Showing posts with label fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fiction. Show all posts

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi


Rating: WARTY!

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

There was nothing on Net Galley from whence this came, nor appended to the novel itself to indicate this was volume one in a series. Had there been, I wouldn't have request it. I'm not a series person because I don't buy into the popular idea that the only thing better than one novel is three novels all telling the same bloated story. Publishers buy into it because it makes them money and it's getting to the point these days where it seems that you can't sell a novel - particularly if it's a young adult novel - to a publisher unless you can promise them a tree-slaughtering trilogy. This is why I personally have no truck with Big Publishing™ in terms of selling my own work.

I read this authors A Crown of Wishes over a year ago and had the same problem with that that I ended up having with this - a strong start followed by a slow decline into boredom as the story rambled on too long instead of staying on topic and getting to the point. If I'd known that Kirkus had reviewed this positively, it would have saved me some time. They never met a book they didn't like so their reviews are meaningless. Any time I see them gush about a book, I avoid that book like the plague on principle.

Set in 1889 Paris in an alternative universe where magic exists, and only two of the original four powerful magical houses of France remain, the novel follows the story of wannabe house leader Séverin Montagnet-Alarie and his ragtag band consisting of renowned stage performer Laila, artificer and socially-inept Sofia, botanist Tristan, and pretty boy, the Latin Enrique.

The group are thieves, and Séverin seems to think this will lead him back to greatness, especially when he's approached by Hypnos, an alienated childhood friend, and the enigmatic leader of one of the two remaining houses, who offers Séverin a way back to heading his own house for his help in acquiring something for Hypnos. This kind of story has been done before, but here it was given a glaze of bright paint that was fresh enough to initially render it quite appealing, but the more I read, the more translucent that glaze became, and the underlying mess bled through.

I was truly disappointed, but not altogether surprised, therefore by the ending which wasn't an ending. It was dissipated and rambling all over the place when it should have long before come to a satisfactory conclusion. It never did because this wasn't a novel - it was a book-length prologue and I don't do prologues. It never explained the title, either - or if it did, it went by so fast that I missed it. Yes, the crew wore wolf masks on occasion, but why? I have no idea!

I was truly disappointed in the author, and felt robbed of a good story by her. What we got in place of an ending was a cliffhanger, so this and the rambling story-telling turned the whole book around for me in a very negative way. While I'd liked the beginning, the book was way too wordy and draggy and started losing me in the second half, and that ending was the last straw. This is why I don't like to invest my time I reading long novels! This was nearly four hundred pages and only about half of it was worth the reading. The only thing it was missing was a good editor. I cannot commend it as a worthy read.


Friday, November 2, 2018

I Don't Want to Eat Bugs by Rachel Branton


Rating: WARTY!

Illustrated rather oddly by Tim Peterson, this book for young children didn't impress me. The story is supposed to be about a young girl curiously-named Lisbon. Maybe she should have been named Lisbon-bon since she's so hungry! Reporting to her mother, the poor child finds no solace there.

Her mother informs her that dinner is almost finished (by which I assume she means it's almost ready), but instead of offering her a small snack though, or advising her to wash her hands and take a seat at the table, and having her maybe eat a little salad or fruit, mom sends Lisbon out to play?

The oddity about this image is that Lisbon looks pregnant, despite being little more than a toddler. I found that a curious illustrative style. Maybe it's part of the eccentricity of the depictions, because Lisbon also looks like she shares a condition of macrocephaly with Joseph Merrick.

When she goes outdoors, Lisbon is offered a bug by a bird and she declines. The illustration of the bird makes it look like it has a trunk. it took me a minute to see that the bird is extending a wing to offer the bug. Next her cat offers her a mouse it has caught. The dog recommends catching a hedgehog, but failing that, offers her some of its dry food. Finally she decides on ice cream which her mom promises her after she eats dinner, which is now, of course, ready. Lisbon doesn't wash her hands.

This book could have been a great opportunity to educate readers. It offers no reason for Lisbon to reject the food other than the mouse is cute, for example, but neither does it explain that there are cultures which do eat bugs, and hedgehogs, and mice, but it was wasted. It didn't really tell a story, and certainly it wasn't educational, to say nothing of unhygienic, so I can't commend this at all.


Agent Colt Classified Pride by A Lynn Wright


Rating: WARTY!

This was an awful, awful, awful CIA operative novel. Latesse Colt (because she's a closet lesbian filly, get it?) is a super-agent for no apparent reason. She blabs secrets to a stranger on a plane only to discover the woman, 'Vaneesa' is to be a partner, replacing sexist pig Isaiah, who is openly inappropriate to Latesse (sounds like latex, doesn't it?), but never once called on it not by Latesse herself, and not even by Latesse's supposedly no-nonsense female boss when he does this stuff right in front of said boss!

