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

Monday, September 2, 2019

Cinders by Cara Malone


Rating: WARTY!

Erratum
“She leaned against the hood and worried at a hangnail on her pointy finger”
Surely she means 'pointer finger'?! This is why I have a problem with that term. OTOH, maybe she does have a pointy finger....

Well I made it almost 60% of the way through this before I had to run from it gagging. It started out pretty decently - a female firefighter, an arsonist, a love interest who wasn't yet a love interest but was quietly in the wings. Even when Marigold and Cynthia aka Cinder, aka Cyn, start to hook up, it still made for an entertaining story, although from that point on it became much more of a YA love story than ever it was an investigation into an arsonist. That I could even handle.

The problem came for me when the story made its nod and a wink to the Cinderella story. Marigold, who always complains about the amount of work she has to do, but all she seems to do is be a socialite, invites Cyn to a social event and Cyn comes dressed up, but gets called away to a fire. She changes shoes while talking to Mari in the parking area (for no apparent reason!), and accidentally leaves one of her loafers behind, which Mari then returns to her at the station house.

That part was fine, but as soon as these two began making out and going into a full blown sex session right there in the bunk room of the station house that was too much for me. It just felt wrong and sordid, and juvenile. If the author had made the fire alarm go off so they were interrupted when they began to make out, that for me would have made for a much more entertaining story! But this author went obvious on me and rather gross and immature as well, and that was far too much for my taste. That's when the romance felt fake and forced, like the author was faking it rather than feeling it, and I lost all interest.

I can't commend this based on the 60% or so that I read.


Sunday, August 11, 2019

Return to Cinder by Kristy Tate


Rating: WORTHY!

Having enjoyed Magic Beneath the Huckleberries by this author, I thought this might be a decent read too, and it was. It's very short - just thirty pages or so. It's a supernatural kind of a story about a life-changing event, but it's not a scary story.

Angela is heading home from a friend's wedding where her drive there took longer than the ceremony itself. On her way back through the Nevada desert, her car starts behaving erratically, but fortunately, a patrol car comes by and hooks her up with a tow truck. While she's awaiting the car being fixed, she heads across the street to a function and finds a bite to eat and some warm and friendly people. The thing is that when she finally does get back home, Angela can't find any trace of the hamlet where she'd stopped.

Spooky but not scary, this story was sweet, light, and an easy and fast read. I commend it.


Saturday, July 20, 2019

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall


Rating: WORTHY!

This is another audiobook, read sweetly by Susan Denaker, but once again I learned after I picked it up at the library that it's volume three in a series of five, which is an annoyance. It ticks me off that publishers do this without offering any indication on the cover that this is part of a series or what number it is in that series. I'm not a fan of series because they tend to be filled with fluff and matters of little or no consequence; however, going blind into this one, before I discovered it was one of several, it didn't feel like a sequel, so I was hearing it like it was a stand-alone and it sounded just fine to me. The novel has a charming old world style to it, although at that point I had no idea when it was supposed to have been set. It turns out it's contemporary.

The author didn't publish the first book in the series until she was 54, which might account for why the book seems a little 'out of time', but that holds out hope for us all doesn't it, that her first novel came relatively late in her life despite her apparently deciding she wanted to be a novelist at the age of ten? Never give up! Lesson learned! The book is quite short, so I quickly decided that if this one panned out, I'd see if I could get the audiobook version of the earlier - and later - volumes. I seem to have been doing this lately in the case of Courtney Crumrin, and Bad Machinery graphic novel series so it's almost a habit by now.

The series is about the Penderwick sisters, of whom there are four, and the OAP - which in Britain used to mean Old Age Pensioner, although there's probably a more politically correct term for it now - stands for Oldest Available Penderwick. Since the actual oldest sister Rosalind, is going to spend two weeks with a friend, the OAP role falls to Skye, the next oldest, who has to look after her younger sister Jane and youngest, who has the unfortunate name of Batty. Their parents are out of the country and the bulk of the Penderwicks are staying with an aunt who's unfortunately been disabled by an ankle injury and is hobbling around on crutched, so the Penderwicks are pretty much left to their own devices.

Skye is nervous about being in charge and trying to corral her wayward sisters, each of whom has her own distinct personality. Batyt is the cute and slightly crazy one who fedeveops fads for colelcitgn beach rocks, shells, and stray golf balls from the nearby gold course, which she then sells on the street, like with a lemonade stand but for these tiny dimpled and expensive balls that cause golfers so much unnecessary grief (when no one is looking, just throw the damned ball for goodness sakes. The hell with the club). Before all these events kick off, the sisters hold one of their secret councils, known as Mops, so Rosalind can pass down the last few nuggets of her wisdom and experience, although it's really not necessary since Skye appears to have it covered already despite her misgivings about performing her new role.

Mishaps and adventures ensue. Batty makes a friend. Jane - the aspiring novelist - falls into deeply romantic love with the older brother of Batty's new friend and tastes cold rejection after penning him an ode. Skye becomes possessed of a cleaning frenzy at one point. But the story is laugh out loud hilarious so often that I couldn't help but love it. There were parts that were less than enthralling for me, but for the most part the novel was highly entertaining. The author's incisive and witty observations make for a joyful read. I imagine she would be a charm to have a conversation with, and I'm definitely interested in pursuing the series, which is a novelty for me. I commend this as a worthy read.


Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Bad Machinery Volume 5 The Case of the Fire Inside by John Allison


Rating: WORTHY!

This was one of the last two of this series that I had not read yet, although by no means the last in chronological order. Not that that matters very much with this series, but this one was published as volume five, and was the last one I read, and it's odd to think this grew on me so quickly after I had initially not liked one of these volumes when I read it a few years back and so never pursued the series! Now I'm sorry it's over, but I do understand Allison's desire to move on and try something new. I'm just sorry I didn't like what he did next.

