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

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.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

The Men Who Would be King by Nicole LaPorte

Rating: WORTHY!

Playing on the title The Man Who Would Be King which was published by Rudyard Kipling in 1888 and made into a movie starring Sean Connery and Michael Caine in 1975, this audiobook was curiously read by Stephen Hoye. I say curiously because it was written by a woman, so why did the audiobook company choose a man to read it?

Nicole LaPorte is a former reporter for Variety who is well familiar with Hollywood, and if she didn't want to read it, or wasn't able, could they not have found another woman to read this? What, did Tantor Audio buy into the Hollywood paradigm where women and minorities can't carry it, so white men (in this case Stephen Hoye) must be called upon? Well guess what? His reading sucked. It was annoying, and the only reason I stayed with this book (I skipped very little of it, surprisingly!) was because of LaPorte's largely engaging writing.

The book tells the inside story (as reported by insiders to the author) of the 'SKG' of the movie studio Dreamworks SKG. These people are legendary in their own spheres, and the S: Steven Spielberg, is widely known outside of them. Jeffrey Katzenberg is known best as the magician who shepherded several highly-successful Disney animations to success, including The Lion King which I personally thought was laughable, but which was a huge success at the box office.

David Geffen made himself a billionaire in the music industry. The book is mainly about Katzenberg who, fired from Disney and with a grudge over his not-so-golden parachute (and yes, there was a lawsuit - which he won), wanted his own studio. He pulled onboard Spielberg and Geffen, and with backing from ex-Microsoft founder, billionaire Paul Allen, the company launched with great fanfare, proud claims, extravagant promises, and much cash on hand, and began to fritter it away as fast as it could.

DreamWorks was the launch-pad for movies such as "American Beauty," "Saving Private Ryan,", and "Shrek," and began life very boldly, but eventually through mismanagement resulting in an inability to get successful movies out the door in volume, kept on tripping and stumbling. The company slowly crumbled from its lofty perch into broken pieces, with the remainder of it eventually being sold to Paramount, which didn't really want it either in the end, and who themselves sold it off.

The thing which came across most powerfully to me in listening to this was how greedy and arrogant these three men are. Too much is never enough. Spielberg was earning hundreds of millions from the deals he made to direct movies such as Jurassic Park. In that particular case, he agreed to no money up front, but to take fifteen percent of the first dollar - and no, that's not just the fifteen cents! The first dollar is everything the movie earns up front before anyone else gets their hands on it, and Spielberg got fifteen cents from each and every one of those dollars: $300 million in all.

The thing is that we've heard of the successes of these legends, but no one dwells on their many failures, and there were lots of them at Dreamworks, This book does not shy away from that. From Katzenberg's inability to turn out a successful animation until the internally overlooked and neglected Shrek finally came to the screen - and took off big time. Spielberg's failures with multiple movies while having only a few successes, and his penchant for directing movies for any studio except Dreamworks are also examined.

I kind of liked Spielberg before I listened to this book. Now I don't. I had no feeling either way for the other two, but now consider them to be people I would not like if I met them (which is highly unlikely I am happy to report!). Katzenberg seems to come out of these tales with the least tarnish, although his finicky and meddling ways must have been annoying to anyone who worked under him, and while he did have flashes of brilliance in dictating how a movie should look and feel, his successes came few and far between several embarrassing disasters.

Overall I consider this book to be very informative, and full of trade information. It's especially useful if you're looking to get a feel for Hollywood with a view to maybe, somewhere down the line, writing a novel about it! I commend it for interesting and informative reporting.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Relentless by Wudasie Nayzgi, Kenneth James Howe

Rating: WORTHY!

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

Subtitled "An Immigrant Story," this book tells of how an Eritrean woman, writing under the pseudonym of Wudasie Nayzgi, single-handedly took on the challenge of bringing her family to the USA. The thing is that this isn't what her initial plan was. She had only wanted treatment for her daughter, 'Titi', who had a heart defect, and her mother had not the first inkling back then, that this would embark her entire family upon a journey that would, all told, take ten years and thousands of dollars to finally get her daughter treatment and knit her family back together again. I don't doubt though, that had she known this from the beginning, she would still have undertaken this journey. There is a companion book to this, Dreams of Freedom, written by her husband 'Yikealo', describing his own experiences during this time.

This is simultaneously a heart-breaking, nightmarish, horror-story and the ever-hopeful narration of an exceptional and strong woman who would not let anything get in the way of doing what needed to be done for the health and integrity of her family. I am not sure, I confess, why the author needed a co-author. By the time this book was written she was perfectly fluent in English, a language she already spoke before she ever had any idea of leaving Eritrea. But speaking English well is by no means a guarantee that the speaker can writer it engagingly.

The problem with that is that while I do commend this story as a worthy read, it was not written well despite having another author onboard. The use of English was perfectly fine, but the flow of the story was another matter. At times it was so vague that it was hard to tell what was going on. There seemed to be gaps where things happened without them being related, and so they became a surprise when I read of them later. For example, one of the problems she had to contend with was losing her job, then a lot of time passed with no mention of her working, and suddenly she apparently has another job, but I don't recall ever reading how, where or when she got it. It felt like part of the story was missing. On that topic, note that the cover picture is not the author - its a misleading stock photo and probably not even an Eritrean.

There were large gaps in the narration when an amount of time, often quite large, passes within the space of a few words, which makes it hard to keep track of how much time is passing in the story overall, so although it took ten years to get this accomplished, the narration makes it seem like it was much shorter. On top of this, there is a lot of detail about life in Eritrea, but much of it seems superficial, while other things that appear to be customary in Eritrea aren't mentioned, leaving questions. I'd like to have learned more and in greater depth.

A lot of the story is about 'Wudasie's' worrying over what was going to happen, and it occupied so much of the story. While this is in a way understandable, it is also something that anyone who has had such problems, even if they were nowhere near as critical as 'Wudasie's' were, can readily understand. It's something with which we are familiar, and became a little tedious to read repeatedly. Life in Eritrea, on the other hand, is something that was worth learning about, and it's something which few people - including most everyone who hasn't lived there, can grasp. It would have been nice to see more of the latter, and a little less of the former.

One thing which was confusing was the names. I understand there may be a need or at least a desire to protect family, but it was unnecessarily confusing. The youngest of her two daughters was named 'Natsanet', but when in an afterword we see her graduate from high school, her name is given as 'Natsanet Yikealo', not 'Natsanet Nayzgi'.

Her husband's name is consistently given as 'Yikealo', so I had assumed this was his first name; then why is their daughter named so? The companion book is attributed to Yikealo Neab. That latter name is never mentioned in the book except as the author of the companion novel, so why isn't the daughter named 'Natsanet Neab'? Is 'Yikealo' a last name? if so why does she call her husband by his last name all he time and why isn't the author named 'Wudasie Neab'?

If 'Wudasie' is married why is her last name different from both her daughter's and her husband's? I later learned the these are pseudonyms, presumably aimed at protecting the privacy of the the author and her family, which is perfectly fine, but it lacked consistency. If the explanation for all of this is through some sort of Eritrean custom, it would have been interesting to hear of that, but as it was, it looked like this was really sloppy writing, and it leeches credibility from the story.

It just felt strange that something like that had never been gone into, especially given how much talk there is about filling out forms and verifying marital status and listing children and so on. You'd think at some point during that, this would have come up, but I don't recall it ever being addressed. You'd think a co-author would have asked these questions and offered explanations, which is why it begs the question as to why a co-author was used here. Maybe others will not be concerned at all over things like this, but for me, when I read about another country in a book like this, I really like to really learn about that country as part of the author's experience, otherwise why bother reading a story like this?

