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

Sunday, February 16, 2020

1996 by Kirsty McManus

Rating: WARTY!

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

This book was advertised in a daily book offer flyer I get, and it was free! The only problem was that the only outlet offering it was Amazon! I refuse to get even free books from Amazon anymore, so I emailed the author asking if there were other outlets, quite prepared to purchase it because the subject so intrigued me. I'm a sucker for a good time-travel novel! The author pointed me to a free copy for which I'm grateful, and we exchanged one or two emails, but that didn't affect my review of the book.

The premise of the novel is quirky, and this was what caught my attention. It's that this woman Anna Matthews, in her thirties and married, is a food blogger and she gets a trial dietary supplement from this business that she promotes. The literature with it says it 'rolls back the years' or something like that, so she tries it, and discovers that it's literally true: she ends up in her sixteen-year-old body in 1996. The effect lasts for 12 hours before she returns to the present in her regular mature body, and nothing she did on her trip back there seems to have affected her present, so she tries it a few more times.

I enjoyed this and read it quite avidly to begin with, but as the story went on, some issues arose. Anna is having some minor hiccups with her marriage, so on a whim, while her husband is off on a business trip, she decides to go back to see him as his 1996 self. He's apparently been a bit secretive about his past. He was eighteen back then and she finally tracks him down and goes to his house to meet him, but there's no answer when she knocks. Why she thought he'd be home on a weekday instead of in school is quietly glossed over. When she hears voices from the back yard, she walks back there to see if it's him, and she sees him sitting out in the sun with his then girlfriend, so she spies on him and she gets really jealous.

I don't want to give away spoilers, but it was necessary to tell you that much because the thing is that on her two previous trips she'd met this guy named Kurt and was warming to him. Given that, it felt really ingenuous of her to get jealous of husband several years before he ever met her, when she's already crushing like a 16-year-old on this guy Kurt, and she's actually a married woman! So now we have a triangle and she's behaving far more like she's sixteen than a mature married woman. This really bothered me because it took me out of suspension of disbelief.

I know this novel isn't aimed at a reader like me, but it all seemed off. It was made worse by this guy Kurt cropping-up improbably often. I know the author's likely plan was to get these two together, but he shows up with a disturbingly metronomic regularity. It felt more like he was stalking her than that these were happenstance encounters. It was too much too fast, and that spoiled the story for me. Anna's immature behavior didn't help. It was like she was already planning on breaking-up her marriage before she ever went back in time and Kurt just happened to be her manly savior. It was too YA for my taste.

On the other hand I have learned what a Queenslander is (it's a single-storey house with a wrap-around veranda), and what a City Cat is! I'd thought that was a bus, but it's a ferry. Also there really is a place called Shell Beach! I first heard that name in a movie called Dark City, but there's really a place called that in Brisbane. Probably lots of places called that, for that matter, but I'd never actually heard of a real place with that name until I read this novel. Since the author is Australian, she might give some thought to how non-Aussies will comprehend terms like 'Queenslander' and 'City Cat' and perhaps add a brief word or two by way of explanation.

So, there came a point where I had to put this down to read some other stuff that had a deadline attached to it, and so I did, but when it came time to resume reading it, I found I had could not raise sufficient interest to pursue it any further. It was the woman's rather juvenile behavior and Kurt's creepy stalking that turned me off, so I didn't pick it up again. Despite reading just over half of it, I really have no clue if my idea about Kurt actually took place or if she instead patched things up with her husband. If it was the former, then I have to say that she's far too shallow to be my kind of a character in a novel anyway, but frankly, by then I really didn't care enough to resume it. I wish the author all the best in her career, but based on what I read, I can't commend this as a worthy read.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Dark Queen by Faith Hunter

Rating: WARTY!

If this has been Dairy Queen it would have had more appeal and more chills! This is one I got along with an earlier volume in the series because the blurb on this one interested me; then I discover it's in first person, the main character isn't Asian notwithstanding the book cover, and it's filled with trope. I made it about thirty pages and ditched it beofre I yawned myself to death. I can't commend uninventive, unoriginal, and unimaginative novels like this one, so I'm done with this series and with this author.

Skinwalker by Faith Hunter

Rating: WARTY!

The blurb for one of the books in this series caught my attention, and even though I'm series-averse and will never write one myself, I was curious about this one, so I got the one I was interested in, plus an earlier one in the series to read as an intro. The curiosity didn't survive reading this trope-filled book for very long, rest-assured.

Jane Yellowrock looks like she's Asian on the cover, especially with that stereotype of a cue, but she's apparently American Indian. I just got through a short and sassy discussion of book covers with a long time email friend and it was her opinion that covers are all important. It's my opinion that they're shallow and misleading depictions of the content of the book created all-too-often by someone who appears to have no clue what the book is about, let alone read it themselves.

