Saturday, December 7, 2019

No Easy Day by Mark Owen, Matt Bisonette, Kevin Maurer

Rating: WORTHY!

This book proved to be so much better than the previous one I read about SEAL life. This guy, who I shall refer to as Owen (because it's easier to type than Bisonette!) seems far less of a puffed-up, self-aggrandizing boor than the other guy. He's a lot more modest, authentic, and straight-forward in how he tells his story, although it occurs to me, since both of these SEALs had co-writers, that maybe the influence of the co-writer might have something to do with the tone of the book. Who knows? I guess writing is one of the very few things SEALs are not professionally trained for huh? LOL!

It also occurs to me that if more SEALs are going to write books about their life, they're going to have to work on a new opening sequence, because all of the ones I've read so far start out with their stringent training, which is seriously strenuous and very tough, make no mistake, but after reading at least three of these now, the routine is starting to be a bit tedious.

Having said that, I have to grant that this one was different enough though that it wasn't too bad as it happens, because this guy was already a SEAL before he started in on the advanced training to join the Green Team. No book had made that clear to me before. When they want to get into the Green Team, which is the anti-terrorism and hostage rescue unit, they have to step-up to a whole new level of training, and no one cuts them any slack. So even though they're already a SEAL before they start, they can and do wash out of this particular training. That was an eye-opener.

Note that there really is no SEAL Team Six. There was, when there were only two other SEAL teams! They called it Six to mislead the Soviets as to how many teams there were. Team Six actually got sucked into DEVGRU decades ago, although it's still called six for shorthand, but even that's misleading because there isn't one team (and it doesn't have six members!). Teams vary and fluctuate, and are put together in groups suitable for the mission at hand. Thus the last one mentioned in the book, the infiltration of the compound in Pakistan, comprised of 22 SEALs handpicked as the most experienced from several teams, along with an EOD tech (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), a CIA operative, and a dog! And they still had things go wrong.

I liked the author's informative and reserved (and modest!) style, and I enjoyed the descriptive writing, although I did not appreciate the alt-right take on President Obama, which was entirely uncalled-for. The author talked about his SEAL training in only the first two chapters and by the third, he was in the Middle-East on a mission to secure a dam from being blown-up after the invasion of Iraq. This led into, one after another, other stories of missions, from participating in the rescue of Captain Phillips from Somali pirates, to clearing insurgent-held houses in the Middle East and hunting terrorists in Afghanistan. It culminates in the stealth assault on the bin laden compound in Abbottabad, and the entire book is filled with enough detail to satisfy, without Tom Clancy-fying the fuck out of it, about these these Green Teams do their work, what the equipment they use consists of, what the dangers are, and how things pan out. In short it was perfect for my purposes and I highly commend this book as the best I have so far read on special forces.

The Coldest Winter by Antony Johnston, Steven Perkins

Rating: WARTY!

I got this because it's purportedly related to the movie Atomic Blonde which is a really good movie. The problem is that this book, despite having Charlize Theron's image on the front, has nothing whatsoever to do with the movie, which is based on The Coldest City not The Coldest Winter. This is why I have nothing to do with Big Publishing because they're so shamelessly dishonest, it's disgraceful.

Nevertheless, I tried to give this a read and it was boring. The art is thick, ugly, smudgy black and white, and the book was unappealing in every way except that I could close it and return it to the library and pretend I never had it in my hands. That was the best part about it by far.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by A Conan Doyle

Rating: WARTY!

It's important to note that this is The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by A Conan Doyle, not by the Conan Doyle. Just kidding. Seriously, I came back to this through the British TV series Sherlock penned by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, and wondering whether they would ever get around to a fifth season. It's looking rather like they won't, and maybe that's not such a bad thing after season four. But I got to wondering if they did, what would it be like: would they continue into season arcs like they had, or simply get back to basic mystery solving like the show was when it first began. This led me to the original stories and to this volume which contains a dozen adventures:

  1. A Scandal in Bohemia
    This is the only story featuring the absurdly overrated Irene Adler, who is trumpeted today as Holmes's equal, when in reality, all she doe sis protect her property. The sad thing about this story is that Adler's "brilliance" is only visible because all other women in the Holmes canon are treated as cannon fodder, so be shot out as needed to display empty headedness, a predilection to fainting away, and other traditional feminine traits. The fact that Adler is none of these things makes her stand out, but it does not make her a mastermind. Holmes isn't even a mastermind in this story, so it's hardly an act of genius to bea thima t his own game. She just knew what she wanted and succeeded in protecting something that was valuable to her. It had nothing to do with smarts, only with determination if not outright desperation. That's it. The story isn't that good.
  2. The Red-Headed League
    A story about a redhead who is tricked into leaving his place of work every day so the villains can dig through to the bank using a basement under his store.
  3. A Case of Identity
    In which a money-grubbing stepdad hatches a bizarre scheme to keep his step-daughter;'s income in the family.
  4. The Boscombe Valley Mystery
    Two Australians at war in rural England.
  5. The Five Orange Pips
    Improbable tale of the KKK
  6. The Man with the Twisted Lip
    A married man begging to keep a secret.
  7. The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
    A stolen blue diamond is added to the crop
  8. The Adventure of the Speckled Band
    No one, and I do mean quite literally no one has ever called a snake a 'speckled band" except Doyle in this story! The whole story sucks. Snakes are effectively deaf to airborne sounds; they hear by resting their jawbone on the ground, so the idea of training a snake to respond to a relatively high-pitched whistle is for the birds. Holmes wasn't so smart after all, was he?!
  9. The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb
    Counterfeiting in the English countryside isn't something to thumb your nose at.
  10. The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor
    Twice toiled tail.
  11. The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet
    Doyle gave us the six Napoleons, Moffat gave us the six Thatchers, this story gives us the three beryls.
  12. The Adventure of the Copper Beeches
    An Unwelcome fiancé is made to rue the castle.

Can't commend this based on the average stories inlcude din this collection. Perhaps retirement Holmes rather than Sherlock?

Friday, December 6, 2019

Extreme Medical Services by Jamie Davis

Rating: WARTY!

This was a seriously disappointing audiobook both the story and the reading of it. I should say up front that I'm not a fan of vampire, werewolf, or other shifter stories. I have read one or two that were worthwhile, but those were few and very far between. As for the vast majority of them, they vary only between laughably unimaginative and downright brain-dead stupid, but this one seemed like it offered a new angle: that of a med tech who caters to this supernatural crowd, and I made the beyond the grave mistake of deciding to give it a try. I sure learned my lesson.

The biggest problem is that this story felt like it was written by an author who was not painting by numbers, but writing by numbers, trying to get the 'right' concepts in the publisher-approved spaces, and he became so focused on that, that he forgot he was supposed to be relating an original and engaging story. So while his writing-by-numbers was perfect, in those latter categories, this story was an abject failure. It was so unrealistic - even within its own framework - that it constantly kicked me out of any suspension of disbelief by reminding me far too often of how profoundly stupid it was.

So we start the story with the predictable in the middle of a crisis situation, then we immediately revert to flashback mode, which brings the story to a screeching, jarring halt. Even that might have been survivable had it not been for the brain-dead writing. The author expects us to believe that a med tech who graduated with a great track record in his academic life, and thereby earned himself an unexpected berth in the supernatural med-tech world, would be thrown into a service about which he was profoundly ignorant, never even heard of, let alone knows anything professionally, and in this state of dangerous ignorance, be sent out on emergency calls with absolutely zero preparation and training.

