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

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.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Trans-Sister Radio by Chris Bohjalian


Rating: WARTY!

This is the second of a disappointing pair of transgender books I'm reviewing today, both written by guys named Chris! This one was an audiobook, which for me is more experimental and therefore more likely to fail. This one sounded really promising, but in the end it turned out to be boring, slow-moving like you wouldn't believe, and with apparently no intention of ever going anywhere.

The attraction of this story for me was of the same variety that moved me to write Tears in Time which I published earlier this year. Is this love lost? If so, can you find it? If you find it will you recognize it? If you recognize it, what will you do about it?

Allison Banks, divorced and in her forties, finds herself attracted to Dana Stevens. The cover blurb says, "develops a crush on" like she's some teen-aged fluff-head, but I don't blame the author for the sheer incompetence and rank stupidity of book blurb writers! Not unless they self-publish! What Allison doesn't know, and doesn't learn right away is that Dana is a transgender male to female, about to start on that painful and lengthy journey. She's attracted to Allison, too, but she can't stay male. When she transitions, what is going to happen to their relationship? I thought this was a choice topic for a novel, but the execution of it failed for me.

One big mistake writers make is laziness. Make a girl a book-reader and she's intelligent. That way you don't have to do the work of showing she's intelligent. Make a person work in a bookstore or in this case, for public radio, and you pigeon-hole that person, telling to avoid having to show. I'm not a fan of epistolary or 'dear diary' novels either, but this was one, in effect.

It featured "transcripts" from a national public radio show about transgender people, and worse than this, it split the story between two perspectives, Allison's and Dana's. It didn't commit the final sin of making those perspectives first person, so I have to commend it for that, but really it was too much. The novel staggered along under all this lard, ponderously crawling, and it was stuffed with horsehair (that's the closest I can get without being foul-mouthed).

Judith Ivey's Boston-accented reading voice failed to help as well. It was awful to listen to, and I found myself tuning it out from time to time, and missing the story. After twenty percent, I gave up on it, so based on the short exposure I had, I can't recommend it. Your frequency may differ!


BALLS It Takes Some to Get Some by Chris Edwards


Rating: WARTY!

This is a review of a book for which I was allowed a review copy, for which thank the publisher!

This is the first of a disappointing pair of transgender books I'm reviewing today, both written by guys named Chris! The blurb for this book is as misleading as they get. You can't blame the author (Chris Edwards, not to be confused with author Christopher Edwards) for this because they have nothing to do with their blurb unless they self publish, but I did want to mention it as a point of order, and because it's something out of the author's hands that can seriously and negatively impact the very book the author has written.

The blurb says "At a time when the term transgender didn't exist...Chris Edwards endured 28 surgeries to become the person he always knew he was meant to be." The problem with this is that this book covers the author's experiences in changing gender largely during the nineties and into the early oughts (although it references some time before), whereas the term 'transgender' was coined in 1965, which was, I'm roughly estimating, about five years before the author was born) and was in common use by the seventies. So common had it become by the nineties that in 1992, the International Conference on Transgender Law and Employment Policy had codified a definition of it! So no, the blurb is outright wrong here.

I really wanted to like this book because I loved the title. It was when I began reading the first chapter that I began to realize I should not have loved the title so much. I really didn't like the first chapter, but it improved after that, and so I had mixed feelings as I read on. Although it continued quite strongly from there on, it seriously deteriorated the further I read, and by the end, I didn't even want to read the epilogue and that's where I stopped.

For me the book was at it's best when it described the struggle the author went through to get where he needed to go, which was from the fabulously-named Kristin Eskandarian, to the end goal of Chris Edwards. Determined he was and suffer he did, and I suffered with him (after a fashion!) but enjoyed the experience while it lasted. Every fundamentalist who thinks being gay or transgender is a "choice" needs to read books like this to get themselves an education. No one chooses this ostracism, punishment, struggle, emotional overload and physical pain. No one wants it. No one wishes for it, but some must endure it, and amongst those are people who cannot do right by themselves until they have corrected, to the best of their ability, a heartless trick of nature. This author is one of those people.

Religion just pisses me off, frankly, which is why I had a hard time reading, towards the end of the book, this musing: "I always wondered why God made me transgender." This blind belief imposed by society on everyone from birth (well they try) that some magical being has a plan for all of us is delusional. It is also a burden no one should have to endure, because it makes life harder and inexplicable when you have to accommodate a big bearded giant in the sky. It forces questioning statements like this out of people because when you let god in, you let rationality out. I can't prove this, but the evidence is all on my side: no god had anything to do with this. It's just nature, screwing-up. Fortunately, albeit clumsy as yet, science has the power to go a long way towards correcting nature's mistakes of one sort or another. No god can help, and anyone who worships a god who would purposefully do this kind of thing to people is worshiping an evil, capricious god not worthy of human intellect or attention in my opinion.

The early strength of this book was in its unflinching reportage of the physical struggle: the inconvenience at best, and pain and suffering at worst. The weakness of it was that there seemed to be no "emotional content" as Bruce Lee so cutely phrased it in his movie Enter the dragon There needs to be emotional content in a story like this and I wasn't feeling it. And while this is a memoir and so is expected to be about the author, the problem was that it was all about him, with very little time or room for anyone else, least of all other people in his position.

We have mention of family and friends frequently, but they are always bit players and they seem to disappear completely in the latter portion of the book. We never really get a feel for what they went through because the author is so intently focused on what he's going through. This really came to a head (if you'll forgive the unintended pun) in the last few chapters where the focus was not on his life in general, his liberation, what he experienced in general as a man, and and how he felt about everything. Instead of that, which would have been wonderful, the sole focus was on his desperate quest to get laid!

This really soured me on the entire book, and cheapened the experience of reading it considerably. While I was hoping for more of the post-surgery story, all I got was this endless quest to find a female and this is when it really brought it home to me that the author was very much a guy. His story was all about balls, but it was balls in the sense of testosterone, and not in the sense of guts. In short, it was the opposite of what I'd hoped for when I first saw this title.

I'd wanted a before-and-after story and in a sense, there wasn't one because for the author, there was only after. There never was a before because he never was a woman except in the most superficial sense. I get that, I do, but there is still a story there, and I kept getting hints of it here and there which were disappointingly brief: about how he felt and how he was treated when he was perceived as a woman as compared with when he brought out the man who had always been subsumed under a female exterior.

I'd hoped for more of a general story of post-op life along those lines, but all we really got was the op. There was no 'post' other than what I just mentioned, which sadly was all about his new "post" if I can put it that way, and it sounded rather desperate and of an entirely frat-boy mentality, which turned me right off. It was this kind of thing which made me dislike that first chapter, too.

There's a sick genderist joke that a man's brains are in his penis, and this memoir played right into its hands. In fact the author indulges himself in this kind of genderism when he writes, "Luckily the testosterone had yet to override the female part of my brain that has no qualms about asking for directions." Seriously? There were several such Whisky-Tango-Foxtrot statements such as: "I wanted my first time to be with someone I really cared about—who cared about me" which felt so hypocritical coming as it did at the end of bunch of chapters which talked only about getting laid - and with not a single mention of sexual diseases and risks. I found myself wondering, more than once, what happened to the woman? And the answer was always there: there never was a woman, not in any sense in this book! It was always a guy!

