Showing posts with label adult. Show all posts
Showing posts with label adult. Show all posts

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie


Rating: WARTY!

Here's an example of Christie reusing old material. One the characters is named Bella like the one in her Dumb Witness story, and also we have an instance here of Poirot being summoned to help out someone whose life is on the line and he arrives too late - again, like in the Dumb Witness story. It's also in some ways a case of mistaken identity as in Dumb Witness. The story takes place in Merlinville-sur-Mer in France where Poirot arrives with all Hastings at the Villa Genevieve to discover that mister Renauld was stabbed in the back with a letter opener the previous night, and left in a newly-dug grave by the local golf course.

The worst part of this story for me was the appalling reading by Charles Armstrong, who has no idea how to pronounce French words and repeatedly mangles ones such as Sûreté and Genevieve. When he tries to imitate a female voice his own voice sounds like he's being strangled. It was horrible to listen to and I couldn't stand to hear any more after the first 15 percent or so. I DNF'd this and consider it a warty "read".

I got hold of the DVD for Murder on the Links as well as Dumb Witness. Of the two, the latter departed from the book the most - and by quite a considerable margin, but I enjoyed that filmed story. It was cute and amusing, but Miss Peabody was totally absent, which annoyed me to no end. Murder on the Links, by contrast, was a lousy story which made no sense and in which Hastings was a complete dumb-ass (even more than he usually is) who got rewarded rather than getting his just deserts for actively perverting with the course of justice.

Having DNF's this, I can't comment on whether the book was as bad, but the TV show in regard to this particular episode simply isn't worth watching. Worse than this though was that despite the story taking place almost entirely in France, every single person spoke with a perfect English accent with no trace of actual French marring it whatsoever! Even French words like Genevieve and Sûreté were mangled. It was almost as though it was filmed entirely in England with a complete English cast! Whoah! Trust me, it sucked. I think it's by far the worst Poirot episode I ever saw and I've seen most of them so this one is double-warty!


Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie


Rating: WARTY!

This started out rather well, and was quite well read by Hugh Fraser, who played Poirot's companion Captain Hastings in the David Suchet TV series which covered very nearly all of Poirot's stories. The problem for me was that it descended into predictability and tedium in the last third or so, and the brilliant detective Poirot failed to see clues that even I could see, which tells me this story was badly-written.

I'm not a fna of detective stories which begin by telling us information the detective doesn't have. I much prefer the ones where we come in blind to the crime, just as the detective arrives. This one was not one of the latter, but the former, so we got an overly-lengthy introduction to the crime which to me was uninteresting and removed any suspense and excitement.

That said it wasn't too bad once the story began to move and Poirot arrived, but Hastings was a complete asshat with his endless whining along the lines of 'There's nothing to see here! Let's go home'. I'm truly surprised Poirot didn't slap him or kick him in the balls. I know this business of having a dumb-ass companion was set in stone by Arthur Doyle, but it's really too much.

The story is of the death of Emily Arundell, and aging and somewhat sickly woman of some modest wealth, at whom her relatives are pecking for crumbs before ever she's dead. After a fall down the stairs which she survives, Emily passes away at a later date, and after this, Poirot gets a letter form her which was somehow delayed in posting. It seems rather incoherent, but it does suggest she fears greatly for something. Poirot arrives to discover she died, and rather than turn around and go home, he poses as an interested buyer for a property that belonged to Emily so he can snoop around and ask questions. This part went on too long, too, for my taste.

Eventually Poirot's deception is exposed by Miss Peabody who for me was one of the two most interesting characters, and hands down the most amusing in the book. I really liked her. My other favorite was Theresa Arundell, whose initials, you will note, are TA, which have mirror symmetry. It's this that Poirot fails to grasp for the longest time after he learns that a person was identified by initials on a broach which was glimpsed in a mirror.

The problem though is that Christie fails to give us vital information that would have clearly identified the killer for anyone sharp enough to have picked up on this mirror image, so we're cruelly-robbed of the chance to nail down the actual killer, although some of the red herrings are disposed of with relative ease.

The final insult is Poirot's gathering of all the suspects together for the dénouement, and this is ridiculous for me. I know it's a big thing in these mysteries, but really it's laughable and spoils the story. It's so unrealistic and farcical especially since everyone, including the murderer, blithely agrees to gather for this exposure. How absurd! If the murderer had any sense, he or she would off Poirot before he had chance to expose the culprit, and thereby they would get off scot-free since Poirot is such an arrogant and persnickety old cove that he never reveals to anyone who the murder is until that last minute, thereby giving them ample opportunity to scarper!

I got hold of the DVD for this story from the library and watched it. I also watched Murder on the Links. Of the two, the former departed from the book the most - and by quite a considerable margin, but I enjoyed that filmed story. It was cute and amusing, but Miss Peabody was totally absent, which annoyed me to no end. Murder on the Links, by contrast, was a lousy story which made no sense and in which Hastings was a complete dumb-ass (even more than he usually is) who got rewarded rather than getting his just deserts for actively perverting with the course of justice. I can't comment on whether the book was as bad since I DNF'd it, but the TV show in regard to this particular episode simply isn't worth watching. Worse than all I've mentioned though was that despite the story taking place almost entirely in France, every single person spoke with a perfect English accent with no trace of actual French marring it whatsoever! Even French words like Genevieve and Sûreté were mangled. It was almost as though it was filmed entirely in England with a complete English cast! Whoah! Trust me, it sucked. I think it's by far the worst Poirot episode I ever saw and I've seen most of them.

So while there were some interesting and even fun bits to this audiobook, overall it was tedious, and I cannot commend it as a worthy listen.


Sunday, July 14, 2019

Jet Girl by Caroline Johnson with Hof Williams


Rating: WORTHY!

Having recently had an idea for a novel involving a female fighter pilot (and no, it's never going to be the one you think it will be - not from me anyway!), I saw this on Net Galley inviting review requests, and I jumped at the chance to read a first-hand account. Subtitled "My Life in War, Peace, and the Cockpit of the Navy's Most Lethal Aircraft, the F/A-18 Super Hornet," this book was a fascinating story of the life of a Navy Lieutenant from induction to flying combat missions over Iraq, and it was everything I hoped it would be. I'm very grateful to the publisher for my chance to read and review this advance review copy. Or maybe I should say 'ARC' since we're into military jargon territory now, which as the author makes clear, is almost a foreign language!