Anyway, 'Wudasie' was planning on getting treatment for her daughter's condition in Ethiopia since her own country, Eritrea, did not have the medical facilities to accomplish what needed to be done. The problem was that Eritrea had claimed its independence from Ethiopa only a few years previously, and not every abrasive surface had been sanded smooth between the two nations, both of which had seemed to become more radicalized and authoritarian since the breakup. The situation deteriorated when a new war broke out between the two nations, and deteriorated further still when her husband was forcibly-conscripted into the Eritrean army during a business trip he was making.

'Wudasie' didn't see him for six months until his basic training was over and wasn't even officially notified what had happened to him. She had to dog for that information herself. He was luckily re-assigned to a military base in the town where they both lived. All this time she was fighting to get her daughter's condition treated, and failing or being stone-walled every step of the way, through no fault of her own. The thing is that Eritrea is an oppressive, authoritarian government - or it was back then - and seemed completely indifferent to the suffering of its citizens, even if they were children. This book will really put your own problems into perspective: every step of the way it was like two steps forward and one step back for this mom.

Your daughter can be treated by visiting surgeons from abroad - but they find other children that have crowded into the waiting room for treatment to be more needy than your daughter. You can get her treated in the USA, but doctors there discover she has three conditions, not one, and are willing at her age to treat only two. You can leave the country to take your daughter to the USA for treatment, but you must leave your other daughter behind in Eritrea. You can bring your other daughter to the USA, but you cannot also bring your husband, even though travel regulations require an adult to accompany a child so young. Your daughter finally arrives in the US, but looks painfully thin and it has been so long since you saw her that she is unbearably shy around you, and stand-offish, treating you like you're a stranger, not like a mother. You can bring your husband over, but it's going to cost and take a year to do it.

Every single step involved the massive weight of indifference, bureaucracy, and the need to supply little (or a lot) of cash - to grease the wheels, some of which disappeared without bringing a thing in return. Everything involved almost interminably long waits which were often followed by setbacks because some more paperwork was needed, and the wait for that paperwork meant a deadline was missed on some other process, which then needed to be restarted as well. This wasn't just on the Eritrean side, but also on the American side.

It was depressing to read how often she fell back on her faith, which didn't do a thing for her. No god helped 'Wudasie', yet she often ascribed 'miracles' to the work of a god, denying herself credit for what was solely her own tireless and unstinting efforts. The fact is that everything she did was through her own strength, grit, determination, and a flat refusal to let anything stand in her way of getting treatment for her daughter and reuniting her family. The author, it would seem, despite appeals to her god, would agree with me. She wrote:

No one is going to hand you what you think you deserve just because you won the right. You have to go get it if you can. You have to grasp it and hold onto it, and then wield it like a sword. And you can't let it go if someone tries to wrestle it away from you.”

A miracle would have been if her family had gone to bed the night after her daughter's initial diagnosis, and awoken the next morning in the USA, as full citizens, with her daughter cured. That's what a miracle is. Fighting tooth and nail for ten years, suffering endless delays and setbacks, and spending a fortune on corrupt officials isn't a miracle. Nothing happened that she did not go out there and wrestle into submission with her own two hands, and make happen for herself. She is heroic, and everyone who thinks their own petty problems are insurmountable needs to read this book and find out what real problems are like.

She is immensely lucky too, to have gone through this before the current president got into the White House on the coat-tails of Russian hackers. Had she tried all this now, she would never have left her (and I quote that same president) "shithole [African] country" and been accepted here. She would have been written-off as a rapist and a drug smuggler, faced a flat denial that these children were really hers, been accused of being an actress purveying fake news, and she and her family deported back to the nightmare she left behind her, assuming her kids didn't die in the custody of the ICE, that is. That's where huddled masses are re-directed these days from one of the most wealthy, best-off, and most pampered countries on the planet.

Despite these problems, I commend this book. I think it should be required reading.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Thaw by Elyse Springer

Rating: WARTY!

This is published under the 'Season of Love' collection, so I assume there is one for each season. Maybe the author changes her name, so the next one after this would be Elyse Summerer, the next, Elyse Faller, and finally, Elyse Winterer? But it's not a series; each can be read as a standalone - at least that's my judgment from having read a goodly portion of this one; however, it did not appeal to me sufficiently. I read about a half or maybe two-thirds of it, but it wasn't anything special and wasn't holding my attention so I gave up on it.

The story is of Abigail the librarian who ends up dancing with a high profile model at a charity ball, and for some obscure reason the model is so thrilled with Abigail that she invites her on a date, and so the two begin seeing each other, but the relationship has ups and downs and is platonic until one night when Abigail pleasures Gabrielle sexually, but even then there's no flinging of the sexual.

The two seem to be settling into an asexual relationship, but this felt so wishy-washy that I gave up on it. Not that two people cannot be asexually attracted to each other to the point where they want a partnership. I wrote of one myself in my novel Bass Metal, but somehow this particular story felt disingenuous and unrealistic, as though the author had wanted to write about a full-on lesbian relationship but didn't have the courage to do so.

The book blurb definitely doesn't help. It is so shallow when it says of Abigail that "she finds herself dancing with one of the most beautiful women she's ever met" as though that alone is the basis of the relationship. I felt this betrayed the author. Authors typically don't write their own blurbs unless they self-publish, so some idiot blurb writer for the publisher is likely responsible for that. The relationship in the book wasn't that shallow at all, but it still didn't engage me, so I can't commend this.

Disturbing Ground by Priscilla Masters

Rating: WARTY!

I love the Welsh accent, so this sounded like it might be a good listen for me, and while I could listen to Siriol Jenkins reading in those dulcet tones forever, I can't listen to them when she's reading something like this, which had gone quite literally nowhere by about fifty percent in, except in that this Doctor, Megan Banesto, who is the de facto investigator here in this little mining town of Llancloudy, seems far more interested in trying to make time with someone else's husband than ever she does in finding out who drowned Bianca - a schizophrenic patient of hers who was known to be terrified of water.

I'm sorry but I simply did not like this main character who seemed far more meddling than investigative and who was simply annoying. She walked out on a patient in the middle of a consultation to go meddling when she saw a crowd gathering up the street! What a piece of work she is! I DNF'd this and cannot commend it based on my experience of it.

Monday, December 31, 2018

The Last Conception by Eva Darrows

Rating: WARTY!

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

This was a novel that started out great, but then seems like it jumped the tracks and went off into a completely different territory and got lost. That - around sixty-six percent in, at the end of chapter eighteen - is where I quit reading it because it had become too boring and silly to pursue for me. Was it an LGBTQIA romance? Was it religious fiction? Was it a mystery? Was it supernatural? It couldn't decide.

I had really been invested in it because not only do I love reading about Indian characters I was also engaged in this particular character's lesbian relationship(s), but I lost interest when it lost its way and was no longer engaging. Part of the problem as that the main character, Savarna, was diminished and her role seemed to be taken over by minor characters such as her sister Chitra, who had barely been in the novel at all, and also in part by Savarna's girlfriend (one of two she had!) who had been in it more than Chitra, but was also largely a minor character until about the fifty percent mark.

It was very confusing and didn't make for a satisfactory read to have these people coming out of nowhere with no real past. Just as 'Charley' started becoming more interesting, Savarna rather cruelly abandoned her for a trip to India which was such a tedious whistle-stop tour that it was meaningless instead of being the pivotal event it ought to have been.

Savarna is an embryologist in a bit of a YA love triangle with the trope 'bad girl' as well as with 'sweet girl' Charlemagne, obviously the good softer, gentler partner. The bad girl completely disappeared from the novel without any explanation while Charlemagne, typically referred to as Charley, was also listed as Charlie on occasion. Savarna also appears twice in as Saverna.

