Showing posts with label high-school. Show all posts
Showing posts with label high-school. Show all posts

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, “...at 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.


Friday, November 1, 2019

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.



Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia


Rating: WORTHY!

Eliz is counting the days until her graduation when she can head off to college and leave her little town behind. She's tired of being the odd one out at school and has no interest in anyone there. What neither the school nor anyone else but her immediate family realizes is that Eliza Mirk is the creator of a web comic called Monstrous Sea, which is highly popular. Why it is, I don't know.

There are a few (and far between) illustrations in the print book along with some text about which I had no particular feelings one way or the other excepting to say that it didn't seem to me the type of thing that would inspire and rabid readership and a thriving paraphernalia store which nets Eliza a comfortable income such that she can already pay her way through college.

This all begins to unravel when a studly guy arrives at her school as a transfer, and immediately he and Eliza start becoming an item. At first it's very awkward, but when they both reveal their shared interest in Monstrous Sea (he as a fan fiction writer, she as a fan fiction artist - so she tells him) they begin hanging out together and eventually really are dating. This is where I began to have problems with this novel because it started feeling too trope to live. The girl who thinks she's unattractive and has no interest in guys. The stud of a guy - a jock, with chiseled features and a buff bod - is attracted to her. Seriously? That is so YA. This could have been about a couple of regular nerds with no special physical qualities and it would ahve read a lot better, so why'd the author go the trad route instead of making her own path? Selling out to Big publishing™ maybe? Far too many YA authors do.

For the longest time it seems as though Eliza was truly going to be different, because the writing suggested she was perhaps overweight and typically dressed way down, but in the end she's the good-looking girl who only needs to take her eyeglasses off to be a runway model. Well, it wasn't quite that bad, but it came close at times. That started to turn me off the novel, but the writing continued to be good, original, and interesting and the relationship didn't suddenly balloon out of nothing. That sure helped. The thing is that it could have been that same way with the nerds. Unfortunately, it wasn't.

I read on anyway, and found myself being drawn into the story and wanting to know what happened next even when, at the end, it became predictable. Eliza had a counterpart who had started a series of books and then when it came to the last volume - never produced one. She left her fans hanging and dropped out of the world. You knew at this point that Eliza would contact her when she ran into the same issues, which in Eliza's case were precipitated by her idiot parents who have zero understanding of Eliza, and who constantly demean and belittle her interests concerning Monstrous Sea; they consider it to be just some passing fad which didn't deserve to be taken seriously. They had no interest in even reading the web comic.

I wondered at times how autobiographical this novel was. I don't know. I hope it wasn't, but it could well be for all I know. She writes like maybe it is, or like maybe she knows someone like this. I can understand it from my own experiences. But loved ones aren't by any means required to love what we love. We can only hope for understanding, and be miserable if we don't get it! Writing can be a very lonely profession, even for an amateur.

The problem other than the trope high-school couple was that the ending was very predictable. You know she's going to be outed before she tells her studly boyfriend her big secret and that he's going to react very negatively, but in the end everything is going to be hunky dory, and she's even going to be reconciled with her family that she's spent the entire novel all-but despising until that last few pages. That was too sickly for me, but despite that, the overall the novel was worth reading. Besides I'm tired of wishing for novels that don't necessarily wrap-up neatly in the end like a pathetic TV sitcom tying off all the loose ends in a half-hour or forty minutes. I got so tired of waiting for such novels to come that I started writing them myself!

I read somewhere that this author is John Greene's new favorite. I wonder what happened to the previous one? How are they faring? Whenever I read one author recommend another like that I wonder how much they were paid to review the book. She's fortunate that I read that commendation after I read her novel, because if I'd read it beforehand I would never have picked this book up! I can't say she's my favorite author, but then I'm not paid for my reviews! I can say I would read something else by her - except maybe not if it was as long as this was.


Friday, May 3, 2019

Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Oima


Rating: WARTY!

This was the second of two manga I looked at recently which featured a person with some sort of disability. In the other it was a person with a wheelchair. In this it was a girl who communicated by sign language. The main male character had been abusive to this girl when he was younger - making fun of her and so on, and now he was older he regretted it and sought to make up for his appalling behavior when he encountered her again, but the problem was that the girl still remained largely mute despite her sign language, and there really was no emotional content here. It was more like a comedy than a moving story and I couldn't stand it.

The girl was completely flat for me, with no emotion, and no fire. She never got annoyed, angry, upset, frustrated or anything. She was like this little magical paragon of Zen and so completely unrealistic that she was a nonentity - a hole in the story instead of a whole story. The guy was no more interesting, so I gave up on it in short order. Now, admittedly I came into this at volume three, but the thought of going back and trying to dig up volumes one and two to catch up was severely disabling for my psyche!

Besides, for a girl who was mute, having increasing volumes seemed painfully paradoxical to me! Certainly, I had no desire to go back and read the earlier volumes in this series when this one in particular had failed to stir me at all. I should say I've never been a fan of that style of Manga which features girls with such ridiculously large eyes, or in which all of the characters look decidedly western rather than Eastern. I do not know why they do this, but I don't like it. So in short I was disappointed in this and cannot commend it.


Saturday, April 6, 2019

Dear Haiti, Love Alaine by Maika Moulite, Maritza Moulite


Rating: WARTY!

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

I had looked forward to reading this, but in the end I was very disappointed. There were problems with this novel from the very start and not just with the writing. The most noticeable was that this was evidently created as a print book and no thought whatsoever was given to the conversion to ebook. Submitting it in Amazon Kindle format was the first mistake. Amazon is renowned for trashing books when running them through its crappy kindle conversion process, and this one was a disaster. I've said this many times before and I will never tire of saying it until Amazon fixes it: unless your book is essentially plain vanilla, Amazon will trash it.

You can get away with bold fonts and italicized text, but the moment you start putting page headers in there, and drop caps, text box inserts, or any sort of special layout or formatting, and Amazon will destroy it, guaranteed. Never put images in it. Despite this being a given, no one evidently ever thinks to check if the resulting ebook is ready for Amazon Prime time. This one was not. I get that this was an advance review copy, but there is no excuse for the shoddy condition it was in. Evidently no one bothered to check it. This is on the authors and the publisher. I'm at the point now where I'm about ready to fail a book in review for something like this regardless of what else it has right or wrong about it, because I'm so very tired of seeing books in this condition having been mauled in the Amazon jungle.

It's not just a matter of the odd bit here and there having an issue. As writers, we all have to suck that up, but when a book is appallingly mashed-up by the conversion process (which is Amazon's forte as judged by the repeated problems with books I read in Kindle format), someone needs to check it and fix it before it goes out. Given that this was an ARC, there is plenty of time to fix it before it's published in September, but this is really no excuse for putting out a book for review that evidently hasn't even been so much as grammar- and spell-checked:

Here's an example: "...Twitter account I reserve for ratchetness and told them where they could shove keep their opinions." There is a spelling error and a grammatical error right there. Right after this there was a whole section turned red - that is to say a red font as opposed to black. I often see red sections in Kindle format books, usually in the end papers at the beginning - which would be the beginning papers, right? These things make me see red because there's no excuse for them. In this book though, there were random red paragraphs all over the book. I have no idea what it is in Amazon's evidently sloppy and substandard conversion process which causes these, but it would have taken only a cursory glance through the book to see that there was a serious quality problem.

Here's a grammar problem that was evidently caused by a sentence being written one way, changed to sound a little different, and then never re-read to make sure it made sense: "I said she could just show up and show out be herself." Say what? Whether this was caused or contributed to by the fact that this novel had two writers, I do not know. I have often thought it would be nice to have a co-writer, because in addition to spurring on your partner, each of you could catch the other's mistakes, but from the evidence here, it doesn't work that way!

