Showing posts with label young-adult. Show all posts
Showing posts with label young-adult. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi


Rating: WARTY!

Time to look at some more audiobooks!

Emezi was born in Nigeria which is wealthy in oil, yet despite this, over 50 per cent of young people cannot find work and many cannot find food. Out of this came this author, and this is her debut novel which fortunately for me was read in English, not in Igbo, and it's read by the author, something of which I approve for an author who can do it. No one can give better voice to their words than the one who wrote them. Unfortunately, while getting off to a strong start, the novel went into a downward spiral in the second half and I ended up not able to commend it as a worthy read despite it being a really pleasant experience listening to the author's voice.

This novel is about Ada (the author pronounces it almost like the word 'adder' but with very little of the R on the end, and she's referred to most often as The Ada, because the story is narrated by the spirits which occupy this girl and have done so since before she was born in pretty much the same region of Nigeria as the author herself was. The blurb claims that Ada "becomes a troubled child, prone to violent fits of anger and grief", but there really is very little of this. She seems perfectly ordinary for the most part, although far from normal.

The blurb does get it right when it says that "a traumatic event crystallizes the selves into something more powerful." Ada has long known that whatever is in her is satiated by a blood sacrifice, which is why she occasionally cuts herself, but after she experiences something which is all too common and which sees little justice in the coed world of American higher education - a topic I touched on in my own novel, Bass Metal - one of the spirits takes over Ada's body and the original Ada fades into the background much more, although she isn't lost altogether.

What I found poor about this story was how human the gods were. In some parts of it the author goes out of her way to point out how unimportant human life is to them and how trivial it seems, yet the parts narrated by the god reveal them to be very human and petty and to focus on human needs and wants. There is nothing godly about them, and in Ada's case their interest revolves almost entirely around sexual gratification which I found rather pathetic. So while this started out interestingly, it quickly became repetitive and boring for me.

A conflict arises when Ada - the real Ada - falls for this guy that the female god Asughara does not approve of. She's not the only one onboard, although the others are really non-entities as far as the story is concerned. The only other one to really appear is Saint Vincent, but he's a bit player and not worht the writing in the end. So there's a conflict, but the god is really uninterested in doing anything about it and when things go badly simply says "I told you so" and that's pretty much that. The story rather fizzles out after that and I gave up on it. I can't commend it, although I'd be willing to listen to another story by this same author as long as she reads it!


Saturday, June 1, 2019

Genius by Marc Bernardin, Adam Freeman, Afua Richardson


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a graphic novel that took a trip into a reverse perspective after a fashion. Instead of black people being shot by the police, it was the other way around when a neighborhood in Los Angeles sets itself up as a no-go area for police, and fights violently back at any attempted incursions. The police are trying to figure out who is running this show and consider that it has to be a guy with a military background, when in fact it's just a teenage girl named Destiny Ajaye, who happens to have read a lot, including Sun Tzu's The Art of War. I haven't read that book (it is on my ebook reading list!), but I somehow doubt it has much to say about urban guerilla warfare.

However, I let that go because the story itself has much to say and it unpeels like an onion. It was engaging and had some interesting perspectives, although none that have not been raised before. The initial cops who were killed, it turns out were corrupt and into all kinds of shady things, and the girl who leads the insurrection has a bad episode of negative police interaction in her past. As the violence escalates and ever more force is brought to bear by the police, including calling in the National Guard, the reader has to wonder where all this is going to end up. Destiny has, through violent means, united several gangs and turned them into her own personal army, but are they up to taking on what's thrown against then or is this Destiny's Last Stand?

This comic series garnered some praise for itself and some attention having been released coincidentally during the time of the Ferguson, Missouri riots over the shooting death of Michael Brown which was stirred up by a combination of inaccurate reports of how he died and bloody-minded people. I consider it a worthy if disturbing read, but I can't get with it all the way because there was too much convenient happenstance in it for it to be realistic, and too much omitted, such as taking out several Nation Guard tanks by using sticky bombs as depicted in the movie Saving Private Ryan but without access to the anything like the comp B explosive they had.

The LAPD didn't use drones back in 2014, so I didn't expect that technology, but rooftop spotters? Taking out snipers from helicopters? None of this was explored and the police were made to look like complete idiots, which any police can do from time to time without any assistance, but they are not quite the reactive bunch of human 'drones' or ku klux klueless that they were depicted as here, which rather took away from Destiny's value as a master strategist.

That wasn't my biggest beef though. The biggest problem with it was once again the sexualization of female characters by comic book artists. Usually this lands at the feet of male artists, but in this case, we have another female artist who is selling her gender down this flood-stage river and I have no idea why. There was no sex in this story at all, so why is Destiny depicted as a this unnaturally posing, semi-topless Barbie-doll shaped bimbo? I would have complained - maybe even equally - had she been depicted as this bookish eyeglass-wearing nerd cliché too, or even as a Ian Fleming style 'flawed babe' with a scar or a limp or something, but surely there is a happy medium that could have been struck here? Why not simply depict her as a regular person?

Giving her an improbably narrow waist and pneumatic boobs does nothing to aid the story you're telling and in fact detracts from it badly. I live for the day when graphic novel illustrators don't have to be lectured about this and where male writers such as Bernardin and Freeman, and publishers such as Top Cow and Image automatically say no to such illustrations unless there's a really valid reason for using them.

That said, this is an interesting story so I decided to let that slide this time since it was only Destiny who was inexplicably depicted in this way. What this does mean however, is that I don't rate Afua Richardson as a valid comic book artist and I won't be inclined to read any graphic novel that she's had a hand in from this point onward, so no, I won't read the sequel to this: Genius: Cartel, not least of which is that I'm not a fan of retreading stories and selling them on as something new just to make a fast buck. It's bad enough that a $26 billion-earnings conglomerate like Disney is showing these days that all it can do is regurgitate without the rest of us jumping on its sadly derivative bandwagon.


Ironheart by Allan Boroughs


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a dystopian story which I normally avoid like the plague, but his one seemed like it might offer something different, and it did, so I was glad I gave it a chance.

India Bentley lives in what used to be London, on the north bank of the Thames, seeking a sad existence for her family by foraging and trying to avoid the evil people who live on the south bank, and who like to boat across there on occasion and kidnap people. Naturally for this kind of a story, her father went missing and her mother died, leaving her in the clutches of her evil stepmother who seems to be in process of being courted by a sleazy new guy in town who, it turns out, is angling to make young India his bride. So it's a bit of Indiana Jones meets Cinderella meets steampunk (kinda).

It turns out, as India learns during a visit from a female version of Indiana Jones named Verity Brown, who is a tech hunter like her father and who becomes a figure of inspiration fro India, that her dad wasn't prospecting for oil, but for old technology from the time before the fall of civilization. He was seeking the almost mythical Ironheart, a rumored stash of well-preserved old tech which would be worth a fortunate to anyone who found it and which could potentially revolutionize what this society had devolved into.

Verity is escorted by an old tech military android which has the absurd name of Calculus and which serves as her bodyguard. This led to the first example of poor writing I saw in this novel. India meets the android and hears it speak and shortly after she asks, "Can it talk?" What? Yes, you just heard it talk, moron! This evidently came about because the author didn't read back through what he'd written - or more likely added the earlier speech and never read on through to catch the continuity error.

Worse is: "He tensed a thin bicep and invited India to squeeze it." I read this before I decided in a later story that I was very likely going to quit reading novels where the author quite obviously has no clue as to the difference between biceps and bicep. They're not the same thing and while biceps is the plural of bicep, it's not the plural in the way these authors seem to think. I've started to expect this ignorance in YA novels, though, so it wasn't a complete surprise. Just annoying and depressing to think what we're doing to our mother tongue. Another example is: "It is possible," he said eventually, "that you are experiencing some sort of psychic phenomena." Well, it was just the one, so 'phenomenon' was the word required here.

This aside, the story, despite it becoming a bit trope-y and boring in parts, was overall a worthy read with some interesting adventure and action in it, and I enjoyed it, but it was not enjoyable enough to make me want to read any more about any of these characters. As it stands though I commend this one as a worthy read.