These covers are a case in point. I know that IRL, people do go by book covers, but I think it's stupid and shallow for anyone to judge a book by its cover. Quite obviously, it's the content that matters. I'd far rather read a good book with a shitty cover than a lousy one with an artwork for a cover (although I might buy a used copy of the artwork one for display if not to read!)

A major character in a novel I'm working on as I write this review is an American Indian, so I sure have no problem with reading about one, but to lead a reader to believe it's about an Asian main character from the cover illustration, and then have someone of different ethnicity actually be in the novel is a piss-off at best. This is my beef about misleading book covers in a nutshell.

Add to that a bunch of info-dumping in the book, some of which seems to me to stereotype the main character, and I'm going to lose interest pretty fast, I promise you. This is the same kind of problem American Dirt has from what I've read about it. Blurbs can be misleading too, but I don't think they're quite as misleading as the wrong cover no matter how many squees that cover gets at the 'unveiling' party! Seriously? I mean how freaking shallow and pompous can we get?

The next problem was the first person voice, which is unrealistic at best, and which I detest unless it's really done well. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it isn't. This book features Jane traveling to New Orleans. She's recovered from a devastating fight with vampires (so we're told) and is looking to get back into her business of bringing down the rogues, in this Trublood rip-off of a fantasy world where vampires and other paranormals are out and accepted at least in principle.

So this story's been done (to death) before, but I thought this author might bring something new based on the book blurbs. Unfortunately, those can be as misleading (or as dishonest, however you view it) as the cover can, and I felt misled by this one. I know the author typically doesn't write the blurb or illustrate the cover unless they self-publish - and maybe not even then - but you'd think someone who's running a purportedly successful series would be able to police the appearance of her books a bit better. On the other hand, why offer discounted books if you're selling them handsomely already? Maybe the series is in trouble. I dunno.

Anyway, Yellowrock arrives in town and meets with the trope vampire monarch - in this case a queen. Before she even gets there some sleazy stalker jerk on a motorbike is already slavering and panting after Yellowrock like a dog in heat. While bugs (the spying kind, not the insect kind) on the premises of the house she's going to be staying in piss-off Yellowrock, this dick of a guy stalking her didn't bother her at all! This turned me off the whole book, so I ditched it about thirty pages in. It was too sickening to read.

I refuse to commend a book like this.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

The Rhythm Section by Mark Burnell

Rating: WARTY!

This was a novel about a woman, named Stephanie, a college student who was supposed to travel with her family on a flight. They changed their flight to accommodate her, but she still wriggled out of going, and that plane crashed killing all onboard. Stephanie went into a downward spiral, and ended-up a prostitute in London, spending her meagre earnings on her drinking and drug habits.

One day she's visited by a low-level journalist named Procter, who tells her he believes the plane was bombed and he wants to talk to her about it, but she has him thrown out and beaten-up by the bouncer. After nearly killing a john later, she goes on the run from her pimp and ends up staying with Procter. Later, he's killed, but not before he's helped her straighten herself out. She decides to take up his quest to find justice for the victims of the downed plane.

I'd seen a preview of the movie and decided it looked good, and then had the opportunity to listen to the audiobook of the novel, so I decided to go ahead and give it a try despite it being the first book in a series. Initially, it was okay, but it was a bit plodding. I stayed with it because this would mark the first time I'd been to see the movie of a book right in the middle of reading the book the move was taken from. Usually the one comes before or after the other, so I was curious as to how it would affect my perception of the book.

In the end it didn't make much difference. The movie was okay, but a bit flat and uninspiring, so I went back to the book, which seemed pretty much the same: taking a long time to get anywhere. I decided to give it one more day of listening, but on the drive home that same afternoon, the book went into this endless, tedious, boring exposition that seemed to go on forever. For literally miles, as it happened, because I was driving, and I decided the hell with this and ditched it. I was about halfway through it, but that was too far: it was not getting it done for me.

Stephanie was improbable as a protagonist, because she was never really believable as someone who could come back from the depth she had sunk to, and actually do the job she'd set herself. Experience if fact proved that she couldn't; she was screwing-up time after time. I think even the author himself realized what a poor job he'd done of the book because he also wrote the screenplay and made a whole bunch of changes to it for no obvious reason other than to fix problems with the novel, but he ended-up making it worse! The movie was a lot more insipid than it ought to have been, with these endless maudlin flashbacks to Stephanie's memories of her family which contributed nothing to moving the story forward. On the contrary: they tripped it up frequently.

Plus Ryan Reynolds's wife Blake Lively did not live up to her name. She wasn't lively at all, not even after she'd recovered her health and was actively pursuing her targets. It just didn't work well. There was little humor, and some attempts at humor failed dismally. For example when she ran her vehicle off the road during a training exercise and Boyd, the trainer, was lecturing her. She pulled the parking brake on his transport and set it in reverse so that it ran backwards off the road into some trees. The thing is that both vehicles were four-wheel drive and so wouldn't have been stuck as they purportedly were.