That kind of thing would have made more sense had it not come after statements like this one: "He then informed me that if I’m with a woman at a revolving door, the gentlemanly thing to do is to enter first and get it going so she doesn’t have to exert any effort. This guy was a true gentleman in every sense of the word, which is exactly what I intended to be." To me that's sheer sexism. A 'true gentleman' may well be what he was, but he didn't give me that impression having read those last few chapters, where it was all about sex, never about relationships, companionship, building trust, shared interests, or getting to know someone before diving headlong into them. Again, these are things guys are known for doing - and juvenile guys at that. There is no feminine side to this.

That quote harbors another issue, too. Are men and women supposed to be treated equally or not? If we are, then women don't get to have doors opened for them, unless you happen to be going out first, and hold it for the next person coming right behind, but in that case, the gender of either person is irrelevant. It's just the polite thing to do. But equality means precisely that - equal treatment for all. You don't get get to have the car door opened, or for men to stand up when you enter the room, or for you keep your purse closed while the man's wallet is perennially open on your date. Otherwise it's not equality, it's privilege, class, and special treatment which is precisely what the suffragists accused men of. Do we really want to go back to that? More on privilege anon.

It felt very hypocritical reading a statement like that above from someone who is, in this very memoir, talking of equality in the extreme: of the right of those who are gender dysphoric to be allowed to equalize themselves as this author was allowed, and to be allowed to be treated as all other men and women when the surgeries are over. That's what equality means. But as long as you're talking about wanting to be "a true gentleman", then you're missing the point! This is not to say men should be allowed to be dicks and jerks. We can still be polite, considerate, and well-behaved, but this behavior should not be considered the sole preserve of the male gender, especially since (some would argue and upon very solid grounds!) men are not even there yet! There's no reason at all these days why a woman should not open a car door for a guy, or why she should not go down on one knee and propose marriage!

The author's family, which had played an important role in the early chapters, were pretty much banished from the second half of the book. No longer was this thirty-year-old guy traveling with his mom for consultations. Family was out, which frankly felt a bit odd to me. Traveling with family for post op help I could see, but for a consultation? It felt more like fiction than memoir, but in the end it was his choice.

The fictional shadow grew darker when I read a statement like this: "Dr. Laub had made it his mission to travel to underdeveloped countries and provide life-changing plastic surgeries to tens of thousands of people." Now I don't doubt that a surgeon could perform tens of thousands of operations over a long career. But I just did a calculation, and over a career of forty years, starting from age 28 (four years of university, four years of medical school, and two years of residency minimum, would put him at 28), a doctor could perform ten thousand operations if he did five per week, fifty weeks per year.

That's not a heavy load by any means, but remember that what we're talking about here is charitable surgery in third world countries, and he wasn't doing those at the rate of five per week for fifty weeks of the year over forty years. He was doing those on trips away from his regular work. Hundreds I can see, maybe even thousands of such operations, but tens of thousands, all of them life saving? No. Just no! Doing such work is commendable and worthy, but let's be realistic about what he does instead of inflating it. We're not Donald Trump after all. To do otherwise is to do Dr Laud a disservice. If he supervised or worked with teams of surgeons doing these surgeries, then I can see tens of thousands over an extended period. But not one man. In fact, working with teams is what he did if you read about his work. Wikipedia describes it as "tens of thousands of life-altering operations gratis." That sounds more like it and does indeed make him a super-hero in my book!

It was slips like this that made me distrust the author setting himself up as a sort of spokesperson for the gender dysphoric. Quite often throughout this book there were directives like this: "You should never ask someone who is transgender if they have had or plan to have surgery."

I didn't grow up in the US so it's not my nature to ask personal questions of people I just met. I wouldn't advise it whether they're transsexual or anything else. I don't even ask such questions of people I know well unless it's relevant and I know they will not mind. This is why I have to wonder if the author is really talking on behalf of all who share his experience, or if this is just how he feels, and he's projecting it onto everyone else.

I don't trust it. That's not to say I'm advising asking the first transgender person you encounter all manner of personal questions. Far from it! It's just that I don't believe that all transgender people are the same (except in that they're transgender!) I believe they're like everyone else: some won't want to talk about it - perhaps the majority - whereas others might well be inclined to discuss it in appropriate circumstances. This author wrote a book about it for goodness sake!

The point that it's their choice, not mine, yours, or this author's, so do not expect that, just because they've had a "weird surgery" that it's up for grabs in the topics for discussion department. And ask only if you know them well, and know they will be receptive to discussing it. Remember they did not have a choice over which body they were born in, but they do have a choice whether to discuss what they did about it. Respect that choice and leave it with them to make!

There was one more thing which bothered me, and which the author made only one mention of in the entire book, and that was privilege. This memoir reeks of it. These operations cost literally thousands of dollars (I won't go so far as to say tens of thousands of life-saving dollars!), and this guy or his family could afford them. He could afford the best, and could fly across country at the drop of a hat to discuss a procedure with a doctor, and pick out the best surgeon to perform it.

I wouldn't wish what he went through on anyone, and I admire and salute him for having the 'balls' and stamina, and the courage to go after what he wanted, but the fact is that, as badly done-to as he felt from being trapped in the wrong body and having to suffer emotional stress, and humiliation, and painful, prolonged surgeries to get the right body, he did have the money and means, and opportunity to get it done.

He was extremely privileged in that regard, but from the way this was written, I got no sense of gratitude or of appreciation from this book of how lucky he was he was or how grateful he was to have been privileged enough to pursue his dream when scores of others in his position do not have the same access he did. In a just world, everyone would have this access if they needed it, yet he writes as though it's a right (which it ought to be, granted!) he enjoyed without any sense of humility that he had this access when scores of others are denied it.

It felt rather selfish and was exemplified in this comment late in the book: "After all I do for everyone else, nobody was helping me." This was after his family had paid for surgeries and accompanied him left, right, and center, and his friends had been amazingly and commendably supportive, and he has a great network of people rooting for him, and he's had the opportunity to get precisely what he wanted in life, and now he's discussing getting laid and this is his comment? As much as I wanted to like and commend a book like this, this is not the one I find I can in good faith, lend my support to. I'm sorry and I wish the author all the best in his new life, but I cannot recommend this account of it.


Monday, November 14, 2016

Bad Machinery the Case of the Team Spirit by John Allison


Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this review is based on an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Bad Machinery is exactly what it says! It's totally bad-ass and hugely hilarious. But let's not confuse the case of team spirit with a case of liquor! These kids are only middle grade after all. This book, one of a series, is set in a Grammar school in England, and it's a locale with which I am intimately familiar having attended one myself. The story is set in Yorkshire, where my parents were born and raised, and I grew up next door, in Derbyshire. Non-Brits may need some remedial assistance on the lingo, but most of it isn't hard to understand. The graphic novel is evidently composed of webcomic dailies.

I adored this story. Every one of the characters is one I wish I had known at my own school, but alas and a lack of them was what plagued me there. Charlotte Grote, Jack Finch, Linton Baxter, Mildred Haversham, Shauna Wickle, and Sonny Craven are the weird, whacky, and charming students dealing with assorted life crises in their own peculiar ways. Sometimes their agendas conflict and other times they align.

