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

Friday, February 15, 2019

Uncomfortable Labels by Laura Kate Dale


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Erratum:
“The more I learnt into trying to hide it, the more it hurt.”
I'm not sure what she was trying to convey with that! I wonder if the 'R' in 'learnt' ought to have been omitted so that it read 'leant' which is Brit-speak for 'leaned'. Or maybe I'm misunderstanding what’s being said there.

This made for a difficult read because of what that author went through, but it was a worthwhile read, and I commend it for that. It was well-written, informative, educational, and important. It felt like a sick joke how much was piled onto this author's plate: mtf transgendered woman who is queer and on the autism spectrum which poor understanding by those closest to her and a late diagnosis of both the ASD and the transgender circumstances did nothing to help. This is precisely why we need understanding and education, so that this doesn’t happen to other people undergoing these same realizations and discoveries.

If either experience (the transgender or the autism) had been the only one this writer endured, it still would have been difficult, but it might also have made for a better outcome. Having both of these to deal with together not only served to confuse things, but also seemed that one would sometimes to feed off the other, obscuring what ideally ought to have been early recognition and a smooth treatment to help both the ASD and the transition to what was to become, if unfortunately belatedly, her natural gender.

The book is divided into three sections: before, during, and after, and each has its own story to tell and difficulties to relate, particularly the last section. For me, who didn't have to go through this, that last one sounded the most painful, but the middle one gave it a close run for its money. The first section as sad, but in some ways very cute and endearing. The whole is a heart-warming story with a happy ending, and a useful tool for others in similar circumstances. I highly commend this as a worthy read, and an essential one for anyone who wishes to understand and learn.


Saturday, February 9, 2019

Dreaming in Code: Ada Byron Lovelace, Computer Pioneer by Emily Arnold McCully


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I really enjoyed this short biography of Ada Lovelace, a near contemporary of Jane Austen, who is commonly described as the world's first computer programmer. It goes into sufficient detail to give you a good picture of her life, but not so much that it gets bogged down. There are images of some of the main characters involved in her life to provide a visual, and the text is a swift and informative read.

Lovelace was beset by a matching pair of bad parents in that one was way too loose and the other way too strict - to puritanical levels. She never knew her father in any meaningful sense because she never really met him. Her mother took her from him at a very early age, got custody - which was unusual for a mother back then, and she never let Ada know who her father was until after he had died, by which time Ada had sort of figured it out for herself. That said her mother was very liberal in terms of getting her daughter an education, which was extremely unusual back then.

Ada had some flighty impulses, but constantly either had them reined in or reined them in of her own accord. She was an avid scholar of many disciplines and excelled at math, which brought her into Babbage's sphere when she became interested in his difference engine at the tender age of seventeen. The rest is quite literally history. Ada died quite young. I commend this story as a very worthy read about a strong female character who happens to have been real, not fictional!


Woman 99 by Greer Macallister


Rating: WARTY!

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

This story initially sounded interesting, but far from being a thriller as the blurb claims, it was slow-moving and had endless, tedious flashbacks which I took to skipping in short order because they were so boring and pointless. They had, from what I could see before I began skipping them, no bearing on the actual story, and served only to interrupt it with annoying regularity.

So, every few screens I would read how this girl would reassert her need to focus on finding her sister Phoebe and rescuing her from the asylum, but then she would predictably meander back to the la-la land of asylum minutiae, behaviors, and politics, rather than focus on how to find which ward Phoebe was in so she could contact her. When she wasn't lost in that, she was lost in the past. It quickly became tediously repetitive. Had Yoda been a doctor there he would have diagnosed her as "Never her mind on where she was; what she was doing."

Flashbacks, in my experience, are rarely contributory. I just think they represent poor writing and they also unnecessarily interrupt the story. There are better ways of referencing past events than simply stopping the story and irritating the reader with yet another info dump, especially if it's irrelevant which, in this case, was consistently true. The flashbacks did not relate to the current story at all. All they 'contributed' was to tell an irrelevant backstory of this girl's relationship with her sister and her fiancé and this other guy she had the hots for, so clichéd love triangle. Barf. And this wasn't the story that was advertised! It was certainly not the story I wanted to read.

Sometimes it began to sound like this girl was herself an unreliable narrator because in the current story she was dissing her fiancé, whereas in the backstory she seemed less antagonistic, but it was b-o-r-i-n-g, which is why I quit reading them. I never felt like I needed to go back and read any of the flashbacks to understand what was happening in the present so what was the point? The current story and the flashbacks seemed to be completely separate stories, and at no time in the current story did she ever refer back to anything that happened in the past.

In another instance of her schizophrenia, I read that on the one hand that "If I confessed the whole truth, I’d be sent back to my parents quick as a wink," and on the other, a mere few lines later she claims, "And if I didn’t do something drastic, all my days would be like this, for all the time to come." I'm sorry? Either she can get out of the asylum by confessing or she's stuck there no matter what! It can't simultaneously be both. The fact that she thinks it can be calls her own sanity into question!

There was another point where I began to think she truly was insane and this story about her going there to rescue her sister was something she made up to 'rationalize' her presence in the asylum. It crossed my mind is that her understanding of why her older sister was there was in error - that her sister had been put there because her fiancé had been having a relationship with her or something. But I honestly didn't care enough at that point about either of these possibilities to continue reading, and I DNF'd it at around the fifty percent mark.

The reason for this was that the current story wasn't much better than the flashbacks, quite honestly. When she found the room her sister was supposedly in, and snuck in to visit, the woman in there was not her sister, but some Russian woman who was using her sister's name. After an agonizing few pages with flashbacks, she finally figured out that her sister and this woman had swapped places. Then - and how she made this insane leap I do not know - she decided this woman had to be one of the Romanov family, so the story further descended into inanity and I gave up on it, having zero confidence that it would ever go anywhere interesting.

I wish the author all the best in her career, but I cannot in good faith commend this one based on the fifty percent of it I could stand to read. And BTW, the Romanovs are all accounted for: they all died in the end.


A Love Haunting by Suzi Albracht


Rating: WARTY!

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

I thought this might make for an interesting read, but I could not get into it at all. The haunting husband came off to me as a very selfish person, stalking his wife for his own needs and not expending an ounce of thought for her, and the writing style felt juvenile to me, like the kind of thing I would have written in my teens. It did not appeal to me at all.

The story is of Jordan, who is in a deadly car accident with his wife Emily, who was pregnant. Jordan is a doctor. Emily was planning on being a nurse. Jordan discovers he is still 'alive' after the accident and he doesn't present as being too smart at this point because it takes him forever to discover he's a ghost. From that point on, the story goes downhill. Everyone and their uncle can apparently see ghosts in this world, yet it takes an age before Jordan himself actually sees another ghost. When Luke comes along, he's unbearable. At least he was for me.

Luke is a skateboarder and his language simply nauseated me. Here's how Luke addresses Jordan when the two have barely met: "Jords, my man, the world is our oyster." No! Just no. That was when I quit reading this because I simply could not bear the thought of reading another word of Luke's dialog at all. Luke reminded me of that idiot guy Harry Ellis in the movie Die Hard who snorts coke and tries to negotiate with the terrorists - and is summarily shot by Hans Gruber. I was simultaneously wondering if this is how Luke met his end and begging for Gruber's ghost to show up and shoot Luke. He was obnoxious.