She has Indian heritage - that is from India, not American Indian, but she has she no interest in her heritage or her parents' religion. Her parents have been urging her to find a nice boy and settle down, but neither of them know that Savarna is gay - not to begin with. Something suddenly changes (there are a lot of sudden changes in this novel) and her parents start urging her to have a child, because Savarna is supposedly the last of this ancient lineage from some mystical teacher in the past, and since her sister is 'barren'. It's all on Savarna, but no explanation is offered as to why this has so suddenly become an issue.

It's patent nonsense, because by the time Savarna was born her so-called 'blood line' would have been so genetically diluted as to be completely meaningless in terms of carrying on anything, and Savarna would have known this if she was the scientist she was supposed to be, yet her parents put this appalling pressure on their daughter, and nothing is said about that either? Savarna is supposed to be rooted in science, yet she never once questions any of this, and neither does her 'devoted' girlfriend Charley.

Eventually Savarna bows right down to the pressure for no apparent reason, and desperately starts trying to get pregnant using sperm supplied by a completely unquestioning coworker, who himself has a partner who never seems to question his involvement at all - in fact, she's barely mentioned.

None of this made any sense to me, and it seemed so utterly unrealistic that I couldn't take it seriously. No one talked about how stupid this blood line idea was, and no one talked about how inappropriate it was to put that kind of pressure on a woman to have a child. Neither was there any reason supplied as to why it was so critical that they have this child. So what if the line died out? We don't know because it was never discussed. This whole mess is where the novel lost me as a fan.

Note to author: You can't carbon-date something if it doesn't have carbon in it, so gold? No! Maybe the old robe if it was made of natural materials, which I assume it was, but even then, you can't nail it to an actual year, only to a range of years, so you could prove the robe is roughly X years old, but not to whom it belonged. But none of this mattered really because no significance was ever attached to the existence of the robe and the ring - what did it matter? So what if they were old and really had belonged to a guru? What difference did that make to anyone?

No-one was questioning that this sect existed and had been around for many years, so the robe and ring seemed pointless. I assume they were brought in to convince Savarna, but nowhere was that change of opinion really predicated on the evidence. In short, it had no influence on her precipitously diving into this conception binge, so what was the point? She'd already begin trying to get pregnant before she ever went to India so what was the point of that? These things never had any real import or relevance. By this time the novel was a complete mess. It was like utterly random stuff had been tossed in for no good reason, and I gave up on it.

I had thought I would be reading a complex novel about a strong lesbian woman and difficult choice, but none of that was in this novel. Savarna was not remotely strong except in her stubborn determination not to have a baby, which rapidly crumbled for no good reason. She was stringing along two lesbian partners and did not have the intellectual wherewithal to choose the one who was best for her, so she came off like an idiot at best and a cruel player at worst.

She more or less fell into the relationship with Charley/Charlie and then began talking of raising a family with this same woman she was unable to honestly commit to for half the novel? To me, Sarvarna was simply a jerk. If it had been Savarna who was obsessing on continuing her family lineage (for whatever reason) that would have at least been something concrete, but for her not to really care that much and then suddenly obsess on it made her look weak, stupid, and childishly impulsive.

Her girlfriend Charley/Charlie could have been a really strong character, but she was essentially reduced to the job of nursemaid with benefits, having vague sex with Savarna at random times, and titillating her after she's been injected with her coworker's semen. Those scenes felt a bit creepy , but was Charley/Charlie really supporting her? Not so much. Savarna was already resenting her presence. Did Charley/Charlie fight to travel with her to India? Nope. Did Charley/Charlie question this whole thing, including Savarna's psychotic parental pressure? Nope. The only thing Charley/Charlie did was to railroad through the 'carbon-dating' of the artefacts, and she did this in such an underhand fashion, going behind Savarna's back that it actually made her look like a meddling troublemaker.

The book felt like it really wasn't ready for prime time. In general the writing was not bad, but there were some issues such as the variant name spellings I mentioned above, and also minor instances such as where I read, "And what, per se, where you asking?", which clearly should read 'were you asking'. The biggest technical problem though, was the same issue I've encountered repeatedly when Amazon gets its hands on your book and mangles out a kindle version of it. This novel was obviously written as a print book with (what to me are pointless) page headers and so on, but Amazon mangles these things with glee, so there were page headers appearing in the middle of the text.

That's not all! Most of the first two paragraphs in chapter thirteen were in red - presumably because of Amazon's crappy Kindle conversion process. As if that wasn't enough, random sets of those red words were tied together with no space between them such as: haveGrandma'sthingscheckedout,but. There were many other examples. In chapter eighteen there were nine screens of badly-formatted text. The justification was lost, so the text had ragged right margins, and again, headers were mixed with text, so the Kindle version is definitely not fit to sell, and that fact that this wasn't;t checked is on both publisher and author. It should never have been offered for review in this state.

But the formatting is something that can be fixed relatively easily. A tedious story that makes no sense and demeans its main character cannot be fixed without a rewrite. Consequently I cannot commend this as a worthy read.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Agent Colt Classified Pride by A Lynn Wright

Rating: WARTY!

This was an awful, awful, awful CIA operative novel. Latesse Colt (because she's a closet lesbian filly, get it?) is a super-agent for no apparent reason. She blabs secrets to a stranger on a plane only to discover the woman, 'Vaneesa' is to be a partner, replacing sexist pig Isaiah, who is openly inappropriate to Latesse (sounds like latex, doesn't it?), but never once called on it not by Latesse herself, and not even by Latesse's supposedly no-nonsense female boss when he does this stuff right in front of said boss!

That was when I quit this asinine and amateur story. Even the writing was amateur as attested to by this run-on sentence I encountered very early in the novel: "Texas wasn't a bad place to be everyone was just so nice." The author needs to change her name to B Lynn Wright because she's not going to be A list writing like this.

Talking of inappropriate, it doesn't extend just to the absurdly caricatured male partner. It also extends to female characters. Latesse's female boss is described thus: "She had given everything for her career. No marriage, no kids, just work." So this female author is evidently convinced that a woman is missing something if she doesn't marry or have kids. Excuse me? How is this author any better than jackass dick Isaiah-the-pig-partner? Far from being apologetic, she doubles down on it soon after by having this character say, "Don't end up like me, close to retirement and no kids or grandkids to spend it with."

So clearly, a woman is useless when she has no kids. Forget about satisfaction with her career; forget about speaking engagements or writing a biography; forget about friends; forget about leading a life of solitude after all she's done, if she so chooses; forget about outside interests she might have, forget about even developing a satisfying romance later in life. Forget all that and a score of other reasons. Just focus on this one thing: if a woman doesn't have kids she's a complete failure. Screw you A Lynn Wright, who evidently doesn't get it right. I'm done with this author permanently.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Crossing the Empty Quarter by Carol Swain

Rating: WARTY!

I had no idea what this was about even having read about two-thirds of it and skimmed the rest. It looked gorgeous from the cover, but the interior was nothing like the cover, and the stories, some thirty of them, were meaningless, disjoined and unappealing. Bereft of entertainment value, even the artwork felt like a betrayal since it was black and white and of lower quality than the cover.

I'm used to seeing this in graphic novels - a sort of bait and switch with a stunning cover paired with an indifferent interior, but often that's made up for by the quality of the story, In this case, no. There was no story. Instead there was a jumble of stories, all equally uninteresting. It should have been called Bleak House, but empty quarter isn't exactly inaccurate. Empty to the back teeth would have been better. I refuse to commend it in any way.

Boundless by Jillian Tamaki

Rating: WORTHY!

After the disappointing Indoor Voice which made me want to scream, it was nice to read a real story, well-illustrated, and such a quirky tale, too. This tells several stories, beginning with the story of Jenny, who has broken up with her boyfriend and discovers that there is a mirror world - updates on which she can read in 1Facebook - the mirror image of this world's Facebook.