In this volume, the author explores Selkies - mythological seal-like creatures that inhabit the ocean, but after casting-off their sealskin cloak, appear as human - and very pretty young girls some of them are, too. Due to Lottie's discovery of one of these cloaks on the beach, and her stuffing it into one of the boys' bags, the Selkie latches onto this boy and pursues him ardently, including enrolling at his school, where she poses a threat to the established swimming champion in the school, who is also threatened by her boyfriend dating one of the girls without telling her he doesn't want to date her any more. But wait, his ex is good-looking, and a great swimmer? What's going on here? Meanwhile the Selkie's dad emerges from the ocean in search of his lost girls and is immediately assumed to be a homeless guy!

Once again I was highly amused by this and I am sorry to see the series come to an end. I commend this as a worthy read.


Bad Machinery Volume 2 The Case of the Good Boy by John Allison


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the second to last I've read in this series, but the second to be published chronologically. In the story, Mildred wants to win an enchanted pencil at the visiting carnival, so she can draw a dog - which the pencil will make real, and then she can have a pet. Meanwhile toddlers are disappearing, mostly from the baby care centre, and the police don't seem to be doing much about it ("Oh, they'll turn up!"). Meanwhile some sort of creature is lurking in the forest and a crazed animal hunter is called in to track it down.

So once again the boys and the girls are coming at a mystery from two direction and destined to collide, one way or another, in the middle. There's the usual off-kilter humor, and bizarre utterances from Lottie, my favorite character, and overall the story was hilarious and very much appreciated. I fully commend it as a worthy read.


Sunday, July 7, 2019

Giant Days Not on the Test Edition by John Allison, Lissa Treiman, Max Sarin, Whitney Cogar


Rating: WARTY!

I 'graduated' to this from the Bad Machinery graphic novels which I loved, but I was very disappointed in this one. Part of the problem is that Allison has sold out to American audiences, I think. I have to say that I can't get with a comic that has the same rhythm as a pop song. The format of this one mirrored US sitcoms which are lousy at best: one-liner, canned laugh, one liner, canned laugh, two one liners, extended canned laugh, repeat without rinsing.

The premise is that of three female friends at college (just like the three female friends at high school): Daisy Wooten, Esther de Groot, and Susan Ptolemy. I thought Esther was going to be like Charlotte Grote (especially given the name!) in the Bad Machinery comics but she wasn't a patch on Lottie. None of these characters was as interesting as the other girls, and the situations were so predictable, and not very inventive.

The worst part about it though was that pretty much the entire focus of this was not on the girls as it had been in Bad Machinery, but on the girls in relation to boys, which made them far less self-motivated and interesting, and turned the whole thing into a YA novel. I have precious little respect for most YA output. So in short, this was a fail for me and I have no intention of reading any more of this series. It's time to find something completely new.


Saturday, July 6, 2019

Bad Machinery Volume 7 The Case of the Forked Road by John Allison


Rating: WORTHY!

Here I go reviewing the last volume before I've read them all. The others are on the way. This one, surprisingly, was actually in a regular comic book format - but slightly smaller. This made for easy reading, but disguised the fact that it was considerably shorter than the others I've read. Whether this was just because it's the closing volume, or this one was written for the print version rather than as a web comic, I do not know.

The story was just about the girls, too - which is fine with me because they've been typically far more interesting than the boys who barely were featured in this story. And by that I mean they were in the story hardly at all - not that they were in the story without any clothes on.

So Charlotte Grote, Mildred Haversham, and Shauna Wickle are on the case - once they discover what the case is, and in this case it's the curious wormhole in a cabinet in the chemistry lab at school, which they go through back to 1960, only to return and discover that the present is screwed-up, so naturally they have to go back and fix it now. Or then. Whatevs.

You know they're still going to screw something up, right?

I loved this story. It might be my favorite, but I still have volumes two and five to go, so we'll see. Meanwhile this gets a worthy!


Painting Masterclass by Susie Hodge


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Subtitled "Creative Techniques of 100 Great Artists" this book of almost 300 pages does precisely what it promises, and explores well-known (and lesser-known) works by artists both classically famous and bubbling under. In each case a painting is depicted and discussed, including the paints used, the techniques employed, and imparting some information about the artist as well. Susie Hodge has an MA in Art History from Birkbeck, University of London, and has has written over 100 books not only on the topic of art.

If I have a complaint - and notwithstanding that it may seem churlish to complain about a book that has commendably assembled five-score masterpieces for our perusal and education - it would be that once again we're faced with something designed for a print version and therefore being inadequately represented in ebook format. Too many of these paintings are unfortunately - some might say scandalously - split across two pages which is never - ever - a good thing. In the ebook version it's worse, because there is a thick gray line down anything that dares to be in landscape orientation. Additionally, the book has a glossary and an index, but again the index is for the print version, and is not 'clickable' to navigate in the ebook.

If I have praises, I have too many to list here in a review that's already yeay long, but the inclusion of so many female painters is definitely praiseworthy. The history of arts isn't that of white men, but for all that's written about it, you can be excused for being bamboozled into thinking it is. You can go back as far as you like - even to cave paintings (which get some coverage in the introduction), and it seems that the thrust (the male thrust, of course) is to exclude women as creators - like the caves were solely painted by men when we have no idea who the artists actually were. This book commendably does a lot to redress that sorry imbalance (and no, Joan Miró isn't female) and is the better for it.