That was when I quit this asinine and amateur story. Even the writing was amateur as attested to by this run-on sentence I encountered very early in the novel: "Texas wasn't a bad place to be everyone was just so nice." The author needs to change her name to B Lynn Wright because she's not going to be A list writing like this.

Talking of inappropriate, it doesn't extend just to the absurdly caricatured male partner. It also extends to female characters. Latesse's female boss is described thus: "She had given everything for her career. No marriage, no kids, just work." So this female author is evidently convinced that a woman is missing something if she doesn't marry or have kids. Excuse me? How is this author any better than jackass dick Isaiah-the-pig-partner? Far from being apologetic, she doubles down on it soon after by having this character say, "Don't end up like me, close to retirement and no kids or grandkids to spend it with."

So clearly, a woman is useless when she has no kids. Forget about satisfaction with her career; forget about speaking engagements or writing a biography; forget about friends; forget about leading a life of solitude after all she's done, if she so chooses; forget about outside interests she might have, forget about even developing a satisfying romance later in life. Forget all that and a score of other reasons. Just focus on this one thing: if a woman doesn't have kids she's a complete failure. Screw you A Lynn Wright, who evidently doesn't get it right. I'm done with this author permanently.


Phase Two by Chris Wyatt


Rating: WORTHY!

This is an audio retelling of the wildly successful movie Guardians of the Galaxy that came out in 2014. Read pretty decently by Chris Patton, it was pretty much a word-for word copy of the script, with some minimal description tossed in, but unlike the movie, it isn't even PG-13 rating - it's more like a Disney animated film rating, so all questionable comments and references are omitted or re-worded. Other than that it's a pleasant listen for anyone interested in the Marvel universe.

I'm not sure there's anyone out there who is even moderately media-aware who doesn't have an idea what this movie was about, but if there is, then briefly, the story is an origin story of the formation of the Guardians, from a rag-tag band of misfits, disaffected revenge seekers, con-artists and thieves, into a genuine family of caring team-mates who don't actually save the galaxy (that comes in volume two!) but who do save a planet and defeat a brutal psychopath known as Ronan the Accuser.

The story starts with the young Peter Quill, so terrified by his mother's impending death that he won't hold her hand. Instead he runs out of the hospital only to be 'beamed up' into a space craft. The story then resumes twenty years later with that same Peter, now a mature (or maybe not) man who calls himself Star Lord, and who is on a mission to recover an artifact, which he tries to sell outside of the outlaw group who captured him all those years ago. His mission fails.

Oh, he gets the artifact, but he's captured when he tries to offload it, and he's tossed into a brutal space prison with three other villains, two of whom are the bounty-hunting team of Rocket and Groot. Groot is an alien species superficially resembling a tree, but who has legs and arms and the ability to speak and regenerate, although all he ever says is "I am Groot" in various tones which represent what he really means. Rocket, created by Marvel writers based on an old Beatles song (Rocky Raccoon) is a genetically-modified talking raccoon, whose experimental test designation was 'Subject: 89P13'. Now he's highly inventive, agile, scheming, and dangerous.

The third party is Gamora, another alien who was adopted by super villain (or is he?!) Thanos, whose self-appointed mission is to wipe out a random half of the universe in order to provide better living conditions for the other half. He adopted Gamora after killing her parents, and she became his trained assassin, but she's now decided to betray him to bring his murderous scheme to a halt.

These four meet the final member of their team in the prison. He's Drax 'the destroyer' (although he looks nothing like a navy ship...) who has a personal vendetta against Thanos and Ronan because they killed his family and he wants to kill Gamora, but Peter talks him out of it and the five of them join up to sell this artifact that Peter recovered, which turns out to be one of the six Infinity Stones which have been in existence from the start of the universe. Thanos wants them to complete his mission, Ronan steals it to pursue his own mission, and the Guardians are the only people who can stop him!

No one ever explained, neither in the movie nor in this novelization, why it is that Thanos isn't smart enough to know that with all six Infinity Stones, he can remake the universe however he wants without killing anyone! I guess he doesn't have the stones.... It's a pity one of these stones wasn't called the Smart Stone - with the ability to make people think critically and rationally.

So, fun stuff and a lot of laughs. The audio doesn't have the same magnetism and charisma of the movie, but it's a decent substitute and I commend it.


