Showing posts with label audio book. Show all posts
Showing posts with label audio book. Show all posts

Sunday, August 9, 2020

The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Rating: WARTY!

In which my sorry attempt to embrace the classics continues rather unsuccessfully.

This was published in 1851 and was based in small part on a real house of seven gables where lived Hawthorne's cousin Susanna Ingersoll. The story supposedly has some supernatural and witchery elements to it, but I never made it that far. The novel has its moments and offers some sweet turns of phrase here and there (or should I say hither and thither?), but for the most part it was tediously rambling and just when I thought it might get interesting, when a new broom in the form of the main character's younger cousin showed up, it almost immediately went back to rambling on and on, and it bored the pants off me. I never did find out what happened to those pants.

A somewhat old maid, Hepzibah Pyncheon lives in the house and decides to open a little store in one part of the building, but she really has no idea how to go about it. Her cousin Phoebe shows up unexpectedly from out of town, and starts turning things around in the store while falling for another cousin named Clifford. The rather sleazy Judge Pyncheon sticks his nose in where it's unwanted, and that's about it for the first portion of the book. It wasn't holding my attention at all, and so based on what I read I cannot commend it.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Black No More by George S Schuyler

Rating: WORTHY!

This was an audiobook from a novel first published in 1931 by the author, whose name is pronounced 'Skyler'. The novel is sci-fi and has the odd premise that some guy (who is black) invents a process by which people of color can be made to look white. Due to the ill-treatment of such people. There's a flock of them wanting this process, which in turn causes all kinds of unexpected issues down the road.

Max Disher's advances are rejected on New Year's Eve by a racist white woman named Helen. The thing is that Max is racist too - he only wants to date white women, so these two are made for each other. Rather than dismiss her and look for a more friendly prospect, he obsesses on her and when he learns of this 'Black No More' process, he's front of the line volunteering as a test subject, and so he ends up white. He changes his name to Matthew Fisher and moves to Atlanta, where this woman lives. He discovers she's the daughter of a white supremacist who goes by Reverend Harry Givens, head of The Knights of Nordica.

Matthew passes himself off as an anthropologist who supports the reverend's aims and soon is an integral part of the organization, turning it around into a powerful and money-making society. He becomes rich as a result, and marries the unsuspecting Helen. Problems arise when she becomes pregnant though, because although for all intents and purposes Matthew is now white, his offspring will not be. Fortunately for him, Helen miscarries, but shortly becomes pregnant again and his problems begin multiplying.

Matthew quickly discovers his life does not become a bed of roses from being white, although he has the girl of his dreams and is now wealthy. He's even on track for setting-up the next president of the USA, but society around him is falling apart. Black businesses are suffering because most blacks are now turning white and adopting an upscale lifestyle. Neighborhoods are going to hell, and society itself is in trouble.

This book was hilarious, and Schuyler proves himself to be a funny and perceptive writer who really had a surprisingly modern take on things and a good handle on how society works - or fails. I fully commend this book - which is quite short - as an amazing, entertaining, and worthy read.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The Graduate by Charles Webb

Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook of the novella that gave rise to the 1967 movie of the same name starring Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman. The novella was published in 1963, and it's very much of its time. The USA was still pretty much stuck in the fifties in the early sixties, but even so, there were problems with the writing, for me, and I would have ditched this with a hour still left to listen to if it had not been for the fact that, having seen the movie, I was curious as to how the book ended and what differences there were, so despite knowing I was going to rate this as warty, I listened to the whole thing. The movie followed the book pretty darned closely from start to finish.

The thing is that this could have been a romance or a romantic comedy, but there's too much evil behavior in it to be either. I have a feeling it might well have been rejected by publishers if it had been submitted today. It didn't even do well back when it was originally published, and it only took off at all after the movie came out.

This is the only book I've read by author Charles Webb, and I'm far from convinced he can write female characters. Elaine is so passive and compliant, and doesn't behave like she has any self-respect, so for me she was written poorly and her whole interaction with Ben was so unrealistic. But I'm getting ahead. The story is of Ben who is a college grad fresh home from school, and he's one of the most morose, petulant, moody and angry characters I've read about.

He was really annoying in his childishness and his control-freak behavior. He was letting opportunities to get on with his life slip by - for example in not taking-up this grant he was awarded for grad school. Neither is he looking for a job. At the same time he seeks to control everything around him despite what others, particularly Elaine, might want. he proves time and time again that he really doesn't care what Elaine wants as long as he gets what he wants.

Ben's parents alternately hound him cruelly and spoil him rotten, so I guess it's hardly surprising that he's turned out the way he has. At one point early in the story, Mrs Robinson, the wife of his dad's law partner, corners Ben in an upstairs bedroom and makes it plain that she's available to him sexually if and whenever he wants her. Ben rejects this at first, but soon starts an affair with her. They meet at night in the swanky Taft Hotel and spend the night together, and they do this often. Mrs R leaves early in the morning to go home to make her husband breakfast! How she gets away with this is a mystery until she explains this to Ben when he prods her about having a conversation instead of just sex.

