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

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Whatever it Takes by Tu-Shonda L Whitaker


Rating: WARTY!

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

This was one of four novellas I got from Net Galley centered around the festive season and relationships. All of them were disappointing, I'm sorry to report. The problem was that they were far less romance than they were soft-core porn, and there really wasn't much porn, so what did that leave? In a two words: very little - and nearly all of that was a disappointment. I wish the authors all the best in their careers. I found these stories most saddening because some of these of these writers can write. I just wish they would have reached higher, instead of going solely for the low-hanging fruit.

Note that this is obviously just my opinion, and I'm not normally one for reading his kind of fiction, but I'm curious about all genres and I like to keep up with what's going on in them. It had seemed to me that this was a great opportunity to take in something new and maybe find a new writer to love. I'm sorry it didn't work out.

There seemed to be a common theme among the novellas: that of being single and feeling unloved, or of being in a dysfunctional relationship that the main character had somehow deluded themselves into thinking was the one - or at least was better than nothing! I know how that goes. But the way they 'fixed' their 'problem' was asinine cowardice, not romance.

In this case, the main character is in her thirties, with a lot of attitude, looking for love, feeling the old bio-clock ticking. I was trying not to be critical - to understand where this kind of a story is coming from and who it's aimed at, but apart from it being first person, this book bothered me because it's seemed like it's all about conspicuous consumption - like this woman has no value if it's not in her rich clothes and lavish lifestyle. I found that offensive.

I don't mind a novel that fills out a character by talking about her clothes and lifestyle to an extent, but every other paragraph has her talking about how well she's doing with her home (leather furniture, double sink - like that's some big upward mobility thing), her car which is a BMW, her shoes which are Gucci. And on and on! The thing is, she's a school teacher, so I'm wondering how she affords all this stuff! Teachers are woefully underpaid for the critical job they do.

Anyway, she meets the son of a friend - a son she knew when he was younger, but hasn't seen for a while. Now he's a college grad working on web design and he wears Prada shows - that's one of the first things we learn about him. I can see with his job how he can shop upscale, but again, is this all he has to offer - his shoes and his height: six feet one? I would have respected the woman more if she'd set her sights on more important things than skin and clothes deep.

This kind of story where it's all about "Hey, look how well-off and well-dressed I am!" really turns me off, because to me it says nothing so loudly as how shallow the character is, and how misplaced their values are. I don't have a problem with a person finding love and getting hot and bothered over a potential partner, but when that's all they have, and all they are, it's boring.

This is a May-December story and it's short, so it's a story where things need to move, but by about twenty percent into the novel, all she's talked about is how desperate she is for a man, and how ancient she is! She's thirty six! That's hardly antique, especially in an era when a lot of people are delaying marrying and having children until later in life. And nothing has happened in the story! The relationship could have been naturally building all this time, but it doesn't even start.

When it does start, the 'relationship' she develops with this young guy is dysfunctional from the off, and it never improves. Too often, he's talking like he owns her, and she takes no offense at anything he does or says. She's skittish all along, and her attitude makes sense, but instead of following her own instincts, and moving a bit more slowly, she lets him maneuver her right into bed and has unprotected sex with him, and later she thinks she might be be pregnant. In short, she's a moron. This is was too fast even for a novella. It throws romance under the bus and makes her look like an irresponsible and oversexed teenager, betraying everything we've learned of her until that point.

There's supposed to be some comic relief in the form of her next-door neighbor, who is a much older guy, but frankly he's offensive too, just like the younger guy. Despite the age disparity between these two men, I could see no difference between them. They were both manipulative and using her, and she was too dumb to see it and put her foot down. I didn't like any of these characters and cannot recommend this novella.


My Boo by Daaimah S Poole


Rating: WARTY!

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

This was one of four novellas I got from Net Galley centered around the festive season and relationships. All of them were disappointing, I'm sorry to report. The problem was that they were far less romance than they were soft-core porn, and there really wasn't much porn, so what did that leave? In a two words: very little - and nearly all of that was a disappointment. I wish the authors all the best in their careers. I found these stories most saddening because some of these of these writers can write. I just wish they would have reached higher, instead of going solely for the low-hanging fruit.

