Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Dawn of Dreams by Bronwyn Leroux


Rating: WARTY!

Errata:
the "-
friends" - this was how a line was split - right at the hyphen. I don't know what was doing this but it looked weird!
"Legends take place in a particular time period, and their basis comes from that actually happened" - 'from what actually happened'? or maybe 'from that which actually happened'?
"Jaden squared his shoulders when it the beast overlooked Kayla and targeted him." It the beast?!

This is the first of a series and I'm not much for series, but once in a while one comes along that looks a bit off the beaten path and I try it out to see if maybe this will be one of those rare series openers that draws me in. They are too few and far between though, so I usually don't hold out much hope. This was one of the fails. I made it almost exactly half way through and gave up on it because of the rampant sexism. It read like it was written by a man - or a romance novel writer.

Set in 2073, the story is of Jaden and Kayla, both of whom independently discover that they can see things others can't: or more accurately, one particular thing - a reptilian-looking bird with a scorpion tail which seems to be stalking them. They each of them have a medallion - identical medallions - which have each been passed down through their family. They feel drawn to it and meeting by accident, they become quickly attached to each other because of their shared experiences. Once they have the medallion on their person, the bird seems much more aggressive, yet neither of them thinks to leave the medallion behind when they go out! Not very smart!

For two people who see something no one else can, neither of them seems much interested in pondering it. They're much more interested in how attractive the other is, and this is where the book lost all authenticity for me. I don't mind a romance in books, but it has to feel real and smart in context.

The story grew worse when Jaden started this protective bullshit - like Kayla was somehow inferior to him and must be protected, and she meekly accepted his judgement. This first became apparent when I read, "She had Kayla on edge. So much so Kayla wanted to grab Jaden's hand and hold on for dear life." Seriously? I mean this wasn't even a threatening situation - the women who had Kayla 'on edge' was a librarian. This tells me that Kayla is weak and stupid, and I have no interest in reading any books about weak, stupid women - and sure as hell not a series about one!

There were issues with the quality of the novel in terms of writing gaffs, as shown in the errata, as well as dumb things like, when Kayla first finds the medallion, she thinks it was "Not a currency coin. Or rather, its octagonal shape wouldn't make that very practical." Kayla seems to have no idea that coins come in literally all shapes and sizes. The Brits have a heptagonal one, and they used to have a 12-sided one! Other countries have weird-looking coins too.

Later I read, "Kayla grinned. Only another girl would understand the need to explore new surroundings" Sexist much?! Guys don't explore? This was sheer sexist bullshit! By this point, the novel had really begun to fall apart for me and after Jaden's St-George-Rescuing-the-maiden stunt, I was so nauseated with it that I couldn't continue.

I can't commend this novel at all. It moved too slowly - a real problem with series - and seemed more interested in these two characters' fascination with each other than in dealing with a real and present other-worldly danger. It was unrealistic and it made no sense. People don't behave like that and this lack of realism overwhelmed what might otherwise have been an interesting and entertaining story.


Thursday, July 2, 2020

People and the Sky by Anthony Aveni


Rating: WORTHY!

This book - about how different peoples have viewed the heavens over the years - was interesting to me although I imagine it's not for everyone. The author does tell a fine story about how people viewed the skies, both metaphorically and practically. They all had legends, and of course not all of the constellations were interpreted in the same way as we westerners typically view them. Not everyone would see it in the same way, this massive dome of stars, and sun and moon overhead, but most of them put it to practical purpose, usually in connection with farming and hunting. Naturally it was applied to religious ritual as well.

I read this graphic novel a while ago which was based on ancient legends. One part of the story was about a population of rabbits living on the Moon, and I never did know where that idea came from until I read this book which said that, rather than there being an old man in the Moon, there's a rabbit - in the view of some cultures, and the illustration in the book showed that there is indeed one in there, when viewed in a different way. You can see the rabbit, with its head and ears to the left, leading across to a body and back legs!

The author covers different creation legends, rituals, farming and navigational advice and a host of other interesting avenues of thought all revealing the ingenuity and creativity of ancient cultures when it comes to availing themselves of what the sky can still teach us even today, if we'd look and learn. I commend this book as a worthy read.


Onward the Search for the Phoenix Gem by Steve Behling


Rating: WARTY!

This book is rooted on the Disney animation (read 'barf fest') of a similar name. I was curious about it because I've paid zero attention to their animated fare of late, and I began reading it, but was turned off it so quickly all I have to say is that it was not for me. It held nothing of interest and really, I wasn't surprised, When has Disney, the most unoriginal animation studio ever to exist, who has bribed congress to extend copyright law to insane levels to protect its animated mouse, really offered anything of interest lately?

The last good thing they did was Frozen (take that however you want), and even that was still hog-tied to tradition in so many ways. They couldn't even leave that alone, going for a sequel to milk another billion out of the punters. That movie was almost a decade ago and ever since then, all they've done is remakes - live action versions of animated movies from their stable. Disney has never been less animated and this book was one more snooze in a blizzard of tired Disney yawns.


Bringing Stella Home by Joe Vasicek


Rating: WARTY!

This is a sci-fi story that started out boringly and never improved. It seemed to me to be more of a sort of weird authorial wish-fulfillment kind of a thing than ever it did a real story. It moved slowly, which is hardly surprising since it's book one of a series.

I've been actively removing all series books from my reading lists of late because I've been so universally disappointed in them. Series are not my thing for a variety of reasons, not least of which is this lethargy in pace, and also because the first book can only ever be a prologue - which holds no interest for me - and because all the other volumes are, are essentially a re-run of the first volume. It's lazy writing. Instead of coming up with something new, original, and entertaining, the author merely retreads the last volume and feeds it to the reader one more time. No thanks.

The plot here, is of the George-slaying-the-dragon kind of thing where mid-teens hero James goes on a jag to save his helpless older sister Stella, who is kidnapped by this ridiculously barbaric rag-tag conglomerate of pirate military outfits who have apparently been ignored by the authorities for long enough that they're all banded together into one big and devastating force, which no one seems to be able to stop. Except James. His plan is to hire a para-military outfit commanded by a woman, and have them rescue Stella for him. I felt like I could see where this story would go over time: James and the captain getting it on.

Meanwhile Stella is a sex slave on this other ship where the heartless leader of the rag-tag rebels is a cruel and despotic dictator and who, as soon as he finds out that seventeen-year-old Stella is a virgin, changes his entire attitude toward her and elevates her to the role of goddess or something. That was where I quit reading because the whole story at this point had turned me off. I could see where this story was going too: Beauty and the Beast anyone? It was tedious and unimaginative, unrealistic and stupid, and it was bouncing like a pinball between three perspectives, yet despite this, it seemed to be stuck in mud. I can't commend it based on what I read of it, which occupied more of my time than I ought to have expended on it. I'm done with this book and this author.


Unqualified by Anna Faris


Rating: WARTY!

I've long been a fan of Anna (pronounced Ahna) Faris as a comedy actor, so I thought this audiobook might be a riot as well as offer some interesting and amusing insights into the movie business, but it offered nothing that any woman of her age and similar experience could have written even had she nothing to do with the movie business, and I quit about halfway through it, in real disappointment and boredom.

