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

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Whatever it Takes by Tu-Shonda L Whitaker


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


My Boo by Daaimah S Poole


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

There was a consistent problem in that all of the characters were so shallow: they were all about fancy clothes and designer shoes and hot sex, and in the case of every one of the women, that hot sex had to be with a tall guy who had an overly-large penis. It was sad to read how juvenile and poorly-focused these people were - and also what poor judges of potential partners they were, and how thoroughly shallow and clueless they were. Not one of them actually deserved a decent relationship because none of them had earned one.

In this story, we're told that Gina has it all: "the job, her own house, her own car, and a boyfriend," but she still, we're expected to believe, has a problem in that she's in Philadelphia and he's in DC. Excuse me, but that's less than a three hour drive! So we're expected to accept that this is supposed to be some life-killing issue when it really isn't.

One or the other of them could move, if the distance is such a hassle, but what this told me is that she's too stupid to see that the problem is the relationship, not the distance. Of course, that's the point, and she's having affairs on the side even as she proclaims her deep love for this poor guy. In short, yet again, we have a story about a woman who is a complete jerk and god only knows what STDs she's going to pass on to him the next time they have sex!

Rather than seek ways to fix what she blindly perceives are the problems with her relationship, she takes the sleazy way out and steals her housemates' mate! That's the kind of lowlife she is. Sorry, but no! Who would even want a romance with someone as stupid and dishonest as she is? This book isn't about romance; it's about a woman who is sexually-obsessed and that;s all there is to her. This story wasn't remotely romantic and she's not remotely interesting. It was salacious and unpleasant to read, and I cannot recommend it.


Friday, December 8, 2017

Every New Year by Brenda L Thomas


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

There was a consistent problem in that all of the characters were so shallow: they were all about fancy clothes and designer shoes and hot sex, and in the case of every one of the women, that hot sex had to be with a tall guy who had an overly-large penis. It was sad to read how juvenile and poorly-focused these people were - and also what poor judges of potential partners they were, and how thoroughly shallow and clueless they were. Not one of them actually deserved a decent relationship because none of them had earned one.

I know this one was supposed to be an erotic novella, but seriously? There really wasn't anything erotic in it. It was a bit creepy actually to discover a doctor preying on his patient. It's entirely inappropriate for a doctor to behave toward any patient like either of these doctors did; both of them ought to be struck-off. Additionally, I don't see a future for two people as shiftless and sexually-obsessed as these two were, so where's the romance? The characters were shallow - not only in how they were written, but also in how they were behaving.

The utter improbability of how they were brought together made the story more of a joke than a worthwhile read. The woman is supposed to be a urologist (I guess), but she's really a sex doctor who's not even in denial. She inappropriately gives her supposedly sexually-malfunctioning patient an erection and is pleased with herself for doing so. She's obsessed with penises, which convinced me that her relationship with this new guy will never last. She's utterly clueless and her attitude to her fiancé sucked, which further led me to believe she's not worth having a relationship with.

She's all set to go on a winter cruise around Hawaii when she gets an emergency call: a couple were having sex and the man had taken not one, but two too many Cialis#reg;. How this got him stuck inside the woman he was being unfaithful with is an unexplained joke. If the novel had been written as a parody or for comedic effect that still would have been tedious, but it wasn't supposed to be funny.

Taking more tadalafil doesn't give you a larger penis such that if you take too much it becomes so large it gets stuck. It's very easy to look up symptoms of an overdose online these days. And note that IVs are not the answer to everything! You don't get one free with every hospital visit! Particularly in this case where the problem was supposed to be too much fluid in a certain organ - you hardly want to stock the patient up on even more fluid!

The author doesn't seem to grasp that the ER doctors have probably handled far more of this kind of situation than the main character ever had. There was no reason whatsoever for this doctor to be called in, so once again we have a very contrived situation, and it gets worse: she's unfaithful to her boyfriend, has unprotected sex with a man whose history she doesn't know and doesn't even think about asking (and she's supposed to be a doctor?). After this, she goes right back to getting it on with her boyfriend. Then she ditches her boyfriend and goes back to the doctor. She's a jerk, period.

The doctor is utterly irresponsible. He doesn't know this woman and she has lost her memory, yet when he prepares a special dinner for her, it consists of a "platter that held two large lobster tails." He doesn't know is she has a sea-food allergy! He doesn't know anything about her. He could have killed her. She might be a vegetarian fro all he knew and would have been disgusted that he had fed her dead animals when her memory returned. His conduct is inexcusable on so many levels. It's not romantic at all. it seems that the author was blindly going for the trope romantic evening without spending an iota of thought on how this particular story needed a better plan.

I didn't like either of the doctors, or her boyfriend, but at least he tried to understand her. For this he's rewarded by being screwed, and not in a good way! This was not a nice Christmas/New Year's story, and I cannot recommend it.


Dangerously in Love by Crystal Lacey Winslow


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

There was a consistent problem in that all of the characters were so shallow: they were all about fancy clothes and designer shoes and hot sex, and in the case of every one of the women, that hot sex had to be with a tall guy who had an overly-large penis. It was sad to read how juvenile and poorly-focused these people were - and also what poor judges of potential partners they were, and how thoroughly shallow and clueless they were. Not one of them actually deserved a decent relationship because none of them had earned one.