The Circle by Dave Eggers


Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook I picked up after seeing the movie of the same name based on this book, and which starred Emma Watson and Tom Hanks. The movie was rather improbable, but close enough to reality to be entertaining. The book, read by Dion Graham, was less than thrilling. It was far too wordy. People often claim the movie isn't as good as the novel for a given story, but I frequently find the opposite: that the novel is sometimes too rambling and the movie script writers have seen this and cut through the author's self-indulgent crap to create a much better story that flows and moves, and doesn't get lost in itself.

This getting lost was the problem here as the author went rambling on and on about things which contributed nothing to the story and which failed to move it, which in turn failed to move me. I DNF'd this in short order. You might argue that if I'd picked this up before the movie, I might have enjoyed it better and disliked the movie, but I really don't think so. A boring novel is objectively a boring novel, and the proof of that pudding lies in the fact that even though I listened this quite recently, I can barely remember any of it now. It made that little of an impression on me. Consequently my advice is to skip this novel and watch the movie instead.

It's not a great movie and I doubt I'll want to watch it again, but watching it once graphically illustrates the dangers of putting too much personal information out there. The Circle is both the book title and the name of the social media organization that this young woman, Mae Holland, believes is a career high. It's quite clearly F-book - a forum that lets members put out endless personal crap for the world to see, whether it wants to see it or not.

This business of publicizing oneself, which I've never bought into, is taken to extremes here, with The Circle being more of a cult than anything else, and with the advent of this miniature camera system, called See-Change, which can be stuck anywhere, and which transmits sound and picture by some unspecified means (using an unspecified energy source!) in real time to your device would have some positive benefits, but it's also rife for abuse and no one seems to call that out.

The movie diverts from the novel in some places while following it in others, and I think it's to the good that it diverts. I liked the representation of the Annie character in the movie better than the novel, and Mae was a jerk in the novel from what I could tell - not so in the movie, but since I DNF'd this I can't comment more on it than what's here. That said, I didn't like what I heard and cannot commend this based on my experience of it.


A Touch of Gold by Annie Sullivan


Rating: WORTHY!

I got this book from the library, and I'm glad I did because now I just consider it a waste of my time and not a waste of my money! It's about King Midas's daughter. Initially it had sounded interesting to me, but when I began reading it, I wasn't impressed with it and didn't see any point in continuing. The first problem is that it was first person which is far from my favorite and nearly always a grave mistake by an author. The tone was completely off-putting.

The story is based on the Greek legend of King Midas, who supposedly was granted a wish by the god Dionysius, that whatever he touched would turn to gold. The wish was granted, but Midas quickly realized it was a curse. He could not eat food or drink because whatever he touched turned to gold. Midas is said to have had a son, and in some versions of the story a daughter instead, but the old legend says nothing of having a daughter whom he turned to gold or of his being cured.

That part of the story comes from Nathaniel Hawthorne who published it in his A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys in 1852 which included this legend and which Hawthorne augmented by having the King turn his daughter to gold. The King then begged Dionysius to remove this 'gift' and was told to wash in the Pactolus river, which would reverse the curse. This book feeds on that and has the curse be only partially removed from the daughter, leaving her human and of flesh, but having her skin colored gold à La Shirley Eaton as Jill Masterson in Goldfinger. In the part I read, there is little description of her so it's not clear if every bit of her is gold or just her skin and hair (I mean, are her eyes gold? Her tongue?).

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The girl is supposedly considered ugly by suitors, except for the one who meets her at the start of the story, whose title is listed as Duke. I'm sorry? This is ancient Greece and they have Dukes, archdukes and Lords? Where did that come from? Is it merely so there can be an equivalent of Lord Voldemort or Lord Vader? What's this Greek Lord called? Lord V-something no doubt. It was this asinine story-telling which completely spoiled the story for me and I had no desire to read past this point, my opinion of this author rock bottom, as in the bottom of the deepest gold mine in South Africa.

In fact it was at this point that I discovered that the author teaches creative writing, and it all became clear. I have never seen a good story come from someone who teaches creative writing or who has graduated from such a program. I don't know what the problem is with that, but it very effectively kills good story-telling. It was worse than this, though. On the author's web page (at least at the time of writing this review), the author asks the reader why they should preorder her book! The five largely selfish answers she gives are very nearly all about making her money:

  1. Publishers often make decisions about an author getting a second book deal based on preorder numbers.
  2. The more preorders, the more copies of the book they'll typically print, which means they'll then usually increase marketing budgets to sell all those books.
  3. All preorder sales hit on the same day, meaning an author could potentially make lists like the New York Times bestseller list because all those sales count for the same week.
  4. You'll usually get a cheaper price. Preorders are usually discounted the earlier you order.
  5. You'll make an author's day! I can't tell you how happy I was when a friend told me she'd preordered 10 copies of my book!