Note that this is obviously just my opinion, and I'm not normally one for reading his kind of fiction, but I'm curious about all genres and I like to keep up with what's going on in them. It had seemed to me that this was a great opportunity to take in something new and maybe find a new writer to love. I'm sorry it didn't work out.

There seemed to be a common theme among the novellas: that of being single and feeling unloved, or of being in a dysfunctional relationship that the main character had somehow deluded themselves into thinking was the one - or at least was better than nothing! I know how that goes. But the way they 'fixed' their 'problem' was asinine cowardice, not romance.

There was a consistent problem in that all of the characters were so shallow: they were all about fancy clothes and designer shoes and hot sex, and in the case of every one of the women, that hot sex had to be with a tall guy who had an overly-large penis. It was sad to read how juvenile and poorly-focused these people were - and also what poor judges of potential partners they were, and how thoroughly shallow and clueless they were. Not one of them actually deserved a decent relationship because none of them had earned one.

In this story, we're told that Gina has it all: "the job, her own house, her own car, and a boyfriend," but she still, we're expected to believe, has a problem in that she's in Philadelphia and he's in DC. Excuse me, but that's less than a three hour drive! So we're expected to accept that this is supposed to be some life-killing issue when it really isn't.

One or the other of them could move, if the distance is such a hassle, but what this told me is that she's too stupid to see that the problem is the relationship, not the distance. Of course, that's the point, and she's having affairs on the side even as she proclaims her deep love for this poor guy. In short, yet again, we have a story about a woman who is a complete jerk and god only knows what STDs she's going to pass on to him the next time they have sex!

Rather than seek ways to fix what she blindly perceives are the problems with her relationship, she takes the sleazy way out and steals her housemates' mate! That's the kind of lowlife she is. Sorry, but no! Who would even want a romance with someone as stupid and dishonest as she is? This book isn't about romance; it's about a woman who is sexually-obsessed and that;s all there is to her. This story wasn't remotely romantic and she's not remotely interesting. It was salacious and unpleasant to read, and I cannot recommend it.


Friday, December 8, 2017

Every New Year by Brenda L Thomas


Rating: WARTY!

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

This was one of four novellas I got from Net Galley centered around the festive season and relationships. All of them were disappointing, I'm sorry to report. The problem was that they were far less romance than they were soft-core porn, and there really wasn't much porn, so what did that leave? In a two words: very little - and nearly all of that was a disappointment. I wish the authors all the best in their careers. I found these stories most saddening because some of these of these writers can write. I just wish they would have reached higher, instead of going solely for the low-hanging fruit.

Note that this is obviously just my opinion, and I'm not normally one for reading his kind of fiction, but I'm curious about all genres and I like to keep up with what's going on in them. It had seemed to me that this was a great opportunity to take in something new and maybe find a new writer to love. I'm sorry it didn't work out.

There seemed to be a common theme among the novellas: that of being single and feeling unloved, or of being in a dysfunctional relationship that the main character had somehow deluded themselves into thinking was the one - or at least was better than nothing! I know how that goes. But the way they 'fixed' their 'problem' was asinine cowardice, not romance.

There was a consistent problem in that all of the characters were so shallow: they were all about fancy clothes and designer shoes and hot sex, and in the case of every one of the women, that hot sex had to be with a tall guy who had an overly-large penis. It was sad to read how juvenile and poorly-focused these people were - and also what poor judges of potential partners they were, and how thoroughly shallow and clueless they were. Not one of them actually deserved a decent relationship because none of them had earned one.

I know this one was supposed to be an erotic novella, but seriously? There really wasn't anything erotic in it. It was a bit creepy actually to discover a doctor preying on his patient. It's entirely inappropriate for a doctor to behave toward any patient like either of these doctors did; both of them ought to be struck-off. Additionally, I don't see a future for two people as shiftless and sexually-obsessed as these two were, so where's the romance? The characters were shallow - not only in how they were written, but also in how they were behaving.

