Showing posts with label fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fiction. Show all posts

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (Fanny Hill) by John Cleland

Rating: WARTY!

Written while in prison by an evidently horny inmate, this is a first person voice novel, purporting to be a memoir by a woman, now of means, who is recollecting her earlier, less secure and well-off years. Frances Hill's nickname, some claim, recalls the Latin mons Veneris, the mound of Venus. In Latin, that is actually Veneris montem. Mons Veneris refers to Kunlun. Mons pubis is a wiser choice term. Veneris was the Roman word for Friday: dies Veneris because Venus was associated with pagan god Frija. Note that Fanny, in the UK, does not reference the posterior as it does in the US, but precisely the opposite.

I have to report that this novel is complete bullshit, notwithstanding the pretentious literary garbage that's been written about it by clueless so-called scholars. If this had been written today, it would have gone nowhere and no actual literary scholar would have been caught dead analyzing it, so that tells us all we kneed to know about it.

It's nothing more than authorial wish-fulfillment, and the way it's written shows no understanding of women at all. It's entirely a man's book form a male PoV, doing nothing more than your typical porn movie does - having some purportedly innocent woman be accosted by an erect male and instead of being horrified, turned off, or angered by his presumption and shunning him, she immediately leaps on him and has unprotected sex. She's not concerned one whit about her own satisfaction, not even remotely, but only about getting him off as quickly and in as many positions as she can possible accommodate!

This lame excuse for a novel, which is right up there with every modern derivative of it, is exactly that: it's pornography, not-so-pure and decidedly simple, with zero pretension to literature. It delights in describing, in first (or is it forced?) person recall, how awed and overwhelmed Fanny is at every sight of an erect penis which is invariably described in aggressive masculine terms as an arrow, or a weapon, for example. It's not very inventive. Let's face it: it's poorly-conceived and badly-written garbage. 'Scholars' who claim it's anything else are morons. I can't commend it based on the portion of it that I could stand to read.

Off Course by Simon Haynes

Rating: WARTY!

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

Kind Nepenthe by Matthew V Brockmeyer

Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Superhero's Test by Timothy L Cerepaka, aka Lucas Flint

Rating: WARTY!

I'm very late with this particular review because I've had the book for some time and never got around to it, so apologies for that. The author is, in my opinion, dishonestly publishing this under a fake name. I have no idea why authors do this. It's ridiculous, but there it is: new genre, new name. I'd have to have a dozen aliases if I published my work under a different name for each genre. I've never seen the point of it and it turns me off an author.

That aside, I discovered this book was only the first three chapters and then the author offered an almost blackmail-like demand at the end to go buy it at Amazon if you want to read the rest! I don't, and if I did I would never give money to Amazon, not even to get a book in return. From this point onwards I'm going to downgrade all books which offer Amazon and only Amazon as a source, like it's the only bookseller on the planet. I'm sorry if you've allowed yourself to be deluded into thinking that, but it isn't and it never will be. Bezos's terrifying and abusive Behemoth only has the power it has because a collective we have voluntarily surrendered that power to it and we can take it back any time we wake up and realize what a huge mistake that was.

As it happens it was easy to fail this particular book because the writing was atrocious, set in high-school but reading like it was written for middle-graders, the story completely unimaginative and the plot a dismal and tired, should be retired, trope. It's first person voice, so fail there. That voice is almost always a mistake and in this case it lent the main character a disturbing arrogance. It was disturbing because this child has dangerous superpowers and all we're getting is a matter-of-fact story from this same, single source! There's no awe and wonder here, just 'hey! Look how great I am'! Barf. Super? No! heroic? No.

The very first sentence ends with main character Kevin Jake Jason stating, “ least before I punched the local school bully through the cafeteria wall with one blow after I lost my temper.” There's no sign of an apology or a regret there, and clearly the author wants to grab our attention with violence more than anything else in a so-called superhero story. Where's the super? Where's the heroic? That term is thrown into the mix far too readily these days, just like the word 'hero' is bandied-around in real life to the extent that it has become meaningless and therefore no accolade at all. Coming right after that sentence, without any evidence of remorse, we get an introduction: “My name is Kevin Jake Jason and I am seventeen-years-old and an only child.” How is any of that relevant?

Naturally, Kevin is the new boy at school (yawn), and he ends up with the misfits (yawn II) and is bullied (yawn III) all in the next few pages. The amount of rampant and unchecked school bullying going on in these books, with the victim being the one who is punished, is laughable. And a major turn-off. But just as Kevin is about to be taken to the principal's office (apparently not a single teacher was present in the dining hall in this school), he's magically rescued by his dad, who evidently is a retired "superhero" who somehow magically knew that Kevin was in trouble at school and materialized to rescue him and spread a lie about what happened. Super? No! heroic? No! Talk about helicopter parenting. How he knew Kevin was in trouble isn't explained, at least not in my three charity chapters, but evidently this is how Kevin got his powers - it's a manly thing, see?