Personally, I have no time for F-book at all. It's a dangerous, highly insecure, and risky environment in which far too many people put far too much trust, a trust which has been abused time and time again. This idea of a mirror F-book amused the heck out of me, consequently. In 1F-Book, there is 1Jenny as our Jenny refers to her, and who is leading a rather different life than is Jenny of our side of the mirror. Jenny becomes obsessed with her counterpart to an unhealthy degree, and is rather miffed by the fact that 1Jenny seems to have her act together and to be leading a satisfying romantic life.

As if this isn't enough, in another story, a weird music file that isn't really music but isn't not music either, surfaces and obsesses people after one guy who discovers it renames it Sex Coven (even though it has nothing to do with sex or covens) and re-releases it onto the web. Listening to it the whole way through is supposed to be transformative.

In another tale communication with animals becomes possible presumably courtesy of the animals, because which humans would think of that?!

As if this isn't enough, Helen starts becoming smaller and less substantive, and eventually shrinks down to almost nothing and blows away in the wind. I don't know if this is intended as a commentary upon the diminishment and marginalization of women or the interchangeability of women in some blinkered perspectives as Katie White of the Ting Tings sang so eloquently, or the second class status of too many women, but it was certainly a fascinating journey and I commend this work highly.

Monday, October 1, 2018

She-Hulk. Vol. 1, Deconstructed by Mariko Tamaki, Nico Leon, Dalibor Talajić, Matt Milla, Andrew Crossley

Rating: WORTHY!

This is where my understandably one-sided love affair with Mariko Tamaki began! She wrote this and it was illustrated well by Nico Leon and Dalibor Talajić, and colored beautifully by Matt Milla and Andrew Crossley. This comic book was a worthy read. She-Hulk was problematical and a potential disaster when she was first conceived, apparently by Stan Lee during the TV run of The Hulk, so copyright would stay with Marvel and not with some TV production company in case they decided they wanted a female version!).

Lawyer Jennifer Walters (what is it with Marvel and super heroes who are lawyers?!) became a rather more subdued version of the original Hulk when she had a blood transfusion from her cousin, Bruce Banner (who was the original Hulk of course). By subdued, the effect in her is to become stronger and to turn green, but to retain her own personality and smarts, something which the Hulk isn't known for.

Despite it being named volume 1 (I wish they would not do that), this is not the original run of the comic; this version is well-along in the overall life of She-Hulk - post Civil War 2. With Bruce dead, his cousin trying to cope with that and find her place in the world. Her own original comic ran only for two years at the start of the eighties and after that she was reduced to guest appearances in other comics until more recently. It's nice to see her revived, and with a female writer who happens to be one I've grown fond of lately.

She-Hulk took a few pages out of Deadpool's book in one of her later incarnations, breaking the fourth wall, and mimicking cultural icons such as Demi Moore's bare-bodied, pregnant-and-in-the-magazine-cover pose. She-Hulk wasn't pregnant but held a beach-ball strategically! In this volume though, she's well-behaved and quite subdued. That doesn't mean it's all Jennifer all the time, by any means. The comic told an intelligent and believable story and I enjoyed it. I commend this one and will look for more of this series.

Kickback by Judith Arnold, Ariel Berk, Thea Frederick, Barbara Keiler

Rating: WARTY!

This was a major screw-up! I got this book under the cover of Still Kicking which is the first book in the Lainie Lovett mystery series (originally published as Dead Ball) which title is advertised in the back of this novel! LOL! There's a sample chapter of DropKick at the back also, which is the very novel I was reading, but the sample chapter was not the same as the chapter one in the book I was reading, Someone was very confused when they put all this together!

I am not a series person, so I was amused to discover that this book is in fact the third book in the series and it was sold under the wrong cover. The third book - the one I am actually reading, was called Kickback. The second book was Dropkick. I learned of these two other books from references in this third book. As if that isn't confusing enough, the author has the annoying, and to me inexplicable if not inexcusable habit of publishing under other names. Her real name is Barbara Keiler, but she publishes under three other names listed in the title

On a point of order, there's no such thing as a dropkick in soccer - or football as the rest of the world calls it - because Americans inexplicably call handball 'football' and handball itself is something else - and an offense in soccer! Maybe the American game should be call 'runball' or 'carryball'? Neither is there a term 'dead ball' in soccer for that matter. I think this gimmick of giving your amateur detective a gimmick and then using that as a seed for gimmicky book titles is insulting to the reader - like a reader couldn't remember which author she likes? Or what the book series is that she likes? Call me perverse, but I have more faith in readers than that, misplaced as it may be!

But on to the story. The story was as confused and confusing as selling the wrong novel under the title. And it's not well-written. If this is what a master's degree in creative writing from Brown University gets you, I'm happy to be degree-free. This is yet another in a too-long line of 'housewife' detective stories where a female with evidently too little to do with her time masterfully one-ups the inevitably inept police in solving a murder.

This kind of story tends to take place in a town too small to support the massive murder rate the series slowly reveals. Why would anyone live in a town like that? The amateur detective tends to be appallingly slow on the uptake and this means the story, which could have completed handily in 150 pages, ends up being, as this one was, 270-some pages long. It's way too long and the 'detective' looks stupid because of it. She repeatedly fails to share information with the police, which is actually a criminal offense, and she fails to act like a normal, rational human being in common-sense situations, and worse, consistently fails to add two and two. Instead she comes up with zero and takes her time doing it. As a teacher she should know she should show her work!

This school teacher, Lainie, learns that $150,000 has been stolen from the school's PTA account. It takes a while to get this information, and this is the first inkling I had that Lainie's dinghy has a few holes in it. Never once does anyone seem to ask if anyone is tracing the loss of funds. In fact, it's not even clear (through the fifty percent of this novel that I read before DNF-ing) that it's been reported to the police. They're certainly not investigating because if they were, they would have arrested Debbie the secretary because the trail clearly leads to her. Debbie's computer isn't even taken as evidence by the police - instead, it's still in use at the school, so anyone who might have impersonated Debbie and moved the funds has ample time to cover their tracks. There's actually no evidence of any police investigation whatsoever.

What happened (we learn in the story's own sweet time) was that the money was transferred from the PTA account to another account, then that one was closed with the money having been withdrawn. You'd think the bank would have records of where the money went and you'd think a bank teller would remember someone who closed an account and picked up a check for $150,000, but none of this is mentioned. The husband would seem to be the obvious suspect - and he's feeding his wife fruit smoothies every day - into which the deadly drug - Viagra, which is potentially deadly for someone with heart problems, could easily have been slipped, yet Lainie never suspects this guy at all despite the fact that he was an accountant and would know exactly how to move money around.

Lainie is tunnel-focused on the head of the PTA, which in this novel is consistently referred to as the PTO - which to me is Paid Time Off, so that works! LOL! But she's so focused on her - the 'obvious' suspect - that she cannot see anyone else. Meanwhile I'm suspecting the husband, I'm suspecting the friendly nice teacher Lainie knows because he's too nice and there's no reason to suspect him. I'm suspecting Lainie's favorite suspect's daughter, who we're told more than once is a genius on the computer. I'm suspecting this couple, the husband of which was discovered to be cheating on the wife when she discovered Viagra - Viagra! - in his briefcase, several pills of which were missing. Lainie never even considers that, nor does she sneakily visit the bathroom in Debbie's house to check the medicine cabinet to see if there actually is Viagra there among the medicines that Debbie might have actually taken by accident. In short, Lainie's a moron who has no business interfering in a police investigation.

At one point, Lainie learns that the nice teacher, with the absurd name of Garth, had a very brief fling with the bitchy PTO woman Cynthia Frick and Lainie got all over him on that topic, which seemed to me to be none of her business. Yes, Cynthia has a daughter at the school, but that's no reason for Lainie to get on this teacher's case about being involved with her. If he'd had an affair with a student I could see her taking off like that, but with a parent? It just seemed like too much, so I wondered if this was to set up this teacher as a bad guy for later revelations that he was the perp?