Could this be any more avaricious and self-serving? Don't buy my book because it's any good: buy it because I'll get richer from increased sales? No thanks! I actively dis-commend this novel and I have less-then-zero respect for this author.


Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a largely well-written and highly amusing take on Pride and Prejudice. In a modern version of this novel, and to stay true to the repressive, controlling atmosphere and public censure women were forced to endure in Austen's time, you would have to set the story in a religiously-strict locale, and in this case it’s Pakistan that was chosen. The story is set in 2000 and 2001, and with a lot of character name changes, largely follows the outline of Austen's story. I found it entertaining, but I have some observations to make on the 'translation' into modern times and exotic locales.

I think in general the novel was very well done, with some good decisions made about how to translate various characters and situations into modern times. If I had one initial complaint that popped out at me during the reading, it would be the rather annoying self-awareness the novel seems to exhibit with regard to it being a riff on an Austen Novel.

Austen's works are mentioned frequently enough that it was bordering on becoming a parody at times, and the pretension in name-dropping of what are too-often considered 'the classics' in novels was irritating to me. There is an endless stream of novel references which, whenever I'm reading a novel that does this, typically feels to me like a tool used amateurishly as a lazy substitute for actually doing the work of showing that your character is intelligent and educated, and I'm never impressed by it.

That this was set in a non-English-speaking country. Believe it or not, there are very many such countries, and American writers seem scared to death of choosing any as a setting for their work, so kudos to this author for being as fearless as she is inventive, but given this I found it somewhat annoying in its frequent use of foreign terms and phrases.

I don't mind the phrases in moderation; it’s a pleasant change. What I do mind is the ritualistic compulsion on the part of the author to immediately stick a translation after the foreign phrase. This really trips up the story for me because rather than adding some atmosphere and a bit of color and verisimilitude, it merely suggests to me that the author is trying to sound clever.

Personally, I find it far better to include such words and phrases infrequently, and give them without a translation, allowing the context and your reader's smarts provide an understanding for them. Have a little faith in your readers! As it was, it could have been used less and as such would have been less irritating to me, and less disturbing of my suspension of disbelief.

Maybe it's just me, but a good example of this is where I read (and before you read on, be warned there is some bad language in this novel!), “How many times should I tell you not to not say behen chod, sisterfucker. It’s so insulting to women. Use your own gender and say bhai chod, brotherfucker.” To me it’s insulting that the author would think I cannot extrapolate from this context that the second phrase is masculine, so that she feels she needs to spell it out to me. She really doesn't! There were many instances of a similar nature.

An issue I've seen often with writers is when they're so focused on the text they're producing that they forget that this isn't supposed to be simply words on a page. It’s supposed to be a story of people living their lives, interacting, speaking...and hearing! So unless the main character's mom was routinely reading English newspapers (she may have been but there is nothing in the novel to indicate that she understood a word of English much less could read it), then only way she would know any given English word is from hearing it used, perhaps on TV.

The thing is that if you hear it used, you do not routinely mispronounce it as though you had read it somewhere! Even if you do misunderstand it, the whole process is different when it runs through an auditory process than when it runs through a visual one! So from the nervous nelly of a mom here we got a lot of mispronunciation-cum-malapropism such as "Pinkie, say ‘Tetley’ again. What did I tell you, Goga, ‘Tut-lee!’." We also got, for example, "Prince Chaarless and Lady Dayna." I don't see how you can get that unless you understand English reasonably well and are also dyslexic in English, neither of which applied to Mrs Binat! So, suspension of disbelief issue here!

Another example of this was where one particular character's name was deliberately mispronounced by one of the siblings in this story's equivalent of the Bennet family, so that it became "Fart Bhai." Fart is an English word, not a Pakistani one, so that name would not have sounded insulting or like a young boy's bathroom joke in any Pakistani language. Pakistan doesn't have one main language, but several. There are five which are spoken commonly. In Pashto fart is 'goez', in Urdu it’s 'puskee', and in Punjabi, in which district I assume this action is set, fart is 'garama', as far as I can determine using online resources. None of these sound like the English version of the word, so this joke made little sense.

A similar situation arose when the author had Wikaam (Wickham) set his price for marrying Lady (Lydia). In the Austen original, he doesn't actually set a price, but an amount is bandied around as a minimum, and this is £10,000. In today's money, that would be about £300,000, or almost $400,000 (depending on current exchange rate). So Lady is highly undervalued here! The amount stated in this novel $100,000 which is only about £76,000.