In this particular case the story was about a guy who was in a relationship with a girl he thought he loved. The guy, London, is a bodyguard for hire and most recently had been working for a rapper. He was planning on proposing to his girlfriend on New Year's Eve and for some reason had thought it was a good idea to buy an eight-thousand dollar engagement ring the purchase of which left him all-but broke. This told me the guy was an idiot, and was one of the hallmarks of this story: conspicuous consumption. His girlfriend was right to leave someone who evidenced as little forethought and planning as he did, but she was equally short-sighted. Neither of them was worth reading about.

Inevitably, because it's that kind of a story, after the break-up London ends up falling for Jovie which sounds so disturbingly like Juvie that it made me wonder if she was under-age! Anyway, Jovie has an evil twin. I'm not making this up (the author is!) This 'twin thing' has been way overdone, and if you're dead set on employing it in a plot, you need to find something truly new to bring to it. Evil twin doesn't cut it, and certainly not here. The evil twin wants to wreck her sister's relationship with London. The thing is that I'd lost faith in the story by this point, so I really care what evil twin was up to, or what happened to any of them for that matter.

I had very little reason to believe that her motive was smart or justified or valid. I need something better than this: something original, and with life in it. I really wasn't interested in any of these blinkered, shallow and self-obsessed characters at all. I need instead real people who have real feelings and who are clued-in to life. This was more like a fairy take than ever it was a serious story about adult relationships and frankly, I have better things to read with my time. Life is too short - even for a short story like this - and I cannot recommend it.


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen


Rating: WARTY!

Sofonisba Anguissola was a real person who lived during the time of Michelangelo and in fact studied under him for a short time. She was a gifted artist who deserves much better than this author gives her. The prime mover in Sofonisba's life was art yet here, the author reduces her to a love-sick YA character, stupid with anguished love for Tibiero Calcagni, a fictional sculptor she purportedly knew from Michelangelo's studio.

There is an incident with Tiberio, and the book doesn't make clear what happened. Some reviewers believe they had sex, but I am not convinced that they did. Whatever happened, Sofonisba is upset by it and feels shamed, but instead of moving on, she agonizes over this for half the freaking book (which is as far as I could stand to read)! It’s tedious. Tiberio is Michelangelo's boy toy (I'm guessing - I don't know for sure) and you were merely a diversion, Sofi. Move on!

She is put into the service of the French wife of the Spanish king as an art tutor. He is in his thirties and she is barely into her teens. That story could have been interesting, but we’re supposed to be getting Sofinisba's story which is also an interesting one. The author seems to have forgotten this and rather than talk about Sofonisba and her art, she depicts the artist as merely an observer, relating the story of the Spanish triangle between Don Juan, the king, and his wife. It’s boring. Most love triangles are, especially in YA literature.

The book blurb is misleading, as usual. It says, "...after a scandal involving one of Michelangelo's students, she flees Rome and fears she has doomed herself and her family," but this greatly exaggerates what happened. The blurb also tells us that "Sofi yearns only to paint," but this is an outright lie since she's rarely shown painting or even thinking about painting. The way the story is told here, the only real yearning Sofi experiences is over Tiberio.

Set in the mid 1500's, the story is superficially about this remarkable and talented painter struggling to make herself known for her art in a very masculine world where women were tightly constrained everywhere. The story could have been equally remarkable, but this author destroyed it. We got no sense of frustration or struggle from Sofonisba and precious little of her art as she's reduced to being a documentarian of the life at the Spanish court.

That life is tediously repetitive. The foppish young men at court are laughable. The main character in the book could have been anyone, including the chamber maid, and the story would have been largely the same. Don't look here for art; there's precious little of it, neither in the narrow sense of Sofinisba's life ambition, nor in the larger sense of the word. Artless is more accurate.

We're told that women are not allowed to paint nudes but there is a nude (Minerva Dressing) painted by artist Lavinia Fontana in 1613. Fontana was influenced by Anguissola, so whether things changed in the fifty years between this novel's setting, and Fontana's painting or the author just got it wrong, I don’t know. Fontana does seem to be the first female artist to paint female nudes, so maybe she was a cutting edge girl, in which case, a well-written story about her would be worth reading, and certainly better than this one! I cannot recommend this novel.


Monday, December 4, 2017

Luz Makes a Splash by Claudia Dávila


Rating: WORTHY!

This author is a Chilean who now lives in Canada, and this is a great children's story about community activism, pollution, and taking charge. It's evidently the first in a series, which consists (as of this blog post) of two books: this one and a sequel called Luz sees the Light, a title which amuses me because light is the very meaning of Luz! Light is the meaning of Luz, Luz is the meaning of light! And on and on like the Neil Innes Beatles song parody he did for The Rutles (aka All You Need Is Cash).

In this book, Luz becomes concerned when there is a drought and she discovers that the refreshing little natural pool she and her friends used to visit on hots days like these, is all dried up! A nearby corporation is responsible. it's been using the water to manufacture its cola product! So yes, corporate responsibility and malfeasance also get a look in here. Luz learns many things about recycling, preserving and protecting water, and how to organize a protest.

The book is quite long and well-written, and nicely illustrated. It tells a smart and realistic story, and it offers an education along the way. I recommend it.


Imagine a World by Rob Gonsalves


Rating: WORTHY!

This is volume four in a series. I have not seen the others, but if this is anything like the previous three were, then it's an epic series and an awesome book to give to a child. The only problem with it is that it is not very ethnically diverse.