Yes, if your goal is to slaughter your patients through sheer incompetence, then by all means go right ahead and do that. If you're serious about your work though, and intent upon saving lives, then you tell your proby up-front what he's going to be doing, you'll ascertain with certitude if he's okay with that, and you'll train him as to the special needs of the supernatural clientele so he can actually be of use instead of floundering from the off! You don't toss him into it in the dark without a word that his patients will all be supernatural, and that his first call is going to be a werewolf in the middle of a diabetes-induced transition. Wait a minute, a werewolf with diabetes? No, not a werewolf - a lycan! I'm sorry, but this was all horse-shit, and did I mention stupid? As much as I would have liked to have read an intelligent take using this plot, I could not stand to read any more of this absurd garbage.

One of the warning signs, which I ought to have heeded was the EMT lecturing the new guy on the fact that werewolves prefer to be called lycans - a term shamelessly lifted straight from the Underworld movie series. Why would these alien creatures prefer to use a human-invented, if venerable, term for a disease? Like I said, the author was so intent upon conforming to established standards, that he rendered his book into a boring joke instead of an engrossing read. I ditched it very quickly. This is precisely why I don't read this genre: it's boring as hell! It would be nice to find something new and different, but in a way it's quite reassuring and even encouraging to know that nothing has changed. Now I know I don't need to waste any more of my time on this tedious crap for a couple more years at least.

The Lilac Princess by Wanda Luthman

Rating: WARTY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I realize this book isn't aimed at me, but from my perspective, even taking into account the audience it's intended for, this book was wrong from the very start. For a book supposedly about values, this story places entirely the wrong value on a child when, on only the second line, we learn that the princess is "young and beautiful," as though nothing else matters in a woman: not smarts, not integrity, not loyalty, not good behavior, not helpfulness, not friendliness, not the ability to listen and learn, not hard work, not thoughtfulness, but beauty. I'm sorry, but no. I cannot support a book this shallow, even a very short one aimed at young children, and for that very reason that this is the wrong message to give to young children or any children.

It would have been bad enough if that was the only faux pas, but it got worse. This is your traditional - read: antiquated - story of a damsel in distress who needs a manly man to rescue her. Maybe for this particular princess, beauty is the only thing she actually does have going for her, because she certainly exhibited none of the qualities I listed above. She talks to strangers and doesn't even get kidnapped by one, but voluntarily goes off with him, whereupon of course, she's held prisoner until a boy rescues her. She can't do a this for herself as you know, because she's 'only a poor helpless girl'.

For a moment or two I wondered if this book had been published in 1919 rather than the 21st century, but no, it was originally published in 2014. How it got published I do not know, but I cannot commend a story so far out of touch with modern womanhood.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Code Girls by Liza Mundy

Rating: WORTHY!

Coming from a long line of renowned Mundys, such as the late lamented Sic Transit Gloria, and the animalistic Coty, this author...I'm kidding. The real review starts next.

This book is about the literal thousands of young women such as the work-like Dorothy Braden Bruce and the stellar Ann Caracristi (and some, such as Agnes Meyer Driscoll and Elizebeth Smith Friedman, not so young) who worked in, oversaw, and contributed invaluably to cracking Axis codes during World War Two. Most of these women are unsung and many just as heroic in their way as the men who went into battle. It was that very drafting of men en masse which deprived the allies of critical help in the war effort on the home front, which is where women came in.

Realizing help was going to be needed in the grunt work of cracking enemy coded transmissions, women were initially sought from the upper crust colleges of the northeast, but before long, the trickle of such women became a flow and as soon as the white men running things realized that it wasn't so much a woman's academic qualifications as other characteristics that made her useful (r useless) in not just working the pipeline, but also cracking codes, the floodgates opened and women from all walks of life came in by the hundreds, and not just civilians.

In the course of this recruitment, there was created a Navy branch which came to be known as the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). Despite these women being summarily rejected at the end of the war, not all of them left the espionage service, and the world would never be the same again after women had finally been given the chance to show what that could do.

I had some problems with the organization and the writing of this book. It had too much extraneous detail, and the time-line jumped around like a grasshopper on a hot tin roof. It made things much more confusing than they ought to have been. It once again only goes to show that a journalist is not necessarily qualified to be a writer of books.

The brainwashing that journalists are given to put some humanity and personal interest items into the story got in the way of this story at times. I know there were a lot of women worthy of mention, but here there were so many that it often got to be a problem keeping track of who was who, and the jumping did not help this. And did we really need to know that so-and so resided at address X in city Y? No! Who cares? Seriously? I sure a shell wouldn't want to see my address appear in a book because so and so lived here in 1943. Hell no!

There was a lot of this kind of thing, and while some details were interesting (such as Bets Colby's "epic" parties about which I actually would have liked to have learned more!), this technique (if you can call it that) failed to make a lot of the women who were mentioned actually stand out. They tended to get lost in the mundane. It seems like those who did stand out, achieved that despite the writing, not because of it, and many did, purely from the sterling contributions they made and the insights they had in the actual breaking of codes, but others, who nevertheless made serious contributions in terms of attention to detail and work ethic, often got lost which was a crying shame.

That said, the author did make a remarkable and very welcome contribution to offset the woeful lack of information out there about what these girls and women did. There were scores of them, far too many to mention here, and they worked their butts off to crack codes and save lives. They lived and breathed their work and it was a sad loss when most of them went back to their unheralded lives after the war, never to be heard from again. Although no doubt at least a few of them were happy to do that, I am sure many more were not. I found this book gripping and fascinating, and could not put it down for the last third because I was so engrossed in it and really wanted to finish it. I commend it fully as a worthy read despite some writing issues.

There were code-breakers and female 'yeomanettes' in World war One, believe it or not, and I found it quite curious how these two wars panned-out in terms of what happened afterwards. Post WW1, we had the era of the 'roaring' twenties and the flappers, but after WW2, all we got was the fifties - not an era known for excitement and rebellion in the lives of women! What happened? What was the difference? Why were these two periods so varied? To me that would be worth a book. But I doubt it will be mine! I do have to say though, that normally when I finish a book or a novel, I donate it to the small local amateur library that serves my area of town; this one I kept because it gave me some ideas for a novel that I might write about this particular era and these women.

Sovay by Celia Rees

Rating: WORTHY!

I enjoyed Celia Rees's Witch Child which was one of the earliest novels I blogged since I first began blogging reviews. I'm happy to report I enjoyed this one, as well.

It's set in renaissance Italy, and Sovay is the bastard daughter of a well-to-do Italian, who had an affair with a seamstress. He loved his daughter and left her a dowry, which her evil stepmother uses to buy not a husband, but a berth in a convent for her detested stepdaughter.

Sovay has other plans, however, and consults an astrologer who informs her she will find her true love despite events. As extra insurance, she buys a charm which is supposed to heat up(!) when her true love shows up. I have to say I felt that the charm was a bit of a waste of time. I admit a curiosity as to why the author put it in there, because for me, it really contributed nothing to the story which would have worked better without it.

Nevertheless, Sovay, something of an artist, attends the convent and starts learning the rules. There are mean rich girls there who bully her - again that's a trope that could have been omitted, but once Sovay's art is discovered, she's taken out of normal convent life and assigned as an initiate into the art department - which is run by a renowned female artist, inventor of the prized and secret 'Passion Blue' pigment, and who helps fill the convent coffers with commissions for her art. Sovay begins learning much, but is not willing to give up her pursuit of true love, and forms an attachment to a boy who is working on restoring a mural at the convent.

Needless to say, things do not pan out the way Sovay was hoping for or expecting, but they do pan out and the story reaches a satisfying conclusion. I enjoyed it very much and will probably seek other work by this author since she continues to bat a thousand with me. I commend this as a worthy read.

And Then There Were Nun by Dakota Cassidy

Rating: WARTY!

For purposes of my own, I've recently been taking a look at some of these detective stories that I quite honestly despise, especially the ones that make a pun out of something - typically the main character's name - in every title. It blows, and this story was predictably yet another fail, despite the premise being a lot more interesting than most.