How does Kevin get out of trouble? Well, his dad evidently is a big fan of Men in Black, because he produces a magic light that wipes the minds of everyone present, and then he tells them what they should remember. Yawn. See what I mean about tired tropes and lack of imagination? This book is a huge fail, and don't try reading it in Adobe Digital Editions because for some reason that cuts off the last few lines of every page. Don't know why. But I don't care because I'm done with this novel and this author. I'm sorry I wasted my valuable time on it.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Witchnapped in Westerham by Dionne Lister

Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 1, 2019

Raven the Irate Princess Book 1 or something by Jeremy Whitley, Rose Higgins, Ted Brandt

Rating: WARTY!

Normally I would steer clear of a book, even a graphic novel, with a title like this, but I had come to this via its predecessor, the Princeless graphic stories about a feisty young princess whose self-appointed mission is to rescue all of her sisters who are distributed in various towers throughout the kingdom, the aim of which is to inspire princes to come and rescue them so the king can get them married off. I've given up on this entire series now not so much because it was so bad, although the stories were becoming rather monotonous, but because it was impossible to figure out in which order they should be read and my normally useful local library had the titling so messed up that it didn't help!

Take this one for example: it's listed as Book 1 Captain Raven and the All-Girl Pirate Crew, but it's not the first in the Raven story. You have to read the Princeless series to get her backstory. For me this was the biggest problem with this - that the arrangement of these volumes felt like a disorderly mess. But this one would do, I guess if you were only interested in reading the Raven stories. I just think the author and publisher could have done better. But why would they care?

In this story, Raven has a ship already (from a story prior to book one - go figure!), and now needs a crew, so she sets off into town to hire one, and promptly gets robbed by another woman. After a chase that goes on a bit too long, she ends up running into the cook from her father's pirate ship - when he was the pirate king and before her brothers screwed her over. She ends up predictably hiring the woman who robbed her and then a bunch of other women because she doesn't like the available men. That's about it.

It was entertaining as far as it went, but as I said in my review of the other volume I read along with this, it wasn't entertaining enough to make me want to read any more beyond this. This one, like the other one, barely enters into worthy read territory, and I found I was growing somewhat bored with this series as I was with the companion series: Princeless. I decided to quit while I was ahead and give this a negative and the other a positive to indicate mixed feelings! I won't be reading any more in either series.

Get a Clue! by Lisa Banim

Rating: WARTY!

This is the first book in the Lizzie McGuire Mysteries series. It's the last one I will ever read! The front cover won't tell you (way to diminish people Disney, you dicks), but it's written by Lisa Banim and based on the TV series created and developed by Terri Minsky. I've been curious about the series, but never watched it. After this book I don't intend to.

The plot, if you can call it that, is that someone has been leaving notes is assorted places around the school, with cheesy messages like "I Know What You Did Last Week." Other than the annoyance factor, it's hardly a major crime. The "twist" if you can call it that, is that the notes are in Lizzie McGuire's handwriting. Lizzie decides to take it on herself to track down the suspect, and she pretty much lives up to the absurd 'ditzy blonde' trope in doing so. That's when I called out, "Check please! I'm done here." I can't remotely commend this based on the portion I managed to suffer through. I fear for young readers and readership in general if this kind of garbage actually appeals to people.

Lake Ephemeral by Victoria Strauss

Rating: WARTY!

Famous author name, infamous writing! This is a Strauss waltz, but it waltzed off into boredom. It's a seriously weird story - but while it began as quite entertaining, it petered out a log way in and made me resent reading it at all.

It was set in Australia which made a very pleasant change from every YA story taking place in the USA as though there is no other country on the planet - or at least no other country worth telling stories about! Sara Finn has been an orphan since she was left by a woman at the age of five, who told the orphanage staff that the child's mother was dead. When Sara turns twelve, she's suddenly advised that her mother is alive and someone is going to transport her 'home' to the comfortable living she had enjoyed until she was 'kidnapped'. It's pretty obvious that the woman who dropped her off in the first place actually was her mother who was attempting to save her from whatever is happening back a the compound, so no mystery there at all.

This marked the first of some annoying 'glossing-over' episodes which haunted this story: things which happen way too conveniently, or coincidentally, or even inexplicably to be taken seriously. I was willing to let them go because I was enjoying the story, but eventually they began to trip the story up because they were too common, and other readers may have less patience with that than I did. I can't pretend they didn't cause my enjoyment to snag every once in a while. Be warned that I'm going to give spoilers here because I want to cover these problems with the writing. My issue with this first episode is that there's nothing whatsoever done by the orphanage to protect Sara - whose name, it turns out, is actually Seraphin, not Sara Finn - from the possible falsity of this new information. They do nothing at all to verify that this story they've been fed by a strange man is true - they just let Sera go! Maybe they're just more trusting in Australia?!

