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

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Fishtale by Hans Bauer, Catherine Masciola


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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


The Sleeping Dictionary by Sujata Massey


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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


Saturday, August 18, 2018

Ice wolves by Amie Kaufman


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I commend this story as a worthy read.


Saturday, August 11, 2018

From This Moment on by Shania Twain


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater


Rating: WARTY!

It's my policy never to read books with pretentious words like 'Chronicles' or Cycle' or 'Saga' in their title, but this one slipped under my radar. It wasn't until I was almost finished with the novel that I realized it was part of 'The Raven Cycle'. Yuk! The thing is that while I did initially enjoy this particular volume, it was painfully slow, and when I discovered it was not even going to reach a conclusion, I began losing faith in it.

After I listened to the weak ending, I could no longer support it positively. If the author had moved things along, she could have included the entire four book 'cycle' in one volume, I suspect, made a great story out of it, and saved trees into the bargain.

As for me, I will serve the word! I'm not going to indulge the rip-off attitude of 'why write one novel when you can spin it into three or four?' which seems to pervade the fiction world these days. This is nothing but a conspiracy among publishers to milk money from suckers, and I refuse to be a part of it, which is why I personally will never write a series. Yes, there are one or two series out there which are worth the reading, but in my opinion they are as rare as a series should be. Not everything needs to be a trilogy. And yes, YA authors, I'm talking to you!

This story is about a young woman with the curious name of Blue Sargent, who isn’t a psychic, while her two eccentric aunts and her mother all are. Father is of course absent from her life, because god forbid we should have a YA character who has both parents in the picture and an otherwise normal life!

We meet Blue when she's out by a derelict church (sitting on a ley line of course) watching the ghosts go by. Blue can’t see them, but she has the ability to amplify signals for her psychic mom to pick up. It’s never explained why they need to go there to see these ghosts which technically aren’t ghosts, but premonitions of those people who will die in the coming year.

Blue never sees anything until this year when she sees this one ghostly guy. When she confronts him and asks who he is, he answers "Gansey." Later, of course she meets him and her mother warns her off him. Blue is instructed that he will die if she kisses him! Who knew Blue was really Poison Ivy?!

She meets him later of course, along with his three close friends. They're all students of the prestigious and snobbish Aglionby school. I only know that's spelled right because it's on the back cover. I listened to this on audio read by Will Patton, one of my favorite actors, and who did a great job. On audio though, it sounded like Aglin-B, like Zyclon-B - one of the gases used in the death camps by Nazis in World War Two, so I could not take that name seriously as a school! Sorry! My imagination gets out of hand often which, as a writer, is actually a good thing!

Anyway, the first of these friends is the unimaginatively-named Ronan, who is such a cliché that I did not like his character at all. I am so tired of USA authors writing about Irish characters and Ireland with such a condescending and unimaginative tone. Ronan is a stereotypical Irish boy who fights - physically - with his domineering brother who is unimaginatively named Declan.

Adam is a retiring, impoverished boy who has to work other jobs to finance his time at the school, and whose father is a brutal jerk. Noah is even more retiring than Adam and there's a reason for this, we learn towards the end of the novel. Richard Gansey is obsessed with tracing ley lines, and even more obsessed with finding the body of a Welshman. So why look in Virginia instead of in Cymru?

Owain Glyn Dŵr, often anglicized as Owen Glendower, but pronounced more like Oh-wayne Glin Duhr, was the last Welsh-born Prince of Wales, who came off poorly in his uprising against the English (early 15th century), and spent his twilight years in obscurity. Because of this, legends have grown up around him, including the one that he's not dead but sleeping, like King Arthur, who was actually more of a tribal leader than a king, and who will sleep until his nation needs him, whereupon he will awaken.

Well, that was categorically disproved when Arthur failed to wake up for either of the two World Wars, so I think we can retire that legend! I mean, honestly, of what use will a medieval tribal leader wearing a leather jerkin and carrying a spear be in modern warfare? Will he toss his spear at a Raptor drone?

The asinine conceit of this story is that Glyn Dŵr went to the Americas, despite those not being discovered (or more accurately, rediscovered) until almost a century after he died. Yes, the Vikings knew of the Americas, but it’s unlikely that this information would have found its way to Glyn Dŵr and even if it had, what incentive did he have to abandon his family and move there? None! Although I did develop a theory that Ronan is really Glyn Dŵr in disguise.

This is a problem with readers in the USA: far too many of them are so lamentably and irrevocably provincial that they seem quite loathe to embrace any story that's not set in their homeland. This is why Hollywood lifts so many foreign movies and recasts them in the USA, even if the recasting makes little sense to the story, so this whole Glyn Dŵr angle is nonsensical. You would think someone of Steifvater's stature would have the guts to step away from trope and safety and and set her own course, but I guess she's as unimaginative and chicken as far too many other YA authors.