But this is a review of the book, not the movie, and the book took far too long to deliver 'rewards' that were in the end too miserly to make up for the extended overture which preceded them. I can't commend it, and so it becomes another series, and another author, I shall not be revisiting.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

The Last Single Girl by Bria Quinlan

Rating: WARTY!

This is one of those 'Desperately Seeking Validation' kind of stories, where a woman has a deadline before which she absolutely must find a guy, or her life will be in ruins. If done right, it can be entertaining. The Norwegians demonstrated this in a Christmas TV series called Hjem til jul (Home for Christmas - English dubbed on Netflix) which was hilarious and enigmatic at the end, but in the USA land of the trope, there are far too many of these stories that make women look desperate, or stupid, or pathetic, or all three. While I am quite sure there are women (and men) like that, I don't subscribed to the cliché that a woman must have a man (or vice versa, or any mix of the idea).

It can be fun to read one if it's well done, but those are few and far between. This one started out in the fast lane on the freeway to Tropeville; then it seemed to be turning itself around a bit and rather than ditch it, I became interested. Unfortunately, it all-too-quickly took a U-Turn and continued right back to Tropeville, so I did ditch it. I am not a fan of reading novels about stupid women or patently ridiculous situations.

Sarah was purportedly hitting the point in life where all her friends were becoming involved with guys. What? Every one of them had been dedicatedly single to this point and she'd never head to deal with this before? Stupid and unrealistic. The trigger here though was that their New Year's Eve 'girls night out' was being sabotaged because the stereotypical queen bee of their group had decided everyone should bring their man on New Year's Eve, and hang those who didn't have one. Rather than ditch the bitch and find a group of female friends who were more akin to her own situation, or simply go alone and maybe meet a guy there, Sarah buys into this incarceration of a relationship, and in order to recruit a guy, she signs up to this online dating service. This is where Le Stupide began to kick in big time.

She sets up five guys to meet, and makes two dates with the first two at the same location and within a couple of hours of each other. Rather than be honest and tell the first guy that she only has an hour or so because she's meeting someone else, she lets their conversation run on and on until the second guy shows up. He happens to be best friends with the first guy and both of them ditch Sarah because they have some idiot pact never to fight over a girl. What fight? There was no fight here! Neither of them had any claim, much less 'ownership' of the woman they had both literally just met. Yet off they go! Morons.

The guy who Sarah meets in the café, the owner, starts commiserating with her about her fate. It's obvious at this point that he's going to be the one she ends up with, but Sarah is too stupid, no matter how long this goes on, to see that he's interested in her and instead keeps pursuing these rugged guys she thinks will match her. Guy number three is a single dad who forgot to mention this in his profile and shows up with three badly-behaving kids because his babysitter canceled on him. Guy number four is married and his wife shows up and blames Sarah for her own stupidity in sticking with this jerk of a guy. Actually I think that guy was the one who wrote the book blurb, because he sure can't spell 'frenemy'!

So, in short, no. Just no! This was badly-written and larded with trope and cliché, and it makes women look like losers and idiots. Why a female writer would do this kind of thing to her own gender, I do not know, but it's more insuting to woman than is porn, and it's nowhere near good enough for a 2020 vision.

A Small Town by Thomas Perry

Rating: WARTY!

After a prison break in a small town, during which masses of convicts get loose and ransack the place, literally raping and pillaging, two years pass and not a single one of the dirty dozen escape planners has been caught. Abusing grant money aimed at rebuilding the town, local police detective Leah Hawkins, with the sanction of several town leaders. is commissioned to go after those men, not to bring them in, but to execute them. Therein lies the problem. Since those idiots at Kirkus called this book 'superior', I should have avoided it like the plague, but I didn't know their opinion at the time, so I gave it the old escapee try, and it fell short. There was too much luck and too many improbable in it. The more I read, the more it took my suspension of disbelieve and mangled it.

I'd been hoping for better, since the main character seemed like she might be interesting. She wasn't. Worse, she was boring. The biggest problem she had was that there was no problem that she had. Everything went her way all the time and never was she in any real danger or any kind of jeopardy. Despite the apparent dismal failure of the FBI to get a handle on even a single one of these dozen escapees in two years, Leah was able to track the first one down in no time at all - living in his mom's old house. Seriously? The FBI didn't watch the place? The same thing happened with escapees 2 and 3. They were found hanging out with friends or relatives who were known to the police. No one checked these places? The FBI didn't watch them?

