Showing posts with label contemporary. Show all posts
Showing posts with label contemporary. Show all posts

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the first of this author's works I've ever encountered and it left a favorable enough impression that I want to read something else by her. I tend to take more risks with audiobooks than other formats, because I'm a captive audience in my car and I'm not fully focused on the audio when in traffic, so I tend to be a bit more tolerant - within limits! - when I'm stuck with this one book until I get back home! In this case the book was easy on the ears as was Karen White, the actor who read this book and who successfully avoided annoying me!

It's set in a fictional North Carolina location called improbably 'Walls of Water' because of the cataracts in the area, but sometimes you have to wonder if the cataracts are on people's eyes rather than cascading down the rocky hills. In this small town lives Willa Jackson, whose family used to be important, but now are just another family, and Paxton Osgood, whose family is still important, from old money, and quite snooty. Paxton's family runs to three generations here, while Willa and her grandmother, who is seriously ill, seem to be the only two of their lineage left.

Each of these two women is crippled in the same way, but for different reasons. They both suffer from chronic inertia, having settled into a rut and being either incapable of, or beyond caring if they ever escape. Willa runs a sporting goods shop, and Paxton despite being thirty, has failed to flee the nest, having made it only as far as the pool house where she currently lives. Neither of these women struck me as being particularly smart, which was a disappointment, although they were not outright dumb, either.

They're the same age and though they were both at the same high school together, they were never friends. Paxton was part of the moneyed crowd, and Willa was the school prankster, although no one knew it was she until the last day of school. The pranks were totally lame, though, so she wasn't much of a prankster. The only thing special about it is that she keeps it a secret for so long, and someone else gets the blame. The person the school thought was the prankster was Colin, Paxton's twin brother, who left town after high school and pretty much never came back until now, and only because he's supervising the landscaping on The Blue Madam - a local landmark building which Paxton is overseeing the restoration of.

It's obvious from the start that Willa and Colin are going to end up together and while this was somewhat boring and had some creepy elements to it, in the end it was a harmless relationship and far better than most YA authors bullshit 'romance' attempts, so I let that slide. Paxton's was a much more interesting relationship.

She's been lifelong friends with Sebastian, but having seen him, back in their high school days, kiss another guy on the mouth, she wrote him off as a prospect (despite having the hots for him), thinking he's gay. While this was a nice pothole to put in her road because it leaves the reader never quite sure if this is going to work or if someone else will come along for one or other of them, it's also the reason why I felt Paxton wasn't too smart. They've been close for some twenty years, yet she never figured out he's not gay, nor has she ever heard of a sexual preference called 'Bi', apparently!

So! Not a brilliant story, nor a disaster, and it did fall off the rails a bit towards the end. The murder mystery part of it is more of a hiccup than an actual plot. If it had been shorter (for example by dispensing with the "mystery" and trimming the drawn-out ending, it would have been better.

I didn't like that Willa was so very easily led by the nose and in effect controlled by Colin. It's never a good sign for a relationship when one party comes into it evidently intent upon changing the other, but as I said, in this case it was relatively harmless, so I let it slide. I recommend this if you like an easy, reasonably well-written, and quite charming story that never reaches great heights, but successfully avoids numbing depths. It has a southern charm and a country living air pervading it and overall, I liked it.


Saturday, March 4, 2017

Emily the Strange: Piece of Mind written by Rob Reger and Jessica Gruner, illustrated by Rob Reger and Buzz Parker


Rating: WORTHY!

After having fallen in love with Emily The Strange from a graphic novel I serendipitously happened upon at the worshipful local library, I discovered that there was a series of four novels on this same charming deviant, and I requested all four. This is the last of those.

Once again Emily is on a road trip. This seems to be her thing. She returns to the same town she visited in the 1790s, this time with all her cats, because she wishes to reclaim her inheritance: the power of Black Rock, which her arch nemesis is also seeking. Legend has it that this battle takes place every thirteenth generation, and Emily is not about to A. Lose and B. Let this power fall into the hands of her evil nemesis where it will stay for the next thirteen generations. With her golem, Raven at her side, and her four cats (Miles, Mystery, Neechee, and Sabbath) along for the trip, she heads out to do battle.

The problem is that Emily has no idea how to reclaim her inheritance, and neither does her arch nemesis. Worse than this, the town has changed rather a lot since she was last there (in 1790) so she has a hard time even figuring out where things are, particularly underground. Even worse, Her nemesis has a girl, Dottie, working for him and she can pull people's thoughts right out of their head just by touching them, leaving them at best, with holes in their memory, or at worst, with a mind almost as blank as Raven's is.

Emily steps up her game though, and of course she wins through as we knew she would. Another great story, the only bad part of which is that it was the last. I'm not a series fan generally speaking, but once in a while I'm lucky enough to happen upon one which breaks the mold in any sense of that word, and stands out above all others, and this is definitely one such series. "Are you there, black rock? It's Me, Emily" was one of many classic lines throughout the series that made this a joy to read.


Emily the Strange: Dark Times written by Rob Reger, illustrated by Rob Reger and Buzz Parker


Rating: WORTHY!

After having fallen in love with Emily The Strange from a graphic novel I serendipitously happened upon at the worshipful local library, I discovered that there was a series of four novels on this same charming deviant, and I requested all four.

In this, the third volume, which was the first I read in order, Emily perfects her Time Out Machine and is able to travel back to 1790 to investigate the demise of a distant relative, Lily, who apparently dies at the tender age of thirteen, at the hands of a 'Dark Girl'. Emily herself is a Dark Girl as was Lily, and so Emily is rather curious as to why one of them would kill one of her own, and wondering if she can somehow change history by preventing the death, and whether such a change would backfire and change Emily's own future so much that she would regret this intervention.

Once again she runs into her nemesis in the form of one of his ancestors, who are just as designing as he is in Emily's own time. She has to figure out why the supply of Black Rock (curiously the name of a location near my home town!) has dried up, and how it can be be set free again. Meanwhile the villain is holding Emily's ancestors prisoner to force them to confess the secret of the Black Rock so they can take it over. Apparently this fight for control of the substance takes place every thirteen generations - which happens to be Emily's favorite number.

And once again Emily is victorious. Those primitive 1790's locks cannot hold her in! Despite a few hair-raising scrapes which actually don't raise Emily's thick, dark locks, and despite at one point thinking she is trapped in the past, she wins through and all is well. A great story!


Emily the Strange: Stranger and Stranger written by Rob Reger and Jessica Gruner, illustrated by Rob Reger and Buzz Parker


Rating: WORTHY!

After having fallen in love with Emily The Strange from a graphic novel I serendipitously happened upon at the worshipful local library, I discovered that there was a series of four novels on this same charming deviant, and I requested all four, which was the maximum I could, given that I had one request pending already for something else. I wasn't sure what order the novels followed at first, so I ended-up reading this, the second book, first, before the first one was seconded.

In this book, Emily is bemoaning the need to move to yet another new town. The reason(s) for this move is or are obscure, but the cause is evidently tied to Emily's strange and often anti-social behavior eventually pissing-off the citizenry to the point where mobs and pitchforks might be called for. The first big clue to this is Emily's dire need to prank the whole town before she leaves. In her new home, Emily wastes no time in exploring everywhere, particular dumpsters and sewers, both of which figure large in her legend, and already considering a prank plan.

At one point early in the novel, Emily accidentally duplicates herself, and then discovers that her other self is actually the evil side of her, so it's really a riff on Jekyll and Hide, but is also hilarious as the two Emilys try to get along, and then slowly set about trying to sabotage each other. In the end, they have become mortal enemies, the only solution to which problem, seems to be Emily having to sew their bodies together, and then try to re-integrate their minds. In the end she succeeds, leaving only an empty husk of her alter ego, like a dried-up snakeskin, but the journey there is the real story.

The slow-burn of this perfectly titled adventure, filled with fear, suspicion, doubt, and paranoia, was magnificent to experience, and I highly recommend it.


Emily the Strange: The Lost Days written by Rob Reger and Jessica Gruner, illustrated by Rob Reger and Buzz Parker


Rating: WORTHY!

After having fallen in love with Emily The Strange from a graphic novel which I serendipitously happened upon at the worshipful local library, I discovered that there was a series of four novels on this same charming deviant, and I requested all four, which was the maximum I could, given that I had one request pending already for something else. I wasn't sure what order the novels followed at first, so I ended-up reading this, the first book out of those I requested, second, and the second one first.

