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

Friday, June 1, 2018

Summit Vol 1: The Long Way Home by Amy Chu, Jan Duursema


Rating: WORTHY!

Errata:
Aeropsace on p13 Misspelled.

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

There was an event in which an asteroid nearly hit Earth. The planet was supposedly saved by Lorena Payan, which no doubt is pronounced 'pain'. Some people developed superpowers from this event, but curiously, the event seemed to have a preference mostly for white American adults.

The stories of these mutants are covered in various editions by various writers and artists. This one is the story of one of those white Americans who happened to be actually on the mission: Valentina "Val" Resnick-Baker who rescues and protects a young kid. Can anyone say Aliens 2 Redux?

Frankly this story it was a bit bland, repetitive, and disjointed, but overall it was better than the other two I read in this batch of stories. While I am happy to rate this one as a worthy read, I think I'm done with this whole series which really isn't moving, shaking, or breaking new ground. It's petty much broken and crumbled like the asteroid was at this point.


KINO Vol. 1: Escape from the Abyss by Joe Casey, Jefte Paolo


Rating: WARTY!

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

KINO stands for Kinetic Impulse Neoterrestrial Operative which is one of the most bland and meaningless phrases I've ever read, but it was appropriate for a story that made no sense whatsoever. I've been following this X-Men knock-off world for some time and initially I was enjoying it, but lately I've become more and more disappointed in it with every new volume I read, and I feel like I'm about ready to drop it after this one. Nothing happens and nothing moves the story, and by that measure, this book is looking like a microcosm for the entire series at this point.

The backstory is that a "meteor" was heading towards Earth, and this powerful Latin woman orchestrated an assault on it by a half-dozen international astronauts all of whom supposedly died. It turns out she was more sinisterly involved than anyone knows, but now she's a celebrity because she "saved" Earth. The offshoot of this near-miss heavenly body was that some people garnered for themselves super powers. How that worked isn't explained, but whatever explanation it turns out to be has to be better than a dumb-ass "X gene" for sure.

This story (one of many told by different authors and illustrated by different artists) focuses on Major Alistair Meath of the Royal Airforce, so kudos for at least acknowledging - unlike DC and Marvel - that there are places outside the USA. It's believed Major Meath, aka KINO, is dead, but in fact he's been kept in some sort of suspended animation by the Latin girl. The British somehow find out about this and send in a covert team to extract the major's body, but they themselves are hijacked and the body ends up in the lab of Aturo Assante, a stereotypical mad scientist. So far so good.

This is where the story goes seriously downhill because from then on the story itself goes into suspended animation. Assante seems to think that by programming the Major's mind with various challenges - fighting-off super powered bad guys - he can turn KINO into precisely the super hero he requires (for what purpose goes unexplained). So they have Meath suspended from wires, an idea taken directly from Robin Cook's novel Coma. The purpose of this in Cook's novel is so that the patient doesn't get bedsores from lying in one position on a bed, but as I recall Cook doesn't really address the various medical issues raised by this system, the first of which is infection.

The suspension wires go right through the skin into the bone, so unless there is fastidious sterility in the environment which even in a hospital there never is, then the patient is going to get all manner of infections. Just as important is the lack of exercise. Muscles atrophy when not used, as astronauts know only too well, so there's no point in mentally creating a super hero (even if it were possible) if the body isn't also brought up speed. This is why competent nurses turn their coma patients in the bed, and stretch and bend limbs to keep muscles active.

The story consists of repeated rounds of the Brit agent searching for Meath, the Latinx woman searching for Meath, Assante issuing bullshit demands of his programming team, and Meath having a rough and tumble inner life. It's boring. For example, at one point Assante (or someone in his lab, I forget) talks about "cortextual" - there's no such word. He's confusing the 'tex' in 'cortex' with 'text' and getting 'textual' from that, presumably. The correct term is 'cortical'. A real doctor (and a real spellchecker!) would know that.

But the problem is that if these guys have the technology to program scenarios into a living person's mind, then they can also read out of that mind what's going on, but they repeatedly claim that they have no idea what's going on in this guy's brain, yet even so, they know it's bad? Even without feedback they keep feeding things in? It makes no sense. Add to that indifferent and oddly angular artwork by Jefte Paolo and the story doesn't even make up in eye-candy for what it loses in the 'textual' aspects! I didn't like this, and I cannot recommend it.


The Showrunner by Kim Moritsugu


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I read one review of this novel which said the author (who has a totally cool name!) "...has the uncanny knack of creating stories you can't put down, featuring characters you'd love to be, who say things you wish you could say," but I definitely would not want to be one of these characters or say the things they say. Only one of them is not potentially psychotic! That doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it however. The author did create three strong and well-defined characters, although one of them (Ann) seemed rather over the top to me.

I would have preferred a straight-forward story rather than interspersing the Stacey (main protagonist) story with entries from the journal of another (Ann). Those did not work for me because they seemed not only inauthentic, but also not something this particular character would do. It took me out of suspension of disbelief. I really dislike first person voice because it is so inauthentic, and I also dislike diary and journal entries, so this was a double negative for me. The other two perspectives, Stacey's and Jenna's, were much more realistic and readable. While I wouldn't describe it as 'un-put-downable' it definitely did make me want to keep reading.

Another joy was that, just when I feared it would go all chick-lit when Stacey started zeroing in on a guy, the author was smart enough to keep that low-key and focus on the main drama, which I appreciated, as indeed I did the fact that (apart from Ann's journal) this was not first person voice. Finally - an author who gets how weak and annoying that voice is! U shakll build a Moritsugu Shrine! yes! That's what I shall do! Mwahaha!

Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, the story is about a TV production company called Two Women Walking, the two women being veteran Ann Dalloni, and up-and-comer Stacey McCreedy, who was the creator of this new show that has become such a success and for which Ann has usurped the credit. The story repeatedly describes the two women as partners and the company as a partnership, but the story is told consistently as though Ann in the boss and Stacey her employee, which made little sense to me, but starting from this resentment, there builds a festering and smoldering mutual antagonism between the aging Ann and the vibrant Stacey which mounts towards what seems to be an inevitable butting-of-heads if not worse.

Each is trying to undermine the other, and it does not help that Ann, without consulting Stacey, has brought on board a young actor, Jenna, who is currently in a slump, and who is happy to work with a veteran like Ann to learn the producing ropes and maybe get back into the acting game through a back door. The story doesn't explain why Ann did not already have an assistant like Stacey does, which was a bit of a plot hole, but no big deal. Jenna finds herself playing piggy-in-the-middle and running thankless and trivial errands for Ann, but she swallows it all down because she has her own agenda.

Frankly I didn't like any of these three woman and would certainly not want to know them in real life (much less be them!), but they made for fascinating characters and a very readable story. The ending was in some ways predictable and in others a surprise, but I can't go into it without giving away spoilers!

