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

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Scarlett by Brian Michael Bendis, Alex Maleev


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a kick-ass novel from the off, with a good, intelligent story and beautiful artwork. It's a bit bloody here and there, and the eponymous main character (modeled on a woman named Iva) is inevitably sexualized, but it's not overly done thankfully. I favorably reviewed Bendis's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3: Guardians Disassembled back in June of 2016.

The story is set in Portland, Oregon, and is a bit controversial in its subject matter since it suggests that, contrary to the tale we were told in the TV series Grimm, some of the Portland PD isn't so much going after mythical creatures, as it is after drug money for personal use. Why Portland gets picked on, I don't know. Maybe these guys live there?! Maybe Portland has a drug problem? I dunno.

Scarlett is a young woman whose boyfriend is killed by corrupt police looking to notch-up another drug dealer taken out, but her boyfriend was never a dealer; he wasn't even into drugs other than maybe a little weed (this is blog spot, not blogs pot after all!), but he's dead, and Scarlett isn't going to stand for it. She starts taking out she corrupt cops herself and becomes an almost legendary figure.

She varies her MO. We first meet her in a dark alley being approached by a cop who evidently thinks she's a sex worker. When he tries to get a freebie from her, he gets a death sentence instead, and Scarlett finds six hundred bucks on him which she, despite some doubts, takes as evidence that he's dirty.

After this we get her backstory which for a change wasn't boring me (I normally dislike flashbacks), and then the story takes off, always moving somewhere. My only disappointment in it is that this is only book one, so now I have to find others in this series! I recommend this one.


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Before I Met You by Lisa Jewell


Rating: WARTY!

Read beautifully by Jane Collingwood, this audiobook still failed to impress me. It began well enough, but it's one of those books which tells parallel stories, one in the present, the other in the past. Normally I do not go for this type of story but this one sounded like it might be interesting and after my first exposure to this author, I was eager for more and requested two more of her books on audio from the library. I was not excited by either one as it happened.

The story was interesting to begin with, but quickly moved from the main character's childhood to her adulthood, where it became significantly less interesting. There were one or two times when the historical portion was most interesting, and an occasion or two when it paled in comparison with the present, but in the end, both two stories became tedious and predictable, and were quite literally going nowhere.

I was also turned off by the amount of drinking and smoking going on in this book. It was disgusting and turned me off the characters. I sincerely hope that Britain isn't the chimney fire depicted here. It was gross. In the end my distaste applies to the whole book it was not entertaining, and it could have been. I felt it was a waste of my time and worse, a waste of a novel. It's a pity we can't bill the authors for the time we waste reading novels that don't truly transport us, isn't it? It would lead to a much better quality of novel than we all too often get, I assure you!


Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell


Rating: WARTY!

Another experimental audiobook, but this time slightly less experimental (at least that's what I hoped!), since I really liked the first novel I encountered from this author, The Girls in the Garden, which actually had been an experiment. While that novel was fresh and entertaining, with interesting characters and a plot that moved, this novel just bored the pants off me from the very start from its very tone. Part of the blame for that has to be laid at the door of Karina Fernandez, the reader, whose voice was rather annoying to listen to, but she couldn't have managed that without the author's contribution! I could have managed to cope with her voice had what she been reading been more interesting.

The book isn't even like a novel, it's like being trapped on a bus or on the subway by someone choosing you to sit next to, and who then insists upon you hearing their entire life story and doesn't care that you were trying to read something infinitely more interesting than anything they had to say to you!

Sometimes a character like that can be interesting, especially for a writer to listen to, but that wasn't the case here. It was an endless tedious rant about family and kids and who had how many and who was born first and who did what and thought what and none of it was remotely entertaining or intriguing. I cannot recommend this. Lisa Jewell has one more chance with me. I'll let you know how that goes; hopefully it will be later rather than sooner.


Goodnight Baby Moon by James Mitchem, Clare Patane


Rating: WARTY!

This was a lot of book for little content. The Moon lights up, but not very well, and the light doesn't translate to any of the interior pages, which were quite dark in coloring (illustrations by Clare Patane, who quite obviously did the bulk of the work involved in creating this story), so I had to wonder what the purpose was, plus the button isn't amenable to little fingers pressing it, so a young child might have trouble lighting that Moon.

That said, the story inside, which was very short and light on text, was quite charming, aiming at showing a child that things which go away (like the Moon appears to), always come back, so it offered reassurance and a touchstone for children who might have separation anxiety.

For me, this story could have been done better, and the lighting didn't seem like it was worth the extra expense and bulk. This was quite a fat and heavy book for a young child to manipulate, and you would not want such a child gnawing on this book because of the electrics and battery. If you can afford to pay for mostly show and not much tell, then go ahead, but for me this seems like it might be an unworthy burden on a family paying all the attendant bills a young child brings with her. In that light (pun intended!), I'm not going to recommend this one, even given how charming and useful the story was.

I think you'd be better off showing your child the real phases of the real Moon. You could take a series of pictures and tell your own story to the same effect and make it a much more engrossing and enveloping story for the child. A better story is that the Moon doesn't actually go away and come back - it's there all the time even when you can't see it! This might offer much more reassurance for a young child than this book does.


Lovers at the Chameleon Club by Francine Prose


Rating: WARTY!

This is the last thing by Francine Prose I will ever read. I think three audiobooks was enough to give her more than a fair shot at proving she knew what she was talking about in her Reading for Writers book of advice about how to write novels by combing the so-called classics for clues. I wasn't impressed with that, but I decided to try out some of her own fiction to see how well she follows her own advice. She actually doesn't. At all! She writes caricatures and stereotypes; she writes flat uninteresting characters in dreary prose; she writes boring, and tedious and depressing. The book - the parts I could stand to read - felt more like fluff than a story.

