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

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Not-So-Brave Penguin by Steve Smallman


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was designed from the outset to be a print book (there's a page toward the beginning which has a space for the owner's name to be written in!) so it lacks the same force when viewed as an ebook which is the only format I had access to. I wouldn't recommend trying to read this to a kid on a smart phone, but on a tablet computer it's a decent size, unless the pad is one of those really small pads.

Instead of being presented as a double-page view, it featured only single pages which made it hard to appreciate the layout as it was intended to be seen. I don't know why ebook versions do this - some which ought to be seen as single page images are instead presented as double, and vice-versa. It makes for an irritating read in some regards, and not something suitable for a small screen, but once I got past that, I appreciated this book for young children which talks of fear and bravery and friendship.

Percy Penguin is a tear-away, whereas Posy Penguin is timid and reserved. This might be seen as a bit genderist, but it does comport with how many boys and girls tend to be, although it by no means is true in every case. There's a moral to this tale however, because Percy's passion for daredevil activities is what gets him into trouble when he goes off to explore a passing iceberg. Posy seems to be the only one who thinks there might be something wrong, and like a guardian angel, she steps up where others fear to waddle, heading over to the iceberg to see why Percy didn't come home.

She learns that she can do anything Percy can - and do it better since she doesn't get herself into trouble, and she learns some self-sufficiency and garners the strength to overcome her fear of the dark to boot! It would have been nice to have had the point raised about running-off without telling your parent/guardian where you're going (parents here seem to be alarmingly laissez-faire!), but that aside, I enjoyed this book carrying a lesson in a fun and colorful story, and I commend it as a worthy read.


Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Cookie Eating Firedog by Lida Sideris, Joan Young


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I could not help but want to like this one because of the title which was so absurd, and in the end I did enjoy this young children's colorful and fun story about a naughty firehouse dog - which is of course the traditional Dalmatian.

This is a departure from this author's usual line of writing, which is aimed at a much more mature audience and tends toward murder mysteries. Also do not confuse her with Lisa Sideris who is also an author and an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University.

Based on a twenty-year-old story that came out of something her young (at that time) son said, the book was created rapidly, but found no publisher. Now it has one, which is an object lesson in never giving up. Those firefighters should never have given up on their dog either, because while he was a lazy little critter, much preferring to eat cookies than fight fires, even when out on the truck at a fire, he learned his lesson when a fire started...at the station house! And with dogged determination, he came through! The Dalmatian escaped damnation! Give that dog a cookie!

I thought this simply yet sweetly illustrated (by Joan Young) story was a blast and I commend it as a worthy read for young children.


Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid


Rating: WARTY!

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

The blurb promised this to be "A gripping novel about the whirlwind rise of an iconic 1970s rock group and their beautiful lead singer, revealing the mystery behind their infamous breakup." It was not. Once again we see 'beauty' rear its ugly head in a novel about a woman, like beauty is all a woman has to offer. It's not.

I know we live in a shallow and very visual world, but beauty shouldn't even be on the table when you're considering someone's qualities, not even in a novel unless the novel is specifically about someone's looks. I don't care if a character calls someone 'beautiful' or focuses shallowly on looks because there are people like that in real life, but in the book blurb? It's not helping things in a #MeToo era - and from a female author too.

I know you can't hold an author responsible for the book blurb unless they self-publish, but seriously? The main character here was supposed to be a sensational star, but the word 'talented' failed to trump 'beauty'? 'Charismatic' never made it? Enigmatic? Anyone? Bueller?

I decided to overlook that because it was only the blurb and I'm intrigued by this subject, but inside the book was just as bad as the outside if for different reasons, and it was far from being gripping and well into boring territory. Neither of the two main characters, Daisy Jones or Billy Dunne, were remotely interesting to me.

The first problem as that all attempt at writing an actual novel was abandoned, thereby giving the lie to the qualifier 'A novel' on the cover. There was no descriptive prose here setting location or atmosphere, or anything for that matter. It's not even a script.

There were only character names and their spoken words, like we were getting one side of a very sparse interview, which made it more unrealistic. If those words had been compelling and entertaining, or had offered something revealing, or even new and original, that might have been something, but there was nothing here that hasn't been done before.

That she "... devoured Daisy Jones & The Six in a day, falling head over heels for it..." might speak volumes about Reese Witherspoon, but it leaves me completely unmoved. This is the actor who April 2013, was arrested for disorderly conduct in Atlanta after her husband, was pulled over and arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence.