Yes, she does mention a movie here and there in passing, but she never really talks about her experiences on them. Almost the entirety of the book (at least as far as I listened, which was about 75%), is about relationships and sex and body hair. The book description claims "A hilarious, honest memoir-combined with just the right amount of relationship advice." No, that's completely wrong. There's way-the-hell too much relationship advice and barely anything about movies, so I have no idea what this is supposed to be a memoir of.

Personally, I had no interest in who she had a crush on at school and I'm sure the guys she mentions will not appreciate the notoriety. I sure wouldn't, even if I were someone who'd been nice to her. And while she's listing these people by name, she complains about similar kinds of things happening to her, which seems hypocritical at best, but what I found truly sad is how much she seems to need to validate herself with a guy - right from the off and repeatedly throughout the book, she keeps harping back to guys again and again. The amount of times she validates herself through guys is disgusting, shameful and very sad.

She goes on and on about how great, wonderful, etc., her relationship is with Chris Pratt, but this book is two years old and she's divorced from him now, so it makes all these stories seem so shallow, short-sighted, or clueless. That's not to say she doenslt ahve a decent relationship with him now, for all I know, but really? If she'd stuck with her movie experiences, maybe mentioned a guy or a relationship in passing here and there, it would have been a much different book and she would not have forced me to repeatedly skip multiple fifteen second segments at a time to get past yet another sexual encounter or crush, or lusting, or discussion of guys.

In the end I was skimming more than I was listening and I asked: why am I even continuing with this? I ditched it and moved on. I cannot commend it. The title is missing a word - something like 'Disaster' to appear after 'Unqualified' and maybe 'Unqualified' should be traded for 'Unmitigated'. It's not a good book. She may amuse me in the movies but she isn't the kind of person I would enjoy talking to in person so I think I am going to relegate her to position two in my esteem and elevate Aubrey Plaza to number one! She's much more entertaining.


Englishman in Blackpool by Jenny O'Brien


Rating: WARTY!

Errata:
"You're name" should have read 'your name'
"...still had the evening to look forward." Should have had a preposition ('to') on the end.

This is a very short story that overall I did not really enjoy. Hopper (that's what he goes by) is a butler to the Earl of Cosgrave, who has taken some time off to help an old friend with a ballroom dancing class, after which he intends to go fishing. Beverley is one of the women in the class, and she has a stereotypical obnoxious partner who quits, of course leaving her partner-less and so Hopper steps in and they're magical together. The problem with this story is that it was so predictable and so unimaginative, with everything falling so easily into place, no hiccups, and St George saving his maiden. It was pretty pathetic and I can't commend it at all. Even the title made little sense but was chosen not to describe the book but to categorize it as part of a series of such books all with boringly similar titles. Barf.


Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy


Rating: WARTY!

You know times have changed significantly when you read in an older novel (this was published in 1878), "...I don't care for gay weddings" and it has nothing whatsoever to do with same sex marriage. Unfortunately that was the only bright spot I could find in thirty pages of this. Despite it being Hardy's sixth and one of his most popular novels, it was such a tedious read for me that I gave it up at that point. There's no point in reading something that just doesn't do it for you when the next book you pick might enthrall you.

The native is apparently Clym Yeobright, who is coming back to Egdon Heath after time away in Paris. He can't marry the woman he wants, and so just takes up with someone else and unsurprisingly, the marriage doesn't work. Not really an exciting story. The only reason I started in on this was because the opening sentence of the novel was featured in a Monty Python sketch and it intrigued me. Well, color me intrigued no more, I cannot commend the plodding pace of this, based on the small portion I read, and I'm moving on to something which will, hopefully, grip me from the off.


Right Ho, Jeeves! By PG Wodehouse


Rating: WORTHY!

This novel, first published in 1934, is the second full-length book from Wodehouse about Jeeves and Bertie Wooster. I'd been sort of idly interested in reading a Jeeves story for a while, but I never got around to it, so when this came up as a discounted audiobook on Chirp, I snatched it up. I didn't regret it. It was highly amusing to me and quite entertaining, although there were some bits where it dragged, and it's hardly politically correct, given its antiquity. There's one use of the 'n' word (although not in this historical context int4ended in an abusive way, merely descriptive, it's still, through our modern eyes, abusive enough) and there's the usual sexism for a book of this vintage. On top of all of that one might justifiably take exception as well, to the idea of the idle rich having so much and so little of use to do with it, when so very many have so very little and are in urgent need of more. Those things aside, I enjoyed most of the book.

The story is of Bertram Wooster who, fresh back from Cannes, is looking for yet more idle pastimes to waste his life on. He discovers that his old school chum, Gussie Fink-Nottle, needs help. The book is replete with oddball names, my favorite being Pongo, which is not a dog but another of Bertie's male friends. Anyway, Gussie is pining for a woman named Madeline Bassett. Bertie refers to her as 'the Bassett' and I must have missed something (I listen to this while driving, which always takes precedence in any conflict of attention, of course), because when he started talking about the Bassett, I was convinced for a while that it was a dog he was walking. It took me a little time to make the right connection which in itself was another source of amusement.

Bertie is rather peeved that Gussie is resorting to taking advice from Jeeves, and this is a theme that runs through this book - Bertie's jealousy of Jeeves's respected standing and his accomplishments in terms of winning people's favor for seeking advice. Naturally Bertie tries to take over all of these situations, convinced he'll do a much better job, and inevitably ends up screwing things up. Thus he takes on yet another love affair, that between another friend of his, Tuppie, and his betrothed, Angela, and messes that up as well.

Some of the most entertaining parts of the book are those which feature Bertie's interactions with his feisty Aunt Dahlia. I was laughing out loud at several of those. She is such a force of nature and is so disrespectful and dismissive of Bertie, and utterly intolerant of idiocy, a quality with which he seems over-abundantly endowed. When his aunt tries to tap him for the prize-giving at the local grammar school where she lives, Bertie is aghast and ends up managing to offload the talk and prize delivery onto Gussie, who shows up drink and is quite amusing. The whole event is reminiscent of a similar occasion in David Nobbs's The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin wherein Reggie delivers an equally irreverent and drunk speech at an event before faking his own disappearance. I wonder if Nobbs might have cribbed his scene from Wodehouse's original example.

All ends well, of course, so overall I really enjoyed this book and in particular the spot-on reading of it by Jonathan Cecil. It's possible o get this book for free from Project Gutenberg since it's now out of copyright in the USA, but then I would have listened to it via my robot reader and amusing as that can be, it wouldn't have been anywhere near as entertaining as Cecil's version! I commend this as a worthy listen.


The Crown of Thorns by Ian CP Irvine


Rating: WARTY!

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

You know when a book has 'Book One' on the front cover that it's not really a story - it's merely a prologue and I don't do prologues as such. This is why I don't do series because, and with very few exceptions, they're inevitably tedious. This one - about cloning the fictional Jesus from the equally fictional crown of thorns - sounded like it might be interesting if it were done right, but the story never began.

