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.

The Djin Wars by Christine Pope

Rating: WARTY!

This one sounded interesting from the blurb and started out well, so it encouraged me to keep going. That's always nice in a book!

It begins with this woman, Jessica Monroe, who is a teaching assistant, starting to hear about a disease that seems contagious. It's on both coasts of the USA, but not in Albuquerque where she lives. It quickly shows up there though, and the mortality rate is extremely high. She sees her brother, her mother, and her father all die quickly from it. She seems very ill-informed about how to deal with an extremely high fever, giving her mother ibuprofen and putting damp cloths on her head when her temperature was 106 degrees and she should be putting her into an ice bath!

But it seems like there's nothing even hospitals can do, and once her family is dead, and the power goes out in her parents' home that same night, she decides to drive over to her uncle's house the next morning to see if they're alive. Apparently she's unaware that you can call people on your cell phone! LOL! Maybe the cell phone service is out now too, but the fact that the author didn't even mention it and somehow rule it out was a bit of a writing miss, I think. Jessica seems to have no friends, either, because she's not thought a single thing about calling any of them, nor has anyone called her.

She's started hearing this voice in her head that seems to appear randomly, telling her not very useful things, and she thinks she's imagining it, but she doesn't seem to be getting sick. The voice could have easily told her what it was up to and where it was directing her to, but it never did, meaning that yet another female writer has put her female character into the hands of a manipulative and domineering guy, for no good reason, and had her sappy female character goes along with it like a zombie. I'm sorry, but no. Pope the author seems to have as little respect for women as does Pope the Vatican guy and his church.

That next morning, with the power out, she looks out of her window to see the automated sprinkler system working across the street. I guess the author didn't think about how that would work with the power out. Another example of poor writing. Jessica sees the neighbor's dog out in their yard and adopts it - without even checking to see if the neighbors are alive - and sets off to visit her uncle.

So yeah, there were multiple issues with the writing, but I was curious about the story for a while. Before I knew more, I'd assumed it's called djin wars because there are jinn involved in the story and that's what the voice is that she's hearing, but how that would pan out given that it's supposed to be a romantic series, remained to be seen. I was merely hopeful to begin with that the writing quality wouldn't slip and Jessica wouldn't become too damned sappy, but my faith in such things is low and that's what killed this in the end. That and the poor writing, and Jessica's gullibility and stupidity. I don't mind an author's faux pas here and there. We're all prone to that, but if the story is good I can overlook those. I can't overlook really stupid so-called romance stories, and that's why I can't commend this. I'm done with this author. Next please....

This is Just a Test by Madelyn Rosenberg, Wendy Wan-Long Shang

Rating: WARTY!

This is a middle-grade book that started out well enough, with some nice humor and interesting activities, but unfortunately it quickly settled into a rut and never seemed interested in getting out of it. The rut had four grooves: David's upcoming bar-mitzvah, his ongoing attraction to schoolmate Kelli Anne, his fear of nuclear war, and the ongoing battle between his two grandmothers. The problem is that it never got out of those grooves, and they became ruts. So the best thing I can say about this book is, awesome name, Wendy! That's more like a sentence than a name, but it is awesome.

As as you might guess from those author's names, one of the hinges of this story is that David isn't only of Jewish heritage, he's also of Chinese extraction, and his grandmothers do not get along. In fact they're both interfering busy-bodies each trying to be the dominant one, and at first this was mildly amusing, but it quickly became tedious, as did everything else in this story, I'm sorry to report. You know from the off that everything is going to come out fine in the end - his grandmothers will get along, he'll "get the girl," he'll somehow overcome his ridiculous fear of nuclear war, and the bar-mitzvah will be fine. So why waste my time on the journey there?

Ridiculous I say because this wasn't set in the fifties; it was set in the 80's so WTF? Nuclear war? Yes, it's always been a fear, and is a greater one now we have an even bigger jackass for a president than Reagan was, but what I didn't get was why the authors had chosen to set this back in the eighties because setting it back was what I felt they'd achieved by that choice. At first I thought that maybe it was because the authors were in their fifties, but I no longer think that's the case, so I'm at a loss. The fifties would have made sense, but the eighties??