I liked the idea of the detective being an excommunicated nun, and her 'Watson' being a demon, but after a short time the story became cloying and one-note. It was too extreme and inauthentic even within the premise we're given. Having written a novel myself which features an incarnate demon, I was hoping this would entertain me, but that hope was dashed with disturbing rapidity.

The novel became annoying, in particular at one point where the inevitable body was inevitably found, and the police were called in, and the detective outright asked the main character if her name, Trixie Lavender, was her stripper name. I'm like "WTF?" I seriously do not get why female writers seem to enjoy going out of their way to marginalize, slut-shame, or otherwise denigrate their female characters, and it was at that point that I quit reading this one. I can't commend a novel that has a female cop gratuitously insult a female witness at a crime scene and there's no pushback from anyone, not even the author.

Gate of Air by Resa Nelson

Rating: WARTY!

"...and her faith never waived." I think she meant 'wavered'.
"Like all Northlanders (other than Frayka), men and women alike had long blonde hair, pale skin, and blue eyes." Not really.
"No sense in getting all sentimental." That last word didn't exist in Viking times. It comes from Latin sentire - to feel, but the Vikings didn't know it as a word. I get that you can't write a novel like this in the original language, but you can try, as an author, to make it sound somewhat like it's from another era, and not middle-America mall-speak!
Another example is the old guy who said things like: "Njall ain't hating you." And "It be you and Njall!" Seriously?! This is an abject lesson in how to write Northlanders and make them sound American! LOL!
Again with the Aryan cult: "Although he had the height and pale features of all other Northlanders" The truth is that Vikings were no taller than other peoples, and shorter than today's average, women being about 5 feet, men about 5.5 feet. In today's world, the Danes are 4th in line in terms of average height, and Icelanders are 10th so...still not towering.

This novel irked me pretty much from the start and it soon became too nauseating to read. It didn't sound remotely authentic, and much of it was misleading, ill-conceived, or far too American to sound remotely like an ancient people from Scandinavia! One of the early sentences revolved around the fact that main character Frayka (really? Frayka?!), who had just returned from an extended voyage, wasn't wearing her Sunday best or pristine and clean. As if.

I read: "Didn't you hear me ask if she'd ever laundered them? Think of how long she's been wearing them!" Laundered? The Norse peoples were hygienic, but it's highly unlikely someone welcoming back people who had been on a long voyage would make a comment like this! This was nothing more than high-school bullying! It felt so inauthentic and was the first big problem with this novel - the young adult outside who becomes the heroic femme. It's been done to death. Please! Get a new shtick already!

The writing was so clunky and amateurish that I gave up on it quickly and ditched the novel. I can't commend it based on what I read.

Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

Rating: WARTY!

Perhaps it isn't a coincidence that the initials for this book title are BS! Again this is a middle-grade book and I'm far from middle-grade, but I've ready many middle-grade novels that have entertained me well. This one did not, and I quit it about three-quarters of the way through, in disappointment.

The premise here is that there is a book publisher based in San Francisco, which fortuitously is the city to which the major character has just moved with her family. This publisher likes to create book games, and one of them is the eponymous scavenging, by which used books are secreted in places around town, and clues to their location are left online. The finder of the book gets to read it, and gets finder points, and then gets to hide it again themselves. It sounds like fun, and while I can see problems with that practice, it's likely to become a dying art with mega corporations like Amazon forcibly moving everyone to ebooks and all that entails, and forcing authors to sell their work for less than a dollar for the most part, or even offer it for free just to get a foot in the door.

The basic plot here, is that this publisher is about to launch a new game, and is off to the launch when he's assaulted by two low-lives who are evidently in the employ of someone who wants the specific book this publisher is going to use to launch the game. Because they're idiots, they fail to secure the novel (The Gold-Bug - a prize winning short story by Poe, which was probably his best-read work during his lifetime).

Instead, the book falls into the hands of the main character, whose name I've completely forgotten at this point, but it's really not important when you get down to it. Instead of trying to get the book back into the right hands, the main character decides to hold onto it and to try and solve the puzzle herself, thereby causing all kinds of horrors, and putting children at risk, including herself, which would never have happened had she acted responsibly. I think this novel could have been written a lot better.

One major problem with it is that it moved appallingly slowly, and would have made for a better read had it been shorter and consequently better paced. Another problem was the fact that young children were put in harm's way and the last thing they think of doing is alerting the police. For me this is a serious problem with the writing. Yes, to have a 'fun' adventure, children often have to be placed in fictional peril, but if you're going to do that, at least have the writing chops to make it work: make there be a reason why the authorities can't help. Don't go writing the idea into children's heads that the best way to deal with an adult threat is go it alone as this author seems intent upon doing!

For these reasons I cannot commend this as a worthy read.

Keara's Raven Escape by Mindy Klasky

Rating: WARTY!

Erratum: "for the entire three days that the titheman ad stayed on the green" 'Had stayed' was required there.

Previously published as Darkbeast, this novel evidently failed its first time out, and was renamed and re-released for a second try. For me it failed that time, too. There were several problems with it. The first was that it was worst-person voice, which I am actively now trying to avoid in novels having pro-actively weeded out my entire aging print book collection of first person voice titles and ditched them unread. I'm slowly doing the same with my larger ebook collection. This one didn't start out too badly, but it soon embarked upon road after road most traveled, and it was boring. The cliff-hanger ending was expected and not appreciated, and I have zero intention of reading any more of this series.

The novel is aimed at a younger audience than the one I (don't!) represent, so take my commentary as you will, but the story had issues. The author set up the girl as having no female friends. Even her sisters hated her, and the only female she meets turns out to be a traitor to her. Her only savior is of course the inevitable boy, because all women are useless unless they have some sort of male validation according to this kind of author. Why so many female authors seem so hell-bent upon denying female friendships to their characters is beyond me.

In this medieval world - where they have female actors strangely enough - every child grows up with a 'darkbeast', which is an animal (bird, amphibian, or reptile, it would seem) which can talk and which plays the role of Jesus, taking away their sins. They're supposed to unload their negative thoughts and emotions on the beast, and at the age of twelve, are required to visit the 'godhouse' and kill the animal, thereby freeing themselves of childhood sins so they can enter adulthood renewed. Keara cannot kill her darkbeast - her only friend - and is forced to flee her community, sought by inquisitors. She runs away and joins the circus - well, a company of traveling players at least, which earns a living by visiting villages and performs plays tied to one or other of the twelve gods

The story was a fast read and I followed it all the way, believe it or not, but by the end I was disappointed and resented the time I had blown reading this when I could have been doing something much more rewarding. This is why I typically do not even try to read a book to the end when it's doing little or nothing for me. With this one I kept hoping it would really have something to offer, but it never did, and I cannot commend it at all. It was full of trope and took forever to really have anything happen despite it being a relatively short read. It was as warty as one of the darkbeast toads - which aren't really warty, but this observation isn't meant to be any more realistic than was this novel, which turbned out to be a dark beast that definitely ought to have been slain.

Arsenic in the Azaleas by Dale Mayer

Rating: WARTY!

I despise what are laughably called 'cozy mysteries' and I particularly despise any novel which has a dog or a cat as a main character. Not that I dislike dogs or cats; I just find their use in detective stories abhorrent. Since I'm interested for my own purposes in this genre, and this one was at loss leader, I decided to give it a try and it fully met my exceedingly low expectations - and then some!

The main character is of course the "recently divorced Doreen," (recently divorced so she can have a love interest because a woman without a man is begging for a handicapped sticker according to the majority of authors of this and other genres such as YA). She's accompanied by one of the few dogs I do dislike, because it is an unhealthily-bred Basset hound and anyone who supports this so-called pedigree breeding cult needs to read up something about Nazi "doctors" like Eduard Wirths, Aribert Heim, and Josef Mengele. The dog breeders are no better, really.

