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

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.


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Midnight Clear by Mary Kay Andrews


Rating: WARTY!

If I'd realized that this was part of a series I would have left it on the library shelf. I don't do series, because ninety times out of ten (or worse!) they're boring and derivative, and repetitive and formulaic, but there's nothing on the cover to indicate that this is 'Callahan Garrity Mystery volume 7', at all! This is what happens when you put your cover design into someone else's hands: it gets away from you! The cover is dishonest in another way, too: Mary Kay Andrews lied about her name! The novel was initially published under the weird name of Kathy Hogan Trocheck (or is that Paycheck?). It's even copyrighted under that name which is even more weird. But whatever. I don't care who writes it, I just care whether it entertains, and this was a huge fail in that regard.

The story is set around the Christmas holiday, but it's not really a Christmas story; it's just a murder which happens in that season, in which "Callahan Garrity and the outrageous band of 'girls' in her Atlanta cleaning crew join together during the Christmas rush to prove that her trailer-trash brother didn't kill his even trashier estranged wife." I'm not sure why I thought this might make for a worthy read, but it wasn't. Usually in these stories the first thing to crop-up is the murder - otherwise what's the point?! Sometimes there's some preamble, but even so, the dastardly deed is right up front. In this case, the story was one third over before anyone got killed, and that third wasn't even preamble!

You've no doubt seen one of those sped-up decay videos, where an orange or something grows moldy at super-speed? Well that would have been more entertaining than this was, even were it shown at regular speed. This was tedious to the nth degree. It rambled on and on about the most mundane of activities, going into excessive detail about everyday events in the life of this family, which had zero bearing on the story and worse, and far from what the blurb claimed, it was not heartwarming, nor was it suspenseful, and it sure as hell wasn't hilarious.

If this story had been submitted by a first time writer, I doubt it would ever have found a publisher. All this proves is that you can get away with a badly-written novel if you have your foot in the door already. I don't mind reading about so-called 'trailer park trash' if it's entertaining and has something to say, but I won't abide a trashy novel that goes nowhere, and takes its sweet time doing it. I can't recommend this one at all. I DNF'd it. I also think I'm done with this author.


Between Lovers by Eric Jerome Dickey


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, December 9, 2016

The Accidental Demonslayer by Angie Fox


Rating: WARTY!

I liked the oddity of this story and the title, but when I began reading it, I ran into some issues. The first is that it's your usual cliché of the ignorant special snowflake coming into their power and knowledge of who they are. The main difference here is that the demon-slayer here isn't your usual wilting, vapory YA girl. Lizzie Brown is an older woman who teaches kindergarten. We still get the story in first person though, which can be annoying, but in this case, it wasn't awful. She lives alone (save for her Jack Russell Terrier dog), in a loft apartment and is an adopted child, her mother having given her up when she was a baby. So lots of trope. The differences were not only in her age, but also in that there was humor here, some of which missed the mark for me, but some of which was funny, such as when she tells her little dog "Feel free to protect me from butterflies, the vacuum cleaner, my hair dryer". I thought that was great.

On Lizzie's birthday, her grandmother shows up out of the blue riding a pink Harley Davidson motorbike, and she locks Lizzie in the bathroom. She's wanting Lizzie confined while the latter undergoes her slayer transformation. Why this happens when she turns thirty (or whatever age she is) is a mystery, and it's even more of a mystery why her grandmother locks her up and refuses to tell her anything - this again is tedious trope. What goes wrong though is that a demon shows up intent upon killing Lizzie, but it's told in more of a humorous vein than a dramatic or scary one. After this event is when Lizzie starts to get her education. She also realizes she can hear her dog - which talks like a frat boy rather than a dog might talk if it could - and which became annoying quite quickly, the occasional humorous comment notwithstanding.

The story really started sliding towards oblivion for me though, when the clichéd muscular, protective male showed up. I'm not a woman (I've never even played one on TV, believe it or not), but if I were a woman, I think I'd be a bit pissed-off with some stranger showing up trying to lay a claim on me and arguing with my grandmother about who has dibs on me! But the problem was much worse than that. Here we have this almighty demon-slayer, who comes along only once in three generations, and who is so scary to demons that they launch an orchestrated campaign to kill her off, and yet she needs protector? This immediately devalues her and renders her as little more than a maiden tied to a stake awaiting Saint George to come along and slay the dragon before he carries her off on his pretty charger (and by that I mean horse, nothing untoward!).