Another example is "...they replavced her presentation with a chat about resolving disputes..." which ostensibly is an attempt to mash two words (repaved and replaced) into one! Inventive, but not good English! I rather suspect though that it was a typo, 'V' and 'C' being next-door-neighbors on the keyboard. This is why I believe a final spellcheck/grammar check was never done on this novel before it was submitted to Net Galley for us poor reviewers who merit only the ebook!

Following are a couple of examples of the poor formatting created by Kindle conversion process; in both of them, the page header and number has been meshed with the text of the novel:

The guests included the usual round
DEAR HAITI, LOVE ALAINE 21
table setup plus a congressperson or two.
This next one had both the header mesh and a red section:
"[pause]
BEAUPARLANT: Exactly. So, when the public hears rumors of expensive dinners at Zuma and court
DEAR HAITI, LOVE ALAINE 45
side Miami Heat seats on their dime..."
The portion beginning 'BEAUPARLANT' and ending with 'court' was all in blood red! And these were all in the first fifth of the novel.

In this example, the page header cuts right into the middle of the word!

in my hands, shak
102 MAIKA MOULITE & MARITZA MOULITE
ing my head
Clearly something is wrong here.

When I got to around twenty percent, this red paragraph issue had become more than an aberration; it was so bad that I chose not to continue wrestling with a book that I wasn't even enjoying in the first place. I'm not a fan of experimental fiction and this felt like it. I'm not a fan of stories which are largely texting messages, or chat room exchanges or which incorporate large portions of such. I don't think it's edgy, I think it's tired and lazy writing. This book didn't go in for that so much as it went in for including the full text of emails, school event programs, transcripts, and that kind of thing. I quickly took to skipping these sections entirely and you know, it made no difference to my understanding of what was going on! So why include them? To me it's just lazy writing.

Because, I suspect, of these attempts to be cutting edge, the story became somewhat incoherent in places, and here I'm talking about what took place in the narrative flow of the text, not the parts where there were disruptive intrusions by emails and newspaper articles and so on. Skipping those parts actually made the story more coherent to me, but maybe that's just me.

The plot is about this one high-school girl, Alaine Beauparlant, a name which I thought was a bit much given she wants to be a journalist and her mother is a TV talk show host. Handsome-speaking? Really? Anyway, having been dissed in school by another girl in a very public way, Alaine reacts in kind, and gets punished for her misdemeanor while the other girl gets off scot-free. The other girl's behavior was without question outright bullying, yet she had no disciplinary action imposed on her while Alaine is suspended?! It's not authentic. Either that or Alaine attends a really, really bad school which didn't seem that way from what I read of it.

I never made it as far as Alaine's suspension. This was yet another novel set in a high-school where bullying is rampant and there is no accountability. I don't doubt that there is bullying in schools unfortunately, but reading about it in yet another YA story is getting very old, and it was only one of many tired tropes employed here. I'm also tired of stories where the girl needs to have the handsome beau, like no woman is sufficient on her own; she has to have her prince charming to validate her. This book could have done quite well without "Tati's distractingly cute intern." We need to have a #MeNeither movement to encourage writers to write about women who don't need men to get what they want out of life and get where they want to go. Maybe it should be tagged #MenOptional.

There was another disturbing issue here and this is a small spoiler, so be warned. Alaine's mother starts acting strangely very early in the story and this is apparently due to Alzheimer's. Alzheimer's usually hits late in life. Only about five percent of cases are early-onset, and sufferers don't typically become violent until late stage, and then only in extremis. While there is always room for aberrations, this story felt unrealistic in its approach to Alzheimer's, which didn't help its case with me. Just saying!

I wish the authors all the best with their career, but I could not get with, and cannot commend, this novel. It wasn't where it needed to be for my taste. If it had started with Alaine arriving in Haiti, cutting out all the high school BS that came before, it might have been be an improvement, but for me it wasn't working at all, and I chose to move on to something more engaging and more realistic.


Saturday, February 16, 2019

Queen Bee by Chynna Clugston


Rating: WARTY!

Why a female author would want to denigrate women by creating a graphic novel about two high-school girls being outright bitches to one another is an utter mystery to me. I thought there might be some wising-up and resolution here, but the only resolution was to continue this garbage into a second volume. Even the teachers are painted clueless which is an outright insult to teachers. It's stinking trash. My opinion and advice is to treat it as such. I'm done with this author.


Friday, January 4, 2019

Belly Up by Eva Darrows


Rating: WARTY!

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

This book rather rubbed me up the wrong way right on page one, so it seems that I and this author must part ways since this is the second one of her novels that I have not liked. I negatively reviewed the previous one in December 2018. So I guess I'm done with this author and she's no doubt glad to be done with me!

Even before I began to read this, I could see by the white space that this author evidently really dislikes trees, to want to slaughter so many to make a print book! Each chapter starts halfway down the page, and the margins on every page - which I assume is mapped out for a print version - had glaring, massive, tree-rasing white spaces. I'm slowly getting to the point where I'm thinking about DNF-ing and negatively reviewing all print books which are so disrespectful of the environment.

The next thing was in those first few lines where I read:

There's a first time for everything.
First time playing quarters.
First time spinning the bottle.
First totally hot consensual truck hookup with a superhot boy whose digits I forgot to get.
First time getting pregnant.
Surprised you with that one, didn't I?
Actually, no you didn't, because it's all in the back-cover book blurb! I know authors typically don't write their own blurbs unless they self-publish, but this author's blurb is word for word the opening lines of chapter one! The unexpected expectancy is central to the plot, so in what way was it even remotely a surprise? Not a lot of thought went into those opening lines! Fortunately, the book turned around somewhat after that, and it managed to draw me in, but the relationship 'tween author and reader was stretched even so, and by a quarter the way through, I could not stand to go on. This was a stillbirth.

So serendipity (yeah, why a mom only one generation away from her Swedish extraction would choose such a name goes unexplained), aka Sara-for-short, had a truly foolish hook-up with a guy she had never met before, knew nothing about, but nevertheless had unprotected sex with him - in his pickup truck (they're named pickups for a reason, and you should have no truck with them!).

I have to say that this girl comes off as profoundly stupid and so very easily manipulated by everyone. She never even went to get a morning after pill, and had no interest in getting checked up for STDs. Then of course she got pregnant and while the author wants us to believe she has some conflict in deciding what to do about it, the writing makes it clear she's already made her decision, so all the dithering and uncertainty felt completely fake in such a tell and no show novel.

The best example of this - and the one which made me give up on it - pops up about a quarter the way through the book, where Sara's mom is packing boxes into the car for transportation to her mom's house. The two of them are moving to live with Sara's grandmother to save on bills, This has nothing to do with the pregnancy, but when Sara offers to help, her mom ignorantly bans her from lifting, as though she's an invalid.

No! Pregnancy does not automatically make a woman an invalid! Women are not fragile. They're not delicate! They can lift things! They can open their own doors! They can even close car doors - Megan Markle proved it! What a shock! They do not need to be bubble-wrapped and set in a corner where they will not be interacting with anything dangerous! So why do authors, and even more shamefully, female authors, treat their own gender like its weak and delicate?

Yes, if there are medical reasons why she needs to take it easy, that's one thing, but in Sara's case she's a strong, healthy young woman with no medical issues and no pregnancy problems. She's just been given a clean bill of health by her doctor with no restrictions, she's only 11 weeks in, and yet her mom thinks it will be a disaster if she lifts a box or two of household items?

The problem with this is two-fold in that first, Sara hasn't decided if she's keeping the baby, so this concern seems a bit overdone given her ambivalence. If it miscarried, while that itself would be traumatic for her whether she wanted the child or not, it would solve her problem of not wanting to be saddled with a pregnancy in her circumstances, yet while every other remote and absurd eventuality seems to have crossed her overly fertile mind, this particular one never enters, not even in passing? It rather belies the ambivalence she's supposed to be feeling - hence the tell and not show problem.