Each page consists of a large double page image, all of them done in the manner of Maurits Escher. If you're familiar with his work, you will know the kind of thing to expect here, but this is aimed at younger set, and will definitely draw children in so much that they might not wonder why a person with a wonderfully diverse name like Rob Gonsalves doesn't incorporate more of it into his illustrations. Among the author's influences were Dali, Escher, and Magritte. I recommend this for the artwork.


Friday, December 1, 2017

Ghost in Trouble by Carolyn G Hart


Rating: WARTY!

If I'd known this audiobook was part of a series I would never have picked it up, but as a one-off (as I thought it was) it sounded like it might be worth a listen, and I tend to experiment more with audiobooks than other formats, so I decided to give it a chance. In the end I decided I'd rather hear the sound of synthetic rubber on asphalt than listen to any more of this in the car, before I turned it back in to the library! LOL! The southern belle accent of the reader turned me off as much as the amateurish writing.

The problem with writing supernatural tales is that you really need to come up with some sort of intelligent framework in which to set them. It doesn't have to be cast-iron reality by any means (because it can't be!), but it does have to make some sort of sense. None of this did.

All the author has done is exactly what far too many unimaginative and blinkered authors do when they tell tales like these: they take our real world and simply translate it to a ghostly one, and make no other changes, so Bailey Ruth (this is the Bailey Ruth series volume 3) and her husband Bobby Mac (barf) are still married and leading exactly the same life they led on Earth when they were alive, except that sometimes, while BM is out fishing in his boat, BR goes back to her home town to solve a problem, in her role as a volunteer for the heavenly department of good intentions! Barf. BR is a moron. I'm sorry, but she is. She knows the rules (don't be seen, don't be heard, and so on), yet she continually breaks them not because circumstances call for it, but because she's simply too dumb to follow them.

I don't get her mission, either. In this story she's supposed to be trying to prevent a woman she disliked in life, from being murdered. We're supposed to assume that BR is a decent, likeable person (although she was tedious to me) and therefore if she doesn't like this woman she's supposed to be protecting, then this woman is not likeable, so where is the justification for her mission? Why not leave her to her lot? Besides, can't this god in her heaven not control things with his divine powers? Can he not protect her? Why is BR needed at all?

There's no explanation for this, except that in the Bible, one thing we're shown repeatedly is that god is incompetent and can't get a thing done without a human to help him. Need commandments? Better have Moses hike up the mountain to go get 'em 'cos they can't be delivered any other way. Earth flooding? Better get Noah to build the ark and round up the animal feed because no god is going to lift a finger to help. Need to get everyone right with god? Rape a virgin and sacrifice her son on a cross because the divine mind can't think of any more intelligent way to do it than brutally and bloodily, as his history in the Old Testament proves. You know how the story goes.

Plus, given what happened recently in Las Vegas, are there not more important missions - assuming god is so helpless that missions must be undertaken? Is it not more important to send someone out to prevent a child being abused or kidnapped than to prevent some obnoxious woman from dying? Where was someone like BR when psychos opened up with machine guns and automatic weapons on innocent people out enjoying themselves? It's nonsensical. If abortions are so bad, why not send BR on a mission to get all these unwanted children adopted? I guess her god can't be bothered with that.

This author's concept of daily life in Heaven is not only just as nonsensical, it's antiquated. If you want comedy, Lucille Ball is still doing her shows in heaven! Seriously? Why would she? For the last decade of her life she wasn't doing her show, so why would she restart it when she went to Heaven? And why Lucille Ball? Is the author unaware of the scores of other TV comedies and comedians that have been and gone in the intervening period? Or is she simply too idle to look them up? Would no one want to watch any of those people? It's the same with cooking. Your cookery is taught by Julia Child and the same rationale applies here, too. It's a case of the author going with what she knows, and I know the knee-jerk advice is to write what you know, but in this case it backfires big time.

Stephen King was a teacher before he became really well-known as a horror writer. He never met a shy schoolgirl who could control objects with her mind. He never saw a vampire, or uncovered an alien spaceship, and he never drove an evil 1958 Plymouth Fury. Should he have confined himself therefore to writing only about teaching? 'Write what you know' is asinine, Write what you want, is my advice. But think about what you're writing or you're going to end-up with crap like this on your hands.

So in short, this was tedious, primitive, poorly thought-out, badly-written and nonsensical, and I cannot recommend it.


Mila 2.0: Renegade by Debra Driza


Rating: WARTY!

This is book 2 in a series, which was not known to me when I picked it up, otherwise I would have put it right back down. It looked interesting from the blurb (but doesn't it always?): an android on the run. Count me in! Why they don't call the female ones gynoid, I don't know any more than I know how there can be such a thing as a female android - or even a male one for that matter since they are robots and incapable of reproduction (one assumes!). I just did not get along with this novel at all though. The blurb online says it's "Perfect for fans of I Am Number Four and Divergent" which would have turned me off at once had I read that on the back of the book.

So Mila is on the run from General Holland and Vita Obscura, whoever they are. She's hanging with a guy, who to credit the novel where it's due, is not your usual type of studly YA male, although he does sport the ;laughable name of Hunter which is one of the go-to names for YA novels. The two of them are supposed to be looking for a guy named Richard Grady who is evidently someone who can tell her about how she came to be, but neither of them is smart enough to get that he is undoubtedly being watched and she will be captured as soon as she shows up in his neighborhood.