This book was perfect for me because I've read several books written by military personnel, including a Navy SEAL and others, but always written by men, and I really wanted a female take on it because I knew this would be more informative than the gung-ho macho perspective too many male writers adopt. That does not mean, by any means, that there was no machismo or gung-ho spirit here. Caroline Johnson - callsign 'Dutch' - was a navy fighter pilot after all - planning and executing more than 700 flight missions, but all of that was tempered by a hell of a lot of other perspectives and it made the reading so much more rounded, with depth and sharp insight. I read it in two days which is not quite a record for me, but it is a sterling effort these days for a book that exceeds 280 pages of tightly packed print! I usually prefer my books shorter, but this one seemed short because it was to the point, with short chapters and an easy-reading style.

Talking of which, I often rail at books which waste paper by having wide margins and widely-spaced text. I've never had to rail the other way, but I came close this time because the book was really tightly-packed! It reminded me of my own tree-saving formatting, although mine isn't as tight as this one. I could not get it to look how I wanted it in Adobe Digital Editions, which I've been using lately because Bluefire Reader - my usual go-to reader, had been giving me grief with a lot of the illustrated books I've been reading recently, but this time, I went back to BFR, which gave me control over the font, and so I finally got it into a format that was easy on the eye and ran with it.

When I first began reading this (it has a prologue and and epilogue, both of which I skipped as I do routinely in any book) and followed the author through her military schooling, I confess I started to wonder where the harassment was. I've read much about harassment and hazing of female conscripts, and there seemed to be none here, which made me wonder if something was being left out, but it seems it was not, because this kind of thing, it would appear, did not happen in college, but was reserved for when you would least expect it: when Lt Johnson was assigned to her first combat role with the VFA-213 Blacklions which flew deadly Hornets off aircraft carrier CVN-77 USS George HW Bush, the tenth and final Nimitz-class carrier to be commissioned into the USN, and named after the USA's 41st president who was a naval aviator in World War Two.

Lt Johnson got her first taste of this shameful conduct when she arrived on base and went to a meet-and-greet kind of a get-together, and was assumed, by the Navy wives there, to be the wife of a male aviator. When she revealed that she was herself the new pilot and was single, she was shunned by these other women which was a disgraceful way to treat anyone in national service in good standing - typically first in her class. Later in the book, Lt Johnson tries to excuse these women for their conduct, and that's her choice, but to me their behavior, particularly against another woman, was inexcusable, even if it's understandable from their shaky perspective.

This isn't the only issue she had as a female pilot in a "man's world" and she lists many, many others, but she rose through them all and she did her job in outstanding fashion. In doing her sworn duty she got some kind of release from that when flying missions - combat or practice or something in between. Even though missions were stressful in themselves, they were fun, until after many years and long deployments they were not so much fun, especially when these pilots wanted to do something about the atrocities they could see ISIS committing on the ground and could not engage because the order had not yet come down from the commander-in-chief to go weapons hot.

The stress doesn't let up even when a pilot isn't even flying, because you never know when you will hear of a Navy plane crash as this author did on more than one occasion, and cannot help but wonder if it's someone they knew from college, from training, from flying, who died. In those circumstances, the Navy requires all personal phones to be on lockdown so no one can even call to tell their own family they're ok, not until the family of the deceased has been personally told by a Navy representative.

The actual combat and near-combat missions are not the most interesting thing in this book, interesting as they are. What I enjoyed most was learning of the day-to-day routine, the cramped conditions (it's not just on submarines where people live on top of one another!), the limited access to things we take for granted, the sometimes long days, down to the the numbed butt from sitting in a hard seat for several hours (the seats are hard so that there is no movement of legs in the event of an emergency eject, which takes place so fast that it could break a thigh-bone, were there any give in the seat).

One of the things you'd be unlikely to find in this book had it been written by a guy, was the issue of going to the bathroom while flying! Astronauts have this taken care of, but not so much the pilots. There are special devices designed for women, believe it or not, but the old version doesn't work well and the Navy wouldn't spring for the new version because it was more expensive (these devices are in the range of thousands of dollars, and unlike Red Wing flying boots, it's not something a pilot can just go out and buy on their own dime). One chapter described an amusing, although inexcusable, situation for a pilot to be put in when they've been on a mission for too long, and despite avoiding drinking too much fluid beforehand, they find themselves absolutely having to go.

So this book had it all - the highs and the lows, and the details I'd been most interested in learning about, and it was a fascinating read on almost every page for me. There were almost no issues I had with it, but I'll mention two which I think worth mentioning. The first is the claim made in the opening paragraph of chapter seven that "The United States is the only country in the world to dare to take off and land on aircraft carriers at night...." This is simply untrue. Even as I write this, British pilots are doing this very thing on their new aircraft carrier, the Queen Elizabeth, and this isn't the first time they've ever done this! Nor are they the only other navy which does this. When you think about it, it makes no sense. Why would a navy restrict itself like that and give potentially hostile nations the knowledge that they can get up to something as darkness falls knowing that the nearest aircraft carrier can do nothing about until the sun comes up because they don't fly at night? Nonsense!

The other issue was that there are no pictures in the book. I didn't expect anything that's potentially compromising, or group shots of happy pilots and graduates, but it would have been nice if there had been pictures of the aircraft and the aircraft carrier!) mentioned in the text. There were many airplanes mentioned, and while I have seen some up close and personal, I've enver seen a Hornet. Each of these planes I had to look up to get an idea of what craft was being discussed, which wasn't a huge hardship, but it was a nuisance. Military terminology and acronyms were explained, but we were not even treated to a description of the aircraft, let alone an image.

I feel that would have been an improvement, but even without that, I consider this book to be essential for anyone who is seriously interested in the military. I commend it as a worthy and satisfying read, and I thank Lt Johnson for her service and for being so candid about it in this book.


Thursday, July 11, 2019

George Washington's Secret Six by Brian Kilmeade, Don Yeager


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an audiobook that was written evidently for a much younger audience than I represent. The book was read by Kilmeade, and he did it in such a strident and breathless voice that I couldn't stand to listen to it. Worse than this though, the facts were presented in such a biased and fanciful fashion that I found myself having a hard time swallowing everything he said. It felt much more like listening to florid fiction than to historical fact.

The secret six were actually known as the Culpeper ring, named after a Virginia County. They were spies who fed information out of New York City to Washington about the activities, movements, and plans of British troops in NYC. The main two members were Abraham Woodhull and Robert Townsend. The best information they got was when they laid hands on a British naval Code handbook. That was less through spying than from luck, but it served the French Navy well.

