Showing posts with label ebook. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ebook. Show all posts

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Au Bonheur des Dames by Émile Zola

Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 10, 2020

Van Life by Nicolette Dane

Rating: WARTY!

"So we're effectively on the lamb?" Should be lam without the B! They're not actually riding a baby sheep!
"Off near the hollow and it's vast decline," No, not 'it is vast decline', but 'its vast decline' the vast decline belonging to it.

I saw this author listed in a daily book flyer I get and the title she had on offer was interesting, but it was only listed as being available at Amazon. Why authors limit themselves and sell their soul to Amazon like this I cannot for the life of me begin to grasp, but I won't do business with Amazon, not even if the book is free, so I looked on B&N for it and that one wasn't there, but this one was, so I decided to try it instead.

I was disappointed, so I guess I won't go and read the other book even if it becomes available through an acceptable outlet. The writing felt simplistic and amateurish and the descriptions of sexual encounters were laughable, the author squeamishly refusing to use real words for body parts and instead inventing absurd terms, such as "pink pellet" for clitoris. No, not 'terms', 'turds'! I'm sorry but I can't take any writer seriously who does that.

The story is about this woman named Julia who gave up her corporate life to travel around the country (USA of course, because everyone knows that there cannot possibly be any story worth telling that occurs outside these jealously-guarded borders). She drives an old van which she's slowly fitting-out with amenities such as a table, a solar panel so she can have fridge, a shower, and so on. She picks up temp jobs from time to time to finance her travels, but occasional part-time jobs such as a couple of afternoons a week in a bar hardly seem like they would earn her enough money to finance this kind of lifestyle! It would barely pay for gas, let alone food and any kind of other needs; however, I was willing to let that go for the sake of a good story.

At one stop in a town she's visited before, temping in a bar, Julia encounters a woman named Robyn who is upset because she just got laid off from her job. They sit and commiserate and get slightly drunk and Robyn goes back to Julia's place (she's housesitting on this occasion, as well as the bar job), and they end-up in bed together having unprotected sex. In short, they're idiots. You know it wouldn't hurt a writer, the story, or the readership, to put in a brief line about sexual histories there, or at least offer some sort of a nod and a wink to the fact that having sex with a stranger is potentially dangerous and even life-threatening!

More fool me, but I even let that go. This was made a lot easier by the fact that the descriptions of their intimate encounters I took to skipping because they were so boring. As you have to realize, the two of them end up traveling together. Robyn's justification is that she has to go to North Carolina to come out to her parents, because she never admitted to herself that she was a lesbian until she met Julia. I'd say she was bi since she had a fiancé prior to meeting Julia, but you know it's illegal to have a bi character in a novel like this. It has to be all or nothing, right?

Anyway, they set off on the journey and after encountering a seedy guy in Wal-Mart while shopping before turning in for the night, someone tries to break into their van, and Julia shoots him with this .22 gun she carries. So the assumption is that it was this guy they met. I began wondering if it was in fact Robyn's surprisingly placid, accepting, and compliant ex-fiancé who was the troublemaker here, but I could not be bothered to read this story long enough to actually find out.

So these idiots, instead of reporting this incident to the police, take off for the mountains, which again, shows how stupid they are. They end up camping in some national forest area. The next morning, Robyn walks down from their camp site to sit and watch the sun come up, but the description of this makes no sense. In order to get there to see that sunrise, she would have had to have walked downhill on a narrow trail in pitch darkness. Maybe she took a flashlight, but it doesn't say so. The author gives no indication that it was dark at all! Neither does it say it was still dark when Julia goes down there slightly later, to meet her. Despite the sun not yet having come up, there's no hint that Julia had to find her way in darkness or semi-darkness either!

After both of them are together down there, the author writes: "all while the sun moved up in the sky and began ushering the early dawn into the blue morning." I'm not sure exactly what she means by 'early dawn' coupled with 'blue morning', but to me, 'early dawn' means that Robyn went down there in complete darkness and at best Julia went in twilight, yet neither had a flashlight? This was really thoughtlessly-written. Clearly the author wanted to evoke a feeling, but she failed because she didn't actually put herself there and think through exactly what it would have been like. Either that or she conveyed it really badly! It was at this point that I said enough is enough.

I had let so much slip by that it became the straw that finally broke this camel's back. Based on these observations and negative feelings, I cannot commend this one as a worthy read. I've read some really good LGBTQIA books, but this was nowhere near good and I'm not even clear as to what kind of an audience a novel like this could be aimed at. Hopefully not one as stupid as the main characters in it!

Thursday, January 9, 2020

How to Outline My Novel by Sussi Leclerc

Rating: WARTY!

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

"Lie to his teeth" - should be lie through his teeth!
"Some characters live double lives like Peter Parker doubling as Spiderman, Bruce Waine and Batman, Buffy Summers the vampire slayer, Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde..." Couple of spelling errors in there (Wayne, Jekyll)

That's a great name to have: Sussi Leclerc, who I assume is a French author who did her own translation or maybe wrote it directly in English. It's good English for the most part, a hell of a lot better than (pardon) my French, but I have to say I found this book wanting in several areas. The thing is that while I was intrigued by the premise of the book (which curiously the disclaimer depicts as a work of fiction!), I've never heard of her. I'm far from an encyclopedia of author names, but I've reviewed well over three thousand books on my website and I'd never encountered this name even tangentially. When I looked her up on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, I could find literally nothing she had written except a couple of books on how to write novels!

I have to wonder about a person who has no literary track record (unless all her work is in French and not available through two of the major outlets in the English speaking world), yet who promises to tell how to write a novel or, in this case, how to outline one. This seems to be par for the course for this kind of book though: they're always written by people you never heard of. It's very rare to have someone who is well-known - like Stephen King, for example - write a book about writing novels. Not that I'd read his, not being a fan!

If you go online and search for similar topics, such as 'how to write chapter one' for example, you will find the web is also populated with authors you may never have heard of offering advice (replete with cussing and foul language in one case, I'm sorry to report!). Maybe I just have it backwards and maybe those who write novels that become beloved are the worst teachers, and those who have apparently sold none are the best at explaining how to write something. That seems off to me, but what do I know?! I do know I shall never write a 'How To' book, rest assured!

But this is why I was intrigued and decided to review this particular one. Who knows? Maybe I can learn something. I'm always ready, but I should say up front that I'm not a fan of such books, because while you're reading endless books or attending lectures, seminars, and taking courses about writing, you're not actually writing anything yourself!

I'm a fan of reading, in great variety, what others have written and hoping, by a process of osmosis or something, that I can absorb into myself something of what made their book work, and maybe bring it out of me when writing something of my own. This has the same problem I mentioned above though: while you're reading, you're not writing! The thggn is that reading, these days, can be done anywhere, even on a ten-minute visit to the bathroom, or while waiting for a doctor's appointment, or on your lunch-break at work, if you have ebooks on your phone.

You can listen to books while driving, while cooking, while gardening, while exercising, and so on. You don't even need audiobooks to accomplish this these days since your phone will read an ebook to you; not ideally, but it works! At least on an iPhone. It's called VoiceOver and it's a pain, but once you learn to work with it, it does a decent job. The thing is though, you really need to spend at least as much time writing as you do reading.