I found this most curious because Pakistani currency isn't dollars; it's rupees, one hundred of which are worth (at the exchange rate when I wrote this), only seventy-five cents. So very, very roughly one rupee equals one cent. An equivalent evaluation for Wickaam, in Pakistani coinage, of taking on Lady would be something like fifty three million rupees!

Perhaps the author thought that sounded far too high to western ears? I don't know. As the author it is of course her choice, but it seemed odd to me to use dollars instead of rupees or pounds (given how often Britain is referenced in the story). This was obviously written for an American audience! I just pass this on to highlight how complex it can be to try 'translating' an old story for modern ears, especially if the setting changes.

And now a writing issue! The author chose the interesting solution of adjusting the character's names to fit what I must assume are Pakistani naming conventions. The De Bourgh family for example became 'dey Bagh', and George Wikham became Jeorgeullah Wikaam. Elizabeth Bennet was Alysba Binat, and Darcy became Darsee. Curiously this rule was not applied to the location in which the story was set!

The original story takes place in and around Meryton, but the story in this book is set in Dilipabad, which is a fictional Pakistani location as far as I know. Dileep is a boy's name meaning 'King of the solar Race', and 'abad' means these days, very roughly, 'city of' so it would translate as the City of the King of the Solar race, but I have no idea what that's supposed to mean! In the Punjab district of Pakistan, there is a town called Multan, a name which sounds similar to Meryton, and which is not far from Lahore. I don't know why the author didn't simply use that, but again, it’s her choice.

The author's technique with names though, had the advantage of helping to keep everyone's straight, although I confess I got lost from time to time. I think if I'd done this, I'd have been tempted to go a different way, but maybe this worked better. I’d have been more inclined to look at what the English name meant and use the local translation of that, so that Lydia, which means 'beautiful one' would translate to Sudara (close enough!), which is actually a pretty cool name, but that means Elizabeth (oath of god) translates to Paramēśura dī sahu which really doesn't work! So maybe this author's choice was the wiser one?!

But enough with the writing issues and criticism. As I said at the beginning, I found this story engrossing and entertaining, and it kept me swiping the screen and tempting me away from my own writing projects too often, so this was definitely a worthy read. It even helped, indirectly, by reminding me of the original story, to clarify and gel some ideas of my own in connection with my upcoming redux of Pride and Prejudice - which I haven't even started yet but which I have now decided is up next after the current project, and which I promise is not set in modern times, nor is it set in Pakistan!

So I am greatful to have read this for that alone, but it was much more than that to me. It offered more than a literary stimulant; it was a good sotry, well told, and made more interesting to me for the very fact that it was so different from the traditional retellings of this which have become multifarious as well as nefarious and are typically boring and uninventive at best, or badly done at worst. I am grateful this wasn't such a story and I fully commend it - and look forward to this author's next offering.


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Peep by Maria von Lieshout


Rating: WORTHY!

This is another in what appears to be a series of confidence-building books by this author. I have no idea how many there are in the series. I know there are at least three and this author, who is Dutch by birth, has published over a dozen children's books on various empowering themes. I just happened on them by accident in my local library while checking out a display of kid's books the librarians had set up. Unlike the Goodreads 'librarians' for example, who don't appear to do a damned thing, the librarians in my local libraries are fun and inventive and hard-working, and their efforts pay off.

This one concerns a young chicken name Peep, who is following her brothers and sisters, who are in turn following mom, line-astern, on an outing, but when they reach the curb it seems to be so very high for a little Peep who wouldn't say Bo to a sheep. Mom and the siblings seem to have no trouble with it, but Peep can't handle this at all. However, with encouragement, pluck and determination, Peep makes the leap and does not regret it - that is until she reaches the other curb and has to figure out what to do next - which is delightfully where this tale ends.

I really liked this story. Just like the previous volume I read by this author, this one is also colorful, simply but competently drawn, amusing, and playful. I liked the humor and the lesson, and I commend it as a worthy read for young children.


Splash by Maria von Lieshout


Rating: WORTHY!

This playful and amusing little book for young children tells the story of a seal who can't seem to do much and feels very disappointed in itself until one day the sun falls into the ocean and it's up to the seal to replace it. The seal discovers that it can do things when those things are very important to it, and this leads to reconnecting with its friends. Fortunately for small and delicate flippers, the sun is only the size of a small beach ball and not too hot (it was cooled off by the ocean no doubt!), so this task isn't too arduous.