Instead of unfolding a story, it rambled interminably, incessantly, indeterminately all over the place, going everywhere except where it was supposedly going. It began with a prologue! Then chapter one was also a prologue, and chapter two wasn't far off being one. That ought to have warned me off it right there, but foolishly, I pressed on for a little while. This is the problem with a series.

I gave up reading somewhere shortly into part two (the author seems to have confused parts with chapters and chapters with sections). I took to skimming thereafter, to see if the story ever actually got started at any point. It did not - at least not up to around the halfway point. The main character seemed far more focused on having sex with his girlfriend than ever he was in cloning anything. I cannot commend this based on my experience of it. I reviewed another Irvine novel back in March and it was equally lacking in entertainment value, so I'm not only done with this novel but with this author, too.


Like Spilled Water by Jennie Liu


Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. Strictly speaking we're not supposed to post reviews until 30 days before publication, but since this book has almost a dozen reviews up on that execrable monopolizing review-site-killing Amazon-owned Goodreads venue already, I don't see that my modest one is going to make any difference.

Erratum:
"She holds the thermos up before setting in on the ground." - it on the ground

This is a story set in modern China and written by someone who has been there and seen what's going on. It paints a sad picture. The story is even more sad because it involves the untimely death of a family member. Na grew up as a sort of spare part in a family that was devoted to Bao-bao, the second born, but first valued. The very name, in Chinese, means treasure. That is, bao means treasure, and duplicating it means baby, so he gets to be the treasured baby boy. His parents spent their lives scrimping and saving, and borrowing to get the best education and the best preparation for the all-important entrance exam for college, but Bao-bao fell short and then he died.

Called back from her own modest college life, Na has to squeeze the details of what happened out in any way she can. All she knows to begin with is that her family is broken, especially her father, and at that point it seemed obvious to me what had happened, but I wasn't absolutely sure. I read on not because I needed to know about that, but because I found Na's life and her take on things engrossing. She is a strong female character who works hard to do what's right, but in the end, in discovering things about her resented brother, she discovers things about herself that make a huge difference to her life.

If I had a complaint it would be about the repetitive nature of the names in the story. They all seem babyish and sing-song, and while I know this is a thing in China, perhaps for western audiences it might have been toned down a little. If Na is just Na, then Bao-bao could have been just Bao, for example! But that for me was only a minor thing. I commend this as a worthy read and an interesting insight intro modern China that all of us could use right now.


She Represents by Caitlin Donohue


Rating: WARTY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. Strictly speaking we're not supposed to post reviews until 30 days before publication, but since this book has about 20 reviews up already on that execrable monopolizing review site-killing Amazon-owned Goodreads venue, I don't see that my modest one is going to make any difference.

Subtitled "44 Women Who Are Changing Politics . . . and the World" this book did not please me. The title suggested to me that these were women who are making a positive change, yet some of the women featured here have behaved reprehensibly and in my opinion they by no means merit the honor this book seems like it's aiming to bestow. There are other, more deserving women, as other entries in the book show, so why those women are demeaned by being included with some of the less praiseworthy women is a mystery to me and I cannot in good faith support a book which takes this tacky tack.

If the book had been titled "Notorious Women of Politics" that would have been a different matter in terms of including the more reprehensible ones, but then the better women featured here would have been slighted. While everyone has some less than savory traits, there is a limit to how unsavory a person can be before they lose my confidence, and I do not believe that you can include all these stripes in one supposedly uplifting book without abominably misrepresenting the one or outright insulting the other.

The book description makes it plain what the intention supposedly was: "...this book celebrates feminism and female contributions to politics, activism, and communities..." and "Each...has demonstrated her capabilities and strengths in political and community leadership and activism..." And "...rounded out by beautiful color portraits..." was a bit of a stretch. I don't believe this book can achieve the stated goal of inspiring when such poor examples have been set by some of those featured in the book and I cannot in good conscience commend it. There are scores of inspirational, stronger, better, wiser, and more competent and considerate women who would have made fine examples. Why aren't they featured here?


Ever After by Olivia Vieweg


Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. Strictly speaking we're not supposed to post reviews until 30 days before publication, but since this book has well over a hundred reviews up on that execrable monopolizing review site-killing Amazon-owned Goodreads venue already, I don't see that my modest one is going to make any difference.

I have to say up front that I'm not a fan of zombie stories, particularly movies and TV shows, although the movie World War Z actually wasn't bad. That's about the only one I can say I liked though. Zombie stories make absolutely no sense, and even were I to give that a free pass (as I have been known to do with other genres from time to time), the ridiculous levels of violence inherent in these stories and the endless hordes of oncoming zombies are completely and utterly boring to me. There is no story there to be had. So why on Earth would I want to read a graphic novel about this very subject? Well I have a good answer to that: it wasn't about the zombies at all. I was willing to put up with the zombie story though, for the sake of enjoying a story about female friendship and bonding, and I was not at all disappointed.

The author is German (her last name is pronounced like vee-vague, with a very soft 'v', almost like an 'f') and she originally wrote this comic as part of her diploma at university (I want to go to a university where I can do a graphic novel and graduate! LOL!). Later it was expanded and changed a little bit and this is the English version. In it, Vivi is not your most capable survivor. She lives in one of the last two cities that have not been overrun. At one point early in the story, her incompetence causes her to run away and hide, and as it happens, she's hidden on the supply train, which she only fully realizes when it starts in motion, rolling along its tracks to the other city. There's no one onboard - so she believes, until she meets Eva - another stowaway.

The story really begins though when the train breaks down and their rescue team fails to materialize, throwing them upon their own skills, of which Vivi possesses few. Eva seems quite endowed with smarts and skills and the two, despite rough patches, start to bond and become loyal to one another over the course of the story. There was some zombie-killing action, of which I am not a fan at all, but it's par for the course, and in this book it's kept to a minimum, although it increases more as they journey.

In addition to the relationship between the two girls, I enjoyed the nuanced approach to zombie transformation, so even that wasn't as painful as it might have been. Overall, I really enjoyed the story. There's already a movie out about this and it's apparently being rendered into animated form (maybe?), and no doubt when Netflix gets their hands on it, I shall watch it. So why not see other zombie stories as bonding relationships? Well others that I've had any exposure to are almost unanimously ridiculous and pointless. The same story can typically be told without any zombies at all. In fact this one could have also, by having a plague (Coronavirus would be a starting point for example, but good luck getting Barnes and Noble to publish that one! LOL!), or some other apocalyptic catalyst. Zombies aren't required, but in this case they were tolerable. The real story though was Vivi and Eva and I commend this as a worthy read.


Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Sheffield Shorts by Various Authors


Rating: WARTY!

I grew up next door to Sheffield so I wondered if I might find something of interest here, but I grew quickly bored with it, especially when I read in one story of a character named "Patrick O’Kane" who was later consistently referred to as "O'Kaney" without any indication if this was a sort of nickname, so I was left wondering if the O'Kane was right and the rest wrong or if the person's name actually was Patrick O’Kaney and the first instance of it was wrong.