I'd been turned off the story prior to that though. Authors routinely dis nurses in stories where hospitals are featured as part of the story because it's all about the doctor, isn't it? As it happens, this appears to be the very theme of this story: Jordan's needs. So this novel went down that sewer when I read this grotesque insult: "I wanted to convince Allie to shoot bigger and become a doctor." Yes! The take-home message here is that nurses are substandard and contribute nothing compared with the doctor gods! Barf.

So I am sorry. I started out hoping for the best, but was more and more turned off by the story the further I read, and in the end I DNF'd it. I can't commend it as a worthy read based on my experience.


Sunday, February 3, 2019

Super Scientists by Anne Blanchard


Rating: WARTY!

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

This was a very confusing book because Net Galley has it listed as "by Anne Blanchard," as does the cover (with illustrations by "Tito") but the book itself internally lists it as "by Hervé Guilleminot & Jérôme Masi." Those latter two have written at least one book in this series, and I wonder if their names somehow got in there by mistake? It's very confused and one of many problems I ran into.

This initially seemed to me to be a neat and useful book giving brief details about well-known (at least to me!) and some lesser-known scientists, but the more I read of it, the less enamored I became. I was pleased by the inclusion of several female scientists, less pleased by the lack of scientists of color. I think that the problem is that the book focuses more on scientists of yesteryear, and less on more modern scientists. Carl Sagan is excluded, but Neil deGrasse Tyson is included, and I got the impression this was done solely to include a lone African-American scientist in the list (Brahmagupta is included and is a person of color, note, but he's Indian).

There were also multiple problems of errors in spellings or grammar in the text on the pages covering Darwin, Mendeleev,
Hawking, Tyson, and some others. On the Tyson page, for example, the text mentions gravity, but that refers to a movie title, so it should have an initial capital: Gravity. Strictly speaking, Einstein did not invent E=mc2, BTW, nor did he discover it. In fact he never used it in any of the papers which made him famous! He only made the formula famous by association.

To my knowledge it was first used by JJ Thomson around 1881, when he derived it inaccurately as E = 4/3mc2. Olinto De Pretto, an Italian, also derived it independently and equally inaccurately, but used 'v' instead of 'c' for the speed of light. It was used (although again with an error in it) by Friedrich Hasenöhrl before Einstein, and these people derived their work from earlier discoveries by such as Max Abraham, Oliver Heaviside, and Henri Poincaré.

There are confusing errors too, such as having Thales be the first to determine that the Moon merely reflected the sun's light, and then five or so pages later, having a different scientist, Zhang Heng, be credited with this primacy. This book definitely needs a serious effort at editing and correction. Some of the wording, such as that on Darwin's page is nonsensical. This may be because of translation errors or may be just sloppiness. Either way there is no excuse for it.

It brings together a brief assessment of the progress of science and the scientists who enabled it over the years:

  1. Thales
  2. Pythagoras
  3. Aristotle
  4. Euclid
  5. Archimedes
  6. Zhang Heng
  7. Hypatia
  8. Brahmagupta
  9. Avicenna
  10. Alhayzen
  11. Roger Bacon
  12. Nicolas Copernicus
  13. Galileo Galilei
  14. Johannes Kepler
  15. Isaac Newton
  16. William Harvey
  17. Rene Descartes
  18. Antoine Lavoisier
  19. Mary Anning
  20. Michael Faraday
  21. James Clerk Maxwell
  22. Charles Darwin
  23. Gregor Mendel
  24. Louis Pasteur
  25. Dmitri Mendeleev
  26. Ada Lovelace
  27. David Hilbert
  28. Marie Curie
  29. Ernest Rutherford
  30. Albert Einstein
  31. Neils Bohr
  32. Alfred Wegener
  33. Alan Turing
  34. Rosalind Franklin
  35. Vera Rubin
  36. Franchise Barre-sinuossi
  37. Tim Berners-Lee
  38. Stephen Hawking
  39. Neil deGrasse Tyson

I confess I am not sure what order the list is in exactly! Yes, it's chronological, but Tim Berners-Lee, who codified the World Wide Web, was born over decade after theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, yet he precedes him in the text, so maybe some chronology other than birth order is employed. That's a minor issue. You will notice that there is only 39 names in the list. This is because the fortieth is, inexplicably, the human genome project!<\p>

The single name most closely associated with that is Craig Venter, but evidently because he was running a private genome scan in competition with the public one, he gets no credit here. There are a lot of scientists who do not, including many of color who have made major contributions to science. Women are represented, but could be more so. Emmy Noether gets a mention, but not a page to herself, and Lise Meitner gets no mention at all, for example.

While as of this writing, no black scientist has won a Nobel prize (although many people of color have won one for endeavors outside of science) there are women and people of color who could have been mentioned for their contributions such as Samia Al-Amoudi, Alice Ball, Benjamin Banneker, Satyendra Nath Bose, George Washington Carver, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, Charles Drew, Joycelyn Elders, Ernest Everett, Sunetra Gupta, Indira Hinduja, Manahel Thabet, and so on.

I think this book could have done a lot better in its selection, and it certainly could have been a lot better edited. Given it is what it is, I cannot commend it as a worthy read.


Saturday, February 2, 2019

In Blossom by Cheon Yooju


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I have to confess up front that I had no idea if this author's first name was Cheon or Yooju. Net Galley has her name as "Cheon Yooju", but the book cover has it as "Yooju Cheon," and the book cover is in English, so did this mean that her last name was Cheon? Fortunately, my local library, which has this book, came to my rescue because it has her name listed as by "Yooju, Cheon" - so there you have it! Last name is Yooju! How confused we are in the west about Eastern practices and culture, huh?!

Anyway, I was charmed by Cheon Yooju's book which features simple, but beautifully elegant illustrations, sparse, but meaning-laden text, and drawings (by Cheon Yooju) which effectively conveyed as many words as the text did. Dog meets cat and rather than fight with the cat ending up a tree, they both sit on a bench under the tree and enjoy the breeze and the blossoms falling, and then...something clicks! I loved it and I commend Cheon Yooju's work as a worthy read and a worthy art work. And now I hold the record for most uses of Cheon Yooju's name in a review! Yeay me! (And yeay Cheon Yooju!)


A Story About Cancer With a Happy Ending by India Desjardins, Marianne Ferrer


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a wonderfully well-illustrated (by Ferrer) and written (by Desjardins) short story about a fifteen-year-old girl who is diagnosed with leukemia. I was unable to discover if this is a true story or not, but in a more meta sense, it must be, because there are remarkable recovery stories, and this was one of them.

The story begins with the girl heading into the hospital with her parents to learn the verdict on her latest round of tests, and she is preparing herself to be told when she will die. As she walks the uninviting hallways of the building, she recalls episodes from her life that have taken place since she was first diagnosed.

She remembers her best friend, and her boyfriend, and her parents behavior and reactions. And of course, there's a happy ending! I thought it was beautifully done and gorgeously illustrated, and I commend it as a great story (even if not strictly true). It's honest and positive, and perhaps would make a sweet gift to a young someone who is going through a similar experience.