The big deal is that a Russian owner of the local soccer club is trying to demolish houses to build a new stadium in their place, but this Russky seems to have pissed-off the mother of all bad luck, as becomes apparent when a satellite crashes onto the football pitch in the middle of a game, and assorted other disasters befall him. Plus Mrs Biscuits is also Russian, but not interested in rushing anywhere. She refuses to move from her home which sits, of course, right in the way of the Russian's plans to raze the land and raise a stadium. Two of the girls decide to make her the subject of a school project.

Each character has their own cross to bear. Shauna's, for example, is her slightly dysfunctional younger brother whose favorite non-word is BORB. Linton is plagued by his overly attentive mother and his fear that the beautiful new soccer stadium may never materialize. Sonny's father misses his own brutal grammar school days which appear to have been the inspiration for Michael Palin's Ripping Yarns, specifically the episode titled Tomkinson's Schooldays. Jack suffers an older sister who attends the same school and dispenses remarkable advice like, "It's a good idea to shave off your eyebrows" and "be sure to wear eye-shadow for gym." I fell in love with Charlotte though, disgusting as that is, since I'm old enough to be her father, but her sense of humor completely slayed me. She is the queen of bizarre observations and off-the-wall comments such as when she wants to discuss the procedure for extracting mothballs from moths.

The story meanders delightfully and abstrusely towards a satisfying conclusion. The art isn't spectacular, but it's serviceable and it got the job done for me. I haven't read any others in this series, but I fully intend to correct that oversight, first chance I get!


Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Candidate by Lis Wiehl, Sebastian Stuart


Rating: WARTY!

Please note that this was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. The Kindle app version was pretty crappy in terms of formatting both on my iPad and on my phone. Clearly it was a rushed job, and I hope that it will be fixed before the published version is released. There seems to have been some fancy capitalization of the first few words of each chapter which is never a good idea, not even in the print version, and this didn't translate well, plus several chapter numbers were missing (chapters 46, 47, and 48 for example). I know people complain about the Smashwords's meat-grinder process, but the kind of sloppiness in evidence here is the very reason Smashwords is so anal about ebook formatting!

The blurb for this book (and this one isn't alone in this) is laughable: "With each death, her foreboding grows. Is she next? And can she find out in time if the country's beloved candidate is what he seems...?" Well yes, of course she can, otherwise why are we reading about her instead of about the person who can achieve these goals? Big Publishing™! LOL! Do they really think their readers are so gullible and clueless? I hope not, but if not why let their blurb writers get away with unoriginal and tedious blurbs like this?

This is why I self-publish, but the blurb, like the cover itself, has nothing to do with the author, so it doesn't factor into my review (other than to mention it here). The problems with this book are not the blurb or even the endless gushing recommendations for other books contained in the beginning (like I care!), but the story itself which is so implausible as to be worthy of a parody.

This is evidently book 2 in the Newsmakers series, which I did not realize when I chose it for review. With rare exceptions, I'm not a fan of series and I certainly have no intention of pursuing this one. It just doesn't spark any enduring interest in me and the main character isn't very engrossing, or realistic. Nether does she make me care what happens to her. Note also in passing that there are other books with this same title, such as The Candidate by Josie Brown, by Samuel L. Popkin, by Tracey Richardson, The Candidates by Bette Browne, and so on. A different title would have been a wiser choice.

This book manages to feel rather like it's written in first person voice, which is far from my favorite. It actually isn't in that voice, but it's written in present tense, which I think contributes to the feeling. It's worth noting from a writer's perspective: immediacy without first person! Who knew? I hope YA authors are paying attention! Anyway, to give you a taste, I'm writing my review in the same voice. So I'm reading, for example, "She drives south on the New York State Thruway and then exits and heads west to the village of Woodstock," instead of something like, "She drove south on the New York State Thruway and exited at Woodstock." It felt weird, and reminded me often that I was reading a novel, preventing me from full immersion in the story.

Other than that - which strikes me as odd - the writing itself is technically not bad in terms of grammar and spelling - once I got by this clunker, that is: "chemistry that sparks." No, electricity sparks, not chemistry! The story moves fairly quickly, but at times I feel like it's so improbable that I don't see how it moves at all. For example, the central theme of this book, as is apparent long before main character Erika Sparks starts putting two and two together, is mind control, but the source of this isn't from modern studies and techniques, but from an antique Chinese philosophical treatise. More on this anon. This strikes me as a poor plot device.

Worse than this though, is that I find it hard to believe that a reporter of Erika Sparks's purported stature and insight isn't onto this long before she actually starts thinking about it. It makes no sense either that she is the only one who notices it. The whole thing is presaged by information we get early (and on more than one occasion) that one of the candidates for the upcoming presidential election was a prisoner of Al Qaeda in Iraq for several months and managed to miraculously "escape". Perhaps if she had no meandered through far too much distraction, none of which contributed to the story, and all-too-often bogged it down, she would have got there faster?

This makes me suspicious of 'The Candidate' from the off. The real mystery here is why no one else is, especially since it's exactly the same plot device that's employed in the first season of the Homeland TV show which I quit watching after I realized that every season is the same as last, with a twist or two and a character change. This book doesn't follow that show exactly, but it's the very same idea. It feels very tired, and there's far too much telling and nowhere near enough showing.

I have to disagree with Erika over her medical knowledge. She's a bit too casual - or the writing describing her behavior is. If you're considering applying a tourniquet, then you need to be fully aware that you're simultaneously considering sacrificing the limb below the tourniquet. It's important therefore to try and save as much of the limb as you reasonably can, and include the joint if you can. If you can't, you can't, but to have her blindly apply the tourniquet above the joint without telling us something along the lines of "this was the wisest decision" is misleading, and it makes her look inept or ignorant. That's not a good look for a news reporter!

That Erika is rather slow in the mental acuity department is one of the saddest things about her. She's also a very weak character until the great escape at the end of the book, which is what makes me quit reading in disgust at 92%, because it's completely ludicrous, and utterly unbelievable. Additionally, she's easily manipulated and rather vapid - in short, not the kind of woman I look up to or want to read about. She presents herself far more as a "desperate housewife" than ever she does as an award-winning and popular news reporter.

One example (of many) of her dependency on others is when she responds to Josh, her pointless and brief love interest, showing up to take her out: "It must be Josh. Who is exactly the person she needs right now to pull her out of this dark mood. Well, Erika soon gets shot of this guy that she feels is so important at this point in the story! Caprice much?!

I get that having a friend stop by gives a person a good feeling, and that wouldn't have been so bad had it not been accompanied by everything else, but as it is, it's merely one more example of yet another female character needing to be validated by a guy or rescued by him like she's some maiden tied-up in front of a dragon, needing St George to gallop in and save her. Worse than this, there's YA-style triangle, or at least the makings of one, which is not only totally unnecessary - the story would have been better without any romantic entanglements - but which serves only to make her look like she's at best, a ditz and at worse, callous.

On that score, this book hosts what is an ongoing problem with obsession with women's looks. In some ways I can see a male author zeroing in on this (not that that makes it justifiable), but what disturbs me is that so many female authors do the same thing. I read on one page after another: "She's a reasonably attractive young redhead in her early twenties," and "By the way, you're much prettier in person," and "thunderstruck by the singer's beauty," and "His wife, Margaret, is an attractive woman in her forties," and "Claire is a raven-haired, Stanford-bred beauty."

