Showing posts with label ebook. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ebook. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Generation Zero Volume 2: Heroscape by Fred Van Lente, Diego Bernard, Javier Pulido


Rating: WORTHY!

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

In my review of the first volume in this series, Generation Zero done by Fred Van Lente, Francis Portela, and Andrew Dalhouse, which I reviewed favorably, I concluded, "There has a to be a story, otherwise it's just pretty pictures" and I'm sorry to say this second volume fell into that trap. There was a story after a fashion, but it was so confused and confusing to me that I could barely follow what was happening.

It didn't help that even on a decently-sized tablet computer, the text was rather small, and impossible to read when it was shown as white on pale green, so I didn't even try reading those portions. The odd thing was that I didn't feel like I'd missed anything for skipping them. I will welcome the day when graphic novel writers recognize that you cannot continue to short-change the ebook format unless you want to irritate your readers at best, and piss them off so much that they refuse to read any more of your material in future, at worst.

Generation Zero is a group for kids who were experimented on by private military contractors in Project Rising Spirit, aimed at producing 'psychic soldiers'. This never made sense to me and it wasn't explained why kids were chosen rather than trained soldiers for this experiment, but I was willing to let that go since most superheroes have highly improbably origin stories. Now the kids are free of that, they're intent upon fighting back.

The problem is that the story was all over the place and entirely unsatisfying because none of it made any sense to me and it never seemed like it was going anywhere. It was never clear what was happening or what the Gen 0 crew were trying to accomplish. There were several characters chewing up the scenery and achieving little else, include Black Sheep, who was a super villain posing as a superhero. She was so far out that she was really irrelevant even as she tried mindlessly to kick everyone's ass. To me, she was far more of a joke than ever she was a threat.

Overall, this story felt like the old cop-out story killer: it was all a dream! I liked volume one, but I could not get with volume two and I can't recommend this graphic novel series anymore.


The Great Divide by Ben Fisher, Adam Markiewicz


Rating: WARTY!

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

This is a post-apocalyptic story that really had no story, let alone a beginning, a middle, and an end! It's set in a world where the trope 'comet hits the Earth and humanity goes haywire' is called upon. The result in this scenario is that when one person touches another, one of them has their head explode and the other gets their memories.

The idea is absurd. If their head explodes, how do the memories, which were just destroyed, get transferred? What memories?! But this wasn't the only issue. It didn't help that even on a decently-sized tablet computer, the text was rather small, and in some instances literally impossible to read even when I swiped the screen to zoom in.

At intervals there was what looked like it was supposed to be an image of a computer screen, but the text was so blurry that it was a nightmare to try and read, and I quickly took to skipping those pages unread. The odd thing was that I didn't feel like I'd missed anything for skipping them. I will welcome the day when graphic novel writers recognize that you cannot continue to short-change the ebook format unless you want to irritate your readers at best, and piss them off so much that they refuse to read any more of your material in future, at worst.

The one who gets the memories is supposed to also get their skill-set, but this isn't explored, and it doesn't work. The trope fails because just knowing how to do something isn't the same as having had the experience of doing it. This is where The Matrix fell down, when Neo said, "I know Kung Fu". You might know the moves in your head, but your body sure as hell doesn't know how to execute them, and your muscles and limbs are simply not up to it without being properly trained. It's what's often referred to as 'muscle memory' although there's actually no such thing.

But that wasn't the problem here. I would have been willing to let that go as I was in The Matrix, but in this case, there was no story! It was one all-but endless road trip punctuated with random stops to pick up random people who themselves made no sense and who contributed nothing to the story which was, despite the road trip, paradoxically going nowhere. It made no coherent sense and the end simply fizzled out with no explanation and no resolution. I cannot recommend this one.


Monday, June 26, 2017

Cutie meets Mr Lizard by Felicia di John, Terence Gaylor


Rating: WORTHY!

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

The first in a planned "Cutie's Big Adventures" series, this story is about a Chihuahua named Cutie, who lives in the desert and is just finding her legs as a little adventurer. She also lives up to her name! In her first trip outdoors, bored with her puppy chow and looking for some excitement, Cutie sneaks down the tree outside the upstairs window. If the cat can do it, why not the dog? No argument from me!

Cutie heads out and meets the lizard family, who seem to enjoy eating ants. As hungry as Cutie is, she isn't that hungry. She returns home and enjoys her puppy chow after all!

I liked this story, and Terence Gaylor's 3D-effect artwork and fun, colorful pictures were cute as a button that's really cute, and has a button nose. The story by Felicia di John is simple and easy to understand for young kids, and teaches a lesson that maybe the grass isn't always greener - especially in the desert! I recommend this one.


Jilly's Terrible Temper Tantrums by Martha Heineman Pieper, Jo Gershman


Rating: WARTY!

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

This was a confusing effort for me because it appears as though it's a children's book when it really isn't at all. Instead, it's aimed at adults, but it's written like it's for children. It makes me think the author didn't quite known how to approach this topic from a children's perspective and ended-up stuck somewhere in the middle. In some ways it felt like an advertising flyer for the author's textbook on raising children with Smart Love® - and yes, the two words are indeed a registered trademark! I found it particularly odd that someone, particularly a charitable organization, should seek to register smart love as a trade mark.

That said, I don't disagree with the approach championed here, but I have to say that it takes the patience of Job to do that kind of thing when a child is as far gone down the Tantrum Trail as the one depicted here is. Of course it's never too late to try, but I doubt such a child would be brought around in three or four easy lessons as is shown here!

So overall I can't rate this a worthy read, much less as a children's book. It's too muddled, and too simplistic for adults, and as far as entertaining children, it's not really a story. It just a parade of exemplars of how parents should relate to a troublesome child in various circumstances - more like a checklist than a story.

I have to report a problem with this in Bluefire Reader, which is the app I normally use to read ARCs on the iPad. Bluefire Reader typically does a sterling job with illustrated books, but here, it failed completely. The images were broken up, speech balloons were blank, and the text was all over the place, and so enlarged it was illegible. I was about to ditch the book as unreadable when I decided out of curiosity to look at it on the smartphone I have, and there, it was quite legible, so again out of curiosity, I downloaded the epub version to look at on my desktop in Adobe Digital Editions, and it was perfectly fine there, too, so if you're planning on buying this, don't expect to read it in Bluefire reader. You;ll need some other app for once!


Prym and the Senrise by PS Scherck, Sheng-Mei Li


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a simple story which I was unsure about when I began it, but which I ended up enjoying immensely even though it’s written for a younger audience than I represent. I felt the story was slightly lacking in 'magical' although now I think about it, I have a hard time trying to define what I mean by that, and I'm not going to let vague feelings get in the way of a positive review for a story that well deserves it. The writing was engaging, and Sheng-Mei Li's artwork was a joy - one I would have liked more of.

The characters were delightful, and interesting, even though the story has its roots in established mythology of supernatural and fantasy characters. I had never heard of the Steigens, so this was a fun and new revelation, and I liked how they were represented. They're a sort of underwater fairy people, who live in the deeps and are related to vampires in that they cannot be exposed to sunlight on the surface, or they will suffocate.

This limitation does not please Prym, who has heard tales from her fishy and mollusc-y friends Daeggar and Seffy, that the senrise is the most beautiful thing, full of joy and color. Prym, who loves colors, cannot get the idea of watching a brilliant senrise out of her head, and so she sets about learning how it is she can get to see one.

I loved Prym, who is sensible despite her adventurous streak. She's a strong character who is possessed of self-confidence and derring-do, and she starts her quest in a library, which is admirable. And she succeeds, not by machismo, but by thoughtful approaches and inventive solutions.