Unenchanted by Chanda Hahn


Rating: WARTY!

Rooted in the Grimm fairy tales, this story borrows a bit from the TV series named Grimm where this cop turns out to be a Grimm - that is not someone who is named Grimm, but someone who is hereditarily required to fight supernatural evil as it arises. Mina Grime is in a similar position. She's the rather nerdy unpopular girl at school, but of course in the way of YA trashy novels, she's gorgeous, yet only attracts the attention of the studLy trope school jock after she saves his life.

Mina has supposedly inherited the unfinished Grimm fairy tales whatever those are. This is so obviously the start of a series, which pretty much lets me out on the ground floor, not being much of a fan of series, in particular not of YA series which are far too often derivative and tedious. Predictably I grew tired of this very quickly, especially when I came across some clunkers in the writing, such as "just not one hypnotized Brody. His movements became slower, and he was transfixed by Claire's every movement" I think the 'one' should be 'on'. That was a relatively minor infraction.

Worse by far was "Mina watched as Claire's hand stroked Brody's bicep" - it's fricking biceps moron! I'm now dedicated to ditching dumb-ass books like this at the first mention of the singular bicep. That's probably what happened here although I really don't recall why exactly I quit this. It was probably because it was too dumb for words and the female supposed hero is really nothing without a guy to validate her as per usual in this kind of tripe.

So no - not a worthy read - a very warty one in fact.


Once Upon a Kiss by Various Authors


Rating: WARTY!

This was billed as seventeen romantic 'Faerie' tales. I detest those words: 'Fae' and 'Faerie', and I ought to take my own advice and refuse to read any more books that use it, since this one was rather less than satisfactory. Even 'Fairy Tales' doesn't technically cover these stories although some of them are.

My first problem with it was the content list. It was colored magenta. On a white background, this isn't a problem, but on a black background which I typically use to save power in my phone, which is where I read ebooks more often than not, it rendered the content list illegible. You could click from the list to go to the story but you could not click back to the content from a story, and if you're not careful, merely swiping to go to the second page of content would take you to a story instead of taking you to the next page, necessitating your having to pull up the slide bar at the bottom of the screen and slide all the way back if you accidentally hit the wrong story (something which is very easily done on a small screen where the list is very compact). So, too dark of a color and far too close together to tap accurately with a finger.

Clearly publishers still have a lot to learn about formatting ebooks. Some of these stories had a prologue, an epilogue, and chapter markers and all of these sub-headings were listed on the content page meaning it ran over three screens! This kind of crap is why I never put a content page in my own novels, but then those typically do not contain a variety of stories from an assortment of authors so I could see the point of one in this case. I just wish it had been better thought through; just a list of the author's names would have been quite sufficient and occupied much less space, meaning each name could have been bigger so it was easier to tap the name and go to the story on a small screen.

Anyway, here's the list below with my comments on each story:

  • The Glass Mountain by Alethea Kontis
  • I didn't like this. It seemed pointless and went on far too long. It was a story of a woman being trapped in a glass mountain and working with a guy who was also trapped there to get out. It was supposed to be a love story but the guy was highly antagonistic and verbally abusive from the start, and the author failed to convince me that this relationship could possibly turn around, so a big no on this story. I have no better idea what it was based on than I do how a female author can write a story like this. Does she think she's Becca Fitzpatrick or something?! (No, that's not a compliment).
  • The Bakers Grimm by Hailey Edwards
  • This was a story about two competing bakeries and the children of the bakers getting together, and it failed to move me at all. I barely even remember it.
  • Galatea and Pygmalion by Kate Danley
  • This was about a sculptor named Galatea, who sculpted a guy named Pygmalion - in short, just the opposite of the myth. That really was the only twist and the story wasn't that good.
  • Red by Sarra Cannon
  • This was about a witch, part of a coven, looking for a cure for her sister and meeting a guy held prisoner in a cottage in the woods, who in turn helps her. The coven isn't everything she thought it was. Again, it failed to move me. At one point I read, "The Order had expressly forbid me to go looking for any kind of cure for my sister." The author evidently doesn't understand the distinction between forbid and forbade.
  • Princess Charming by Yasmine Galenorn
  • An epistolary story with the twist being that the 'Charming' is female. I have no time for tedious epistolary novels, and in my amateur opinion, I already wrote the definitive Princess Charming when I wrote Femarine, so this one fell on deaf ears. I read, "I think they were getting used to being in human form. I have no clue what, now that their gig is over." I have no idea whatsoever what that piece meant!
  • Mad About You by Jennifer Blackstream
  • Based on Alice in Wonderland, this one was about Alice trying to repel the Mad Hatter (who was paying suit to her) by getting a charm from a witch, but then changing her mind (If I recall - which I may not). I wasn't interested in the story.
  • The Sea King's Daughter by Anthea Sharp
  • Based on The Little Mermaid. I have a severe allergy to stories which are titled in this format - making the main female character an appendage of a guy instead of her own person: The So-And-So's Daughter, The So-and-So's Wife. You shouldn't have to tell female writers that words carry heft and weight, and remind them that diminishing women like this only prolongs a detestable historical precedent. I read "They would not provide cover any long, which meant she must seize her opportunity now." It should have read 'Any longer'. It's sad when you can't even grammer- and spell-check a short story properly, but I guess most of us have been there!
  • Romeo and Juliet: The Afterlife by Julia Crane
  • This story carried Shakespeare's original over into the afterlife to see what happened there which is similar to an idea I had myself, but did nothing with. I wasn't impressed by this effort to explore that, os I guess the opportunity is still there if I wanted to pursue it!
  • Soot and Stone: A Fae Tale of the Otherworld by Jenna Elizabeth Johnson
  • Any novel that uses 'fae' and 'faerie' instead of fairy is chickenshit as far as I'm concerned, and I have no time for that kind of cowardice and posy-footing around That's all I have to say about his one.
  • The Huntsman's Snow by Mandy M Roth
  • This was a shifter story and I typically have no time for those, so no.
  • RumpelIMPskin by Debra Dunbar
  • Based on Rumpelstiltskin of course, this was mildly entertaining, but nothing special. I read, "His smug looked changed to one of utter shock when he saw us" and it should have read, 'smug look'.
  • The Glass Sky by Alexia Purdy
  • This was a short story and still it had a prologue and chapters - all of which were listed in the content page! Yuk! As soon as I saw it was first person and the main character's name was Star Rickton, I skipped it. No. Just no.
  • Rush by C Gockel
  • This is a story about someone named Rush who, due to a transgression, is required to find true love in two weeks which is nonsensical, so no. I read, "...several octaves too loud" which is plain dumb. An octave isn't a measure of sonic volume!
  • Perchance To Dream by Phaedra Weldon
  • This was about your usual female underdog in a magical world and it failed to leave an impression. I read, "The two waved as they approached and an matrons woman yelled at them from Rose's left." An matrons woman? Any grammar checker will find that, so this was a truly sloppy error in an unmemorable story. I can't even guess what she was trying to say with that nonsensical phrase.
  • The Toad Prince by Nikki Jefford
  • So, I am tiring of going through each of these, especially when I really don't recall them. I think at some point I not only stopped reading each story before it was over, but I stopped even reading the next story because I honestly don't remember a thing about some of these. In this I read, "Isabel's best features were hidden beneath her bulky wool gown." So here we have a female writer, writing about a female character, and clearly stating that all she's worth is her body. Forget about her mind - forget about any qualities such as smarts, loyalty, integrity, grit, honesty, capability, or whatever. Her body is the only thing of utility. I'm sorry but writers who write like this are assholes, period. There's a difference between a character thinking something like that, and the author stating it in the narrative, and this one is a jerk for for doing so.
  • Crafted With a Kiss by Shawntelle Madison
  • This one wasn't bad, and I do remember it, Pynnelope is a wooden warrior who seems invincible until in her last battle she's taken down by a guy who is more powerful. She's taken prisoner, but there is more to the story. I quite liked it. There was one mistake in it. At one point I read, "Either way, I had until dawn to force Pynnelope to do the unthinkable" and this came just two paragraphs before we're told he has only until midnight. Someone's not reading for continuity!
  • A Small magic by Devon Monk
  • I've read at least one novel by Devon Monk and liked it, so I guess it wasn't surprising that I liked this one, based on Hans Andersen's The Princess and the Pea. It was an amusing and quirky story, but it's sad that there was only one really likable one in this whole collection.

