Monday, March 1, 2021

The Girl Who Came Back by Kerry Wilkinson

Rating: WARTY!

The author is described by The Sun newspaper as a "crime-writing colossus." She's so big I've never heard of her. The story is that "Six-year-old Olivia Adams vanished from her own back garden. Thirteen years later, she returns. But is this the real missing child… or an impostor?" Check her DNA. There. I solved it. You're welcome. Yawn.

When Wishes Bleed by Casey L Bond

Rating: WARTY!

"When Sable reads Prince Tauren’s fortune, an omen reveals his deadly fate… Can she change it by joining the competition to become his queen?" Why would she care what happens to him when he treats romance with such callous indifference? He holds it in such disdain that he runs a lottery to find someone to inseminate and bear his offspring? And Sable? really? That means soft, exotic fur. Tauren probably means bull. Could an author make it any more bald than that? Or balled?

This exact story has been told a gazillion times already. There's nothing original left to say. All an author can do here is really to just retread the plots of countless others who've gone before, and this author evidently isn't even trying to be different! We're told that New York Times bestselling author Jennifer L Armentrout finds this "The perfect mix of magic, danger, death, and love." I've never heard of her. I have no idea who she is! Why would I give a shit even if she really does think this is "Bewitching"?!

To the Center of the Earth by Greig Beck

Rating: WARTY!

"After learning of a centuries-old manuscript that contains the passage to the center of the Earth, caving expert Mike Monroe risks it all to follow the path. But what he finds there will alter everything he knows about the world…" I’m guessing author Grieg paid little to no attention in his Earth sciences classes.

The only thing at the center of the Earth is a giant ball of searing hot iron, surrounded by molten iron, surround by molten rock, surrounded by hotter-than-hell rock. If the blurb had described this novel as a scorching read it would have been more accurate, but just as boring a prospect.

All at Once by Brill Harper

Rating: WARTY!

Bliss can’t restrain her fantasies about Levi and Wylder, her new bosses at the Wylder Colt Ranch. Can the two sexy, dominant cowboys unleash their quiet housekeeper’s wild side?" Is that really a serious question? Bliss? Honestly? And really, 'Wylder'? Why not just name the brothers ‘goat’? Horny Goat and Randy Goat? Seriously? Way to reduce a woman to a warm wet hole, not-so-Brill. She probably has another series of novels under the name Harper Brill. Why not? Everything is interchangeable. I have to honestly wodner if this author isn't secretly laughing at her readership all the way to her bank. Not my cup of ass.

Sweet Lake by Christine Nolfi

Rating: WARTY!

Christine Nolfi is a good name for an author. I just wish it were associated with something better than retreaded romance. "Under pressure to revitalize the family inn and reconcile with her good-for-nothing brother, Linnie has a lot on her shoulders. But a surprise that upends her life may just be a blessing in disguise!" I wonder what the surprise is? Could it be a studly manly man’s man who sweeps this fake 'strong woman' off her feet? Yawn. Nothing new here.

The very fact that this quotes Kirkus Reviews saying the novel is "Uplifting and charming" is enough to put me off it for life. Kirkus never met a novel they didn't like, so their recommendation is meaningless to me. Apparently they like their women weak and in need of male validaiton. I don't. Never will.

Zone One by Colson Whitehead

Rating: WARTY!

"From a Pulitzer Prize–winning author! Mark Spitz fights to survive and adapt in the aftermath of global devastation." This guy has a pulitzer prize and the best he can do for a character name is Mark Spitz? Seriously? This is why I avoid like the plague novels that have won awards because they are inevitably, inescapably, irremediably putrid, bland, vacuous and pretentious.

Post apocalyptic is overdone, and if this guy is a prize-winner and this book has well over 2,000 positive reviews, why is he (or his publisher) forced to flog it at a steep discount (the ebook is one-eighth the paperback price) on Bookbub? Thinking people want to know.

Gargoyle Guardian Chronicles: Books 1–3 by Rebecca Chastain

Rating: WARTY!

Rebecca Chastain is actually quite a cool name for a novelist, but the book description? Not so cool! "When Mika sets out to rescue a baby gargoyle, she’s plunged into a surprising new life of adventure…" How is it surprising? She's chasing a baby gargoyle for godsakes! How is anything surprising in her world?

Here's the thing though: I make it a point, unless there are really extenuating circumstances, to avoid like the plague books with ‘chronicles’ or ‘saga’ or ‘codex’ or ‘cycle’ in the title. I've seen too many of them be boring, rambling, tedious, vacuous, pretentious bullshit stories to make that mistake again. Those words are the kiss of death for a novel, so it's warty based on that one word alone. Plus, gargoykes? No thanks. And I'm pretty much ready to start skipping novels entirely where the book description begins with the word "when"! I'm so tired of it!

Forbidden Friend by R Cayden

Rating: WARTY!

"Leo’s world is turned upside down when his best friend’s identical twin brother moves into their shared condo! Leo is a playboy, River is a hopeless romantic, and a relationship between them is strictly off-limits — but they might not be able to resist temptation…" Why is it off limits? Who made that rule? And we know for a fact that they're not able to resist temptation because otherwise what would the novel be about? Is it the novelist who thinks we readers are morons, or simply the book blurb writer?

They won't resist temptation, but I'll bet they’re able to resist condoms. They always are in these stories and there are never consequences. Safe sex has no place in this kind of a garbage novel because it's yet another cookie-cutter gay novel written by a woman. Talked about owned voices! This is genital warty.

Aurora Sky: Vampire Hunter by Nikki Jefford

Rating: WARTY!

"First in an action-packed series: Thanks to her rare blood type, Aurora finds herself battling the undead in Alaska for the government. All that’s keeping her warm is gorgeous Fane — but he might be a vampire, too…" Of course it's first in a series. Of course Buffy, er Aurora, has to hand-fight the vamps. There's no way in hell that a scientific method could ever be found to poison them. And of course her lover Spike...er Fane...(Fane? Seriously? Jesus!) is a good vamp.

My only question here is: Does this author have an original bone in her body? Because it seems to me I've seen this exact same story told scores and scores of times already.

Night Broken by Patricia Briggs

Rating: WARTY!

If this novel has "over 29,000 five-star Goodreads ratings" why is it being flogged at a discount in a book flyer? The blurb claims that, "When her werewolf husband’s ex comes back into the picture, Mercy must protect herself — while trying to solve a murder case" Why? I mean by all means protect yourself, but why is it necessary? Is her husband's ex evil? Dangerous? If so why can't she rely on her husband or the police?

And why is she trying to solve a murder case? Is it because the local cops are once again morons as they always are in these private dick novels? If I were a cop I'd resent insulting novels like this one. And if this is a supernatural world, are there not supernatural means to solve it? Or is it insoluable since it's supernatural? LOL!

Oh look! Charlaine Harris apparently said, "I love these books" - well, maybe she did, and maybe she didn't. I don't know and I sure don't trust a book description to get it right. My question is: did she love this particular one? We don't know!

Did she actually read "these books" or does she just like the covers? Is anyone going to ask her? I doubt it. And why the hell should I read something that some author I don't know personally recommends? I may well have read a book of hers, but I don't know her or her tastes. Her recommendation tells me nothing about "these books" if I've never heard of her! If I've read her books and didn't like them, I'm sure as hell not going to buy this one!

The Witching Place by Sophie Love

Rating: WARTY!

Here's a classic - a tediously-tired, over-done, boringly trope plot: "After being fired and breaking up with her boyfriend on the same day, Alexis makes a change and takes a job at an occult bookstore in a small seaside town. Caught up in the shop’s strange secrets, she finds herself smack-dab in the middle of a murder mystery…"

Of course she does, and the local cops are so stupid that she's the only one who can solve the murder, right? Is this a series starter? It must be! Yawn. So many tropes, so few pages to fit them all in. 'Weak woman runs away' is a genre all by itself. Why do so many female authors seem so determined to make their characters such little crying cowards?