This book isn't aimed at me, obviously, but for me, it didn't get there. It spent too long ruminating on topics that really aren't that relevant today. I know a lot of people are into religion, but for me religion is as Shakespeare put it in The Tragedy of Macbeth, scene five (although his words were about life, not religion): "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing," so that typically doesn't resonate with me because I can't take it seriously.

The battle of the grandmothers, as I mentioned, quickly became tedious. David's obsession with nuclear war and his digging of a bomb shelter in his friend's back yard wasn't remotely entertaining or even interesting. His flustering at every thought of Kelli Anne wasn't amusing, but was understandable and perhaps appropriate, but nothing new, and in the end that was the problem. There really was nothing new here; nothing to see, so I moved along. I can't commend this as a worthy read.

Gender and Our Brains by Gina Rippon

Rating: WARTY!

This was subtitled "how new neuroscience explodes the myths of the male and female minds,"which struck me as odd. is the author goignt o argue that neither male nor female has a mind?! But I thought this would be more interesting than it actually was. My main problem with it was how long and dry it was. It felt more like reading an academic paper than it did a book aimed at the general populace, but maybe it wasn't aimed at the genpop. Who knows. For me it was interesting only in parts. One problem with it was that it spent so much time digging into the history of the misperceptions about female brains, but it seemed to me that anyone reading this would be already familiar with all of that - to one extent or another, so a simple précis of that history would have been more than sufficient. This author disagreed!

Once I realized that, I gave up any pretense of reading it and simply skimmed it, stopping at points that interested me for deeper reading. Curiously, one of the most fascinating parts to my mind was the discussion of gender differentiation among babies and infants - where there is little to none, not surprisingly. Paradoxically, I was more interested in learning if the brains were in any way different, and if so why and how, but there seemed to be very little on that topic - unless I missed it.

Maybe the overall message was that they're really not, which is largely what I was expecting. Clearly men and women are not alike, but that doesn't mean they should not be treated alike wherever possible and sensible. I mean it's foolish to pretend we're so alike to the extent that we ignore that women have a womb and a period among many other things, and are underrepresented in medical testing for drug safety, for example. Obviously, with some understandable differences in the chemicals raging through a body, there have to be some differences, but I wasn't able to easily find any real discussion on that topic. I found parts that touched on it, but the discussion seemed to whiplash between 'well they're different here', and 'but not much', or 'they're different here', and 'whether this is nature or nurture is unclear' and so on.

In short, the whole thing felt it was a bit of a an exercise in fence-sitting to me, and I became frustrated with all the pussy-footing around. At little more pedagogy would have been appreciated, but what there was seemed lost, like seawater buried under the foam when the wave rolls ashore leaving nothing but shifting sand and froth. So if you're into deep academic papers, then this might work for you, but as a teaching tool for those of us who wanted some clear idea of what, if any, real differences there are, why and how these come about, and what they might rationally mean, this book failed me. I therefore can't commend it as a worthy read.

Witchnapped in Westerham by Dionne Lister

Rating: WARTY!

This was your standard loss-leading opening volume in what the author hopes will become a successful series, and I wish her best of luck with that, but I wasn't impressed enough to want to continue - not even with this first volume, which I DNF'd. To be fair, I rarely do find a series like that - one I feel I can really get into.

Plus, some oddities. At one point I read, "We passed through the centre of town; shingles, dark brick, and chimneys abounded." Except that there are no 'shingles' in Britain unless you're talking about the skin inflammation. Or a pebbly beach. There are roof tiles. That said, it's been a while since I lived there, so maybe that's changed. Americanisms are creeping in everywhere. It just struck me as a sore thumb rather than a shingle though, but not in itself a book killer. It is a reminder in general for writers to be sure we're getting it right if we're writing about a country we may not have visited.

I've been experimenting with this novel! It's possible to have ebooks read to you as audiobooks, but the technology for this isn't exactly top of the line, much less cutting edge. Why businesses like Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Apple don't try to get ahead of Kindle by introducing this technology as a free feature I do not know. Apple has pretty much given up on books, and B&N has pretty much given up on customers, but while I haven't yet given up on B&N like I did on Amazon, I am very disappointed in them. Kobo hasn't done anything to piss me off...yet!