    So very little to engage me here, and overall I cannot recommend this as a worthy read, but at least it informed me of over a dozen authors I don't need to bother reading ever again from this point onward!

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Yay! You're Gay! Now What? by Riyadh Khalaf


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Errata:
“...you’re going more than you’re sexuality“ that second one should be ‘your’.
“If you ignore the bully, and removing yourself from the situation...” 'Removing' should be 'Remove'.
“If you’ve already come out to friends at school, as if they have any LGBT+ pals” Ask if they have!
This isn't so much an error as a point of order, and it wasn't the author who said this, but Simon Anthony-Roden in his advice to his younger self, but there’s no evidence that it was Oscar Wilde who said “Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.“ People are misquoted or misattributed all the time, so no big deal.

This book is a complete guide to how to handle your discovery that you're gay - or at some other place on what's commonly referred to as 'the spectrum' but which I prefer to think of as a slide since a spectrum implies something that's fixed, and I think very few people are solidly fixed in whatever position they're in. Your orientation and preferences can change over your life and no, thats not the same as saying 'gayness can be cured' because there's nothing to cure.

There were times when it felt a little bit over the top for me, but you can't blame a guy for reveling in who he is, so that's no big deal. There were also times when I felt he went a little in the wrong direction - like seemingly implying right up front that gay guys don't play soccer (Justin Fashanu, Robbie Rogers, and and the entire amateur team of Paris Foot Gay would disagree, as would Eudy Simelane, had she not been raped and murdered in 2008), but usually when he seemed to be veering, it was for a reason.

The book covers pretty much anything a young person may want to know if they have perhaps been wrestling with identity and how to face what's becoming obvious to them, and deal with accepting it, and whether to come out and who to come out to. It doesn't matter what your question is, you will find valuable advice in this book, and not just from the author, but also from an assortment of others who have walked this same path.

it begins with asking if you think you might be gay, and moves on to coming out, finding friends and finding love, then appropriately gets to "all about bodies" and "Let's talk about sex," both of which contain excellent guidance and advice. Be warned, there are no punches pulled here. For a gay guy, the author tells it straight! Each of these sections is filled with personal anecdote, good advice and comments on their own sexuality and advice they would have given to their younger selves by some celebrities, the only two I'd heard of, I have to confess, were Stephen Fry, of whom I'm a fan, and Jin Yong, who I heard of only recently. Others are Clark Moore, Simon Anthony-Roden, Rory O'Neill, James Kavanagh, Matthew Todd, Shane Jenek, and Ranj Singh. That said, I'm not a big TV watcher. There is only a few shows that I tend to watch, and I've never been a fan of RuPaul Andre Charles, so I've never seen his Drag Race, but I have heard of Cortney Act, Jenek's alter-ego, a stage name I've long thought was choice!

The bottom of page 171 (page 86 on the iPad I was using) ended with “You don’t need an” but page 172 (87 on the tablet) was the start of a new chapter! I guess we’ll never know how that sentence ends!

This is yet another case of a print book farmed-out to reviewers as an ebook for convenience, but I often wonder if publishers ever consider what a poor impression one of these 'afterthought ebooks' leaves. As it happens, and apart from a very negative experience on my iPhone before I switched to a tablet, this book wasn’t so bad. There was an occasionally 'sticky page' (and no, not that kind of sticky - but sticky in the sense it wouldn't swipe easily tot he next or previous page, and took two or three times to move it. On the iPhone there were also times when pages came up on the wrong oder, so I wouldn't recommend reading it on a device that small.

This book wasn't so bad, but I’m honestly at the point now where I will negatively review a poorly conceived ebook regardless of its literary merit. Here’s why: the modern concept of an ebook was initiated almost half a century ago by Michael Hart who founded Project Gutenberg and even ePub books have been around for some two decades. There really is no excuse for substandard ebooks these days, and if authors/publishers are going to issue one to reviewers, they need to look at the thing in the e-version on one or two different devices to make sure it's worthy of issuing!

That said I commend this ebook for being a worthy read and a useful contribution to helping those in need of advice and a leg up here and there.


Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Replacement by Brenna Yanoff


Rating: WARTY!

This was my first and last Brenna Yanoff. The story started out sounding like it was heading somewhere, but it never did! At least it had not by halfway through which is where I abandoned it out of boredom. Main character Mackie Doyle is some sort of elf or fairy who was left in the crib of the real Mackie years before. Mackie knows he isn't human. He suffers daily and reacts badly to iron, so the entire first half of the novel is him whining about how bad his life is.

I kept thinking that something was going to happen - something had to happen - to change or bring change, but it never did. The closest it came is when someone in the know told him that he was dying, but even that didn't seem to be the kick in the pants this story needed badly, and that was where I quit it. At that point I would have been happy had he died, since I have better things to do with my time than listen to a main character whine almost non-stop about his life. Maybe if he had died, a more interesting person would have stepped up and told their story, but I didn't care by then. This book sucked. Period.


Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was an autobiographical comic following the author's long, and evidently ongoing, trek into gender identity. At one point, the author choses to use what are referred to as 'Spivak' pronouns (E, Em, Eir) after Michael Spivak, for reasons which are never made clear. These particular ones were first used in 1975 by Christine Elverson, so I didn't get why they weren't referred to as 'Elverson pronouns', but there it is.

For me, one big problem with these sort of options is that there is maybe half-dozen or more sets of them, all unagreed upon. For me, the worst problem with them is that they're superfluous when we already have they, them, and their which are all-inclusive gender-neutral words. Personally, I find this to be a fatuous and pointless attempt to create a new word group set when a perfectly functional one already exists. I'm for simplicity and clarity, for ease and comfort, so I will use existing, established pronouns in this review.

The journey they undertook in trying to feel comfortable with themselves is a remarkable and moving one, told here unvarnished and raw as it must have felt in making that journey. To feel constantly uncomfortable with your body in a world which has a two-million-year tradition of humans supposedly (if often delusionally) being definitely either male or female has to be traumatizing, and we get the whole feeling of that conveyed in this book. If it makes you feel uncomfortable and brings you along on this journey, then author is doing a fine job. It worked for me.

A person who starts out biologically female, and if the zygote is destined to be a male, certain things need to kick in, and often they do, but quite often they do not, or they kick in part way, and this is how we get a sliding scale, all too often holding people hostage, who feel somewhere adrift, but not exactly sure where.

In this case the author ended-up feeling extremely uncomfortable with breasts, and a vagina that bleeds periodically(!), but not feeling like a male either (even while harboring fantasies about male physiology), they became someone who is interested in friendship and companionship but not in marriage, children, or even sex. "What am I?" is a question they asked themselves frequently - as frequently, probably, as "Where am I going and what will I find when I get there?" which is a scary question for anyone in this position.

The blurb says this book is "a useful and touching guide on gender identity" but I disagree. I think it's more of a guide in lack of identity, and how to cope with that, how to work with it, how to address it and pursue your own path even while surrounded by uncertainty.

This was a long journey, and I traveled every step of the way, and I think this book is an amazing and informative volume, very personal, but universal, very uncomfortable, but comforting, readable, amusing, disturbing and unnerving. I think everyone needs to read this and try to understand it, especially in the political climate we've made for ourselves in the USA right now. I commend this as a worthy read and salute the author and wish them an easier journey in the coming years than it has been at times over the last few.


Saturday, February 2, 2019

Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve


Rating: WORTHY!