One of these friends operated a fake ID factory, and Leah was lucky enough to discover a trash bin that apparently had not been emptied in two years and therefore had new names with old faces on driver's licenses and so on, leading Leah to a California location where she was able to get three of them in one fell swoop. Seriously? An illegal operation not once emptied-out incriminating trash in two years? Bullshit. Never did this executor Leah call out to these guys and offer them a chance to surrender. Never did she alert other cops or the FBI to their location si they could be brought to justice. Never once was she drawn-on first, and forced to shoot to defend herself. Time after time, she simply and cold-bloodedly murdered them, despite there being nothing in her history to suggest she would be that kind of person, nor was there any real triggering event which set her on the road to becoming a serial killer. And in the end she paid no price for her own crimes.

It was too much to take seriously. I can't commend this book at all.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Time Travelers Never Die by Jack McDevitt

Rating: WARTY!

I used to be a big fan of McDevitt, but lately I haven't liked his new material. Maybe if I went back and re-read some of his older stuff, such as the Academy Series or the Alex Benedict stories, which I loved, I might not like them so well any more, but the last book of his that I read was not entertaining at all. When I saw this audiobook come up on special offer, I jumped at the chance to read something else of his, but I was disappointed in it, too.

Paul Boehmer's narration did not help one bit. I don't know what he was trying to do, but he was making everything seem so dramatic that nothing actually was dramatic, and he put weird inflections on things. He also doesn't seem to realize that coupon does not have the letter 'U' as the second letter, so it's really pronounced coo-pon, Kew-pon. Seriously. That was annoying because it was used often. More on this anon (can I just abbreviate that to moron?!).

Even had I read this as a print or ebook though, I think I would have lost interest in it, because the main protagonist is so profoundly stupid, and events are so predictable that I could barely stand to listen to portions of it. It sounded slow, forced, and pedantic. One of the problems is that McDevitt writes this novel, set in contemporary times (it was published in 2009 based on a novella from 1997), as though no one has ever heard of time travel - not even in fiction.

The main character is Adrian Shelborne, who absurdly goes by "Shel." His father, Michael, has disappeared from a locked house, and no one can figure it out. How they figure he disappeared from the locked house as opposed to just having gone out and locked the door behind him was somehow lost on me. Maybe I missed it because I listen to this while driving and when I need to completely focus on the road, maybe i miss bits, but anyway it's this big mystery.

Adrian's dad has left behind three electronic devices which he inexplcably refers to as 'coupons'. It's like a little Chromebook from what I gathered, and you open it up and set times, dates, and locations, and it whisks you away to whatever you set. There's also a return button, but Adrian is too stupid to figure that button out. His first trip takes him to rural Pennsylvania, which isn't far from his home, but his time-travel visit takes him to the next day and he has no phone or wallet with him. He does this without thinking about what he's doing, like he's booking a trip online. Instead of trying out the return button, he borrows a phone and calls a friend to come pick him up.

When they arrive back at his house later at night, he thinks he sees someone in an upstairs window, but rather than come in with him and check out the house, his friend leaves him there alone and he doesn't even check out the house himself! It was obvious to me that he had seen himself, and this is confirmed later. This is after he spends a totally stupid day at work, not once realizing that he's time-traveled and this explains everything he encounters at work. This man is profoundly stupid. The next thing he does is take a trip back to witness himself and his friend arriving home, thereby confirming my suspicion that he saw his own face in the window.

This read far more like a badly-written middle-grade book than ever it did a grown-up work, and I couldn't stand to listen to any more of it. I can't commend writing like this, and after many wonderful years together, I guess I'm finally realizing that it's time for me and Jack to part ways. I wish him all the best.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

No Easy Day by Mark Owen, Matt Bisonette, Kevin Maurer

Rating: WORTHY!

This book proved to be so much better than the previous one I read about SEAL life. This guy, who I shall refer to as Owen (because it's easier to type than Bisonette!) seems far less of a puffed-up, self-aggrandizing boor than the other guy. He's a lot more modest, authentic, and straight-forward in how he tells his story, although it occurs to me, since both of these SEALs had co-writers, that maybe the influence of the co-writer might have something to do with the tone of the book. Who knows? I guess writing is one of the very few things SEALs are not professionally trained for huh? LOL!

It also occurs to me that if more SEALs are going to write books about their life, they're going to have to work on a new opening sequence, because all of the ones I've read so far start out with their stringent training, which is seriously strenuous and very tough, make no mistake, but after reading at least three of these now, the routine is starting to be a bit tedious.

Having said that, I have to grant that this one was different enough though that it wasn't too bad as it happens, because this guy was already a SEAL before he started in on the advanced training to join the Green Team. No book had made that clear to me before. When they want to get into the Green Team, which is the anti-terrorism and hostage rescue unit, they have to step-up to a whole new level of training, and no one cuts them any slack. So even though they're already a SEAL before they start, they can and do wash out of this particular training. That was an eye-opener.