Anyway, these five (Gansey & co, and Blue) discover a place on a ley line in the forest where time seems mixed up and where a body lies. Here's where the story went downhill because it became obvious all of a sudden who the murder was and what his relationship with the boys and (I believe) also with Blue was. I don't normally catch things like that so it had to be very obvious if even I saw it!

So they story moved slowly, wasn't exactly a mystery, and Blue was a little too subdued and passive for my taste for a female lead. I confess I did enjoy parts of the story as far as it went, but overall, I cannot commend it as a worthy read, and it was certainly not something I'm interested in pursuing into another volume.


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Once We Were Sisters by Sheila Kohler


Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook fail. It sounded interesting from the blurb, but don't they all? Well not really, but many of them do! The blurb says (yes in block caps!) that this is "ONE OF PEOPLE MAGAZINE'S BEST NEW BOOKS." It adds that People thinks it's "An intimate illumination of sisterhood and loss." No, it really isn't. I immediately made a mental note never to trust a People magazine rating. The blurb also says that according to the BBC, this is "A searing and intimate memoir about love turned deadly." No, it isn't. It's a rambling recollection of a childhood that was seemingly obsessed by defecation. I kid you not.

The most absurd aspect of the blurb though was when it said, "Kohler evokes the bond between sisters and shows how that bond changes but never breaks, even after death" yet the memoir is titled, "Once We Were Sisters" like that no longer holds. Unbreakable bond? Bullshit. Had it been a truly unbreakable bond, Maxine would never have died so tragically.

So the blurb was at best hypocritical, but unless they self-publish, authors typically don't write their own blurbs. In my experience that chore is typically consigned to the most inept member of the publishing team. The fact that none other than Joyce Carol "Feeling Her" Oates says this is "Highly recommended" ought to tell you all you need to know about how useless these recommendations truly are.

The author got the news that her older sister by two years, the thirty-nine-year-old Maxine, had died when her husband drove them off a road in Johannesburg. The blurb tells us that, "Stunned by the news, she immediately flew back to the country where she was born, determined to find answers and forced to reckon with his history of violence and the lingering effects of their most unusual childhood--one marked by death and the misguided love of their mother."

To me that sounded like it would make for an interesting read, and maybe provide some ideas for a story of my own? Who knows? I'm always open to ideas but that's not my primary motivation for reading anything, especially not something that came off sounding like a detective story, but in the end it wasn't: there was no detecting and there were no answers offered.

Anyway, I checked it out of the library I adore and started listening to it right away, and I noted the first problem: it's written exceedingly sparsely. It's more like a set of notes for a memoir rather than a finished work. It's read pretty well - if somewhat quirkily on occasion - by the author, but the story itself really isn't anything special or very engrossing. Apart from the excrement fetish, it's nothing more than the usual childhood recollections that any family of similar circumstances might relate. Why all this stuff and nothing about finding answers? I'm guessing this is because there were neither answers sought nor found. I have my own theory about why this memoir was written which I shall go into shortly.

It's obviously set in South Africa, but you really wouldn't know it from the writing. Apart from an occasional reference here and there, this memoir could have been of any wealthy, slightly dysfunctional family, living anywhere, which had rather more tragedy than any family ought. There really was very little to anchor it to South Africa and the story jumped around too much between early childhood and later life, so we have the author talking about an eight year old in one paragraph, having babies (which seemed to excite her quite a lot) in the next, and then back to relating how she, as a child, had urinated through the wicker chair on the porch. Really? As a listener, I wasn't prepared for the jumping between different ages, let alone for the entirely unnecessary revelation about urination.

I don't do prologues (or prefaces, introductions, author's notes, and so on). To me they're misplaced at best, and fatuous at worst, but it's often hard to avoid them in an audiobook. I managed it here, but not without hearing the opening sentence to the prologue, which said, "This is a story about South Africa" No, wrong again! I was truly sorry because I'd wished it was, but it wasn't. The truth is, it seemed to me, that this was about the author: her childhood, her love of babies ...and defecation, her spoiled-rotten life and oh yes, I think there might have been a few mentions of this beloved sister.

The saddest thing is that even when she told us of this life of hers, it was always superficial. There were never any real insights into living in the depths (and I do mean depths) of apartheid or even anything insightful in her relationship with her sister. It was always about the author, and only the shallowest recollections even of that. This is why the story felt so bland and generic rather than richly-hued and personal.

These sisters thought nothing about jet-setting and going on ritzy vacations and fashion-buying trips to Europe, leaving their children behind. Neither did they have a problem taking lovers, yet they would not leave abusive husbands? The most powerful thing that this author conveyed to me is not so much how utterly clueless she is (or was: maybe she wised-up) about real life, but how thoroughly shallow, self-centered, and superficial she is. I detected no sign of any love here for anything but her own comfort.

