience with it! We were very nearly half way through the entire novel before these guys ever got to their 'lost world'. Everything prior to this was a slow set up.

The lost 'world' is really a high plateau in South America, and the idea is that this was so cut off from everything else that what killed off the dinosaurs elsewhere on Earth didn't affect those guys living up there. Of course, Doyle could not have known what we know now: that an asteroid destroyed them, and along with them very nearly the whole planet, so no dinosaurs, and none of what people popularly, but mistakenly lump in with them, such as the pterosaurs and the Sauropterygia, would have survived whether they were on plateaux or wherever.

There were things Doyle could have known, which I shall discuss shortly, but the problem here for me was that Doyle took an entire chapter with these guys parading round the plateau trying to find a way to get up there. The solution was obvious, but it took them a while to figure it out, and it was boring. This where I started skimming and skipping, and before very long decided to give up on it altogether.

The first problem is that the lost world as Doyle depicts it couldn't have stayed lost! There were pterosaurs living up there and while those animals which depended on legs to get them around would have been trapped up there, the flying animals would not have been so confined, and would have been discovered living in other areas long before the lost plateau was ever discovered, so this rang false.

The same thing applies to plant life. Why were none of the plants up there spreading to the areas around the plateau and becoming discovered? Doyle lived in an era where it was known how organisms get around. Darwin himself, a half century before, had made that clear, so Doyle cannot have been ignorant, yet still he wrote approached this story as though his little enclave atop the plateau would have remained entirely hidden. It wasn't credible.

Nor was it credible that this plateau could have risen so high so quickly that it preserved an antique set of species that never changed in over sixty million years! And held apemen! I'm sorry, but no. Anyone who thinks hominins and dinosaurs ever occupied the planet at the same time - anywhere - is an ignoramus, period. Doyle also knew of evolution, but failed to realize that it would have been going on up there on the plateau just as it was everywhere else.

Even if I were to overlook all of this for the sake of the story, the story itself was boring and entirely predictable. The encounters Doyle depicts, for example, between animal and human are all of the typically gory and violent kind that we find in every single story of this nature ever told, whether it be in book, in movie or on TV, about prehistoric animals - which are exclusively and savagely predatory. Predators do not behave like that in real life.

As I mentioned in a review yesterday, predators are not constantly hungry, constantly on the prowl, or constantly hunting. They do very little hunting (unless they're unlucky enough to be in a place where there's little prey or great competition). Neither do they obsessively track prey which they normally either do not encounter, or simply don't bother within real life. Yes, a really hungry predator will go after pretty much anything that might make a meal, but most of the time, predators - even warm-blooded ones - are doing quite literally nothing but sitting around until they get hungry!

When they do get hungry, they get on with it. They give up in short order if they can't catch their prey, and they try again later. When the hunt is done, they go back to their sedentary life until they're hungry again. That's it! When they're in that mode, their usual prey can saunter past them all the time and the predator really doesn't care. So for Doyle to depict the dinosaurs as constantly chasing down food, especially when they've clearly just eaten, as evidence by fresh blood on the beast's maw, is not only wrong, it's stupid and boring. I can't recommend this book at all.


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!


Life After Life by Kate Atkinson


Rating: WARTY!

This is the second of three audiobook reviews I have today and only one of the three was a worthy "read" I'm sorry to report! This one failed because while the premise was really interesting to me, the execution killed it! The story is of a turn-of-the-century (previous century!) young girl named Ursula, whom death seems unable to claim no matter how hard it tries or how easy it would seem to pluck this child off this mortal coil.

What a great premise for a story! It's all there: a young child growing up despite the obvious fact that she oughtn't to be succeeding. Death seeming to fail here, whereas everywhere else it succeeds, and what is this child going to grow to become? What will she do? Well, I lost all interest in the answer to that question because the story just took forever to get anywhere, and where it got was nowhere special by the time I quit reading.

There was no drama at all, and Fenella Woolgar's reading, while not awful did nothing to enamor me of the tale. I DNF'd it at about ten percent in because it was simply too boring. There was way too much detail getting int eh way of the intrigue. I'm sure the author was thrilled with herself for larding in all the period detail, but I wasn't. I didn't want Downton Abbey, I wanted an exciting supernatural thriller, but I guess the author and I will have to disagree on that, huh?

Audiobooks are much more experimental for me than other kinds of books because I commute, and listening to them helps pass the time. I take more risks with these and consequently have more failures, so your mileage may well differ on these books. For me, I couldn't stand to listen to any more of this. I do not want to find myself getting irritated when driving, and I certainly don't want to fall asleep, so perhaps I'm more demanding of, and therefore more critical of, audiobooks than of other varieties, too! Whatever it is, this one was not a worthy read for me.