Showing posts with label historical. Show all posts
Showing posts with label historical. Show all posts

Friday, May 18, 2018

Beyond the Green by Sharlee Glenn


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Not to be confused with Beyond the Glenn by Sharlee Green (I'm kidding!), this book was pretty darned good. It addresses a controversial issue of which the author has had some direct experience judged from her note at the end. I rarely read author's notes, and never read introductions, prefaces, prologues, and so on, but this note was interesting.

In 1978 a law was passed regarding how American Indian children in need of foster care should be treated. As usual, white folk had in the past assumed that they knew best, and simply taken Native American children into white Christian foster care giving no consideration even as to whether there were any native American relatives who could do the job, let alone others, and no consideration at all was given to Indian tradition or culture. It concerns me that this law applied only to Native Americans and gave no consideration to other cultures or even races, such as black or Asian. It seems to me that what's good for the cultural goose is also good for the ethnic gander, but that's outside the scope of this novel so I won't get into that here.

The middle-grade novel, set in 1979, evidently in some way mirrors what happened in the author's life, and is told from the perspective of a young Mormon girl, Britta Twitchell, whose family fosters a native American child from the Uintah-Ouray Indian Reservation in Utah for about four years. Rather than use the child's native American Ute name, they inappropriately named her Dorinda, and then shortened that to Dori. The child's actual name is the much more beautiful Chipeta. Her mother, Irene Uncarow, is an alcoholic, but she has recovered now and wants her daughter back. This causes Britta, the main character, to react very negatively, and start scheming to prevent her 'sister' from being abducted by this alien woman - at least that's the kind of viewpoint Britta has.

Her reaction is rather extreme, beginning with kidnaping Chipeta herself and running away, and later scheming to ruin Irene's sobriety so she can't reclaim her daughter. But Britta isn't dumb, she's just young and naïve, and she grows and learns lessons from her ill-conceived plans. The book isn't dumb either: it tells a real and moving story with interesting and complex characters and it does not shy away from talking about prejudice and alcoholism. There is always something happening, and it's not predictable - except in that you know that Britta's mind is very active and she will for certain cook-up another wild-ass plan before long.

The only issue I had with it was that it was a bit heavy on religion, but then this was a Mormon family. There was a minor instance of fat-shaming by Britta, but again, young kids are not known for their diplomacy. It's a different thing for a character to say something than it is for an author to say the same thing. Some people don't get that about novels! What a character says isn't necessarily what an author thinks!

For example, at one point Britta describes a loved aunt thus; "I pretty much idolized Aunt Mariah. She was pretty and spunky and smart." Normally I'd be all over something like that - placing prettiness above all else when it comes to describing women, as though that's the most important thing a woman has to offer, way before smarts, courage, integrity, independence, or whatever. I've seen far too many authors do that - including female authors, and it's shameful, but in this case it's the character, Britta, who is saying that. That's a different thing altogether, although having said that, it wouldn't have harmed this story to have had Britta rank 'spunky and smart' before 'pretty'!

But overall I really liked this story a lot. It's a great introduction for middle-grade children to the potential problems inherent in a family of one culture taking charge of a child from another. Anything that serves to open minds and enlighten children that different doesn't equate with bad or scary is to be recommended, and I recommend this as a worthy read.


American Sniper by Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen, Jim DeFelice, with uncredited contributions by Taya Kyle


Rating: WARTY!

Note that this is a review of the author's attitudes as expressed in this autobiography and the story itself. It is not a review of the military in general. Far from it: I listened to a different audiobook a short while ago, and also written by a Navy Seal, and I thoroughly enjoyed that. It was a whole different perspective from this one, and a much wiser, smarter, and mainstream one. And it was read by the author, not by a guy who sounds like his last gig was on Hee-Haw.

Having listened to this audiobook until I could no longer stand the jingoism, racism, self-promotion, utterly braindead patriotism, and rabid bloodlust any longer, I recommend the movie. Neither the book nor the movie is anything to write home about (which is why I'm posting it on my blog instead!), but if you must do one of these options, then my advice is to avoid the book like insurgents typically avoid a pitched battle. When I went looking for the movie, having given up on the book, Netflix predictably did not have it as usual. Great business model, Netflix! As usual Amazon predictably did have it for purchase at the usual $14.99. I wasn't buy-curious and the library had it for free, so take that, Net-azon!

I'd had the audiobook from the library also, but hadn't been interested in the movie until I'd listened to some of the book; then I became intrigued as to what a blinkered right-winger had done with a fascist document like this, and I confess I was surprised it wasn't worse. It starred Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle, the Navy Seal sniper billed as the deadliest in US history with over 160 confirmed kills. Bradley Cooper does the voice of Rocket in Guardians of the Galaxy, so I was curious to see what he did when not impersonating a genetically-modified raccoon. He was pretty good. The movie was a right-wing redneck wet-dream, but even so, I'd recommend it way over this autobiography.

The dishonest blurb (all Big Publishing™ book blurbs are dishonest to one extent or another) claims that "Iraqi insurgents feared Kyle so much they named him al-Shaitan ('the devil') and placed a bounty on his head," but my guess is that it was not fear, merely hatred. It's what terrorists do. That in fact is the definition of terrorism: if it's not like us, subjugate it and if that isn't easy, kill it. The really ironic thing is that the author never held that sadly battle-bloodied mirror up to himself, probably because had he done so, he would have seen a reflection that was far too disturbingly familiar.

The author claims to be a Christian and repeatedly talks about religion and prayer. He puts the order as: his god, his country, his family, which really makes him no different than any other adherent of one of the big three monotheistic religions including the one he hates. The truth is that he - as in the case of most 'Christians' - doesn't actually follow Christ (who was a Judaist not a Christian). Instead, they follow Paul, who very effectively sabotaged and undermined everything Christ purportedly taught.

Very few of these believers embrace the portions of Christianity dealing with turning the other cheek, of going the extra mile, of giving your coat. Those things are very conveniently forgotten by "warriors" (a term this author liked to over-employ), who are praying even as they get amped-up when going into battle. The author is very much an Old Testament believer: all savage justice, shunning the New like most of his fellow right-wing believers, none of whom have any more faith than does a Pope who drives around in a bullet-proof vehicle.