She tells Ben that she and her husband not only do not share the same bed, they don't even share the same bedroom, and he only pays her any physical attention when he gets drunk. So the affair continues until Mrs R's daughter Elaine comes home for Thanksgiving, and Mr R and Ben's parents insist he take her out to dinner. He doesn't want to and Mrs Robinson forbids it on pain of revealing their affair to everyone, so Ben doesn't want to take her on a date, but does so under this pressure, ignoring Mrs R's ultimatum. He doesn't believe she'll carry out her threat, but clearly he doesn't know Mrs Robinson at all.

I'm actually with Mrs Robinson on this because Ben has hardly shown his character to be stellar. He's having some sort of existential crisis and he's moody and isn't remotely interested in going back to school or finding a job. He always seems to have money though, but where he gets that, I don't know. The issue isn't addressed in the story or the movie for that matter, so I can only assume his parents give it to him, but why they would do that is a mystery given how he treats them.

They whine about his going out so much, and so late at night with no explanation, but if it bothers them that much, then why facilitate it by paying for it? They gave him an Italian sports car as a graduation present, so he's spoiled rotten. Maybe they just can't say 'no'. I can't blame Elaine's mom for not wanting someone like Ben associating with her daughter, though. And why would Ben? He had no interest in Elaine before, so why now? It made zero sense that he'd suddenly obsess on her except that maybe he just wants the thing that people are trying hardest to deny him?

There is a mildly interesting idea I read online that Mrs R didn't want Ben and Elaine to get involved because they both have the same father, which indicates that Elaine's father seduced Ben's mother, but there's nothing in the book to suggest that and it would mean - in an indirect way of course - that she's having sex with her own son. She doesn't seem like the kind of person who would do something like that. She's not shown as being particularly motherly either, so maybe she was just a predator, jealously guarding her prey, Ben, from becoming someone else's catch, but since we never see Ben aiming to date a different girl and get Mrs R's reaction to that, it's hard to be sure what her motivation was. Maybe she was just horny and Ben seemed like an easy mark to her.

She apparently cares little for him; it's just about sex for her, so I don't imagine she much cares about someone stealing her prey, just about him not being fit to marry Elaine. I think if that were the case, she would have simply said that's why she objected to it, but she really doesn't want her daughter traveling the same crappy road though life that she had to follow and she can see that coming a mile away with Ben at the wheel. She sees too much of herself in Ben: someone who is going nowhere, who has a drinking problem, and who could well end-up being at best a neglectful and at worse an abusive husband later in life.

Interestingly, she's never given a first name in the movie: she's always referred to - and addressed even by Ben - as Mrs Robinson, like she's someone else's property rather than her own person. We learn that her initials are G. L. but we never find out what those letters stand for. This may be a conscious choice by the author, but even when Ben wants to have that conversation with her in the Taft, rather than just get down to the sex like they typically do, he never asks her what her first name is.

From this, it would seem that he has no real interest in her either, despite his claimed desire for a conversation. For me Mrs Robinson is without question the most interesting and strongest person in the movie. Ben is a spineless ne'er-do-well and it's hard to imagine that someone like Elaine would be attracted to him, especially after the shabby way he treats her, followed by her learning of his affair with her mom. Their relationship makes no sense except in that they're both as bad as one another in their own bumbling and insecure way.

On the date with Elaine, he tries to ruin things by treating her badly and taking her to seedy clubs, one of which features an exotic dancer. She eventually demands he take her home, but he refuses, and instead pressures her into changing her mind, offering a meek apology, and she goes right along with it. He mentions having an affair and is worried she'd think badly of him for that, but he barely addresses the elephant in the room: of how he treated her thus far that evening!

Despite all of this she lets him dominate her and she agrees to go out for a drive with him the next day. When he comes to pick her up, Mrs R confronts him and Elaine figures out that the affair he had was with her mother. She orders Ben to leave, and refuses to speak to him. So now we're expected to believe that he's in love with Elaine and in the big finale, she's somehow persuaded to return his feelings despite neither of them really knowing each other; despite their having had no contact since high school; despite his controlling behavior, and despite his neurotic demeanor and his poor treatment of her. It doesn't work.

Initially, I found this audio-book amusing, if a bit irritating here and there, but I became rather less enamored of it as I listened to more of it, and especially after that 'date'. Webb also has a truly annoying writing habit, at least in this novella. Apparently all of the main characters are hard of hearing because the sheer number of times the word 'what' is used interrogatively in conversations is phenomenally annoying. It's like every other thing any character says, the person they're talking to says, "What?" like they haven't heard, or they can't believe it, or they don't understand what was said even though it's perfectly plain, and the other character constantly has to repeat what they just said. It's really pervasive and really distracting. And thoroughly irritating.

I found myself coming into agreement with an email friend of mine whose early assessment, based on what I'd told her about Ben and Elaine, was that they deserved each other - and not in a good way. After being in another funk for several weeks post-rejection, Ben abruptly declares to his parents that he's going to marry Elaine, despite him never addressing this topic with her and despite his having been angrily barred from her life a few weeks before - and despite the fact that he barely knows her these days!

So he drives up to Berkley where she's doing her senior year and starts stalking her. He sells his car so he'll have some money to live on and starts hanging around the campus looking for her. He planned on going to her dorm, meeting her and inviting her out to dinner, but he chickened out of that. He tried composing a couple of letters, but got drunk, the letters becoming more and more incoherent as he did, and he fell asleep. Eventually he runs into her in the street and she rejects him again, but he won't take no for an answer.