Anyway, she arrives at the compound and is told that her mother is sick and she cannot see her, and Sera accepts this without question and indeed shows no desire whatsoever to see her mother. If she'd been presented as a morose and troubled child, then maybe she wouldn't react normally, but she's not that kind of child. She's there quite some time before she evinces any sort of need to visit with her mother. These people won't even let her look in on mom. That whole business struck me as inauthentic. I don't know of any regular child who wouldn't make a fuss about seeing her mom after being forcibly kept apart for such a long time.

After this follows a strange time at the compound. Schooling is haphazard at best and the half-dozen or so children are pretty much allowed to run wild and even be mean or cruel to one another with little discipline, Sera learns that her father died after being trapped by one of these huge carnivorous plants that tend to grow in this particular locale. Sera also accidentally kills a girl who lives there while the kids are playing a game that this girl devised. The police are not called and no one seems to find anything wrong with that. It's kind of like being in China when you're under 13 years old and you kill someone. There really are no dire consequences for that, and there were none here. Finally, Sera decides she wants to see her mom! Subsequently she and mom plan an escape, but in the pouring rain while they were being hunted by the other people at the compound, the two of them fall from a roof.

Apparently her mother died from this fall, and Sera was put into one of these coffin plants which, it turns out, will preserve life if the victim doesn't struggle. The plant gives nutrients to the victim while sucking the victim's blood for its own uses. This is all 'explained' in some flashback mumbo jumbo which I skipped. But the thing is that after the fall from the roof, when she wakes up, Sera finds that five years have passed. The plant has kept her alive while her body healed, but she has also aged appropriately - and conveniently, and by that I mean not just her body but her mind!

I pass on this next spoiler because it leads directly to another problem with authenticity. Despite being in some sort of suspended animation for five years in this plant, when Sera gets out of it, and manages to escape, she finds her muscles haven't atrophied at all. That doesn't happen. If the author had said something about muscle therapy during those five years, or about the plant doing something to keep her in shape, that might have helped gloss over it, but she didn't, so we're left with another lapse in suspension of disbelief instead.

Now she and this guy named Kite whom she knew from when she was twelve, who has also aged of course, finally flee the compound, trying to make their way to Europe to get to the bottom of the origin of this place they both just escaped from. Very conveniently, just when they need to take an airplane flight, they happen to run into a party from the school Sera used to attend before she was sent back to the compound, and lo and behold, one of the people on the trip is her best friend from back then, who is with her boyfriend! Neither of them want to go on this trip and both of them are willing to give up their passports and tickets so Sera and her friend can take their places. This was really way the hell too convenient, but by this time I was curious as to where this was all leading so once again I let that slide.

I wish I hadn't. Normally I'm not this generous with novels, especially YA novels, but this one was different - and not set in the US, and not a sappy love story, so I was willing to grant it a bit more leeway, but these were all problems that could have been solved by better writing, and the fact is that things simply didn't improve. The longer I read, the more frustrated I became with the writing, until I simply gave up out of sheer frustration quite close to the end because i was so tired of the dragging story and the sloppy writing. I can't commend a book that was way too long and so haphazardly written.

Murder Above the Fold by Regina Welling, Erin Lynn

Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choices by Tessa Vidal

Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

The Glitch by Elisabeth Cohen

Rating: WARTY!

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

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

London calling by Claire Lydon

Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev

Rating: WORTHY!

The publisher won't tell you this, but this is book one of the "Théâtre Illuminata" trilogy. Once again, not a word on the cover about this being part of a series. That's a huge black mark against it, as well as a testament to Big Publishing™ dishonesty, but I've had this on my print book shelf for several years, still at that point in ignorance of it being the prologue to a trilogy! I decided to give it a try anyway. In the end I wasn't disappointed, but neither was I pointed enough to want to read any more. I'm very much anti-trilogy or any other -ogy, especially anti- the unending 'series'. It has to be something truly special before I will embark on another series. This one volume, however, I'm willing to commend despite some issues with it.

It seemed obvious after getting about fifty percent into this book that it wasn't going to end after one volume, but by that point I'd decided I liked it enough to read it to the end, although about two-thirds the way through I started having doubts. It came back strongly enough from the lull to carry me to the end, but it was precisely this sort of thing that put me off wanting to read more, especially since the ending was a bit flat and a lot cliffhanger. I do not approve of that. If the author can't make the story grip you through one volume, what chance has she when piling the soul-sapping weight of another two on top of it?