While these guys (including women) did provide other valuable information, the value of some of their activities was debatable. It's arguable that the defeat of the Brits and surrender at Yorktown did more than any spies did, and this victory was brought about as much by the French and Spanish as it was by the US, if not more so. Cornwallis could well have withdrawn rather than surrendered had the port not been very effectively blockaded by the French.

The secret six were spies for the revolution forces, which side was consistently presented as upstanding, brilliant, heroic, and fine, whereas, of course, the British were evil villains. This was exploited most obviously in the report of the British prison ship HMS jersey, which was pretty brutal, but this was war and it was in the early 1780s, when people were hardly the most civilized and no Geneva convention existed. Additionally, the revolutionaries were considered traitors, so the Brits were not very much disposed to treating them kindly. Not that Washington had many prisoners to exchange anyway, since the British captured far more US forces than the other way around. That doesn't make what happened palatable, but it does provide some context that this helter-skelter account fails to do.

Another thing this story doesn't make clear was that Washington, who could have exchanged prisoners, was disinclined to do so because he didn't want to exchange professional British soldiers for civilian volunteers and conscripts! He didn't consider it a fair exchange. How brutal was that? Remember these were the guys who were fighting for the rich folk who didn't want to pay taxes. That's what today, we call Republicans.

The rich were the guys who claimed they wanted the vote, but none of the guys fighting on the front line ever had the vote! Only about 6% of the population were eligible to vote in 1789! In short, the pretext of the revolution was bullshit, yet those who were wealthy were not the ones dying en masse on the front lines or being interned (and interred) in the HMS Jersey! How long did it take for American Indians to get the vote? For African Americans? For women? This wasn't a fight for freedom - it was a fight for the rich, and the poor paid the price on both sides. When that emancipation was truly sought, it started a civil (read not-at-all-civil) war a century later.

So my take on this is that if you're looking for an historical account, don't look here. If you're looking for an hysterical account, then this is the audiobook for you!


Friday, July 5, 2019

101 More Mixed Media Techniques by Cherril Doty, Heather Greenwood, Monica Moody, Marsh Scott


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I'm not the kind fo reviewer who gets a print version to review, which is fine, but it does mean I get some slightly-askew perspectives on a lot of books, and the thing that caught my eye immediately with this one was the table of content. It told me that this book is designed as a print book with no thought given to electronic format readers because there is no click option to go to a specific part of the book from the content nor to return to the content, unfortunately, although I guess you can always use the search function if you know what you're searching for. That aside it was well laid out and organized.

The book opens with a word or two on materials and supplies, and then quickly launches into the various sections, which cover borders and edges; embossing and casting; drips, drops, and sprays; aging and antiquing; pens, pencils and Pastels; yarn and string; fabric and fibers; using metals; resists and masking; alcohol inks; watercolor monotypes, pyrography; washi tape; alternative surfaces; spray inks; ephemera; and finally gelatos - and I'm guessing that's not desert!

As you might guess from this, I'm not a professional artist or any kind of artist really, but I love to learn, and I learned a lot from this, including some new terms/techniques I'd never encountered before despite reading a lot of art books! Each of the above sections is broken-down into actual techniques for achieving the required effects. For example, borders and edges covers such techniques as cut, torn, and colored edges; burned edges and sharp borders; colored border effects; and applied borders.

Each section is subdivided this way with a simple, but detailed path working towards the desired outcome with step-by-step instructions augmented by photographs. For example, the section on embossing covers not only embossing by hand, but also by vehicle - yes, setting up your materials in front of the vehicle tire and driving over it to create the emboss. This section also includes making your own pulp paper, creating molds and using found objects. The section on aging and antiquing employs several methods, including recycling teabags. This is something soccer player Arrogant Alex would not be able to appreciate, I suspect!

This isn't just about method and technique - it's fundamentally about art, and some of the art work including as examples here is quite remarkable regardless of what technique was used to produce it. The picture on the tea bag antiquing page is really quite outstanding, for example, as is the ocean and beach in the section on pastels, the rose in the 3D fabric effects section, the bird and the butterfly in the candy foil accents section, the chicken in the wax-resists section, the two pictures in the cling-wrap effects, the amazing image in the using yupo section (plus now I know what yupo is!). The stag and the butterfly in the pyrography section are noteworthy. I'm not a big fan of 'day of the dead' style art, but if you are, you'll no doubt love the decorated 'coffin' in the 'burn outside the box' section.

And on that score, if this book does nothing else for you, it will unquestionably get you out of any rut you might be in, inspiring you to try something new and experiment more. Washi tape, for example, is something I learned of only very recently, and the section here on it is short, but it contains four different items on the uses of this tape. Alternative surfaces is another out-of-box experience section, covering the ABC's: acrylic, burlap, clay as well as fabric, styrofoam, wood, muslin, and glass - always a fun medium to explore in art. A word about the flammability (especially in a paint environment) and non-biodegradability of styrofoam would have been appreciated. It's a nasty material.

So overall, the book is comprehensive and really helpful. It covers a lot of ground in relatively simple steps, and will no doubt make a major contribution to any artist who wants to stretch themselves or improve on techniques they may already possess. I commend it as a worthy and education read.


Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Travels With Myself and Another by Martha Gellhorn


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a record of the author's adventures (mostly) when not reporting on war, the most entertaining of which, for me, was her trip to Africa on a whim, with little forethought and no planning. This woman was fearless and went wherever whimsy took her, reporting with an astute and amusing eye on everything she sees and experiences. She was a woman ahead of her time and an exemplar for feminism. She covers not only adventures in Africa, but also in China, in Eilat in Israel, and in Moscow.

She was not only a journalist, but also wrote novels. She's observant and witty, smart and insightful, adventurous and unstoppable. I commend this as a fascinating travelogue.


Saturday, June 1, 2019

There's No Place like Hell by Janis Hill


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I read an earlier novel by this author and liked it, so I was asked by the publisher if I would like to read another of her works for review and I accepted. Then I was shamefully lapse in getting to it, so this review is long overdue and I apologize for that, but I literally only just finished reading it. This is why it's first up on my June reviews.

The good news is that I commend the book as a worthy read! The bad news is that this is volume two of a series and I was not invited to read volume one, so I came into this blind. There are a lot of references to an earlier life in this novel, which made me think, even before I knew this was volume two, that there was a previous novel, but it wasn't necessary (at least not from my perspective) to have read that one in order to enjoy this one. It would have been nice had the cover at least mentioned it was part of a series though. Publishers seem almost abusively negligent of advising readers about that, and I have to say I resent it.