Later she shows up at his rooming house and he tries talking to her, but she won't talk to him because Mrs R has told Elaine that Benjamin got her drunk and raped her. Elaine won't listen to his denials, and he's such a poor communicator that he fails dismally in explaining his side of the story - and this is the guy who was, we're told, head of the debating club in college! It just doesn't work! Elaine tells him to leave Berkley and leave her alone, but later, she shows up in his room late at night. How she even got in there without a key is a mystery. I guess no one locks any doors in Berkley. Suddenly, she's interested in listening to him. He asks her to marry him and she says she might. She is so easily influenced that she really has no personality of her own, simply going with the flow of whoever is dominating her at the time - her boyfriend Carl, her father, or Ben. Always men, and they dictate her life right to the end of the story.

None of this story makes sense, and it doesn't really offer a fulfilling tale, So, overall, I can't commend it. It has its moments, but in general it's poorly and inauthentically written and it really doesn't give us a realistic story. On reflection, I think the story would have been considerably better had it been about Mrs Robinson instead of Ben, but not if Webb wrote it! I can see no future for Ben and Elaine except one of misery as he controls her life, abuses her, maybe even beats her when he's drunk, and she eventually commits suicide. There's no romance here at all.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Right Ho, Jeeves! By PG Wodehouse

Rating: WORTHY!

This novel, first published in 1934, is the second full-length book from Wodehouse about Jeeves and Bertie Wooster. I'd been sort of idly interested in reading a Jeeves story for a while, but I never got around to it, so when this came up as a discounted audiobook on Chirp, I snatched it up. I didn't regret it. It was highly amusing to me and quite entertaining, although there were some bits where it dragged, and it's hardly politically correct, given its antiquity. There's one use of the 'n' word (although not in this historical context int4ended in an abusive way, merely descriptive, it's still, through our modern eyes, abusive enough) and there's the usual sexism for a book of this vintage. On top of all of that one might justifiably take exception as well, to the idea of the idle rich having so much and so little of use to do with it, when so very many have so very little and are in urgent need of more. Those things aside, I enjoyed most of the book.

The story is of Bertram Wooster who, fresh back from Cannes, is looking for yet more idle pastimes to waste his life on. He discovers that his old school chum, Gussie Fink-Nottle, needs help. The book is replete with oddball names, my favorite being Pongo, which is not a dog but another of Bertie's male friends. Anyway, Gussie is pining for a woman named Madeline Bassett. Bertie refers to her as 'the Bassett' and I must have missed something (I listen to this while driving, which always takes precedence in any conflict of attention, of course), because when he started talking about the Bassett, I was convinced for a while that it was a dog he was walking. It took me a little time to make the right connection which in itself was another source of amusement.

Bertie is rather peeved that Gussie is resorting to taking advice from Jeeves, and this is a theme that runs through this book - Bertie's jealousy of Jeeves's respected standing and his accomplishments in terms of winning people's favor for seeking advice. Naturally Bertie tries to take over all of these situations, convinced he'll do a much better job, and inevitably ends up screwing things up. Thus he takes on yet another love affair, that between another friend of his, Tuppie, and his betrothed, Angela, and messes that up as well.

Some of the most entertaining parts of the book are those which feature Bertie's interactions with his feisty Aunt Dahlia. I was laughing out loud at several of those. She is such a force of nature and is so disrespectful and dismissive of Bertie, and utterly intolerant of idiocy, a quality with which he seems over-abundantly endowed. When his aunt tries to tap him for the prize-giving at the local grammar school where she lives, Bertie is aghast and ends up managing to offload the talk and prize delivery onto Gussie, who shows up drink and is quite amusing. The whole event is reminiscent of a similar occasion in David Nobbs's The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin wherein Reggie delivers an equally irreverent and drunk speech at an event before faking his own disappearance. I wonder if Nobbs might have cribbed his scene from Wodehouse's original example.

All ends well, of course, so overall I really enjoyed this book and in particular the spot-on reading of it by Jonathan Cecil. It's possible o get this book for free from Project Gutenberg since it's now out of copyright in the USA, but then I would have listened to it via my robot reader and amusing as that can be, it wouldn't have been anywhere near as entertaining as Cecil's version! I commend this as a worthy listen.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Utopia by Thomas More

Rating: WARTY!

Originally published (in Latin in 1516!) as A truly golden little book, no less beneficial than entertaining, of a republic's best state and of the new island Utopia this book proved to be as boring as the title. It began well enough, but though it's fiction, it is by no means a story as we would imagine one in modern times. It's much more like a lecture that will put you to sleep, so don't listen, as I did, while driving! Although I survived it, the lethargic and droning delivery could prove fatal in some circumstances!

I made it about 60% of the way through, and I was planning on finishing out the week with it, but after listening to it while driving home on the Thursday I grew so deadened by it that I couldn't stand to listen to it on the Friday, so I ditched it for something else. The reader, James Adams has a voice that doesn't help. My Latin is barely existent, and although this is fortunately in modern English, it's possible to imagine that More himself is reading it. It started out well enough, but over time, it became repetitive, plodding, and tedious to listen to.