Note that there really is no SEAL Team Six. There was, when there were only two other SEAL teams! They called it Six to mislead the Soviets as to how many teams there were. Team Six actually got sucked into DEVGRU decades ago, although it's still called six for shorthand, but even that's misleading because there isn't one team (and it doesn't have six members!). Teams vary and fluctuate, and are put together in groups suitable for the mission at hand. Thus the last one mentioned in the book, the infiltration of the compound in Pakistan, comprised of 22 SEALs handpicked as the most experienced from several teams, along with an EOD tech (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), a CIA operative, and a dog! And they still had things go wrong.

I liked the author's informative and reserved (and modest!) style, and I enjoyed the descriptive writing, although I did not appreciate the alt-right take on President Obama, which was entirely uncalled-for. The author talked about his SEAL training in only the first two chapters and by the third, he was in the Middle-East on a mission to secure a dam from being blown-up after the invasion of Iraq. This led into, one after another, other stories of missions, from participating in the rescue of Captain Phillips from Somali pirates, to clearing insurgent-held houses in the Middle East and hunting terrorists in Afghanistan. It culminates in the stealth assault on the bin laden compound in Abbottabad, and the entire book is filled with enough detail to satisfy, without Tom Clancy-fying the fuck out of it, about these these Green Teams do their work, what the equipment they use consists of, what the dangers are, and how things pan out. In short it was perfect for my purposes and I highly commend this book as the best I have so far read on special forces.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Arsenic in the Azaleas by Dale Mayer

Rating: WARTY!

I despise what are laughably called 'cozy mysteries' and I particularly despise any novel which has a dog or a cat as a main character. Not that I dislike dogs or cats; I just find their use in detective stories abhorrent. Since I'm interested for my own purposes in this genre, and this one was at loss leader, I decided to give it a try and it fully met my exceedingly low expectations - and then some!

The main character is of course the "recently divorced Doreen," (recently divorced so she can have a love interest because a woman without a man is begging for a handicapped sticker according to the majority of authors of this and other genres such as YA). She's accompanied by one of the few dogs I do dislike, because it is an unhealthily-bred Basset hound and anyone who supports this so-called pedigree breeding cult needs to read up something about Nazi "doctors" like Eduard Wirths, Aribert Heim, and Josef Mengele. The dog breeders are no better, really.

The antique-named Doreen is starting over (of course!) in a house owned by grandmother, but the dog finds a body in the back yard. We're laughably asked, "Can Doreen prove her grandmother's innocence?' No, of course not. Her grandmother is going to be found guilty as sin and given a lethal injection. Seriously?

Of course she'll prove her innocence, and then she'll inevitably go on to prove the innocence of endless others in a tedious series wherein this little community she just moved to proves to be have a higher body-count than cartel-infested regions in Mexico, with victims falling like flies, all of them suspiciously connected with Doreen the Exploiter and her interests and activities. Why more of these amateur "sleuths" aren't arrested for causing all these murders is the real mystery here. And no, I don't read any book with 'sleuth' anywhere on the cover. I'm allergic to them.

This one started out badly. After a road trip ending at grandma's house - and bringing the wolf with her (or at least a descendent of one), Doreen's very last thought is to get the poor dog set up in the house with food and water. No wonder it's out digging in the back yard for bones. I can't remember exactly where I gave up reading this, but rest assured it wasn't far into it. I can't commend this garbage based on what little I could stomach of it.

The Unexpected Spy by Tracy Walder

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was the unexpected memoir for me because it popped up as an invitation in my email box and I didn't need to be asked twice! The book was very short (about 200 pages) which I normally love, but frankly I could have stood to have read a lot more of this. The author doesn't waste words or pages, and after a very brief mention of her childhood and college, both of which are relevant to things that occur later, we get right into her recruitment at the CIA, the work that she did, and then a switch to the FBI, which I did not expect but which I think I found even more interesting than the CIA, which had been engaging aplenty.

Obviously a lot of this is about the CIA, so the details she gives are naturally censored in parts. This was my only problem with this book - not that things were censored, but that the author had chosen to leave the expurgated portions (which were not that many) in the text, but as a series (in my copy) of tilde marks, rather than write around the topic. For example, I read at one point, "I'd been moved into what was then a deeply classified operation within the CIA, the ~~~~~~~~ Program." I didn't get why she hadn't simply changed it to say something like "I'd been moved into what was then a deeply classified program." At another point I read, "if we ever were to ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~, that action would never be taken without thorough analysis." That could easily have been rendered as something like "any action on something like that would never be taken without thorough analysis." The tildes were most annoying when they ran on for many lines - twelve or nineteen on a couple of occasions. But as I said, it wasn't that often and it wasn't a book-killer for me.

The author was born with what's called 'floppy baby syndrome' or more professionally known as hypotonia, in which the body's muscles are less than sturdy, but she overcame that. I'd never even heard of it until I read this book. Here it stands as an foreshadowing of some things the author had to overcome in her career. This led to some bullying in school, then on to her being a blonde Delta Gamma sorority girl and hardly - to some people's narrow minds - the kind of person who would end up in the CIA! But she did, and started out life eying satellite photographs and analyzing them as an aid to tracking terrorists. It reminded me of a scene from that Harrison Ford Tom Clancy thriller Patriot Games in which they were similarly examining photographs to try and identify people at a camp.