Back when the movie was out - a movie I enjoyed, but which failed at the box office in December 2018 (it made only 80% of its production budget) - you could not find this book at the library at all (they were all checked out), but recently when I went in there to look for the sequel to Philip Reeve's Railhead (which was not to be had!) Mortal Engines was sitting right there - a modest paperback, so I grabbed it. And I loved it despite its three-hundred-page reading length.

The movie follows the book closely to begin with, but then increasingly departs from it. I can see why it does, but it occurs to me that if it had followed the book more closely, it would have done better than it did. The book was beautifully done and doesn't shy away from depicting hard truth and gritty reality. Hollywood not so much, and so it's sad world when a movie makes eighty million dollars, and is still considered a failure, isn't it?!

So briefly, the story is of a future, but rather steampunk world, that when analyzed makes little sense. Cities are no longer places you go to, they're places that come after you in what's repeatedly referred to as Municipal Darwinism. It's a city-eat-city world, and this is how the cities are powered and grow: by traveling the land, hunting and wrecking other cities, absorbing their populations, and recycling their raw materials as fuel and building supplies.

The biggest problem for me was the energy requirement. I'm not saying you couldn't build something that huge and have it move, but the power required to move it would be exorbitant, and where would it come from?

This story isn't set a hundred years hence, but several thousand, after a disastrous global war. Even if society could rebuild itself and take its cities mobile, the fuel (you name it: natural gas, coal, oil) would have long run out by that time, so what are they running the cities on? It's never actually discussed, only vaguely alluded to!

We're running out of oil now, something the gas-guzzling USA, with its car manufacturers ditching decent-mileage passenger cars for poor mileage SUVs and trucks while the rest of the world wisely looks to renewables. This is touched on in the story, with the USA described as an abandoned wasteland.

The story focuses on Hester Shaw, a badly-scarred young woman (the movie beautifies her giving her only a scar. She is much more disfigured in the novel), and on Tom Natsworthy, a third class historian trainee who lives in London. Hester is in a smaller village and purposefully, it turns out.

The village is absorbed by London, bringing Hester into contact with her quarry - a man named Valentine, beloved in London, but who murdered her mother. She almost manages to kill him, and then escapes by jumping into the waste chute when pursued by Tom. Inexplicably, Valentine pushes Tom down there after her, because he thinks he knows too much. I did not get that part at all - in the movie or the novel.

Tom loves London and is in denial. He forms a very uneasy relationship with Hester and each grows, over an extended time, to respect and then love the other. They have multiple adventures - more-so than in the movie - being captured twice, the second time by pirates.

The ending was very different from the movie and was amazing. I heartily commend this novel as a worthy read. There are three sequels, but I'm not sure I want to read those because I fear the first will be sullied by reading any more!

Why authors feel this need to squeeze the life out of their inventions by forcing them into ritualistic trope-filled sequels escapes me. I know it's very lucrative for publishers and authors if they can get a good pot of serial novels like this boiling, but to me it's lazy and avaricious - and abusive of readers, so I think I'll stop at this one. I had a different experience with Railhead, where I do plan on reading the next volume. Hopefully that will not become something I regret doing! LOL!


The Speed of Light by Amber Kizer


Rating: WARTY!

This is the third volume in the 'Meridian' trilogy which began with Meridian in 2009, and was followed by Wildcat Fireflies in 2011, and this one a year later. Despite liking the first, and not so much the second, both of which I read before I started blogging books, I could not get into this third volume at all. Maybe I left it too long before moving on to read this one? But that said it didn't ought to have affected my perception of it to this extent.

This is why I typically despise trilogies because far more often than not, the author takes a great idea and ruins it by dragging it out way past its natural life cycle. This is what happened here. Each volume was less than the previous, and this particular one was a bloated tome. One of the reasons for that was the appalling waste of trees involved in its production. There were massive margins, and the widely-spaced text did not start until halfway down the page on new chapters. How many trees could you have saved, Ms Kizer if you had formatted your book a little more wisely? Maybe she doesn't care. Maybe she hates trees. No one wants to see a book that's all text and no white space not even me(!), but come on! I think I'm going to start negatively-reviewing any print book that's so disrespectful of our environment.

Anyway I think I am done with this author after this experience. But briefly, the book is about Meridian Sozu, who is known as a Fenestra, that is, a human who has been, dare I say it, touched by an angel, and who is supposed to help transition souls into the next world. Why such a person would ever be needed goes unexplained. It implies that the resident god is incompetent and needs help shoring-up the defective system he created!

The author pairs her up with a guy, of course, who is naturally her soul-mate and protector. Why the author couldn't have changed this up a bit instead of taking the road most traveled, I do not know. She could have made the two antagonists, or made the protector a lesbian who wants Meridian, but whose love is not requited, or something else, but no, let's stick with traditional weak women who desperately needs a guy to validate her, young adult crap.

In volume one, this wasn't so bad as it happened, but it got worse. In this volume there's a battle to save this girl Julia who will do almost anything to find her parents, and who is siding with the idiotically named 'nocti' - the forces of dark who try to steal souls from people like Meridian. Plus there's a disaster awaiting at the Indianapolis 500, which some would argue is already a disaster, but still. Sorry, but no - not interested! The author has done insufficient work to create this world, and consequently it doesn't hang together at all well.


Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Unbalanced by Courtney Shepard


Rating: WARTY!

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

I gave up on this Net Galley novel called "Unbalanced," because frankly, it was. On the face of it, the plot was actually appealing: it was about these four women who are evidently sisters who were separated at birth, but I don't know why. They each have one of the four elemental powers: air, earth, fire, and water. Not that any of those are actual elements, but I was willing to let that slide for a fun, or entertaining story, even though the names of these characters are a bit improbable if not laughable.

The blurb tells us that each generation brings out four sisters to fight against a fanatical, secret faith, but all this really tells me is that the sisters are useless in that they've obviously - and repeatedly - shown they're incapable of truly defeating this faith! The blurb says the sisters are born to fight this battle, but are unaware of what awaits them? Maybe that's why they fail? LOL! Or maybe the blurb-writer is just clueless. It's been said that when you do the same thing over and over with the same result you should try something else - or just check yourself into an institution. Evidently these girls are too dumb to own that.

The main character is fire, and her name is Asha. The earth character is named Ivy. The water one is named Mere. I forget the fourth. These are names from a parody, not a serious novel, but I was even willing to let that go for a good story. The problem is that Asha is initially portrayed as this fierce warrior woman, yet when she was captured by this guy who was originally sent to kill her, this supposedly tough young woman became immediate putty in his hands.

I started having serious problems with it at that point, but the next chapter introduced Ivy, who was kick-ass - in this case literally - but just as I was starting to like the novel again, back comes Asha, who despite her power being fire, leaves me cold, and she was even more putty-er in this chapter than the previous one. No. Just no. That was just less than 25% in, but I couldn't stand to read any more of this.

Asha hadn't been this guy's captive anywhere near long enough to be suffering Helsinki syndrome, nor had she been in his company long enough, and even had she been, she's supposed to be this bad-ass girl, yet the story began reading like a cheap BDSM "romance." I could not both keep reading this and keep my stomach contents. I chose my stomach.

I am so, so tired of YA female authors who have quite obviously never heard of the #MeToo movement, creating these supposedly strong female characters and then turning them into wilting violets and objects of gratification at the first whiff of testosterone. I cannot support a novel with this dedicated level of disrespect for women. It's unacceptable and honestly? The author needs to get a clue - and a more original title.


Friday, January 4, 2019

Belly Up by Eva Darrows


Rating: WARTY!

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

This book rather rubbed me up the wrong way right on page one, so it seems that I and this author must part ways since this is the second one of her novels that I have not liked. I negatively reviewed the previous one in December 2018. So I guess I'm done with this author and she's no doubt glad to be done with me!

Even before I began to read this, I could see by the white space that this author evidently really dislikes trees, to want to slaughter so many to make a print book! Each chapter starts halfway down the page, and the margins on every page - which I assume is mapped out for a print version - had glaring, massive, tree-rasing white spaces. I'm slowly getting to the point where I'm thinking about DNF-ing and negatively reviewing all print books which are so disrespectful of the environment.