The book wasn't all joy though; there were some issues, one of which is a common one in my experience. At one point I read, "...the bottom half of his left bicep was visible..." Unless his skin and muscle is torn and one of the ligaments is hanging out, I doubt that his bicep was visible. I don't doubt that his biceps was if he's quite muscular. 'Bicep' relates to one or other of the muscle attachments to the humerus, and isn't very impressive. The actual bulge in the upper arm is the biceps.

Another issue wasn't a writing problem, but a formatting problem caused by Amazon's crappy Kindle app. I really am not a fan of it (or Amazon in general for that matter), because unlike B&N's Nook app or a PDF file, it will mangle anything that's not plain vanilla text. In this case, the novel was clearly formatted for print, with page headers (book title and author name on alternating pages) which to me is pointless if not pretentious, but it's what publishers do.

Unfortunately, when Amazon gets it hands on this stuff, it can't handle it, and it incorporates the page headers directly into the text! Consequently, I read at one point, "And have KIM MORITSUGU nerves of steel." Hey, I want 'Kim Moritsugu nerves of steel'! Where can I buy them?! This happened quite often and was annoying, I hope it's fixed before the final ebook version becomes available.

There were other issues of improper formatting or poorly written sentences, but not too many, fortunately. At one point I read, "What had Stacey called her when she strolled up to the entrance, looking stylish..." here it wasn't immediately clear who's being stylish, but this is a minor issue. In another section, I read, "...and I know you're in an difficult position" 'An' needs to drop the 'n'. At a different point there was, "Which made feel Jenna victorious." Jenna and feel need to switch places. Also, in a slightly different issue, several weeks pass between chapters 18 and 24 without any real indication of such a huge time, which was a bit confusing!

Finally for me, there was a bit of a problem with how things were resolved at the end. I can't detail it without giving spoilers, but it seemed like the participants were indulging in unnecessary overkill when they could have simply told the truth about what happened, which was all they needed to do. I didn't get why they had to cook up a story. It felt to me like maybe the ending had been changed from what it originally was, an ending that might have needed such a story, but having made the change, the author either didn't realize there was a problem or couldn't think of an easy way out of it, when there actually was really a simple one: tell the unvarnished truth!

But these were relatively minor issues in what was overall a worthy and engrossing story, which I recommend.


Friday, April 6, 2018

Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson


Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook I came at from having seen the excellent TV series starring Jason Isaacs (of Star Trek Discovery - not that I watch that sorry excuse for a Star Trek show - and Harry Potter), Amanda Abbington (late of Sherlock), Zawe Ashton (late of Doctor Who: Into the Dalek), and the charming young Millie Innes - who is a true Scot! The TV show was titled Case Histories after the first novel in a series of (so far) four.

I love my library, but oddly enough they didn't have the first novel on CD; they had two others, which were the ones I got. This one is the last of the four. After I started listening to the droning audiobook, I regretted my impulsiveness in requesting two books at once. I listened to half of the first disk and skimmed the last disk on my way back to the library to drop it off! They were both tedious and mindlessly rambling, and nauseatingly droning (the reader was Graeme Malcolm and he was awful and served only to exacerbate the problem with the mindlessly meandering material). I hope the other one I got is better. It can hardly be worse!

This is a Stephen King style novel where the author thinks it's more important to go into endless, pointless minutiae instead of actually getting on with the story. The story is purportedly about a retired detective named Tracy Waterhouse. Her sole memory, it seems, is her encounter as a newly-minted police constable in Edinburgh, Scotland. She and her partner found a strangled woman who was very ripe, having been dead for many days, and also locked in a flat (apartment) with a young child. After that we're back in the present, but by then I'd already lost interest. Jackson Brodie is the hero of these novels, but he's focused on an abused dog. This one has not yet made it to a TV version.

The thing I loved about the TV show is how each story sowed three different seeds at the start, and by the end all three had grown into the same plant. The thing I found weird about the TV show is how few Scots actually live in Edinburgh - if it's judged by the casting! All the main characters were almost always English, not Scots! That may not be cultural appropriation, but it's certainly inappropriate. Othher than that I loved the show and would advise everyone to watch that rather than read these sashaying shambles of stories (assuming the others are as bad as this one was).


School for Psychics by KC Archer


Rating: WARTY!

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

Not to be confused with The School for Psychics by Carolyn Jourdan, this School for Psychics is volume one is a series which seems to have as its aim to be an adult version of Harry Potter, but don't let that fool you. It's really a YA novel with non-YA characters, and this made for an inauthentic, if not laughable story. I did not like it. I didn't like the main character, which was the first problem I had with this. She started out fine, but went rapidly downhill.

24-year-old Teddy Cannon owes a lot of money (like low six figures) to a Serbian crook by the name of Sergei. Her plan is to use her psychic ability (which she doesn't know she has) to win big at poker and repay the loan. How she ever got into such debt when she can win so easily at poker is a mystery. Though she doesn't realize it, she's psychic and knows exactly what the other players have in their hands.

In her ignorance of her true calling, she puts this skill down to her ability to detect their 'tells' - little peccadilloes and mannerisms which reveal what they're holding in their hands. As it happens when we meet her on her big gamble, she fails and is contacted by a mysterious man who invites her to come to the school for Psychics on an island off the coast of California. If she does, he says, all her debts will be paid. Does that sound like entrapment? It did to me, but Teddy isn't smart enough to be the least bit suspicious of how all this magically came together. I wondered if she was set up for this right from the off, but if she had been, it really would have made no sense anyway.

I also have to wonder, since she's been specially recruited - having been watched for some time - why her recruiter waited so long, and if he's so sure about her, why she has to undergo these entrance tests. As another reviewer suggested, it would have been better to test potential recruits before they arrive at this secret school, not afterwards, but none of this is gone into in the novel. It speaks very poorly of the recruiters skills that so many new entrants were kicked out so quickly. Up to the point of Teddy's arrival at the school, the story wasn't too bad at all and it held my interest, but it went downhill quickly once school began. The author needed to think this through much more than she evidently did, is what it felt like to me. It simply wasn't realistic, even within its own framework.

Teddy thought she was epileptic. She had no idea she was psychic, although how that happened went unexplained in the 25% or so of this that I could stand to read. You would think that someone introduced to a whole new world as Teddy was, would revel in it, but she acted like she didn't care much about anything - she behaved as though it was simply another day in the life, which again felt inauthentic.

In the end, my biggest problem with this was that I wanted to read "School for Psychics" not a heated Harlequin romance, but that was what I got instead. I wanted to read about a main character who was strong and independent and who relished the chance to learn to use her abilities. I did not want to read about clichéd 'bitch in heat' who really had no great interest in anything save the "hot guy" she sees on the first day, and with whom she can't wait to have unsafe sex. I don't do covers because my blog is about writing, and author's have little control over their cover unless they self-publish, but this novel's cover was actually pretty cool. Unfortunately it was wrong for the book, which ought to have had the stereotypical naked, shaven-chested guy on the front cover, standing behind a swooning Teddy.