Apparently the CIA has a crazy course in vehicular pursuit, called Crash and Bang, where they get to drive these old beat-up cars and have to try to run the opponent off the road. The course ends with them deliberately crashing into a cement wall just so they know how it feels, which seems a bit extreme to me, but I guess it's better to be prepared. I assume it's a relatively low speed crash, but they were told if they didn't hit hard enough to render the vehicle un-drivable, they'd have to do it again!

I got to read about how it was in the CIA right after 9/11, when people like George Bush, as well as Condoleezza Rice, and Dick Cheney would come in unexpectedly, asking rather desperately if the operatives had managed to find a link between this guy Zarqawi, who they knew was into making chemical weapons, and Saddam Hussein, and each time the CIA would report in the negative. At one point the administration learned that Zarqawi had been to Baghdad for surgery, so they used that as the link, changed the heading on the information this author supplied them, and went on national news claiming a link! That news meant that Zarqawi went underground and they lost track of him for a while. It also meant they had manufactured a 'justification' for invading Iraq. It was disturbing to read things like this, it really was. The book was an eye-opener in many regards.

After some time with the CIA, the author wanted a change of pace and applied to the FBI where she was accepted for training. I'm not sure I'd personally consider that a change of pace, but each to their own! At Quantico though, unlike in the CIA, it seemed like there was an institutional program of resentment and bullying of females, and particularly of one who 'claimed' to have worked in the CIA. The three trainers seemed intent upon employing the same genderist attitude toward her from day one, despite one of the trainers being a woman. Their behavior was appalling.

The book is replete with anecdotes and interesting information not about the details of the work (where permissible!), but about the way the work is done and how hard these people strived to keep a country safe - and how awful it is when they feel like they have failed, either because they did not reach the right conclusions in time or because they did, but those who could act on the information would not listen to the experts who were telling them there was a threat. It made fascinating reading and I commend it whole-heartedly.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Off Course by Simon Haynes

Rating: WARTY!

This was a short story aimed, presumably, at luring people into the writing world of the author in the hopes that you'll stay and buy books. It didn't work on me because I really didn't enjoy this story, so I was glad it was short. It's about a totally matter-of-fact encounter between impatient golfers and an alien spacecraft which has a crew who are evidently intent upon pulling Earth into their galactic sphere of influence. The golfers give them what for. You would think from that premise, that it would be funny, but I didn't really find it very amusing or entertaining, so I can't commend it.

Kind Nepenthe by Matthew V Brockmeyer

Rating: WARTY!

This is another ebook that I've had sitting on my virtual shelf and haven't looked at in forever, and so I decided to get this off the list and I wished I hadn't. I have no idea what the title is supposed to mean, except that 'nepenthe' appears in Homer's Odyssey. It's a drug that's supposed to work like an anti-depressant, I guess. It's also the name of a genus of pitcher plants that I featured in one of my The Little Rattuses™ books for children: Nepenthes attenboroughii.

How any of that relates to this story I can't say, but whatever it was in classical literature, it felt like a sorry pity that I didn't have some on hand to deal with this novel! The opening few chapters were utterly boring - rambling on about some hippy commune, foraging, drugs and wasted lives.

It's supposed to build to an 'explosive' ending, but if that's the case, then this has to be the ultimate in slow fuses. I could generate not a scintilla of interest. None the characters appealed to me at all and I quit reading it. There are too many readily available books out there these days and I can't justify spending time trying to get into a novel that doesn't grab me from the off. I can't commend it based on the admittedly limited exposure I had to it.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Witchnapped in Westerham by Dionne Lister

Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 1, 2019

Murder Above the Fold by Regina Welling, Erin Lynn

Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choices by Tessa Vidal

Rating: WARTY!

This is volume one in what will evidently be a loosely-connected series called Cherished Choices. It's not a series I will be following after reading about a third of this tired volume.

The story is of Caroline Bullard and Rayna Taylor. Both of them have rather pretentiously changed their names. Caroline, now a Hollywood celebrity goes by Caro Ballad, and Rayna, now a dog trainer for celebrities, goes by Shell Tate. Why either of them changed their name I have no idea and the author doesn't help by offering an explanation in the novel, either. The idiot blurb writer claims that "Down-to-earth Shell refuses to hide who she is or where she came from" - so why the name change? Clearly, and as per frigging usual, the blurb writer never actually read this novel.

