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

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Indigo Girl by Natasha Boyd


Rating: WARTY!

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

Other than the language being rather too modern, there was nothing overtly wrong with the technical writing of this story other than the usual issues with Amazon's crappy Kindle app mangling the formatting. Publishers need to quit using Kindle format and go with Nook format or with PDF. I detest Microsoft but even Word format is better than Kindle.

My problem with it was the introduction of a farcical and completely fictional relationship with a slave. That sounds racist on the face of it and I certainly do not feel qualified to compete with the President on that score, but this story was set in 1739 in South Carolina (just five hundred miles from the source of presidential shame!), so hopefully you can see the problems arising already.

The problem isn’t even the relationship with the slave per se, but the fact that this story is about a real-life person who had no such relationship. To put it baldly, the author is lying to us about what this woman did. I know, all authors of fiction are liars! It’s at the very heart of what such writers do, but here, there is no reason at all to justify willfully entering this pitfall, and there are clear and valid reasons to avoid it.

Elizabeth Lucas, who went by Eliza, and later by Eliza Lucas Pinckney, was a far-sighted, pioneering, and successful businesswoman who succeeded when it was almost entirely unknown for a woman, and especially not a teenager, to be in charge of not one, but three plantations, let alone flourish in those circumstances.

Eliza did marry someone she loved, yet this author cheapens even that real romance by putting it on the back burner while she turns her main character into a sleazy stalker, chasing a guy named (when she knew him as a child) Benoit Fortune, and then by Ben Cromwell as a grown man. The "relationship" ends not when Eliza starts acting in character, but only when the author kills off Ben (based on a real historical event when a slave drowns after a boat sinks).

This whole affair simply defies credibility not only from what this author herself writes, but from what I’ve read about the real Eliza. To suggest that she would have behaved in this way towards any man - regardless of who he was and whether he was black or white or anywhere in between - is farcical. Way to besmirch an upstanding woman with a storied list of accomplishments!

It beggars belief that a female author would do this to a female character, but it happens all the time in YA literature, and here it is again. In making this grave mistake, the author cheapens a very real life which needs no ornamentation to be outstanding, yet in true tradition amongst young adult authors, we have yet another main female character being hobbled in fiction with the asinine "need" to be validated by a man. Eliza Lucas deserves a far better tribute than to have her entire life wiped out like this and that’s why I do not consider this novel to be a worthy read.

The story is arguably racist too, since of the three people who betray Eliza (yet more fiction it has to be said), two of them are black, and both of those were deliberately invented as far as I could tell, purely for the sake of having them betray Eliza!

The real life Eliza was sixteen when her father (in the British Army and with ambitions of becoming governor) returned to Antigua, where Eliza was born. Since Eliza’s mother was rather sickly (in more ways than one as depicted here), and since he had no older male children, he left the rest of his family behind in South Carolina, with Eliza in charge of his holdings, and she did a sterling job.

When other planters were focused on rice (this was before cotton became a staple - ironically it was the year Eliza died, 1793, that the cotton gin was invented and cotton replaced both rice and indigo as the 'slave crop' of choice), Eliza recalled the indigo plants of her childhood years. Obtaining seeds (and later producing her own seed crop) and experimenting over the next several years, she and her enslaved workers succeeded in showing that indigo could be produced at a profit. From there on out, production and sales sky-rocketed. Until those cotton-pickin' bales killed it all.

Eliza married her neighbor Charles Pinckney when his own wife died, not caring that he was several years older than she. This was the real romance, and they raised children together, descendants of whom live on today. That’s the real story and why the author felt that real and true story lacking, to the point where she needed to screw it up 'Mandingo style' remains a mystery. I’d recommend reading a biography rather than this disrespectful, sensationalist, and insulting fiction which I cannot recommend.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Park Bench by Christophe Chabouté


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I had never heard of Christophe Chabouté, but after "reading" Park Bench, I am a fan! I put reading in quotes because there's nothing to read! It's all art, all pictures, no interpretation necessary - a truly international work in some senses (see caveat in penultimate paragraph). Almost all the action takes place around the titular public seat in a park. Just by watching this one locale through the lens that the author provides us, we see a microcosm of life.

We see people who use the bench and we see those who don't even see the bench. We see friendship and antagonism, love and abuse, and a persistent dog which is determined to claim this territory for its own! I particularly loved the scene in the snow where we don't even see the dog - only its footprints.

That's the genius of this. At first, when I started to look through it, I kept wondering if this was it, and then I realized it's not only it; it's everything. Naturally, the first impression is that speech is missing, but that's intentional. The one thing that was truly missing is the sense of the passage of time. I don't know if that was intentional or not.

Yes, we see the occasional season now and then, but do we see years? Are we meant to? That's the only explanation for the remarkable phenomenon which slipped right by me, mesmerized as I was by the images, until the author hit me over the head with it at the end!

I loved this, I thought it was brilliant, amusing, engaging, and really, really well done. The artwork is exquisite and detailed, and evocative. The French cop actually looked so French it rather removed it from its cosmopolitan flavor for those few frames, but everyone else could have been anywhere else - anywhere that's largely white and western that is, because there were few people of color visiting this park. That, I think, was an omission, but no doubt there are parks like this. Donald Trump probably lives near one.

But I am not going to quibble over that when the rest of it was so perfect. Not this time. I recommend this.


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Jamie Ford's novel ought to be required reading for any YA author who is thinking (god forbid) of including a love triangle in their story. This is a tour-de-force of how to do it right if you must do it! Not that this is a YA novel by any means. This is a novel for grown-ups who appreciate intelligent and beautifully-written stories.

It was a charming historical story of an immigrant to North America, coming from a tragically impoverished background in China. It begins in about as depressing a manner as is possible, with a wretchedly poor and starving Chinese mother forced to suffocate her baby daughter and leave her son, appropriately named Yung (although in Chinese the name means brave or perpetual, both appropriate to the character), in a cemetery, for pick-up by an "importer" who transports Chinese children to the US and delivers them into servitude.