So it's not really about psychics at all, it's about this woman's obsession with this guy and which turns into a clichéd YA triangle in short order. Yawn. I wanted something original and instead we got a boring version of X-Men crossed with Harry Potter, and this had the worst elements of both those and a poor YA novel into the bargain. There's even an guy unoriginally named Pyro. Barf. It's all adults, but it reads like a high-school romance. Sorry, not interested!

I wanted to read about the psychics, not how hot this woman thinks this guy is. If she'd just mentioned it a couple of times, that would be fine, but it's every other page and it's boring. I don't want to read about women like that. Women do not need a man to validate them and it's sad that so many female authors think they need not one, but two, including your standard trope bad-boy, to make a woman whole. I cannot recommend a novel that's as bad as this one, and is so insulting to women.


Sunday, April 1, 2018

Poorcraft by C Spike Trotman, Diana Nock


Rating: WORTHY!

This book was awesome! It tells you how to survive economically with scores of practical ideas and a host of references, and it covers a huge variety of topics, and will be of particular interest to college students, but also to anyone who is living on very limited means. It's also humorous and beautifully drawn in very bold black and white line images by Diana Nock.

It covers housing, food, fashion, health, transportation, entertainment, education and emergencies, and it has an appendix of links and resources. It offers advice on how to take out a loan, how to avoid taking out a loan, and how to pay back loans even if you feel you're sinking rather than swimming. It offers tips on how to save on groceries, how to find a place to live, how to make sure your housemates are good ones, how to find cheap or free furniture, how to put together a collection of tools for do-it-yourself projects and fixing-up places. In short, it covers pretty much everything you need to know to live cheaply and successfully. I fully recommend this one as an entertaining read and a useful tool to have around in itself!


The Angry Chef's Guide to Spotting Bullsh*t in the World of Food by Anthony Warner


Rating: WORTHY!

Erratum:
“...repelling into your body...” I believe the author meant 'rappelling'.

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

What better way to start out All Fool's Day than to review a book about idiotic diet fads? In a world where women in particular and especially in the west, are made to feel ugly and worthless if they do not conform to the fashion magazine, television, and Hollywood 'standard' of beauty (i.e. thin as a rake and endowed with hourglass curves and unnaturally flawless skin), you can't blame people for wanting to trim themselves a little, but there are far too many immoral rip-off artists willing to step up and offer snake-oil and quakery to women who have, their entire lives, been primed and weakened to buy into anything which will get them into conformity with the idiotic heights that society seeks to impose upon them.

While it does no-one harm to exercise appropriately and eat wisely, the diet business is a sixty billion dollar industry in the USA alone and yet people are fatter now than they've ever been. That should tell you how fraudulent the whole thing is. However heavy or light your body is, it has a natural weight that it likes to stay close to and it will fight you with some very effective hormones if you try to force it out of that zone. That's not to say it can't be done, but the road to that end is paved with misery, failure, and a constant struggle.

You know things are bad if even Walmart voluntarily steps-up and decides to remove one if its beauty and fashion magazines from the check-out aisle because it's been deemed too obsessed with women being sexualized. If you take a look at those magazines, they rarely have a cover which doesn't mention diet, looks, and/or sex. These magazines are known for air-brushing flaws out of women's skin and Photoshopping them to make them look even thinner than they may already be. Children are bombarded with these images every time they pass through the checkout. On the one side are the magazines essentially telling women how ugly and fat they are, and on the other side of the same aisle are the calorie-laden candy bars and potato chips. That ought to tell you something about how schizophrenic we are in this world of body image which we created for ourselves.

When I requested this from Net Galley I had never heard of the Angry Chef, but the idea of it amused me. I was really pleased to learn that not only does the Author have BSc degree in biochemistry from Manchester University, he's also very much a scientist in his approach to analyzing fad diets, and he gives no quarter in tackling them one after another in this volume, pointing out in no uncertain terms how idiotic and baseless they are.

In Part One 'Gateway Pseuodscience', he covers an important topic: the difference between causation and correlation. Just because something occurs at the same time as something else doesn't automatically mean one was caused by the other. He attacks so-called 'detox' diets and alkaline diets, and he covers the topics of regression to the mean, and 'the remembering self'.

In Part Two we learn about 'when science goes wrong' and meet Science Columbo, coconut oil, the paleo diet, antioxidants, and...sugar! (Its not as bad as you think!). Part Three brings 'the influence of pseudoscience', featuring a history of quacks, the power of ancient wisdom, processed foods, clean eating, and eating disorders. Part Four takes us into 'the dark heart of pseudoscience' and educates us on relative risk, the GAPS diet, and cancer. Not ethat some of his titles and opening paragraphs are laden with sarcasm, so beware that you may think you're having your bias confirmed as you seem to be led in one direction, only to discover that your destination is elsewhere.

If I had three complaints, the first would be that the print version is a tree-slaughtering device if it goes to a long print run, because it has unnecessarily wide margins and generous text-spacing, No-one wants to see a page that's literally black with text, but a wiser publisher - one which actually cared about trees and climate change, could have narrowed the margins and shorted the book considerably by doing so.

My second complaint - be warned - is that the language is a little on the blue side and unnecessarily so in my opinion. There are four-letter words distributed throughout the text, not commonly, but often enough. I thought that was entirely unnecessary. I have no problem with such words in say, a novel, but in a non-fiction book of this nature, I think that language can be dispensed with and thereby reach a wider audience in doing so. It amused me that the cover was so prim and proper that it included an asterisk in the title - like that really disguises what the word is? Seriously? I know an author has no control over the cover when they turn over their book to a regular publisher (which to me is a travesty), but they do have a lot of say over what's inside that cover.

The third issue was that the book was a little long-winded for my taste (336 pages, of which - if you exclude the prologue and the epilogue which I always do), runs to some 286 pages of main text. The extra pages include end notes and two appendices, but the rest of the book was a bit rambling at times. Overall though, I enjoyed it. I loved the exposure of fads and quackery (Gwyneth Paltrow comes in for a well-deserved hammering) as well as a host of less well-known figures in the world of food faddism. The book contains a solid introduction to the scientific approach in which far too many of us are lacking, especially in the USA, land of fundamentalism, conspiracy and fad. The principles learned here can be applied outside the narrow field of diet and food, and I recommend this one as a worthy read.


Friday, March 16, 2018

Gonzo Girl by Cheryl Della Pietra


Rating: WARTY!

I literally could not get beyond the first couple of chapters of this. It entirely rubbed me the wrong way from the start and the prospect of reading the rest of it after that just turned me off. As if the writing wasn't bad enough, the story is told in first person. Apparently it draws heavily on her experience with Hunter Thompson, and I have no respect for him either. If that is the case, then one has to wonder why she wrote this fictional account rather than a real one.