Ultimately the saddest part of this is that it would seem that the author knew her sister's marriage was a bad one: that her husband was physically abusive to his wife and their children and yet no one did a thing about it. They just let it run its unnatural course and so it seems that her sister's untimely and violent death was an inevitable outcome, and that the blame for it really needs to be placed elsewhere than on this psychotic husband's shoulders. Her mother forgave her son in law. Sheila never pushed for an investigation regardless of what the blurb says.

When Maxine had indicated there were problems, she was never offered any assistance by her family, so we're forced to conclude from this memoir. Where was the love? Where was the bond? It felt like her mother and sister had said to Maxine: you made your bed; now you must die in it. In her own words, Sheila pretty much told her sister to stay in the marriage for the sake of her children, thereby ultimately condemning her to death. And it's unclear whether Maxine's husband drove the car off the road or whether Maxine took hold of the steering wheel to end it all, or whether it was simply an accident. He was wearing a seatbelt. She wasn't. Still, today in South Africa only about six in ten drivers use a seatbelt.

Had the memoir been written differently, I may have experienced it differently and now been able to view it differently, but I could only review what the author offered, and what this felt like was less of a loving memoir, or an attempt to find some truth, as it was a determined effort assuage a tortured soul: to seek absolution for the author's inexcusable inaction in light of her sister;s suffering.

In the end, it was really nothing more than an attempt to turn a hard, harsh marble sculpture of a life into a soft, pretty, pastel watercolor, and in that light, it was quite sickening to listen to. It's a very short memoir, which is just as well, because if it had been any longer I would not have stayed with it to the end, As it was, I found myself skipping parts here and there. I cannot commend this at all. It doesn't remotely feel to me like it's a fitting memorial for the tragic life of a prematurely deceased sister.


La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman


Rating: WORTHY!

I listened to the audiobook read very ably by Welsh actor Michael Sheen. He doesn't sound very Welsh here it must be said. He often plays a weasely villain in movies. You might remember him from the first three Underworld movies where he played Lucian. He's also played Tony Blair, HG Wells, Kenneth Williams, David Frost, and Brian Clough! He did get a bit overly dramatic, even frantic at times in his reading here, but otherwise I enjoyed his effort as I enjoyed the book. It's a worthy addition to the 'His Dark Materials' canon and I commend it, although it's far from perfect, it has to be said.

This particular story is a prequel to the original trilogy, when Lyra was literally a baby and had to be rescued from the machinations of the Consistorial Court and also from a vengeful scientist by this young boy Malcolm Polstead and a moody girl named Alice Parslow.

The other two volumes in the series will cover Lyra at later stages in her life (this is why Pullman has described it as not a prequel, nor a sequel, but an equal). The story is very much told from Malcolm's perspective, but blessedly not in first person. Pullman is a writer who gets just how pathetic and limited first person voice truly is. The story is aimed at a young adult readership, but be warned it has bits of quite brutal violence and swearing throughout the narrative.

Malcolm's parents own the inn where Malcolm helps out and Alice works. Across the Thames from the inn lies a priory wherein nuns are caring for an infant girl named Lyra. Malcolm plies this river in his beloved canoe, La Belle Sauvage and he helps at the priory, too.

The more Malcolm learns, the more involved he becomes and when a flood prophecy from the Gyptians proves to be true and a once-in-a-century deluge hits, and Oxfordshire is swamped, Malcolm is unexpectedly thrown into a chase across three countries trying to deliver Lyra safely to Lord Asrael in London. He finds himself throwing in his lot with the antagonistic Alice to save the child.

Note that there are spoilers here which might make you regret trying to read these books in order. I recommend starting with the original 'His Dark Materials' trilogy (Northern Lights published in the USA as The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass) before tackling this one. You may also be disappointed. This book is much more mundane that the initial trilogy, and the chase across the flooded landscape goes on with almost metronomic repetitiveness, so for me it sagged rather during that time.

I understand the print book is some 450 pages long. I listened to the audiobook and it didn't seem that long at all, because I was enjoying it so much, I guess! That said, I think Pullman could have used some self-editing here. The repetitive cyclic nature of the 'slow speed chase' rowing across the endless water, finding an island, rowing the water, finding an island might turn off many people, but for me in was just interesting enough to keep me reading and I'm looking forward to the next volume.

There were problems with this journey: almost no other humans were ever seen during the long aquatic trip, and the few that were, were always the villain, Gerard Bonneville, or the Consistorial Court boats. At one point we learned the Gyptians were out looking for Malcolm but they had only half as many boats as the Court, yet never once do we see one of those Gyptian boats, nor any boats bearing anyone else. How the Court and Bonneville managed to so expertly track Malcolm and Alice when no one else could was a bit too much to swallow and felt more amateurish than I thought this author capable.

