Showing posts with label sex. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sex. Show all posts

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Between Lovers by Eric Jerome Dickey

Rating: WARTY!

This is an audiobook read decently by Dion Graham, although the material is marginally indecent! When I first began listening to it, I started thinking I wasn't going to like it, especially since it's in first person, which I really do not care for. I had a feeling I knew how this would pan out, but I hoped the author would prove atypical, and surprise me. He didn't.

It also began by being a little too focused on sex and body parts for my taste, but as I listened on, I began to get into it a little bit, so I decided to let it play for a while and see how it went. It went downhill. I started skimming and skipping and by half-way through, I realized this was not for me. The focus seemed to be solely on sex and bodies, and I have to wonder why. Is there nothing else in this guy's life? Apparently there wasn't, and that felt false to me.

One of the main reasons I picked this up from the library was that one of the main characters - the narrator - was a writer, yet his character doesn't read like he's a writer at all, and his internal monologue didn't vibe like he was a writer, either. He came across as any regular guy instead. His job could literally have been anything, so why make him a writer except as a thoroughly dishonest attempt to lure readers like me in?

It may sound paradoxical to say this, but there is no writing element to this novel - not in the first fifty percent at any rate. His focus isn't on his next novel, which is where his primary should be, if he really is a writer. He should be thinking about it - from time to time at least - even if he isn't writing, yet his entire focus is on his sex life, on his girlfriend's body, and on "checking out sistas." I refuse to believe that this is all that African Americans think about, but according to this writer, it is! I found that to be so sad and blinkered, and rather racist, if that's the implication. He mentions Nicole's intelligence once, but that's seriously diluted by the observations he makes about her body in the same thought.

The other element which interested me, and I confess it's one that usually turns me off a novel, is the love triangle angle! The main character (whose name I don't think appears in this novel, or if it does, I missed it) is involved with Nicole, but when he thought they were ready to head to the altar, she left. Now she's back in his life, but she comes with a girlfriend. She wants both her girlfriend and her boyfriend in her life, and she wants he and she to get along. They refuse to until a predictable tragedy forces them.

Given how obsessed the narrator was with sex, you would think he would jump at this idea of two women, but he doesn't! This made no sense in the context we'd been offered here: far from being enthusiastic about the potential to have two women in his life, he's completely negative about it, seeing Ayyana in the same light as he would have viewed a male rival. This sounded false to me given what we'd been told about the narrator. But it's first person, so maybe he's lying to us all this time? I don't know. I'm even less of a fan of dishonest narrators than I am of first person stories.

The novel is set in and around Oakland and San Francisco, the latter being a place I had the pleasure of visiting some months ago, and really liked, so for me that was the best part about it, but the locale was only a backdrop, not part of the story. The story could have taken place anywhere so why San Francisco? I don't know!

Like the narrator's occupation, the locale impinged little on the story, which was solely about this guy's anguish over his girlfriend. In the end I started really disliking the guy and becoming bored with his obsession. He literally had no other thoughts than Nicole and her girlfriend, and it was tedious to keep going back over the same ground. Even as he's griping endlessly about her girlfriend, he's checking out every girl who passes across his visual field, so he's both hypocritical and lacking in integrity.

In the end I wanted to get in his face and tell him to either accept her heat for what it was, or get out of the bitchin'! He either has to allow that she's making up her own mind about her life and he wants to be in it, or he wants to be out of it, and let this thing go. It was tiresome to be forced to watch him wallow in his own self-importance and self-pity. Maybe a third person narration would have made this more palatable, but I doubt it would have made sufficient difference to keep me on-board. As it is, I can't recommend this one at all.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Oh Joy Sex Toy Vol 3 by Erika Moen, Matthew Nolan

Rating: WORTHY!

p60 "aught" means nothing! The word required is "ought" as in 'feel compelled to'!

Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan seem like a fun couple who have made an industry out of graphic - and I mean graphic! - adventures with sex toys. This is an adult publication, be warned, with no holds barred - or anything else for that matter. It's also a whopping three hundred pages, so there's a heck of a lot here.

The discussions are frank, open, amusing, and detailed, and they cover topics which are important and far too often badly served in a fundamentalist and conservative nation like the USA: sexual health (both disease-wise and exercise-wise), sex education (inlcuding book reviews), and physical/mechanical sex aids. I've never been a fan of toys myself, but this is evidently a fifteen billion dollar industry, so clearly many people are, and it was climbing out of the closet and into the mainstream, so get used to it!

I don't know anything about Matthew Nolan,but I'm vaguely familiar (in an innocent way) with Erika Moen's work. She's an artist who's been involved in comic books and other art endeavors. She's also a member of Periscope studios which has had a hand in some Wonder Woman comics, so it's good to know that super hero is in highly capable hands if that team is anything like Erika, who reminds me of one or other of the two goal keepers in my Seasoning novel. It's good to know that goal mouth is in capable hands, too!

On a point of order, I have to disagree with her assertion on page 53 that the particular item under review will open up her "world of wanking opportunities". I contend that female cannot truly 'wank' unless she is unusually well-endowed clitorally-speaking. It's just not physically possible although I don't doubt it's fun to try! Masturbate yes! Wank? Not really! LOL! However in the interests of the Equal Right-On! Amendment, women are most welcome to go for it!

I have to say that a lot of what's in here (I'm talking about sex advice and discussion of sexual disease and medical conditions, not the product reviews) is common sense and common knowledge - at least it ought to be common knowledge, but that's just the problem. Because sex has been treated as such a tabu subject, nowhere near enough people are educated on these topics. This is why knowledgeable and responsible publications like this are so important.

This kind of graphic novel isn't for me, and some parts of it felt incredibly naive and gullible (notably the two sections on porn films, where in the one they believed it wasn't staged, and in the other they seemed to be polishing the whole porn industry with a huge shine based on one particular filming session they'd witnessed).

This is aimed at sex positivity, and I can understand that, so I didn't expect anything truly negative from it, but it seems to me they're under-serving their readers if they don't look at the downside of things as well as the upside. They do review a book which touches on some of those stories but it's aimed not at how the porn business works, but at how some performers coped with balancing their professional life with their private life.

The last third of it is guest comic strips, and they cover a variety of topics all related to sex. I didn't find these as amusing as the first two hundred pages, except for Donut's Cream For You which I thought was hilarious. My biggest concern over these though, was that they were heavily biased towards trim Caucasian couples and where women were involved they seemed to be almost exclusively slim and comic-book curvy. While that's common in comic books (and on TV and in the movies and in literature), it's not right, and in a graphic novel like this, which is all about inclusivity, they seemed inappropriate in a way which had nothing to do with their subject matter!

I haven't read the previous two volumes in this series, so perhaps they have a slightly different take on things, but the feeling I have is that they would be very much like this one in tone and approach. That said, I don't doubt that these volumes will be useful and helpful to many people so I have no problem recommending this one. We don't need less of this, we need more! But we also need balance, so keep that in mind, and enjoy!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Beauty Volume 1 by Jeremy Haun, Jason A Hurley

Rating: WORTHY!

This volume (an advance review copy for which I am grateful!), collects the first six individual issues and seems like it could have been made for me, someone who rails against the obsession humans have, particularly in this media-soaked age, with physical beauty and who cares what lies beneath - with the emphasis on lies. I wish I had thought of this idea!

Yet another sexual disease gets loose in the world, but in this case, people actively try to get infected, because what it does is confer beauty upon those infected - youthful good looks, taut, fresh healthy skin, lush hair. In short, everything TV, movies, and magazines look for in actors and models. Very soon, this disease is no longer considered a disease. It's called simply 'The Beauty' and it has spread to almost every adult on the planet as this story begins, in a world where there are very few people of color, curiously enough. That was my only problem with this story.