It felt like a betrayal to me. It's fine by me if she has a guy who is an equal partner, and it's also fine if, assuming it's done intelligently and realistically, they fall in love by the end of the story, but to set up this woman as some exceptional demon destroyer and then slap us (and her) in the face with "well, she's really just an air-headed and weak flibbertigibbet" is inexcusable.

It was at this point that I decided this book was not for me - or for anyone else who likes a smartly-written urban fantasy and female protagonists who have a healthy self-respect and are not in dire need of some abusive male to validate them. As soon as Dimitri (seriously? You couldn't come up with a better name than a Vampire Academy retread?) started asserting ownership of Lizzie, and literally manhandling her around - like dragging her into a corner to lecture her, and insisting she leave her bedroom window open so he can "talk to her later," and actually kissing her without so much as a by-your-leave - I'm leaving! Lizzie should have kicked him in his balls right there and then. She didn't. She's having palpitations and marveling at his muscles instead. He's just man-meat and she should have been marveling at the lack of muscle in his head. If you like moronic female leads, and guys who are outright dicks, then this is definitely for you. For me, I couldn't bear to read any more of this nonsense.


Friday, December 2, 2016

Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher


Rating: WARTY!

This book was obnoxious, and I DNF'd it about a third of the way through it, because the main character, Logan, was totally ridiculous. If I'd known that Kirkus Reviews liked it, I would have avoided it like the plague. I don't think Kirkus ever met a book it didn't adore, so those reviews are utterly meaningless. If I'd known it had won an award, I would likewise have shunned it. Books which win medals and awards rarely meet my approval. They're far too pretentious and "literary" for my taste. This one wasn't really either, but it was still a disaster, well worthy of some literary medal or award. I'm unlikely to ever be offered one, but I promise you if I ever am, I shall flatly refuse it.

If this novel had been published thirty years ago, then some of it might have made a little sense (but still have been unforgivable), but to publish in 2009 and take the trope route main character Logan Witherspoon "just didn't know" is farcical. Any author who does this these days is clueless. The term 'gender dysphoria' was coined in the early seventies and while it took it's time entering the lexicon, other terms applicable to this situation were in wide use. Even people living in podunk towns know something of the LGBTQIA community, so Logan's extreme ignorance was a joke, and not even a funny one.

At any time there are always plenty of jerks and dicks who aren't fit to be anywhere near, let alone in the company of, the LGBTQIA community, but allowing this, Logan's complete ignorance about the topic simply wasn't believable. His 'extreme prejudice' reaction when he learned how Sage came to be the person she is was just plain stupid. It's not possible for the character we had been introduced to at the beginning of the novel to have become that extreme so precipitately by a third the way in, and even if we swallow his ejaculations for what they were, then it's simply not possible to believe that he could ever have erected himself from the sad depths in which he'd so comfortably wallowed. Logan was a dick, and that's all there is to him.

He was also a manic depressive going from high to low at a speed too fast to measure accurately with the technology we have today. Everything was extremes for him, and his behavior was entirely ridiculous and quite literally not credible. The way he behaved towards Sage was obnoxious, and his constant 'I' this and 'me' that made him seem even more self-obsessed and inflated than he would have been in third person. It was depressing to listen to his constant juvenile whining in an audiobook read by Kirby Heyborne, whose voice was way too John Green for my taste, which made the novel even worse.

Sage Hendricks wasn't much better, frankly. It's perfectly understandable that she'd be nervous at best and terrified at worst of her secret getting out, and to her credit she does try to steer Logan away from it, but at the same time, instead of adhering to their agreement to be friends, she proves something of a tease, and definitely leads him on. In some ways I can understand her behavior, but in other ways, it was inexcusable.

