Saturday, January 18, 2020

Au Bonheur des Dames by Émile Zola

Rating: WARTY!

This novel was mentioned in a biography I am reading, and which will be reviewed in the near future. I found it interesting, because it's an historical novel that was written at the time, so to speak, and therefore had a lot of authenticity even though it's fiction.

The only problem is that it was written in French and I had a modern English translation, so it lost something in that, and there was some confusion about what to translate. Naturally, the names of people and places remain in French, but while on the one hand they maintained the French currency: sous, centimes, and francs, they translated measurements into imperial. I didn't get that! Did the translator think American audiences are so dumb they can't figure out what a metre is?

The story started out interestingly enough, with 20-year-old Denise Baudu arriving in Paris from the country, and finding herself with impoverished relatives. She is quickly forced to find work, and ends up as a sales assistant at a huge department store named Au Bonheur des Dames (The Ladies' Paradise). Here she is subject to such persistent cruelty from the existing assistants who seem to universally torture her, and deride her that the reading became tedious. It felt like reading a modern YA novel!

My ebook reader told me there were over a thousand screens, and I had made it barely to the halfway point when she got rather unjustly fired from her job. Maybe the story picked up after that, but by that point I was so uninterested in pursuing it that I had not the heart to keep reading. I really didn't care what became of Denise.

On the one hand she was cruelly abused, but on the other she was a profoundly stupid woman who let her profligate brother walk all over her, and she simply isn't the kind of character I'm interested in reading about. Seeing no sign of any real change in circumstances by the half-way point, I quit and decided to try something else that might entertain me better. Life is too short to put up with dissatisfying literature!

So I'm done with Émile Zola, and I cannot commend this novel based on what I read of it.

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery

Rating: WORTHY!

This book sounded quite interesting and although it wanders from the octopus often to delve into other topics, it always comes back to the main one and overall, despite an issue or two, I enjoyed this audiobook, read by the author, and commend it as a worthy read. It's for the most part well written, although a bit sentimental and anthropomorphizing at times, and the author has a pleasant and enjoyable reading voice.

The story covers her falling in love with the octopuses (octopods if you must, never octopi), at the Boston Aquarium, and since they're so short-lived - the Pacific giant octopus, which is the mainstay of this book, lives only for four years or so at most, and is biologically programmed to die after caring for the thousands of eggs that she lays. In the main, there were three of these animals discussed throughout the book: Athena, Kali, and Karma, but others were also touched upon - sometimes literally!

At one point I had to question the purpose of bringing these animals from the wild into a zoo to be put on display. There was this one relatively young octopus they named Kali, who featured in a large part of the book. Overnight, she managed to get out of this new tank she'd just been put into that same day, and she died of dehydration and suffocation on the floor at night.

There was a small gap in back of the tank where the water pipe went in, to keep the water refreshed, and she somehow squeezed through that. You have to wonder how intelligent these critters really are when they deliberately leave a safe environment to go into the open air through a two- or three-inch gap. The thing that really bothered me though, was the sheer number of accounts in this book, of this kind of thing happening repeatedly, affecting one species after another. Frankly it was irresponsible of the captors of these animals not to have seen to their welfare better than they did and I'm sorry the author didn't seem angry about it. She was more like, 'Oh well, there goes another octopus. Bring a fresh one in.' It's a little cruel to phrase it like that, but honestly, that was sometimes how it felt to me.

Obviously caring for animals is not an exact science, and things can go wrong. I can imagine if these animals were kept by private owners there would be all kinds of stupid and thoughtless mistakes made and animals dying, but this is the Boston Aquarium staffed by seasoned professionals and the number of incidents was disturbing, like for example, when this electric eel got from its tank into a neighboring one where it electrocuted two prized fish in that tank.

Seriously, did these people never consider keeping the tanks completely isolated from one another? Keeping secure lids on them? At least giving a nod and a wink to Murphy's Law? The saddest thing is that it felt like none of them learned anything from past experience and were therefore condemned to repeat their mistakes. This is incompetence, plain and simple. I sincerely hope other zoos and aquaria take more care.

I can also imagine that Kali's death was an emotional moment for the author after she'd bonded quite strongly with this particular octopus, but the rapidity with which she moved on to Kali's replacement, named Karma, of all things, rather cheapened her mourning period. It was at that point that she put some stuff in the book aimed at justifying going through this parade of wild-captured octopuses.<./p>

She talked about the value of the education that the aquarium does, but she never said a word about pollution or climate change and whether or not the educational experience, for whatever it's worth, that random members of the public get in seeing these animals in captivity, ever really translates into any concrete results in terms of public awareness and support for combatting climate change, or pollution, or in increasing environmentalism.

The absence of something like that undercut the value of her words, because without knowing if that works and produces results it seems fatuous indeed to me to be so devil-may-care about capturing these animals from the wild and then seeing them die in foolish and thoughtless ways. Neither does it do any good to educate people that the giant pacific octopus is really cute, interesting, and harmless if they don't connect its habitat with a polluted and warming ocean. I found that annoying and inappropriate.

I had to ask myself why they aren't breeding these octopuses and repatriating their offspring back to the ocean, or using the bred-in-captivity offspring to populate zoos instead of capturing more from the oceans. That would help to make up for those that are dying in captivity, but she didn't say a word about that either! Overall I got the impression that she was so enamored of the animals that her thoughts really were not free enough to stray very much into the bigger picture, which was truly sad.

That said, the book was educational, although it could have gone a lot further, and it was entertaining. It gave me more of a picture of what's involved in maintaining an exhibit in an aquarium and in how octopuses interact with novelty - including humans sticking their arms into the tanks. It said a lot less about what I was interested in: how intelligent (or dumb!) these animals truly are or what efforts are being made to measure and test that intelligence. I'd hoped for more. This was very much a puff piece - a PR exercise for octopods - but I was reasonably satisfied with what I got, so on that basis I rate it a worthy read.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Wicked by Gregory Maguire

Rating: WARTY!

This novel is one of several l've seen come out recently picking over the bleached bones of The Wizard of Oz. Rather than re-write that story, this one comes in as a prequel, detailing The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. It's also not aimed at children by any means: it's very much an adult novel. The witch is named Elfaba from LFB (Lyman Frank Baum) and is born, after her mother was raped, with green skin and is much despised. Way to make a pregnant woman who was raped feel like her child might be worth keeping, Maguire. She meets Glinda when they both go off to college and Glinda is presented much more as an evil witch there than is Elfaba.

But I tired of this quickly. The writing did not interest me and I gave up on it before getting very far. Life is far too short to stick with a novel that doesn't grab you from the off, so I let go and moved on. I can't commend this based on what I read of it. It was slow and uninteresting and offered nothing to engross me.

Pussey by Daniel Clowes

Rating: WARTY!

I came to this graphic novel via a movie called Ghost World, which I really enjoyed. Once I discovered it came from a graphic novel, I requested that and this one to follow up. I am sorry to report I was disappointed in both. This one appealed because it promised, in the blurb (and we all know how blurbs lie) to be a satire about the comic book industry. It failed. I should have guessed from the title that it was going to be a fail, but I'm always hopeful that my more cynical and pessimistic side will be disappointed. In this case it was not.

The blurb for this one claimed it was "A vicious satire of pop culture and the commerce of art," and claimed it was "a brutal and scathing peek into the insular, pathetic world of the comic book industry," and also that it goes about "mercilessly skewering the business and medium of comics, bouncing from art to commerce to culture high and low." Well, none of that applies.