The next thing was in those first few lines where I read:

There's a first time for everything.
First time playing quarters.
First time spinning the bottle.
First totally hot consensual truck hookup with a superhot boy whose digits I forgot to get.
First time getting pregnant.
Surprised you with that one, didn't I?
Actually, no you didn't, because it's all in the back-cover book blurb! I know authors typically don't write their own blurbs unless they self-publish, but this author's blurb is word for word the opening lines of chapter one! The unexpected expectancy is central to the plot, so in what way was it even remotely a surprise? Not a lot of thought went into those opening lines! Fortunately, the book turned around somewhat after that, and it managed to draw me in, but the relationship 'tween author and reader was stretched even so, and by a quarter the way through, I could not stand to go on. This was a stillbirth.

So serendipity (yeah, why a mom only one generation away from her Swedish extraction would choose such a name goes unexplained), aka Sara-for-short, had a truly foolish hook-up with a guy she had never met before, knew nothing about, but nevertheless had unprotected sex with him - in his pickup truck (they're named pickups for a reason, and you should have no truck with them!).

I have to say that this girl comes off as profoundly stupid and so very easily manipulated by everyone. She never even went to get a morning after pill, and had no interest in getting checked up for STDs. Then of course she got pregnant and while the author wants us to believe she has some conflict in deciding what to do about it, the writing makes it clear she's already made her decision, so all the dithering and uncertainty felt completely fake in such a tell and no show novel.

The best example of this - and the one which made me give up on it - pops up about a quarter the way through the book, where Sara's mom is packing boxes into the car for transportation to her mom's house. The two of them are moving to live with Sara's grandmother to save on bills, This has nothing to do with the pregnancy, but when Sara offers to help, her mom ignorantly bans her from lifting, as though she's an invalid.

No! Pregnancy does not automatically make a woman an invalid! Women are not fragile. They're not delicate! They can lift things! They can open their own doors! They can even close car doors - Megan Markle proved it! What a shock! They do not need to be bubble-wrapped and set in a corner where they will not be interacting with anything dangerous! So why do authors, and even more shamefully, female authors, treat their own gender like its weak and delicate?

Yes, if there are medical reasons why she needs to take it easy, that's one thing, but in Sara's case she's a strong, healthy young woman with no medical issues and no pregnancy problems. She's just been given a clean bill of health by her doctor with no restrictions, she's only 11 weeks in, and yet her mom thinks it will be a disaster if she lifts a box or two of household items?

The problem with this is two-fold in that first, Sara hasn't decided if she's keeping the baby, so this concern seems a bit overdone given her ambivalence. If it miscarried, while that itself would be traumatic for her whether she wanted the child or not, it would solve her problem of not wanting to be saddled with a pregnancy in her circumstances, yet while every other remote and absurd eventuality seems to have crossed her overly fertile mind, this particular one never enters, not even in passing? It rather belies the ambivalence she's supposed to be feeling - hence the tell and not show problem.

But even if she was dead set on keeping it (she is, but the author thinks we haven't noticed), let's consider some real women. Jocelyn Benson, at 38, completed the Boston marathon in 6 hours while very pregnant. 35-year-old Amy Keil did the same thing at 34 weeks in 2015. Meghan Leatherman set personal records in Crossfit at 40 weeks, including weight-lifting. Lea-Ann Ellison did the same sort of thing.

At the 2009 Grammy awards, MIA, aka Mathangi Arulpragasam, got up and sang Swagger Like Us, danced in a bikini, and delivered her healthy child three days later. These women may be exceptional in more ways than one, and I am not suggesting that every woman carrying a baby immediately follow their example, but their example proves that pregnancy does not cripple a woman! It does not equate with being an invalid. It does not demand every woman for every pregnancy be coddled like fine bone china! Yet this author seems to think it does.

It would have been nice had the author shown that this young healthy woman could carry a box or two without having to call her friend to come over and help. Actually, given Sara's sorry ignorance, if her friend Devi, whom she'd inconvenienced by calling to come over and help had lectured her about what a pregnant woman could do, that would have made for some good reading.

As it is, it's a double problem in that Sara's mom thinks Sara is utterly helpless now she's pregnant, and Sara thinks her mom is inadequate in that she can't carry a few boxes out to the car by herself and desperately needs help. So we have a female author espousing 'weak women', and two female characters all but dismissing each other as a whole person. It was sad, and brought me that final step to DNF-ing this novel.

This author doesn't seem to have a good handle on pregnancy either, or needs to clarify her writing better. At one point she's talking of the baby being fully-formed, and later talking of it being a bean. Maybe she means the size of the fetus when she refers to a bean, but she's not being very clear what she means.

At eleven weeks a fetus might be described as the size of a large butter bean, but it is also recognizably humanoid. Despite looking human though (and ignoring the outsized head which is half the body's length at that stage) the baby still doesn't even have red blood cells, let alone be remotely viable in any other way. It's incapable of breathing before the second trimester, for example, because the neurological system isn't properly there, so despite looking humanoid, it has less going for it than your average caterpillar! So please do not take your what to expect when you're expecting lessons from this novel! Take 'em from a competent, experienced, and fully-qualified medical doctor!

In short, I cannot commend this as a worthy read. It was far too loosely-wrapped, and while I was certainly not expecting a medical manual, I did expect authenticity and realism and got neither.


Monday, December 31, 2018

Newsprints by Ru Xu


Rating: WARTY!

Despite her name, author Ru Xu grew up in Indianapolis. This graphic novel depicts a newsie - a newspaper delivery 'boy' named Blue, who is really a girl in disguise. She dresses as a boy so she can be involved in the preferentially male newspaper industry. As you might guess, this is not a modern tale. These days she would start her own blog. Blue is an orphan, and despite the push to have her, as a girl, do girly things to help the war effort, Blue has managed to escape all that and push equality to the fore, but she pushes a little too hard and a rival newspaper delivery gang resents her poaching on their turf. In process of escaping their pursuit, she discovers an old factory, which has a resident. In the course of interactions with this older man, Blue also meets crow, another person with something to hide, and a friendship develops.

I'd like to be able to commend this in some ways, but it really didn't have much of a story to tell. I wasn't appalled by it, but neither was I enthralled, so I can't say this was a worthy read I'm sorry to report.


Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid


Rating: WARTY!

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

The blurb promised this to be "A gripping novel about the whirlwind rise of an iconic 1970s rock group and their beautiful lead singer, revealing the mystery behind their infamous breakup." It was not. Once again we see 'beauty' rear its ugly head in a novel about a woman, like beauty is all a woman has to offer. It's not.

I know we live in a shallow and very visual world, but beauty shouldn't even be on the table when you're considering someone's qualities, not even in a novel unless the novel is specifically about someone's looks. I don't care if a character calls someone 'beautiful' or focuses shallowly on looks because there are people like that in real life, but in the book blurb? It's not helping things in a #MeToo era - and from a female author too.

I know you can't hold an author responsible for the book blurb unless they self-publish, but seriously? The main character here was supposed to be a sensational star, but the word 'talented' failed to trump 'beauty'? 'Charismatic' never made it? Enigmatic? Anyone? Bueller?

I decided to overlook that because it was only the blurb and I'm intrigued by this subject, but inside the book was just as bad as the outside if for different reasons, and it was far from being gripping and well into boring territory. Neither of the two main characters, Daisy Jones or Billy Dunne, were remotely interesting to me.

The first problem as that all attempt at writing an actual novel was abandoned, thereby giving the lie to the qualifier 'A novel' on the cover. There was no descriptive prose here setting location or atmosphere, or anything for that matter. It's not even a script.

There were only character names and their spoken words, like we were getting one side of a very sparse interview, which made it more unrealistic. If those words had been compelling and entertaining, or had offered something revealing, or even new and original, that might have been something, but there was nothing here that hasn't been done before.

That she "... devoured Daisy Jones & The Six in a day, falling head over heels for it..." might speak volumes about Reese Witherspoon, but it leaves me completely unmoved. This is the actor who April 2013, was arrested for disorderly conduct in Atlanta after her husband, was pulled over and arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence.