The other problem with my technique is that one's own work risks becoming nothing more than a sorry clone of what others have written, and that's the most boring writing of all. I mean how many competition-based dystopian trilogies did Suzanne Collins inadvertently spawn when The Hunger Games became a thing? How many tedious vampire vs werewolf novels were tragically spewed-out in the wake of the twilight abomination, which for me signaled the imminent twilight of original novel writing? Such novels are tedious, and the thing is that neither Collins nor the woman who wrote that other novel and who shall remain nameless for her crimes, were copying anyone else (although you can argue that Collins was channeling Koushun Takami's Battle Royale, and the other story was in many ways a rip-off of Stoker's Dracula, but I'm not going to take that detour here.

So the real problem in reading lots of books is that you may fail distill something original from what you've been reading, and end up copying rather than learning the ropes. There is nothing worse than the tired parade of cloned YA novels we've seen over the last decade or two, and I feel that this is a weakness with this particular book, because it seems almost entirely focused on YA material, and in trying to set out rules for writing your own work, it's still playing into that same trope - rather like writing by numbers. That said, you can't simply write any old thing and expect people to embrace it as a literary masterpiece no matter how well it may be structured, because the sad truth is that far too many readers are like sheep in mindlessly buying into the clone publishing industry which rests entirely on woolly thinking.

I was right about this book teaching me something though! I quickly learned this startling revelation: "The main point is the antagonist wants the same thing as the hero, the exact same thing, only he means to get it the wrong way." I'm sorry. I don't have a degree in literature, but didn't Voldemort want to crush non-magicals whereas Harry Potter wanted to support them? Didn't the shark in Jaws want to eat people and the sheriff wanted to save them? Same for the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park...and Hannibal Lecter for that matter. And is it so obvious that McMurphy wanted exactly the same thing as Nurse Ratched? Not! I'm sorry, but this struck me as completely off.

The book quickly launches into a series of chapters explaining what needs to happen in the matching chapters of your novel: chapter one should do this, chapter two that, and so on. The author does warn earlier in the book that your mileage may differ, and that in consequence, you may want to change things up a bit to match whatever it is that you're writing, but this 'by rote' (or in this case 'by wrote', maybe?!) approach seems to me to be problematical if people follow it too closely. I felt it was the wrong approach, and risked the reader writing far too rigid a novel in trying to follow this plan, at the potential cost of spoiling what otherwise might have been a free-flowing work of art.

For me this was a weakness. What if your chapters are shorter or longer? If your book has fifty short chapters then surely you can't accomplish the same thing in chapter one that the author advocates here. In such a case, you'd need to calculate the ratio of chapters and try to figure out what proportion of the book you need to get to before you can apply the specific chapter rules listed here. Percentages of the distance through your book would have been a wiser choice. The author did employ these a couple of times, but why not more often, I could not figure out; it would have been less rigid and made a lot more sense.

For me personally, the book advice was made worse by the steady diet of quotes from YA novels. I'm not a huge fan of YA although I've found many books in that category that I've enjoyed. The problem is that I've found far too many more that are precisely what this author appears to be advocating: pedantic cloning of what everyone else has done, and that makes for the most tedious reading material because your novel will sound exactly like every other YA novel in the genre, and what's to differentiate it then? This is not good writing and it sure as hell isn't going to lead to great literature (in the loosest sense of that word).

The author seemed to rotate around The Hunger Games (which I liked), Divergent (which I personally detest), Hex Hall, which I rather liked, but which isn't well known, The Coldest Girl in Cold Town which I've never heard of, a novel by a male author who I shall not identify by novel title or by name because I detest pretension in writing, and Daughter of Smoke and Bone which I liked.

There were others which I'm not listing here because they were mentioned less, but they suffered precisely the same problem: nearly all of them were YA! You will note that the bulk of these I listed are trilogies or series. Even though I liked the beginning volumes of Hex Hall and Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I never actually finished the series in each case because I grew bored; so despite liking some of them, it was annoying to have them constantly brought up.

Worse than this though was that these were all used in a positive sense. There were no negatives in this book! There were no examples of how not to outline your story or how to outline it in a non-standard way and still achieve the same effect. It was like this arbitrarily-structured pattern was the only way to go and I disagree. So do many other authors as judged from the huge variety of stories that are out there.

In this 'How To' book, there was no adjustment for example for short stories, novelettes, or novellas, nor was there any overarching view that could be taken if your novel is written as part of an arc - a trilogy (god forbid), for example. Naturally, you should write each volume with the same basic rules in mind, some of which are espoused here, but if your story is to stretch over three or (god forbid) more novels, then doesn't your overall outlining need to encompass those volumes too? That's a major reason why I found this so strange, to talk of only one volume and then use volume one of a trilogy as an example! It made no sense to me because volume one of any series is nothing more than a prologue. None of that was addressed here.

On a technical note I have to say that the copious quotations from the works listed (and others) and which I quickly took to skipping, were all done in an odd way. Instead of having the text inset to signify it was a block quote, the quotes appeared to be set in shaded squares. Maybe this would look fine in a print book, but in an ebook they didn't work so well. It was exacerbated on my phone because I always set my ebook readers to be a black page with light text rather than the other way around - a white screen with black print.

I do this because it conserves the battery, but it can produce very odd effects in books which try to go any way other than plain vanilla in their layout. What my mode of viewing did to the quotes from these various books was to set the background to little squares of pale gray, and the text to white, making the quotes pretty much illegible. As it happened in this case, this suited me: it made it easier to skip them! Note that these quotes gave major spoilers, so you might want to skip them too if you haven't read the book in question and plan on doing so.

In general the book felt like it had far too many persnickety rules and regulations, and it was far too 'busy' in appearance, making for an unpleasant read. I didn't like the approach it took, and I found it to be too set in its ways. So, while I wish the author all the best in her career, for these and other reasons listed, I have to say I was disappointed in the book, and I cannot commend it as a worthy read.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Thornfruit by Felicia Davin

Rating: WARTY!

The cover if this book is misleading because it shows the title as two words whereas in the book itself it's a single word. Shame on the cover designer. I loved the title just like I loved the idea of the book - a fantasy LGBTQIA story. Not common, and the uncommon is what often attracts me even when it's a magical fantasy, which normally doesn't attract me. I have to say I was disappointed with it though, particularly with the non-ending. I knew going into this that it was the first of a series, and me and series do not get along. There have been very few series that have made sense to me or kept my interest, but I do live in hopes of finding another that I will enjoy.

Alas it was not this one. It's depressing to be so often disappointed. The main problem is that the story really went nowhere and took its sweet time doing it, so all we got was a prologue, not a real story in and of itself. It ended on a sort of a cliffhanger and I can't forgive an author for that. Not when they say, "Hey! Pay for another book and I'll tell you the story I promised to give you in this volume. Screw that! It's too mercenary for my taste and I despise authors who do that. There was also far too many characters popping in and out of the story to try and keep track of, and they began to run into one another and become indistinguishable after a while.

Although the series name, "The Gardener's Hand" did not register at all because (it seemed to me) that it zero whatsoever to do with this volume from what I could see, I liked the title because it perfectly encapsulated the story of these two girls who meet in the fantasy land. They were an interesting couple to begin with, and for a while I was falling in love with them, but the more the story dragged on with nothing really happening, and it seemingly going nowhere, the more disillusioned I became, and in the end I honestly didn't care any more what happened to these two girls.