This was the biggest problem. Mila is dumb and she's obsessing on Hunter and none of that made any sense, but the dumb part was what really got me. She's too dumb to know that these people who are trying to track her might be using her own Internet searches to pin down where she is. I can't stand reading novels about dumb girls, and YA is replete with such novels. If she starts out dumb and wises up, that's one thing, but to be dedicatedly dumb is a huge turn-off for me, especially when the novel spends more time focused on how pretty Mila is than anything else.

Not for me. Not for me to recommend.


Friday, November 24, 2017

The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin


Rating: WARTY!

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

I have to say right up front that I was very disappointed in this novel which could have offered so much more than it did. It's based loosely on the lives of two very real people: Gladys Louise Smith, known to history as Mary Pickford, legendary star of the silent screen, and Marion Benson Owens, who wrote as 'Frances Marion' and was also one of Hollywood's leading ladies when it came to screen-writing.

One immediate problem was that while Frances Marion was a renowned screen-writer, she wasn't the only one. Between 1911 and 1925, about 50% of all copyrighted films had female screen-writers, but you would never learn that from this novel. Because she fails to give all those others their due, the novel presents Frances Marion as being far more of a lone pioneer than she actually was.

There were scores of female writers, such as Anita Loos and June Mathis, and undoubtedly many others who contributed greatly, but went unsung because they were 'only female writers' or script editors. We don't learn of these, not even in passing, so a chance to champion women writers in general was shockingly squandered here. It was Anita Loos who became a staff scriptwriter for DW Griffith, for example, whereas Marion worked for Lois Weber, who taught her the trade. Loos is mentioned only three times in passing, Mathis not at all, despite the latter being the highest paid female executive in Hollywood at the age of only 35, and dying just five years later.

The single-minded presentation of these two characters in this novel as champions of female power and creativity in the early days of Hollywood robs far too many other, deserving women of credit for their achievements and as such is more of an anti-feminist story - effectively undermining many strong female characters and robbing them of their due. That's soured even more by the fact that it also fails to support even its two main characters, by trivializing and minimizing their struggle to get where they were, and pitting them against each other far too often.

The story is further weakened by the author's mistake of choosing first person voice. She admits her mistake by alternating between first person when Marion is telling her story and third person when we read of Pickford's story. I could hear a loud clunk every time I moved to the next chapter. What this does is make Marion look spoiled and self-centered and Pickford look like an afterthought. The story is told as one huge flashback, which makes it worse because the start of the flashback is already historical, so we have it further removed from the reader, and then within the flashback we get yet more flashback to Pickford's childhood!

The sad thing about this is that we don't get anywhere near enough of her growth and formative years, so we really don't have a handle on who she is 'today' - that is in the most recent flashback. The same problem applies with Marion. Its as though the author is embarrassed by Pickford's history, or is in far too much of a rush to get back to the original flashback where we can fan-girl over Marion again. Frankly, it's a mess. There was a certain sloppiness to it too, such as at one point where I read that Mary Pickford's mom's name was Charlotte Pickford! No, Mary Pickford’s mom had Mary Pickford’s real name: Charlotte Smith! Sheesh!

I know this is not a biography, but it reads more like a biography than ever it does a novel, so there is no drama on the one hand, while there is little to stir positive emotions and much to stir negative ones on the other. I found myself wishing it was a biography so I could at least feel comfortable with what I was reading. The impression I had from all this, rightly or wrongly, was that the author had relied heavily on Marion's memoir, and very little on pure novel-writing and other research.

I found it rather curious that in a story purportedly about two women in Hollywood, who were interested in establishing themselves, and who had things to say and obstacles to surmount, we bypass those obstacles with startling ease. Problematic childhood? Grow up fast! Bad marriages? Dissolved with a slash of the pen! Anti-female sentiments in Hollywood, skirt them!

Nowhere, for example, does the author really address the fact that neither woman could be herself. Both of them changed their name. In Marion's case we're told that this is a conscious and personal choice, but it felt too easy, and she says not a word about Pickford's feelings on changing hers. We know that a stage producer made her change it during her brief stint on Broadway in one of his plays, but not why she evidently chose not to change it back afterwards. It felt like who they really were didn't matter to the author, so why should it matter to me?

My overall view of this story was that there was more missing from it than there was in it, and that's never a good feeling to have. This is why I gave up reading this at about fifty percent in. It simply was not engaging enough or powerful enough to keep me interested. I'm going to read a biography instead, and I'd recommend doing that before I'd recommend reading this. Frances Marion wrote Off With Their Heads: A Serio-Comic Tale of Hollywood, a memoir, and Cari Beauchamp wrote Without Lying Down, a biography of Frances Marion. Peggy Dymond Leavey wrote Mary Pickford: Canada's Silent Siren, America's Sweetheart, and Ben Walker wrote The Life & Death of Mary Pickford. There are also bios at wikipedia and IMDB.


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Batwoman vol 1 the many Arms of Death by Marguerite Bennett, James Tynion IV, Steve Epting, Stephanie Hans, Renato Arlem


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. This review was embargoed by the publisher until today's date of publication

While I enjoy the Marvel and DC comics super hero movies, I have a harder time with the comic books which originated these same heroes. Part of that problem is in the way the female characters are hyper-sexualized. I don't believe this is productive and it certainly isn't appreciated. The movies do great without it, so why do the comic books cling to it so desperately? It's not remotely necessary.