After some fifty pages of material that is both introductory and educational, including a history of art (not quite the same as art history!), the book is divided into seven main sections, each with a dozen or so artists representative of that category:

  • Nudes
    I'm not sure why nudes get to be first. Sounds like naked aggression to me, but here we go (and I promise not to make fun of artist names or painting titles):
    • Titian - Venus of Urbino
    • Jacopo Tintoretto - The Origin of the Milky Way
    • François Boucher - The Triumph of Venus
    • Francisco Goya - Nude Maja
    • Gustave Gourbet - Sleeping Nude
    • Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres - The Turkish Bath
    • Gustave Caillebotte - Man at his Bath
    • Georges Seurat - Models
    • Edvard Munch - Madonna
    • Paul Gaugin - Nevermore
    • Paula Modersohn-Becker - Self Portrait on Her Sixth Wedding Anniversary
    • Gustave Klimt - Danaë
    • Amedeo Modigliani - Red Nude
    • Suzanne Valadon - Reclining Nude
    • Jenny Saville - Branded
    • Cecily Brown - Two Figures on a Landscape
  • Figures
    Figures excludes portraits, which appear in 'heads'!
    • Michelangelo Buonarotti - The Delphic Sybil
    • Sofonisba Anguissola - The Chess Game
    • Paolo Veronese - The Wedding Feast at Cana
    • Pieter Breugel the Elder - Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery
    • El Greco - Christ Driving the Traders from the Temple
    • Caravaggio - Deposition from the Cross
    • Artemisia Gentileschi - Judith Beheading Holfernes
    • Frans Hals - The Laughing Cavlier
    • Diego Velázquez - Las Meninas
    • Rembrandt Van Rijn - The Jewish Bride
    • Jacques-Louis David - The Oath of the Horatii
    • Édouard Manet - Luncheon on the Grass
    • Honoré Daumier - Third Class Carriage
    • Edgar Degas - The Ballet Class
    • Berthe Morisot - The Cradle
    • Eva Gonzalès - Nanny and Child
    • Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec - At the Moulin Rouge, the Dance
    • Egon Schiele - Seated Woman with Bent Knee
    • Balthus - The Card Game
    • Richard Diebenkorn - Coffee
    • Peter Doig - Two Trees
    That cavalier really isn't laughing, so I feel that portrait name has been treated rather...cavlierly. Also the Jewish bride wasn't so named by Rembrandt. Luncheon on the Grass was rather controversially imitated for an album cover by the new wave band Bow Wow Wow in the early eighties.
  • Landscape
    These are the gray divider line pictures
    • Claude Lorrain - An Artist Studying from Nature
    • John Constable - The Hay Wain
    • Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot - The Bridge at Narni, Near Rome
    • Caspar David Friedrich - Mountain Peak with Drifting Clouds
    • JMW Turner - The Red Rigi
    • Jean-François Millet - Haystacks: Autumn
    • Oskar Kokoschka - Tre Croci Dolomite Landscape
    • Paul Klee - Hammamet with its Mosque
    • Claude Monet - Water Lilies
    • Edward Hopper - Haskell's House
    • Emil Nolde - Distant Marshland with Farmhouses
    • Frank Auerbach - Primrose Hill Study Autumn Evening
    • Julie Mehretu - Retopistics a Renegade Excavation
    • Hurvin Anderson - Untitled (Red Flags)
    Constable's painting is known as The Hay Wain but it wasn't originally named that by him. His less memorable name for it was 'Landscape: Noon'! It was subject to minor vandalism in 2013 in the museum where it's kept, but no lasting damage was done. there is a beautifully-rendered rose on the Klee page which to me far outshines the main painting. Nolde's watercolor is equuisite and Anderson's untitled beach scene is equally entrancing.
  • Still Life
    Isn't all painting still life, ultimately? LOL! Just kidding.
    • Floris van Dyck - Still Life with Fruit, Nuts, and Cheese
    • Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin - Still Life with Peaches, a Silver Goblet, Grapes, and Walnuts
    • Henri Fantin-Latour - Flowers and Fruit
    • Pierre-Auguste Renoir - Onions
    • Paul Cézanne - Still life with Cherries and Peaches
    • Georges Braque - Violin and Palette
    • Juan Gris - Grapes
    • Fernand Léger - Still Life with a Beer Mug
    • Georgio Morandi - Still Life
    • Georgia O'Keeffe - Jimson Weed White Flower No 1
    Gris's painting was curiously not done as a Grisaille. Go figure! Not sure how still a life with an empty beer mug would be, especially if it was the artist who drained it, but moving along.... Georgia O'Keeffe's painting is wonderful.
  • Heads
    Portraits.
    • Leonardo da Vinci - Mona Lisa
    • Raphael - Madonna in the Meadow
    • Hans Holbein the Younger - Jane Seymour
    • Johannes Vermeer - Girl with a Pearl Earring
    • Adélaïde Labille-Guiard - Self-Portrait with Two Pupils
    • Mary Cassatt - Portrait of the Artist
    • Piere Bonnard - Self-Portrait
    • Vincent van Gogh - Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear
    • Eugène Carrière - Self-Portrait
    • André Derain - Portrait of Henri Matisse
    • Henri Matisse - Portrait of Derain
    • Amrita Sher-Gill - Hungarian Gypsy Girl
    • Pablo Picasso - Weeping Woman
    • Alberto Giacometti - Anette
    • Marlene Dumas - Amy Winehouse (Amy Blue)
    Mona Lisa is never described as The Laughing Lisa. I rest my case.... I have to say I am not convinced there was any pearl earring here. It seems to me, given the circumstances, that it was more likely that it was some sort of shiny metal - perhaps silver if it was the daughter of Vermeer's sponsor. No one knows what Vermeer titled it, but it became known as the girl with a turban until relatively recently when it became rather poetically known as "Girl with a Pearl." If you look at Vermeers featuring girls actually wearing pearls they look quite different from this one, but you pays your money and you takes your art. These were all created before the term 'selfie' came into use, so the much more formal 'self-portrait was a common title. I love the reciprocity of the Derain and Matisse works! Weeping woman was probably captured after Picasso jilted her for another woman, and 'Anette' looks like something out of a horror movie, so disturbing is it.
  • Fantasy
    This was an unexpected, but welcome inclusion.
    • Sandro Botticelli - The Birth of Venus
    • Peter Paul Rubens - Minerva Protects Pax from Mars
    • Giovanni Battista Tiepolo - The Finding of Moses
    • Eugène Delacroix - The Death of Sardanapalus
    • Rosa Bonheur - Highland Raid
    • Ilya Repin - Sadko and the Underwater Kingdom
    • Edward Burne-Jones - The Doom Fulfilled
    • Marc Chagall - I and the Village
    • Francis Picabia - Dances at the Spring
    • Leonora Carrington - Self-Portrait
    • Frida Kahlo - The Two Fridas
    • Howard Hodgkin - Robyn Denny and Katherine Reid
    • Philip Guston - The Street
    • Paula Rego - The Dance
    Repin's painting is remarkable, but I think that the Best Title Award has to go to Burne-Jones's painting. It's really hard to tell if Picabia's spring is a season, a water source, or even...a bedspring.
  • Abstraction
    I wish I could be more specific about this section but....
    • Wassily Kandinsky - Composition 7
    • Hannah Höch - Mechanical Garden
    • Joan Miró - The Poetess
    • Jackson Pollack - Autumn Rhythm (No 30)
    • Nicolas de Staël - Agrigente
    • Hans Hofmann - The Golden Wall
    • Helen Frankenthaler - The Bay
    • Gerhard Richter - Abstraktes Bild
    • Cy Twombly - Untitled (Bacchus)
    • Gillian Ayres - Suns of Seven Circles Shine