Detectives Vaughn and Foster, one of whom is infected, the other not, are called to an apparent incident of self-immolation on a subway train. The curious thing is that it looks like the passenger burned from the inside out. Soon more and more of these victims are found, and they were all infected with The Beauty. This disease, it seems, has a long-term consequence, and now if a cure is not found, the world is going to burn.

The story is by Jeremy Haun and Jason Hurley, and is tight and paced, moving things along at a very readable clip. The art is by Haun and is excellent, although be warned it is adult in nature, with nudity and graphic violence. I recommend this as an entertainingly worthy read.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Renée by Ludovic Debeurme

Rating: WARTY!

This was one of those advance review copies Net Galley offers as a 'read now', evidently because it isn't getting much attention. Unfortunately most of those are not very good, which is why they get little attention, but once in a while you can find one that is a worthy read. This wasn't one of them, I'm sorry to report. On the contrary, it was one of the most flaccid graphic novels I've read in a long time. it was disordered and confusing, offered little content, was wasteful of trees if it ever went to a long print run, which I don't forgive easily, and equally as bad, did not even tell a very engaging story. On top of that, the art work was average to poor, and the themes employed were tediously repetitive. The lettering was ridiculously small, too, for that matter, and for no good reason.

The story is one of relationships, which I tend to find boring unless the author really has something original to say, or something old to relate in a new way, but this story offered neither. Worse, it was told non-linearly, which is usually just annoying. Once in a rare while there's a valid reason to employ this technique (although off-hand I can't think of a story I've read which was actually better for it!), but most of the time author do this, it's because they have a poor story to tell, or they're simply being pretentious.

I read some 370 pages out of some 460, and I still didn't feel like I had a good handle on what was supposed to be going on here. I was ready to quit quite early, but I kept pushing on for two reasons. The first was that I was hoping this would lead somewhere interesting. It never did. The fact that I had decided early on that this probably wasn't going to do it for me, and plowed on for scores more pages with no change in my outlook, proves my case to my complete satisfaction.

The second reason is that sometimes when I quit a novel early because it's bad, and I review it negatively, there are those who whine that it's not possible to review a novel fairly unless you finish it. I'm so sorry but you people are completely wrong. I invite you to look up 'sunk cost fallacy' in wikipedia.

The short answer is that it doesn't matter how beautiful your back yard is if if you can't get people to stomach passing through your front door to come see it. Life is far too short to waste on uninteresting stories when there are scores out there that promise more and that we will never get to read if we waste our lives on those which do not thrill us from the off. The same applies to relationships, BTW, but if you fail to persuade your reader to keep reading, then that's a review right there - a resoundingly negative one.

The essence of this story is that there's this one guy, who was, to me, thoroughly unlikable, who was in prison, and one girl was supposedly waiting for him. This girl had no life whatsoever, which is why I didn't like her either. The tow did probably deserve each other, but that doesn't mean there was any sort of romance here, neither in the old-fashioned sense or the modern sense. The two had met through music, and he had started an affair with her even though he was married. This did not endear me to either of them

It turned particularly nauseating as she became predictably demanding that he leave his wife, and he was predictably reluctant to do so, and when he did, she was still not happy. it was all downhill all the way. The artwork was as lackluster as the story, and both dragged on and on going nowhere. It was the polar opposite of cinéma vérité: cinéma mensonge and not even amusing for that.

I can't recommend this as a worthy read. It wasn't.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Barbara the Slut and Other People by Lauren Holmes

Rating: WARTY!

This was a mixed bag for me. I got the advance review copy under the impression (wrongly, obviously!) that it was a story about one person and their interactions with family and friends. It felt like it would an episodic, but coherent whole. In the end, it was a collection of short stories, none of which had anything to do with any of the others. I'm not a big fan of short story collections, but in for a penance, in for a pounding, so off I went.

The first two stories I felt were good, so I was off to a great start; they went downhill for me after that, however. I don’t like full length novels where the plot bounces like a pinball spastically between different sets of characters, even when the whole thing is supposed to come together in a final whole, but at least when it moves around like that, you eventually get to come back to the characters you like and really wanted to read about in the first place!

This means, as I said, that I tend to like collections of short stories less, especially if they’re unconnected. Indeed, the only connection between these stories, it seemed to me, was that they were preponderantly about weak, equivocating women who were obsessed with sex - or when not having sex, were doing drugs. This made them unappealing to me as characters or people. It seemed like they had no life other than drugs and sex, and even when the drugs and sex were not directly to do with them, they were still in the story affecting their lives.

Yes, there was a variety of locale and person in the stories, so on the one hand they were, in a small way, all different, and a reader has a better chance of finding a story they like in those circumstances, but on the other hand, the stories a person might like are over far too quickly, and the reader knows that they’re never going to eventually get back to these characters later in the book. It was with these mixed feelings that I read through this. On the up-side, it was a short and fast read!

As I said, the first two stories were appealing to me, but they were over far too quickly and then rest of the novel went downhill, apart from two brief upticks. The eponymous short story, which came last, was the worst of all, and the title had obviously been chosen for its prurient value. Despite that, I was actually hoping for it to bear me something edifying, ironic, or humorous, but it never did. In the end, it took the same exit from this freeway that all of these stories did: it fizzled out rather sadly, as though the author didn’t know what to do with it (and we’ve all been there, haven’t we, so I do sympathize!).

We’re told that stories need a beginning, a middle, and an end – the standard three-act scenario. I’m not one who subscribes to that kind of rigid paradigm, but that said, I felt rather unsatisfied after every one of these stories, even the few I liked. The best of them were like eating a satisfying meal, but after this I felt I’d been promised an equally fulfilling desert, and it was never served. I wanted something more from it, but I was denied time after time. Maybe this was a result of the story being short - too short for me, maybe! The thing is that I wasn’t necessarily looking for a conclusion or a resolution in the traditional sense; I was looking only for something more than I was delivered. Let’s look at each story.

This one featured a young woman in a lesbian relationship who has not come out to her mother. Her dad knows, but is separated from her Mexican mom who lives south of the border, down Mexico way. This story actually should have clued me in better in regard to what to expect from this collection, but it was a new book, I was up for it and evidently blinded by the fact that I enjoyed this one despite the discovery that it really went nowhere in the end. The main character, Lala isn’t strong at all and has no idea how to broach this topic with her own mom, but we're never really given a good reason as to why, having already told dad, her mom should be so much harder to face. Even after the matter is dealt with, there is no aftermath to explore. The story is over, and the character hurries back home, making me feel as though the author herself was dedicatedly hurrying on to the next tale in the collection. To its credit, this was one story which didn't obsess loosely on sex.

I just about liked this story, but it wasn't because of the main character, who was male, but because of Beth, who to me was a stunner of a woman about whom I could read a whole novel were the character to be handled in it like she was here. She was a breath of fresh air, I couldn’t have cared less about the other characters. The story, unfortunately, focused on the guy, and his rather loose and physical relationships with females. It would not have appealed to me at all were it not for Beth's appearances. A story about sex, pretty much.

This story is about a Japanese guy who has poor English language, trying to get an STD test after having sex with a prostitute. I found this story to be just stupid and vaguely racist. Another story about sex.

This one was thoroughly unsatisfying, too. It was another story about a woman who was unable to get out from under a guy - not literally this time, but figuratively. When it wasn't about him it was about drugs. To me it read like an endless whine and I didn't enjoy it at all..

This is about a liar/lawyer who talks herself into a job at a store where the first question they ask her is "Are you a lesbian?" This is what she lies about. The store is a sex toy retailer (so there's the sex again). It really went nowhere although it was more entertaining than any of the other stories. This was an odd one because, due to the fact that my phone randomly changes my place in ebooks when it's riding around in my pocket and not switched off, I missed this. It was only when I started writing the review and briefly reviewing the stories, that I realized I hadn't read it! If this has been a full length novel, I would have known immediately that I was reading in the wrong place, but I couldn't tell here. I was glad it was somewhat entertaining, but it wasn't nearly entertaining enough to reverse my opinion as to how entertaining this book was overall.
This was about objectifying men, really. The guy never even gets a name, yet the main character has endless sex with this virtual stranger, and lets him move in with her even as she doesn't want this, yet is too weak to tell him to move out. It was really, seriously, honestly boring and pointless, and no fun to read.