I read some negative reviews that complained that Malcolm was boring and Alice never changed, and their roles were genderist, but it really wasn't that way at all. Just because Malcolm was in charge of the boat (his boat that he was an expert at using and Alice wasn't), doesn't mean she was confined to a traditional female role! This is not set in 2018, but at some time in the past when traditional gender roles were the norm, so this isn't a surprise, but Alice came through repeatedly, including decking Bonneville at one point, and Malcolm was repeatedly shown to have what might be termed a more traditional feminine side, so I really don't know what those reviewers were complaining about.

There's nothing weak about being a woman! There's nothing weak about playing to your strengths whatever they are. Some women want to be jet fighter pilots, others want to be homemakers and to chide the one for being traditional is insulting to the woman who choses such a role. Alice was doing what she chose to do and often telling Malcolm what's what. He consulted her frequently and she had no problem expressing her mind at will. How is any of that weak?

I recommend this as a worthy addition to the cannon. Just don't expect too much from it!


Sunday, July 15, 2018

Bad Feminist Roxane Gay


Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook I requested after becoming interested in the author from my reading of World of Wakanda by Roxane Gay and Ta-Nehisi Coates. The problem is that unlike the graphic novel, which I loved, this book was self-obsessed and boring.

Let's get one thing clarified right up front: it has nothing whatsoever to do with any brand of feminism, good, bad, or indifferent (and however you might foolishly try to define those!), so the title is completely wrong and disgustingly bait and switch. This is evidently one of those books where the author puts together a collection of essays and takes the title of the collection from one of its constituents. I always have a problem with that precisely because it is too often misleading.

In this case it was especially misleading because this is far more 'Bad Memoir' (assuming there are really good ones, which I confess I sometimes doubt) than ever it is anything else. The essays are just god-awfully rambling, self-serving recollections from her life, and not even ones that offer anything new, or insightful, or any great wisdom. I'm neither black nor gay and this book revealed nothing to me about either quality which told me anything I had not heard or read before, or thought of myself. So what was the point?

After listening to some essays and skimming some others, I quit this and went to look at some reviews to see if it was just me who felt this way about it, and no, it wasn't. Others had come independently to the same conclusion, and this is where I discovered that there's barely a thing in here about feminism. So maybe after all, the title is right and it's bad feminist because it contains so little about the topic in the title? Maybe? LGBTQED?

Anyway after reading those reviews, I felt no compulsion whatsoever to go back in here and listen to any more. All I can say is that I'm disappointed, sadly disappointed, and I cannot recommend this, especially since I'm unwilling to commend it in the first place!


Saturday, July 7, 2018

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L Sánchez


Rating: WARTY!

This was another disappointing audiobook experiment! First of all it was first person, which is nearly always a bad idea. That in itself can sometimes be bearable, but when your novel title contains the word 'Mexican' and the novel's author is named Sánchez (with the emphasis accent yet!), then you expect a Latin lilt in your narrator, especially if she's named Garcia! At least I'd hoped for one. I was disappointed.

If I had read this myself, I could have at least imagined an accent to enjoy, but Kyla Garcia has no Latin lilt whatsoever to her voice, so there wasn't even that to mellow the delivery and contribute to the listening experience. She didn't do a particularly good job of reading, so I have to wonder why was she even picked for this job? Was it because her name sounds Mexican? That's not a valid reason to pick a narrator!

Maybe that's not relevant, because even if it had been read by a richly-accented Mexican voice, for me the story would still have failed. The reason is that the main character telling this story was obnoxious. She;s racist, bigoted, obnoxiously opinionated, perennially annoying, and I honestly couldn't stand to listen to this. She was incessantly carping about things, and what was supposed to be a tragedy was turned into a joke for me. She was attending her older sister's funeral and it occurred to me that her sister probably committed suicide so she wouldn't have to listen to this whining bitch of a kid sister anymore. Seriously. The title definitely applied to the narrator, but I think it would have been much more a propósito had it been titled "I Am Irremediably Removed From a Perfect Anything."

I started playing the book as I set out on Friday morning to get some chores done and reward myself with a movie, but after about ten minutes I decided silence was better than listening to any more of this crap. I was on my way to the library and ended up dropping this off as well as the book I was returning. I cannot recommend this at all and have no desire to listen to or read anything more by this author.


Wednesday, July 4, 2018

City of Saints &Thieves by Natalie C Anderson


Rating: WORTHY!

This was another audiobook experiment and it's the one I wait for while wading through all the others! The story was really good, very engrossing, and it kept moving. I felt there were bits here and there that dragged, but for the most part it was exceptional. More importantly, it's based on real truths about what happens to people, especially to young woman, in this volatile part of the world.

Pascale Armand's reading of it was flawless and remarkable. It was so good and it definitely contributed to my attachment to and appreciation of the novel.

The story is of young Tina, who runs with the Goondas, a street gang in Sangui, Kenya. Having fled with her mother from the Congo, Tina is an orphan; her mother was shot while working at the home of the wealthy Greyhill family, and Tina just knows Mr Greyhill did it. She's planning on revenge, breaking into his home and exposing him for all the dirt she's convinced he has on him - that is until she's captured in flagrante delicto by Greyhill's young son, and held prisoner. But why doesn't the just turn her in?

