Showing posts with label warty. Show all posts
Showing posts with label warty. Show all posts

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Power to the Princess by Vita Weinstein Murrow

Rating: WARTY!

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

Although I was enjoying this book I can do none other than rate it poorly because of the truly poor reading experience I had with it.

The book interested me because in some ways it's similar to one I am currently engaged in writing - variations on fairy tales. It perhaps doesn't need to be remarked to serious readers that there are too many reboots of fairy tale stories such as Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast on the market right now. I blame Disney and YA writers. The genre has become flooded with cheap knock-offs, and this means that if you have an idea for such a book, then you have to write something truly different to make a splash.

That's my plan and that was obviously also this author's plan. What I had feared was that she had beaten me to it, but our ideas are very different thankfully, and mine is aimed at grown-ups whereas her is aimed at a younger audience, so I am continuing with mine!

The thing is that you can't copyright an idea for a novel! You have to turn that idea into a book before you can consider it finished and this book truly is a well-finished work. It consists of several short stories based on traditional folk tales and commendably it goes back to the original roots of the stories, but then it amends them in diverse and inclusive ways. It's a great idea. There's no Disney all cis-gendered, all white-washed tales here thank goodness (at least based on what I managed to read)! The first three were Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and The Snow Queen.

Amusingly if annoyingly enough, the Snow Queen was where I was frozen out. Quite literally. I read the first two stories, but ran into increasing problems with the book ”sticking” such that I could not swipe pages nor enlarge or reduce them (the text is quite small even on my iPad so I had to enlarge each page for a better reading experience, not having falcon eyes!). I was reading it in Bluefire Reader on my iPad - an app I recommend highly.

Normally I have zero issues in Bluefire Reader, but it was becoming increasingly unresponsive with this book open, and it eventually locked up the app entirely. I closed and restarted only to run into the same problem. On a second restart, the novel wouldn't even open. I tried a reboot of the iPad, but this changed nothing, so I deleted the book from Bluefire and went back to Net Galley for a fresh copy only to find I could no longer download it - it's archived! I hope this isn’t indicative of the experience a regular reader will have.

I have to allow that I was irritated, to put it politely, at being frozen out like this, especially since I'd only downloaded this a few days ago. To me there's a contract when I agree to review a book: I will post a review, guaranteed. It would be nice to feel the publisher felt the same way and made the book available until the review was published, but I'm just an amateur reviewer and although I'm just as dedicated to this craft as professional reviewers (perhaps more so since I don't get paid for this!), I don't merit such considerations. That's just the way it is - and an argument in favor of print books, huh?! LOL!

It occurred to me that perhaps the book began misbehaving on my pad because it had been closed on Net Galley? I don't know, but they understandably have so many protections on these things these days that it would not surprise me if that happened. Usually when that happens, there is a note in Bluefire telling me the book has expired (in a non-fatal way!). So all I can conclude is that this was a poor or corrupted download copy. it would have been nice to have been able to fix that and finish reading it.

As I said, I was enjoying the book prior to this, but I cannot rate a book positively that gives such a poor reader experience, so this is why I rate this negatively.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Love Me to Death by Allison Brennan

Rating: WARTY!

If I'd known this was part of a series I probably would never have picked it up, and that would have been the smart decision, but there was nothing on the cover to indicate it was. But it is! It's the Lucy Kincaid series. Lucy is wanting to get into the FBI cyber crimes unit, which interested me, and as the story started it was interesting. She's working as a volunteer in a program which traps child predators and serial rapists, and she snares one of the worst.

So far, so good, but then we get a first person perspective into the mind of a serial rapist, and it's so badly written that it's like like a completely different book written by a really bad fan-fiction writer. I am not a fan of first person, especially not when it's written so woodenly, stupidly, adolescently, and as trashily as this was, and that was it for me; I was out of there!

You know an audiobook is bad when you prefer to listen to the sound of rubber tires on asphalt road than to listen to another second of the book! Audiobooks are always an exercise in prospecting untried ground for me, and while I've found enough gems to keep me digging, I've found far too much worthless talus in pulling out the shiny ones! This was one more to toss onto the slippery slope.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Hollywood Homicide by Kellye Garett

Rating: WARTY!

"After what felt like a millennia" should read either "a millennium" or omit the 'a' altogether. Millennia is plural.
"No I couldn't take let you do that." is confused!

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

I'm really sorry to post a negative review on this one because it had some good qualities and I think this writer is one to watch, but for me, this novel simply didn't make the grade. In the interests of full disclosure, this is the start of an intended series, and I am not typically a fan of series, especially not detective series. This one intrigued me, and while it started out interestingly and had some fun characters and a sense of humor, it quickly went downhill as the main character demonstrated an increasing level of stupidity and ineptitude. I don't mind a main character who starts out dumb and wises-up as the story progresses, but when it goes the other way, it's not a good sign.