Batgirl (as Bat-girl) has been around since 1961, and Batwoman appeared even earlier, in 1956. It's a shame then that neither of these has made it to the big screen, a brief appearance in the old Batman TV show notwithstanding. I was thrilled to learn that Joss Whedon will write, direct and produce a Batgirl film and even more thrilled that it will be based on Gail Simone's comic book work. Unfortunately there's nothing on the roster for a Batgirl movie the DC Extended Universe before 2021 at least so, although schedules can change, it looks like we have to wait a while for that!

This is one reason why I was pleased to read this graphic novel with writing by Marguerite Bennett and James Tynion IV, and art by Steve Epting, Stephanie Hans, and Renato Arlem, so we have at least one female writer and a female artist involved, and it shows. I was hoping for something a bit better than your usual fare and thankfully, I got it with this.

With the roaring success of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, which had some strong female characters, I was hoping for female super heroes from that world to arrive in its wake. Batwoman would have seemed like an obvious follow-up, but instead DC seems to have opted for more Batman movies instead. Until we get Batman's female counterpart on the screen, we have the graphic novels, and that's why I think it's critical that we get more like this one.

In a very small way, this is an origin story, but the origin is conveyed in a series of touching single frame images with a palette as red as Kate Kane's hair: Kate at age nine, shooting a bow, at twenty in the military, and at twenty-seven crashing into the frame as Batwoman. But something is missing, and this crashes into the story on the next pages. A car is rammed by a truck, parents and a child are kidnapped, a mom dead. Next, Kate is depicted in unarmed combat at West Point. It's all disjointed, as is Kate.

Because of this disjunction, I had, I confess, a bit of a hard time getting into the story, but it found its footing quickly - or I did, one or the other! There is a new drug on the street: Monster Venom - and it can literally do what its name says: turn people into monsters. In order to fight it, Batwoman finds that she has to revisit one of her own points of origin: the island of Coryana in the Mediterranean. Here she confronts more than just her past.

This novel contains not only the expected - and hoped for - action scenes, it also carries with it a journey into memory and pain, disillusionment and determination. And Batwoman proves equal to what's asked of her, even to the female villain who is like a breath of fresh air as villains go. I'd like to see more of her.

It's reassuring to know there's someone we can count on, especially since Batwoman seems to have her head together more than Batman does despite her traumatic history and self-doubt. I liked this story and I recommend it. The story not only works, it's intelligent and has depth, and the art and coloring, by Jeromy Cox and Adriano Lucas not only complement the story all the way, they bring it to visual life. I look forward to more stories like this one. Hopefully we won't have to wait on Joss Whedon to get them!


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Why Cats Paint by Heather Busch, Burton Silver


Rating: WORTHY!

I'm not a big cat fan, that is, I am not a big fan of cats, but when I saw this book I had to take a look at it. My conclusion is that either these two authors are either high amongst the most tongue-in-cheek authors ever, or they're dangerously delusional. I shall be charitable and go with the first of those options, mainly because I share their evident opinion that the art world is just as bad as the fashion world for being puffed-up, vacuous, and ridiculous.

Seen in that light, this book, subtitled "A theory of feline aesthetics" is brilliant, and I salute the authors. The tone is pitch perfect, the images gorgeous, and the overall effect hilarious. Cats are not the only animals that paint. By 'paint' I mean daub a surface with color. Chimpanzees and elephants do it, rhinos and meerkats (Google's idiot spell checker wanted to change that latter to 'marketeers' LOL!), raccoons and pigs, goats and lemurs, parrots, and even seals, and not just at Easter (or estrus)!

Employing the word 'paint' suggests a purpose. Do they have a purpose? Clearly it attracts them, but what exactly is going on in their sub-human brains remains to be seen. Something does however compel animals to daub the paint, yet no one can possibly know what's going on in the animals' mind, except, of course, these two authors who deliberate over it and quote references, and have a high old time extolling both art and artist!

I recommend this not only because it's intriguing that animals do this, but because of the images of the artists, which are charming and adorable, and also the art itself, which is inspiring for anyone who, like me, who all to often thinks he can neither paint nor draw. I recommend the book as a coffee table book, a reading book and a guaranteed conversation-starter.


Friday, November 17, 2017

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane


Rating: WORTHY!

Set in 1954, the story begins with two US Marshals setting out for Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane which is housed in an old fort on Shutter Island. On the ferry to the island where the story opens, Teddy Daniels has a new partner named Chuck Aule with whom he has never worked. Teddy is throwing up in the bathroom.

They are sent to investigate the disappearance of a female inmate named Rachel Solando, who evidently murdered her own three children, so the story has all the hallmarks of a locked room mystery. I saw the film made from this novel some time ago and barely remembered it, so my impression was that I didn't like it very much, but I decided to give the novel a go anyway since I'd liked this author's novel Mystic River. After I read this I watched the movie again and liked it, but was not overwhelmed by it.

The novel was good though, and I found that the reader quickly learns that not everything is as it seems here. People appear to be keeping secrets. There are hints that perhaps some radical experimentation is taking place on the island on some of the patients. It doesn't help that real clues are hard to come by, that many of the potential witnesses are literally insane, that Teddy is suffering migraines, and that a hurricane is coming down hard on the island. Worse than this, Teddy has an agenda - to find the guy who he thinks burned down his home and thereby killed his wife, and he thinks Andrew Laeddis is somewhere in Ashecliffe.