Overall, the novel was too long for my taste. I like 'em more pithy and I felt it could have been shortened and tightened, and would have made for a better read. There were also some grammatical errors which presumably will be removed next time the author gets to do a makeover of it. I list the ones I can remember below. Other than that, I enjoyed most of it. There were bits where it dragged, and I failed to see the point of resurrecting this character from the previous volume. For me he contributed nothing, but at least he wasn't a love interest, and I really appreciated that.

The main character, Stephanie Anders, is very much her own woman and not dependent upon some guy validating her, so I fully approve of a writer taking that approach. It's not that I object to a main female character having a love interest, or that I think it necessarily weakens the character to have one, but all-too-often this is what writers do to their women, especially in Young Adult novels. This author avoided that and I commend her for it. If the love interest is there solely to be the love interest, then lose him - or her. It spoils the novel for me; and if your main female character has a male character who smothers her, dominates her or otherwise detracts from her story, then I won't read your novel. I can't stand stories like that, so I'm glad this wasn't such a one.

In some ways this novel reminded me of Hot and Badgered by Shelly Laurenston, not because the two novels are the same - they're very different - but because they share the same playful attitude and irreverence, and I like that, so even though this novel was first person - a voice I typically detest, it was very readable.

Stephanie works for the Egyptian deity Isis, helping protect souls from the dark side. Yes, this is one of those novels that insists there is and must be a balance between light and dark and also one in which humans have to do the work of gods and angels because apparently gods and angel aren't up to it. I never have understood why there had to be a balance (or why evil would agree to any such balance!), or why gods are so paradoxically weak and reliant on humans to do their dirty work, but in this case, again, the story was original enough and amusing enough that I was willing to let my loathing of this genre slide. So kudos to the author for drawing me in.

The main story here is that the man who instigated the split between Stephanie and her husband - something which still smarts - is now begging for her help after drunkenly selling his soul. It's a credit to Stephanie that she takes on this job rather than letting him slide into hell - and she seriously takes it on. Being the Protector of Souls she really can't refuse, but she goes into it full tilt and doesn't give up despite the odds being heavily stacked against her. She is deadly serious about her job.

I loved the humor, the original take on an old premise, and how inventive Stephanie is in doing her job. She's always skirting the edge of rule-breaking without technically going over the line, but being a woman what would she do but skirt? You can't trouser the rules! They're already trousered. This behavior naturally - or supernaturally - brings her grief and praise, but it also makes the reader a little nervous that maybe this time she's gone too far. I loved that - that she had a fine mind and it never stopped ticking, so this story was definitely a worthy read.

This book could have used a bit more proof-reading. Here are the errors I found:

"He is my weapon's instructor" - unless the guy was instructing the weapon rather than Stephanie, then he was her 'weapons' instructor - no apostrophe necessary!

"without the aid of Isis' Light I may add." Isis is a name, not a plural, so it needs an apostrophe s, not just the apostrophe: Isis's.

"who'd obviously heared all that stuff I'd not said out loud." 'Heard' has only one 'e'.

Demons do not breed to begat demons!" This was the wrong verb tense. It needs to read 'beget', not begat and don't you forgat it!.

But those didn't detract from enjoying the book at all, and I enjoyed it overall.


Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Man Who Was Thursday : a Nightmare by GK Chesterton


Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook in which I did not progress very far - about thirty three percent. I'd never read anything by Chesterton and decided to give him a try. So from this encounter, I've learned that I can strike him from my list of potentially interesting authors! His writing was rather pompous and overblown, which is I guess how they wrote back in 1908. That doesn't mean I have to like it though! The book's language and style reminded me somewhat of Ian Fleming, who coincidentally was born in the same year this novel was published.

The story is rather allegorical, and the plot seemed like it might be entertaining, with a philosopher joining a secret organization within the police aimed at overthrowing anarchy. Gabriel Syme is recruited to this organization right after he gets an inside track into a secret anarchist society via an acquaintance, Lucian Gregory. In the society, each of the seven leaders is named after a day of the week. The Thursday position is up for election - which struck me as curiously ironical for an anarchic organization! They have elections??? Anyway, after Gabriel informs Lucien that he is a police officer, the latter becomes nervous and flubs his chance of election, and Gabriel is elected himself, only to discover that all of the seven positions are occupied by police spies!

Sorry, but I never made it that far because I could not get past the rather tedious writing style. I can't commend this based on my experience of it and I definitely don't want to read any more GK Chesterton.


Killashandra by Anne McCaffrey


Rating: WARTY!

This is the second volume in a trilogy and exemplifies why I have such a poor track record with series and why I flatly refuse to even think of writing a series myself. The problem is that, with some rare and treasured exceptions, the second volume must of necessity be a repeat of the first, because it's all you have. Yes, you can bring in new characters, but you're still stuck with the same original character you're writing about, who is going to do largely the same things. It's boring, lazy, and uninventive, and I don't feel that ought to be rewarded.

I really enjoyed Crystal Singer, the first volume, which is why I moved on to the second one, but here's where it predictably fell apart. I should have quit after volume 1! Killashandra is a crystal singer - or cutter. She 'mines' crystal by cutting it with a sonic knife on a cliff face, and in the first novel she found herself a nice claim which had a vein of black crystal. So valuable was it that she got to visit another planet and install the crystal in a communications system. Now in order to try and change-up this story for volume two, the author had her do almost exactly the same thing. Instead of black crystal, which had somehow been tragically lost in a planetary storm, she was mining white crystal - and sure enough he had to go off planet to install it in a system. Same old, same old....

This losing of her invaluable black crystal open-face 'mine' made zero sense. Yes, even give that a violent wind storm could wreck her mine face - which is a stretch - this crystal was so valuable and useful that it was unthinkable there would not have been a major effort to uncover that vein again, so premise was fouled right there. But having her repeat the first story - mine the crystal, escort it to another planet and install it? Boring.

The author tried to change this up by having a ridiculously conformist society whereas Killashandra is a bit of a rebel of course, and have an assassination plot. Yes, Killashandra was hit by what had evidently been an intended three-pronged bolt of death come at her, which she escaped with only minor injury.

Later when she snuck off without her escort, she was kidnapped and abandoned on a remote island. Why did this assailant try to kill her and then when he had her in his clutches, simply abandon her on an island instead of killing her as he had originally intended? It made no sense. But it got worse. She managed to escape from this and get back to society, but coincidence of coincidences, she ran right into the very same man who had tried to kill her and then had abducted her. He didn't recognize her - the most famous woman on his planet - because she now had a suntan. What? But it got worse. She got the hots for him - for her attempted killer and kidnapper. I'm sorry but no! Fuck no! This story sucked and I'm done with this author.


Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was an autobiographical comic following the author's long, and evidently ongoing, trek into gender identity. At one point, the author choses to use what are referred to as 'Spivak' pronouns (E, Em, Eir) after Michael Spivak, for reasons which are never made clear. These particular ones were first used in 1975 by Christine Elverson, so I didn't get why they weren't referred to as 'Elverson pronouns', but there it is.

For me, one big problem with these sort of options is that there is maybe half-dozen or more sets of them, all unagreed upon. For me, the worst problem with them is that they're superfluous when we already have they, them, and their which are all-inclusive gender-neutral words. Personally, I find this to be a fatuous and pointless attempt to create a new word group set when a perfectly functional one already exists. I'm for simplicity and clarity, for ease and comfort, so I will use existing, established pronouns in this review.

The journey they undertook in trying to feel comfortable with themselves is a remarkable and moving one, told here unvarnished and raw as it must have felt in making that journey. To feel constantly uncomfortable with your body in a world which has a two-million-year tradition of humans supposedly (if often delusionally) being definitely either male or female has to be traumatizing, and we get the whole feeling of that conveyed in this book. If it makes you feel uncomfortable and brings you along on this journey, then author is doing a fine job. It worked for me.

A person who starts out biologically female, and if the zygote is destined to be a male, certain things need to kick in, and often they do, but quite often they do not, or they kick in part way, and this is how we get a sliding scale, all too often holding people hostage, who feel somewhere adrift, but not exactly sure where.

In this case the author ended-up feeling extremely uncomfortable with breasts, and a vagina that bleeds periodically(!), but not feeling like a male either (even while harboring fantasies about male physiology), they became someone who is interested in friendship and companionship but not in marriage, children, or even sex. "What am I?" is a question they asked themselves frequently - as frequently, probably, as "Where am I going and what will I find when I get there?" which is a scary question for anyone in this position.

The blurb says this book is "a useful and touching guide on gender identity" but I disagree. I think it's more of a guide in lack of identity, and how to cope with that, how to work with it, how to address it and pursue your own path even while surrounded by uncertainty.

This was a long journey, and I traveled every step of the way, and I think this book is an amazing and informative volume, very personal, but universal, very uncomfortable, but comforting, readable, amusing, disturbing and unnerving. I think everyone needs to read this and try to understand it, especially in the political climate we've made for ourselves in the USA right now. I commend this as a worthy read and salute the author and wish them an easier journey in the coming years than it has been at times over the last few.


Monday, December 31, 2018

The Secret Loves of Geek Girls by various authors


Rating: WARTY!

I picked this up knowing it wasn't a graphic novel (although there is some graphic content), but hoping it might tell interesting stories of how various female graphic novel artists and writers got into the business, but it wasn't that at all. It was a rambling collection of disparate autobiographical (after a fashion) stories, only some of which were what I'd hoped for. The rest was a mashup of topics, few of which were of interest to me, and some of which were downright boring, so I gave up on this DNF. To different audience, obviously this will have different meaning, so you can take your chance with it if you wish, but for me, I cannot commend it as a worthy read!


Saturday, December 29, 2018

Miss Don't Touch Me by Hubert, Fabien Vehlmann Kerascoët


Rating: WORTHY!

Set in 1930s Paris, this was a fun "naughty" (but not too naughty) novel about a young girl Blanche, who sees her sister Agatha murdered by the 'Butcher of the Dances'. No one will believe her, and Agatha is written-off as a suicide. Losing her job as a maid, Blanche seeks work at the Pompadour, an elite brothel, and the only place which might take her in. She's almost laughed out of even there, but once taken in, quickly establishes herself as a mistress of untouchability and the virgin dominatrix.

But she hasn't forgotten her sister and slowly begins to unravel the brutal crime, while fending off assaults from patrons, unwelcome attempts at relieving her of her prized virginity, and shifting allegiances among the call-girls. This made for a different and fun read and I commend it.


Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers by Sara Ackerman


Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook experiment which looked superficially good but which turned out to be just another idiot romance in the telling. It’s been only a short while, but the novel is already a vague memory to me. So this woman on Hawaii at the outbreak of WW2, which for the US began on December 7th, two years after everyone else signed up!

This woman whose name I happily have forgot, is supposedly widowed - her husband was at the dock, blood was found, but no body - which typically means he’s still alive, is evidently not that caring about him because she easily falls for a smooth-talking soldier who is stationed on the island and becomes way too familiar with her way too fast. That’s when I ditched this as a waste of my time. I'm guessing the husband is alive and having an affair with some other woman, which gives the main character the freedom to carry on with the soldier. There are better-written and even badly-written yet still more entertaining stories out there which I’m not going to get to if I waste more time than is necessary on one’s like this. Based on about a third of this that I could stand to listen to, I can’t commend it.


Sky Doll by Alessandro Barbucci, Barbara Canepa


Rating: WARTY!

Written and illustrated by both Barbucci and Canepa, this story tells of Noa, a life-like female android, otherwise known as a sky doll, and as such, having no rights. She serves the state, but gets other ideas after encountering two people who aid in her escape after which she begins to learn that there is more to her than meets the thigh.

I was unimpressed by this story and I believe (it was a while back since I read it), that I ditched it DNF. I can't commend it. It had so much potential, but that seemed to be lost under cheap genderist superficiality. You'd think the female contributor would have done a better job.


Rohan at the Louvre by Hirohiko Araki


Rating: WORTHY!

Also known as Toshiyuki Araki, this author's oddball graphic novel tells of a young man's arrival at a boarding house where he encounters a mysterious divorcée, with whom he has an oddball but platonic relationship. Rohan himself wants to be a manganeer of course, dreaming of creating his own comic book. It is this, rather than Rohan himself which attracts the attention of the divorcée, despite her violent treatment of his first effort - because he drew her as a part of it. In a moment they have together, she reveals to him the story of the most evil painting ever put on canvas, and which is kept locked-away in the darkest corner of the Louvre.

A decade later, Rohan discovers that the painting this woman told him of actually exists, and is everything she claimed for it! Beautifully illustrated and artfully told, this was an enjoyable and wistful fantasy tale in more than one way. I commend it as a worthy read.


Saturday, December 1, 2018

March of the Suffragettes by Zach Jack


Rating: WORTHY!