There is asininity in this book. At one point the author says of his kills, "The Number is not important to me. I only wish I had killed more." Contradiction anyone? If it's not important, why wish anything about it? He consistently refers to all Iraqis as savages, and at one point in the narrative, he expressed a desire to kill anyone carrying a Koran, but fortunately for the reputation of the US military, he heroically restrained himself. No one can argue that he did not save American lives by what he did. Given that he was there, in that situation, I certainly have no problem with that.

The problem is that never once does he question the validity of being there in the first place. Did Iraq have anything to do with 9/11? No! Were there weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? No! I could see a rationale - rightly or wrongly - for going into Afghanistan, but there was none for Iraq at all. Anyone who idiotically chants 'my country, right or wrong' is a moron, period. It's not patriotic to follow your government mindlessly and unquestioningly, especially when the result is almost seven thousand US soldiers dead, and over a million injured. And an estimated half-million dead Iraqis, not all of whom were insurgents by any means.

Most people who've served, particularly if they've been in the thick of it, do not favor talking about it over-much. They're stoic and reserved, and understand better than anyone how savage and indiscriminate war is. When they leave service, they want to put it behind them and move on. Assuming PTSD and/or injury allows them to do so. This author is certainly not one of those people, and while I can see this book appealing to a certain element, I can see no value in it as it stands, especially since it's been cheapened by the author himself.

It's not only tragic, but criminal that he died the way he did after surviving so much in Iraq, but when he tells stories that cannot be verified, perhaps tall stories about things he has done in the US - such as murdering 'troublemakers' in New Orleans after Katrina, or killing two guys who tried to rob him at a gas station, or punching out Jessie Ventura, or getting into a bar fight with a guy because that guy's girlfriend has apparently insulted a fellow Navy Seal. Seriously?

That's not heroic. It's juvenile, stupid, and completely unnecessary, since presumably any Navy Seal is trained more than adequately to handle any situation, including defusing one where he's being merely insulted. Does he really need a fellow Seal to go after the woman's boyfriend who presumably wasn't involved in the insulting? Was the girl offering the insult because she'd been hit on? Did the story even happen outside of the author's imagination? Who knows? What is a fact is that we can't trust anything this author wrote because it's tarnished and corroded by this kind of thing, and it devalues the entire book.

Navy Seals, or anyone in any branch of service from coastguard to marines to police, fire and EMTs don't have to prove anything to anyone, nor should they ever feel like they ought to. If the Seals made it through BUDS and hell week, that alone is an achievement which deserves respect. It doesn't matter whatever else they may or may not do. Anyone who went through Iraq or Afghanistan or any other conflict, regardless of the wisdom of our government sending soldiers there in the first place, is valiant and heroic enough. Someone like that does not need something like this to be respected and held in some kind of reverence. Not in my book, which is why I won't recommend this book.


Saturday, May 12, 2018

Hoodoo by Ronald L Smith


Rating: WARTY!

This was another failed audiobook experiment. It's aimed at middle-grade readers, so I am not the intended audience, but two things really bothered me about it and constitute my main reasons for rejecting it. I would not recommend this at all for young, easily scared, or overly sensitive children.

The story is about 12-year-old "Hoodoo" Hatcher who grows up in a very superstitious 1930s Alabama. A stranger comes to town who is evidently Satan himself, coming to collect a debt apparently owed by Hoodoo because it was incurred by his deceased father, but I don't know for sure because I didn't listen to all of it.

You know, I am really tired of reading stories about black kids growing up with their grandparents or other relatives. Less than ten percent of African American kids are raised this way, and while it is unfortunate, even tragic, and while it is over twice that of white kids, it's still less than ten percent. If you were to judge by how often it's portrayed in novels, movies, and on TV, you'd think it was all black kids.

It's inaccurate and it's particularly appalling in novels which children read and can be misled by; novels which often win idiotic Neuteredbery awards and such nonsensical crap. In fact I think that's a rule: that if your novel isn't about a dysfunctional family, you can't be nominated for a Newbery - but I may be wrong about that.... My point is that it's time for authors to tell it like it is, not tall tale it like it isn't.

The endlessly-repeated sleeping (and later, waking) dreams/nightmares in which this unintentionally comical Satannic figure threatens Hoodoo in his basso profundo voice were ridiculous, and were what turned me completely off it. It became tedious to listen to. The "Yes, Massah!" voice of reader Ron Butler was inappropriate and a turn-off to boot.

The other thing which bothered me were the many extended scary sequences which are going to be too much for young readers - and especially listeners. You do not want your child listening to this as a bedtime story! For me they were boring. The story seemed to be going round in circles instead of going somewhere interesting, and Hoodoo's obsessive-compulsion of doing this himself was laughable when there were others who could have helped him if the author hadn't been so rigidly dead-set against it.

It was an uninteresting and unimaginative story told badly and I do not recommend it.


Friday, April 6, 2018

The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati aka Rosina Lippi


Rating: WARTY!

This is a novel Stephen King would have been proud of, and anyone who knows me well will also know I don't mean that as a compliment.

I ditched this big fat book of fluff and padding after reading about ten percent. The premise was wonderful - female doctors fighting Anthony Comstock, who was a real person who left his name on things like the Comstock Law, which essentially labeled anything he didn't like as obscene, including leaflets offering advice about birth control and venereal diseases, and he also left his name in the vernacular of yesteryear, in the form of "Comstockery".

Unfortunately, instead of telling that story, which could have been gripping and interesting, and a fun read, this author decided instead to simply document the minutiae of life in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. This meant there were far too many pages devoted to empty volume with nothing of interest happening. If she'd cut out the fluff, we could have had a two-hundred page novel where things happened and things moved, but no! We got seven hundred pages. This author clearly hates trees with a vengeance. If I'd wanted to read about how much research the author did, I'd have emailed her and asked her, but I really don't care and I certainly don't want to read it in place of an actual story. This was a fat volume which spent far too much time going nowhere and was such was boring and a waste of my time.

Worse than this, there was a character Named Jack, and I flatly refuse to read any novels with a main character called that. It's the most over-used go-to name in the history of writing. The character's actual name was Giancarlo, and I see no honest way to get to Jack from that. Yes, Giancarlo is a contraction of Giovanni Carlo, and Giovanni is the equivalent of John which often gets rendered down to the obnoxious 'Jack' for reasons which completely escape me, but seriously? If I'd known this novel was jacked-up to begin with I would never have picked it up. Fortunately I wised-up before I'd wasted too much time on it. I have better things to do with my life than read another authors research used as a substitute for telling a good story.