This is nothing but a list of German friends this snotty young American girl makes and ditches when she moves with her family to Germany. Kudos for bringing in a diversity of locales and character origins, but this was really boring.
This was the first uptick on the down-slide. It's the story of a break-up told from the dog's PoV, which was quite inventive and entertaining.
This was completely tedious despite being, in part, about a hearing impaired woman who babysits a hearing impaired child. There was so much potential there for a real story, but I never got that story. Instead I got more sex. This woman is limp and motive-less, fresh out of a relationship and falling almost immediately into bed with some random guy she meets. There was, for me, no entertainment value at all.
This is about a highly promiscuous high-school girl two years from graduation, and it began as though it might actually be entertaining, but it was really Mary Sue the Slut, not Barbara. I thought the author was going to make use of the title and run with it, but she never did. The title was simply the name by which this girl was known universally in her school, and that was pretty much the entire story.

Whatever it was that was being attempted here didn't work. The author, despite actually being female, doesn't seem to know the difference between a vagina and a vulva! I mean, you can pat a vagina, but it's really hard to do, and highly uncomfortable if not downright painful for the woman whose vagina is being patted. Much easier to pat a vulva, but do get permission first.

I can't in good faith recommend this one. It showed definite promise in parts, but overall wasn't the ticket to reading pleasure I'd hoped for. The women were too much alike in their dithering ineptitude and lackluster view of life, they showed little to no improvement, were almost universally walked all over by men, and their insipid and uninteresting qualities were not leavened by anything.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

American Virgin: Around the World by Steven T Seagle

Rating: WORTHY!

The last volume, though titled "Around the World" also incorporated the final arc, titled "69". It follows Vanessa and Adam on their "world tour", beginning in Rio de Janeiro. Adam is dramatically brought almost literally face to breast with topless beaches, and is shocked initially to see Vanessa topless, but she educates him - the start of a long, slow process.

When Adam calls Cyndi, as he does frequently, now she has become his reality touch-stone, he interrupts her int he middle of her and Mel having sex. Why Cyndi would even answer the phone is a mystery! Why Mel isn't insulted that she does is an equal mystery.

From Rio, the couple travel to Japan and attend a penis festival. By this time you would think Adam has learned a few things, but evidently he has not. Initially he's shocked by the giant penis statues, but all too quickly turns his feelings around, so this part seemed completely fake to me, first his shock, and then his almost immediate acceptance.

Next up is Bangkok, where Adam books a hotel room for the two of them and it's Vanessa's turn to go overboard, but why she does is even less intelligible. In the end, she storms off to a hostel, abandoning Adam. Later, equally unintelligibly, they make up rather speedily, and all is well. Again this rang false for me. What saved this story for me, despite all this patchiness and falsity, was the other interactions between this couple, which were truly well-written and realistic, and which were endearing and engrossing. Adam gets a tatoo and while he's having that, he hallucinates a sexual encounter with Cass, which somehow convinces him that Vanessa is the one for him. This signifies the end of the Around the World Arc.

The 69 arc begins with Adam returning home with Vanessa and announcing, out of the blue, that they're married, but, we shortly learn, the marriage has not been consummated. At first I thought that this just meant that they were married spiritually, but not officially, but it quickly becomes clear that between this and the last arc, they did actually get officially married. Adam's mom reveals what a truly racist piece of work she is, ordering Adam to annul the marriage.

Meanwhile, fulfilling the last clause of their unofficial contract with Adam, his low-life, but evidently industrious step brothers announce they've found his real father in Cuba, so the entire family debarks, including Adam, Vanessa, Mel, and Cyndi, and manages to enter Cuba through some arrangements Mel has made. Reydel, it turns out, is now a priest who inexplicably still thinks the obnoxious Mamie is a beauty, and kisses her, giving her a heart attack, which Mel fixes by jolting her from the local power supply.

While she's recovering in hospital - availing herself of the free health care in Cuba - Mel kidnaps Adam and hustles him off to the Dominican Republic where the architect of his wife's murder now resides for reasons unexplained. Rather than shoot the bastard, Adam tries to make friends with the fiend. Inexplicably, the terrorist tells Adam there is a video of his fiancée in a nearby suitcase, which Adam dutifully opens. Why he would want such a video is a mystery, but when he opens the case, a bomb explodes yet Adam escapes without a scratch, other than a bloody nose. He isn't even deafened, yet we're expected to believe he's badly injured! The rescuers ask him his name and the last page shows him laying in their arms and a translucent version of him standing over his unconscious form. Whether this means he died or what, simply isn't explained.

So, this last arc was perhaps the weirdest of the entire series, and perhaps we would have learned more had the series not been canceled, but this was a truly odd way to finish it. Did he die? Who knows! It was ridiculous to artificially keep him virginal without any good reason, just so he could die in that state. It would have been more in keeping with the rather black-humored tone of the series to have had one more issue showing him being raped as one of the 79 virgins of the terrorist who died with him! Based just on the ending, I would rate this negatively, but based on this entire volume I have to rate this positively because until the very end, the story was really good in these last two arcs, and the art work was excellent, particularly some of the photo realistic filler pages between issues and the one full page image of Cyndi (which on reflection I think might have been in the previous volume). Overall, I rate this who series a worthy read. Be prepared for some potholes along the journey though!

American Virgin Wet by Steven T Seagle

Rating: WORTHY!

It's in this volume that Adam finally realizes he may have made a mistake in believing that Cass was his one true love. Ghost Cass says something that sets him off searching for the other five contestants in the beauty pageant where he first met Cass. IMO his mistake was looking there in the first place - at a pageant that's so obsessed with skin-deep appearance instead of looking a lot deeper, but that issue is one which isn't touched upon in this comic series at all, I'm sorry to say.

He hires his low-life step bothers at a thousand dollar a pop for each of the girls in that pageant that they turn up for him, and he visits them one by one. How he can, as a Christian, justify this squandering of money which could have helped the poor and fed the hungry is also not touched upon. For all his bluster, Adam is truly a piss-poor Christian in the romanticized and idealistic sense of the word, but he's a very good blind believer in the vengeful Old Testament style.

He meets on girl at one of his uncle's sex parties, and another who is pregnant and who starts to deliver the baby as he talks to her. That was amusing, and made a truly refreshing change from the stereotypical birth scenes, especially those on TV, where the guy panics and his wife is screaming in pain. Yes, there are some deliveries like that, but not every single delivery is like that by any means!

The extent of Cyndi's past is revealed in this arc, and also it becomes more and more clear that Mel and Cyndi are going to become an item, although there is still a surprise in store there. Adam finally meets one of the pageant girls, Vanessa Upton, who he honestly believes could be his soul-mate. On a whim, he takes off after her as she starts off on an impromptu low-budget tour of the world.

It was nice to read this volume because it was such a change from the previous one. The artwork was a joy -brighter and far more positive, far less tediously menacing than the previous volume, and more importantly, for me, the text took a turn for the better: all of the scenes where Adam and Vanessa interacted were a joy to read, and I was to discover that this joy only increased in the next volume. Definitely a worthy read!

American Virgin: Going Down by Steven T Seagle

Rating: WORTHY!

In the collected volume two of this series, and after their wild African adventure, Adam and Cyndi return home. In this story arc, I quit thinking Cass was still alive, and started thinking two other things: that there was something odd about Mel, their mercenary guide, and that Cyndi and Adam were going to end up an item by the end of the series. I was right about one of those two, but it turned out to be a double-blind, so there were two revelations, the second of which didn't make a heck of a lot of sense.