Witherspoon played the crass "Do you know who I am?" card, and was obnoxious to a police officer who was admirably and patiently doing his job in keeping the streets safe. I haven't liked her since. No recommendation from someone who has behaved so inexcusably badly under the influence is going to influence me. I think it was a poor and frankly a rather desperate choice to use a quote from her in a book blurb.

Anyway, what all this (in the novel) meant was that we knew nothing about these fictional characters at all, and what that meant for me was that I did not care about them or why they broke up, or what happened to them subsequently. Consequently I stopped reading this about a third of the way through and I did not miss it at all when I put it down. On the contrary, I felt relief that I didn't have to read any more and could move on to the next title which inevitably had to be better. Based on what I read and the overall style and format of this novel, I cannot commend it as a worthy read nor am I interested in reading anything else by this author when there are so many others out there worthy of reading.


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

What Does a Princess Really Look Like? by Mark Loewen, Ed Pokoj


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Written by psychotherapist Mark Loewen and illustrated in fine entertaining style by illustrator Ed Pokoj (sorry there's nothing I saw on his website to illustrate how that last name is pronounced! Oy? Odge? Something else? Is he playing Ed games with us?!), this story tells of Chloe!

Chloe is an enterprising young woman who is having a creative quiet time in her room, inventing the perfect princess - and she's quite inventive in doing so. She works long and hard, adding more paper to the small piece she began with for the head, and drawing a complete princess - and not forgetting to dress her in a fine dress made from colored paper. But is she perfect with a wonky dress? What makes her perfect? Chloe has some good ideas about that, and her two dads are happy to help out at the end.

I thought this book was charming and inventive and perfect for young readers. I commend it. With the Mark Loewen hook, and the Hocus-Pokoj drawing lines, this book won't sink!


Saturday, December 1, 2018

Prophecy by SJ Parris


Rating: WARTY!

This is one of those bloated historical novels which place important people at the author's beck and call, and which consists of name-dropping and the most sluggish pace imaginable. I was hoping for better. Once again it's a series - the Giordano Bruno mysteries, in which this Catholic monk becomes a detective. Seriously? He's also helping the Elizabethan government stave off encroachment by the Catholic church? No! He was a devout Catholic himself. Why would he help a fight against it? All that crap alone should have warned me off it. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

So, he's in England - which he was at the time this story is set - and a ritualistic murder is committed inside the palace grounds. Sir Francis Walsingham is seeking to solve it and calls on Bruno to help him. No! Someone of Walsingham's ability needs outside help? Not going to happen.

I don't hold authors responsible for book blurbs, which they typically have nothing to do with unless they self-publish, but this one claims "It is the year of the Great Conjunction, when the two most powerful planets, Jupiter and Saturn, align an astrological phenomenon that occurs once every thousand years and heralds the death of one age and the dawn of another." This is patent horseshit. The last such conjunction was in May, 2000, and the next will be around Christmas or New Year's of 2020. My math sucks, but even I can distinguish between 5x22 and 5x200! Elizabeth was queen for some forty years so her lifetime would have seen at least two of these conjunctions.

So it really didn't get me interested which is the first mistake a book can make, but worse than that, it didn't evoke Elizabethan times at all. The author made the common mistake of putting it into first person voice from Bruno's perspective. I typically do not like 1PoV, and in this case it was glaring because Bruno's thought processes were entirely modern. It kept kicking me out of suspension of disbelief pretty much every time he thought something.

When Bruno was in England, he was writing a bunch of stuff that he couldn't get done in Europe for persecution by the idiot church. All he was trying to do was tell the truth, but brain-dead church dogma wouldn't let him. This is why we must never let blind faith control our lives again; it is universally disastrous. But the point here is that given how busy he was, he would hardly have had the time to swan around solving murders and spying for the protestants, so the very basis of this novel is nonsensical prima facie, and the author never gave me writing of sufficient quality to make me willing to overlook these shortcomings for the sake of the story. For these reasons, I can't commend it.


The Ark by Patrick S Tomlinson


Rating: WARTY!

This is purportedly a sci-fi novel, but it’s really just a detective story which takes place on a generation ship carrying the last fifty thousand humans to some planet out Tau Ceti way. Why there in particular goes unexplained. How they even knew there were habitable planets there is a mystery, but maybe they figured it out from the extra-solar planetary search. Tau Ceti is the closest single G class star to our own sun (which is G class), and it does have two planets in the 'habitable zone', but there's nothing known yet to indicate they might be anything like Earth or habitable at all. The bigger problem though is that the system is young and is awash with debris, so impacts of meteors on those planets would be huge. It would be an extremely dangerous place to live.