The story is told from two alternating perspectives, book-ended by world fairs, Both perspectives are held by the same person, who goes by Ernest despite this not being remotely like his Chinese name, which he takes as his surname, modifying it to Young. The 1902-1911 portion covers his early days traveling to the US and settling in Seattle, and the 1962 portion covers his twilight years where the love of his life is suffering senile dementia evidently brought on by a misspent youth. Here he is married with two intriguing daughters who are leading their own full lives. One of them is a reporter who is interested in his story, and it is this link which keeps us tied to his origins in the US.

I kept reading in reviews written by others that this is based on a true story, but no one goes into any detail as to exactly what it is that's true, so it felt like these reviews were merely parroting what others had written! Here, for the first time, it can be publicly revealed! The truth is that I can find no reference to the truth or consequences of this story on the author's blog which is, I am sorry to report, far more interested in promoting the book than in conveying anything of interest about its historicity, nor is there anything in the book itself to indicate what might have inspired it.

According to http://old.seattletimes.com/html/television/2010080063_kcts17.html there actually was a baby exhibition and one infant, apparently named Ernest, was offered in a raffle, but no one claimed the winning ticket, so the story of an eleven-year-old being raffled to a whore-house while very loosely rooted in real events, seems to be pure fiction.

The 'Author's Note' (which I typically never read anyway) in my ebook copy was blank, so it was of no use in illuminating the 'based on a true story angle'. This web page https://www.seattlemet.com/articles/2010/1/29/red-light-history-0210" reveals some details of Seattle's intriguing red light history, but in it, the Tenderloin seems to be the name of a district rather than the name of a specific house as is depicted in the book.

So my best guess (and this is only a guess) is that the truth of the story lies in that it depicts real events (such as world fairs and morality battles), but that none of the details of the Tenderloin (as a bordello), or Ernest, or Fahn or Maisie are true in the sense that they tell any real and specific person's story.

They are true in that god-awful things happened to people in those neighborhoods, but quite honestly this story rather whitewashes the sordid side of a working girl's life in depicting the elegant and refined 'House of Flora' while sweeping under the carpet the bleeding raw open nerveiendings of most imported children's truth in the prostitution business (and it was, and still is, a big business). It also makes no mention either, focused as it is on the Asian-American experience, of the American Indians who were also there.

That said, it does tell a fine tale of how some things might have been for those who got lucky. Ernest is raffled off from his orphanage and ends up at Madam Flora's Tenderloin house of pleasure, where heartbreakingly young prostitutes, most of whom we never get to know, are taught refinement and who 'come out' on their sixteenth birthday, their virginity sold to the highest bidder, whereinafter they take their place as a regular "Gibson Girl" purveying their skills to whichever rich and influential men select them for the night. There may well have been houses of this nature, but my guess is they were few and far between if they existed at all, and most of them were like the one we hear all-too-briefly about from one of the female characters.

But for this novel, that's not the point. The story is about one such fictional house where Ernest, for the first time in his life, paradoxically finds happiness and a family in the good-natured people who live and work there. He makes two close friends: the tomboyish Maisie, and the exotic Fahn, neither of whom is yet 'out'.

The trio bond charmingly, and despite the immorality pervading their every waking moment, they remain innocent between themselves, with nothing more than a stolen first kiss to count as a sin. Since we know from the 1962 portion of the story, that Ernest ends up with one of them, the question, and the author hides it well (or at least he did from me!), is which one, and what happens to the other one. I normally dislike flashbacks, but here they worked perfectly, and were integrated exceedingly-well with what I considered to be the main story set back at the turn of the century.

Since my blog is primarily about writing, I have to say that the writing in general here was very good - well-done and engrossing. There were some parts where it seemed to bog down a little, but overall it was great. I noticed only one or two writing oddities. The first was this phrase: "decked out in a dark black suit" I guess dark black is really black! LOL! "Decked out in a dark gray suit" would have sounded better, but that's a very minor quibble. The only other thing was that author seemed too enamored of this word form, because there were two other instances which felt wrong to me, where the word 'deckled' put in an appearance.

This actually is a word. A deckle is a book press used in hand-made books, and by association has come to describe the rough edge of the open side of the book. I hate those, as it happens because it makes it hard to turn the pages, but the author uses this word in the form of something being 'deckled' with lights and this seemed entirely wrong to me. Decked would have made more sense, or if he'd used deckled to describe the rough ocean surface rather than the lights on the boats floating on it, it would have made more sense. He uses the same word again when he writes, "fairy lights that deckled the storefronts." I think this was wrong, too, and arguably more wrong than the boat lights, but like I said, it's a minor quibble that reasonable people can disagree on if they wish!

That aside, I really liked this book - the way it was written, the pacing, the story, the relationships and the characters. No book is perfect by any means (especially not my own), but you really can't expect a better read than this, told elegantly, paced well, organized beautifully, and with a bitter-sweet tale to tell of a world where women are commodities and rich men can buy pretty much anything they want and it's considered normal, but sometimes if you want something enough, and you are willing to truly love it and bide your time, perhaps you can get it without your acquisition being sordid and demeaning and with it bringing you the Earth instead of costing it to you. I recommend it as a highly worthy read.


Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James


Rating: WARTY!

Written as a rather presumptuous sequel to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (which originally had the title "First Impressions"), this audiobook fell flat for me. I was not too keen on the reader, Rosalyn Landor's voice. Although it wasn't awful, it just never felt right, but much worse than this is that this novel felt nothing like an Austen novel.

Perhaps James never intended it to emulate Austen at all, but even so, it felt like she wasn't really trying. It felt like she had this idea for a crime set in nine-teeth century England and, realizing it wasn't very good, decided to usurp Austen's cachet to sell it. She certainly didn' usurp anything else of Austen's. Virtually the entire book was tedious exposition, There was none of Austen's wit and humor, none of her trenchant observation oe social commentary, and wher were her conversations? Nowhere! I don't believe Darcy and Darcy (nee Bennet) had more than half a dozen words to exchange with each other in any conversation. And what about sex? Austen's works were filled with naked, rampant, explicit, life-shattering, illicit passion, but here there was not a whit of it!