Dragons In Love by Alexandre Lacroix, Ronan Badel


Rating: WARTY!

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

I couldn't review this children's book, written by Lacroix, and illustrated by Badel, positively because of the strangely violent episode that occurs in it. I had initially thought that using a dragon as a symbol for the roaring feelings inside oneself, which being very fond of someone can engender, would be a great metaphor.

The book began well enough when, after a ballgame in the park, a girl kisses Drake the dragon, and his confusion made a lot of sense, as does his confused avoidance of the girl for a while, but finally he's reconciled with her when he discovers that she's being teased by a bully. That's all well and good, but Drake's response, seeking to help her by sending a roaring blast of flame from his mouth all over the bully was entirely inappropriate for a children's book. The child wasn't harmed other than being 'singed', but I simply cannot condone a children's book that itself condones such violence and brutality, and therefore I cannot commend this book as a worthy read.


The Mozart Girl by Barbara Nickel


Rating: WARTY!

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

Set in 1763, this is a middle grade (not middle-grave as I initially typed! That's a whole different genre! LOL!) novel that I originally thought was based on a diary, but no such diary exists. In fact we have almost nothing of Maria Anna Walburga Ignatia Mozart (who was a contemporary of Jane Austen), that doesn't come to us via a third party. There is a notebook that was created by her father, and which contains compositions that she played, but the only reason that survives, I suspect, is that it also contains compositions that her kid brother, the renowned Wolfgang Amadè Mozart, added to the book of his own accord.

I was disappointed to discover that the diary entries are spurious. That removed this novel further into fiction, and that became a problem for me because other than the general outline of the story - a tour which actually did take place - this book is pretty much all fiction, and for me it was way over-done. I had thought the over-wrought tone of the novel was taking its complexion from the diary, but that's obviously not the case if there is no diary.

Additionally, some of the history is a bit off and the modern language seems inappropriate. Naturally you don't want a novel of this nature to sound archaic, but a little less modern slang would have improved the tone. It's also historically inaccurate. At one point, the author is talking about wax candles when in that era, tallow was the norm, and she mentions gelatin, when aspic was the norm back then.

She frequently refers to financial woes when in fact, the Mozarts did very well for themselves in this tour, at least until both children became ill and things slowed down quite a bit, but no such illness is mentioned for "Nannerl" (Marianne), only for "Wolferl" (Mozart). I have to say that though it is historically accurate, these endless '-erl' nicknames made me want to hurl. I shall refer to the sister as Marianne which was what she went by when pet names were not used.

The worst faux pas was getting the main character's birthday wrong! Marianne turned 12 on 30 July 1763 when the family was in the middle of a three year tour of Europe, but in this novel, she turns twelve before the tour begins, and the author has her birthday in June!

At each stop during the tour, the author has her taking second place to Wolfgang whereas in reality, she was, at least initially, the star performer, but clearly this changed as Mozart the younger began to flourish, and maybe that's what the author is trying to reflect here. I don't know. I was quite confused by this point!

Another faux pas the author makes is the discussion of money. She makes the father sounds like some sort of avaricious beggar. As I said, they did well for themselves on this tour earning substantial amounts, but the author always has them sounding impoverished. That's not as bad as this one section when they visited an important family - that of Baron Kerpen and his musically talented children - and the Mozart father says at one point: “How wonderful to have such a fine orchestra, all in one family...Do you ever play in public, for money?”

That would have been an unconscionable impertinence back then. It really stood-out like a sore thumb to me, and continued a process of turning me off this story even more than I already had been. If the novel had not been so short, and I was not already over halfway through it by then, I would have DNF'd right there. As it was I made it only to eighty percent before I could not stand to read any more when the author was making a fuss about Christmas, which back in Mozart's time, was not the big event it is today. Yes, it was celebrated, but the bigger event was Saint Nicholas's Day which was early in December.

I understand this is fiction, and little is known about Marianne, particularly how she thought and felt, and that some dramatic license is permissible in a novel like this, but the portrayal of her in this story felt wrong, inauthentic, and frankly, disrespectful of such a talented young woman. It may well have been that she had the same musical yearnings as her brother, and even the same skills, but we will never know because nothing of hers survives to compare with Mozart's own work.

What does seem likely is that her facility with music was what inspired such a passion for it in her kid brother. He watched as her father taught her to play. She was an accomplished musician, but that doesn't necessarily mean it was all she ever had on her mind as is implied here.

Rightly or wrongly - obviously wrongly by our modern expectations - there were different pressures and constraints on girls back then, and certain behaviors that now are considered restrictive and even abusive, were the norm and accepted as the way things are. Precious few people saw life differently. To present her in a modern light as though she had beliefs and lofty, but frustrated ambitions that she may well not have had is an imposition and is dangerous ground for writers to traverse with such abandon.

Perhaps Marianne was exactly as she was as depicted here, but we don't know, and it seems to me to be more likely that she simply enjoyed playing, and had no other ambition. It may well be that she chose to set aside music later in life in favor of other priorities, and had no grand plans, frustrated or otherwise, that she longed to pursue.

It may have been just the opposite. The fact is that we do not know. What we do know is that women had certain expectations both for themselves, and also that were set upon them by others, particularly their parents and husbands, and we do not know exactly where her own views lay, so to present her as this thwarted, frustrated genius felt like a grave imposition to me and one which is not supported by history.

It's true that there is much debate about her talent, not so much about her playing ability, which is a given, but about her compositional skills, but as I mentioned, of those we have nothing by which to judge. She composed music, that we do know, but none of it has survived. The only real 'evidence' we have of its quality is the complimentary comments of both her father and her brother, and while I'm sure these were genuine, we do not know if father was praising a talented daughter and brother was praising a fellow prodigy, or if both were simply bolstering a beloved daughter/sibling with great praise where average praise may have been more objectively appropriate. It’s a great shame that we do not know, but the fact remains that we do not.

Where this book did well was in highlighting her playing ability, but everything else is pure speculation and I felt it serves a woman like Marianne badly to puff her up for talent (in composition) that we know nothing of, while underserving the talent she had that we can certainly attest to, based on historical records. I cannot commend this as a worthy read therefore.


Monday, January 28, 2019

Through, Not Around by various authors


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Potential erratum:
"the abdomen twinges, back acne" - not sure if that really should be acne, or back ache. Maybe it’s acne, but I just thought I’d mention it! If it had been worded 'acne on your back' it would have been more clear!
“hormoneinduced” is two words, but Amazon's crappy Kindle conversion process once again screwed up this book every chance it got, introducing random new line insertions, running lines together when they should have been separate, and so on, Once again I recommend avoiding Amazon at all costs. Publish your book somewhere where they have w system that doe into mangle text, or output it as a PDF file.

Subtitled "Stories of Infertility and Pregnancy Loss" this book, edited by Allison McDonald Ace, Caroline Starr, and Ariel Ng Bourbonnais, was a depressing but very informative read. It's probably the hardest book I've ever had to read and I had to read it. No one can know what it feels like to go through what these women (and their partners) have gone through unless you yourself have experienced it, but reading this certainly clues in the clueless to what a devastating and life-consuming 'affliction' this can be, especially if, as is the case in some of these stories, the excruciating efforts do not lead to any sort of success.