There were a couple of minor issues with the text. I read, "...an arrow of pure energy would appear, knocked and ready...." An arrow is 'nocked', not 'knocked'. This is a common error and no big deal; most people probably wouldn’t even notice it. The other issues is more of a pet peeve of mine rather than an outright error because I've seen this done so often it’s actually becoming an accepted part of the language, but to me a book is 'titled' - not 'entitled'. Entitlement is something different entirely. Or is it tirely?!

The book worked both on the smart phone and on a tablet in a Kindle app, although the cover was broken inexplicably into about fifteen pieces on both devices. The rest of the artwork looked fine, especially on the tablet. One odd thing I noticed on both the tablet and the phone was the appearance of strange capital letters such as 'P' and 'H' apparently randomly in the text, such as at location 81, where it read (or red!): P"You know what I said...", at location 159, where I read, "...a skull Pthat looked...", and at location 180, where I read, "Cold hands Phad wrapped...".

There were several instances of this kind of thing. In the iPad they were red letters, on the phone they were the same color as other text (white on black by my choice because it saves the battery!). Part of the problem in my opinion is Amazon's truly crappy Kindle app which cannot handle anything that contains pictures or fancy text with any reliability at all. Barnes & Nobles's Nook does a much better job in my experience.

I don't know where the 'P's and 'H's came from, but the red 'I' at location 6 appears to be a drop-cap from the top of the page. It was missing from the start of the chapter, which began, "n the farthest reaches...' rather than "In the farthest reaches...". The 'I' which should have been up there was several lines below, between "In the beginning," and "there was only one magic creature". Weird, but that's Kindle for you. This is why I detest Amazon. The book was viewed on an iPad in the Kindle app and on an LG smart phone in the Kindle app.

But hopefully these issues will be fixed before publication. Or you can play it safe and buy the print version! I checked this out in the PDF version in Adobe Digital editions on my desktop computer and it looked beautiful there. The text looked (I imagine!) exactly as the author imagined it, and the images in particular were gorgeous, especially the one of Prym watching the sunrise. That needs to be a screensaver or a wallpaper!

In conclusion, I recommend this book for a fun read for younger children. It's great fantasy tale, well told, and even adults can enjoy it, especially if they're young at heart.


The Adventure of Thomas the Turtle by Stuart Samuel


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a fun trip - literally - although Thomas, heedless of the good advice he was given, probably didn't think so as he was swept from the placid waters of his boringly calm pond, down the creek and over a waterfall. Can he get back home? Don't you just hate book blurbs that ask questions with the obvious answer "Yes"?! Fortunately this one had no such dumb blurb because it wasn't a dumb story. Although I have to say that the 'turtles' here looked far more like tortoises to me! But who cares? Maybe tortoises are just turtles with a dry sense of humor....

Thomas's father disappeared a long time ago when he went down the dangerous end of the pond. Thomas of course cannot resist following his lead, and he has a slightly scary adventure tumbling downstream. Just when he thinks he might never get home, fortune, as they say, favors the brave. He gets a piece for good luck and doesn't have to...shell out for a bus ride back home!

The book worked equally well on a smart phone as it did on a tablet (both in a Kindle app which is frankly not the best way to look at picture books). But if you're caught without the tablet, you can get by with the phone, which is always nice, although the pictures aren't shown at their best on the smaller screen, and the phone doesn't allow enlargement of the pictures for a closer look, whereas the tablet does.

The story was amusing, and a bit scary, and engaging. The artwork was adorable. I'm not an artist. In fact I'm about as far from one as you can get without going all the way around the other side and backing into it by mistake, but this was at least reminiscent of watercolor and oddly maybe mixed with crayon, and it looked really great. I recommend this book for young children who like adventure - and who doesn't as long as you can be safe at home reading about it?!


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Two Nights by Kathy Reichs


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. I requested this from Net Galley because it sounded interesting. I've never read anything by this author before, so it was also a chance to explore a writer who is not new to writing, but who was new to me.

I have to say up front that I'm not a huge fan of first person voice novels, which automatically puts private investigator stories off limits since pretty much every author in that genre seems obsessed with writing them exactly the same way as every other author. This means of course that once you've read one you've effectively read them all.

These old soft slippers of stories doubtlessly appeal to a certain segment of the population who like to slip them on regularly, but it's like those authors have never considered that it might appeal to a larger audience if they could only find the courage to break the mold. I know it's always easy to play it safe, but I'd have appreciated this one a lot more had it not done so.

I've never read anything by this author before (and seriously doubt I will again), and the blurb made it sound like this might be interesting, assuming I could get past 1PoV. I'm always game for a good story involving a strong female lead, so: an author who might be able to carry a first person story and not make it irritating to read? Potential strong female character? Maybe this wouldn't be so bad? Those were my hopes going in.

Let me begin by saying that I did appreciate that the first person PoV wasn't as annoying as I feared it would be, although it did still kick me out of suspension of disbelief on occasion, and it did still annoy me from time to time. The main reason for that is that 1PoV is always about 'me' (the story-teller) all the time. You cannot get away from 'me': Hey lookit me! Look at what I'm doing now! Pay attention only to me! Now I'm doing something else! Look now! Annoying.

I honestly don't know how people can swallow so much of that. I'm amazed that they can, but herding animals can be habituated to anything, so I guess the same principle applies here. The real problem though is that it's the weakest voice in which to tell any story, let alone a PI adventure, because nothing can happen unless the 'me' is present to witness it! How unlikely is that? The only way to overcome that severe limitation is to have more than one first person voice which is even more annoying, or to have boring info-dumps periodically so the first person narrator can catch up on things which happened when they were not there. Again: annoying.

The amusing thing here was that the author openly admitted what a mistake it was to have limited herself to this voice because she added third person PoV 'mini-chapters' periodically. I quickly took to skipping those because I found them to be thoroughly uninformative and worse, they were nothing more than info-dumps which repeatedly stalled the story while contributing nothing materially to it.

This novel was not quite ready for prime time, which in some ways is understandable since it was an ARC. There was a spelling error of the kind a spellchecker will not find: "reversals that left a bade taste" where evidently 'bad' was required instead of 'bade', and having someone say, “Thus his interested in Baltimore, New York, and Louisville" when the 'his' should have been 'is', or alternately, the 'interested' should have been 'interest'.

There were occasional punctuation issues, such as, for example, a period missing at the end of a sentence, or a question mark (example: "He was taller than Capps, but who wasn’t.") and so on. This could use another read-through before publishing, but we've all been there and all missed something before publication, so these were no big deal for me. Other than that, it was generally well-formatted and in technical terms, well-written. The problem with it for me came from mired-in-the-mud trope and cliché. The farce was strong with this one.

Far from take a road less traveled, the author instead apparently made a checklist of tropes and clichés from the genre which must be included, and she checked off every one:

  • First person voice? Check!
  • Quirky name for female PI? Check! (It's Sunday Night which is too absurd by 100%)
  • Thorny PI or with troubled history or both? Check!
  • PI likes typically male sport (baseball in this case)? Check!
  • Quirky pet? Check!
  • Too much focus on, and detail of, ordinary everyday activities in life of PI? Check!
  • Has relative or close friend for backup? Check!
  • Has previous career in military or police? Check!
  • Has questionable record in previous professional career? Check!
  • Masochistic PI likes to suffer? Check!
  • Drinks beer like a good old boy? Check!
  • Investigation seems to be going one way; then it gets turned around and goes in another way entirely? Check!
So nothing new here then. I was truly sorry to see that.

There were also some writerly issues creeping in, such as having a character say, “Against whom?” No one says that in real life unless they're being very pretentious, or are an English teacher or an old-school actor, but I see writers using it all the time in character speech because they can't stop themselves! Personally I think 'whom' is long past its sell-by date and ought to be tossed out altogether. If writers want to use it in the narration, that's one thing, but to have real people actually say it is entirely another, and this is another problem with first person voice: the narrator is the one actually saying it!