The story is about Beatrice Shakespeare Smith, and that 'Shakespeare' portion of her name is important because although she lives in a magical theater which is literally home to real characters who exist in plays in a tome that the theater guards, and who manifest themselves in the theater even when a play is not in progress, Mantchev seems to think, as judged from what she writes, that the only works ever produced in a theater are those by Shakespeare.

Realistically, she could hardly steal characters from more modern plays without getting into copyright issues, but there are scores of well-known plays out of copyright, and she could have could have at least mentioned other characters in passing without anyone suing her, yet all we get is Shakespeare, a mention of The Little Mermaid and from that, some vague love interest named Nate who seemed to think that "Bertie" needed manhandling now and then. The fact that he disappeared at one point in the story and never reappeared when others who had also disappeared returned, told me that this was never going to be resolved in one volume. Barf. So here's another author who's sold out to the YA publishing world's demand that if you don't have a series, or at least a trilogy then you're fucking useless.

But I digress! This tunnel vision on the author's part with regard to 'what's a play' has imposed a severe limitation on the novel, and while I must grant that the author did well, even confined solely to Shakespeare, this confinement meant she lost a huge opportunity to have interesting and amusing interactions in this world she created. So, while parts of it were highly amusing, particularly her banter with the four fairies from A Midsummer's Night Dream: Cobweb, Moth, Mustardseed, and Peaseblossom, who seemed to like to hang with Bertie because of the chaos and mischief she caused, there were also parts that were tedious to read, and an often insufferable Ariel (from The Tempest), who was the penis leg of the inevitable YA lust tripod that all these YA stories are inevitably cursed with.

Bertie was, she's been told, left at the theater as a baby by her mother, yet she never really questions why her mother left her there as opposed to say, a convent or an orphanage. Instead she makes up stories - performed as plays, in which she watches various random characters act out her origin story. But Bertie's days are numbered precisely because of her ill-behavior, and at seventeen, she's given an ultimatum: prove herself invaluable to the theater, or leave. For reasons which escape me, she decides that if she can put on a production of Hamlet set in ancient Egypt this will make her case! She sets out to organize the performance, but first has to deal with Ariel's mischief in setting loose the entire cast of every play by ripping out the pages of the magical play-book. The only page he can't rip out is his own.

The characters are recovered, of course, and nary a word is spoken about this imprisonment, so issues there, but that aside, the story was interesting enough and amusing often enough that I was able to stay with it. So I commend this as a worthy read, but like I said, I have no stomach for pursing Bertie in any further adventures. She's not that interesting of a character. If the next volume had been about Cob, Moth, Mus, and Pease, I might have changed my mind!

Greta and the Giants by Zoë Tucker, Zoe Persico

Rating: WORTHY!

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

I had some mixed feelings about this book jumping on the Greta Thunberg bandwagon. Greta herself is all about action, not about accolades, Recently she turned down an award of some fifty thousand dollars because that's not what she's about - although I do have to confess I don't get why she didn't accept it and donate the money to some organization that's doing something about the climate! But it was her choice, not mine, and I have to express some concern about those who might want to co-opt her good will and momentum, and try to profit from it.

There's nothing in this book to indicate whether Greta is even aware of it, let alone approves of it, since all we get is: "inspired by Greta Thunberg's stand to save the world." But in the end I decided a book like this will do more good than bad, and since it aims to get a useful message out there, and since 3% of the cover price is going to, which is an international environmental organization aiming to do something concrete about climate change, I have to hope that this book has the same good and selfless intentions that Greta has.

The story, written by Zoë Tucker is short, and to the point. The book is gorgeously illustrated by Zoe Persico in full glorious color. The giants are of course the fossil fuel industry and poor Greta is trying to save the woodlands and its denizens from the destructive encroachment of the industrial world. It makes for a useful teaching tool for the young.

Robin's Lake Road by CL Avery

Rating: WARTY!

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

This story I can't commend because it felt so inauthentic through and through. It's a lesbian romance and a first love combined, but the characters behaved more like they were middle grade than seniors in high-school, and there was this idea running through the first 25% of the novel (which is all I could manage to read) that suggested nobody in this novel had even so much as imagined a same sex romance, let alone recognized the existence of the queer population in the world around them, on the Internet, and in the news.

Even in Oklahoma, the gay world is known! As recently as 2014, a ban on same-sex marriage was overturned in the not-so OK state, so you'd have to be shamefully ignorant of your world to not have this idea of diversity of sexual preference and gender identity in your head just from politics, let lone what's in the news and the media. You wouldn't know that from reading this novel though! It was so unrealistic that I couldn't take it seriously.