I requested this because I did want to understand even if the reading was painful, and at some points felt rather repetitive and even tedious to read because a lot of the stories here tell, in many ways, the same story - the lack of ability to reproduce and the heroic efforts made to overcome it. It’s hard to imagine how that can feel when we so often see a purposefully scary headline telling trumpeting what the teen pregnancy rate is; conversely, we never read of how someone never got pregnant. It’s like another world in some ways, and the pain and feelings of failure and inadequacy which pervade so many stories is hard to read, but I think necessary. That's not the only problem either. When a pregnancy does not go to term, it leaves a woman still pregnant in many regards as biochemistry continues to play havoc with a body that is no longer host to a new life.

As mentioned, there were many similarities between these stories: the inescapable sensation of loss, the feeling of never knowing what it's like to carry a child inside your womb, or worse, to carry one only to lose it prematurely, the cold indifference of far too many medical so-called professionals who see a woman on these straits as merely another client on a long line of faceless patients they pass through their charge. They too often deal with impatience, rather than a person who is hurting, upset, feeling depressed or feeling like she is failing her biological imperative, despite a quiet desperation to succeed.

But there is also a lot of variety, because not every person is the same, not every case of infertility has the same roots, and the stories were not just about infertility, but about devastating and multiple miscarriages, and fruitless if strenuous effort. I cannot imagine how that must feel but I know from reading this that it's not something anyone should ever have to feel. One of the hardest things tor had was how many of these prospective parents resorted to bullshit non-medicine - naturopaths, acupuncture, burning moxi sticks (I never knew what that was until I read this!).

Even going the competent medical route costs a fortune when it comes to fertility treatments. One infertility procedure mentioned in this book had cost upwards of $12,000. This is on top of all the mental anguish that couples seeking to have a child which nature would deny them must suffer. The asshats who purvey snake oil to people who are vulnerable need to be run out of town on a rail. I get the medical science doesn't know everything, and cannot guarantee results, but it has a far more solid track record than woo medicine, which has none at all. Quacks who offer alternative "medicine" are no more or less than child predators, period.

There was one scene in the Marvel superhero movie "Age of Ultron" featuring the character known as Black Widow which was quite controversial at the time. During a regrouping of the heroes after a setback, there was a moment between Black Widow in her Natasha Romanov guise, and Hulk in his Bruce Banner guise. Clearly Nat wants something more from their slowly developing relationship, but Bruce is so focused on the monster he becomes that he insists it cannot work. Nat then advises him: "In the Red Room, where I was trained, where I was raised, they have a graduation ceremony. They sterilize you. It’s efficient; one less thing to worry about; the one thing that might matter more than a mission. Makes everything easier, even killing. You still think you’re the only monster on the team?"

Clearly she's talking about pregnancy interfering with her mission objective, but as a woman with biological urges, she feels that loss in the same way someone who learns they are infertile or close to it, must feel it. The writer-director was chided severely by some people for writing this: for reducing, they claimed, Natasha to a reproductive unit and diminishing her in every other regard, but those people, who call themselves feminists, conveniently forget that it is a biological imperative for the majority of women, regardless of what profession they have. It is felt by some people not at all, by others overwhelmingly, and by all those in between to a greater or lesser extent particularly around the time she's ovulating. It is a part of who women are, and to deny that is clueless, even for a fictional bad-ass like Black Widow. Who are these people to dictate to another woman how she should feel?

Is she not allowed to experience natural compulsions, and to mourn the loss of them? I think it's her choice, just as it’s the choice of all these women who wrote here, to choose their own destiny - to have kids or not, to want kids or not, to have them with a permanent partner or not, to fight for their choice, and to choose to write about it if they want? It’s no one else's business, and it makes a woman no less a person, no less a career woman, no less an adventurer, no less a soldier, no less a firefighter, no less a school teacher, no less a librarian, no less a homemaker or whatever she has chosen to pursue - and no less a fictional assassin! - to have these feelings and to honestly acknowledge and address them. Black Widow did it in private to someone she trusted and loved, a circumstance which busybodies who loudly broadcast their judgment on her (and the writer director who had her say these things) tend to forget.

There were some errors of fact in this, but that's understandable. For example, at one point I read, “gluten-free oatmeal,” but oatmeal is naturally gluten free! Of course it can become contaminated by association if it’s produced in processing facility that also handles gluten-containing cereals, but personally I've never had an issue eating oatmeal. People more sensitive than I might do so, though. Perhaps that's what the author meant.

One thing that bothered me was that pretty much all of the prospective parents here seemed to have a lot of financial resources to keep pursuing their aim. It would have been nice to have read some stories about people who were not professionals - who were less well-off. it felt like an opportunity had been missed - and gave the book a slightly elitist aura. There is no doubt that the emotional stress is common across all income groups, but it has to be of some comfort to know your options are not limited by your bank balance.

Overall, though, I commend this as a very worthy read, and something which will no doubt be of high value to others who are enduring these are circumstances. I'm glad these writers chose not to keep their pain private, but to share it with me and every other reader, because I'm a better person for knowing these things - for having a better understanding of this whole situation - than ever I had before. I commend this book for telling the story in the words of the very people it most directly affected, and for putting together a collection that opens eyes and hearts.


Saturday, January 19, 2019

You Can Do It, Squirrel by Kate Breuer


Rating: WARTY!

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

This sounded like a fun picture book for young kids according to the blurb but unfortunately, Amazon's renowned crappy Kindle conversion process destroyed the book. I downloaded it twice, once to my phone and once to my iPad, and in both cases, the book delivered a cover and nothing else. Every one of the seventeen pages was a black screen, so there was on book to read. Not that I'm racist! I enjoy a mix - black text and white background, or vice versa. Either color on its own is a fail! We have to stand together on this!

This is therefore more a review of Amazon's pathetic process and its lousy, destructive, abusive Kindle conversion process than it is of this novel. It sucks. I urge all publishers and authors to abandon Amazon and their pathetic process altogether. We're just handing them more and more power and they do not deserve it. They haven't earned it and don't even try. Please use a process that works and that does not shred, spindle, and mutilate your book. Use something that works, such as PDF, Barnes's and Nobles's Nook system or something else. Anything but Kindle.

I can't commend a book that has quite literally been gutted by Amazon.


Relentless by Wudasie Nayzgi, Kenneth James Howe


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Subtitled "An Immigrant Story," this book tells of how an Eritrean woman, writing under the pseudonym of Wudasie Nayzgi, single-handedly took on the challenge of bringing her family to the USA. The thing is that this isn't what her initial plan was. She had only wanted treatment for her daughter, 'Titi', who had a heart defect, and her mother had not the first inkling back then, that this would embark her entire family upon a journey that would, all told, take ten years and thousands of dollars to finally get her daughter treatment and knit her family back together again. I don't doubt though, that had she known this from the beginning, she would still have undertaken this journey. There is a companion book to this, Dreams of Freedom, written by her husband 'Yikealo', describing his own experiences during this time.