So that's the technical writing portion of the review dealt with. Now onto the story itself! It didn't work for me because it revolved around a kidnapping of a young girl. The problem with this is that there was absolutely no rational whatsoever for kidnapping the girl, and even less to keep her alive. There's some vague hand-waving about using her for leverage, but it fails because there's nothing to leverage.

The bad guys are terrorists, so the kidnap victim is completely irrelevant to them. The terrorist leader is utterly ruthless and has no compunction about killing children, yet the one thing he threatens to do - kill the child - he never does.

The sole reason for this is of course so the PI can heroically rescue the girl at the end, but this makes the story so unrealistic as to be more of a joke than a thriller. I don't mind somewhat improbable events occurring in a novel if there's some sort of justification for them within the context of the story, but to just randomly have things be 'just-so' for the sole purpose of facilitating the PI cracking the case and saving the day makes the story look poorly written.

It didn't get any better when the PI takes a shot to the shoulder. There is a dumb gunfight in which, like Han Solo in the original film, she doesn't shoot first even though any realistic PI would have done so. She waits out the potential assassin who is in her hotel room. She waits for an ungodly amount of time, and never once thinks to call the police. Dumb. Worse than this, a host of other hotel guests go past her and see she has a gun, yet not a single one of them calls the police either! Double dumb. She's hit in the shoulder and gets a prescription for painkiller, but she never fills it! This doesn't make her look tough. It makes her look stupid.

If there was some valid reason offered for not getting the script filled - like she was in a prolongued chase, or there was no time to get to the pharmacy for some other reason, that would be one thing, but there's nothing! She has lots of time and nothing pressing, and she's out on the streets a lot. It would have been the simplest thing in the world to drop in to a pharmacy, get the script filed, pop a pill, and fix the pain, thereby making her more effective at doing the job she was hired for, but she never does. This doesn't make her look strong, it makes her look dumb or clueless. But not to worry! The entire injury seems to magically go away in short order, and isn't mentioned again - not in the portion I read, anyway.

What killed this novel for me though, was when the 'ruthless' villain kills one of two followers to try and get the PI off his back, but he delivers the other one to her trussed-up as a prisoner. Why didn't he kill that one? It turns out that the only reason he didn't dispatch her as well, is that she had a vital clue to impart which enabled the PI to track down the villain. This was so ridiculous that I quit reading the story right there, at about 75% in. I could not enjoy it when it was written so poorly, and I certainly couldn't take it seriously. I expected a lot better than this from such a seasoned writer. I cannot recommend this novel.


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Mind Virus by Charles Kowalski


Rating: WARTY!
Mind Virus by Charles Kowalski

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. I'm sorry I could not give it a better review, but the pledge is to be honest, so here it is!

There is at least four books titled 'Mind Virus' or something very similar, so the title is not unique, but this one sounded interesting to me. While it started out well enough, the more I read of it, the more it felt like a diatribe about atheists than ever it was a novel telling an engrossing story.

Normally I applaud an author who takes the road less traveled, so I was initially thrilled with the off-the-beaten-track approach, but the story devolved into trope, and in the end, bogged-down in the diatribe, and it really forget to tell us anything interesting, engaging, or worse: actually credible.

Call me warped, but it was amusing to me that I lost faith in a book about faith. It's also sad, because it had been interesting and engaging in the beginning. The plot is too improbable, though. Instead of religious terrorism, the story is about atheist terrorism! Now this is unlikely, but it's possible, and I applaud the author for taking a different tack, but the more I read of the novel, the more it felt like there was an agenda here other than telling a story, with the author not-so-subtly sniping at atheists every few pages. The villain was such an absurd caricature that he was just not credible, and he doesn't talk like any atheist I'm familiar with.

The story begins with a series of terrorist attacks on religious locations using a virus which, despite our being repeatedly told is horrific and deadly, never actually does any real harm because the hero rushes in and inevitably stops the attack at the eleventh hour. It was a bit too much, and tedious in how repetitive it became.

The trope of a retired veteran being recalled to the intelligence services to combat the threat is way overdone in stories these days. If you're going that route, you need to have a very good reason why an outsider has to be brought back in; that is, why the resources they have at the CIA (in this case) are insufficient, yet no real reason was offered here.

The "hero"'s name is Robin Fox, no doubt named after Robin Lane Fox, a well-known atheist and academic, and he almost immediately begins globe-trotting. Instead of keeping authorities informed of the threat and letting them handle it, he abandons all communication at the end, and personally takes charge, actually physically chasing terrorists and bringing them to book, so he was something of a one-trick pony, and it felt far too incredible that he was the only one who could do this: see the threat, spot the interloper, and defuse it at the last minute. Once or twice maybe, but every single time, and single-handed? It didn't work for me because it was so unrealistic.

The method of the attacks in each case was so improbably contrived that it was not only unlikely to succeed, but it was contrived in a way which was tailor-made for Fox to defeat it. He was always in exactly the right place at exactly the right time to foil the attack.

In one case, the method was to use linseed oil to make a garment erupt in flames, and then to have the nearby fire extinguisher 'impregnated' with the virus, so it was spread as someone tried to put out the flames. This was so absurd that I actually laughed. I agree that linseed oil is dangerous in a pile of soaked rags, but to have it in the material of a garment is not likely to have the same effect, and the smell would be highly noticeable. No one would put on a garment which smelled badly of putty!

And why go to all that trouble? Too much can go wrong. If the practice was to use linseed oil (also known as flax seed oil, FYI) to polish the pews, which seemed a bit of a stretch, then why not simply put the virus in that, or spray it from the gallery during the service? It made no sense to me to set it up in such a risky and Heath Robinson fashion, and it made me feel like the author had become so enwrapped in presenting a "cool scenario" that he failed to look critically and objectively at what he was writing. This took me right out of the story.

There was too much trope and stereotyping in the novel, which ultimately defeated the 'off the beaten track' approach which I'd initially admired and rooted for. For example, we get an Irish MI5 officer whose name is Liam Donovan. He had a, wait for it, red beard, and red hair. This could not have been more of a condescending cliché if he'd been named Paddy O'Brien, had worn shoes with curling toes, a green felt hat, and carried a shillelagh.

The atheist terrorists leave a trail of clues to their next attacks like this is a Nancy Drew story. These clues are ones which only Robin Goodfellow can solve of course, and each clue consistently got him there in time to save the day. Why would a terrorist leave clues? There's a halfhearted attempt to explain it as a conceit on the part of the obsessively posing and monologuing terrorist leader, but it failed. I don't have a problem with the good guys doing the footwork and making the breaks for themselves, but to have neat clues laid out, Dan Brown style, and have the hero swoop in and solve them all so effortlessly and in the nick of time, was too much to swallow.

The author has the atheists worshiping at the altar of Charles Darwin, but no atheist does that, and all of the atheists I've encountered understand evolution very well. They would never talk of it as the Nazis did, for example, as winnowing out the weak links to make the race stronger, in the way that the over-the-top villain mindlessly monologues about.

As a point of order, it's the creationists who slander Darwin by misrepresenting what he said and who make endless attempts at character assassination on him, like if they discredit him, then the Theory of Evolution fails. Atheists are not that stupid and never would misrepresent his work. Plus they have better things to do with their time!

Atheism isn't about a belief system or about worshiping at the altar of the sciences; it's simply a lack of belief due to a lack of viable evidence, and that's all there is to it. Yes, there are some atheist campaigners like Richard Dawkins, but most of us don't care about religion enough to waste much time even thinking about it; we're too busy getting on with our lives, content to let religion fail under its own unsupportable weight.