It's actually a puerile male-centric view of life that has little or nothing to do with comics. The artwork was scratchy and ugly, and the overall look was far too busy to be pleasing to the eye. Often there was more text than art, which makes this in some parts more like an illustrated novel than a graphic one. The story wasn't funny or interesting and I quickly gave up reading it. I can't commend it.

Ghost World by Daniel Clowes

Rating: WARTY!

I came to this via a movie called Ghost World, which I really enjoyed. Once I discovered that had been derived from a graphic novel, I requested that from the library along with one other work by this same author. I am sorry to report I was disappointed in both. The sad truth is that I often am disappointed by the written version of something I first encountered via TV or movies. I'm always hopeful but the hopes are too often dashed!

Ghost World, the movie, told an amusing and entertaining story about two disaffected high school grads who seemed to have neither volition nor ambition. These girls were drifting through life without goal or direction. One of them, Rebecca, was the more motivated of the two and was slowly moving toward living in her own apartment. These girls had been friends forever and the apparent aim was that they would share the apartment, but the other girl, Enid, was a complete slacker and rather unpleasant at times. The thing is though, that the movie made them seem like friends - even like sisters in that they were always there for each other even as sometimes, they fought or even screwed each other over.

The graphic novel wasn't like that at all. The artwork was unpleasant, and the meanness of Enid, the main character of the two leading characters, was a turn-off. She wasn't likeable at all and the ending was perfect in that she disappeared. In the movie the ending was amusing in that she disappeared. She was prickly in the movie, but you could at least see where she was coming from, and feel some sympathy for her. The comic made no mention of the two having any idea of moving into an apartment together.

There was no relationship in the graphic novel with the character played by Steve Buscemi in the movie. There was no ongoing relationship with the guy who sat at the bus stop on the route that had long since been closed. All of these things made the movie human and enjoyable, but all were glaringly absent from the graphic novel. In short, the movie was almost a different story, only tangentially connected with the novel. The move was the better for it. I'm done with Daniel Clowes.

Witch by Elisabetta Gnone, Alessandro Barbucci, Barbara Canepa

Rating: WARTY!

Written by Gnone, with art by Barbucci and Canepa, this series is about a group of girls who find out they're the guardians of the tediously trope elements of Air, Earth, Energy, Fire, and Water. Had I realized this was a Disney series and that the creators had been denied ownership by the Disney Dictatorship, I would never have picked it up. As it goes, I was pleased that I had paid nowhere near full price for this. This volume was misleading, because although it says Volume 1 on the cover, reading more closely, which like an idiot I did not do, this volume 1 is part two! Then why not call it volume 2? Or episode 2 or something?

Well, it turns out that would breech the comic code whereby you're not allowed to know where the fuck you are in a series if you come into it as an ongoing concern. For some reason publishers are determined to make it as hard as possible to figure out exactly where you should start and in what order you should proceed. Endless rebooting of a series, reinventing it, retconning it, rebooting previously dead characters, endless returns of long-beaten villains, and all that crap are some of the reasons why I'm seriously losing interest graphic novels unless they really are one-off, stand-alone stories.

Nevertheless, this one did look interesting and was on close out, so I figured I had little to lose beyond a couple of bucks. I started in on it hopefully, but now I wish I'd spent the money on ice cream instead! So I was misled by seeing 'Volume 1' and overlooking 'Part 2 of Nerissa's Revenge'. That was my bad, and so this was not the first volume, but somewhere in the series. Despite that it wasn't hard to get into; it's just that it wasn't interesting. Instead of getting into the main story about the magic and all that, this volume wandered off into girlish drama, moodiness, and bitchiness, and it was tedious to read. I can see that crap in real life if I want to. I don't need to read about it in a graphic novel.

I have to add a note here about how disappointed I am with Canepa's art. Not in this book, but I've seen other examples and for a female artist to draw sexualized and exploitative images of young females like she does in some of her work is inexcusable.

But back to this book. I should have guessed with Disney that it would not be anything worth taking seriously, but you live and learn and the more I learn about Disney the less I like about Disney. Obviously this novel isn't aimed at me, but I don't think this kind of thing shoudl be aimed at anyone. It's possible to write a story that, while directed at a certain segment, is interesting enough to appeal to a wider audience, and also plays tot he strengths of the core audience, not to it's weakness, tropes, and clichés.

Authors who don't recognize this, risk becoming a niche item. Not that Disney cares. They can spit authors out and bring in new ones on a whim, and they have the legal power to kill lawsuits brought by those same authors without even losing their stride toward another ten billion dollar year, so why on Earth would they care? This graphic novel sucked.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Van Life by Nicolette Dane

Rating: WARTY!

"So we're effectively on the lamb?" Should be lam without the B! They're not actually riding a baby sheep!
"Off near the hollow and it's vast decline," No, not 'it is vast decline', but 'its vast decline' the vast decline belonging to it.

I saw this author listed in a daily book flyer I get and the title she had on offer was interesting, but it was only listed as being available at Amazon. Why authors limit themselves and sell their soul to Amazon like this I cannot for the life of me begin to grasp, but I won't do business with Amazon, not even if the book is free, so I looked on B&N for it and that one wasn't there, but this one was, so I decided to try it instead.

I was disappointed, so I guess I won't go and read the other book even if it becomes available through an acceptable outlet. The writing felt simplistic and amateurish and the descriptions of sexual encounters were laughable, the author squeamishly refusing to use real words for body parts and instead inventing absurd terms, such as "pink pellet" for clitoris. No, not 'terms', 'turds'! I'm sorry but I can't take any writer seriously who does that.

The story is about this woman named Julia who gave up her corporate life to travel around the country (USA of course, because everyone knows that there cannot possibly be any story worth telling that occurs outside these jealously-guarded borders). She drives an old van which she's slowly fitting-out with amenities such as a table, a solar panel so she can have fridge, a shower, and so on. She picks up temp jobs from time to time to finance her travels, but occasional part-time jobs such as a couple of afternoons a week in a bar hardly seem like they would earn her enough money to finance this kind of lifestyle! It would barely pay for gas, let alone food and any kind of other needs; however, I was willing to let that go for the sake of a good story.

At one stop in a town she's visited before, temping in a bar, Julia encounters a woman named Robyn who is upset because she just got laid off from her job. They sit and commiserate and get slightly drunk and Robyn goes back to Julia's place (she's housesitting on this occasion, as well as the bar job), and they end-up in bed together having unprotected sex. In short, they're idiots. You know it wouldn't hurt a writer, the story, or the readership, to put in a brief line about sexual histories there, or at least offer some sort of a nod and a wink to the fact that having sex with a stranger is potentially dangerous and even life-threatening!

More fool me, but I even let that go. This was made a lot easier by the fact that the descriptions of their intimate encounters I took to skipping because they were so boring. As you have to realize, the two of them end up traveling together. Robyn's justification is that she has to go to North Carolina to come out to her parents, because she never admitted to herself that she was a lesbian until she met Julia. I'd say she was bi since she had a fiancé prior to meeting Julia, but you know it's illegal to have a bi character in a novel like this. It has to be all or nothing, right?

Anyway, they set off on the journey and after encountering a seedy guy in Wal-Mart while shopping before turning in for the night, someone tries to break into their van, and Julia shoots him with this .22 gun she carries. So the assumption is that it was this guy they met. I began wondering if it was in fact Robyn's surprisingly placid, accepting, and compliant ex-fiancé who was the troublemaker here, but I could not be bothered to read this story long enough to actually find out.

