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

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Au Bonheur des Dames by Émile Zola


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, December 2, 2019

Seal Team Six by Howard E Wasdin, Stephen Templin


Rating: WARTY!

My problem with this was the complete lack of modesty and boundaries on the part of the author. I get that these guys need to unwind, that they do a job most of us would fail dismally at (even the part about getting through basic training), but this went beyond strutting and into abuse and psychosis. I draw the line there.

The author seemed like he always had to be first and on top, and successful, and he had no respect for those who dropped out of the BUD\S training or who finished behind him, which was disrespectful in my opinion. This arrogance pervaded the entire book and turned me right off it and the author in short order. Much as I would have liked to have read more and learned more, I rang the bell three times about a third of the way through and felt no sense of failure about it at all. The failure is all on the part of the author. There are much better books about Navy SEALs than this one. This is the worst I've read.

The author tells a story about a third of the way through, of visiting a stripper bar one day. Inside the bar, he asked the staff if they'd make an announcement to welcome back soldiers who were recently on foreign operations, which was a bit overbearing, but fair enough. Apparently there were four Tunisian men in the bar, one of whom made a comment about America minding its own business.

How he knew these guys were Tunisian I do not know, but this guy took exception to that comment, and rather than let it go, which in my opinion he ought to have been man enough to do, he literally leaped over the table at the Tunisian guy, and a fight ensued. The cops were called, but rather than be contrite and settle down, the SEALs then got into a fight with the cops, including a female cop who was manhandled, and they were all arrested.

Then this guy has the nerve to say the female cop wrote her phone number on a piece of paper and put it in his shirt pocket. I'm like, "Seriously?" I didn't believe it, and I am sure as hell not going to read any more of that arrogant and puffed-up crap. I'll find other sources to learn about these men - and I mean the men, not the adolescent boys who this author is evidently obsessed with talking about.

I like to learn about these special ops guys, and I don't mind some swagger and bravado. I think they've earned that, but the over-the-top gung-ho bullshit and sense of entitlement this book was larded with left me cold.


Friday, November 1, 2019

Me and the Japanese Beauty Standards by Tomomi Tsuchio


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a very short and rather heartbreaking book to read. It's not so much a self-help book as a memoir of a resilient woman who successfully made her way through the stumbling blocks that life tossed at her and came out on the other side just fine. It does offer some nuggets of advice here and there on the way through, so it's a useful teaching tool for anyone who is on that same journey. When I first began to read this, the opening sentence threw me for a loop. It said, "When you were a neighborhood children appearance?" Say what?! I remember thinking, if the whole book is like this, I'm in trouble and so is the author, but after that one sentence, it was fine. The author, aka T-mo, sure as hell speaks English far better than I will ever speak Japanese!

To me it was interesting to learn that an Asian society like Japan - typically considered a polite one by we in the west - isn't any kinder than we are in when it comes to childhood bullying and body-shaming. Because the author did not conform to the 'norm' she was made to suffer for it by being called names. While she never let this get her down, such an onslaught of abusiveness, even when relatively mild, will without a doubt play tricks on the mind and leave its mark. That's a stain on the soul that can be hard to erase, but this author did it. You can too.

All of my negatives on this book were about production issues, not about the actual content. Talking of which though, the content list was messed up. On my phone in the Kindle app, each entry stretched over two lines, making it look truly messy. It was all in light blue text except for the photo credits at the end, which was in red for some reason.

There was a foreword and an introduction, both of which I skipped as I routinely do in every book I read that contains them. I have no time for stuff like that, or for prefaces and prologues. For me, if you want me to read it, put it right there in chapter one, otherwise I don't consider it important enough to spend time on, but this isn't a problem with the book per se, it's just a personal preference.

There's a section around 92% in that lists some reminders the author wanted to reiterate. These were formatted oddly, I suspect through Amazon Kindle's crappy conversion process into their proprietary format, which will mangle anything that's not plain vanilla text. The section was supposed to be a bulleted list, I guess, but rather than bullets, the list had little question marks each contained in its own tiny square! The third item in this list (beginning 'Eat, move, and find...') was in red text, whereas all the others were normal. Dunno what was up with that. Again, I blame Kindle.

Some of the gray-scale photographs included were split (again, I assume by Kindle's crappy conversion process) into two or more sections. Why Amazon doesn't fix this ongoing issue I do not know. This is one of several reasons why I refuse to do business with them. The last photo, which would have looked quite charming, was split into two sections, and the bottom half - so to speak! - had a black line through it, thereby ruining the impact of the photo.

That photo though pretty much summed up the issue. In my opinion - and not that I consider myself a judge by any means - there is literally not a damned thing wrong with the author's physical appearance, but this just goes to show how much ridiculous pressure is put on women by our society to conform to certain so-called 'norms' and physical templates that are all-too-often not set up by the women they exclude, but by old white men telling women how they should look, what they should put on their faces, and what they should wear. Here's a quote from my just released novel Shiftless in Galveston:

The CEOs of L'Oréal and Procter & Gamble were old white guys these days. Even Estée Lauder isn't a woman any more. As for Johnson & Johnson, it's right there in the company name. "It ought to be called Penis & Penis!" Crystina had joked.
Anyone who doesn't follow those rules endures what the author evidently endured and I'm sorry that she - or anyone else, male or female or anywhere in between for that matter - had to go through this.

As far as this book goes I commend it as a worthy read.