It's in this arc that we learn that Cyndi is even more interesting than she's already proven herself to be. She has a dark past and two sadly stereotypical thugs catch up with her, but fortunately Mel is there to save the day. I have to say that the depiction of these two guys struck me as rather racist and turned me off this volume somewhat. Also it felt like the story tried to hard to be controversial, so I didn't like this volume as well as I liked the first.

The highlight of this volume for me was Adam humping his dead girlfriend's coffin in a scene that could have come straight from Clerks (The Missing Scene), as depicted in a graphic novel I favorably reviewed back in November 2014.

At the funeral, Adam is proposition by a red-headed girl who wants to lose her virginity to him. I don't get what it is with this artist's obsession with red-headed girls in this series. Almost every significant female Adam meets is a red head in the first two volumes, although I admit that they thin-out rather more in later volumes. Shortly after the graveyard encounter, he another one redhead - a news reporter who gives no indication that she's really a biological male, yet Adam somehow picks up on this and incorporates it into a speech he gives later. I didn't get this either. It felt like this particular arc was simply trying extra hard to incorporate every known gender queer permutation just for the sake of it, rather like my idiosyncratic (2AABCGHILOPQSTU) category does!

The story quickly moves to Australia as Mel informs Adam this is where the actual beheader of his fiancée now is. There, they meet Clauda, a lesbian lush, and her brother Deacon, who is gay. Given that they're on the clock for this "mission" it makes no sense that they're dawdling on the beach catching rays except, of course, that it gives the authors a chance to bring in two more gender queer "types". This is and example of what I meant about the story going out of its way.

Adam in increasingly having visions of a naked Cass who seems to be alternately telling him to move on and to remain faithful to her, which makes no sense at all. It makes even less sense for Adam to go "undercover" and a flaming queer, dressed outrageously, in order to make contact with the beheader they seek. Adam is of course photographed leaving the place and the photo makes news headlines. It felt like this ought to have gone somewhere in the next issue, but it never did, so again it felt like it was included for no other reason than to check off one more gender "type" from the list rather than to contribute to or to serve the story.

The first part of Mel's secret is outed: he has a bone to pick with the terrorists over a dead loved one, but this makes the story even less sensible because it begs the question as to why Mel hasn't already dealt with this himself. Why does he need Adam? There was a feeble attempt at an explanation, but it didn't hold water. It relied on Mel needing Adam to track down where these guys were, but all the tracking is done by Mel, so this weak explanation failed.

On the flight home, the plane carrying Adam and Cyndi skis off the runway - for no apparent reason - and drops into a swampy lagoon - hence this arc's title! This is where this arc ends. Despite a lot of issues, I still rate this positively. The artwork was less pleasant than the first volume and the script nowhere near as entertaining, but as part of Adam's sexual education, it did a passable job, so I consider it a worthy read as an integral part of this complete series.

Friday, August 28, 2015

American Virgin: Head by Steven T Seagle

Rating: WORTHY!

How strange to read a novel with the word 'virgin' in the title and discover that, for once, it's not a completely boring waste of my time! American Virgin is a series that looks at sex from the PoV of a Christian virginity pledger named Adam Chamberlain who is the unlikely spawn of two TV evangelists. He has a younger brother Kyle, and a sister Cyndi. How those two got such un-Biblical names is an unexplained mystery. Somewhat less of a mystery is that these two are as far from Kyle as it gets when it comes to liberal attitudes towards drugs (Kyle) and sex (Cyndi).

The entire series, before it was cancelled, follows five story arcs, and is a fast and easy read. The first collected volume is Head, and this is followed by Going Down, Wet, Around the World and finally, Sixty-Nine. I shall be reviewing at least the first four of these.

Kyle is kidnapped and subject to a lap-dance as part of his unexpected Bachelor party, but he escapes before anything untoward happens. Adam is saving himself for Cassandra, another pledger, who is evidently having a hard time refraining judged by his last phone conversation with her. The next he hears of Cass is on the news - she has evidently been kidnapped and beheaded by some rebel tribesmen. Adam loses it and flies to Africa with Cyndi pretty much accidentally in tow, to bring her body back, but all the time he's really looking for some payback. Not a very Christian outlook on life, is it?! Yes, thy have the "eye for an eye" Old Testament rule, but there is also the contradictory "turn the other cheek" New Testament rule, so what gives?! Sanity, probably.

I have to say right up front, that I didn't quite buy the claim that Cass is dead. There is a headless body of a white female, yes, but there's nothing else offered - such as fingerprints or DNA - to certify that this is indeed Cass's body. Admittedly it's not like headless white females commonly show up in Africa, but coupled with her suspicious comments on the phone to Adam earlier, I'm wondering if something else is going on here.

Adam's slow, slippery, seductive slide from his high horse to being an ass is a pleasure to watch. As the hypocrisy of the Biblical texts is highlighted starkly, Adam finds himself in possession of a men's "girlie" magazine, and exposed to an entirely different approach to life as he travels through various nations in Africa in search of the guy who killed his beloved.

I have to say that the number of African breasts on display here seems excessive to me. It makes the continent look like it's sooo last century. OTOH, Swaziland, a highly Christian nation, seems extraordinarily enlightened when it comes to topless women (that's not too be confused with beheaded women, BTW).

I liked this comic because although it went over the top somewhat, it did tell some important truths about the hypocrisy of religion. This is the third graphic novel I've read where Becky Cloonan did the art work (in this case the penciling), and she's batting 666 at this point. The work wasn't brilliant, but it was serviceable and the coloring was a fine job too. Your mileage may differ, but I consider this a worthy read.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Sister Mischief by Laura Goode

Title: Sister Mischief
Author: Laura Goode
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Rating: WORTHY!

Since I went outside my usual genre for You Against Me, I figured I might as well go for broke. This is another one that's not typically on my reading list, about a hip-hop girls group in a high school. I'm always ready to learn something new if it's interesting or useful, so we'll see how this debut novel goes!

I'm having some sort of existential crisis or something but I definitely do not recommend going directly from TimeRiders to Sister Mischief as I did today. You'll break your neck with the whiplash.

This title is supposed to be young-adult fiction, but now I'm wondering what young-adult means in this context because if this were a movie it would be very likely be rated NC-17! Here's another reason not to read prologs - you might get more than you bargained for! Laura Goode is definitely not going to have a good effect on me!

Wikipedia says that young-adult fiction can also be called juvenile fiction, but then what does juvenile mean?! I am starting to wonder if I needed to change anything at all in Seasoning in order to re-publish it as Seasoning YA!. Wikipedia also says that "55% of young-adult fiction is purchased by readers over 18 years of age", so Laura Goode wil be right at home there with this novel.

It took a few pages to properly get into this. I got the impression that Goode was trying a bit too hard to sound hip and cool, but once I got into the rhythm, it felt a lot better. The story is entertaining and interesting so far even though all it is, ostensibly, is just another disaffected highschool story about love, rebellion, bullying, and acceptance. But that's an old theme, so the trick is in the telling of it, and I'm enjoying that so far.

I'm not sure about the cell phone texts which the characters send to each other. They're amusing and informative, but they're shown as numbered footnotes on each page. It’s an interesting technique, but I’d have preferred them to be an integral part of the narration. It’s less distracting from the story that way to me. I found it a bit like watching a foreign language movie with subtitles. Film is a visual medium and whilst dialog is important, if I wanted to read it instead of watch it, I’d get the novel!

When I'm watching a movie I don't want to be constantly be forced to take my eyes off the imagery to read what they're saying, especially when the subtitles don’t actually convey accurately what’s really being said. I’d rather watch it dubbed, which isn't perfect, but is a lot less dispruptive to me. Maybe Goode has something in mind with her approach here. We'll see.