Long list! But worth it. The paintings - some you may love, others you may hate - say a lot and are well-worth seeing, as is reading the breakdown of how they were composed, and what sort of paints and materials were used in their creation. This book is as remarkable as the paintings and I commend it as a worthy read for any artist or anyone interested in art.


Thursday, July 4, 2019

Bad Machinery Volume 4 The Case of the Lonely One by John Allison


Rating: WORTHY!

Another outing for Charlotte, Linton, Jack, Mildred, Shauna, and Sonny, who are now in the second year at Griswold Grammar school and marveling at how tiny and young the new first years look. One new kid, Lem, is decidedly strange. He eats onions like they're apples and suddenly, everyone starts thinking he's a cool guy - including Shauna's previously disparaging friends.

But where are Shauna's compatriots? Why do they all seem utterly preoccupied with other things and uncaring about a "mystery"? Shauna, it seems, will have to go it alone, or recruit new people onto her team, because one by one, it seems, even her closest friends are being won over to Lem's onion-eating circle. What the heck is going on? One way or another, Shauna's going to find out.

After a weird start to this series several years back, and a hiccup several years back minus two, I finally got really into it over the last few days, and now I intend to check out the remaining three volumes.


Bad Machinery Volume 3 The Case of the Simple Soul by John Allison


Rating: WORTHY!

This is volume one of the graphic novel series for which I reviewed volume six yesterday. The volumes are, in order: The Case of the Team Spirit, The Case of the Good Boy, The Case of the Simple Soul, The Case of the Lonely One, The Case of the Fire Inside, The Case of the Unwelcome Visitor, and The Case of the Forked Road. The publication as print volumes, of the collected web comics began in 2013, and at least one was published every year through 2017. Since that was over two years ago, I'm thinking this series is done now.

When I posted the review of volume six yesterday, I couldn't get away from the idea that Bad Machinery was something I'd tangled with before - and I'm not talking about an old motor vehicle! So I looked back in my reviews and discovered that I'd reviewed two of these, one back in 2014 and the other in 2016, the first negative, the second positive, but I'd never got back with any volumes after that.

When I'd read it for the first time, volume 3 (which is this volume) I hadn't rated it very highly and I forgot about it, but now having read it again, I'm forced to change my view. I think maybe I've warmed to the characters and the story-telling in the meantime - or maybe before was a mean time and now isn't? I dunno! But no! This doesn't mean I'm going to return to previously negatively-rated books for the purpose of re-reading and re-rating all of them! Yuk!

When I initially read it, I was trading the thing back and forth with my son (and the format of these books is unwieldy!), each of us reading a section, and neither of us had been very impressed with it. This time I read it on my own and as part of these three volumes I'm reviewing today, so I think maybe I was on a roll.

In this volume, the usual crew, Linton Baxter, Sonny Craven, Jack Finch, Charlotte Grote, Mildred Haversham, and Shauna Wickle come at the same problem - a fire-starter - from different angles, and end-up solving the problem. One issue is a real live troll - who looks like a brawny, neckless human, is living under a bridge. The other issue is that empty barns are being burned down. Of course there are many other issues!

The gang get by with their usual wry and dry take on life, their usual weird situations, and their usual humor. Unlike in late 2014, this amused me this time around and I commend it as a worthy read.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Bad Machinery Volume 6 The Case of the Unwelcome Visitor by John Allison


Rating: WORTHY!

This graphic novel amused me from the outset, even more than I had hoped it would from a quick scan of it in the library. This is volume 6, which happened to be the first (and only one) I saw there, so now I've requested the first couple of volumes to start this from the beginning and see if I still like it when I don't arrive at it ass-backwards (or is it arse-backwards, since this is a Brit publication?).

This volume is centered on The Night Creeper, a grinning ghoul who seems to prey on the townsfolk of Tackleford leaving them gaga (in the old fashioned sense - they're not singing "Sh-sh-sha-a-low" or anything like that, understand...). All they're left with is vacant looks and a grin worthy of the amusing 1961 "horror" movie Mr Sardonicus.