As usual the hyperbolic book blurb completely misrepresents the novel. It's actually not a story. Instead it's related through news items, diary entries, letters, and so on, which really turns me off a book. I detest the dear diary parts in particular because they're never, ever, ever written like a real person would write a diary entry. If you're not going to do it that way, then write the damned thing as a story because that's what you're doing anyway, moron, so why the pretentious pretense? This book was racist, celebrates white privilege, and favored the Nazi PoV, which is never a good thing. I have no idea what the writer thought she was doing, but whatever it is, it isn't anything I'm interested in reading, and I am now completely done with this author, permanently


Mister Monkey by Francine Prose


Rating: WARTY!

This was one of the most tedious and clueless books I've ever not read - by that I mean I listened to as much of the audiobook as I could stomach and ditched it pretty quickly. I got into this after reading a book written by this author and titled "Reading for Writers" which purported to teach a writer how to write by paying attention to the so-called classics as though all those authors literally agonized over every word they typed, so I decided to try out her own novels and see how well she does. I wasn't impressed. Not at all.

I'm sure some of those writers did agonize, and perhaps some modern writers still do, but agony doth not a great writer make. My gut feeling is that most of those antique writers simply wrote, correcting now and then of course, but otherwise never giving the writing process very much thought. The reason they did this is that they had a real story to tell about real (if fictional) people who genuinely moved these authors to write, so it required little agony to put it down on paper and little soul-searching. They were all about the story, not about analyzing it to death as we do today, and thereby destroying it in the process. And more than likely they did not dwell on it anally in hindsight like so-called professors of literature do. We could learn a lot from them, but it's not the education that this author thinks we should be getting in my opinion.

I'm not a huge fan of the classics. Do people care about the classics because they're really that great, or because we're force-fed these things in schools and colleges and by pretentious, bombastic critics until they can't think for themselves? There is a massive gulf between the writers who make money from their writing by producing novels which sell well, and the classic emulators who win awards, but about whom no one really cares that much unless they're forced to by college courses and school teachers, and by pretentious "must-read" or "Top 25" lists that try to brow-beat people into reading this book instead of that one for no other reason than that the creator of the list thinks their own opinion is akin to divine guidance.

If you're teaching people who actually want to write modern novels, then you need to read modern novels, not antique and obsolete ones, and you need to consider why it is that people buy this one and not that one. You need to ask why must we be forced to study the work of authors who made little to nothing on what they wrote and who are now being taken advantage of not because they were necessarily brilliant, but merely because they're no longer due any copyright fees, when each and every writer really does not want to be the next classic writer, but the first 'themselves'. They want to write. They need to write, and for my money what they should do is read lots and lots of the genre(s) in which they're interested, and then - in their own voice and using their own characters and plots - write something in that vein. Forget dusty professors who make a comfortable living not from their writing, but from a sinecure. They're not to be trusted.

For the sake of argument, let's pretend the classics do have miraculous things to teach us. This now begs the question: if that method is so great, why does the author of that how-to book not take her own advice? This novel was poorly-written, and it was filled with abusive stereotypes. This seems to be the author's MO, and it was insulting to everything from the chimpanzee (which it constantly and ignorantly referred to as a monkey) to the reader, whom it insults by this novel's very existence.

The author bewails the fact the game hunters shot the chimpanzee's parents, but she describes the locale as a paradoxically-named game preserve, not a wildlife conservation park! That doesn't make it right that the chimps were shot, but neither is it surprising when it's a game preserve that animals die unnecessarily. And no, chimps don't have cute little family units with mom, dad, and 2.2 children like humans do, so why did it matter that mom and dad ape were shot? Mom, yes! Dad? Not so much in a chimp's world. For all her blather about choosing your words, she completely failed here to choose her words wisely.

The title describes a play which is being put on by a bunch of appallingly cardboard and stereotypical actors. It's told from several rather confusing perspectives, and none of them were interesting to me. And blurb-writer? No, the narrative isn't madcap, it's boring. Get that much right, please. I cannot recommend this.



My New American Life by Francine Prose


Rating: WARTY!

Having read (or more accurately, listened to) as much as I could bear of Francine Prose's "Reading for Writers" which purports to teach people to write through fawning over the so-called classic writers, I decided to try some of this author's own fiction and see how she stacked-up against her own advice, and she was so far from it that I found it amusing. I got three of her audiobooks from the library and found all three to be let me say, less than satisfying. I tried to come into the first one neutrally, intending to give it a fair shot (maybe this author writes a lot better than she teaches?), but she quickly disabused me of any such notion.

This author seems like she cannot write about everyday lives and make them interesting. It's like she lacks confidence in her own writing and so has to call on the melodramatic fringe to perk it up a bit. The problem is that she seems able only to trade in stereotypes and caricatures and even about those, it seems she can tell only the most uninteresting stories in the most boring prose. Her writing style is that of poor fan fiction: he said, she said, he said, she said, ad nauseam. It's like that for paragraph after paragraph, unvaried. It is horrible writing.

That an author like this gets to be a professor who purports to teach others to write is a travesty. She doesn't seem to realize there are words other than 'said' which can be employed when ascribing speech to someone, or better yet, that there are many times when you don't actually have to specify who is speaking! Or you can indicate who is speaking by adding an action here and there. Has she not even learned that much from the classics? I mean, I wouldn't abuse this non-ascription as much as Jane Austen did because it can be confusing, but please, no endless 'he said, she said' tedium! Change it up a bit for pity's sake!

This story purports to relate "what it means to be American" but it has nothing to do with being American. Instead, like too many other such stories about the 'huddled masses', this one is all about creating insulting ethnic stereotypes, in this case aimed at the Albanians. This is a derogatory and condescending view of what it means to be an Albanian. According to this author all Albanians are the same: they think the same, dress the same, eat the same, behave the same, and a good many of them are gangsters, if we're to believe this Prose.