But I digress. There are two methods I've found to bypass the stupidity and lethargy of the ebook vendors though, and have your phone read a book to you. One is to use an app like Air Read, which is free, but has a very robotic voice. It's quite amusing actually, and entertains with mispronunciations even when the book fails to entertain. It's a bit plodding, but it works decently well and I like it. The problem is that Air Read doesn't work inside apps like iBooks, Kobo, or Nook; it will read to you only those books which you load into the app, and as anyone knows who has tried to download a book they supposedly own from B&N for example, you cannot do it! The truth is that you do not own that book. In reality, Barnes and Noble does and there is no way in hell they will let you have it so you can use Air Read or apps like that, to read it to you. To read those proprietary books in those proprietary apps, you will need an app like Apple's Voice Over (or VoiceOver), or whatever Android's equivalent of it is.

The problem with Voice Over is that reads quite literally everything on the screen, including all your icons and buttons, so you do not want to launch it unless you're already inside the book you want it to read. Then all you do is ask Siri to turn on Voice Over, and swipe two fingers from the top of the screen to the bottom in the ebook, and it will read it to you. In Apple's iBook, which has a continuous scroll setting, this was sufficient to have the book read to me as long as I wanted. The Voice Over did not stop. In Nook, the Voiceover stopped unpredictably. At first I was thinking this was only at a chapter end, and perhaps a blank part of the screen at the end of a chapter was sufficient to halt it, but then it began halting randomly - and just as randomly, on occasion, resuming reading for no apparent reason. It works better in Kobo's app, but stills tops at the end of a chapter if there is a space between that and the succeeding chapter.

This random halting was doubly-annoying because on the road I was driving, I was haltered by four red lights in succession, Obviously the city is utterly clueless about synchronizing lights and thereby saving gasoline. But during this time, the Voice Over worked flawlessly. After I started getting green lights, that's when it began misbehaving so I had no chance to take a few seconds to fix it while stopped at the light! LOL! Thus my trip to the iBooks site to get the same novel - for free fortunately, from there, to test it out in their app. It worked flawlessly. But be warned, Voice Over comes at a price to your sanity. Do not ever turn off your phone - I mean completely off, with Voice Over turned on, otherwise you will have a nightmare getting back in.

On my iPhone, you can't reboot the phone and fingerprint in; it won't work. You have to tap in a six-digit code. When Voice Over is on, it won't accept the code, it will just read it back to you as you hit each key! LOL! To bypass this, you have to quickly double-tap, wait a split second, then tap a third time to actually enter the code - this for each of the six digits! Way to go Apple. To be fair, this isn't designed for me or for reading ebooks - it's presumably designed for vision-impaired people so there are doubtless reasons it works the way it does, but for me, for my purposes, it was intensely frustrating until I found my way around its foibles.

Also to stop the app, you need to tap once on your ebook, and let Voice Over read that one line, then quickly request Siri to turn off Voice Over. I say quickly because if you're sluggish, then Voice Over will start reading what you asked Siri to do (which appears on your screen). This is beyond stupid in my opinion, because Siri will start listening to Voice Over and trying to do what it wants. It's a nightmare, and Apple doesn't really care anymore, not since Steve Jobs died.

But I digress. On the face of it this novel sounded interesting - an Aussie witch who doesn't know she's a witch because her powers don't kick in - for some unexplained reason - until she turns 24. On her birthday she discovers that her beloved brother, who lives in England with his British wife, has gone missing, and also that she's a witch, as is her brother and her brother's wife. This is conveyed to her by a complete stranger who shows up at her door unannounced. This was my first problem with this novel - the main character's gullibility. Obviously in this case what the visitor, Angelica, was telling her was the truth, but in reality no one in their right mind would immediately swallow a complete stranger's story like that without making some effort to verify it! Rather than do this, Lily drops everything, and takes a flight to London from Sidney with this stranger!

There are some people, and I think it was astronomer Carl Sagan who started this meme, who believe that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Regardless of whoever originated that, once Sagan said it, everyone started chanting it like parrots, but I think that assertion is bullshit. Extraordinary claims require the same evidence as any other claim - sufficient to show that there's a valid basis to the claim; no more, no less! But Lily evidently subscribes to the school which demands zero evidence for extraordinary claims. This made it particularly ridiculous later when at the airport. Let me explain.