Yes, we find it foolish, and often in equal parts amusing and annoying, but that's about it. Yes, if it tries to encroach on our rights or control our lives we will fight back (but not with bombs or viruses!). Other than that we really don't care if people want to believe in fairy tales. It's their choice.

So this book felt like it misrepresented atheists, but that wasn't the worst fault by any means. I would have bought into the plot of atheist terrorists if they hadn't been so painfully paper-thin and caricatured. That, the boring and poorly plotted story, along with an improbable terrorist and an even more absurd protagonist who was so self-righteous and infallible that it left no possibility of suspense for the reader at all, were what brought this down for me.

I began skimming this novel around page 270 (out of some 330 pages) and I quit at around page 300 when it devolved even more absurdly into secret passageways and booby traps. I wish the author all the best in his career, but I cannot recommend this novel.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Femme by Mette Bach


Rating: WARTY!

After having a somewhat disappointing experience with another volume by this author, which I read in an advance review copy, I decided to try again with a print volume of an earlier novel which I found in my local lovable library. I'm sorry to report that this earlier effort was equally disappointing, so while I still have faith that this author has it in her to write a good story, I haven't seen it yet and I have now lost any interest in going looking for it any more!

The problems with this story were the same as her more recent one, which is not a good sign. Again, the characters were one-dimensional and juvenile, if not outright spastic, for their age. The main character, telling this story in first person unfortunately, was only marginally smarter than the one in the more recent book, which means the main characters are getting dumber, not smarter! This isn’t a good sign.

The story here is that a student named Sofie Nussbaum who we’re told, not shown, is smart (as in like reading poetry equals smart, for example), is head-over heels for her boyfriend Paul, and then inexplicably does a 180 and becomes gay. I am by no means saying that a woman cannot arrive at the knowledge that she's not hetero after all, any more than someone who has been interested in only her own gender cannot end up loving a guy. It's a two-way street full of traffic in both directions. Sexual preference is very fluid and even gender is becoming a lot more so lately now that people are a lot freer to be who they really are.

It was the way this story was presented which made it lack credibility. For the one character, it was telegraphed way too loudly, while for the other, it wasn't demonstrated at all! And I get that this is a sort of special needs book - more of which anon - but that's no excuse to write down to your reader, no matter what reading level they're at.

Much of the story wasn't thought through. The main character was supposedly of limited means, yet she has everything she ever wanted, including clothes galore and so much make-up that it was all-but falling off the shelves. The telling that she was relatively poor and the showing that she had more than anyone who actually was poor would ever have made the story false and the character along with it.

For example, she's not well-off, but can drop everything and take off for a trip to the USA? The story was set in Canada, so it was a only drive over the border, but it's not exactly cost-free to spend several days driving and eating out! And there was no mention of her getting a passport, which she was unlikely to have already had if she were poor with little prospect of leaving the town in which she lived, let alone traveling internationally!

I think the problem here is that the novel was far too short to contain the story the author wanted to tell, which resulted in everything having a sadly cursory treatment instead of being related to the reader intelligently and naturally. It didn’t work. Why the author confines herself to such small books is a mystery to me, but this book is tiny. With dimensions of 4.25" (10.8cm) by 7" (17.8cm), it’s smaller than the usual paperback size, while the margins are quite broad (1/2" -1.3cm- on the long side, and almost one inch -2.5cm- top and bottom) and the text is spaced maybe 1.5 lines.

The book was 175 pages (of which I gave up after 150 out of sheer disappointment and frustration). If it had been single-spaced and the margins made narrower, and a standard paperback format used, this would have made a much slimmer volume and saved a few trees in the print version. The author unfortunately doesn't have any say in how the book is formatted. That's all on the publisher, which is why I self-publish.

As to the content, it was pretty much the same as the other volume I read by this author, which is to say that there was zero depth to any of it. Characters are undeveloped, and abruptly change their feelings, and in this case, even orientation on a dime and so did not occur naturally, organically, or believably.

All of the main characters were manic depressives, flying off the handle for no reason, changing as abruptly as the wind, and going from loving to vindictive on a whim and it simply wasn't credible. Whereas the main character's change of orientation was telegraphed, the feelings of her love interest, Clea, were completely obscure, so the relationship seemed completely one-sided as it was in the other book I read! It was overdone on the one character and not done at all on the other. There was zero indication from her PoV, which is a dire failing for first person novels, which is one reason why I detest them so, but this bias made Clea's attraction (it's far too early to call it love) for Sofie a complete blank.

Frankly, this book read like it had been written by a pre-teen. I know it's a so-called 'Hi-Lo' novel - one written for younger readers who have low interest in reading and high interest in romance - but this felt like it insulted such people rather than being intent upon seriously drawing them in. It’s like the author is confusing low interest in reading with low IQ, and the two are not the same at all. I wish this author would write a longer book, and take her time with it, establishing solid, believable ordinary characters, and then letting them tell the story instead of dictating to them how it should go and having the whole thing fall apart under its own weight instead of soaring elegantly. You're not going to generate any interest in reading by writing boring or silly books. JK Rowling understood this. Why does this author not?

Again, as with the ARC I read, there was a point at which the book became very choppy and devolved into a series of vignettes rather than facilitating a flowing story which naturally sweeps the reader along with it. I cannot recommend this one.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Perfectly Precious Poohlicious by Mary Elizabeth Jackson, Thornton Cline, Alice Antime


Rating: WARTY!

Written by Jackson, illustrated by Antime, with some song scores by Cline, this book was reasonably-well illustrated, but the 'story' telling was way too sugary for my taste, and wasn't even a story. it was much more like some sort of self-hypnotic mantra about how perfect, and precious, and beautiful, a baby was. I can see maybe a market for giving this as a gift to someone who has a new child in the family, but whether they would actually want this as a gift is another issue. Other than that, it fell completely flat for me. Knowing now what's in it, I would neither want to buy this nor get it as a gift.

I don't get the title, either - poohlicious? It sounds like you're comparing your baby with poop and delighting in the similarity. Pooplicious? There's nothing beautiful, perfect, or precious in a dirty diaper, trust me. The title just doesn't work.

Everyone thinks their own child is precious and perfect and beautiful, and there's nothing wrong in that as long as - when the child grows - beauty is not the criterion by which she's measured, and perfection is not the target she's forced fruitlessly into chasing. There is nothing wrong with striving to be your best, but demanding these things and setting them up as the only things worth living for is absurd. Therein lies insanity, broken dreams, and suicide, and promoting shallow ideals as worthy goals in life, especially in a mindless self-affirmation of a chant like this, is far too self-obsessed for my taste. I cannot recommend this.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter? by Heath Fogg Davis


Rating: WORTHY!

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

In a seemingly radical, but ultimately common-sense challenge to status quo, this author asks whether it's ever necessary to require someone to have their gender flagged on something like a birth certificate or a driver's license. He examines four areas where a true unisex environment is called for - not just to not use a binary sex-marker, but to dispense with sex-markers altogether. These areas are (from the blurb): "sex-marked identity documents such as birth certificates, driver's licenses and passports; sex-segregated public restrooms; single-sex colleges; and sex-segregated sports." A section of the book is devoted to each of the four topics.

While I support this agenda as a general principle - there are far too many areas where gender is irrelevant, but where it's made into an issue of one kind or another - I'd take some small issue with the way this argument is presented in some areas. I felt it didn't make as good of a case as it ought to have, and I felt it was a somewhat biased case - there wasn't much of a serious effort to look at the opposite side of the argument or to seek out opposing views and present them - and argue against them.

Yes, there were some objections raised and summarily overruled, but it felt more like the author was trying to steamroll his case through in preference to offering a completely calm and rational approach. Not that he was raving or ranting, but it felt a little bit like a high pressure salesperson, and I have little time for those!