It was interesting to note that in the first couple of pages there were two 'samples', given that a theme of the story is hip-hop and lifting samples to make new music. Goode lifts a quote from Rita Mae Brown to start off the novel, and in it Brown lifts the term 'polymorphous and perverse', which I first heard in the Woody Allen movie, Annie Hall, but which comes from Freud (afaik).

Then Goode herself puts the phrase 'white man's overbite' into the narrator's mouth to signify how white people are perceived as dancing. This may well come from Billy Crystal's character in When Harry Met Sally, which means it comes from Nora Ephron.

That description seems rather racist to me, but isn’t it the case these days, for example, that non-white comedians can get away with racist jokes about whites, which whites get called on when they do the same in reverse?

I know whites have a lot to be sorry for in the way they've abused (and continue to abuse, let’s face it) non-whites, but the way to address that pendulum is not to let it swing all the way to the other end of the arc; it's to stop it dead in the middle and never let it move again.

Anyway, I read the prologue! Yeah! But this goes to my beef about prologues: in this case, I don’t get why it’s a prologue and not chapter one. I don’t know if this was Goode's idea, or if she put this in just to fit some perceived norm (which would betray her theme in this story!), or if her editor/publisher made her do it. It’s hard to tell when so many people have had their fingers in the pie in producing a novel, but to me, it’s not a prologue; it’s chapter one!

In this case I'm glad I read it because it's really chapter one, and it adds a bit to Esme's character. Unfortunately, the main thing it conveyed to me is that she's a rather mean person. That's not a good trait to perceive (rightly or wrongly!) in a narrator. I happened acciendetally across the website which returns trivia about any name you type in, so I tried Esme and got this page!

Esme is the narrator of Sister Mischief, and we discover pretty quickly that she's gay, but she had doubts about her sexuality (who doesn't! lol!) and wanted to test herself by losing her virginity to some guy who had wanted her for a long time.

She was not impressed, and this evidently confirms something to her, even though their coitus was interruptus by two cops. I'm by no means convinced that having abortive and uncomfortable sex in the back of a cramped vehicle is the best test (as indeed one of her friends points out!), but it’s apparently enough to convince Esme, and she's so decided that she comes out to both her friends at school, and her dad (her Jewish mother is long gone) right after the episode in the car.

Yes, these are very mature themes.

So next we find Esme and her homies in school. There are four of them: Esme is MC Ferocious, Tess, who is religiously protestant, but not insanely so is The ConTessa; Marcy who is Catholic in origin if not in practice is SheStorm, and Rowie who is Indian of no specified religion, who is MC Rohini (which happens to be her actual name). I mention the religious stuff because religion is raised a lot in the first few pages.

Rowie is a bit reminiscent of Sal in TimeRiders, curiously enough, but she's a much more developed character than Sal ever was, and this is in just the first few pages. Marcy is very tall, evidently skilled at basketball, and the most butch hetero Esme has ever seen! Tess is a bit shy and retiring, which is odd because she's the lead singer in their amateur band. Esme doesn’t tend to blab much herself so you have to impute things from her narration.

The villain of the piece so far, is Mary Ashley Baumgarten (or MashBaum as they refer to her - yes, the author has an eye for a Goode turn of phrase), who is determinedly anti-gay. I hope this isn’t going to be one of those black and white good v. bad stories, but Mashbaum is highly religious, so to find this bigotry isn’t surprising. The fundamentally religious can be depressingly intolerant. Maybe that's one of Goode's themes.

People of color (as Goode refers to them) are very rare at Esme's Minnesotan high school in Hollyhill (or Holy Hell as they view it), so her hip-hop wannabe band is 75% white. They're very much into their music, and discuss it in terms which seemed to me to be a bit mature for their age group and disposition, but these girls are all very smart, so perhaps it’s not outside of their character to relate to each other in this way. They work hard at school and get good grades because they want out of Hollyhill badly, and wisely see college or university as their ticket, even though they rebel against a lot of what’s required of them in school. And therein lies a story!

They discover, after another in an evidently ongoing series of minor fights with MashBaum that their school is instituting a set of anti-hip-hop rules, accusing that culture of being disprespectful, lewd, violent, etc. All four in the band immediately rebel against these regulations and declare that they will start a 4H club: Hip-Hop for Homos and Heteros, which they plan to try and get accepted as a school club. They figure if the school can establish religion by allowing a religious school club, then they ought to be able to have their hip-hop group.

So our four heroes get called into the principal's office to discuss their refusal to sign the pledge of dis-allegiance, and they negotiate with the principal to have use of the 'school shack' for their group. Provided that they do this on the down low, and that it works out without any problems, they'll get to have an official school group. The shack is technically not on school grounds, so the principal really isn’t giving them much, but they see this as an acceptable victory since they're still getting away with not signing the pledge - at least for now.

Later, MashBaum has the nerve to stop by Esme's house to try and sell her poinsettias, the profits going to some right-to-life group (it’s a new school year, so this is taking place in the fall). Esme gives her lip and shuts the door on her, and she and Marcy head out to overnight at Rowie's to work on their music.

Marcy is driving, and she detours so they can steal a sign from MashBaum's yard. The sign is promoting her dad's candidacy for some public office or other. The sign says 'Herb for Hollyhill' and this amuses them (herb, weed, grass, and so on). At Rowie's, they rapidly get derailed from their music making plans as Marcy produces an old joint she dug out of her older brother's car, and the three of them (Tess having left) repair to a tree house in Rowie's yard to toke a bit and listen to some tracks and stare at the Moon.

I found myself recalling that scene in the movie succubus or something, like Bo in Lost Girl, and is sacrificing her relationship with her daughter because she doesn’t want Esme to be contaminated and turned by her presence! But no.

Esme replaces her mother with her mother's books, reading them and paying particular attention to anything she underlined or noted in the margins in case it reveals any intel on why she split. She's currently reading The Diary of a Young Girl and discovering that Anne Frank was evidently gay. Either that or really, really curious! It's interesting to note that Frank was approximately the same age as Esme when she died of Typhus in a German prison camp only a month or so before the camp was liberated by the allied army.. I hope this doesn't portend Esme's future! But then Esme is an only child, whereas Frank's older sister died with her.

Back to the story. Esme's relationship with her father, is very healthy and open. She can pretty much tell him anything, and she reflects on this at one point, feeling that it's a bad thing in some ways because if she has no secrets, then it’s like she really has nothing to call her own. I'm not sure I agree with that philosophy, but from Esme's PoV it seems to make sense.

I find myself wondering if we’re learning a lot about Laura Goode here as we learn things about Esme, but since I know squat about Goode, I have no way of knowing that; however, if I keep getting drawn into the story as I am, and wondering what disaster is lying in wait for these people (or if any even is), I'm starting to think I'll need to rectify my lack on intel on that score!

So what Goode telegraphs at the sleepover, where she indicates that Rowie and Esme will be sharing a bed, comes to pass in the treehouse after Marcy leaves. The two of them decide to kiss to see what it's like since Rowie hasn't really kissed anyone, and from that point on it's all desi-re esme! Their relationship blossoms, but they tell no one of it.

Their next activity is to perform at open mike night in a bar and so they head out there in Marcy's truck. For people who are supposedly as rebellious and loosely hanging as these girls, they have a seating order in the truck, with Marcy driving, Esme riding shotgun, and Tess and Rowie in the back. I don't know what's up with that, if anything, but at one point later, Esme ends up in the back with Ro, and Tess rides shotgun.

Anyway, the story really starts to take off, beginning with the concert. Their hip-hop open mike is a huge success and they go home really pumped. Es and Ro spend the night together, again. They're now doing this several times/week and it’s inevitable that Es's dad is seriously wondering what she's doing, so she 'fesses about her and Ro.