The antique-named Doreen is starting over (of course!) in a house owned by grandmother, but the dog finds a body in the back yard. We're laughably asked, "Can Doreen prove her grandmother's innocence?' No, of course not. Her grandmother is going to be found guilty as sin and given a lethal injection. Seriously?

Of course she'll prove her innocence, and then she'll inevitably go on to prove the innocence of endless others in a tedious series wherein this little community she just moved to proves to be have a higher body-count than cartel-infested regions in Mexico, with victims falling like flies, all of them suspiciously connected with Doreen the Exploiter and her interests and activities. Why more of these amateur "sleuths" aren't arrested for causing all these murders is the real mystery here. And no, I don't read any book with 'sleuth' anywhere on the cover. I'm allergic to them.

This one started out badly. After a road trip ending at grandma's house - and bringing the wolf with her (or at least a descendent of one), Doreen's very last thought is to get the poor dog set up in the house with food and water. No wonder it's out digging in the back yard for bones. I can't remember exactly where I gave up reading this, but rest assured it wasn't far into it. I can't commend this garbage based on what little I could stomach of it.

Seal Team Six by Howard E Wasdin, Stephen Templin

Rating: WARTY!

My problem with this was the complete lack of modesty and boundaries on the part of the author. I get that these guys need to unwind, that they do a job most of us would fail dismally at (even the part about getting through basic training), but this went beyond strutting and into abuse and psychosis. I draw the line there.

The author seemed like he always had to be first and on top, and successful, and he had no respect for those who dropped out of the BUD\S training or who finished behind him, which was disrespectful in my opinion. This arrogance pervaded the entire book and turned me right off it and the author in short order. Much as I would have liked to have read more and learned more, I rang the bell three times about a third of the way through and felt no sense of failure about it at all. The failure is all on the part of the author. There are much better books about Navy SEALs than this one. This is the worst I've read.

The author tells a story about a third of the way through, of visiting a stripper bar one day. Inside the bar, he asked the staff if they'd make an announcement to welcome back soldiers who were recently on foreign operations, which was a bit overbearing, but fair enough. Apparently there were four Tunisian men in the bar, one of whom made a comment about America minding its own business.

How he knew these guys were Tunisian I do not know, but this guy took exception to that comment, and rather than let it go, which in my opinion he ought to have been man enough to do, he literally leaped over the table at the Tunisian guy, and a fight ensued. The cops were called, but rather than be contrite and settle down, the SEALs then got into a fight with the cops, including a female cop who was manhandled, and they were all arrested.

Then this guy has the nerve to say the female cop wrote her phone number on a piece of paper and put it in his shirt pocket. I'm like, "Seriously?" I didn't believe it, and I am sure as hell not going to read any more of that arrogant and puffed-up crap. I'll find other sources to learn about these men - and I mean the men, not the adolescent boys who this author is evidently obsessed with talking about.

I like to learn about these special ops guys, and I don't mind some swagger and bravado. I think they've earned that, but the over-the-top gung-ho bullshit and sense of entitlement this book was larded with left me cold.

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinney

Rating: WARTY!

Me and this novel did not get along. Despite misgivings (see below) I did start to read it but it did not draw me in, and I felt like I shouldn't have started it anyway for reasonsI discuss next.

This novel in print form uses less than sixty percent of the page for text, and only some forty percent on new chapter pages. Naturally no one wants a book that is so print heavy it's like reading in the dark, but publishers could very easily use much more of the page than they do, thereby reducing paper waste and saving trees, which are the only organized institution actually doing anything concrete to seriously fight climate change. They need all the help they can get.

Since this was a recycled read, I don't feel so bad about that, but I have to say that it's not acceptable to sell or buy new books that so foolishly waste trees. That said, the story itself wasn't worth all this waste of trees though, either! No story is. It was boring, slow-moving, uninteresting and tedious, and I started skimming quite quickly trying to find interesting parts, and failed. I gave up less than 25% in.

The Unexpected Spy by Tracy Walder

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was the unexpected memoir for me because it popped up as an invitation in my email box and I didn't need to be asked twice! The book was very short (about 200 pages) which I normally love, but frankly I could have stood to have read a lot more of this. The author doesn't waste words or pages, and after a very brief mention of her childhood and college, both of which are relevant to things that occur later, we get right into her recruitment at the CIA, the work that she did, and then a switch to the FBI, which I did not expect but which I think I found even more interesting than the CIA, which had been engaging aplenty.

Obviously a lot of this is about the CIA, so the details she gives are naturally censored in parts. This was my only problem with this book - not that things were censored, but that the author had chosen to leave the expurgated portions (which were not that many) in the text, but as a series (in my copy) of tilde marks, rather than write around the topic. For example, I read at one point, "I'd been moved into what was then a deeply classified operation within the CIA, the ~~~~~~~~ Program." I didn't get why she hadn't simply changed it to say something like "I'd been moved into what was then a deeply classified program." At another point I read, "if we ever were to ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~, that action would never be taken without thorough analysis." That could easily have been rendered as something like "any action on something like that would never be taken without thorough analysis." The tildes were most annoying when they ran on for many lines - twelve or nineteen on a couple of occasions. But as I said, it wasn't that often and it wasn't a book-killer for me.

The author was born with what's called 'floppy baby syndrome' or more professionally known as hypotonia, in which the body's muscles are less than sturdy, but she overcame that. I'd never even heard of it until I read this book. Here it stands as an foreshadowing of some things the author had to overcome in her career. This led to some bullying in school, then on to her being a blonde Delta Gamma sorority girl and hardly - to some people's narrow minds - the kind of person who would end up in the CIA! But she did, and started out life eying satellite photographs and analyzing them as an aid to tracking terrorists. It reminded me of a scene from that Harrison Ford Tom Clancy thriller Patriot Games in which they were similarly examining photographs to try and identify people at a camp.

Apparently the CIA has a crazy course in vehicular pursuit, called Crash and Bang, where they get to drive these old beat-up cars and have to try to run the opponent off the road. The course ends with them deliberately crashing into a cement wall just so they know how it feels, which seems a bit extreme to me, but I guess it's better to be prepared. I assume it's a relatively low speed crash, but they were told if they didn't hit hard enough to render the vehicle un-drivable, they'd have to do it again!

I got to read about how it was in the CIA right after 9/11, when people like George Bush, as well as Condoleezza Rice, and Dick Cheney would come in unexpectedly, asking rather desperately if the operatives had managed to find a link between this guy Zarqawi, who they knew was into making chemical weapons, and Saddam Hussein, and each time the CIA would report in the negative. At one point the administration learned that Zarqawi had been to Baghdad for surgery, so they used that as the link, changed the heading on the information this author supplied them, and went on national news claiming a link! That news meant that Zarqawi went underground and they lost track of him for a while. It also meant they had manufactured a 'justification' for invading Iraq. It was disturbing to read things like this, it really was. The book was an eye-opener in many regards.

After some time with the CIA, the author wanted a change of pace and applied to the FBI where she was accepted for training. I'm not sure I'd personally consider that a change of pace, but each to their own! At Quantico though, unlike in the CIA, it seemed like there was an institutional program of resentment and bullying of females, and particularly of one who 'claimed' to have worked in the CIA. The three trainers seemed intent upon employing the same genderist attitude toward her from day one, despite one of the trainers being a woman. Their behavior was appalling.