The story is of this fresh college grad Alley Russo (yes, spelled like blind alley!), a girl who wants a chance to work as an assistant to a purportedly renowned writer who is really an arrogant and a self-absorbed dick. This guy was so hard-edged that he was unbelievable as a character - hard-living, hard smoking, hard-drinking, hard to take seriously in fact. He began by humiliating this girl, who has so little self respect that she takes everything that's dished to her.

I picked this up because I thought it would be about the writing, but it really isn't at all; it's about this weak sop of a girl subjugating herself to an immoral slave-driver with the ridiculous name of Walker Reade, and foolishly thinking this is going to help her writing career. The sad fact is that she's willing to do literally anything to further her writing aspirations - except actually sit down and write! I have no respect whatsoever for her and none for this novel.

I was especially turned off it when I read a Kirkus quote. The quote merely said, "Fascinating" which could have meant anything! The Kirkus review could have said "It's fascinating how stupid this story is", but my guess is that it didn't. The problem is that Kirkus never has a bad word to say about a novel so their reviews are completely meaningless. Anyone who quotes them in support of a book is a moron, period.


Saturday, February 17, 2018

Scarlett by Brian Michael Bendis, Alex Maleev


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a kick-ass novel from the off, with a good, intelligent story and beautiful artwork. It's a bit bloody here and there, and the eponymous main character (modeled on a woman named Iva) is inevitably sexualized, but it's not overly done thankfully. I favorably reviewed Bendis's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3: Guardians Disassembled back in June of 2016.

The story is set in Portland, Oregon, and is a bit controversial in its subject matter since it suggests that, contrary to the tale we were told in the TV series Grimm, some of the Portland PD isn't so much going after mythical creatures, as it is after drug money for personal use. Why Portland gets picked on, I don't know. Maybe these guys live there?! Maybe Portland has a drug problem? I dunno.

Scarlett is a young woman whose boyfriend is killed by corrupt police looking to notch-up another drug dealer taken out, but her boyfriend was never a dealer; he wasn't even into drugs other than maybe a little weed (this is blog spot, not blogs pot after all!), but he's dead, and Scarlett isn't going to stand for it. She starts taking out she corrupt cops herself and becomes an almost legendary figure.

She varies her MO. We first meet her in a dark alley being approached by a cop who evidently thinks she's a sex worker. When he tries to get a freebie from her, he gets a death sentence instead, and Scarlett finds six hundred bucks on him which she, despite some doubts, takes as evidence that he's dirty.

After this we get her backstory which for a change wasn't boring me (I normally dislike flashbacks), and then the story takes off, always moving somewhere. My only disappointment in it is that this is only book one, so now I have to find others in this series! I recommend this one.


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Before I Met You by Lisa Jewell


Rating: WARTY!

Read beautifully by Jane Collingwood, this audiobook still failed to impress me. It began well enough, but it's one of those books which tells parallel stories, one in the present, the other in the past. Normally I do not go for this type of story but this one sounded like it might be interesting and after my first exposure to this author, I was eager for more and requested two more of her books on audio from the library. I was not excited by either one as it happened.

The story was interesting to begin with, but quickly moved from the main character's childhood to her adulthood, where it became significantly less interesting. There were one or two times when the historical portion was most interesting, and an occasion or two when it paled in comparison with the present, but in the end, both two stories became tedious and predictable, and were quite literally going nowhere.

I was also turned off by the amount of drinking and smoking going on in this book. It was disgusting and turned me off the characters. I sincerely hope that Britain isn't the chimney fire depicted here. It was gross. In the end my distaste applies to the whole book it was not entertaining, and it could have been. I felt it was a waste of my time and worse, a waste of a novel. It's a pity we can't bill the authors for the time we waste reading novels that don't truly transport us, isn't it? It would lead to a much better quality of novel than we all too often get, I assure you!


Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell


Rating: WARTY!

Another experimental audiobook, but this time slightly less experimental (at least that's what I hoped!), since I really liked the first novel I encountered from this author, The Girls in the Garden, which actually had been an experiment. While that novel was fresh and entertaining, with interesting characters and a plot that moved, this novel just bored the pants off me from the very start from its very tone. Part of the blame for that has to be laid at the door of Karina Fernandez, the reader, whose voice was rather annoying to listen to, but she couldn't have managed that without the author's contribution! I could have managed to cope with her voice had what she been reading been more interesting.

The book isn't even like a novel, it's like being trapped on a bus or on the subway by someone choosing you to sit next to, and who then insists upon you hearing their entire life story and doesn't care that you were trying to read something infinitely more interesting than anything they had to say to you!

Sometimes a character like that can be interesting, especially for a writer to listen to, but that wasn't the case here. It was an endless tedious rant about family and kids and who had how many and who was born first and who did what and thought what and none of it was remotely entertaining or intriguing. I cannot recommend this. Lisa Jewell has one more chance with me. I'll let you know how that goes; hopefully it will be later rather than sooner.


Mister Monkey by Francine Prose


Rating: WARTY!

This was one of the most tedious and clueless books I've ever not read - by that I mean I listened to as much of the audiobook as I could stomach and ditched it pretty quickly. I got into this after reading a book written by this author and titled "Reading for Writers" which purported to teach a writer how to write by paying attention to the so-called classics as though all those authors literally agonized over every word they typed, so I decided to try out her own novels and see how well she does. I wasn't impressed. Not at all.

I'm sure some of those writers did agonize, and perhaps some modern writers still do, but agony doth not a great writer make. My gut feeling is that most of those antique writers simply wrote, correcting now and then of course, but otherwise never giving the writing process very much thought. The reason they did this is that they had a real story to tell about real (if fictional) people who genuinely moved these authors to write, so it required little agony to put it down on paper and little soul-searching. They were all about the story, not about analyzing it to death as we do today, and thereby destroying it in the process. And more than likely they did not dwell on it anally in hindsight like so-called professors of literature do. We could learn a lot from them, but it's not the education that this author thinks we should be getting in my opinion.

I'm not a huge fan of the classics. Do people care about the classics because they're really that great, or because we're force-fed these things in schools and colleges and by pretentious, bombastic critics until they can't think for themselves? There is a massive gulf between the writers who make money from their writing by producing novels which sell well, and the classic emulators who win awards, but about whom no one really cares that much unless they're forced to by college courses and school teachers, and by pretentious "must-read" or "Top 25" lists that try to brow-beat people into reading this book instead of that one for no other reason than that the creator of the list thinks their own opinion is akin to divine guidance.