My question here is what does any this have to do with the story? There's no comparable description of the men like this. If there had been, it would at least not have been so biased, but it would still have been guilty of reducing someone's entire worth to their looks alone. These people are not models. If the novel is about runway models or female actors, it would have offered some grounds to address their looks, but this novel isn't about any such topic, and it was nauseating to read all this.

So why does this author put so much stock in women's looks? Is it because she thinks this is all women have to offer? Is it because she believes that men have so much more to offer? Or is it because she's simply selling-out to people who think this is how women ought to be portrayed in novels? Frankly it's despicable, and I think it's shameful for anyone - and for a female author in particular - to bring women down to this shallow depth of skin. This is the main reason why I'm rating this negatively. Women deserve better. It's not the only reason, by any means as we shall see.

One of those quotes about beauty is what a guy says to Erika ("By the way, you're much prettier in person"). This by itself isn't a problem, because this is how some people think and worse, how they behave. The problem in that particular case is that this is spoken by Erika's new love interest before he's anything more than a new acquaintance, and she never calls him on it. Instead she actually basks in it.

This obsession with skin-depth evidently extends throughout the series. When I go back and look at the blurb for the first book I read this: "Beautiful, talented, and ambitious, Erica grew up dirt poor..." Again with the beauty. And note that the beauty precedes all her other "qualities" because it's quite obviously the most important! You can argue that this is in the blurb, and therefore has nothing to do with the author, but clearly the author has the same idea judged by what's in this book.

Erika is investigating one of the two candidates for the presidency, and she's growing ever more suspicious of him. Well into the novel, I discover that she's begun reading a memoir he wrote about his time as a prisoner in Iraq. Wait, what? She's been covering this guy for many months, and she's only just now, reading his memoir? Worse than this, she visits Iraq to follow-up on his story - and she's the first reporter to do this? No, that's simply not credible. Nor is this: "inhaling a plate of eggs and sausage and potatoes." I hope that's beef or turkey sausage because you can't get pork sausage in the Middle East - not in a hotel anyway! It's against Muslim dietary laws.

Another fail was the number of things which are launched with great fanfare in this novel only to sink out of sight faster than the Titanic (unless they all feature prominently in the last eight percent!). Erika has her teenage daughter with her. This kid serves no purpose whatsoever other than to lard-up the story. Erika had fought for custody, we're told, even though her daughter is her last priority. Erika is a bad parent, period. She spends no time with the kid, and this is raised as a point of contention, but it's never pursued. On the other hand her daughter is unnaturally clingy and juvenile for her age, so perhaps Erika has a point. LOL! The real point here though, is why include the kid in the story? She serves no purpose other than to be an annoying distraction.

On top of this is the ongoing nonsense with Erika's fiancé, who never actually appears in this story, but is dealt with through constant references and an occasional phone call. Again, I saw no reason to have him in this story at all. At one point Erika gets pissed-off with him and starts dating guy number two (at least that's how he's treated!). She leads him on and then summarily ditches him, which again serves no purpose other than to offer one more reason to detest Erika - and I need no more reasons at this point.

Another issue is this ancient book of philosophy which seems to be such a crucial topic at one point in the book and then it disappears from the story entirely. We're presented with these purportedly ruthless and obsessed villains who are assassinating anyone who gets in their way, yet when this "critical" book appears, and a guy starts translating it, the two of them ignore it completely! There's no theft of the book and no assassination. There's no interest in it whatsoever.

The villains are a joke, BTW. They're more like naughty, immature, high school bullies than ever they fit the role of evil behind-the-scenes manipulators. It was as sad as it was pathetic, and the ending (at least the part I read before I quit in disgust) is just not credible. This is a woman who has been held in captivity for a week tied to a chair. She's been constantly blindfolded, injected with god knows what, sensory-deprived, (and all this after coming back from two touristy days in Iraq with PTSD?), yet she plots her escape and executes it flawlessly and ruthlessly, taking out two guys on the way despite being shot in the leg? I'm sorry, but this is when I quit. It was absurd and completely implausible. I wish the authors all the best with their careers, but I cannot recommend a book that feels like I'm reading poor fan fiction.


Grave Surprise by Charlaine Harris, Royal McGraw, Ilias Kyriazis, Tamra Bonvillain


Rating: WORTHY!

I'm not a fan of Charlaine Harris. After enjoying True Blood on TV, I started in on the Sookie Stackhouse novels, but had a poor experience with them, so I gave up. A graphic novel about a different subject altogether OTOH, sounded like it might be a good idea, and this one certainly started well. The best part of it was that it continued well and turned out to be a great read. I really liked Ilias Kiryazis's art work, and the colors done by Tamra Bonvillain were exemplary. But it's not just lines and color, it's the story, too. In this case, that came through for me as well, despite being a bit improbable here and there!

Harper Connelly is an interesting and intriguing character with her pierced lip and lobe rings in her ears. The story is that she was struck by lightning and found afterwards that she can discover how a person died by simply standing close by where they are buried - or their body was dumped. She cannot identify the killer, but she can give quite a detailed description of how they died.

How she gets this information is a mystery since sometimes it supposedly comes from young from children who could hardly so much as know, let alone understand, how they died. I don't believe in gods or the occult, but I do enjoy a good story about the supernatural. The thing is that if you're going to tell a story like this, you really need to work out your mythology beforehand, otherwise anything goes and there are no rules, and your story fails for lack of intelligent structure. But I'm willing to let a small amount of this slide as long as it doesn't start ripping up the story or credibility for me. In this case it wasn't an obstacle.

Tolliver is Harper's step brother. They're very close, and he acts as her manager and companion. During an exercise to demonstrate that Harper's power is real, she makes a disturbing discovery - a grave contains two bodies, one much more recent than the other. The newer body is that of a young girl who was abducted from outside her home, and later killed. Harper had been called in by the girl's parents to see if she could find Tabitha Morgenstern's body and had failed - evidently because the body had been buried far from the girl's home town. Now Harper has discovered it, the spotlight is on her and the awkwardness of dealing with Tabitha's parents, whom she had failed two years before.

I found the use of the Latin word 'alumna' at one point to be interesting. This is the technically correct use when describing one female graduate. The plural is alumnae. In this male-dominated and very pretentious society, most people talk and think only of 'alumnus' which is the singular for a male graduate, and alumni (for a group of male or mixed male/female graduates). While it's commendable that the authors got this right in a technical sense, I personally feel that this deliberate distinction between male and female in such titles (along with actor/actress, author/authoress, and so on, isn't productive and is divisive, so 'alumnus' would have been fine with me, but the less pretentious graduate is better!

But I digress! The story was fun, and interesting, although the villain became obvious to me before it occurred to Harper! I'm usually not very good at these things which is why I enjoy them so much, os the fact that i figured it out suggests that others may well do so long before I did. That aside though, I loved the story and the art, and I really liked the concept. I would enjoy reading more about this interesting couple.


Generation Zero by Fred Van Lente, Francis Portela, Andrew Dalhouse


Rating: WORTHY!

I had no idea what Generation Zero was about having no exposure to it before (it's very much a young-adult version of X-Men, although it has no affiliation with the Marvel property as far as I know). Along came this graphic novel which sounded appealing and I was pleased to have the chance to review an ARC. So thanks to the publisher! Note that this is a work of fiction, and not to be confused with the New Zealand youth organization focused on the much-needed weaning of our society from fossil fuels!