This whole thing began as a web comic in 2009, and blossomed from there into over half-a-dozen hefty volumes now. I loved the sly humor - and being British-born, understood most of it despite also being a long-term ex-pat. It was very much my kind of humor though. The only thing I didn't like was the large format of the comic!

It was not only oversized as compared with most graphic novels, it was quite thick and in landscape format to boot, being more akin to a large place mat than a graphic novel, and it had the same lack of rigidity to it, meaning it was quite tiresome to try to hold while reading. You really need a table, a lap, or even a lectern to read one of these things. The struggle was worth it for the humor, though. I commend this as a worthy read.


Saturday, February 2, 2019

The Speed of Light by Amber Kizer


Rating: WARTY!

This is the third volume in the 'Meridian' trilogy which began with Meridian in 2009, and was followed by Wildcat Fireflies in 2011, and this one a year later. Despite liking the first, and not so much the second, both of which I read before I started blogging books, I could not get into this third volume at all. Maybe I left it too long before moving on to read this one? But that said it didn't ought to have affected my perception of it to this extent.

This is why I typically despise trilogies because far more often than not, the author takes a great idea and ruins it by dragging it out way past its natural life cycle. This is what happened here. Each volume was less than the previous, and this particular one was a bloated tome. One of the reasons for that was the appalling waste of trees involved in its production. There were massive margins, and the widely-spaced text did not start until halfway down the page on new chapters. How many trees could you have saved, Ms Kizer if you had formatted your book a little more wisely? Maybe she doesn't care. Maybe she hates trees. No one wants to see a book that's all text and no white space not even me(!), but come on! I think I'm going to start negatively-reviewing any print book that's so disrespectful of our environment.

Anyway I think I am done with this author after this experience. But briefly, the book is about Meridian Sozu, who is known as a Fenestra, that is, a human who has been, dare I say it, touched by an angel, and who is supposed to help transition souls into the next world. Why such a person would ever be needed goes unexplained. It implies that the resident god is incompetent and needs help shoring-up the defective system he created!

The author pairs her up with a guy, of course, who is naturally her soul-mate and protector. Why the author couldn't have changed this up a bit instead of taking the road most traveled, I do not know. She could have made the two antagonists, or made the protector a lesbian who wants Meridian, but whose love is not requited, or something else, but no, let's stick with traditional weak women who desperately needs a guy to validate her, young adult crap.

In volume one, this wasn't so bad as it happened, but it got worse. In this volume there's a battle to save this girl Julia who will do almost anything to find her parents, and who is siding with the idiotically named 'nocti' - the forces of dark who try to steal souls from people like Meridian. Plus there's a disaster awaiting at the Indianapolis 500, which some would argue is already a disaster, but still. Sorry, but no - not interested! The author has done insufficient work to create this world, and consequently it doesn't hang together at all well.


Friday, November 16, 2018

More Than Bones by Craig David Singer


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, November 2, 2018

Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a largely well-written and highly amusing take on Pride and Prejudice. In a modern version of this novel, and to stay true to the repressive, controlling atmosphere and public censure women were forced to endure in Austen's time, you would have to set the story in a religiously-strict locale, and in this case it’s Pakistan that was chosen. The story is set in 2000 and 2001, and with a lot of character name changes, largely follows the outline of Austen's story. I found it entertaining, but I have some observations to make on the 'translation' into modern times and exotic locales.

I think in general the novel was very well done, with some good decisions made about how to translate various characters and situations into modern times. If I had one initial complaint that popped out at me during the reading, it would be the rather annoying self-awareness the novel seems to exhibit with regard to it being a riff on an Austen Novel.

Austen's works are mentioned frequently enough that it was bordering on becoming a parody at times, and the pretension in name-dropping of what are too-often considered 'the classics' in novels was irritating to me. There is an endless stream of novel references which, whenever I'm reading a novel that does this, typically feels to me like a tool used amateurishly as a lazy substitute for actually doing the work of showing that your character is intelligent and educated, and I'm never impressed by it.

That this was set in a non-English-speaking country. Believe it or not, there are very many such countries, and American writers seem scared to death of choosing any as a setting for their work, so kudos to this author for being as fearless as she is inventive, but given this I found it somewhat annoying in its frequent use of foreign terms and phrases.

I don't mind the phrases in moderation; it’s a pleasant change. What I do mind is the ritualistic compulsion on the part of the author to immediately stick a translation after the foreign phrase. This really trips up the story for me because rather than adding some atmosphere and a bit of color and verisimilitude, it merely suggests to me that the author is trying to sound clever.

Personally, I find it far better to include such words and phrases infrequently, and give them without a translation, allowing the context and your reader's smarts provide an understanding for them. Have a little faith in your readers! As it was, it could have been used less and as such would have been less irritating to me, and less disturbing of my suspension of disbelief.

Maybe it's just me, but a good example of this is where I read (and before you read on, be warned there is some bad language in this novel!), “How many times should I tell you not to not say behen chod, sisterfucker. It’s so insulting to women. Use your own gender and say bhai chod, brotherfucker.” To me it’s insulting that the author would think I cannot extrapolate from this context that the second phrase is masculine, so that she feels she needs to spell it out to me. She really doesn't! There were many instances of a similar nature.

An issue I've seen often with writers is when they're so focused on the text they're producing that they forget that this isn't supposed to be simply words on a page. It’s supposed to be a story of people living their lives, interacting, speaking...and hearing! So unless the main character's mom was routinely reading English newspapers (she may have been but there is nothing in the novel to indicate that she understood a word of English much less could read it), then only way she would know any given English word is from hearing it used, perhaps on TV.