But even if she was dead set on keeping it (she is, but the author thinks we haven't noticed), let's consider some real women. Jocelyn Benson, at 38, completed the Boston marathon in 6 hours while very pregnant. 35-year-old Amy Keil did the same thing at 34 weeks in 2015. Meghan Leatherman set personal records in Crossfit at 40 weeks, including weight-lifting. Lea-Ann Ellison did the same sort of thing.

At the 2009 Grammy awards, MIA, aka Mathangi Arulpragasam, got up and sang Swagger Like Us, danced in a bikini, and delivered her healthy child three days later. These women may be exceptional in more ways than one, and I am not suggesting that every woman carrying a baby immediately follow their example, but their example proves that pregnancy does not cripple a woman! It does not equate with being an invalid. It does not demand every woman for every pregnancy be coddled like fine bone china! Yet this author seems to think it does.

It would have been nice had the author shown that this young healthy woman could carry a box or two without having to call her friend to come over and help. Actually, given Sara's sorry ignorance, if her friend Devi, whom she'd inconvenienced by calling to come over and help had lectured her about what a pregnant woman could do, that would have made for some good reading.

As it is, it's a double problem in that Sara's mom thinks Sara is utterly helpless now she's pregnant, and Sara thinks her mom is inadequate in that she can't carry a few boxes out to the car by herself and desperately needs help. So we have a female author espousing 'weak women', and two female characters all but dismissing each other as a whole person. It was sad, and brought me that final step to DNF-ing this novel.

This author doesn't seem to have a good handle on pregnancy either, or needs to clarify her writing better. At one point she's talking of the baby being fully-formed, and later talking of it being a bean. Maybe she means the size of the fetus when she refers to a bean, but she's not being very clear what she means.

At eleven weeks a fetus might be described as the size of a large butter bean, but it is also recognizably humanoid. Despite looking human though (and ignoring the outsized head which is half the body's length at that stage) the baby still doesn't even have red blood cells, let alone be remotely viable in any other way. It's incapable of breathing before the second trimester, for example, because the neurological system isn't properly there, so despite looking humanoid, it has less going for it than your average caterpillar! So please do not take your what to expect when you're expecting lessons from this novel! Take 'em from a competent, experienced, and fully-qualified medical doctor!

In short, I cannot commend this as a worthy read. It was far too loosely-wrapped, and while I was certainly not expecting a medical manual, I did expect authenticity and realism and got neither.


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell


Rating: WARTY!

This was a wildly optimistic audio book experiment given that I'd already tried Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl and DNF'd it because it was an unmitigated disaster. I found myself forced to adopt the same approach here because this was simply not getting it done. Essentially it's a bit of a rip-off of Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan which was published in 2006 and is a much better read.

Rowell seems to be an uninventive writer who loves to tell rather than show, and who seems to think that stereotypes are daring. No, they're really not, but they do win awards evidently, which is probably why I'll never win one. The first problem is that the basic story is antique: a boy and a girl hate each other, but fall in love? Been there done that to death.

The second problem with this is that it's written as dual narratives which suck. The only kind thing I can say about that was that at least it wasn't in first person. The third problem is that the author doesn't even pretend she can write such a novel about modern youth, so she sets this in the eighties so she can write it about her own youth. Yawn.

The chapters are all called either 'Eleanor' or 'Park' and each is read by one of the two readers: Rebecca Lowman and Sunil Malhotra, and they lay out the perspective from the PoV of each main character so the author can tell you rather than show you what's happening. They meet on a school bus which is populated with stereotypes: jocks, cheerleaders, nerds, and so on. It's painfully tedious; there's nothing new, and I cannot commend it. I'm permanently off reading anything further by this author.


Monday, October 8, 2018

Drama by Raina Telgemeier


Rating: WORTHY!

This author has an ear and an eye for middle-grade drama (as well as an amazing name!), and I loved the ambiguous title which related both to a musical play the school is putting on, and also to the lives of those involved in the play in one way or another. The production is "Moon Over Mississippi." I've never heard of it, and have no idea if it's a real play or not. I have no interest in sharing the obsession far too many people have with the civil war in this country. What the play was, was irrelevant to the story, but as it was, it was set in the civil war and was of course a story about love.

Callie is the girl and set designing is her game and she ends up with a triumph on her hands as one thing after another seemed to be set on derailing the production, but solutions were always at hand, even if some of them were thoroughly unexpected and entirely unpredictable. It would have been nice if the lesson Callie learned was that she did not need a man to validate her, but that was a relatively minor part of the story compared with the fact that - in everything except boys - she was a self-starter, and a smart, independent young woman who got things done.

In fact, the disconnect between her can-do success with the play and her cluelessness with boys was rather amusing, and the idea that the boy she wanted kind of fell into her lap at the end was like a cherry on top. I know others didn't like it, but I thought it was funny.

This was an early example of the author's work - her second book of four as of this writing. I've never read anything by her before and it's good to know that she goes on to hopefully ever better and greater things that I still have to look forward to! The artwork was gorgeous and the color supplied by Gurihiru (a Japanese team of which I assume Kawano was the colorist) was wonderful.


Skim by Mariko Tamaki, Jillian Tamaki


Rating: WORTHY!

These two cousins, Mariko the writer and Jillian the artist have been interesting me lately because I find their work mostly appealing. I say mostly, because I definitely did not like Jillian's Indoor Voice, which was a scrappy little book that had all the charm and import of an artist's rough sketchbook sold as is! It told no story and was uninteresting to me. It seemed to be a paean to New York City, but it was more like a pain, especially to someone who has neither love for nor interest in people mythologizing NYC.

Skim was a different fettle of Kitsch. The story was interesting if a little confused at times, and the artwork was engrossing if not exactly brilliant. The art evoked a feeling of a story about dolls rather than about people, because of the art style and I wondered if this had been intentional. Regardless, it told the tale of a young, confused high-school girl trying to make her way through life among a barrage of conflicting messages and poorly understood signals. She seemed to be going through one issue after another including an unrequited crush on her female art teacher, and I have to wonder whether any of this was autobiographical. I have no idea if it was, but it seemed heartfelt. Maybe it was pure invention. Maybe it was the story of someone the author knew at school.

The story begins with the suicide of the ex-boyfriend of one of the elite girls at the school, Katie Matthews, and everything is overly dramatized, suggesting - since it's all told from the perspective of Kimberly Keiko Cameron (the Skim of the title) that this is how she sees it, not necessarily how it actually is. Perhaps Skim, as suggested by her name, is very shallow and fails to see deeper meanings in things, while deluding herself that she is seeing deeper things that are actually not there at all. Skim is very jaded and cynical for one so young, and this comes out quite starkly in her exchanges with her best friend - a friend who she drifts apart from over the course of the story as her allegiance haphazardly shifts in an unexpected direction.

The truth or fiction of the tale isn't important, because these are certainly someone's truths, somewhere, and the story was entertaining, although I have to say the ending was a let-down - it just sort of fizzled-out without any conclusion or indication of any future direction for the main character. Not all issues are neatly resolved, of course, but I think we're entitled to feel they ought to be in a fictional work. This one felt like the author had grown tired of writing this and wanted to move onto something else. That aside though, I enjoyed it and I commend it as a worthy read.


Saturday, September 1, 2018

His Own Way Out by Taylor Saracen


Rating: WARTY!

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

I could not get into this book at all and DNF'd it at around a third of the way through. The characters - three or four kids in high school - were such utter dicks that there wasn't a single one of them that was even likeable, let alone relatable. I read in some other reviews that it's apparently a fictionalized version of a true story. I did not realize that going in, but now I do know it, I have to wonder what the purpose of this treatment of it was supposed to be.