Despite intriguing me and leading me to read this novel, the book blurb, I have to say, lied! It begins by claiming that main charcter Alizhan can't see faces, but that's not true. She sees perfectly well, but she can't make sense of people's emotions from their faces. There is a real medical condition similar to this, called Prosopagnosia, but Alizhan doesn't quite suffer that. Her problem is that a face is simply a blank arrangement of eyes, nose and mouth, and she can read nothing from it. She can read minds though, so the blurb did get that right. Evreyet Umarsad aka 'Ev', is the other main character. She has no special talent and no friends because she's part Adappi - meaning her father is from Adappyr, and her kind are not well-liked. She lives with mom and dad in her mother's homeland close to the large port city of Laalvur.

Alizhan works as a professional thief and mind-reader for a city leading "family" headed by Iriyat who seems to have a soft spot for Alizhan, who has no idea of friends either until she begins to connect with Ev, and the two are drawn to each other. I liked that their relationship was a slow burn to begin with, but the more I read of the story the more I realized that this burn was so slow that it was nothing more than a fizzle. It goes nowhere in this volume, and I was truly disappointed that they failed to make a better connection than they did. I expected more and resented that the reader was denied this. That, the slowness of the pace, and the non-ending, are why I cannot rate this as a worthy read.

This is a problem with series. What ought to be said in one volume is puffed and padded, and spread out over three volumes and it becomes a tedious read. That's exactly what has happened here. The whole plot is of Iriyat's experiments on kids who are just like Alizhan despite her apparent attachment to Alizhan herself. It should not have taken a whole novel to get there and it really dragged at times. Just when I thought something was going to happen, or change, or move, we got served more of the same, and the story went into the doldrums again, becalmed with no wind in the sails. It was annoying and was certainly a case where 'rock the boat' ought to have been the watchword. I can't commend this and I'm done with this series and this author.

Monday, December 23, 2019

The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

Rating: WORTHY!

Holmes suffers through some terrible winters and storms in this volume. Why Doyle wanted a good many of these stories to start out with bad weather is a mystery worth exploring, I feel! Maybe they just reflect the time of year he was writing them. The stories are listed below with brief comments.

  • The Adventure of the Empty House
    Set in 1894, three years after the supposed death of Sherlock Holmes, the detective returns and contacts Watson. He faked his death - of course - and was scurrying around for thre previous three years trying to lay his hands on Moroarty's confederates. This sotry invovles the trappign of the last of them with a completely unbeleivable dummy of Sherlock Holmes which invites the confederate to murder him using an air gun (that fires real bullets, not BBs or pellets), and thereby get himself captured.
  • The Adventure of the Norwood Builder
    This invovles holmes's exoneration of John Hector McFarlane who was set up as a murderer.
  • The Adventure of the Dancing Men
    This features the alphabet code of dancing men - each of which has a flag if it's the end of the sentence. Otherwise the code is ocmpeltely simple and unremarkable and does ntothignt o hdie the prevalnece of certain letters of the alphabet, such as the eltter 'E' which is coomon in English writing. It retreads an old story used in other Holmes adventures, of a betrothed woiman who has a previous assignation.
  • The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist
    This sounds like the title of a Monty Python skit, and it's almost as amusing as one, but not quite. It's a story about ruffians deceiving a woman to get at her inheritance.
  • The Adventure of the Priory School
    This was a story that was used in the British Sherlock TV series, and features the apparent kidnapping of a schoolboy.
  • The Adventure of Black Peter
    Black Peter the pirate! LOL! Really he's a whaler and dishonest to boot!
  • The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton
    Thgis sotry was also used in the British Sherlock TV series, but it pans out differently in the book than it did in the show. There's no mind palace here, just a blacklmailer.
  • The Adventure of the Six Napoleons
    Again, used in the TV series where it became the Six Thatchers and was about spyies. In the book it was about missing jewelery.
  • The Adventure of the Three Students
    The three students were all suspects in the theft of exam answers. No murders at all in this one!
  • The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez
    The golden pince-nez were left a the scene of a murder and Holmes must track down the apparent female guilty party. The story starts out "It was a wild, tempestous night" which is almost as good as the trope 'dark and sotry evening"!
  • The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter
    The missing three-quarter was a rugby player who apparently let down his side!
  • The Adventure of the Abbey Grange
    Sir Eustace Brackenstall has been killed! Holmes rousts poor Watson on minutes' notice to rush away on a train to solve the crime! Why Watson puts up with this treatment from Holmes is the real mystery. Holmes thinks nothing of sticking the doctor with the hotel bill.
  • The Adventure of the Second Stain
    The Right Honourable Trelawney Hope, Secretary of State for European Affairs, is desperate for Holmes to find a misisng document before war breaks out! This is also the story in which we hear that Holmes has at last retired, forbidding watson to publish any more accounts of his doings. In an earlier story we'd learned that Holmes was dissatisfied with Watson's telling of these adventures, and was thinking fo writign his own treatise on the detective work he does.

I had never read these stories before, so they seemed fresh and it was an interesting experience to read them rather than go over something I'd read before. It's full of relatively mundane crimes rather than sensational ones, which for me made it more interesting, so I commend this as a worthy read.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Eve by Patti Larsen

Rating: WARTY!

This was your standard uninteresting, first person voice, dumb, disaffected girl saved by a boy novel. Nothing new, nothing interesting, nothing worth reading. I was very disappointed, although I kind of half-expected that going into it, but nonetheless, I was hoping for something better. I was disappointed, but unsurprised. For the most part, YA authors are so homogenous that 'bland' is far too vivid a word to cover what they do. How this author can write so badly and yet be "a multiple award-winning author" (her own words), is a complete mystery to me. This is why I have zero trust in awards and would flatly refuse any I was offered rather than be tainted by them.

The fact that this novel was written so badly really intrigues me because I read here: that the author had used some sort of software at both draft and final stage to assess her work. I'd never heard of "Intellogo" before, but it seems that it's supposed to advise an author as to whether they're hitting the standard test marks for a YA novel. How robotic is that? Seriously? The article about this was badly written too. I read at one point, "how present women are in a central role are" and later, "Was the book moving at a fast enough clip to maintain the intensity for a face-paced page turner." Yes, in this era of Facebook control of your life, you definitely need a face-paced page turner.

But this article also tells us that the author “has a degree in journalism, a background in English, history, and screen writing, and offers courses on story writing and outlining. Patti’s strengths lie not only in her mad writing process but also in her tireless work in self promotion." If she put as much effort into writing as she apparently does into self-promotion, and ditched the artificial intelligence, she might have a book that feels far less artificial and actually intelligent - and focused on telling original, imaginative, and inventive stories instead of writing by numbers and copying what everyone else is doing, which is quite clearly what this novel is.

And that tireless self-promotion really turned me off her. I am not a self-promoter which probably means I will never have a book take off, but I don't care. I'm not going to try to force myself on people. If they want to read me, they will choose to find me and do so. It’s their choice, not mine.

This story sounded like it might be interesting which is why I was foolish enough to pick it up to read, and it probably could have been engaging in more capable hands, but all this author proves is that journalists are not necessarily great novel writers. The blurb informs us that 16-year-old Eve (she should have been named Heave, she's so sickening to read about) is the unholy offspring of Death and Life, and

Her unique parentage ensures Eve isn’t like her angel siblings. She brings Death at the beginning of Life and Life to those meant to die. Her continuing failures create constant disaster for her parents and the mortals she tries so hard to serve. But when Eve accidentally interferes with the Loom of Creation, she sets off a chain of events that leads her to finally understand who she really is.