They have their first meeting of the 4H, at which MashBaum gatecrashes and tries to steal Es's notebook, getting bitchslapped by Es for her trouble, which makes Ro really hot for her even as she herself is wrestling with her fear of fallout if their relationship becomes public knowledge, and her parents disapprove.

Halloween comes around and the four try to recruit Mrs DiCostanza, head of the English department, to be their faculty advisor for the group; then all hell breaks loose - almost literally - as some school jocks pull a prank, coating the floor and stair rails in soap and Crisco (now there's a good cuss word! I once thought of rewriting part of the Prince sing Let's Go Crazy substituting Let's go Crisco! and touting it to Procter & Gamble as a commercial jingle! See below)), and setting off the fire alarm at fifteen minute intervals, as well as loosing four goats in the school, some of them covered in fake blood!

The school is evacuated, and when they hear Mrs. DiCostanza on her phone suggesting to the principal that he get on top of this and close the school for the day before the media learns what's happening, Marcy immediately tweets the local TV news to tell them of it. She knows someone at the local TV station, and soon enough a reporter and camera operator come out there and interview the girls, who use this as a golden op to plug their 4H problem with the school!

Definitely some high humor here and a lot of fun, but this made me wonder if something is going to come crashing down in counterbalance. While on that topic, a word might be in order about Esme's notebook - not a computer but literally a notebook in which she writes thoughts, ideas for songs, and caustic observations. These scribblings are footnoted just like the texts (the texts/scribbles reach number 41 on page 141). The notes appear under the header 'SiN' for 'scribbled in notebook', which is amusing to me since it makes Esme a prolific sinner! They're irreverantly funny, too, at times, like when she scribbled in a chemistry class something to the effect that she has no valence electrons and her nucleus is showing.

I think I'm jealous of Esme in that she has such a confident and feisty streak and such good and close frinds. I was always lacking confidence and very shy in high school, and the school culture itself didn’t help. It was a royal pain to me; I wasn't happy there, but as the camer guy advises Esme when he hands her his card for any follow-ups to the halloween high school horror story, there is life after school (and I survived it!). Hopefully Esme & Co. will survive it too. It would have been nice to have had some of the warm school experiences which Esme enjoys; although I think I could do without the Hollyhill holocaust of soap, goats, and Crisco!

Cue the artist formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince!

Dearly beloved, We are gathered here today to get through this thing called high school!

Electric words high school.
It don't mean smoking weed and that's a mighty long blunt
But I'm here to tell you that there's something else: Halloween!
A day of never-ending craziness where you can always get someone's goat

So when you call up that TV station in Holly Hill
You know the one: Dr Film at 11
Instead of asking principal how much of your mind is left
Give him a piece!

'Cause in this life, things are much harder than being dead in a hole
You're on your own, and if the elevator tries to bring you down
Go crazy - soap the school floor!

If you don't like the school you're studying in
Take a look around: at least you've got friends

You see when I called the TV news
with a hot scandal, they picked up the phone
and came right over!
Sister Mischief is all I heard.

Are we gonna let the elevator bring us down?
Oh, no let's go!
Let's go Crisco! Let's get goats!
Let's look for the soap on the bannisters
'til they close the school, let's go!
I like the way Goode approaches religion in this novel. She's healthily skeptical about it and discussions of it pop up periodically because there are four different religious perspectives in Es's group: Catholic, Protestant, Judaic, and Hindu (presumably! Ro doesn’t say a lot about her faith, assuming she follows one).

Tess is overtly religious, although liberally so, and they get into a brief spat in the truck on their way to Ro's house over Marcy's tarring all believers with the same brush. Es is not at all together on her position. Despite the Judaic world being patriarchal, your Jewishness (if I can put it that way) runs matrilinearly: if your mom is a Jew, then so too are you. Es feels confused because although she's technically a Jew, she's never had any training or education whatsoever on how to be one or what it means to be one because her mother left her at such an early age.

At Ro's house, Es is met by Ro's mom and given a birthday cake. She's very moved by the realization that Ro's mom is the best mom Es has ever known! It becomes apparent that there is still tension between Es and Ro. Es wants to go public with their relationship, but Ro is too scared of the consequences to be OK with that. She fears not only the public exposure, but also how her parents will react suce they evidently expect her to mary a nice respectable Bengali boy.

Tess sits at Ro's piano and plays a hymn: How Can I Keep From Singing?, which I'm actually listening to as I write this. Of course, Tess isn't performing the one I'm listening to; it was recorded by Enya aka Eithne Ní Bhraonáin (is that a cool name or what?!). Enya's words are subtlely different from Tess's.

The first time this song was mentioned in the novel, I thought they were referring to the Enya song on her Shepherd Moons album because I wasn't aware of its origin, but Goode reproduces the words for a couple of verses and refers to it as a hymn. None of the girls evidently knows about this (perhaps Goode doesn’t know it either) since Enya's recording of this song isn't mentioned.

Es decides that she should have a belated bat-mitzvah - the coming of age ceremony for a Jewish girl (for the boys it's a bar-mitzvah) which they normally have when they're 12 years old (or 13 for a boy - the develop more slowly don't you know!). So Esme's is belated by five years, but she decides it’s going to be a hip-hopaffair and the crew is all onboard with that idea. They're also talking about a holding a concert for their band, since they're expecting to be featured on the news that evening, after their interview at school earlier, so I was guessing at this point that the two events would be coincident, but they were not. The bat-mitzvah is never held. The concert is!

I have to say that I think Laura Goode, from her pic in the back of the book, is much more my idea of Esme Rockett than is the girl on the front cover of the book (Goode's short hair notwithstanding). I just don't see that girl as Esme no matter how hard I try. This is another problem with the disconnect between author's intent and publisher's interference. Maybe it's just me; maybe Goode is good with that cover, but for me, it doesn't represent. Actually, neither does the title for that matter, but at least the title is the author's! And not that it would be easy to convey the breadth and depth of this novel with one cover image or a two-word title.

So this book is in three parts: Before Rowie, During Rowie, and After Rowie. Yes, they break up over Rowie's inability to handle this relationship and her uncertainty about who she is. The break-up is moving, and it precipitates almost out of nowhere, although the portents have been long in the air, as we've seen. Esme goes through hell, and Goode does an amazing job of portaying it without over-doing it. I hope she's not speaking from experience because no one should ever have to go through that, but it sure sounds like she knows what she's talking about from her writing.

So the 4H meetings go ahead without Rowie, who starts 'dating' an Indian boy at the school and Es feels it very deeply. Mrs DiConstanza stops by one of the 4H meetings and it comes under assault from some jerks wearing Boy George masks who toss a roman candle into the hut. After they flee and it's ascertained that no one is injured, the meeting goes on and is one of the most interesting parts of the book.

Esme writes a long, rambling, and frankly boring letter to her mom, but we don't learn if she actually mails it at this point. The letter is interesting to me only because it shows that Es now feels guilty about how she treated the boy from the prologue - the one in the back seat of that car. She makes her peace with him after he comes out in support of her and what they're doing. That's a nice touch.

After the school principal blows them off when they meet with him to complain about the assault on their 4H meeting, the Sister Mischief crew plans a rebellion. In order to carry it off, Es needs to meet with Ro, to whom she hasn’t spoken, almost literally, since they broke up. Ro comes back on board and the four of them bust up the principal's all school assembly on student behavior (lol!) with a well planned hip-hop performance.

The problem with these performances is the same one I had when I started wirting this nvoel abotu aband, years ago. it was never finished, but reading Goode's lyrics, I feel how empty they are without having the opportunity to hear the music and see the performance. Sister Mischief isn't about poetry (although that's part of it) it's aboutwho these girls are, and without their act on stage and without the music, we're missing over 60% of who they are and what they represent.