One of those assertions in that last paragraph might be a gross exaggeration. But then so was this entire novel.

I guess marriage really changed Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam, because they were nothing like the characters Austen created. In 1803, they have two sons (of course - why would we ever want to see the kind of daughter Elizabeth's genes could produce and her nurturing raise?). The Darcy's are readying for their annual ball when Wickham and Lydia show up for no rational reason since they're never welcome at Pemberley although they do visit Jane and Charles who live next door (in an English country gentleman sense, that is). This seems to have changed from when Charles chose to live near to Meryton. If there was an explanation for this, I missed it.

James evidently thinks Austen fans are morons because she pads her novel hugely with infodumps taken bodily from Pride and Prejudice - and curiously form other Austen novels. She also seems to think her readers need a crash course in nineteenth century English law, because we get more of these dull and lifeless areas of knowledge than ever we do of interactions between Lizzie and Fitzie, which is what I assume most readers were looking for. No one cares about Wickham and only a moron would believe he is the guilty party in a story like this.

The plot has Lydia arriving in hysterics declaring her beloved Wickham, now a national war hero having excelled himself at shooting the Irish, but unable to hold down a job upon being demobbed, to be dead! It's a lie! A damnable lie, madam, and a slanderous one at that! George isn't dead, but his army buddy is, and George, in most un-George-like fashion, seems to have implicated himself in the crime. The rest of the book takes an unconscionably long time to actually deliberate over the crime, although perhaps deliberate is an appropriate word to describe the plodding tone.

The ridiculous book blurb on Goodreads (and such are one reason I no-longer post reviews there) claims: "Conjuring the world of Elizabeth Bennet and Mark Darcy." Who the frack is Mark Darcy?! The librarians (so-called) on Goodreads are utterly useless and should be summarily fired. Wickham would do a better job, believe me. The blurb also claims that it is "combining the trappings of Regency British society" Hello? The Regency period was when the Prince Regent (who would become George 4th) took over from his addled dad, which was from about 1811 until 1820 when Geo 3.0 died. 1803 was squarely in the Georgian period, morons. Fire those libelousarians!

I am done with this warty novel. It SUCKED, and will never read anything else by PD James. As one review of the TV series put it, the only crime here was one against decent literature! Oh, and Will Bidwell did it. If James had had the courage to have Lydia commit the crime, then I might have rated this a worthy story despite its flaws, but James is quite clearly not a good enough writer to attempt something like that. Do yourself a favor and watch the TV show instead. It will not, I guarantee, be as good as the classic Ehle-Firth masterpiece, but it might give you the fix you crave. I haven't seen it but I've heard better things about it than I have about the novel which inspired it.


The Princess in My Teacup by Sally Huss


Rating: WORTHY!

Sally Huss has almost consistently turned out, in my experience, works of originality, upbeat attitudes, educational in equal measure with colorful and bright, and with fun rhymes to boot. Thus one merely continues her proud tradition.

One could argue here that this is aimed at white female audiences, and plays heavily into the Disney Princess syndrome, which are negatives, but we cannot have every book flooded with every type of person and every kind of wish for our children. There simply isn't room. One simple theme, well-presented with one simple message is fine, and it's up to parents and guardians to seek and pursue diversity by buying (or checking out of the library) a diversity of books! It's really not rocket science! Please don't always expect all options to be covered in one short children's book!

This little girl begins seeing a princess in reflected surfaces: a cup of tea, a bowl of soup, a filled bathtub, and so on. The princess always wants her to do something. The things she wants her to do are always aimed at helping other people: befriending them, being nice to them and thoughtful of them, and each time she does this, the girl helps and thinks she's seen the last of the princess, but the princess never leaves her. I think perhaps you know why. This was delightful, short and easy read, and I recommend it.


Friday, August 4, 2017

My Dead Girlfriend: Vol 1 by Eric Wight


Rating: WORTHY!

Another graphic novel with a weird-ass title! How could I not?!

In this one, Finney Bleak's outlook on life is...well...bleak. All of his relatives died unusual deaths and usually early ones, so he feels he has nothing to look forward to, especially when he's abandoned by mom in a cemetery of all places. He's raised by ghosts who already have ghost daughters named April, May, and June, and of course he attends high-ghoul. While surviving Salamander Mugwart (one of the local witches named Glindas), and growing healthily with the aid of ghost mom & dad, Finney eventually falls for a girl named Jenny Wraith, but she fails to show up for their second date!

Finney thinks she didn't like him. He doesn't learn that she was on her way to see him when she fell down a well and died. He discovers this much later when ghost Jenny shows up at his cemetery, announcing she has been his guardian angel for some time. Now wants to resume their relationship rather than see him take off with another girl!

Initially, he thinks there can be nothing between a body and his incorporeal love, but when she leads him in (cor!) real love, he gets with the program! Great story, interesting graphics, and a fun read. I recommend it. Note that despite being titled Volume 1 A Tryst of Fate, there are no other volumes - kind of like Mel Brooks's History of the World, Pt 1.




Thursday, August 3, 2017

Girls & Panzer by Ryohichi Saitaniya


Rating: WORTHY!

Translated by Greg Moore, this was another quirky graphic novel from Japan, which has elements in common with Tank Girl. I couldn't not pick this up from the library shelf with a title like this! Japanese schoolgirls in their sailor outfits driving humongous and obsolete tanks from World War Two?! Competing against other schools in an all-out war? No injuries??

It was weird but oddly compelling. Miho Nishizumi is a new transfer student to Ooarai All-Girls High School. She had departed a previous school where she was involved in "tankery" as this activity is amusingly referred to. She had a falling out with her older sister and left on somewhat bitter terms. She evidently is looking for a quiet academic life, but she's denied it! Her new school is reinstituting its tankery program, and because of her experience, Miho is drafted into putting together a tankery team for an upcoming national contest.