This marks my 2,800 book review! Yeay me!

A century ago this year, in Britain, Parliament granted the right to vote to women, but only if they were homeowners over the age of thirty! This purported enfranchisement still very effectively disenfranchised the majority of women. Thankfully that has changed now, inevitably for the better, but there was a fight on both sides of the Atlantic for a woman's right to have a say in the largely old white male government which dictated how she should live her day-to-day life.

While in Britain the fight got quite brutal, in the US it was rather more gentile, and a leading light in this 'fight' was a woman in her late twenties from a privileged background, who led a march from New York to Albany to present a request to the newly-elected governor in New York state.

Somewhat misleadingly subtitled "Rosalie Gardiner Jones and the March for Voting Rights" this library print book aimed at younger readers, began as a real disappointment because the male author seemed like he was far more interested in talking about press coverage of the march by the male reporters than ever he was about the women enduring the march. Since it seems like he took his entire story from newspaper reports I guess this isn't surprising, but it makes for a disappointingly thin story.

Thankfully this approach seemed to change about halfway through and the story became much more palatable. Even then though, we got to learn very little about the women involved. I am far from a Stephen King fan so I do not demand the entire life history of a character back through three generations. I can do very well without that, but a little bit of background in this case would have been nice.

This highlights the weakness of the author's approach because investigative reporting wasn't a thing back then. The old boys reporters club was more interested in pointing out the cute women marchers and the hiccups along the route than in actually doing any real stories on the marchers, and I'm guessing that's why the author offers no background. There was none in the newspaper sources he used and he was too lazy to do any digging of his own.

Another weakness at times was his style. At one point when he was talking about a rousing speech delivered by Jessie Stubbs, he said, "Here was a woman who would not be slowed by excessive baggage or supposed burdens of her sex," but this was right after he had, in two different successive paragraphs, loaded her with precisely that baggage by describing what she was wearing. This is a typical journalistic approach to describing women subjects of a news report, but not when describing men! So please, journalists do not burden your female subjects with this excessive baggage and burden of her sex! Good lord!

Rosalie Gardiner Jones was a remarkable young woman who was influenced by the Pankhursts in Britain (Emmeline nee Goulden, and her daughter Christabel), although the book won't tell you this. In late 1912 when this march took place - just months after the Titanic sank with 1500 people preserved in icepick. Rosalie was just 27 when she led her group of varying size (sometimes it was down to only the three core marchers) over a hundred-fifty miles due north. They walked all the way, blisters and all, through fog, rain, and snow.

Many towns along the way took the opportunity to hold fetes and welcome the visitors. The support they had was surprisingly diverse and commonly to be found. The coverage they got was international. The march really was a game-changer. Sometimes men would march with them. They were kindly treated by police it would seem. Some senior police officials would come out from their towns and walk or ride along with the march as they entered their domain. One factory owner apparently supported the march and allowed his female employees an afternoon off (without pay of course) to march with the group. This was interesting because at the same point in the journey, the marchers were joined by female students from Vassar college who, the author tells us refused to associate with the factory girls, so not all rights were being represented here.

The press coverage though was a part of the problem because in the first half of the book we learned very little about Rosalie and her marching partners Sibyl Wilbur, Ida Craft and the feisty Lavinia Dock who was in her fifties at the time of the march). The even more feisty Inez Craven, who seems to have been lost to history was also on and off the march, somewhat scandalously so at times. She was of the more proactive British origins. Jessie Stubbs was also there from time to time but she commuted back and forth delivering press reports. Jesse made an important speech along the route and was known for urging women to refuse to bear children until war was abolished. She died apparently by suicidal drowning less than a decade after the march and only a year after the nineteenth Amendment was ratified.

Later in the book, we did learn a little about Rosalie's mother. The young marcher spent a part of the trip fearing her wealthy upper-class helicopter mom would come down there and wrench her wayward daughter away from this folly! The author won't tell you this (at least I don't recall reading it), but her mother was a member of the anti-suffrage league! There were a couple of other issues with this author's habit of omitting or worse, inventing information. The first of these is that while the author does reference certain material (references are pretty much always to newspaper articles), he makes up an entire story about how Christmas was spent and offers no references at all.

There's a huge difference between telling a story based on historical fact, and fabricating one, and that latter is what would seem to be happening there. There's also an outright fabrication, when the author mentions suffragette Gretchen Langley rowing away from the sinking Titanic in rough seas! No, she did not. If there is one consistent agreement among all Titanic survivors, it's how mirror-calm the sea was that night. The ocean was like glass, and that's what Langley would have rowed in. The next day as dawn broke and rescue finally seemed a hope, the seas did kick up more roughly, but by then the Titanic was some two thousand fathoms down, and no one was rowing away from it. On the contrary. Through the night and as daylight dawned, they would have been rowing toward one another to secure the lifeboats to each other for safety.

How times have changed, and how times haven't. It was a sixty-year battle to get to the 19th amendment to the US constitution adopted and even then women were far, far from equality. This same battle goes on today albeit in different arenas. I commend this not because it's a great book, but because it does cover, albeit in amateur fashion, an important step on a too-long road to equality, but if you can find something better, then please read that instead.


Prophecy by SJ Parris


Rating: WARTY!

This is one of those bloated historical novels which place important people at the author's beck and call, and which consists of name-dropping and the most sluggish pace imaginable. I was hoping for better. Once again it's a series - the Giordano Bruno mysteries, in which this Catholic monk becomes a detective. Seriously? He's also helping the Elizabethan government stave off encroachment by the Catholic church? No! He was a devout Catholic himself. Why would he help a fight against it? All that crap alone should have warned me off it. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

So, he's in England - which he was at the time this story is set - and a ritualistic murder is committed inside the palace grounds. Sir Francis Walsingham is seeking to solve it and calls on Bruno to help him. No! Someone of Walsingham's ability needs outside help? Not going to happen.

I don't hold authors responsible for book blurbs, which they typically have nothing to do with unless they self-publish, but this one claims "It is the year of the Great Conjunction, when the two most powerful planets, Jupiter and Saturn, align an astrological phenomenon that occurs once every thousand years and heralds the death of one age and the dawn of another." This is patent horseshit. The last such conjunction was in May, 2000, and the next will be around Christmas or New Year's of 2020. My math sucks, but even I can distinguish between 5x22 and 5x200! Elizabeth was queen for some forty years so her lifetime would have seen at least two of these conjunctions.