The problem is that this main character, Dayna is going way above and beyond her initial purview and we're never offered any valid reasons for this. I do get that this is what these amateur detective stories do, and it wouldn't be so bad if we were offered even a half-assed justification for it, but we don't get any here. Her motivation was supposed to be that her father is at grave risk of foreclosure. There's a reward of fifteen thousand dollars for information leading to the arrest of the hit and run driver who killed this girl named Hayley, so Dayna starts thinking about how she can get that money. So far so good. This is perfectly sensible and reasonable, but it neither explains nor validates some of the ridiculous things she does.

Dayna is a little slow on the uptake in realizing that they have the offending vehicle on video, but this is forgivable, given that she was out partying with friends that night and wasn't exactly sober. Once she acquired the video though, she just needed to pass it on to the police and she was done, but she doesn't do this. She doesn't have to become a private detective, yet she does take this on in her own very amateur and bumbling way.

The problem here is that she ends up breaking the law and getting in the way of the investigation rather than helping move it along, blundering into situations where she's very likely to tip-off potential suspects and have them skip town or go into hiding rather than having them end-up being successfully fingered for the crime. This is where Le Stupide set in with a vengeance and I found myself cringing rather than laughing or being excited by the story, and it's where I began to lose interest in this character.

Whenever Dayna gets some information, she routinely fails to pass it on to the police - the very people whom she hopes will facilitate this reward so she can help out her dad. The police get it at best second-hand if at all, and this betrays her, because it makes her look less interested in helping dad than it does in being a busybody and a rubbernecker. She insists on following-up evidence herself without passing it on, or she withholds it from the police because in her very amateur opinion, it's never enough.

Because of this, by about sixty percent through the novel she's pretty much a bigger criminal than the one she's trying to track down - at least in terms of how many laws she's breaking. At one point she and some friends discover a robbery has taken place, and rather than inform the police right away, these idiots go trampling all over the crime scene, destroying any clues that the police might have found to help them track down the thieves.

In short, Dayna is moronic. She obsesses over leaving her prints on a baseball cap she finds, yet spares not a single thought for the entire crime scene she just destroyed, evidence-wise. She's thoroughly incompetent, yet never once did she get chewed-out by the police who in reality would have had this clown arrested for interfering with a crime scene, or perverting the course of justice, which she does repeatedly.

At one point Dayna comes into possession of security video tape which positively identifies one of the house burglars who is linked to the hit and run, yet instead of just passing it on to the police and letting them do their job, she takes off on another tangent on her own, all the time lying to her best friends that she's not pursuing this on her own. It was never explained how it was that these relatively amateur thieves knew there were no alarms at this particular house - which was in a very swanky neighborhood where alarms and high-level security were the norm, not the exception, so this robbery made very little sense to begin with except as a poorly-staged venue for Dayna to get a clue. Which she never really does in any meaningful sense, quite frankly.

Dayna herself was not a likable person, and she looked ever more dumb as the story unfolded. It's not surprising that the murderer targets her (so we;re told. I remain unconvinced, but this was around eighty percent in, when I had honestly lost interest altogether. I DNF'd this at ninety or so when the story, instead of smartly winding-up, devolved into an endless ramble. The novel was about a third too long and moved too slowly.

At that point I was wishing the near-miss traffic accident had not missed her. The driver would have done LA a service by getting this inept fool out of the way of the real police work. There are intelligent ways to write your character into places and situation she should not be -ways that don't make her look like a major buttinsky, but this story seemed bent on going the dingbat route every time, making Dayna look far more like dumbbell than some belle detective. Because this kind of thing was the norm rather than the exception in this novel, in the final analysis, I can't recommend this book as a worthy read and I will definitely not be following this series.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Book of Jonas by Stephen Dau

Rating: WARTY!

This was another experimental audiobook about a young kid who comes to the US from a Muslim country and enters foster care. If he had been adopted, then I could see some point to this, but he was not. It made no sense that he would be ripped from his home and sent miles from it. Maybe there was something in the middle section of this which made sense of it, but I became so bored with the first section that I skipped to the last section and returned the novel to the library the same day I started listening to it. And I know Simon Vance can do a better job of reading than he did here.

The author seemed to take a great delight in endless rambling descriptions which were far more prosaic than prose. He discoursed tediously about the most mundane things. If these had offered some real insights from the perspective of the Muslim kid, that would have been something, but they offered nothing new at all. It was just boring filler and I couldn't stand to listen to it. It would not at all surprise me if this novel had won an award, so trite was it. What haunted me long after the final page was how much time I'd wasted on this.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict

Rating: WARTY!

Note that this was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

While I applaud the sentiment to write a book about Einstein's first wife, I have to say I was disappointed in the result. When I requested an advance review copy of this novel, I had initially thought it was a biography of her life, and I was very interested to read it, but it turned out to be a novel: a highly-fictionalized account of her life and as such, I think it did the real Mileva Marić a disservice. Note that her name is pronounced like Me-levv-ah Marityu as far as I can tell, but I'm not Serbian so caveat lector!