Lily is a wedding photographer with dreams of becoming something more, and at a wedding the night before, she had seen something very peculiar through her camera lens. The bride's father had turned transparent, but only when looked at through the lens of the camera. Later she learned that the bride's father had died that next morning. She saw this same transparency thing with a random guy at the airport, and realized that perhaps she could see impending death, yet rather than ask Angelica who was supposed to be something of a tutor to Lily as her witch powers came in, Lily chose to keep this to herself! This despite trusting this same woman to the point of leaving her life in Australia and flying to Britain on no more than Angelica's say-so! I found that to be an extraordinarily hypocritical situation!

The next extraordinary thing was that James had been missing for a week, yet this sister, Millicent, whom Lily was supposed to really like, had failed to even so much as call Lily to let her know her bother had disappeared? How lacking in credibility is that? Note that Lily and James's parents (and no, Lily and James's last name isn't Potter) had disappeared many years before, so they aren't in the picture, and of course Lily and James are the last of their family line.

Too often for me, Lily's behavior was dumb. Sometimes the writing itself was dumb. In England, Lily finally met this group of witches with whom her brother used to work before he disappeared, but Lily finds them an unprepossessing lot. The only one she likes is Millicent. This initially made me think maybe Millicent had something to do with James's disappearance. What happened next though was that one of the unprepossessing witches took Lily to one side and made a deal with her - she would tell her something relevant if Lily agreed to undergo a magical bond with this witch never to tell the secret on pain of a choking death! Gullible Lily agrees almost at once.

The big secret was simply that Millicent and James had had an argument before he disappeared. I'm like, what the hell? Why would that be a huge secret? Why would this witch want Lily bonded so powerfully never to reveal it? So now I'm suspicious of that witch instead of Millicent. But that kind of absurdist melodramatic writing really turned me off, which is why I decided I would listen to this book only for the ride home after work that day before I ditched it, unless of course it really turned itself around. Given that I was then about halfway through it, I had zero faith that it would, but at least in this way I would get the chance to start on a brand new ebook coming in to work on Monday morning!

Well, it didn't, so...ditched! I can't commend this crap based on the dumb-ass portion of it that I listened to.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen

Rating: WARTY!

I have no idea who this is written for. Not me, that's for sure because it rubbed me up the wrong way from the off. It was first person to begin with which is typically a poor choice of voice, and it's especially a poor choice when the voice comes off as fingernails on a chalk board.

If I'd known that the author was a professor of creative writing at some college I would have avoided it like the plague because sorry experience has taught me well that books from authors like that paradoxically tend to be dreary and uncreative at best. Kate Christensen's review in the NYT says it wonderfully - and in an otherwise positive review! She wrote: "Nothing much happens here, plot-wise." I couldn't have put it better myself. The blurb had made this sound interesting though. It was about a 43-year-old woman who almost simultaneously separated from her newly-revealed gay husband, and was involved in a serious accident that left her with several broken bones. In true fictional tradition, she went running...well hobbling anyway, back to her hometown.

That's about as far as I got. I'm not normally into that genre - the running back home like a little kid story that is so unfortunately common these days, but this one sounded like it might be different. It was different in that it was not fictional, but it wasn't in any other way, and the screeching, laughing too loud story-telling style grated on my every nerve. I honestly could not stand to read it beyond the first few pages, and I ditched it in short order. I'm done with this so-called creative writing professor.

Raven the Irate Princess Book 1 or something by Jeremy Whitley, Rose Higgins, Ted Brandt

Rating: WARTY!

Normally I would steer clear of a book, even a graphic novel, with a title like this, but I had come to this via its predecessor, the Princeless graphic stories about a feisty young princess whose self-appointed mission is to rescue all of her sisters who are distributed in various towers throughout the kingdom, the aim of which is to inspire princes to come and rescue them so the king can get them married off. I've given up on this entire series now not so much because it was so bad, although the stories were becoming rather monotonous, but because it was impossible to figure out in which order they should be read and my normally useful local library had the titling so messed up that it didn't help!

Take this one for example: it's listed as Book 1 Captain Raven and the All-Girl Pirate Crew, but it's not the first in the Raven story. You have to read the Princeless series to get her backstory. For me this was the biggest problem with this - that the arrangement of these volumes felt like a disorderly mess. But this one would do, I guess if you were only interested in reading the Raven stories. I just think the author and publisher could have done better. But why would they care?