Being pressured on one side by her gang leader to come up with the goods - the secrets to where Greyhill's wealth is hoarded - and by her captor on the other, who is equally convinced his father is innocent, these two young people forge an uneasy alliance and develop a plan to determine the truth no matter what it is, but that involves traveling on a banana lorry right back into the Congo where it all began.

I loved this story, and I recommend it highly.


Sunday, July 1, 2018

When Friendship Followed me Home by Paul Griffin


Rating: WARTY!

Read by the author - who actually doesn't do too bad of a job - this was another failed audiobook trial. The subject matter! Oh the subject matter. It's aimed at middle-grade boys, and is supposed to be your typical "I survived middle school" story for boys, but what it felt like to me was that the author seemed like he really wanted to tell a Star Wars story without paying a licensing fee to do so.

The first chapter opened with a quote from a Star Wars movie which didn't augur well, and if that had been all there was, it would have been fine, but then there were several more references to Star Wars in that same chapter. That's when I quit it. In the first chapter. It seriously rubbed me up the wrong way. I have devoutly gone off Star Wars - not that I was ever a huge dedicated fan or anything, but while I'm not quite anti-Star Wars, I'm also definitely not remotely interested in it anymore, after episode seven turned out to be nothing more than a remake of episode four. The whole series is uninventive and derivative and it's not entertaining or even interesting to me. So this book was a derivative of a derivative movie series! LOL!

The story is supposedly about this disaffected kid who is adopted by an older woman, and who knows when she retires in three years she's going to move with him to a different locale, so he decides it's not worth making friends? What a moron! Then of course he befriends this dog. Barf. I love dogs, but I hate stories about them. They've been overdone. I'm not even sure why I picked this up at the library, because the whole idea seems way too sugary now I think about it! I can only explain it by positing that I picked up a book, thought it looked okay but not that great, then changing my mind after putting it back, I pulled the wrong book back off the shelf! LOL!

I honestly cannot face listening to any more of that, especially when I have other audiobooks to go at. I'm sure there are middle-graders who will enjoy a story such as this one but that doesn't mean I have to rate it a worthy read! It's schlock and of the lowest form (unless it magically changed after the point at which I quit - which I seriously doubt). It's unimaginative and uninventive, and I can't recommend it.


Unwanted Quests Dragon Captives by Lisa McCann


Rating: WORTHY!

I didn't realize, when I picked this up, that it was part of a larger world, and maybe even a series. The publisher/author all-too-often doesn't tell you on the book cover, "Hey dummy, this is volume 2 - go read volume 1 first!" This is one reason I am not a fan of series.

However, this book can be read as a standalone which was my inadvertent approach, and it was an enjoyable read - the one gem in a pile of dross that is my experience of selecting audiobooks off the library shelves. Although I have to say up front that this was a gem which lost a little of its luster before the story was over.

This world appears to me to be a bit like the floating "Hallelujah Mountains" of Pandora from the movie Avatar, excepting that here they're more like worlds - or at least large islands in space. It may be that previous books in this world have defined those other islands since each is named "The Island of..." but I can't speak to that. There is apparently no way to get from one island to another except by magical means, and it so happens that the world in which sisters Phifer and Thisbe (spellings may be off since this was an audiobook) exist, there is magic. Predictably for a book of this nature, the child in question either doesn't have it, or they're not yet fully mature in it.

The latter is the case with the sisters, and their unreasonable older brother Alex happens to be head magician of their world. but he will not let them learn magic until they show responsibility. The problem is that they cannot control their magic very well, and often cause harm and do damage with it. Why idiot Alex thinks denying them lessons will improve things is a mystery, but this is his position, so they sneak around picking up whatever magic they can from wherever they can.

In a rip-off of Harry Potter, there is a dark and dangerous forest where they're not supposed to go, so of course they go and get into trouble, and this in turn leads to their decision to go help the dragons on a different island after their bother refuses to do so. This is where they end up in trouble, and I'm sorry to say this novel ends in a cliffhanger and so isn't really a novel, but episode one, which to me is a downright cheat. That said, I enjoyed this book as far as it went, and I recommend it as a worthy read, especially for people who enjoy series with cliffhangers!

One of the reason I enjoyed it so much was the spirited reading by Fiona Hardingham. I don't know if she's British or not; I'd never heard of her, but she inflected these charming British accents for the two girls and quite won me over. Her only misstep in my opinion was in one of the animal characters. In this world, there are animated stone statues, and this really what makes the forest dangerous, Why wizards didn't go in there and re-freeze all the harmful statues is an unexplained mystery, but not all of them are evilly-intentioned. One of these is a cheetah. This species comes from Africa and India, but for inexplicable reasons, the reader gave it an American drawl! It made zero sense and took me out of suspension of disbelief every time it spoke.