The book is replete with anecdotes and interesting information not about the details of the work (where permissible!), but about the way the work is done and how hard these people strived to keep a country safe - and how awful it is when they feel like they have failed, either because they did not reach the right conclusions in time or because they did, but those who could act on the information would not listen to the experts who were telling them there was a threat. It made fascinating reading and I commend it whole-heartedly.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a graphic novel, apparently based on personal experience, about a twelve-year old girl going through typical 12-year-old experiences, except that in this case, she becomes fascinated by the so-called sport of roller derby.

Main character Astrid has been best friends with Nicole for what seems like forever, but comes the summer of their twelfth year, and they each want different things. Nicole wants to go to Ballet camp. Astrid, overwhelmed by her first trip to a roller derby, wants to go to derby camp. Her blithe assumption that Nicole will fall in with her plans means Astrid is in for a rude and unnerving awakening.

I'm not a fan of so-called sports that encourage violence and conflict, but this story was amusing enough that even while I disapprove of the sport, I'm willing to consider this graphic novel a worthy read. Astrid has to learn to stand on her own two feet with Nicole gone, and that's not easy on skates! Plus, she lies to her mother about the fact that Nicole isn't going to derby camp with her. The derby work is hard and Astrid is brand new to it, so it's a long learning curve for her, but eventually she picks up the rhythms and skills, and she finds her place.

The story, the second I have liked by this author, had humor and heart, and the art was pretty decent, so I consider this a worthy read.

Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (Fanny Hill) by John Cleland

Rating: WARTY!

Written while in prison by an evidently horny inmate, this is a first person voice novel, purporting to be a memoir by a woman, now of means, who is recollecting her earlier, less secure and well-off years. Frances Hill's nickname, some claim, recalls the Latin mons Veneris, the mound of Venus. In Latin, that is actually Veneris montem. Mons Veneris refers to Kunlun. Mons pubis is a wiser choice term. Veneris was the Roman word for Friday: dies Veneris because Venus was associated with pagan god Frija. Note that Fanny, in the UK, does not reference the posterior as it does in the US, but precisely the opposite.

I have to report that this novel is complete bullshit, notwithstanding the pretentious literary garbage that's been written about it by clueless so-called scholars. If this had been written today, it would have gone nowhere and no actual literary scholar would have been caught dead analyzing it, so that tells us all we kneed to know about it.

It's nothing more than authorial wish-fulfillment, and the way it's written shows no understanding of women at all. It's entirely a man's book form a male PoV, doing nothing more than your typical porn movie does - having some purportedly innocent woman be accosted by an erect male and instead of being horrified, turned off, or angered by his presumption and shunning him, she immediately leaps on him and has unprotected sex. She's not concerned one whit about her own satisfaction, not even remotely, but only about getting him off as quickly and in as many positions as she can possible accommodate!

This lame excuse for a novel, which is right up there with every modern derivative of it, is exactly that: it's pornography, not-so-pure and decidedly simple, with zero pretension to literature. It delights in describing, in first (or is it forced?) person recall, how awed and overwhelmed Fanny is at every sight of an erect penis which is invariably described in aggressive masculine terms as an arrow, or a weapon, for example. It's not very inventive. Let's face it: it's poorly-conceived and badly-written garbage. 'Scholars' who claim it's anything else are morons. I can't commend it based on the portion of it that I could stand to read.

Girlwood by Claire Dean

Rating: WARTY!

Polly is twelve. Her older sister Bree has fallen into the wrong crowd - drugs and so on, and one day Bree disappears. Polly is convinced she has escaped to the woods, but no one believes her. Given how everyone pitches in when a child goes missing, I found it hard ot believe that there was so little interest in organizing a search for her. Yes, Bree was older, and there is the drugs angle, but it felt wrong.

There is talk of fantasy and fairies in the story, and it started out well enough, but then it just dragged. Instead of getting into the woods and going along with the story I felt I'd been promised, it became bogged down in Polly and her wolly doodles all day, and it became a tedious read. I'm not about to expend more of my time on this when there is too much to read and too much to be written. I can't commend this based on the part I read.

Off Course by Simon Haynes

Rating: WARTY!

This was a short story aimed, presumably, at luring people into the writing world of the author in the hopes that you'll stay and buy books. It didn't work on me because I really didn't enjoy this story, so I was glad it was short. It's about a totally matter-of-fact encounter between impatient golfers and an alien spacecraft which has a crew who are evidently intent upon pulling Earth into their galactic sphere of influence. The golfers give them what for. You would think from that premise, that it would be funny, but I didn't really find it very amusing or entertaining, so I can't commend it.

Kind Nepenthe by Matthew V Brockmeyer

Rating: WARTY!

This is another ebook that I've had sitting on my virtual shelf and haven't looked at in forever, and so I decided to get this off the list and I wished I hadn't. I have no idea what the title is supposed to mean, except that 'nepenthe' appears in Homer's Odyssey. It's a drug that's supposed to work like an anti-depressant, I guess. It's also the name of a genus of pitcher plants that I featured in one of my The Little Rattuses™ books for children: Nepenthes attenboroughii.

How any of that relates to this story I can't say, but whatever it was in classical literature, it felt like a sorry pity that I didn't have some on hand to deal with this novel! The opening few chapters were utterly boring - rambling on about some hippy commune, foraging, drugs and wasted lives.

It's supposed to build to an 'explosive' ending, but if that's the case, then this has to be the ultimate in slow fuses. I could generate not a scintilla of interest. None the characters appealed to me at all and I quit reading it. There are too many readily available books out there these days and I can't justify spending time trying to get into a novel that doesn't grab me from the off. I can't commend it based on the admittedly limited exposure I had to it.

Outlaw by Edward W Robertson

Rating: WARTY!

This was a sci-fi novel which is evidently part of the 'Rebel Stars' series and I should really have paid attention to that - not just that it was a series starter, and therefore I probably wouldn't like it, but also that name of the series which struck me as half-baked and overdone at the same time. I also should have been warned off by the blurb, which, despite this novel being published in 2014, starts out, "in the year 2010, an alien virus nearly wiped out the human race." Funny, but I don't recall that happening!

This is the second story by this author that I've read and I've been pleased with neither of them sdo I guess I'm done reading his material from this point on. He doesn't plot well, and so this idea in this particular story of an alien virus was poorly planned. No such virus is likely to harm humans because viruses, parasites, and bacteria evolve and specialize, so unless this alien virus evolved alongside humans, how is it going to even begin to affect us? Was it genetically engineered? There's no word on that, and the events of the novel tale place a millennium after the virus, so how is it relevant? Maybe it all 'falls together' later, but I didn't have the patience to read that far. To me it just felt like his signature style: poorly thought-out plotting. If you're going to write sci-fi, you really ought to have some knowledge of science!

As I mentioned, the story jumps from the wipe-out to a thousand years hence when humanity ("mankind" according to the genderist blurb, not 'humankind'), has recovered from this virus, so why even introduce the virus in the first place? Aren't we immune to it now? And if it's a thousand years with no return of the virus and no aliens in sight, then why is everyone so jumpy thinking aliens are lurking around every corner? That would be like us, in 2019, living in fear of Attila the Hun. And how are you going to shoot that alien virus anyway, if it returns? LOL!

The novel was a tedious read and after these people got into two bar fights in the first few pages, I decided I had better things to do with my time than plow through this anymore. I can't commend it except as trash-ready garbage.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Ambassador Seeing Red by Patty Jansen

Rating: WARTY!

Once again a novel where the blurb makes it sound interesting, but the practice of reading it was an exercise in tedium. I really must quit reading the first book of a series in the hope it might be worth the journey before we get to the end, especially if it's in first person because that's nearly always a grave mistake. The main character here, Cory Wilson, seemed so self-obsessed and self-important, and so profoundly stupid, that I was ready to barf, and I gave up on this tedious tome in short order.