The thing is that if you hear it used, you do not routinely mispronounce it as though you had read it somewhere! Even if you do misunderstand it, the whole process is different when it runs through an auditory process than when it runs through a visual one! So from the nervous nelly of a mom here we got a lot of mispronunciation-cum-malapropism such as "Pinkie, say ‘Tetley’ again. What did I tell you, Goga, ‘Tut-lee!’." We also got, for example, "Prince Chaarless and Lady Dayna." I don't see how you can get that unless you understand English reasonably well and are also dyslexic in English, neither of which applied to Mrs Binat! So, suspension of disbelief issue here!

Another example of this was where one particular character's name was deliberately mispronounced by one of the siblings in this story's equivalent of the Bennet family, so that it became "Fart Bhai." Fart is an English word, not a Pakistani one, so that name would not have sounded insulting or like a young boy's bathroom joke in any Pakistani language. Pakistan doesn't have one main language, but several. There are five which are spoken commonly. In Pashto fart is 'goez', in Urdu it’s 'puskee', and in Punjabi, in which district I assume this action is set, fart is 'garama', as far as I can determine using online resources. None of these sound like the English version of the word, so this joke made little sense.

A similar situation arose when the author had Wikaam (Wickham) set his price for marrying Lady (Lydia). In the Austen original, he doesn't actually set a price, but an amount is bandied around as a minimum, and this is £10,000. In today's money, that would be about £300,000, or almost $400,000 (depending on current exchange rate). So Lady is highly undervalued here! The amount stated in this novel $100,000 which is only about £76,000.

I found this most curious because Pakistani currency isn't dollars; it's rupees, one hundred of which are worth (at the exchange rate when I wrote this), only seventy-five cents. So very, very roughly one rupee equals one cent. An equivalent evaluation for Wickaam, in Pakistani coinage, of taking on Lady would be something like fifty three million rupees!

Perhaps the author thought that sounded far too high to western ears? I don't know. As the author it is of course her choice, but it seemed odd to me to use dollars instead of rupees or pounds (given how often Britain is referenced in the story). This was obviously written for an American audience! I just pass this on to highlight how complex it can be to try 'translating' an old story for modern ears, especially if the setting changes.

And now a writing issue! The author chose the interesting solution of adjusting the character's names to fit what I must assume are Pakistani naming conventions. The De Bourgh family for example became 'dey Bagh', and George Wikham became Jeorgeullah Wikaam. Elizabeth Bennet was Alysba Binat, and Darcy became Darsee. Curiously this rule was not applied to the location in which the story was set!

The original story takes place in and around Meryton, but the story in this book is set in Dilipabad, which is a fictional Pakistani location as far as I know. Dileep is a boy's name meaning 'King of the solar Race', and 'abad' means these days, very roughly, 'city of' so it would translate as the City of the King of the Solar race, but I have no idea what that's supposed to mean! In the Punjab district of Pakistan, there is a town called Multan, a name which sounds similar to Meryton, and which is not far from Lahore. I don't know why the author didn't simply use that, but again, it’s her choice.

The author's technique with names though, had the advantage of helping to keep everyone's straight, although I confess I got lost from time to time. I think if I'd done this, I'd have been tempted to go a different way, but maybe this worked better. I’d have been more inclined to look at what the English name meant and use the local translation of that, so that Lydia, which means 'beautiful one' would translate to Sudara (close enough!), which is actually a pretty cool name, but that means Elizabeth (oath of god) translates to Paramēśura dī sahu which really doesn't work! So maybe this author's choice was the wiser one?!

But enough with the writing issues and criticism. As I said at the beginning, I found this story engrossing and entertaining, and it kept me swiping the screen and tempting me away from my own writing projects too often, so this was definitely a worthy read. It even helped, indirectly, by reminding me of the original story, to clarify and gel some ideas of my own in connection with my upcoming redux of Pride and Prejudice - which I haven't even started yet but which I have now decided is up next after the current project, and which I promise is not set in modern times, nor is it set in Pakistan!

So I am greatful to have read this for that alone, but it was much more than that to me. It offered more than a literary stimulant; it was a good sotry, well told, and made more interesting to me for the very fact that it was so different from the traditional retellings of this which have become multifarious as well as nefarious and are typically boring and uninventive at best, or badly done at worst. I am grateful this wasn't such a story and I fully commend it - and look forward to this author's next offering.


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Luisa Now and Then by Carole Maurel


Rating: WORTHY!

Published in French originally as Luisa: Ici et là (strictly speaking, Luisa Here and there), with this English version adapted by Mariko Tamaki and translated by Nanette McGuinness, this oddball time-travel fantasy brings a younger Luisa to the future to meet her older self, and neither is well-pleased with the other.

Teenager Luisa sets off on a bus trip and ends up falling asleep. When she awakes she's at the end of the line and gets out to discover she's nowhere near where she thought she was, not in space or time. A young, but mature woman to whom Luisa is loosely attracted helps her and slowly it dawns upon Luisa that this woman lives across the hallway from her own older self, so to the outside world, the younger Luisa feigns being a cousin of the older until they can sort out what happened and how to put it right. It's a learning experience, and not a pleasant one, given how prickly and persnickety the two of them are. Or should that be 'the one of them is'?

The young Luisa refuses to believe that she ends up as this 'spinsterish' older woman whose life is unadventurous and downright boring. Yeah, she lives in Paris, but whoa, is this second-rate job the one young Luisa dreamed of getting? No! Older Luisa has tried to make her life pain-free, and appears to be in serious disagreement with Socrates that 'The unexamined life is not worth living'. In arranging her life thus, she's failed to realize that she's attracted to females and in particular, the very one across the hall that younger Luisa finds so appealing.

So far so good, but the longer they spend together, the more alike the two of them become and they realize that it's urgent that they split up before they become indistinguishable from one another. Young Luisa must return to her original time and place. This book is done as a fine art piece, with entrancing line work and watercolor painting, and it was a pleasure to read: fun, engaging, and overall a worthy read. I commend it.