Yes, she's a special snowflake just like every other YA character in nearly every one of these dull, predictable, boring, unimaginative YA garbage novels. How special is that?! The description had one of those little clickers where you could select more of the blurb or less, but it was less of books like this which I would have truly appreciated. There is no clicker for that unfortunately. No click, only colic.

The writing was average to poor from the off. It was, as I mentioned, worst-person voice, which is the most tedious voice of all for me to read. I am so sick of it that I recently went through my shelf of unread print books and deliberately ditched every last one of them that was in first person, so sick am I of reading this tedious and nauseating voice. Now those books are in the local library, so someone else will have to suffer them, not me! Am I evil or what? Mwah-ha-ha!

Anyway, after Eve screws up yet again, by reviving an old man who was at death's door, she goes into this maudlin introspection. Eve whines that everyone hates her, and her life isn't worth living until of course she's rescued by this guy. I ditched the book right there. I am so sick of reading YA novels about some wretched girl who has to be validated and rescued by a boy. For fuck's sake YA authors, stop it with this shit already! Find something better to do with your life - something that doesn’t involve running your own gender into the ground. This book is shit and that's it.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Mia Marcotte and the Robot by Jeanne Wald, Saliha Çalışkan

Rating: WORTHY!

This is a middle-grade story which isn't exactly my cup of tea, but it's entertaining enough that it passes muster for me. What I liked about it was that it stars a female protagonist who is self-motivated, imaginative, and a strong character, and who is deeply interested in science. All of that is a big plus. What I didn't like about it was that the 'rather dumb, pedantic, literal robot' has been done to death. It was already tiresome when Star Trek Next Generation introduced the ridiculous Commander Data and it could only go downhill from there. I think the science could have been a bit stronger and more prominent, too. Those gripes aside, I liked Mia and her attitude and the story was a short, fast read illustrated nicely by Turkish illustrator Saliha Calıskan.

One annoying thing to me was Mia's father's habit of referring to Mia as 'louloute', which is a diminutive endearment (purportedly!) for a young female child. I felt giving her a pet name and using it so often rather diminished poor Mia, who already had enough to deal with. Plus it felt so out of place. Maybe this family lived in Louisiana, but there was no mention of that state in the novel. The family name is suggestive of French origins, but there was nothing in the story to indicate why her dad would use this term since not a word of French was spoken in the entire story to indicate any such origin or tradition.

Mia really wants to be an astronaut, but in order to get one small step closer, she needs to do well in the science fair, but she needs a project! Can her visiting aunt's robot Aizek help her or will he get her into trouble? And can she help him learn to be a better robot? Those are the questions explored and answered here and despite some issues with it, I consider it a worthy read for a young female - and male - audience.

The Mozart Conspiracy by Susanne Dunlap

Rating: WARTY!

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

This is volume two in an amateur detective series. I did not read volume one, which is titled The Musician's Daughter. I don't recall ever seeing volume one, but if I had, I would have rejected it for the precise reason that I refuse to read any novel that subjugates a woman to the position of being someone else's "thing": musician's daughter, time-traveler's wife, and so on. It makes the woman a piece of property rather than an actor in her own right and I'm not in favor of such titles.

I'm not a fan of the amateur detective story in general, for that matter, but this title appealed to me because it was set in Austria and in the time of Mozart. I had hoped it would be different from the usual amateur detective story, but the problem with it is that in the end, it was not at all different. In fact, it was exactly the same: first person, featuring a detective with a quirk, and in trying to add that quirk to make her detective different from the hoard of amateur detective stories that now flood bookstores, the author made her detective precisely the same as all the others: first person voice with a quirk!

For me, first person is worst person because it makes the main protagonist so annoying. It's always about him or her. In the words of George Harrison, "I, me, mine, I, me, mine, I, me, mine." It's tedious to read such a self-centered book like that, which is why I recently cleansed my print library of every such book. I'm in process of doing the same with my ebooks. It's very limiting to write this way because nothing can happen unless the main character is there to witness it. Everything else comes from hearsay and is therefore suspect. It's irritating. As it happens this particular one wasn't too bad to begin with, but over the time I read it, it became more annoying.

There was an element of racism in the story too. The racism existed in the time period (as it does today) against the Jewish people, and against the Romany people. This was a fact of history, but because the author harped on it so much, it distracted from the detective's story. In trying to make her seem completely accepting of all people, it made her stand out like a sore thumb, when in fact, the likelihood was that pretty much everyone back then was racist.

Not having read book one in this series, perhaps I missed where Theresa started out prejudiced and learned acceptance over the course of the first volume, or maybe she didn't, but it felt odd that she was so open. It was unrealistic. It would have felt more real to me had she harbored the same prejudices most everyone had back then, and was learning to work around them.

The predictable detective's quirk in this series is that she loves to play the violin, but we're told that she could not play in orchestras because women were not allowed in that era, so she had to disguise herself as a man to play. The thing is that although women were not allowed in men's orchestras (the first woman in a male orchestra was not recorded until the early twentieth century), they were allowed to play in all-female orchestras, but this gets no mention in this novel. So in a sense this was an artificial problem.

Ironically, it became a real problem for this story because then the story became about her problems rather than about solving a murder, which to me was the whole point of the story. The murder became secondary to the soap opera of Theresa's activities, and it was boring because her activities were always the same: dress as a guy, sneak around, play in an orchestra, risk being discovered, sneak back home, change back to female attire. This was repeated over and over and it became tedious to read so often.

Worse than this though was the problem of Theresa's failure to honestly report the crime. Yes, she reported that she had witnessed a man being murdered, but she didn't tell the whole story, and then the body disappeared. Repeatedly she refused to give details to those who wished to help her when she had no valid reason for refusing to share her information, and she continued to investigate the murder, without us being offered any real motive for her to do so.

She did not know the murdered man; indeed, for a while she had no idea even of his name, but when she discovered his name she didn't report this back to the police to whom she'd made her initial report. In short, as is often the case in amateur detective stories, the detective actively withholds information from the police for no good reason, and in doing so is hampering a police inquiry and perverting the curse of justice! It makes no sense, but it does explain why amateur detectives in these stories so routinely beat the police in solving the mysteries! This author isn't the only one who does this; even luminaries like Agatha Christie had their detectives, like Poirot, actively conceal things from the police. I'd dearly love to read a realistic detective story where the detective is arrested and thrown into jail for hampering the police investigation! LOL!

But I digress! Anyways, she'd spoken to the murdered guy before he died (of course!), but instead of trying to recover information from him about who had done this to him, or what motive there might have been, or even ask the guy's name, she just crouched there with him, and all she got was one word, 'Mozart' - or at least something that sounded like Mozart. This was unrealistic and far too invented to sound real.

Experience available to us all these days via news stories, has shown that overwhelmingly, when people are dying or expecting to die, they're going to say something about a loved one: "Tell my wife I love her" or something along those lines. We do not routinely hear of dying people uttering mysterious words or phrases. It's not realistic and in this case the mystery word was so artlessly injected into the story that it sounded quite ridiculous. It took me out of the suspension of disbelief because it felt like such an artificially-created mystery where there was no realistic reason for one, instead of having the mystery develop organically.