The first problem for me was first person voice, which is rarely a good voice in which to tell a story. It’s far too self-important, self-indulgent, breathless, and "YA" for my taste. It makes the mistake of imbuing a real person with thoughts, feelings, and opinions that were not hers and in this case, which are in fact alien to her, shaded as they are by modern American thought projected over a century backwards onto Eastern sensibilities. A good example of this appeared very early when I read, "Mama gifted me..."! That took me right out of the turn-of-century Switzerland into modern USA, and it wasn't the only instance of totally modern idiom pervading these pages.

Another problem for me was that first person also says something about the main character's sense of self-importance, and it felt wrong to imply that someone as evidently retiring as Mileva would promote herself with a book like this one. Not that she actually did in real life, but the suggestion is there in the writing: I, Mileva, did this! I, Mileva thought that! I, Mileva, am baring my soul to the world, and it didn't honestly feel like her to me. Not that I'm an exert on her by any means. I know only what I've read, but it felt inauthentic.

I had no choice but to try to overlook that and read on, ever onwards; however, in the end I couldn't make it to the end. I made it only sixty percent of the way through before giving it up as a bad job (which was before Einstein gave up the marriage as a bad job!), so please keep that in mind when reading this review. And please don't assume the arrogance or the impertinence to tell me that I can't review a book when I haven't read it all. Yes, I can, and the proof of the Slivovitz is right here!

Another problem for me was the author's gushing cheerleading for her main character. Mileva Marić was indeed a remarkable woman who beat the adversely-stacked odds of her time. She deserves a book, but she was not a superhero or a goddess, or even a towering intellect, and it does her no favors to pretend that she was! I'm not in the habit of reading introductions, forewords, prefaces or author's notes, but in the case I did skim the preface material and in my opinion, the author exaggerated her abilities to an embarrassing degree.

I read that she was a "brilliant woman" and if that was meant as a metaphor for the light she shone as an achiever in an age where women were pretty much condemned to exist only in the long shadows cast by men then I’d agree, but I rather suspect it was meant in an intellectual sense and I don’t see any evidence for this. Yes, she was smart. Yes, she achieved a lot which most women did not even imagine, let alone dream of back then, but does this equate with true intellectual brilliance? I don’t think it does. At another point I read: "Mileva Marić, who was a brilliant physicist in her own right" and I had to ask: "By what criteria?" On a point of order, she never actually was a physicist, despite her equaling Einstein's grade in physics in at least one exam!

What went wrong academically is hard to say. Mileva seemed to have experienced a roller-coaster ride with her math scores. Prior to the university, she passed final exams in 1894 with the highest grades, including those in math. She was an excellent student, who would no doubt put many modern students to shame, so it’s a bit of a mystery what happened with her diploma efforts. After she quit the academic world because of her pregnancy with the mysteriously vanishing child Liserl, she never really pursued her studies again.

She did not, contrary to popular opinion, contribute intellectually to Einstein's "miracle year" work nor to his later work. She never published any papers. In contrast, Einstein continued his work long after they separated. Correspondence between Mileva and Albert talking of "our work" referred not to work for which Einstein became known and for which he won wide acclaim and awards, but to the work they were doing as students on their diploma dissertations, which happened to be on the same topic.

This is not to demean Mileva Marić at all. She was a very capable and distinguished student by all accounts, and a smart and remarkable woman, but "brilliant"? I think you’d have to carefully define your criteria to make a statement like that because I also think that it demeans her far more to present a misleading view of her life than it does to tell the plain and simple truth about her which is quite remarkable enough.

In this light, I have to question the beginning of the novel which represents her erroneously arriving in Zurich as a naïf about to start on her higher academic life, when in fact Mileva was well-traveled before then, and had actually been living in Zurich prior to this. Nor was this her first exposure as a woman in a male institution. She had attended the all-male (until she arrived - albeit as a private student!) Royal Classical High School in Zagreb (a city I've visited myself and loved), and she'd subsequently attended the Girls High School in Zurich. After that, she began studying medicine at the University of Zurich. So no, she was not in any sense new to this "civilized" world, nor to this city, nor to this university!