This is a colorful book (not all the seals are navy, for example...) and proved inventive and quite entertaining. The author appears to have a series of these, and I shall be reviewing one other like it by the same author. I commend this one as a worthy read.


Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell


Rating: WARTY!

This was a wildly optimistic audio book experiment given that I'd already tried Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl and DNF'd it because it was an unmitigated disaster. I found myself forced to adopt the same approach here because this was simply not getting it done. Essentially it's a bit of a rip-off of Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan which was published in 2006 and is a much better read.

Rowell seems to be an uninventive writer who loves to tell rather than show, and who seems to think that stereotypes are daring. No, they're really not, but they do win awards evidently, which is probably why I'll never win one. The first problem is that the basic story is antique: a boy and a girl hate each other, but fall in love? Been there done that to death.

The second problem with this is that it's written as dual narratives which suck. The only kind thing I can say about that was that at least it wasn't in first person. The third problem is that the author doesn't even pretend she can write such a novel about modern youth, so she sets this in the eighties so she can write it about her own youth. Yawn.

The chapters are all called either 'Eleanor' or 'Park' and each is read by one of the two readers: Rebecca Lowman and Sunil Malhotra, and they lay out the perspective from the PoV of each main character so the author can tell you rather than show you what's happening. They meet on a school bus which is populated with stereotypes: jocks, cheerleaders, nerds, and so on. It's painfully tedious; there's nothing new, and I cannot commend it. I'm permanently off reading anything further by this author.


Sun and Moon by Lindsey Yankey


Rating: WARTY!

This tells of the envy of the Moon wanting to have a chance to be the Sun for one day. The sun is harsh though and will only agree to swap if the Moon agrees to make the swap permanent. The Moon has one night to make the decision. Paying extra attention to everything that takes place in the night, the Moon of course realizes that nighttime has many charms, and in the end decides not to swap.

Normally I cut children's books some slack, and let them get away with more than I would a book written for older children or adult audiences, but this one didn't impress me at all. The first problem is that the Moon was a 'he' when the Moon has typically and traditionally been associated with femininity and goddesses. The sun's gender wasn't made clear, so conceivably it could have been female, but I couldn't help but wonder why the Moon was masculinized here.

On top of that, the story suggests how stupid the Moon is - having failed to notice all that beauty which 'he' notices on that one night; the observations lead to the Moon resolving to stay. What bothered me about this was that it suggests that a person should be content to 'stay in one's station in life' and never strive or hope for more. I don't think this is good advice to pass on to children.

Admittedly, this would have been worse had the Moon been given a female gender which would then suggest that the masculine sun was dictating what the feminine Moon should do: stay below that glass ceiling as it were, because it couldn't handle a tough day job. I don't have any idea if the author saw it that way, but it still doesn't change the point about ambition. Too much ambition, or ruthless or blind ambition is a bad thing, but healthy ambition - a desire to improve one's station and an aim be the best one can be at something is a good thing, and this book seemed intent upon slapping that down.

I think this same story could have been much better written: for example as a joint decision by the two to swap for a day/night, and then by mutual agreement decide to return to their original stations, having learned they are both happier where they were. I just did not like the way it was handled here. For this reason, I cannot commend this one as a worthy read.


I Am Peace by Susan Verde, Peter H Reynolds


Rating: WORTHY!

Subtitled "A Book of Mindfulness" this book aimed at younger children, is intended to teach them how to be in the moment and not let extraneous worries or concerns tip them off their balance. I just reviewed a children's book called Verdi. Now I review one written by a Verde - and illustrated well by Reynolds. The book is short and to the point and offers advice on how to enjoy the now and not let worries and fly-away thoughts distract too much. The book is simple and modestly colored, with nice drawings and good advice for people who tend to let things get in the way of living life to the fullest. Everyone could use a little of that, and I commend this book as a worthy read.


Verdi by Janell Cannon


Rating: WORTHY!

This young children's book was hilarious. A hardback with glossy colorful pages and limited text, it tells the story of a young snake by the name of Verdi, who loves his yellow coloring and doesn't want to mature to the usual green scales. He tries to fight this, but in the end he loses and realizes that change isn't necessarily a bad thing.

As far as I can tell, Verdi is Indonesian - supposed to be a green tree python (Morelia viridis) based on his coloring, his life in the trees, and his residence on an island. These pythons are actually under threat because of smuggling to feed the pet market, and pythons like these do not travel well - many die before they ever reach the pet store.

What impressed me about this book was the beautiful artwork which manages to be colorful and realistic without looking like it belonged in a biology book. What amused me was the text and the snake commentaries from various other members of the local Pythonidae family. Verdi isn't impressed with these adults and decides to strike his own course, but no matter what he does he doesn't seem to be able to stop the spreading o' the green! He is determined, but nature beats cherchez.