It's supposed to be all on this guy to stop an Interstellar war. Ri-ight. I had no faith in him doing a damned thing, especially not in volume one of a series that I now discover has at least ten volumes. That tells me this author has no idea how to concisely tell a story and is more in love with her own writing than actually getting on with it and having a start, a middle, and an ending. No thanks. Here's hoping the aliens win! At least they, so the author, without a whit of irony, tells us, know how to get to the point!

Being a Super Trans Ally by Phoenix Schneider, Sherry Paris

Rating: WARTY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I'm predisposed to favor books of this nature whether fiction or, in this case, non-fiction, so it's hard for me to rate one badly and I feel bad about doing so, but I can't in good conscience rate this one favorably for a variety of reasons, and they're all to do with how the book is presented, not with what the book's aims are.

The blurb on Net Galley did advise me that the book was aimed at 10+, but it felt like it was middle-grade or early young adult through and through with nothing for grown-ups. I had to wonder how this would get into the hands of those youngsters if it has to get past parents first, and they're offered no incentive to buy it. It also felt like it was preaching to the choir, and I'm unconvinced of the utility of, or demand for, such a book. I hope it works, I really do, but I remain unconvinced.

This is clearly designed as a print book and it's evident that zero thought has been given to the ebook version, assuming there ever is one. Unfortunately, the ebook version is all I get to review, and I have to wonder at the wisdom of a publisher who puts out a review copy in ebook form for a book that seems designed solely for the reader to write in their own ideas or, as is frequently the case here, their own answers to questions. I'd expected to get answers, not to have them demanded of me! Why expect me to have the answers when I'm reading the book for the very purpose of getting those answers?!

And yes, the blurb did advise that this is an interactive workbook "packed full of activities such as self-reflective questions, journal prompts and role plays," but I thought this was aimed at education, and I'm not convinced that it will work in that regard since all we seem to be learning here is our own feelings and behaviors for better or for worse, and not what those behaviors really ought to be and how they can be modified.

The blurb did also say "If you care about making your home, school and community a safer and more accepting place for people of all genders, then this book is for you!" I do care very much about that, but I can't help but wonder where in it lies the information and education that will help a person achieve that goal if all we're doing as a reader is filling in our own opinions and feelings in the blanks and getting little in the way of feedback and advice.

On a technical note, the formatting of this review ebook was really poor. The content page was 'tappable' and by that I mean you could touch a chapter heading for a specific chapter and it would take you there, but it offered no means to return to the content page from that chapter if you accidentally tapped the wrong one. The problem is that it's so very easy to tap the wrong one given how jumbled together the chapter headings were, and how hard they are to read, being split over more than one line, with one chapter heading tacking onto the end of the previous one on the same line. Some of it was a jumble, with part of the chapter title not tappable, the rest of it tappable, some of it colored gray, some blue, some red. In short, it was an unappealing mess.

I should note here that my first experience of this was on my phone, which is where I normally read books and typically do not have problems with them unless they're Kindles. This is where I experienced these problems, and it was because of them, that I downloaded this ARC into both Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) and Bluefire Reader (BFR), and I also looked at this on the iPad in the Crappy Kindle App (CKA) to get a wider perspective.

While the layout of the book was much better in both the ADE and the BFR, there were other issues, including the fact that the content list was no longer tappable. It wouldn't take you to the chapter by tapping on it, so what you gain on the carousel you lose on the swings, or whatever that phrase is; however, on the Kindle app, the problems remained pretty much exactly the same as they were on the phone, notwithstanding the greater screen real estate to play with. So once again Amazon's CKA is a major fail.

I blame this on Amazon's sucky Kindle conversion process which will mangle your book if it has the temerity to offer anything other than plain vanilla text up for sacrifice to the Great God Amazon, and that's what seems to have happened here. I've seen this kind of a disaster frequently in Kindle books, which is why I don't buy them anymore. This is one reason I refuse to do business with Amazon, but that said, it really is incumbent upon publishers and authors to check these things if they want to ensure their reader gets a good experience. Clearly this wasn't done in this case, and I am at a loss as to how we can give a decent review of a book that looks and functions (or fails to do so) in e-format, nothing like it's intended to look in print format. A PDF for this particular book would have been a much better choice.

With regard to the content of the book, I had issues with that, too! Part of it was, as I said, that it wasn't designed to be an ebook, so there were questions, each with an underscored space included to write in the answer, which clearly doesn't work in an ebook. The problem with the questions was that they were jumbled together too just like the content list was. I read ebooks on my phone in portrait format, and that didn't work, but even in landscape mode, there were still formatting issues, with bullet points failing to align, and so on.

For example, in the section titled "Puzzle of Important terms" about 9% of the way in, there was a crossword which is guaranteed to be a trashed after Kindle has done with it. I had no idea how this was supposed to be laid out (until I looked in ADE and BFR), but there was a list of numbers from one to ten, and these began with one and two on the same line, followed by three and four on the next line, then the rest of the numbers through ten each on an individual line after that; then came the crossword clues. There was no actual crossword grid at all. I assumed the numbers had been from a grid that Kindle predictably failed to reproduce on both the phone and the iPad, and I was right.

There were other formatting issues. For example, about 41% into the book, the non-words OKTA NOYB began to appear in the text randomly. At least they appeared that way to me on the phone. They were too mangled to make sense of there, so it wasn't until I looked in ADE and BFR that I realized they were acronyms which I'd never encountered before!

Initially, I'd thought this was some sort of formatting that Kindle had screwed up, but I could not for the life of me figure out what it was supposed to be. My best guess had been that this was meant to be Yes/No (and that wasn't a bad guess!), but it resulted in sentences like: "Do you wear a jockstrap or a sports bra when you OKTA NOYB play sports?" which made no sense if the Yes/No was in the middle of the sentence. This was the case on both the phone and the iPad Kindle app.

I had no idea what that particular question was supposed to resolve, especially when when we're told just a screen or so later that it's never OK to ask what's between a person's legs (Duhh!). Isn't eh jockstrap quesiton precisely asking that same question, just with different words? It sounded very hypocritical to me. This brought me to the next issue I had with this book, but let me have a quick word about the ADE and BFR editions first.

In ADE when I searched for OKTA, I found several hits, but when I tapped on it to go to the page (it said it was on p93), I was transported to what was purportedly p98, and there was nothing there in the ADE edition. I could not move from that page either, no matter which way I swiped! I was stuck on a page 98 no man's (woman's, or other gender's) land! I did not have this problem in BFR, which was the only app I consulted which both offered decent formatting and let me examine what these acronyms actually were!

BFR is typically my goto app for books with unusual formatting, although I've had issues even with that with some books, so I tend to bounce back and forth between it and ADE. Given that Adobe developed Portable Document Format, I was surprised to find a PDF file did not work in their own reader! Note that I was able to swipe to page 98 and beyond - I just wasn't able to get anywhere when I alighted there as a result of a search hit.

Like I said, while the book is written for a very young audience, I'd been expecting at least some of it to be aimed at a more mature readership, including parents, but there was nothing, nor was it inclusive of people who already know things, but still wish to learn more. That's what I felt was missing. The book blithely takes the position that everyone is in dire ignorance about these topics, and so it felt a bit insulting, but if it is indeed aimed at people who know literally nothing other than standard binary genders, then where was the educational portion designed to bring them into the fold of the knowledgeable and thereby useful? Had I been less enlightened and less patient with this particular topic than I am, I would have quit this book long before I actually did.

The book felt much more like it was a survey of the readers feelings about the LGBTQIA community than ever it was a book offering useful advice on how to interact with that community. That's why I feel it was of little help to people in my position, who know plenty about the non-binary world we live in, but would still like to learn more, and without being made to feel we're in grade school while learning it! If this book truly is aimed at people who are just dipping their toes into learning about this world, and especially young people, then I imagine it would overwhelm them because there are so many questions flying at you and no sort of advice or help or hints or tips or definitions (until the glossary at the back).