Sunday, April 1, 2018

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane, Christian de Metter


Rating: WORTHY!

I favorably reviewed the print version of this novel in November of 2017. This graphic novel version is also a worthy read, although I have to say I wasn't overly enamored of the artwork. It was mostly sepia-toned and was passable. Others may approve of it more than I, but to me it looked rather muddy and scrappy. These shortcomings - at least the scrappiness - became much more apparent in the full color images. However the story overall was well told and the art work was not disastrous. Please read my review from November for my full take on the novel. This version would make a decent substitute if you don't want to read the full-length story.


Friday, March 30, 2018

The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an audiobook which I enjoyed. I read and liked Zeeley by this same author. This one is a short collection of African American folk tales, sadly fueled by the USA's history of slavery and assembled here by the author. It was ably told by Andrew Barnes, and these tales were some of the most weird-ass tales I've ever heard (and that's saying something!). As much as I enjoyed this, I was rather disturbed that this was in the children's section of the local library, because there were some rather gory tales!

For example in one story a man kills his grandmother and tries to sell her body in town. Another tale is a Just-So story of how the tortoise got its shell pattern - which was by being beaten by a magically animated cowhide! I plan on having a word with the librarian at my library to ask them if it really is best suited for the children's area or if it should be in the adult area - or at least have an advisory attached tot he case. These are not your simplistic, fluffy, bouncy fairytales. On the other hand, some of the Grimm fairytales were rather...well grim, with witches dining on oven-fresh children, so maybe it's not that bad in comparison?

The titles in this collection are:

  • Animal Tales
    1. He Lion, Bruh Bear, and Bruh Rabbit
    2. Doc Rabbit, Bruh Fox, and the Tar Baby
    3. Tappin, the Land Turtle
    4. Bruh Alligator and the Deer
    5. Bruh Lizard and Bruh Rabbit
    6. Bruh Alligator Meets Trouble
    7. Wolf and Birds and the Fish-Horse
  • Tales of the Real, Extravagant, and Fanciful
    1. The Beautiful Girl of the Moon Tower
    2. A Wolf and Little Daughter
    3. Manual Had a Riddle
    4. Papa John's Tall Tale
    5. The Two Johns
    6. Wiley, His Mama, and the Hairy Man
  • Tales of the Supernatural
    1. John and the Devil's Daughter
    2. The Peculiar Such Thing
    3. Little Eight John
    4. Jack and the Devil
    5. Better Wait Till Martin Comes
  • Slave Tales of Freedom
    1. Carrying the Running Aways
    2. How Nehemiah Got Free
    3. The Talking Cooter
    4. The Riddle Tale of Freedom
    5. The Most Useful Slave
    6. The People Could Fly

I loved these stories and moreover, they're a great source of inspiration for writers looking to write something that's not a tediously warmed-over fairytale.


Unbound by Ann E Burg


Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook telling a story of slavery from the first person perspective of a young girl. The subtitle claims it's "A Novel in Verse" but it's actually not, thankfully. It was read by an actor with the interesting name of Bahni (pronounced Bonney) Turpin, and while her own voice was not bad at all, the first person voice of the story really turned me off, because it seemed so inauthentic.

I know authors do this to try and present a sense of immediacy and to bring a reader in, but for me, it typically pushes me out. Once in a while I find a FPV story that I can stand to read, but far more often than not, they're obnoxious. This was especially true in this case where the girl was being forced to leave her family and take up residence in 'The Big House' as a domestic slave. She was one of the most whiny, self-centered, and air-headed characters I've ever read about.

The novels blurb claims that the author "unearths a startling chapter of American history -- the remarkable story of runaways who sought sanctuary in the wilds of the Great Dismal Swamp," but this is an outright lie. If anyone unearthed it apart from the historians, it was Harriet Beecher Stowe, in her second novel, Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp. I wonder if the author of this novel ever read that? She certainly doesn't acknowledge it if she did.

Slavery was an unforgivable abomination perpetrated by a smug, laughably 'superior', and self-righteous Christian population on a group of people they considered less than human, but there's nothing we can do to go back and right those appalling wrongs. All we can do for those people is to never forget them and to never let it happen again, but the truth is there are more pressing immediate problems which a wallow in the past will not fix. These problems are here and now, and they can be solved, but as long as our eyes are focused on history, they're not going to turn and take a hard look at where they should be aimed: current-day problems, some of which are echoes of the very history people are so distracted by. This book touched upon three issues that can be thought of very loosely as slavery or as coming out of slavery and which can be solved.

The first is racial issues still going on today which have deep roots in what happened when brutal men literally bought Africans from other Africans and floated them across an entire ocean to work these victims to death in plantations owned by Christian folk. The reason I mention their faith is because this book mentions "The Good Lord" irritatingly often.

It should have said "Good God!" as an exclamation of disbelief, because this god did absolutely nothing whatsoever to stop this abduction and brutality. It did no more than it did for the ancient Hebrews when they were hauled off into slavery, which was diddly-squat. Why anyone would put faith in such a worthless absentee god like that has long been a mystery to me, but this book idiotically keeps on having these people put their faith in what was - to them, hailing as they did from Africa - a completely alien god!

These Christians were claiming to be delivering these 'heathens' into the Christian faith, these were the heathens who were living (near enough for humans!) in complete harmony with nature, and who were being dragged across the Atlantic to live in a Christian community which was systematically raping the land it had stolen from American Indians who had been also largely living in harmony with nature! Go figure.

The second problem was entirely connected with that business (I use the term advisedly) of the raping o' the land. The problem back then was rich, armed white folks taking advantage of poor black folks. Now it's the insanely wealthy one percent taking advantage of the entire planet. The problem has become worse and it's become diversified: there's no race involved in this, only greed, as in 'how much more money can we make by exploiting more people' or 'by exploiting people more'?

The third problem is these people who are mostly though not exclusively white men, but they're not oppressing only people of color, they're oppressing all of us, but in particular people of color and women, who are seen as chattel by far too many of these men. This also where the #MeToo movement and the term 'glass ceiling' came from.