On the one hand, you have to allow that it's her business and no one else's, and if he truly cares for her he should accept her for whoever she is, but on the other, we don't yet live in a society where a mtf transgendered person is the equivalent of a biological female. Apart from the issue of pure acceptance (by society as well as by any given individual), there's also the issue of why people form relationships, and one reason is to have children. Clearly (until our medical profession advances dramatically), it's problematical to enter into a relationship with a guy when he doesn't have all the facts at his disposal. there are biological females who cannot have children either, so this situation is no different. If a couple are getting serious, then it's important to be completely honest with each other about what can be expected.

That said, this was another high school story and I cannot take high-school romance stories seriously for the most part. Or any YA romance for that matter. Very few of them are remotely realistic and most are so badly-written as to be a sorry joke. While there are some people in that age range who are commendably mature and who can realistically enter into a serious relationship with a reasonable expectation of it working out in the long term, most people the age of Sage are not sage and those like Logan are hollow at best and clueless at worst.

The rather tired premise for this story is really ripped off from Romeo and Juliet. Logan is pining over his lost love Rosaline, er Brenda (Brenda, really?), but then is suddenly overcome by his lust for new girls Sage. Admittedly, she plays a lot harder to get than does Juliet, whose morals I've always suspected, quite frankly. In this case, he's the Capulet and she's the mountebank. When she finally comes clean and reveals that she started out life with a Y chromosome in place of the other X, his reaction is laughable. The fact that he does take off like this, thinking the most horrid things about her, almost punching her, and using the most unforgivable names about her made me only realize that even if he were to come around later to her point of view, it would be such a pile of fiction that it wouldn't be worth the reading. That's when I gave up on this worthless piece of pretentious (I changed my mind!) trash of a book. And what's with the frigging title? Almost Perfect? Not by a long chromosome. And what's the betting that the cover model isn't remotely transgender?


Thursday, December 1, 2016

Agent Amelia by Michael Broad


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a fun middle grade novel about a very capable self-starter named Amelia who gives Sherlock Holmes a run for his money with her keen observations and her deductive and inductive logic skills. This book is one of a series, and features three stand-alone stories:

  • Hypno Hounds is a story about Amelia and her mum's trip to a vacation cottage for a week. When they arrive, the locale is like a ghost town, and Amelia immediately notices that the name of the cottage has been changed to Bevil Cottage from...Devil Cottage! It turns out that baying hounds from hell supposedly haunt the area, and these are driving out the locals. Amelia's detective senses are triggered, and she goes on the hunt for clues, determined to solve this mystery, and solve it she does.
  • A new chemistry teacher trips Amelia's alarm bells with his odd habits, so the next time he leaves the classroom in the middle of the class, she sneaks out and tails him - to the supermarket. What's he up to with buying huge amounts of breakfast cereal? Well it turns out there's a sweet explanation for it that you would never guess.
  • The last story was my favorite. I thought it was hilarious. It features Turbo Teddies, which are remote-controlled roller-skating teddy-bears. They're the new hot toy craze, but when Amelia goes shopping for one, they've very mysteriously disappeared. Or have they? Just as the alarm goes up that customers are being robbed, Amelia thinks she get a glimpse of one of those teddies here and there. Now how can she get a look at the store's security cameras to see what's going on?

The stories are quite simplistic and a little improbable, but they're fun and they entertainment me. I imagine they will do a lot more for young readers, and perhaps inspire some young girls to be more aware of their surroundings, which is never a bad thing. I recommend this one.


Trolled by DK Bussell


Rating: WARTY!

Errata:
p21 "as it the job was formerly known." an 'it' too many?
p32 "bicep" should be 'biceps'
p49 "Begging your counsel, my Queen," sounded very odd. Begging your forgiveness, maybe? Begging your consent?

Note that this is an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. I like this publisher, and when I was asked if I would review this, I thought it was by the same author of a previous novel I'd read and liked, but this one isn't. It's apparently by a relative, and the story did not impress me for a variety of reasons. I am not a huge fan of fantasy, but this one at least sounded like it might be different, which is the reason I decided to read it. Unfortunately it wasn't different at all, and was heavily invested in your usual trope and cliché common to fantasies.