Thinking it was fiction, I was pulled in by the fact that the main character was bisexual. This is rare in a book and the only other such book I've read that immediately comes to mind, I didn't like very much. I'd hoped for a lot more for this one, especially given the positive nature of the title, but it was a fail for me because although the main character was presented as bi, he had no real interest in women at all, aside from his ex-girlfriend. His entire focus seemed to be on men, so while he was technically bi, this story really offered nothing that your typical gay high school story offers, so what was the point?

Again from what I read in other's reviews after I decided to ditch this as a waste of my reading time, the 'way out' is for the main character to go into the porn industry which, while it's entirely his choice to make, is hardly the kind of way out that the high-flying title suggested to me. It's hardly an heroic option, and it's not inventive, or unique or original. I was hoping for a lot more and was sadly disappointed when I learned that this was his 'way out'. After reading those other reviews, I was glad I did not try to read further than I did.

As for my own take on it, I found nothing here to inspire or interest me. The guy was a jerk, unlikeable and with nothing to offer the reader. It was a tedious read. He just bounced around between parties, doing drugs and drinking, with no ideas in mind for any sort of a future. The limited and boxed-in mindset was simply depressing and uninteresting. The guy behaved like a loser and showed no sign of improving. He was boorish and one-track-minded, and I saw no saving graces in him and nothing educational or even original in his thought processes. Whether the reality upon which this was apparently based is different, I can't say, but I can only believe that a biography would have been far more fulfilling than this fiction ever can be. I cannot commend this as a worthy read based on what I experienced of it.


Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding


Rating: WORTHY!

Subtitled "and the best burger in Los Angeles" this book tells the story of Abby, who is working a summer part time internship at a fashion store called Lemonberry not far from where she lives. Normally the store takes on only one intern, but the manager, Maggie, is expecting a busy summer and so takes on two this year, and therein lies the problem - the intern often gets to stay on at the store as a paid employee (how that works given that they;re already staffed isn't gone into), so it means that Abby in in competition with Jordana Perez, on whom she soon discovers, she's crushing.

If you don't like cute, you won't like this because this is a very cute relationship. But that said, it's also quite stereotypical. I've read too many YA novels where there's the girl and the bad boy, and while this is an LGBTQIA story, Jordi is definitely the trope bad boy, short-haitred, dressed in black, in complete contrast to Abby who wears bright colors, often with a fruit motif. It turns out that Jordi isn't as bad as she's painted, so there is an out, but it still seemed a bit been-there-done-that to me: Abby the femme with Jordi the butch. It's right there in the names! it would have been nice had they been named against stereotype, and the fact these these contrasts between them were never really explored was a minor problem for me.

Another contrast is that Abby is overweight and Jordi is far from it. Some reviewers have outright described her as fat, but I don't like to use that word, especially in a case where we never really get an idea of exactly what body type Abby has. Ultimately, it's not important what body a person has if they're healthy and are getting some exercise, but it felt like a bit of a betrayal in that Abby seems far too comfortable in herself for the real world, and we never really get any feeling that she's had a hard time for her body.

It would be nice if that was everyone's case, it really would, but it's not, so this felt a bit unrealistic to me especially set as it was in a teen/high-school environment. Literally everyone accepted her and no one ever had a remark about her? And this is when she's hanging around with jocks because her best friend is dating one? It seemed a bit too sunshine and rainbows, especially in an era of a shameful presidency where crassness and crudity and rampant misogyny, homophobia, and racism is positively encouraged. The book was published only this year, so yes, the author knew, and I was sorry she didn't do more with that.

That said, I really loved Abby for her humor and wit, and for her observations of life around her and even for being scatterbrained at times. Her relationship with her best friend Maliah was a solid one, and even what she develops with this new guy during the course of the story - one of the jocks, named Jackson, or Jax for short. He was pretty cool despite being a dick on occasion, and be warned there is an ulterior motive!

Abby seems to be fine with how she is, but there seems to be a lot of reference to her body in spite of this. She mentions it quite a lot in contrast to her profession that she's happy with how she is, and this isn't gone into either. Nor is her mother's shameful behavior towards her which seems inexplicable and particularly with regard to the kind of person Abby grew up to be.

Abby got her internship because she is a blogger with a lot to say about fashion for plus-sized women. Jordi got the job because of her photography and it's this which causes some grief later in the story - a plot point I found to be a little on the thin side which is ironic give the subject of the story! Once she and Abby begin dating, Jordi starts takign lots of pictures of Abby, and Abby never objects or questions to what use these might be put, not even when she realizes that Jordi likes to show the world how she sees it, and that she has an upcoming show at a local public display area.

Warning bells should have rung in Abby's head, which is sad, because they don't and this makes her look a lot less astute about trends and signs than she's been shown to be to that point. I'm not usually good at picking these things out, but even I could see exactly what was coming from a mile away.

The blurb tells us that "...when Jordi's photography puts Abby in the spotlight, it feels like a betrayal, rather than a starring role." Yes, Abby is the star of Jordi's show. This is not a spoiler because it's no surprise whatsoever. This is followed by the truly dumb, trademark question that utterly moronic blurb-writers cannot seem to keep themselves from asking: "Can Abby find a way to reconcile her positive yet private sense of self with the image that other people have of her?" Hell no! The world will explode in a nuclear holocaust! Hell no! She's met a hot Internet celeb, and fallen in love, throwing Jordi over. Hell no, Abby is so offended by Jordi's pictorial that she's scared straight and starts dating Jax. Seriously? Of course Abby and Jordi will end up together - it's that kind of story. Duhh!

Book blurb writers must have a truly abyssal view of their readers' intellect to pose imbecilic questions like that. And they're so frequent, especially in chick lit. What does that say about how publishers view their readership?

Abby's reaction to Jordi putting her into the spotlight seemed disingenuous to me, and it completely betrays the relationship far more than Abby whines that Jordi has betrayed her. Grow a pair Abby! Her reaction is far too dramatic and written solely for the purpose of breaking them up so they can have a tearful reunion later, and this smacked of amateurishness to me. It read t this point more like fanfic than ever it did a professionally published novel.

This is the part of the book that I did not like and which seemed much more unrealistic than any other part. Some people have called out Jordi in their reviews, for her behavior, but she's behaving true to character. It's Abby who is willing to betray Jordi and her supposed love for this woman, over a thing like this which could easily have been resolved instead of discussing it with her. This relationship is doomed, trust me!

I think it would have been a better ending to have had Abby realize that she had overreacted, and had her go to reconcile with Jordi only to find that Jordi refuses, because Abby had betrayed her by showing such a ready willingness to completely ditch her and turn her back on her over a simple misunderstanding. That's how I would have ended this one.

I have to say a word about the fashion element too! On the one hand this book shows Abby as being very stylish and dressy, and on a budget too (although Abby never actually seems short of money, Where she gets it all goes unexplained). I have no problem with Abby wanting to be stylish and having an eye for it. She can be anything she wants. Even the anorexic, self-indulgent, fatuous and shallow world of fashion is waking up - begrudgingly and far too slowly - to the fact that people come in other sizes than Bulemic Zero.

But it bothered me that Abby (and the author) had nothing much to say on this topic. Just saying. It's this and the magazines, and Hollywood, and TV which contrive to make women feel ugly and poorly dressed, and unsexy and worthless, and it's shameful. This is why I have no tolerance for the fashion world. Its sole purpose is to make women feel inadequate and out of date, and thereby inveigle them into endlessly dieting and spending money they don't have on the endlessly updating latest fashions, and it's criminal, misogynistic, and disgusting. Women have enough to contend with in the academic ad business worlds without piling this on.