If you're teaching people who actually want to write modern novels, then you need to read modern novels, not antique and obsolete ones, and you need to consider why it is that people buy this one and not that one. You need to ask why must we be forced to study the work of authors who made little to nothing on what they wrote and who are now being taken advantage of not because they were necessarily brilliant, but merely because they're no longer due any copyright fees, when each and every writer really does not want to be the next classic writer, but the first 'themselves'. They want to write. They need to write, and for my money what they should do is read lots and lots of the genre(s) in which they're interested, and then - in their own voice and using their own characters and plots - write something in that vein. Forget dusty professors who make a comfortable living not from their writing, but from a sinecure. They're not to be trusted.

For the sake of argument, let's pretend the classics do have miraculous things to teach us. This now begs the question: if that method is so great, why does the author of that how-to book not take her own advice? This novel was poorly-written, and it was filled with abusive stereotypes. This seems to be the author's MO, and it was insulting to everything from the chimpanzee (which it constantly and ignorantly referred to as a monkey) to the reader, whom it insults by this novel's very existence.

The author bewails the fact the game hunters shot the chimpanzee's parents, but she describes the locale as a paradoxically-named game preserve, not a wildlife conservation park! That doesn't make it right that the chimps were shot, but neither is it surprising when it's a game preserve that animals die unnecessarily. And no, chimps don't have cute little family units with mom, dad, and 2.2 children like humans do, so why did it matter that mom and dad ape were shot? Mom, yes! Dad? Not so much in a chimp's world. For all her blather about choosing your words, she completely failed here to choose her words wisely.

The title describes a play which is being put on by a bunch of appallingly cardboard and stereotypical actors. It's told from several rather confusing perspectives, and none of them were interesting to me. And blurb-writer? No, the narrative isn't madcap, it's boring. Get that much right, please. I cannot recommend this.



Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Superb by David F Walker, Sheena C Howard, Ray Anthony Height, Alitha Martinez, Eric Battle


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I didn't like the first one I read in this series. Normally that would be the end of it, but I read a second one without realizing until the end that it was part of the same series, and I liked it. I also liked this one, probably more than any of the previous ones. The artwork was really good, the characters realistic (as comic book super heroes go!), interesting, motivated, and believable, and the writing was very good. I noted a strong female influence not only in the writing, but also in the art, and this can make a big difference to the overall look and feel of a comic.

I really like the way so called minorities are front and center. Minorities are actually the majority of people on the planet, yet they're so poorly served in comics, TV and movies that it's criminal. It was nice to see that balance being redressed without going overboard. It was also nice to see a character with Down Syndrome (aka trisomy 21) included as a major player. The relationship between him (Jonah, aka "Cosmosis"!) and Kayla (aka Amina). and the awesome Abbie, was choice. It really made the story shine for me.

Each individual graphic novel in this set is a sort of origin story, but its not your usual origin tale; it's more of a development story, which to me is more interesting, especially this one. All of the graphic novels I've read so far run in parallel, but there is no repetition. Each story advances the whole, and the only tiresome bit was the last bit which is the same in each comic. Of course you can skip this once you've read it the first time, and it does mean you can start with any comic in the group without having to worry that you missed something because you didn't start with the 'right one'.

In this story Kayla, already aware of her powers and that she's not the only one with them, is trying to keep a low profile, especially since her parents work for the corporation which is trying to capture, intern, and experiment upon those with such powers. Jonah is less retiring. He breaks into the corporate facility to finds out what they're up to, and he barely escapes with his life. Kayla protects him and this is how the two of them team up with Abbie, who is Jonah's friend. Unfortunately, Kayla's desire to live a normal life is seriously compromised, and that's all I'm going to say!

On the negative side, I have to say that this shtick with the powers-that-be coming down hard on the mutants is really reaching saturation point. Marvel has repeatedly done it with X-Men, Inhumans, and Gifted, and it's been done in other graphic novels unrelated to the DC and Marvel stables, including one I reviewed negatively recently. Frankly, it's starting to be boring. It would be nice to see something different.

In terms of this comic, it's hard at this point, despite having read several of them, to see how the foresight corporation got so much power that it can openly act as a paramilitary force and hunt down these people. That felt a little bit much, but maybe it will be explained. Or maybe I missed it in that first volume I read because I was so disappointed in it!

That quibble aside though, I really liked this graphic novel and I recommend it as a worthy read.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Science for Sale by Daniel S Greenberg


Rating: WARTY!

I got this book from the library thinking it might be interesting, but it was as dry as week-old bread that has been overly-toasted and then freeze-dried. That's how dry it was. I expect academic-style tomes to be dry, but I don't usually have the issues with them that I had with this, with its uninspired cover and its academic margins. What's with that?

By academic margins I mean they are unnecessarily wide. I know this is traditional, but do not these bozos in colleges and universities care about trees? It's still possible to format it decently and have it look good, while using more of the page and saving a few trees, but none of them seem to get that. I think from this point on I'm going to automatically rate a book negatively if it looks like they're wantonly slaughtering trees, regardless of the quality of the book.

The margins in this book were an inch at the outside and on the bottom, and three-quarters of an inch at the top and in the gutter. The page was six by nine. That means the print area, even as admirably dense (yet readable) as it was, was occupying only roughly 60% of the paper. With less generous overly-margins, it could have occupied more, and thereby used fewer pages.

There were indented quotes, too, which were identified not only by a slightly smaller font, but also by huge indentations. These could have been adjusted too, so that instead of being a three-quarter inch shift further into the page than even the text was, they could have been a half or even a quarter inch. Whoever designed this book would appear to be either a moron or a tree-hater.

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I cannot recommend this at all unless you're in dire (and I do mean dire) need of something to put you to sleep. If you're an insomniac, this will likely cure you, but in terms of helping a reader to understand what's going on with college finance, it's of no help at all.


POS: Piece of Sh*t by Pierre Paquet, Jesús Alonso


Rating: WARTY!

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

I have a tendency to like graphic novels from Europe, but in this case I did not because the main character was completely unlikable. He was such a complete jerk that you desperately wanted to see the light to come on in his brain, and to see him change, but after I'd read 230 of 256 pages and discovered there wasn't even evidence of a glimmer of this, I asked myself, why am I continuing to read about this piece of shit - because that's exactly what he was, and determinedly and perennially so.

I did not care a whit about him and felt whatever he got, assuming it was bad, he thoroughly deserved. I quit reading on page 230 because I realized I had wasted a small part of my life reading this that I would never get back.

The artwork is so-so, very much like an old Tintin comic in some regards. The coloring was pretty good, but whoever did the lettering needs to get a clue. It was really hard to read (full disclosure: I am not a fan of letters at all!). The art would have been fine if the writing had had something to recommend it, but it was tedious. It kept teasing the reader with the potential to go somewhere but it never actually did. Not unless you class going around in repetitive circles as 'going somewhere'. All this story ever did was go around until you found yourself back where you started, with the same things happening over and over again.