This is simultaneously a heart-breaking, nightmarish, horror-story and the ever-hopeful narration of an exceptional and strong woman who would not let anything get in the way of doing what needed to be done for the health and integrity of her family. I am not sure, I confess, why the author needed a co-author. By the time this book was written she was perfectly fluent in English, a language she already spoke before she ever had any idea of leaving Eritrea. But speaking English well is by no means a guarantee that the speaker can writer it engagingly.

The problem with that is that while I do commend this story as a worthy read, it was not written well despite having another author onboard. The use of English was perfectly fine, but the flow of the story was another matter. At times it was so vague that it was hard to tell what was going on. There seemed to be gaps where things happened without them being related, and so they became a surprise when I read of them later. For example, one of the problems she had to contend with was losing her job, then a lot of time passed with no mention of her working, and suddenly she apparently has another job, but I don't recall ever reading how, where or when she got it. It felt like part of the story was missing. On that topic, note that the cover picture is not the author - its a misleading stock photo and probably not even an Eritrean.

There were large gaps in the narration when an amount of time, often quite large, passes within the space of a few words, which makes it hard to keep track of how much time is passing in the story overall, so although it took ten years to get this accomplished, the narration makes it seem like it was much shorter. On top of this, there is a lot of detail about life in Eritrea, but much of it seems superficial, while other things that appear to be customary in Eritrea aren't mentioned, leaving questions. I'd like to have learned more and in greater depth.

A lot of the story is about 'Wudasie's' worrying over what was going to happen, and it occupied so much of the story. While this is in a way understandable, it is also something that anyone who has had such problems, even if they were nowhere near as critical as 'Wudasie's' were, can readily understand. It's something with which we are familiar, and became a little tedious to read repeatedly. Life in Eritrea, on the other hand, is something that was worth learning about, and it's something which few people - including most everyone who hasn't lived there, can grasp. It would have been nice to see more of the latter, and a little less of the former.

One thing which was confusing was the names. I understand there may be a need or at least a desire to protect family, but it was unnecessarily confusing. The youngest of her two daughters was named 'Natsanet', but when in an afterword we see her graduate from high school, her name is given as 'Natsanet Yikealo', not 'Natsanet Nayzgi'.

Her husband's name is consistently given as 'Yikealo', so I had assumed this was his first name; then why is their daughter named so? The companion book is attributed to Yikealo Neab. That latter name is never mentioned in the book except as the author of the companion novel, so why isn't the daughter named 'Natsanet Neab'? Is 'Yikealo' a last name? if so why does she call her husband by his last name all he time and why isn't the author named 'Wudasie Neab'?

If 'Wudasie' is married why is her last name different from both her daughter's and her husband's? I later learned the these are pseudonyms, presumably aimed at protecting the privacy of the the author and her family, which is perfectly fine, but it lacked consistency. If the explanation for all of this is through some sort of Eritrean custom, it would have been interesting to hear of that, but as it was, it looked like this was really sloppy writing, and it leeches credibility from the story.

It just felt strange that something like that had never been gone into, especially given how much talk there is about filling out forms and verifying marital status and listing children and so on. You'd think at some point during that, this would have come up, but I don't recall it ever being addressed. You'd think a co-author would have asked these questions and offered explanations, which is why it begs the question as to why a co-author was used here. Maybe others will not be concerned at all over things like this, but for me, when I read about another country in a book like this, I really like to really learn about that country as part of the author's experience, otherwise why bother reading a story like this?

Anyway, 'Wudasie' was planning on getting treatment for her daughter's condition in Ethiopia since her own country, Eritrea, did not have the medical facilities to accomplish what needed to be done. The problem was that Eritrea had claimed its independence from Ethiopa only a few years previously, and not every abrasive surface had been sanded smooth between the two nations, both of which had seemed to become more radicalized and authoritarian since the breakup. The situation deteriorated when a new war broke out between the two nations, and deteriorated further still when her husband was forcibly-conscripted into the Eritrean army during a business trip he was making.

'Wudasie' didn't see him for six months until his basic training was over and wasn't even officially notified what had happened to him. She had to dog for that information herself. He was luckily re-assigned to a military base in the town where they both lived. All this time she was fighting to get her daughter's condition treated, and failing or being stone-walled every step of the way, through no fault of her own. The thing is that Eritrea is an oppressive, authoritarian government - or it was back then - and seemed completely indifferent to the suffering of its citizens, even if they were children. This book will really put your own problems into perspective: every step of the way it was like two steps forward and one step back for this mom.

Your daughter can be treated by visiting surgeons from abroad - but they find other children that have crowded into the waiting room for treatment to be more needy than your daughter. You can get her treated in the USA, but doctors there discover she has three conditions, not one, and are willing at her age to treat only two. You can leave the country to take your daughter to the USA for treatment, but you must leave your other daughter behind in Eritrea. You can bring your other daughter to the USA, but you cannot also bring your husband, even though travel regulations require an adult to accompany a child so young. Your daughter finally arrives in the US, but looks painfully thin and it has been so long since you saw her that she is unbearably shy around you, and stand-offish, treating you like you're a stranger, not like a mother. You can bring your husband over, but it's going to cost and take a year to do it.

Every single step involved the massive weight of indifference, bureaucracy, and the need to supply little (or a lot) of cash - to grease the wheels, some of which disappeared without bringing a thing in return. Everything involved almost interminably long waits which were often followed by setbacks because some more paperwork was needed, and the wait for that paperwork meant a deadline was missed on some other process, which then needed to be restarted as well. This wasn't just on the Eritrean side, but also on the American side.

It was depressing to read how often she fell back on her faith, which didn't do a thing for her. No god helped 'Wudasie', yet she often ascribed 'miracles' to the work of a god, denying herself credit for what was solely her own tireless and unstinting efforts. The fact is that everything she did was through her own strength, grit, determination, and a flat refusal to let anything stand in her way of getting treatment for her daughter and reuniting her family. The author, it would seem, despite appeals to her god, would agree with me. She wrote:

No one is going to hand you what you think you deserve just because you won the right. You have to go get it if you can. You have to grasp it and hold onto it, and then wield it like a sword. And you can't let it go if someone tries to wrestle it away from you.”

A miracle would have been if her family had gone to bed the night after her daughter's initial diagnosis, and awoken the next morning in the USA, as full citizens, with her daughter cured. That's what a miracle is. Fighting tooth and nail for ten years, suffering endless delays and setbacks, and spending a fortune on corrupt officials isn't a miracle. Nothing happened that she did not go out there and wrestle into submission with her own two hands, and make happen for herself. She is heroic, and everyone who thinks their own petty problems are insurmountable needs to read this book and find out what real problems are like.

She is immensely lucky too, to have gone through this before the current president got into the White House on the coat-tails of Russian hackers. Had she tried all this now, she would never have left her (and I quote that same president) "shithole [African] country" and been accepted here. She would have been written-off as a rapist and a drug smuggler, faced a flat denial that these children were really hers, been accused of being an actress purveying fake news, and she and her family deported back to the nightmare she left behind her, assuming her kids didn't die in the custody of the ICE, that is. That's where huddled masses are re-directed these days from one of the most wealthy, best-off, and most pampered countries on the planet.

Despite these problems, I commend this book. I think it should be required reading.


Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Unbalanced by Courtney Shepard


Rating: WARTY!