The story begins with Asher Sullivan who is so ready to graduate and attend a prestigious arts college. She’s concerned that she's never been in love, but things begin to change at a school event. The problem with the event is that Asher doesn't want to be there, yet she stays, and no reason is offered for it. She has to go to begin with to set up her photographic exhibition, but after that, she could have left immediately and no one would have even noticed one missing student, let alone said anything to her about it, yet she stays, and it quickly becomes obvious that the only reason she did was so this other event could happen to her. It was staged, artificial, and unrealistic.

The event is when she meets Robin O’Leary, and again, this felt so fake as to be off-putting. Robin is a talented singer and she's a newcomer to the school, so for Asher to not really have registered the arrival of a sort of minor 'celebrity' in their midst is ridiculous, especially when she's supposed to be a senior photographer for the school. Even if she's not that sort of person, not part of the in-crowd and not interested, she would have had to at least have some idea of who this person was, and seen her in the hallway or at lunch, but no! What this tells me is that Asher is one of the most blinkered main characters I've ever encountered, and I lost all interest in reading anything more about her because she was presented as a completely boring person.

She wasn't an effective character to begin with because after the overture about her going to study photography at this college (if she can get in) and her setting up the pictures at the school event, that's it! Photography essentially disappears from the story! Not only is it not a topic, with nothing photographic going on, and it's not even talked about, but Asher never even spares a single thought about photography. She never has a camera with her and it never even crosses her mind to register, say, how beautiful something is that she observes as she goes about her business, or how the light is, or how a person or object looks in that light. Naturally you don't want a story to be weighed down with nothing but that, but if you tell me photography is going to be her life, then I expect it to be a part of her life already. To rob your character of that is to gut her. And that's how Asher appeared. She had nothing whatsoever in her life save for her lust for all things Robin and it made her one note and shallow.

Even after Asher and Robin have become something of an item, it never once crosses Asher's mind to photograph Robin! Asher has to be pushed into an offer of taking Robin's portrait by her own best friend, which is just ridiculous. What this tells me is that Asher isn't a photographer at all and photography is just a thing that's been crudely hung on her character in a weak attempt to give her some depth. It doesn't work, and someone so lacking in wherewithal abotu her chosen subject, is never going to get into any prestigious college. My guess was that the portrait thing would turn out to be a make-out session because it seemed so obvious a move, but I wasn't interested enough in either character to want to read about it.

The means by which she and Robin get together has no basis at all. As the book blurb says, they're at opposite ends of the social spectrum, yet Robin seems unaccountably transfixed by Asher from the start, and no reason at all is given for this, not in words or in actions. It felt fake from the start, and when we're offered no sound and realistic basis for the relationship to begin with, who really cares what becomes of it? I didn't, and I can't commend this as a worthy read.

Forced in Between by Alexandra Ispas

Rating: WARTY!

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

This was an odd story to which I'm sorry to report I cannot give a positive review. The author is really quite young, and I think that might be the reason why main problem with it is that while it's superficially a book written for adult readers, it reads more like a book for middle-grade or younger because of the writing style. I think the author has talent and a future in writing if she works at it, and my advice to the author before she embarks upon another novel, is to read some good novels on the same topic that she aims to write about, and learn from them with regard to writing style, as well as dialog and descriptive writing.

The story is sci-fi and the plot is of an ongoing war between what I assume is humans, and an alien race, but details of the war are really non-existent. I'm not much of a fan of huge backstories and certainly not of info-dumps, but the problem here is that we get no backstory at all, so the basis for the war, or how long it's been going on, is a mystery. Perhaps this was intentional, but still I feel something could have been offered. These are students, remember, in a classroom environment, so this is the perfect venue to offer information about the war and its causes and so on, as well as about the aliens, during the normal course of the day's studies, but we get nothing of the sort.

The real problem though is that this story isn't about the war at all. It's about these students training to fight it, and even then we get more of a melodrama about the students interacting on a personal level than ever we do about training, or any information about when these students are likely to graduate. Despite the focus being on the students, we learn very little about them at all. They felt more like chess pieces being moved around the story by the author rather than real, self-motivated characters with agendas of their own. Because of this I found I did not care about any of them, much less what would become of them. This was part of the reason I did not wish to read on.

Even that isn't the oddest problem. To me, the oddest problem was why these students, who at one point undergo aerial bombardment from the aliens - all without anyone fighting back! - are practicing sword fighting! When are they ever going to sword-fight the aliens? There is some unarmed combat, which is fine, but almost no training in weapons, or tactics, or leadership. These students are being prepared for failure, not for becoming soldiers. Again, maybe it's what the author intends, but I read through some fifty percent of this book, and nothing changed. If the author had at least shown us the students in a class during the earlier part of the novel, learning about alien physiology and psychology, this could have been used to prepare us for what happened later, but this was another opportunity that was missed.