It turns out, as the blurb tells us, that Generation Zero is a group for kids who were experimented on by private military contractors in Project Rising Spirit, aimed at producing 'psychic soldiers'. Well, they apparently succeeded. The blurb tells us the soldiers won their freedom. How that happened I don't know. I find it hard to believe that the government would let them go so easily, but maybe it wasn't easy. Anyway, now they have a new mission: helping teens in need.

No one feels more in need than Keisha Sherman. Her boyfriend just died in a highly suspect car accident in the too-good-to-be-true town of Rook, Michigan, heart of a new and suspiciously rapid tech boom. Keisha never was your regular teen. Sporting a rad look and hanging with the out-crowd, she appeals to Generation Zero through her computer because she knows her boyfriend was onto something suspicious going on in this town, and that;s why he died. She discovers that Generation Zero is not so mythical. She's advised to destroy the computer she used to contact them (why this must be done isn't explained!), and get on with her life. Pretty soon, new students start showing up at her school, and they make the out-crowd look normal.

These students are evidently Generation Zero: Animalia (shape-shifter), Cloud (a mind scrambler), Cronus (the gorup leader), Gamete, Telic, and the Zygos twins. These guys, plus one other shadowy sort, and Keisha and are going to make a difference. As long as the suspiciously compliant adults in the town, including Keisha's own father, who is a cop, don't trip up their plans. Note that there are other members of Generation Zero which aren't featured in this graphic novel.

I liked this for the characters, the artwork, which came in two styles, one for regular life, and one for this oddball sequence which depicted the world as people saw it, not as how it was. That was pretty cool. The drawing depicted people realistically, without the improbable and genderist proportions of super hero comics. Some were overweight, one of Keisha's friends was in a wheelchair There is no bad language and no overt sexuality although one scene shows a young couple in bed together, but they're just talking. I liked that the story wasn't afraid to be real all the way through. I liked that the main character, Keisha, was African American and female - not a common occurrence in far too many graphic novels - and that she had a younger brother who was a bit of a special needs kid.

But it's more than just getting the a realistic set of characters. There has a to be a story, otherwise it's just pretty pictures of interesting people, and this one felt good and plausible (in the framework of the story, of course!). So I recommend this. It hit the spot and I'd definitely be interested in pursuing the story.


Centurion and Emperador by Rob Schneider, Patricia Schneider


Rating: WORTHY!

I'm not sure what this story is called! Net Galley had it as Centurion and Emperador by Rob Schneider, but the downloaded advance review copy (for which I thank the publisher!) has the first page reading The Gamble Ranch with no author ascribed. Inside the credits are: story by Rob and Patricia Schneider, script by Patricia Schneider (not sure that that means!), art by Francisco Herrera, and colors by Fernanda Rizo (who is a remarkable artist in her own right, and definitley someone who I would want doing my artwork were I writing a book needing images, and if I could even afford her! LOL!). Hopefully those issues will be cleared-up by publishing time. Maybe what seems to be the cover in the ARC is actually an interior page - it was hard to tell.

None of this matters though, when compared with the story itself, which is magnificent and is actually based on real horses of the same names, which are owned by friends of the authors, and who reside at the Gamble Ranch. The horses really do dance. This story is perfect for young children and the art work is amazingly good. I mean really good - far better than you usually get in books for young children or even for older readers. Herrera's line work is gorgeous, and Rizo's coloring is beautiful. I was totally hooked from the opening image (of the 'it was a dark and stormy night' variety!). The vista of the farm, with the lightning in the sky, the slashes of rain falling across the picture and the mood lighting imbued in the artwork were magnificent.

Of course this would just be a coffee table book, albeit a beautiful one, if it were not for the story, too, and that was told nicely, beautifully worded for kids, and made sense in its own little world of anthropomorphized animals and gentle fairy-tale influences. The storks arrive at the wrong place with these two baby horses, but the mother duck, who sorely wishes she had children of her own, snaps up these two with a determination which Hilary Clinton probably feels Democrat voters had had more of on election day!

The horses prove to be unusual ones, however. They're really not very good at racing, and the other horses make fun of them, but come the Town Fair, they discover something the can beat anyone at, and they really come into their own. I love the way the story not only celebrates, but heartily embraces differences and teaches kids that being different isn't a problem or a curse, it's a source of wonderment and joy. I recommend this book for its horse sense! Quite frankly, if you don't like this story you're an equine dock (just kidding!).


A January Bride by Deborah Raney


Rating: WARTY!

I got his audio book because it sounded like it might be interesting, but the story was so badly told that it wasn't worth the listening, and I gave up halfway through. This is evidently part of a series "A Year of Weddings". How January got to be number two in that system is a mystery, but this story was definitely number two, trust me.

The plot was farcical. Two people never meet initially, communicating instead through a series of notes, each thinking the other person is older than themselves. The woman, Maddie Houser, is a novelist who is working on a romance novel "A January Bride" (and becomes one? I don't know). The guy is the owner of the inn where she's staying temporarily while renovations are carried out to her house. The artificiality by which the two are kept apart was tedious and served no purpose other than to keep reminding me that this was a badly-written novel.

Plus there were religious overtones to the story which spoiled it for me. I didn't expect to be reading fantasy! These people are putting their faith in a god who robbed one of them of his spouse prematurely, yet they're supposed to believe that it's all for the best? If this god wanted the two of them to get together, why did he not put them together to begin with instead of putting the guy with someone else, and then tearing her away from him? I have no faith in a capricious god like that. A god which would do things like that, to me, is at best juvenile and at worst, an outright evil god.

The best thing I can say about this story is that it was short, but it was so poorly-written, artificial in the extreme, and boring, that I couldn't even stand to listen to all of it even as short as it was. I can't recommend it based on what I listened to because there was no romance here, not in the best tradition of the word.


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Calling Invisible Women by Jeanne Ray


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an audiobook I picked up on spec from the library and it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable books I've ever encountered. The tone was delicious, the reader, Coleen Marlo, perfect, and the story amazing. It's one of those stories which makes a hopeful writer like me wish I had thought of it first, but I doubt I could have written this particular story as well as Jeanne Ray did. The tone of voice in the story is beautiful: slightly bemused, humorous, and a little bit sarcastic. It's first person, too, which I normally do not like, but it was perfect here. Audiobooks tend to be much more experimental with me because I'm a captive audience when commuting, so I see a lot of fails with these, but those are worth the listening, because one in a while one like this pops up and makes it all worthwhile.

Clover Hobart is a fifty-four year old woman who discovers one morning that she's invisible. Her visibility wavers for a day or two before it becomes, apparently, permanent. The weird thing though is not her visibility, but the fact that no one in her family: not her husband the pediatrician, not her emotional daughter, and not her unemployed son who is living at home see any difference. She's apparently always been invisible to them!

Her best friend Gilda, who lives down the street, notices. At first Clover starts panicking, but as she grows used to it, she realizes there are things she can do. If she takes her clothes off, no one can see her and it's a super power. She discovers there are other such women in her position and that they have a secret society which meets in the Sheraton in a conference room which they don't even have to book to reserve it. No one knows they're using it! Since these women all travel naked, they have to bring a tissue with them so they can raise it when they want to speak. Clover becomes friends with some of them. At first she has a problem with the nudity, but since one property of invisibility is that she doesn't feel heat or cold, she eventually embraces it as they have done.