So these idiots, instead of reporting this incident to the police, take off for the mountains, which again, shows how stupid they are. They end up camping in some national forest area. The next morning, Robyn walks down from their camp site to sit and watch the sun come up, but the description of this makes no sense. In order to get there to see that sunrise, she would have had to have walked downhill on a narrow trail in pitch darkness. Maybe she took a flashlight, but it doesn't say so. The author gives no indication that it was dark at all! Neither does it say it was still dark when Julia goes down there slightly later, to meet her. Despite the sun not yet having come up, there's no hint that Julia had to find her way in darkness or semi-darkness either!

After both of them are together down there, the author writes: "all while the sun moved up in the sky and began ushering the early dawn into the blue morning." I'm not sure exactly what she means by 'early dawn' coupled with 'blue morning', but to me, 'early dawn' means that Robyn went down there in complete darkness and at best Julia went in twilight, yet neither had a flashlight? This was really thoughtlessly-written. Clearly the author wanted to evoke a feeling, but she failed because she didn't actually put herself there and think through exactly what it would have been like. Either that or she conveyed it really badly! It was at this point that I said enough is enough.

I had let so much slip by that it became the straw that finally broke this camel's back. Based on these observations and negative feelings, I cannot commend this one as a worthy read. I've read some really good LGBTQIA books, but this was nowhere near good and I'm not even clear as to what kind of an audience a novel like this could be aimed at. Hopefully not one as stupid as the main characters in it!

Thursday, January 9, 2020

How to Outline My Novel by Sussi Leclerc

Rating: WARTY!

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

"Lie to his teeth" - should be lie through his teeth!
"Some characters live double lives like Peter Parker doubling as Spiderman, Bruce Waine and Batman, Buffy Summers the vampire slayer, Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde..." Couple of spelling errors in there (Wayne, Jekyll)

That's a great name to have: Sussi Leclerc, who I assume is a French author who did her own translation or maybe wrote it directly in English. It's good English for the most part, a hell of a lot better than (pardon) my French, but I have to say I found this book wanting in several areas. The thing is that while I was intrigued by the premise of the book (which curiously the disclaimer depicts as a work of fiction!), I've never heard of her. I'm far from an encyclopedia of author names, but I've reviewed well over three thousand books on my website and I'd never encountered this name even tangentially. When I looked her up on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, I could find literally nothing she had written except a couple of books on how to write novels!

I have to wonder about a person who has no literary track record (unless all her work is in French and not available through two of the major outlets in the English speaking world), yet who promises to tell how to write a novel or, in this case, how to outline one. This seems to be par for the course for this kind of book though: they're always written by people you never heard of. It's very rare to have someone who is well-known - like Stephen King, for example - write a book about writing novels. Not that I'd read his, not being a fan!

If you go online and search for similar topics, such as 'how to write chapter one' for example, you will find the web is also populated with authors you may never have heard of offering advice (replete with cussing and foul language in one case, I'm sorry to report!). Maybe I just have it backwards and maybe those who write novels that become beloved are the worst teachers, and those who have apparently sold none are the best at explaining how to write something. That seems off to me, but what do I know?! I do know I shall never write a 'How To' book, rest assured!

But this is why I was intrigued and decided to review this particular one. Who knows? Maybe I can learn something. I'm always ready, but I should say up front that I'm not a fan of such books, because while you're reading endless books or attending lectures, seminars, and taking courses about writing, you're not actually writing anything yourself!

I'm a fan of reading, in great variety, what others have written and hoping, by a process of osmosis or something, that I can absorb into myself something of what made their book work, and maybe bring it out of me when writing something of my own. This has the same problem I mentioned above though: while you're reading, you're not writing! The thggn is that reading, these days, can be done anywhere, even on a ten-minute visit to the bathroom, or while waiting for a doctor's appointment, or on your lunch-break at work, if you have ebooks on your phone.

You can listen to books while driving, while cooking, while gardening, while exercising, and so on. You don't even need audiobooks to accomplish this these days since your phone will read an ebook to you; not ideally, but it works! At least on an iPhone. It's called VoiceOver and it's a pain, but once you learn to work with it, it does a decent job. The thing is though, you really need to spend at least as much time writing as you do reading.

The other problem with my technique is that one's own work risks becoming nothing more than a sorry clone of what others have written, and that's the most boring writing of all. I mean how many competition-based dystopian trilogies did Suzanne Collins inadvertently spawn when The Hunger Games became a thing? How many tedious vampire vs werewolf novels were tragically spewed-out in the wake of the twilight abomination, which for me signaled the imminent twilight of original novel writing? Such novels are tedious, and the thing is that neither Collins nor the woman who wrote that other novel and who shall remain nameless for her crimes, were copying anyone else (although you can argue that Collins was channeling Koushun Takami's Battle Royale, and the other story was in many ways a rip-off of Stoker's Dracula, but I'm not going to take that detour here.

So the real problem in reading lots of books is that you may fail distill something original from what you've been reading, and end up copying rather than learning the ropes. There is nothing worse than the tired parade of cloned YA novels we've seen over the last decade or two, and I feel that this is a weakness with this particular book, because it seems almost entirely focused on YA material, and in trying to set out rules for writing your own work, it's still playing into that same trope - rather like writing by numbers. That said, you can't simply write any old thing and expect people to embrace it as a literary masterpiece no matter how well it may be structured, because the sad truth is that far too many readers are like sheep in mindlessly buying into the clone publishing industry which rests entirely on woolly thinking.

I was right about this book teaching me something though! I quickly learned this startling revelation: "The main point is the antagonist wants the same thing as the hero, the exact same thing, only he means to get it the wrong way." I'm sorry. I don't have a degree in literature, but didn't Voldemort want to crush non-magicals whereas Harry Potter wanted to support them? Didn't the shark in Jaws want to eat people and the sheriff wanted to save them? Same for the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park...and Hannibal Lecter for that matter. And is it so obvious that McMurphy wanted exactly the same thing as Nurse Ratched? Not! I'm sorry, but this struck me as completely off.

The book quickly launches into a series of chapters explaining what needs to happen in the matching chapters of your novel: chapter one should do this, chapter two that, and so on. The author does warn earlier in the book that your mileage may differ, and that in consequence, you may want to change things up a bit to match whatever it is that you're writing, but this 'by rote' (or in this case 'by wrote', maybe?!) approach seems to me to be problematical if people follow it too closely. I felt it was the wrong approach, and risked the reader writing far too rigid a novel in trying to follow this plan, at the potential cost of spoiling what otherwise might have been a free-flowing work of art.

For me this was a weakness. What if your chapters are shorter or longer? If your book has fifty short chapters then surely you can't accomplish the same thing in chapter one that the author advocates here. In such a case, you'd need to calculate the ratio of chapters and try to figure out what proportion of the book you need to get to before you can apply the specific chapter rules listed here. Percentages of the distance through your book would have been a wiser choice. The author did employ these a couple of times, but why not more often, I could not figure out; it would have been less rigid and made a lot more sense.

For me personally, the book advice was made worse by the steady diet of quotes from YA novels. I'm not a huge fan of YA although I've found many books in that category that I've enjoyed. The problem is that I've found far too many more that are precisely what this author appears to be advocating: pedantic cloning of what everyone else has done, and that makes for the most tedious reading material because your novel will sound exactly like every other YA novel in the genre, and what's to differentiate it then? This is not good writing and it sure as hell isn't going to lead to great literature (in the loosest sense of that word).