The novel is set in Austria, the land of Mozart, but we get no German (or Bavarian) words interjected into the story to create atmosphere. Bizarrely, the word 'madame' is used frequently instead of frau or fräulein. It made zero sense. There's nothing more tedious in a story than putting in a foreign word or phrase and immediately pedantically following it with the English translation, even where such translation isn't at all necessary, but in this case, it would not have hurt, once in a while, to use a German word to describe something where it's obvious what the thing is.

Instead, we got puns that made sense in English, but would not have made any sense in German, such as when a woman is talking of finding a treat for a young girl and she says, "...let's see if I can find some sweets here for the sweet." In English that makes sense, but the Austrian word meaning 'sweets' is 'nachtisch' which sounds nothing like 'süß' (pronounced rather like Zeus and meaning sweet as in 'nice' or 'sweetheart'). In German, the pun doesn't work the way it works in English. It's like the author forgot where the story was set.

So, for these reasons and similar ones I've not mentioned, I quit reading this around the forty-percent mark. It was doing nothing for me and the story appeared to have stagnated, so I lost all interest in it and in the main character, who had started coming off as rather clueless to me. I wish the author all the best in her career, but I cannot commend this novel based on my experience of it.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by A Conan Doyle

Rating: WARTY!

It's important to note that this is The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by A Conan Doyle, not by the Conan Doyle. Just kidding. Seriously, I came back to this through the British TV series Sherlock penned by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, and wondering whether they would ever get around to a fifth season. It's looking rather like they won't, and maybe that's not such a bad thing after season four. But I got to wondering if they did, what would it be like: would they continue into season arcs like they had, or simply get back to basic mystery solving like the show was when it first began. This led me to the original stories and to this volume which contains a dozen adventures:

  1. A Scandal in Bohemia
    This is the only story featuring the absurdly overrated Irene Adler, who is trumpeted today as Holmes's equal, when in reality, all she doe sis protect her property. The sad thing about this story is that Adler's "brilliance" is only visible because all other women in the Holmes canon are treated as cannon fodder, so be shot out as needed to display empty headedness, a predilection to fainting away, and other traditional feminine traits. The fact that Adler is none of these things makes her stand out, but it does not make her a mastermind. Holmes isn't even a mastermind in this story, so it's hardly an act of genius to bea thima t his own game. She just knew what she wanted and succeeded in protecting something that was valuable to her. It had nothing to do with smarts, only with determination if not outright desperation. That's it. The story isn't that good.
  2. The Red-Headed League
    A story about a redhead who is tricked into leaving his place of work every day so the villains can dig through to the bank using a basement under his store.
  3. A Case of Identity
    In which a money-grubbing stepdad hatches a bizarre scheme to keep his step-daughter;'s income in the family.
  4. The Boscombe Valley Mystery
    Two Australians at war in rural England.
  5. The Five Orange Pips
    Improbable tale of the KKK
  6. The Man with the Twisted Lip
    A married man begging to keep a secret.
  7. The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
    A stolen blue diamond is added to the crop
  8. The Adventure of the Speckled Band
    No one, and I do mean quite literally no one has ever called a snake a 'speckled band" except Doyle in this story! The whole story sucks. Snakes are effectively deaf to airborne sounds; they hear by resting their jawbone on the ground, so the idea of training a snake to respond to a relatively high-pitched whistle is for the birds. Holmes wasn't so smart after all, was he?!
  9. The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb
    Counterfeiting in the English countryside isn't something to thumb your nose at.
  10. The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor
    Twice toiled tail.
  11. The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet
    Doyle gave us the six Napoleons, Moffat gave us the six Thatchers, this story gives us the three beryls.
  12. The Adventure of the Copper Beeches
    An Unwelcome fiancé is made to rue the castle.

Can't commend this based on the average stories inlcude din this collection. Perhaps retirement Holmes rather than Sherlock?

Friday, December 6, 2019

Extreme Medical Services by Jamie Davis

Rating: WARTY!

This was a seriously disappointing audiobook both the story and the reading of it. I should say up front that I'm not a fan of vampire, werewolf, or other shifter stories. I have read one or two that were worthwhile, but those were few and very far between. As for the vast majority of them, they vary only between laughably unimaginative and downright brain-dead stupid, but this one seemed like it offered a new angle: that of a med tech who caters to this supernatural crowd, and I made the beyond the grave mistake of deciding to give it a try. I sure learned my lesson.

The biggest problem is that this story felt like it was written by an author who was not painting by numbers, but writing by numbers, trying to get the 'right' concepts in the publisher-approved spaces, and he became so focused on that, that he forgot he was supposed to be relating an original and engaging story. So while his writing-by-numbers was perfect, in those latter categories, this story was an abject failure. It was so unrealistic - even within its own framework - that it constantly kicked me out of any suspension of disbelief by reminding me far too often of how profoundly stupid it was.

So we start the story with the predictable in the middle of a crisis situation, then we immediately revert to flashback mode, which brings the story to a screeching, jarring halt. Even that might have been survivable had it not been for the brain-dead writing. The author expects us to believe that a med tech who graduated with a great track record in his academic life, and thereby earned himself an unexpected berth in the supernatural med-tech world, would be thrown into a service about which he was profoundly ignorant, never even heard of, let alone knows anything professionally, and in this state of dangerous ignorance, be sent out on emergency calls with absolutely zero preparation and training.

Yes, if your goal is to slaughter your patients through sheer incompetence, then by all means go right ahead and do that. If you're serious about your work though, and intent upon saving lives, then you tell your proby up-front what he's going to be doing, you'll ascertain with certitude if he's okay with that, and you'll train him as to the special needs of the supernatural clientele so he can actually be of use instead of floundering from the off! You don't toss him into it in the dark without a word that his patients will all be supernatural, and that his first call is going to be a werewolf in the middle of a diabetes-induced transition. Wait a minute, a werewolf with diabetes? No, not a werewolf - a lycan! I'm sorry, but this was all horse-shit, and did I mention stupid? As much as I would have liked to have read an intelligent take using this plot, I could not stand to read any more of this absurd garbage.

One of the warning signs, which I ought to have heeded was the EMT lecturing the new guy on the fact that werewolves prefer to be called lycans - a term shamelessly lifted straight from the Underworld movie series. Why would these alien creatures prefer to use a human-invented, if venerable, term for a disease? Like I said, the author was so intent upon conforming to established standards, that he rendered his book into a boring joke instead of an engrossing read. I ditched it very quickly. This is precisely why I don't read this genre: it's boring as hell! It would be nice to find something new and different, but in a way it's quite reassuring and even encouraging to know that nothing has changed. Now I know I don't need to waste any more of my time on this tedious crap for a couple more years at least.

The Lilac Princess by Wanda Luthman

Rating: WARTY!

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

I realize this book isn't aimed at me, but from my perspective, even taking into account the audience it's intended for, this book was wrong from the very start. For a book supposedly about values, this story places entirely the wrong value on a child when, on only the second line, we learn that the princess is "young and beautiful," as though nothing else matters in a woman: not smarts, not integrity, not loyalty, not good behavior, not helpfulness, not friendliness, not the ability to listen and learn, not hard work, not thoughtfulness, but beauty. I'm sorry, but no. I cannot support a book this shallow, even a very short one aimed at young children, and for that very reason that this is the wrong message to give to young children or any children.