With some oddball teammates, and a limited selection of tanks, Miho has her work cut out for her, but she wins through in the end. The story was amusing, but I'm not sure if I want to pursue it beyond this volume. I think there is only so many tank battles I can stand to watch, especially since it was rather confusing at times. The bulk of this graphic novel was black and white line drawings, and the characters looked very much alike, so there was very little in the way of distinction not only between the two teams but also between the members on the same team, and parts of this were hard to follow, for me at least.

Overall, though, I consider this to be a worthy read. It was fun and feisty, and I will perhaps dip into another volume at some point. What's not to like about girls with tanks?!


The Pleasure of My Company by Steve Martin


Rating: WARTY!

Read by the author in an average manner, this was another dead audiobook added to my list. This is the first time I've read anything by this author, and I have mixed feelings about Martin as a performer. I loved him in The Jerk, and I also loved his LA story, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Housesitter (although he did not write those last two), but I've found him to be rather unappealing in other things I've seen him in. The impression I got from this novel was that Martin was telling something of his own life story, but augmented with exaggerations, which really makes it rather insulting to people who genuinely have OCD or similar issues with which to contend in their daily life.

The story is about an OCD guy who is almost but not quite a shut-in since he has so many issues in venturing outside the home, such as curbs, which effectively curb his ability to cross streets unless there is a convenient and matching pair of driveways to hand (or foot). As if the OCD is not enough of a barrier to personal interaction, the guy is a compulsive liar, but somehow this all works out from other reviews I've read. None of this made any sense to me and was simply boring. Martin's reading voice is not appealing and was very flat and monotone. If he employs this same voice inside his head as he writes, then this might account for why this story was so bad. It held no appeal for me and I quickly ditched it before even 25% of it was up. I may give Shopgirl a try, but I don't plan on it in the immediate future.


A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Oima


Rating: WORTHY!

This is an interesting story about a school bully and a deaf girl. Shoya's problem is boredom, but instead of finding benign ways to deal with it, he resorts to destructive ones - picking on other children and doing dangerous stunts like jumping off bridges. Shoko is a girl who is deaf, and consequently her speech is impaired. She is new to Shoya's school, and she communicates by writing in a notebook, and encouraging others to use it to write questions to her.

Shoya immediately starts picking on her because she is such an easy target for him, especially since she has such an accepting and friendly disposition, and she never retaliates. His behavior is abominable, but the thing is that very few people in the class treat Shoko with respect and consideration, not even other girls. Shoya's behavior is the worst though, and even as his friend start deserting him and abandoning their juvenile practices as they mature and pursue academic interests more studiously, he never does.

Inevitably, Shoya goes too far and Shoko quits the school. Several years later, they meet again. This meeting is where the story begins. All the rest is flashback, and since this is a series, the story is never resolved in this one volume. On the one hand this is why I detest series as a general rule, and why I dislike flashbacks. On the other, this series - at least this introductory volume of it, was not so bad. The art was a bit too manga for my taste, but on the whole, not bad, and the writing was enjoyable, but all this can ever be is a prologue. I detest prologues!

So while I may or may not pursue this series, I did enjoy this one volume despite my reservations about such efforts, so I recommend it, and I may well get into volume two as time and opportunity permit.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Cat Chaser by Elmore Leonard


Rating: WARTY!

Elmore John Leonard Jr (which was misspelled on the CDs!) has been hailed, at least in his later years, as a great writer by several other writers I don't have a lot of respect for, and now I guess I have to add him to that same list, based on this outing. I did like the 1972 movie Joe Kidd for which he wrote the screenplay, so maybe I will try him again later, but not any time soon.

As the novel begins, Ex-paratrooper George Moran, who last saw action as one of the Cat Chaser platoon in Santo Domingo is running a small motel in Miami named Coconut Palms (but which lacks any palms!). Moran (call him moron) starts becoming obsessed, for no good reason we're given, with the couple staying in one of his rooms. He starts having an affair with Mary DeBoya who is unhappily married to a former Dominican general. Moran becomes involved in a plot, with another ex vet named Nolen Tyner and an ex-cop from NYC named Jiggs Scully, to defraud the general.

Since Moran is doing fine, it makes no sense for him to get involved with the general or his wife, and the dialog of this 1980's novel sounds like it was written in the fifties, so this was a DNF for me, mostly because it was boring! I cannot recommend it based on the twenty percent or so I heard of it. The reader, Frank Muller, doesn't contribute a thing to the enjoyment.


Tucker's Apple Dandy Day by Susan Winget


Rating: WORTHY!

I adore this author's name! I've always been fond of 'Susan' and I had to wonder of this one whether or not she might wing it with her writing? If so, it works! This book was the polar opposite of Dinosaur Kisses and exactly what a young children's book should be. A warm fuzzy story with warm fuzzy characters, beautifully illustrated in sweetly warm, fuzzy autumnal colors!

Tucker gets to visit a farm on his school field trip, and they all get the chance to pick their own bag of apples to take home, but Tucker is so busy helping others to get their share that he never has chance to get any for himself. All the people he helped, though, rally around and donate a few of their apples to him so he gets a few for himself after all. It's beautifully told story about the selflessness of helping others without expectation of a reward, and it's delightfully illustrated. I fully recommend this one.


Blue Sky by Audrey Wood


Rating: WORTHY!

Couldn't fail to review a book by a namesake now, could I?! Not that I know this author, or am any relation to her (as far as I know!). This book was about what's in the sky and how beautiful and fulfilling it is to contemplate it in all its facets. The book is very light on text and very heavy on vibrant colors and eye-arresting depictions.

What little text there is though, is quite gripping, because it also illustrates the very idea it conveys: 'cloud sky' is made up of clouds, rather like my own Cloud Fighters (evidently it runs in the Wood family! LOL!), and 'rain sky' is dripping with precipitation, and so on.

You'll want a cold drink and ice cream after seeing 'sun sky'. The book is slightly whimsical and doesn't fail to consider a dream sky towards the end, inviting children to fall asleep and experience it for themselves! Great idea! I loved this book and thoroughly recommend it.


Princess Jellyfish by Akiko Higashimura


Rating: WORTHY!