The real problem with this novel though is the poor writing. I know it's a novel for children, but does that mean that everything must be pedantically spelled-out and the slave owners be rendered as one-dimensional caricatures? The girl herself is ham-fistedly named Grace, and she causes all of her own troubles because she cannot control her mouth and she simply will not listen to advice. This is what brings all her troubles down not just on her, but also on her family. So they had to live in a swamp, Well, we were evicted from our swamp. We had to go and live in a cardboard box in't middle o' motorway! Each morning we had to get up and lick road clean wi't tung!

That was an excerpt from Monty Python's "The Four Swampmen." You know, I don't expect an author of a novel like this to portray slave owners in a warm light, or even have much imagination, but was it really necessary to render the owner's wife as a pinch-faced cartoon character? Subtlety (and creativity for that matter) appears nowhere in this author's lexicon quite evidently, so in that same vein let me say that this novel sucks, and I don't recommend it. After listening to only the beginning portion, I wanted Grace to sink into that blessèd swamp.


Sunday, March 18, 2018

Bettie Page Vol 1 by David Avallone, Colton Worley, Craig Cermak, Esau Figueroa, Bane Duncan Wade, Sarah Fletcher, Brittany Pezzillo


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This took me by surprise, and pleasantly so because it wasn't at all what I expected. Frankly I'm not sure what I expected except that I hoped it would be fun - and it was. It was a great romp and put the renowned Bettie Page in a spotlight I'm willing to bet she was never in before - that of government agent! bettie was a real life pin-up girl, probably the last of the truly "innocent" models there was; her pictures were very cheeky but seemingly to outside eyes to be all in good fun. At least, she seems from her expressions in her images to be having a rare old time.

But this novelization isn't about that at all. All of that is just background to her 'real' life, in which she helps fight pinkos and weirdos in New York and Los Angeles. The story collects a four part serial story and a bonus one-off story together into one volume. Bettie doesn't plan this career, it simply befalls her as her modeling plans take an unanticipated wrong turn at the start of the story. Everything else is more like a comedy of errors, with Bettie being in the wrong place at the wrong time until she takes charge of her own fate and starts making things happen instead of having them happen to her.

The story is right on - with a nice line of fifties banter, and the artwork is wonderfully evocative - except for once or twice when the blue-eyed Bettie is shown with brown eyes or even green eyes at one point! She's also depicted as being a little more lanky and boney than the more normally -proportioned real-life Bettie who was only five-two and comfortably rounded without being overweight.

No one obsessed about not being skinny enough back them - at least not as commonly as we encounter it today because women were not conditioned to feel inadequate in the way our modern society seems intent upon rendering them (when it can!). It would have been nice to have seen this reflected better in the drawings and not just on the 'covers'.

Virtually all models were short and normally proportioned back then! As were actresses: Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe for example, were the same height as Bettie and no more "hourglass" than was she, and no one consider what today would be described as 'chubby' knees, as being out of place, nor was body hair for that matter. How far we've slid down the wrong chute since then!

ost of the fifties pop-culture references were right one as well, as far as I could tell, except for one mention of Ian Fleming. The story was set in 1951, and Fleming was unknown at that time since he had not yet penned his first James Bond adventure. He didn’t write Casino Royale until 1952 and it wasn’t published until 1953. It wasn’t published in the USA until 1954! The only other problem i spotted was on page 89 (as depicted on the tablet reader - the comic pages themselves are not numbered) where I read “The exist to be ruled." I'm guessing that should have been “They exist to be ruled”

There was the welcome but unlikely addition of a black female police officer. It was welcome to see a person of color in this story, but there were no female police officers in the USA 1951 to my knowledge. Atlanta did, believe it or not, have black male cops as early as 1948, but even then, they weren’t allowed to patrol white neighborhoods or work in police headquarters! We've come a long way but nowhere near far enough.

So, overall, I loved this story and look forward to reading more. I recommend this as a fun and original adventure series with a strong and fascinating female lead.


Monday, March 12, 2018

Tomb of the Golden Bird by Elizabeth Peters


Rating: WARTY!

Set at the time when Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun, this novel is number 18 in the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters aka Barbara Mertz, PhD in Egyptology, but not in writing exciting adventures or thrilling prose. I wasn't aware of this being another in a series I'd already dismissed, since I'd effectively wiped my memory of the previous read!

One of the biggest problems with it was yet another author's inability to grasp that first person voice is worst person voice and should not be used in any novel unless there was a damned good reason for it. Her mistake was revealed here repeatedly by her habit of switching from first person to third person by quoting from some document which was evidently one of the family's other member's record of events. It didn't work and was truly annoying. When will these idiot writers learn to ditch first person altogether unless they can actually justify it and make it work?

This one I stayed with longer than the previous one and found some parts of it interesting and amusing, but ultimately the plot turned out to be as dry as Egyptian sand, and the story went on and on way too long, destroying the warmer feelings I'd harbored for it earlier, and since I found this ultimately to be a tedious read (read; listen!), I shall not be pursuing any more novels by Elizabeth Peters aka Barbara Michaels!

I thought the story might have something to do with the truly amazing discovery of "king Tut's" tomb, but it really didn't. It was to do with some plot to overthrow a government and there were so many red herrings that it stunk of mummified fish, os the thing I was most interested in was merely set decoration. There really was nothing much about the tomb discovery. The rest of the novel was the retarded family rambling on and on about various matters which in part in the beginning was amusing but which became ever more boring the longer the novel went on.

One of the few things which actually made this listenable for me was the reading of Barbara Rosenblatt, who did an amazing job of voice characterization, and of the reading in general. I can see why she's won so many awards for it. Se had equal facility for both male and female voices and did a fine job overall. Sadly, the novel wasn't up to her high standards, and I cannot recommend it!


Friday, March 9, 2018

Vlad the Impaler by Sid Jacobson, Ernie Colón


Rating: WARTY!

This graphic novel purports to tell the history of Vlad Dracula, Vlad III, Vlad Țepeș, or Vlad the Impaler, however you want to think of him. Rather than tell an accurate story, the graphic novel delights instead in purveying endless images of graphic violence, bloodletting, and Vlad as a rapist impaling young women - as often unwilling as willing - with his penis.

There is no doubt he was a violent man, but these were very violent times, so the issue is not whether he was violent, but whether he was more violent than those who surrounded him, and I think this is an open question. Was he a rapist? There's no evidence of it to my knowledge, so again, neither better nor worse than his peers.