Once again I find myself having to talk about biceps! As in when Amy Spalding wrote: “...wrapped up in Trevor’s bicep.” Seriously, unless you’re an anatomist or a surgeon, there’s no such thing as a bicep. The bulge you see on the inside of the upper arm is the biceps, plural, because there’s more than one which combine to make the visible part. You’d have to deflesh the arm to actually see a bicep. Did Trevor’s girlfriend tear the flesh off her boyfriend’s arm? I doubt it. Does main character Abby have X-ray vision? Not that she tells us. Does yet another YA author not know what she’s talking about? More than probably.

But all of that said, this book was cute and for the most part told a story I really liked and enjoyed. I just think that the predictable break-up was far too predictable and for the most predictable of reasons, and this betrayed the story. Plus I am not a huge fan of predictable! A little bit predictable yes, because it's comforting, and we can use a lot of that under this presidency, but not so glaringly so! That said I commend the novel as a worthy read overall.


Thursday, July 5, 2018

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Emily Carroll


Rating: WORTHY!

The last thing (and only thing prior to this) that I'd read by this author was the pretentiously titled "The Impossible Knife of Memory" and I hated and DNF'd it. This graphic novel is based on Anderson's first novel, and it's actually pretty entertaining and amusing. It's about this dysfunctional girl in high-school and her thoughts and observations on the world around her, which is pretty much what the other book was about now that I think of it, but I like this one a heck of a lot better. It does make me wonder though, if Anderson is something of a one-note author.

We don't learn until well into the novel what exactly happened to high-school freshman Melinda Sordino, which all-but rendered her speechless. It's pretty obvious though, as the story moves along, that she was raped by a senior and has become so shut-down by the horrifying experience that she can barely articulate anything, much less tell what happened to her.

The story is a strong one, but I can't help but feel that the real tragedy here is not so much what happened to Melinda, as it is about how society failed her so comprehensively once she had been assaulted. None of that is explored in this - at least not in the graphic novel, which I'm forced to assume is representative of the original.

So many rape stories have been explored, but so few of those pursue how the victim was failed by everyone around her. This would have been a perfect vehicle for that. I'm sorry the author wasn't more imaginative.

The story was amusing and Melinda's caustic observations of high-school life are amusing, but in some ways the story itself is one-note because there is very little to leaven this dull, leaden bread. I can understand how every day might well feel the same flat gray to her, but that's no excuse for an author to risk making the reader feel the same way about every page!

The ending is also a little trite and convenient. I don't imagine many people who have been raped find this magical catharsis so quickly. That's not to say they don't or can't heal.

However, overall, I did enjoy this and managed to read all the way to the end without feeling I should ditch the volume, so I have to declare this a worthy read despite its flaws.


Sunday, July 1, 2018

Valiant High by Daniel Kibblesmith


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a lightweight and fluffy story of some of Valiant's superheroes as they were in high-school, but it's not Superboy - far from it. It was fun and light, and active, and well-drawn and scripted, so I had a good time with it. It was really nice to see Faith in her element and to see her respected and treated as a human being, not as a weight problem, which I've never seen her as anyway. The other characters I confess I was not familiar with - or if I ever was, I've forgotten them.

The nice thing about this is that it's a PG-13 kind of a story so anyone can read it. There's some high-school jinks, some kissing, some action, and cartoonish violence, the occasional oddball fantasy creature, but there's nothing I wouldn't let my kids see. Not that they're very much into comic books! The main protagonists are Amanda "Livewire" McKee and her best friend, Faith "Zephyr" Herbert, and Faith never looked more present than she does here bringing hope and charity wherever she goes. Amanda is pretty cool too, but I'm a Faith fanboy what can I say?! I recommend this if you're into the Valiant hero world at all.


Sunday, May 6, 2018

I Have the Right To by Chessy Prout, Jenn Abelson


Rating: WARTY!

On May 30, 2014, at the venerable St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, eighteen-year-old athlete Owen Labrie went with fifteen year old Chessy Prout - who had been previously warned by her older sister about this very same boy and advised to steer clear of him - to the mechanical room in the attic of the math and science building on campus. The consequence of this excursion was three misdemeanor convictions: statutory rape penetration of his under-age victim with hands, tongue, and penis, and also of a felony: using a computer to lure a minor for sex. He was was acquitted on three counts of felony sexual assault, apparently because their age difference was less than four years, but on his conviction on the other offenses, he was sentenced to a year in jail, five years of probation, and he was required to register as a sex offender for life.

These are the legally established facts since that night. The accounts of each party in the events naturally differ, but that night and its aftermath is the subject of this book. Note that my review here is not of that night or of what happened, or of either party, although I do believe the author's account, not the defendant's except in where it coincides with the author's.

There are a paltry and pitiful handful of women who have concocted stories of assault, but they are negligible, especially when compared with the massive number of women who are assaulted in one way or another, but who fail to step forward for whatever reasons of their own. So this review is only of the book which describes these events. Not the events themselves.

The Goodreads blurb of the book begins, unsurprisingly, by saying, "A young survivor tells her searing, visceral story of sexual assault, justice, and healing in this gutwrenching [sic] memoir." but I beg to disagree. There is no searing. There is no gut hyphen wrenching. There are over 360 pages of which the first eighty-some is pure fluff and irrelevant to what happened except in that it reveals what a sheltered and privileged existence the author led prior to returning to the US from Japan where she grew up.

In those 360+ pages I am not counting the prologue or the introduction; I never read those things. I assume the fluff is due to the publisher-assigned co-writer, Jenn Abelson of whom I've never heard. She's a newspaper reporter. From my reading of this, I was forced to conclude that those who can, write, while those who can't, co-write, and by co-writing, I mean add upholstery wherever they can. In my opinion, this was a serious mistake in this book.

The blurb repeatedly mentions sexual assault, but from the description given post page ninety, this was not assault; it was out-and-out rape. Why did the publisher's blurb writer not have the guts to describe it as it is? Perhaps because there was no conviction on the charge of rape? The victim (or survivor, but I do not play with words when it comes to something as serious as this) uses the word rape and that's what I will use. The problem is that the book itself is larded with so much fluff and stuffing that it diminishes what was a horrible attack on a naïve and culturally defenseless girl who quite simply did not know how to handle what happened to her and got precious little help.

I get that this was a series of confusing events and that she had nothing by which to get a handle on them, but in hindsight which was how this book was written, I think a little more hard-writing and a lot less "purdying-up" would have served the author - the real author - far better than what we got. She should not have been playing second-violin in her own story, and I find it as surprising as it is inexcusable that a professional journalist pussy-footed around so much.

The victim's worst enemy after the rape was herself, because she maintained a pleasant, jokey, even flirtatious relationship with her rapist for several days, exchanging humorous and polite texts before wising-up and ceasing contact with him. This is how thoroughly confused she was. An assault like this will do that and worse to a person, and sometimes juries simply don't get that, especially if they've never had anything like this happen to them - and the defense team, rest assured, will try to have dismissed any potential juror who has.

The author's sister was about the only one who seemed to treat the rape as what it was, and literally punched the guy. I'd like to read her story! As far as the author was concerned, her writing (or Jenn not-so-Abelson's writing) made it feel like this whole thing was just one more relatively minor event between finals and a pep rally.

Contrary to what the blurb implied, it was virtually robbed of any real impact because of the way it was written. And contradictory elements in it did not help. At one point, in the same paragraph, the author (one of them) bemoans being an anonymous victim (which given that she's a minor is required by law) and then a sentence or two later, rails at being outed on an Internet message board! She cannot have it both ways. As it was, she outed herself later to commendably speak up about sexual assault.