The second 'short' story was interminably long and uninteresting, and it took me forever to page past it to get the the next one. The stories had no way to click from the start to the story or back again so if you don't like one story, there's no easy way to find where the next one begins. This ebook was poorly conceived. I can't commend it based on my experience. I find it rather sad that I had so little joy in the book selections lately, Hopefully next month will bring some improvement, but I'm done blogging books for this month, Time to be writing more than reading!


Mindtouch by MCA Hogarth


Rating: WARTY!

Given that this was the first in the "The Dream healers" series, I should have known better, but I was stupid. I admit it. At least it wasn't first person, but neither was it remotely original.

The story was about this university on this planet which is open to a variety of aliens all of which are based heavily on humans and/or human mythology and/or Earth animal life. There was nothing remotely new or inventive here. It was all lowest common denominator sort of stuff. naturally you have to make your aliens relatable (or do you?!), but you can't just put an animal skin on a human and pretend it's an alien, and that's all that was attempted here.

The aliens even favor Earth foods - specifically what's commonly found in North America - and they have human foibles and motives and behaviors. The novel centers around (or should i say centaurs around) the relationship between this centaur being and this animal being, but if no one told you what their species was, you woudl assume human from the outset - that's how un-alien they were.

Centaurs make zero sense and are absurd from the off, and it's especially absurd when this one - a rarity, shows up on this planet with stronger gravity than it's used to apparently without any acclimitization, and comes promptly a cropper because of it. this tells me either the individual is stupid or the people who sent it are morons. Either way it doesn't bode well for the story especially when the centaur seems to be completely awed by any technology it encounters.

Maybe its problem is that people don't take it seriously. At one point, and I am not making this up, the centaur's course advisor says to it, without a shade of humor or irony, “so you don’t have an indefinite period to horse around.” If the story had been a comedy or a parody that would have been funny, but it isn't. It's supposed to be serious. Clearly the author is writing this without putting a shred of thought into it. Why would I want to read a whole series like this? I wouldn't. I don't even want to read this one. Done with book and with author.


Whisper Falls by Elizabeth Langston


Rating: WARTY!

This novel is the first in the inevitable trilogy and that was the first strike against it. The second strike was the almost inevitable worst person voice - times two. Barf. I should have quit right then, but even so I tried to read it (this was before I developed my allergy to first person novels), but it was written rather amateurishly and entirely unrealistically, and worst of all, it dragged.

The plot is that Mark, while out riding his mountain bike, encounters a girl who appears to be out of time - because she is. Susanna is an indentured servant from 1796, yet never once does she think mark is a demon or a witch or something along those lines. It makes no sense that a person from that era would not at least have thoughts like that cross her mind.

So eventually it becomes the masculine rescue of the helpless maiden, and I wasn't about to read this kind of a story that far. I sure as hell wasn't going to read a frigging trilogy of this stuff. I'd had enough and I gave up on it about a fifth of the way in. I can't commend this based on the sorry portion that I endured.


Celestial Music by Tai Sheridan


Rating: WARTY!

While we're on the celestial plane so to speak, here;s a pile of stinking horseshit festering rancid, wishing it was in the sun.

This is an English translation of Buddhist sutras freely translated by the author. Thus we have vacuous lines like: "The earth s[lits open, everything springs forth, let the lamp blow out, welcome infinite happiness" And "Countless truth seekers, sincere and fearless, clarify the diamond body, wishing benefit for all beings" and "The wisdom of spaciousness is the truthful incomparable mysterious light of existence." You would have exactly the same success by writing a computer program to randomly jam dictionary words together or by writing them on a slip of paper and blindly pulling them from a hat.

I have no problem with viewing the planet as a single entity in which we all have a part, but Buddhism seems like cowardice to me. Searching for inner enlightenment while there are people starving, people homeless, people suffering? No amount of chanting is going to fix that. They don't have the option to contemplate their navel. It's sucked back so close to their spine that they can't even see it. They need helping, not chanting.

I guess the hungry at least they have that empty belly in common with Lord Gautama who, let's not forget, abandoned his wife and child. That's not a recommendation to me. It's neither harmony, nor peace and it sure as hell isn't commingling. There's this belief out there, and blind belief is all it is, that if one million children meditate together it can help to change the world, and they do, yet here we are, in an ongoing global racism crisis and a deadly and devastating plague swarming the globe. Thanks meditators! Let's not fool ourselves. What these people do, they do for themselves. It's not selfless; it's selfish, period.

It's appropriate that this book focuses on sutras of emptiness, because that's what it offers: nothing. I can't commend this wisp of a book or the vacuous poetry it contains.


Celestial by Various Authors


Rating: WARTY!

This is one of those books that a publisher puts out as a sampler of its author stable. For some reason they seem to do this more with sci-fi authors than with any other genre. Why I don't know. Maybe it's just my perception.

In this case, the contributors numbered ten, and I was grateful because now I have at least eight authors I can eliminate from my list of potential reads! All of those eight wrote in worst person voice, so I dismissed those stories out of hand. The only two I read were The Greenhouse Gas by Ariel Sieling, about two juvenile survivors of a space massacre who were trying to avoid an enemy and find their family, and Moon Warrior by Katie Hayoz about one juvenile survivor of a dragon massacre who was trying to avoid an enemy and find her family.

Both stories were okay, but not especially good, and were pretty much the same story when you get down to it. Overall I can't commend this because of the slavish addiction to first person voice which increases my detestation for it the more I encounter it, and the two stories that were readable were not particularly good.


Saturday, June 20, 2020

Death in the English Countryside by Sara Rosett


Rating: WARTY!

This is your standard English country murder story and it baldly states it right there in the title. I'm not a fan of this kind of story, especially not when it's in first person. I read this one only to try and see what was going on in a 'cozy mystery' story just out of sheer curiosity, and I had some issues with it pretty much from the start.

The author seems unable to write anything other than a series and I am no fan of series. At some point, you have to wonder why it is that so many murders occur around the "sleuth" who investigates them! Is she really the guilty party?!. This novel didn't have the word 'sleuth' in the book description, otherwise I would have dismissed it out of hand. I guess now I also have to dismiss it when it has the word 'cozy' in it or when the author is this one.

Talking of whom, she has four of these series out there because one is never far more than enough, and I'll bet every one is really the same and has a weak woman protagonist (and is probably in first person voice). But look on the bright side: if someone who writes so poorly and predictably can get onto a best seller list, then there's hope for all of us! For some three hundred bucks, you can take her "How to Outline a Cozy Mystery" course wherein, as judged by this outing, you can learn how to create a limp and clueless female leads who need manly validation by a studly English country guy, and who likes to meddle where she should leave things to the police. You can learn the same thing for free by reading well-plotted and well-written murder mysteries.

Her relationship with Alex (said manly man) in this story was cringe-worthy. She's supposedly a mature business woman yet she behaves like she's thirteen and just as clueless as your average thirteen-year-old, unable to process any of the sensations she gets around Alex. It was amateur, pathetic, and nauseating to read. Oh, and Alex has a bicep. Not biceps, but a bicep. I'm not kidding! You can feel it if you want; one of the female characters did. I guess he had an accident or something and lost the other bicep in that arm.