Impalement, for example, was not his invention! It was common in the Ottoman Empire (right into the 20th century). Vlad was in league with the Ottomans for much of his life and learned all he knew about warfare from them. He knew no other life. This doesn't excuse him, but it does explain him and demonstrate that he was simply continuing well-established, if horrific, traditions rather than creating his own.

While the broad strokes of this story are accurate, the details are pure fiction, and embellished fiction at that. This book contributes nothing either in interesting story-telling or in great imagery. It's really just pornography, and not even in a sexual sense. I cannot recommend it. As an alternative to this I would recommend And I Darken by Kiersten White which tells a story about Vlad's sister Lada and his brother Radu, which isn't a graphic novel, but which is equally fictional, and which does offer a much more interesting story. I reviewed that one favorably in October 2017.


Friday, March 2, 2018

A Thousand Never Evers by Shana Burg


Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook which was read really sweetly by Kenya Brome, but while I would listen to her read a different story, I don't think I would want to read another story by this author because I was so very disappointed in this one. I think it had such potential, but the real story, of this young boy Elias on the run from a potential lynch mob, was completely subsumed under this farcical fluff story of a community garden being sabotaged by these rampaging butterbeans, and how this guy named Bump Dawson, and African American, was being blamed for it.

Set in 1963 in Mississippi, the story tells of a racially-divided community with black folk living literally on the wrong side of the tracks, which I felt was a bit much. They are of course criminally subjugated in every way, but things get stirred-up for the worse when the old man of the "Big House" where Bump and Addy (the twelve year old narrator) work, dies of old age. He leaves some land to the community and specifies in his will that it should be shared by whites and "negroes" but of course the white powers that be - the sheriff and mayor - aren't about to let no "uppity" black folk have a share in anything if they can help it.

It's decided that a garden should be planted with vegetables, and the black folk can work it and the vegetables shared. It's not specified whether the non-white community would get anything out of this. What happens though is that someone plants butterbeans all over the garden. There are two kinds of butter beans (or lima beans as they're also known). One type grows as a bush. The type in this story are supposed to be grown on frames. Since these beans were scattered all over the plot and had nothing to climb on, they supposedly grew wild vines which strangled everything else, ruining all the other things that had been planted.

To me, this was a stretch at best, because it assumes that not one single person other than the villain of the piece ever went to look at how the crops were progressing, and no one went to water it or pull weeds. The villain was a white guy who owned a grocery store, and who sabotaged the community garden because he thought it would take business away from his store, but it was Bump Dawson who was put on trial for it. Had this been the whole story and nothing but the story, that would have been one thing, but it wasn't.

Prior to the butter bean fiasco, a pair of white kids, heroes of the local football team, had been bullying Addy, and her older brother had flown off the handle, beaning one of the bullies with a glass jar containing a preserve or something. I forget exactly. That could have killed this kid. Fortunately it didn't, but being as it was - a black kid assaulting a white kid in 1963 Mississippi, there would be a lynching more than likely, so Addy's brother Elias goes on the lam, and the author tries to pretend he drowned, but it's obvious he didn't.

To me, this was the focal point right here, but the author derailed that one completely, ruining what could have been a great story, with this overly melodramatic butter bean garbage. So for me the story failed. It cheapened and trivialized Elias's story which was much more interesting. Yes, he was provoked, but his reaction had been foolishly out of proportion. He could have been charged with attempted murder, and by the end of the story he escaped justice. Not that there was justice to be found for black folks back then, and precious little even today in far too many cases.

I know this story was aimed at middle-grade kids, but it was a very one-dimensional story and racist in some ways in that white people were all lumped together under the banner 'white folk' who all supposedly had the same traits: all white folk do this or all white folk think that. That kind of bigotry was no better than what the African Americans had to deal with on a daily basis, so for these reasons, I cannot rate this as a worthy read.

There are better stories out there than this, and I wish authors wouldn't cheapen the tragedy of an appalling and shamefully racist past and a present that is in many ways still as bad, by churning out bland stories which bring nothing new to the table and worse, which turn people off even reading such stories because of this constant harping on the topic by writers who really need to tell stories that move and motivate instead of putting people to sleep or making their ears glaze over by regurgitating the same old stuff that's already been done to death, without even the courtesy of adding something new.


Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Wonderful Baron Doppelgänger Device by Eric Bower


Rating: WARTY!

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

I have to say up front that I was disappointed in this novel aimed at middle-graders. Maybe a portion of middle-graders will like it, and obviously I am not its audience, but I've read a lot of middle grade novels and found very many of them amusing and/or engaging in other ways. This one didn't resonate with me from the start. It's apparently number three of a series (The Bizarre Baron Inventions) and I'm not a series fan at all, but from what I can tell, it can be read as a standalone, which is how I came into it.

The first problem I encountered was with the formatting, although this isn't what garnered it a less than enthusiastic review in my case. This book, like many such books I've reviewed, fell prey to Amazon's crappy Kindle app, which simply isn't up to the job of fairly representing books unless those books have pretty much been stripped of everything that renders them as anything more than totally bland. Kindle format cannot even handle routine formatting, let alone specialty items like drop caps. Spacing between sections is random at best, and the formatting of this book in the Kindle was atrocious on my iPhone.

In the contents (why is there even a contents page - it's a novel for goodness sake?!), chapter two was run right into the end of chapter one, rather than appear on a new line. Chapter three was randomly indented on the next line. Chapter four was not a link, so you couldn't tap it to actually go to chapter four, whereas other chapters were links, but only a part of the chapter title was actually a URL. So - the usual Kindle disaster.

There wasn't a return tap either - to get back to the contents from the chapter title. Given that ebooks have bookmarks and a search function, I see no point in a contents page! It’s a brain-dead feature of the ebook system which makes zero sense and was obviously designed by a committee. It’s even more pointless if it doesn't work and Amazon seems determined to undermine it with its Kindle system anyway.

The book looked much better in Bluefire Reader in a different format, but even there, there were problems. It was all but unreadable on a smart phone because the pages were represented as a whole entity, which was far too small to read comfortably (at least for me who does not possess the eyes of a falcon!). You could stretch the pages to make them larger and more readable, but then you couldn't swipe to the next page without shrinking the page back to its original size first, so this made for an irritatingly ritualistic reading experience risking carpal tunnel syndrome just from continually stretching, shrinking, and swiping!