In this story, Raven has a ship already (from a story prior to book one - go figure!), and now needs a crew, so she sets off into town to hire one, and promptly gets robbed by another woman. After a chase that goes on a bit too long, she ends up running into the cook from her father's pirate ship - when he was the pirate king and before her brothers screwed her over. She ends up predictably hiring the woman who robbed her and then a bunch of other women because she doesn't like the available men. That's about it.

It was entertaining as far as it went, but as I said in my review of the other volume I read along with this, it wasn't entertaining enough to make me want to read any more beyond this. This one, like the other one, barely enters into worthy read territory, and I found I was growing somewhat bored with this series as I was with the companion series: Princeless. I decided to quit while I was ahead and give this a negative and the other a positive to indicate mixed feelings! I won't be reading any more in either series.

Princeless Raven the Pirate Princess by Jeremy Whitley, Rose Higgins, Ted Brandt

Rating: WORTHY!

Normally I would steer clear of a book, even a graphic novel, with a title like this, but I had come to this via its predecessor, the Princeless graphic stories about a feisty young princess whose self-appointed mission is to rescue all of her sisters who are distributed in various towers throughout the kingdom, the aim of which is to inspire princes to come and rescue them so the king can get them married off. I've given up on this entire series now not so much because it was so bad, although the stories were becoming rather monotonous, but because it was impossible to figure out in which order they should be read.

Take this one for example: it's listed as 'Book 2 Free Women', but it's not the second in the pirate Princess series. It's the first. I don't think it's even the second in the Princeless series, although at this point I'm not sure. For me this was the biggest problem with this - that the arrangement of these volumes is a total disorderly mess. I can't find a definitive listing, although I admit I did not search exhaustively because I was so tired of looking by then and my local library did not help because there was no consistent naming strategy for the volumes! Thanks librarians!

Anyway this volume, wherever it comes, deals with Raven and her crew of women setting sail to go after Raven's evil brothers. I read this a while back and only just realized I never reviewed it, so while I did want to say I found it a worthy read, it only just fell into that category, and my review will be a bit vague since I recall only the gist of it. Higgins and Brandt did the heavy lifting with the art which was pretty decent, while Whitley did a bit with the writing.

Raven has to deal with all manner of villains on this island they arrive at, and that's pretty much it! I do recall it was entertaining, but I started running into the law of diminishing returns, which is inevitable in any series, and which is why I tend not to read very many of them. It's rare for one to truly engage me because there's typically too much sameness, too much repetitiveness, and very little innovation once a writer has locked their self into a series. This is why I'll never write one! While this was okay, I read this and a companion volume, but didn't feel any urge to continue reading because it wasn't that great!

Get a Clue! by Lisa Banim

Rating: WARTY!

This is the first book in the Lizzie McGuire Mysteries series. It's the last one I will ever read! The front cover won't tell you (way to diminish people Disney, you dicks), but it's written by Lisa Banim and based on the TV series created and developed by Terri Minsky. I've been curious about the series, but never watched it. After this book I don't intend to.

The plot, if you can call it that, is that someone has been leaving notes is assorted places around the school, with cheesy messages like "I Know What You Did Last Week." Other than the annoyance factor, it's hardly a major crime. The "twist" if you can call it that, is that the notes are in Lizzie McGuire's handwriting. Lizzie decides to take it on herself to track down the suspect, and she pretty much lives up to the absurd 'ditzy blonde' trope in doing so. That's when I called out, "Check please! I'm done here." I can't remotely commend this based on the portion I managed to suffer through. I fear for young readers and readership in general if this kind of garbage actually appeals to people.

Lake Ephemeral by Victoria Strauss

Rating: WARTY!

Famous author name, infamous writing! This is a Strauss waltz, but it waltzed off into boredom. It's a seriously weird story - but while it began as quite entertaining, it petered out a log way in and made me resent reading it at all.