Tuesday, October 2, 2018

One Day So Many Ways by Laura Hall, Loris Lora


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Written descriptively by Hall and illustrated well by Lora, this book is definitely needed. As a reader who tires of so many novels by American authors set in the US, as though nothing ever happens elsewhere in the world, I welcome books which amplify how important the rest of the world is, and illustrate how critical it is to have an awareness and understanding of other nations, especially at a time when we have a president who seems determined to wear blinkers.

Children need to grasp how big this world is and how different and alike other children are. It never hurts to be wise to the ways of the world and this book represents a sterling start, taking us through a typical day across Earth, but looked at through many facets: those of children of over forty other nations.

It begins with the kids waking up to a new day, breakfasting, traveling to school, learning, playing, making friends, having quiet time, enjoying sports and games, traveling home and completing chores, homework and going to bed! It discusses how different each country can be, or how similar, by illustrating each new page with many vignettes of life elsewhere and at home.

Do the Venetians in Italy enjoy the same food as us? How about children in Burkina Faso? In Jining? In Kathmandu? Do they play the same games? Dream the same dreams? Hope for the same things? The stories come from literally across the entire globe, from two-score nations, from Australia to Alaska, Mali to Mexico, Ecuador to England, Ireland to India, Patagonia to Poland and more.

If I had one complaint it would be that the ebook comes as a double-page spread which makes it rather small, even on a tablet computer. It would have been easier to read had these double-spreads been split into individual pages, and I saw no reason why they could not have been. Evidently this was planned as a print book with little thought given to ebook versions which is rather sad. Other than that, I fully recommend this book as a worthy and educational read for all children everywhere!


Monday, October 1, 2018

Invincible Iron Man by Brian Michael Bendis, Stefano Caselli, Kate Niemczyk, Taki Soma, Kiichi Mizushima, Marte Gracia, Israel Silva


Rating: WORTHY!

So I read the second volume of the Ironheart graphic novel - this is the one featuring a female (a young female - she's only fifteen, but already a brilliant student at MIT). I had some minor issues with this volume. It's supposed to be about this girl who is replacing Ironman, so I was disappointed to discover that the title made no mention whatsoever of Ironheart!

The first volume at least had the title as "Invincible Iron Man Ironheart" which was bad enough (it made no sense for one thing), but volume two excludes the Ironheart bit altogether, like the comic isn't even about her! WTF, Marvel? There really is no point in promoting a female super hero if all you're going to do with her is render her as an appendage of the previous male hero to hold that title. It defeats the purpose, you know? For goodness sake let her fly solo. And don't treat your readers like idiots who would have no clue that Ironheart is a female incarnation of Iron Man without you spelling it out on the cover - because clearly you have no faith in the cover illustrations accomplishing that aim! LOL!

That aside, the overall story wasn't too bad, although it lapsed a bit here and there. Tony Stark's AI presence is nothing but an annoyance to me. If it was amusing, that would be something, but it isn't, and having so many types of speech balloon (one for Riri suited-up, one for her out of suit, one for Tony, one for Friday?) means it's a mess. Clean it up!

At one point I actually wondered if I'd be able to give this a favorable rating, but then it picked up and it saved itself enough that I'm willing to pursue this at least as far as volume three. One of my problems with it, and this applies to more than this one comic, is Marvel's lack of imagination in creating new villains. DC is just as bad. Let's resurrect the Joker again why don't we? Never mind how many times we killed him off, let's really keep digging back into the ancient past and bring out the same villains over and over instead of going to the trouble of using our imagination and creativity. Barf. The Joker is a joke. The Riddler is ridiculous. Catwoman is a pussy and the Penguin is for the birds. Find a new shtick!

This volume did change it up a bit in that the two main villains were females, but they were female versions (in effect) of male villains. Instead of the endlessly returning Doctor Doom, we got a female clone: a psychotic despot who was queen of Latveria of all places. Seriously? Get a new shtick, Marvel. At least, as temporary queen of Latveria, after defeating this idiot non-entity of a villain, Ironheart shone. Later Ironheart went up against Lady Octopus (and to her credit made fun of her title - this was one of the things which amused me and brought the novel back into my favor.

I'm happy to say that despite the lack of any female writing input, the art wasn't appallingly genderist, perhaps due to the presence of Kate Niemczyk and Taki Soma on the team, but it's still not enough. I am still hoping for better, but for now this isn't too bad.


Invincible Iron Man Ironheart by Brian Michael Bendis, Stefano Caselli, Marte Gracia


Rating: WORTHY!

I tend not to read many super hero comics because they often rub me up the wrong way and the poses the artists put the characters into all-too-often seem utterly unnatural when they're not uninventive, and the sexualization, particularly of females is not acceptable to me. Plus the dialog is a bit lame - especially when the heroes are exchanging smart-ass remarks in the middle of a fight. It's thoroughly unrealistic - even given the premise that superheroes exist - so it's not my cup of gamma ray-infused kryptonite, but once in a while I do read one for better or for worse. This one was for better as it happens, although there is still much to be done here.

This one threatened to annoy me from the cover alone because despite it being about Iron Man's replacement (in this comic world Iron Man is dead - at least as much as any super hero or villain is ever dead in these things), the female who is taking over still doesn't get top billing, although her 'real' name curiously appears on the cover at the bottom of the page. Normally I pay little attention to covers because the author has little or nothing to do with them and the artist typically hasn't even read the novel, as judged by how irrelevant or clueless the cover art is, but in graphic novels it's different: the cover does matter.