I am sure that on a tablet this would work much better, but for me, a phone is usually more convenient and I always have it with me, so I read the Kindle version and tried to ignore chapter titles that had random caps in them, such as chapter 2 which was titled " wHy would a Horse wanT sequIns on ITs HaT?" You see it appears to be only certain characters which are capitalized - the H and the T in this case, so maybe it's not so random. Why this occurs though, I do not know. I have seen it annoyingly often in Kindle.

The Bluefire view presumably represented how the print book would look, but for me this had problems too. In the electronic version, abusing trees by having too much white space isn't an issue, although a longer book does require somewhat more energy to transmit, so there's an issue of energy abuse.

As far as the print version goes, as judged from the Bluefire Reader, the margins, top, bottom, left, and right are super wide, and the chapter title pages have such huge chapter titles that the actual text doesn't start until the last third of the page. There are also illustrations which do little to augment the text and could have been omitted. More on these later. I calculated that there is about a third of each page (and more on the chapter title pages) which is white space.

The fact is that we cannot afford to abuse trees like this in an era of rampant climate change. Each printed book releases almost nine pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and printing books topples over thirty million trees every year. An e-reader is also harsh on the environment, but once you read a couple of dozen books on it, you’re getting ahead of the print curve. An electronic book takes three times fewer raw materials and uses seven times less water, but even so, the design of your book can make a huge difference.

No one wants to read a print book where the text is so jammed together that it's hard to read, but in this case, instead of blindly following rote rules of one inch margins on all sides (or whatever), making the margins smaller would have shortened the novel significantly, and for a large print run, saved more than a few trees and many pounds of CO2. It's worth thinking about if you care about the planet.

The novel is 237 pages (judged by page numbering in the Bluefire Reader), but it actually starts on page nine and finishes on page 234, so it's really about 225 pages. Tightening the margins and reducing the number of empty pages at the beginning of the novel could have brought this book down to well under two hundred pages (and even with the book-end fluff pages).

Authors and publishers need to seriously consider what they're doing to the environment. To my knowledge there are no fixed rules about how a book should look except what individual publishers 'prefer' so this should be a no-brainer: environment first, formatting second. Save trees, save energy on print runs, and guess what? Save money in producing the novel!

Another formatting issue was that the page headers (the author's name at left, the book title at right) which looked fine in the Bluefire version, were interposed with the text in the Kindle version. For example, one page had this text over three lines:
...said P. "I
erIC bower 29
heard you tell my wife that...
As you can see, the Eric Bower and page number are in the middle of a sentence, and the 'IC' in Eric is randomly capitalized. Why is it even necessary to put the author's name and book title as headers? Do authors and publishers think the reader has such a short-term memory that they need to be reminded every page what they're reading and who wrote it? Again, it's antiquated, hide-bound tradition and nothing more. It serves no purpose.

Back to the image issue I mentioned: completely and predictably mangled the images. They looked even worse on my phone because I keep the screen black, and the text white to save on the battery (it takes more power to keep the screen white and the text black), so the images (on a white background) always look out of place, but it gets worse! On page 21 of the Bluefire version, there is a line drawing of an airplane. This was chopped into segments which were then distributed over seven - count 'em seven! - screens in the Kindle app on my phone! Consequently, the image was largely unintelligible.

The same thing happened to an image of a car. Curiously, the 'monkey in the plumed hat' image, which appeared shortly after the airplane image, was not completely Julienned, but it was split over three screens, and there were black lines across it so it looked like Kindle was thinking about making a jigsaw out of it, but never quite got around to it!

Finally the story itself: it honestly felt just too silly and improbable for me. It seemed less like a story than it was a series of skits jumbled together, and it was larded with so much asininity and so many meandering asides that it was hard to follow the story (and in this I am graciously assuming there was one). It was too silly to read. I reached about forty percent and had to give up on it because it was simply not entertaining and the story appeared to be going nowhere.

Maybe the target audience will go for this, but my kids, who are now a bit older than this target audience admittedly, would not have found this engaging. Personally, I didn't like the main character at all. I felt that first person voice was the wrong voice for this story. It usually is the wrong voice, and is way over-used, but in this case it was made worse because he was just so annoyingly voluble and so repulsively full of himself, proud of his incompetence and trouble-making, and never once sorry for what he did to people.

In fact it was when he was all-but strutting with pride over dropping a fountain pen onto someone's head so that it became permanently stuck there, that I gave up on the novel. He never once exhibited remorse or guilt, and I'm sorry, but this is not the kind of thing you need to be teaching impressionable young boys. At this point it was just too dumb for me to continue and I gave up on it. I cannot recommend this novel based on what I read of it.


Saturday, February 24, 2018

Daughters of the Storm by Kim Wilkins


Rating: WARTY!

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

I requested to review this novel because I was truly intrigued by the premise. I have to report that it got off to a bit of a rocky start with me, then I began to get into it, then it hit a slack patch before taking off again, so it was a bit of a roller-caster ride, but when you're a writer, you have to go with what your gut tells you (or your editor if you don't self-publish! LOL!) so each to her own, I guess. In the end though, I found myself becoming more and more disappointed in it and I can't recommend this.

People say you can't really review a novel if you don't read it all, but I think that's nonsense. Several times I considered DNF-ing this because I was so disappointed in it and did not consider it worth continuing. Instead I read on, hoping it would turn around. It didn't. If I had quit at thirty percent or fifty percent, or seventy five percent, my gut instinct about it would still have been right, yet once again I plugged along to the end only to discover that nothing changed for the better, especially not my mindset. This novel is apparently the start of a series and I have zero interest in following it. Let me tell you why.

To begin with, I have to report that this is one of the most overused novel titles. There are many other novels with this same or with a very similar title including: Daughter of the Storm by Jeanne Williams, Daughters of the Storm by Aola Vandergriff, Daughters of the Storm by Elizabeth Buchan, Daughters of The Summer Storm by Frances Patton Statham, Daughter of Air and Storm by Sherryl King-Wilds, Daughter of Storms by Louise Cooper, The Daughter of the Stormed by Catherine Cuomo, and so on. I recommend authors finding truly original titles for their novels even if the title they end up with isn't their first choice.