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

I gave up on this Net Galley novel called "Unbalanced," because frankly, it was. On the face of it, the plot was actually appealing: it was about these four women who are evidently sisters who were separated at birth, but I don't know why. They each have one of the four elemental powers: air, earth, fire, and water. Not that any of those are actual elements, but I was willing to let that slide for a fun, or entertaining story, even though the names of these characters are a bit improbable if not laughable.

The blurb tells us that each generation brings out four sisters to fight against a fanatical, secret faith, but all this really tells me is that the sisters are useless in that they've obviously - and repeatedly - shown they're incapable of truly defeating this faith! The blurb says the sisters are born to fight this battle, but are unaware of what awaits them? Maybe that's why they fail? LOL! Or maybe the blurb-writer is just clueless. It's been said that when you do the same thing over and over with the same result you should try something else - or just check yourself into an institution. Evidently these girls are too dumb to own that.

The main character is fire, and her name is Asha. The earth character is named Ivy. The water one is named Mere. I forget the fourth. These are names from a parody, not a serious novel, but I was even willing to let that go for a good story. The problem is that Asha is initially portrayed as this fierce warrior woman, yet when she was captured by this guy who was originally sent to kill her, this supposedly tough young woman became immediate putty in his hands.

I started having serious problems with it at that point, but the next chapter introduced Ivy, who was kick-ass - in this case literally - but just as I was starting to like the novel again, back comes Asha, who despite her power being fire, leaves me cold, and she was even more putty-er in this chapter than the previous one. No. Just no. That was just less than 25% in, but I couldn't stand to read any more of this.

Asha hadn't been this guy's captive anywhere near long enough to be suffering Helsinki syndrome, nor had she been in his company long enough, and even had she been, she's supposed to be this bad-ass girl, yet the story began reading like a cheap BDSM "romance." I could not both keep reading this and keep my stomach contents. I chose my stomach.

I am so, so tired of YA female authors who have quite obviously never heard of the #MeToo movement, creating these supposedly strong female characters and then turning them into wilting violets and objects of gratification at the first whiff of testosterone. I cannot support a novel with this dedicated level of disrespect for women. It's unacceptable and honestly? The author needs to get a clue - and a more original title.


Saturday, January 5, 2019

I See a Bear, But... by KA Morgan


Rating: WARTY!

I tend to apply a different - but not a lower - standard to children's books in my reviews. I don't think they should offer less than books for grown-ups, but I cut them more slack in how they tell stories, in artwork, and sometimes in quality if the story is nevertheless good. I especially favor them if they're amusing, instructive, clever, or downright off the wall, which is probably why I love my own The Little Rattuses™ series so much. I couldn't do it with this one though.

I'm a great fan of puns and do not understand why something that was so beloved by Shakespeare has become such an object of derision these days, so I was amused by the title of this book and I had hoped the interior would deliver more of the same, but not exactly the same! The problem with this book was that all it did was essentially repeat the same butt joke eight times over, and the story didn't even deliver anything educational about the animals except the cliched general "knowledge" that everyone has about bears, moose, wolves, squirrels, rabbits, deer (even though a moose is in fact a deer!), raccoons, and skinks. And yes, moose is the plural of moose - not mooses, and certainly not meese.

The author has apparently made a rather extensive career out of this same shtick, because she has titles like "I See a Cat, But...", "I See a Chicken, But...", and "I See a Reindeer, But...", but it's the same thing endlessly repeated. There's nothing new or educational here and I cannot commend something as unimaginative and uninventive as this.


Friday, January 4, 2019

Belly Up by Eva Darrows


Rating: WARTY!

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

This book rather rubbed me up the wrong way right on page one, so it seems that I and this author must part ways since this is the second one of her novels that I have not liked. I negatively reviewed the previous one in December 2018. So I guess I'm done with this author and she's no doubt glad to be done with me!

Even before I began to read this, I could see by the white space that this author evidently really dislikes trees, to want to slaughter so many to make a print book! Each chapter starts halfway down the page, and the margins on every page - which I assume is mapped out for a print version - had glaring, massive, tree-rasing white spaces. I'm slowly getting to the point where I'm thinking about DNF-ing and negatively reviewing all print books which are so disrespectful of the environment.

The next thing was in those first few lines where I read:

There's a first time for everything.
First time playing quarters.
First time spinning the bottle.
First totally hot consensual truck hookup with a superhot boy whose digits I forgot to get.
First time getting pregnant.
Surprised you with that one, didn't I?
Actually, no you didn't, because it's all in the back-cover book blurb! I know authors typically don't write their own blurbs unless they self-publish, but this author's blurb is word for word the opening lines of chapter one! The unexpected expectancy is central to the plot, so in what way was it even remotely a surprise? Not a lot of thought went into those opening lines! Fortunately, the book turned around somewhat after that, and it managed to draw me in, but the relationship 'tween author and reader was stretched even so, and by a quarter the way through, I could not stand to go on. This was a stillbirth.

So serendipity (yeah, why a mom only one generation away from her Swedish extraction would choose such a name goes unexplained), aka Sara-for-short, had a truly foolish hook-up with a guy she had never met before, knew nothing about, but nevertheless had unprotected sex with him - in his pickup truck (they're named pickups for a reason, and you should have no truck with them!).

I have to say that this girl comes off as profoundly stupid and so very easily manipulated by everyone. She never even went to get a morning after pill, and had no interest in getting checked up for STDs. Then of course she got pregnant and while the author wants us to believe she has some conflict in deciding what to do about it, the writing makes it clear she's already made her decision, so all the dithering and uncertainty felt completely fake in such a tell and no show novel.

The best example of this - and the one which made me give up on it - pops up about a quarter the way through the book, where Sara's mom is packing boxes into the car for transportation to her mom's house. The two of them are moving to live with Sara's grandmother to save on bills, This has nothing to do with the pregnancy, but when Sara offers to help, her mom ignorantly bans her from lifting, as though she's an invalid.

No! Pregnancy does not automatically make a woman an invalid! Women are not fragile. They're not delicate! They can lift things! They can open their own doors! They can even close car doors - Megan Markle proved it! What a shock! They do not need to be bubble-wrapped and set in a corner where they will not be interacting with anything dangerous! So why do authors, and even more shamefully, female authors, treat their own gender like its weak and delicate?

Yes, if there are medical reasons why she needs to take it easy, that's one thing, but in Sara's case she's a strong, healthy young woman with no medical issues and no pregnancy problems. She's just been given a clean bill of health by her doctor with no restrictions, she's only 11 weeks in, and yet her mom thinks it will be a disaster if she lifts a box or two of household items?

The problem with this is two-fold in that first, Sara hasn't decided if she's keeping the baby, so this concern seems a bit overdone given her ambivalence. If it miscarried, while that itself would be traumatic for her whether she wanted the child or not, it would solve her problem of not wanting to be saddled with a pregnancy in her circumstances, yet while every other remote and absurd eventuality seems to have crossed her overly fertile mind, this particular one never enters, not even in passing? It rather belies the ambivalence she's supposed to be feeling - hence the tell and not show problem.