At one point there was a court case and it went on for several pages There was never any resolution offered to it, and all the time I was reading that section, I had no good idea why this guy was in court! here were flashbacks appearing out of nowhere and sometimes it was easy tot ell they were flashbacks. other times it was not clear if it was a flashback or the next scene in his current life. He was an alcoholic, too, and this did not help, because he sometimes had alcoholic delusions, so in short it was a mess, and I cannot recommend it


Saturday, December 16, 2017

Faith and the Future Force by Jody Houser, Stephen Segovia, Barry Kitson, Ulises Arreola


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Now this is the kind of super-hero story I can really get with. I was thrilled by the first one in this series, so I was equally thrilled to have a chance to review another one and see how Faith is doing. She's doing fine and I'm keeping the Faith!

Once again, it's written by Jody Houser, who continues to sprinkle promos for Doctor Who (how can you not love a writer like that?!) as well as toss in other Sci-fi references. As I write this I am patiently counting down the days to the Doctor Who Christmas special, and the change over from the current Doctor who was not my favorite, to a new one who will, for the first time, be female! Squee!

On an unrelated topic, is it just me, or is anyone else amused by the superficial similarity between areola (the ring of color around a nipple, and the name of the colorist? Of course his name apparently derives from the Spanish for horse tack (or a part of horse tack, anyway!) not from coloration, but still! I love words!

This is a time-travel story featuring a time-traveling robot which is intent upon destroying the fabric of time itself. Consequently, we have with Faith being sought by some strange woman who is costumed like a super hero, but who evidently needs Faith's help (and that of a charming assortment of her super friends) to stop this machine. In that regard, it borrows a bit from Pixar's The Incredibles

What I liked about this is that it conveniently side-steps one objection I often find to time-travel stories, especially Doctor Who, who always seems to arrive in media res, which is: why not go back earlier and fix the problem before it starts? In which case there would be no show, so the Doctor always tosses out some patent nonsense about crossing his own time stream which of course he does time after time, especially in New York City where it's supposed to be all but impossible to visit. Hah! How many times has he been there now?

This story solves that problem because the robot is eating time, so they can't go back earlier - it doesn't exist! Double-hah! Faith aka Zephyr, is recruited by Timewalker (not Time Lord!) Neela Sethi several times, each time unaware that she's already been recruited and failed! Why does this keep-on getting repeated? Read it and find out! I recommend this one as a fun, sweet, entertaining, Segovially and Kitsonorously drawn, and areolistically-colored(!) story which is a very worthy read! Keep 'em coming you guys and I'll keep reading 'em!


Black by Kwanza Osajyefo, Tim Smith 3, Jamal Igle


Rating: WARTY!

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

I did not like this graphic novel. It was basically a rehash of The X-Men, or The Inhumans, or The Gifted, or New Mutants, or whichever simplistic, derivative Marvel Comic series about mutants you wish to name. This novel brought literally nothing new to the genre unless you count that in this case, the only people with the mutation are black! To me, it was racist.

All the "good guys" were black. All the "bad guys" were white. Neither side was anything more than a caricature. It felt like I was watching a so-called 'blaxploitation' movie from the early seventies. Since this was a graphic novel, and given that a potentially interesting premise failed to be effectively exploited, I found it hilarious that the color scheme was gray-scale! It felt ironically appropriate, but not in the way the creators intended, I'm sure.

While on the one hand I can understand this - and work like it - constitutes a backlash against the inexcusable racism inherent in comic books, movies, and TV shows where - unless you're prepared to be the token person of color - please don't show for the audition, the way to fix a problem where the pendulum has swing way-the-hell too far in one direction is not to swing it equally far to the opposite side, it's to stop it dead in the middle and weld that sucker down so it can never move again. Period.

I think the comic would have carried a much more powerful message had it been less comprehensively biased. As it is, it runs a dire risk of being viewed by too many people - and those are the very ones who most need to get an education - as being nothing more than sour grapes. It didn't help the cause that one of the freedom fighter leaders was named Caesar, the same name given to the chimpanzee in the Planet of the Apes saga. That sounded insulting to me.

Even that aside, it was not well-thought out. Rather than go with Marvel's asinine "x-gene" ploy, the creators (and I admire them for this) tried something different. Unfortunately, it wasn't something new! They made the mistake of taking the easy way out by simply making the quantum leap. It didn't work. The idea here is that some people (all black!) have unusual arrangements of quarks in their body. Quarks are the foundations of hadrons, which most people unknowingly know as protons and neutrons, and which form the nucleus of every atom.

There are six known quarks, divided into three up-types, named (with characteristic physicist quirkiness) up, charm, and top, and three down-types, named down, strange, and bottom. We're told that gifted black people (who may not necessarily be young!) have a hexaquark, like this is something rare, but it really isn't. Their expert is very confused and talks bayrons rather than baryons. But that, with its unintended allusion to Bay Watch, works given how some of the women are portrayed in this story. Which is another problem.

There's precisely one female super hero, and one transgendered one. The only other females are background or ancillary personnel. There is one professional assistant, one cop, and one lab technician. Two of these unaccountably wear eyeglasses whereas not one other person in the entire book does, and one of them - the so-called quantum particle expert - wears a lab coat. Barf.

The comic is hypocritical in this regard. On the one hand it's admirably, if ineffectively in my opinion, championing black characters in graphic novels, but on the other hand it's keeping "bitches" down. That's inexcusable, especially given that the women's liberation and black civil rights movements have historically often worked hand-in hand, because both sectors of society have been oppressed and in disturbingly similar way in some regards (such as having no vote, for example).

Why are there so few important black characters in graphic novels? Because most of those novels have traditionally been written by white folks and it never occurs to them to include non-whites. It's not that they hate black folks and what to keep them down or actively exclude them; it's just that (and this is no excuse) they just don't think of it. Why are there so few women of note in graphic novels? Because most of them are written by men - who don't hate women and don't wish to keep them down; it simply never occurs to them to include women. They just don't think of it. That's what happened here.

The main character is named Kareem Jenkins. He's shot for two reasons. The first of these is that it's a case of mistaken identity because all black folks evidently look alike to New Jack City cops, as a sorry history of shooting deaths in New York has shown and continues to show. The second is that when he's told to freeze, by armed cops, he's too stupid to do exactly that. Instead, he rabbits and is shot and ostensibly killed. A dozen or more black men have been fatally shot by NYPD in the last twenty-five years, and very few cases have even gone to trial, let alone ended in a conviction, but this novel repeatedly refers to NYPD as New York's finest. I don't know if that's meant to be ironic.

Kareem is unique because he rises again, and then is kidnapped by a character who far from being Straight Outta Compton, is straight outta The Matrix movie. He's Morpheus by another name, and he even sits with legs crossed in an armchair when we meet him, and effectively invites the kid to take the black pill. Yawn.