So it really didn't get me interested which is the first mistake a book can make, but worse than that, it didn't evoke Elizabethan times at all. The author made the common mistake of putting it into first person voice from Bruno's perspective. I typically do not like 1PoV, and in this case it was glaring because Bruno's thought processes were entirely modern. It kept kicking me out of suspension of disbelief pretty much every time he thought something.

When Bruno was in England, he was writing a bunch of stuff that he couldn't get done in Europe for persecution by the idiot church. All he was trying to do was tell the truth, but brain-dead church dogma wouldn't let him. This is why we must never let blind faith control our lives again; it is universally disastrous. But the point here is that given how busy he was, he would hardly have had the time to swan around solving murders and spying for the protestants, so the very basis of this novel is nonsensical prima facie, and the author never gave me writing of sufficient quality to make me willing to overlook these shortcomings for the sake of the story. For these reasons, I can't commend it.


Saturday, November 24, 2018

Soar, Adam, Soar by Rick Prashaw


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This is a very personal account of a family event that has much wider implications. I'd like to say it was told well, but I can't, because it was disjointed and disorganized and sometimes hard to keep track of where we were at, but even so I consider it a worthy read because it's an important story. It's also a very tragic story, and while all deaths like this are heart-breaking, it's hard to become emotionally involved when it's not someone with whom I am personally familiar. I can become emotionally moved by the greater story though, of endless people who are persecuted and brutalized for their perceived 'non-conformance' to so-called 'norms' of one sort or another, in this case, gender.

Adam Prashaw was not brutalized, as some have been, with violence and rejection by peers or parents, but he was knocked around by two things: the system, which does not make it easy for a person born in the wrong body to correct that situation, and by the fact that Adam also suffered from epilepsy, and it was this which killed him at an appallingly young age by dint of the fact that he drowned in a hot tub in the few minutes while his friends were absent, succumbing to a seizure which everyone thought and hoped had been cured by brain surgery only a few months before.

Obviously there are lessons to be learned here, such as that epilepsy, like alcoholism, is never really cured and we must be vigilant over those who have it to prevent accidents like this one from happening, but the lesson that's taught here is that of making the most of your life, even if that life is destined to be short - something none of us can know except in the hindsight of those we leave behind.

There are teaching opportunities which I felt were missed in this book, and this was one issue I had with it. One of them was the tragic accident at the hot tub. Another, for example was where at one point we were introduced to two women who would help Adam through this transition: "Pivotal this year are his first meetings with his counsellor, Nichelle Bradley, and his doctor, Jennifer Douek." These are both females and I felt it would have been nice to know more about how such people become attached to these cases, and whether gender plays any part, and if so, why?

If Adam were transitioning from male to female (the opposite of what he was actually doing) would these have been men, or is the gender simply random - this is just how the counsellor and doctor happened to be? Does it matter? A little talk about that would have been interesting to me, because I think it could matter if these particular two professions are overwhelmingly populated with gender-bias. On the other hand, if it makes no difference, it would have been nice to hear that.

I have to note again that this is a very personal account, so perhaps it's expecting too much, but to me such things are interesting and I felt that a little more commentary would have enriched the reading, but this wasn't the only thing which caught my attention. The book is far more about feelings and relationships, and a father's experiences than ever it is about the practical trials and experiences of a person going through gender reassignment, so perhaps we shouldn't expect a tutorial. It's also about how little time Adam got to enjoy the new him. Being a parent myself, I don't ever want to know what it's like to lose a child, so I can appreciate what this parent/author went through. I just wish it had been easier to follow and that Amazon's crappy Kindle conversion process had not mangled the text as it reliably does.

The book was available for review in PDF format which was not mangled at all, but which was too small to read on my phone, which is where I read most of my ebook material. I don't fault an author for that except in that it cannot be repeated often enough that if you're going to publish a Kindle ebook, you cannot have anything fancy in the text at all - not even italics, because sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, Amazon will frag your text. Italics generally do fine except that the last character, if it's something like a lowercase 'd' or an exclamation point, will be beheaded by the non-italic text following it. Guaranteed every time. An author needs to check for how much Amazon has screwed-up their text in the ebook version, because I have seen this repeatedly in Amazon books, and not just in advance review copies. Errors are rife in Kindle format, which is one reason I refuse to publish through Amazon.

In this particular case, text inserts/boxes were rendered part of the text, cutting into the middle of sentences in the main body of the book, so those are a complete non-no, as are drop-caps and other fancy additions. Images can be problematical. Amazon made a jigsaw out of the front cover image in this book and I've seen that before, but the images inside the book were generally fine except that they did not always merge into the text properly, leaving a largely blank screen here and there, either preceding the picture or in its wake.

Here's a quote that illustrates this text julienne à la Amazon: "The doctors wanted to completely remove the piece, which Bekkaa October 22, 2012 "The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience." -Eleanor Roosevelt appeared to be triggering..." Good luck making sense of that. It incorporates the page header and a text box (I believe) all in one. Never use page headers or page numbering for an Amazon ebook. I've never seen this kind of mangling in any reading app other than Amazon's crappy Kindle app.

Here's a footnote in the middle of a sentence: "There were mood 1. Now known as a 'focal impaired awareness seizures,' these start in one area of the brain and negatively affect sensory perception. Other symptoms may include automatic behaviour. Such seizures generally last between one and two minutes. swings, too..." Here's another example of the garbling: "a work colleague, and her partner, David White, a United ChurchAdam minister; they happened to be visiting at the time.July 25, 2015 The chaplain prays for Adam with us. He touchThunderstorm!!! es my son." It's character coleslaw, and Amazon does it best.

The author is quite religious and it's commendable he had such an open attitude towards Adam's predicament. Far too many believers are entirely reprehensible in their position, but not this one. I didn't find his references to religion annoying though, being an unbeliever myself. At one point I read, "Adam is surrounded by love, God's and ours. This is all good." This was shortly before he was declared dead without ever recovering consciousness after his drowning. Clearly, as Al Pacino's character declares in Devil's Advocate 'God is an absentee landlord'.

Later there was another quote along these lines: "Everything that led to the day that Adam died and the day that John received his heart were destined to be, whether I like that or not ... It was meant to be." And the author adds, "I agree. A divine plan." I don't see anything divine in killing a young man so others can have his body parts. If God really wanted to do his job, he would not have let Adam drown, and he would have miraculously cured the heart and kidneys of those whose lives were improved through Adam's premature death and commendable organ donation. Otherwise what's the point of having a god if he does nothing to help, prayers are not answered, and evil all-too-often prevails? I personally have no time for a worthless god like that.