The utter improbability of how they were brought together made the story more of a joke than a worthwhile read. The woman is supposed to be a urologist (I guess), but she's really a sex doctor who's not even in denial. She inappropriately gives her supposedly sexually-malfunctioning patient an erection and is pleased with herself for doing so. She's obsessed with penises, which convinced me that her relationship with this new guy will never last. She's utterly clueless and her attitude to her fiancé sucked, which further led me to believe she's not worth having a relationship with.

She's all set to go on a winter cruise around Hawaii when she gets an emergency call: a couple were having sex and the man had taken not one, but two too many Cialis#reg;. How this got him stuck inside the woman he was being unfaithful with is an unexplained joke. If the novel had been written as a parody or for comedic effect that still would have been tedious, but it wasn't supposed to be funny.

Taking more tadalafil doesn't give you a larger penis such that if you take too much it becomes so large it gets stuck. It's very easy to look up symptoms of an overdose online these days. And note that IVs are not the answer to everything! You don't get one free with every hospital visit! Particularly in this case where the problem was supposed to be too much fluid in a certain organ - you hardly want to stock the patient up on even more fluid!

The author doesn't seem to grasp that the ER doctors have probably handled far more of this kind of situation than the main character ever had. There was no reason whatsoever for this doctor to be called in, so once again we have a very contrived situation, and it gets worse: she's unfaithful to her boyfriend, has unprotected sex with a man whose history she doesn't know and doesn't even think about asking (and she's supposed to be a doctor?). After this, she goes right back to getting it on with her boyfriend. Then she ditches her boyfriend and goes back to the doctor. She's a jerk, period.

The doctor is utterly irresponsible. He doesn't know this woman and she has lost her memory, yet when he prepares a special dinner for her, it consists of a "platter that held two large lobster tails." He doesn't know is she has a sea-food allergy! He doesn't know anything about her. He could have killed her. She might be a vegetarian fro all he knew and would have been disgusted that he had fed her dead animals when her memory returned. His conduct is inexcusable on so many levels. It's not romantic at all. it seems that the author was blindly going for the trope romantic evening without spending an iota of thought on how this particular story needed a better plan.

I didn't like either of the doctors, or her boyfriend, but at least he tried to understand her. For this he's rewarded by being screwed, and not in a good way! This was not a nice Christmas/New Year's story, and I cannot recommend it.


Dangerously in Love by Crystal Lacey Winslow


Rating: WARTY!

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

This was one of four novellas I got from Net Galley centered around the festive season and relationships. All of them were disappointing, I'm sorry to report. The problem was that they were far less romance than they were soft-core porn, and there really wasn't much porn, so what did that leave? In a two words: very little - and nearly all of that was a disappointment. I wish the authors all the best in their careers. I found these stories most saddening because some of these of these writers can write. I just wish they would have reached higher, instead of going solely for the low-hanging fruit.

Note that this is obviously just my opinion, and I'm not normally one for reading his kind of fiction, but I'm curious about all genres and I like to keep up with what's going on in them. It had seemed to me that this was a great opportunity to take in something new and maybe find a new writer to love. I'm sorry it didn't work out.

There seemed to be a common theme among the novellas: that of being single and feeling unloved, or of being in a dysfunctional relationship that the main character had somehow deluded themselves into thinking was the one - or at least was better than nothing! I know how that goes. But the way they 'fixed' their 'problem' was asinine cowardice, not romance.

There was a consistent problem in that all of the characters were so shallow: they were all about fancy clothes and designer shoes and hot sex, and in the case of every one of the women, that hot sex had to be with a tall guy who had an overly-large penis. It was sad to read how juvenile and poorly-focused these people were - and also what poor judges of potential partners they were, and how thoroughly shallow and clueless they were. Not one of them actually deserved a decent relationship because none of them had earned one.