So this woman - with the highly inappropriate name of Kate Sharp (she's not remotely sharp) - works for a company that scouts locations for movies. Why a US company is being asked to scout English locations is one of the few the real mysteries in this novel. I guess the author, being American herself, has to have that American connection because god forbid a novel should be set elsewhere, or if it is, it should have no Americans in it! Maybe she shares the trump philosophy wherein only US citizens are worth anything and they sure as hell can show those bumbling British cops a few things.

Kate's boss, Kevin originally does the scouting, which constitutes another mystery since the movie he's seeking locations for is yet another remake of a Jane Austen novel (because we sure as hell don't have too many of those now), and Kate is the resident Austen buff, yet Kevin is the one who goes. Anyway, he disappears without word or trace, and Kate is dispatched to find him. He has a history of alcohol abuse so the suspicion is that he's on a bender. Kate is unable to find him until he shows up dead in the river, along with his rental car.

There's no spoiler there - it's a murder mystery after all! It is amusing how the author makes much of how rainy and cold it is in the UK, when it actually really isn't. Of course that's dependent upon when you travel there, but it has cold spells; it has warm spells. It has rainy spells; it has dry spells. It's not foggy all the time either! Has the ever been there?

I have to wonder at the value of the course the author offers. It's not a writing course; it's a plotting course, but when the author doesn't know it's 'downright' and not 'down right' and employs redundant phrases like "see if he'd reply back" one has to wonder. These were not the only issues in this style of writing. I read, "I couldn't remember the last time a man had held open a door for me." What does Kate want? To be a wilting violet? Does she want equality or pampering? We no longer live in an era where men are required to open doors for woman; even Prince William's wife doesn't expect that! Maybe instead of Kate Sharp she should be Kate Uppity?

As to her smarts, I read this: "My fingers itched to get my camera and record the quiet beauty of it, but I'd left it in my room at the inn. Apparently Ms Sharp has never heard of a cell phone camera.... Equally pertinent is this one:

“Hmm, I should have emphasized that,” Alex murmured. “Where is that business card?”
“I left the one Quimby gave me in my room. Come on, I’ll get it for you.”
Kate has Quimby's number in her phone since she called him. She could have just got it from there, but of course she has to get Alex to her room so she can sit with their thighs touching on the bed. Pathetic.

A woman who truly worked in the scouting location business would live on her phone. It would be second-nature to go to it without a moment's thought, yet Kate is completely inept at using her phone. It's just not authentic. And this is written by someone who would charge you good money to teach you how to plot?! It's obvious from halfway through the novel who the guilty party is (chercher la femme p├ętulante) - and I'm typically not that good at spotting the perp. The red herring is obvious too, and not remotely convincing.

This book was sad and silly, and I cannot commend it as a worthy read.


Friday, June 19, 2020

Odyssey by Homer


Rating: WARTY!

Another classic bites the dist. This is one of the most stupid, tedious, repetitive, and pointless stories I've ever listened to. I listened to the audiobook version since originally, this was meant to be listened to, not read, but the version I had is not in poetic meter. It's told as a prose story by a narrator who was tedious to listen to, which made things worse. Despite this prose approach, the story still retains the repetitiveness of the poetry, which does not a thing to improve the situation. I grew to honestly and truly detest the phrase 'child of morn, rosy-fingered Dawn' with a passion.

Odysseus is one of the most puffed-up, self-aggrandizing, boorish braggarts I've ever encountered in literature. His son is useless and his wife Penelope is a complete jackass. Odysseus is always the best, the most virile, the strongest, the most upright, the toughest, the most skilled, etc., etc. He never loses, except in his ridiculously haphazard return from Troy after the ten year war.

It takes him another ten years to get home and all this time we're supposed to believe his wife is faithful. Odysseus is nearly always plied with riches by his hosts no matter whose island he fetches up on after another disastrous voyage in which he loses the previous treasure he was given. His various crews are always weeping, or lily-livered, or dishonest, or incompetent, or untrustworthy, while he himself is a paragon.

The thing is that it's really not that far from Troy to Ithaca! This admittedly assumes that the present day Ithaca is remotely close to where the ancient one was, but even if it wasn't, we know it was in Greece, where nowhere is very far from anywhere else. The point is that it's possible to travel the entire distance by land pretty much. He could have almost literally walked the entire distance in a couple of years, so why he repeatedly embarks on voyages given that he knows Poseidon, the fricking god of the ocean, is out to get him, is as much of a mystery as it is a testimony to one thing and one thing only: how profoundly dumb Odysseus truly is. He's a callous jerk, too! Despite his losing crew after crew, Odysseus never mourns a single one of those he traveled with or left behind.

Meanwhile back at home, we have the comedy duo of Telemachus, Odysseus's 20-year-old son, and Odysseus's wife, Penelope. His son is purportedly the head of the household, yet he has not an iota of wherewithal to throw out these suitors to his mom who number about a hundred or so. I know there was a tradition of hospitality in that era, but they're the worst guests imaginable, eating him out of house and home and he can't dispatch even one of them? How Odysseus was even supposed to have anything left of his holdings after ten years of this is a joke. Penelope, were she not such a limp rag and a waste of skin, could simply have told any number of these suitors she wasn't interested, but she keeps them hanging on: all five score of them, while making cheap excuses as to why she can't make up her mind. She's an asshole, period.

The suitors are utter morons. They're dumb-asses for hanging around for ten years when they're clearly getting clearly nowhere with Penelope. They're imbeciles in that they cannot see through her ridiculous ruse of un-weaving Laertes's burial shroud each night so she can re-weave it the next day. Despite all this, Telemachus can't seem to handle them and it takes Odysseus's heroic return of course, before they're summarily dispatched. Here's the last ridiculous thing: he arrives in disguise instead of striding proudly up to his home. Why? No good reason at all. Yet we're supposed to believe he has littered his way home with rejected lovers because he loved his wife so much? Bullshit.

This story is awful and not worth the time to read or listen to it.


The Game by Cosimo Yap


Rating: WARTY!

You know, you may be passionate about playing trading-card games or about video games, but unless you can turn that passion into a story that will appeal to those who have no interest in your cards or your gaming, then you're not going to sell many books. This was the problem here.

First off, the plot made no sense and secondly, there was far too much technical crap going on and too little story-telling. On top of that, and given that the book was subtitled "Opening Moves" it portended the predictable series to milk as much out of readers as could be got, and worse even than this, there was a clear but unengaging attempt at a love interest right from the start which was as predictable as it fell flat.

The plot is supposed to be that Earth was invaded by aliens who brought, among other things, "A fully immersive virtual reality called the Game." The problem is that the game is so 'Earth' that there's nothing alien about it. It doesn't remotely suggest alien. It suggests a young author thinking solely in Earth terms about his own interests and trying to project this onto aliens.

The game is all about garnering inventory and adding points to your stamina and so on, just like any game that's out there. There's nothing new or different in it and it makes no sense. Worse, we're offered no reason whatsoever why anyone should be so interested in playing it (other than those who play these things anyway). I mean why would people voluntarily support an alien construction like this? They're not forced to play, so why wouldn't they simply boycott it as a small rebellion against alien rule?