In another similar contradiction, she makes a big deal about praying to her god at one point, something which is a proven waste of time since this god did nothing whatsoever to help her, and then later rails at a rabbi for forgiving her attacker! Excuse me, isn't the author purportedly a Christian: an adherent of a teaching that explicitly instructs that we turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and give our shirt? No Christians actually do that in reality because they're hypocrites, but this means that strictly speaking, according to her religion she should have forgiven her attacker too, and let this go. Let me make it clear that I do NOT advocate that at all. She did the right thing - eventually - by pursuing it through legal channels, but she cannot then rail at the rabbi or claim to be a true Christian.

The decision to let her go back to the school after these events was in my opinion ill-advised, and although I did not read on (I quit this book after chapter fourteen, around page 155), I do know it was doomed to failure because in that kind of culture, all that happens is that she becomes victimized even more. People were already dissing her, calling her foul names, and trying to trivialize what had happened. People whine about an athlete's life being ruined without stopping to think for a minute how much more the girl's life has been taken apart at the seams and more.

In this age of #MeToo, I live in hopes that this cluelessness about rape and sexual assault is changing, but the tendency in the past has been to favor the male version of the story rather than the female. This is par for the course in these situations, especially if the male in question has some sort of celebratory status, such as in the case where he is on a sports team, and especially if it's a successful sports team. And it's not just guys. I've seen cases where women have come down in support of the guy rather than the victim of an assault. More young girls need to be educated on this topic - seriously educated and quickly educated, and they need to be encouraged to come forward, because every time a guy gets away with this behavior, he's thereby encouraged to repeat it.

But the end of this attitude is the hope. The reality in this case is that I cannot recommend this book not because of the story it tells, but because of the ill-advised way in which it's told. It's so poorly-written and it constantly highlights what a privileged existence Chessy Prout led, which contrasts sharply with her convicted attacker who was far less privileged so I understand. Instead, it should have focused tightly on what happened, and investigated a real possibility, if this is to be judged by other such tragedies, that there might be a sorry litany of similar assaults when the truth comes out.

The book should have begun with the assault and then went on to discussing how often these thing happen on campuses like this one, and what could be done to prevent them. The New York Times has an article (or did at the time I posted this) about serious sexual misconduct at this same school. Maybe the second half of the book did investigate, but I lost all faith in it. After plowing gamely through the rich upholstery of the first half, I had zero interest in reading on and for that I apologize to the author. None of this was her fault.


Monday, March 26, 2018

Double Exposure by Bridget Birdsall


Rating: WARTY!

Errata:
This novel was as bad as it was illiterate:
p75: "She's the youngest of six boys."? She is the youngest of six boys? How about "She's the youngest of seven; the other six are boys"?
"Fifty frames a minute and the shudder speed’s unbelievable" p174 Shudder speed? Maybe fifty frames a minute is what makes the shutter shudder?
P180 use of ‘you’re’ where ‘your’ should have been employed. This author teaches writing? No, she relies on auto-correct. Creative auto-correct!
P232 “His bicep bulges” That last 's' is in the wrong place! Once again YA authors the word is biceps Unless you are specifically referring to a single one of the attachments to the upper arm, one of which is the short head, the other of which is the long head, then what you're talking about - what we normally called the muscle that bulges when the arm is flexed as in strong-man posing - is the friggin' biceps, you ill-educated morons. But maybe she was writing creatively?
"Su rounding" p243 As in Su rounded by idiots? Okay I've given up on the author, but did this book not have any editors? Bueller? Anyone? There were enough people mentioned in the acknowledgements. What the hell did any of them do? Did none of them read it? Were they all so gushing that it was a LGBTQIA story that might have a chance of selling that no one cared if it was any good or even spelled correctly? Even a piece of lard like Microsoft Word will catch many of these things. Or was it creatively-written by hand and typeset ye olde fashioned way? It's leaden enough that it could be such a piece of fool's cap sheet.
The author can't do math. We learn that the team is averaging 2 games per week, but after three weeks they’re 10-0? Does the author teach creative writing or creative math! Creative writing! LOL! All writing is creative if it's done right!

This was, thankfully a book I did not pay money for, but borrowed from my excellent library. It began well enough, but at the time I didn't realize how bad it would become because I did not know that the author taught (guffaw) creative writing. Anyone who teaches creative writing or who has passed through a college creative writing course is guaranteed to write god-awful novels in my experience.

The first cliché was the bullying. Barf. I skipped that. Notice that I didn't say 'inexcusable cliché' because bullying of LGBTQIAs is rife, and that's what's inexcusable and needs to be stamped-out ruthlessly along with all other forms of bullying. But turning it into a trope high-school bullying story is not going to help because it cheapens the problem by making it blatantly, painfully (I'm talking about the reader, not the character) obvious. Like there's no other kind. Ever. And as if once were insufficient, our main character gets bullied twice, in two different states! Two for the price of one! Limited Offal! Buy into it now! Yawn. Barf.

Next up is the inexcusably clichéd fiery green-eyed (JEALOUS, get it?) redhead. Yawn. Barf squared. Wait, what is it you teach, Bridget Birdsall? I forget - was it clichéd writing or creative writing? There is a difference, you know.

Taught writing isn't taut writing; it's trope writing, which brings me to the trope boyfriend being telegraphed from twenty-thousand light years away. Barf. Yawn. Clichéd or creative? Clichéd or creative? Anyone?

Next up is the sport, because your student has to be sports or arts. You know there's nothing else in the entire school curriculum worth writing about, in "creative" writing, right? Sports includes the clichéd dancer, and arts includes the clichéd image maker. Oh, wait, we have both! The main character is a basketball player and her love interest is a photographer! But all Alyx wants to do is be a girl.

But wait - how can she be a girl? Yeah she's quite literally intersex, having one testicle and one ovary, and one penis and one vulva, but that's not the issue here. The issue is that, never having been a girl before - always living as a boy, despite feeling like a girl, Alyx, who happens to have a magically unisex name complete with totally weird spelling (this in a family which boasts an 'uncle grizzly'), magically transforms into perfectly ordinary girl in the short space of time it takes to travel from California to Milwaukee!

I-80 sure is educational isn't it? God Bless President Eisenhowitzer! Ike 80 provided her with a cute feminine wardrobe too, so she felt completely at ease among girls from day one at her new high-school! She has no issues or problems learning to be a girl among girls. She has only issues with PTSD from the bullying in her old school. Hmm!

It might not have been so bad had Alyx been likeable, but she was so self-obsessed and so selfish that she simply wasn't likeable. She was annoying at best. At one point, at a party, her fellow newbie and possibly best friend Roslyn is so out of it that it scares Alyx, but rather than watch over her friend or take her home to make sure she's not abused, Alyx is quite ready to abandon her and run home? Friends don't let friends get friendly drunk.

At Christmas, Alyx gets gets a brand new smartphone replacing the one which was damaged when she was beaten up in Cali-floor-ya. Almost immediately, she purposefully kicks it off her bed onto the floor because she doesn't have any friends! That's what a shrewish ingrate she is. Likeable she is not. This is called creative unfriending, in case you wondered.

I don't mind a weak female character who learns to be strong, but Alyx never does. She's a weak-assed wuss to the very end, caving again even in the last few pages to make a magical ending in which her mortal enemy who treated her like shit for the entire novel, and screwed her over every chance she got, is forgiven by means of Alyx rolling over one more time for a certifiably Disney-esque ending. And I do mean certifiable. Was the author embarrassed by this ending? Is that why it was flash-Frozen-over?

I'm sorry, but this story SUCKED. It was awful and was exactly what I would expect from a creative writing pogrom. Some might argue that this is better than nothing, but the intersex community deserves so much better than this creative nothing.


Sunday, January 28, 2018

Saints and Misfits by SK Ali


Rating: WARTY!

I had mixed feeling about this throughout. On the one hand I liked a lot of the writing, but on the other, the plot and the main character were a real problem. In the end, the ending decided me against favoring this.