In this particular case the story was about a guy who was in a relationship with a girl he thought he loved. The guy, London, is a bodyguard for hire and most recently had been working for a rapper. He was planning on proposing to his girlfriend on New Year's Eve and for some reason had thought it was a good idea to buy an eight-thousand dollar engagement ring the purchase of which left him all-but broke. This told me the guy was an idiot, and was one of the hallmarks of this story: conspicuous consumption. His girlfriend was right to leave someone who evidenced as little forethought and planning as he did, but she was equally short-sighted. Neither of them was worth reading about.

Inevitably, because it's that kind of a story, after the break-up London ends up falling for Jovie which sounds so disturbingly like Juvie that it made me wonder if she was under-age! Anyway, Jovie has an evil twin. I'm not making this up (the author is!) This 'twin thing' has been way overdone, and if you're dead set on employing it in a plot, you need to find something truly new to bring to it. Evil twin doesn't cut it, and certainly not here. The evil twin wants to wreck her sister's relationship with London. The thing is that I'd lost faith in the story by this point, so I really care what evil twin was up to, or what happened to any of them for that matter.

I had very little reason to believe that her motive was smart or justified or valid. I need something better than this: something original, and with life in it. I really wasn't interested in any of these blinkered, shallow and self-obsessed characters at all. I need instead real people who have real feelings and who are clued-in to life. This was more like a fairy take than ever it was a serious story about adult relationships and frankly, I have better things to read with my time. Life is too short - even for a short story like this - and I cannot recommend it.


Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Facts of Life by Paula Knight


Rating: WORTHY!

This was another library book. The author, Paula Knight, changed her name to Polly in the book as she changed everyone else's name too, so it wasn't too personal, but it is in fact a very personal story told by a graduate (BA in Graphic Design form Bristol Polytechnic in England about her pursuit of a pregnancy and her grappling with a fatigue syndrome.

Paula/Polly grew up an only child and tells an interesting and moving, and humorous story about her life beginning with hanging out with her best friend, learning about sex, and spending more and more time as she matured, wondering if she ever wanted to have children. In the end she discovered she had ME/CFS, which is myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, a very disabling illness which an come back and bite you often. It resulted in her losing all her energy at times, and feeling like everything was real struggle.

When she finally found the partner she wanted to be with, she was in her mid thirties and starting to feel a 'now or never' imperative to having a child of her own. When they began to seriously try, however, she and her partner repeatedly got the reward of very brief pregnancies ending in miscarriage, After trying IVF, she and her partner gave up. It was only then that she began to notice how pervasive 'pronatalism' - the idea that a family consists of mom, dad, and one or more children - truly is in society.

Illustrated by the author in simple gray-scale line drawings, this novel is well imagined and well executed, and (be warned!) takes a no holds barred approach to telling her story of sexuality, of growing up in Britain in the seventies and eighties, of learning, of struggling, of disappointment, and finally of coming through it all with a new perspective on life. I really liked the story and I recommend it.


Saturday, October 21, 2017

Bunk 9's Guide to Growing Up by Adah Nuchi


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Subtitled "Secrets, Tips, and Expert Advice on the Good, the Bad, and the Awkward," written by the endearing if fictional girls of bunk nine at the Silver Moon Camp Sisterhood, and illustrated adorably by Meg Hunt, this book was freaking awesome! it;s a fast, simple, easy read and packed with useful information - useful, and essential.

I like to think I know a lot about women, but anyone who knows about women also knows there is always so much more to learn, and while many parts of this were quite familiar to me, many other parts were an eye-opener, and served only as yet another reminder of what women have to put up with even if they lived in a world which was totally devoid of men!

The girls of bunk nine are: Abby (from Eugene OR), Brianna (from Austin TX. Yeay!), Emma L (from NYC), Emma R (San Jose, CA), Grace (Princeton NJ), Jenna (Philadelphia PA), Lea (Paris, France), Makayla (Charlotte NC), and Sage (Eugene, OR, and full of sage advice...). They are smart, diverse, feisty, teasing, assertive, full of good humor, and more importantly full of tips and good advice.

Different chapters cover different aspects of these changes, and they go into detail but are never too long or too detailed. The chapters are amusing, with observations 'penned in' by various girls in the bunk, and by some boys too. In chapters labeled for the week of camp, we get to learn of Puberty in general, of hygiene, breasts, menstruation (shouldn't that be 'womenstruation'?!), boys, health, and feelings - in short, completely comprehensive as it ought to be.