The authors comments were at times hard to understand. I read at one point, "AS ADAM'S GENDER transition and epilepsy collide full force toward the end of 2015, there is a remarkable change in him. An adult is emerging, a guy with a stronger voice." Well, he's 22 years old at this point, so I am not sure what was going through the author's mind. I know there's that old sawhorse that a child is always a child to a parent no matter how old the 'child' actually is, but I have never felt that way with regard to my own offspring. I see nor reason for that attitude. At some point they grow up and it's insulting to keep reducing them to kids when they're teenagers or young adults. The author wrote later, that he did "hug a few kids whom I recognize. They are all 'kids' to me, although most, like Adam, are now adults." This was after fussing over getting Adam's name right - the male name not the female name he was assigned at birth along with the wrong body. It felt hypocritical to me.

But in context of the overall story, these felt like relatively minor beefs, and not that important in the grand scheme of the story the author was trying to convey, so I was willing to let that slide, and all in all I commend this as a worthy read and an important book even though I have to add that I've read clearer and more educational accounts of a gender transition than this one.


Friday, November 16, 2018

More Than Bones by Craig David Singer


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Emily is a med school graduate embarking on her internship. She was lured into working at a Catholic hospital in Baltimore to be near her fiancée, and manages to find a room in a nicely-appointed house run by a usually sweet, but very temperamental guy whose first name, Norton, is the same as Emily's last name. On day one Emily is given a gift by an old man named Frank who lives next door to Norton. Emily tries to refuse it, but he's so insistent that she accepts just to be nice, and she hangs it on this skeleton - a real skeleton that Norton put in her room as a weird sort of housewarming gift for the surgeon intern.

The amulet is supposed to bring her good luck, and Frank is insistent that she wear it, but she doesn't and sure enough, a host of bad luck comes her way. She's late on her first day because of car trouble; later, her fiancée dumps her; Norton becomes seriously pissed-off with her over a remark she makes about him being gay - which he either isn't or is in serious denial of; a fellow female doctor, Mondra, with whom Emily was bonding also becomes angry with her, and an important guy from the local community files a formal complaint against her over her medical conduct when she treated his son - a patient she was tricked into taking by two other senior doctors who didn't want to deal with this kid's abusive dick of a father! After Frank dies unexpectedly and fails to impart some last words to Emily, a private detective shows up asking about his will, which seems to be missing.

The author has an interesting style, repeatedly tricking the reader into thinking one thing while revealing later how wrong you were to think as you did, but that grew rather old after a while as did the story-telling. Emily is neither an interesting nor a likable character and reading this story from her PoV was neither pleasant not engaging. First person voice is rarely the best one for telling a story, especially one like this, and did the main character no fav ors.

I made it only two-thirds the way through this novel before I quit because I could not stand to read about this whiny little self-absorbed ditz any more. At one point, for example, Mondra approaches Emily in the parking lot asking for help, and Emily just leaves her there and coldly drives away. I already didn't like Emily prior to this point, but that killed-off any hope of me growing to like her. At that point I was thinking Mondra's story would have been far more interesting than Emily's was - but not if it was written the same way this one was!

In the end I could not stand to read any more about her, so I DNF'd this. The mystery was boring and taking far too long to go anywhere for my taste. I cannot commend this as a worthy read.


Monday, November 5, 2018

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi


Rating: WARTY!

Errata:
"The guard held open the door. Enrique walks inside. Tristan was waiting for him" - seems to be a mix of verb tenses.
"clove of tins" - that's the round way wrong!
"A man from the Italian faction raised his fan. "500,000 to Monsieur Monserro." The Italian faction has a Monsieur?! Not a Signor?
"Enrique pulled a Forged spherical detection device -one of her own inventions -from his pocket. His or hers? Whose invention?
"...there are ways for the Sia formulation to act like a honing mechanism." Homing?
"a triplicate bee goddesses" wrong article.
"Am I pronouncing that correctly, Laila?" "It's Bruh-mah-ree" - these two lines are run together without a carriage return.

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

There was nothing on Net Galley from whence this came, nor appended to the novel itself to indicate this was volume one in a series. Had there been, I wouldn't have request it. I'm not a series person because I don't buy into the popular idea that the only thing better than one novel is three novels all telling the same bloated story. Publishers buy into it because it makes them money and it's getting to the point these days where it seems that you can't sell a novel - particularly if it's a young adult novel - to a publisher unless you can promise them a tree-slaughtering trilogy. This is why I personally have no truck with Big Publishing™ in terms of selling my own work.

I read this authors A Crown of Wishes over a year ago and had the same problem with that that I ended up having with this - a strong start followed by a slow decline into boredom as the story rambled on too long instead of staying on topic and getting to the point. If I'd known that Kirkus had reviewed this positively, it would have saved me some time. They never met a book they didn't like so their reviews are meaningless. Any time I see them gush about a book, I avoid that book like the plague on principle.

Set in 1889 Paris in an alternative universe where magic exists, and only two of the original four powerful magical houses of France remain, the novel follows the story of wannabe house leader Séverin Montagnet-Alarie and his ragtag band consisting of renowned stage performer Laila, artificer and socially-inept Sofia, botanist Tristan, and pretty boy, the Latin Enrique.

The group are thieves, and Séverin seems to think this will lead him back to greatness, especially when he's approached by Hypnos, an alienated childhood friend, and the enigmatic leader of one of the two remaining houses, who offers Séverin a way back to heading his own house for his help in acquiring something for Hypnos. This kind of story has been done before, but here it was given a glaze of bright paint that was fresh enough to initially render it quite appealing, but the more I read, the more translucent that glaze became, and the underlying mess bled through.

I was truly disappointed, but not altogether surprised, therefore by the ending which wasn't an ending. It was dissipated and rambling all over the place when it should have long before come to a satisfactory conclusion. It never did because this wasn't a novel - it was a book-length prologue and I don't do prologues. It never explained the title, either - or if it did, it went by so fast that I missed it. Yes, the crew wore wolf masks on occasion, but why? I have no idea!

I was truly disappointed in the author, and felt robbed of a good story by her. What we got in place of an ending was a cliffhanger, so this and the rambling story-telling turned the whole book around for me in a very negative way. While I'd liked the beginning, the book was way too wordy and draggy and started losing me in the second half, and that ending was the last straw. This is why I don't like to invest my time I reading long novels! This was nearly four hundred pages and only about half of it was worth the reading. The only thing it was missing was a good editor. I cannot commend it as a worthy read.