But even if she was dead set on keeping it (she is, but the author thinks we haven't noticed), let's consider some real women. Jocelyn Benson, at 38, completed the Boston marathon in 6 hours while very pregnant. 35-year-old Amy Keil did the same thing at 34 weeks in 2015. Meghan Leatherman set personal records in Crossfit at 40 weeks, including weight-lifting. Lea-Ann Ellison did the same sort of thing.

At the 2009 Grammy awards, MIA, aka Mathangi Arulpragasam, got up and sang Swagger Like Us, danced in a bikini, and delivered her healthy child three days later. These women may be exceptional in more ways than one, and I am not suggesting that every woman carrying a baby immediately follow their example, but their example proves that pregnancy does not cripple a woman! It does not equate with being an invalid. It does not demand every woman for every pregnancy be coddled like fine bone china! Yet this author seems to think it does.

It would have been nice had the author shown that this young healthy woman could carry a box or two without having to call her friend to come over and help. Actually, given Sara's sorry ignorance, if her friend Devi, whom she'd inconvenienced by calling to come over and help had lectured her about what a pregnant woman could do, that would have made for some good reading.

As it is, it's a double problem in that Sara's mom thinks Sara is utterly helpless now she's pregnant, and Sara thinks her mom is inadequate in that she can't carry a few boxes out to the car by herself and desperately needs help. So we have a female author espousing 'weak women', and two female characters all but dismissing each other as a whole person. It was sad, and brought me that final step to DNF-ing this novel.

This author doesn't seem to have a good handle on pregnancy either, or needs to clarify her writing better. At one point she's talking of the baby being fully-formed, and later talking of it being a bean. Maybe she means the size of the fetus when she refers to a bean, but she's not being very clear what she means.

At eleven weeks a fetus might be described as the size of a large butter bean, but it is also recognizably humanoid. Despite looking human though (and ignoring the outsized head which is half the body's length at that stage) the baby still doesn't even have red blood cells, let alone be remotely viable in any other way. It's incapable of breathing before the second trimester, for example, because the neurological system isn't properly there, so despite looking humanoid, it has less going for it than your average caterpillar! So please do not take your what to expect when you're expecting lessons from this novel! Take 'em from a competent, experienced, and fully-qualified medical doctor!

In short, I cannot commend this as a worthy read. It was far too loosely-wrapped, and while I was certainly not expecting a medical manual, I did expect authenticity and realism and got neither.


Monday, December 31, 2018

The New Color Mixing Companion by Josie Lewis


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a useful book for artists, going into some interesting and practical detail about color mixing, gradation, shading and tinting. It's patently evident that the author has put in some serious work here. It covers collage, mixed media, and pure paint, and works through examples you can follow practically, exploring various aspects of color mixing as you go.

The book includes a glossary of terms and goes above and beyond color wheels and simple paint-matching and contrasting into a more advanced appreciation of just what color can do and how it can impact the eye. It offers inexpensive solutions and provides a series of printed templates for the practical experimentation and emulation of the examples the author sets. Obviously it's intended as a print book, and presumably using photocopies of these images rather than paint directly in the book(!), but it would be no problem to take a screen-shot of the images in your ebook version, bring them into a computer so they can be printed out to work with them that way.

I found this to be a comprehensive, detailed, and eminently useful contribution to painting, and I commend it as a worthy read.


Creative Coding in Python by Sheena Vaidyanathan


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Erratum:
On page 57, the second text box has 'reminder' instead of 'remainder'.

Sheena Vaidyanathan, a computer science teacher in California, is a respected name in programming education, and this was a fun and easy-to-follow book that introduces anyone to the Python programming language. Python - named after Monty Python - was created by Dutch programmer Guido van Rossum in 1991 and version 3.0 was released in December 2008. It was designed to be sensible, simple in concept although powerful in execution, and very easy to read and understand.

Although I'm not a professional programmer by any means, I have a long programming experience in a variety of languages, so please keep that in mind when I talk about how simple and straight-forward this is! Your mileage may differ, especially if you have no experience, but that won't make any difference to your ability to learn this language if you're willing to apply yourself. As the author explains, the language and the development environment are free, so there is no outlay. It won't cost you a thing to play with it for a couple of weeks and see if you take to it - except for the time you spend on it of course. It's inspired me to try it out even though my main focus and the bulk of my free time these days is devoted to writing fiction.

This book explains simple concepts to begin with, to get you up and running, and expands on these until you're producing much more complex programs without feeling like it's been a pile of hard work to get there. It includes over thirty Projects in art, games, math, and other endeavors, but it doesn't simply tell you to do this and get that result, it opens up creative options whereby you can change the code to achieve new objectives. You can build a chatbot! The book references the first convincing chatbot, ELIZA, named after Eliza Doolittle of Pygmalion (and the better-known My Fair Lady) and created by at MIT by Joseph Weizenbaum, and which I remember tinkering with when I first started learning basic.

One of the benefits of Python is that it can import modules that expand the range of things it can do, so by importing what's known as the Turtle module, you can get it to create some amazing geometric designs and change those designs just be tweaking the code that you write. That's one of the nicest things about this book. In process of teaching, the book enables you to both learn the concepts and take advantage of them, and in tinkering with them, learn them more thoroughly. In the section on using Boolean logic (named after George Boole, a self-taught English mathematician who nevertheless became a professor of mathematics, and who wrote a book The Laws of Thought, which prepared the ground, a century later, for the information age. Here you can use his discoveries to create an adventure game! The book also covers arcade style games.

This is a fun, useful and educational book which will, in easy ways, introduce children and other novices to computer programming. I think it was wonderful; it teaches an important skill and sets up the mind for critical thinking, I commend it highly.


The Last Conception by Eva Darrows


Rating: WARTY!

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

This was a novel that started out great, but then seems like it jumped the tracks and went off into a completely different territory and got lost. That - around sixty-six percent in, at the end of chapter eighteen - is where I quit reading it because it had become too boring and silly to pursue for me. Was it an LGBTQIA romance? Was it religious fiction? Was it a mystery? Was it supernatural? It couldn't decide.

I had really been invested in it because not only do I love reading about Indian characters I was also engaged in this particular character's lesbian relationship(s), but I lost interest when it lost its way and was no longer engaging. Part of the problem as that the main character, Savarna, was diminished and her role seemed to be taken over by minor characters such as her sister Chitra, who had barely been in the novel at all, and also in part by Savarna's girlfriend (one of two she had!) who had been in it more than Chitra, but was also largely a minor character until about the fifty percent mark.

It was very confusing and didn't make for a satisfactory read to have these people coming out of nowhere with no real past. Just as 'Charley' started becoming more interesting, Savarna rather cruelly abandoned her for a trip to India which was such a tedious whistle-stop tour that it was meaningless instead of being the pivotal event it ought to have been.

Savarna is an embryologist in a bit of a YA love triangle with the trope 'bad girl' as well as with 'sweet girl' Charlemagne, obviously the good softer, gentler partner. The bad girl completely disappeared from the novel without any explanation while Charlemagne, typically referred to as Charley, was also listed as Charlie on occasion. Savarna also appears twice in as Saverna.