This first one is about Emily giving herself amnesia because she has to go back to her ancestral town of Blackrock and fix a problem with her family arch-enemy, so it starts with her waking up on a park bench on this tiny town, and she has no idea who she is or how she got there. Always a great way to start a story if you can follow through, and this one certainly did. In some ways it was spoiled for me because I'd read the graphic novel first, which gave away secrets I would not have known had I read this without any introduction, but it was still a mystery and a great read, filled with fascinating characters and characteristically bizarre behaviors.

Emily is only thirteen, so her story is highly improbable, but it is funny. The scrapes she gets into and the thoughts and ideas she has running through her transom are deliciously warped. At some point prior to this story she had constructed what she refers to as a golem, but which is more like a Frankensteinian creature-cum-cyborg. Golems are Judaic mythical creatures, which are animated from clay figures. This character is flesh (with some electronics), and Emily put the finishing touch to her with the heart of a dying raven, so the golem is called Raven and can talk to birds. She's very strong and very pretty, but isn't very smart or communicative. She often answers with "Iono" which I found peculiarly endearing. She tends to take instructions very literally, so Emily has to be careful what she asks of Raven.

Not that she knows this, in this particular story, or that Raven is the one who drove her to the town in the first place prior to getting a job working as a barista at the podunk town's only café. For herself, Emily has to work out who she is and why she's there. In process of this, she encounters a host of locals, most of whom seem to spend inordinate amounts of time in the café when they're not working for the town's only real business - the junk mail factory. The totally corrupt police are a trip (Emily racks up $243 in fines without even trying, due to the local wacky bye-laws), as is the visiting circus of the weird, which seems to be spending an inordinate amount of time camped outside a town this small.

The map of the town which Emily conveniently draws for us in her diary (which is suspiciously missing pages) shows the junk mail factory issuing flames, but this never happens in the story (unless I missed it, I did read parts of it late at night!), so what that was all about, Iono. The story was awesome, fascinating, and lovable, as was Emily. There was an intriguing character named Molly who could almost be a clone of Emily's, but was not, and there were four cats which seemed much more intelligent than you'd normally expect. All in all, a great story which made me want only to read more about Emily.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Two! by Tia Perkins


Rating: WORTHY!

While this book was adorable from the brief simple rhymes to the character illustrations featuring banana-fingers, a reviewer has to wonder about the advisability of subjecting a young, impressionable mind to mischievous and potentially problematic behaviors such as these! The book was so enjoyable though, that I'd advise parents to get this only after their child has exhibited most of the behaviors depicted here, to limit the risk of how many new ones they'll be able to learn from it! Alternately, maybe my diagnosis is wrong and it's aimed at parents, not young kids!

The 'terrible twos' are named that for a good reason. This is the age (give or take many months since it can begin any time from the first through the fourth birthday!) when children are starting to feel a certain independence from parents which will continue to grow and become increasingly necessary throughout their life. Couple that with a human's natural curiosity about everything, especially when that human is a child, and you have a recipe for, if not a disaster, then an extended period of trial and tribulation.

This is a time when they grow to hate hearing "No!" because they're starting to hear it so often, so maybe "No!" shouldn't be your knee-jerk reaction? Maybe a more roundabout way of employing dissuasion as well as a little less diligent policing (while still watching and keeping them safe, of course) won't turn them into hellions and will help improve relations? Obviously the more things you can find to distract them or keep them distracted, the less they will be inclined to pursue their own diversions, too.

The kid shown in this story is no different from the norm, climbing, hiding, sampling everything, running on hyper-drive, exhibiting vacillating and contradictory desires, and though it's a boy here, gender makes no difference either. Sugar and spice can be just as big of a tornado as snails and puppy-dog tails any day of the week. Sleep helps (yours and theirs!), so if you can get them down for at least half the day, with at least two hours during the day and the rest overnight, it might help.

The trick - although it can be a difficult one, is to appear calm and keep offering redirection. And remember it's not about you! It's about your progeny growing up. Even so, and with the best will in the world, kids will very effectively be kids and get up to the activities depicted here: getting into everything, climbing dangerously, picking everything up from the floor, putting everything picked-up into the mouth!

Kids are not endlessly resilient, but they are resilient and a bit of dirt here and there, even ingested, isn't going to harm them. Neither will small falls, since young bones are so pliable, and they do have to learn - somehow - that risky behaviors can be painful even if it's only a scraped knee! Of course that's not the same as letting them run riot! Curiosity can be helped with games, and even simple, home-made toys: paper bags, cardboard boxes, study plastic bottles with the lid removed or screwed very tightly on; soft toys, especially if they have zippers or pockets to explore, and so on. Even an old hoodie or a shoe (no laces!) will do for a distraction.

That's why I think this book will serve better as a retrospective; a trip down memory lane, congratulating your child on good lessons learned, and on how well they've grown, maybe how much they cried that time they didn't listen and got an injury, and how wise they've been to have avoided that since. A nice ego massage over how much their behavior has improved (even if you have to tell a stretcher here and there!) is wonderful. Positive reinforcement is always a bigger winner than negative - assuming you can even remember this when your last nerve frays!

On those grounds I recommend this as a worthy read and I'm now wondering whether this author plans on a "Three!" and a "Four!" and so on! What's going to be in the "Thirteen!", the "Twenty-One!", the Ninety-Four!"?!


Girl Undone by Marla Madison


Rating: WARTY!

Not to be confused with A Girl Undone by Catherine Linka, or Girl, Undone by Kendall Aimee Kennedy, or JJ Girl Undone by the amazingly-named Nicole Crankfield-Hamilton, this is volume three in a series of which I have read neither of the previous volumes, but it seems you do not have to have read those in order to make take-up this one. I was going to phrase that as 'make sense of this one', but decided that was being too generous!

The main characters are TJ Peacock, a security consultant (read private eye wannabe), and Lisa Rayburn, a clinical psychologist. Didn't like the first. Not interested in the second. They're hired by a woman who has a shady mob-related past, and whose niece was kidnapped for three-days and then let go, but who has no recollection of what happened. The only clues are the fact that she was dating an older guy, who then dumped her for his wife, claiming that they were reconciling, and a shady roommate who subsequently disappears.

In addition to this, there is a blogger who is being threatened apparently by a serial killer. Since he's had bad things to say about police competence, the detective who is assigned to his case is not all that enthusiastic about it. This detective is married to TJ. This was a pleasant surprise because it's unusual for a PI (which is what TJ obviously is, despite her career title) to have a relationship worth the name, but other than that, I wasn't moved by this story, and saw no reason to pursue a whole series.

It didn't begin well, with a kidnap victim showing up in a shopping a mall, yet no one thinks to check the security video? She's discovered and identified by a security consultant, who is evidently too stupid to think of doing basic detective work to see if anyone can be tied to this girl. She was wearing a hospital gown, and someone must have seen something out of place somewhere!, but TJ is too stupid to follow up, so the story started off lacking any credibility as a professional work. The problem as that it never improved.

It did pick up for me when I learned that a possible motive for the kidnapping was harvesting eggs, but that wasn't sufficient to turn it around, because it started going downhill after that, and the harvesting rationale was mundane and didn't make a whole heck of a lot of sense. I really didn't like these characters, not TJ, not Lisa very much, and not TJ's husband, nor did I find myself really caring about Kelsey, the kidnapped girl.

One issue was the derisory tone of the writing. I read irksome things like, "Her posture carried her tall frame with nearly military precision although there was nothing remotely masculine about her." Excuse me? You can't be feminine and in the military? What an awful thing for a female author to say about her gender!

It got worse. Later I read, "The man's voice hinted at homosexuality, with a soft lisp that almost sounded deliberate." What? This kind of thing really dropped me out of the story and made me not want to read any more. Note there's a difference between an author's character saying things like those: people are dicks at times, after all. Some people make a full time job of it, but when it's the author including these comments in the narrative, as was done here, then it's highly unlikely I'm going to ever be much of a fan of that author's writing.

Another oddball one was "The inside of the house definitely lacked a woman's touch," which is on oddly genderist thing to say whichever way you look at it: every home needs a woman? Not necessarily! Every home that has a woman ought to evidence a distinctly feminine touch? Again, no!