His antics are amusing, especially the way he catapults himself off the top of a tree by holding a branch in his mouth and tightening his coils until he lets go and springs into the air. I laughed out loud at that. His 'spa treatment' with the mud was also amusing. I liked this book very much and commend it as a worthy read for young children - and even a few adults!


How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food by Jane Yolen, Mark Teague


Rating: WORTHY!

I'm not a huge fan of this author, but this short, amusing, and colorful pasteboard book for young children was a worthy read I thought, and the art by Mark Teague was great.

I think Dinosaurs are overdone these days, but this was a different take: working on the assumption of something which never happened in real life - that humans and dinosaurs existed together. This book amusingly takes that farce one step further by turning dinos into fellow citizens, who have lives and like to go out to eat - which seems to be true based on fossil evidence. Their al fresco dining habits are well documented.

Unfortunately their manners leave a lot to be desired and this is not so well-attested by fossil evidence, which is why this book is important! I found it entertaining, especially for the intended audience, and I commend it as a worthy read.


Hair by Leslie Patricelli


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an amusingly written and colorfully illustrated young children's pasteboard-style book about hair, which I found amusing. I can't speak to whether young kids will find it the same, but my best guess is they will enjoy it. It's the perfect read when you're readying to take them to the hairdresser for the first time. It was actually in a hairdresser's that I found this in a rack for the very purpose of entertaining young visitors. It covers several aspects of haircare and hair interests and I thought it was fun and a worthy read for the intended audience.


Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart


Rating: WARTY!

I picked up this audiobook because it was based on a true story which I found fascinating. The title comes straight from a newspaper headline about the very character this novel is based on. I didn't realize it was the start of a series since there was absolutely nothing on the audiobook cover to indicate any such thing. Thanks Big Publishing™! We do understand that you don't give a shit about readers, but could you at least show a modicum of kindness by not making your disdain quite so painfully obvious?

The novel interested me to begin with, but the story took so drearily long to go anywhere at all that I became bored and ended up DNF-ing it about halfway through. I honestly couldn't believe that such a fascinating true story could be rendered so horribly boring. Way to go Amy Stewart.

It was read by Christina Moore and I still can't make up my mind whether I found her reading acceptable or not; it was right on the cusp of okay and annoying! What bothered me most though was that the main character, with the highly amusing - but real - name of Constance Kopp, seemed so lackadaisical and retiring. I am guessing she was not at all like that in real life, so it felt like an insult. I don't mind so much if a characters starts out less than prepossessing, but when they show little or no sign of improving, growing, or changing in any way, it irritates me.

The Kopp sisters lived together in an old farmhouse and in this story are constantly quibbling with each other. Sometimes this was annoying, other times amusing, so that was a mixed bag. Just how realistic this was is anyone's guess, but there really were three sisters.

The author encountered their story when researching a different novel. She discovered an article from 1915 which talked about a man named Henry Kaufman who ran his automobile into a buggy being driven by these sisters: Constance, Norma and Fleurette Kopp. He refused to pay and when they pursued him for damages, he began a concerted campaign of harassment against them. Kaufman's family was wealthy and he was privileged and thought he could get away with intimidating them. He couldn't.

A local sheriff armed the three sisters and eventually Kaufman was fined $1,000 (about $24,000 today) and warned-off interfering with the sisters ever again. Constance, who was six feet tall - very tall for 1915, even for a man - then worked as an undersheriff for two years and afterwards disappeared into obscurity. It seems to me the real story of this woman would be far more engrossing than this rather bloated fictionalized version, which I cannot commend.


Monday, October 8, 2018

Bump in the Night by Edward Hemingway


Rating: WARTY!

This was one of my local library's commendable "Banned Books" which are on display right in the entrance - books that have been banned or challenged in the US. I've reviewed several of them over the last few weeks.

This is one aimed at children and dealing with the fear of the dark and monsters under the bed. I don't know if this author is related to Ernest Hemingway, but with a name like E Hemingway on the cover, I expected more, even though I'm not remotely a fan of Hemingway. I did a parody of his hilarious Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber in my Poem y Granite book of poetry and short stories, the e-version of which is going to be available for free at Barnes and Noble, but other than that I have no interest in him.

As far as this book is concerned, I didn't like it. That's no reason to ban it of course, but for the life of me I could see no reason why anyone would challenge a book like this. Because it's wrong-headed maybe?! I dunno! I can't commend it because I think it took entirely the wrong approach. Rather than let kids know there's no reason to fear the dark (and explaining why people fear the dark), and assuring that there are no monsters under the bed, this book embraces them and pretends that yes, there really are monsters, but some of them are friendly...?