This title was so bizarre that I pulled it off the shelf in the library and glanced through it, and decided to take it home. I'm always game for a good graphic novel, and this one was so weird it intrigued me. I love the utterly bizarre names the Japanese give to their manga and anime. This delightfully-named author-illustrator is apparently quite accomplished in Japan and this particular book has already been made into a Japanese TV show and a live-action film which I may try to catch if I can.

This girl named Tsukimi Kurashita lives in this apartment block which is for girls only, and several of those who live there are artists for comic books. She is painfully shy and poor at interacting either with men or with what she describes as princesses, which are good-looking and fashionably-dressed girls. The story gives an interesting insight into Japanese culture. How authentic it is, is hard to gauge, but I assume it has at least some roots in reality. Tsukimi believes that there are only two kinds of women: the princesses, and what she calls fujoshi, which literally means 'rotten girl' and is a term used to describe Japanese women who do not want to get married, stay at home, and raise children.

Tsukimi is of course a fujoshi, who is obsessed with jellyfish because that was the last good memory she had of time with her mother before she died. She views some of the jellyfish, in their natural finery, as dressed like princesses, and she starts drawing them and collecting pictures of them. She ends up with a pet jellyfish when she passes a pet store and sees two different species in the same tank which she knows should never be kept together.

She ends up taking the jellyfish home, accompanied by a princess who helps her when the guy at the pet shop is abusive to her. This princess stays with her in her room, and it's only the next morning that she realizes that the princess is actually a guy named Kuranosuke Koibuchi, who cross-dresses to avoid having to deal with the political aspirations of his family.

He's much more interested in getting into the fashion industry than ever he is in pursuing politics. He's adopted by the girls that Tsukimi knows in the apartment, because they don't know he's not really female, and because he brings food from home, which they enjoy. Tsukimi doesn't dare tell anyone she's invited a guy into the house. He ends up giving them all make-overs!

I'm amazed at how bizarre this story is, but I adored how playful and mischievous it was. You have to wonder how writers like this come up with these totally oddball ideas. Both Tsukimi and Kuranosuke were delightful. Other than friendship with an interesting woman, Kuranosuke has no professed attachment to Tsukimi when they first start hanging out, but he suffers distinct pangs of jealousy after he gives Tsukimi a make-over and his older brother - very much a suit - starts showing an interest in her. His bother is the only one who knows that he cross-dresses, and has kept his secret even though he finds it rather objectionable. This relationship was a joy.

Overall this was a delight to read - amusing, entertaining, and fun. I recommend it.


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves


Rating: WARTY!

Read by (I kid you not) someone named Ann Dover, and written by Anne Cleeves, this was another experimental audiobook and though it initially intrigued me, it quickly failed. In fact, it was quite simply one of the most tedious books I've ever had to listen to.

It took so long for quite literally nothing to happen, and it was so larded with endless, irrelevant, boring-as-watching-a-cowpat-dry, extraneous detail about everything and anything, that I couldn't stand to listen to it and returned it quickly to the library so someone else would have to deal with it instead of me!

It was all my fault! I had thought, when I first picked it out, that it was one of the books that had given rise to the TV show Shetland, which I've watched and enjoyed despite the high improbability of so many murders occurring in such a small and sleepy Scots village!

This wasn't any such thing! It's part of a different series, which also (and inexplicably in this case) made it to TV, and which is known as the Vera Stanhope series. Now I shall never get the book for the Shetland series because this was too poor of an experience of this author. I do not want to read any more of her work, especially since I have too much else to read, to bother with her again.

For those who are interested, the story begins not with a murder, but with a suicide. Rachael is the team leader of a trio of women who are studying the potential environmental impact that a proposed quarry will have on a national park and a friend of hers hangs herself. Later, somewhere in the tedium there actually is a murder. It's the plot! Done to death by the author! No, I'm kidding. There is a murder and Vera is on the case. Yawn. That's it! I cannot recommend this based on the limited sample that was all I could stand to listen to.


Fated by Alyson Noël


Rating: WARTY!

This YA novel should have been titled Ill-fated. It was at least different in that it's about a young female who is on a film shoot in Morocco instead of your usual bratty, or ditzy or sappy high school student and her ridiculous love triangle with the sweet best friend and the new bad boy. Barf. I appreciated that, but the problem is that it soon deteriorated into a clone of every other young adult first person female character novel. Are there no female authors out there writing YA female characters that can actually think for themselves and come up with something original?

I know there are a few - people who are not mindlessly copying very other YA writer and coming out with vomit-inducing bullshit like this:

I shove through the crowd, knocking into girls and bouncing off boys, until one in particular catches me, steadies me.
I feel so secure, so at home in his arms.
I melt against his chest-lift my gaze to meet his. Gasping when I stare into a pair of icy blue eyes banded by brilliant flecks of gold

Yes, it was first person. That's a negative for me ninety nine times out of ten.

But there it is! The inevitable gold flecks in the eyes. If I've read this description of the main male character in a YA novel once, I've read it ten billion, trillion, quadrillion times. That, right there, that alone should be sufficient reason these days to negatively rate a YA novel, and I think from now on I shall make it an automatic negative review for any book I read that contains this asinine cliché of a trope.

And I haven't even started yet on the appallingly abusive habit of these female writers have of rendering their female characters as mere appendages of some manly male lead.

What is wrong with these authors? Do they not have a brain, or do they have one and simply chose to turn it off when they write? Or are they so desperate to sell a book and so lacking in standards that even though they know perfectly well how pathetic it is, they compulsively write a clone of every other YA writer's book - and make series and trilogies out of them because this is what Big Publishing™ demands these days? Just how spineless and incompetent are these YA cloning authors?

Maybe the problem isn't the writers except in that the writers are pandering to a sad readership whose standards are so low they'll read anything from the YA landfill? I read in another reviewer's assessment that at one point, "...despite Daire's protests, Dace is kissing her and has his hands up her shirt. Is this really okay?" I have to tell you that no, it is not okay. It is NEVER okay. Believe it or not, Dace is supposed to be the good guy, and it's an awful abuse of young women to write trash like this.