One example of this was in the section where the author is talking about how long a person has to live as a woman before they're considered fully a woman. It's more complicated than that, and you'd have to read the book to get the full scoop on the issues and arguments, but for my purposes, this fell into the gripe I made about too little use of studies to back arguments and more reliance on personal opinion and anecdote than was healthy to make a solid case.

The author says, "...does it matter that some transgender women will have been socialized as boys and/or men for certain periods of their lives?" The problem with this is the inherent assumption it carries that they have indeed been fully socialized as their biological gender as opposed to their desired or self-identified gender.

I could see my argument being irrelevant if a need for a gender-switch was triggered from a head injury or by a sudden whim or need for attention, but this is flatly not the case. One thing I learned early in my reading about transgender people is that they had lived all their life feeling like they were the gender they eventually (hopefully!) were able to migrate to. So why would they honestly be socialized as boys/men or as girls/women necessarily?

It felt presumptive and patronizing to leap to the conclusion that they had or likely had. We had no evidence presented to support (or refute) this - it was just out there like it was self-evident, and this felt like the author had fallen into the same trap he was arguing against: if it's always been this way, why should we change?

Of course we haven't always been this way. Binary gender is just a convenient convention we fell into because historically we were too ignorant and blinkered to think it through. Maybe a biological male who has always felt female might be rather less acclimatized to male patterns of behavior and thinking than we should feel comfortable assuming, and so might a female in inverse circumstances. This is what I mean when I talk about making better arguments.

So one issue I had with the book was that it felt like it relied too much on anecdote - some of which was personal - which left some holes where a wider survey or study would have filled the gap. Some studies are quoted, but the inline references in this book are not actually links, which is a problem in this day and age for an ebook. In a print book you can flip through pages to get to end notes. It's a lot harder in an ebook, which is why actual links would have been a big help.

That said, the anecdotes were engrossing, saddening, disturbing, and downright horrifying at times, and this is the main reason people need to read this book, because the hit is still shitting the fan, even after all these years, and it needs to stop now. If getting rid of sex markers is guaranteed to do that, then I'm pretty well on-board! But I have some qualms about the arguments, mainly because of the area the book did not cover, which is medical care.

You can argue all you want about men and women and everyone between and on both sides being treated equally in areas of sports, rest rooms, college admissions, and state and government documents, but being treated in hospital is another issue because the fundamental fact is that men and women are anatomically and biochemically different and sometimes it genuinely matters what gender you are.

Let me give a simple example:- a traffic accident victim is brought into an ER unconscious, and xrays need to be taken. if this is a man, there's usually no problem, because men never get pregnant, but if this is a woman, the doctors need to be sure they're not harming a fetus.

Often, it's easy (or at least seems easy!) to tell what gender the patient, but also often it's not and it's downright foolish to make assumptions, as this author has pointed out often! If the woman is a mtf individual, then short of religious miracles, there's going to be no fetus, but if the doctors do not know, then there's potentially a problem.

I'd argue this is a case where gender does indeed matter and more importantly, knowing the gender matters, and while this is a simple demonstrative example, it's not the only medical instance where the gender (or sex if you like - I don't like to use that term because it's so loaded with baggage) of the patient matters. Men and women react differently to some medications, so knowing the gender of the patient can be vitally important.

Now you can no doubt press arguments against my simplistic example, and maybe against medical treatment and knowing the birth sex of the patient, but that's just the problem: since this critical topic wasn't covered in this book, none of this was ever addressed. Having a sex-marker on the driver's license could be in some cases, the difference between life and death here. So maybe we should not argue to eliminate the sex-marker at least on driver's licenses or state ID cards, but to make it voluntary? It's just a thought.

I don't typically comment on book covers because my blog is about authoring, not façades and lures, but in this case I have to say that this cover was quite a stunner. The ambiguity and charm in it were remarkable! It's a credit to the book and a pity the publisher rarely sees fit to give some credit to the model.

One curious personal comment I found was when the author volunteered, "For example, my birth mother was white and my birth father African American. I identify as either biracial or black" but he never went on to explain why he doesn't ever identify as white. It seems to me he has an equal case for either or both. It's not a big deal to me, but I just found it interesting and curious that someone with one black and one white parent had to be (at least historically), considered black instead of white!

To me, that's just as screwed-up as the gender issues discussed here, but I guess it's none of my business; however, it was one of several times things were tossed into the mix which I found curious. Another was his reference to the 2013 movie Identity Thief. The author cites this as an exemplar of the inadequacy of sex verification as fraud protection.

I thought it was an inappropriate reference in a book that rightly tries to set a more scholarly tone, but the objection here was that, as the author explains, "...the fact that many people have gender-neutral or 'unisex' names, Sandy being just one of many examples." I get that this is irrelevant when credit card fraud is perpetrated over the phone,or the internet, but it does prevent some abuse in person when a woman might try to use a credit card which clearly has a male name on it. It's not foolproof, especially in these days of fast everything, but it does offer some preventive opportunities! The real question to ask is: is it worth the hassle some people might get for the prevention it offers in other cases?

But that's not the reason I thought the example of the movie was a poor one; it's that, in the movie (which I have not seen I have to say), the man whose identity has been stolen, Sandy, seems like a sad sack of an example to offer since he apparently never thought to report his card stolen and thereby avoid all of the issues he was subject to in the movie! Hollywood is not real life and I think it was a mistake to cite what seems to be a rather slapstick comedy movie in support of a serious topic like this.

That said, I recommend this because it needs to be read - it's that simple. It has important issues in it about an ongoing problem that needs to be cut off summarily at the ankles, and it makes some good arguments, especially in sports, which has long been a pet peeve of my own. Some of the sports anecdotes are truly upsetting, as indeed are the anecdotes in other areas. Read them and weep - seriously. I felt like it after reading what some of these people - including the author - have had to endure.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Love is Love by Mette Bach


Rating: WARTY!

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

This is another short "love" story in a similar vein to Same Love which I reviewed positively a day or so ago, but I was not able to give this the same rating for a variety of reasons. I liked the idea behind the story, and I appreciated the diversity it exhibited, but it felt far too trite, simplistic and shallow, and the characters far too caricatured for me to rate it as a worthy read.

I'm not a cover-lover, so I normally don't talk about book covers because they have nothing to do with the book's content and my reviews are about writing, not about bells and whistles, or glitz, or bait and switch. That said, I have a couple of observations about this cover. The first is that the person depicted in the cover image is gorgeous in the ambiguity and androgyny they represent, and I loved it for that. I'd like to read a story about that character, fictional or otherwise! The second observation is actually the problem: this cover has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with anybody or anything in this entire book! So why was this cover used?!

I know that authors (unless they self-publish) have no say in the cover they get stuck with. I'm truly sorry about that, but this is a price you pay when you go the traditional publishing route, so this cover problem isn't a factor in my review. This is just an observation. I don't know how publishers can get it so wrong so often, and I'm forced to speculate on motive here, because whatever that is, it's certainly nothing to do with what the author is saying or trying to do with what they wrote!

I just wish publishers were more sensitive to a book's content than they all-too-often prove themselves to be when they slap a random cover on it. I know some people, particularly YA fans, get orgasmic over covers, but mature readers (and by that I don't mean old, nor do I exclude YA readers) do not. While many of them may appreciate a well-done cover, the bottom line there is that they're all about content. I'd rather have a lousy cover with a brilliant story than ever I would a gorgeous cover with a poor story. Reference The Beatles 'white album' (so-called) for sustaining argument!