So I really didn't get what it hoped to achieve. It's obvious that a fear like this is irrational (even though in our evolutionary history it was perfectly rational!), but there are rational ways of dealing with such fears, and I think this book took the wrong approach is all.


Crossing the Empty Quarter by Carol Swain


Rating: WARTY!

I had no idea what this was about even having read about two-thirds of it and skimmed the rest. It looked gorgeous from the cover, but the interior was nothing like the cover, and the stories, some thirty of them, were meaningless, disjoined and unappealing. Bereft of entertainment value, even the artwork felt like a betrayal since it was black and white and of lower quality than the cover.

I'm used to seeing this in graphic novels - a sort of bait and switch with a stunning cover paired with an indifferent interior, but often that's made up for by the quality of the story, In this case, no. There was no story. Instead there was a jumble of stories, all equally uninteresting. It should have been called Bleak House, but empty quarter isn't exactly inaccurate. Empty to the back teeth would have been better. I refuse to commend it in any way.


Eugenia Lincoln and the Unexpected Package by Kate DiCamillo


Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook I picked up after enjoying an advance review copy of Dicamillo's Louisiana's Way Home. I loved that novel, but this audiobook was a disaster for me. It was read by a woman with the amazing name of Lorna Raver, but I wasn't much impressed by her reading. It was the story itself that was the worst part, though. The story is very short, so it has that going for it, but it simply wasn't interesting or sensible to me. Maybe it wasn't intended to be sensible, but if that was the case, it wasn't goofy enough to be silly, either.

The story is that Eugenia Lincoln, a staid mature woman who lives with a younger, less-staid sister, is the recipient of this package, which I suspected her sister sent, but I gave up on the story before I ever found out who was the benefactor. The package contains a piano accordion and it incenses Eugenia - who never ordered it. She calls the supplier and demands they pick it up, but they claim they have a no return policy, so Eugenia decides to throw the thing away. As you might guess, that doesn't happen and she ends up liking it.

I honestly didn't see the point of this particular story. It wasn't funny, or entertaining, or educational. It was simply irritating to me, and the main problem was that there were so many interfering busy-bodies in Eugenia's life, all of whom she detested, yet not one of whom she had the wherewithal to dismiss from her premises, let alone her life. If these people had been amusing or downright weird, it might have been entertaining, but it's evidently one of those stories which the blurb typically advertises as 'quirky' and which has 'zany characters' and I normally avoid such stories like the proverbial plague. If you've ever been infected by Proverbialis pestis, you will know exactly what I mean. I can't commend this.


Monday, October 1, 2018

She-Hulk. Vol. 1, Deconstructed by Mariko Tamaki, Nico Leon, Dalibor Talajić, Matt Milla, Andrew Crossley


Rating: WORTHY!

This is where my understandably one-sided love affair with Mariko Tamaki began! She wrote this and it was illustrated well by Nico Leon and Dalibor Talajić, and colored beautifully by Matt Milla and Andrew Crossley. This comic book was a worthy read. She-Hulk was problematical and a potential disaster when she was first conceived, apparently by Stan Lee during the TV run of The Hulk, so copyright would stay with Marvel and not with some TV production company in case they decided they wanted a female version!).

Lawyer Jennifer Walters (what is it with Marvel and super heroes who are lawyers?!) became a rather more subdued version of the original Hulk when she had a blood transfusion from her cousin, Bruce Banner (who was the original Hulk of course). By subdued, the effect in her is to become stronger and to turn green, but to retain her own personality and smarts, something which the Hulk isn't known for.

Despite it being named volume 1 (I wish they would not do that), this is not the original run of the comic; this version is well-along in the overall life of She-Hulk - post Civil War 2. With Bruce dead, his cousin trying to cope with that and find her place in the world. Her own original comic ran only for two years at the start of the eighties and after that she was reduced to guest appearances in other comics until more recently. It's nice to see her revived, and with a female writer who happens to be one I've grown fond of lately.

She-Hulk took a few pages out of Deadpool's book in one of her later incarnations, breaking the fourth wall, and mimicking cultural icons such as Demi Moore's bare-bodied, pregnant-and-in-the-magazine-cover pose. She-Hulk wasn't pregnant but held a beach-ball strategically! In this volume though, she's well-behaved and quite subdued. That doesn't mean it's all Jennifer all the time, by any means. The comic told an intelligent and believable story and I enjoyed it. I commend this one and will look for more of this series.