But back to her physics credentials! She was not studying to be a physicist. She was training to be a teacher which is why she became a student in a teaching diploma course where she shared a class with five other students, all male, one of whom was Einstein. She never taught, having failed to pass the final teaching diploma examinations because of poor performance in math. Twice! So to suggest she brilliant and perhaps some sort of contributing partner in Einstein's work is misleading at best. They no doubt discussed some of his thoughts on those topics, and perhaps she helped him with his studies (as perhaps he helped her) in school and later with research, but to intimate that she was some sort of equal partner in his scientific life is not true. She herself never made any such claims, and there's no correspondence from her or to her indicating any such thing. To suggest otherwise is to detract from what she actually did achieve which was praiseworthy enough in itself

I also read that "Mileva was forced to subsume her academic ambitions and intellect to Albert’s ascent" and again I had to ask, where is the evidence for this? She dropped out to raise a family, but was she forced? Was this Albert's dictum? I don't think you can argue a good case for that. I have to wonder why an author would do this to Mileva. Are we to take home from this the idea that her ambition to raise a family (if that was her ambition) instead of pursuing a career in science was abnormal or beneath her, or that she was pressured and browbeaten into it? That she had no alternative? She took a final while she was pregnant for goodness sakes! She was not being dictated to or subjugated by anyone, and to suggest that she was is an insult to her. It's also an insult to anyone who's raised a decent family, male or female, and especially to women back then, and especially as a single parent - at least in the early months.

Mileva's withdrawal from academic life for anything other than illness was through her first pregnancy. Their daughter was named Liserl. What became of this girl is a mystery, but the best guess is that she died, possibly from scarlet fever when she was still an infant. While pregnant, Mileva failed in her second attempt at passing her diploma and gave up on her PhD ambitions at that point. It would seem clear that she was not forced into anything. It seems from the available evidence that she was not academically up to pursuing what she had initially aimed at, and she gave up that pursuit in favor of pursuing a family, which is an equally worthy endeavor.

So what bothered me most about this novel was the inconsistency, On the one hand we're being told she's brilliant and was somehow prevented from pursuing academics, but on the other we're shown an air-headed girl who can't focus on school-work because of her giddy obsession with Albert, which has her mindlessly blowing money on a trip to be at a village near him and sitting around, too distracted to even read, and doing nothing but wait in the desperate hope he will come visit! I resented this picture of Mileva and I found it demeaning. Brilliant people of course can be giddy, but this isn't math: there is no Commutative Law here. You cannot equally argue that if truly brilliant people are giddy, then giddy people must be smart!

The inconsistency (that serious student was somehow robbed of her career) falls apart when we read, "It didn't help that I kept drifting off into daydreams about the trip to Como..." I found it insulting to Mileva that she purportedly had such an adolescent crush on Albert that it was affecting her schoolwork. Personally I cannot credit that; not with a woman like this one, but even if it were all true, it still flies in the face of what's said elsewhere about her being brilliant and being a strong student. I'd believe those latter two traits long before I'd believe the rather vacuous starry-eyed version of Mileva Marić with whom we're far too frequently presented here. We get too much of this with poor maligned Mileva: "Stomach fluttered" (location 825 on Kindle), "stomach churned" (841), "stomach lurched" (1132), "Stomach fluttered" (1191), "stomach lurching" (1252), knot in my stomach hadn't untangled (1303). Seriously? At the same time we hear nothing of Albert's inner feelings. It felt biased at best, genderist at worst.

I wanted to like this and view it favorably, but I can't in good conscience approve of such a young-adult, even 'Harlequin romance' version of a woman who stood out in her own time as different for a variety of reasons. This was a woman who was strong, self-possessed, competent, and dedicated to her chosen aims, whether academic or family. I think her life is remarkable and it think it should have been much better served than it was here - or at least than it was in the first sixty percent!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Life's a Witch by Brittany Geragotelis

Rating: WARTY!

This one sounded interesting, and the author's name sounded amazingly interesting, but it (the novel not the name!) rather quickly proved to be unimaginative. Indeed, it felt most like a rip-off of early Harry Potter, inexplicably aimed at YA readership. Weird! I guess the author thinks her audience is deficient in reading skills or something. The witches were in school - seventeen or younger - and part of a coven which their parents ran. When the parents were wiped out by a group of evil witches, the kids go on the run. Their leader, Hadley (no I didn't make that up, although I can't vouch for the spelling being spot-on), is supposed to be the special snowflake Harry Potter-style liberator, but in actual fact she comes off as a spoiled, privileged brat who is irresponsible and clueless. That was how she was in the first three-eighths of this novel, after which I gave up.

There's nothing new here at all (including, boringly, that this is book one of the inevitable series, because why come up with something original each time you write when you can keep spewing out the same tired old stuff every time, with a minor tweak or two and call it a new volume?). There are direct rip-offs from TV series like Charmed (speaking spells in Hallmark-style rhyming English and using antiquated words like 'thou', and also from Harry Potter, where two words in Latin and a swish of a wand or the fingers can deliver an immoblizing spell. The evil witches are exactly like the ones in Harry Potter: attacking by tossing out minor injuries and jinxes instead of delivering a death-blow. Another rip-off from Potter: the house that can only be visited by people who already know where it is.