The book is volume one in the "Blood and Gold" series, and I should confess I'm not a fan of series books. I like novels that have an ending and "book ones" tend to be nothing more than a prologue to a chain of books that can be so derivative and unimaginative that they're simply boring. I avoid prologues, introductions, forewords, and prefaces like the plague, so it took some thinking before I elected to take a look at this. Like I said, the blurb was compelling, but I have a love-hate relationship with blurbs at best, and I really dislike novels that have no kind of end point at all.

I was not a fan of the blood and guts (or gold!) opening, but the story took-off after that in a more pleasing fashion at least for a while, introducing the five sisters. In some ways it felt like this was a fantasy rewrite of Pride and Prejudice. We have the five sisters and a somewhat ineffectual father (in this case because he's taken ill). There's no real mother interfering. For Elizabeth Bennet, we have Bluebell (all the daughters are named after angiosperms), but Bluebell is nowhere near as perspicacious as Lizzie Bennet. Nor as amusing.

In this story, she's the feisty elder daughter, renowned and feared for her blade (rather than her wit as was the case in P&P), but it would seem that this warrior rep, thinking only of killing and sword-fighting is literally all she has going for her. She was very one-note and this began to gall in short order. She was next in line for the throne, but she certainly was not monarch material at all, not even in a blood-thirsty world like this. Nor was she military material, proving herself a poor strategist and a very average warrior.

It wouldn't have been so bad had she merited her renown, but she did not. She was stupid and incompetent. In two fights she had after the opening - fights when she was alone facing four attackers - she gave a really poor account of herself and had to be rescued by her magical sister both times. So no, she was not even a great warrior, and I had to ask how on Earth did she ever get this reputation that we were reminded of repeatedly, when she was so bad at what she did?

Next came the Jane Bennet of the family, known in this story as Rose. She has been married-off to Wengest, king of Nettlechester to secure an alliance. This author likes to name countries with names which sound like English cities, for some reason. The author is Australian and I am predisposed to look favorably on Australiana, but I wasn't fond of these names. The seemed unrealistic. Rose was once enamored of Wengest, but now is in love (so she claims) with his nephew Heath, and she pursues him like a love-sick teenager instead of behaving like a mature monarch. She was truly sickening in her stupidity and her selfish bitch-in-heat behavior. This did not come off as a great and tragic love story as perhaps the author intended, but as hack high-school love-triangle nonsense.

Next is Ash, who is the equivalent of Mary Bennet. She joins us as a resident in a type of convent, but she soon leaves to go home when she learns her father is ill. She has some sort of magical gift which evolves somewhat as the story unfolds. I enjoyed that to begin with, but in the end it also became tedious, because it really went nowhere. Ash constantly whined about this gift and where she felt it might lead. She meets an undermagician who tells her she is also an undermagician, but at no point was it ever really explained what an undermagician is or how one might differ from an actual magician. She and Bluebell were by far the most interesting characters to me, so it was sad that both of them became ever more annoying and dislikable the further I got into the story.

After Ash come of course, the troublesome twosome: Ivy and Willow. They're the equivalent of Kitty and Lydia, with Ivy being the ridiculously promiscuous Lydia, and Willow the dissatisfied, complaining Kitty. Ivy pretty much wants to jump the bones of anything in pants. She was a caricature of Rose who at least was only idiotically fixated on one guy. Willow is secretly an adherent of an anti-feminist religion, for reasons which are never actually revealed. She's hoping to convert her father so if he dies he can enter the sunlit afterlife instead of the dark place. Or something along those lines. Neither of these girls seemed remotely realistic.

There are two villains, Hakon, a rival warlord, and Wylm, the stepbrother of the girls. Both of these felt like caricatures at best and jokes at worst. Fearing what will happen if the king dies and Bluebell becomes queen, Wylm sets off on a quest to find Hakon at the same time as Bluebell orders her father moved away from home to seek help for the supernatural illness which she believes is killing him, so we have two parallel road trips in place. Here is where thing really fell apart and suspension of disbelief with it. Bluebell precipitately takes her father, along with two other soldiers, and all of her sisters on this trip. We've already been told how dangerous the countryside is, with raiders (who always seem to find Bluebell), yet we have only herself and two soldiers protecting a sick king and four other women? And no one is left in charge at the palace? It made zero sense.

It made less sense, having brought them along, to let the sisters split-up later, dividing the party. Bluebell sends Ivy, of all people, to return Rose's daughter to her father. She sends one of her two soldiers with Ivy. That soldier then disappears and we never hear of him again. Where did he go? Why did he never return to Bluebell? And why not send Rose, the child's mother, with the child? It made absolutely no sense whatsoever, except to keep the adulterous Rose with her lover and send the promiscuous Ivy to Rose's husband. There were realistic, organic ways in which this could have been achieved, but they were not employed. In short it made no sense whatsoever, especially since Rose later leaves - alone - to follow her child. Wait, isn't the countryside dangerous? Aren't there roving bands of raiders that the kings army never seems to be interested in hunting down? Yet Rose is going to make a journey of several days alone? Again, suspension of disbelief collapsed.

There was no reason at all to have these girls all go on the trip. There was no reason not to take a garrison of soldiers from the castle along with them. There was no organic reason for Rose to go with Ash and Bluebell to find this "undermagician" who might be able to help their father, as opposed to her taking her daughter back home, so this part of the story felt so stage-managed that it really turned me off the writing. It was such an artificial attempt to keep Rose near Heath and send Ivy to Wengest that it was really laughable. It was very poorly-plotted.

Bluebell is depicted as being with a group of soldiers at the very start of the story, and these guys also disappear from the story. They never follow Bluebell back to the castle despite the country being in a crisis because of the sick king. What happened to them? Where were they when Bluebell needed them? The original departure of Rose from her husband with her daughter made as little sense. It made sense that Rose would want to visit her ailing father and perhaps that she would take her daughter with her, but we're told that "There are bandits on these roads. Violent bandits." and we've already seen them, so why is King Wengest trusting his wife and only offspring to an escort of only one soldier?

Again, it's because that one soldier was Heath, her lover! It made no practical sense to let his wife and her daughter, his only immediate offspring, and also his nephew, his only heir to the throne, travel with absolutely no armed guard. Again it failed to suspend disbelief. The author seemed so intent upon following a rigid course in relating this tale - in this case because it would bring these two together - that she never seems to have thought about the absurdity of such a situation in the context of her own story, and authenticity was sacrificed again.