The story went downhill somewhat towards the end and the abrupt non-ending was annoying, but the early part of the story and Hardingham's reading had won me over enough by then for me to let that slide. I recommend this, but I do not feel so excited by it that I want to read more. For those who do, there are many other volumes set in this world as far as I can tell.


Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor


Rating: WARTY!

I read and enjoyed Daughter of Smoke & Bone but not so much the sequel and I never did finish the trilogy because I cannot drum up the enthusiasm to start on book three after book two turned out to be, though readable, rather disappointing. My verdict on this book has nothing to do with the fact that the title shares its initials with Sexually Transmitted Disease, I assure you!

Since this was a different story (I had not realized it was a trilogy when I picked it up on audio) I decided to give this a try and maybe work my way back to finishing the other trilogy, but it wasn't to be and now I'm done with Laini Taylor. As I've said before of books, it was more like 4F so it was definitely not 2B! The story was boring. That was the biggest problem.

It began well enough but it took forever to get anywhere, and I only made it to ten percent in when I decided to quit because it was dragging and dragging and dragging. The reader, Steve West did not help at all. He pronounced each sentence like it was...well, a sentence! Sonorous, monotonous, tedious. As pronounced by him, everything carried so much import that it made it not only meaningless, but tiresome to listen to.

The story perked up slightly and I thought maybe I could get back into it, but then it went totally off the rails and into a completely different story which I did not appreciate because I liked that one even less. I am sure the two stories join up at some point, but I had no interest whatsoever in this other intrusive story so it was no incentive whatsoever to carry on, and I decided this book was too long to read on faith. Might it turn out to be a worthy read? I really didn't care. I have better things to do with my time than indulge in what was increasingly looking like a sunk cost fallacy.

The story is about (supposedly!) orphan Lazlo Strange, long-obsessed with the now mythical lost city by the absurd name of Weep. It's miles across the desert, so though he longs to go find it, he has no resources, until people from that selfsame city arrive in his own city asking for help. Apparently 200 years ago some disaster befell them, and now they need the expertise of outsiders to recover their civilization, so they're asking for people from Lazlo's city to join them, help them, and reap the rich rewards. Lazlo signs on and it was then, when I sincerely hoped things would actually get moving, that the story ground to a juddering halt and morphed into this thing which seemed like a completely different story. It was then that I resolved to give up on Laini Taylor and return this to the library so someone else can suffer instead of me! I'm sure there are others who will enjoy it, but I cannot recommend this based on my experience of it.


Panda-monium by Stuart Gibbs


Rating: WARTY!

Read slightly annoyingly by Gibson Frazier, this audiobook started out interestingly enough. It's part of a series where the middle-grade boy solves mysteries. Frankly, if this is to be the basis of my judgment (I have no other!) then Teddy Fitzroy really doesn't do very much and worse, his life really isn't very interesting! This is, I believe, the fourth in this series, all set in a zoo-cum-theme park named FunJungle - evidently based on SeaWorld® in San Antonio, Texas.

The panda disappeared apparently from a moving truck on a highway, such that when the truck left, the panda was on board, and when the truck arrived, it was no longer there. I thought a cool way to do this for a kids' book would be to have a false panel at the far end of the trailer, so that the panda could be hid behind it and the truck looked empty, but given that the FBI were involved in this investigation (pandas are considered to be the property of China), I doubt such a ruse would fool them!

I never did find out how the theft was done because I DNF'd this one after about a third of it. Judging the rest of the book from what I did read though, it seems to me that there would have been a perfectly mundane explanation - nothing special or daring. As it was, the part of this book that I could bear to listen to was simply too boring, too slowly moving, and had nothing entertaining to offer me. Appropriately aged readers may disagree, but for me, I can’t recommend this and I will not be reading any more in this series. The characters held nothing for me, being a bunch of spoiled, privileged brats, and the story was too light and lacking in substance.

Some other reviewers have mentioned that this author was or is a writer for Disney and that this book had some Disney-ish aspects to it and I can see that in retrospect, but that wasn't on my mind when I was listening to it. I just didn't find it engaging at all. The characters were unappealing and I cannot recommend it as a worthy read.


The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt


Rating: WORTHY!

Read by Lyle Lovett of all people, and pretty decently too, this audiobook turned out to be a worthy listen despite some annoyances, which may well not be so annoying for the middle grade reader this is evidently aimed at.

The true blue scouts are raccoons Bingo and J'miah, who are newly recruited to report on events in the swamp to their overlord, the Sugar Man, who I suspected from the off was a bear of some sort, but in the end I had no idea what he was! Meanwhile in the human world there are machinations going on! A developer wants to take over the swamp and turn it into some sort of theme park, and he has the support of the admirably-named Yeager Stitch (spelling - this was an audiobook after all!) who wrestles alligators for a living. You know how this is going to end, so the fun is the journey there and the author keeps it fun for the most part, especially in detailing the antics of the raccoons, and a band of unruly hogs.