Alyson Noël and her publisher need to publicly apologize for putting this crap out on the market unless they can demonstrate some important and overriding purpose for it. Again, this alone is sufficient reason to rate this book as garbage - like I needed another one! What's that, four strikes against it already? Reading comments like that one in other reviews makes me glad I ditched both this book and also this author DNF. I'm done reading her inexcusable, sloppily-written, stereotypical, trope-laden, clichéd crap.

I know there are a few good YA writers because I've read the work of some of them. My question is: why are they so very hard to find? Why are so many YA writers such pathetic plagiarists that such a limited number of them can come up with original ideas and original characters and the rest have to essentially steal - or perhaps more charitably, share - their characters in a bland pool with every other female YA writer in a trashy, first-person voice, limp, clingy, female desperately in need of salvation and validation by the gold-flecked male in novels which are indistinguishable from one another because they all tell the same story with barely a twist here and there to differentiate them?

This story begins with Daire Santos. Yes, 'dare' - could it be any more pathetic? She seems to be of Latinx roots, yet exhibits little of them not only in her name but in her entire personality. She experiences a horrible vision of bad things happening. She evidently passes out from this and wakes up to find herself restrained in a bed, with mother there and a doctor on the way because they all think she's had some sort of a psychotic episode. She's quickly bundled-off to stay with her grandmother, Paloma, since Daire-to-be-the-same finds that the least objectionable alternative to being sent to a psychiatric institution, which is her mother Jennika's only other offer. Yes, Jennika - no Latin influence there either.

Here's a third reason: the idea of a modern female character - especially one who has the confidence of hanging around with actors (I had thought Daire herself was an actor originally, but apparently she was only there because her mother is a make-up artist in the movie business) - revisiting the historical but obsolete "traditional female role" of screaming and hysteria, is growing old fast, which is ironic, because the story didn't move fast at all. It's lethargic.

Almost literally nothing happens in this entire volume from what I've seen myself, and from what I've read of others' reviews. And why should it? This isn't a novel. At best it's a prologue; at worst, a preface or an author's note. I don't do prologues, prefaces, author's notes, introductions or any of that time-wasting (and tree-slaughtering) 'front-matter' crap.

If it's worth reading, then it's worth including in chapter one or later. No, this is a series, so what incentive can the author possibly have to deliver you a decent story in volume one? She can't afford to give you anything, because she has pad this to the max, and to drag it out for god only knows how many volumes before she'll quit taking your money several times over for something that she should have had the common decency to take only once.

The novel became bogged down in several ways and for many non-reasons. One was in the 'traditional native medicine' rip-off: dream catchers, native folklore, herbal remedies and so on. The reason 'alternative medicine' isn't just 'medicine' is because it doesn't work! If it's found to work, then it becomes 'medicine' and you can get it prescribed at any hospital or doctor's office if you're deemed to need it!

No, there is no conspiracy to keep these 'secret' folk remedies out of the hands of the public. The pharmaceutical corporations are far too avaricious and profit-oriented to ignore anything they can make money on, so I'm not a fan of that kind of woo, unless it really makes for a good story, and this one wasn't going anywhere on that insulting, cultural-stereotype-hobbled, tacky tack.

There seemed to be a curious obsession with naming all young male characters with four letter names (and I can see the value in that in some stories!), but here the names seemed to all have a letter 'A' as the second letter, and an 'E' as the final letter, so we met Vane, Cade, and Dace, and so on (Cade and Dace are the good-evil twins, while Vane - and to be honest, I can't speak to the spelling since this was a audiobook - was Daire's actor 'friend'). It was weird, although I do admit to finding some amusement in the fact that Vane was the star in this movie they were making. For all I know, maybe his name was actually spelled as 'Vain'!

The audiobook I listened to was read by Brittany Pressley, who was perfect for this title, but the opposite of the kind of voice I want to hear reading stories. The contrast between her nasal whine and the charmingly listenable voices of other readers I've heard lately, such as Mary Robinette Kowal, and Amy Landon is dramatic. You have to hear those voices to fully appreciate how bad this one was, and my guess is that precious few of the people who enjoy this crap would ever sully themselves with a quality reading to even grasp that there even is a difference in the first place, let alone appreciate it.

So in short? No! Just no!


Nightshifted by Cassie Alexander


Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook experiment that went south with the honking geese! It sounded good from the blurb, but then doesn't everything? Maybe not! One thing I didn't notice was small print notifying me that this debut novel is the first in a series, otherwise I probably would have skipped it altogether and I would have been right to do so.

Edie is the newest nurse on ward Y4, a secret location hidden under County Hospital, and set aside for paranormal patients. I've worked in hospitals, not as a care-giver like this author is, but as support staff, and so this environment isn't alien to me. It's one I often enjoy reading about in stories, and the idea of a nurse taking care of a sick vampire amused me, but the story itself wasn't amusing or otherwise entertaining at all.

I kept finding myself thinking idle thoughts rather than listening to this as I commuted to and from work, and while I expect my attention to be divided, with the most focus naturally on traffic when I'm driving, that doesn't prevent me for enjoying an audiobook, so this inability of the author to grab my attention was not a good sign, nor did it portend a worthy read. In the end I ditched this somewhere shortly after the forty percent mark, right around the point where the dragon - yes, dragon - showed up. That was too much silly for me.

I read some other negative reviews of this, and at least one of them mentioned unprotected sex on the first date, which is a huge no-no, so either I missed that, which speaks volumes as it is, or I didn't quite reach it, in which case I promise you I won't miss it, but in either case it's a negative on that kind of dumb, even in a supernatural story.

The reading by Tai Sammons was also flat and uninspired so this didn't help things along at all. I cannot recommend this book.


Podkayne of Mars by Robert Heinlein


Rating: WARTY!

In this, the last Robert Heinlein novel I shall probably ever read, Podkayne Fries, an eight-year-old Martian girl (15 in Earth years), fantasizes about visiting Earth even though she doesn't see how it can sustain life. She battles with her younger, trouble-making brother who smuggles a nuclear bomb onto their transport, she gets kidnapped and escapes. In the original she was killed saving a child from a bomb blast, but Heinlein caved to Big Publishing™ despite being an established author by then, and changed the ending so she was injured, but lived.