A disturbing number of these stories, and this one is no different, seem to be about illegal immigrants. Lula is one such person. She's a mid-twenties Albanian who is involved with gangsters she calls her brothers or cousins, but who aren't related to her. She tries to help one of them who is an out-and-out jerk, and she's too stupid to see how wrong this is and how much she could jeopardize her own future by dishonestly misrepresenting him. In the end she gets rewards she has not earned. Immigrants like Lula, no country needs.

This story was boring, and had no redeeming features. The cast was unlikable and tedious to read about. I cannot recommend this story, and I cannot understand how anyone who writes like this can profess to be a teacher of how to write novels or even someone who can tell good literature from trash.


Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Darznik


Rating: WARTY!

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

This novel is complete fiction. It may sound strange to describe a novel (which is by definition fiction) in that way, but this one, it turned out, was purporting to tell the life story of real life Persian poet, Forugh Farrokhzad (فروغ فرخزاد‎). Normally such a thing is done in a biography, and one does exist for this poet, but evidently the author thinks that wasn't quite good enough.

I read, "IT WAS HERE, IN A VILLAGE at the foot of Mount Damavand whose name in English means “closed gates,” that my story with Parviz and also with poetry truly began." This was at the beginning of chapter four! It immediately begged the question: if this is where the story began, why aren't we starting it there instead of wasting my time with three wholly-invented chapters that were meaningless and - by the author's own admission - irrelevant?

To write a novel about such a person you would have to know them intimately. And preferably have their permission. And be bereft of ideas for truly original work! Only two of these options would seem to hold in this case. Since Forugh died in a car accident two days after Revolution Day in 1967, she's not alive to object, and the author felt completely free to make up her own version of this poor woman's life, and not just the major events, but every minor event down to intimate conversations, putting words into her mouth, and thoughts in her head. If someone did this to me after I died and I learned of it from beyond the grave, I would feel violated and insulted. Of course it's not likely to happen to me, but if it does, I hope my estate will sue whoever did this to me!

I didn't realize, when I requested this for review, that this was about a real person otherwise I would not have wished to read it. I honestly thought it was pure fiction, and it sounded interesting, which only goes to prove that I'm not perfect - something I've been saying all along. No doubt my fictional post-mortem novelizer will fix that for me though! Personally I'd far rather read an actual biography where (we hope and assume) events are told as truthfully as possible without fictionalizing them, than a purely made-up story that brings nothing new to the table and doesn't even make for an interesting read.

Apparently this author decided Forough's life was far too mundane to make good reading, and her poetry of course just wasn't a good enough legacy, so she was in dire need of a make-over, and not even Persian style. Since this author hasn't been in Iran since she was five years old, we get it American style, where everything is jazzed-up, emotionalized, overcooked and dramatized way beyond reality - and second-hand. At least thats what it felt like, reading this.

There were also undercooked parts such as the crass description of the main character's appearance by means of having them look at themselves in a mirror: "I pulled the chador over my head and then stood studying my reflection. The girl in the mirror was thin, with pale skin and thick bangs that refused to lay flat under the veil." This amateur method is so overdone in novels that it ought to be banned. If that's the limitation of your ability to reveal your character, then you really need to do some deep thinking about your commitment to writing.

Even her death is made out to be heroic, and in this novel it's a complete lie. Forugh died swerving to avoid a school bus, not in a car chase. Whether she was going too fast or not paying attention, we don't know. No one speculates about that; they say only that she avoided a school bus, thereby making her into a hero, not an unsafe driver. No one is willing to let her alone. Everyone wants a piece of her body. Even this author who claims to admire her so much cannot resist exhuming her and trying to put her stamp on the cannon.

In real life a person's every action does not carry a forewarning about future events. Nothing hangs on a tiny thought. No big events are foreshadowed by trivial happenstance. Yet here everything was amateurishly highlighted in college-student blue and magnified as though it were a critical piece in a flawless edifice. Everything is more brutal and more tragic, like reality simply isn't enough. Maybe for American readers it isn't.

The novel is predictably in first person, and the 'author' of it even speaks to us from the grave - literally. This made me laugh, and that's entirely the wrong emotion to have over a woman like Forugh Farrokhzad, who was abused more than enough in her lifetime, but now has to suffer being a cheap fictional character. This novel is wrong in so many ways, you could write a novel about it.

I cannot in good faith recommend a novel like this which to me is at best parasitic. The poor woman is barely cold in her grave and already the buzzards have gathered. It surprised me not at all when I learned later that the author teaches a creative writing program, but how creative is it really, to pick over a corpse?


Saturday, February 3, 2018

'Til Death Do Us Part by "Amanda Quick"


Rating: WARTY!

Amanda Quick is the pen name of Jayne Ann Krentz, an American author who doesn't do too bad of a job on Victorian London, but there are one or two fails. In Victorian times there were no such things as Crime Lords for one thing! The reader doesn't do too bad of a job either. Her name is Louise Jane Underwood. Apart from not knowing that the British pronounce the word 'process' with a rounded 'O' like in 'hose', not with a short 'o'; like in 'ostracize', she doesn't do too bad of a job. The story was quite engaging to begin with, but began to pale after a while, and I ended up not happy with it at all. I think I'm done with "Amanda Quick" now. This is the second title under that name I've not liked.

Once again there is a Big Publishing™ fail here. The cover for the audiobook shows a woman in a Victorian-style, bright yellow dress running away from the viewer across a meadow. This cover bears no relationship whatsoever to anything that happens in the story! LOL! This is one of the perils of letting Big Publishing™. My advice is to take charge of your novel. Why do book cover illustrators/photographers/designers never, ever, ever read the books they are creating the cover for? Why does the author not set them straight? I guess the publisher doesn't give the author much of a choice, and if an established author like Krentz has no such pull, then what hope is there for the rest of us? This is why I self-publish. I refuse to let an old-school publisher ruin anything I write.