She has Indian heritage - that is from India, not American Indian, but she has she no interest in her heritage or her parents' religion. Her parents have been urging her to find a nice boy and settle down, but neither of them know that Savarna is gay - not to begin with. Something suddenly changes (there are a lot of sudden changes in this novel) and her parents start urging her to have a child, because Savarna is supposedly the last of this ancient lineage from some mystical teacher in the past, and since her sister is 'barren'. It's all on Savarna, but no explanation is offered as to why this has so suddenly become an issue.

It's patent nonsense, because by the time Savarna was born her so-called 'blood line' would have been so genetically diluted as to be completely meaningless in terms of carrying on anything, and Savarna would have known this if she was the scientist she was supposed to be, yet her parents put this appalling pressure on their daughter, and nothing is said about that either? Savarna is supposed to be rooted in science, yet she never once questions any of this, and neither does her 'devoted' girlfriend Charley.

Eventually Savarna bows right down to the pressure for no apparent reason, and desperately starts trying to get pregnant using sperm supplied by a completely unquestioning coworker, who himself has a partner who never seems to question his involvement at all - in fact, she's barely mentioned.

None of this made any sense to me, and it seemed so utterly unrealistic that I couldn't take it seriously. No one talked about how stupid this blood line idea was, and no one talked about how inappropriate it was to put that kind of pressure on a woman to have a child. Neither was there any reason supplied as to why it was so critical that they have this child. So what if the line died out? We don't know because it was never discussed. This whole mess is where the novel lost me as a fan.

Note to author: You can't carbon-date something if it doesn't have carbon in it, so gold? No! Maybe the old robe if it was made of natural materials, which I assume it was, but even then, you can't nail it to an actual year, only to a range of years, so you could prove the robe is roughly X years old, but not to whom it belonged. But none of this mattered really because no significance was ever attached to the existence of the robe and the ring - what did it matter? So what if they were old and really had belonged to a guru? What difference did that make to anyone?

No-one was questioning that this sect existed and had been around for many years, so the robe and ring seemed pointless. I assume they were brought in to convince Savarna, but nowhere was that change of opinion really predicated on the evidence. In short, it had no influence on her precipitously diving into this conception binge, so what was the point? She'd already begin trying to get pregnant before she ever went to India so what was the point of that? These things never had any real import or relevance. By this time the novel was a complete mess. It was like utterly random stuff had been tossed in for no good reason, and I gave up on it.

I had thought I would be reading a complex novel about a strong lesbian woman and difficult choice, but none of that was in this novel. Savarna was not remotely strong except in her stubborn determination not to have a baby, which rapidly crumbled for no good reason. She was stringing along two lesbian partners and did not have the intellectual wherewithal to choose the one who was best for her, so she came off like an idiot at best and a cruel player at worst.

She more or less fell into the relationship with Charley/Charlie and then began talking of raising a family with this same woman she was unable to honestly commit to for half the novel? To me, Sarvarna was simply a jerk. If it had been Savarna who was obsessing on continuing her family lineage (for whatever reason) that would have at least been something concrete, but for her not to really care that much and then suddenly obsess on it made her look weak, stupid, and childishly impulsive.

Her girlfriend Charley/Charlie could have been a really strong character, but she was essentially reduced to the job of nursemaid with benefits, having vague sex with Savarna at random times, and titillating her after she's been injected with her coworker's semen. Those scenes felt a bit creepy , but was Charley/Charlie really supporting her? Not so much. Savarna was already resenting her presence. Did Charley/Charlie fight to travel with her to India? Nope. Did Charley/Charlie question this whole thing, including Savarna's psychotic parental pressure? Nope. The only thing Charley/Charlie did was to railroad through the 'carbon-dating' of the artefacts, and she did this in such an underhand fashion, going behind Savarna's back that it actually made her look like a meddling troublemaker.

The book felt like it really wasn't ready for prime time. In general the writing was not bad, but there were some issues such as the variant name spellings I mentioned above, and also minor instances such as where I read, "And what, per se, where you asking?", which clearly should read 'were you asking'. The biggest technical problem though, was the same issue I've encountered repeatedly when Amazon gets its hands on your book and mangles out a kindle version of it. This novel was obviously written as a print book with (what to me are pointless) page headers and so on, but Amazon mangles these things with glee, so there were page headers appearing in the middle of the text.

That's not all! Most of the first two paragraphs in chapter thirteen were in red - presumably because of Amazon's crappy Kindle conversion process. As if that wasn't enough, random sets of those red words were tied together with no space between them such as: haveGrandma'sthingscheckedout,but. There were many other examples. In chapter eighteen there were nine screens of badly-formatted text. The justification was lost, so the text had ragged right margins, and again, headers were mixed with text, so the Kindle version is definitely not fit to sell, and that fact that this wasn't;t checked is on both publisher and author. It should never have been offered for review in this state.

But the formatting is something that can be fixed relatively easily. A tedious story that makes no sense and demeans its main character cannot be fixed without a rewrite. Consequently I cannot commend this as a worthy read.


Saturday, December 29, 2018

We Build Our Homes by Laura Knowles, Chris Madden


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a fun and educational story about animals that build. Be it homes or a means to attract a mate, they do a workmanlike and wonderful job, and they live all over the world.

In a series of colorful and beautifully-done illustrations by Chris Madden, and with some rather poetic prose from Laura Knowles, the story is told from the animal's perspective and describes (from the blurb): "mammals, birds, and insects [which] can be found building incredible things. From biggest beaver dams to tinniest caddisfly cases...." There are the exotic, such as ovenbirds, which build adobe huts on tree branches, and the amazing Darwin's bark spiders, which build gigantic webs, to the more mundane, such as moles, to the highly endangered by human stupidity and lethargy: polar bears, who can build a toasty home out of icy snow in bitterly cold weather, and then starve themselves for five months while their cubs almost literally suck them dry!

The book doesn't focus solely on fluffy mammals like too many children's books do, but covers some insects, reptiles, as well as birds, and features some more grown-up details in the back for interested adults - and every adult should be interested in what we're doing to our home even as these animals struggle to continue to build their own. Every kid needs to be raised with a deep appreciation for nature and for the damage humans can do when we think only of ourselves and not of our home - Planet Earth, Anything which can bring kids a keener awareness of nature, and how it works, and how delicate some of it is, is to be welcomed, and I commend this for being an important part of that education.


Colorways: Watercolor Flowers by Bley Hack


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I've been posting several reviews on various art forms, and here's another to add to the collection, which will doubtlessly be my last art book review this year. This one, part of a 'Colorways' art series, focuses on the delicate art of watercolor flowers and how to achieve various looks and effects with this ethereal medium.

The author offers hints and tips from her own personal experience, including useful techniques such as wet-into-wet painting, washes, gradations, and glazing, as well as step-by-step instruction on achieving certain effects such as capturing a rose bloom for example, which by any other name still looks as sweet! The book includes advice on how to keep a painting frame of mind when your tools are not to hand - or better yet, when you have a camera to hand to capture ideas for future paintings, and in this day and age, who doesn't have a cellphone camera? Hey if you don't, go get one for art's sake!

The book goes beyond just watercolors and into collage with a step-by-step on creating a picture frame made from a watercolor, and I enjoyed reading this and adding to my stock of general knowledge even though I don't have any immediate plans to immerse myself in this demanding medium. I commend this as a worthy read, and a useful tool for anyone interested in improving their watercolor technique.