The author seemed to rotate around The Hunger Games (which I liked), Divergent (which I personally detest), Hex Hall, which I rather liked, but which isn't well known, The Coldest Girl in Cold Town which I've never heard of, a novel by a male author who I shall not identify by novel title or by name because I detest pretension in writing, and Daughter of Smoke and Bone which I liked.

There were others which I'm not listing here because they were mentioned less, but they suffered precisely the same problem: nearly all of them were YA! You will note that the bulk of these I listed are trilogies or series. Even though I liked the beginning volumes of Hex Hall and Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I never actually finished the series in each case because I grew bored; so despite liking some of them, it was annoying to have them constantly brought up.

Worse than this though was that these were all used in a positive sense. There were no negatives in this book! There were no examples of how not to outline your story or how to outline it in a non-standard way and still achieve the same effect. It was like this arbitrarily-structured pattern was the only way to go and I disagree. So do many other authors as judged from the huge variety of stories that are out there.

In this 'How To' book, there was no adjustment for example for short stories, novelettes, or novellas, nor was there any overarching view that could be taken if your novel is written as part of an arc - a trilogy (god forbid), for example. Naturally, you should write each volume with the same basic rules in mind, some of which are espoused here, but if your story is to stretch over three or (god forbid) more novels, then doesn't your overall outlining need to encompass those volumes too? That's a major reason why I found this so strange, to talk of only one volume and then use volume one of a trilogy as an example! It made no sense to me because volume one of any series is nothing more than a prologue. None of that was addressed here.

On a technical note I have to say that the copious quotations from the works listed (and others) and which I quickly took to skipping, were all done in an odd way. Instead of having the text inset to signify it was a block quote, the quotes appeared to be set in shaded squares. Maybe this would look fine in a print book, but in an ebook they didn't work so well. It was exacerbated on my phone because I always set my ebook readers to be a black page with light text rather than the other way around - a white screen with black print.

I do this because it conserves the battery, but it can produce very odd effects in books which try to go any way other than plain vanilla in their layout. What my mode of viewing did to the quotes from these various books was to set the background to little squares of pale gray, and the text to white, making the quotes pretty much illegible. As it happened in this case, this suited me: it made it easier to skip them! Note that these quotes gave major spoilers, so you might want to skip them too if you haven't read the book in question and plan on doing so.

In general the book felt like it had far too many persnickety rules and regulations, and it was far too 'busy' in appearance, making for an unpleasant read. I didn't like the approach it took, and I found it to be too set in its ways. So, while I wish the author all the best in her career, for these and other reasons listed, I have to say I was disappointed in the book, and I cannot commend it as a worthy read.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Thornfruit by Felicia Davin

Rating: WARTY!

The cover if this book is misleading because it shows the title as two words whereas in the book itself it's a single word. Shame on the cover designer. I loved the title just like I loved the idea of the book - a fantasy LGBTQIA story. Not common, and the uncommon is what often attracts me even when it's a magical fantasy, which normally doesn't attract me. I have to say I was disappointed with it though, particularly with the non-ending. I knew going into this that it was the first of a series, and me and series do not get along. There have been very few series that have made sense to me or kept my interest, but I do live in hopes of finding another that I will enjoy.

Alas it was not this one. It's depressing to be so often disappointed. The main problem is that the story really went nowhere and took its sweet time doing it, so all we got was a prologue, not a real story in and of itself. It ended on a sort of a cliffhanger and I can't forgive an author for that. Not when they say, "Hey! Pay for another book and I'll tell you the story I promised to give you in this volume. Screw that! It's too mercenary for my taste and I despise authors who do that. There was also far too many characters popping in and out of the story to try and keep track of, and they began to run into one another and become indistinguishable after a while.

Although the series name, "The Gardener's Hand" did not register at all because (it seemed to me) that it zero whatsoever to do with this volume from what I could see, I liked the title because it perfectly encapsulated the story of these two girls who meet in the fantasy land. They were an interesting couple to begin with, and for a while I was falling in love with them, but the more the story dragged on with nothing really happening, and it seemingly going nowhere, the more disillusioned I became, and in the end I honestly didn't care any more what happened to these two girls.

Despite intriguing me and leading me to read this novel, the book blurb, I have to say, lied! It begins by claiming that main charcter Alizhan can't see faces, but that's not true. She sees perfectly well, but she can't make sense of people's emotions from their faces. There is a real medical condition similar to this, called Prosopagnosia, but Alizhan doesn't quite suffer that. Her problem is that a face is simply a blank arrangement of eyes, nose and mouth, and she can read nothing from it. She can read minds though, so the blurb did get that right. Evreyet Umarsad aka 'Ev', is the other main character. She has no special talent and no friends because she's part Adappi - meaning her father is from Adappyr, and her kind are not well-liked. She lives with mom and dad in her mother's homeland close to the large port city of Laalvur.

Alizhan works as a professional thief and mind-reader for a city leading "family" headed by Iriyat who seems to have a soft spot for Alizhan, who has no idea of friends either until she begins to connect with Ev, and the two are drawn to each other. I liked that their relationship was a slow burn to begin with, but the more I read of the story the more I realized that this burn was so slow that it was nothing more than a fizzle. It goes nowhere in this volume, and I was truly disappointed that they failed to make a better connection than they did. I expected more and resented that the reader was denied this. That, the slowness of the pace, and the non-ending, are why I cannot rate this as a worthy read.

This is a problem with series. What ought to be said in one volume is puffed and padded, and spread out over three volumes and it becomes a tedious read. That's exactly what has happened here. The whole plot is of Iriyat's experiments on kids who are just like Alizhan despite her apparent attachment to Alizhan herself. It should not have taken a whole novel to get there and it really dragged at times. Just when I thought something was going to happen, or change, or move, we got served more of the same, and the story went into the doldrums again, becalmed with no wind in the sails. It was annoying and was certainly a case where 'rock the boat' ought to have been the watchword. I can't commend this and I'm done with this series and this author.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Chi Running by Danny Dreyer, Katherine Dreyer

Rating: WARTY!

I'm not a runner although I do really need to get back to exercising more this year, but I was intrigued by what this author had to say and in the end I have to report disappointment. My version (more on this anon) is 320 pages of largely fluff, with occasional interesting bits sown throughout, but you have to read very closely and pay attention to catch those bits as they fly by in what seems like nothing but an endless prologue. I've never read a book that seemed so intent upon disguising the very topic it claims to promote.

Let me say up front that all this business about 'chi' and 'prana' and so on is patent bullshit. There is no such thing. If there were, scientists would have found it by now. The author claims early in the book that "Chi...generates movement in the physical world and is that which animates life." If by 'chi' the author means adenosine triphosphate then they're correct. If not, then this is pure nonsense! What's really confusing though is that the B&N website has two print versions of this book, each with a different cover, one having 320 pages, the other having only 288 pages. The one with fewer pages costs two dollars more. Why? It's chi! Don't question it!

None of this necessarily that the author has nothing valuable to say about improving your running technique. For e, the problem was that even when the book confined itself purely to that, it often made no sense. The author at one point was talking about two forces that are claimed to be at play when you run: gravity, and the road! I'm sorry, but these are the same thing. To be more specific, there is only gravity (and yes, there's your kinetic energy as you move forward, but that's not what's being talked about). Gravity is what pulls you to the road, your legs are what propel you up from it. The force of the road is no more than the resistance of it to gravity trying to pull you down to the center of the globe!