This is one of the author's stand-alone novels. Maybe the name Amanda Quick is related to quick turn-out? She has a bunch of these stories. Starting in 1990 she churned out about two a year for half-a-dozen years or so. The titles should tell you all you need to know about the subject matter: Seduction, Surrender, Scandal, Rendezvous, Ravished, Reckless, Dangerous, Deception, Desire, Mistress, Mystique, Mischief, Affair. I got these titles out of Wikipedia and I wish I had read that before I picked up this novel! I have not seen the covers for those novels, but I imagine the covers are of some buxom woman in a bosom-baring pose, probably wearing a Victorian outfit with some dominant, self-absorbed, narcissistic, manly man ravishing her. He's probably bare-chested. The covers will be in pastel colors. Yuk!

The story, published a couple of years ago, was fortunately not one of those sickly things. In general was quite engaging to begin with, but it went downhill as soon as romance reared its ugly head. The romance was ham-fisted and so dominated by the male side of it that it was nauseating. I think the novel could have done with omitting it altogether or certainly muting it, but that would not have fixed everything that was wrong with this novel. The problem with it their 'romantic' encounters for me was the violent terms used to describe it, and the callousness of Trent's approach to Calista. It was sickening to listen to, and sounded not remotely Victorian at any point.

Calista Langley is in her late twenties and she runs an introduction service to enable wealthy Victorians to meet people who might be like them in that they seek companionship and perhaps romance. She vets her clients to keep out the riff-raff and fortune hunters. I think this was actually a pretty good idea for something to build a novel around: take something modern and set it in the past. Unfortunately the author didn't stick with that. Instead there came murder and dominating males, and it went to hell in a hansom cab.

Lately Calista's life has been upset by the fact that someone has been sending her memento mori: objects associated with death and funerals, and which have been engraved with her initials. She has no idea where they're coming from though the answer seems obvious to the reader. All we;re told is that they're from a stalker who at one point makes use of a kind of dumb-waiter that was installed in Calista's house, and of which she seems to be ignorant. It was a bit far-fetched that someone could sneak into the house unobserved, use this contraption unheard, and leave something in Calista's bedroom. It made her look stupid - and how would the intruder even know about the dumb waiter? It was dumb!

Into her sphere comes Nestor - a dick with whom she was involved some time before, but who left her for a more wealthy conquest with whom he is now displeased and who he wants bumped-off so he can get her fortune for himself. After a year, and out of the blue, he now wants Calista back in his life as his mistress, but she rejects him. What she ever saw in him goes unexplained, and iot makes her look even more stupid than she already did. Also arriving is author Trent Hastings who is at first predictably antagonistic to Calista, and then who predictably 'magically' falls in love with her and she with him. That part of the story was genuinely puke-worthy. He "heroically" helps her with the investigation, but essentially takes over her life. he has a sister whom he dominates and infantilizes in the same way that Calista's brother, predictably named Andrew for his excessive androgen level dominates her.

In Britain, and evidently unbeknownst to this author, there is a river named Trent. No one named their child Trent. It's not even in in the top 200 names, and neither are Calista nor Eudora, although Andrew is. Eudora is like the one thousandth most popular name for 1890. Please, a little more thought for your character names! There are lots of names to chose from that are unusual now, but which were popular back then.

The blurb says, "Desperate for help and fearing that the police will be of no assistance, Calista turns to Trent Hastings, a reclusive author of popular crime novels" but the reticence about involving the police made zero sense. Of course from the perspective of writing the novel it left everything to be done by Calista and her author acquaintance, but it stood out as being poorly addressed to me.

If you don't want the police to be a part of your story, fine, but please do better than a wheedling excuse as to why they cannot be involved! At least go to them and have them reject your position for some reason or come up with an intelligent reason why going to them at all will not work. Don't simply refuse to resort to them citing a lack of evidence when the evidence is steadily mounting in your favor. It made little sense, especially when Calista's home is being broken into and the two of them are being attacked by a murderer. It made no sense to avoid reporting these things and made Calista and Trent look dumb and clueless.

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Although I started out liking this novel, it is for these reasons that i decided it was in the end, not a worthy read. I cannot recommend this one, and I am done with this author!


Thursday, January 25, 2018

Mr Hoopeyloops and His Amazing Glass by Andi Cann, Fabrice Bertolotto


Rating: WORTHY!

I wasn't sure what to expect from this title, but it intrigued me! Was this a children;s book about a drunk for goodness sakes? Or was it more likely about someone who had an awesome spyglass? Wrong on both counts, but this was a fun children's book with a good story told on one page and a colorful illustration on the next, and so it went.

Mr Hoopeyloops was an odd sort of a guy who liked to retreat into his barn with bags of sand, and sometimes pipes. At other times he would drive around and make comments about the details of places he visited in town - like nice windows or pretty bowls. When other people weren't pointing at him they were ignoring him. But he certainly was up to something and they were about to find out what!

This was a nice, educational read about a topic rarely covered in children's books, and it had plenty to interest and intrigue young readers. You can play guessing games about what Mr Hoopeyloops is up to. I recommend it.


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Marvel's Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl


Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook fail that I found at the library. It was not what I hoped for at all. Black Widow is very much a comic book character, but she was really brought to life for my by Scarlett Johansson in the Marvel movies. She's going to have appeared in more of them than Samuel Jackson by the time she's done! The problem is that this novel isn't really about Black Widow. Instead, it's Ava Orlova (which you might find funny when you realize that reader Julia Whelan pronounces that last name as 'all over'!). It's about her and Alex Manor, not about Natasha. She appears, but pretty much as a minor character, so the book is rather a bait and switch deal and it's really not well written for someone who is supposed to be a best-selling author.