Witherspoon played the crass "Do you know who I am?" card, and was obnoxious to a police officer who was admirably and patiently doing his job in keeping the streets safe. I haven't liked her since. No recommendation from someone who has behaved so inexcusably badly under the influence is going to influence me. I think it was a poor and frankly a rather desperate choice to use a quote from her in a book blurb.

Anyway, what all this (in the novel) meant was that we knew nothing about these fictional characters at all, and what that meant for me was that I did not care about them or why they broke up, or what happened to them subsequently. Consequently I stopped reading this about a third of the way through and I did not miss it at all when I put it down. On the contrary, I felt relief that I didn't have to read any more and could move on to the next title which inevitably had to be better. Based on what I read and the overall style and format of this novel, I cannot commend it as a worthy read nor am I interested in reading anything else by this author when there are so many others out there worthy of reading.


Saturday, November 24, 2018

Soar, Adam, Soar by Rick Prashaw


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is a very personal account of a family event that has much wider implications. I'd like to say it was told well, but I can't, because it was disjointed and disorganized and sometimes hard to keep track of where we were at, but even so I consider it a worthy read because it's an important story. It's also a very tragic story, and while all deaths like this are heart-breaking, it's hard to become emotionally involved when it's not someone with whom I am personally familiar. I can become emotionally moved by the greater story though, of endless people who are persecuted and brutalized for their perceived 'non-conformance' to so-called 'norms' of one sort or another, in this case, gender.

Adam Prashaw was not brutalized, as some have been, with violence and rejection by peers or parents, but he was knocked around by two things: the system, which does not make it easy for a person born in the wrong body to correct that situation, and by the fact that Adam also suffered from epilepsy, and it was this which killed him at an appallingly young age by dint of the fact that he drowned in a hot tub in the few minutes while his friends were absent, succumbing to a seizure which everyone thought and hoped had been cured by brain surgery only a few months before.

Obviously there are lessons to be learned here, such as that epilepsy, like alcoholism, is never really cured and we must be vigilant over those who have it to prevent accidents like this one from happening, but the lesson that's taught here is that of making the most of your life, even if that life is destined to be short - something none of us can know except in the hindsight of those we leave behind.

There are teaching opportunities which I felt were missed in this book, and this was one issue I had with it. One of them was the tragic accident at the hot tub. Another, for example was where at one point we were introduced to two women who would help Adam through this transition: "Pivotal this year are his first meetings with his counsellor, Nichelle Bradley, and his doctor, Jennifer Douek." These are both females and I felt it would have been nice to know more about how such people become attached to these cases, and whether gender plays any part, and if so, why?

If Adam were transitioning from male to female (the opposite of what he was actually doing) would these have been men, or is the gender simply random - this is just how the counsellor and doctor happened to be? Does it matter? A little talk about that would have been interesting to me, because I think it could matter if these particular two professions are overwhelmingly populated with gender-bias. On the other hand, if it makes no difference, it would have been nice to hear that.

I have to note again that this is a very personal account, so perhaps it's expecting too much, but to me such things are interesting and I felt that a little more commentary would have enriched the reading, but this wasn't the only thing which caught my attention. The book is far more about feelings and relationships, and a father's experiences than ever it is about the practical trials and experiences of a person going through gender reassignment, so perhaps we shouldn't expect a tutorial. It's also about how little time Adam got to enjoy the new him. Being a parent myself, I don't ever want to know what it's like to lose a child, so I can appreciate what this parent/author went through. I just wish it had been easier to follow and that Amazon's crappy Kindle conversion process had not mangled the text as it reliably does.

The book was available for review in PDF format which was not mangled at all, but which was too small to read on my phone, which is where I read most of my ebook material. I don't fault an author for that except in that it cannot be repeated often enough that if you're going to publish a Kindle ebook, you cannot have anything fancy in the text at all - not even italics, because sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, Amazon will frag your text. Italics generally do fine except that the last character, if it's something like a lowercase 'd' or an exclamation point, will be beheaded by the non-italic text following it. Guaranteed every time. An author needs to check for how much Amazon has screwed-up their text in the ebook version, because I have seen this repeatedly in Amazon books, and not just in advance review copies. Errors are rife in Kindle format, which is one reason I refuse to publish through Amazon.

In this particular case, text inserts/boxes were rendered part of the text, cutting into the middle of sentences in the main body of the book, so those are a complete non-no, as are drop-caps and other fancy additions. Images can be problematical. Amazon made a jigsaw out of the front cover image in this book and I've seen that before, but the images inside the book were generally fine except that they did not always merge into the text properly, leaving a largely blank screen here and there, either preceding the picture or in its wake.

Here's a quote that illustrates this text julienne à la Amazon: "The doctors wanted to completely remove the piece, which Bekkaa October 22, 2012 "The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience." -Eleanor Roosevelt appeared to be triggering..." Good luck making sense of that. It incorporates the page header and a text box (I believe) all in one. Never use page headers or page numbering for an Amazon ebook. I've never seen this kind of mangling in any reading app other than Amazon's crappy Kindle app.

Here's a footnote in the middle of a sentence: "There were mood 1. Now known as a 'focal impaired awareness seizures,' these start in one area of the brain and negatively affect sensory perception. Other symptoms may include automatic behaviour. Such seizures generally last between one and two minutes. swings, too..." Here's another example of the garbling: "a work colleague, and her partner, David White, a United ChurchAdam minister; they happened to be visiting at the time.July 25, 2015 The chaplain prays for Adam with us. He touchThunderstorm!!! es my son." It's character coleslaw, and Amazon does it best.

The author is quite religious and it's commendable he had such an open attitude towards Adam's predicament. Far too many believers are entirely reprehensible in their position, but not this one. I didn't find his references to religion annoying though, being an unbeliever myself. At one point I read, "Adam is surrounded by love, God's and ours. This is all good." This was shortly before he was declared dead without ever recovering consciousness after his drowning. Clearly, as Al Pacino's character declares in Devil's Advocate 'God is an absentee landlord'.

Later there was another quote along these lines: "Everything that led to the day that Adam died and the day that John received his heart were destined to be, whether I like that or not ... It was meant to be." And the author adds, "I agree. A divine plan." I don't see anything divine in killing a young man so others can have his body parts. If God really wanted to do his job, he would not have let Adam drown, and he would have miraculously cured the heart and kidneys of those whose lives were improved through Adam's premature death and commendable organ donation. Otherwise what's the point of having a god if he does nothing to help, prayers are not answered, and evil all-too-often prevails? I personally have no time for a worthless god like that.

The authors comments were at times hard to understand. I read at one point, "AS ADAM'S GENDER transition and epilepsy collide full force toward the end of 2015, there is a remarkable change in him. An adult is emerging, a guy with a stronger voice." Well, he's 22 years old at this point, so I am not sure what was going through the author's mind. I know there's that old sawhorse that a child is always a child to a parent no matter how old the 'child' actually is, but I have never felt that way with regard to my own offspring. I see nor reason for that attitude. At some point they grow up and it's insulting to keep reducing them to kids when they're teenagers or young adults. The author wrote later, that he did "hug a few kids whom I recognize. They are all 'kids' to me, although most, like Adam, are now adults." This was after fussing over getting Adam's name right - the male name not the female name he was assigned at birth along with the wrong body. It felt hypocritical to me.

But in context of the overall story, these felt like relatively minor beefs, and not that important in the grand scheme of the story the author was trying to convey, so I was willing to let that slide, and all in all I commend this as a worthy read and an important book even though I have to add that I've read clearer and more educational accounts of a gender transition than this one.


Friday, November 16, 2018

Kiss My Math by Danica McKellar


Rating: WORTHY!

This is book two in an evident series and I was curious about it since it has a distinctly female bent to it. I know nothing about Danica McKellar, so it was interesting to discover she has some math cred. She certainly knows what she's talking about (as far as I could tell, although be warned, my math sucks). I didn't agree with all of her teaching methods (calling integers mintegers because they taste good?!), but often her approach helped make sense of what she was teaching, so this was on balance a good thing. I mean, who knew that y was such a square? My money was on X which has a distinctly square shape to it, but minus X, it leaves only y. Why? Read the book to find out.