Saturday, October 12, 2019

Destruction by Justin Edison


Rating: WARTY!

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

I was interested in this novel despite it being not the sort of novel I tend to like: the idea of interstellar war I find rather laughable. I think aliens would have better things to do with their time and resources, so it's really hard to find a good novel, let alone a series of this genre, and by good I mean not only engaging, but also realistic. I was hoping this would be different, and what intrigued me was the idea of the female sniper, June Vereeth who is the main character. In the last analysis though, I didn't like it, and I'll tell you why.

Note first that this is volume 2 of a series - again something I am not much a fan of (both series and volume 2's!), but at least I went into this knowing it was a series and that this was not the first volume, since this one is billed as ' Woman at War Book II' (that's Roman two, not eleven or "Aye-aye, Captain." It's nice that a publisher announces this right there on the front cover. Far too many do not, and I find that intensely irritating.

Among the many problems with a series is that unless you're binge-reading them after the series has been released in its entirety, you discover that the author is stuck between info-dumping to bring you up to date with events over previous volume(s), or leaving you in the dark. It seems very few authors can find the happy path between those two extremes. This author went the 'in the dark' route, so I was clueless about what had been in the first 'book'. I also had no idea if this was set in Earth's future and these people were descended from people on Earth and intermixing with - and in some cases fighting against aliens, or if everyone was human or none of them were.

That wouldn't have been so bad had there been some rationale and consistency in the story-telling, but it seemed like a bit of a jumble to me. Terms were tossed around, including names for possible alien species, with zero actual detail revealed, as though the reader was expected to know all about them. Perhaps the expectation was that those who wanted to review this would have read volume 1, but this is an ARC and there was no option to try volume 1 before I reviewed volume 2. I don't recall ever seeing volume 1 of this series on Net Galley, and this one interested me, so I tried it. That said, some guidance interleaved with the action in this book would have been appreciated; not that there was really any action in the portion I managed to read before I gave up in dissatisfaction.

As an example, we got long distances given in miles, but then short distances given in 'legs'. I have no idea what a leg was. Weights were given in 'bars' - again - no clue what that was supposed to represent, and there was no guidance on how to translate it, so in the end it was quite meaningless. If every measure had been given in alien terms, that would have been one thing, but to mix it like that with terms that aren't even in use today was just annoying to me. Maybe if I'd read volume 1 it would all have been clear, but I guess I'll never know. Since I'm done with this series, it doesn't really matter at this point. And no, I didn't go looking in the back of the book in case there was a glossary - I shouldn't have to!

What really turned me off the story though was the tediousness of the opening sequence, where soldiers were climbing these giant rock pillars. The pillars (so it seemed, although it wasn't exactly clear) were a natural formation of individual and extremely high rock columns with flat tops. In a highly unlikely event, an allied spacecraft had crashed on top of one of the pillars and these soldiers had been sent in to recover something from it. The job was rendered all-but impossible because the rocks were shrouded in fog which inexplicably never dissipated or blew away, so visibility was down to very little. Definitely not more than a few 'legs' - or maybe not! Who knows? Is moving over a short distance called 'pulling legs'?! To make things worse, the rocks were magnetic, which prevented anything electronic from working in their vicinity.

I'm sure the author thought he'd done everything to render this climb and tedious exploration of the tops of hundreds of these pillars inevitable, but he's missed a few things. One of these things was a magnetic survey. Yes, the rocks were magnetic, but so was the spacecraft, presumably, so any distortion in the more or less regular pattern of the rock formation might be a place where the ship had ended up. Another option that went unexplored was sonar. Signals beamed down from up above and the rebound recorded would have been able to map the rocks in sufficient detail to identify the one which contained the crashed craft and magnetic interference was irrelevant.

Perhaps landing atop the pillars using was an option. if a spacecraft could accidentally crash-land on top of one, a glider could sure make a controlled landing! It would have been no more risky than the climbing they were doing! Another option would have been to explore the foot of the pillar formation for debris from the crashed ship. Not every last piece of it was on the top of that one pillar. There has to be debris. That would have at least narrowed the search down.

The author had mentioned some brush down at the bottom, interfering with access, but I don't imagine that would have been an insurmountable obstacle. Setting fire to the brush would have lifted the fog! A final solution would be to have bombed the crap out of that entire area, to destroy the ship so the alien enemy couldn't recover it. Just mentioning these as not feasible for whatever reasons would have been a good idea, but to pretend like scaling the pillars was the only option was a bit short-sighted.

But sometimes the military does make really dumb decisions and it costs lives, so I was willing to go with that, but the story was so ponderous, and so repetitive with the long climb of that first pillar and then the traversing from one to another by stringing lines across the tops and shimmying along them. It was frankly a boring read. Worse than this, Vereeth was a sniper. Why send her to a place where there's no visibility? It made zero sense.

The disappointing part about her involvement was that she was supposed to be a trained soldier and yet she seemed appallingly weak, especially for this mission. Were there no other snipers available? Again this wasn't explored. The situation was exacerbated unacceptably once more by the story being told in the first person, so she came across as a chronic whiner, which turned me right off her. First person voice is worst person voice for precisely this reason (inter alia). For a number of very good reasons, it's typically a bad choice for telling a story - especially a young adult story, which this fortunately wasn't - and if I'd known beforehand that this was a first person voice novel, I would not have requested it for that reason alone.

So while I wish the author all the best with this series, for all of the reasons I've gone into, I cannot commend this as a worthy read.


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.