Utopia is supposedly an island, although it actually was a peninsular though which a canal was cut to separate it from the mainland. The problem is that there's nothing Utopian about it. Life is highly regimented and there is slavery and a death penalty, so how this remotely resembles any idea of a utopia we may hold today was a mystery to me.

The "islanders" have rejected money as any sort of local currency, although they do use it in foreign trade if necessary (trade, after all, literally meant a trade - one item of goods offered for a different item in return), but the society itself is pretty much a communist one along the lines of everything being held in common, with each giving according to ability and receiving according to need, although there is more to it than that in this case. The thing is that while all this may have been original five hundred years ago and may even have impressed some people, clearly it impressed precious few since it never took hold. Today, it's nothing more than quaintly antique, and it offers nothing special, or new or interesting.

In some parts it was unintentionally amusing, being rather reminiscent of the board game The Settlers of Catan where sheep and bricks are traded, and little else. I've never played that game but I am familiar with it, and it was amusing how limited this 'vision' was - about as limited in scope as the game. Though I can't commend this at all as a worthy read, my recent migration through reading/listening to antique works continues to at least to one more volume - but by a different author. I'll post that review anon.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Please don't tell My Parents I'm a Super Villain! by Richard Roberts

Rating: WORTHY!

I'm not much for series, but once in a while one comes along that makes me want to follow it, and if this series (this is book one of three as of this writing) is as good as its opener, then it will definitely be one I follow. Note that this novel is in no way representative of the real world and to judge it by real world standards is wrong. It's an off-kilter fantasy world, and it's in that context that I review it here since it's neither wilder nor more sensible than your average super hero graphic novel!

In the version of LA where she lives, Penelope Akk lives in a superhero world and has superhero parents. Mom was once a super villain, and dad is a tech genius, so it's hardly surprising their daughter turns out to be a mad scientist. Penny's skills start coming in far more aggressively than most do, but they also come spasmodically. That's nothing unusual, but the nature of Penny's skills deceive her parents, who pay her nowhere near the attention she deserves because they're supers themselves and always too busy. They may regret that.

Penny's real problem though, is that she creates things that typically work weirdly, and she has no idea how they work, and often no memory of the actual creative process at all. In the back of her mind they make sense, but she's never able to grasp that and pull it up front into the light. She invents some cool gadgets though, and what better way to test them out than with some good, old-fashioned villainy? I really liked Penny because she's a smart, strong young woman who never gives up and is always learning.

Teaming up with her friend Claire, and her other friend Ray, the trio becomes "The Inscrutable Machine" - talented and super-coordinated villains, whose success goes way beyond what their age would suggest they were capable of, and once Penny - now known as Bad Penny - has invented a few cool gadgets for her friends as well as a serum that brings on their powers too, they really take off. Claire becomes the extra-charming 'e-Claire' and Ray becomes the super-strong, super-fast 'Reviled'.

Their capers, beginning quite accidentally, become almost legendary, and bring them to the attention of Spider, the biggest villain of all, who is apparently an actual spider (although I had my doubts). It becomes ever more difficult for them to withdraw from their super villain life (it was so much fun!) and retreat to a life of super-heroing which is what Penny really wants. Or is it?

When Spider blackmails them into pulling a couple of jobs, Penny finds herself having to come down firmly on one side or the other. But how can she do that, save the city, beat Spider, and preserve her anonymity? Because the last thing she wants is for her parents to learn that she's a super villain! Yes, sometimes their thinking can be whack, and their motives a bit obscure, but they're so engaging that you can't stop wanting to know what scrape they'll get themselves into next - or how they'll get out of it. This is where Penny's unmatched, but totally not understood genius comes into play. Some of her inventions have a mind of their own - literally.

This book is one of the best I've ever read, despite it being aimed seemingly at a middle-grade audience. It's inventive and funny, and completely believable even as the fantastical world the author creates is outrageous - and beautifully put together with a cast of amazing and creative characters. There are some classic super heroes (my favorite is Marvelous) and super villains (my favorite is Lucy Farr). Note that these names are taken from an audiobook so the spellings may be off! I thought this was a fun world and a great book, and I commend it as a worthy read.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

The Importance of Being Ernest by Oscar Wilde

Rating: WORTHY!

This is perhaps my favorite play. The definitive movie version is that starring Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Frances O'Connor, Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Anna Massey, and unfortunately, Reese Witherspoon, who I used to like until she played the "Do you know who I am?" card in 2013, when she was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.

This audiobook version is a fine work, and made me laugh out loud frequently. Unlike the movie, it's very true to the play, which is generally considered to be one of the best English comedies. Unfortunately the audiobook version I had did not list a single cast member so I can't list them here. I even went to the publisher's website (Highbridge Audio - this is part of the Highbridge Classics series) in search of a cast, and they offered nothing, which I feel was rather mean of them.

Wilde is unleashed full force through his various characters here, cutting a swathe through social convention and societal habit with great relish. Two friends, Jack and Algernon, have invented fictitious family or friends to give them each an excuse to get away from their regular life and duties, and escape into a fantasy world of complete irresponsibility. Jack's bother is called Earnest, and Earnest is actually jack, but in his Earnest guise, he pays no bills, misbehaves in general and has a great time. Algernon's invention is a sick friend named Bunbury, and Algernon often goes 'Bunburying' when he wants to get away, under the guise of visiting and taking care of his ailing friend.