My first experience of this book was during a drive in to work, and I was using Apple's VoiceOver technology, which is designed to assist people with visual impairments when using their phone. I do not have such limitations, but VoiceOver renders your ebook app quite well as an audiobook if you open it when the book is on the screen. It has issues, but like I said, it's very passable.

Unfortunately, VoiceOver is not an audiobook app, so it reads literally everything that is on the screen, including the punctuation at random times, so when this book listed every letter of the alphabet with 26 underscores after each letter, which were designed in the print version, as a set of lines to fill in as many LGBTQIA words as you could think of which began with each letter, the VoiceOver read the letter A, and followed that with "26 underscores" and then the next letter, and followed that with "26 underscores," and so on through the entire alphabet. It was beyond tedious to listen to!

Had I been reading it myself, I could have skipped that section, but there was no way to skip it while driving. I had to listen to it all - and to the same kind of thing with every other question that came before and after it! I had this same experience with every set of underscores, every multiple-choice question where the options were all run together, and on and on, where the VoiceOver read the thing without pause or inflection that it turned into gibberish. For ten minutes.

Had I known it was going to be entirely a quiz book, I would never have set VoiceOver loose on it, but I had no idea, and I was stuck with this for a half hour! Be warned! LOL! This is relevant, because it underscores the fact that it is largely a quiz book. It's not an information or advice book, and I just didn't get how asking me about my knowledge of these issues was educating me in how to be a better partner/advocate/supporter, or whatever, of those who need this support. I can imagine some people at least becoming frustrated with this repeatedly pointing out to them - via their inability to answer these questions perhaps - how ignorant they are, and dissuading them from reading any further.

The bottom line was that I was looking for something else, and perhaps that's my fault for not intuiting better from the blurb how little this would be of benefit to me in my quest, but I don't feel like the blame is all mine. If you offer a book with the stated goal of helping those who "care about making your home, school and community a safer and more accepting place for people of all genders," then I think it's incumbent upon you to ensure that you provide useful information, not grill me endlessly about how I feel!

That could be a part of it (although I disapprove of that technique personally), but it can't be all of it, because that tells me only about me, not about what I need to offer to those who need this support. I didn't want to read a book about me. I'm not that interesting! 'Being a Super Trans Ally' has the acronym BASTA, which amusingly is the Spanish word for 'enough', and I'm afraid I didn't feel that this was anywhere near enough.

For these reasons I cannot commend this as a worthy read.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Doomed by Tracy Deebs

Rating: WARTY!

This was another tired novel in first person. I think I'm going to systematically survey all of my books and give away or delete every last one of them that's in first person because I'am so tired of that worthless voice that it almost makes me ill when I see it in a book. Also, if I'd known that this author was a 'professor of writing' at a college, I would never have picked this one up on the first place. Such people are usually the very worst people at writing novels in my experience, but I've had it on my shelf for some considerable time, so maybe I was less picky when I picked this up!

The story launches into tropes form the outset - the disaffected teen who is parentless, the two guys, one a 'bad boy' and one a good guy for the inevitable YA lust triangle, and the ditz of a female main character who is so useless she can't possibly choose between them and leads both of them on like a cruel mistress for the entire trilogy. Get a tomb! Apparently this professor of writing teaches that it's best to rip-off every story that's ever gone before instead of writing something new and fresh. Either that or she teaches writing originally, and then hypocritically does just the opposite when it comes to her own projects. Either way this is not a person i want to learn anything from.

Main character Pandora wakes up on her birthday. Despite knowing better, she searches desperately for an email from her mom, but there is none. Yes, she's not an orphan per se, but her mother works for Big Fossil, aka Big Oil, and is often gone, and her father has been long gone, yet he's the one who sends her an email. How mom comes to leave Pandora all alone at home with no-one to keep an eye on her is a mystery. It's not like she couldn't afford a live-in caretaker for her daughter, but this lazy writer doesn't even bother to address that.

Pandora is quite obviously, it quickly comes to light, not the brightest silverware in the drawer. When she sees an email from her father, and despite being warned by her mother to delete on sight any emails he might send, she opens the lone one he does send and then clicks on the website it links to. This act unleashes something take instantly takes over the entire internet. Yes, everything, worldwide! No one is better than this hacker. No security is equal to it, so everything goes down. Then Pandora's computer lights up and she's offered the chance to play a game and save the world. Also, her two male consorts are let in on the game. How her father would even known she was hanging out with these two guys these days is one of endless questions left unanswered.

Idiot Pandora, despite the entire world being offline, decides they can go get pizza. This leads to a truck broadsiding them, and it was when Pandora, in first person, was describing in detail the accident that I decided I wither needed something to prevent severe nausea, or I needed to get the hell away from this piece of garbage. I chose to ditch the book. It's trash. I'm done with this author, too.

The Superhero's Test by Timothy L Cerepaka, aka Lucas Flint

Rating: WARTY!

I'm very late with this particular review because I've had the book for some time and never got around to it, so apologies for that. The author is, in my opinion, dishonestly publishing this under a fake name. I have no idea why authors do this. It's ridiculous, but there it is: new genre, new name. I'd have to have a dozen aliases if I published my work under a different name for each genre. I've never seen the point of it and it turns me off an author.

That aside, I discovered this book was only the first three chapters and then the author offered an almost blackmail-like demand at the end to go buy it at Amazon if you want to read the rest! I don't, and if I did I would never give money to Amazon, not even to get a book in return. From this point onwards I'm going to downgrade all books which offer Amazon and only Amazon as a source, like it's the only bookseller on the planet. I'm sorry if you've allowed yourself to be deluded into thinking that, but it isn't and it never will be. Bezos's terrifying and abusive Behemoth only has the power it has because a collective we have voluntarily surrendered that power to it and we can take it back any time we wake up and realize what a huge mistake that was.

As it happens it was easy to fail this particular book because the writing was atrocious, set in high-school but reading like it was written for middle-graders, the story completely unimaginative and the plot a dismal and tired, should be retired, trope. It's first person voice, so fail there. That voice is almost always a mistake and in this case it lent the main character a disturbing arrogance. It was disturbing because this child has dangerous superpowers and all we're getting is a matter-of-fact story from this same, single source! There's no awe and wonder here, just 'hey! Look how great I am'! Barf. Super? No! heroic? No.

The very first sentence ends with main character Kevin Jake Jason stating, “ least before I punched the local school bully through the cafeteria wall with one blow after I lost my temper.” There's no sign of an apology or a regret there, and clearly the author wants to grab our attention with violence more than anything else in a so-called superhero story. Where's the super? Where's the heroic? That term is thrown into the mix far too readily these days, just like the word 'hero' is bandied-around in real life to the extent that it has become meaningless and therefore no accolade at all. Coming right after that sentence, without any evidence of remorse, we get an introduction: “My name is Kevin Jake Jason and I am seventeen-years-old and an only child.” How is any of that relevant?

Naturally, Kevin is the new boy at school (yawn), and he ends up with the misfits (yawn II) and is bullied (yawn III) all in the next few pages. The amount of rampant and unchecked school bullying going on in these books, with the victim being the one who is punished, is laughable. And a major turn-off. But just as Kevin is about to be taken to the principal's office (apparently not a single teacher was present in the dining hall in this school), he's magically rescued by his dad, who evidently is a retired "superhero" who somehow magically knew that Kevin was in trouble at school and materialized to rescue him and spread a lie about what happened. Super? No! heroic? No! Talk about helicopter parenting. How he knew Kevin was in trouble isn't explained, at least not in my three charity chapters, but evidently this is how Kevin got his powers - it's a manly thing, see?