The bookshop is another trope - obviously the woman must be smart if she works at a bookstore, right? Nope! Not if she works at a dumb-ass occult bookstore that palms-off garbage on suckers. What does that say about Alexis's integrity? Volumes! And why is it always a small seaside town? And the start of a series where this seaside town will be shown to have a higher murder rate than Chicago at the height of prohibition! Ridiculous.

It's a 'Cozy Mystery' but you know the best cozy mysteries? They're the ones you can toss onto the fire during a Texas winter, and enjoy the warmth as the pages burn. That's where books like this belong. On warmer days of course we can recycle them into pulp paper. That's what they were and what they will become. Trash is to ashes, pulp to pulp.

Too Close by R Phoenix

Rating: WARTY!

"After their mother abandons them, Skylar and his sister Evie are taken in by wealthy Tate, who at first seems to be a knight in shining armor. But when Tate's sinister side slowly reveals itself, Skylar seeks refuge in math teacher Dexter - and he's soon forced to decide whether their love is worth the risk." Is this LGBT, or pedophilia? I can't tell! And the author's name is really R Phoenix? Really?

Oh, and look at the artful juxtapositioning of 'sinister' for the bad guy (Latin for left-handed) and 'Dexter' as a name for the good guy - Latin for right-handed. Never trust those left-handers! How did wealthy Tate get to take in the orphans? Was there no background check? He just took them? Where is child services? This story has sucky written all over it. And not in a good way.

The Dream by Whitney Dineen

Rating: WARTY!

"Ashley has been crushing on Davis since high school - though she's always known he's out of her league. But when she becomes a caretaker for his terminally ill grandmother, they'll find their worlds colliding in ways they never expected." Never expected by anyone except the readers who are terminally addicted to this garbage. If Ashley's been this obsessed then she needs to get a life, or she needs to get arrested for harboring dangerous stalker tendencies. This shit isn't romantic.

Looking for Leon by Shirley Benton Non-Review Number 1!

Rating: WARTY!

Okay, here's a new thing I'm going to be doing for 2021. There are some 'non-reviews' that I'm going to be posting. They're called non-reviews because the assessment of the novel in question is based on the book description and cover, and I can tell you up front that they'll more than likely all be negative because the only ones I'm going to cover are the ones that I think are quite simply idiotic - too moronic to ever want to read the novel the blurb describes. They'll be indentified in the labels by the 'Non-Review' marker.

Maybe once in a while I'll post a positive one - if I find a description that's particularly good, or intriguing, or elegant, but for the most part, these blurbs (at least the ones I typically see in a couple of trade flyers I receive regularly) are stupid and evidently quite often written by someone who's never even read the novel they're dishonestly describing. It's like Donald Trump wrote the review. I used to gripe privately about these to friends, but now's the time to go public!

So this first one is a somewhat bizarre story titled Looking for Leon by Shirley Benton, and in this case, I avoid it purely because of the title. I never want to read a story titled "looking for" especially if it's looking for a person. It's so Greene that it's in the John. Barf.

As it happens, the description is sort of creepy, too: "After making a passionate connection in Las Vegas, strangers Andie and Leon are accidentally separated. Determined to find him again, Andie uses her skills as a journalist to launch a publicized, nationwide search for the man she knows is the one. But does Leon want to be found?" In reality the answer would be 'no', but in this novel, my guess is that he does.

Personally, I sure wouldn't want to be embarrassed by having my privacy invaded, uninvited like that. You fail to get a number, then you graciously let it go. You don't hound this person, stalker-style! You sure as hell don't put out an APB on their ass! And what does it say that these two dickheads apparently leapt into bed together knowing so little about each other? Yuk! Warty from the get-go.

Witch Ways by Kristy Tate

Rating: WARTY!

This is a wannabe young adult novel, but the main character is only fifteen, which technically is young adult territory for better or for worse, but it felt more like middle grade reading this stuff. Inevitably, it's written in first person, and it's about Evelynn Marston who is quite obviously a witch, but who is in serious denial.

Her denial makes as little sense as her name - who calls their child Evelynn these days? It's not even in the top 70 names for children born in 2005. Despite being hit over the head with her power repeatedly, 'Evie' still doesn't believe. This tells me that she's both stupid and tediously incurious and I have no interest in reading even one novel, let alone a series, about a shallow girl who has no interest in exploring her own potentially magical abilities.

I would have DNF'd this were it not so short. It's more like a novella than a novel despite it proudly declaring itself to be a novel on the cover (did the cover designer really believe that we'd think it was non-fiction without the bright red lettering telling us it was a novel?! ). In reality it's nothing more than a prologue, and I don't do prologues. Worse, it was all prologue and nothing of substance; quite literally nothing of interest or value happens in these 160 or so pages. It's barely even a witch novel because Evie doesn't do any actual witchcraft to speak of.

There's a handful of accidental displays of possible magic, every one of which is disputed by Evie and is quite easily dismissible. There are a couple of minor dumb spells she tries on purpose which are of the stupid rhyming English variety, like if you say a poem over a candle, magic happens! I'm sorry but that's juvenile and pathetic. Never is there any point at which Evie has the smarts to question any of this or to ask herself why, if she can cause magic without saying a word (like in burning something down) does she need to go through these ridiculous and childish rituals to do a spell?

The story moves ponderously slowly and like an idiot, I kept reading on waiting for Evie to unleash herself, but she never did! It's like one of those joke cards that on one side says, "How do morons pass their time? (see other side) and on the other side, it says exactly the same thing. In that same way, the story went nowhere and in the end, I resented wasting my time reading it. To employ a sexual vernacular, it will leave you blue-balled! That's not inappropriate because (quite symbolically I think, if perhaps unintentionally!), Evie actually wears a blue gown to a ball! The only good thing I can say about it (the story, not the gown!) is that it was short and the first person actually wasn't as irritating as it usually is for me, but this character is so lacking in agency and smarts that she's certainly not worth following a series about.

It's your predictable YA fish-out-of-water story, with Evie having to attend a new school after having been accused of burning down the science lab in her previous school, but from this point onward, the impression is that Evie is literally strait-jacketed into doing things without anyone caring what she herself wants. You'd think at some point she'd rebel and her witch powers would manifest, but no. I kept waiting for it to happen, but it never did. I also found it very weird that such a small town sported not one, but three high schools, two of which were private ones.

This dick of a guy named Dylan, who Evie vaguely knows because he's friends with her best friend's brother, is two or three years older than Evie and he treats her like dirt when she first arrives at the new school: not even saying a word to her and then suddenly, he's all over her and she's perfectly fine with his manhandling of her, touching her, and kissing her without even asking and without any history whatsoever of their being together, or dating.

For example, I read, "Dylan stood behind me, resting his elbows on my shoulders and his chin on the top of my head," and later, "He chuckled and took hold of my hand," and "He lowered his lips to mine in a gentle kiss." This is when the two of them are barely involved in any way. In short, Evie is a doll, and not in the old fashioned 'complimentary' sense. She's not really an autonomous person, and he's a possessive closet rapist who improbably soon begins talking about marriage. Meanwhile she also has Josh, her best friend's brother, on a string, making the depressingly predictable, tediously unoriginal, and utterly boring YA triangle.

I know that authors don't get to choose their own covers or blurbs when they publish with a professional publisher, but when I read something like this in the book description I have problems with it: "When Evie's friend, Lauren Silver, turns up dead, Evie must rely on all her newfound powers and friends to find the truth. But bringing a killer to justice may require stronger magic and true love, the kind that can't be found in a potion."