Some of the police procedural behavior here was laughable, too. I don't mind that, if the author's intent is to show a bad or sloppy cop, but this is TJ's husband investigating this crime, and I assume we're not supposed to consider that he's inept, but he is, and appallingly so.

There's a blogger in the story who is being harassed by someone who appears to be a serial killer. At one point, the killer breaks into the blogger's place when he's not home and steals a couple of his rare potted plants. The blogger discovers the killer left a note for him on his computer. It's never explained how the guy got past the blogger's password, but the problem here isn't so much that, as the fact that there's no talk whatsoever of the machine being fingerprinted! Yes, the intruder probably wore gloves, but here, with the keyboard, and elsewhere, with maybe a hair sample or something, was a chance to potentially get forensic evidence of a killer, and the cop is completely lackadaisical about it.

The killer was in that very room and may have left other evidence, but the cop doesn't care. Later, this same psycho sends the blogger an email, but nothing is done to follow up on it because, we're told, the email was sent from "... a big-box appliance store south of Milwaukee that sold electronics." This detective never once considers going to the store and looking at security video to see if they can identify the killer! Maybe there was no such video, but to not even consider pursuing the possibility is bad writing that makes cops look like idiots. Trust me, they're not. Well, okay, some are, but not a large number! This one, unfortunately, is, which makes him a joke that's not funny, and certainly not someone worth reading about.

The author is using this big-box store as an excuse to not be able to track the guy down via email, but stores don't simply let you use free email. The guy would have had to have accessed some email account in order to send the message, even if he was sending it from a random computer, yet there is no follow up on this, either! This struck me as appallingly bad writing, with the author so focused on pursuing this step-by-step plot she's worked out, that she either didn't care or never noticed that some of it made no logical sense.

All of this was by a only one third of the way through this, so it didn't feel at all promising, I pursued it a bit further, but finally lost patience and DNF'd it once I realized the egg harvest was no real mystery, the young girl was an idiot, and the identity of the serial killer was obvious to everyone except the people looking for the killer! Maybe I'm wrong on that score since I didn't finish the novel, but it seemed to me that for Bart, the blogger, the wolf was in the kitchen.

As I said, I'm usually bad about figuring these things out, so I probably am wrong, but the thing is at that point, I really didn't care who the killer was or what happened next. Life's too short for books that don't grab me by the entrails, and my reading list is long! I can't recommend this based on what I read.


Friday, February 17, 2017

Hollywood Homicide by Kellye Garett


Rating: WARTY!

Erratum:
"After what felt like a millennia" should read either "a millennium" or omit the 'a' altogether. Millennia is plural.
"No I couldn't take let you do that." is confused!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I'm really sorry to post a negative review on this one because it had some good qualities and I think this writer is one to watch, but for me, this novel simply didn't make the grade. In the interests of full disclosure, this is the start of an intended series, and I am not typically a fan of series, especially not detective series. This one intrigued me, and while it started out interestingly and had some fun characters and a sense of humor, it quickly went downhill as the main character demonstrated an increasing level of stupidity and ineptitude. I don't mind a main character who starts out dumb and wises-up as the story progresses, but when it goes the other way, it's not a good sign.

The problem is that this main character, Dayna is going way above and beyond her initial purview and we're never offered any valid reasons for this. I do get that this is what these amateur detective stories do, and it wouldn't be so bad if we were offered even a half-assed justification for it, but we don't get any here. Her motivation was supposed to be that her father is at grave risk of foreclosure. There's a reward of fifteen thousand dollars for information leading to the arrest of the hit and run driver who killed this girl named Hayley, so Dayna starts thinking about how she can get that money. So far so good. This is perfectly sensible and reasonable, but it neither explains nor validates some of the ridiculous things she does.

Dayna is a little slow on the uptake in realizing that they have the offending vehicle on video, but this is forgivable, given that she was out partying with friends that night and wasn't exactly sober. Once she acquired the video though, she just needed to pass it on to the police and she was done, but she doesn't do this. She doesn't have to become a private detective, yet she does take this on in her own very amateur and bumbling way.

The problem here is that she ends up breaking the law and getting in the way of the investigation rather than helping move it along, blundering into situations where she's very likely to tip-off potential suspects and have them skip town or go into hiding rather than having them end-up being successfully fingered for the crime. This is where Le Stupide set in with a vengeance and I found myself cringing rather than laughing or being excited by the story, and it's where I began to lose interest in this character.

Whenever Dayna gets some information, she routinely fails to pass it on to the police - the very people whom she hopes will facilitate this reward so she can help out her dad. The police get it at best second-hand if at all, and this betrays her, because it makes her look less interested in helping dad than it does in being a busybody and a rubbernecker. She insists on following-up evidence herself without passing it on, or she withholds it from the police because in her very amateur opinion, it's never enough.

Because of this, by about sixty percent through the novel she's pretty much a bigger criminal than the one she's trying to track down - at least in terms of how many laws she's breaking. At one point she and some friends discover a robbery has taken place, and rather than inform the police right away, these idiots go trampling all over the crime scene, destroying any clues that the police might have found to help them track down the thieves.

In short, Dayna is moronic. She obsesses over leaving her prints on a baseball cap she finds, yet spares not a single thought for the entire crime scene she just destroyed, evidence-wise. She's thoroughly incompetent, yet never once did she get chewed-out by the police who in reality would have had this clown arrested for interfering with a crime scene, or perverting the course of justice, which she does repeatedly.

At one point Dayna comes into possession of security video tape which positively identifies one of the house burglars who is linked to the hit and run, yet instead of just passing it on to the police and letting them do their job, she takes off on another tangent on her own, all the time lying to her best friends that she's not pursuing this on her own. It was never explained how it was that these relatively amateur thieves knew there were no alarms at this particular house - which was in a very swanky neighborhood where alarms and high-level security were the norm, not the exception, so this robbery made very little sense to begin with except as a poorly-staged venue for Dayna to get a clue. Which she never really does in any meaningful sense, quite frankly.

Dayna herself was not a likable person, and she looked ever more dumb as the story unfolded. It's not surprising that the murderer targets her (so we;re told. I remain unconvinced, but this was around eighty percent in, when I had honestly lost interest altogether. I DNF'd this at ninety or so when the story, instead of smartly winding-up, devolved into an endless ramble. The novel was about a third too long and moved too slowly.

At that point I was wishing the near-miss traffic accident had not missed her. The driver would have done LA a service by getting this inept fool out of the way of the real police work. There are intelligent ways to write your character into places and situation she should not be -ways that don't make her look like a major buttinsky, but this story seemed bent on going the dingbat route every time, making Dayna look far more like dumbbell than some belle detective. Because this kind of thing was the norm rather than the exception in this novel, in the final analysis, I can't recommend this book as a worthy read and I will definitely not be following this series.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Emily and the Strangers Vol 1 by Rob Reger, Mariah Huehner, Emily Ivie


Rating: WARTY!

I must have slept through the nineties because I had never heard of "Emily The Strange" until I saw this graphic novel in my ever-adored local library. It called to me, but now I'm left lamenting what else is out there that I might never happen upon.

Emily, as represented in this short graphic novel, is completely lovable, from her 'tude, to the way she's drawn and colored. She's a perfect mix of Goth and Steamed-punk. I love her positive, if aggressive, attitude, her never-defeatist approach to life, and her very inventive G-Rated cussing, which was hilarious.

From reading around (yeah, I'm a shameless book slut!) Rob Reger's friend Nathan Carrico designed Emily in 1991 for a skateboard company(!). Reger created the designs, and he and Matt Reed brought them into the fashion world on T-shirts featuring this girl and 4 black cats (one of which no doubt had a ring-tailed lemur tail). Those cats have bred, because there are many in this story, and they're exquisitely depicted. I don't know anything about Emily Ivie, the evidently very talented artist, but co-writer (with Reger) Mariah (that's mar-eye-uh, not mar-ee-uh) Huehner describes herself as a "big old geeky nerd who loves talking about stories and storytelling." She lied! Her face isn't old and her eyes are very young which is probably why she can get inside Emily The Strange's head so readily.