Alan is supposed to be this college student (read 'the author') who can't wait to join the game. We're told next to nothing about him or his studies or why he is so desperate to be in the game, in the same way we're told nothing about the aliens or how they managed to overpower Earth. The story got so technical in terms of game-play from that point on that I lost all interest in it, because: no story! It offered nothing to pique my curiosity or stir my interest, and it was so boring. The characters were uninteresting and the only good thing I can say about this novel is that it wasn't in first person, so there is that. But I can't commend this based on the introductory portion of it that I read.


Sunday, June 14, 2020

Tom Brown's Schooldays by Thomas Hughes


Rating: WARTY!

I was disappointed in this. It's like listening to an old relative drone on about an ancient past in which you as the listener have no interest whatsoever. Fortunately your;e not stuck with this until you can politely leave! This should not be thought of as a novel though. It's really much more a memoir of the author's time at a public school in Rugby in the 1830's, and while I am quite convinced he had fond memories of his time there, he imbues the reader with none of it - not if the reader is anything like me, anyway.

Note that public in Britain means private - it was technically open to the public, but in fact required a hefty fee. Rugby has the distinction, when it was originally founded in 1567, of actually being a free public school, but when the 'great' schools of Britain were set in stone in the late 1860's, they started to become renowned for being upper class and elitist. Rugby school is also where the actual game of rugby football was codified in the 1840's. In Tom Brown's era, running with the ball first became a thing. None of this history is told in Hughes's book because most of it wasn't in place in his time.

The first few chapters have nothing to do with school, but instead detail life before he went to Rugby. This part was tedious and I was ready to give up on the entire book, but the time finally came for him to go to school so I stayed with it, and I made it about halfway through the book before I truly tired of it and really began resenting spending so much time on it.

Tom becomes fast friends with Harry East and has run-ins with the resident school bully named Flashman. He plays "foot-ball" and the author inadvertently reveals to us the origin of the term willy-nilly, which was about the only thing I found interesting in the whole book! There are tales of fagging (not what you think!), and other trivia, and that's really about it. I'm not kidding.

I mean it's useful if you want to get the inside story on the minutiae of a school kid's life from that period, but I found no other value in it, and even the utility of that information is soiled by how much crap you have to read through to find anything you might be able to use in your own writing. For me the conclusion was that it wasn't worth it. It's set in roughly the same period as Oliver Twist, so there is some possible interest in the contrast between the lives of these two fictional boys, but even so it's not really worth reading either of them.

Fortunately, that's not why I read it. I read it out of genuine interest in what all the fuss was about in this book and now I can say it's a waste of time. Another 'classic' I've read that's fallen far short of its reputation. I cannot commend this as a worthy read. You'll have much more fun watching an episode of Michael Palin's Ripping Yarns called Tomkinson's Schooldays which is a loose parody of this book and was the pilot episode for the Ripping Yarns series.


Warrior Wench by Marie Andreas


Rating: WARTY!

I'm sure this sounded like a great idea for a story when it first hit the author, but the idea far outstripped her execution of it. The so-called warrior wench, who does far more wenching than warring, is Vas, who manages to get herself drugged, and when she finally comes out of it, a month has gone by and her spacecraft has been parted out and sold. She sets off on a quest to get it back.

I started reading this, got about a third of the way through it, set it down to read some more pressing books where i had a deadline for reviewing them, and then when I finally got back to it, I couldn't recall a single thing about this novel at all. After a brief refresher, I began reading it again and found that this supposedly tough woman is just another wilting violet with hots for this new guy onboard. Why female authors do this to their characters is a mystery to me. Maybe there are readers who like this sort of thing, but I can't subscribe to it.

I have no objection to a love story if it's done right, but this young-adult horseshit featuring instadore makes no sense and is poor writing. It only gets worse from there because there are, apparently, "unmarked ships blowing apart entire planets and the Commonwealth government can't, or won't, stop them." Blowing up entire planets? This is what happens when an author has no clue about physics and specifically, here, the amount of energy required to actually blow up an entire planet.

To totally disintegrate Earth, for example, you'd need something like sixty quadrillion one megaton nuclear bombs - all strategically placed and exploding simultaneously. It's hard to cost out a single nuclear weapon, but a very rough estimate is two million US dollars. Multiply that by sixty quadrillion, and you see the problem. Who has that kind of money? Even if you had some other means of destruction, it would still cost to build the weapon, and to generate the requisite amount of energy to power it, so what would be the point of doing that? What would be the value of it to the ones doing it?

If the aim is merely to wipe out the population, then why not simply drop a virus?

So the whole foundation of this book was clueless to begin with and the romance really didn't help at all. I can't commend this based on what I managed to read of it.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Find Me at Willoughby Close by Kate Hewitt


Rating: WARTY!

Errata:
"But even big kids don't need to rude words." - to use rude words
"friends with her just because some in girls think she's different" in-girls? It has a double meaning the other way!

This is the second - and the last! - novel by this author I will ever read. The previous one I read was reviewed in December of 2016, and titled 'A Yorkshire Christmas. I'd forgotten I'd read that because if I'd remembered, I probably wouldn't have read this one. This kind of story isn't my style, but I was curious about this genre - the wussy girl running away from a bad relationship back to her home town (or someplace different anyway) and finding the love of her life. There is a tedious number of 'weak woman' books like this, and it fascinates me as to why - and who reads these.

What this novel had going for it - or what I thought it had, was that it was a bit different. This is an older woman, Harriet, with three kids, whose husband lost his high-flying financial job and failed to tell his wife for six months. Was it purely accidental that his name was Dick?!

Harriet the spy discovers he's talking on the phone at all hours of the night with his secretary - the youthful and sexy Meghan. So a Meghan beats a Harriet, evidently! There is no excuse for his behavior and now he and his wife are in such dire financial straits that Harriet has to give up their luxury home and designer furniture and sell it all off to go live in a rental cottage some ways away. Her husband lives separately in a small apartment in London, still looking for work.

How they get by financially is a mystery because despite not even looking for a job for the longest time, Harriet still seems to be able to keep her head above water and buy whatever she needs whenever she needs it, even as she whines endlessly about her impoverished circumstances. The whining got old real fast.

Her husband is in the same position: both are supposedly looking for work, yet neither of them seems to get that they can - at least for the short term - take any job they can get just to have some income. To me they both came off as privileged and spoiled, and stupid. It was also hard to stomach the incongruity of Harriet prattling on about organic this and that while driving gas guzzling Land Rover Discovery which gets an environmentally tragic 20 mpg.

It didn't help that she said clich├ęd things like "Does this dress make me look fat?" at times. The message coming through loud and clear is that the only thing she thinks of is herself - eleven years of being spoiled rotten and having every single thing she ever wanted will do that to a woman, I guess. It did not make me like her at all. It helped no more that the writing was a bit lax here and there so I'd read things like: "Harriet blinked hard, but it was too late. Two slipped down and with a muttered curse she grabbed a napkin and started dabbing." The idea was that two tears slipped down, but he author had written it so poorly that the 'two slipped down' had no real connection to tears. It was just weird to read.