There are so many issues with this it's hard to know where to start. First, Lauren isn't her friend, she's an acquaintance who Evie barely knows and has met only once. Second, when Lauren is killed, instead of going to the police Evie starts sneaking around to hide some sneakers (LOL!) which she accidentally left at Lauren's house during their one encounter. Later she breaks into Lauren's home to steal something. Secondly, what newfound powers? Evie is in denial and doesn't believe she has any powers, so how can she "rely on all her newfound powers"? The book description is sheer bullshit.

Thirdly, "bringing a killer to justice may require...true love"? What's that all about? There is no true love here. And why must Evie have true love? Because she's too weak on her own and needs some guy to manhandle and validate her? Why do female authors persistently infantilize and demean their female characters like this? If Evie wanted to bring a killer to justice she would have immediately gone to the police and reported being attacked on her way home one night instead of waiting and waiting, oh, and waiting before she actually did report it, and then only when urged to by others.

And about that cat? After Evie visits Lauren's house under cover of darkness to retrieve her sneakers, a black cat that used to belong to Lauren, follows her home and will not leave. I kept waiting for the cat to do something, or to be acknowledged as her familiar. or something! But. It. Never. Happens. So what is the freaking point of bringing this cat into the story? Finally, the villain was a weak one, and I found it hard to believe that this person would not have been found out long before they revealed themselves.

There were some writing errors/problems in the story (and from what I've read, there were apparently more, but some at least appear to have been corrected. The only really bad one I noticed was: "What do you think they what?" where clearly that last word should have been 'want'. Where Lauren's possessions were referred to, they were improperly apostrophe'd: "Lauren Silvers' scrapbooks" as opposed to "Lauren Silvers's scrapbooks." 'Silvers' is a name, not a plural.

And here is a fifteen-year-old speaking in first person: "I knew that Bree shouldn't mandate whom I did and didn't like...." Who the hell speaks like that, especially at fifteen? It may be technically correct, but it's tiresome, and no one says 'whom' except the most pretentious of people, and writers who are so obsessed with correctness that they even put it into the mouths of their characters when it couldn't stand out more than the sore thumb it sucks like. It's time for 'whom' to retire. Really.

At one point in the story, a person is injured and a nurse came out to see if there were any family to share a status update with. 'Uncle Mitch' who is not remotely related to the hospitalized person steps forward and says, "I want to be a family member, does that count?" and then we read, "The nurse grinned" and she said, "Sure. Follow me." No. Just no! I've known many nurses and they are fiercely protective of their patients and not a one of them would ever have invited a stranger in or given out personal information about a patient to 'Uncle Mitch'.

Another issue was the obsession with beauty evident in this novel. Again this is a female writer and she's obsessed with looks, as though a woman or a girl can have no other value. Repeatedly I read things like: "...but I did pick out a very young and very beautiful Mrs. Fox." "No, you're beautiful." "...a Brazilian beauty." "You look beautiful." "Looking both beautiful and terrifying..." "Lauren was so beautiful." "Lauren was a beauty queen." "Lauren had a fragile, almost eerie beauty." "She was beautiful too."

It's far too much. Given the many shortcomings of this novel, I have to say it's a warty, not a worthy.

The Witches of the Wytewoods by MJ Thompson

Rating: WORTHY!

This is a British novel which is fine with me, but some stateside readers might find the wording rather peculiar at times. The story is of Erica Royal and her brother Clark who we meet in the middle of Wytewoods on the run. They're trying to reach a safe city where Erica's uncontrollable magic can be removed, but they're being pursued by minions of two evil witches who control the woods and want her magic.

This begs the immediate question as to why the kids (and why are they traveling alone?) are going through the woods instead of around them. The woods do not go on forever in all directions, but no answers are to be found on that score. Predictably and inevitably, Erica is captured by the witches and Clark is rescued by a girl named Rose who also happens to be a witch, and who agrees to help him track down and rescue Erica.

I have to say the story is rather depressing because it's an unrelenting downer of struggles and torments with nothing to leaven the load. I confess I found that irritating, as I did the fact that two witches are perverting the woods and allowing all manner of evil to grow there, yet no explanation is offered for why this is so. Why are they so outright evil as opposed to just being obsessed with capturing Erica's magic? There's no explanation for this either, and their evil and the perverse nature of the woods seems to serve no purpose - not for the story, other than to render it rather horrific, or more to the point, in terms of serving any purpose for the witches. It seemed like a waste of magic.

I also have to say that Clark is a moron. Despite having traveled in the woods and survived, he persistently underestimates it and fails to heed good advice given by expert Rose, repeatedly blundering into situations and undermining Rose's help and his own quest. He's also not too bright. At one point, a stone statue offers him good advice, which for once he follows and it saves his life. Later, when Rose talks of asking these statues, called oracles, for help, Clark's moronic retort is "How's a lump of stone going to help us find a witch?" Did he forget that one of these 'lumps' saved his life because it knew things?

Rose is a freaking saint just for putting up with Clark, let alone leading him to his sister, and he never truly appreciates her. That said, overall the story is pretty decent (remembering the caveats above) and I commend it as a worthy read.

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

Rating: WARTY!

In Italian, Divina Commedia or originally just Comedia, this is a poetic work describing a descent into hell by Dante, and everything he sees there, but the real hell was actually having to listen to this audiobook. It is sooo boring and so pretentious that I gave up on it after about a quarter of it.

It was not holding my attention. It was saying nothing of interest. The story was stupid and primitive, and tedious. How this can be described as the greatest work in Italian is a complete mystery to me. Note that in Dante's time, the word 'comedy' meant something with a happy ending - it did not necessarily mean it was funny, and there's nothing funny - not even unintentionally, in this work.

The real oddity here though is that all the while that Dante is vaunting the Catholic church, he's also extolling the Greeks who were multi-theists and certainly did not subscribe to Catholicism! The guy is very confused, and his name-dropping is both tedious and laughable. Almost as laughable as his nine circles of hell:

  1. Limbo
  2. Lust
  3. Gluttony
  4. Greed
  5. Wrath
  6. Heresy
  7. Violence
  8. Fraud
  9. Treachery

Heresy isn't the worst thing? Neither is violence? This is the system Dante invented out of whole cloth. He made it all up and people at the time believed it. Many still do. If you're a flatterer, you end up in the eighth circle of hell, but if you're a murderer, you only get sent down to the seventh circle? There's actually no story here, just a litany of offences and vile punishments that no god calling itself merciful would actually countenance - an eternity of suffering and a loving god are irreconcilable. And Dante was a moron.

Vast by Linda Nagata

Rating: WORTHY!

This is the last Nagata that I read although I understand this one is superseded by another novel called Edge. I have no interest in reading that. I have no interest in re-reading this one either (or any of this series), but I do have a decent enough recollection of it to say this was the best of the three I did read, and to give it a worthy rating.

The story could be a standalone since it's essentially unconnected with anything that preceded it and needs no connection with anything else. It tells the story of a group of astronauts in a spacecraft named the 'Null Boundary', who are running from an alien race known as the Chenzeme. The Chenzeme for reasons either unexplained or which I do not recall, are purging space of humans. Maybe they're terrified of the nano-tech that humans have unleashed? LOL!

There's some weird stuff that happens in this novel and some situations which make it interesting, but that's all I'm going to say about it. I do commend it as a worthy read although I have to say that after three of her novels, I'm really not feeling any need to read anything else by this author.

The Bohr Maker by Linda Nagata

Rating: WARTY!

I know I read this, but I recall nothing about it, which tells me it wasn't that great even though at the time I did read two other novels in "The Nanotech Succession" of which this is supposedly the first, although Tech Heaven is also part of the series and precedes this one.