Worse, the examples serve only to obfuscate, not clarify. One of the important points that is made is that you should move your feet to support your body, so you land with your foot flat underneath your center of mass, rather than stretch it out to land on your heel or your toe. This is the main secret to preventing leg injuries such as shin splints and knee problems we're told, but the example used here to illustrate it is the Warner Brothers cartoon Road Runner about which the author says "He had a great lean, while his feet are spinning behind him." Now I personally claim no great insight into the Road Runner's gender. The author seems quite certain, but I'll let that go.

The thing is that this idea of the feet behind the body is precisely the opposite of the technique we're supposedly being taught, which insists that your feet land directly under you. That's the chi running technique in a nutshell, FYI: let your body lead, pulling you forward, and as gravity pulls it down to the ground, place your feet directly under your center of mass to keep your body from falling. In this way you can, we're assured, improve your running and avoid injury.

The problem is that you're still moving your legs forward and pushing off the ground and you can only do this with your toes. You do have a certain amount of momentum once you get going, but without that propelling leverage off the ground with your toes on each stride, you will stop! Or fall flat on your face if you quit putting your feet under you. One or the other. The explanation we're given claims that you really don't need to call upon your leg muscles to run, which is nonsensical throughout, and you cannot run without injury if you're trying to propel yourself forward while your foot is flat on the ground. That for sure will injure tendons.

The author doesn't quite get the first law of motion as expressed by Isaac Newton. It's really the definition of inertia, which people too often mistake for a couch potato, but inertia doesn't mean unmoving, it means unchanging in terms of motion: not only things which are sitting still remaining at rest, but also things which are in motion remaining in motion until and unless they're acted on by an unbalanced force. So the author's right in that your body will not move unless you employ your legs to move it (in this scenario), but this is in direct contradiction to claims at other points in the book that you don't need to hit the ground with your feet to propel yourself forward!

There are pictures in the book aimed at illustrating the techniques discussed, but those often are unclear. One of them which was clear refutes this claim about landing on the flat of your foot rather than your heel, because the third picture in the sequence (figure 57) shows the heel of the foot hitting the ground first! Figure 59 of this same sequence of six photos, shows the leg pushing-off with the toes, so the images that supposedly show the correct technique show the very thing we're purportedly being warned against! Either that or the explanation we're being given is, again, obfuscatory rather than explanatory.

Some of the illustrations themselves are problematical in another way because, as for example in figure 42, the illustration has light text on a light background which is impossible to read. Another (figure 41) which supposedly shows correct technique, has a circular diagram at the lower legs, showing (we're expected to believe) the circular motion of the feet, but feet do not move in a circular motion when running. The foot that's in the air in this image isn't going any higher. It will not complete a circle before hitting the ground again! It's going to swing back and hit the ground in the shortest way possible. The feet therefore move much more like a pendulum below the clock, not like the hands on the clock face! If the author had something else in mind, it was not clear from the writing.

So I have to say I cannot recommend this book at all. Maybe if you're really interested and can get it for free or at a close-out, it may offer useful tips for you, but for my money, I pass. The book does not.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Story of My Life by Farah Ahmedi, Tamim Ansary

Rating: WORTHY!

For my last review of 2019 I have found a real cracker! Books like this are essential reading because such a book almost comes with a guarantee that no matter how bad you think your life is, no matter how badly you think you've been treated, there's always someone worse-off than you who has struggled through their difficulties and found a life worth celebrating on the other side.

This book was also highly educational in that it reveals the shortcomings of groups that while admirably seeking to help refugees, also inadvertently fail them in really taking care of newcomers, leaving them feeling lost and abandoned just when they were starting to hope their troubles were over. No one in their right mind wants to stand around handing out peeled grapes to someone reclining indolently on a couch, but once you have taken charge of someone's welfare, it is incumbent upon you to see it through to the point where the people you are supposedly helping can stand unaided and take care of themselves. Rescue followed by abandonment halfway through the job does no-one any good, least of all the nation that's adopting the refugees.

Farah Ahmedi was born in Afghanistan - where the people are called Afghans, and they don't speak "Afghani," which is not a language, but their currency! A dozen or more languages are spoken there, the most common of which is Dari, also known as Afghan Persian and Farsi, which is what this author calls it. Farah was born into the Hazara ethnic group, the third largest, concentrated toward the center of the country. She had her earliest years in quite a large family in the time right before the Taliban destroyed Afghan culture, and so had the chance to experience a life without being hidden under a blanket, and which included school, but she had very little of that, because at the age of around 7, running late for school and taking a shortcut across a field, she stepped on a landmine.

She spent the next two years or so alone in Germany being fixed, which in her case meant having pins put into her good leg, because her knee was infected, and having a good portion of her other leg amputated because it was too badly damaged to fix. So she had a 'good' leg she was unable to bend, and a leg she was able to bend, but which was artificial. The Germans took good care of her and fitted her with a prosthetic leg and foot. Returning to Afghanistan, she felt a certain amount of alienation because her own culture now seemed so small and primitive compared with her mind-expanding experiences in Germany, where she had begun learning their language and forgetting her own.

Any relief she may have had at returning was soon stomped on by the Taliban which moved into Kabul like a disease. While out shopping for Afghan clothes now that Farah had decided to give up the western outfits she had worn in Germany, a rocket landed on her home, killing most of her family and leaving only herself, her mother, and two brothers, who quickly had to flee the country because the Taliban was enforcing military recruitment: every family had to give up a son to the Tali-whackers. The problem was that the Taliban would rather shoot than recruit the Hazara ethnic people, so the two young boys fled to Pakistan at their mother's insistence. Farah never saw her brothers again nor learned what happened to them.


This began a nightmare for Farah and her mother because they too, were forced to flee, and were lost to a system of deprivation, endurance, bribery and hopelessness. They made it to Pakistan, and learned of a faith program aimed at helping war-torn Afghan families move to the USA. The problem was that they were approved right before 9/11 and so lost their chance to go, but later they managed to make the trip, dreaming of a better life only to find they were largely abandoned once they had been settled in the USA.

Farah seems to have placed far too much faith in her religion which did practically nothing for her, and little to none in people who were really the ones who helped her. Despite barely speaking any English and having no money and no jobs, and no facilities, they were essentially told, after the settling-in period, that they must fend for themselves now. Finally, due to the kindness of one family in particular, they were able to properly make the transition, and Farah wasn't done overcoming obstacles even then. Fortunately, she had a facility for languages and a dedication to achieving her goals which was beyond admirable, and she almost single-handedly kept herself and her mother afloat until life, finally, eased for them.

This is a story of triumph and heroism that the likes of Marvel and DC comics can never hope to match and that alt-right assholes can never begin to understand or appreciate. People like Farah Ahmedi are not a burden on a nation, but the backbone of it, and one can only hope and dream that a disturbingly large forty percent of the US population will one day come to understand that.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

William Harvey by Thomas Wright

Rating: WORTHY!

Subtitled 'A Life in Circulation" (humor maybe?!) this biography of Harvey, the man who, in Elizabethan times, went against prevailing teaching and realized that blood doesn't ebb and flow in your vessels like an ocean lapping on the beach, but actually circulates. Galen was wrong! Who knew? Galen was a complete clown from what this book reveals of his teachings, but in Elizabethan times, he was a god of medicine and there were professional penalties for straying from what he taught, no matter how absurd it was.

Harvey came from a relatively modest background and rose to great heights. He lived at the same time as Elizabeth the First, William Shakespeare, Francis Bacon, John Donne, Christopher Marlowe, John Dee, Francis Drake, and Donald Trump (one of those may be fake news). He studied at what was then the center of diversity and education: Padua University.