An amusing instance of this laxity was when I read, "Harriet sank into the armchair by the gas fire that was still in the atrocious pattern Harriet remembered of large pink cabbage roses." This implies that the gas fire had a cabbage rose pattern! I'm guessing it was actually the armchair though. The author might have re-thought that sentence.

What did genuinely impress me was how fast it's possible to get a pizza in London! While Harriet visits her husband to pick the kids up, their father orders pizza via his phone, immediately goes to get it, and very quickly returns with it, all in the brief time that Harriet is having this quite short conversation with her kids. Well, we've all been there - trying to account realistically for time passing in our writing. I didn't want to mark her down for that. But many of us might want to find out which pizza place can prepare two pizzas that fast!

Where I did draw the line though was the tired, tedious, and way overdone YA trope of "the gold flecks in his hazel eyes." That about made me throw up. I've read it far too many times and it sucks. It needs to be banned from every author's description toolbox. It was shortly after that at around 65% that I gave up because the book just kept rambling on.

The next thing up was this designer dog - actually a pedigree dog, an order for which had been placed some months before. Dogs don't arrive as fast as pizzas, but finally it was ready. Harriet had to come up with five hundred pounds for it and barely blinked at that. Then she seemed utterly clueless that the dog would be peeing and pooping everywhere if it wasn't properly trained from the outset.

I felt bad for the dog having to live with this family as well as for the vet bills they'd have to pay for a purebred (read inbred) dog. Since a single vet (named Tom of all pathetic names for manly characters) had been introduced not long before in the story, it seemed quite obvious at this point where the story would be going: new puppy > requires shots etc > nice vet with gold flecks that Harriet knows > new romance. Boring much?

I can't say if that's where it went because I didn't read on and I honestly didn't care about any of these characters. I decided enough was enough. I'd put up with this kind of rambling delivery for far too long, wasting my time when I could have been reading something truly engrossing, so I quit reading and moved on. I can't commend this book at all. Or this author. If this is even remotely representative of this genre, then it speaks volumes about those sorry volumes.


Hook by Melissa Snark


Rating: WARTY!

This was yet another attempt to wring some value from the antique and ridiculous Peter Pan story. About the only one I've read so far that was worth reading was Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson which I reviewed several years ago.

This one is in first person which is an irritating voice to read and it makes little sense in a novel like this one. And who is she telling this tedious story to anyway? It takes forever to get going and in the end, never really does. The captain is informed that Peter Pan's ship Ariel is spied on the horizon - a ship that's faster than the Revenge, and so they have to sneak up on it over several chapters to liberate the children Pan is abducting with the aid of Tinker Bell. I smelled a trap, but apparently it was just the writing that had gone off.

The plot sounded interesting on the surface, but it never seemed to have any depth in the bits that I read. The captain seems to debate her plans and commands with the crew in town hall meetings rather than actually captain the ship so I couldn't take her seriously from the outset. And she rambles interminably. I managed about fifty pages before I tired of this, and then I skimmed to about a third of the way through and found no reason to read any more of it, so I ditched it, neither knowing nor caring what would happen next. I cannot commend this at all.


Saturday, June 6, 2020

Live to See Tomorrow by Iris Johansen


Rating: WARTY!

I made very little progress into this book before I gave it up as a bad job. The main female character is Catherine Ling, ridiculously recruited by the CIA at the age of 14, we're told. And no, this is not a YA novel believe it or not.

The story itself begins years along from that time, and Ling has a son who is, for reasons I never learned, under the protection of a friend of hers, Hu Chang. Threatened with 'it's either you or him who takes this mission' Ling elects to neglect her child and go herself to try to rescue a journalist from Tibet. Why this wasn't dealt with through diplomatic channels isn't mentioned in the part of the novel I managed to stomach. Why the CIA has no other agents who can do this is equally an unaddressed mystery.

I dropped it the minute this supposedly strong woman has her job "complicated" by meeting Richard Cameron. I began skimming, and these two complete strangers have unprotected sex early in the story. She's so dumb, she hadn't known people could do "that" - evidently some magical fingering technique he has that this evidently dumb broad never encountered before. or maybe there's some authorial wish-fulfilment going on here.

Later, I read, "...she had been on the defensive since the moment she had seen him and felt that first explosive bolt of sexual attraction," I knew exactly what kind of unfulfilling trashy and female-demeaning story this would be, and I was glad I was out of there. I can't commend dumb-assery like this. I'm done with this author, too.


Kanzi by Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, Roger Lewin


Rating: WORTHY!

Sue Savage-Rumbaugh is a psychologist and primatologist. This book is about her work with a Bonobo (an ape closely related to the chimpanzee) named Kanzi who learned to communicate in ways humans could understand. The author is so far the only scientist to conduct language research with bonobos. Roger Lewin is a science writer who has worked for both New Scientist and Science publications.

Bonobos are very similar to chimpanzees, but not the same species. Kanzi was the first ape to acquire words in the same way that human children do, but her view that language is learnable by apes is contested by other scientists, such as Steven Pinker, who is a cognitive scientist. Kanzi also learned from human tutors how to create sharp flints which could cut ropes which held fast a box containing food, and he demonstrated the ability to create them (including using his own method of smashing the rock and simply selecting the sharpest fragment!).

The author makes no claim that apes are human, but that - as the book's subtitle shows, they are at the brink of the human mind, which of course they must be as our closest living relatives. Modern bonobos and chimpanzees did not evolve into humans, but we certainly do share a common ancestor with them, and one of those ancestral lines, very much ape at one point, did indeed evolve to give rise to the human lineage that led to us. This books gives fascinating insights into how that process may have begun and also into how minds like ours but not the same as ours, view the world - and us. I commend this as a very worthy read.


Omnitopia Dawn by Diane Duane


Rating: WARTY!

I've been a big fan of Duane's ever since I read So You Want to be a Wizard? many years ago. This book I am sorry to report is not up to the same standard. The subject matter of this kind of a novel is really a bit of a tired topic at this point: social networks gone bad, MMORPGs, and that sort of thing, and you really need to bring something strong and new to it to get a good story, and while this one isn't lousy, it really isn't a great entertainment either. i read this some time ago and I cannot for the life of me recall what the content was in any detail, which speaks volumes about how little of an impressionism this made on me when I read it.

The author seems so enamored of the idea of MMPORGs that she spends far too much time delving into the game and its technology than in actually telling a truly interesting and engrossing story. it seems to me she should have let this stew for a while before writing it. The impression I had was that she'd just learned about these games, maybe played one or two and become entranced by them, and immediately decided to write a novel about one. She went into endless detail about the game, and all this served to do was to make her 'real life' characters seems flat, one dimension, and uninteresting. It was boring. I can't commend it at all.


Odd Girl Out by Rachel Simmons


Rating: WORTHY!

This book discusses how girls can be the worst kind of bullies of all, employing microaggression and social freeze-out to punish those who displease them. It can often be so subtle and unspoken that even those being punished do not understand what's happening or sometimes even that it is happening at first.