Two weeks out from the planet, a research lab operative goes missing, which is highly unusual since everyone has an implant which allows them to be tracked. There is a 'cop' on board who is assigned to investigate the disappearance, but the guy isn’t actually a police officer. He used to be a zero gravity sports star. How this remotely qualifies him to investigate crime in his retirement years is a mystery. Was he the only applicant when the position became vacant? Why did he even retire? The game was played in zero G so there's no major physical requirement like there would be on Earth for a sport. You need to be agile of body and mind, but how can you get too old for a sport like that when you’re still young isn’t explained here.

That I could live with, but when the guy ends up being a complete moron, I can’t read about him. The obvious place to get rid of a body in space is to flush it out the airlock, but that's the last place this brilliant detective thinks to look. The fact that they discover the body out there is complete luck. No alarm sounded when someone opened an airlock in space? Instead of sending a robot out to get the body, the detective, who has zero experience in space, demands to go get it himself. The spacecraft is inexplicably a single-seater, so he's literally by himself. He fouls up completely (turning off the com is his first arrogant and stupid mistake). He almost loses the body and he almost dies. Despite being in trouble, the crew explicably did not send out another spacecraft to rescue him despite having many of them on hand.

The thing is that when you flush something out of an airlock, the object is catapulted with some force because of the escaping air. It’s rather like firing a BB gun. The body would move away from the spacecraft with some significant speed, and if it were gone for a couple of days, it would be so far out and so dark, that it wouldn't be visible. Given how dirty space was this close to the planet, it would more than likely be undetectable by any means from the spacecraft, being yet one more cold, dark object among many. Yet they find it close to the craft and largely undamaged.

In the hospital, his female doctor is inappropriate with him, but that's just fine because he's being inappropriate with a subordinate colleague so everything balances out, right? No. When he wants to leave, he asks the doctor where his clothes were and she says, “We had to cut them off.” Why? If he'd been injured in a serious accident, then yeah - swelling and the need to get to him quickly and fix wounds would necessitate cutting off clothes, but all he did was pass out. What, they had to remove his clothes to put an oxygen mask on his face? No! They didn't have to strip him at all, yet this doctor did. I assume because the author is male. And that wasn't the only way she was inappropriate. Who knows, maybe his doctor used to be a car mechanic before her current gig. For them it’s routine to strip things down so they can charge you more for labor....

It was after the incident with the doctor that I quit reading this garbage. The story was poor and amateurish before then, but this was nonsense, and I had no intention of reading on at that point, much less of reading any more volumes in the lame series that this was intended to become. I can’t commend it at all.


Swimming With Horses by Oakland Ross


Rating: WARTY!

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

I was disappointed in this story. From the misleading blurb I'd assumed it was about a mysterious black woman named Hilary Anson from apartheid-riven South Africa who moved to Canada and later disappeared, leaving a murder behind her. Sam Mitchell, who Hilary helped with his learning to ride a horse, later sets out for South Africa to solve the 'mystery' of her disappearance like it's any of his business.

I went into this under the impression that this would all take place when Sam was an adult, but after reading a third of the story and seeing it go literally nowhere, I DNF'd it. It was boring. The characters are uninteresting, and literally nothing was happening. Even by a third the way through, it had not even remotely progressed to the point where, as an older man, he decided to investigate her disappearance. I have better things to do with my time than read ponderous, pedantic, and sluggish novels like this which seem to promise one thing and deliver quite another.

Hilary wasn't black, she was white, which for this particular story framework reduced my interest significantly. The entire first third of the story switch-backed between her time in South Africa - the easily-manipulated, spineless and wayward daughter of a wealthy rancher, and her time teaching Sam how to ride his horse during her 'exile' in Canada. Throughout this entire time there was no mystery to solve and nothing whatsoever that was new, original, engaging, or even appealing. We never actually got to know Hilary at all. Everything we read about her was vague allusion, with nothing really happening and no information as to why Canada had been her destination; Canada being nothing like South Africa.