This volume combines the first three issues of the Emily (and) the Strange(rs) mini-series in which her idol Professa Kraken dies, and she has the chance to win his octopod-inspired guitar - which is also conveniently haunted by his spirit. The story here is that Emily strives to win the guitar, and just as she is convinced she missed her chance, fate (and cats) conspire to put her in front. The odd thing, which I really didn't get, is that even though she won it, there's a condition attached to it: that in order to keep it, she must win the battle of the bands, for which the anti-social (if not sociopathic) Emily must put together an actual band.

The story then moralizes somewhat about team-work and 'can't we all just get along', so for me it lost some momentum at that point, but it was still enjoyable. I'd dispute that this is a young-adult story! It felt much more like middle-grade to me, but it was fun. The other characters in the band were interesting. There was the guy who factored into Emily's success in the guitar contest; I don't know what his angle is and I wasn't too fond of him. He's a fan, if not a stalker of Emily's, and he rather creepily named himself Evan Stranger (Even Stranger), but other than his weird addiction to Emily, he isn't strange at all.

There was also Winston and Willow, who are fraternal twins, but otherwise complete opposites, and there is Raven, who is a girl-bot which was made and then lost track of by Emily, and who is now working in a vinyl, record store where Emily encounters her again. She fascinated me, but got very little air-time. This band doesn't work until the final member turns up, the very orange Trilogy, and then they're winners all the way.

Now I'm interested in Emily. I'd like to read the story of her creating Raven, and also about her earlier history. I recommend this one.


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Happiest Kids in the World by Rina Mae Acosta, Michele Hutchison


Rating: WARTY!

I requested this book because I thought it would be interesting, and in some ways it was, but I evidently expected too much from it because it failed to make a case for me. It's sad, because I felt like I shared some common ground with the authors. I've never been to Holland, but I grew up in England and went to school there, and now I'm seeing my own kids through school in the US, so I share two of the three perspectives presented here, but I have to say that the picture painted by the authors felt narrow, very biased, and worse than this, there was really nothing offered to suggest how a nation which might want to emulate the Dutch could get from here to there.

The fact that we call them Dutch, and they call themselves Nederlanders, and we call the nation Holland is an interesting mix of etymology which has deep roots. The word 'dutch' just means people, and there were mountain dutch and lowland dutch, but the ones we now call Dutch go stuck with the abbreviated version of that title. Holland was just one part of a group of people who settled together into one nation, and the rest of them got stuck with that name! Nothing to do with the book, but just in passing....

I'm open to the notion that the Dutch can teach us some things, but I was neither convinced that they have a world-beating handle on things by this book, nor that what was presented here offered was anything more than what intelligent and common-sense parents are doing anyway. In this regard it was rather insulting because the authors seemed intent upon translating a lot of personal perceptions into a generalized diagnosis of, and prescription for everyone, so that all Dutch were painted the same color - and a very bright one, whereas all Brits and all Americans were each panted their own dull and muddy shade of grey. This struck me as entirely unfair.

In 2013, a Unicef report rated Dutch children as the happiest in the world, so something seems to be working there. Two writers, a Brit named Michele Hutchison who moved to the Netherlands in 2004 with her Dutch husband, and an American, Rina Mae Acosta who is also married to a Dutch guy, are raising their kids in Amsterdam and they explored why it is that Dutch children are so happy. This book is the result. In that same survey, Britain ranked 16th and the USA ranked 26th, which was just above the three poorest countries in the survey, so I can't help, but ask why that is. Why did the Dutch do so well, and the Americans and Brits so poorly? or is it not quite so black and white as is portrayed here?

While I initially felt that I might like this book, and rate it positively and encourage others to read it, the more I read of it, the more disillusioned I became. It is truly important to widen our perspective when it comes to how we live our lives, and in particular, how we relate to and raise our children, but I had serious qualms about the validity of the conclusions the authors were drawing.

The first of and most obvious of these is that the Unicef report was only one survey, and a recent one, so I have to say I'm skeptical about basing any long-range planning on a single narrow study. The study did cover five dimensions: material well-being, health and safety, education, behavior and risks, and housing and environment, but the idea that the Dutch do it best is based on that single snapshot. I'd have to ask: were Dutch kids also the happiest five, ten, fifty years before? If so, then we have something to build on, if not, then what's changed and how reliable is it? We don't know from what we're told here, and that question isn't asked in this book.

There was one part of this book which related how the principal of a school, who liked to greet each child as they came in through the door, mentioned that this was not always the way it was done: kids came piling in chaotically when she first arrived. This is a change she has made herself to this one school. There was no mention of whether this same polite, stress-free organization existed in other schools or whether it was just this one principal's peccadillo. To me this was a failing, and it was one which ran like a thread through the book. There is no grand plan here or any deep survey, just a lot of anecdote and opinion. It's not something I'd want to base my kids' futures on.

This book does cover raising children from conception through schooling, so in that regard, it's comprehensive, but the authors haven't finished putting their kids through high school, and since this is based so much on personal experience, that end of things was a bit bare; however, it was at the beginning of that path of life where I encountered another instance of confusion or conflation. At one point early in the book the authors praise the Dutch for their having babies at home as opposed to in the delivery ward of the nearest hospital, but later we learn that only 25% of Dutch mothers-to-be actually do this.

Now that's higher than in other countries, but I'm unclear what the point was that the authors were trying to make here. If the number of moms (even though it's relatively large) is still in the minority, can we make any valid claim that this materially contributes to anything beyond the personal, much less to kids being happy?

This was further confused later when I read of moms in the US and Britain, who do give birth in hospital, being kicked out after a very short stay. This was mentioned like it was a problem, but If the idea is to have a safe birth and then get mom home as soon as is practicable, how is this problematical as compared with those quarter of Dutch moms who stay home for the birth? I didn't get the point of those portions of the book which were like this.

What bothered me is that the authors clearly are starting out with the conclusion that the Dutch do it better than anyone and the Brits and the Americans do it badly by comparison, yet we never get any questioning of whether this is really true on a widespread basis. The odd survey will only tell you so much, yet the Dutch get endless praise here to the point of it being tedious and irritating. Frankly this praise felt like fan-girling. We never got an unbiased perspective with the same kind of detail on how things are done elsewhere, except for frequent and very negative sniping which was as unfair as it was inaccurate.

Worse than this, we tend to get a lot of personal anecdote from one or other author including a three-page-and-a-half spread about the high-school experiences of one of the authors. While it's sad that anyone should have to go through what she did, the fact remains that it's her personal subjective experience. So far so good, but the thing is that after a revelation like this one, the authors generalize and talk as though their own personal experiences, interviews and opinion apply to everyone equally!

No, they don't. My school experience in Britain was far removed from hers, and my kids' experiences are likewise far removed from the ones depicted here as being representative of the USA. You cannot generalize from the personal or blandly take your own experience and treat it like it speaks for everyone. It was things like this which made me quickly lose all faith in this book's message, turning me from a potential convert to an adverse critic.

The vista over which this book looks is disturbingly narrow. We get a lot of author opinion, and we get second-hand interviews and comments made by Dutch women, but for a book about children's happiness, we get precious little from the kids. We don't get a significant number of kids views, and the few we do get are anecdotal Dutch ones. We almost never hear from other kids in other countries, and the authors make no effort to try to seek out views which might actually oppose theirs, to give some balance to the presentation.

It's this lack of adequate comparison with other countries in a quantifiable way which lets the book down. We hear a lot of opinion, but precious little to back it up. One thing that's mentioned, for example, is suicides in Silicon valley, but if we look national suicide rates in Wikipedia, the Dutch do not come out best! A lot of Middle-East countries are lowest, with the Dutch appear halfway down the list, beating US citizens, but not doing as well as the British. It seems to me if the kids are extraordinarily happy here, this certainly doesn't seem to permeate into adulthood, and the authors never address this or ask why. They simply keeping on pointing to the shiny Dutch way and praising the bright colors of the Dutch lifestyle, conveniently ignoring the fact that it's a rather thin veneer of paint in many places.

One of the odd things which are praised is how tall Dutch men and women are. This point was made over a dozen times in one way or another, but I fail to see how it relates to happy children, unless being happy somehow magically makes a person taller! Dutch men average the tallest in the world at five feet eleven inches in the survey I read, although the authors cite one which quotes them at six feet one inch. Dutch women came second to Latvian women for tallest, but the fact is that eight other nations in the survey I saw were within two centimeters of the Dutch, so I kept asking, "What's your point?" I still don't know! Nor do I know how tall the authors are, talking of perspective. If they're relatively short, then perhaps the Dutch men did seem particularly tall and this is why they kept returning to this. Again, it felt like fan-girling. Other than that I have no explanation for the repeated references to it!