Be warned, this book is explicit, both in in the text and in Meg hunts colorful depictions. The book is presented as a 'hand-written' guide book to be passed from girl to girl (and to be chased-down mercilessly if the boys in bunk 8 ever get their hands on it!) But the boys did, so again, be warned, they added their own chapter about how boys change as well during this time. I thought this was a smart move on the part of the author, because girls need to understand this just as much as boys need to understand what girls are going through.

I don't have any daughters I'm sorry to report, unless you count two pet girl rats whom I adore. I wish I did have daughters, but I guess my brutal Y chromosomes viciously overpowered my gentile X's and Oh! I feel so dirty. But if I had had daughters I would have no problem handing this book to them once they reached the age of seven, eight, or nine, depending on their development and progress.

My view of this is that I and my wife would have covered a lot of this with said daughter(s) before they reached that age, not as lecture, or worse, a series of lectures, but as the simple act of honestly answering all her questions without evasion in age-appropriate 'sound bites' to keep her moving along.

If she's satisfied with the answer, you're done! If she has follow-up questions, tackle those head-on in the same way. It's the only sensible way to deal with this. Tell her what she needs to know, imbue in her the advice that not everyone wants to talk publicly about some of these things, so there's a time and a place, and a choice of friends and other people with whom these things can be discussed.

In this way, you teach her no shame, and she learns caution and wisdom, and you let her know that you're the source of trustworthy, straight-forward information, and she will readily come back for more answers when she's ready for them. Whatever approach you take, you'll have a lot better answers to give after reading this book! She may or may not have more questions, or she may prefer to share it with her friends and talk about things with them. Either way you've done your job (as long as you're sure her friends parents won't object to her sharing the book or what's in it!).

If I have a criticism of the book, it's not in the occasional use of an old song title for a section header (Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes on page 17 and Get Back later - although the song title was just Changes). Actually I'm not sure if that last one did refer to the Beatles song and it's not really important whether girls in this age range ever heard of the Beatles or David Bowie, because this book is for parents too! That criticism I reserve for Middle Grade or Young Adult authors who older than their intended reader, yet are too lazy to research the kind of music these girls would actually listen to, and instead make up some lame excuse that has their main characters addicted to precisely the same music the authors knows and likes. Yuk! That didn't happen here!

No, the one criticism I had was in the color scheme. Overall I really liked it - it was bright and sparkly and attention-grabbing, but I have to question, purely in terms of legibility, some of the color choices for some of the splash balloons. Light blue on light gray, and pink on light blue tend not to work!

Here's is where there is another major difference between men and women other than the pubertal changes and most obvious gender differences, ans it's one that's not well known. Women tend to see subtle shades of color better than men do. Evolution has given them better-tuned color receptors in their eyes. We have three types of receptors, and guess what? Two thirds of your color reception comes from the X chromosome! Guys only have one of these and if the color receptor genes are faulty, they're screwed! Women have a back-up on their second X chromosome, Men have no back-up X! This is why men tend to color blindness far more than do women!

In the light of this knowledge, I have to ask if these color schemes looked good to the author and the illustrator because they're women, but looked bad to me because I'm a guy?! It's definitely possible! In the case of the light blue text on light gray background I quite literally could not read it until I enlarged that balloon greatly. Then I could make it out, and the final insult hit me. It was advice specifically referring to dads! LOL! The one thing aimed directly at dads was not legible to them because we don't see shades as well as women! Was this done on purpose?! This was on page 24. Other such instances, although not quite as bad, were the note 'taped' to the bottom of page 35, light blue on pink, and also on page 84, pink on light blue. although this was, for me, easiest of the three to read. Note that this is in the ebook version, which is all we amateur reviewers get to see, so I can't speak for the print version. And I can only speak for myself of course, maybe my color vision is just muddy?!