Spineless is the term for that, and yet one more reason to never go with Big Publishing™ because I don't believe for a minute they would not put this same kind of pressure on an author today, especially if that author wasn't as well established as Heinlein was. Well, not me. Screw that. I'd rather never sell a novel than let a publishing conglomerate tell me how to write my novels.

If the novel had been brilliant, I might have had some nice things to say about it, but it frankly sucked. It was mire din antiquity. Yes, the novel was written in the early sixties, a decade which doesn't remotely deserve the proud boasts it has garnered for itself, but it sounded far more like the early fifties, and there was zero in this novel to make it sci-fi.

The exact-same story could have been written as Podkayne of America, with the US replacing Mars and Europe or Africa replacing Earth, and ships or airplanes replacing spacecraft, and everything else remaining the same, and it would not have needed to be told any differently. Sci-fi? Bullshit! There was nothing remotely science-y or futuristic in it and it was so condescending and fatherly as to be embarrassing.

The best thing about it was the girl who was reading it, Emily Janice Card, who did a really good job with antiquated material. I'd listen to her read something different, but I cannot recommend this musty, moth-eaten fabrication.


Saturday, July 29, 2017

Glow by Megan E Bryant


Rating: WORTHY!

Megan Bryant seems to be something of a polymath in the novel world, not stuck-in-a-rut with any one audience or genre, but covering a variety of topics and age ranges, so I could identify with her somewhat on that score! I haven't read anything of hers before, but this young adult outing interested me, and I thank the publisher for a chance to read an advance review copy.

Glow is about this college student named - embarrassingly, she thinks - Jubilee, but who goes by Julie. Julie is a wannabe student, but she was forced to forgo her planned freshman year because her mother ran into some serious debts and Julie's college fund was sucked dry when she paid them off. On a scavenger shopping trip with her well-off friend, who seems to have more money than sense, Julie accidentally happens upon this cheap, but original painting at a second-hand store. The art speaks to her and it's cheap(!), so she buys it at the knock-down price.

At home that night, the painting almost knocks her down when she discovers that there's a second painting hidden beneath the first, and it's one which can only be seen when the lights are off, because it glows in the dark. She finds a second painting by the same artist, and that too, has the same feature. The image it shows though, is grotesque and disturbing, so she becomes obsessed with finding out who the artist is and what the hidden pictures mean.

Just as there are two paintings incorporated in each canvas, there are two stories in this novel. I liked the symmetry of that. The second story alternates with the first, and provides answers to questions asked in it. It takes place via letters written by a young woman in 1917 to her boyfriend who was in Europe fighting World War One.

It becomes obvious to the reader long before it does to Julie, just what has happened here, since it's pretty clear from these letters. The girl who painted the pictures was showing the world what the painting watch faces using radioactive materials would do to people. I actually figure out exactly who it was too, something I'm not normally able to do!

The people depicted in the paintings were those who became known as the 'radium girls' - people who became sick from exposure to radioactive materials long before anyone really knew, or cared, how dangerous these horrors we have exposed in our world truly are. Wikipedia contains the very photograph of the factory which gets a visit in the novel (a visit which technically could not have occurred, but I let that slide, too!).

The fact is that no story is perfect (not even mine, LOL!), and while this one had one or two issues, none of them was sufficient to make me dislike the story which I consider to be important. The first problem or me in a novel like this is first person voice. I have no idea why so many authors, particularly in the young-adult world, are so addicted to it, but it is a weak and problematic voice and in my opinion should be used only in extremis! Some authors can carry it though, and this author is evidently one of them, I'm happy to report, because it wasn't at all obnoxious, so that objection was assuaged here.

Another format I'm not enamored of is the epistolary one, and that's also employed here, but again this author brought it in as a way to introduce a second first person voice. While for me, two first person voices are usually two too many, I did appreciate the way she snuck this in under the radar (under most people's radars!) by having the letters be the medium by which the second voice was delivered. Superficially it worked, and again it was not nauseating for me to read. I was also glad it wasn't done with flashbacks which I also detest, but to me all of these methods are potential liabilities for a writer because they do serious harm to the realism and credibility of the story.

No one who is telling you a story of their personal adventure can recall every detail and relate it, including verbatim conversations, and this is one reason I dislike this particular voice so much: it's far too inauthentic for my taste. This was a problem in the epistolary portions because the writer didn't sound at all like someone who was writing in 1917! The language and tone were all wrong and the detailed conversations were too much, but as I said, it wasn't obnoxious, and fortunately, I enjoyed the story enough that I was willing to let this slide. You see? I told you you can get away with a lot of sins in a novel if you tell me a good story, and this author did.

There was romance, but again this author managed it well, and so she did not piss me off there, either! It's like she knew just how far to push things with me without tripping any triggers! I was tempted to think she reads my blog, but that's really too much of a stretch!

I have to say that the texting didn't work though. To be honest, I think this was more a result of Amazon's truly crappy Kindle app failing to reproduce the author's original layout, that ever it was the author's fault. We should, as a writing and publishing community, flatly refuse to publish any books in Kindle format until Amazon makes it as good as the Nook or PDF format, but that's just me.

The problem with the crappy Kindle migration is that the texts were not spaced properly, and so it was hard to tell who was saying what! I am, probably needless to say, not a fan of writers reproducing phone texts in novels. It inevitably sounds fake.

I think that too many writers think it's 'edgy' or 'now' or something, to reproduce texts, but I'd much rather they simply delivered the gist of the conversation than tried to recreate an actual detailed text exchange, because it rarely works. I can see where there might be reasons for doing that, but as a general rule, reading other people's texts, even fictional ones, is seriously boring and I think it's lazy on the part of a writer to write like that.