It was set in Australia which made a very pleasant change from every YA story taking place in the USA as though there is no other country on the planet - or at least no other country worth telling stories about! Sara Finn has been an orphan since she was left by a woman at the age of five, who told the orphanage staff that the child's mother was dead. When Sara turns twelve, she's suddenly advised that her mother is alive and someone is going to transport her 'home' to the comfortable living she had enjoyed until she was 'kidnapped'. It's pretty obvious that the woman who dropped her off in the first place actually was her mother who was attempting to save her from whatever is happening back a the compound, so no mystery there at all.

This marked the first of some annoying 'glossing-over' episodes which haunted this story: things which happen way too conveniently, or coincidentally, or even inexplicably to be taken seriously. I was willing to let them go because I was enjoying the story, but eventually they began to trip the story up because they were too common, and other readers may have less patience with that than I did. I can't pretend they didn't cause my enjoyment to snag every once in a while. Be warned that I'm going to give spoilers here because I want to cover these problems with the writing. My issue with this first episode is that there's nothing whatsoever done by the orphanage to protect Sara - whose name, it turns out, is actually Seraphin, not Sara Finn - from the possible falsity of this new information. They do nothing at all to verify that this story they've been fed by a strange man is true - they just let Sera go! Maybe they're just more trusting in Australia?!

Anyway, she arrives at the compound and is told that her mother is sick and she cannot see her, and Sera accepts this without question and indeed shows no desire whatsoever to see her mother. If she'd been presented as a morose and troubled child, then maybe she wouldn't react normally, but she's not that kind of child. She's there quite some time before she evinces any sort of need to visit with her mother. These people won't even let her look in on mom. That whole business struck me as inauthentic. I don't know of any regular child who wouldn't make a fuss about seeing her mom after being forcibly kept apart for such a long time.

After this follows a strange time at the compound. Schooling is haphazard at best and the half-dozen or so children are pretty much allowed to run wild and even be mean or cruel to one another with little discipline, Sera learns that her father died after being trapped by one of these huge carnivorous plants that tend to grow in this particular locale. Sera also accidentally kills a girl who lives there while the kids are playing a game that this girl devised. The police are not called and no one seems to find anything wrong with that. It's kind of like being in China when you're under 13 years old and you kill someone. There really are no dire consequences for that, and there were none here. Finally, Sera decides she wants to see her mom! Subsequently she and mom plan an escape, but in the pouring rain while they were being hunted by the other people at the compound, the two of them fall from a roof.

Apparently her mother died from this fall, and Sera was put into one of these coffin plants which, it turns out, will preserve life if the victim doesn't struggle. The plant gives nutrients to the victim while sucking the victim's blood for its own uses. This is all 'explained' in some flashback mumbo jumbo which I skipped. But the thing is that after the fall from the roof, when she wakes up, Sera finds that five years have passed. The plant has kept her alive while her body healed, but she has also aged appropriately - and conveniently, and by that I mean not just her body but her mind!

I pass on this next spoiler because it leads directly to another problem with authenticity. Despite being in some sort of suspended animation for five years in this plant, when Sera gets out of it, and manages to escape, she finds her muscles haven't atrophied at all. That doesn't happen. If the author had said something about muscle therapy during those five years, or about the plant doing something to keep her in shape, that might have helped gloss over it, but she didn't, so we're left with another lapse in suspension of disbelief instead.

Now she and this guy named Kite whom she knew from when she was twelve, who has also aged of course, finally flee the compound, trying to make their way to Europe to get to the bottom of the origin of this place they both just escaped from. Very conveniently, just when they need to take an airplane flight, they happen to run into a party from the school Sera used to attend before she was sent back to the compound, and lo and behold, one of the people on the trip is her best friend from back then, who is with her boyfriend! Neither of them want to go on this trip and both of them are willing to give up their passports and tickets so Sera and her friend can take their places. This was really way the hell too convenient, but by this time I was curious as to where this was all leading so once again I let that slide.

I wish I hadn't. Normally I'm not this generous with novels, especially YA novels, but this one was different - and not set in the US, and not a sappy love story, so I was willing to grant it a bit more leeway, but these were all problems that could have been solved by better writing, and the fact is that things simply didn't improve. The longer I read, the more frustrated I became with the writing, until I simply gave up out of sheer frustration quite close to the end because i was so tired of the dragging story and the sloppy writing. I can't commend a book that was way too long and so haphazardly written.