This was one of a many digressions which took us away from the main topic (if we assume from the book title that the main topic is childhood happiness). It's for this and related reasons that I have questions about the approach this book took. If we put aside the Unicef survey for a minute, the entire rest of the book consisted of observations and some interviewing, but there was really nothing offered to support a causal relation between A and B - it was simply assumed.

At one point, for example, the book began talking about biking adding six months to life expectancy. It rambled on about how the Dutch have taken to bikes and how children learn to bike independently to school at an early age, and while I can see that this contributes to children gaining confidence, I don't see how it's any different from other activities pursued by children in other countries which contribute equally to child welfare and confidence. It was just tossed in under the untenable and unsupported assumption that this very Dutch activity was quite different from anything any other nation does and therefore must somehow contribute to this unique Dutch happiness!

The most amusing thing to me about this whole story of children biking to school was that the author complained of how busy the bike lanes were, yet the school was only a half mile away! Why were the children not walking, and getting their exercise and building their confidence that way? It was one more confusing episode that made no sense at all.

Meanwhile, the dangers of cycling were swept under the rug. A report discussed at DutchNews.nl (April 2016) shows that 25% of those who die in a road accident in the Netherlands are cyclists, compared with a European average of 8%. Denmark and Hungary are next on the unsafe cycling list; in both countries, 16% of the people who die in road accidents are cyclists, so to pretend there is no problem with cycling safety or that dangers are low and controlled is simply dishonest.

With regard to child mortality, it's the same in the Netherlands as it is in the U.K., with the US being about twice that. other numbers do not put the Netherlands out there as a shining and unique exemplar. This is not to run the Dutch down but to put things into a perspective which the authors of this book seemed somewhat loathe to embrace in their gushing prose. There's a report online which numbers 2,375 children as victims of human trafficking in the EU in 2013 and 2014, and most come from Bulgaria, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, and Romania. This did not fill me with confidence that the Dutch system is so much better or safer. These are just a couple of examples which I found quickly and which are glossed over or ignored here.

I'd have been a lot happier if their survey of childhood happiness had gone wider and crossed a greater range of social classes. This is why I had questions about whether the authors of this book are correctly diagnosing the situation. Perhaps they are. Perhaps everything they have discussed is measurably a contributor to their conclusion and explains why Dutch children are happier, but I never felt convinced of it by what I read. It was all too loosely wrapped, too rambling, too repetitive and disorganized.

The authors offer a lot of suggestions, but nowhere was there any discussion about whether or not other parents in other countries were already doing these things despite not being Dutch, or whether it was even practical to advocate 'the Dutch way' when so much of it is inextricably tied to Dutch culture and Dutch laws, and government and national attitudes. You can't simply move those things to another country, and even if you could, you can't expect them to work as they do at home. Also conspicuous by its absence was any survey of Dutch ex-pats, who are living in other countries, but adhering to the Dutch method. Does it even work abroad? How do their kids fare? The book is silent on this perspective.

There was some talk of stress. One the one hand we're told that the Dutch lifestyle avoids stress and this is a contributor to happiness, but then the authors turn right around and tell me that there's a special world in Dutch, Faalangst, which is exactly what it sounds like: fail angst. The very fact that such a concept exists and has a special word for it presupposes that there's stress and attendant measurement of it, which are the very things we're told don't exist! This evident hypocrisy was not an isolated incident.

One section of the book covers bullying, and Britain and the US are given a poor commentary here, yet a quick look online again reveals that this is not a fair picture. World Atlas doesn't show Britain or the US in the worst 10. Even in this older study more UK students (42%) said they were happier in school most of the time than on average in the rest of Europe (33%). Most of the bullying seemed to be tied to racism and religion, and nothing to do with pressure of school work. This study reports the Netherlands and the UK almost neck-and-neck with the US not far behind, so there appears not to be a huge discrepancy.

Google really screwed me over yesterday when I began writing this! I must have hit some oddball key combination while typing, and my entire blog edit screen went blank! I'd never encountered this before, nothing I did would bring it back, and my last save had a half-hour before because I was so focused on writing this! Google doesn't do backups or undo in its blogger environment.

More fool me for trusting Google, whose motto is "don't be evil"! Thanks Google. That's a half hour of my life I can't get back! I decided to quit for the night because I'd spent so long on this. The rest of my review, below, is more of a summary so I don't end up spending a large portion of yet another evening on this when I need to be doing other things!

So let's get going. On another tangent, the book delved into antibiotic use, and yes, the Netherlands does commendably have the lowest human antibiotic consumption rate in Europe, but what this book doesn't reveal is that between 2005 and 2009 The Netherlands also was among those nations with the highest sales of antibiotics for veterinary use of 10 European countries investigated! It's the antibiotic use in animals which is really the issue in the form of germs building resistance to the drugs, and which is becoming a chronic and dangerous problem, so once again we had a biased perspective which favored the Dutch.

Anecdotal stories of kids being too tied up with "building up their resumes" instead of playing outside that were related here neither described my childhood in England, nor that of my own kids' childhood here in the US. I'm guessing they don't represent a whole host of other kids either, judged from what I see in my neighborhood, so once again we had a personal perspective being generalized and applied as though everyone else was the same. It's not the case, and it's misleading.

At one point the authors gush about how Dutch moms never get depressed, but dutchdailynews.com reports that "The Netherlands, U.S. Have Highest Depression Rates in World"! Another web site, iamexpat.nl, agrees: "... new study has found that the Dutch have very high rates of depressive disorders compared to the rest of Europe." The nltimes.nl website agrees: "Eight percent of the Dutch population aged 12 years and older admitted to suffering from depression in 2014. That is more than 1 million people."

So once again we get a different view outside of the book to the one we got inside it, and the one inside both favors the Dutch and appears not to have been well-considered. The more of these instances I encountered, the less confidence I had that this book was being fair or was telling it how it really is!

One of the things mentioned more than once was the Dutch habit of making a "breakfast" out of chocolate sprinkles on a slice of bread and butter. That sounds yukky to me, but apparently it's quite popular; however, as dutchfood.about.com explains, it's not the only thing they have for breakfast and I think it's misleading to go on about it like it is.

This lack of a reliable and comprehensive coverage of the facts was disturbing to me, and I found it over and over again. For example, the chapter on PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) fails to mention how close most results are, giving a false impression. It does show that the Netherlands is in the lead (except in science, where the U.K. came ahead, but the book mentions only the ranking, without recognizing that the rankings can be misleading. Look for yourself, here.

In this chart, for reading, the Netherlands is placed 11th, the UK comes 27th, and the US a "shocking" 41st! But if you look at the actual scores, the Netherlands gets a 512, the UK a 492, and the US a 470. This is a less than a 10 percent difference. So yes, the Netherlands is ahead, and yes, the UK and the US need to do more, but the actual difference is smaller than we're led to believe when we're told only the rankings. This same mis-perception applies to reading, where Netherlands scored 503, the UK 498, and the US 497. That's a one percent difference, but to hear only the ranking, we learn that the Netherlands came fifteenth, while the UK and US were 22nd and 24th. That makes it sound so much worse and it's misleading. This also applies to the science scores, where there's only a two percent difference.

So yes, the authors made their point about the Netherlands having a decent education system, but need that have been done at the expense of unnecessarily dissing the US and the UK? No, it needn't, and worse than this is the studied ignoring of all those nations which appeared above the Netherlands in the scoring, such as for example, Norway, which scored well in PISA and also did well in the happiest kids ranking, as did Finland (except in science!), Germany, Switzerland, and Belgium to name five. None of these other countries come under the microscope in order to determine what it is they're doing right and whether or not it compares or contrasts with the Dutch system. Again, I found this lack of a wider perspective to be glaring and regrettable.

There was a chapter on discipline which showed a Dutch bias too: even as we're told Dutch kids are badly behaved (as in running around in restaurants, and so on), we're expected to accept that and not find any real fault with it. Again we're given no comparative examples except for one anecdote of quiet French kids on beach! These quiet kids were taken as representative of the entire French nation and contrasted with the Dutch kids who were exploring and so on.