At one point there is this thing going on about this secret weapon, which (the description was vague) appears to be a set of little disks that can project holograms, such that when they're laid on the ground, the disks make it look like there is a person there above it. During the aerial attack, students are out there placing these holo-disks and I had to ask to what purpose? It assumes the aliens have vision exactly like ours and that they can be fooled by static holograms, 'killing' those instead of killing real people. This also assumes that the aliens don't have any other technology than their eyes and their eyes work just like ours. It assumes they wouldn't seek to thermally-image targets - so they can see that it's literally a warm body and not an empty shell of light. Militaries do some dumb things, but I can't believe this would be a real project thought-up by the military when they could be spending that same huge budget on advanced weaponry. It's not the way any military works.

The other oddity is that the main character, Jennifer, is the only woman in the entire academy, yet no one ever really remarks on this. Why is she the only one there? In fifty percent of a novel I expect to get some answers about that, but none were forthcoming. The thing about Jennifer is that she makes close contact with an alien but never reports it. She seems predisposed to believe what the alien tells her rather than suspect this alien might be a spy. Clearly the intention is that the alien is friendly, but we're not offered any good reason why we should buy into this idea, and it seems particularly ironic that we should be expected to believe the aliens are benign right after they have bombed the crap out of a site that's not even a military base per se, but a school. How friendly can they be?

Those were the most egregious problems with this novel. In short, it made little sense, it moved ponderously slowly, it was written in a rather juvenile voice, and I never found myself becoming even interested in, much less invested in any of the characters. I've tried not to be cruel in this review because the author is young and I believe she has talent, but I would be doing her a disservice were I not to tell it like it is. I can't commend this novel, but I do hope the author continues her writing trajectory and sticks with it. I honestly believe there are successful places she can go with her writing.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Destruction by Justin Edison

Rating: WARTY!

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

I was interested in this novel despite it being not the sort of novel I tend to like: the idea of interstellar war I find rather laughable. I think aliens would have better things to do with their time and resources, so it's really hard to find a good novel, let alone a series of this genre, and by good I mean not only engaging, but also realistic. I was hoping this would be different, and what intrigued me was the idea of the female sniper, June Vereeth who is the main character. In the last analysis though, I didn't like it, and I'll tell you why.

Note first that this is volume 2 of a series - again something I am not much a fan of (both series and volume 2's!), but at least I went into this knowing it was a series and that this was not the first volume, since this one is billed as ' Woman at War Book II' (that's Roman two, not eleven or "Aye-aye, Captain." It's nice that a publisher announces this right there on the front cover. Far too many do not, and I find that intensely irritating.

Among the many problems with a series is that unless you're binge-reading them after the series has been released in its entirety, you discover that the author is stuck between info-dumping to bring you up to date with events over previous volume(s), or leaving you in the dark. It seems very few authors can find the happy path between those two extremes. This author went the 'in the dark' route, so I was clueless about what had been in the first 'book'. I also had no idea if this was set in Earth's future and these people were descended from people on Earth and intermixing with - and in some cases fighting against aliens, or if everyone was human or none of them were.

That wouldn't have been so bad had there been some rationale and consistency in the story-telling, but it seemed like a bit of a jumble to me. Terms were tossed around, including names for possible alien species, with zero actual detail revealed, as though the reader was expected to know all about them. Perhaps the expectation was that those who wanted to review this would have read volume 1, but this is an ARC and there was no option to try volume 1 before I reviewed volume 2. I don't recall ever seeing volume 1 of this series on Net Galley, and this one interested me, so I tried it. That said, some guidance interleaved with the action in this book would have been appreciated; not that there was really any action in the portion I managed to read before I gave up in dissatisfaction.

As an example, we got long distances given in miles, but then short distances given in 'legs'. I have no idea what a leg was. Weights were given in 'bars' - again - no clue what that was supposed to represent, and there was no guidance on how to translate it, so in the end it was quite meaningless. If every measure had been given in alien terms, that would have been one thing, but to mix it like that with terms that aren't even in use today was just annoying to me. Maybe if I'd read volume 1 it would all have been clear, but I guess I'll never know. Since I'm done with this series, it doesn't really matter at this point. And no, I didn't go looking in the back of the book in case there was a glossary - I shouldn't have to!

What really turned me off the story though was the tediousness of the opening sequence, where soldiers were climbing these giant rock pillars. The pillars (so it seemed, although it wasn't exactly clear) were a natural formation of individual and extremely high rock columns with flat tops. In a highly unlikely event, an allied spacecraft had crashed on top of one of the pillars and these soldiers had been sent in to recover something from it. The job was rendered all-but impossible because the rocks were shrouded in fog which inexplicably never dissipated or blew away, so visibility was down to very little. Definitely not more than a few 'legs' - or maybe not! Who knows? Is moving over a short distance called 'pulling legs'?! To make things worse, the rocks were magnetic, which prevented anything electronic from working in their vicinity.