The twist here was supposed to be that modern young adults who were into Live-Action Role Playing (LARP) fantasy games passed through a magic portal into a real fantasy world, but this was not impressive, and was a fail for me. Plus it felt like the "white savior" story wherein a white person (usually a guy, but in this case a girl) offers salvation to a native population. I'm not impressed by such stories. There was one character in a wheelchair, which was commendable on the face of it, but the idea of maneuvering a wheelchair through a wild forest made the idea rather ridiculous. It would have been better had the character been on crutches or something like that.

In order to bring the fantasy, the author used the occasional odd phrase, such as: "The mighty buck's hooves pounded steady against the earth, his mane flowing like warm streaks of honey" which sounded strange, but whatever. The weirdest one was "As she watched the scorpion strafe from side-to-side her mind went back to Epping Forest." Unless the scorpion is shooting a machine gun or dropping bombs, then it's not strafing! One does not strafe from side to side!

Other parts of the story simply took me right out of suspension of disbelief, such as when I read: "He held up a fist and the signal echoed back through the ranks, bringing the remaining army of three-hundred trolls to a halt." My question here is why would trolls in a fantasy world use the same hand-gestures that modern military use (at least according to popular TV and film)? It made no sense to me, and it wasn't the only thing I had issues with. Another example was, "The scorpion returned the favour by slashing Terry across the head with his pincer, landing a cut just above his hairline." The issue here is why would the giant scorpion do that rather than simply take his head off? It's obviously because the author can't kill off this character, but it once again took me out of suspension of disbelief. There are ways to write scenes like this and give your essential character an escape from almost certain death, but it needs to be more realistic than this to work for me.

A similar case arose with the magical "home tree" - another trope, having elves live in trees. The tree was called Elderwood, and I read of it: "Elderwood had enough magic left in him to aid his allies' escape. As soon as they were at a safe distance he cast a spell through his roots that turned the soil beneath the enemy into quicksand, swallowing the trolls and dragging them into the suffocating mire." This was after the troll attack. My question here is, if Elderwood had this power, why didn't it get used as soon as the trolls attacked and have them taken out? Obviously, it was because there has to be some trope sword-fighting and blood-spilling here, but again, it jumped right out at me and interfered with my enjoyment of the story.

The idea of a strong female character always appeals to me, but to have some girl who has no interest in fantasy suddenly become the champion of the fantasy world makes no sense. No doubt at some point in this 'saga' she will turn out to have elf blood in her (how this cross-species fertilization is supposed to work is another mystery!), but even if she did, this is no guarantee she would be a great warrior!

As I indicated, this is intended to be a series, which to me is just another reason for me to avoid it! I'm not a fan of series. Although sometimes one comes along that is worthy of reading, in general, they tend to be derivative, repetitive, and uninventive. In short, they're boring and a lazy way to write. And because this is part of a series, it ended rather abruptly, the assumption being that the reader will continue on with volume two. I don't have the enthusiasm to do that, and for the reasons I've indicated, I can't recommend this as a worthy read, but I wish the author well with it. Maybe others will find it more entertaining than did I.


Friday, November 25, 2016

Vampire Academy Graphic Novel by Leigh Dragoon, Emma Viecelli


Rating: WORTHY!

For a graphic novel created by two female writers/illustrators, I found this to be rather more sexualized than it ought, particularly regarding main character Rose. Emma Viecelli's artwork aside though (and the art wasn't bad at all in general terms), the adaptation by the curiously-named Leigh Dragoon was faithful to Richelle Mead's original, and overall, the story was told well. As usual I could have done without the ridiculous and pathetic "romance" between Rose and the academy's pet gorilla, but other than that, I liked this adaptation and I recommend it for anyone who likes the original or who is interested in getting up to speed on the story without reading the original, which I reviewed back in May, 2014.

There was one bit of unintentional amusement, which is when Rose has one of her trips into Lissa's brain. The illustration clearly shows Lissa from a third party perspective, climbing up through the trapdoor into the attic where she meets Ozera, but the text confidently states: "And there I am seeing the world through Lissa's eyes." No, you don't see the world through Lissa's eyes looking directly at Lissa, unless she's in front of a mirror! Sometimes I wish writers were a little more intelligent than this - or artists, whoever is at fault here, but they're no worse than movie or TV depictions of such things which are routinely in third person perspective and which look utterly ridiculous because of it.