Language was no barrier because all academics spoke Latin back then no matter which country they hailed from. He kept his head down and studied hard and did well, returning to England to be - eventually - accepted into the world of professional Physicians - such as it was back then. Blood-letting as a cure-all was still in vogue, as it would be for another three hundred years notwithstanding Harvey's discoveries, and his discoveries took time to gain traction since they flew in the face of accepted philosophy.

Those discoveries were made at a high cost to animals which were dissected alive and in great numbers as he demonstrated what he found to be the reality of blood circulation and the heart's purpose being a powerful pump. It turns out that blood was not created in the liver and delivered slowly to the various bodily organs, but was in continuous circulation and revitalized as it went. Parts of this book were hard for me to read as a vegetarian who went into a depression when a pet rat died, but I muddled through it and learned a lot. I commend this as a worthy read.

Time Travelers Never Die by Jack McDevitt

Rating: WARTY!

I used to be a big fan of McDevitt, but lately I haven't liked his new material. Maybe if I went back and re-read some of his older stuff, such as the Academy Series or the Alex Benedict stories, which I loved, I might not like them so well any more, but the last book of his that I read was not entertaining at all. When I saw this audiobook come up on special offer, I jumped at the chance to read something else of his, but I was disappointed in it, too.

Paul Boehmer's narration did not help one bit. I don't know what he was trying to do, but he was making everything seem so dramatic that nothing actually was dramatic, and he put weird inflections on things. He also doesn't seem to realize that coupon does not have the letter 'U' as the second letter, so it's really pronounced coo-pon, Kew-pon. Seriously. That was annoying because it was used often. More on this anon (can I just abbreviate that to moron?!).

Even had I read this as a print or ebook though, I think I would have lost interest in it, because the main protagonist is so profoundly stupid, and events are so predictable that I could barely stand to listen to portions of it. It sounded slow, forced, and pedantic. One of the problems is that McDevitt writes this novel, set in contemporary times (it was published in 2009 based on a novella from 1997), as though no one has ever heard of time travel - not even in fiction.

The main character is Adrian Shelborne, who absurdly goes by "Shel." His father, Michael, has disappeared from a locked house, and no one can figure it out. How they figure he disappeared from the locked house as opposed to just having gone out and locked the door behind him was somehow lost on me. Maybe I missed it because I listen to this while driving and when I need to completely focus on the road, maybe i miss bits, but anyway it's this big mystery.

Adrian's dad has left behind three electronic devices which he inexplcably refers to as 'coupons'. It's like a little Chromebook from what I gathered, and you open it up and set times, dates, and locations, and it whisks you away to whatever you set. There's also a return button, but Adrian is too stupid to figure that button out. His first trip takes him to rural Pennsylvania, which isn't far from his home, but his time-travel visit takes him to the next day and he has no phone or wallet with him. He does this without thinking about what he's doing, like he's booking a trip online. Instead of trying out the return button, he borrows a phone and calls a friend to come pick him up.

When they arrive back at his house later at night, he thinks he sees someone in an upstairs window, but rather than come in with him and check out the house, his friend leaves him there alone and he doesn't even check out the house himself! It was obvious to me that he had seen himself, and this is confirmed later. This is after he spends a totally stupid day at work, not once realizing that he's time-traveled and this explains everything he encounters at work. This man is profoundly stupid. The next thing he does is take a trip back to witness himself and his friend arriving home, thereby confirming my suspicion that he saw his own face in the window.

This read far more like a badly-written middle-grade book than ever it did a grown-up work, and I couldn't stand to listen to any more of it. I can't commend writing like this, and after many wonderful years together, I guess I'm finally realizing that it's time for me and Jack to part ways. I wish him all the best.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The Seven Wonders by Steven Saylor

Rating: WARTY!

Set against the growing conflict between the might of Rome and that of Pontus in 92 BC, this story is of teenager Gordianus who embarks upon a journey with Antipater of Sidon to enjoy the seven wonders of the ancient world. Supposedly he encounters a mystery at each one, and this was what interested me. Unfortunately the author was so intent upon showing us how much research he'd done that he forgot he was supposed to be telling an entertaining story, and I became bored to tears and gave up on it in short order. Maybe a print version would be less galling than this audiobook, but I doubt it. Based on the portion I heard, I can't commend this one. If a story doesn't grab you from the off, give it up and find something that does. Life is too short to read a list of authorial research notes.

Monday, December 23, 2019

The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

Rating: WORTHY!

Holmes suffers through some terrible winters and storms in this volume. Why Doyle wanted a good many of these stories to start out with bad weather is a mystery worth exploring, I feel! Maybe they just reflect the time of year he was writing them. The stories are listed below with brief comments.

  • The Adventure of the Empty House
    Set in 1894, three years after the supposed death of Sherlock Holmes, the detective returns and contacts Watson. He faked his death - of course - and was scurrying around for thre previous three years trying to lay his hands on Moroarty's confederates. This sotry invovles the trappign of the last of them with a completely unbeleivable dummy of Sherlock Holmes which invites the confederate to murder him using an air gun (that fires real bullets, not BBs or pellets), and thereby get himself captured.
  • The Adventure of the Norwood Builder
    This invovles holmes's exoneration of John Hector McFarlane who was set up as a murderer.
  • The Adventure of the Dancing Men
    This features the alphabet code of dancing men - each of which has a flag if it's the end of the sentence. Otherwise the code is ocmpeltely simple and unremarkable and does ntothignt o hdie the prevalnece of certain letters of the alphabet, such as the eltter 'E' which is coomon in English writing. It retreads an old story used in other Holmes adventures, of a betrothed woiman who has a previous assignation.
  • The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist
    This sounds like the title of a Monty Python skit, and it's almost as amusing as one, but not quite. It's a story about ruffians deceiving a woman to get at her inheritance.
  • The Adventure of the Priory School
    This was a story that was used in the British Sherlock TV series, and features the apparent kidnapping of a schoolboy.
  • The Adventure of Black Peter
    Black Peter the pirate! LOL! Really he's a whaler and dishonest to boot!
  • The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton
    Thgis sotry was also used in the British Sherlock TV series, but it pans out differently in the book than it did in the show. There's no mind palace here, just a blacklmailer.
  • The Adventure of the Six Napoleons
    Again, used in the TV series where it became the Six Thatchers and was about spyies. In the book it was about missing jewelery.
  • The Adventure of the Three Students
    The three students were all suspects in the theft of exam answers. No murders at all in this one!
  • The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez
    The golden pince-nez were left a the scene of a murder and Holmes must track down the apparent female guilty party. The story starts out "It was a wild, tempestous night" which is almost as good as the trope 'dark and sotry evening"!
  • The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter
    The missing three-quarter was a rugby player who apparently let down his side!
  • The Adventure of the Abbey Grange
    Sir Eustace Brackenstall has been killed! Holmes rousts poor Watson on minutes' notice to rush away on a train to solve the crime! Why Watson puts up with this treatment from Holmes is the real mystery. Holmes thinks nothing of sticking the doctor with the hotel bill.
  • The Adventure of the Second Stain
    The Right Honourable Trelawney Hope, Secretary of State for European Affairs, is desperate for Holmes to find a misisng document before war breaks out! This is also the story in which we hear that Holmes has at last retired, forbidding watson to publish any more accounts of his doings. In an earlier story we'd learned that Holmes was dissatisfied with Watson's telling of these adventures, and was thinking fo writign his own treatise on the detective work he does.