We're promised in the blurb that we're getting "the untold story of Black Widow for the very first time," but blurbs lie! In an introductory portion, Natalia Romanova goes to assassinate her mentor Ivan Somodorov, and ends up rescuing Ana. She unaccountably promises to be there for Ana, but then avoids her for a decade. Meanwhile Ana seems to have been doped with something right before she was rescued, so maybe she has super powers, maybe not.

Ana begins falling for Alex, who she meets by accident, but feels drawn to since she'd dreamed of him without knowing who he was. Inevitably Ana and Natalia come into contact again, but by this time I was so tired of this limp story that I quit listening, and I returned it to the library to make someone else suffer it instead of me! Mwahaha! Ivan Somodorov has nothing on me when to comes to torture!

So everything I loved about the movie Black Widow was missing from this book. The action scenes were perfunctory and unimaginative, and the story was pretty pathetic. I can't recommend it.


The World Inside by Robert Silverberg


Rating: WARTY!

The cover image says it all: the exploitation of women in a novel only a male author could have got so wrong.

Silverberg was in his mid-thirties when he wrote this 1971 novel, two years before the World Trade Center was opened. It's interesting to speculate about whether those massive towers influenced his writing at all. The novel is set in 2381, and it posits a dystopian future where, in order to accommodate Earth's burgeoning population and provide food for everyone, massively tall towers have been erected, each containing a thousand floors, thereby leaving the land free for cultivation. The logic behind this rather escapes me, and the fact that everyone seems to be in complete compliance with it simply isn't credible. You'd think someone writing immediately after the close of the rebellious sixties might have thought about that!

Within these absurd accommodations, there is a set of "Urbmons" consisting of 25 self-contained "cities" of 40 floors each. People, we're supposed to believe, live in this confinement without ever leaving their 'city', much less leaving the building. I found that hard to credit, people being who they are. Everyone was supposed to be contented, but clearly they were not. I don't see how they could be, given that they were essentially being treated like cattle.

The other main characteristic was the complete lack of exclusive relationships. People got married at an early age (mid-teens!), but all the marriages were open, which begged the question as to what was the point of marriage in this society? I suppose it gave a stable platform for raising kids, but people were not allowed to have kids willy-nilly. Well, maybe nilly, but certainly not willy: they had to be approved, but having large families was paradoxically encouraged in this crowded world! And no one saw a contradiction in this!

Once the kids were there, it seemed like it was the female job to stay at home and take care of them. Guys were out working, so there was a real fifties vibe to this, rather than a 23rd century vibe. Guys would routinely wander the halls and floors at night, and stroll into any apartment they chose (doors had no locks on them), whereupon the woman was expected to accommodate them sexually even if her own husband was lying in the bed right next to them. The women didn't ever seem to roam, although it seems that they were technically allowed to do so.

Everyone seemed fine with this arrangement and it was, we're told, fostered to relieve tensions and avoid violence in this world. I found it hard to believe that there were no couples who wanted to enjoy an exclusive relationship, and who resented that any guy could bed any woman whenever he wanted. It sounded to me more like a male writer's fantasy world than ever it did a realistic projection of human society into the future. The problem was that anyone who exhibited any sort of rebellion or dissension from these arrangements was tossed down a chute to become generator fuel - and no one seemed to have a problem with that either!

Even if I'd been willing to accept all of this at face value, which I really was not, there was still the problem of the story being boring. There were several stories told, each about a guy, but these guys were (and predictably so in a society like this) indistinguishable from one another. One story even featured a woman, but she was also indistinguishable from the guys! Even when one of the guys snuck out of the building into the agricultural world outside, the story didn't improve any. It was at that point that I DNF'd this. I cannot recommend it. It was an exercise in adolescent fantasy as pointless as it was fatuous far as I could see.


Invisible life by E Lynn Harris


Rating: WARTY!

Read very averagely by Mirron Willis, this was another audiobook fail and it was arguably a book about, in part, homophobia, written by a gay man, which was itself rather homophbic!

Written in the early nineties, this is a story of Raymond Tyler, who can't seem to make up his mind. Ray is a confirmed hetero until he's not. He's not exactly raped, but he is pushed into a sexual relationship with the appropriately named Kelvin (since he's so hot, get it?) who is a rather formidable-looking athlete, and then he willingly continues it, but very quietly. He's really a jerk because he's dating a woman named Sela at the time and he doesn't have the decency to break-up with her or tell her he's having sex with someone else. This is an incontrovertibly dick move, especially since he's now putting his partner at risk of picking up an STD. What bothered me is how easily they fell into bed without a second thought for possible consequences.

That said, I DNF'd this because it was boring, especially since Ray does exactly the same thing again, but to his new girlfriend, Nicole. There was this huge jump in time that came right out of left field, and then he magically meets this guy again, which is when Nicole is kicked into the back seat. What is wrong with this guy? I know there really are people like this, but I don't care to read about people being jerks especially when the story is boring, predictable, badly-written and appears to be going nowhere interesting. I can't recommend this.


We Are Okay by Nina LaCour


Rating: WARTY!

If I'd known that this was a Kirkus starred review I would have avoided it like Ebola. Kirkus never met a novel they didn't like, which of course means their reviews are utterly useless, and I take a Kirkus seal of approval as a definite sign that I should bypass reading the novel, so those reviews are quite useful really! This was more of a snivel than a novel.