It's told in worst person voice which is almost an automatic fail for me these days, and the woman who read this (Joy Osmanski), didn't sound too bad to begin with but after a while her delivery really began to irritate, I'm sorry to report. Even had it not, I would still have been put off by the amateur, fan-fic level of the writing. It was all tell and no show, and was especially no-show in the inventiveness department. Witches in covens? Thoroughly evil villains who do't do anything transcendingly evil except bully the kids? The prima donna descended from one of the Salem Witches? Spells are aimed and sometimes miss? Despite having enormous magic power, all the characters typically do everything in exactly the way we non-magical people do it? When someone gets injured, not a single person knows a single thing about magically stopping bleeding or healing bruises? Seriously? That's probably a good thing because this author would probably think you 'staunch' bleeding, not stanch it!

I almost quit reading this after the prologue - which I normally wouldn't read anyway, but it's hard to know what you're getting into in a audio book. Rest assured it confirmed what I've said all along: prologues, introductions, prefaces, and forewords are a waste of time. And can we not find an author who is imaginative enough to get away from that appalling abuse of women in Salem and come up with something new for once? And what about the un-original idea that a table (or some other such object) can block a magic spell? if that's the case, how come all the witches are not wearing some sort of body armor to prevent themselves being hit by spells? See what I mean? It's thoroughly unimaginative, and I can't recommend it.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Sawbones by Melissa Lenhardt

Rating: WARTY!

"She came to sit by the bed of a dying man despite her own infirmary." ("infirmity" was needed here. The guy was already in the infirmary!)
"Is so, you give them too much credit." ("If so" was needed here)
"I hear a great many things people do not intend me to her." (intend me to "hear" was needed)

Sawbones is perhaps not surprisingly, a common title. Don't confuse this one with Sawbones by Lawrence BoarerPitchford, which has some similarities, or Sawbones by Catherine Johnson which is a rather different kind of story, but set in a similar period, or with Sawbones by Stuart MacBride, which is a completely different kind of story. Frankly, given the way the main character is treated, and in rather graphic detail, the title for this one perhaps should have been Sabines!

Set in the early 1870's (as near as I can gauge), this tells the story of Catherine Bennett, a prideful and prejudiced medical doctor who had a modest but thriving practice in New York City until she was made (by the victim's wife) the scapegoat in a murder. Fearful that she will not get a fair trial given the wife's powerful connections, she takes a rather cowardly way out and flees to Texas posing as one Laura Elliston, and making her way via Austin to a wagon train heading out to a newly-founded town in Colorado.

She never makes it out of Texas. After a savage attack by Kiowa or Comanche (it's unclear), she finds herself the sole survivor and also in charge of a wounded cavalry officer who came with his men belatedly to the rescue of the wagon train. It's rather sickeningly obvious from this point on that she has her love interest. That was one of my problems with this novel: events are telegraphed so far in advance that it's no surprise what happens to her and therefore no spoiler to give it away.

Another issue was that it's in first person which is the weakest and most irritating voice in which to write a novel, and it's completely unrealistic in this case given what brutality the author forces on this woman at the hands of men. It's simply not credible that she could tell this story the way she does. Initially, it made sense what happened to her, given her gender and the period in which she lived, and I was appreciating that this was a strong woman and looking forward to learning about her, but that rapidly fell apart after she ran away from the crime she never committed. From that point on she became not stronger, but weaker and more stupid, and the sorry plaything of a cavalry Lieutenant, subsuming her entire self to him.

Her protestations of moving on alone in her desire to be a doctor were so vacuous, especially given that you knew they were never going to happen, that I felt I was reading a young adult novel at this point. I'd have actually enjoyed the story if she had gone on alone, but we have to have all of our women validated by a guy in these tales don't we, otherwise how can she be a real woman? Her credentials as a doctor were called into question when she kept rambling on about "...trying to staunch the flow of blood" when she really meant "stanch," which is something that young adult writers of today do not know, but which a doctor would have known back then.

The male interest is Lieutenant Kindle, presumably because you could read him like an open book. He ought to have been named Lieutenant Nook (as in nookie) given his overbearing and single-mindedly physical approach to her. At one juncture, she outright tells him 'No!' (in one form or another) on four separate occasions and still he will not leave her alone. The fact that she was partly drunk and emotionally compromised offered no barrier to this guy whose name, we're told, is William, but which ought to be Dick. He sickened me with his non-stop pressing of himself upon her.

Having saved his life, you'd think this would have made him offer some respect, or show some deference, but instead he seems to have fallen victim to some early form of Stockholm Syndrome and he stalks her until 'she can't refuse him anymore', and has his way with her. The relationship at this point had become so co-dependent that it turned my stomach and I almost quit reading. But they get it on in a library, so I guess this made it okay for him to become a tenant of her Wildfell Hall. When they discuss "Laura's" previous sexcapade, Kindle actually has the hypocrisy to say, "He took advantage of you."! I am not making this up. But "Laura" is a hypocrite too. After repeatedly dissing and dismissing men, she says, “I refuse to believe men do the things they do for no reason other than they can.” Why would she say that when she's made is quite clear that she thinks they're the lowest of the low anyway?