On a technical note, drop caps aren't a favorite of mine and they usually don't work well in Amazon's crappy Kindle app. They were better on the iPad than on my android phone, and not so bad on an iPhone, but Kindle usually mangles any attempt at fancy text or fancy formatting, so it's best avoided. Here it wasn't too bad, but there were odd-looking chapter beginnings, such as when the 'T' in "The sun rose..." was dropped and enlarged, and sat squarely against the 'W' that began the next line so it looked like it read, "He sun rose...fast in the Twest." It was amusing, but it should never have happened. It's an issue of which authors and publishers need to be aware when publishing ebooks and trying to make them look like their print versions. It simply doesn't work in the lousy Kindle app. It just doesn't! Keep the text simple for Kindle; it's all it can handle.

But poor formatting, especially when it's as mild as this was, can be overlooked if the story is engaging, This one was not. The silly sisters were tiresome, annoying, predictable, and not in the least bit credible as characters. None of them appealed to me as characters. I had no one to root for, and I honestly didn't remotely care what happened to any character in this story. They were all one dimensional, and therefore just not interesting. The author needs to kill off Willow, Ivy, and Rose, give some depth to Ash and Bluebell, and also keep the story tighter, more realistic, and shorter, and maybe it will work, but I have no faith in this series at all after reading this prologue. While I wish the author a fair dinkum career, because I think she has the makings of a good novelist, I can't say 'good on ya sheila!' for this novel, and I cannot recommend it.


Monday, February 19, 2018

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a fat tome of a graphic novel and it's the author's debut. It grew out of a single comic strip posted on the web for the woefully misnamed Ada Lovelace day, and then morphed into a webcomic and finally a print version which is what I read.

The author did an awesome job in both in the drawings (line drawings black on white with some shading) and in the text. It was highly educational, and highly amusing. Be warned that since this story is rooted in reality (if given to soaring flights of fantasy once the real historical details have been established), there are extensive footnotes on almost every page. I thought these might be really annoying, but they were not, and I simply skipped the ones which didn't interest me, so it was fine. I found myself skipping very few as it happened. There are also chapter end notes, and two appendices.

It tells the story of Ada King, née Byron, daughter of Lord Byron, and Charles Babbage. Ada is best known as Lady Lovelace; she was actually the Countess of Lovelace, which was a title derived from her marriage. 'Lovelace' was never her last name. She is also known as the world's first computer programmer and as a sterling mathematician. She died of cancer at age 36, curiously the same age as her father was when he died.

The book tells the story of the childhood and formative years of these two people, of their meeting, and of their collaboration working on Babbage's Difference Engine (a mechanical calculating machine) and his Analytical Engine - a next generation machine. The amusing thing is that Babbage never built either of his engines despite getting some seventeen thousand pounds in government grants for his work on it. This equates to very roughly one and a half millions dollars today!

He did have a small working portion of the Difference Engine, and extensively detailed plans for building the whole thing. He seems to have lost interest in it when he conceived of the Analytical Engine and in that instance, he seems to have spent so much time on refining it, that he never got around to building it! The difference Engine at least, actually worked, We know this because one was built based on Babbage's plans and drawings, and was completed in 1991. A second was built in 2016.

Babbage wished to automate the laborious process of creating tables of numbers which were in common use for a variety of functions. His plans proved that he succeeded - at least in planning such a machine! Ada, Countess Lovelace collaborated with him extensively. This story tells those factual details at the beginning, but then moves into a parallel universe where the story takes on a turn for the fantastical and pretends that they actually built Babbage's machine and used it to fight crime.

If you have any ambition at all to write a steampunk novel, I highly recommend this book to get you in the right frame of mind, and to help you appreciate the wealth of talent in Britain over this time period. One of the most thrilling things about their era is that it was loaded with people who are household names today. Scientists such as Michael Faraday and Charles Darwin, for example, writers such as Charles Dickens. Lewis Carroll, Mary Shelley, Charlotte Bronte, and Mary Evans better known to us as George Eliot, and engineers such as Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It's quite stunning to think that all of these people - and very many more - were alive over the early to middle years of the nineteenth century, and that Countess Lovelace and Charles Babbage met and knew very many of them.

I recommend this book


Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Fifth Beatle by Vivek J Tiwary, Andrew C Robinson, Kyle Baker


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a great graphic novel, beautifully drawn and colored, and with an intelligent text which never wandered far from the truth, about the life of Brian Epstein, the man who put the Beatles on the world map and one who was described by Paul McCartney in these terms: If anyone was the fifth Beatle, it was manager Brian Epstein (but he also said that of George Martin!).

That said, it's really about Brian Epstein in relationship to the Beatles before his death (suicide or accidental remains an open question, I think) at the age of thirty-two in late August of 1967. We learn nothing of his childhood or early life. We meet him shortly before he meets them. Brian was gay in a time when it was literally illegal in Britain (the punishment for which was to be locked away with a bunch of guys. Was it really a punishment then? Yes it was. Neve underestimate how violently fearful people can become of others whom they consider different.

Brian Epstein had a problem with drugs which he used to overcome his tiredness and stress, and irresponsible doctors doled them out especially when he became wealthy and successful as the Beatles's manager. It was these which took him away, but before then, he found the Beatles playing in The Cavern, a hugely successful band on a local level but largely unknown outside of Liverpool and Hamburg. He fell in love with them and promoted them into superstardom.

The people closely associated with the band are almost as famous as the band themselves. The story of them being turned down by several record companies is legendary. Guitar playing bands are on their way out, the idiots at one record company told Brian Eventually a novelty record company, a small piece of a bigger corporation, and which was run by George Martin, and known for its comedy records, finally took them on and the rest is legend and history.

One the Beatles became uproariously, insanely popular and had stopped touring; there was not a lot for Brian Epstein to do, and perhaps it was this which pulled the last plank from under him. Gay in a item when hatred was even greater than it is now, lonely, feeling less than useful, perhaps he really did want it over with, or perhaps he just wanted his pain to go away. But he died and something in the Beatles died also. They broke up not so very long long afterwards.

I highly recommend this graphic novel It's as gorgeous as Brian Epstein was.

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

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


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!


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.