Anyway, after one brief fling in a hotel room, paid for by Shell's criminal twin brother as a birthday present while he was off robbing a casino, the two lovers were rent apart and renting apartments in LA, Caro being sent off to Hollywood, where she became an actor, and Shell somehow getting into into dog training. It's a pretty flimsy set up, and for reasons which are touched-on, but hardly really supported in the writing, they neither of them contacted the other even after Caro got out from underneath her mother's 'imprisonment', until Caro ends up somehow with a pound dog - a Chow that I highly suspect Shell's brother has kidnapped for the very purpose of getting these two back together again. But who cares, really?

Naturally she needs a dog trainer and of course it's Shell who gets the gig, and the two of them are instantly into bed the first time they meet - without either of them saying a word about sexual histories. It was right there that I gave this the heave-ho. I know these are supposed to be spicy romances, but sex isn't romance and anyone who jumps into bed on the first meeting without having any idea of what diseases their partner might let loose between the sheets is a moron, period. I don't waste my time reading novels about morons. I'm done with this novel, this series, and this author.

The Glitch by Elisabeth Cohen

Rating: WARTY!

This was a book I found in the library and which sounded interesting from the blurb - a highly-driven professional woman literally meeting herself and - I was thinking - maybe learning something from a stepped-down version of herself, but it didn't turn out that way.

The book began with the family (this woman, her husband, and their daughter) on holiday. The daughter disappeared while both of them were on their phones conducting business. She apparently was taken home by some guy, who then called the parents to tell them that she was safe and sound. That just creeped me out. The book was supposed to be funny, but it wasn't, not remotely. Kirkus Reviews - clueless as they are, described it as a "painfully funny satire". The got the pain right. If I'd known beforehand that they'd recommended it, I would have fled from it like it was Ebola virus. But as it is, no, just no. The more academic the writer, the less I tend to like their pretentious pap. This novel sucks as befits a person who has a masters in writing. Now if she'd said she had a mistresses in writing, maybe that would have been funny.

London calling by Claire Lydon

Rating: WARTY!

This was a lesbian romance novel of the genre where more typically, the story is along the lines of a woman finding out her fiancé is a jerk and fleeing back to her tiny home town where of course she meets the love of her life. In a similar vein, this story has Jess discover that Karen is being unfaithful to her and she quits Sydney, Australia to return to London, England for no really good reason other than that the author is probably British. I swore I'd never read one of these, but this one felt different enough (she's fleeing a female, not a male, and going to a large city, not a small village: that makes it different, right?!) that I decided to give it a try and at first I thought it was a good choice, because the story was interesting and amusing, and featured two of my favorite places: Australia and Britain. But over time and despite enjoying the humor, I began to lose interest.

Around a quarter of the way in, Jess did a really low-life kind of thing which made me dislike her. She'd gone to a dinner party given by a close friend who had invited a single lesbian to be a potential blind date for Jess, and the latter really found her very attractive. Her only beef, it would seem, was that this woman, Ange, had a really high-pitched voice and laugh, and it turned Jess off. She knew there would be no future for them, but still she leapt into bed and had unprotected sex with Ange. That felt not only shallow, but dangerous.

Despite the enjoyable sex, in the morning, Jess's negative feelings about Ange's voice reasserted themselves and Ange was not so stupid that she couldn't see that something was seriously off, but Jess never explained what the problem was, so Ange was left feeling like crap, like she'd been used, and beating a hasty retreat. To me though that seemed really shallow of Jess, and a shitty way to treat Ange. I like to project forward when reading and wondering where this will go, and it occurred to me that since Ange is a lawyer, there was justice to be had here! LOL!

I was wondering if the author would have Jess do something wrong and end up in a civil law court, and discover that Ange is the plaintiff's lawyer! Despite having a degree, Jess was working, at least temporarily, at a café, so it would be entirely possible for her to spill hot coffee on a patron and get sued. Strictly speaking, Ange ought to recuse herself in such a case, but it would sure make for an interesting read if the coffee spill happened and she didn't recuse.

Or, Ange could commit suicide, and come back and haunt Jess, but this wasn't a horror story. More realistically, I began to wonder if this was more of a slow, smoldering revenge story. Jess's philandering ex, whom Jess has learned was dumped by her new girlfriend in the same way this woman, Karen, had dumped Jess, sends her an almost laughably contrite email to let her know that she's coming to London (again for no apparent reason), and would like to at least see her as a friend. Meanwhile, Jess has met Lucy and fallen immediately into bed with her. Jess is at high risk of an STD at this point, given her complete lack of concern over her sexual health - and more importantly over the unknown sexual health of her partners, both of whom fell right into bed with her without even one single word of discussion about diseases.

Now I get that this is supposed to be a rom-com (of sorts) and no one wants to read a boring discourse on STD's in such a novel, but the fact is that STD's are rising scarily. Chlamydia constitutes almost fifty percent of new STD diagnoses in England, with genital warts, gonorrhea, and genital herpes not so far behind. The USA - and I imagine every other so-called developed country - is pretty much in the same boat. These diseases are sexist in the sense that they tend to have more impact on women than on men, so I imagine that real-world lesbians, as opposed to fictional ones, have enough concern about this that, unlike Jess, they don't hurtle into bed on the first date with every new partner they get.