One day, she accompanies one of her new acquaintances to the school where she lost her job when she became invisible. The two of them ride the school bus and spend the day in the school. No one can see them and they're able to prevent bullying and tackle other issues. This inspires the other woman to think she can get her job back. On another day, Clover foils a bank robbery, but of course gets no credit since no one could see her do anything. They just thought the robber randomly threw his guns away!

I noted that some critics down-rated the story for being unrealistic(!) or vacuous, but to me, the whole point of the story was to be playful and light-hearted, and have fun while exploring a very real issue: the metaphorical invisibility which older women routinely experience, and which they do so far more than older men. I think the author did a fantastic job and I want to read more of her work. I recommend this unreservedly.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Level The Playing Field by Kristina Rutherford


Rating: WARTY!

Note that this was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. Note also that this is going to be a lot longer review than I usually give to a book of this short length, because this is an important topic and I don't think it was covered adequately or ironically, equitably here!

The overall impression I had of this book was not that of a reasoned and cogent argument, or of anything that went into any depth. It felt much more like a rant, and as such it failed to make a case. This is the kind of subject which all too often becomes emotional, but that serves no purpose in trying to get a the roots of a discrepancy like this, to properly understand the issues, and to determine how best to set them right - or even if they can be set right.

What disappointed me most of all was that the author seemed unable to recognize the issues even when she described them. For instance, I read:

Every PGA Tour event is televised and some tournaments draw more than 10 million viewers. Only select LPGA Tour events are televised, and even major tournaments draw fewer than 1 million viewers.
I don't get her point here. It seems to me that she's elucidated the problem perfectly: the viewership of the female tournament is one tenth that of the male tournament, meaning that the advertisers are not going to show-up in droves, meaning the money is going to be significantly less, meaning that the winner's purse is going to be dramatically reduced. The the root of the discrepancy, and therefore the problem to be resolved here is why the viewership is so much less, but the author evidently wasn't interested in pursuing this question, preferring instead to wave a hand at media coverage and mark it down as explained. Well, they had media coverage here, but the viewership was far less. Why is the author not asking why that's the case? I'll talk more about this later.

On the one hand the book makes some good arguments for equity in how women are treated when it comes to sports and it definitely highlights the discrepancy between how male and female athletes are viewed (and paid), but on the other hand it came across as rather whiny and preachy, and it seemed far more focused on money and celebrity than ever it was in trying to understand why there's such a massive discrepancy between how athletes of each gender (regardless of whether they're celebrities or not) are viewed.

The author never did distinguish between equality in how athletes are treated, and equality in how athletes garner for themselves a fan base. You can legislate equality, as the US did when Democrat Senator Birch Bayh introduced what became known as Title IX in June 1972 (a year before Roe v. Wade made huge strides in another direction related tomember of Congressr who co-authored it, but it's most commonly referred to as Title IX. Patsy Mink was the first Asian American woman elected to Congress

At the beginning of this book we're asked, of two basketball stars, "Why aren't athletes like LeBron and Maya valued and recognized equally for their talent?" There are reasons for that which we'll go into shortly, and I would have been much more impressed had the book gone after real answers like this instead of the route it took. I would have been more impressed still had it approached the subject as fairly as it expects male and female athletes to be treated! The only 'solution' on offer here seemed to be that if women are given the same media exposure as men, then everything will magically balance-out, but nothing was put forward to support this claim, and frankly I have a hard time seeing that happening for a variety of reasons, and especially not in the US.

The first issue is the question of whether sports really represents the same kind of workplace that other occupations, say in the medical profession or in businesses not tied to professional sports offer. Frankly it doesn't. No one in their right mind would argue that two people, regardless of gender, who were doing the same job to the same degree of skill should get equal treatment including pay, in any ordinary endeavor, but the question of how you resolve whether two people are doing the same job in sports went totally unexamined. There were some random potshots taken at it, but nothing substantial.

Instead, we were treated to a distinctly monocular view: that of men v. women, without any attempt to look at the issue using any other lens. In particular, the fact that sports is one occupation which is conducted in the full glare of media, and with huge audiences in attendance and dramatic financial considerations in play wasn't addressed at all. This is one reason why, at the risk of a pun, it's a different ball game when compared with other occupations.

The book opens with a mention of several female athletes, including Danica Patrick, a NASCAR driver, who is gushingly described as "the most successful female race car driver in history" yet this driver has never won a race on US soil, and as of this writing has had only a single win to my knowledge. So how is her 'success' being calculated? By the fact that she earned thirteen million dollars last year? What does that have to do with being an athlete per se, or with being successful at her chosen sport? Nothing! It pretty much has to do with her having a monopoly in being a high-profile female on one hand, and her not being a complete disaster at what she does on the other.

While I would not deny Danica Patrick, or anyone else the success she's had, however it's measured, I would balk at trying to use this as an argument for equality and the author strangely seems to agree with this because whenever she talks about other female athletes, none of those are championed as successful for having no wins! On the contrary, they're put on a pedestal as being very successful in terms of winning things.

So we immediately have a disconnect in what constitutes success, which then means we have a problem in determining how that success should be rewarded. Do we value a high earner who is not successful at least insofar as garnering wins goes, or do we value success in terms of wins even when remuneration is poor? What's the goal here?! It cannot be the double standard the author seems to have set up. This is important.

I also have to wonder why this book doesn't reference other people who are sports professionals, but who do not earn the big bucks. There are thousands of people in sports, men and women, and only the so-called top-tier ones get the big bucks. Most of the others are entirely unpaid or only part-timers, or full-time professionals earning only the lowest level of financial remuneration for athletes in their field.

Admittedly this can be significant pay, and much higher than most of us can hope for, but I think it would have served a useful purpose to ask why they - both men and women - are not as highly paid as the ones featured in the book, and to ask: does the reason for their inequality offer any clues to the reason for the inequality between men and women - and I'm not talking in terms of performance. This is sports, remember, and individual performance is only one factor - and a relatively small one as it happens, because this isn't your regular everyday occupation, especially not in team sports.

The natural response to what I've said here might be that this book was talking only about high achievers, matching high-achieving males with similar females, but if we apply the 'logic' employed here, but in this direction, can we argue that those people, too, would magically get pay raises and achieve equality if only they could get the same media exposure? You really can't, so I'm wondering how it is that we think increased exposure alone would magically improve women's lot in sports?

If you think I'm trying to make an argument here that female sports professionals are really only lower-tier, or poorer-grade, or second-rate performers, then you're misunderstanding. The argument I am making here is that it's really not as simple or as straight-forward as this author seems to be trying to argue. You can't make a case for equal pay without supporting it, just as you can't make a case for those lower-tier athletes (of any gender) to be on par with the top-tier athletes without supporting that in some way, too.

You can't argue that it has to be done purely from a bald claim that person B ought really to be remunerated at the same level as person A, regardless. You have to ask what is being contributed, because professional sports is about exposure and audiences, not just about personal performance. This is an aspect of the endeavor which the book doesn't explore. Yes, it complains about poor exposure for female athletes, but it doesn't offer any suggestions or real examination of root causes! It merely blames the media and leaves it at that.