On a note that has nothing to do with this but which is fascinating, I learned from recently reviewing a book about the human genome, that there are women who are tetrachromatic. There are not many, maybe 3% of women, but what a thrilling thing to have a fourth color channel! Assuming the brain can avail itself of the information! Dr Gabriele Jordan of Newcastle University in Northern England is actively investigating this phenomenon.

In conclusion, this book is in my opinion the perfect primer for young girls who are nearing puberty or who are already in it. I was impressed by how full of information it was. Obviously as a lifelong male, I haven't been through female puberty, so how do I judge it? For how inclusive it is, how diverse, how wide-ranging, and how intelligently it's presented. And how visually too: the text flooded the page without swamping it, and was very eye-catching and inventive.

I was, for example, pleased to see that when talk turned to one aspect of puberty - interest in the opposite sex - there was also repeated mention of interest in the same gender, which is what even hetero children can experience. The constant reassurance about this being normal and expected was wonderful. That and the endless good advice, the hints, tips, and revelations, and the honesty and humor all contributed to make this a super-special read. I advise parents to buy it, read it and give it to your daughter(s) - and sons because they need to wise-up too! I recommend it.


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, July 24, 2017

Grand Passion by James Robinson, Tom Feister


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Stay After Class by AC Rose


Rating: WARTY!

Erratum:
At one point I read, "I tried to not to sound whinny." I think the author meant whiny. This isn't the kind of mistake a spell-checker will catch! Other than that the book was pretty decently-edited and formatted of the crappy Kindle app in which I read it.

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. I'm not a big fan of so-called 'V-card' stories because I've read several and they have been almost universally dumb. This one sounded like it might be a cut above the rest, and I am sorry to have to report that it was not.

AC Rose has been described as "an author of steamy erotic fiction for women." Well they got the fiction part right, but steamy and erotic? Not based on this sample which seemed to me to be languishing far more in the 'pedantic' and 'juvenile' categories than anywhere else.

It should have been titled 'Fifty Shades of Bland' because it really had nothing new to offer, least of all erotica. Far too many authors conflate 'erotic' with 'sexual' and while the two are connected, one might say intimately, they are not the same thing by any means. I'm sorry this author doesn't seem to realize that, because if she had, I think that the the story would have played out differently, and been better for it.

The plot is that senior college student Amanda Slade is a virgin who has decided, for reasons which are never really explained, that she must disrobe herself of this mantle by her twenty-second birthday which is a scant few weeks away. The man she's chosen for this task is her art professor, Jem Nichols. There is no reason whatsoever given for her choice other than the most shallow: he looks studly.

Character naming is important to me, and I had to wonder about the author's choice of name for her main female character: Amanda. It carries within it the word 'man' which is associated with things masculine, but also with other words such as 'mandate' itself a fun word. The name is from the Latin and means 'worthy of love', but Amanda wasn't about love at all, she was solely about sex. This is all she had on her mind all day every day. In short, she came across as mentally ill to me, not as an erotic, sexy, or even interesting character. The professor was effectively no more than a personified penis, so he offered nothing either. There really were no other characters worth mentioning.

I don't doubt there are women as well as men who are as shallow, one-trick, and ultimately boring as Amanda, but I really have zero interest in reading about them. I like a story with my sex! If it's just sex, then it's uninteresting to me, and that was my mistake for thinking this had something else to offer other than rather adolescent ideas about sex, which in the right literary context can be interesting, but which here were flat, monotonous, and uninventive.

The characters never were people, merely placeholders in a sexual game of checkers, wherein the pieces were nudged in a formulaic manner from one fixed square to the next, following a rigid set of moves. This is how the erotic became banished from this story. There was no fluidity and nothing unexpected. The author was simply shoving pieces around a board, employing entirely the wrong kid of rigidity for a something wishing to be a good story about a real sexual relationship!

The lack of realism was rife. The art class where Amanda most commonly encountered her target was an elective, and why she was doing it was unexplained, since she's a business major. If she was serious about her career, there were lots of other classes she could have taken. If something had been written about her wanting to go into advertising, and so was studying art because of that, then that would have been something, but the only conclusion the author left us to draw in this art class was that there was no reason for Amanda to be there other than that it offered talk about bodies and the opportunity to see a nude male, which Amanda has apparently never seen before! This is where the story began to really come apart for me.