It's an LGBTQIA novel which is read uninterestingly by Jorjeana Marie, and it was a disastrous audiobook experiment. I listened to it (part of it!) a while back and I almost forgot I ever had it cross my radar. I was avoiding it rather like the main character avoids her issues, which amuses me, but the bottom line is that it was mind-numbingly boring. You know I often wish I could delete some of my less than thrilling memories, but it's not yet possible to do that outside of sci-fi. The more something irritates or depresses you, the harder it is to let it go, but this book very nearly was completely deleted from my mind which gives me hope! In theory at least, it has to be possible to forget things even worse than this!

If the author's intention in writing this was that we care about Marin, then it was a massive fail. She went about this in entirely the wrong manner. There are huge looming issues in her life, and yet all we get for page after page is tedious minutiae of everyday existence down to brushing teeth and washing dishes. Seriously? It was, at the basement level, the kind of laughable novel where a woman has a disaster in her life in the big city and little wuss that she is, runs back to her small home town where she miraculously finds he love of her life - except that this book didn't even offer that. I avoid novels of that pathetic genre.

Worse than this are the endless flashbacks which even I, who detests them, admit have their uses, but in a novel like this they are a true death knell. The novel is about mental illness and can probably cause the very thing it prattles on about. Depressingly enough begins with Marin, the main character, stuck in her dorm at college over winter break. She's all alone, we're supposed to believe - not a single other person anywhere around. She supposedly has a best friend with the unlikely name of Mabel, who is visiting over the break, and the blurb tells us that "Marin will be forced to face everything that's been left unsaid" but she does everything but that. It's unlikely that she would say nothing about any of this to someone who was indeed her best friend. I suppose she does talk eventually, but the story was such a waste of my time that I never reached that point. I had more rewarding things to do with my time.

I cannot recommend this based on what I listened to - which made so little impression on me that I immediately forgot most of it! And bno, she;s not okay, and neither is this novel. KO'd more like.


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa by Erica Silverman


Rating: WORTHY!

Read in fine style by Liz Morton, this was a charming book for very young kids about Kate and her fine steed Cocoa. They live on a ranch and there are always things to do on the ranch. I was slightly perturbed by the fact that, on the one hand the ranch was "naturally" run by a guy, but on the other hand, it was a girl, Kate, who was doing a bunch of the chores. Is that genderist? Make of it what you will!

Other than that, it was read at a pedantic pace for grown-ups, but at a good pace for children. There were two disks: one being the story and the other being the story augmented with a little 'ding' each time you should turn a page - obviously meant to be listened to in conjunction with with the print book so the child can follow along. Presumably the print book is illustrated, too, as a further aid. This is a great book for kids learning to read.

I liked Kate and loved Cocoa and I recommend this as a fun read for kids.


Monday, January 15, 2018

Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin


Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook follow-up to my listening to this author's This Perfect Day which I heard recently and felt was worth the time. I did not like this one at all. I'd read it before, I think, but it was a long time ago that I did not remember it well. This listening began okay, but I soon started feeling that Rosemary Woodhouse, the main female character, was such a limp person, lacking in any sort of self-motivation, that I really began to dislike her. She was manipulated all the way and was far too stupid to see it or to take charge of her life. That;s not acceptable to me.

The story is so old and so obvious now that it's no spoiler to reveal that she's lured (with the contrivance of her duplicitous husband) into having sex with the Devil and giving birth to his baby. It's a complete farce to begin with, but a better writer would have made a better job of it. If you want to see how bad this is, take a look at the original trailer for the movie which was made from the novel. That trailer is one of the worse movie trailers ever made and it will give you a decent idea of how unexciting and unengaging this novel is! I cannot recommend it.

Ira Levin wrote seven novels: A Kiss Before Dying (1953), Rosemary's Baby (1967), This Perfect Day (1970), The Stepford Wives (1972), The Boys from Brazil (1976), Sliver (1991), Son of Rosemary (1997), Five of the first six of these have all been turned into movies which is quite a feat for a writer to achieve. It is, I imagine, what many writers would wish for a novel: for the publicity and associated dream of increased sales if nothing else, so it's remarkable to have so much of your oeuvre turned into movies, but that doesn't mean the novel which underlies each movie is any good. I've read his first four novels and liked three of them - at least when I originally read them, but I can't give this one a pass.


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Philosopher's Flight by Tom Miller


Rating: WARTY!

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

I was taken by surprise by this book because for a good portion of it, I was feeling quite positive about it. it was no in first person, which was wonderful, and I was able to skip the boldly-marked prologue, so that was fine, but the last section really went downhill fast and spoiled the whole novel for me. I can't reward a novel that just goes from A to B. For me it must go from A to Z, and this one fell short of that, but it's not the destination alone; it's also how we get there. In the end, I felt this one went nowhere good even though there were some pretty sights on the way downhill.

I was particularly disappointed because the novel engaged me from the start and it presented a world which, while familiar in many respects, in others it was pleasantly different. It raised hopes only to dash them at the finish line. Set in 1917 in the US, it's a world where magic is real, but everything else is very much the same as we remember it historically. except that women are the standouts and leaders in one field of endeavor: a magical one. This unfortunately was misleading, as I shall get to in a moment.

Before I start though, I find myself once again having to say a word for our poor trees. If this novel went to a large print run with its three-quarter-inch margins all around, it would kill a lot more trees than it would were the margins more conservative. I continue to find it astounding in this day and age how many authors and publishers seem to truly hate trees, but I seem to be in a minority position, which is depressing quite frankly.

Moving on. The magic is called sigilry, because it's done by writing sigils, which are magical signs that provide the user with some sort of an ability to overcome nature. The most common of the supernatural powers is that of flying, and rather fast, too. Some sigilrists have been clocked at over 500 mph. One thing the magic cannot do is tell you how the word is pronounced! I always say it with a hard G, but it's also pronounced with a soft G. Google translate doesn't help, because the English version is pronounced hard, but the Latin version from which it derives is pronounced soft! I guess it doesn't matter. The Latin is sigillum, meaning a seal - as in seal of office, not in the bewhiskered, flipper toting, dog-like mammal that lives in the ocean.