It would have been bad enough if that was the only faux pas, but it got worse. This is your traditional - read: antiquated - story of a damsel in distress who needs a manly man to rescue her. Maybe for this particular princess, beauty is the only thing she actually does have going for her, because she certainly exhibited none of the qualities I listed above. She talks to strangers and doesn't even get kidnapped by one, but voluntarily goes off with him, whereupon of course, she's held prisoner until a boy rescues her. She can't do a this for herself as you know, because she's 'only a poor helpless girl'.

For a moment or two I wondered if this book had been published in 1919 rather than the 21st century, but no, it was originally published in 2014. How it got published I do not know, but I cannot commend a story so far out of touch with modern womanhood.

Monday, December 2, 2019

And Then There Were Nun by Dakota Cassidy

Rating: WARTY!

For purposes of my own, I've recently been taking a look at some of these detective stories that I quite honestly despise, especially the ones that make a pun out of something - typically the main character's name - in every title. It blows, and this story was predictably yet another fail, despite the premise being a lot more interesting than most.

I liked the idea of the detective being an excommunicated nun, and her 'Watson' being a demon, but after a short time the story became cloying and one-note. It was too extreme and inauthentic even within the premise we're given. Having written a novel myself which features an incarnate demon, I was hoping this would entertain me, but that hope was dashed with disturbing rapidity.

The novel became annoying, in particular at one point where the inevitable body was inevitably found, and the police were called in, and the detective outright asked the main character if her name, Trixie Lavender, was her stripper name. I'm like "WTF?" I seriously do not get why female writers seem to enjoy going out of their way to marginalize, slut-shame, or otherwise denigrate their female characters, and it was at that point that I quit reading this one. I can't commend a novel that has a female cop gratuitously insult a female witness at a crime scene and there's no pushback from anyone, not even the author.

Keara's Raven Escape by Mindy Klasky

Rating: WARTY!

Erratum: "for the entire three days that the titheman ad stayed on the green" 'Had stayed' was required there.

Previously published as Darkbeast, this novel evidently failed its first time out, and was renamed and re-released for a second try. For me it failed that time, too. There were several problems with it. The first was that it was worst-person voice, which I am actively now trying to avoid in novels having pro-actively weeded out my entire aging print book collection of first person voice titles and ditched them unread. I'm slowly doing the same with my larger ebook collection. This one didn't start out too badly, but it soon embarked upon road after road most traveled, and it was boring. The cliff-hanger ending was expected and not appreciated, and I have zero intention of reading any more of this series.

The novel is aimed at a younger audience than the one I (don't!) represent, so take my commentary as you will, but the story had issues. The author set up the girl as having no female friends. Even her sisters hated her, and the only female she meets turns out to be a traitor to her. Her only savior is of course the inevitable boy, because all women are useless unless they have some sort of male validation according to this kind of author. Why so many female authors seem so hell-bent upon denying female friendships to their characters is beyond me.

In this medieval world - where they have female actors strangely enough - every child grows up with a 'darkbeast', which is an animal (bird, amphibian, or reptile, it would seem) which can talk and which plays the role of Jesus, taking away their sins. They're supposed to unload their negative thoughts and emotions on the beast, and at the age of twelve, are required to visit the 'godhouse' and kill the animal, thereby freeing themselves of childhood sins so they can enter adulthood renewed. Keara cannot kill her darkbeast - her only friend - and is forced to flee her community, sought by inquisitors. She runs away and joins the circus - well, a company of traveling players at least, which earns a living by visiting villages and performs plays tied to one or other of the twelve gods

The story was a fast read and I followed it all the way, believe it or not, but by the end I was disappointed and resented the time I had blown reading this when I could have been doing something much more rewarding. This is why I typically do not even try to read a book to the end when it's doing little or nothing for me. With this one I kept hoping it would really have something to offer, but it never did, and I cannot commend it at all. It was full of trope and took forever to really have anything happen despite it being a relatively short read. It was as warty as one of the darkbeast toads - which aren't really warty, but this observation isn't meant to be any more realistic than was this novel, which turbned out to be a dark beast that definitely ought to have been slain.

Arsenic in the Azaleas by Dale Mayer

Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

The Unexpected Spy by Tracy Walder

Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Outlaw by Edward W Robertson

Rating: WARTY!

This was a sci-fi novel which is evidently part of the 'Rebel Stars' series and I should really have paid attention to that - not just that it was a series starter, and therefore I probably wouldn't like it, but also that name of the series which struck me as half-baked and overdone at the same time. I also should have been warned off by the blurb, which, despite this novel being published in 2014, starts out, "in the year 2010, an alien virus nearly wiped out the human race." Funny, but I don't recall that happening!

This is the second story by this author that I've read and I've been pleased with neither of them sdo I guess I'm done reading his material from this point on. He doesn't plot well, and so this idea in this particular story of an alien virus was poorly planned. No such virus is likely to harm humans because viruses, parasites, and bacteria evolve and specialize, so unless this alien virus evolved alongside humans, how is it going to even begin to affect us? Was it genetically engineered? There's no word on that, and the events of the novel tale place a millennium after the virus, so how is it relevant? Maybe it all 'falls together' later, but I didn't have the patience to read that far. To me it just felt like his signature style: poorly thought-out plotting. If you're going to write sci-fi, you really ought to have some knowledge of science!

As I mentioned, the story jumps from the wipe-out to a thousand years hence when humanity ("mankind" according to the genderist blurb, not 'humankind'), has recovered from this virus, so why even introduce the virus in the first place? Aren't we immune to it now? And if it's a thousand years with no return of the virus and no aliens in sight, then why is everyone so jumpy thinking aliens are lurking around every corner? That would be like us, in 2019, living in fear of Attila the Hun. And how are you going to shoot that alien virus anyway, if it returns? LOL!

The novel was a tedious read and after these people got into two bar fights in the first few pages, I decided I had better things to do with my time than plow through this anymore. I can't commend it except as trash-ready garbage.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Ambassador Seeing Red by Patty Jansen

Rating: WARTY!

Once again a novel where the blurb makes it sound interesting, but the practice of reading it was an exercise in tedium. I really must quit reading the first book of a series in the hope it might be worth the journey before we get to the end, especially if it's in first person because that's nearly always a grave mistake. The main character here, Cory Wilson, seemed so self-obsessed and self-important, and so profoundly stupid, that I was ready to barf, and I gave up on this tedious tome in short order.

It's supposed to be all on this guy to stop an Interstellar war. Ri-ight. I had no faith in him doing a damned thing, especially not in volume one of a series that I now discover has at least ten volumes. That tells me this author has no idea how to concisely tell a story and is more in love with her own writing than actually getting on with it and having a start, a middle, and an ending. No thanks. Here's hoping the aliens win! At least they, so the author, without a whit of irony, tells us, know how to get to the point!

Being a Super Trans Ally by Phoenix Schneider, Sherry Paris

Rating: WARTY!

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

I'm predisposed to favor books of this nature whether fiction or, in this case, non-fiction, so it's hard for me to rate one badly and I feel bad about doing so, but I can't in good conscience rate this one favorably for a variety of reasons, and they're all to do with how the book is presented, not with what the book's aims are.

The blurb on Net Galley did advise me that the book was aimed at 10+, but it felt like it was middle-grade or early young adult through and through with nothing for grown-ups. I had to wonder how this would get into the hands of those youngsters if it has to get past parents first, and they're offered no incentive to buy it. It also felt like it was preaching to the choir, and I'm unconvinced of the utility of, or demand for, such a book. I hope it works, I really do, but I remain unconvinced.