The book discusses various forms this bullying can take, citing examples for real life victims of it. Later it discusses what parents and teachers play in all of this and what are the right - and wrong - steps to take when you're aware this is happening a child you care about.

I have not read the newer edition, but this book has been updated with content covering cyber-bullying. I can't comment on that other than to say if it's anything like this earlier edition, then I would have to commend it, as I do this one, as a worthy and important read even if you don't think your loved one, or a student in your classroom, is being bullied.


Time Lord by Clark Blaise


Rating: WORTHY!

This book has nothing whatsoever to do with Doctor Who! Instead, it tells the true story of Sir Standford Fleming and the creation of a system of standard time throughout the world. This may seem strange to us today, used to an orderly 24 times zones spanning the globe, but prior to standard time being established in 1884, there were for example, almost 150 official time zones in North America alone! This book explains how those and others, elsewhere, were shrunk to an intelligent and manageable number, largely through the efforts of one man.

I enjoyed this book immensely and consider it entertaining and educational.


Unison Spark by Andy Marino


Rating: WARTY!

This is the debut novel of the author and it was a fail for me for an assortment of reasons. I made it about halfway through and resented wasting even that much time. I had to keep forcing myself back into it - it wasn't like I couldn't wait to read the next bit, and the book felt like it was going nowhere slow. I couldn't get to a point where I liked either of the two main characters, couldn't see where it was going, couldn't get into the story. It was like work and I can't believe I stayed with it as long as I did.

The basic plot is that two characters - a boy and a girl - of course, live in this dystopian society - of course - composed of haves and have-nots with no gray area in between - of course. The boy is of one group, the girl of another - of course. It was so tedious and unimaginative. All they have in common is that they dream the same dreams and are clearly genetically or otherwise modified (brings a whole new meaning to binary relationship doesn't it?!), but the story took so long to even reach that point that I couldn't stand to read any more and ditched it, irritated that I'd foolishly wasted the time I'd already spent on it. I cannot commend this as a worthy read.


Our Lizzie by Anna Jacobs


Rating: WARTY!

I gave up on this in short order after I read how yet another female writer refers to her female characters. "...Lizzie was a child still, but when she grew up - ah, then he'd be waiting for her...He'd enjoy taming her, wooing her first and then mastering her, as all women loved to be mastered. Marrying her, perhaps." That was page six of this novel and it was where I and it parted. I don't care if this is supposed to be the male character's thoughts. That picture just turned my stomach and I had no desire to read any further.

<[>
I did skim through the book a little and at one point I read the unintentional humor in "I'm a rotten sewer" - where what the girl meant to convey was that she was poor at sewing. Later a character who wants to be her lover is named Peter. he;s described int eh book description as her new love - like the old one was actually a "love" as opposed to an abuser. It confirmed that I'd made the right decision to quit reading this when I did.

I can't commend this precisely because of that.


Legion by William Peter Blatty


Rating: WARTY!

This was Blatty's attempt to get back some of his former glory after The Exorcist supernova had faded. I thought that original offering was a great novel and I really enjoyed it, but this one, which I read some time ago yet did not realize until today that I hadn't reviewed it, was a poor, poor sequel.

Often when a writer has a huge hit it's hard for them to get anywhere near that point again. We've seen it with runaway best-seller writers like JK Rowling after the Harry Potter marathon, and Suzanne Collins after The Hunger Games and its sequels. Inevitably they're drawn back to retread old tires because efforts to go in other directions are met with indifference. Typically retracing steps is a mistake and it fails.

The plot for this is very confused, resurrecting people who clearly died in the original novel and turning the demon into a limp and unoriginal serial killer, jumping from living body to body to leave trademark serial killer crimes scenes but with different fingerprints. The book was clearly very badly-written, very confused, and not worth the reading. A better take on this idea is the Denzel Washington movie Fallen which did not perform well at the box office but which I think far outstrips both this novel and the movie that was made from it. I can't commend this particular novel as a worthy read.


Bright Dreams The Brilliant Ideas of Nikola Tesla by Tracy Dockray


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I'm definitely not one of these people who thinks Nikola Tesla was a god and worships him, nor do I buy into the inane conspiracy theories that have grown up around him, but I do admire his brilliance, and I have to say that this well-illustrated and sweetly-told story about his life is a great way to introduce children to an important inventor.

It begins with his interesting childhood (it starts at birth! Where else would a biography start?!), and covers his youth and his travels, and follows him to the USA where he really became a name to conjure with. It pulls no punches, either, not shying away from the sad parts of his life and the times where he was exploited by unscrupulous men. The thing was that he was so good at inventing things that he nearly always bounced back.

I enjoyed reading this and the only issue I had with it was the question of his digging ditches. Yes, it's true that for $2 a day he was forced to do this, which he accepted stoically until he could get back on his feet again, but whether those ditches were for Edison's cables or some other purpose is the issue I think it's folklore rather than authenticity which poetically has him do this for Edison's cables. Maybe it was, but I'm not convinced it was specifically for that. There were lots of other reasons for digging ditches back then.

But this is a minor thing that people can disagree about, and it takes nothing away from he overall power and charm of a story that I enjoyed and which I commend as a worthy read for young children.


Mister Invincible Local Hero by Pascal Jousselin


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This graphic novel was great! It featured a superhero named Mr Invincible, and it was amusing because the creator of it had 'cheated' on the way such stories are typically told, and I loved it. Written and illustrated by a Belgian creator, and published natively as Imbattable: Justice et Legumes Frais ("Unbeatable: Justice and Fresh Vegetables<"), this book will be available in English come September.


In small ways it reminded me of the time in one of my rat books that Louise and Thelma saw themselves performing on stage in a presentation they were doing. There is also a running story that I have yet to finish where these letters escape from a speech balloon and were running around in a couple of books. I think in the next one I do in alphabetical order, I'll bring that story to a conclusion. It's always fun though, to see others exploiting this kind of out of the box - or out of the panel - thinking.

Normally a graphic novel proceeds sequentially in a series of small panels filling each page, but Mr Invincible's power was that he could move from one panel to another out of sequence, and use things in later panels to help himself in an earlier one. In one story, for example, there was a cat stuck in a tree, so he reaches down from one row of panels into the row below and easily plucks the cat from the top of the tree; then he it hands back to its owner. Of course, the owner now has two cats and must surely ponder whether a cat in the hand is worth a second in the bush, but there's a solution to that!

I don't want to spoil the joy of reading this, so let me confine myself to revealing that there are stories where speech balloons are in play, where comic book colors are exploited, and where even the page itself cannot stop the action! And not all of his stories end well. Of course you can only play these tricks in so many different ways before you run out of truly original ideas, so I have to say it was a credit to the writer that he was able to think up engaging ways to exploit this. I'm not sure how you could sustain a series like this indefinitely, but maybe that's not his plan. I definitely became hooked though, so maybe there is a great future for such storytelling.

It's also a credit to the writer that he could figure out what were rather complex and inventive story executions in some of these stories. I had access only to the e-version of the book which took away from the power of some of the stories. I imagine it would work better in a print comic than it did in the ebook, but still it made for a fun read, and it was definitely different! I commend this fully as a very worthy read.