As far as content is concerned, I was frequently disappointed in the story-telling, and this is where the real problems lay with this work. It was too simplistic, and the main character, Emmy, was not a likeable one (nor did she look anything like the character on the cover, so no match there). She wasn't strong, nor did she become strong. She showed zero growth, which is sad because she was sickeningly immature. Instead of a girl turning into a young woman with purpose and drive, all we got was an unchanging, needy, whiny, and self-pitying mess.

The worst part about all of this was that she knew exactly what her problems were, but never once did she exhibit the strength to try changing herself, or even evince signs of some development of a will to change. She was a weak and uninteresting character who did not remotely deserve the reward she got. There was no justice in this book, and this was a problem.

I don't typically care about genre any more than I care about gender. A person is a person, and a main character is a main character, but what this book most reminded me of is a genre of novels that I do detest, which is the one where the woman runs away from a bad relationship back to her home town where she meets the love of her life. I despise that kind of a story, and while this novel was not quite that bad, it had a lot of the hallmarks of such a story.

Emmy is so desperate to be popular that we meet her blowing the school hot guy, Ty, in some disgusting stairwell one night, just in hopes that from this she will become popular. How that thinking ever made sense is a mystery. All it told me was that she was profoundly stupid. I didn't mind that. I can work with that, because my hope was that she would wise-up and grow a pair, but she never did.

Emmy is 'overweight'. That's never actually defined, but that's not necessarily a problem, especially not in a society where anorexic actors and models are perversely considered the standard of beauty. 'Overweight' is not a problem unless you're unhealthy with it, and Emmy is, because she's overweight from binging on junk food for emotional comfort.

She knows this perfectly well, but never once does she even consider stopping the rot. Instead, she hangs around like a maiden trussed to a tree, awaiting her shining knight to come shield her from the dragon of life. This is why I did not like her. Throughout this whole story she never initiated a single thing; she was never the actor, always the one acted upon, and her inertia, passivity and complete lack of metaphorical balls was sickening to read about.

The Saint George in this story is Jude the somewhat obscure, the artist formerly known as Judy, who is a guy who was unfortunately born in a woman's body. Again, he looked nothing like the character on the cover, so no match there, either. Other than that, we never really get to know him.

Jude is living as a guy but has had no surgery yet. He's trying to save money for it, but is of limited means, so it's taking a while. He's a barista, and Emmy meets him when she visits his establishment with her cousin, Paige, whose parents Emmy is now staying with in Vancouver, having fled Winnipeg fit to be Ty-ed. Paige also looks nothing like the character on the cover, and she's such a caricature and a non-entity, it made me wonder why she was even in the story at all.

The story-telling effectively ends here, and instead of a flowing tale, what we get is a series of vignettes from this point onward. Emmy, who writes poetry that we never get to read, is all but forced onto the stage at the coffee shop on poetry night. She's laughed off the stage, but we never learn if the laughter was at her, or in enjoyment of the poem she read. We're left to surmise it was at her, but this incident never goes anywhere else. She never comes roaring back. Instead, her poetry drops out of sight after this. In the same vein, she starts cycling, but paradoxically goes nowhere. The poetry felt like it ought to have been an overture to her regaining some confidence, and the cycling a lead-in to her getting fit, but the cycling disappears as well!

Another vanishing act is her father's notebooks. Her father is dead and her mother has married a guy Emmy doesn't like. Those issues are never resolved either, but in staying with her uncle, she discovers that he has one or two of her dad's notebooks from when he was Emmy's age. She takes possession of them, but she never reads them - or if she does, we're not party to it, so it's yet another dead end street. Her stay in Vancouver seems full of them.

Emmy begins fantasizing about Jude, gazing at him simperingly whenever he's around, and the attraction seems to be entirely physical - at least that's the most common part that's shared with us: that he looks like he ought to be on stage or on the big screen.

Although some token attempts to broaden his appeal are made, they're too few and too shallow to be believable. Consequently, the elephant in the room here is not Emmy despite her lackluster attempts to convince us otherwise. The problem is the complete lack of any viable reason why Jude is interested in Emmy, because we're never offered a glimpse of any such reason. He just falls into line with her fantasies and is won effortlessly. She doesn't deserve him and we're never given any reason why she should.

I could see a great story here, but it's not the one we got, and the title was wrong. This was far too fast to be love. 'Infatuation is Lust' might have been a better title. I found myself more interested in Jude's sweet-hearted friend, Clarisse. A story about her might have been a lot more engrossing than this one was. I wish this author all the best; her heart is in the right place, but this particular story is one I can't get behind at all, and I'm sorry for that.


Monday, June 12, 2017

Same Love by Tony Correia


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Set in Canada, this was a short but sweet story that I fell in love with just from the blurb. The idea is that a young Christian guy, Adam Lethbridge, with religiously strict parents, is suspected of being homosexual - it's true, but the condemnation is based on the flimsiest of evidence - he was seen shopping in the mall with a "known gay"! Clearly this 'raving pooftah' needs to be saved from Hell, so he's promptly dispatched to a Christian summer camp to be 'deprogrammed', aka saved by Baby Jesu, but there he meets another guy, a Korean-Canadian named Paul, who is questioning his own sexuality, and the two fall for each other!

I thought that was hilarious, but the story isn't a romantic comedy by any means. There is humor in it, but it's a story which is told seriously and thoughtfully. I really enjoyed it.

There's nothing explicit in it - nothing more than a kiss and holding hands - so it's a safe read for anyone who is bothered by a lot of overt physical affection. The funniest thing about it was highlighted by controversial comedian Lenny Bruce many years ago: how do you punish homosexuals for breaking the law? Lock 'em up with a bunch of guys! The same thing happens here, and the lack of straight-thinking behind that kind of philosophy boggles the mind.

Of course this seems like it was always worse for men because the white male authorities behind this asinine approach to relationships were not only horrified by, but scared of homosexual men, while they never took homosexual women seriously. As queen Victoria was supposed to have said, "women simply don't do that sport of thing!" That doesn't mean women had it so much easier, by any means. In some ways they had it worse.

I confess I had a bit of a time getting into this at first because the story seemed so full of conversational prose and very little descriptive prose, but after Adam arrived at camp, the reading became very easy and comfortable. He's bunking with three other guys including Paul: a depressed guy named Martin, and a weirdo named Randall. The dynamic between these four was fascinating. Adam also meets Rhonda on the bus up to the mountain retreat. She's being sent to the camp to be have the 'slu't removed from her - and she and Adam bond quickly.

I loved that the author pointed out the hypocrisy and cluelessness in these approaches, although I would have loved it more had there been a complete deconstruction of Biblical teachings, but the thrust of this novel was not in that direction, so that was fine. The point was clearly made that there's a difference - and sometimes a huge one - between what's in the Bible and what people claim is in the Bible. I loved that bit!

Speaking of which, as is often the case in novel for me, one of the more minor characters was the most interesting. Rhonda intrigued me and was the outstanding character. I loved how feisty, confident, and outspoken she was, and would have liked to have read more about her, especially taking the camp religious teachers to task over their poor understanding of the bible, but of course the focus was on Adam and Paul, and his other roommates.

If there was a weak spot, for me it was Randall, who didn't quite ring true at times, but other than that, the story was great, well-written, instructive, and it had a beautiful ending. I recommend this one.


Friday, June 9, 2017

Transphobia by J Wallace Skelton, Nick Johnson


Rating: WARTY!

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

I would have really liked to have given a passing grade to a book with the aims this one has, but the presentation was inexcusably lousy and the book was literally unreadable on my phone, and practically unreadable on a tablet computer, which is to say that it was useless in two of the three media on which I tried it.

The reason for this once again seems to be, ironically, discrimination! The book was designed as a print book and yet it goes out to reviewers as a Kindle format ebook! The problem with that is the crappy Kindle app cannot handle a book presented and formatted like this one is, and the book should either have been thoroughly reformatted for Kindle and Kindle apps, or not offered in this format at all, which would severely restrict the distribution it can enjoy. It's poor attention to quality on the part of the publisher, and worse, no-one seems to have been bothered with actually looking at the resulting ebook. If they had, they'd see it was unacceptable.