From what little I learned of her, I developed no interest at all in getting to know this foolish and clueless girl better, so it was of no consequence to me that she later disappeared. I honestly didn't care. Sam was a complete non-entity, and what I read of him in that first third offered no reason at all why he should go off to South Africa looking for her or why I should care if he did. Maybe things happened later, but an entire third of a novel to read through without anything of interest occurring was way too much of my time wasted and I frankly did not care what came next. In short, there was nothing about either of these characters that appealed to me or invited me to continue reading and I had no idea what the title had to do with the novel! I normally avoid books with this kind of a pretentious John Green-style title, so I guess I learned my lesson!

Frankly I had wanted to quit this long before I did, but I kept reading on in the hope it might improve. In the end it was a classic example of the sunk cost fallacy where people believe that if they have invested a certain amount in something, they need to stick with it. Well, I don't subscribe to that delusion and while I was willing to go a little further since this is an ARC, I didn't sign up to be bored to death. This just goes to show that you should go with your first instinct. If a novel starts out unappealingly, it's highly unlikely to turn around no matter how much more you read. I wish the author all the best, but I cannot recommend this based on what I read.


Friday, November 16, 2018

More Than Bones by Craig David Singer


Rating: WARTY!

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

Emily is a med school graduate embarking on her internship. She was lured into working at a Catholic hospital in Baltimore to be near her fiancée, and manages to find a room in a nicely-appointed house run by a usually sweet, but very temperamental guy whose first name, Norton, is the same as Emily's last name. On day one Emily is given a gift by an old man named Frank who lives next door to Norton. Emily tries to refuse it, but he's so insistent that she accepts just to be nice, and she hangs it on this skeleton - a real skeleton that Norton put in her room as a weird sort of housewarming gift for the surgeon intern.

The amulet is supposed to bring her good luck, and Frank is insistent that she wear it, but she doesn't and sure enough, a host of bad luck comes her way. She's late on her first day because of car trouble; later, her fiancée dumps her; Norton becomes seriously pissed-off with her over a remark she makes about him being gay - which he either isn't or is in serious denial of; a fellow female doctor, Mondra, with whom Emily was bonding also becomes angry with her, and an important guy from the local community files a formal complaint against her over her medical conduct when she treated his son - a patient she was tricked into taking by two other senior doctors who didn't want to deal with this kid's abusive dick of a father! After Frank dies unexpectedly and fails to impart some last words to Emily, a private detective shows up asking about his will, which seems to be missing.

The author has an interesting style, repeatedly tricking the reader into thinking one thing while revealing later how wrong you were to think as you did, but that grew rather old after a while as did the story-telling. Emily is neither an interesting nor a likable character and reading this story from her PoV was neither pleasant not engaging. First person voice is rarely the best one for telling a story, especially one like this, and did the main character no fav ors.

I made it only two-thirds the way through this novel before I quit because I could not stand to read about this whiny little self-absorbed ditz any more. At one point, for example, Mondra approaches Emily in the parking lot asking for help, and Emily just leaves her there and coldly drives away. I already didn't like Emily prior to this point, but that killed-off any hope of me growing to like her. At that point I was thinking Mondra's story would have been far more interesting than Emily's was - but not if it was written the same way this one was!

In the end I could not stand to read any more about her, so I DNF'd this. The mystery was boring and taking far too long to go anywhere for my taste. I cannot commend this as a worthy read.


Monday, November 5, 2018

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi


Rating: WARTY!

Errata:
"The guard held open the door. Enrique walks inside. Tristan was waiting for him" - seems to be a mix of verb tenses.
"clove of tins" - that's the round way wrong!
"A man from the Italian faction raised his fan. "500,000 to Monsieur Monserro." The Italian faction has a Monsieur?! Not a Signor?
"Enrique pulled a Forged spherical detection device -one of her own inventions -from his pocket. His or hers? Whose invention?
"...there are ways for the Sia formulation to act like a honing mechanism." Homing?
"a triplicate bee goddesses" wrong article.
"Am I pronouncing that correctly, Laila?" "It's Bruh-mah-ree" - these two lines are run together without a carriage return.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, November 2, 2018

I Don't Want to Eat Bugs by Rachel Branton


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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


Agent Colt Classified Pride by A Lynn Wright


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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


Phase Two by Chris Wyatt


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Circle by Dave Eggers


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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


A Touch of Gold by Annie Sullivan


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Peep by Maria von Lieshout


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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


Splash by Maria von Lieshout


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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


Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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


Sun and Moon by Lindsey Yankey


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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


I Am Peace by Susan Verde, Peter H Reynolds


Rating: WORTHY!

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