Robert Weekes is an eighteen year old who lives with his mom, Major Emmaline Weekes, who is a renowned sigilrist who acts like a medic: going to the aid of people - and animals - helping them out, but Boober's mom is getting old, Robert is known in his family as Boober, which is unfortunate, not only in how it sounds but in why the author chose such a name. It seemed pointless to me since it's barely used.

Anyway, Robert wants to join the US Sigilry Corps Rescue and Evacuation Service, which is also unfortunate because men are at best frowned upon in this world of magic. At worst, they're reviled. I found this gender reversal to be interesting because it mirrored the bias against women in the real world, which has eased somewhat of late, but which is still a big problem, and especially so in what have been traditionally regarded as male preserves.

Robert ends up being one of only three students at Radcliffe college - yes, that Radcliffe, the one of Jennifer Cavilleri. It's quite a change since he comes from a very rural part of Montana, but he has two sisters and his father died when he was young so he isn't unused to being surrounded by women. The interesting thing then, is not the fish-out-of-water you might expect, but the reaction to these men from the women, which mirrors what you might have expected from men towards women in the same circumstance.

It was here that I began to find weaknesses in the story. It was tempting to ponder how a female author might have written this, but given how many ham-fisted stories I've read, I'm not convinced they would have done better. Yes female YA authors, I'm looking at you. The girls here seemed far too hostile. That's not to say women cannot be feisty, hostile, and even violent, but it seemed a little out of character for these students to exhibit such flagrant disrespect and such a violent attitude. Women are not men in reverse and this story seemed to behave as though they were. I found that very sad.

Another weakness was that even though this is a story about a man trying to make it in a women's world as it were, the story is largely about the men, and the world at large is still very much a world of men: men in charge, men making decisions, men being called to fight in the 1914-18 war in Europe, men of violence opposed to the sigilrists. Having read through the early chapters, I quickly began to feel that it was a mistake to have it set up the way it was. The impact of the female sigilry was really undermined by the rest of the world being a male preserve. A female trying to make it in this world would have made a much more rational story, but I kept hoping something would happen that would make all this make sense. Unfortunately it did not; quite the opposite, in fact.

Robert gets a girlfriend, and a sterling one in my opinion (and not the one you might think he will become involved with), but despite her accomplishments she seems very much like a secondary character and that saddened me. Why make her such a great and nuanced character and then under-use her? The book is about Robert, admittedly, but it started to feel like even he was as bad as the rest of the men in excluding women, what with his little male clique. I as hoping he would grow and learn, but he did not, and nowhere was this more stark than in that last ten percent. And worse, why make him a man if he's not going to react as many men do when provoked? It made no sense.

I don't want to give away too many details, but the fact is that he quite simply turned his back on someone who had been a loyal and trustworthy friend, who had stood by him through thick and thin, encouraged him and had his back, and he callously betrayed all of that out of pure selfishness. This completely changed my opinion of him and made me dislike him immense. I don't know if the author thought he was creating some sort of Hemingway-eque figure in Robert's unflinching manliness; all it did for me was to convince me that Robert was a complete dick.

In addition to this rather unrealistic conflict between the men and women at Radcliffe, there's a larger, more deadly conflict out in the rest of the country and I'm not referring to World War One. Many people, men and women, but mostly men, are opposed to women having this kind of power. They conflate it with witchcraft and militate against it, in some cases violently, and sometimes the sigilrists fight back with the same deadly aim., although that part of the story went nowhere and just fizzled out. Even here, we hear only of the conflict in the US though and while in a sense, this does match the reality of the isolationist stance of the US prior to both world wars, it means also that we learn nothing of this world outside the US borders (aside from references to the war).

In the case of one sigilrist, we learn of her outstanding exploits in that war, but I think this is another weak spot. It's common to many novels written by US authors - no matter how wild and supernatural the story is. We never get a perspective on the world at large. It's like the author is boxed in and can see only the US. It's a very provincial view which cannot see consequences or reverberations that might pass beyond the US borders, nor can it detect any influences or feedback from outside. I find that to be a sad and blinkered position, but like I said, it tends to be all we get in too many novels written by US authors.

So for me the novel was uneven, but even so, I was prepared to follow it to the end. The ironical thing is that had I DNF'd it, I might have given it a positive rating just as I give negative ones to bad novels which I DNF, but no one DNFs a novel they're deriving some sort of entertainment value from (and a from many reviews I've read, a disturbingly large number of readers punish themselves by actually finishing novels they didn't like!). I kept reading because I was curious where the author was going to take this when he seemed to have no endgame in sight. Was this merely the first in a series? The ending brought the whole edifice crashing down, and it was this collapse which made it easier to see fault-lines that I might have chosen to overlook had the ending made sense.

I think this author is a good writer and has a few tales to tell, but in this one case, to see the 'hero' of the story turn his back on people who have helped him, break promises, and leave loved ones in grave danger to pursue his own selfish interests just turned me right off the entire story. Worse, for a novel so centered on a female art form, there really are no strong female characters in this story, We read of past exploits speaking of female strength and heroism, but nowhere is it really apparent during the course of the actual story. This was sad to begin with, but it was exacerbated criminally in the end, through seeing one of the strongest of these devolve into a simpering, wheedling jellyfish, creeping back to a man who had callously spurned her. She deserved a far better ending than she got. Because of these reasons, I cannot in good faith rate this positively.


Thursday, January 4, 2018

A Boy Called Bat by Elana K Arnold


Rating: WARTY!