This is clearly designed as a print book and it's evident that zero thought has been given to the ebook version, assuming there ever is one. Unfortunately, the ebook version is all I get to review, and I have to wonder at the wisdom of a publisher who puts out a review copy in ebook form for a book that seems designed solely for the reader to write in their own ideas or, as is frequently the case here, their own answers to questions. I'd expected to get answers, not to have them demanded of me! Why expect me to have the answers when I'm reading the book for the very purpose of getting those answers?!

And yes, the blurb did advise that this is an interactive workbook "packed full of activities such as self-reflective questions, journal prompts and role plays," but I thought this was aimed at education, and I'm not convinced that it will work in that regard since all we seem to be learning here is our own feelings and behaviors for better or for worse, and not what those behaviors really ought to be and how they can be modified.

The blurb did also say "If you care about making your home, school and community a safer and more accepting place for people of all genders, then this book is for you!" I do care very much about that, but I can't help but wonder where in it lies the information and education that will help a person achieve that goal if all we're doing as a reader is filling in our own opinions and feelings in the blanks and getting little in the way of feedback and advice.

On a technical note, the formatting of this review ebook was really poor. The content page was 'tappable' and by that I mean you could touch a chapter heading for a specific chapter and it would take you there, but it offered no means to return to the content page from that chapter if you accidentally tapped the wrong one. The problem is that it's so very easy to tap the wrong one given how jumbled together the chapter headings were, and how hard they are to read, being split over more than one line, with one chapter heading tacking onto the end of the previous one on the same line. Some of it was a jumble, with part of the chapter title not tappable, the rest of it tappable, some of it colored gray, some blue, some red. In short, it was an unappealing mess.

I should note here that my first experience of this was on my phone, which is where I normally read books and typically do not have problems with them unless they're Kindles. This is where I experienced these problems, and it was because of them, that I downloaded this ARC into both Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) and Bluefire Reader (BFR), and I also looked at this on the iPad in the Crappy Kindle App (CKA) to get a wider perspective.

While the layout of the book was much better in both the ADE and the BFR, there were other issues, including the fact that the content list was no longer tappable. It wouldn't take you to the chapter by tapping on it, so what you gain on the carousel you lose on the swings, or whatever that phrase is; however, on the Kindle app, the problems remained pretty much exactly the same as they were on the phone, notwithstanding the greater screen real estate to play with. So once again Amazon's CKA is a major fail.

I blame this on Amazon's sucky Kindle conversion process which will mangle your book if it has the temerity to offer anything other than plain vanilla text up for sacrifice to the Great God Amazon, and that's what seems to have happened here. I've seen this kind of a disaster frequently in Kindle books, which is why I don't buy them anymore. This is one reason I refuse to do business with Amazon, but that said, it really is incumbent upon publishers and authors to check these things if they want to ensure their reader gets a good experience. Clearly this wasn't done in this case, and I am at a loss as to how we can give a decent review of a book that looks and functions (or fails to do so) in e-format, nothing like it's intended to look in print format. A PDF for this particular book would have been a much better choice.

With regard to the content of the book, I had issues with that, too! Part of it was, as I said, that it wasn't designed to be an ebook, so there were questions, each with an underscored space included to write in the answer, which clearly doesn't work in an ebook. The problem with the questions was that they were jumbled together too just like the content list was. I read ebooks on my phone in portrait format, and that didn't work, but even in landscape mode, there were still formatting issues, with bullet points failing to align, and so on.

For example, in the section titled "Puzzle of Important terms" about 9% of the way in, there was a crossword which is guaranteed to be a trashed after Kindle has done with it. I had no idea how this was supposed to be laid out (until I looked in ADE and BFR), but there was a list of numbers from one to ten, and these began with one and two on the same line, followed by three and four on the next line, then the rest of the numbers through ten each on an individual line after that; then came the crossword clues. There was no actual crossword grid at all. I assumed the numbers had been from a grid that Kindle predictably failed to reproduce on both the phone and the iPad, and I was right.

There were other formatting issues. For example, about 41% into the book, the non-words OKTA NOYB began to appear in the text randomly. At least they appeared that way to me on the phone. They were too mangled to make sense of there, so it wasn't until I looked in ADE and BFR that I realized they were acronyms which I'd never encountered before!

Initially, I'd thought this was some sort of formatting that Kindle had screwed up, but I could not for the life of me figure out what it was supposed to be. My best guess had been that this was meant to be Yes/No (and that wasn't a bad guess!), but it resulted in sentences like: "Do you wear a jockstrap or a sports bra when you OKTA NOYB play sports?" which made no sense if the Yes/No was in the middle of the sentence. This was the case on both the phone and the iPad Kindle app.

I had no idea what that particular question was supposed to resolve, especially when when we're told just a screen or so later that it's never OK to ask what's between a person's legs (Duhh!). Isn't eh jockstrap quesiton precisely asking that same question, just with different words? It sounded very hypocritical to me. This brought me to the next issue I had with this book, but let me have a quick word about the ADE and BFR editions first.

In ADE when I searched for OKTA, I found several hits, but when I tapped on it to go to the page (it said it was on p93), I was transported to what was purportedly p98, and there was nothing there in the ADE edition. I could not move from that page either, no matter which way I swiped! I was stuck on a page 98 no man's (woman's, or other gender's) land! I did not have this problem in BFR, which was the only app I consulted which both offered decent formatting and let me examine what these acronyms actually were!

BFR is typically my goto app for books with unusual formatting, although I've had issues even with that with some books, so I tend to bounce back and forth between it and ADE. Given that Adobe developed Portable Document Format, I was surprised to find a PDF file did not work in their own reader! Note that I was able to swipe to page 98 and beyond - I just wasn't able to get anywhere when I alighted there as a result of a search hit.

Like I said, while the book is written for a very young audience, I'd been expecting at least some of it to be aimed at a more mature readership, including parents, but there was nothing, nor was it inclusive of people who already know things, but still wish to learn more. That's what I felt was missing. The book blithely takes the position that everyone is in dire ignorance about these topics, and so it felt a bit insulting, but if it is indeed aimed at people who know literally nothing other than standard binary genders, then where was the educational portion designed to bring them into the fold of the knowledgeable and thereby useful? Had I been less enlightened and less patient with this particular topic than I am, I would have quit this book long before I actually did.

The book felt much more like it was a survey of the readers feelings about the LGBTQIA community than ever it was a book offering useful advice on how to interact with that community. That's why I feel it was of little help to people in my position, who know plenty about the non-binary world we live in, but would still like to learn more, and without being made to feel we're in grade school while learning it! If this book truly is aimed at people who are just dipping their toes into learning about this world, and especially young people, then I imagine it would overwhelm them because there are so many questions flying at you and no sort of advice or help or hints or tips or definitions (until the glossary at the back).

My first experience of this book was during a drive in to work, and I was using Apple's VoiceOver technology, which is designed to assist people with visual impairments when using their phone. I do not have such limitations, but VoiceOver renders your ebook app quite well as an audiobook if you open it when the book is on the screen. It has issues, but like I said, it's very passable.

Unfortunately, VoiceOver is not an audiobook app, so it reads literally everything that is on the screen, including the punctuation at random times, so when this book listed every letter of the alphabet with 26 underscores after each letter, which were designed in the print version, as a set of lines to fill in as many LGBTQIA words as you could think of which began with each letter, the VoiceOver read the letter A, and followed that with "26 underscores" and then the next letter, and followed that with "26 underscores," and so on through the entire alphabet. It was beyond tedious to listen to!