Yes, this is the book "Laura" was reading, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and I had to question this. The novel came out in 1848, so it seems highly unlikely that it would have found its way into a library in a remote (and new) Texas fort by 1870 or so. Who knows? Maybe it's possible. This is fiction after all, but I found it even harder to believe that the "reading room" at this remote fort would have been so well-stocked with books that "All available wall space was taken up by floor-to-ceiling shelves overflowing with books." While the US was quite literate (if you were white) by the 1870's, it beggars belief that a library in a remote fort in The South would be so well stocked, especially so soon after a (not so) civil war.

Purely because of her work on saving Kindle's life, "Laura" is made the acting head physician at Fort Richardson in North Texas, where Nook, er Kindle, is based. This is definitely not where she imagined her life would take her, and especially not into his own house where she lodges upstairs on the pretense that he's more safely out of the way of infection in his own room than he is in the hospital, and she can take care of him. The hell with the rest of the patients! How bizarre is that? What about their risk of infection?

Bizarre is how this novel struck me, time after time. At one point "Laura" visits the bakery in town "...where a fat woman was setting out loaves of warm bread." What? Yes, you read it right. Why was it necessary to describe this woman as fat? Well this was a first person PoV, so we can take this as "Laura's" bigoted attitude to everything and everyone, but all this served to do was to make me dislike her more. Another problem I had was with her blind hatred of American Indians. In a way, it was understandable that she should have some PTSD from her experience, but her hatred was so rife and raised so often, it became quickly obvious that the next thing which would happen would be that she has an interaction directly with the Indians, and that it would not be a pleasant one.

This marked the second point at which I felt I really needed to ditch this novel. It was only, it seemed, the unintentional humor which was what kept me going at this point. For example, "Laura" thinks this of the overly amorous Kindle: "It'll give you the big head." I'm sure what he was doing to her did give him a big head, but I really didn't need to know that! Obviously she didn't mean it that way, but this phrase was just so in the wrong place.

"Laura" simply doesn't seem to understand men. She repeatedly downgrades men to nothing save vain idiots, then she falls for Kindle! What's worse than this though, is that at one point she thinks this of another army officer: " It beggared belief Wallace Strong would prefer an ignorant dreamer like Ruth to a strong, intelligent woman like Alice." Why would she think this given how often we learn of her opinion that the men around her are exactly that shallow? It made no sense for her to have this opinion given everything else she's expressed about men, who were evidently only one step above 'them dad-blamed redskins' to hear her talk and think.

She isn't very smart either. She repeatedly fails to appreciate how precarious her position is even when someone other than Kindle is obviously stalking her. This is another episode of telegraphing exactly what's going on, but it takes "Laura" forever to figure it out. I'm usually bad at this, but even I figured out exactly who this guy was long before she did.

Our doctor isn't above slut-shaming either. Of a prostitute, she thought this: "She would lay with multiple men out of wedlock but she would not swear on the Bible. It always amazed me where people drew their moral line in the sand," and this was from a woman who wanted to be treated like a man, yet who has no problem being subsumed as " Mrs William Kindle" when discussing marriage, and who herself has already had one lover 'out of wedlock' and is about to take another? I simply did not get her character at all. It seemed like the more I read, the further she strayed from the woman she appeared to be when the novel began, and none of this straying was into interesting, engaging, or even pleasant territory.

The oddities kept on coming. At one point Kindle is teaching Laura to shoot, a sadly clichéd way for a writer to get her main male character up close and personal with her main female, but the issue here that I found interesting was the plethora of bottles which were available in the middle of nowhere for her target practice! We're told the soldiers out on this patrol are allowed a tot of whisky each day, so no doubt some bottles came from there, but unless they're getting drunk each night, I doubt there would be crates of bottles for her to shoot up. Maybe they actually were getting drunk each night. This would certainly account for their poor performance during what happened later. It would not account for how you can tie someone to a horse when you "...rode through the night without stopping." Those Indians certainly do have powerful medicine!

At this point I did quit reading. There wasn't much left to read, but to be honest I could not bear the thought of reading any more. I wish the author the best of luck, but I cannot recommend a novel like this one.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Secret Supper by Javier Sierra

Title: The Secret Supper
Author: Javier Sierra
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Rating: WARTY!

Originally published as La Cena Secreta, I read the English translation of this novel some time ago, before I began blogging. I came across the audio book version of it in the library, so I decided to give it a listen so I could blog it here. The problem was that once I started listening, I also started wondering how in hell I'd managed to not only read this book, but also think it was worth retaining the book in my collection with a view to possibly re-reading it at some point down the road.

Clearly I'd found something in it the first time around that was just as clearly absent this time. Has my perspective on novels changed so much? It wasn't that long ago that I read this - maybe two years? Have I become so much more critical - so much less forgiving? I guess!

The novel is set around 1520 when Leonardo da Vinci was painting The Last Supper fresco. The conceit here is that it's the recorded words of Agostino Leyre, a chief inquisitor in the Catholic church. He's supposed to be putting this story on paper (or parchment or whatever) in his old age while living as a hermit, but no one actually writes like that in those circumstances! That struck me as false.