All I can say is that I seriously hope the UK lesbian community is not remotely represented by Jess's behavior. It certainly would not have hurt the author to mention this at least in passing as a way of educating the public and offering a nod to realism in her work, but I guess she doesn't give a shit about women's sexual health, as judged from her writing.

It was this poor attitude, and Jess's appalling behavior which began to turn me off this novel, and this wasn't improved by continued reading. By two-thirds the way through, when Karen reared her ugly head, and Jess went into conniptions about her impending visit, I began to dislike her even more. I knew this novel was heading for the inevitable train-wreck of sorts, before Jess and Lucy finally get it together for their happy ending, but I seriously started losing interest in reading any more about someone like Jess who frequently comes across as not too smart and worse, rather selfish and uncaring (she always makes sure she gets off before her partner, for example, and seems mostly unconcerned whether her partner even gets off at all).

Plus the novel was so diffuse. There was endless fluff included that really contributed nothing to the story and which could have been trimmed or ditched without the story losing anything. As it was, it frequently stalled and lost momentum and that was as annoying as it was dispiriting. When finally Jess and Ange meet up at a shamefully drunken hen party and Ange is commendably conciliatory, Jess still can't even bring herself to say a simple "I'm sorry!" and that was the final straw for me. What a lowlife she truly is. I ditched her then, as should Lucy, Ange, and anyone else Jess looks at with that spark of selfish lust in her eye, lest they come down with some horrible disease - and by disease, I don't mean jess herself.

Based on the two-thirds or so that I read of this I cannot commend it as a worthy read.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

If I Die Tonight by Alison Gaylin

Rating: WARTY!

This audiobook is supposedly about a hit and run in a stolen car, but it moved so slowly that I got the impression it was far more about a single mom detective policing two problematic kids than ever it would be about solving a crime, so I gave up on it. I think I'm going to quit even thinking of reading books with titles of this nature - the "If blah blah blah" kind of title.

This author also wrote a novel titled "What Remains of Me" which is a no-no and pretentious kind of a title for me. If I'd know about the previous title, I would never have picked this one up, and it would have been a wise decision. So it's a hackneyed story that the author evidently isn't interested in getting to, with a fake bad guy. On top of that, I later discovered that Kirkus loved this book, which is another reason to avoid it like the plague.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

The Taxidermist's Daughter by Kate Mosse

Rating: WARTY!

I think I'm done with Kate Mosse at this point! I liked the first one I read by her, but the next one and now this one, I did not like. I am not a fan of novels which have their title in the form: 'The ______'s Daughter' or ' The ______'s Wife' because it reduces the main character to an appendage of a man. I think that's an awful way to start a novel or to describe a person especially if she's female.

I barely got into this one because it was so filled with rambling and bouncing around between characters that I simply could not get with it at all. I decided to skip to the part where the body is found in the hope that it would pick up there, but it did not. The body is found in a creek, and it's found by the title character, whose actual name is Constantia Gifford, but rather than call for the police, the idiot gets someone to get the body out of the water. He's also an idiot because he doesn't call the police either. He drags the body out thereby destroying any evidence that might be connected with it as it lay in the water - face down and obviously a corpse.

I know that there are idiots out there, but I don't have to read about them! It wouldn't have been so bad had there been some sort of discussion about destroying evidence, and there arose some reason for why they acted as they did - like the body was in danger of being washed away, or despite being advised to leave it where it was for the police, some jackass went in there and fished it out anyway, but there never was any such thing. In short, it's bad writing. I don't do novels about stupid people, especially not about stupid female main characters, and I certainly am not interested in reading poorly-written one which is so larded with exposition you could fry dry bread in it, and no action, so that was it for me. Based on what I read, I cannot commend this and will not be reading anything more by this author - not when there are so many authors out there and so little time to find interesting new ones!

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Strangers in Paradise vol 1 by Terry Moore

Rating: WARTY!

I came to this by way of reading another graphic novel, Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe, which I had enjoyed. They liked this series a lot, but we'll have to disagree on it, because I found it unappealing and unoriginal. This black and white line-drawing affair (illustrated decently by the author) is about the tangled relationship between Francine and Katchoo, who are roommates, David, who is interested in Katchoo (who appears only interested in Francine), and Casey, who married and then divorced Francine's ex, and later became interested in both David and Katchoo.

It felt like the TV show Friends, only rather desperately fortified with sex, and I never was a fan of Friends, which bored the pants off me, and not even literally. I felt that was one of the most stupid and fake TV shows I've ever had the misfortune to accidentally see a part of. I read most of the first volume of this graphic series, and found it completely uninteresting, with nothing new, funny, entertaining, or engaging to offer. That's all I have to say about this particular graphic novel.