The only argument the author seems to be able to make is along the lines of "Hey! Fair's fair!" but the way this system works, and has worked for far too long, really has nothing to do with how well a given athlete performs. The most widely-followed sports really aren't about that, notwithstanding all of the individual achievement awards and post-game MVP appellations. It's about blind team solidarity, sheep-like (or perhaps more accurately, wolf-like) adherence to pack mentality, and in-your-face aggression towards every team and every supporter who isn't "us". Individual players have no part to play in that aspect of team 'sports' especially given that at some point the individual will move on or retire, while the team continues on largely unaffected by the loss of any one individual.

It's not that women can't give attitude or be aggressive, or assertive as over-hyped TV cameras love. They can. It's just that women in general are not as overt as men are in this regard and this applies whether the male or female in question is a player or a spectator. Women are not as combative (that's not to be read as 'not as competitive', which would be a huge lie) as men, and while this is perfectly fine - in fact, I personally prefer it - it doesn't play well given the juvenile frat-boy sports mentality which is rife in today's male-soaked sports media, where it's entirely given over to a combative attitude.

The mentality is 'destroy or be destroyed', 'win at all costs', losers are useless, and so on. The Queen song, We Are the Champions sums it up: "We are the champions! No time for losers 'cause we are the champions of the world!" This is how it's seen. The US football Super Bowl winners are hailed as champions of the world even though no other nations competed!

Again, it's a winner takes all mentality, and it has nothing to do with how well individual athletes perform per se. It's that very psychosis: aggression, combativeness, posing, strutting, in-your-face rudeness, and asinine attitude, which completely turns me off sports, but it is this which appeals to the cave-man mentality that far too many team sports and media outlets seem dedicated to embracing, promoting, and perpetuating. There is no more room for equity and fairness here that there was in the Roman Colosseum.

Before we go any further let's be clear that there are inequalities. According to the Women's Sports Foundation:

  • Female students comprise 57% of student populations, but female athletes received only 43% of participation opportunities at NCAA schools.
  • Male athletes get 55% of NCAA college athletic scholarship dollars. Guess how much women then get!
  • Women's teams receive only 40% of college sport operating dollars and 36% of college athletic team recruitment spending.
  • Median head coaches' salaries at NCAA Division I-FBS schools are $3,430,000 for men's teams and $1,172,400 for women's teams.
These telling stats are not ones you'll read in this book, because the book isn't about making that kind of a case. It's all about individuals, and I think that approach was a mistake. I think that very approach played into the media status quo rather than challenged it, which is what is actually needed here. There is a real problem, almost half a century on, in Title IX providing true equality for females in sports. This is a fact, but whether, if there were true and complete equality, this would translate into the same thing at the professional and media level, is another issue entirely. Given the result of over forty years of Title IX, the answer seems to be that it would not make enough of a difference.

The problem with the stats just quoted is that all we get is the bald fact of inequality. There's no exploration of why it's so or why it's being allowed to perpetuate and exacerbate in the professional world. This disparity is nowhere more pronounced than in professional soccer as is highlighted in Newsweek. The US women's team has won three world cups whereas the men's team has never advanced beyond the quarter-finals, yet male players routinely "earn" three times what female players do! To earn their relatively meager compensation, the women must win all twenty of the season games whereas the men could lose all twenty and still get full pay. Is this fair? Not even close. This is exactly the disparity that Title IX sought to set right, so how is it that it fails so badly when these athletes actually get to the professional level?

On this score (at the risk of another pun!) I was sorry to see some sleight-of-hand in this author's reporting. Consider this statement regarding remuneration in the National Women's Soccer League: "The average salary in the U.S. based NWSL is between $6,000 and $30,000 for a six-month season. A top-tier player on the men's pro side makes more than the high-end of that average - in a single week" Note how we went from an "average" to a top-tier performer? The average isn't even an average, it's a range. Is the actual average halfway between the two values? How does that compare with the men's average? We're not told, but comparing an "average" to a top-tier man's pay isn't comparing apples to apples. That said, the two would still be discrepant, but when the numbers are twisted and mismatched like that, it's really hard to get a good picture. We can't begin to figure out how to narrow a gap when we don't even get to know what the gap is or why it really exists!

One assertion from the author, referencing what someone else has said on the topic, is that "the key to closing this gap is simple: People just need to see us play. When increased exposure leads to interest from advertisers, the amount of money involved can rise pretty quickly," but this is not borne-out by experience. According to Newsweek, the Women's World Cup final of 2015 was the most watched soccer match - male or female - ever in the US, but this garnered nothing for women's sports, not even for women's soccer in the year that followed.

It's been almost twenty years since the US women's team won the World Cup soccer final in front of a sold-out Rose Bowl holding some 90,000 fans. It was a stunning game every bit the equal of a men's game - in truth leagues better than a men's game. The US men's soccer team has never done this! Whenever there's such a win, and there have been three, it's all "we're world class" and "women's sports are on the upsurge," but the day after it's always "ho-hum! What's next?" You cannot blame female athletes for asking "What do we have to do to get recognition? You cannot blame the US Olympic women who carried home 61 medals to the men's 55 from Rio for asking the same question. The author apparently isn't interested in asking this kind of question or pursuing it as far as it needs to go.

There are important aspects to these discrepancies which the author doesn't touch upon too, and which in fact relate directly to her calling an unfair play on pay. Look at US basketball, for example: while fifty or so top NBA players earn more than the entire WNBA teams roster combined, the NBA brings in five billion dollars, whereas the Women's National Basketball Association is lucky to break even. This is a question which ought to have been explored, but was not. Why does the WNBA fare so poorly? Is it because the media is shunning it, or because it simply doesn't attract as many fans and global sponsorship as the men's games do, and if that's the case, then why is that so? The author seems content to blame media bias, offer no support for the claim, and leave it at that.

We'll get back to that in a second, but let's take a moment and ask why the author never addresses the fact of women being segregated in sports as they are in no other profession, not even in the military these days. She simply accepts this segregation as a given, and I have to wonder why that inequality isn't addressed. If the leagues were white players on one side and black players on the other, then I'm sure she would have found that worth questioning, so why no questions about gender segregation? The black basketball league would then be the one making the big bucks and the white league would be in the position the women's league is, more than likely, in terms of garnering coverage! It's not an inapt comparison!

I further have to wonder if this segregation is part of the problem: if women, instead of playing in the WNBA, played in the NBA, how would they fare? This isn't to try and set up an argument for saying that women can't compete on equal terms and therefore shouldn't get equal treatment. Women have proven repeatedly that they can compete on equal terms. This is to point out that this book really doesn't delve very deep. It makes a superficial argument that everything ought to be equal, but it never makes a case for why, and it never wonders whether this particular aspect also ought to be equal and if so, would it improve matters? It avoids that altogether. It also avoids dress code, which we shall look at shortly.

Back to the segregation. It's a fact the women tend to be smaller and less muscular than men, but is this a problem? Maybe. Women would be typically shorter and lighter than the men they played against were the basketball leagues to be combined. In the NBA, the average height is six feet eight inches, whereas the average height in the WNBA is six feet. Would this be a disadvantage given that half the NBA players are necessarily six feet or less, and basketball is in theory at least, a non-contact sport? Would the advantage that a tall woman has among less tall-women in her league translate to poor performance if she became a medium-sized person among many taller persons in a male league? It's an interesting question, but it went unexplored and ignoring this made the author's case feel more like special pleading than it did a call for fair play.