I had never read these stories before, so they seemed fresh and it was an interesting experience to read them rather than go over something I'd read before. It's full of relatively mundane crimes rather than sensational ones, which for me made it more interesting, so I commend this as a worthy read.

The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale, Dean Hale, LeYuen Pham

Rating: WORTHY!

Written by the Hales and illustrated exquisitely by Pham, this short, large print chapter book tells the story of a cute little princess who fights monsters under the guise of The Princess in Black! Definitely empowering, especially for female readers, I felt this was an inspired story designed to quell fears of monsters under the bed and at the same time tell a story to entertain - and it's not all about the princess! There's something in there for boys, too. It was well-worth the reading.

See, Touch, Feel by Roger Priddy

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a highly colorful, fun book full of pictures of young children one one page and a texture to feel on the other, although the textures didn't always seem in sync with the image. You can get a good...feel...for the content here: Encouraging kids to use all of their sense is a wonderful thin and for those on a budget, finding textures around your own living space is a fair substitute.

The Not So Scary Hairy Spider by Rosie Greening, Stuart Lynch

Rating: WORTHY!

Another touch and feel with a different set of textures, including the very hairy spider! Most spiders are harmless and there's no reason why any child should grow up living in fear of them. Written by Greening, illustrated by Lynch this provides touch sensations galore, but these can also be provided by materials and fabrics around your own living space if you so wish and can invent stories to go with them.

This Little Piggy by Emily Bannister

Rating: WORTHY!

This book is part of a series of touch and trace nursery rhymes (Itsy Bitsy Spider is another one, but it seems to me that once you've done one you've done them all - one being very much like another). Children can use their fingers on each page to explore patterns, pathways, and textures. It's a fun and colorful book allowing kids to explore, and it's better than those which have things stuck on the page (like the one with ten ladybugs) because there's no risk here of having a piece fall off that a child can choke on.

The Story of Rock by by Nicola Edwards

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a cute, colorful, and brief book about famous artists from the rock and roll era from Chuck Berry to Jimi Hendrix, from Janis Joplin to The Beatles, leaving no turn unstoned! It was fun and educational and can be enhanced, should you choose, by playing snippets of songs from your own collection by the artists featured here, and dancing with your baby or toddler!

Never Touch a Shark by Stuart Lynch

Rating: WORTHY!

This is a colorful touch book where various animals have an insert which children can touch and explore. It's fun and brings the senses alive. My parents couldn't afford books like this when I was a kid, but if you can, get this or something like it and let your kids have a sensathon! Or put together an inventive collection of materials from around the house, and let them explore with their eyes closed, guessing which animal it might be!

Baby Feminists by Libby Babbott-Klein, Jessica Walker

Rating: WORTHY!

Written by Babbott-Klein and illustrated by Walker, this book really is just a trip down memory lane, highlighting various feminists and outstanding females of history from Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg to activist and assassination survivor Malala Yusafzai, from artist Frida Kahlo to astronaut Mae Jemison, from tennis player Billie Jean King to musician and artist Yoko Ono, and making the point that they were all babies at one point, long before they became known to the rest of us. The adult figure can be lifted up revealing the baby they once were underneath. Baby Frida is adorable with those eyebrows!

The Pigeon Needs a Bath by Mo Willems

Rating: WORTHY!

This is literally a book your kid can read in the bath without it becoming soggy. It comes in its own little plastic bag. The pigeon does not want a bath, but finds out it's bubbly fun when it finally gets in there. Not that my kids ever resisted bathing, but yours might and this might be a great temptation!

My First I See You by Eric Carle

Rating: WORTHY!

Designed by Hannah Frece, this is a cute young children's book which offers a safe mirror on every page of various shapes and styles for kids to discover that they have a face, they are a person just like everyone else they see, and not this blank faceless shell that must feel weird. every young kid should see something like this often.

Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andreae, Guy Parker Rees

Rating: WORTHY!

A cute little book for young kids, and an affirmation of do-ability for anything they want to try. The tall, ungainly giraffe wants to enter the jungle dance contest, but while other animals disport themselves famously, the poor giraffe can do a thing until it gets some advice from Jiminy Cricket - or some relative of his, and inspired by the full Moon, it finally finds its groove! This was a very colorful, silly and fun book that children will love.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Eve by Patti Larsen

Rating: WARTY!

This was your standard uninteresting, first person voice, dumb, disaffected girl saved by a boy novel. Nothing new, nothing interesting, nothing worth reading. I was very disappointed, although I kind of half-expected that going into it, but nonetheless, I was hoping for something better. I was disappointed, but unsurprised. For the most part, YA authors are so homogenous that 'bland' is far too vivid a word to cover what they do. How this author can write so badly and yet be "a multiple award-winning author" (her own words), is a complete mystery to me. This is why I have zero trust in awards and would flatly refuse any I was offered rather than be tainted by them.

The fact that this novel was written so badly really intrigues me because I read here: that the author had used some sort of software at both draft and final stage to assess her work. I'd never heard of "Intellogo" before, but it seems that it's supposed to advise an author as to whether they're hitting the standard test marks for a YA novel. How robotic is that? Seriously? The article about this was badly written too. I read at one point, "how present women are in a central role are" and later, "Was the book moving at a fast enough clip to maintain the intensity for a face-paced page turner." Yes, in this era of Facebook control of your life, you definitely need a face-paced page turner.

But this article also tells us that the author “has a degree in journalism, a background in English, history, and screen writing, and offers courses on story writing and outlining. Patti’s strengths lie not only in her mad writing process but also in her tireless work in self promotion." If she put as much effort into writing as she apparently does into self-promotion, and ditched the artificial intelligence, she might have a book that feels far less artificial and actually intelligent - and focused on telling original, imaginative, and inventive stories instead of writing by numbers and copying what everyone else is doing, which is quite clearly what this novel is.

And that tireless self-promotion really turned me off her. I am not a self-promoter which probably means I will never have a book take off, but I don't care. I'm not going to try to force myself on people. If they want to read me, they will choose to find me and do so. It’s their choice, not mine.

This story sounded like it might be interesting which is why I was foolish enough to pick it up to read, and it probably could have been engaging in more capable hands, but all this author proves is that journalists are not necessarily great novel writers. The blurb informs us that 16-year-old Eve (she should have been named Heave, she's so sickening to read about) is the unholy offspring of Death and Life, and

Her unique parentage ensures Eve isn’t like her angel siblings. She brings Death at the beginning of Life and Life to those meant to die. Her continuing failures create constant disaster for her parents and the mortals she tries so hard to serve. But when Eve accidentally interferes with the Loom of Creation, she sets off a chain of events that leads her to finally understand who she really is.

Yes, she's a special snowflake just like every other YA character in nearly every one of these dull, predictable, boring, unimaginative YA garbage novels. How special is that?! The description had one of those little clickers where you could select more of the blurb or less, but it was less of books like this which I would have truly appreciated. There is no clicker for that unfortunately. No click, only colic.

The writing was average to poor from the off. It was, as I mentioned, worst-person voice, which is the most tedious voice of all for me to read. I am so sick of it that I recently went through my shelf of unread print books and deliberately ditched every last one of them that was in first person, so sick am I of reading this tedious and nauseating voice. Now those books are in the local library, so someone else will have to suffer them, not me! Am I evil or what? Mwah-ha-ha!