Jack has an eighteen-year-old ward named Cecily Cardew, as well he should be having inherited her father's fortune. Jack is an adoptee with no family history, having been discovered by accident in a bag left at the baggage claim at Victoria Station in London. Jack is so in love with Algernon's cousin Gwendolen Fairfax that he actually proposes to her despite the disapproval of the formidable Lady Bracknell, who insists upon interviewing Jack regarding his suitability to press his suit. When Algernon learns of Jack's ward, he decides to press a suit of his own and goes down to Jack's country home, posing as Jack's fictional brother Earnest. The confusion and self-induced foot-shooting only increase from there.

The joy of this is listening to Wilde's take on life, and hearing it expressed as a holistic philosophy from these two reprobates. I highly commend this, or the movie, or going to see the play performed if you can, or simply reading the play for yourself. It's available free from Project Gutenberg in ebook form.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery

Rating: WORTHY!

This book sounded quite interesting and although it wanders from the octopus often to delve into other topics, it always comes back to the main one and overall, despite an issue or two, I enjoyed this audiobook, read by the author, and commend it as a worthy read. It's for the most part well written, although a bit sentimental and anthropomorphizing at times, and the author has a pleasant and enjoyable reading voice.

The story covers her falling in love with the octopuses (octopods if you must, never octopi), at the Boston Aquarium, and since they're so short-lived - the Pacific giant octopus, which is the mainstay of this book, lives only for four years or so at most, and is biologically programmed to die after caring for the thousands of eggs that she lays. In the main, there were three of these animals discussed throughout the book: Athena, Kali, and Karma, but others were also touched upon - sometimes literally!

At one point I had to question the purpose of bringing these animals from the wild into a zoo to be put on display. There was this one relatively young octopus they named Kali, who featured in a large part of the book. Overnight, she managed to get out of this new tank she'd just been put into that same day, and she died of dehydration and suffocation on the floor at night.

There was a small gap in back of the tank where the water pipe went in, to keep the water refreshed, and she somehow squeezed through that. You have to wonder how intelligent these critters really are when they deliberately leave a safe environment to go into the open air through a two- or three-inch gap. The thing that really bothered me though, was the sheer number of accounts in this book, of this kind of thing happening repeatedly, affecting one species after another. Frankly it was irresponsible of the captors of these animals not to have seen to their welfare better than they did and I'm sorry the author didn't seem angry about it. She was more like, 'Oh well, there goes another octopus. Bring a fresh one in.' It's a little cruel to phrase it like that, but honestly, that was sometimes how it felt to me.

Obviously caring for animals is not an exact science, and things can go wrong. I can imagine if these animals were kept by private owners there would be all kinds of stupid and thoughtless mistakes made and animals dying, but this is the Boston Aquarium staffed by seasoned professionals and the number of incidents was disturbing, like for example, when this electric eel got from its tank into a neighboring one where it electrocuted two prized fish in that tank.

Seriously, did these people never consider keeping the tanks completely isolated from one another? Keeping secure lids on them? At least giving a nod and a wink to Murphy's Law? The saddest thing is that it felt like none of them learned anything from past experience and were therefore condemned to repeat their mistakes. This is incompetence, plain and simple. I sincerely hope other zoos and aquaria take more care.

I can also imagine that Kali's death was an emotional moment for the author after she'd bonded quite strongly with this particular octopus, but the rapidity with which she moved on to Kali's replacement, named Karma, of all things, rather cheapened her mourning period. It was at that point that she put some stuff in the book aimed at justifying going through this parade of wild-captured octopuses.<./p>

She talked about the value of the education that the aquarium does, but she never said a word about pollution or climate change and whether or not the educational experience, for whatever it's worth, that random members of the public get in seeing these animals in captivity, ever really translates into any concrete results in terms of public awareness and support for combatting climate change, or pollution, or in increasing environmentalism.

The absence of something like that undercut the value of her words, because without knowing if that works and produces results it seems fatuous indeed to me to be so devil-may-care about capturing these animals from the wild and then seeing them die in foolish and thoughtless ways. Neither does it do any good to educate people that the giant pacific octopus is really cute, interesting, and harmless if they don't connect its habitat with a polluted and warming ocean. I found that annoying and inappropriate.

I had to ask myself why they aren't breeding these octopuses and repatriating their offspring back to the ocean, or using the bred-in-captivity offspring to populate zoos instead of capturing more from the oceans. That would help to make up for those that are dying in captivity, but she didn't say a word about that either! Overall I got the impression that she was so enamored of the animals that her thoughts really were not free enough to stray very much into the bigger picture, which was truly sad.

That said, the book was educational, although it could have gone a lot further, and it was entertaining. It gave me more of a picture of what's involved in maintaining an exhibit in an aquarium and in how octopuses interact with novelty - including humans sticking their arms into the tanks. It said a lot less about what I was interested in: how intelligent (or dumb!) these animals truly are or what efforts are being made to measure and test that intelligence. I'd hoped for more. This was very much a puff piece - a PR exercise for octopods - but I was reasonably satisfied with what I got, so on that basis I rate it a worthy read.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Like Vanessa by Tami Charles

Rating: WARTY!