The story in retrospect makes no sense. It features two nano-enhanced characters, Nikko, and Phousita, both of whom were enhanced by a device from which this novel takes its title. Nikko is coming to the end of his allotted span, just like Roy in Blade Runner, and just like Roy in Blade Runner, Nikko doesn't want to go quietly into that bad night, or any night, so he steals the Bohr Maker, which despite the terror in which it holds society, was never destroyed, but was retained in the archives of the Commonwealth police. Why? Who the fuck knows! Honestly? It makes zero sense.

Only now are the Commonwealth police determined to wipe out all trace of the Bohr Maker, so like Roy in Blade Runner, selfish Nikko is on the run with Rachael, um, Phousita, and we're supposed to root for him after what he did? That's it. So, Blade Runner, really. I don't recall and I'm not inclined to go back and re-read it this or any other of this series! If I were I'd probably rate this more highly than warty!

Deception Well by Linda Nagata

Rating: WARTY!

I read this some considerable time ago and barely remember it, which is what is now coloring my rating, because if it had been more entertaining than it evidently was, I'd have finished out the series, but I have no interest in ever reading it again or getting back into these stories at all.

There is a series of four: Tech-Heaven, The Bohr Maker, Deception Well, and Vast and they're only loosely connected, although I believe a couple of them are more sequential and connected than the rest. I never did read the first one and cannot summon up any interest in doing so now.

This story, named after the planet where it takes place, is set in a community which lives on the side of a space elevator. Why, I do not recall, but they are trapped there. How they survive is sketchy. The planet below is supposedly infested with nanotech that is commonly believed harmful, so no one is allowed down there, but even though there are rebels who wish to be set loose down there, the authorities won't allow it. There's no reason at all given as to why they're not simply allowed to go. Naturally they do go down there eventually, but I can't for the life of me recall what happened, which should speak volumes about how uninteresting this was.

Nor is there any info as to why this high-tech society doesn't have robots - a common omission is far too many sci-fi stories. Those robots could have been sent down there to probe the surface and see if the problem was A, as bad as it was supposed and B, getting better or worse. It seems to me that nanotech has a lifespan and maybe all the tech is dead on the surface now. No one seems remotely curious to find out what the status is! That's not authentic and it's a common problem with this sort of dystopic novel because the author stupidly seems to treat everyone as though they all believe the same things and behave the same way - there never are any rebels or conspiracy theorists, or adventurers, or whatever. It's not realistic.

The novel must have seemed interesting enough at the time, but reflecting on it now, it seems silly. There is a main character named Lot who is the son of a guy named Jupiter Apolinario, which I'm sorry but is just plain stupid as names go, to say nothing of pretentious. Earlier, he led a group of followers down the planet and they were never heard from again. Just like his father, Lot is considered a potentially inspiring leader, but as a character, he never inspired me! After all of his suffering, maybe he should be consider a Job Lot?!

We're told in the book blurb that on Deception Well, "a razor-thin line divides bliss from damnation" but if they have no idea what's going on down on the surface, and have never investigated it, how can they possible know this? Again, stupid. Like I said, I did read this once, but I recall nothing of it and have zero interest in starting it again (I know 'cause I tried!), so in hindsight I cannot rate this a worthy read.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

The ABCs of Global Warming by Charles Siegel

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This book about the dire effects of climate change - effects we have been seeing for some time and are seeing increasingly - does what it says, offering "What Everyone Should Know About the Science, the Dangers, and the Solutions." It keeps it succinct, laying out the facts, backed by copious (200+) references, explaining simply and quickly what the various problems are, dismissing the objections authoritatively, and laying out the do's and don't's of how to fix the problem, rooted in science, not in "I'm in my own reality" speak that a certain thankfully ex-president of the US chose to speak - no doubt for business reasons rather than for any benefit to our planet.

The book is short, easy to understand, and in my opinion, it ought to be essential reading for every student. I commend it as a worthy read.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Gender Rebels by Anneka Harry

Rating: WORTHY!

Promoted as "50 Influential Cross-Dressers, Impersonators, Name-Changers, and Game-Changers", this audio book covered a surprising and sometimes disturbing variety of women who went outside the norm (as it was back then since most of these stories are historical, although some are contemporary) to get the life they wanted. The tongue-in-cheek mini-bio book is narrated by author Anneka Harry, along with Gemma Cairney, Maya Jama, and Suranne Jones, all of whom were eminently listenable. There is an interview section at the end which was hilarious and highly entertaining.

I've seen some negative criticism of this book which talks of it being disrespectful, or employing an inappropriate approach or humor, but I think the problem with those reviewers for the most part is that they simply did not understand the British sense of humor. For me this book could do no wrong. It was outstanding and not only respected the women described here, but also championed them. Many of them I had already heard of, but most I had not, and this is from someone who has gone out of his way to learn more about such women. Another criticism I saw was that some of these women were not nice people. No, they were not, but nowhere does this book promise only to report on angels and goody-two shoes women. It's merely talking about those who broke the mold, and it promises nothing about whether they were good people or bad.

The women featured are (in order of appearance!):

  • Hatshepsut
  • Hua Mulan
  • Saint Marina
  • Joanna of Flanders
  • Onorata Rodiani
  • Joan of Arc
  • Elena de Céspedes
  • Mary Frith
  • Catalina de Erauso
  • Queen Kristina of Sweden
  • Kit Cavanagh
  • Julie d'Aubigny
  • Ulrika Eleonora Stålhammar
  • Mary Read
  • Anne Bonny
  • Mary East
  • Catterina Vizzani
  • Margaret Woffington
  • Mary Hamilton
  • Hannah Snell
  • Margaret Ann Bulkley
  • Kaúxuma Núpika
  • Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin aka George Sand
  • Charlotte Darkey Parkhurst
  • The Brontë Sisters
  • Mary Anne Evans aka George Eliot
  • Ellen Craft
  • Loreta Janeta Velázquez (note that this particular one is disputed)
  • Lillie Hitchcock Coit
  • Cathay Williams
  • Jeanne Bonnet
  • Violet Paget
  • Mary Anerson
  • Clara Mary Lambert
  • Qiu Jin
  • Isabelle Wilhelmine Marie Eberhardt
  • Dorothy Lawrence
  • Umm Kulthum
  • Florence Pancho Barnes
  • Dorothy Tipton
  • June Tarpé Mills
  • Saraswathi Rajamani
  • Dame Stephanie Shirley
  • Rena Rusty Kanokogi
  • Bobbi Gibb
  • Pili Hussein
  • Sisa Abauu Dauh El-Nemr
  • Tatiana Alvarez
  • Maria Toorpakai Wazir
  • Sahar Khodayari
Note that this list is from the audiobook, so I make no claims for accurate spelling, although I've tried to get 'em all right. It's the only complete list I know of outside of the book itself.

I really enjoyed this book and highly commend it - unless of course you don't get British humor and/or are not entertained by a playful narrative in which case you might want to opt for something staid - or stay-ed?

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

The Sorcery Trial by Claire Luana, JA Armitage

Rating: WARTY!

This was essentially another in a long line of Hunger Games rip-offs and was bizarre. I'm not sure what I was expecting. I guess I thought it might be funny, but it wasn't. It was first person, which is typically worst person to voice a story in, and that showed here. The main character who ridiculously goes by "Jacq" is a too-young gofer at a TV studio who gets zero respect and has no prospects which begs the question as to why she's working there in the first place. Clearly she has no self-respect. She wants to be a stunt woman for reasons unexplained, but this is entirely the wrong place for her to be working if she's serious about pursuing that sort of a career. Clearly shge;s not too sharp. I shall call her Jackass from this point on.

The story is set in a world where the world of the 'faerie' (another author - correction pair of authors - too chickenshit to call them fairies) which has just been exposed to the human world, yet there's zero interest in it! No documentary teams are covering it; it's not a news item, and the first time it comes to prominence is through a reality show that Jackass's boss is running? How did this happen? Why did this happen?