I'm sure the author thought he'd done everything to render this climb and tedious exploration of the tops of hundreds of these pillars inevitable, but he's missed a few things. One of these things was a magnetic survey. Yes, the rocks were magnetic, but so was the spacecraft, presumably, so any distortion in the more or less regular pattern of the rock formation might be a place where the ship had ended up. Another option that went unexplored was sonar. Signals beamed down from up above and the rebound recorded would have been able to map the rocks in sufficient detail to identify the one which contained the crashed craft and magnetic interference was irrelevant.

Perhaps landing atop the pillars using was an option. if a spacecraft could accidentally crash-land on top of one, a glider could sure make a controlled landing! It would have been no more risky than the climbing they were doing! Another option would have been to explore the foot of the pillar formation for debris from the crashed ship. Not every last piece of it was on the top of that one pillar. There has to be debris. That would have at least narrowed the search down.

The author had mentioned some brush down at the bottom, interfering with access, but I don't imagine that would have been an insurmountable obstacle. Setting fire to the brush would have lifted the fog! A final solution would be to have bombed the crap out of that entire area, to destroy the ship so the alien enemy couldn't recover it. Just mentioning these as not feasible for whatever reasons would have been a good idea, but to pretend like scaling the pillars was the only option was a bit short-sighted.

But sometimes the military does make really dumb decisions and it costs lives, so I was willing to go with that, but the story was so ponderous, and so repetitive with the long climb of that first pillar and then the traversing from one to another by stringing lines across the tops and shimmying along them. It was frankly a boring read. Worse than this, Vereeth was a sniper. Why send her to a place where there's no visibility? It made zero sense.

The disappointing part about her involvement was that she was supposed to be a trained soldier and yet she seemed appallingly weak, especially for this mission. Were there no other snipers available? Again this wasn't explored. The situation was exacerbated unacceptably once more by the story being told in the first person, so she came across as a chronic whiner, which turned me right off her. First person voice is worst person voice for precisely this reason (inter alia). For a number of very good reasons, it's typically a bad choice for telling a story - especially a young adult story, which this fortunately wasn't - and if I'd known beforehand that this was a first person voice novel, I would not have requested it for that reason alone.

So while I wish the author all the best with this series, for all of the reasons I've gone into, I cannot commend this as a worthy read.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

The Water Crown by James Suriano

Rating: WARTY!

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

Initially I was drawn into this story because it was about the world's supply of fresh, clean water, which is, along with climate change, and pollution, one of the real crises in the world right now. I was by no means convinced that bringing in magical abilities or Middle East jinn would lend adequate gravity to a story about a serious problem like this, but I was willing to give it a chance. The problem was that story got lost somewhere along the way. Largely abandoned were the jinn, and the story devolved into one that was delving far more into the day-to-day minutiae of the lives of the two main characters. It seemed to lose track of the fact that it was supposed to be telling an important story about a serious real-world problem.

The two main characters are a Bedouin boy named Zyan, who is living in Morocco, and Jade St John who splits her time between South Africa and Israel. She has the ability to bypass normal space by latching onto a strange system which allows her to travel great distances - on a global level - in relatively short times. She can also push people's minds in the direction she wants them to go rather than where they might have gone otherwise, and she can communicate on some level with animals. She has an assistant, for example, which is a pangolin, but which works for her as a sort of housekeeper, which I thought was rather cute. Jade works for a mysterious organization and gets her instructions from 'Mother' rather like John Steed used to in the old British TV series called The Avengers.

Zyan lives - as befits his ethnicity - in the desert and has a pets like chickens and a goat which he foolishly ties to a post outside a library, only to have it stolen. He tracks it down, but fails to act before the boy who stole it slits its throat. This is important for my attitude toward this novel later, if you'll bear with me. He has the ability to see Jade on occasion, but he thinks she's some sort of jinn. He becomes involved with the Moroccan royal family because they think he can talk with jinn and thereby help them with their fresh water shortage. Therein lies a problem.

Morocco is on the coast. It has a long coastline. It also has oodles of sunlight. It wouldn't take much to set up a desalination plant - or a series of them - running on solar energy which could supply Morocco with all the freshwater it could ever want. If this had been addressed in the story, and some sort of 'reason' (however weak or invalid!) had been put in place to 'explain' why their water problem couldn't be solved by this means, that would have been something, but for the author to dismiss all that, and make this sound like it was a crisis in need of jinn magic when there are technological solutions seemed like cheating to me.

The people of Morocco don't call their nation Morocco. It's known in Arabic as 'The Western Kingdom', and while politics are discussed in the novel, we learn very little about how Morocco truly is. It is a very repressive kingdom where free speech is highly circumscribed and homosexuality is illegal. Lack of water isn't a problem; lack of sanitation and access to flowing water in every household is a problem, so it seemed to me like this was a poor choice of a country to set this water issue.