I wasn't thrilled with this audiobook, which had sounded like it might be a fun story. This young girl, Vanessa, is thrilled to discover that a black woman has, for the first time, won the Miss America contest. Since she shares a name with the winner, Vanessa Williams, she decides anything is possible and ends up entering a beauty pageant herself.

My hope was that this book, set in the early eighties, would quickly start teaching the very lessons it claims it will teach - about beauty being only skin deep and what's below that is far more important, but it took way too long to get there for my taste, and it was rather tedious and unsatisfactory on the journey. I DNF'd it, and I cannot commend it based on what I heard of the story.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Rating: WARTY!

I'm saddened to report that this novel, published in 1939, and which has had at least four titles, "Ten Little Indians" not being even the most offensive of them, has sold over 100 million copies. The ten victims were comprised of eight visitors to this remote island, along Ethel and Thomas Rogers, who are the housekeeper and butler respectively. Slowly these people start being killed off, and apparently no one is safe.

The residents and visitors alike are all evidently morons, and all guilty of some misbehavior or one kind or another in their past. Apparently someone has found out about their sins and retribution is on its way. Anthony Marston dies first from cyanide poisoning, Mrs Rogers is found dead in her bed the next morning, and general MacArthur (no, not that one, this other one) dies from being bludgeoned. Mr Rogers is found dead shortly afterward not having a beautiful day in his neighborhood. Later, Emily Brent is found dead in the kitchen, again from cyanide poising. All that these people had to do was to lock themselves in a room and stay there eating nothing, until the boat came from the mainland, but apparently that never occurred to them.

And how convenient that the bad weather prevented the daily boat from coming over to the island and rescuing them that next morning! This book was too much and once the stupidity became not only evident, but also positively rampant, I DNF'd it. I can't commend it at all - and I'm now done with Agatha Christie.

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie

Rating: WARTY!

Boring! That was my conclusion on my very first attempt to meet Miss Marple, another in Agatha Christie's stable of amateur detectives.

This audiobook began with a long, tedious, semeingly endless history of everyone who was remotely connected to anything. At first I thought I was listening a Stephen King novel, but no, there's Miss Marple being summoned. Naturally when you find the body of a complete stranger on your library, the first thing is to dismiss the word of the maid who has been terrorized by finding it. Obviously she's la-la. The next thing to do when it's actually confirmed is to say, 'the hell with the police, I'm calling in an amateur sleuth'. Well, I don't do 'sleuths', amateur or otherwise. If a book has the word 'sleuth' anywhere in the blurb, I don't even consider reading any further.

This one didn't have 'sleuth' anywhere to be seen, and that wasn't the reason I DNF'd it. The reason was that it took forever to get going and I lost patience with it. Miss Marple may or may not be doddering, I never got far enough to find out. My problem was that the entire book was doddering long before she ever came on the scene, so no. Just no.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

Rating: WARTY!

This was an offshoot of my reading of the biographies of Agatha Christie recently. There were about four of her books I had never read which were mentioned and caught my interest for one reason or another. I may as well have not bothered!

This is a Hercule Poirot story full of suicide, surprise engagements, dramatic activity, secret engagements, unknown offspring, and finally the murder of Ackroyd. Evidently there’s trouble at t’ mill, lads! Of course Poirot solves it because when has he ever failed? There was far too much going on in this story, but I did not make it very far because the opening portion of it was so dreadfully boring dahlings! I gave up in it. It had intrigued me earlier when I was reading the biographies, but not so much that I’m willing to be bored to death! Not when there are other books out there which I know will grab my interest from the start. I can’t commend it based on the dire portion I heard.

Shirley by Charlotte Brontë

Rating: WARTY!

In this novel there's trouble at t' mill. Robert, the mill owner is forced to lay-off some employees, and there are threats against him. Meanwhile, little orphan Caroline comes to live with her uncle the Reverend Helstone - if you can believe that. Sounds like a cuss word. She falls for Robert greatly and gets sick when she thinks he's for someone else. She also becomes great friends with a fellow orphan, now wealthy girl about town, Shirley. Note that this was in an era when Shirley was a man's name. I know what you're thinking: Surely, you're Joe King? I jest ye not.

Anyway, Shirley tries to help the laid-off mill workers both out of charity and out of fear for Robert's life. Caroline thus imagines Shirley and Robert ending-up together in a tryst and it's too much for her poor fluttering heart to bear. Thus are the comings and goings which ramble on forever, but of course Caroline weds Robert in the end.

It's really a redux of Jane Eyre, with a few details changed, and nowhere near as entertaining. Robert ain't Rochester. He's more like Gravesend, which is northeast of Rochester, but still in the same county of Kent. I grew utterly bored with Bob the Blunderer in the first twenty percent and ditched it. Caroline is no Jane. I can't commend it based on the tedious portion I mistakenly subjected myself to.

Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie

Rating: WARTY!