This leads to him discovering a hitherto totally unknown world of back mutants, all of whom have powers of some sort, but there are then so many of these characters so quickly introduced that they become lost and meaningless in the crowd. The irony of course is that here, all black people do look the same, not because they're all drawn the same (the artwork was pretty decent), but for no other reason than that this comic book has failed to differentiate them by giving them distinctive personalities and back-stories.

Having some of them speak in what in some circles, and for better or for worse, has been dubbed 'ebonics' is not giving them a personality. It's not giving them character. It's not making them individual. It's just cynically pigeon-holing them. There should have been fewer of them initially, and they should have been properly introduced instead of being treated like so many nameless, interchangeable slaves. This was a serious fail.

The plot doesn't work because we're expected to believe that a handful of white folks have pulled the wool over people's eyes for literally centuries, working in concert with the black community! I'm sure this isn't what the creators intended to convey, but it's very effectively what they achieved, because as the white community has, we're told, systematically sought to wipe out this 'black threat', the black community has been trying to hide the mutants, and neither side has ever let anything get out to the public! It's simply not credible.

Even if we allow that it worked before, it sure as hell would not work now! Have the creators of this series not seen the black community? Everyone is a showman or woman. There are pop divas and DJs with monumental egos. There are sports personalities with attitude, there are movie stars all about showmanship and conspicuous consumption, and there are so-called 'reality' shows and talk shows which are all about self-promotion.

None of this is confined to the black community, but we're not talking about how white folk might behave here. There is no way in hell, if any of this community had these powers, that they would all consistently keep them secret! It's simply not credible and this unarguable fact brought the whole story down and gave the lie to this farcical 'secrecy' claim. Besides, it made no sense to begin with - not in this day and age. If the white folks are trying to wipe-out the gifted peeps, then the best way to stop it is to go public, not go private. "Morpheus" is a moron!

Neither is it credible that the white folks would be able to continue their pogrom of extermination into modern times when much of the world is now ruled by non-white leaders. Are we supposed to believe that black leaders in African nations were in on it with the white folks? Bullsh! (More on that shortly). This is a classic case of failure to think outside the box, the box being the United Whites of America. Far too many of these kind of dystopian or secret society stories are far too hide-bound by 'American' thinking, or constrained by 'The American Way'.

What far too many authors fail to grasp is that there's an entire planet outside the USA that doesn't think about the USA from one week to the next because they have more important things to think about! They do not conform to US norms or patterns of thinking! They do not live the way US citizens live! They do no view the world like US people view it. Any story like this, which has global implications, yet which tries to pretend the entire globe is just like the USA is doomed to failure, and this one fell right into that trap.

There was almost cussing in this story! It's not credible. Almost all the time, when a cuss was about to be issued here, it was cut off. Instead of "Fuck!" we got "Fu-". Instead of "Shit" we got "Sh-" hence my "Bullsh" comment above. It's not realistic. It maybe be practical for some readerships, but people don't talk that way in real life, and everyone, even kids and churchgoers, knows it. You either have to include it to make it real, or you have to skip it for the sake of the readership. You can't have it both ways without it sounding truly dumb, and suspending suspension of disbelief. In short, either sh or get of the po.... Yeah! That's dumb it sounds.

A brief lesson in genetics: Not all mixed race couples have exclusively black children. Even a black couple can legitimately have a white child. Nature is color-blind! The reason for all this is that there is no difference, at the genetic level, between black people and white people and Asian people and whatever people.

Just like in real life there is no X gene, there is no B-for-black-gene either. There are gene networks wherein many genes acting in concert can achieve remarkable ends, but there is no 'negro network' than can make a person black or pigeon-hole one as such and more than there is a 'honky network' that can make a person white. This begs my last question: why did this affect only black people? There was no rationale given for this. We were expected to take it on trust.

Maybe the authors had some plan to work this out later, but forgive me for having little appetite for swallowing that when I'd already been asked to swallow much that was unpalatable in this graphic novel. I got the impression that they were winging it; tossing in some quantum nonsense and hoping to get by, but as we've seen, there is nothing in our genes to confer powers on one race and not another, so how much less credibility is there in ascribing this same effect to something even more fundamental: sub-atomic particles?

Quarks do have a property referred to as 'color', but it has nothing whatsoever to do with actual color as we perceive color day-to-day at the macro level. It's just a word; not a meaningless word because it has meaning to physicists, but it doesn't convey the same thing to them when they talk about quarks as it does to the rest of us when we talk about LED TVs. There is quite literally no color at the sub-atomic level as any electronic microscope image you can find online will show. Some of them have artificial-color added for clarification purposes, just as those glorious space images do, but in reality the sub-atomic world, just like the outer space world, is a very colorless one indeed.

Oddball congregations of quarks, which are the components of all matter, living or not, cannot grant powers to one race without granting them to all. It's another case of failure to think through. I mean, do Asians have powers? They're not white, but they ain't black either! How about the Latinx community? Deal or no deal?! What bothers me about this is that the authors seem to be saying that black people are somehow fundamentally different from all others, which is patently not true, but by saying it, they're risking undoing what decent, good-faith people of all races have been trying to accomplish for decades: true color-blindness wherein all are equal, all are one family, and all are brothers and sisters. The plot for this novel seemed like a very negative step to me unless it was handled better than it was here.

Black folks do have something rare and it is a real superpower: they have greater genetic diversity, especially those resident in Africa, than do any other humans. The reason for this is that all humans started life in Africa, not in Eden. We're all black. Unfortunately, the pale skin minority has forgotten this, and instead of seeing it as something unifying and something to be proud of, too many people see one color or another as a fault or a defect, something to be despised and rejected. Americans are often proud of their Irish, or German, or English, or native American, or whatever ancestry. What a pity they arbitrarily stop it at some point before it ever gets all the way back to eastern Africa where it all began.

So in conclusion, I cannot recommend this story as a worthy read. There were too many problems with it including endless excessive violence, but at least it was gray-scale so there was very little red ink to deal with. The one positive sign I saw was that in the end, Kareem took off on his own, rejecting all the bullsh- he;d witnessed. I commend him for that, but for me, it was too little, too late.


Friday, December 15, 2017

The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder


Rating: WORTHY!

This was from another audiobook, another experiment that worked! I get a lot of misses with audiobooks because I experiment more with them, but the disappointments are worth it because of the gems I find now and then. This was one of the latter.

April is not too happy at having to live with her grandmother, but she finds ways to make it work. Befriending Melanie and her very young kid brother Marshall who wears a plush octopus around his neck, is a good move, especially since the two have a shared interest in ancient Egypt. Melanie has made quite sophisticated families out of paper dolls - people cut from magazines and newspapers - with entire family histories, but soon, the two of them are using an empty, slightly overgrown back yard next door, behind an antique store, as their playground.