It became apparent at a point early in the story that someone was deluding themselves, but I could never tell whether it was going to take the predictable route or if there really was something else going on. It took the predictable route, but that didn't make it any less of a worthy read for me. I enjoyed it and I recommend it.


Theatrics by Neil Gibson, Leonardo Gonzalez, Jan Wijngaard


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Set in the 1920's in New York City, this graphic novel by Neil Gibson tells the story of Rudy Burns who is a playboy of an actor who one night is mugged behind a bar and ends up not looking pretty any more. Out of hospital at last, he arrogantly turns own a paltry role that's offered to him, and quickly finds himself out of work and unsought-after for his looks any more. Even his well-to-do girlfriend has found someone else, although her rejection has nothing to do with his appearance. Shades of Mickey Rourke, for want of employment elsewhere, Rudy takes up boxing.

I am not a series fan and I'm frankly not sure where a series based on this premise could successfully take itself, but for this first installment, I found that I liked the novel for the story. It turned an unlikable protagonist into a pitiable one and brought my interest in. I also liked it for the free-flowing graphic content by Leonardo Gonzalez and for the vibrant colors by Jan Wijngaard.


The Red Word by Sarah Henstra


Rating: WARTY!

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

I wanted to like this novel and I began by doing so, for about forty percent of it, but then things changed and I really began to dislike it. By seventy-five percent the main character had become so profoundly stupid that I could not bear to read any more about her, so this review is of the first seventy-five percent.

The first problem was first person, or worst person voice as I call it because it's almost never the best choice. Some plots can support it. This one did not because the only thing it achieves here is to trivialize what is a serious problem: rape (aka, in this novel, the red word).

All that the choice of first person did here was to subjugate rape to the personal and often trivial and asinine peccadilloes of what turned out to be a clueless and ineffectual protagonist. Some writers can carry-off first person, but this writer did not. This failure cheapened the topic and did more far more harm than good. I can't forgive that when it's a topic as important as this.

The main character is a college student named Karen Huls. Karen is given certain attributes, but many of them seemed inappropriate and counter-productive to the story. First of all, she's a sophomore. The first part of that word comes (unsurprisingly) from the Greek and refers to wisdom. Karen displayed precious little of that, but on the other hand, the second part of that word comes from the Greek moros which pretty much means moron. That part I could see in her.

I don't mind a main character who starts out dumb and grows, but in this novel Karen showed no sign of ever wanting to leave dumb behind her, at least not up to the point where I quit reading in disgust. Dumb seemed to be her security blanket and she clung to it avidly. Middle-grade girls are more clued in than Karen was.

Karen is a photographer, but her photography played very little part in the story, so I'm not sure why she was tagged with this interest except that, once again, it played into the artsy pretension that was so heavy-handed in this novel that that it effectively trivialized the purported topic, rape. Rape is one of many symptoms of a privileged, patriarchal mindset, and the author did nothing to change this or to even fight against it. On the contrary. The Greek system was shown to be a jolly little institution notwithstanding the fatal flaws depicted here.

I thought there was a great potential to juxtapose the lofty ideals of the ancient Greeks (at least as far as academics goes) with the base culture of the rather more Spartan-like collegiate fraternity system, but there was none of this to be found. The academic discourses on mythology had little or nothing to do with events on campus and felt more like the author was just showing-off.

The problem was that, because of the way it was written, the story seemed designed to whitewash and even exonerate the Greek system and frat boy mentality at the expense of those who have been raped and those who would advocate for them, and I found that quite frankly as nauseating as it was inexcusable.

One oddity about this novel, and this comes from the academic pretension with which it's larded, is the use of Greek words to head each chapter. Given that we start from this ostensibly elevated perch, I found it incomprehensible that the boy's fraternity depicted here is repeatedly referred to as GBC, since that fails to represent the actual Greek. Perhaps had the author been a professor of Greek instead of a professor of English, she would have understood that the Greek is Gamma Beta Chi: ΓΒΧ so TBX would be closer to the name for pure appearance. GBK would be closer to the sound as long as we keep in mind that the K is produced at the back of the tongue, a little bit like clearing the throat. 'GBC' is therefore completely inaccurate, so I didn't get the point of this representation at all, except that it conveniently lends itself as an acronym for taking a cheap shot at the fraternity initials.

The novel deals with the so-called 'rape culture' in society, or in this case on campus at a college which supports fraternities and sororities. The story, for some reason, is set in the nineties rather than in the present day, and worse than this, it's all a flashback. I didn't get this either. And I shall skip over the fact that a college professor doesn't know that it's 'biceps' and not 'bicep' as so many YA writers like to have it. Yes, the biceps brachii does split into two at the top, each a bicep, but the part that we typically refer to: the bulge that it seems, so fascinates YA writers, is the conjoining of the two, and is, therefore the biceps.

Normally the choice of first person seems to be made by authors in an effort to provide immediacy for those writers who are unable to evoke that in third person, but to choose first person and then remove it from any semblance of immediacy by not only setting this in the past, but also by throwing it under the bus of a book-long flashback was a startlingly ill-conceived approach. This method was a failure because it reduced what is a current and ongoing crisis to essentially nothing more than an historical footnote. That's entirely the wrong approach to take when it comes to the university (read universal) sexual assault crisis.