Anyway, after Eve screws up yet again, by reviving an old man who was at death's door, she goes into this maudlin introspection. Eve whines that everyone hates her, and her life isn't worth living until of course she's rescued by this guy. I ditched the book right there. I am so sick of reading YA novels about some wretched girl who has to be validated and rescued by a boy. For fuck's sake YA authors, stop it with this shit already! Find something better to do with your life - something that doesn’t involve running your own gender into the ground. This book is shit and that's it.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Mia Marcotte and the Robot by Jeanne Wald, Saliha Çalışkan

Rating: WORTHY!

This is a middle-grade story which isn't exactly my cup of tea, but it's entertaining enough that it passes muster for me. What I liked about it was that it stars a female protagonist who is self-motivated, imaginative, and a strong character, and who is deeply interested in science. All of that is a big plus. What I didn't like about it was that the 'rather dumb, pedantic, literal robot' has been done to death. It was already tiresome when Star Trek Next Generation introduced the ridiculous Commander Data and it could only go downhill from there. I think the science could have been a bit stronger and more prominent, too. Those gripes aside, I liked Mia and her attitude and the story was a short, fast read illustrated nicely by Turkish illustrator Saliha Calıskan.

One annoying thing to me was Mia's father's habit of referring to Mia as 'louloute', which is a diminutive endearment (purportedly!) for a young female child. I felt giving her a pet name and using it so often rather diminished poor Mia, who already had enough to deal with. Plus it felt so out of place. Maybe this family lived in Louisiana, but there was no mention of that state in the novel. The family name is suggestive of French origins, but there was nothing in the story to indicate why her dad would use this term since not a word of French was spoken in the entire story to indicate any such origin or tradition.

Mia really wants to be an astronaut, but in order to get one small step closer, she needs to do well in the science fair, but she needs a project! Can her visiting aunt's robot Aizek help her or will he get her into trouble? And can she help him learn to be a better robot? Those are the questions explored and answered here and despite some issues with it, I consider it a worthy read for a young female - and male - audience.

The Mozart Conspiracy by Susanne Dunlap

Rating: WARTY!

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

This is volume two in an amateur detective series. I did not read volume one, which is titled The Musician's Daughter. I don't recall ever seeing volume one, but if I had, I would have rejected it for the precise reason that I refuse to read any novel that subjugates a woman to the position of being someone else's "thing": musician's daughter, time-traveler's wife, and so on. It makes the woman a piece of property rather than an actor in her own right and I'm not in favor of such titles.

I'm not a fan of the amateur detective story in general, for that matter, but this title appealed to me because it was set in Austria and in the time of Mozart. I had hoped it would be different from the usual amateur detective story, but the problem with it is that in the end, it was not at all different. In fact, it was exactly the same: first person, featuring a detective with a quirk, and in trying to add that quirk to make her detective different from the hoard of amateur detective stories that now flood bookstores, the author made her detective precisely the same as all the others: first person voice with a quirk!

For me, first person is worst person because it makes the main protagonist so annoying. It's always about him or her. In the words of George Harrison, "I, me, mine, I, me, mine, I, me, mine." It's tedious to read such a self-centered book like that, which is why I recently cleansed my print library of every such book. I'm in process of doing the same with my ebooks. It's very limiting to write this way because nothing can happen unless the main character is there to witness it. Everything else comes from hearsay and is therefore suspect. It's irritating. As it happens this particular one wasn't too bad to begin with, but over the time I read it, it became more annoying.

There was an element of racism in the story too. The racism existed in the time period (as it does today) against the Jewish people, and against the Romany people. This was a fact of history, but because the author harped on it so much, it distracted from the detective's story. In trying to make her seem completely accepting of all people, it made her stand out like a sore thumb, when in fact, the likelihood was that pretty much everyone back then was racist.

Not having read book one in this series, perhaps I missed where Theresa started out prejudiced and learned acceptance over the course of the first volume, or maybe she didn't, but it felt odd that she was so open. It was unrealistic. It would have felt more real to me had she harbored the same prejudices most everyone had back then, and was learning to work around them.

The predictable detective's quirk in this series is that she loves to play the violin, but we're told that she could not play in orchestras because women were not allowed in that era, so she had to disguise herself as a man to play. The thing is that although women were not allowed in men's orchestras (the first woman in a male orchestra was not recorded until the early twentieth century), they were allowed to play in all-female orchestras, but this gets no mention in this novel. So in a sense this was an artificial problem.

Ironically, it became a real problem for this story because then the story became about her problems rather than about solving a murder, which to me was the whole point of the story. The murder became secondary to the soap opera of Theresa's activities, and it was boring because her activities were always the same: dress as a guy, sneak around, play in an orchestra, risk being discovered, sneak back home, change back to female attire. This was repeated over and over and it became tedious to read so often.

Worse than this though was the problem of Theresa's failure to honestly report the crime. Yes, she reported that she had witnessed a man being murdered, but she didn't tell the whole story, and then the body disappeared. Repeatedly she refused to give details to those who wished to help her when she had no valid reason for refusing to share her information, and she continued to investigate the murder, without us being offered any real motive for her to do so.

She did not know the murdered man; indeed, for a while she had no idea even of his name, but when she discovered his name she didn't report this back to the police to whom she'd made her initial report. In short, as is often the case in amateur detective stories, the detective actively withholds information from the police for no good reason, and in doing so is hampering a police inquiry and perverting the curse of justice! It makes no sense, but it does explain why amateur detectives in these stories so routinely beat the police in solving the mysteries! This author isn't the only one who does this; even luminaries like Agatha Christie had their detectives, like Poirot, actively conceal things from the police. I'd dearly love to read a realistic detective story where the detective is arrested and thrown into jail for hampering the police investigation! LOL!

But I digress! Anyways, she'd spoken to the murdered guy before he died (of course!), but instead of trying to recover information from him about who had done this to him, or what motive there might have been, or even ask the guy's name, she just crouched there with him, and all she got was one word, 'Mozart' - or at least something that sounded like Mozart. This was unrealistic and far too invented to sound real.

Experience available to us all these days via news stories, has shown that overwhelmingly, when people are dying or expecting to die, they're going to say something about a loved one: "Tell my wife I love her" or something along those lines. We do not routinely hear of dying people uttering mysterious words or phrases. It's not realistic and in this case the mystery word was so artlessly injected into the story that it sounded quite ridiculous. It took me out of the suspension of disbelief because it felt like such an artificially-created mystery where there was no realistic reason for one, instead of having the mystery develop organically.

The novel is set in Austria, the land of Mozart, but we get no German (or Bavarian) words interjected into the story to create atmosphere. Bizarrely, the word 'madame' is used frequently instead of frau or fräulein. It made zero sense. There's nothing more tedious in a story than putting in a foreign word or phrase and immediately pedantically following it with the English translation, even where such translation isn't at all necessary, but in this case, it would not have hurt, once in a while, to use a German word to describe something where it's obvious what the thing is.

Instead, we got puns that made sense in English, but would not have made any sense in German, such as when a woman is talking of finding a treat for a young girl and she says, "...let's see if I can find some sweets here for the sweet." In English that makes sense, but the Austrian word meaning 'sweets' is 'nachtisch' which sounds nothing like 'süß' (pronounced rather like Zeus and meaning sweet as in 'nice' or 'sweetheart'). In German, the pun doesn't work the way it works in English. It's like the author forgot where the story was set.

So, for these reasons and similar ones I've not mentioned, I quit reading this around the forty-percent mark. It was doing nothing for me and the story appeared to have stagnated, so I lost all interest in it and in the main character, who had started coming off as rather clueless to me. I wish the author all the best in her career, but I cannot commend this novel based on my experience of it.