The biggest problem with Lainie (apart from her lack of gray matter) is that she's so passive, and I think the writer is a bit lazy in letting some things go without offering some sort of valid reason or explanation for her behavior or for the way things happen. What made me quit the novel was that Lainie was quite obvious tailed by someone in another car, yet never once does she snap a picture of the car's license plate and of course she doesn't report it to the police. That was the final straw for me. Lainie is too stupid for words. I cannot commend this at all.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

In the Night Wood by Dale Bailey

Rating: WARTY!

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

Usually on Net Galley, you request a book to read and review and you take your chance as to whether it will be approved. Sometimes books are listed as 'Read Now' which tends to mean the book isn't doing so well or is being undervalued, and the publisher wants it read more widely. Those books are great because I've found many gems among them. There is another option though, which is the 'wish for it' category.

This has also been kind to me because I've found some gems there, too, but since the ones I've wished for have all been granted (to my best recollection), I have to wonder if this category is used because the author or publisher is lacking somewhat in confidence in the book and wants to ensure that it's requested only by those who really want to read it? I don't know. Personally I've tended to enjoy the 'wished-for' books, but I can't say that of this particular one unfortunately.

The blurb for this book makes it all about Charles Hayden, which seems rather genderist since Hayden is only one half of a married couple who travel to Yorkshire in the UK, a place I know and from whence both my parents hailed, but we see very little of Yorkshire. We are confined to an ancient manor house surrounded by a castle-like wall, and it's Erin Hayden's family connections which have led to this inheritance: to this manor isolated in an even more ancient wood. Erin isn't even mentioned in the blurb! Charles may as well have been single.

That said, the story is told from Charles's perspective, thankfully not in first person, but this novel would have been a lot easier to like had either of these two people been themselves remotely likeable. As it was, they were chronic whiners and I was turned off both of them within a few paragraphs of starting to read this.

Both were endlessly wallowing in the loss of their daughter Lissa. A mention of this once in a while would have been perfectly understandable, but as it was, it felt like it was every other paragraph and it became a tedious annoyance, drawing me out of the story as I read again and again of how obsessed they were with their 'lost' daughter. A search for the daughter's name produced 156 hits in this novel. A search for 'daughter' produced another 56. It was too much, and it felt like a failure of writing. It's certainly possible to convey deep grief in a character without rabbiting on about it to a nauseating degree, so this felt like a really bad choice to me.

The fact that we're denied any real information about what happened to Lissa didn't help at all, and actually made things worse. Did she disappear? Was she killed? Did she become fatally ill? Who knows? The author doesn't care to share this information, at least not in the portion of this that I read before becoming so frustrated I didn't want to read any more; nor do we learn anything about the affair Charles had - just that he had one.

This affair is related to us as if it were no more important than his remembering he had once stubbed his toe, so even as big of a betrayal as that was, it carries little import because of the way it's so casually tossed out, yet this woman Syrah, is mentioned a further 34 times in the book. It's another thing that Charles is unaccountably obsessed with. No wonder he gets nothing done: his mind is always elsewhere! And this obsession is a continuing betrayal of his wife.

Frankly, these two, Charles and Erin, were so annoying I wanted to shake them and slap them. Not that I would, but the truth is that they were seriously in need of inpatient psychiatric attention and it showed badly, but no one seemed to care. The fact that we're told his wife has a boatload of medications she's taking and Charles doesn't even care made me dislike him even more intensely. He came across as shallow and selfish and quite frankly, a jerk. His wife was painted a little bit better, but neither of them remotely interested me as characters about whom I would ever want to learn anything more or about whose futures I cared.

At first I had thought the story would end with their daughter being returned to them, but then I learned of another child in the story and it seemed pretty obvious what would happen at that point. I don't know if that's what did happen, but if it did, that would have been way too trite and predictable for my taste. It's been done before.

Charles's other obsession, aside from his daughter, the woman he had an affair with, and the woman, Silva at the local historical society with whom he'd like to have an affair, was this book he stole as a child, and which was written by a Victorian relative of Erin's. He thinks he can write a biography of the author, Caedmon Hollow - yes that's the name of the guy, not the name of the mansion! - but it seems like he's much more interested in getting into Silva's panties than ever he is in writing anything. He's been into that book only once in his entire life, but he's into thinking about Silva at the drop of a hat.

The book and the mystery it was attached to should have been central to the story but there was so much stuff tossed in here (I think there was actually a kitchen sink at one point) that the book robbed that purported mystery of any currency it may have had. It became a secondary issue to everything else that was going on.

Since it was that very mystery which had drawn me to the novel in the first place, this felt like a betrayal if not an outright slap in the face and really contributed to my decision to quit reading. It felt like it was going nowhere and taking a heck of a long time to get there, and I had better things to do with my time. I wish the author all the best, but I cannot commend this book as a worthy read.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Fat Girl on a Plane by Kelly deVos

Rating: WARTY!

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

I had to quit this novel at only 18% in because of the stark hypocrisy in the writing. The author's bio on her website says, "Kelly is also a passionate advocate for body positivity and fat acceptance" and I am one hundred percent onboard with that, yet the main character in the novel seems to engage in a high level of what might be termed 'skinny-shaming' and also 'fashion-shaming'. Worse than this though, is the objectification by this character of another character, as in when I read, "I glance at his biceps and quickly look away." Her "face heats up" no less than three times over him, and she decides it's not fair that he should look so good. Barf.

These are some of many examples of fashion blogger Cookie Vonn objectifying fashion designer Gareth Miller, who she's supposed to be objectively interviewing. In her author's note, I read, "We are more than just our bodies," yet her main character is ogling this man's body. Body image is not a just two-way street, it's a rat's nest of streets and footpaths and bike trails and overpasses, and for me this author failed to grasp that crucial fact in her writing.

Cookie works for a fashion blog, and I should say right up front that I have no time whatsoever for the fashion world or for Hollywood for that matter. As this author admirably makes clear, fashion is about discrimination, but she doesn't go far enough. It discriminates in favor of the well-off, the young, and the thin, so the problems go way beyond simply fat-shaming. Again, none of this was made clear at least in the early part of this novel, and I was saddened by that because the whole reason I picked it to read was that I thought it would be in interesting take on the industry.

The main character seems to grasp none of this. She comes off very much as an insider: as one of 'them,' not as one of 'us', by which I mean those of us who are not slaves to how a person 'should' look or dress according to the dictates of the shamefully well-off. This did not service the book's PoV well and did not make her look like an outsider by any means. On the one hand it's admirable that this character thinks she can change it from the inside, but on the other hand, she never seems to be cognizant of how self-indulgent, fatuous, and pointless the whole farcical, shallow and abusive edifice of fashion truly is, so I felt like she was doomed to fail before she got started.

I especially wouldn't read a blog where I would see something like this: "Sportswear is where fashion meets Feminism." Really? Has this author never seen a female athlete? Depending on the sport, they don't typically dress in a manner similar to the male athletes. They quite often dress in a manner that too many men would like to see female athletes dress. In track, men typically wear regular running shorts and tank tops. Women wear what are, let's face it, bikinis. That's feminism? Really? If the bikini makes an athlete more streamlined, why don't men wear them? This dichotomy on what male versus female athletes wear is very odd in sports. Female basketball players, for example, wear pretty much what the men do, yet female soccer players wear their shorts distinctly shorter than their male counterparts. Why? Is it really feminism? I think that's a question worth asking in place of tossing out a bon mot like I read here.