How does Kevin get out of trouble? Well, his dad evidently is a big fan of Men in Black, because he produces a magic light that wipes the minds of everyone present, and then he tells them what they should remember. Yawn. See what I mean about tired tropes and lack of imagination? This book is a huge fail, and don't try reading it in Adobe Digital Editions because for some reason that cuts off the last few lines of every page. Don't know why. But I don't care because I'm done with this novel and this author. I'm sorry I wasted my valuable time on it.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Mindful Artist: Sumi-e Painting by Virginia Lloyd-Davies

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I love the idea of painting, although I do none of it myself these days. I don't have the time! This book, written by a woman named Virginia who lives in Virginia, but who has studied with the masters in the East and the West, struck me as particularly interesting because it is also about mindfulness and Asian art. I imagine all art is about mindfulness in one way or another, but this book focuses on it particularly, and it has a lot to say about technique too, so I concluded that it will be of immense value to anyone who wants seriously to get into this art form - and likely of interest to other artists too, regardless of which style they favor.

On a technical note, I have to say that the book doesn't work well on an iPad which means that the publisher wasn't very mindful about how it would look in other formats! Unless you have the large-format tablet, the text is far too small to read comfortably, meaning I had to enlarge the page and read, then slide the page around to the reach next section; then shrink it to swipe to the next page. This didn't always work well and was quite annoying - not at all conducive to mindfulness! Then there were problems in moving to the next page, requiring several swipes sometimes before it would slide over, so I wouldn't advise getting the ebook version - and unfortunately that's the only kind of book a reviewer like me gets to read! Maybe it's not available in ebook format? I dunno, but if that's the case it makes me wonder why it's issued for review in such a format! I now claim the record for using the word 'format' more times in a single review than any other reviewer! Yeay!

Amazon's website was predictably hopeless when it came to learning the print book's dimensions. I have no idea why so many publishers and authors sell-out to such an abusive behemoth. Obviously they claim that it's where everyone goes, but it is we who voluntarily give that power to Amazon. They wouldn't have it if we didn't kiss Billionaire Bezos's ass so passionately and routinely. But Waterstone's tells me the book is about 11" (2.96cm) tall. My iPad is only 7"x5" so the height of the book in landscape mode was less than half the actual print height. From this, I imagine the print version is a lot more legible! And now I'm exhaisted. I have to go lie down. Kidding. The book was 65 pages in ebook form, but it's twice that in print because both the Adobe Digital Editions app and the Bluefire reader app were counting each double-page spread as one page. Had the book been published in ebook form as single pages. It would probably have been more legible on my iPad at least.

So enough with the technical. Let's look at content! This was much less frustrating and much more relaxing! The art was beautiful, and delicate, and inspiring, and eye-catching - everything you expect from traditional Asian art. The author took us through selecting brushes and paints, and other materials and the kind of environment you might want to find to paint in. One issue I, as a vegetarian, had with the brushes was that the author recommends animal hair. For me, it would be hard to be mindful when painting with a brush that had animal hair in it because I'd be wondering where that animal was, and how the brush manufacturer got that hair. If it came from a slaughterhouse, I doubt that would make me feel good about using it to paint with! But maybe that's just me!

That aside, I was impressed by the thoughtfulness that had gone into this book, and the useful information with which it was replete. It had all kinds of suggestions from the type of paper to the type of brush, to how the ink was prepared and loaded onto the brush. Following this was page after page of beautiful art, with hints, tips, and step-by-step instructions on how to get there from here.

I was impressed and I commend this book as a useful tool for anyone who is into painting.

Cold Copper by Devon Monk

Rating: WARTY!

I've read material from Devon Monk before and enjoyed it which is why I picked this up, but this wasn't to my taste at all, and I DNF'd it pretty quickly. Whoever it was who decided that paranormal needed to be an integral part of Steampunk, and actual steampunk didn't, I don't know, but I'm not onboard with that scheme of things unless there's a really good reason to toss in everything, including the kitchen sink. Apart from rabid desperation and lack of imagination, there usually isn't.

This was book three in the "Age of Steam" series, but once again there was absolutely zip on the cover to indicate that to potential readers. Thanks assholes at Penguin Publishing Group for letting me know what unrelibale and unhelpful morons you all are. I'll keep your dedicated incompetence in mind.

But really I should probably blame myself. It said right there on the back cover blurb that the main character's name was Cedar Hunt. Seriously? I was so distracted by the name that I completely missed that he was a lycanthrope. That alone would have saved me from this novel! I should have followed my gut instinct to avoid like the plague any novel that has a ridiculous main character name like that. Instead, I made the grievous error of thinking that if I liked one book by this author, maybe I'll like another. I can see now why readers have absolutely no loyalty to authors whatsoever any more, and maybe that's a good thing.

But I digress, as usual. So anyway, the story was supposed to be about this werewolf (Monk evidently doesn't have the guts to call 'em like she sees 'em) who is hunting for a magical thing (yeah, magic!) that's capable of great destruction (yeah, world-shattering!). There are seven pieces to this, so presumably that means seven novels at the very least in this rat's nest of a series. It's a pity the Holder didn't destroy the series before it got this far. A glacial storm forces Cedar Hunt (he's hunting for the Holder, get it? He can't Cedar holder for da storm though) and his party to cannibalize each other (kidding). No, they take refuge from the storm in Des Moines, Iowa, and it's arguable really whether that's better than freezing to death. At least that latter would have got them a kiss from Elsa. Or Frozone if they preferred.

Des Moines is ruled not by monks (Devon Monk, des moines, get it?), but by Iron Fist - or at least the iron fist of some evil dude. And so it goes. Apparently this witch is so pathetic that she can't carve them out a warm igloo amidst the storm so this entire volume of the book looks to me like it's not going to expend a single joule of energy on getting closer to the Holder, but instead, is going to be completely sidetracked. Another problem with series. But at least I never got invested in this one. It didn't even have any steampunk - at least not in the bit I read. Instead, it had all the hallmarks of a western featuring witches, but it was so tediously-written and there was such an underlying stench of a Hollowquim romance about it that I could not stand to read more than two chapters about these characturds before I gave up. It was nice knowing you once Devon Moin, but no fear we must part ways here.

The Siren's Call by Jennifer Anne Kogler

Rating: WARTY!

This is book 2 of a series I began reading so long ago that it's not even one I blogged. Also I barely remember it. This is yet another problem with series ! LOL! I did recall it hazily, along with the author's name and the distinctive cover, and with a favorable if vague memory, but unfortunately I was turned off this particular volume right from the off, very nearly.

The story starts out with main character Fern, one of the 'Otherworldlies' having a bad dream while on an airplane flight with her schoolmates to Washington DC. Although she has a couple of friends at school, she is considered weird and is bullied by people who apparently go unchecked and unpunished at this school, as is the case with every high-school novel ever written for the YA crowd. Curious, that, isn't it? I guess YA authors just love to bully their characters for reasons which escape me.

At the airport, the students are divided into groups of four to share a room, and despite this bullying, Fern is assigned to share a room with the two biggest bullies. That's where I quit reading this. I am so tired of this school-bullying crap. I don't doubt that there is unfortunate and even dangerous school-bullying going on in real life, but for authors of these books to use it as their go-to conflict device is tiresome and unimaginative, and I will not reward it with a positive review. These authors need to get a new shtick.

In this case it wasn't even credible that this room assignment would be made especially since, on an occasion prior to this novel starting, these same two girls had duct-taped Fern's head to something while she slept. Who sleeps through getting her head duct-taped? Why are these two jerks still even students at the school after pulling a cruel stunt like that? Or is it one of those idiotic stories where the bullied don't snitch on the bullies? Again, tedious trope rejected. Find something intelligent to write if you want me to read your stories. This one is garbage.