I read a few reviews of this to see if I was way off-base or on-point and it seems I was the latter, not the former. Although many people liked this, those of us who did not, seemed to have similar issues with it. My problem was not with the presentation of Muslims, because I don't have a fixed idea of what Islam is like or what any given Muslim might do.

Some of those who are Muslim seem to have a problem with Muslims who are represented in ways which are different from their own narrow idea of what a Muslim should be and how one should behave, but such people are forgetting that above and beyond everything else they may or may not be, Muslims are people just like the rest of us, and they do smart and dumb things, brave and cowardly things, rational and irrational things, exactly like the rest of us do! readers and writers who fail to grasp this are limiting themselves chronically.

There was a lot of bandying about the 'hashtag own voices' bullshit in the reviews I read, but this seemed like such a reflexive, if not knee=jerk, label that I laughed at it. It still comes down to the antique notion of 'write what you know'. If people wrote what they know, there'd be no science fiction, because we don't fly around the galaxy or time-travel. There are no magical super heroes. Stephen King never went into another dimension and met a gunslinger. John Grisham was doubtlessly an attorney, but he never was involved in the specific cases he wrote about, and his books really aren't about the practice of law. They'd be boring if they were. JK Rowling never was an eleven-year-old boy, much less a wizard. Suzanne Collins never entered a dystopian death match. Write what you know is nonsensical. My advice is to write what you can get away with and make it as real as you possibly can.

I do not have any time for religion and especially not for organized religion which is a bane of life on Earth. I don't care what people privately believe. It's none of my business as long as they're harming no-one and not trying to impose their beliefs on others, but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy a good story about people of faith or about the 'battle' between good and evil. I was interested in reading this one not because it was written by an author who writes on Muslim topics in Canada, but because it was, I thought, a story about rape and I was curious as to how it was treated in the context of Islam.

It turned out that the Islam part was irrelevant; it was bait and switch. The story told here was no different from how the same novel would have been had the characters been Christian, Judaist, Hindu or atheist! So the Muslim context was in effect nothing more than a niqab flimsily covering what everyone knows is underneath anyway. And that segues into a definition of these outfits. What's a hijab? This is my understanding - which I admit may be flawed, but in general simple terms, a hijab is what we in the west would call a headscarf. So why even call it a hijab? Well, a hijab tends to actually incorporate a scarf which wraps round the neck.

A burka is full head-to-toe covering. Strictly speaking, a niqab is a face veil, but it's often viewed as a complete head and shoulders covering rather like what Ronan the Accuser wears in Guardians of the Galaxy as it happens. That overall ensemble may or may not cover the face, but the tendency is for the face to be covered leaving only the most alluring part of the face visible - the eyes, which to me is hypocritical, but then, as I said, I have no time for hidebound traditions. I think people who blindly follow a set of rules laid down fourteen hundred years ago, or two thousand years or more ago, are morons, and it seems a lot of religious adherents agree with me since the majority of people tend to practice a very relaxed version of their religion rather than the original, usually much more strict path.

For example, all Christians are hypocrites in that they claim to follow what Jesus taught, but very few actually do. I don't believe there ever was a Jesus Christ, miracle-working son of a god, but if there had been, he was a Jew, not a gentile, and he practiced Judaism, not Christianity! He taught Judaism, and he came only for those of the house of Israel. No Christians practice Judaism. None of them is really a follower of Jesus; they're followers of Paul, who very effectively derailed what Jesus purportedly taught. His name wasn't even Jesus for Christ's sake! It was Yeshua, so anyone praying in his name is calling on the wrong guy unless they're praying to Yeshua (which is what we in the unsubtle west call Joshua)!

But let's talk about this book. The main character is Janna Yusef. She's a young Muslim in school and she wears a hijab. To me the hijab is an abuse of women. The Koran, as I understand it (which may be wrong!) talks about modesty. That talk applies equally to men and women, yet today all the onus is of course on the women of Islam to cover themselves lest they excite and incite men. There is no onus on men to quit being such lustful dicks. It's all on the woman, and so conveniently is the blame should something go wrong. Repeatedly we see attacks on women for immodesty or for wanting an education; we never see attacks on men. This is a fundamental flaw and weakness not only in Islam, but in any religion where women are isngle-d out negatively, and it needs to stop.

So one problem with this novel (and to be fair with several other such novels I've read) is that this this author fails to explore any of that. Like her main character, she simply accepts status quo, aka subjugation and repression. That was one problem with the novel, but the Islam novels I've read accept it; none of the main characters even question it, much less rebel against it. That was a problem with Janna. She had an nice sense of humor, but she was such a limp character, and she never changed except for one brief irrational and completely out-of-character spell near the end, which was too little, too late, and therefore entirely ineffective. No justice was delivered because she was so retiring and subjugated. To me this was badly written.

So what happened to Janna? This was another problem for this novel. It is entirely unclear what happened until close to the end. Was she raped or was she merely threatened with a violation - which is bad enough, but nowhere near as bad as an actual rape? The novel doesn't make this clear until near the end, so Janna's reaction to it is entirely out of proportion, and it is nonsensical. Before I go on, let me make it clear that for me, it's the victim's choice how they react to something like this. Those who have been violated are entitled to react in any way they want, but that said, they also ought to bear in mind that if they're accepting, or at least passive and retiring after something like this, then they're encouraging the violator to repeat-offend, and this is a problem because if they get away with it once, there is a big compulsion to try it again and another woman becomes the victim.

For the longest time while reading this I was bothered by Janna's reaction - or more accurately, an almost complete lack of one, because on the one hand she was persistently referring to Farooq, the man who did this, as a monster and living in near-terror of him when he was around, yet she never reported it. On the other hand her terror disappeared when he was out of sight, and she was going about her life as though nothing bad had happened. She was even obsessing on another boy in school who was not a Muslim. This felt inauthentic to me.

I've never been raped or violated in that way, but I have had events in my life where I've felt threatened, and I tend not to be able to let those things go, especially not in the immediate aftermath. I still remember them and in (fortunately!) an increasingly mild way relive them. I assume that others - to a greater or lesser degree - go through a similar process. Perhaps other people are able to let things go better than I am, but I doubt everyone is, especially after an event like Janna experienced, so this almost complete lack of any kind of real traumatization on Janna's part was unrealistic in my book.

The only time she had any issues was when Farooq was in proximity. The rest of the time it was like nothing bad had happened, so we were bouncing back and forth: was she raped, which would explain why she saw him only as a monster, in which case why was she not more traumatized than she was? Why was she not angry? How could she become interested in another guy so quickly? Or was she merely threatened with rape, which would explain some of her behavior afterwards, but not all of it?

I think the author failed in not describing the event better. No one in their right mind wants 'juicy details' of something like this, and maybe she intended it to be ambiguous, but for what purpose? I saw no purpose to it. In my opinion this was a writing fail, so let me clear this up now and reveal that there was no rape. There was a serious violation in that Farooq pushed her down on the couch and was trying to put his hand under her sweater when he was interrupted, but that was it. That was bad enough, and it was unacceptable and should have been dealt with. It wasn't. Again, this was a writing fail.

So my problem with this was that it was really much ado about nothing. Not that what happened was nothing; it wasn't, but the way this was written meant the writer sadly treated it as nothing for the almost the entire length of the novel! It didn't work. Nor did it matter about the Islamic veneer. It really played no part in the story. It felt like it was just set decoration - those background objects in a movie which people tend to see but pay little attention to. So I didn't get why people focused on this, rather than the poor story-telling. It was serious misdirection. That's not to say you can't have a novel where Islam is just a background. We do need more like that: a quarter of the world's population is Islam, but you'd never know it if all you read was novels published in the USA by native authors!

From that perspective, there was another character, Sausun, who was far more interesting than ever Janna was, but we got nowhere near enough of her. There was another character named Tats who was also more interesting, but we got precious little of her, too. In fact, even 'Saint Sarah' was a more interesting character than Janna. Her wedding to Mohammed) which was in the very early planning stage in this novel) would have made a better story than this one.