If you are writing a diary, you might record a conversation, but even then you wouldn't record it like you do in a novel. If your conversation went like this, for example:

Jane entered the room with an aura of frustrated anger covering her imposing form.

"That's it!" she said with an explosion of air that had evidently been tightly constrained by her lungs for far too long.

Mesmerized slightly by the rain of dust motes caught in the brilliant afternoon sunshine filtered by the trees outside and by the dirty windows of her apartment, it took me a minute to register the full force of her presence and her declaration, let alone figure out what was upsetting her.

Is something wrong?" I asked superfluously, trying to gain myself some time and perhaps elicit further information before I was forced to commit to a response and perhaps to yet another exercise in frustration with her.

"Have you not been listening?" she asked in sheer disbelief.

This engendered in me a sour feeling of further reduced assurance than I was already harboring. What was I, some sort of NSA operation that I listened in on her every communication?! "I try not to listen to people on the phone," I said, slightly nervously. The truth was that I'd tuned her out completely, and dissolved into a rather soporific day-dream, the memory of lunch still heavy on my stomach as it was.

Jane gave me one of her 'what do I have to do with you' looks and took a deep breath. "Dick no longer wants to run with me. He says I'm too slow for his pace and he's found a new partner. This is the guy I got back on his feet, and now I'm back to running alone. In these streets." She paused and I suddenly got the feeling that this was all about to come back on me. It always does. I hadn't even begun to get my head-shake in motion before her face took on a look like it was the dawn of a new age and she asked, "Why the hell don't you go running?"

Seeing that look on her face, I must admit I suddenly felt like it.

©Ian Wood 2014

Now let's consider that same event as written in the 'victim's' diary:

So I had lunch with Jane this afternoon, and we ended up back at her place, which is still a mess, and Dick the dick calls her out of the blue to say he's ditching her as a running partner. Now she expects me to saddle up. That ain't gonna happen. OTOH, I'm not about to let her start running these streets again on her own.
©Ian Wood 2014

See the difference? Obviously no one writes a diary the same way as everyone else, so your idea of a diary entry will differ from mine, but I guarantee you no one writes a diary like the first example, either; that's how it's written when it's not actually a diary but is actually a novel outright lying that it's a diary. In the same vein, no one writing a real reminiscence writes like Agostino Leyre is supposed to be doing here, so from the off, this thing shouted fake to me (but this kind of falsehood will win you medals and 'literary' prizes!). How did I get past that last time? I honestly don't know.

One thing I became really tired of hearing was multiple repetitions of "Santa Maria delle Grazie". This is simply a church name: Holy Mary of Grace. What I didn't get is why these names are never translated in novels? Why is everything else translated (for example, we might get Rome, not Roma in a novel or Florence in place of Firenze), but then we get Santa Maria delle Grazie? It makes no sense. Nor did it make sense to keep repeating this instead of simply referring to it as "the church" or "the cathedral" or some other variation. Just a pet peeve!

So the story is about Da Vinci hiding secrets in his paintings, and an anonymous "Soothsayer" making prophecies, and Leyre's investigation into this. I honestly don't recall the ending (or most of the plot). I just remember that I once liked this, but now apparently don't! So I can't recommend it!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Title: Ink Exchange
Author: Nathaniel Hawthorne
Publisher: Recorded books
Rating: WARTY!

I didn't have to read this - I had it read to me by Flo Gibson on CD. Flo reads it appropriately. For a while, I thought it was Prynne, in her old age, recording her true confession, but it isn't. It's really Flo.

Nathanial Hathorne was born July 4th. He later changed his name to the commonly used spelling, because he didn't want to be associated with John Hathorne, a relative who was the only judge at the Salem witch trials to never acknowledge his murderous guilt in condemning so many innocent women to death in the name of the supposedly Holy Bible. The novel is an historical romance by two means: it was written going on for two hundred years ago, but it's set some two hundred years prior to that, in Puritan Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

Most people think of The Scarlet Letter as being a novel about one woman's dignity in the aftermath of what was then (and still is by all-too-many) believed to be a grave sin: adultery (by extension, sex between two children is infantry…). This novel isn’t about that at all. It’s about the complete and utter failure of organized religion. This novel is fiction, but it illustrates all-too-starkly how religion has failed: failed in and of itself, and predictably failed the people who invented it out of their blind ignorance and weak desperation.

It shows how Christians are hypocritical to their roots, and while you may rail at that, claiming that this is fiction, not a documentary, the fact remains that there isn’t a single thing depicted in this novel which has not actually happened in real life - and which continues to happen even today. Indeed, Hawthorne based this story on what he knew of several people from the era in which his novel is set. Prynne seems to have been named after Hester Craford and William Prynne.