Worse than this, over half a million Moroccans are addicted to drugs. Eighty percent of cannabis in Europe comes from Moroccan plantations. For me, that's no worse that growing tobacco, but Morocco is also a shipping route for South American cocaine. Drug addiction is particularly prevalent among Moroccan youth. These are not things to be proud of. Why Hollywood is so intent upon favoring Morocco for so many movie shoots is beyond me.

Morocco is also an islamic nation, but you would not have guessed that from this novel. There is no talk of Islam and none of the people depicted are ever shown following any of the tenets of that religion, which lent the story an air of high fantasy and inauthenticity. Indeed, at one point the Moroccan queen is depicted as flouncing around in a bikini in front of a stranger! Even for a western nation that might seem a problem (recall the sensation in Britain when Princess Diana was photographed with the sun behind her shining through her skirts. For an Islamic nation it was positively ridiculous.

While Morocco is more enlightened than many Islamic countries with regard to dress code (westerners can wear a bikini on the beach, for example), Moroccan women are expected to dress conservatively to one degree or another depending on which part of the country they are in. Some areas are more conservative than others, and even western women would be frowned on or worse were they to try wearing a bikini or even a bikini top at any place other than the beach. Moroccan women do have some rights, but they are far from equal as compared with western women - who even now still bear a greater load of grief than ever men do with regard to dress and comportment. In 2015 two women were publicly abused and arrested for dressing 'indecently'. That same year, three teenagers were arrested because one of them, a boy, took a picture of his friend, another boy, kissing a girl and posted it on Facebook. So no, they're a long way from equality and freedom in Morocco and I'm sorry this author skated blithely over all that.

This brings me to another problem, which was that I couldn't tell if this story was supposed to be set in the near future or in some sort of alternate reality. Britain's queen for example, was given as Queen Agatha, which is nonsensical since that name isn't remotely close to the name of any of the queens Britain has actually had, so again this undermined suspension of disbelief. Maybe in an alternate reality there would be a Queen Agatha and the Moroccan royal family would not have an issue with the queen disporting herself in a bikini, but without having any guidance from the book blurb or from the novel, it was hard to tell what was supposed to be going on here.

That wasn't why I DNF'd the novel though. The problem for me was, as I mentioned earlier, the fact that the author seemed to forget that there was supposed to be a story going on here, and instead spent so much time in minutiae which didn't really do anything for the story at all. I began to grow bored, but didn't really lose my interest until Zyan started rambling on about his dead goat. If he'd mentioned it in passing, that would be one thing, but he told a story about it that went on, and on...and on! It was so tedious that I quit reading right there.

That rambling wasn't interesting. It revealed nothing we did not know already, and neither did it do a thing to move the story (or me for that matter given Zyan's complete lack of effort to save the goat in the first place, and his stupidity in leaving it tied up where he couldn't keep an eye on it to start with). This had already been covered earlier in the story so this revisit was annoying at best. My patience had been waning with Jade's mindless and pointless puttering around by this point, so the endless story of Zyan's tragic loss of his nanny really got my goat - and I'm not kidding. I can't commend this as a worthy read, not based on the fifty percent of it I did read.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Domino Killer instinct by Gail Simone, David Baldeón, Michael Shelfer, Jesus Aburton

Rating: WARTY!

Given that, apart from the writer (Simone) who apparently has little influence or simply doesn't care, this is entirely the work of evidently adolescent males (drawn by Baldeón and Shelfer, colored by Aburton), this graphic novel didn't surprise me at all to see that its rating in my new system was a very poor 22 (the lower the number the worse the comic book). What this means is that the book only made it to page 22 before it showed a female character (in this case the main one, and in her underwear) in an image with her leg legs wide open facing the viewer. It took her fewer pages than that to get her into the frilly underwear she apparently favors when working.

From now on regardless of the story, any graphic novel/comic book that gratuitously shows that kind of an image (and I can't off-hand think of an instance where it wouldn't be gratuitous), it's an immediate WARTY rating on my blog. The story wasn't that great anyway. I skimmed through it from p22 onward and it was the same kind of crap we normally get in Marvel comics - and probably in DC comics too. It's supposed to be about the main character Domino, but every step of the way, every known character in the entire Marvel universe puts in an appearance to help the poor helpless girl out, so the story really isn't about her at all when you get right down to it, it's about how many Marvel characters we can fit into her story and how helpless, disempowered, and devalued can we make her on the way through it.

I expected better from a female writer. I got exactly what I expected from a male art crew. In short, this graphic novel sucked.

Like Vanessa by Tami Charles

Rating: WARTY!

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

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