Dd you know that the ball is also different between the male and female game in basketball? It's slightly smaller and lighter. Why is that and why does the author not address it? Why do female basketball players use a smaller ball while female soccer players do not? There's no answer because the author didn't ask the question. These differences in equipment translate across many other sports - the women's javelin and the women's discus are both smaller and lighter than the men's, the shot is lighter in the shotput, LPGA courses are shorter than PGA courses, and so on. In basketball, while women shoot free throws on par with men, their 3 pointers from the field average lower even in their own league. So what does equality mean? What does parity have to hinge upon? Again, we get not a word on this from the author who seems to be arguing for parity in pay but not in anything else.

As a Washington Post article puts it,

As Alice Dreger, professor of clinical medical humanities and bioethics in the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, told me: "The reason we have females separated in sports is because in many sports, the best female athletes can't compete with the best male athletes. And everybody knows that, but nobody wants to say it. Females are structured like a disabled class for all sorts of, I think, good reasons."
This is something else the author did not explore in this book. Is the problem that simple or is there more to it? She didn't ask. According to the NY times, "There has yet to be a financially viable women's mainstream sports league in the United States." The author would undoubtedly argue that this is because of poor media coverage, but although she argues that, she fails to support any such argument.

And take a look at the crowd in the image accompanying the article. That says it all right there. Women are not sports attenders in general - not on the level at which men are - or even at which women are when it comes to men's games. The attendance by gender at all of the major sports in the US shows males turning up at literally twice the rate of female attendees. We read a lot in this book about women who play the sports, but nothing about those who attend and thereby help pay the salaries of the participants.

It bothers me that the author doesn't explore these aspects as a reason for disparity and inequality, asking why the attendance is so poor. Advertisers are not going to want to pay much to have an ad at a game with seven thousand people when they can have one at a game which will be seen by twice that number of people (not even including the viewers at home), and without extra advertising revenue, there's less cash to pay the players. The author doesn't explore, either, whether men really ought to get more if they play eighty games in a basketball season, which is twice what female players play.

There's an interesting, and sad, article here about this disparity in attendance related to Syracuse University's performance in the 2016 basketball season (and on the topic of inequality do compare the men's basketball page for Syracuse in Wikipedia with the women's! This makes a better argument about inequality than this book did, in my opinion!). Women had a far better season than the men (losing in the final whereas the men lost in the quarterfinals) yet their attendance was averaging less than a thousand, while the men's was almost twenty-two times as high.

Keep in mind that roughly thirty percent of the attendance at the men's games - that would be 6,000 to 7,000 people - was women. Where were these women when it came to games played by their own gender? ESPN is on record as saying that men accounted for 66% of its WNBA audience in 2013. Where were the women? Why are they viewing women's games at roughly the same percentage as they're viewing men's games? Why are so few men viewing women's games?

None of this is explored in the book, yet all of it is relevant to the case the author thought she was making. Is the lack of interest in women's sports not just from the media and from men, but also from women themselves? Apparently so, and this is one thing Title IX cannot legislate. They can compel equal opportunity (to more or less success as we've seen), but they cannot compel fans and supporters into existence or into attendance.

There are sports where women compete on perfectly equal terms with men, but where women are highly underrepresented. The author never explored this. For example, Danica Patrick has extremely high visibility and is highly rewarded for racing in NASCAR, but as mentioned, she has never won a race (as of this writing) on US soil, and has had only one win elsewhere. The author mentions Danica Patrick but never explores the details. Patrick earned about thirteen million in 2015, whereas Dale Earnhardt earned almost twice that, with no wins! Kyle Busch, who won at least five races earned less than Patrick did! There is no justice or parity anywhere in this particular story, yet no one seems to complain about that!

What do TV advertisers advertise at women's games? At men's games it seems to be cars, beer, power tools, and financial and retirement opportunities. What do advertisers want to offer to women, and do they have the same advertising budget to offer it with that the car and beer advertisers do? Again, this is unexplored, but it does have a bearing on the subject. More to the point is what happens in comparable situations.

For example, a new TV show is very much like a sports event. Because of the intensely capitalistic system the USA operates in, the show needs viewers to survive. If viewership goes down, the show is cancelled. We've lost a lot of quality shows because of this, while crappy so-called "reality' shows thrive. Why? Because this is what idiots watch on the idiot's lantern. It's that simple. Quality often fails were the lowest common denominator wins every time, and this is the issue: it all comes down to what makes money for the media. It has nothing to do with parity or equality, fairness or gender rights. If the female sports events don't attract viewers and sustain the attraction beyond world cup events, then advertisers are not going to be interested and the media is not going to cover them, yet this author doesn't ask why attendance is so poor. She just blames the media for it.

Let's talk about equality some more - in this case, equality of dress. Has anyone given any thought to how male athletes dress as compared to female ones? Probably not, but I think it's part of the problem. Take a look at your average male track athlete in the last Olympics and note how they dress for the track. On men, the shorts may be tight or loose fitting, and the shirt may be sleeveless or not, but they are wearing a shirt and shorts. Now take a look at the women who are, for all practical purposes, dressed in bikinis. Shotput? The same. Javelin? The same. Why is that? For beach volleyball, they wear even less! The men don't though. Why is that?

Consider this: swimming is the only event I can think of in the Olympics in which men wear less than women. Maybe it is literally for all practical purposes that women dress so skimpily, but if that's the case, then why are men not emulating them in terms of wearing an abbreviated top and bikini shorts? Now look at soccer or basketball. What do women wear? Very much the same as men do! Why is that? It seems to me that if you want to be taken seriously as an athlete, you might want to reconsider wearing bikinis for every event! Is this a valid argument? We don't know, because once again, this is a highly visible aspect to sports which this author completely ignores.

I didn't like this author's overall attitude either, quite frankly! At one point, she says, "But it's female athletes who most consistently give us representations of women who embody qualities like toughness and power and tenacity." How disrespectful is that to women who work in other professions? Are female firefighters not tough? Are female law enforcement disempowered? Are female soldiers, sailors, air personnel, and the Coast Guard lacking tenacity? Are female industry leaders powerless? Are teachers not tenacious? Are female nurses not tough?! The single-minded focus on athletes here, notwithstanding this was the main purpose of the book, was an insult to women working in other fields.

In conclusion, this book felt far more like a cult of personality than an honest exploration on gender inequity in sports. The bottom line, though would seem to be popularity: does the media really shun women's sports or does the media simply show what's most popular because it's from this that advertising revenue will derive, regardless of what gender is involved in the sport?

This question should have been one to explore, but we don't get that here: who attends? Who pays to watch? Is the female game perceived, by those who pay the entrance fees, just as worthy of admission price as the men's game is? As reported in late 2016, "The WNBA registered its highest attendance (1,561,530) since 2011 and the highest average attendance (7,655). For comparison, the average attendance at NBA games is over twice that, at around 17,000.

Are people simply voting with their feet not for which gender is worth supporting, but for which game is worth viewing with their limited budget? Which has the best atmosphere? Which one their friends will be going to and talking about the next day? Maybe it's just that simple, maybe it isn't, but we won't know the answer to that from reading this book, and I cannot recommend it because not only does it not achieve what it claims to aim at, it doesn't even pursue what it claims to be chasing! If you want to write a book about leveling the playing field, you need to be on the level in what you write.