I recommend this as a fresh and young approach to math for anyone who is interested (and all of us should be). Math underlies everything. It really is the language of the universe, but closer to home, it helped the author avoid overpaying for something the clerk had rung up wrongly - something she might not have noticed had she not been idly doing math in her head while waiting in line - so there are real practical benefits to it, as she points out often.

McKellar lays it all out in short sections covering different topics from fraction calculations to variable values and exponentials, beginning with an easy walk-through examples, explanations, and hints and tips, followed by some 'homework' (the answers are included, don't worry!). In fact, the page was often a bit too busy for my taste, but today's generation of sound-biters, snap chatters and other twits might appreciate that approach. I commend this as a great effort to get young women interested in math, We need female mathematicians, scientists, and engineers. They're criminally underrepresented and anything which can lure more into those professions is to be welcomed.


Friday, November 2, 2018

Phase Two by Chris Wyatt


Rating: WORTHY!

This is an audio retelling of the wildly successful movie Guardians of the Galaxy that came out in 2014. Read pretty decently by Chris Patton, it was pretty much a word-for word copy of the script, with some minimal description tossed in, but unlike the movie, it isn't even PG-13 rating - it's more like a Disney animated film rating, so all questionable comments and references are omitted or re-worded. Other than that it's a pleasant listen for anyone interested in the Marvel universe.

I'm not sure there's anyone out there who is even moderately media-aware who doesn't have an idea what this movie was about, but if there is, then briefly, the story is an origin story of the formation of the Guardians, from a rag-tag band of misfits, disaffected revenge seekers, con-artists and thieves, into a genuine family of caring team-mates who don't actually save the galaxy (that comes in volume two!) but who do save a planet and defeat a brutal psychopath known as Ronan the Accuser.

The story starts with the young Peter Quill, so terrified by his mother's impending death that he won't hold her hand. Instead he runs out of the hospital only to be 'beamed up' into a space craft. The story then resumes twenty years later with that same Peter, now a mature (or maybe not) man who calls himself Star Lord, and who is on a mission to recover an artifact, which he tries to sell outside of the outlaw group who captured him all those years ago. His mission fails.

Oh, he gets the artifact, but he's captured when he tries to offload it, and he's tossed into a brutal space prison with three other villains, two of whom are the bounty-hunting team of Rocket and Groot. Groot is an alien species superficially resembling a tree, but who has legs and arms and the ability to speak and regenerate, although all he ever says is "I am Groot" in various tones which represent what he really means. Rocket, created by Marvel writers based on an old Beatles song (Rocky Raccoon) is a genetically-modified talking raccoon, whose experimental test designation was 'Subject: 89P13'. Now he's highly inventive, agile, scheming, and dangerous.

The third party is Gamora, another alien who was adopted by super villain (or is he?!) Thanos, whose self-appointed mission is to wipe out a random half of the universe in order to provide better living conditions for the other half. He adopted Gamora after killing her parents, and she became his trained assassin, but she's now decided to betray him to bring his murderous scheme to a halt.

These four meet the final member of their team in the prison. He's Drax 'the destroyer' (although he looks nothing like a navy ship...) who has a personal vendetta against Thanos and Ronan because they killed his family and he wants to kill Gamora, but Peter talks him out of it and the five of them join up to sell this artifact that Peter recovered, which turns out to be one of the six Infinity Stones which have been in existence from the start of the universe. Thanos wants them to complete his mission, Ronan steals it to pursue his own mission, and the Guardians are the only people who can stop him!

No one ever explained, neither in the movie nor in this novelization, why it is that Thanos isn't smart enough to know that with all six Infinity Stones, he can remake the universe however he wants without killing anyone! I guess he doesn't have the stones.... It's a pity one of these stones wasn't called the Smart Stone - with the ability to make people think critically and rationally.

So, fun stuff and a lot of laughs. The audio doesn't have the same magnetism and charisma of the movie, but it's a decent substitute and I commend it.


The Circle by Dave Eggers


Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook I picked up after seeing the movie of the same name based on this book, and which starred Emma Watson and Tom Hanks. The movie was rather improbable, but close enough to reality to be entertaining. The book, read by Dion Graham, was less than thrilling. It was far too wordy. People often claim the movie isn't as good as the novel for a given story, but I frequently find the opposite: that the novel is sometimes too rambling and the movie script writers have seen this and cut through the author's self-indulgent crap to create a much better story that flows and moves, and doesn't get lost in itself.

This getting lost was the problem here as the author went rambling on and on about things which contributed nothing to the story and which failed to move it, which in turn failed to move me. I DNF'd this in short order. You might argue that if I'd picked this up before the movie, I might have enjoyed it better and disliked the movie, but I really don't think so. A boring novel is objectively a boring novel, and the proof of that pudding lies in the fact that even though I listened this quite recently, I can barely remember any of it now. It made that little of an impression on me. Consequently my advice is to skip this novel and watch the movie instead.

It's not a great movie and I doubt I'll want to watch it again, but watching it once graphically illustrates the dangers of putting too much personal information out there. The Circle is both the book title and the name of the social media organization that this young woman, Mae Holland, believes is a career high. It's quite clearly F-book - a forum that lets members put out endless personal crap for the world to see, whether it wants to see it or not.

This business of publicizing oneself, which I've never bought into, is taken to extremes here, with The Circle being more of a cult than anything else, and with the advent of this miniature camera system, called See-Change, which can be stuck anywhere, and which transmits sound and picture by some unspecified means (using an unspecified energy source!) in real time to your device would have some positive benefits, but it's also rife for abuse and no one seems to call that out.

The movie diverts from the novel in some places while following it in others, and I think it's to the good that it diverts. I liked the representation of the Annie character in the movie better than the novel, and Mae was a jerk in the novel from what I could tell - not so in the movie, but since I DNF'd this I can't comment more on it than what's here. That said, I didn't like what I heard and cannot commend this based on my experience of it.


A Touch of Gold by Annie Sullivan


Rating: WORTHY!

I got this book from the library, and I'm glad I did because now I just consider it a waste of my time and not a waste of my money! It's about King Midas's daughter. Initially it had sounded interesting to me, but when I began reading it, I wasn't impressed with it and didn't see any point in continuing. The first problem is that it was first person which is far from my favorite and nearly always a grave mistake by an author. The tone was completely off-putting.

The story is based on the Greek legend of King Midas, who supposedly was granted a wish by the god Dionysius, that whatever he touched would turn to gold. The wish was granted, but Midas quickly realized it was a curse. He could not eat food or drink because whatever he touched turned to gold. Midas is said to have had a son, and in some versions of the story a daughter instead, but the old legend says nothing of having a daughter whom he turned to gold or of his being cured.

That part of the story comes from Nathaniel Hawthorne who published it in his A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys in 1852 which included this legend and which Hawthorne augmented by having the King turn his daughter to gold. The King then begged Dionysius to remove this 'gift' and was told to wash in the Pactolus river, which would reverse the curse. This book feeds on that and has the curse be only partially removed from the daughter, leaving her human and of flesh, but having her skin colored gold à La Shirley Eaton as Jill Masterson in Goldfinger. In the part I read, there is little description of her so it's not clear if every bit of her is gold or just her skin and hair (I mean, are her eyes gold? Her tongue?).

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The girl is supposedly considered ugly by suitors, except for the one who meets her at the start of the story, whose title is listed as Duke. I'm sorry? This is ancient Greece and they have Dukes, archdukes and Lords? Where did that come from? Is it merely so there can be an equivalent of Lord Voldemort or Lord Vader? What's this Greek Lord called? Lord V-something no doubt. It was this asinine story-telling which completely spoiled the story for me and I had no desire to read past this point, my opinion of this author rock bottom, as in the bottom of the deepest gold mine in South Africa.