Cookie is the daughter of a well-known model of yesteryear (or given that this is the fleeting world of modeling and fashion, perhaps yester-week would be more accurate), and looks like her mom facially, but not bodily. This wasn't explained in the admittedly limited portion I could stand to read. Was her father big bodied? If not, and her mother was a model, then how did Cookie end up with her body? Maybe it was explained in the course of the tennis-match of past and present being knocked back and confusingly forth later in the novel, but it would have been nice if there had been an explanation up front for this.

I'm evidently not the only reviewer who found this see-sawing between 'fat' Cookie and relatively thin Cookie serving to undermine the author's stated purpose. And if that is cookie on the cover of the book, she's not what I'd describe as fat by any means. But then my perspective on a women's body isn't informed by unhealthily-thin fashion models and Hollywood celebrities. It's informed by real, everyday people which is the only sane perspective in my opinion.

The other thing that was missing for me was any talk about health. There is abusive fat-shaming, which is to be fought tooth and nail, but there is also a health factor here for a certain portion of the population (overweight or not), and it's not a shaming, but a caring. It doesn't matter (objectively) if people consider you overweight as long as you're healthily and getting some exercise, yet this wasn't touched on. Again, I quit this novel early, so maybe this was addressed later, but even so, it would have been nice had there been a statement right up front about this, because it's important. People can go to hell with their fat remarks and abuses, but if a person is healthy, it's not even a concern, so maybe they should go further to hell?

The author is a graduate of a creative writing program, which frankly tends to put me off reading a novel, because I've read too many such novels which have turned out to be so bland as to be indistinguishable from one another, and all-too-often pretentious to a sickening degree. This author had some moments of excellence and some appreciated humor, but what got to me, and this is what caused me to finally quit the book, was that it was so disgustingly trope YA that it was almost literally nauseating. Take this as an example:

"It's your eyes," he decides. "They're blue."
"Wow. They're not wrong when they say how observant you are."
Gareth chuckles. "The gold flecks. They make all the difference."

Gold flecks make her eyes pretty? I feel bad for the millions of women who have no gold flecks! How awfully ugly they must be with those fleckless eyes! Body positivity? I have read this 'gold flecks' quote so many times in so many YA books that it is way beyond a joke at this point. If this is all you get when you graduate from a creative writing course more than likely taught by someone who can't make a living from their own writing then it's a self-evident waste of time. Do they not teach originality? Do they not teach participants to read a lot so they can learn both what to do and what not to do? No self-respecting YA author who wants to be taken seriously should use the words 'gold flecks' or even 'biceps' in a novel ever again, but at least this author wrote 'biceps' rather than 'bicep' so I should credit her that much!

On one technical matter, I have to give this ebook file an 'f':

Piper f lips open
I f lop back onto
In the space of a couple of sentences and in many other places too, we see words which begin with an 'f' having a space after them. Amazon's Kindle process mangles files. It's an all-too-common feature of the ebook review copies I see. It does not well-handle files that are anything other than plain vanilla with regard to formatting. I suspect that's what happened here. Additionally, there was a confused mix up of notes and text:
There's nothing wrong with being the fat girl on the plane. soScottsdale [[New Post>Title: We're SoReady for an Early Look at GM Creator: Cookie Vonn [contributor] Okay Scottsdale,
"remember Fairy Falls?" FAT GIRL ON A PLANE 31 I snort. Of course I do."
The book title and page number from the page header is embedded in the text there. The impression I had was that this book was designed for a print version without a thought being given to how the ebook looked. I know ebooks often sell at rock-bottom prices thanks to Amazon, which seems to share the public's view that books ought to be valued by weight, not quality, and ebooks, being the lightest of all should be also the cheapest of all. It evidently also likes its overseas contract workers to get rock-bottom pay, but that doesn't mean readers want rock-bottom quality! Another example is that conversations which should have been separated by a line feed and a carriage return are run together on one line: "What kind of questions?" he says, his eyes narrowing. "I plan to have them ready for you on Sunday at 2:00 p.m."
Hopefully those issues will be resolved before this book hits final publication.

Final there's the cover and the book blurb. These are not on the author (unless they self-publish and design their own covers), but they don't help a book when they're profoundly dumb. The blurb is predictably idiotic, as far too many of them are. I have no time for book blurbs that end with a question so numbingly dumb that only a complete, utter, and lifelong dedicated moron could not get the right answer: "Will she realize that she's always had the power to make her own dreams come true?"

Now just what, I wonder, is the answer to that question? Do book publishers want us to think they believe readers are idiots? Because that's what they do when they ask brain-dead questions like that in the blurb and far too many books, especially ones aimed at female readers it would seem, do this. Do publishers think female readers are dumber than male readers? I sure don't, but maybe the only way to prove that would be for women to boycott all books where the blurb asks a dumb question at the end?!

I don't normally talk about book covers, except on occasion to point out how, as is the case here, the cover designer clearly has no clue what's in the novel - or is simply clueless period. The silhouetted girl on the cover isn't remotely fat. She's not even what might be uncharitably called "big boned" - she's normal and ordinary - that is, she looks at first glance to be a healthy height and weight (healthy that is by realistic standards not by asinine anorexic standards of Hollywood and the fashion industry). So is this supposed to be Cookie after she lost weight, and why do we see only that rather than both, or just the Cookie of the past? Doesn't this make the book's very cover a form of fat-shaming?

I wish the author all the best with her writing career, but it's for the reasons outlined that I cannot recommend this book.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

To Siri With Love by Judith Newman

Rating: WARTY!

I was unaware of how controversial a book this had been in the autistic spectrum community when I saw it in a bookstore and learned that it was also at my local library. I am glad I didn't buy it not because of what the spectrum community is railing against, but because the book is bait and switch and I do not appreciate book blurbs which outright lie to draw-in potential readers. I know that's a blurb's job, but usually a blurb bears some vague relationship to the book it represents. This one didn't.

The blurb begins with the following two paragraphs:

It began when Judith Newman's thirteen-year-old autistic son noticed that there was someone who not only would find information on his various obsessions (trains, planes, escalators, and anything related to the weather) but also would actually semi-discuss them with him tirelessly. Her name was Siri and she lived in his mother's iPhone.
Newman's story of her son and his bond with Siri is an unusual tribute to technology. While many worry that our electronic gadgets are dumbing us down, she reveals how they can give voice to others, including children with autism...

This is an outright lie. I came at this hoping to learn more about a fascinating technology, particularly if it's one that can really help people who most need that help. The problem is that there is one chapter and one chapter only on the relationship with Siri. This chapter begins on page 131 of a book which, not counting the introduction (I never read introductions), runs to 216 pages, and it ends ten pages later. That's it. I quit reading the book when I realized that the next chapter was on a different topic and those scant ten pages appeared to be the entirety of the Siri/"electronic gadgets" discussion.

I'm sorry, but if you're going to try to sell (in the broad sense) a book that not only features this topic prominently but also titles the book after that topic, I actually expect to find that topic throughout the book, fool that I am. You lie about it like this book did, you get a 'warty' rating on my blog. The problem for me was that as I went through chapter after chapter with nary a word about the Siri and Gus 'relationship' I began to tire of the endless rambling and I began to skip and skim, dipping into a section here and there that was of interest, until when I actually did reach the section that discussed what the whole book was supposed to be about, it was far too little, and far too late.

While I cannot for the life of me understand why any parent would want to name a child 'Gus', I can understand why a mom would want to ramble on and on about her child. I think some of the harshest criticism was as rambling as this book though, with the authors of it continuing to shoot arrow after angry arrow into a threadbare target. They simply didn't get the author's sense of humor, but that's not to say their criticism was unfounded.

I think reasonable people can agree to disagree on those details so I'm not going to get into that here except to comment briefly that I think that some readers, in particular those who think the author doesn't think Gus has emotions or thinks Gus doesn't think, have flown off the handle at a throw-away comment the author made without realizing it was a 'first impression' kind of a comment that she later actually did throw-away as she and Gus matured together in their relationship and in her education.