For all we knew, the French kids had been exploring, and were tired and wanted to rest. Maybe they'd been to that beach many times and were bored. Maybe they'd been brought to the beach against their will and resented it because they'd rather be doing something else. The fact is that we don't know, and even if we did know, it was entirely wrong and completely unfair to make a comparison like that and generalize from it. These two chapters were really the final straw for me, and they lost whatever remaining goodwill I'd harbored for this book, because this type generalization was rife: taking a few stories, or an interview or two, or a personal opinion, and extrapolating it into a grand argument favoring the Dutch way.

In the final analysis, we have only a narrow viewpoint from two writers who are apparently quite comfortably-off as judged from the text (occupations, lifestyle, friends, etc.). One of the things they discuss is owning cargo bikes and tandem bikes which can cost several thousand dollars, but my point here is that their perspective is not necessarily representative of everyone, and I didn't see any serious effort to expand their viewpoint beyond their circle of friends and acquaintances or to seek out contrary points of view for the sake of presenting a balanced argument. It seemed like the only things they were reporting were those which upheld their preconceived conclusion, and they were downplaying or ignoring anything which might sabotage that apple cart.

Finally, I have to say a few words about the technical aspects of reading this book. The advance review copy, for which I thank the publisher, was available only as a PDF, and it felt to me like it was written for the print edition, with no thought given to reading it as an ebook. If you can read it on a tablet or a desktop or laptop, and see it pretty much full size, then it makes for a decent read.

I read most of it on my phone, because it was more convenient for me, but it made for a very annoying read! The screen on my phone is larger than most, but if I tried the read the book as single pages, the text was annoyingly small. I could turn the phone sideways and read the text in a larger format, but then I had to contend with sliding the page up and down to read all of it. This would not have been so bad had it not been for the tendency of the app (BlueFire Reader) to get confused. Often when I tried to slide the page down or up, the screen would switch to the previous page or to the next page, There didn't seem to be any reliable way to swipe the page up or down without triggering a page change and it really was annoying. In the end I put up with the tiny text and read it as single pages. Just FYI!

Here are one or two more brief notes that I missed yesterday(!), in this and the next two paragraphs. A paper on Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) noted that "The incidence of STI-consultations and diagnoses increased substantially in recent years, both at GPs and STI centers" so again, not everything is as perfect as it might seem with Holland's child-rearing practices. A reason for this STI increase might be that Dutch do not employ condoms as frequently as some other countries in Europe, such as France, for instance. Maybe those French kids on the beach were soberly contemplating that?!

On this same sexual score, the incidence of teen pregnancy in Holland is almost the same as in Germany, and HIV infections and abortion rates are higher in the Netherlands than in Germany, so here we have another case of another country doing equally well, without a hint of recognition from the authors, or any hint of questioning whether the Germans do things the same, or differently, and what that means in either case. Again it's biased reporting.

There's a comment at one point on the wearing of school uniforms, which isn't the practice in Holland. The problem with this is once again that the authors don't look at the other side of that coin, either. School uniform is not just about identity and belonging, it's also about not being singled-out for one reason or another, and one of those reasons is that poor families, who cannot afford to dress their kids the way wealthier families can, do not stand out in an adverse way from everyone else who might be wearing designer clothing and the latest fashions otherwise. This is another example of where this book failed in not seeking out a broader sample base than merely the authors' own opinions, or the personal acquaintances of the authors.

So to conclude quickly, while I'm by no means trying to say that there's nothing we can learn from the Dutch, I have reiterate that this book failed to convince me that there's any more we can learn from them that smart and caring parents haven't been doing all along. Much of what's advocated here is simply common sense, and it's insulting to continually suggest that parents elsewhere, particularly in the UK and the US are not doing these things or are clueless about them.

Worse than this, though, is that their conclusion, grandly titled "Let's Start a Revolution" offered no way to start this revolution! Yes, individuals can adopt best practices, but a lot of what was discussed here was dependent upon the Dutch government, Dutch laws, Dutch culture, and so on. You can't pick that up and drop it into another country and expect it to be accepted or to work.

The authors' failure here, was in their offering absolutely no suggestions as to how other countries, even assuming they buy the authors' Dutch is best philosophy, could go about embracing the Dutch way, and if it's not possible, then what was the point of discussing all of those things? The book too often felt that it was much more interested criticizing British and American child-rearing than ever it was in trying to offer suggestions as to exactly how those societies might facilitate changes which could bring these supposed benefits of the Dutch way into those other countries, and for these reasons I cannot recommend this as a worthy read.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Love Muffin And Chai Latte by Anya Wylde


Rating: WARTY!

Tabitha Lee Timmons is a thirty-something American living in England. Why she is there is never explained. I guess it's just to appeal to American audiences. For the last year, Tabby has had a loose relationship with a guy named Chris, but that's not his real name since he's Indian. He just uses that name because us idiot westerners can't handle Indian names. His real name is Chandramohan Mansukhani which isn't that hard of a name to grasp, and neither is his family pet name, Chintu.

At the start of the story, "Chris" proposes to Tabby, and she promptly swallows the engagement ring which he had stupidly hidden in the muffin her gave her. 'Love Muffin' is her nickname for him. Fortunately it isn't used often. Chai latte is her favorite drink. I really enjoyed the first third of this book, but then it started to go downhill for me, big time. This was curiously right at the point where I thought it would take off, because this was when she went on a trip to India which was one of the main reasons I picked up this novel.

I never had understood why Tabby was with Chris in the first place, because far more often than not, he acts like a major dick and a jerk, treating his fiancée like she's an annoying a piece of furniture he's forced to live with, yet this seems to impinge upon her consciousness not a whit, let alone make a negative impression on her, or issue a warning that she's with the wrong guy. The two do not live together and have apparently never had sex. He's painfully self-centered and she's tragically ignorant of this fact. His response to her question, "Do you love me" is along the lines of "I guess." That ought to tell her right there, but she's too dumb to see it.

Normally I would be out of there at the first sign of that in a novel. I don't like stories about idiot women - unless there's some sign down the highway that we're just a few miles (or in this case, kilometers) from wise-up-ville. What kept my interest was the quirky humor which ran through the story and which was, I admit, silly in places, but it amused me.

I very much enjoyed that, but it became harder to use that as an excuse to continue reading, when Dev showed up. Dev is right out of trope casting: a muscular hunk of a guy, good looking, mysterious, a bad boy. The problem is that he's also a dick and a jerk, yet Tabby gets the hots for him like she's a fifteen-year-old watching a music video. It's pathetic. I lost all respect for, and interest in, Tabby at this point, and I quit reading this novel about forty percent in.

I have no time for love triangles because they always make the one in the middle - in this case Tabby - look like a dithering idiot. Either commit or get out of the bedroom! I also dislike the idea of this trope hunk. Maybe there is a portion of the female gender who respond to this. I know it's a biological urge and there is obviously a market for it with these novels, but my feminine side doesn't reach that far and frankly, I much prefer the road less traveled, especially in a story like this.

I respect women who are smart enough to know the difference between an idle feeling of lust, and a real attraction on a level deeper than skin goes. That doesn't mean you can't have both, but if you're going to do that, then you'd better give me a real reason as to why this relationship actually is both, and it had better not be you just telling me it's an enduring love while all you're showing me is nothing but the shallowest and most juvenile of lusts.

While there are welcome exceptions (I've read one or two), this kind of romance is all too often that shallow and I have no time for it. It doesn't help to lard up Dev with good deeds which are told rather than shown to Tabby, and this had especially better not be when the author has already portrayed him as a complete jerk in his previous interactions with her.

I cannot recommend this one at all.


Monday, January 23, 2017

Dreadnought by April Daniels


Rating: WORTHY!

Errata:
"With Dreadnought's dead" Makes no sense. 'With Dreadnought's death', or 'With Dreadnought being dead' makes more sense.
Camouflage misspelled at start of chapter 14
Bicep on p115 needs to be biceps!
I wouldn't keep let mom bribe me p115 makes no sense. 'I wouldn't keep letting mom bribe me', maybe?