Had I been reading it myself, I could have skipped that section, but there was no way to skip it while driving. I had to listen to it all - and to the same kind of thing with every other question that came before and after it! I had this same experience with every set of underscores, every multiple-choice question where the options were all run together, and on and on, where the VoiceOver read the thing without pause or inflection that it turned into gibberish. For ten minutes.

Had I known it was going to be entirely a quiz book, I would never have set VoiceOver loose on it, but I had no idea, and I was stuck with this for a half hour! Be warned! LOL! This is relevant, because it underscores the fact that it is largely a quiz book. It's not an information or advice book, and I just didn't get how asking me about my knowledge of these issues was educating me in how to be a better partner/advocate/supporter, or whatever, of those who need this support. I can imagine some people at least becoming frustrated with this repeatedly pointing out to them - via their inability to answer these questions perhaps - how ignorant they are, and dissuading them from reading any further.

The bottom line was that I was looking for something else, and perhaps that's my fault for not intuiting better from the blurb how little this would be of benefit to me in my quest, but I don't feel like the blame is all mine. If you offer a book with the stated goal of helping those who "care about making your home, school and community a safer and more accepting place for people of all genders," then I think it's incumbent upon you to ensure that you provide useful information, not grill me endlessly about how I feel!

That could be a part of it (although I disapprove of that technique personally), but it can't be all of it, because that tells me only about me, not about what I need to offer to those who need this support. I didn't want to read a book about me. I'm not that interesting! 'Being a Super Trans Ally' has the acronym BASTA, which amusingly is the Spanish word for 'enough', and I'm afraid I didn't feel that this was anywhere near enough.

For these reasons I cannot commend this as a worthy read.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Mindful Artist: Sumi-e Painting by Virginia Lloyd-Davies

Rating: WORTHY!

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

I love the idea of painting, although I do none of it myself these days. I don't have the time! This book, written by a woman named Virginia who lives in Virginia, but who has studied with the masters in the East and the West, struck me as particularly interesting because it is also about mindfulness and Asian art. I imagine all art is about mindfulness in one way or another, but this book focuses on it particularly, and it has a lot to say about technique too, so I concluded that it will be of immense value to anyone who wants seriously to get into this art form - and likely of interest to other artists too, regardless of which style they favor.

On a technical note, I have to say that the book doesn't work well on an iPad which means that the publisher wasn't very mindful about how it would look in other formats! Unless you have the large-format tablet, the text is far too small to read comfortably, meaning I had to enlarge the page and read, then slide the page around to the reach next section; then shrink it to swipe to the next page. This didn't always work well and was quite annoying - not at all conducive to mindfulness! Then there were problems in moving to the next page, requiring several swipes sometimes before it would slide over, so I wouldn't advise getting the ebook version - and unfortunately that's the only kind of book a reviewer like me gets to read! Maybe it's not available in ebook format? I dunno, but if that's the case it makes me wonder why it's issued for review in such a format! I now claim the record for using the word 'format' more times in a single review than any other reviewer! Yeay!

Amazon's website was predictably hopeless when it came to learning the print book's dimensions. I have no idea why so many publishers and authors sell-out to such an abusive behemoth. Obviously they claim that it's where everyone goes, but it is we who voluntarily give that power to Amazon. They wouldn't have it if we didn't kiss Billionaire Bezos's ass so passionately and routinely. But Waterstone's tells me the book is about 11" (2.96cm) tall. My iPad is only 7"x5" so the height of the book in landscape mode was less than half the actual print height. From this, I imagine the print version is a lot more legible! And now I'm exhaisted. I have to go lie down. Kidding. The book was 65 pages in ebook form, but it's twice that in print because both the Adobe Digital Editions app and the Bluefire reader app were counting each double-page spread as one page. Had the book been published in ebook form as single pages. It would probably have been more legible on my iPad at least.

So enough with the technical. Let's look at content! This was much less frustrating and much more relaxing! The art was beautiful, and delicate, and inspiring, and eye-catching - everything you expect from traditional Asian art. The author took us through selecting brushes and paints, and other materials and the kind of environment you might want to find to paint in. One issue I, as a vegetarian, had with the brushes was that the author recommends animal hair. For me, it would be hard to be mindful when painting with a brush that had animal hair in it because I'd be wondering where that animal was, and how the brush manufacturer got that hair. If it came from a slaughterhouse, I doubt that would make me feel good about using it to paint with! But maybe that's just me!

That aside, I was impressed by the thoughtfulness that had gone into this book, and the useful information with which it was replete. It had all kinds of suggestions from the type of paper to the type of brush, to how the ink was prepared and loaded onto the brush. Following this was page after page of beautiful art, with hints, tips, and step-by-step instructions on how to get there from here.

I was impressed and I commend this book as a useful tool for anyone who is into painting.

The Djin Wars by Christine Pope

Rating: WARTY!

This one sounded interesting from the blurb and started out well, so it encouraged me to keep going. That's always nice in a book!

It begins with this woman, Jessica Monroe, who is a teaching assistant, starting to hear about a disease that seems contagious. It's on both coasts of the USA, but not in Albuquerque where she lives. It quickly shows up there though, and the mortality rate is extremely high. She sees her brother, her mother, and her father all die quickly from it. She seems very ill-informed about how to deal with an extremely high fever, giving her mother ibuprofen and putting damp cloths on her head when her temperature was 106 degrees and she should be putting her into an ice bath!

But it seems like there's nothing even hospitals can do, and once her family is dead, and the power goes out in her parents' home that same night, she decides to drive over to her uncle's house the next morning to see if they're alive. Apparently she's unaware that you can call people on your cell phone! LOL! Maybe the cell phone service is out now too, but the fact that the author didn't even mention it and somehow rule it out was a bit of a writing miss, I think. Jessica seems to have no friends, either, because she's not thought a single thing about calling any of them, nor has anyone called her.

She's started hearing this voice in her head that seems to appear randomly, telling her not very useful things, and she thinks she's imagining it, but she doesn't seem to be getting sick. The voice could have easily told her what it was up to and where it was directing her to, but it never did, meaning that yet another female writer has put her female character into the hands of a manipulative and domineering guy, for no good reason, and had her sappy female character goes along with it like a zombie. I'm sorry, but no. Pope the author seems to have as little respect for women as does Pope the Vatican guy and his church.

That next morning, with the power out, she looks out of her window to see the automated sprinkler system working across the street. I guess the author didn't think about how that would work with the power out. Another example of poor writing. Jessica sees the neighbor's dog out in their yard and adopts it - without even checking to see if the neighbors are alive - and sets off to visit her uncle.

So yeah, there were multiple issues with the writing, but I was curious about the story for a while. Before I knew more, I'd assumed it's called djin wars because there are jinn involved in the story and that's what the voice is that she's hearing, but how that would pan out given that it's supposed to be a romantic series, remained to be seen. I was merely hopeful to begin with that the writing quality wouldn't slip and Jessica wouldn't become too damned sappy, but my faith in such things is low and that's what killed this in the end. That and the poor writing, and Jessica's gullibility and stupidity. I don't mind an author's faux pas here and there. We're all prone to that, but if the story is good I can overlook those. I can't overlook really stupid so-called romance stories, and that's why I can't commend this. I'm done with this author. Next please....