J Scott Campbell's risible (if it were not so serious) 2016 cover that caused such a controversy when it was revealed is almost as inexcusable as his being in total brain-dead denial about what an inappropriate cover it was. Marvel seems to have learned a lesson from that, but there are more they still need to learn - like hiring an artist who is a black woman maybe to draw Ironheart instead of yet another white dude? Was Nilah Magruder not available? Yona Harvey? Anyone? Ferrous Jewels?! There have to be scores of young black female artists who would love a shot at this. Afua Richardson? Taneka Stotts? It's important - it just needs to become important to the comic book corporations: not important to say, but important to actually do!

And what's with the name Ironheart? It was the name of a Japanese soft-porn knock-off of Iron Man and the content was certainly not appropriate to link to a fifteen-year-old black woman who's set to become a hero. What was wrong with Iron Girl? Was it ever considered? Tony Stark is cleared to be an Iron Man, but Riri isn't cleared to be a girl? Well, I guess not according to J Scott Campbell she isn't!

The story shows Riri - who is purportedly a genius, creating her own suit and starting out as a self-made woman, finally being mentored by Tony Stark's AI, and befriending Pepper Potts who is also a super hero now. The story was upbeat, fun and enjoyable, but there's much more to this incarnation of the Iron Hero. I enjoyed this comic and felt that Riri had a voice worth hearing, but maybe others will disagree. Pre-orders for this comic series slowly fell after issue one. I can't help but wonder if this was because the female wasn't quite so sexualized after that outcry or maybe it was something else. Maybe the writing isn't there. Maybe the plotting isn't, but I intend to read more of this story and see where it goes. I commend this issue at least.


Friday, June 1, 2018

Summit Vol 1: The Long Way Home by Amy Chu, Jan Duursema


Rating: WORTHY!

Errata:
Aeropsace on p13 Misspelled.

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

There was an event in which an asteroid nearly hit Earth. The planet was supposedly saved by Lorena Payan, which no doubt is pronounced 'pain'. Some people developed superpowers from this event, but curiously, the event seemed to have a preference mostly for white American adults.

The stories of these mutants are covered in various editions by various writers and artists. This one is the story of one of those white Americans who happened to be actually on the mission: Valentina "Val" Resnick-Baker who rescues and protects a young kid. Can anyone say Aliens 2 Redux?

Frankly this story it was a bit bland, repetitive, and disjointed, but overall it was better than the other two I read in this batch of stories. While I am happy to rate this one as a worthy read, I think I'm done with this whole series which really isn't moving, shaking, or breaking new ground. It's petty much broken and crumbled like the asteroid was at this point.


KINO Vol. 1: Escape from the Abyss by Joe Casey, Jefte Paolo


Rating: WARTY!

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

KINO stands for Kinetic Impulse Neoterrestrial Operative which is one of the most bland and meaningless phrases I've ever read, but it was appropriate for a story that made no sense whatsoever. I've been following this X-Men knock-off world for some time and initially I was enjoying it, but lately I've become more and more disappointed in it with every new volume I read, and I feel like I'm about ready to drop it after this one. Nothing happens and nothing moves the story, and by that measure, this book is looking like a microcosm for the entire series at this point.

The backstory is that a "meteor" was heading towards Earth, and this powerful Latin woman orchestrated an assault on it by a half-dozen international astronauts all of whom supposedly died. It turns out she was more sinisterly involved than anyone knows, but now she's a celebrity because she "saved" Earth. The offshoot of this near-miss heavenly body was that some people garnered for themselves super powers. How that worked isn't explained, but whatever explanation it turns out to be has to be better than a dumb-ass "X gene" for sure.

This story (one of many told by different authors and illustrated by different artists) focuses on Major Alistair Meath of the Royal Airforce, so kudos for at least acknowledging - unlike DC and Marvel - that there are places outside the USA. It's believed Major Meath, aka KINO, is dead, but in fact he's been kept in some sort of suspended animation by the Latin girl. The British somehow find out about this and send in a covert team to extract the major's body, but they themselves are hijacked and the body ends up in the lab of Aturo Assante, a stereotypical mad scientist. So far so good.

This is where the story goes seriously downhill because from then on the story itself goes into suspended animation. Assante seems to think that by programming the Major's mind with various challenges - fighting-off super powered bad guys - he can turn KINO into precisely the super hero he requires (for what purpose goes unexplained). So they have Meath suspended from wires, an idea taken directly from Robin Cook's novel Coma. The purpose of this in Cook's novel is so that the patient doesn't get bedsores from lying in one position on a bed, but as I recall Cook doesn't really address the various medical issues raised by this system, the first of which is infection.

The suspension wires go right through the skin into the bone, so unless there is fastidious sterility in the environment which even in a hospital there never is, then the patient is going to get all manner of infections. Just as important is the lack of exercise. Muscles atrophy when not used, as astronauts know only too well, so there's no point in mentally creating a super hero (even if it were possible) if the body isn't also brought up speed. This is why competent nurses turn their coma patients in the bed, and stretch and bend limbs to keep muscles active.

The story consists of repeated rounds of the Brit agent searching for Meath, the Latinx woman searching for Meath, Assante issuing bullshit demands of his programming team, and Meath having a rough and tumble inner life. It's boring. For example, at one point Assante (or someone in his lab, I forget) talks about "cortextual" - there's no such word. He's confusing the 'tex' in 'cortex' with 'text' and getting 'textual' from that, presumably. The correct term is 'cortical'. A real doctor (and a real spellchecker!) would know that.

But the problem is that if these guys have the technology to program scenarios into a living person's mind, then they can also read out of that mind what's going on, but they repeatedly claim that they have no idea what's going on in this guy's brain, yet even so, they know it's bad? Even without feedback they keep feeding things in? It makes no sense. Add to that indifferent and oddly angular artwork by Jefte Paolo and the story doesn't even make up in eye-candy for what it loses in the 'textual' aspects! I didn't like this, and I cannot recommend it.