There is this huge leap to 'it's suddenly happening', with zero explanation as to why the fairy king would even agree to such a stupid stunt, and then suddenly it's full-on Hunger Games where contestants could die even when they're simply competing in qualifying heats, and not one person, not even Jackass, thinks there's anything wrong with this? Why would she? She's a frigging moron.

Jackass's boss, who is all about publicity, inexplicably fires Jacq rather than exploit it for the news-worthiness of it, when she saves the life of a wannabe contestant on the course - a contestant who was trapped in a bear trap and pretty much lost her foot, who was then in danger of being eaten by an actual crocodile, and who finally was also in danger of being burned alive in a forest fire. In reality she would have sued the asses off the TV company - and won - and the company would have been bankrupted.

Instead, in the story, Jacq is carrying this injured contestant, who was all but passed-out from blood loss, when I read the following, as Jacq surveyed the area with a view to escaping the fire: "A cliff - complete with waterfall - loomed before us. Climbing it while carrying this girl was going to be almost impossible, but what choice did I have?" Hello there's a fucking fire, go into the waterfall, you stupid bitch! That's when I quit reading this shit.

Jackass's supposed motivation is that her sister disappeared into the fairy world a year or so before, which begs the question as to why she's pursuing being a stunt woman and working for a TV company instead of pursuing a life of becoming a private dick and going after her sister if she truly cares so much!

But then not a single thing in this story makes any sense except the predictable YA non-romance horseshit, the flat uninteresting characters, the shitty story-telling, and the general dumbness of the plot. It's trash: utter, total, unmitigated and ridiculous trash. If it had been a parody it would have made more sense, but it wasn't, and it wasn't funny, and it made no sense. You'd have more fun slitting your own throat with a blunted razor than you would reading this pathetic shit.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Speechless by Madeline Freeman

Rating: WARTY!

This is based on the Little Mermaid, but it's more like a Disney-esque version than a Hans Christian Anderson version (which is nothing like Disney's take). I'm not a fan of Disney because they're not known for originality, and these days they're far too big and powerful. It looks like this novel isn't very original either - especially since it's based on a rip-off premise to begin with. And for the first in a series it's predictably padded.

This novel could have begun at chapter nine, which is a quarter of the way in, and lost nothing at all from deleting the first eight chapters. The ebook has all the chapters listed (Chapter 1, Chapter 2 etc., and if you can fit your finger on the right one (good luck with that!) it will take you to that chapter, but tapping on that chapter header will not return you to the content page. For the life of me I cannot see why the hell a content list is included in ebooks. It's stupid and pointless, and just one more indication of how clueless and robotic publishers tend to be, with sadly few exceptions.

The story is also a rip-off of another Disney property - Marvel's X-Men. It's set in a future where genetic mutation has given some people abilities that make zero sense. Main character Aria's special power is that she can breathe underwater using gills that appear when she's immersed and disappear when she's dry. There's nothing in the human genome that could do this. While we share some curious traits with fish, we haven't actually been fish in a very long time, but this author would have us believe we're just a mutation away from returning to the sea!

Fine; I'll play along. So what has this YA author got for us? Well, a lot of predictability for one thing, and sub-standard writing for another, but I shall get to that later. Predictably, and exactly like in Marvel's X-Men, Aria is an 'aberration' and aberrations are predictably pariahs. In real life they would actually be celebrities, so this rang hollow. Predictably Aria has a hot guy, Alonzo, who is her best friend, although naturally she never sees him that way because he's an adopted 'brother'. Predictably, Aria wants more than her present life and dreams of joining one of the Mars colonies which ridiculously has also become a reality TV show for those on Earth. She predictably defies her father and signs up for inductee testing where predictably she's roomed with three vicious, lying, back-stabbing bullies. Yawn.

Predictably she meets a hot guy named Declan who's a bit of a bad boy and who is predictably in a position of power. Predictably she starts falling for him despite his betrayal of her, thereby setting up the predictable YA 'love' triangle. The tests she has to go through are stupid and worthy of a badly-written middle-grade novel, but Aria is chosen as a special snowflake because the testers are wise to her aberration. She's chosen - for no good reason - to go on a special mission to retrieve some data for them, otherwise Alonzo will be hurt somehow.

Here I have to give a minor spoiler. There is no Mars colony. At least not on Mars. It's on Earth and everyone has been fooled. This is profoundly stupid because people would know. At the very least there would be conspiracy theories about it, but here everyone is completely fooled! What, no one who worked to actually build the colony ever figured out what they were building? If the colonists actually built the colony, no one ever noticed that Martian gravity - which in reality would be less than 40% what it is on Earth - is exactly like Earth gravity? People would notice! The author makes no mention of gravity, even as she talks about faking the different positions of the stars and the smaller relative size of the sun from Mars. She would have been better-off choosing Venus which is equally unlivable, but if you can terraform Mars, then why not Venus? It's much more like Earth in terms of size, gravity, and so on.

So Aria's job is to break into the Mars colony and steal data that would allow her boss to prove the colony is fake? Seriously? None of this makes any sense whatsoever. Since they know where the colony is, all they needed to do was expose the location to bring the whole stupid façade tumbling down! But apparently only Aria can break-in because the route is underwater. They claim no one can use SCUBA equipment because it would be found, despite there being countless places to hide it. So instead of a specially-trained agent breaking in, Aria does it and she's hobbled by being morphed into a lookalike of one of the colony residents, despite this change hampering her mobility and losing her the ability to speak. All of this is done to conform to the fairytale, but none of it makes any sense whatsoever in the context of this story!

And who does she run into twice while on the mission? Only the guy she moons over from watching the colony reality show. I'm sorry but this is horseshit. It's thoughtlessly written, badly-written, and makes no sense overall. Badly written? Yeah. I read at one point, "and she gritted her teeth and pushed through" and then less than one screen later, I read, "She gritted her teeth as she pushed herself to her feet." There must be a lot of grit on those teeth. Hopefully she won't have to smile too much....

Aria's break-in takes place during a solar flare when the Mars satellites have to be shielded and no show is transmitted, so it's a quiet time on the colony: there's no filming, and she can sneak around. Since she's going in at night, it makes no difference because there's no filming at night so we're told! But here's what Aria says: "I thought only satellites around Mars had to go into shielded mode." She has this confirmed, but the author seems not to realize that Earth is nearer to the sun than Mars and therefore more at risk from solar flare damage, not less! If Mars satellites need to be shielded then Earth's satellites sure as hell do!

In being transported to the colony for her mission, Aria, who has this huge affinity for water, somehow fails to notice she's on a boat! There's this tunnel she has to swim through to get to the colony and we're told, "There aren't any cameras in the tunnel - for obvious reasons." What reason are those? Would one of them be so someone could swim into the easiest ingress into the facility undetected?! This is really bad writing. Yeah, they wouldn't transmit a TV show from cameras in underwater tunnels, but for security they would need them. And if they're maintenance tunnels why are they flooded?!

At another point I read, "Aria nodded, but her minds spun with terrible possibilities" Um, how many minds does Aria have? Is this another of her mutations? Or just a typo that wasn't caught? My theory? She has only one mind, but she makes up the others! LOL! A common YA author faux pas - meaning literally, a false step - is to say something like "He wanted to explore the areas of Mars that people had yet to step foot on." The phrase is actually 'set foot', not 'step foot' unless of course you're an evidently ill-educated YA author, in which case by all means step your foot in your mouth.

The author writes that for the colony, they had "genetically engineered some of the heartiest trees on Earth to thrive in the Martian environment." Heartiest really? I think she meant 'hardiest'. This is right up there with 'step foot' and 'staunch' when 'stanch' is meant. These are common, annoying and utterly predictable YA author screw-ups. I see them all the time. It's almost a hallmark of YA authorship.