For a book about inclusivity, the print-book snobbery here is laughable. The fact that this book is actively excluding various common reading formats would have been hilarious if it were not so hypocritical. The only format in which the ebook was readable was PDF format on my desktop computer, but even there, some of the print was so small that it was hard to read, and any medium with a smaller screen - even a tablet - would have made parts of it pretty nigh illegible.

In terms of content, the book doesn't do too bad of a job, but it's really not offering anything that will win converts to the side of tolerance and acceptance unless those 'converts' are largely converted already. In terms of offering help to those who need it, it doesn't do too bad of a job, but it was hard for me to determine what kind of an audience it was aiming for in terms of age and maturity.

But overall, I cannot recommend a book which so single-mindedly disrecommends itself. And if the publisher and authors evidently don't care about this, why should I? I had further confirmation of this after I submitted the review. The publisher contacted me and offered a print version, but never once did they take responsibility for the fact that neither they nor the author had taken a look at this book in various formats to see how (or even whether!) it worked! They tried to blame me, they tried to blame the applications, but never once did they say they screwed-up by failing to verify that the output was readable in the most common formats and devices reviewers (and more importantly, end-users) might read it in! I rest my case!


Things I Should Have Known by Claire Lazebnik


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was an awesome book by an author with a mouth-twisting last name - which happens to be the Arabic word (zebnik) for zebra as far as I know (but that's only as far as I know)! It's also a book where things could have gone sadly and badly wrong, but the author picked her way carefully through this maze and the result was amaze! For me she put a foot wrong on only a couple of occasions, missteps which I was happy to let slide because the rest of the novel was totally awesome.

Having read so many (far too many, in fact) YA novels which have timidly, like a lamb, followed the rest of the herd along the path most traveled (usually into bland oblivion or itchy annoyance), I live for novels like this, which strike out on their own path, tell their own story, and make it real.

The differences are clear from the start. Contrary to far too many YA novels, instead of starting out as the outcast and the underdog, Chloe Mitchell is a popular girl who is well-liked and dating the school's hottest guy (so she says), so that's a welcome reversal of the usual YA trope right there. In another departure, Chloe's sister, Ivy, is autistic, quite highly functioning, but nonetheless decidedly on the spectrum. What Chloe doesn't know to begin with though, is that the guy she most detests in school, David, also has an autistic sibling, Ethan, and he attends the same school Ivy does.

Chloe is truly torn between wanting to have a life for herself, and feeling responsible for Ivy, and facilitating her having a life, and she manages it well despite feeling put-upon and abused at times. It comes to pass that when Ivy expresses some interest in Ethan, Chloe decides maybe the two could date. Despite being four years younger than her sister, Chloe is very much the older sibling in this relationship, and she nudges Ivy along and arranges for them to meet at a yogurt shop downtown.

When she and Ivy show up, there is Ethan, and with him most unexpectedly, is David. Chloe is confused and annoyed at his presence until she discovers David is Ethan's brother, and has the same relationship with him that Chloe does with Ivy. Suddenly she not only has something in common with the guy she detests, but it's also something of vital importance.

A lesser author might have left it at that, but this author doesn't. She keeps on ramping it up. Ivy, while enjoying, in her own way, her visits with Ethan. has much more interest in a girl at her school named Diana, and rather belatedly, Chloe realizes her sister is gay.

Here was the first misstep in the writing, for me, which is that Chloe then refocuses on finding Ivy a "young, gay woman with autism" which is wrong-headed. Ivy's partner needs to be someone who can be with Ivy and appreciate her for who she is. The partner is required to be neither 'young' nor autistic herself!

Chloe makes a lot of mistakes and typically learns from them, but she never seemed to learn from this one. That she was so wrong about Ivy's sexuality ought to have taught her that she should be more cautious in who she tried to "line up" for her sister in future.

Of course it's obvious what was going to happen, because this novel still has the trope of the girl falling for the guy she initially hates, but here's it's done sensitively and not at all like a Meg Ryan romantic comedy, which was very much appreciated.

The relationship between David and Chloe grows naturally and organically, and there's no miraculous transformation. The relationship is troubled and thorny, because David is, but it's easy to see how the two of them are learning to accommodate to each other's ofttimes uncomfortable shape and demeanor as they grow to know each other. That kind of maturity in a relationship is rare in YA novels which are all-too-often puke-inducing, instadore-laden disasters.

This brings me to the second misstep, which is that David, at one point, is described by Chloe as having yellow flecks in his eyes. This is the biggest, most annoying cliche in all of YA-dom. Usually it's gold flecks, but yellow is hardly any better. I despair of YA writers who employ this because I have read it so often it's nauseating, and it smacks of a complete lack of imagination and inventiveness on the part of the YA author.

In the unintentional humor department, I have to quote the opening few words from chapter six which are: "A little before seven" which I thought was hilarious because chapter six is indeed a little before seven. But that's just my truly, hopelessly warped mind. In the intentional humor department, of which there were many sly instances, this line was a standout: "The indoor tables are all occupied by unshaven guys writing movie dialogue on their MacBook Airs, so we sit outside." The novel takes place in LA, so this was perfect and made me LOL.

My two minor gripes aside, I truly loved this novel and I fully recommend it. It was a welcome breath of life in a YA world which has become glutted with the rotting corpses of an endless parade of YA clone novels marching lock-step towards oblivion. The formatting of the ebook needs some work, but I assume that will be taken care of before it's released. In case it isn't, this needs to be fixed: "wish she could stay in in high school forever." (An 'in' too many!). But other than that, this book was about as near to perfect as you can humanly get it.

Every Family is a Little Nuts by AJ Cosmo


Rating: WARTY!

On balance I've liked this author's children's books, but I didn't get the point of this one! I mean, yeah, obviously it examines a slightly dysfunctional family, but it never seemed to go anywhere, and there really was no happy resolution, which some children might find rather disturbing.

If there's one thing children definitely need, it's the feeling of security. The story in general was not awful, and the illustration was charming, but the poor squirrel, Wally, really didn't seem to get any satisfaction and I think this is a mistake.

The story involves some unspecified holiday with gift giving, so from a religious festival PoV, it's quite neutral, which is a good thing, but Wally seems to get buffeted around without going anywhere, and has tasks put on him without seeming to garner any satisfaction from them or from a sense of helping or duty. None of this is really pursued, so the opportunity to teach some lessons here seemed wasted to me. I get that life isn't fair and there is no expectation of a reward, nor should there necessarily be for helping people, and children at some point need to understand this, but even this lesson seemed to become lost in the welter of activity and disconnected events. I can't recommend this one, but I do recommend this author in general.


Saturday, June 3, 2017

Backstrap by Johnnie Dun


Rating: WARTY!

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

This novel started out quite interestingly, but by the fifty percent mark I was bored, and it never showed any sign of improving. The problem was that the novel had hit the doldrums and for fully the middle fifty percent of it, it moved not an inch forwards nor looked like it was interested in doing so. I had to quit it at about 72% because I was getting nothing from it, and life is far too short to 'stick it out' with a novel that simply isn't thrilling you.

The plot here is that Callie Byrne, a US Army veteran, having served in the military police in Iraq, is moved to visit Guatemala, in search of an army buddy named Rachel, who has gone down there on behalf of a drug dealer named Tony. Tony is Callie's old drug dealer, before she started trying hard to go straight for the sake of her son Dillon, who is currently in custody of her strait-laced and well-to-do sister.