Those critics seem to be forgetting that the author began telling this story chronologically when she was completely in the dark about Gus's status for some time after he was born, and got no help in understanding what was going on from anyone, least of all from the very community, some members of which are so virulently criticizing her now! And yes, criticizing her, not the book!

That said, I have to allow that if the very person the book's author praises highly in this book mounts a campaign against the book, then clearly something is fundamentally wrong somewhere, but the way to fix that is to reach out, not to punch out. I think what disturbed me most of all is that autism is a spectrum and not a narrow rut, yet all of the negative reviews were talking as though there is only one kind of autistic person who has only one kind of perception and feeling, which is nonsense, so I think some of the negative perspectives were a little blinkered to say the least.

Regardless of what other failings it may or may not have, this book failed for me because it quite simply did not remotely deliver on what it promised, period, and so I cannot recommend it. There are books which the autism spectrum community recommends. I recommend reading one of those instead.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

Rating: WARTY!

This was my third voyage into the world of Kate Atkinson. As I mentioned twice before(!), I came to her via the TV series Case Histories, and I hoped her novels would be as good as the TV show, but they were not. I could not get Case Histories on audiobook and didn't want to go with the library print book. I have too many print books on my shelf and actively try to avoid procuring any more until I've read-down some of this pile! I live in fear that they will fall off the shelf onto my head when I'm sleeping and I wish to bypass such a rude awakening.

This was the second-in-line in the series, but the problem with it was that it was too rambling. The interesting thing is that in the first novel, Jackson Brodie, the ex-soldier now turned PI inherits a lot of money, but in the TV series he did not have this money. I'm not sure how they will reconcile it if they continue the TV show. I liked how there were several plot threads seemingly unconnected, and which in the end all became woven together, but that was TV. The audiobook was far too sluggish.

I could not get started on the novel. One of the characters was such a limp rag of a man that he was repulsive, yet the author seemed determined to follow him into the most mundane of activities including a writing class he attends (which I think was a flashback but I'm not sure. It's easy to miss bits in an audiobook when driving. At least it is if your focus is on the road where it should be!). The writing class wasn't even interesting, and it seemed like the author was maybe using it to insult people perhaps she had known in a similar writing class which she attended. I don't know. It just felt a bit like that.

The story begins with this limp rag man breaking up a road rage incident, and then it just rambles on and on. Jackson Brodie is nowhere in it and did not show up right up to the point where I couldn't stand to listen any more. It was read pretty decently by Steven Crossley, but that couldn't make up for the material (or lack thereof). I felt bad for him having to read this. Just in case it isn't clear: I cannot recommend this one!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Keep Austin Weird by Mary Jane

Title: Keep Austin Weird
Author: Mary Jane (no website found)
Publisher: Smashwords
Rating: WORTHY!

"He then flawless recited..." should be "He then flawlessly recited..." (note I read this on a smartphone which means that page numbers are useless and locations are pretty much worthless when we can simple do a search).
"when I picked up you backpack" should be "when I picked up your backpack..."
"...once or twice.”“Really, just one our twice..." should be "...once or twice.”“Really, just once or twice..."
"Texas’ capitol building" should be "Texas’s capitol building". Texas isn't a plural so it's apporpriate to add apostrophe 's'.
"...if she was like that when they first meet..." should be "...if she was like that when they first met...".
"knew each other at UT.”They shake hands and exchange pleasantries, Kim mentally trying to place the term, 'know each other..." should be ”They shake hands and exchange pleasantries, Kim mentally trying to place the term, 'knew each other..." (Tense is changed).
"You’re Bitchy Barista reputation" should be "Your Bitchy Barista reputation"
"I’m violating the only philosophical tenant..." should be "I’m violating the only philosophical tenet..."

Mary Jane may be male or female (I am by no means convinced by the Goodreads blurb for this author! Is "Mary Jane" really comedian Lindsay Rousseau? Who knows?) and it doesn't matter, except that this author treasures anonymity so highly that I can't give you an author's website, although you can try here to get a sampling of this author's writing which sports titles such as, "Like Water for Macaroni". The title of this novel is unfortunate because if you enter it as a search term on the web, you're going to get everything but this novel showing up, including an ungodly number of tie-dyed T-shirts! That and a few too many typos aside, it was a fun read.

The story is about Eleanor Cooprider and Kim Park, who are people I would definitely like to know. Having said that I wouldn't want to go to one of their soirées, which I confess struck me as slightly tedious. These two are at their best when it's just these two, and they're talking about any topic. They're playful, smart, interesting, eclectic, off-beat, irreverent, supportive, and very warm people who dearly love each other no matter what.

This story begins at the beginning - they day they met, but then it jumps around a lot, be warned - perhaps a bit too much for some readers, but for me it wasn't too annoying, just a little confusing here and there. The chapters have a sub-heading giving time and place, full of pseudo-self-importance which is always a bad sign, and which assumes that the reader actually remembers the time and place from the previous chapter, which is neither a wise nor is it a safe assumption given how engrossing their story is when it's really good. It's not very flowing either, in addition to being rather non-linear.

I had some issues with the story in general. For example, Kim is 23 but she references Larry Bird. Bird was a Boston Celtics player who had a distinguished career, but he retired in 1992, before Kim was born. It’s not really very likely she would recall him or esteem him as a player. It's possible, but a much more recent reference would have made more sense here. The problem was that the author was so locked into the name that she evidently forgot to check for appropriateness.

The Christmas play they put on as the story gets going is one about Charlie Brown and Christmas. We read, "...actually entitled 'Linus and Lucy'...", but entitled is used wrongly. It should be 'titled'. 'Entitled means something different, although I see more and more authors using it wrongly like this.

If you can handle this however, you're in for a treat. This story follows the two from their first meeting at the school where they teach, until Eleanor retires - and it's quite a short book. Kim is convinced that Eleanor is a super hero because she can detect which career is best for her young school charges, but even super heroes make mistakes. The question is, what will happen to their relationship if Eleanor's "high flying" days come crashing down around the two of them?

I loved this story (mostly!) and recommend it.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Ms Conception by Jen Cumming

Title: Ms Conception
Author: Jen Cumming
Publisher: Colborne Communications
Rating: WARTY!

This novel is not to be confused with Ms Conception by Pamela Power, which I have not read, although that name, wonderful as it is, I think is beaten by 'Jen Cumming', as the author of a novel about pregnancy! This story details (and I do mean details) a woman's desperate (and I do mean desperate) effort to get pregnant.

You would think, with all we hear from our religious overlords, that pregnancy is something that happens as soon as two people from complementary genders look at each other, and especially so if they're teenagers, but the truth is that even a fertile couple has only about a one in five chance of conceiving during any given month (assuming average sexual activity).

Infertility affects about one in ten couples, and it has been rising of late, but this may be due to the fact that more and more couples are choosing to have children later in life, whereas peak fertility occurs between about eighteen and twenty-five. Women over forty have about a one in ten chance of becoming pregnant even with assisted fertility treatments, whereas men are the scalawags who can successfully father children much later in life, but, as Woody Allen remarked, they're too old and frail by then to pick them up....

It turns out that about 40% of cases of infertility are due the male partner and the same for the female, with the final 20% due to both partners equally. It can be devastating, even marriage-wrecking, but that very much depends upon the individuals. The author evidently underwent these treatments, which in turn no doubt provided the raw material for this story, but this doesn't tell us how much of the story she tells is personal to her and her partner as opposed to being completely made-up from scratch.