The author seems not to know what a schematic is. I read that Aria had seen a "holographic schematic of the chip Declan had sent to help her identify it", but a picture of the chip isn't the same as a schematic, which is a circuit diagram! A schematic shows the wiring of the chip and it's hardly something that would help her identify it unless she saw inside the chip and was an engineer who was familiar enough with the technology to identify it from the schematic. Trust me, that's not Aria.

Another problem is when authors try to be too clever for their own good. This isn't a YA issue per se (not 'per say', which is another YA faux pas), but it is a sci-fi issue. The author has her characters on Mars referring to a day as a 'sol': "I haven't seen you in years, and now I've seen you twice in less than a sol." No one talks like that. Even Mars colonists, if there ever are any, will not talk like that, They will say 'day' since the Martian day, as the author points out correctly for once, is only about 40 minutes longer than an Earth day - The Martian year, on the other hand, is twice that of Earth, which is another reason the colonists and the viewers would know they were not on Mars.

There's no reason to use sol, just like there's no reason to refer to humans as 'Terans' as is done in every freaking stupid space travel story ever told. No one uses that word. Why would it suddenly become universal in the future? The planet is Earth, not Tera. It never has been called Tera. It's Earth and we're humans, Why would that change? And why oh, why would aliens call us Terans? It makes zero sense!

This novel doesn't make that mistake - at least as far as I read - but it does have people routinely swearing, yet using completely ridiculous cuss words - namely the names of the moons of Mars: Phobos and Deimos. No one will ever do that! It's never been done. Why would it? People have been saying 'fuck' and 'shit' for centuries. It won't change! Why are YA authors so stupid, and pathetic and squeamish about cuss words? I guess that says a lot about who these tepid stories are aimed at, huh?

Needless to say at this point, I lost patience and DNF'd this pile of crap. The truly sad thing is that the author apparently taught high school English for ten years. Ten frigging years! That makes me truly sad and actually glad she's no longer teaching. I condemn this novel for being yet another exemplar of all that's bad with story-telling, with the English language, and with YA novels.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

The Classic Slave Narratives by Olaudah Equiano, Mary Prince, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs

Rating: WORTHY!

This book really is four books in one, beginning with Olaudah Equiano's story (told here as Gustavus Vassa and running to about 170 tightly-packed pages) and followed by Mary Prince (c60pps), Frederick Douglass (c90pps) and finally Harriet jacobs (c160pps) this book makes for a depressing and disturbing read - and should be required reading in schools so that those clueless assholes who've been chanting 'all lives matter' lately, will actually 'get it', and understand that yes, all lives do matter, but by blindly chanting that, you're missing the point, morons.

The list of inhuman actions in this book - in any one of these four books for that matter - is both predictable for anyone who knows human nature, and horrifying. Given that most people were 'good Christians' during the entire time these crimes against humanity were taking place serves only to starkly highlight how utterly useless religion is as a moral code.

It's also an eye opener for those who did not know that slavery was in place in Africa long before it was exported to the USA and other nations. Africans were helping in this evil trade. It wasn't just a white folks industry, although you can successfully argue that white folks were the ones who took it to new depths. In Africa, black lives did matter - even those of slaves.

I commend this as a worthy read.

Charlie Thorne and the Lost City by Stuart Gibbs

Rating: WARTY!

Not being a big fan of series, I don't normally ever get to volume two even if I started volume one. In this case, I skipped the first in the series because I was unaware of it until I saw this one and was attracted by the fact that it involved Charles Darwin. You don't usually see his name in this kind of a story. It would have been nice to have seen a little bit of education slipped in here and there regarding his scientific Theory of Evolution, which is the bedrock of modern biology, but there really was none of that, and worse, there was some seriously misleading science. So while I initially began reading this favorably, I can't commend it after finishing it and realizing there were far too many problems with it to overlook them.

I wasn't expecting much from this middle grade novel, but it proved to be an engaging read to begin with, if annoying at times. The story is very much of the Dan Brown category: someone who is speedily following a series of clues to solve a mystery, while being chased by evil-doers. I don't use that comparison as a compliment since I'm not a Dan Brown fan, but it will give you a broad idea of what's going on here.

After her adventures in Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation, Charlie has evidently been hiding out in the Galápagos islands seeking anonymity. She's surfing and otherwise generally doing nothing save read a book here and there. She has money, presumably somehow obtained during the first novel, so working isn't a necessity, and it's just as well since she's only twelve - but apparently looks older. That was the first slippery slope proposition in my view, since it's often used as a lousy non-excuse when a guy is charged with statutory rape ("Well she looked eighteen"), so while I let that slide for the sake of reading on, it's nevertheless a problem for me.

The main problem with Charlie though, is that she was much more of a Mary Sue than a Charlie. She never got into any real difficulties, and effortlessly effected escapes worthy of an animated series. On top of that, she was constantly reminding us, that is, when the author wasn't, that she was a genius - probably the smartest person on Earth. That was irritating as hell. For example at one point I read,

"Of course I’m right," Charlie told him. "I’m me."
Seriously? Even if it were true about her being so smart, it's a stupid mistake for an author to keep slapping his readers in the face with it, but the fact is that it's not true.

The confusion is a common one. The author conflates knowing a lot of trivia with being smart. The two aren't equivalent and the sad thing is that though we're reminded of how smart she supposedly is with metronomic tedium, the truth is that Charlie's actions prove her to be other than a genius. She wouldn't do dumb things that make little sense if she were indeed as smart as she's so often claimed to be.

Maybe she's hiding her light under a bushel, you think? Bushel is an archaic term for a bowl, hence its more modern use as a measure as opposed to the use back there as a shade. But knowing that trivial item doesn't make me super-smart. The thing is that we really don't get a lot of Charlie as an actual person. She's more like a place-holder for a real character, or more like an android (or given her gender, I guess a 'gynoid'!). We never see her around kids her own age in this story, so she's constantly dealing with adults who never seem to like her at best and at worst, want to kill or to capture her, so maybe this influences how she presents. Or maybe they just knew her better than we readers ever will?!

The thing is that if Charlie truly wanted to stay off the radar as we're told she did, she would have kept a much lower profile than she had been doing where she was hiding. Instead of being a star of the surfing circuit, she might have found a quiet cove to read or to snorkel? And making her brilliance known by volunteering at the tortoise rehab centers was a poor choice. This is what I mean about her not being as smart as she claims, because she ought to have known better, and she doesn't. Better yet, why not move her idle carcass to a large city where it would be a lot easier to hide? And where she could actually do some good helping other people instead of indulging her every whim? She doesn't seem like a nice or a thoughtful person to me.

But her dwelling on that island and volunteering is how she comes to the attention of Esmerelda, who seeks her out for help deciphering a code that was, we're told, etched onto the shell of a tortoise by Darwin himself, the better part of two centuries prior to Charlie finding out about it. In an era where we've discovered a certain ex-president's name scratched onto the back of a manatee, this sounds a bit inappropriate to say the least, but I'll let that slide. Tortoises in the Galápagos islands are very long-lived unless the animal has been hunted for meat or died from some other cause and rotted away prematurely. So Darwin etching the underside of the tortoise is problematic with a message for the ages. It seems like he would have been smarter than that.

Darwin was studying change both in the planet's crust, and in the lives of plants and animals and it seems very doubtful to me that knowing how impermanent things are, and how living things can also change so readily, he would have recorded the various clues he left in a form where such inevitable changes could easily erase or destroy them, and in only that one way given that he lived a long life after his voyage and had ample opportunities to record it elsewhere or share it with people he trusted. For the undiscerning middle-grader, these things might seem convincing, but if subject to any thought at all, they're so far-fetched.