This audiobook made little sense from the title onward, but I did start to get into it initially. Unfortunately, it failed to hold my interest with too much rambling, and seemingly endless interviews covering the same ground. It was very flat and static, and it became boring for me. Maurice Disher, who was a reviewer in The Times Literary Supplement back in 1943, claimed, according to Wikipedia: "No crime enthusiast will object that the story of how the painter died has to be told many times, for this, even if it creates an interest which is more problem than plot, demonstrates the author's uncanny skill. The answer to the riddle is brilliant." I beg to differ. The suspect was - in retrospect, I have to admit since I'm usually hopeless at guessing who it is - pretty obvious, and it was clearly not the wife despite the endless damning evidence stacking up against her. I favored a different suspect which I thought would have made for a better story, but that might have been obvious too had she gone that route.

One problem was that I started in on this around the same time as I also started in on another Christie by the name of And Then There Were None which is not the original title, but it is a more acceptable title than the original ever was. The problem with hearing these two volumes so closely together was that in many ways they felt very much alike, the biggest difference being that this story focused only on five people whereas the other focused on ten!

The story begins with the daughter of a woman who was, some thirteen years before, convicted of murdering her husband and who herself died within a year of being imprisoned. Now her daughter is seeking to marry a guy and for some reason the jerk seems to be insisting that that conviction all those years ago is an impediment to marriage. My feeling this that this woman should ditch the guy, but instead she comes to Hercule Poirot, convinced of her mother's innocence, and asking that he investigate, so off he goes.

After a very brief analysis, he concludes conveniently that there are only five suspects (other than this woman's mother), and he goes off to interview them, hence the five little pigs. Every single one of them is gracious and loquacious. The problem was that of how would Hercule Poirot know this rhyme? It's been around since the mid-18th century, but why on Earth would Hercule Poirot know it? He didn't grow up in the UK, being Belgian and was therefore never exposed to British nursery rhymes. He moved to Britain only during World War One, when he was (as initially conceived) an elderly man, having retired 1905. Of course after his immense success, Christie rather had to retcon him some youth as it were, but still he was very mature.

None of this automatically precludes him from ever having heard the nursery rhyme, but the fact is that he never married, Never had any interest in women, and certainly never had children nor was interested in them, Quite the opposite in fact, so whence would he ever have heard the nursery rhyme? I think this is a problem of writing which Christie never thought through. Clearly, having long been a mother herself by then, she was aware of it, but she never considered the unlikelihood that Poirot would have been. She could have resolved this by having someone mention the rhyme to him in passing or have him accidentally hear it, thereby putting it in his head and having him adopt it as a framework for his enquiries, but this literary great never thought of that, I suspect because she evidently considered her character to be as English as she was despite the thin veneer of his foreign origin.

Yet this nursery rhyme forms the foundation of his battle plan and he refers to it quite often as he moves from one suspect to another. That may be a minor issue, but what wasn't was the endless repetitive retelling of the murder, which unlike Mr Disher, I found to be tedious. I found my mind wandering from the story often because it was the same story over and over, and I tired of it. I cannot commend this as a worthy read.

Every Tool's a Hammer by Adam Savage

Rating: WARTY!

I like Adam Savage on TV. He's interesting, and funny and entertaining, but in this memoir, I wasn't impressed with him at all. I was hoping he'd talk about the projects he'd worked on and the engineering and technical challenges, and he did mention those things in passing, but he was more about rambling and waffling over the philosophy of what he did, working intelligently, and planning, and making list, and he seems to contradict himself from time to time.

The problem is that he's talking about this stuff as though it's some divine revelation. Really, it's stuff most people who have even half a functional brain already know, so I didn't get the point of it. I guess if you're an idiot who wants to follow the same trail he blazed, which really began when he was working for one of George Lucas's companies making models for movies, then this is the book for you. It wasn't the book for me. I can't commend it and skipped most of it. There were some interesting bits, but nowhere near enough for me.

Chaos in Death by Nora Roberts aka JD Robb

Rating: WARTY!

I should have guessed from the absurd title that this audiobook wasn't for me, but I started listening to it anyway, so I have only myself to blame. Also it's by Nora Roberts. The JD Robb author name is a lie. I don't honestly know why authors lie about their authorship, but that's the way it is unfortunately. If I'd known this was part of a fifty book series all titles ending with " death" I would never have picked it up, but not only is the author lying, the publisher is too! There was nothing whatsoever on the cover of this book to indicate it was a part of a series. This one, absurdly, was volume 33.5!

The story is a bit bizarre. The reader, Susan Ericksen, is way too melodramatic, but I can't hold her completely at fault for that because the material is so poorly-written. The story starts with this guy - I assume it's a guy - who is putting the finishing touches to a triple murder he's committed and he's talking so ridiculously that I expect him to don a top hat and a cape when he was finished, and twirl his mustaches fiendishly.

Even when the cops show up the dialog is inane, and there's the trope of the one cop about ready to barf at the crime scene. I know that some people actually are very sensitive, but it's such a trope, especially in this day and age where blood and gore are in every other movie and cops are very often used to violence. We are largely inured to it now, and while I concede that movie gore and violence isn't like experiencing the real thing, this farcical trope of the barfing cop is long past its sell-by date, and it's just irritating to me. I quit it right there.

So this story and me? No way in hell!

Monday, September 2, 2019

Troublemaker by Andrew Clements

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a really short audiobook aimed at middle-graders and read pretty decently by Keith Nobbs.