My problems with it were two-fold. The first of these was the sound effects which I assume were written into the text, such as the attack of a rattler being described as snip-snap, zip-zap, which was annoying (as well as inaccurate) the first time I heard it, let alone the tenth. Also the idea of drawing out the letter 's' in words spoken by snakes is so far overdone these days that it's just irritating and not even mildly imaginative. Let's cut that out shall we? I could have done without those sound effects, but maybe younger kids will like them. The other issue was more serious because it relates to the overall theme, which seemed to be environmental - in that more than one party was working to protect the swamp from being plowed under and cemented over.

That's all well and good. No problem there, but one of the parties expressing astonishment that someone was planning on destroying the swamp was also the same one which was running a café that served sugar pie, which was made by pillaging the sugar cane that grew near the café. No one said a word about replanting this cane, to keep it replenished, All I ever heard was the clear-cutting of it to get the sugar. That sends a poor message right there and a hypocritical one too. You can't protect the environment by raping it. That's like cola company saying they're replacing every drop of water they suck up from the environment to feed us diabetes-inducing drinks, and then carefully arranging their accounting so they're really doing no such thing, but it looks like they are from a certain perspective.

That aside this story was entertaining and amusing, so I'm going to let the environmental snafu slide in this case and rate this a worthy read.


The Shelter Cycle by Peter Rock


Rating: WARTY!

I don't know if Peter Rock is the author's real name or not. If it is, his parents evidently didn't know that Peter and Rock mean the same thing. It would be like naming him Rocky Rock! Or more a propos, naming me Woody Wood. And yes, I know where you're going with that, but I'm not going there with you!

I did not like this audiobook. Amy Rubinate's reading was flat and uninspiring, and the story itself was boring and so far out there on the edge as to be lost in the haze. The story is of Francine, who used to be friends with Colville fifteen years before, when they were children and a part of a religious cult (full disclosure: to me all religions are cults!), but they haven't seen each other since the religious prophecies predictably failed, as they always do, and the cult broke apart under its own unsustainable weight as all religions do in one way or another.

Now Francine is married to Wells and they're expecting a child. Perhaps at this point, you see why I opened this by talking about the author's name. I couldn't help but wonder if he had been somehow marked for life by his name, and this is why his characters (male ones at least) have such unusual names like Colville and Wells. But Anyway, Colville shows up out of the blue having tracked Francine down. He claims he is there to help find this young girl who has disappeared from the village, but he really doesn't help in the search and seems much more interested in reconnecting with Francine than in anything else, and perhaps connecting with her as yet unborn child from what I've read in reviews of others. I wisely DNF'd it.

Colville is so creepy as to be stomach-turning, yet neither Wells nor Francine really view him that way, although Wells is predictably more inclined to do so than is his wife ever is. She voluntarily meets with her childhood friend in his motel room at one point because he asked her to. It was at this point that I quit listening because the story was a drag. It was taking forever, going nowhere, and everyone seemed so passive that I imagined the author manipulating them like clay animation figures when he wrote this: people who had to be meticulously positioned over lengthy periods of time before the next vignette in the series could be snapped. Yawn. They felt to me to be the very antithesis of dynamic, and it when I realized that it was never actually going to be animated, that I quit listening.

The author should have dedicated this: For Mica, it was so thin. I cannot recommend a pile of schist like this. I would have preferred a stony silence. I have no desire to read anything else by this author.


Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane


Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook I did not like. I liked Shutter Island and the graphic novel based on it, and even the movie. I don't recall disliking Mystic River, although I read that before I started blogging reviews, so I can't go back and check on exactly what I thought about it. This one, however, was a disaster and a DNF and left me with a bad taste in my mouth and no immediate desire to read any more Lehane. Julia Whelan's reading (or performance as it's pretentiously described on the cover) wasn't very good either, so that didn't help.

It started out perfectly fine, but about a tenth of the way through it started getting bogged down in asides that seemed irrelevant to the original thrust of the story, which was this woman's search for her father. From what I read of other negative reviews, it doesn't even stop doing a one eighty there, either, but instead of a normal geometry one-eighty bringing it back around, it goes off into some parallel universe. In view of that, I'm so relieved I quit it when I did, and simultaneously quit wasting my life on this drivel.

The story is about Rachel, an up and coming journalist, whose mother dies unexpectedly, leaving her completely in the dark about who her father was. She has very few clues and a PI suggests she not pursue it because it would be a waste of her money. When she finds a better lead, he takes the case and they finally narrow it down to a guy who turns out to be the one she was looking for, but in a twist, it also turns out he's not her biological father and the secrecy over keeping Rachel in the dark is what caused him to leave her mother. Now he's happily married with children of his own, but is still a father figure to Rachel.