The story begins with Karen, who is pretty much an alcoholic. She wakes up lying on the ground after a night of binge-drinking, near a house occupied by some rather radical feminists, and Karen ends up rooming with them. Initially, these other students interested me far more than ever Karen did, but as the story went on, it became ever more clear that they were all really just placeholders - nothing more than 2-D cardboard stand-in characters, too shallow, caricatured and radical to be real.

I felt the portrayal of these students betrayed both feminism and those students in the real world who are struggling to expose the prevalence and casual attitude towards rape, sexual assault, and harassment across the country in colleges, universities and (particularly as we've seen lately) throughout society, in entertainment and in the very heart of Washington DC.

The whole hands-off tone of this novel is set right from the beginning in how it treats a girl (her name is Susannah) who has undergone a traumatic experience. It's not so much that this girl disappears from the story as it is that she was never really in it. She was just a name to be thrown out in conversation - another placeholder for something real, but which actually never materializes. For me, she was a metaphor for the whole novel.

Her dismissal sets the tone for the rest of this neglectful story's 'remote-viewing' of rape. Karen is supposed to be our proxy for exploring this, but the story is so obsessed with strutting its stuff regarding Greek mythology, and Karen is so very unmotivated, and tediously passive and clueless that the story goes nowhere near the raw exposed nerves of what it purports to address.

Karen is never an actor, she is the audience watching others act and failing to take home anything from their actions. If this had been written as a metaphor for the way many men all-too-often view women: as utilities and entertainment, then it might have made some sense, but that's not what happened here. What we got was indifferent writing which had the effect of rendering Karen into nothing more than a peeping tom, stealing glances at life's more seedy side-shows, and even then she does nothing with what she sees. She simply imbibes it mindlessly, and moves on, evidently not satiated, to the next spectacle.

Her placid acceptance of some quite horrific events which she witnesses, without making any effort to set things right or to report them to someone who can set things right, is shameful. Karen isn't part of the solution, she's part of the problem. Instead of despising the frat boys, she becomes an honorary member of fraternity, dating one of them, flirting foolishly with another whom she ogles and idolizes in ways which would be disgraceful had this same behavior been indulged in by a man towards a woman.

If Karen is anything, it's a hypocrite. She sees nothing wrong in any of the fraternity attitudes towards women, or with their drug abuse, since she indulges dangerously herself, or with their lackadaisical work ethic (or lack of any ethic), or with their endless drinking binges and demeaning, objectifying co-ed parties.

This is curious because when a woman is raped, Karen keeps nudging her to report it, but the woman feels she cannot since she was rufied, she remembers nothing of it. The hypocrisy comes in when Karen herself is assaulted twice, the second time badly, although much less than the other girl suffered, and yet despite her advocacy to the other girl, she does nothing about her own assault!

Instead, she just moves on once again, and thereby continues to be a part of the problem. The girl who was gang-raped was given the unfortunate name of Sheri Asselin. How the author could give a rape victim a name which incorporates 'ass' as in 'piece of ass' is a complete mystery. Was it supposed to be some sort of a joke? It wasn't funny.

One really bizarre thing is the author's blog. When I went there to take a look at it, I found it was protected - you cannot get into it unless you both register with Word Press and get the blog owner's permission to access it! I found this to be peculiar. Maybe she has good reasons for it, but if you're an author trying to promote your work, this seems like a completely ineffectual approach to take. That said, it is in keeping with the ineffectual tone of the novel.

So overall, I was really saddened by this novel, not because of what it depicted but because of where it kept failing. It could have been so much more than it was, and as it was, it wasn't anywhere near enough. Now you can argue, if you wish, that I didn't read it to the end and maybe everything turned around in that last 25%, but even if it did, for me it would have been far too little and far too late. Even if it had turned around, it still would not have made me like the main character, who never showed any sign of turning anything around, not even her head to look at what was actually going on right in her presence.

Both she and the novel were a big disappointment and I cannot recommend this as a worthy read. As a great alternative, I recommend viewing the documentary The Hunting Ground, which is available for free on Netflix, and probably in other locations. It's also available on disk. A good reference for help is End Rape on Campus.


Monday, November 6, 2017

The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken


Rating: WARTY!

Another audiobook experiment that failed. I get a lot of these because I tend to experiment more with audiobooks, but I was a bit surprised to find so many in the last batch I tried from the local library! Hopefully the next lot I pull out of there will have more winners than losers.

The story is that this plague of some kind attacks children and kills many of them, but those who are left find they have some sort of psychic power. The story was supposed to lead to a bunch of these kids being on the run with these powers, chased by the authorities, which sounded interesting to me, but I couldn't stand to listen to it any more and I never got that far.

The problem was that the writing was so awfully bad that I wasn't inclined to listen to any more of this, or anything else by this author for that matter! On top of that, it was in worst person voice - that is first person, which is typically nothing save an irritation to me. In this case the reader, Amy McFadden, wasn't so bad, and I would have been happy to listen to her even in first person if I had to, but not with a novel as poorly thought-out as this one was.

I can get with the plague and the deaths, and the arrival of these psychic powers. That's fine by me. What made zero sense though, was that suddenly, without any preamble or lead-in whatsoever, young children are being hauled off to concentration camps and they're being treated brutally. One young boy gets a rifle butt in his teeth, twice, for complaining he's hungry! This was way out of left field because there was nothing to preface this at all!