Obviously, in a book like this, there's no choice, since it's the written word (or typed, whatever! Leave me alone already will ya!), but I sure hope someone gets with her and they put the words to music and have some appropriate (or more likely, inappropriate, given Sister Mischief!) quartet perform them and put it up on You Tube.

Anyway, the fallout from Sister Mischief's disruption of the school assembly is that they're suspended for a week, but the harsh and immovable principal inexplicably caves and grants them everything they asked for! That seemed out of character for him.

After that, the novel completely fizzles. Es gets a lame-ass letter from her lame-ass mom indicating that she might be coming back to the USA - not because she was moved by Es's letter (which evidently Es did send), or because she feels bad, or because she wants to try to be the mom she failed to be, but because her visa is expiring! After eight years! Way to make Es feel like a second hand bastard.

Somehow this magically makes Es feel okay about her mom. That didn’t ring true to me after all the pain she's endured and still carries, and all the confusion with which she'd been swaddled by this huge betrayal and abandoment.

I frankly expected something a little a bit better than what she gives after Goode's mastery of the story-telling which precedes the ending. I don't know, but it just seems like she gave up, or didn’t know quite how to end it (a position I can both empathize and sympathize with!). We don't even learn what becomes of MashBaum! After all the issues with her, and the talk of her father being elected, that just fizzles into nothing, too.

No, I didn’t expect a reconciliation between Es and Ro, not after what Goode had given us, so it wasn't that, but it would have been nice to have something. As it is, Es is just left there sitting on a frozen lake with nothing in her future but vaguery. Is that the negative take-home message?

We never see if or how Ro's problem with accepting (or even finding out) who she is, is resolved, regardless of what’s in store (or not) for her and Esme. It might have been nice to have offered perhaps faint promise for those two - like they're both accepted at the same college, or failing that, that Es happens across someone else who offers a bit of promise. Or gets it on with Tess lol!

Even if you want to leave her out on her own like that, without Ro and with no forseeable prospect for a partner, I still want to have an idea of what happens to her! It’s not like she can’t make it on her own, but I'm left with a bad feeling for her, a worry about what will become of her, and we're allowed no real idea of what she's going to do next with her life. Maybe that was Goode's intention, but that's not what it seemed like she intended to me; it’s like she just put Es on hold, as though her week-long suspension from school bled into the rest of her life!

We learn nothing of the future of this band, which seems to me to be the biggest problem with the ending, since the very name of the novel is the name of the band: Sister Mischief. It served only to emphasize to me the question of why that title, especially given this ending?

With all the crew apparently bound for different colleges, it looks like all this power-talk about the band, and what it was, and what it was going to be, and how important it was to the girls, just shrunk away like an old balloon, and that seemed to me to be at odds with the story's bass line and with the positives from earlier where, for example, Es is told by more than one person (Tess's older sister, her own father, the camera guy from the interview) that things will get better.

We’re left without no real feeling that they did, only the hopeful and blind assumption that they will. It's funny, but in a way, it made me feel a bit like Es did after Ro's abrupt departure from their relationship! Laura Goode dumped me!

But enough whining. I still think this is a great novel and worth your time to read it.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

You Against Me by Jenny Downham

Title: You Against Me
Author: Jenny Downham
Publisher: David Fickling
Rating: WORTHY!

Despite being proffered as young-adult fiction, this novel contains very mature themes, language, references to violence, smoking, alcohol, drugs, rape and sex. Having said that, it's a real rip-snorter! Yes, you heard me right and I'll bet no other review has dared to say that about this novel!

I was half-way sold after seeing the title; then came the back-cover blurb, and that first line. There was no hope for me after that. I read some 140 pages the first day, and that's with working full time and running the kids around. Or they were giving me the run-around, one or t'other.

The book is set in England and written by an English author (who has also had some acting experience), so I was right at home from page one. Actually from page nine. Downham (or her publisher) chose to number the pages right from the start, so chapter one appears on page nine.

I've posted a glossary of English terms for anyone who needs a reference.

This book is kick-A. There's Mikey, who we meet on line one page one (or nine) with the very first sentence: "Mikey couldn't believe his life". Yes, his life is a sentence. At least, that's how he feels, and he does feel, and strongly, too.

Mikey's 18 and lives with his absentee mother - that is she lives there but she's always got her abs on the settee. Or in bed. Her real problem is alcohol. Mikey appears to be the only person bringing home the bacon. Not that there's ever any bacon or any other kind of food in the 'flat' in the projects where the family lives. Dad's never mentioned. Mikey has a younger sister, Holly, who's 8 and who is missing school big time, and another sister Karyn, who's 15 and therein lies the main problem: we learn that Karyn was raped and now daren't leave the house.

Mikey is so angry that he heads over to Tom Parker's house to ding him with a 'spanner' in revenge for his assault on Karyn. He fails to meet Tom. Instead, he meets Eleanor (Ellie), Tom's disaffected sister who is dealing with the rape charge filed against her brother as effectively as Mikey is dealing with the rape charge his sister leveled. Ellie has no idea who Mikey is. She's also supposedly the only witness to what happened that night, and has declared that she saw nothing.

They meet again later at a welcome-home party when Tom gets out on bail, and they start to bond (bail bond, get it?! Forget it!). Mikey's plan is to try and get some information on her brother, so he and his pal can plan on how to ding him effectively with that thar spanner. Ellie is intrigued that Mikey isn't behaving towards her like other 'blokes' she's known.

On the day Ellie goes back to school bad things happen, and she detests all the attention. She gets into a fight and leaves early, and she calls Mikey, and they go down to the river together and swim despite the freezing water and lack of swim suits. And they kiss.

Mikey breaks up with his girlfriend Sienna about whom he cared little. In fact he's never really cared for any girl he's known (other than his sisters and his mum) until he met Ellie.

Meanwhile Ellie blows off school one day and heads out to the coast (they live in a coastal town) with her brother. She's becoming something of a rebel against convention after that school fight, and so she shares his cigarette sprinkled with some cannabis resin, something she's never done before. Wanting to express her fears and doubts about the upcoming rape trial, Ellie says (what is to Tom) the wrong thing and he essentially kicks her out of the car to find her own way home. Perhaps we should learn something about his attitude towards women from this.

Ellie recalls that Mikey had told her he worked at a pub on the sea front and so she wanders around and eventually finds her way into the pub where he is, but before she meets him, she runs into his boss who informs her of his name - something she hasn't known until now. She suddenly realizes that he is the brother of the girl her own brother allegedly raped!

She wants to storm off, but eventually they end up sitting on a bench looking at the sea. Ellie arrives at a plan: she will trap Mikey in the same way she thinks her brother was trapped, so she agrees to go on a picnic with him. When he shows up at her house, she invites him in, informing him that she's home alone, and that she still has to make sandwiches. Mikey ends up making them, and he's all ready to leave, but Ellie insists upon showing him around her home, and they find themselves in her bedroom, where she takes her top off, in the pretense that she's changing clothes. But Mikey doesn't behave in the ungentlemanly way she half-expected he would.

Suddenly Ellie's brother Tom is home unexpectedly, and he and Mikey get into a big fight which causes bruises and draws blood. Ellie breaks it up with the garden hose and Mikey leaves, feeling wretched, and neither wanting nor expecting to see Ellie again. But of course they have to see each other in court for the pre-trial hearing. Tom pleads not guilty. Ellie feels like rubbish warmed over. Mikey can't stop glancing at her.

Mikey and his friend Jacko (where did Downham come up with these names, seriously? Are these guys circus clowns or pre-schoolers?!) are out driving and Jacko tries to pick up two hikers they see by the roadside. His aggressive approach makes Mikey feel really uncomfortable, what with everything else that's been going on. Jacko can't understand his attitude. By this time, he's feeling as alienated from his supposed support network as Ellie is from hers. They have only each other they can talk to about this, it seems.