With his help she tracks down the most likely candidate for fatherhood, but he's dead! From that point on we jump many years to where she's an important TV news anchor and the story becomes obsessed with Haiti for an inordinately long time. Yes, it was a awful tragedy of the kind that should never have happened in the first place, much less be repeated, but which will, you know, be repeated, humans being what they are, but it was nothing to do with her father and from what I've read in other reviews, nothing to do with what happens in the rest of the book which also has nothing to do with her father.

More than one reviewer suggested that the author had bits and pieces of several stories lying around with no idea where to take them, and so he decided to fit them all into one! When you're Lennon and McCartney, mashing two different songs into one actually works, such as with A Day in the Life for example, but Lehane doesn't seem to be blessed with that skill. So based on what I read, and regardless of others' reviews, I can't recommend this, but remember that I listened to only ten percent before I skipped out on it. So, a confused and boring mess is what this sounded like to me and I can't recommend it based on what I listened to.


Friday, June 1, 2018

The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly


Rating: WORTHY!

Read delightfully by the amazingly-named Lulu Lam, this is the story of two girls who came with their father to Louisiana, only to have him abandon them and return to the Philippines, leaving them at the mercy of their somewhat sadistic stepmother. Soledad and Dominga, aka Sol and the unfortunate abbreviation of 'Ming' which makes her sound Chinese, lost their other sister, Amelia when they were much younger, and Sol feels she is responsible in some way. As if that wasn't bad enough, their mother died not long afterwards. Now their dad has ditched them so they're stuck with stepmother for the last two years or so.

Their stepmother Vee (?spelling since this was an audiobook) works, and feeds and houses them, but in many ways she resents them and demands strict adherence to her rules. Sol quietly and not so quietly rebels and often retreats into fantasy, particularly when she's punished. Some of those occasions, like when she's locked in a closet in her bedroom, are paradoxically quite amusing because she pretends she's in a spaceship traveling through space. When Ming opens the door later and asks why she isn't coming out, there ensues a conversation which made me laugh out loud. Sol asks, "What's your planet like?" and Ming looks around their bedroom and answers, "It's kind of messy."

Sol's behavior is highly questionable. She and her best friend Manny regularly steal from a convenience store where the popsicles are wonderful and out of the line of sight of the person minding the checkout. She and Manny regularly bully the kids from the snotty school not far from the convenience store. At one point, Sol throws a pine cone and hits the albino girl on her head, cutting her so badly that blood runs down her face. This girl is nicknamed Casper after the white ghost, but her name is Caroline. She's a particular favorite to mock, but Sol later seeks her out at her home and apologizes and the two become friends, and Ming befriends Christine, Caroline's younger sister.

Somehow, because of Sol's constant story-telling, Ming begins to focus on their non-existent Aunt Jove, and claims she writes to her and gets letters back. She refuses to show these replies to Sol, but maintains Jove will come and get them - which of course never happens. Meanwhile, Sol is regularly seeing Amelia's ghost and asking advice of a ghost which appears to be the same age now as Sol is. Fortunately for their welfare and sanity, they befriend a Chinese woman down the hall, Mrs Young (Yung? Again, audiobook) who seems to enjoy their company as much as the enjoy hers.

I felt that this book had some unresolved issues, but in other regards, I liked it. I liked the inventive stories and the humor, and I consider it a worthy read, although the morality is a bit off, be warned.


Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell


Rating: WORTHY!

The initial of this title spell 'woo', and that's exactly what this is! Magical woo where the warrior princess appears to have magic and the magician prince appears to have warrior skills, and ne'er the twain shall meet - so the rule says, but you know that's not going to happen. This is a new series by the author of the How to Train Your Dragon. I am not a series fan and do not plan on pursuing this since it's for a younger age group than mine, but just this one story was a worthy read as far as it went.

Wizard children come into their magic at thirteen, give or take, but the wizard lord's son Xar hasn't got his. He decides to help things along by capturing a witch and stealing hers. In this book witches are horrid hybrids of birds and people and you do not want to mess with them. The story is that all witches are extinct, but Xar doesn't believe it - and he's right not to. He takes some of his friends and magical creatures out into the Badwoods which are, like in Harry Potter, off limits, along with, like in Harry Potter, a magical sword with special powers, to build a trap to catch a witch, and he ends up meeting the princess warrior of course.

The princess warrior is named Wish and she is on a mission to return her pet magic spoon to the Badwoods and set it free. Here's where the book blurb is clueless. The 'Evil Queen' is wish's mom, and she's not actually evil. There is evil in the castle, but no one is aware of it until Wish and Xar find themselves face to face with it and try to defeat it.This was an audiobook experiment that paid off. David Tenant did an able reading of this novel, although his voice characterizations were sometimes a bit much for my taste. That said, some of them were really amusing. Overall, I found it entertaining enough for a single story; just not for an entire series though. I am not a fan of series! They're boring and derivative, with few exceptions. So I shall recommend this here, and leave that there.