I'm not a fan of series in general because they tend to be bloated, repetitive, and derivative. I like my novels fresh, not warmed over from the previous volume in the series! Once in a while though, a series comes along that's worth reading, and though it's premature to say so after only one volume, this series, Nemesis, of which Dreadnought is volume one, might be one I can finally stomach! Note that this was an advance review copy for which I thank the author and the publisher.

Let me address some issues I had with it first. The story was in first person. I have no idea why authors are so addicted to this, but usually it sounds awful, self-obsessed, and totally unrealistic. Once in a while an author can carry it off, and in this case it wasn't bad until it got to about 80% of the way through when the big action finale began, and then it really showed what a poor choice this voice was. No one narrates like that when experiencing horrors or trying to figure out how to set wrongs right in emergency situations.

Yes, I would agree that the actions and thoughts of Dreadnought in some ways showed how new she was to this job, but in other ways it was steadfastly undermined that by how analytical and detailed she was in relating what was happening. Even accounting for the inexperience, for me it was almost completely lacking in credibility. It wasn't god-awfully bad, but the scenes needed to be tightened considerably. There was way too much fluff and filler, and with the first person voice it simply didn't feel realistic. Overall, the finale was not bad in terms of being a finale. It was just poorly executed, I thought.

It may seem strange to make this point with someone like Trump in office, but the extremes depicted in the novel, in terms of how people despised Danny, the mtf transgender girl who became the super hero Dreadnought, were too polarized. It’s like there was no one on the fence - they were either totally supportive or psychotically antagonistic and to me, this lacked credibility. I know there are many people hostile to the LGBTQIA community, and for the next four years, we're going to see them crawling out of the woodwork, emerging from the shadows, and slithering out from under rocks, I'm sorry to say, because they've been invited to do so by one of the most bigoted and insensitive public figures I've ever seen, and unfortunately, because of the complacency of registered voters, he's now in a position of way too much power for four years.

As far as this story is concerned, more nuance would have served it better. Danny's high-school friend, her dad, and the Graywych character at the super hero building came off more like caricatures than actual people, and this robbed them of their power, although Graywych's perspective was an interesting one, I grant. Instead of being threatening though, they were more like "representative' cardboard cut-outs, or placeholder set up to mark a particular perspective without making the perspective feel real.

That said, I really liked this story overall, and I loved how it brought the character into being with a history and a legacy already in place because of the way the mantle is passed on from one Dreadnought to another. Like Danny needed any more pressure! Danny is a girl, Danielle, as she'd like to be, born in a boy's body, Daniel as he was known.

She has felt trapped for seven or eight years, and is desperately counting the days until she's eighteen, and can get a job to save up for the surgery which will make her outward appearance match her inner self, or at least as close as modern medical science can render it. She did not ask for super powers, but once she gets them, and realizes that part of this transference grants some wishes to the recipient we quickly discover (like it was any surprise!) what her dearest wish was, and this is what she got.

Some reviewers, I've noticed have had issues with how 'beautiful' and 'curvaceous' she became, and I’d have an issue with it if that was all she became, but there was more to it and it’s wrong to focus on one aspect to the exclusion of others which turn out to be more important.

That said I would have preferred it if it had been toned-down, or if it was only Danny who considered she was 'beautiful'. This is for two reasons: one, because I'm tired of female super hero tropes where they're essentially nothing more than pneumatic Barbie doll clichés instead of real people, on the outside, and guys on the inside. Two: I think it would have made for a more powerful story and a more compelling character had Danny been just 'ordinary' looking, but was so thrilled to finally 'be a real girl' that she felt beautiful. But that's just me!

One problem here is that she wasn't really a girl, though, not biologically speaking. This part made little sense to me. She got the proportions and outward appearance of a girl, including a 'healthy cleavage,' but inside she was still XY, with no womb. There was no overt discussion of what her genitalia looked like exactly, just the hint that it was entirely female, so what I didn't get was why? Why did she have this limitation? If the mantle could confer femininity on her, why could it not go all the way?

I didn't buy the flim-flam we were given that it was too much for the mantle to confer. Men are really just mutant versions of women when you get right down to it, and there are direct parallels between a male and a female body. What's referred to as a penis in a male is nothing more than a distended clitoris. Men have an X chromosome, so if the changes somehow called for a man to be raised to the power of X to put him on par with a woman, then why couldn't the mantle achieve this? What couldn't the Prostatic utricle become a uterus? Was it because the man-tle was designed by a man?! You could argue that you would lose your transgender character if this had happened but I would disagree with you!

I like the way Danny came into her powers, and I speak not of the initial transference here, but her growth into them over the story, her reluctance to blindly throw in her lot with the Legion, and her willingness to learn everything the mantle could show her, and put it to good use. The other side of this coin is that it made little sense that she didn't stand up to her father earlier, but when you're beaten down so hard for so long, it's very hard to get back to your feet with any strength of conviction, so I was willing to let that go. I felt bad though when Danny's first thought on waking after Calamity's injury was not that of going to see how she was, but a lot of selfish thoughts about how much she was having to put up with herself. That felt like a real betrayal

I adored Calamity. This seems to be my lot on life whether I like the main character (as I did here) or not: I like the 'side-kick' more, although Calamity never was a sidekick, and even had the balls to call Dreadnought her sidekick at one point, which was both beautiful and funny. So enough rambling. Overall I really did like the story despite some issues. It's the first I've read of a series in a long, long time that has really stirred my interest and made me seriously want to come back for more. That's about the biggest compliment I can give it, and from me, it's a heck of a lot!


Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Last Dance by Salvatore Albert Lombino aka Ed McBain


Rating: WARTY!

Salvatore Albert Lombino legally became Evan Hunter in 1952, but wrote most of his novels as Ed McBain. He wrote under several other names, too, such as John Abbott, Curt Cannon, Hunt Collins, Ezra Hannon, and Richard Marsten. The only name related to him that he never wrote under was his original name! The Last Dance was written in 2000, just five years before McBain died, and was part of his 87th Precinct series.

I'm not a series fan, but out of curiosity, I'd picked up a book of his that the library was selling off, and which contained three stories. I hadn't yet got to it when I saw this one on the shelf and decided to give myself a sneak preview. If I liked it, all well and good, but if I didn't, I'd save myself the trouble of getting into the print book, and I could take it off my overburdened shelf!

Because of an unwisely situated library bar code sticker on the case, what I didn't realize until about half-way through the audiobook was that it's actually read by McBain himself. For me, this made it more interesting, because he has an odd way of reading. He reads it like it's a list or something, not like it's a novel, and I wonder how much of what I hear from him informs as to how he wrote his books.

He puts inflection into the speech he reads, but sometimes he carries the same inflection over to the text outside the quotes, like it's inflected the same way the speech was! It sounds a bit weird. His voice sounds very New York and eh has no idea how a Cockney sounds. McBain grew up in East Harlem and the Bronx from what I've read about him. He doesn't do too bad of a job - just an odd job. I'm a big proponent of authors reading their own novels for the audiobook version, assuming they're not awful at it, so I'm not going to complain about this! Except for one thing: like too many Americans, McBain conflates Cockney with Londoner. The two are not synonymous.

The oddest thing about this novel for me though, was that these detectives, who are the main characters, had been in two gunfights by the halfway stage, yet in neither fight did any cop fire even one round. I find that completely incredible. I know this is fiction, and I know that novels (and TV shows and movies) often have too much gun-play, but to have a detective meet an informant in a public place, and have two assassins come in to the restaurant and gun-down the informant, and the detective who's with him not return a single shot and worse, to not follow the guys out into the street when they left so he could maybe get a license plate from their getaway car or something, was ridiculous.

In the second gunfight, there was about a half-dozen cops going to bring in this assassin. They were armed and wearing vests, and expecting trouble, but they had to go through this single door into an apartment. The guy inside had to get from his bed to a drawer, pull out the gun and start shooting, and he did this without any cop shooting back at him. The assassin, so-called, hit only one cop, and that was in the leg. He shot all his rounds, then dropped the gun and surrendered! No cop fired back. I'm sorry, but it's simply not credible. Even in real life, and in both of those situations, the cops would have been firing back. I don't get it at all.

That said, the story overall wasn't too bad to begin with, just a bit annoying and odd. It even had some humor here and there, but by about halfway through it, I was beginning to tire of both the reader and the story, and towards the end I was skipping tracks just to get it over with. it was a short book, but too long for my patience, so I can't recommend this at all. As far as the print book is concerned, I'll give that a try to see if it sounds better when I'm reading than it does when I'm simply listening, but I hold out less hope for it now than I did before I listened to this book!