The Knight's Secret by Jeffrey Bardwell

Rating: WARTY!

This author has an amusingly appropriate name, incorporating 'bard' as it does, for someone who is writing a courtly romance - and by romance I mean it in the old-fashioned sense, but it's written from the female perspective and in first person and I don't think this author can carry it. I'm not someone who thinks guys shouldn't write first person girl stories or vice versa, but the more I read of this one, the more it started to sound like a guy's idea of what or how a woman should be rather than what a woman might really be, and it felt rather hollow and inauthentic because of that. Plus he seems to be confusing the granddaughter with the grandfather far too much.

Let me explain. The fantasy plot takes place in a pseudo-medieval milieu featuring knights and swords, but it's told using modern idiom, which I think loses the period a little. It's set in a world where the heroic Sir Corbin, the Hero of Jerkum Pass (so we're told to a tedious extent) is looking forward to a reunion with his old army buddies where he will give a speech and get a financial consideration, through which he'll be able to move his family from the increasingly village where they live, to a place safer for his daughter, who is a mage.

Since his stint in the military, times have changed and now, despite their help during the great war, the emperor is turning against mages and a pogrom is coming. Unfortunately, before he can attend this reunion, Sir Corbin dies. His remaining family: granddaughter Elsa, and her dad and mom, who is Sir Corbin's daughter, find themselves increasingly - and for no apparent reason - becoming pariahs. This felt entirely inauthentic to me, but it's no more than has been done in many other stories (and therein lies the problem). The only solution seems to be for Elsa, under a magical disguise, to impersonate her grandfather and go to the reunion in his place, get the much-needed money, and enable the family to relocate to a more hospitable locale.

Elsa's mother, a mage who acts as the village doctor (for which the village resents her apparently - and inexplicably) uses her magic to create a façade of her own father over the top of her daughter, but it feels outwardly real, such that if someone touches her chest, for example, they will feel a man's chest, not a woman's. The problem with this is that it's just a superficial change, so I understood, but the author began writing the story subsequently as though her grandfather's very soul and spirit were somehow possessing the girl. Plus the girl came-off as being quite young at the start of the story, yet later, she seems a lot older, so it was confusing as to exactly how old she was exactly! If she was so much older, then how come she wasn't married?

It's not that I'm saying a young girl must get married, but given the background to the story, it's the kind of world where that seems like it's a given, and if she isn't married or promised to someone, then there has to be a good reason for it. The problem is that the fact that she was single was never discussed, like it wasn't an issue precisely because she was so young. If there was some other reason for it, then it ought to have been brought up, but the way this is written, it's like the author never even considered the implication of the world he was building, or it never crossed his mind that single girls might marry in his world. The thing is that if she was unmarried because she was so young, and even knowing all of her grandfather's war stories, how come she was able to carry off this impersonation of an much older guy so convincingly to everyone, including people who knew her grandfather intimately?

It wasn't just that, either. The writing wasn't so great in parts. At one point I read, "Who had been fooling whom that night?" This is wonderful grammatically speaking, but the problem is exactly that: it was speaking - and no one actually speaks like that in real life unless they're boorishly pretentious. I've repeatedly seen writers do this because they can't help themselves. My advice is to get the emdash out of your ass and loosen up! At another point I read, "still out brothers and sisters." Now there is some gender-bending going on in this book, but I think this should read 'still our'!

On top of all that, we're told nothing of Elsa's sex life and left to assume that she had none, precisely because she was so young, yet under the guise of her grandfather, she runs into Maven, a mage and an old flame of her grandfather's, and she falls into bed with her and has sex without even a second thought or a whiff of distaste or fascination, or anything else! How can that be, unless Elsa is highly-sexually experienced and has had many lovers, and not just men? It felt completely wrong to include this scene and not address any of this. Worse, there was a second encounter between them later in the book that just went on and on and on, tediously so. Again, without a word of the fact that this was an apparently young and inexperienced girl having sex with a much older woman, and not only not thinking twice about it, but not thinking a single thing about it. It was just thoughtless and poor writing.