Amanda was not remotely a credible character. She came across as juvenile and shallow, which are credible character traits in the right context, but here, she had nothing else to offer. While I don't doubt that there are twenty-one and twenty-two year old virgins, for the author to expect us to believe that Amanda, who was nothing but sexual thoughts, had never even so much as French-kissed a guy (or even a girl) or had any physical experience of men whatsoever is completely absurd. It simply did not fit in with her thought processes.

If she was that obsessed with sex, she would have at least experimented long before she turned twenty-one! Yes, if she'd been raised in some fundamentalist Christian sect or led a truly sheltered life, then maybe I might have bought into her complete lack of experience, but there was no indication whatsoever that she'd had an unusual childhood, and for her to be having constant sexual fantasies, yet to have never done anything to explore even one of them was just the opposite of erotic and not remotely credible!

The author expects us to swallow that Amanda has never even touched herself! If this had been set in the fifties, then I could have bought that assertion, but it was not. It's a thoroughly contemporary story and to suggest that a woman who is so obsessed with sex has never even masturbated is utter bullshit. That was the point I quit reading this story. It was the last straw in a whole bale of such straw.

It's tempting to give the author some kudos for at least touching upon how thoroughly inappropriate it is for a professor to become involved with one of his students. That doesn't even seem to cross the mind of most authors of works like this, but in the context of this story, I got the impression it had only been put in there as a cynical nod to propriety, because it's clear that it never was even a blip on the moral radar of either character. Also, there never was any portion of this story that I read which ever touched upon STDs, which is always a fail for me.

I know that talk of those in a novel claiming to be erotic is rather counter-productive, but I think it should at least get a mention in this day and age, so I tend to automatically fail authors who do not at least mention it, unless there's a very good reason to let it slide.

I labeled this 'Fifty Shades of Bland' for good reason. Not only was there was nothing about it to distinguish it from a sperm-load of other novels in a way-overcrowded genre, there was also the absurdity of the professor's character. He pompously set himself up as the sex-god teacher of this desperate house-virgin, and it was laughable. He's the only one who can masterfully control her own body and bring her to fruition? How insulting to her is that? I can see a guy writing this stuff, but for a female author to write about a woman like this in 2017 is inexcusable.

The professor's idea of teaching Amanda seemed to be rooted in the dom world of Fifty Shades, where he pedantically makes her wait, and teases and taunts her, but not in any sort of erotic or rational way. It read to me like he was intent upon making her suffer - either that or the author had given little thought to her plot other than artificially and amateurishly delaying dénouement.

If what he'd been doing had been interesting or unusual, that might have been something, but it was amateur and ridiculous and she, sad little submissive that she was, trotted along on his leash like a good little bitch. It was pathetic to read, poorly executed, and insulting to women. I like female characters to have a lot more get up and go than Amanda will ever have, and that's precisely what she should have done: got up and gone. The fact that she didn't made her uninteresting to me.

So in the end this was a fail, and I cannot recommend it as a worthy read. I quit reading it at forty-nine percent because it was quite honestly a tedious read. This is not something you want in a novel that's purported to be 'steamy'! Cold water, not steam, was the order of the day here, and I have better things to do with my time. Frankly I've read far more erotic novels where the author wasn't even trying for erotic, but was simply telling a realistic story. This one was far too focused on sex and not at all on telling a story, which is one reason why it was so bland and such a failure.


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!

Erratum:
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.

HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO TALK TO YOU?
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.

WEEKEND WITH BETH, KELLY, MUSCLE, AND PAMMY
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.

MIKE ANONYMOUS
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.

I WILL CRAWL TO RALEIGH IF I HAVE TO
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..

DESERT HEARTS
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.
PEARL AND THE SWISS GUY FALL IN LOVE
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.

NEW GIRLS
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.
MY HUMANS
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.
JERKS
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.
BARBARA THE SLUT
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.