Young Clayton Hensley was known for the rather mean gags he pulls at school and he was getting sent to the office a couple of times each month, but when his older brother gets out of jail, he lays it on the line that he wants Clay to reform and not end up like him. On Halloween though, someone eggs the school principal's house and spray paints a graffiti sketch on the door. The picture is of something that Clayton had drawn at school in art class, so now he's the prime suspect, especially since he supposedly spent that entire evening in his ground-floor bedroom in a huff. He could have easily slipped out of the window. But did he?

The story was a bit predictable and trite at times. I mean, it seems to me it would have been difficult for someone to do all of that to a house and not been seen by trick-or-treaters for one thing. For another having the school cut-up being also artsy was a bit much, but overall it wasn't too bad and it sends a message, so I feel I can commend this as a worthy read for the intended audience.

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall

Rating: WARTY!

After really enjoying The Penderwicks at Point Mouette I made the mistake of trying another one! It was just the opposite: boring, no humor, silly, unimaginative, unrealistic, and thoroughly-lacking in entertainment value. If it had been written in the fifties then it might have made for a cute tale, but as it was, I was truly disappointed in it. On the upside, this does support my contention about series: you can't maintain that rush of the first volume! Not that the previous volume was the first, but....

From volume two onward, you're inevitably going into territory that's already a beaten path, so what can you bring to it that's truly new? A precious few authors have good answers to that question, but far too many do not. I blame publishers for selectively seeking-out authors who promise, for better or for worse, to bring them a lucrative series. I blame readers too, for reading on in quiet desperation despite the poor quality of the sequels, thereby propping up a failed regime.

Like the previous volume I listened to, I had no idea which volume this was in the series when I listened to it, since once again the idiot publisher failed to even so much as mention that it was a series on the cover, let alone identify which in the series this volume is. With these stories I guess it really doesn't matter at all, since it appears of little importance in what order they're read - at least as judged from my sample of two. The reading by Susan Denaker was again very good, but not good enough to make up for trite and uninteresting material as the four Penderwick sisters interfere with their father's dating experience which is initiated by an aunt.

Obviously these children, Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and the unfortunately-named Batty, know better than the grown-ups. Not! While in a well-written story, these fictional kids might know their father better than he knows himself, the problem here is that the author fails to do the work to convince the reader that this same case holds here. Worse than this though, the author seems to fail to grasp that there's technology in our modern world! Despite all of these stories being written since 2005, there is no computer, television, or phone anywhere to be found in this story, which it turns out was the second in the series, written in 2008. Unbelievable! It's like the author set it in 1955, but forgot to change the scenery to match.

I can't commend this at all.

Dead Man's Folly by Agatha Christie

Rating: WORTHY!

After this I have about four more Agatha Christie novels I'm interested in reading because they had mentions that interested or intrigued me in the biographies I read, and then I'm done with her. I think I've done enough! LOL! This one was another attempt to listen to one of her stories, an effort which hasn't been going well lately, but I can hope that if they're read by David Suchet as this one was, they might engage more. He does a masterful job of reading this particular novel - really quite engaging. That may be why I enjoyed this story, although the story is one of her better ones, I think.

The mystery is of the death of Marlene Tucker, a young girl who is ironically playing the victim in a murder mystery enactment put on as a sort of treasure hunt for attendees at a fête held at Nasse House in Devon. I recently saw a novel advertised which essentially steals this plot for its own. The treasure hunt is being staged by Ariadne Oliver, a well-known writer of murder mysteries, who has contacted Poirot because she has become suspicious of an assortment of changes to her plot which have been requested by various people. Something feels wrong to her and she hopes Poirot can figure out what's up, but before he can do so, Marlene is dead, and Lady Stubbs, wife of Sir George Stubbs, the newish owner of Nasse House, is missing.

The murder investigation drags on over several weeks with neither the police nor Poirot making progress, until Poirot has an insight and finally solves it. I find it ridiculous that Poirot is never charged with obstructing justice since he frequently withholds so much information from the police, even when he has strong suspicions, if not a strong conviction of the murderer's identity! But that aside, this story was well-written and entertaining, and beautifully-read, so I commend it as a worthy listen.

Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie

Rating: WARTY!

This one was not well read by Anna Massey, and the story wasn't engaging me at all so I DNF'd it. I had already seen this on TV but I couldn't recall the finale, so I thought it might make for an entertaining read, but in the end it was just annoying. Holmes once said to his companion, "Watson, you know my methods!" which was his polite way of saying 'figure it out for yourself' and so it's time, I think, to read a biography about Christie, and see if I can learn anything from that about what made her tick.

On the upside, this story is mercifully-free of that moron Captain Hastings who makes John Watson look like a scintillating paragon of incisiveness. On the other, it was a bit much to swallow. It features Amy Leatheran (a name to conjure with!) who is a nurse taking up her charge in the Iraq desert at an archaeological dig, caring for the ailing wife of the man in charge of the dig. This woman - the patient, not the nurse - seems to have experienced terrifying hallucinations, and in the end dies, and Hercule Poirot finds himself trying to unearth clues as to the perp. I can't commend this audiobook version based on the portion to which I listened.