I hope it wasn't too personal, because I have to say that I neither liked nor warmed-up to either main character in this novel - or to any of the other characters for that matter. I did not like Abigail Nichols or Jack, her husband (yes, another tedious novel with a main character named Jack!). The two of them bordered dangerously on alcoholism and were so one-dimensional that I almost couldn't see them at all. The entire novel is focused on getting pregnant and then being pregnant. It's like this is the only raison d'être for either of these people, and particularly for Abigail. Jack was notably neglectful and even dysfunctional at times. They literally had no life beyond conception, which makes them completely uninteresting as characters or people and rather scary as potential parents.

As I said, I don't know how autobiographical this novel was, if at all, so this may or may not have been what life was like, but it if was at all autobiographical, it's very sad. I don't doubt that there actually are people where the "need" to get pregnant overrides everything else in their life, but this doesn't mean it makes for either an engrossing or an edifying story.

What this actually felt like was the Bill Murray movie Groundhog day, where we kept going through the same things over and over again, with only minor changes, but unlike the movie, this was not amusing, it was simply boring. Instead of being moving or empathy-inducing, Abigail was merely irritating. I kept wanting someone to grab her by the shoulders, look her in the eye and say, "Abby, grow a pair before you fizzle out like a balloon farting around the room until it collapses, shriveled and flat."

It was pretty obvious that pregnancy was going to result sooner or later, so it's no spoiler to say it, but it means that this novel really had nothing new or different to offer, and the fact that Abigail was a chronic whiner was off-putting. I know that people in her position are entitled to some self-pity, but it seemed endless with Abigail, and it didn't help that it was told from her first person PoV, which magnified and amplified this and made it far worse than it could have been.

The book blurb assures us: "One thing she knows for sure: a healthy sense of humor (and the occasional glass of red wine) is the best coping strategy," but this was not true at all. There was nothing healthy about Abigail, and there certainly wasn't "the occasional glass of red wine." There was copious amounts of drink, and times when she and her husband got outright drunk. What is this couple, nineteen years old?The sense of humor was almost completely absent. Once in a while there would be a remark or observation that was actually funny, but for the most part any attempt at humor was washed out by the endless and tedious whining and self-pity. The funniest thing about it was, as another reviewer has pointed out, that the clichéd image on the front cover looks more like someone's butt than ever it does a pregnant abdomen! But random covers are what you get when you don't self publish.

One of the saddest things is that Abigail seriously needed some psychiatric treatment or therapy, and she wasn't getting it, and no one - not even the many medical personnel she encountered - noticed how bad her condition was. Her mental state and her drinking problem were not normal and not healthy. Her work was being affected, although god only knows why she persisted in working in such a hostile and genderist environment. Her place of employment was as politically incorrect and inappropriate as you can get, yet never once was it ever hinted that there was anything wrong here, or that serious change was called for.

In many ways Abigail was her own worst enemy. She never told her employers what she was up to, and so was seen as taking endless, 'frivolous' time off work. Her obsession with getting pregnant was actually interfering with her work because of her repeated absences, and then she has the hypocrisy to complain that the new hire is stealing all her resources? The new hire actually had all the hallmarks of a corporate spy, but since I didn't finish this novel, I can't say if she actually was.

The thing is that Abigail never actually seemed to work. She was all about delegation and the writing made it seem like she spent the bulk of her time doing activities related to getting pregnant and the hell with her work beyond a sporadic catch-up blitz. She tells us how much time she spends waiting around in medical clinics, but instead of taking her laptop and working from where-ever she was, she sat around doing nothing, or she took a book to read. Great work ethic, Abigail. This woman is neither smart nor organized, nor is she a responsible employee.

This wasn't even the worst part of Abigail's behavior. Before she even considered approaching reliable and scientifically-proven medical treatment, she ran around trying all manner of bullshit woo 'remedies', which of course failed. When she did return to reality, she didn't like the medical doctor she had - or at least not his abusive time-keeping, yet she was evidently too timid or lacking in motivation to change and find a better one.

She whined constantly about her mother in law, who was, I confess and royal pain in the ass, but then she also whined about her sister who accidentally became pregnant, and her husband's ex-girlfriend who also became pregnant. I don't know who raised Abigail to think it's all about Abigail, and that there's something wrong with other people having a life independently of hers, but it was really quite sickening to repeatedly read of the lavish pity parties to which she treated herself on these occasions. Abigail was not remotely likable at all.

Another issue was money. We were told so many things in this novel and shown very little, and one of the worst things was the money question. We were told time and time again how expensive these treatments would be, and how it would have to be put-off because of the cost, and yet suddenly we're doing all these supposedly expensive things and money isn't an object. Her husband magically gets yet another bonus whenever they need cash for something. It was farcical. Never once was any thought spared for the more than forty million Americans who live in poverty, some of whom are no doubt infertile and who have no access to the resources which Abigail did, and no resources to raise a child even if they had one.

Abigail and Jack were both high-end professionals, evidently paid handsomely for their "work" and yet they appeared to appreciate none of it. They had everything they wanted, never went asking for food or clothes (or anything), and yet Abigail still selfishly wallowed in how badly-done-to she was. Anyone is entitled to feel bad about their circumstances once in a while, but Abigail made an art-form out of it. Like I said, she was not a likable person.

Likewise there was hardly a word spoken about adoption. I don't recall seeing where this story was set, but I may have missed that. I assume it was Canada since the author is Canadian, and Canada has some 45,000 orphaned children. The US has over twice that number and a further 400,000 living without permanent families, yet adoption was barely mentioned in this novel. A really good educational opportunity as squandered there.

So, in short, I did not like this novel. I found it obnoxious at times and pitiful (in the wrong way) at other times. There was nothing to get me interested, let alone keep my interest, and it quickly became too tedious to read when there are other authors with better conceptions awaiting. Life's too short and too pregnant with opportunity to live there with your legs in the air waiting for the story to finish anesthetizing you.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Cinderella Fables Are Forever Volume Two by Chris Robertson

Title: Cinderella Fables Are Forever Volume Two
Author: Chris Robertson
Publisher: Warner Bros (DC Comics)
Rating: WORTHY!

Art work: Shawn McManus.
Coloring: Lee Loughridge.
Lettering: Todd Klein.

Writer Chris Robertson has apparently been fired from DC comics after he made some comments about their treatment of story creators! This is what happens when you go with Big Publishing™ This is why self-publishing is the only way to go these days. Maintain complete control over your work. Own it. Do not let it be diluted. The time when you work for the company which also owns the house you live in and the company store where you have to buy all your food and goods are long, LONG gone. So is it time to boycott DC? I think maybe it is.

That said, this comic (which I got from the library, I hasten to add!) was worth a read, but I think it's going to be the last one in this series that I do read. It bordered on being annoyingly repetitive because it was the continuing story of the battle between Cinderella and Dorothy Gale (yes, that Dorothy, who sure as heck is hell isn't in Kansas anymore), but it actually fell short of being annoying.

Evidently Cindy and Dottie have a long a checkered history, all of which is violent. Now Dottie has a powerful grudge against Cindy, and she also has those slippers - not the ruby ones, but the silver ones - which give her some rather startling powers, one of which surprised me delightfully, although when I thought about it at the end of this story, it made no sense!

So this is a story of repeated battles between the two, most of which are in flashback, but it was done well and not irritatingly, and the art work - which is old-style comic book for the nostalgic fans among us - is good and covers the page. Artist Shawn McManus evidently loves trees as much as I do. Note that there's continued violence and exploitative depictions of females throughout - in short, it's a standard comic.

The lettering once again was small, so you really need to read this in print form. In ebook form it would be illegible unless you have a really big screen, or you don't mind enlarging it and then fondling the screen repetitively to see the various blurbs. In short I recommend this, I just don't recommend the publisher which is Vertigo, which is owned by DC, which is owned by Warner Bros. Borrow it from the library like I did!