I like this author's name! 'Elana K' sounds deliciously like anarchy, but in the end, this was another audiobook experiment which fell flat. The story is aimed at a much younger audience (6 - 10 yrs) than the one I represent, but that wasn't the issue.

First was the reading of it by Patrick Lawlor. I cannot stand his voice so this automatically turns me off a book (I got this without realizing he was the reader otherwise I would have passed on it), but the voice itself was not so much a problem as the way this reader read it. It seemed thoroughly inappropriate for the subject matter, and I did not get any impression from it at first that Bat was autistic; I thought he was just a poorly-raised child and a bit of a jerk. I think that's on both the author and the audiobook reader! Even had the voice been great, I would still have rated this novel negatively.

Bixby Alexander Tam, aka Bat, is somewhere on the autism spectrum, but for me this was the only commendable thing about the story: that the story isn't about his communication difficulties, it's about everyday things in the life of a kid who happens to have difficulties. After that though, I couldn't get onboard.

Worse than this is the kid's name. I know the author probably thinks it's cute and fun, but to call a boy who has communication issues 'Bat', like maybe he's a bit batty, wasn't wise in my opinion. We're told he gets his name not from his initials, but from the way he flaps his arms when he gets exited, but why Bat? Why not bird? It made no sense and felt abusive.

Worse than this, though was the 'adoption' of a wild animal. I don't think it's wise to teach young kids that we can take animals from nature and make pets of them! I know in this case, the skunk was a rescued animal, but then it became a pet, like this animal was something to be divorced from its nature and possessed, even after it became appropriate to return it to the wild where it belonged and was at home. That's just plainly wrong. It's for this reason as well as the others mentioned, that I cannot recommend this.


Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Mitosis by Brandon Sanderson


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a free (as opposed to fee!) short story published as a filler between this author's Steelheart, and book two in The Reckoners series, called Firefight. The story features David, aka Steelslayer, one of The Reckoners - the people who fight against the Epics, which are the super-non-heroes. The problem with gaining super-powers in this world is that once you use them, you go bad. No one knows why. The only way to use them and stay good is to gift them to others who can use them in your name.

In this story there is a brief introduction with David and another reckoner buying hotdogs, which is rather boring. I don't get this obsession with hotdogs, so it was meaningless to me. The author should have put it in a prolog so I would have known to ignore it! LOL! David and his friend are heading to the city gates where people are screened as they come into the city. The main reason is to catch people who simply want to start a life of crime in the clunkily-named Newcago, but also so The Reckoners can catch Epics and Epic sympathizers who might be trying to sneak in. Why the Epics wouldn't simply come over the walls goes unexplained.

Anyway, David is suspicious of this one guy who comes in, and he soon discovers this guy can split himself just like 'Multiple Man' in X-Men: The Last Stand, but like Michael Keaton's character in Multiplicity, the more he clones himself, the dumber he becomes. This made no sense. Why would the cloning affect only his brain? Why would it not make his body weaker too? Or his heart? Fortunately for this rating, this was addressed.

Once the guy has split into many clones, he starts yelling the same message from different parts of the city - that he will shoot some passer-by if David doesn't show up. We're told the clones have to rejoin in order for their independent memories of what they did to be re-united, but when David shoots the first of these, all the others immediately come running. How did they know?

It turned out that David's information on the Mitosis - the cloning guy - was partly misinformation and in the end it was due to that, that he was saved. Like I said, short story, but not bad! I consider it a worthy read - and it's free, so what do you have to lose?! I'm currently reading book 2. I'll report on it when I'm done.


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Dream of the Butterfly Vol 1 by Richard Marazano


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Richard Marazano is a French writer and illustrator, and in this work he seems to have channeled Chinese mythology very heavily into a very lighthearted story about young girl who strays in a snowstorm from her valley to a nearby one in which is a village occupied by animals who seem very resentful of humans Actually, given how we treat animals I for one am not at all surprised by their attitude.

The girl is a very strong female character and I recommend this story for that to begin with, but it's much more than that. The story is very whimsical, and quirky even, I tend to run in the opposite direction when I read of a story being described as full of whimsy or with quirky characters, but this one nailed it perfectly.

The girl seems resigned to living in this town because no one will help her get back. She's boarded with a foster family of birds, and finds a job working in an energy factory - she has to change out the hamsters in their wheels when they become tired - but her lunches of packed worms, she could do without. She eventually learns she's not the only human child in town.


Because she is a human, Tutu is spied upon by the emperor through his rabbit secret service. The rabbits are adorably inept, but they are also actually helpful to Tutu when she gets lost or doesn't know which bus to catch. Known as yuè tù (moon rabbit) in China, the idea behind these is that while the Moon may look to us westerners like it's the face of a man in the Moon, many other cultures see it as a rabbit in the Moon, which is more intriguing to me.

If you look hard, you can see the long ears (Mare Foecunditatis and Mare Nectaris)stretching to the right, about half way down the Moon's right side, from the head (Mare Tranquilitatis where Apollo Eleven landed) to the left, and the body (Mare Serenitatis and Mare Imbrium below it on the left edge of the Moon's disk. Below that is the Oceanis Procellarum with the big back legs and a tail sticking out to the left. The rabbit appears to be sitting by a box or a bowl, (Mare Nubium), and some cultures see this as a mortar, in which the rabbit is grinding something using a pestle.

The emperor takes a great interest in Tutu and wants her to help him by catching a rare white butterfly, but she's not very impressed with him or the opera he writes. She's especially disrespectful of his surrogate robots which tend to break down when faced with Tutu's sarcasm.

This story was a delight through-and-through, and my only complaint was that this is volume one, so the story didn't end! Although that's really a good thing because if it had ended, there would be no more to look forward to! As it was, I could have kept on reading this for many more pages than there were, and I recommend it as a worthy read.