In fact it was at this point that I discovered that the author teaches creative writing, and it all became clear. I have never seen a good story come from someone who teaches creative writing or who has graduated from such a program. I don't know what the problem is with that, but it very effectively kills good story-telling. It was worse than this, though. On the author's web page (at least at the time of writing this review), the author asks the reader why they should preorder her book! The five largely selfish answers she gives are very nearly all about making her money:

  1. Publishers often make decisions about an author getting a second book deal based on preorder numbers.
  2. The more preorders, the more copies of the book they'll typically print, which means they'll then usually increase marketing budgets to sell all those books.
  3. All preorder sales hit on the same day, meaning an author could potentially make lists like the New York Times bestseller list because all those sales count for the same week.
  4. You'll usually get a cheaper price. Preorders are usually discounted the earlier you order.
  5. You'll make an author's day! I can't tell you how happy I was when a friend told me she'd preordered 10 copies of my book!

Could this be any more avaricious and self-serving? Don't buy my book because it's any good: buy it because I'll get richer from increased sales? No thanks! I actively dis-commend this novel and I have less-then-zero respect for this author.


Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a largely well-written and highly amusing take on Pride and Prejudice. In a modern version of this novel, and to stay true to the repressive, controlling atmosphere and public censure women were forced to endure in Austen's time, you would have to set the story in a religiously-strict locale, and in this case it’s Pakistan that was chosen. The story is set in 2000 and 2001, and with a lot of character name changes, largely follows the outline of Austen's story. I found it entertaining, but I have some observations to make on the 'translation' into modern times and exotic locales.

I think in general the novel was very well done, with some good decisions made about how to translate various characters and situations into modern times. If I had one initial complaint that popped out at me during the reading, it would be the rather annoying self-awareness the novel seems to exhibit with regard to it being a riff on an Austen Novel.

Austen's works are mentioned frequently enough that it was bordering on becoming a parody at times, and the pretension in name-dropping of what are too-often considered 'the classics' in novels was irritating to me. There is an endless stream of novel references which, whenever I'm reading a novel that does this, typically feels to me like a tool used amateurishly as a lazy substitute for actually doing the work of showing that your character is intelligent and educated, and I'm never impressed by it.

That this was set in a non-English-speaking country. Believe it or not, there are very many such countries, and American writers seem scared to death of choosing any as a setting for their work, so kudos to this author for being as fearless as she is inventive, but given this I found it somewhat annoying in its frequent use of foreign terms and phrases.

I don't mind the phrases in moderation; it’s a pleasant change. What I do mind is the ritualistic compulsion on the part of the author to immediately stick a translation after the foreign phrase. This really trips up the story for me because rather than adding some atmosphere and a bit of color and verisimilitude, it merely suggests to me that the author is trying to sound clever.

Personally, I find it far better to include such words and phrases infrequently, and give them without a translation, allowing the context and your reader's smarts provide an understanding for them. Have a little faith in your readers! As it was, it could have been used less and as such would have been less irritating to me, and less disturbing of my suspension of disbelief.

Maybe it's just me, but a good example of this is where I read (and before you read on, be warned there is some bad language in this novel!), “How many times should I tell you not to not say behen chod, sisterfucker. It’s so insulting to women. Use your own gender and say bhai chod, brotherfucker.” To me it’s insulting that the author would think I cannot extrapolate from this context that the second phrase is masculine, so that she feels she needs to spell it out to me. She really doesn't! There were many instances of a similar nature.

An issue I've seen often with writers is when they're so focused on the text they're producing that they forget that this isn't supposed to be simply words on a page. It’s supposed to be a story of people living their lives, interacting, speaking...and hearing! So unless the main character's mom was routinely reading English newspapers (she may have been but there is nothing in the novel to indicate that she understood a word of English much less could read it), then only way she would know any given English word is from hearing it used, perhaps on TV.

The thing is that if you hear it used, you do not routinely mispronounce it as though you had read it somewhere! Even if you do misunderstand it, the whole process is different when it runs through an auditory process than when it runs through a visual one! So from the nervous nelly of a mom here we got a lot of mispronunciation-cum-malapropism such as "Pinkie, say ‘Tetley’ again. What did I tell you, Goga, ‘Tut-lee!’." We also got, for example, "Prince Chaarless and Lady Dayna." I don't see how you can get that unless you understand English reasonably well and are also dyslexic in English, neither of which applied to Mrs Binat! So, suspension of disbelief issue here!

Another example of this was where one particular character's name was deliberately mispronounced by one of the siblings in this story's equivalent of the Bennet family, so that it became "Fart Bhai." Fart is an English word, not a Pakistani one, so that name would not have sounded insulting or like a young boy's bathroom joke in any Pakistani language. Pakistan doesn't have one main language, but several. There are five which are spoken commonly. In Pashto fart is 'goez', in Urdu it’s 'puskee', and in Punjabi, in which district I assume this action is set, fart is 'garama', as far as I can determine using online resources. None of these sound like the English version of the word, so this joke made little sense.

A similar situation arose when the author had Wikaam (Wickham) set his price for marrying Lady (Lydia). In the Austen original, he doesn't actually set a price, but an amount is bandied around as a minimum, and this is £10,000. In today's money, that would be about £300,000, or almost $400,000 (depending on current exchange rate). So Lady is highly undervalued here! The amount stated in this novel $100,000 which is only about £76,000.

I found this most curious because Pakistani currency isn't dollars; it's rupees, one hundred of which are worth (at the exchange rate when I wrote this), only seventy-five cents. So very, very roughly one rupee equals one cent. An equivalent evaluation for Wickaam, in Pakistani coinage, of taking on Lady would be something like fifty three million rupees!

Perhaps the author thought that sounded far too high to western ears? I don't know. As the author it is of course her choice, but it seemed odd to me to use dollars instead of rupees or pounds (given how often Britain is referenced in the story). This was obviously written for an American audience! I just pass this on to highlight how complex it can be to try 'translating' an old story for modern ears, especially if the setting changes.

And now a writing issue! The author chose the interesting solution of adjusting the character's names to fit what I must assume are Pakistani naming conventions. The De Bourgh family for example became 'dey Bagh', and George Wikham became Jeorgeullah Wikaam. Elizabeth Bennet was Alysba Binat, and Darcy became Darsee. Curiously this rule was not applied to the location in which the story was set!

The original story takes place in and around Meryton, but the story in this book is set in Dilipabad, which is a fictional Pakistani location as far as I know. Dileep is a boy's name meaning 'King of the solar Race', and 'abad' means these days, very roughly, 'city of' so it would translate as the City of the King of the Solar race, but I have no idea what that's supposed to mean! In the Punjab district of Pakistan, there is a town called Multan, a name which sounds similar to Meryton, and which is not far from Lahore. I don't know why the author didn't simply use that, but again, it’s her choice.

The author's technique with names though, had the advantage of helping to keep everyone's straight, although I confess I got lost from time to time. I think if I'd done this, I'd have been tempted to go a different way, but maybe this worked better. I’d have been more inclined to look at what the English name meant and use the local translation of that, so that Lydia, which means 'beautiful one' would translate to Sudara (close enough!), which is actually a pretty cool name, but that means Elizabeth (oath of god) translates to Paramēśura dī sahu which really doesn't work! So maybe this author's choice was the wiser one?!

But enough with the writing issues and criticism. As I said at the beginning, I found this story engrossing and entertaining, and it kept me swiping the screen and tempting me away from my own writing projects too often, so this was definitely a worthy read. It even helped, indirectly, by reminding me of the original story, to clarify and gel some ideas of my own in connection with my upcoming redux of Pride and Prejudice - which I haven't even started yet but which I have now decided is up next after the current project, and which I promise is not set in modern times, nor is it set in Pakistan!

So I am greatful to have read this for that alone, but it was much more than that to me. It offered more than a literary stimulant; it was a good sotry, well told, and made more interesting to me for the very fact that it was so different from the traditional retellings of this which have become multifarious as well as nefarious and are typically boring and uninventive at best, or badly done at worst. I am grateful this wasn't such a story and I fully commend it - and look forward to this author's next offering.