So far, so good, but once Callie gets into Guatemala, the story becomes gelled in aspic and quite literally nothing moves. The Iraq vet is also a trope that's being way overdone these days - along with the endless ex-special forces thrillers, and ex-marine thrillers we're seeing far, far too much of these days. Normally I won't read a story like this, but the blurb made this one sound like it might offer something more, when it fact if offered a lot less than even those stories do.

It's truly sad that authors in the count so much on US foreign aggression to help them create interesting characters for their novels. I mean thank the gods for the Middle East wars, because Vietnam was becoming far too long in the tooth. Now we have the same problem, but instead of everyone being a Vietnam vet, everyone has to be an Iraq vet (evidently no one fought in Afghanistan). But even Iraq is too far back in the past now o have young characters being Iraq vets.

We left Iraq in 2011, so even if there had been some eighteen-year-old serving on 2010, they'd be in their mid-twenties now at the very least. That doesn't leave them much time to have a child, garner an addiction, and then a recovery. Let's hope for a new war soon because god knows what we will do if can't call on a recent one! Seriously - why can a person not be simply an armed forces vet without having to have been in a war somewhere? Isn't that enough any more? It's just a little tiresome reading the same background for every character in a story like this.

The biggest problem with this story, though, is that there wasn't a character in it that I liked or felt moved to root for. There was no action at all, and certainly no point when I felt like Callie or her buddy Angus might be in danger or at risk. Frankly, and apart from the opening couple of chapters, Callie never actually felt real to me. It started out well enough, but then she became as bland as the plot, and the more the story went on the less she seemed like a recovering drug addict, and the less she seemed like an army veteran, and the less she seems like a mom concerned about or evne missing her son.

One reason it made for a sad and tedious read was that instead of being the actor, she became the actee - things were being done to Callie. She was not the one doing the things: she was being controlled and moved around; she wasn't acting on her own volition and making things happen, and it made for a very mundane character and a story which didn't particularly make me want to turn the pages.

On a technical note, the novel needs another read-through before it's ready for prime time, because I found several errors in it, none of which were the kind that a spell-checker would find (although a grammar-check might pick up one or two of them. I read, for example, "Was Tony set Rachel up?" which presumably should have read "Was it Tony who set Rachel up?" or "Did Tony set Rachel up?" I also read, "They put up with me because they have too" (too many 'o's in the 'to'. And finally, "Had he really helped cared for Ixchel" (One of those verbs is too tense!).

Then there was this one small section where I think the middle speaker (starting at 'excuse me') should have been someone other than Slinger, because the reading makes no sense if it's all Slinger:

Slinger scowled at Angus. Callie thought Slinger might just shoot Angus right there.
“Excuse me.” Slinger took a soft plantain out of his mouth and crushed it into the floor. Then he sat back and took a drink of coffee. “Bad fruit,” he said.
Slinger didn’t look up, scribbling again in his journal

But aside from those, the writing wasn't technically bad, it just wasn't appealing to me and I can't recommend this novel, although I wish the author all the best with his career.


Friday, June 2, 2017

I Hate Reading by Beth Bacon, Johanna Hantel


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a subversive book designed to encourage children to read by telling them how to get out of reading, or to make it look like they're reading when they're really not. Of course, to learn all these tips and tricks, the kid has to read the book!

The book is bright and colorful (imagery by Johanna Hantel), but there are no illustrations in it; just a lot of words, but not too many. The words are funny too, and the ideas are amusing, so it would seem to me that this book will admirably serve its purpose, and I recommend it.

You can get a really good look at the interior here: http://www.hqtrs.co/i-hate-reading. It's more of a look than I'd feel comfortable giving to anyone about a book of mine (that was this short), but it's there if you want to take a look! or at least it was when I first published this.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Crazy, Wonderful Science by Mary Lee


Rating: WORTHY!

I've had some good success with Mary Lee's children's books. I've not been a fan of all of her books that I've read, but certainly most of them, and this is another winner, not least of which because in a world where women are far too often taught - by everything around them - that shallow beauty is all important, and without it, you're nothing (yes, YA authors, male authors, romance authors, etc, I'm looking at you) this book has the guts to put young girls and science together.

It's a book in the Mia series, and this time Mia is interested in what she can do for her science project. She has several options, and if you read to the end, you can discover two of these which your own daughter (or even son!) can do for herself. Mia makes her own choice as your child can make theirs. The book was fun, easy reading, well-written, and very colorful. I recommend it.


The Sisters Chase by Sarah Healy


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a charming story from start to finish, keeping my interest and proving to be a very fast read with a sudden ending that took me by surprise, since I hadn't realized I was so close to the end of the novel. This is the price of an ebook: you get no tactile feel for the dwindling pages! But it definitely took my breath away in more than one way.

If I had any real complaint, it was about the flashbacks. Other readers may appreciate these, but I am no more a fan of flashbacks than I am of prologues. Maybe some writers think they're cool, or edgy, or 'the thing to do', but for me flashbacks bring the story to screeching halt when all I want to do is keep abreast of what's happening now, not what took place a decade before. To me they're irritating at best, and antagonizing at worst. I rather quickly took to skipping over these and they did not - as far as I can tell - reduce my enjoyment or understanding of the story one iota. So I rest my case!

Seriously, for me the story would have been better served had the flashbacks been incorporated into a 'part one', or better yet, as long as you want to put in some remembrances of things past as it were, I'd rather read them in-line with the story as an occasional thought here and there, and I know this author is quite capable of that, because she writes beautifully. I look forward to her next opus with anticipation!

The other issue is relatively minor, and relates to this being an ARC, and not yet quite ready for prime time. The formatting in the Kindle app on my phone was a bit ragged here and there, with a line ending mid-screen and being continued on the line below, or a paragraph offset from the body of text when it was not supposed to be.

There was also the occasional wrong word in the wrong place, which no spell-checker will catch, such as "the thrown secure" when it should be presumably, 'the throne secure', and "Where'd you here that?" when it should clearly have been 'Where'd you hear that'. The price of auto-correct! If you're a writer, turn the damned thing off!

But let's talk about the joy of this novel, because this is far more important than anything else. As I indicated, it was passionately and beautifully written, evocative as hell, and it told a truly realistic and gripping story of two half-sisters, aptly named Chase, since the whole time we're reading this, they're chasing something. Unfortunately it's not the same thing they're chasing, but this only becomes apparent as they mature.

The story flows wonderfully. The girls age about a decade as the book follows its course, and the author does this so well that you do not notice any gaps - not as gaps anyway! Major Kudos for that. Mary is a decade older than her stepsister, and the odd thing is that both girls' parentage is hazy. They know for sure who their mom is, but dad is a less well-defined concept. The thing is though, that Mary, after an initial ambivalence, becomes fiercely devoted to Hannah, whom she calls 'Bunny' due to an event we learn nothing of until the very end of the story. Hannah never seems to resent this name even when she's in her teens.

It's a name that's also evocative of a life running from one place to another, just as Mary's nickname, 'Mare', is evocative of 'nightmare', which is what her life feels like at times, as she struggles to keep the two of them together, ahead of trouble and creditors, and fed and clothed. Initially Bunny goes along with Mary's travel plans because Mary is very skilled at what she does - not only at lifting a few dollars here and there from the wallets of guests at the hotels she finds work in, but also in spinning a fairy-tale of two princess struggling to avoid evil, which Hannah eats up as a child.

Just when Mary thinks she's found her prince charming, her past rises-up to set the sisters chasing again along the highways of the US, trying to get away from their nemesis and keep it together. It's only as Hannah begins to mature herself, that it becomes clear to the reader that these girls are as different as their fathers were, each having their own conflicting goals. You'll discover the power of this novel for yourself, and I promise you'll be upset, but not disappointed. I recommend this unreservedly.