Monday, January 16, 2017

Flashover by Annie Bellet


Rating: WORTHY!

This is another short story by Annie Bellet set in one of her many worlds. I liked the first two I read, so I decided to see what else she has out there, and she has several short stories tied to one or other of the worlds she's created, each one serving as a peek inside, each free as of this writing.

As I mentioned in other reviews, I think this is a good idea. It lets you get your feet wet without being soaked with price tags for books you don't like! Karin Slaughter could take a leaf out of Annie Bellet's book! I liked the previous two I read and this one, a fantasy, began in a likable manner, too, despite being first person - a voice I really don't enjoy, particularly in YA fiction. This isn’t YA, though and the voice fortunately wasn't nauseating.

This world is that of Remy Pigeon, who is a psychometrist. One morning he's visited by a fire elemental which has taken over a young woman's body for the purpose of attracting his attention. It works. I have to say at this point that I didn't like Remy. I think this first person approach taken here is to set-up the story like the old-style private dick novels where the PI tells the story in a male chauvinistic and hard-bitten style. For me that doesn’t work because I've never been attracted to that style of story-telling. It makes me laugh at how pretentious and self-important it is, which tends to spoil the drama of the story!

So the fire elemental's problem is that someone is making it burn down buildings. I've never bought into this idea that names hold power and if someone knows your true name the have power over you! It's nonsensical, but this is the trope employed here: someone knows the elemental's true name and can therefore control it, and are making it do their dirty work. The elemental resents this, naturally. It's up to Remy to use his power of touch to see if he can find out what these fire victims have in common and who the elemental's name has been told to. Only one of the victims actually knew the name, and she's dead, so Remy can’t just ask her. Thus we have a PI story featuring a psychometrist who does no psychometry, and a serial arsonist who sets no fires!

There was one minor writing issue other than first person (which for me is frankly a major writing issue), and that's when the Remy tells us about his drive across town: "I nursed a complaining Renault, my beater Toyota, across town..." It looks like the author had one vehicle in mind and then changed it, without deleting the old reference! No biggie. We've all made goof-ups like that one! I don’t care about screw-ups like this quite frankly (it's a Renault BTW), if the author is telling me a decent story (or even an indecent one). I do care if the story is larded with them, but I readily forgive minor gaffs for a good story. Yes, my name is Ian and I'm a book slut! Welcome Ian!

The story felt like ti was a bit too short and too easy, but other than that, I liked the story for what it was. It's not something which would lure me in, because I'm not typically a series fan and I didn't like Remy who seems a bit obnoxious when it comes to women (no wonder he gets no dates!) and a bit ineffectual in what he does, but the story itself was a worthy read.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Snatched by Karin Slaughter


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a very short audiobook I picked up on spec from the library and it turned out, aside from a couple of dumb bits, to be not too bad of a story despite it being volume 5.5 in the Will Trent series. This is the second of this author's books I've reviewed. I did not at all like Undone which I read back in November of 2013, but this was a different story. Literally!

I am not a series fan so I won't be following this character or this series, but notwithstanding some negative comments from Georgia readers as to Karin Slaughter's lack of a decent grasp of law enforcement procedures in that state, this little interlude didn't sound bad to my ears, especially since reader Kathleen Early did a good job. My ears, FYI, demand only a decent story without too much of Le Stupide. I'm not a stickler for Tom Clancy-style authenticity in a novel. For me that spoils a story by bogging it down. I don't like it to be a dumb story, but I really don't care if some corners are cut (or missed altogether!) if the story is worth reading overall.

Will is apparently in his boss's bad graces and is consigned to toilet duty at the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International airport. Why his police department is doing this rather than airport security, or as we're reminded and which is actually a plot point, one of the other law enforcement agencies which cover this airport, is unexplained. Why he has to sit there inside one of the stalls for eight hours rather than simply sit comfortably outside and observe who goes in, entering only if it looks like some guys actually are going to be indulging in lewd behavior is a mystery, too.

But the point is that he gets a hunch about a guy who is literally hauling a young girl through the airport and which pair momentarily stop in the toilet. Will goes after them and pretty soon it becomes obvious that his hunch was right and that this is an abduction, but Will loses track of the pair and when he reacquires them, the girl is gone. He brings the guy in for questioning.

This brings me to three problems I had with this story. Will is supposed to be a seasoned police officer, yet he three major screw-ups. The first is that he wasted his phone battery charge playing games in the loo so now he can't use it to call his partner. The second is that he has no radio he could use, which made no sense to me, and the third is that when he chases the guy in the airport parking garage, he never once identifies himself as a police officer.

All of those things would have been fine if we'd been given some half-way decent reason for why things were that way, like maybe that he'd forgotten to charge his phone the night before and the charger in his car was missing or broken, that there had been no spare radios at the precinct to bring on the job with him that morning, and that he had called out who he was but some truck horn had drowned out his voice or something! It's easy to do, and to fail to do these things as a writer, makes your character look dumb or you look like a poor writer.

The failure to identify himself never was a plot issue so he could well have called out who he was, so forgetting to write that he had identified himself made no sense, but the lack of a communication device was not well done. Nor was it explained why Will's poor partner was condemned to airport duty with him, either! But those issues aside, I did like the story and I thought it was a worthy read.

I do not think that it's worth twenty dollars for the audiobook! This is the only format it seems to be available in (her links on her website do not work(!) and I was unable to find an ebook version on B&N. Karin Slaughter is an internationally best selling author who actually makes a living from her writing. Surely she could give this one away as a freebie? I don't get the mentality of some authors, but that said, she does support libraries, so she's not completely evil!


Critical Mass by Steve Martini


Rating: WARTY!

This is my first and probably my last Steve Martini novel. Am I sure it wasn't Steve Martin and not Martini? No! This was a plodding, predictable, obvious novel with no thrills at all, which is hardly surprising given his background as first a journalist, then a layer. What was I thinking?! I read only a third of this four-hundred-some page novel because I couldn't stand to read any more when I have other books literally weighing down my shelves. Life is far too short!

The only conceivable reason to include a lawyer in this novel is Martini's history. She had no other purpose. In fact none of the chapters in which she was featured made a lick of sense. On top of this was the obvious: it was painfully obvious who was behind the theft of the nuclear weapons before the plodding Gideon figured it out. It was glaringly obvious that 'Belden' never died in the airplane explosion. Pathetic.

The story is about the theft of two nuclear missiles from Russia. We know from the off that they will be discovered and disarmed at the last minute, and that since we have "weak, gullible" female character Joselyn the Lawyer and love interest for Gideon, she will be imperiled before the story ends (probably by Belden), so there were no thrills here, and I have considerably better reads to do with my time.


Sunday, January 1, 2017

Brain Jack by Brian Falkner


Rating: WORTHY!

Set in a rather less than ideal near future, this middle-grade to young adult work of fiction depicts the arrival of 'neuro' headsets which link a person's brain directly into the Internet purportedly enhancing usability and virtual reality significantly. Neuros are new, but catching on fast. The question is, how safe are they? This story reminded me a little bit of other books on this kind of topic, such as The Adolescence of P-1 by Thomas J Ryan, and also a little bit of This Perfect Day by Ira Levin.

Our main character, Sam Wilson, is of course a hacker who, like Dade Murphy in the movie Hackers, got into trouble for hacking computer systems. Unlike Zero Cool though, Sam actually gets hired by the government to work for them on cyber security. I like the way the author has Sam lured in via a trick so the government powers which are interested in him can be sure he really does have the right skills for the job. He finds himself working for an elite group of hackers who are the first line of defense when it comes to cyber security in the US.

Things take a turn for the disastrous when hackers start trying to probe nuclear power stations, and then the security team itself is attacked in a way somewhat reminiscent of the movie Surrogates which itself was taken from the comic books series, The Surrogates. Soon it becomes clear that something powerful and very nearly omniscient (rather like the computer in the movie Eagle Eye!) can track what they're doing and zero in on them almost before they know what they're doing themselves. Is this an elite group of hackers? Is it some super computer? What's behind it? I thought that what was behind it was inventive if a bit improbable and I really enjoyed the way this story panned out. I recommend it.