Why the author didn't chose to write about one of these people instead of Janna is a mystery. So for me the novel was a fail for all these reasons, and despite the fact that, for a while, I was liking it. Having finished it now, and found that there was no justice and a lot of the side stories simply fizzled out, I cannot recommend it. The book would have been better and a lot shorter had those red herrings been ditched. It would have packed more punch had it stayed focused on the central issue, and had Janna been less of a limp biscuit.

This brings me back to the 'own voices' bullshit. I think this novel was in part a fail because it was written by a person who was intimately familiar with the Muslim faith. I think if a non-Muslim writer had written it, we would have had a better story, in the same way that say, a Hindu writer had written about a Christian character, or a Muslim written about an atheist. I think if you are a person of faith writing a story, even if your intended audience is others of your faith, you have a duty to think at least a little bit outside the box if you want to tell a really good story. Otherwise what's the point? A better Muslim writer would have seen that and given us a great story, so this one wasn't any such story and I was sorry of it, because it could have been so much better had it been written even just a little bit more wisely and with more clarity.


Sunday, January 14, 2018

That Thing We Call a Heart by Sheba Karim


Rating: WORTHY!

This is ostensibly a high-school romance story, but it offered so much more than that. It begins during Shabnam Qureshi's last week of high-school and extends into her last summer before college starts. She is nominally a Muslim, but that speaks more to her heritage than her practice, because she really doesn't practice her faith. The story is more about cultural and religious clashes and about how foolish a first love can be.

Shabnam meets Jamie, a charming, romantic guy who easily knocks sheltered Shabnam off her feet. Because of her sheltered upbringing, she has very little experience of boys and is therefore easy prey for the much more worldly Jamie, who seems a bit 'off' right from the start. While Shabnam is falling in foolish teenage love with him, he's more in love with the idea of an exotic and potentially forbidden femme than ever he is with her for herself, and she is far too inexperienced to see this.

In a way, they have a lot in common: they are both very shallow in their own way, and they both purvey a big lie to the other. The difference is that Shabnam is potentially a much deeper person than ever Jamie could hope to be, and as the story progresses, we see this blossoming in her repeatedly. Shabnam knows she lies, Jamie is too selfishly in love with himself to see that he's a living embodiment of a lie.

On the topic of lies, too many YA novels betray their main female character by insisting that she be validated by a man. I detest novels like that. This was not such a novel. It was about girl power and female friendship and it was the better for it. It was also about culture, religion, and conflict between generations, and in some ways I felt it risked cheapening the very message it was trying to send: about the riots and slaughter in India during partition, by tacking those on to this story.

The Brits are often blamed for the problems they caused in India as they should be, but at least they treated all Indians with equal disdain; they didn't single-out any one ethnic group or religion for abuse, whereas during partition, every religion turned against every other religion, which is one reason why I detest religion. It's divisive by its very nature in its arrogant and unprovable assertion that 'we're the chosen ones and you're doomed to hell' or whatever. That said, the injection of the parts about partition were not overdone, so it didn't feel like a lecture, nor did it disrupt the story, and it did get the word out about an historical tragedy that's been largely forgotten today.

Lending more weight to what is an already heavy subject, Shabnam is also at odds with her once best friend Farah, who is far more deeply religious than is Shabnam, but Farah has her own take on her religion. She approaches it in a far more fluid manner than many other people, adapting it to herself as much as she adapts to it. She's a lot more brash and brave, wise and mature than is Shabnam, and she was my favorite character, but I am often in the position of finding the side-kick more interesting than the main character in YA novels.

This is very much a high-school romance, YA novel, but that said, it's leagues ahead of the usual poorly-written, crappily-plotted story that's out there. That's why it won't sell as well as the others, because the bar is so low in YA books, and this one clears it so handily that it's going to be way above the head of an embarrassingly large number of YA readers. That said, this novel, like many YA novels, does fixate on music which it seems to me, is far more the author's addiction than ever it is the character's. This music will date this novel, so I paid as little attention to it as I did the poetry. The music and the poetry were both overdone and contributed nothing to he story. There was more wisdom came out of Farah's mouth than came out of the mouth of the poets and songwriters featured here!

Shabnam betrayed Farah when her friend chose to start wearing a hijab, but Farah failed to give Shabnam advance warning of her unilateral decision, and this is what caused the rift. Shabnam is embarrassed by Farah's change in habit (as it were!), and Farah feels betrayed by her friend's distancing of herself and her lack of support. They do maintain a prickly contact with each other especially since Farah is the only one Shabnam can turn to over her romance. Farah is often warning her friend about it, but Shabnam won't listen because she claims that Farah doesn't know Jamie like she does. In the end, it turns out that Farah actually knows Jamie better, even though the latter two have never met.

Some reviewers have chastised this novel for its lack of portrayal of Islam accurately, but those reviewers make the blind assumption that everyone practices Islam in exactly the same way and no-one ever makes foolish teenage jokes about aspects of it. I don't know a heck of a lot about Islam, and I am not religious myself. I think it's a serious mistake to blindly put your faith in the scientifically ignorant dictates of relatively primitive people from some two thousand or more years ago, but I do know people, and at least I have the decency to regard practitioners of religion, misguided as they are, as individuals, and not as a monolithic block of clones. Every walk of life and every religion has saints and sinners, and I would be surprised if Islam is somehow fundamentally different given that its practitioners are people just like the rest of us!

One thing which did strike me as odd was the whole hijab issue. My understanding is that it's related to modesty (and in this regard, both men and women are supposed to be modest), so I find it interesting that Farah, who considered wearing it to be pretty much a tenet of her faith, made such a big deal of wearing brightly colored and patterned hujub (the plural of hijab, although most westerners use 'hijabs'). I'm against forcing women to do something which men are never forced to do, but I don't have a lot of time for religion, and especially for rigid and blind religious practices, but that's not my point here.

Note that there is a spectrum of covering for females in the Muslim world from the least which is the hijab, or headscarf as we in the west would call it, to the most, which is the full-body burka. Farah wears only the headscarf and it's that term which is used in this novel for the most part, but the ones she wears are colorful and she also dolls them up as elaborate fashion statements. This whole practice was never discussed other than to mention it, but it occurred to me that this was rather hypocritical in that it can hardly be considered modest to wear such bright colors and to sport designs so elaborate that they can only succeed in drawing more attention to a woman than would otherwise be drawn!

In fact, I'd go further than that, because if the purpose of wearing a hijab is to avoid drawing attention, then wearing a hijab or any such garment in the west fails because it draws more attention! If they were to be rational and consistent (which religion is not, admittedly) then they would wear such things only where the majority wears them, and dispense with them where the majority does not wear them, because this is the only way that they would truly blend in instead of standing out! I know it's not quite that simple, and that modesty and means different things to different people, but in this particular story, Farah seems to be flying in the face of modesty by wearing the things she wears in the style she wears them. This was never raised as an issue, which I felt betrayed the whole point of Farah's choices.

That and the fact that the author doesn't seem to know the difference between tread and trod (the past tense of tread, as in 'take a step', is trod, not treaded, and tread and trod are not interchangeable!) are the only complaints I had about this. Farah was awesome and kick-ass, and I'm tempted to think a whole novel about her (her first year in college would be a great place to stage it) would be a worthy read, but that feeling is tempered by the fact that her power perhaps came from the fact that she was a limited exposure character, and if she had a whole novel to herself it might ruin her(!), unless the writer was me! No I'm kidding, I want to say unless the writer was particularly adept at her craft, which has author seems to be, so maybe it would work. But for now, I thoroughly recommend this as a worthy read and I plan to read more by this author.