It was like once Elsa had donned the disguise and left her village behind, the author dispensed with the fact that she was in fact a young female through and through and simply went with her being a rather elderly man. It was lazy at best. Even that might have been manageable if the author had gone somewhere with the story, but once in the city, all progress stopped. It became tedious to read, and the story, other than revealing that there was a conspiracy to destroy mages, which we already knew, the story literally went nowhere, unless you count going round in circles as progress. I don't. All we got was repeated chants about the Hero of Jerkum Pass of which I was thoroughly tired of reading by then, and talk of this big speech, without getting any closer to actually hearing the speech. When I got to seventy percent and nothing had changed, I ditched this, resenting the time I'd wasted reading it. I cannot commend something as cluelessly-written as this, and I plan on never reading anything else by this author.

Murder Above the Fold by Regina Welling, Erin Lynn

Rating: WARTY!

This is one of those detective novels I usually laugh at and deride - especially when it has a dumb-ass title like this one does. I flatly refuse to read any such book that has the word 'sleuth' anywhere in the blurb and this one didn't, but it may as well have for what it was. My mistake was in thinking that this might be different in that it was a pair of witches that were the amateur investigators. I was curious as to how this would work. Couldn't they just do some witchcraft to determine who the perp is?! The trick in writing a novel like this is that you have to put in some valid reason(s) why they couldn't do precisely that (which would have meant a very short and boring series!). The problem is that these authors failed to do so and simply left the question begging. That's a really poor way to treat your readers.

So what I got was the absurdity of two quite powerful witches doing the detecting job precisely like someone who isn't a witch would do it - apart from a sprinkle of pixie dust here and there (apparently pixie dust can detect traces of blood, but it also destroys those traces). So I have to wonder what is the point of making them witches in the first place? Having done that, it would have been the easiest thing in the world to have Witch One say, "I wish we could wave a wand and solve this" and have Witch Two retort, "Now Esmeralda, you know perfectly well that when a person kills another person, their true self is horribly warped by the violence done to their soul. Because of that, we can't see who it was, so we have to solve this the old fashioned way!" or words along those lines (and perhaps not quite so baldly!), but these two authors either were too clueless to see there was a major plot hole, or they simply didn't care. Either way, their readers deserve better.

To write about these characturds being very able witches and then have them pottering around without being able to lift a wand to solve the murder is just silly. The author has made the witches 250 years old, too, so there's that issue! Why she chose to do that I do not know, but the issue here is the same one that those asinine young adult vampire novels suffer. Someone who has been around for a quarter of a millennium isn't actually forty or fifty even if they look like they are. Such a person would not remotely behave like a person of that age (or be interested in a boring teenage slip of a girl unless he was into child pornography), yet these two authors write about the antique witches like they're really the age they appear to be. That's like saying a fifty-year-old would have the mentality of a ten year old. It doesn't work. Neither does the claim that witches age until twenty-five and then their ageing slows dramatically, which 'explains' how they continue to look young. Fine, if that's the way it is, but to say that's how it is and not even pretend you have a valid reason for that is just lazy writing. Why 25? Why does it slow? These authors don't give a shit.

Worse than this, we have these biddies in the story tampering with evidence. This happens all-too-often in this kind of story, going all the way back to Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot. He frequently keeps the police from solving a crime by withholding evidence. He won't even share his suspicions - all because he's an arrogant little tool who thinks he's better than anyone, and evidently deems it more important that he gets the celebrity value of solving the crime than it is to bring the criminal to book with all haste and by any means necessary. In reality, such a 'sleuth' would be arrested for obstructing justice!

In this story, the first notable thing that happens after the body is discovered is that their pixie dust destroys the blood evidence, but before that, they failed to report a scrap of torn fabric they found which is from the victim's clothing. As soon as they found that scrap stuck in a door jamb, they immediately leapt to the conclusion that the dead woman had been murdered! The discovery of the blood came afterwards. These things are precisely why I have a problem with these 'amateur sleuthing' series. I'd thought adding witches to the brew might make it readable, but I was wrong. It actually made it worse! I quit this nonsensical story right after the destruction of evidence.

I don't object to amateur detectives, not in principal, but I do object to sloppy-writing where things are just taken for granted, evidence is destroyed or withheld, and the 'sleuths' simply don't care about collaborating. That's just simplistic, stupid and lazy, which is why I rarely even look at this kind of a series. I certainly cannot commend this one based on how poorly-written the opening chapters were.