That same rule applies across multiple clues, others of which I'm not about to reveal in any great detail here, but I have to say that in one case, a stone used to build something tends to be a rectangular block, and if something were etched on it and later that same stone was carved into a different shape to be used for another purpose, any original etching would be long gone! And if you're trying to hide a clue in a natural setting by using fire to mask it, you'd think a genius would make it look like a natural forest fire rather than a deliberate attempt burn off a clue! This is what I meant about Charlie's actions not really mirroring her billing as a genius.

There were some writing issues which I shall mention because there were so many of them. One or two here and there are not an issue, but so many do tend to distract from enjoyment of the story. At one point, for example, I read how a stick of dynamite behaved when kicked off a boat: "It sailed off the boat and exploded a second later, close enough to knock her and Dante off their feet. A piece of red-hot shrapnel nicked her arm, while others whistled past her head." Shrapnel is named after a British army general and initially referred to what in modern times might be a pipe bomb or something similar. Dynamite itself contains no shrapnel - typically metal fragments, or ball bearings or something like that. The way dynamite would hurt would be from a compression wave, especially if experienced underwater, and would result in a concussion and ear-bleeding, so this rang hollow, but again, maybe middle graders won't think twice about it.

After a certain person (name redacted) had literally tried to kill Charlie, and she makes this observation about that person's mood: "XXXXXXX sounded as though they really wanted to kill her." That's a bit much given that the person really was trying to kill her! At another point I read, "...it would swallow up any evidence of the cities within decades, if not sooner." Well, the 'within decades' covers 'if not sooner' so it seemed a bit superfluous. At another point in the story Charlie and another person were searching for some food in the jungle, and I read this: "They had tracked down a moriche palm full of aguaje fruit within only a few minutes-and then spent another two hours trying to retrace their steps." This suggests again that Charlie isn't so smart. Had she not thought of calling out to the person they'd left back at the boat, in order to follow their voice back? If they were only a couple of minutes' walk away they could surely have heard each other. It felt like it betrayed the girl's smarts.

At one point I read, “The most famous spot was Yellowstone National Park, which was located in the largest volcano caldera on earth,” which simply isn't true. The largest (as of this writing!) is the Apolaki Caldera in the Philippine Sea. If you're talking 'on dry land' and 'square area', then Yellowstone caldera gets it, but it's actually four overlapping calderas, and the park isn't in the caldera, it's the other way around. By the same token, the Amazon basin isn't quite the same size as the entire United States, but once you start seeing errors of fact, it's hard to stop! I don't agree with those people who claim it's just as easy to get it right as get it wrong. It's much easer to get it wrong, but I think we owe children a better education than this, so when they call out a 'fact' from your novel in an argument or worse, in school, they get it right, not wrong, and they trust you as a writer.

One of the annoying and anti-scientific facets of this novel, and which does Darwin a grave disservice is talk of 'proof' of evolution and of 'missing links'. First of all, science doesn't talk about proof, it talks about the preponderance of evidence and that's a bit stodgy for young children, but not asking too much for them to understand if a bit of foundation had been sown through the writing. But to talk of a definitive 'missing link' in hominid evolution is pure bullshit.

Human evolution is complex and it's replete with links, so there's nothing critical that's still missing. In Darwin's time there was, but he barely mentioned humans (in terms of evolution) in "On the Origin..." brushing it safely under the carpet with a "light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history." It wasn't until over a decade later in The Descent of Man that Darwin tied humans into the mix. If he'd found anything concrete he would have mentioned it there, and he would not have spent the time he did studying an orangutan named Jenny at the London zoo. The fact that he had the chance to mention this fictional 'discovery' without giving anything concrete away about it in 'Descent' yet did not undermines this whole story's premise. The fact is that finding a fossil, or for example, something like chimpanzees in South America wouldn't 'prove' anything. And there is no way he could find any such thing there because it South America never has had apes and no evidence of there ever being any such thing has turned up there.

One last problem was this animal that Charlie befriended. It had earlier been terrified of this helicopter, yet later it's depicted sleeping soundly onboard while the chopper is flying, and while you can argue it was sedated, when it awoke it showed no sign of fear or panic whatsoever. It wasn't realistic. Again most kids who read this might not think about these things, but that doesn't mean an author ought not to be aware of them and get them right - or re-write! We all screw up; there's no escaping it, but a little more attention can reduce these incidents to a negligible level.

The only other issues I ran into were the usual Kindle formatting ones. I detest Kindle because it slices, dices, and juliennes everything that's not plain vanilla and pure text, so I wasn't surprised to see a numbered list appear like this:

There were three reasons that might be true:
1) Darwin had traveled faster than she had calculated, so they had not reached the right spot yet.
2) She had misinterpreted what Darwin meant. 3) The river no longer turned to blood.
Note the third item is on the same line as the second instead of on a line of its own. This is one of many reasons why I will do not business with Amazon. But that's just me, and it doesn't reflect on the content of the novel itself - just on the editing and checking. Clearly this is another novel written as a print novel with little to no thought given to the ebook version.

Another such issue was where the page headers got tied right into the text because of the incompetence of the Kindle process, predictably turning everything into kindling, so I read:

“...archaeolog CHARLIE THORNE AND THE LOST CITY • 263 ical sites”
That happened in more than one place.

But I'm judging on content, not on kindling, and by that measure alone I can't commend this as a worthy read. The main character was at times obnoxious and her situation was just too Mary Sue and simultaneously too improbable. As a Saturday morning TV cartoon, this might have sufficed, but as a middle-grade novel it needed more. I can't see any promise in a series that pretends on the surface to honor great scientists, but in practice does them such a disservice by making up improbable stuff and treating real science so cavalierly.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Ava and Taco Cat by Carol Weston

Rating: WORTHY!

Okay, I read these out of order, so sue me! This is the second. I liked the first and did not like the third, but I can report that I liked this one which did not feel like your typical cloned-volume in a series, unlike volume 3 which was essentially a retread of volume 1 with a few details changed.

Since this is an audiobook, I actually listened (as opposed to read) to all three in this series, getting all of them on a discount deal from Chirp which was nice since I liked two of the three. The reading, by Kae Marie Denino, is consistent and enjoyable in all three. The books are also all very short! So, in this one Ava gets an apparently stray cat, which I knew from volume 3 she was both going to get and keep, so no mystery or suspense there. There's also a side story about friendship and fear of losing friends as they make other friends.

The palindrome and other types of word usage are not overdone here, I'm happy to report. The first volume bordered on annoying the reader by putting too much of that in the story, but this one has a lot of story and a lot of heart, so it was appreciated much more, and overall I rate this a worthy read.

Gopher Golf by Karl Beckstrand, Jordan C Brun

Rating: WARTY!

I was curious about this book which is the third in a series of picture-only books. I have not read either of the other two, but I suspect these will appeal more to very young children than to anyone older, because to me it made little sense and wasn't really as easy to follow as I'd expected it to be - in the sense of knowing exactly what was going on.

The illustrations were very cute, and I liked the frenetic tone to the images, but there really wasn't a story in the way I'm used to following one. It was more like a middle with no beginning or end. Maybe for little kids this doesn't matter so much, but then I'm forced to ask: if there's essentially no story - or certainly no written story, when why is there an 'author'?!

An illustrator, or artist or however you care to describe Brun, makes sense, but I'm at a lost to see exactly what Beckstrand contributed except in the vaguest of general ideas. And yet he gets first billing over Brun! But that's a pet peeve of mine: I always feel the artist in books - children's books, comic books, whatever, deserves top billing for the work they put in, but the writer always gets that. It just seems wrong to me!

But I digress. I can't commend this as a worthy read not because there is literally nothing to read, but because it was just a shotgun blast of confusion. I've followed and enjoyed word-free books before, so it's not the format or style that turned me off. This one seemed neither a story nor a book, and certainly not a story book.