Salem resident Hester Craford was convicted of adultery in 1668 by Judge William Hathorne, who was the very ancestor from whom Hawthorne sought to distance himself by adding a 'w' to his name! Another source for Hawthorne was undoubtedly Boston resident Elizabeth_Pain, who was buried in the same graveyard in which Hawthorne depicts Prynne being buried. All three of these people lived during the same period (early to mid-17th century) in New England.

One of the central tenets of Christianity is forgiveness, yet we rarely see it, so it's hardly surprising that no one was willing to forgive or forget in this novel! Why is Christianity so lasciviously in bed with hypocrisy? This is a religion which claims to follow Jesus Christ. Not that Jesus or Christ were ever his name. There's no evidence that there ever really was such as person as is depicted in the New Testament: a miracle-working son of a god. But Yeshua (Joshua - the real name we should be dealing with), was a very common name at that time (as were Mary - Miriam - and Joseph - Yusef), and it would be foolish to assert that there were no rabbis ever carrying that name. But while one or more such rabbis may have had an influence upon their followers and kick-started the delusion, I promise you that not a one of them was crucified, died and then came back from the dead two or three days later.

But even if we grant the Christians all of that: everything they claim for their founder, they're still hypocrites, because their founder was not a Christian! He was a Jew who practiced Judaism, not Christianity. Any so-called Christian who is not practicing Judaism is not a follower of this Yeshua, and even those westerners (or easterners) who might be such practitioners are still clueless, because the 'Jesus' they worship specifically stated that he had not come for the Gentiles, but only for the 'House of Israel' - so if your mother isn’t Jewish, you're not eligible! Modern Christians are not followers of Jesus anyway; they're followers of Saul, the snake in the tree who very effectively derailed this fledgling religion (as was his purpose all along!). Jesus lost, Paul won, and all his followers are hypocrites. Those self-same "puritans" who fled persecution in England, then turned right around and persecuted others!

The novel begins in 1642 when Hester Prynne is publicly condemned and humiliated as one of the original scarlet woman, for an adulterous relationship she had after her husband, who intended upon following her to Boston, was lost at sea, and presumed dead. In reality he was living amongst the natives where he no doubt learned his alternative medicine. Why Prynne was condemned so strenuously whilst no effort at all was expended upon seeking out her deflowerer is at the feet, again, of the Christian church, which has been down on women ever since Miriam the Magdalene was fictitiously turned into a prostitute at the behest of a dumb-ass pope (and you know the Pope is infallible right? Ri-ight!

Prynne is condemned to wear a scarlet letter 'A' visible on her person at all times. Any woman with the virtues with which Prynne is typically invested would have worn it on her ass. Prynne wears it on her breast as if to say, "Thanks for the mammaries". For reasons which are never revealed, she refuses to name her despoiler. It turns out, no surprises here, to be one of the local clergy, Arthur Dimmesdale, who only 'fesses up when he's dying.

By amazing coincidence, when Prynne is up on the scaffold, doing the first part of her penance, her husband shows up, but such a lowlife is he that he pretends to be an itinerant physician, takes the name of Roger Chillingworth, and never acknowledges that Prynne is his wife. He takes up residence in the town, obsessed in finding out who the father of Prynne's child is, rather than striving to support his wife.

At one point, the local governor tells Prynne that he's considering taking her child away from her to have young Pearl raised in a home which has a mom who is not a 'loose woman', but Prynne swears that she will never give up her child. Dimmesdale at least, sides with her on this and talks the governor out of taking Pearl away; then he toddles off home to flagellate himself and re-ink the scarlet 'A' which he has tattooed secretly on his own chest. Way to man up!

Prynne settles in a cottage upon her release from jail, although how she affords it, and even makes a living selling her needle-point is a mystery. At that time, the population of Boston was minuscule. The city had been founded only a decade before this novel is set. It's a bigger mystery why no god came through for her with his long-suffering forgiveness and helped her out by asking everyone "Who wants to throw the first stone?" So now Prynne has paid three penalties for this same 'crime': confessing and standing for three hours on the town scaffold, time in jail, and the permanent wearing o' the A. Wanna go for triple jeopardy?!

Eventually, Dimmesdale (no explanation is offered as to why he never married Prynne) dies in her arms after finally 'fessing up; then Chillingworth magically dies. Prynne and Pearl travel to Europe, where Pearl stays and marries, but Prynne for reasons unknown, returns to her cottage in Boston and lives out her years still wearing the 'A' instead of creating a new life for herself in Europe. What a moron!

I honestly can't recommend this novel at all. The first part (the 'Introductory') is the most tedious, monotonously dissipated pile of crap you will ever hear (or read). Some parts of what followed got almost interesting, but there was way too much of Hawthorne's endless rambling, self-congratulatory diversions to hold actual interest. I can, however, see why this is considered a classic: it's a classic pile of crap and is one of the very few books that I would actually support being banned from schools! Reading this did, however, give me an idea for a novel of my own, so it wasn't a complete loss for me!