Rather than read:

  • You up for breakfast?
  • :)
  • where shall we meet?
  • Breakfast Nook?
  • Sounds good 2 me
  • Time?
  • 8?
  • K
  • K
or something like that, I'd much rather read, "He texted me about breakfast and we arranged to meet at the Breakfast nook at eight." I don't need to read the verbatim text, and I sure don't need to read one larded with symbols and abbreviations! Not that this was the case here, thankfully, because this author has caught up with the fact that modern phones fill in text for you, so you don't need to employ "abrvs"!

'
I have to say that Julie came across as a bit slow in solving this problem given her academic background (as indeed was her friend Lauren), but sometimes people are simply slow, and they don't always arrive as quickly at what might seem to others to be an obvious conclusion as we might think they ought. Julie isn't a science whizz after all, otherwise she would never have said, "I know time didn’t stop - I know that’s not possible; the laws of physics forbid it." Actually it is possible: that's exactly what an event horizon is, around a black hole! But yeah, ok, for most ordinary purposes, it's true that time doesn't stop.

Julie's quite literal, and highly ill-advised toxic encounter with Luke, given what she'd just learned, was a bit odd to me, too. I expected better of her than that, and she seemed to be thinking only of herself, but I forgave that as a moment of madness, given the shock she'd just had. Even though the ending of the story seemed to leave some of the friction between Julie and her mom unresolved - or at least un-discussed (erm, kitchen appliances, anyone?), overall I liked the way the book ended, too. It was nicely wrapped up, overall.

The story of the radium girls has been told before in different ways, and more than once. In one instance it was told as an animated short released in 2007 by Jo Lawrence, and also titled Glow, but that one has no relation to this story as far as I know.

The thing is though, that I don't think you can over-tell a story like this because it's one more example of appalling corporate greed overriding the safety and welfare of employees, and this kind of crap is still going on today - although hopefully not with radioactive materials! it sure as hell is going on with noxious chemicals in China, particularly with people who are building the very electronic devices we in the west worship so devotedly and demand so cheaply.

Until we as a society learn and thoroughly internalize the tragic historical lessons of capitalistic avarice and callousness, we thoroughly deserve to keep being hit hard over the head for our stupidity and ignorance, and this book does that well. That and the fact that this a pretty decent story is why I consider it a worthy read and recommend it.


Monday, July 24, 2017

Heathen Vol 1 by Natasha Alterici


Rating: WORTHY!

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

You never quite know what you're going to get when Net Galley has a 'read now' offer, and it's often a mixed bag, but in this dive into the mixed bag of fortune I came out ahead! This is the second graphic novel out of three that I really enjoyed, so I have no idea why it would need a 'read now' offer. I guess people don't appreciate quality when it comes stealthily in on a longboat and attacks their insular little village of life, huh?!

This is a beautifully illustrated (by the writer in rather fetching sepia-like tones) series which collects several individual issues into one volume. It's about Aydis, a young female Viking who kissed a girl and she liked it! Whether this really was the punishment for this "crime" in Viking times, I don't know, but apparently Aydis's sentence was either marriage or death. Knowing the one would be no different from the other in Aydis's case, her wise father took her out of the village and returned claiming she was dead.

Meanwhile alive and well, Aydis vows to free Brynhild, who was imprisoned behind a wall of divine fire by Odin. A quick chorus of "O-Odin can you sear...." Okay that was bad, Scratch that! Moving on...Aydis's hope is that with Brynhild and the Valkyries on her side, she can take on Odin, bring an end to his not-so-divine patriarchy, and finally get some freedom and independence for women!

Riding her talking horse Saga, who isn't above having the odd adventure him- or her-self. I wasn't sure, and maybe that was intentional. Or maybe I wasn't paying sufficient attention! Aydis is quite a distraction with her mind rampaging in six different directions at once. Anyway, she sets off for the mountain wherein Brynhild is trapped. The last thing she expects is to be kidnapped by the goddess of love, Freya, and despite her proclivities, she's not happy about it! And so the story continues!

I loved it, and if you have a liking for a Viking like none you've met before, set your course for this Norse and you'll love it too. A Norse! A Norse! My Vikingdom for a Norse! Okay, no, that didn't work either. Never mind! Seriously, this was a true pleasure to find and read, and I recommend it unreservedly. Besides how can you not want to read a book by a woman with a grand name like Natasha Alterici?


Grand Passion by James Robinson, Tom Feister


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Written by James Robinson, this was an unusual and interesting graphic novel collecting several individual issues into one set. When you request a review copy from Net Galley in response to one of their 'Read Now' offers, you can never be sure if what you're getting is really bad and no one wants to read it, which is why it's being pushed, or if it's a gem which has been sadly overlooked. I've had both kinds and I'm happy to report that this one is most definitely in the latter category. It's a great read from James Robinson, with good art by Tom Feister, and a pair of interesting main characters.

James McNamara is a cop who's just joined a small police force in a small town. He feels very much an outsider since the rest of the force is a close-knit community which has been working together for some time, but as he continues to work there, he starts to get a bit suspicious of this insularity.

Meanwhile, Mabel is a thieving little devil with a high sex drive. She and her partner rob banks using a variety of MOs and disguises, and have so far been unpredictable enough that they've never been caught. They're careful and efficient, and they love to have sex lying on the money they just stole.

Life is great for them until they decide to rob the bank in Mac's town. Something goes slightly wrong, which leads to everything going seriously wrong and Mabel's partner kills Mac's partner, and he in turn shoots her partner. Mabel gets away, but she can't get far away because she had sworn a vow with her partner that if either of them is killed, then the other will seek revenge on the one who dunnit!

That's all well and good in theory, but the one who dunnit was Mac, and Mabel happened to be struck with love at the very sight of him! Yes, all of this story is improbable, so for me this added element wasn't a big deal. I liked it. The question is, why is there a mismatch between what Mabel thinks she took and what the bank says is missing? And what's going to happen when Mabel, intent upon fulfilling her vow to her dead partner, gets Mac handcuffed to his bed one night?

I really enjoyed this story. It was fun, interesting, different, and gorgeously illustrated. I recommend it. And I'll be a little more optimistic next time Net Galley has a 'read now' offer!