In their eyes it's Egypt, and they concoct elaborate rituals and stories to play out, which they call the Egypt game, and they refer to themselves as Egyptians. They create props and costumes and hold sophisticated and serious ceremonies after the manner, as far as they can tell, of the original Egyptians. A third girl, Elizabeth, joins them and despite a falling-out one time, they're having the best time until there's a murder in the neighborhood. All games are on hold since all girls are grounded for safety. But before long play resumes, and just when things seem to be going well, two boys, Ken and Toby, show up.

The boys had been curious about what the girls were up to when they snuck off after school, and spied on them! Rather than make trouble the boys want to join them! Again, it's game on, but then, one strange day, the statue to which they make their 'sacrifices' starts talking back to them!

I really liked this story. It was nicely-paced, interesting, entertaining, and made me want to listen. I recommend it.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

4 Kids Walk Into A Bank by Matthew Rosenberg, Tyler Boss


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is a compendium of issues 1 though five of the originally published comics and runs to about 180 pages in the print version. I read this in Bluefire Reader on an iPad where it looked good but the text was a bit hard to read, especially the one character Walter, who is painfully shy and reserved. His speech was deliberately written under-sized in a regularly-sized balloon, and it was hard to read, so I didn't appreciate that. I think Tyler Boss's art told Walter's story well enough; it would have been nice if writer Matthew Rosenberg had had more faith in it (or the designer - or whoever decided that this was a good approach!).

That said, the characters: Paige, the tough feisty female, Stretch, an abnormally tall expert in irony, the irreverent Berger, who in some depictions seems slightly pudgy, but in others seems a lot more trim, and retiring almost to the point of self-effacement Walter, are all interesting to read about and even more interesting to see interact with each other. They all bring their own strengths as characters, but Paige is a dynamo.

The story is that four thugs from Paige's dad's past show up wanting her father to resume his role in their history of thieving. Dad isn't interested, but the four idiot wannabe robbers won't take no for an answer. The kids decide the only way to save Paige's dad is to rob the bank first so the thugs can't. Great idea, huh? The entire story leading-up to 'will they or won't they?' was entertaining and at times completely hilarious. I really enjoyed it. That's not to say I didn't have a few problems with this.

Paige was an oddity to me because in many panels she looked distinctly male. There's nothing wrong in a female having male characteristics or vice-versa; nothing at all in real life, but in the case of a minimally-drawn comic book character, this can be confusing. At least it was to me.

I found myself at one point honestly thinking there were two characters, and wondering who this new guy was and where he came from, because it wasn't Paige! Except that it was. It just didn't look like Paige. When I realized that, for a short while, I found myself thinking I had misunderstood and Paige was actually a guy, not a girl, but no, Paige was very much a girl. It was just the graphical depiction of her that confused me. It made for an unpleasant reading experience on occasion because I was happy that she was a girl!

This surreal experience wasn't helped by two other events both towards the end of the novel. The first of these was the random addition of a fifth person to their four-person team towards the end of the novel. I had no idea who this fifth person was. Maybe I missed something, but I had no idea where this person came from!

The second incident was the very ending of the novel, where Paige and her dad meet up at a prison. I had no clue whatsoever whether she was going into jail or getting out. I honestly and truly did not. I even looking back through many the pages trying to figure it out, but I couldn't, so I was unhappy with the ending. But the rest of it was great. Mostly! I recommend this, anyway. Maybe you'll have a better handle reading it than I did!


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Whatever it Takes by Tu-Shonda L Whitaker


Rating: WARTY!

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

This was one of four novellas I got from Net Galley centered around the festive season and relationships. All of them were disappointing, I'm sorry to report. The problem was that they were far less romance than they were soft-core porn, and there really wasn't much porn, so what did that leave? In a two words: very little - and nearly all of that was a disappointment. I wish the authors all the best in their careers. I found these stories most saddening because some of these of these writers can write. I just wish they would have reached higher, instead of going solely for the low-hanging fruit.

Note that this is obviously just my opinion, and I'm not normally one for reading his kind of fiction, but I'm curious about all genres and I like to keep up with what's going on in them. It had seemed to me that this was a great opportunity to take in something new and maybe find a new writer to love. I'm sorry it didn't work out.

There seemed to be a common theme among the novellas: that of being single and feeling unloved, or of being in a dysfunctional relationship that the main character had somehow deluded themselves into thinking was the one - or at least was better than nothing! I know how that goes. But the way they 'fixed' their 'problem' was asinine cowardice, not romance.

In this case, the main character is in her thirties, with a lot of attitude, looking for love, feeling the old bio-clock ticking. I was trying not to be critical - to understand where this kind of a story is coming from and who it's aimed at, but apart from it being first person, this book bothered me because it's seemed like it's all about conspicuous consumption - like this woman has no value if it's not in her rich clothes and lavish lifestyle. I found that offensive.

I don't mind a novel that fills out a character by talking about her clothes and lifestyle to an extent, but every other paragraph has her talking about how well she's doing with her home (leather furniture, double sink - like that's some big upward mobility thing), her car which is a BMW, her shoes which are Gucci. And on and on! The thing is, she's a school teacher, so I'm wondering how she affords all this stuff! Teachers are woefully underpaid for the critical job they do.

Anyway, she meets the son of a friend - a son she knew when he was younger, but hasn't seen for a while. Now he's a college grad working on web design and he wears Prada shows - that's one of the first things we learn about him. I can see with his job how he can shop upscale, but again, is this all he has to offer - his shoes and his height: six feet one? I would have respected the woman more if she'd set her sights on more important things than skin and clothes deep.

This kind of story where it's all about "Hey, look how well-off and well-dressed I am!" really turns me off, because to me it says nothing so loudly as how shallow the character is, and how misplaced their values are. I don't have a problem with a person finding love and getting hot and bothered over a potential partner, but when that's all they have, and all they are, it's boring.

This is a May-December story and it's short, so it's a story where things need to move, but by about twenty percent into the novel, all she's talked about is how desperate she is for a man, and how ancient she is! She's thirty six! That's hardly antique, especially in an era when a lot of people are delaying marrying and having children until later in life. And nothing has happened in the story! The relationship could have been naturally building all this time, but it doesn't even start.

When it does start, the 'relationship' she develops with this young guy is dysfunctional from the off, and it never improves. Too often, he's talking like he owns her, and she takes no offense at anything he does or says. She's skittish all along, and her attitude makes sense, but instead of following her own instincts, and moving a bit more slowly, she lets him maneuver her right into bed and has unprotected sex with him, and later she thinks she might be be pregnant. In short, she's a moron. This is was too fast even for a novella. It throws romance under the bus and makes her look like an irresponsible and oversexed teenager, betraying everything we've learned of her until that point.

There's supposed to be some comic relief in the form of her next-door neighbor, who is a much older guy, but frankly he's offensive too, just like the younger guy. Despite the age disparity between these two men, I could see no difference between them. They were both manipulative and using her, and she was too dumb to see it and put her foot down. I didn't like any of these characters and cannot recommend this novella.