Glory Roslyn and the Heart of Universe by Tushar

Rating: WARTY!

This is a middle-grade novel which I believe is a translation from an Indian dialect, and the language is very simplistic and unsophisticated. I don't know if that's because of how the original was written, or because of a poor translation, but what seemed charming to begin with soon turned into an annoyance and I was unable to finish the story because I lost interest in it. Because of the style and the awkward phrasing, the story very much reads like English as a second language and while that's a relatively minor problem as far as I'm concerned, when it comes coupled with the story itself being not an engaging one, it makes for a disenchanting read.

The beginning featured main character Glory, who was treated unnecessarily harshly to the point where the story was depressing. Before we had a chance to get to know her at all, the story then switched to a different world entirely and seemed to get stuck there. At first, this was a relief because I did not like Glory's story, all depression with no relief, but this new one featuring a gnome turned out to be worse.

I didn't like the gnome, and the tale became really rambling, and dissipated into extraneous detail that contributed nothing to moving the story along. It was like the author was so enamored of the world that had been created here that actually telling a story in it seemed irrelevant. Consequently, it felt like nothing was happening and I lost all interest in pursuing it. It didnlt helpt o fidn occasional confusing bits of writing like, "even their ancestors believed this pond would always be the heaven for families of big fatty frogs." Heaven? Or haven? And 'fatty frogs'? Really?

The story is supposedly about Glory, who is an eleven-year-old orphan. We're told she has a beautiful heart, but there's no real sign of that in the part I read that featured her. Glory's 'companion' - a tiny dragon that appears on her hand - made a couple of appearances, but Glory seemed like she had zero curiosity about what this was and why she had it. It in turn made the dragon uninteresting because it appeared to do nothing save lead her to an egg from which hatched a little elephant-headed creature.

It was at this point that I gave up because the story seemed completely random, going around in circles and leading nowhere. I wish the author all the best but I could not get interested in this story or in any of the characters.

Ava XOX by Carol Weston

Rating: WARTY!

This was a tired formulaic story that exemplified everything that's bad about series. I listened to the Ava and Pip original audiobook by this same author recently, and liked it, but this one, also an audiobook, was too much of a 'more of the same' story, which really had no story, and it was pretty much a cookie-cutter clone of the first volume in the series (this is volume 3 which I read out of order, but the order doesn't really matter). The reading by Kae Marie Denino was fine, but the story really wasn't.

In the first volume we had Ava making endless palindromes which was frankly a bit tedious because there were so many of them, but it wasn't awfully bad. There's more of that here, and it's really too much more in a second volume, and it becomes wearing rather than entertaining. Was there not another aspect of the English language the author could have explored here? Additionally, we have Ava once again doing something thoughtless, getting chewed out by other people, fixing it, and then becoming friends with the people who were extremely hostile to her just a short time before. This is exactly what happened in the first story. So what it transmits here is that Ava can't learn and is stupid, which is never a good thing to do to your main character, and it says, I'm making you, the reader/listener, pay a second time for what's essentially the same story with a few details changed, which suggests that the author thinks you're also stupid to fall for the same trick twice.

On top of that, there's the 'hey, I didn't know I loved my best friend' trope, which is tediously common in YA novels, and here it reared its ugly head in a middle-grade book. Again it says the main character is stupid to have failed to realize she has a special bond with her best friend. Even an eleven year old can tell that. It also says her friend Chuck is stupid for failing to realize this in return, and also that he's an insensitive jerk to hang around with Kelli, who is a jerk herself. When he quits seeing her (after too long) the book also says it's fine to lie to people since he doesn't tell her he's done hanging with her because she's a jerk, but because his mom said she didn't want him hanging with people in that way at his age. In short, he outright lied.

The text for the day here is also the same as the first volume, in that it relates to considering others' feelings, but the story actually undermines its own morality tale because, after having had people chew out Ava about her total cluelessness regarding body positivity, it still has her go ahead and put out a poster essentially saying, 'hey fatty, here's how to shed a few'. It's not that bad, obviously, but it might as well be.

So for me this book was a fail because it sent all the wrong messages and often contradictory ones at that. Ava's mother at times seems cruel and cold as well, which is frankly disturbing. Now I have the second book to get through, and I'm thinking it's probably also going to be a redux of volume one. We'll see. At least these books have the advantage of being short!

Seven Skeletons by Lydia Pyne

Rating: WORTHY!

Narrated very well by Randye Kaye, this book written by a woman who also has a Y in both first and last name, was an excellent study of how fossils become celebrities. It is not about human evolution or the human family tree, so you'll need to read elsewhere for that information. Nevertheless it can be argued that a bit more of the evolutionary side and the linkages (or lack of same) between these fossils would have served well, I feel.

That said I enjoyed it immensely. The book covers these seven fossils (listed here in order of discovery):

  • Homo neanderthalensis, specifically the Neanderthal known as La Chapelle-aux-Saints 1, which was discovered in 1908, although the first example of the Neanderthal was discovered in 1856 in the Neander Valley in Germany.
  • the Taung Child (Australopithecus africanus), discovered in a quarry in Taung, South Africa in 1924.
  • Peking Man (Homo erectus pekinensis) was discovered starting in 1929 at Zhoukoudian near Beijing.
  • Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis) was discovered in 1974 at Hadar in Africa. A team at the University of Texas-Austin where the author also has an affiliation, x-rayed Lucy's skeleton and came to the conclusion that she died probably from a fall from a tree, although this is disputed. The author doesn't mention this, so I assume this took place after the book was finalized, the book being published the same year the study was conducted (2016).
  • Homo floresiensis, discovered in 2003 at Liang Bua on the island of Flores in Indonesia.
  • Australopithecus sediba was discovered in the Malapa Cave in South Africa in 2008.
The seventh one covered is the Piltdown hoax - remember it's not about fossils per se but about fossil celebrity, which is why this hoax was included.

The story is about how and why these fossils became celebrities, and not necessarily about how important they are to science or how rare they are, or whatever. In that, the book does a good job detailing how they were found and what happened to them since then, including their path to stardom and the reasons for it. I commend this as a worthy read.

Dreadmarrow Thief by Marjory Kaptanoglu

Rating: WARTY!

This is the second of this author's books I've tried to read and now I'm quite satisfied that she's not an author for me. The first problem with this novel is the multiple PoVs, at least one of which is first person, which rarely works for me. I found neither of the first two main characters I met to be of any interest, and I gave up quickly on any plans to read further. If I'd known that Kirkus reviews praised it I wouldn't have even started reading this, because Kirkus never met a novel they didn't rave over - like every novel is brilliant? How can that be?! Negative reviews are a big negative with them and what that means is that their reviews are worthless because they'll praise anything.

As far as this novel is concerned, the main character is an idiot whose irresponsible stupidity gets her father killed. That's a big enough indictment, but no doubt she gets over it very quickly with a cheap and badly-written YA "romance". Barf. The main character's name doesn't help: Tessa Skye? Seriously - a girl who has an amulet that can transform her into a sparrow just happens to be named 'skye'? She's supposedly a locksmith's apprentice although she seems to do little in that regard, but no doubt her lock-picking skills will predictably avail her in the story - perhaps when she frees this loser guy from the stocks, but I couldn't stomach the idea of reading that far.

The author seems enamored of trying to think up pseudo-catchy names for objects and running two words together to get there. For example, the amulet isn't an amulet, it's a 'windrider' and the magic wand Tessa seeks to resurrect the father she got killed is the 'dreadmarrow' of the title, but it's not made of bone, it's made of wood, so go figure. It's just a lot of stupid and pointless, but the biggest problem for me was that the story was slow, boring, and predictable. It was going nowhere and offered nothing that endless poorly-written YA stories haven't offered before. Because of that, it's not worth reading.