I'm like, wait, how did this deteriorate so quickly that this is considered to be the way things are now? Of course, in first person, you can't tell a good story because you can only tell what happens directly to the narrator - either that or you have to lard-up your story with info-dumps from other people, or you have to admit you made a stupid and limiting choice of voice and start trashing the story with other first person voices or with a third person which is what you should have used in the first place!

It was so pathetic and ridiculous that it told me the author was trying to set this vicious conflict in place without wanting to do any of the work to get it up and running sensibly. It's one thing for an author to slowly ramp-up to this kind of a situation, but to have it just precipitate out of nothing without any kind of rationale or overture made no sense at all to me and this is when I gave up caring about this novel.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Tovi the Penguin Goes Trick or Treating by Janina Rossiter


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a bit late for Halloween, but I thought I'd already posted my review. Sorry! This is another in the Tovi series, nearly all of which I've liked (of the ones I've read). I liked this one as well. Not only was it an amusing story which told an interesting tale, and only a wee bit scary, it was also beautifully-drawn and brilliantly-colored by the author herself.

One of the delights is that it was legible on a smart phone so you can access it anywhere, and the double-page spreads, which all-too-often in the non-print version are given short shrift and end-up chopped into individual pages, thereby losing the sweep of the double image, were maintained here, and they looked gorgeous. I fully recommend this, not just for next Halloween, but for any time you want to curl up with your kid and a cup of hot chocolate and enjoy a warm tail!


Goodnight Swampy the Little Monster by Ellie J Woods


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a fun book for young children about the problems Swampy's mom has getting him ready for bed. I liked the twist in the tale (not in Swampy's tail!) in that it's Swampy's older brother who steers him right in this story, not his mom. I didn't like that neither dad nor a second mom were in sight, but there are families in that situation, so I guess it worked on that level intentional or not.

The book is clearly intended as a print book, but it worked well on a tablet, and was even legible on a smart phone, so you can get your child set-up to read (or at least look at the pictures) no matter what. I say its aimed at print because on the tablet, the double pages were all separated into singles thereby losing the impact of the double spread. Sad but true.

That said, I liked the story and I think children will too. I recommend it.



Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman


Rating: WARTY!

This is the last Neil Gaiman that I'm going to read. Ive tried several of his mostly with little success. The way this started, I was unsure; then I thought I was going to like it, but in the end it became bogged down with extraneous detail. Props to Gaiman for reading his own work. He didn't do brilliantly for me, but he did okay to begin with.

More authors need to do this, but in the end, even this proved a negative influence in this novel because Gaiman sounded to me rather like a soft version of Professor Snape. His voice has tones of Alan Rickman in it, and in the end I could neither take it seriously, nor enjoy listening to it even as am amusement since, Like Rickman, but far less captivating, his voice had odd pauses in it and strange inflections (and not because it was British!). It certainly did not help that it was in first person, the weakest and least credible voice for a writer to choose.

It didn't help, either, that the story is one long flashback, another tedious conceit for me. Set in the county of Sussex in England, an older man revisits his childhood home and recalls a supernatural incident from when he was much younger. In short, it's an old fashioned wicked witch story, but it was boring when it should most certainly not have been. The problem begins right there, because no one has that kind of verbatim recollection, so credibility for me was lost from the off.

The story is of the guy crossing into another world holding the hand of his childhood friend, Lettie Hempstock, and I don't thing Gaiman ever uses her name without using it in full like that, which was another source of tedium. She has this in common with the villain of the piece, the melodramatic Ursula Monckton, a wicked witch which the boy brings back accidentally from this other land. i was rooting for Ursula.

We're supposed to believe that this man who is recalling every vivid detail of this event from almost a half century before accurately and relating entire conversations word for word, hasn't thought of this girl with whom he shared this adventure "in decades!" It makes no sense, and neither did this story. I cannot recommend it.


Counter-Clock World by Philip K Dick


Rating: WARTY!

I've decided I like Phillip Dick better when his works are translated to the screen than I do in the original. I don't think I've read one of his books that entertained me, so this is the last of his that I'll be reading. It didn't help that it was read by Patrick Lawlor, one of my least favorite readers.

We're told that "the world has entered the Hobart Phase–a vast sidereal process in which time moves in reverse. As a result, libraries are busy eradicating books, copulation signifies the end of pregnancy, people greet with, 'Good-bye,' and part with, 'Hello,' and underneath the world’s tombstones, the dead are coming back to life." This is a lie.

If time were truly reversed, then people wouldn't come back to life in their grave, not unless they'd been buried alive. Nope. The grave would un-fill, a service would be held, the coffin would be un-lowered from the grave and carried (with cars driving in reverse) to the funeral home where it would lie in state until the body was carried back to the hospital where it would come back to life (assuming it died of old age or of some accident). There it would improve its condition until it was able to return home, or maybe back to a motor vehicle accident which would un-happen. People wouldn't greet each other with "Good-bye," but with "olleh" and they'd part with, "eybdoog." But at least climate change would have a viable solution to look forward to, as would pollution.

Actually I was quite willing to let Dick get away with that for an interesting story, but there the problem lay: it wasn't interesting. In the end he has some good ideas, but as a writer he's really rather poor. It turns out Dick is just another of these pedantic authors who comes up with a wacky idea that might just work, and then spoils it completely by weighing it down with leaden philosophy and juvenile religious claptrap. Yawn. Check please, I'm done here.