Ellie now has decided that she thinks Tom isn't as innocent as he claims. She agonizes over what Karyn is going through and she tries to talk with her family about it all, but is effectively pushed away whenever she raises these topics. Her brother and father treat her and her mother like servants. Maybe there's another lesson there? Like father like son?

Tom's solicitor talks with Ellie and advises her that they will not now be calling her as a witness since she's obviously compromised. He suggests that she might be wise to find her own solicitor.

A word or two about the British situation between barristers and solicitorsmight be in order, although I'm about as far from an expert as you can get. The rough breakdown is that the solicitor offers legal counsel, but the barrister represents the client's interests in the courtroom, although there have been changes to this system, I understand, so that things are a lot more muddy than they used to be. Why this system arose in the first place is a mystery to me. Doubtlessly it has its roots back in ancient British history, so I'd recommend you pop over to wikipedia if you're interested in learning anything about it.

Feeling completely cast to the wind, Ellie runs over to Mikey's place and texts him to meet her. At first he's a bit resentful and he tries to push her away, but they end up talking and then they take a bus out to her grandmother's empty cottage on the coast and there, they enter into a very hesitant tryst. Yes, tryst is the only word for it. It reminds me of a chapter I wrote in Saurus. It's Ellie's very first time, and it's Mikey's first time where he actually had his heart in what he was doing.

Both of them run into trouble when they get home and perversely, it has nothing to do with their intimacy! The secret is out at Mikey's place. Jacko has blabbed it all. Karyn is very angry at Mikey's 'defection to the enemy'. Ellie's family (at least the male contingent) are incensed at her defection. Curiously, her mother is the only one who 'mans' up and supports her.

Ellie goes to the police the next day to change her statement The police come down hard on her whilst telling her that it's for her own good because the defense (or in this case, since it's England, the defence) will try to argue that Mikey has put pressure on her to change her story. Curiously no one talks about the fight that between Tom and Mikey; it's like it never happened!

Ellie's father snipes at her relentlessly as he helps Tom to move out (he has to stay with a friend because he can't have any contact with Ellie now she's changed her story). They're taking out pretty much everything that belongs to Tom, like he died or is permanently moving out of the home.

Ellie feels wretched. When Mikey shows up at her home, bravely and shamelessly, since her mum and dad are home, tossing little rocks at her window, her mother appears at the door and tries to turn him away, threatening him with her husband and the police, but Ellie comes down in her pjs and they talk, and eventually (after she changes clothes) they take a walk together, out into the fields near the house. And that's how it ends, with the two of them realizing that the future is going to be rough and bumpy, but neither one of them is willing to give up on the other, nor turn from the path they're taking with each other and the future they will build together.

This is pretty much the perfect story. Downham nails it completely. Seriously. Sometimes the ways in which these people act is frustrating and annoying but they're not acting out of character. Yes, we never learn what the outcome of the trial is, but I don't think that's relevant. In reality it would be, of course, but this isn't about Tom and Karyn, it's about Ellie and Mikey, and Downham gives it everything.

One thing in particular to love about this novel is that Downham actually never takes sides. She never depicts Tom as being thoroughly evil, or Karyn as being loose or righteous, or dishonest. She tells it like it is - a complete mess, through which it's hard to see clearly and really hard to get a handle on what actually happened. Of course, Ellie clears up that part towards the end, but I don't doubt that this is what it's like when this kind of appalling interaction happens for real.

There are many people who take the attitude that all men are all closet rapists (and others who believe that women who dress in a certain way deserve what they get) and that all rapes are power plays, but I don't think it's quite that simple and people who try to paint this kind of thing in such simple black and white strokes are doing a disservice to the men and women involved in these tragedies.

Let's be clear: it's is never right to assume you have a claim on something belonging to someone with whom you're intimately involved or with whom, for whatever reason, you wish to be so involved. What your partner may offer you is a privilege for which you should be appreciative and thankful, even after it's withdrawn. It's not a title deed which you can claim at any time regardless of your partner's wishes, even if you're married to your partner.

The other side of that coin is that partners need to talk out problems they perceive, and not let them fester and turn into disasters. That's what partnership means. And they need to try to accommodate each other's wishes as far as is reasonable rather than simply turn their backs on each other's need for intimacy and thereby provoke resentment and potential problems down the road.

That said, one party or the other at any time has the absolute right to say no, no further, this stops here, and to be respected for that choice no matter what has happened beforehand. I'm sure that in the bulk of cases of rape, it is a sick aggressor who does not respect boundaries and who can't take no for an answer, but I'm not sold on the aggressive claim that it's 100% about dominance and subjectivity; that it's always a power play and I think it harms women and men alike to insist upon framing it always in such a pitiless black and white perspective

I think anyone who assumes that is missing things which could prove important in resolving and addressing case like this. Imagine, for example, that you have a couple of college kids who meet, go to a party, get drunk, but not helplessly so, have sex, and then in the morning one of them decides that was not what they'd intended, and files charges? How do we resolve something like that?

Clearly they should neither of them have acted under the influence of alcohol, but such a case is not the same as a case where someone forces their self upon another at knife-point. It's not that black and white. In that case, the one with the knife is entirely in the wrong and the other did nothing wrong although they will undoubtedly blame themselves, but in the hypothetical case I outlined above, who is really at fault there? One? The other? Both? It's a lot tougher to resolve that, which is why the smart thing to do is never to get yourself into a situation like that!

Karyn and Tom both should have realized that what they were doing was entirely inappropriate, but given Karyn's age and her inebriation, Tom ought to have been a lot more mature. Here's a conundrum: Suppose nothing had happened but Karyn had woken up convinced that something had? How would this story have run from there?

But in the end, in this case, the story really isn't about Karyn and Tom. It's about Ellie and Mikey, and it was told so well, with such great language and in such an engaging way. For as sad and frustrating as parts of the story are, and for as confusing as the issues can be, this is a great story.

Here's something to make you think. Doubtlessly, this will sound sick to some, but there's a potential for a sequel here about Tom and Karyn, which would be even more controversial: how they go from this appalling rift and detestation of each other, to falling in love and getting married. Yes, it would be an extremely tough novel to write, even more so than You Against Me, and many people probably wouldn't appreciate it, but if anyone could bring off a novel like that, it's Downham. How about You and me Against the World for the title?!

Here's something I came across today, Tanya Gold taking Joanna Lumley to task for her supposed blaming of girls for getting themselves raped! No, that's not what Lumley is saying at all, as far as I can tell. Lumley is telling girls how to protect themselves. That's not the same as saying it's the girl's fault. Of course it's the rapist's fault. But what Gold is saying is the equivalent of telling the fireman who advises you to get a smoke alarm and a fire extinguisher that it's not necessary because it's 'the fire's fault' if your home burns down, not yours! lol! Seriously? If someone told you that you that, since it's the burglar's fault, you don't have to bother locking up your house or your car when you're away from it, would you think that advice smart? I wouldn't.

Yes it's the rapist who is entirely to blame for the rape, but there's a big difference between looking like a victim and actually becoming a victim. Taking intelligent precautions to keep yourself safe from burglary, robbery, fire and from attacks is not the same as taking blame for an attack if it happens, although all-too-many women do it pains me to say. All Lumley is saying, as is, I think, evident from the context, is that it's always smart to be proactive when it comes to protecting your person and your property. There are things you can to do to avoid even looking like a potential victim, let alone actually being one. So does Gold want girls to be victims just because she can then rightly blame the rapist? Can't we have both: people taking care to safeguard themselves and their family, and placing the blame squarely on the perp when those safeguards fail? It doesn't have to be either/or, Ms Gold.

Rape continues to be a news item, of course, both in the US miltiary of late and at shocking levels, and in Egypt. Evidently Islam is no respector of women, and religious military doesn't appear to offer women any security there either.